Published by Tor Books on April 11th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Our reviews of this author: Arkwright
Whatever can be said about Avengers of the Moon, Allen Steele has accomplished something rare and remarkable here. In his afterword, he suggests that this novel can be viewed as a reboot of Captain Future—a character I was not initially familiar with, though pulp lovers will no doubt recognize this science fiction hero who appeared primarily in a series of adventure stories written by Edmond Hamilton in the 40s. Steele goes on to explain, however, that he did not mean for this book to be a homage or a parody; rather, his intent was to revive the character for modern times and introduce him to a new generation of readers. Avengers of the Moon is therefore the hero’s updated “origin story” following the journey of protagonist Curtis Newton to become Captain Future.
Curt was just a baby when his mother and father were murdered in cold blood. The boy then fell into the care of a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of Professor Simon Wright, a good scientist friend of the family. Together, this unlikely trio raised Curt in a secret underground bunker on the moon in order to hide his presence from Victor Corvo, the corrupt businessman who killed his parents.
Twenty years later though, Curt emerges from hiding, determined to bring Corvo to justice. In that time, the businessman has risen far on the ladder of power, becoming a Lunar senator. To take down his prominent quarry, Curt must adopt the persona of Captain Future and uncover the full extent of Corvo’s conspiracy, which even goes as far as to include a plot to assassinate the president of the Solar Coalition. Together with his three guardians Otho, Crag, and Simon, as well as the help of beautiful Inspector Joan Randall of the Interplanetary Police Force, our hero embarks on his first “troubleshooting” assignment.
The pulp influence is obvious; even with the updates to bring Captain Future more in line with the technology and culture of our times, the writing here feels like an attempt to imitate the style from the sci-fi and fantasy pulp magazines of the 40s. Naturally, coming from Steele’s last novel Arkwright, this was a considerable change for me. The writing in Avengers of the Moon feels less formal and “sophisticated” in comparison, with practically non-existent character development, playing instead on the pulp tradition to convey the idea of larger-than-life heroes, over-the-top villains, and voluptuous femme fatales. All this is of course by design, a nod to the source material which will no doubt delight Sci-fi Golden Age enthusiasts, but even as someone unfamiliar with the original Captain Future, I have to say I found this whole effort to recreate the retro atmosphere quite charming.
That said, this is clearly a novel written for fans, by a fan. I hadn’t expected to get as much out of Avengers of the Moon as someone already familiar with Captain Future, for example, and I was right. Does that mean I thought the book was bad? No, absolutely not. It’s just that I was not the ideal audience. In spite of this, the book is still pretty solid for what it’s meant to be, combining the modern with a bit of throwback nostalgia. Steele deserves a huge pat on the back for the ideas behind this ambitious project; I have a feeling he has just made a lot of his fellow Captain Future geeks very happy.
Bottom line, it’s probably safe to say that Avengers of the Moon should not, must not be missed by fans of Captain Future. As a reboot, I’m not sure how effective it is at winning new fans, but I also can’t deny I had a good time learning more about the character. This may be a book intended for a niche audience, but I would say if you enjoy the pulps or are even remotely interested in the style, it is worth a look. While it’s nothing too serious or deep, the story is a fun and snappy read.