Saturday, August 28, 2010

Thunder Jim Wade: The Complete Series by Henery Kuttner

From May through September of 1941, Henery Kuttner published five "Thunder" Jim Wade novelettes in the Thrilling Wonder Stories. Kuttner would go on to science fiction literary success for his many short stories and novels until passing away in 1958. The Thunder Jim Wade stories were all attributed to "Charles Stoddard", a house pseudonym used by the Thrilling Wonder editors. Mostly forgotten today, the stories were considered Doc Savage imitations at the time. However, Altus Press printed the complete set two years ago, so now it's possible to read them and compare.
First of all, Thunder Jim has a unique origin: he was raised in a hidden valley by descendant of an ancient Crete civilization. His father, an famous explorer, crashed his plane in the valley while surveying the area. Thunder Jim survives with the street-wise pilot Miggs, but he's only able to leave the valley as an adult. From the Creteans he's learned he secret of making a metal alloy which makes him wealthy. From Miggs, he's learned all kinds of con artist games and slight of hand tricks. Later, he hooks up with Red Argyle and Dirk Mirat, who become his assistants in all kinds of adventures. From his base of operations in the south pacific, Thunder Jim Wade searches the globe for villains worthy of his talents.
What makes the series of interest is Thunder Jim's all-purpose vehicle: The Thunderbug. The Thunderbug can fly, travel across (and under) water, or rumble over land on it's retractable treads. Made of the special Cretean alloy, it's just about impervious to bullets or standard explosives. I can't help but wonder if Gerry Anderson read one of these stories and it all came back to him when he was planning Supercar and Thunderbirds.
There are five stories in this collection. The opening story has Thunder Jim journeying back to the lost valley where he was raised to stop a band of criminals from looting the place. "The Hills of Gold" takes place near Iraq, of all places. "The Poison People" leads him to South America where a band of cut-throats are attempting to loot Inca treasure from it's rightful owners. "The Devil's Glacier" is another lost valley novelette, this time with vikings. "Waters of Death"
concludes the series in a lost southeast Asian civilization.
It's too bad the series was canceled before it got rolling. There's plenty of local atmosphere in each tale. Some of them have the feel of sketches; perhaps Kuttner had to shorten them for space limitations. Still, it's good to have all the stories back in one volume.

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