Into the Unknown by JD Burton. E-novella review

INTO THE UNKNOWN (Volume 1 of The Star Travels of Dr. Jeremiah Fothering-Smythe)  by JD Burton, e-novella £1.49, 2015, Amazon Link

JD Burton’s stated intent with his new series of adventure novellas is a relatively straight forward (and for this reader at least, enormously pleasing) one – to create a monthly pulp sci-if narrative of the sort which largely fell out of vogue in the 1960s. Featuring Edwardian doctor Dr. Jeremiah Fothering-Smythe, the opening tale, ‘Enter the Unknown’, swiftly launches the titular hero into a world of alien princesses, warring species and bizarre technology, then stands back and waits to see how he will cope.

In many ways, the opening to the book will be familiar to any long term fan of this particular sub-genre. Like the hero of Wells’ First Men on the Moon, Fothering-Smythe is thrown into adventure through a chance meeting on a country lane and in similar manner immediately finds himself forced to rely on his English wit and manly strength to overcome entirely unexpected obstacles. Again like the heroes of Wells scientific romances, he seems largely unfazed by his change of circumstance and soon finds both an ally on the alien vessel in which he is imprisoned and a handy set of unexpected abilities…

Burton is to be congratulated on crafting a first instalment which contrives both to maintain the genre tropes which fans prefer (alien princesses, space battles and the triumph of the stalwart and honest over the duplicitous and untrustworthy) and undercut them when needed (the manner of one character’s demise had me flicking back on my Kindle to check I hadn’t missed something!). Neither does he settle for the neat resolution most commonly utilised by pulp authors, with the ending of this first adventure coming as a complete surprise to me, so cleverly is the build-up presented.

The only real failing of the book is, I suspect, a factor of the manner of its creation. As with many authors choosing to self-publish (and on such a tight schedule!) the eye of an editor would not have gone amiss. A smattering of typoes are not enough to derail the reader but some of the deliberately period dialogue comes across as a touch too cod for comfort, and the author does have a habit of repeating words in close proximity, which jars a little at times. Nothing a fresh pair of eyes would not quickly pick up, though, and hardly the greatest literary crime ever committed in any case!

For anyone who read and enjoyed Wells, Verne, ’Doc’ Smith – or even the last return to the pulps I read, the marvellous Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Myers. I for one am very much looking forward to the second installment next month…