My selection this week is ARMAGEDDON 2419 A. D., the novel that spawned all things Buck Rogers. All the movies, the TV series(shudder), the books, the comic strip, toys, everything. Not to mention the Flash Gordon strip started in 1934. It’s actually two novelettes, Armageddon 2419 A. D., published in the August 1928 Amazing Stories, and The Airlords of Han in the March 1929 issue. In the ’60s, Donald Wollheim combined them into the book here for Ace Books.
A newspaper feature syndicate, The John Dille company, saw the first story and approached Nowlan about a comic strip, which appeared in 1929. Nowlan changed the character’s name from Anthony to Buck(shorter and more commercial). Each year the title was updated a year to keep that five hundred year difference until they finally settled on Buck Rogers In The Twenty-Fifth Century.
Over the years in every new updating, the method for getting Rogers half a century to the future has altered slightly. In the original, he was a chemical engineer investigating an old mine in which a missing child had been found, with no heartbeat and thought dead, only to revive when brought to the surface.
While deep in the mine, a cave-in trapped him and, with no other way out, he knew he was a dead man. He suddenly revived, feeling a fresh breeze and figured they’d got to him in time after just a few hours, emerging only to find himself in a strange looking world. He later determined that a combination of gases had put him in suspended animation and a shift in the land had opened up the mine, allowing a fresh breeze to clear the tunnel.
It was a world of forests into which he emerged. The first human he saw turned out be his future wife, Wilma Deering, being pursued by a rival gang from which he saved her.
In this future world, the Mongols ruled over everyone. After a series of wars, Mongolian forces, isolated from the wars, gradually took over the countries of the planet. They had ruled America for three hundred years and had had no significant opposition for two thirds of that time. Americans were a minor annoyance at best, spread out through the forests, wearing green and covering everything in that color to blend in.
The Han Dynasty left them alone for the most part, secure in fifteen large cities built around the country. Americans were broke up into clans, gangs, each ruled over by a “boss.” They had technology of their own, some developed, some stolen from the Hans who were beginning to stagnate because machines did all the work.
They had such devices as antigravity belts, cell phones(they called them ultrophones), guns with no kick, no flash that would give away positions, aircraft big and small, and computers(they even called them that, a fact that surprised me until I did a bit of research).
The Han have great flying ships with Dis(integrator) rays as their primary weapon. That’s about it.
At the time of Anthony Rogers’ appearance, some of the gangs were just starting to form alliances to deal with the Hans. Still there are outlaw groups and some that secretly work with the Mongols and which have to be handled.
What Rogers does is provide the impetus for these gangs to rebel. With twentieth century fighting techniques, combined with the unusual weaponry, he starts to assume control of the small army until finally he’s made the “boss of bosses” and the second American Revolution begins.
They gain their first big victory with the destruction of the Han city Nu Yok and the revolution pretty much dominates the second half of the book.
When Nowlan started the Buck Rogers comic strip, he followed the book for the first couple of years, then started developing new plots and ideas until it became what we all know today.
Their have also been several book series over the years and a “reimagining” of the original story by Martin Caidin. Which wasn’t bad for an update.