TRANSIT TO SCORPIO by Alan Burt Akers
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When I was a teen, one of the best book series I ever discovered was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series. I’ve since reread A Princess of Mars to my youngest son, and taken him along for the tour of the deserts that till the dead world of Mars as Burroughs saw it. Burroughs actually set out to envision Mars as current day science (1912) saw it. Of course, a lot of it is wrong, but the books are a lot of fun. My son enjoyed the first one, and we’re both looking forward to the movie next year.
During my high school years, I also found another “interplanetary romance” series, as they were called, that I enjoyed as much as Burroughs. The Dray Prescot series was written by Kenneth Bulmer, a science fiction author I had also read in the old Ace Doubles, under the pen name Alan Burt Akers. I thought the books were fabulous, and Prescot’s world of Kregen was much more diversified and explored than Burroughs ever did with Mars. Although, to be fair, Burroughs did take John Carter to the Martian moons and fight giants from Jupiter.
I love the character of Dray Prescot. He’s a fighting man that served aboard Lord Nelson’s Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Bulmer also wrote another series that I loved under the name Adam Hardy about an English seaman called George Ambercrombie Fox, and I think this was a tip of the hat to that. But the history also made a strong character in Dray.
The first book, Transit to Scorpio, is pretty much a step by step guide as to how to write interplanetary romances. Hero has adventures, seems on the point of death, and gets mysteriously transported to another world. Some of the mystery gets taken out of the journey, though, and Dray is revealed to be a potential champion of the Savanti, a race that no one on the rest of Kregen knows much about.
Dray being Dray, he champions a young woman: Delia, Delia of Delphond, Delia of the Blue Mountains. He acts in her best interests and breaks a taboo with the Savanti, then ends up getting sent back to Earth. I loved these little episodic breaks that happen in the series as Dray reappears on our world. We get to see some of the history roll by, and we see what Dray thinks of things.
Since Dray has been gifted with a thousand years of life, he doesn’t age. So when he returns to Kregen, he’s still a young man. Bizarrely, his return to that world is only minutes later even though he’s spent years on Earth. It’s just another mystery for him to figure out, and for the reader to ponder over.
Thereafter, a series of adventures take him from Delia again and again, and it feels like a soap opera, but one that guys can enjoy because there’s lots of fighting.
I remember loving the book, the sheer imagination that propelled it, but being an older and wiser reader these days, I also recognized that the storytelling is old school in some ways. The author tells a lot of the story instead of showing it, but the pace is relentless and the stakes are always high. I finished the book in a couple sittings and really look forward to re-reading and reading the others.