Just finished this novel by the justly forgotten author, Horace Coon, as part of my on-going project to read and review all 1950s SF novels, and it really is one big steaming pile of dumb. He wrote other books, mainly, it seems, commentaries on politics and economics, but this is (seemingly) his only work of fiction. I really wonder how it was ever published. But don’t take my bare word for it. See the details below.
Coon, Horace: 43,000 Years Later (1958)
Characters: There are three — I hesitate to call them “characters” since they’re simply mouthpieces for Coon’s attempt at satire; the only question is, who exactly is the target of this satire? — aliens in this book, sent by the Great Leader of an unnamed planet on (which is the preferred preposition used whenever the author refers to the Great Galaxy) the Great Galaxy to investigate if all life is really extinct (as “preliminary explorations and observations have indicated”) on the planet Earth. [How does this planet “on” another galaxy know that all life is extinct on Earth? Why do they care? How do they know that the planet they’re observing is called “Earth”? All interesting — and unanswered — questions.] The leader Zolgus is — and there’s no way to describe this gentilely — a fascist dick who loves dictators and is here to espouse the hard line. Typical quote: “I would have put an end to promiscuous breeding if I had had to shoot every pregnant woman…” Yundi, the second in command, is the rational scientist. Xia, the female member of the trio, studies art and religion and is, of course, “mystical and irrational.” We don’t know much else about these aliens, except they have six fingers and no teeth (no doubt because they subsist entirely on “vita-life pills”). We do know that if we take their observations of Earth at face value, they are complete idiots. Or perhaps (and, granted, it is chancey to attribute characters’ beliefs to the author, but if Coon is writing a satire on humanity, the slant he puts on humanity is coming from him and not these characters) the author is a complete idiot. He does, at any rate, have some very strange axes that he grinds in this book. 4
Setting: They arrive on Earth in the year 45000 AD, Earth reckoning, which is 43,000 years after (Get it?) all life was wiped out by 250 hydrogen bombs. [How did they figure out these dates? Another excellent question.] Oh, but wait. Life is not extinct on Earth. There’s plenty of plant life, including teeming jungles. Oh, and there are plenty of insects. In fact, there are so many insects that Zolgus whines in the beginning of the book, “If we should decide to colonize Earth we first must exterminate most of this insect life.” I knew that I was in for it when I read that sentence. Oh, yes, and there were also fish in the sea. And also shellfish of every variety, but I guess for the sake of expediency, Coon lumps all those in with the regular fish. Unfortunately, we see none of this first hand, because NOTHING IS DRAMATIZED in the entire book. More of this below. We do get one short segment when the mystical and irrational Xia rhapsodized on the beauty of Earth and its daisies, clover, lilacs, and roses. [How did she know the names of these plants? Yet another excellent question.] Nor do we ever get to see all the utterly destroyed cities. They never even mention the existence of towns, villages, or hamlets. 5
Plot: So, they start digging up the devastated cities, looking for clues. The find buildings labeled “hotels” (quotation marks in original) and “hospitals.” How do they know what these “labels” mean? [Another excellent question.] They also discover “offices,” about which they opine: “Humans worked in places called ‘offices.’ Since all cellulose records were destroyed [Ya think?] …what Earthmen did in such offices is a mystery…Yundi speculated that it may have been an utterly meaningless ritual…whose significance had been forgotten…” Yet, after forty three thousand years, clothing somehow survived “tightly sealed under piles of rubble.” This is important because Coon can then let loose his cutting wit on the matter of fashion, particularly women’s fashion (he had a particular hate on for women’s shoes, of all things). Of course, nothing of any significance would be left after being blasted by hydrogen bombs and then left sitting around for 43,000 years, but that didn’t prevent the “characters” from speculating about (among many other things, Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe, Babe Ruth, the Civil War, that people who lived in pueblos in the southwest had “spiritual satisfaction” that people who lived in apartments didn’t, Abraham Lincoln (“the greatest tribal god”), Incans, Mayans, and Aztecs (“whose religion flowed on for 200,000 years”). Among other supremely dumb statements found in this novel: “From our biological studies we know that all living things begin with the polyps.” “Agriculture is a losing game whatever way you look at it.” [Instead you should create you food the way these aliens do it, in factories by using “laboratory methods.”] “…only Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon, [and] Hitler were able to unite Europe.” “Grain took years to develop into suitable human fodder.” “Man was just stupid enough to try to use square wheels until a bright youth accidentally tried round wheels and was most certainly hailed as a genius.” Brushing your teeth is a “superstitious ritual that served no purpose.” “[Ancient] Egypt was a socialist dictatorship similar to Communist Russia.” “The story and conception [Ha!] of Jesus Christ is unique among religions, particularly the element of divine incarnation or earthly visitation of the Almighty in the form of a man.” Did Coon actually ever read a frigging book? This is just a huge pile of dumb. Who is Coon trying to satirize? Humanity? Scientists who study humanity? Who knows. He has a particular hate on for politicians of all stripes, economists, and ordinary, work a day people. Is there anything he, I mean his “characters,” approved of? Oh yes. Speaking of Jesus, the mystical and irrational female says, “If I had been a human being inhabiting the Earth I think I would have embraced the Christian religion. And as I think about it, I believe it is a faith which has much to offer beings on other worlds…Christianity, I say, can be the supreme gift of Earth to the other planets.” 2
Style: Line for line, Coon could write adequate prose. It’s just that so much of it is dumb. Nothing is dramatized in the entire book, which consists of extracts from the reports of the three “characters” and discussions among them of these various reports. I have never read a more tedious book. I kept plodding through it because it was, thankfully, only 136 pages long. My god, how did this pile of nonsense get published? It was idiotic in conception, construction, and execution. 5
Final rating: 4 The worst novel of the 1950s (so far, but really, I can’t conceive that something could worse. But I’ve been surprised before.)