Friday, December 6, 2013

The Green Planet by J. Hunter Holly

Here we have a paperback by an author I had never heard of, 1960’s The Green Planet by J. Hunter Holly. The Author’s Profile informs us that J. Hunter Holly is the pen name of Joan C. Holly of Michigan, and that she did very well in college. My edition was printed by Monarch Books in 1961. Monarch Books, we are told, is dedicated to publishing books of literary merit, like hagiographies of Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, guides to alternative medicine, and soft core pornography.  I paid two dollars for this book, and the list of titles on the advertising page (among them Sex Fiend and Campus Girl (hubba hubba), $50 A Night (ah, the days before inflation), and Brother and Sister (yuck!)) provides a roller coaster ride of titillation, nostalgia and terror worth at least three dollars all on its own.  (Prolific mystery writer Donald E. Westlake seems to have produced many of the more striking titles.)

In the future, humanity is ruled by the totalitarian League. Radical egalitarians, the League has as its goal “to get rid of the sub-normals and the super-normals until there was a stable population of nothings.” People opposed to the League get a free ticket for a three-month-long one way trip to Klorath, planet of exile. The Green Planet tells the story of the ninth shipment of rebels to Klorath, 11 adults and two children. The first thing they find on Klorath after getting off the robot shuttle is a pile of human bones; the first eight shipments of rebels haven’t fared too well!

But what killed the earlier settlers? Disease? Giant bulletproof pterodactyls? Native barbarians? All of the above? As the exiles wait for the tenth shipment of rebels and try to build a little colony, constructing cabins and planting crops, they suffer repeated attack from native life forms. Their numbers dwindle, but the two manly men among the group still find time to fight over who should be leader.  The last half or so of the book deals with the human exiles' efforts to develop a relationship with the Klorath natives, who bear a striking similarity to Native American Indians and have a close relationship with nature and their god.  Negotiations are difficult because, it seems, the last eight groups of human settlers spoke with forked tongue.  The crisis is resolved when the humans take up the worship of the god of the natives (a big crystal sphere) and achieve collective consciousnesses.  

This is a pedestrian piece of work with nothing special to make it stand out or stay in your memory. Holly tries to liven it up with lots of psychological stuff, people stricken with fear, cracking under stress, committing suicide, the two men of the group who aspire to lead trying to manipulate the weaker-minded exiles, etc. Unfortunately Holly’s writing style is uninspired and the characters are boring. I couldn’t bring myself to care who lived or died.

Holly is also undermined by irritating errors. For example, Holly (and her editor) don’t seem to know anything about guns, so we get sentences like “In a desperate chance, he blasted forth with a whole round, in a volley.” I guess she means he fired off an entire magazine? There are also quite a few typos, missing quotation marks, missing prepositions. “Jason wanted smash their complacency.” (page 80). This sounds like a line from The Incredible Hulk: Political Activist. These are the kinds of mistakes you can brush off in a good book, but in a mediocrity they rankle. Why should I bother reading this thing if your copy editor didn’t?

I don't regret giving a new writer a try, but this one has to get a marginal thumbs down.  I won't be seeking out any more of Holly's work.  

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