Saturday, February 15, 2014

Dragon’s Island by Jack Williamson

Every time I read one of Jack Williamson’s books I’m struck by his intelligence, smooth sentences and flowing paragraphs. He was not a writer that wasted words on hyperbole. Dragon’s Island from 1952 is especially interesting because he layered the story with some heavy themes, but he did so without hitting readers across the head. Dragon’s Island has a subtext of social commentary mixed with some typical 1950s schlock pseudo-science and pulp adventure. Williamson could make the implausible seem plausible. Dragon’s Island is about a race of advanced humans, clones, or Homo excellens, who are targeted by American military personnel for extermination. It’s textbook case of ethnic cleansing, but in typical 1950s paranoiac style. This race of super-humans operate a company called Cadmus that flaunts a dragon symbol. Their goal is to advance Homo excellens and become an accepted part of society. The “Dragon’s Island” referred to in the title can be seen as a symbol of such a sanctuary, free of oppression. Williamson is clever not to state this directly, but the book is loaded with themes and reoccurring motifs. The framework for all of this is a pulp tale about Dane Belfast who encounters Nan Sanderson, a beautiful women who enlists him in her cause. She is part of the super-race, and her powers are still developing. Belfast also encounters John Gellian, a man intent on destroying Nan Sanderson and her people. There are plot twists involving a missing scientist involved in genetic research, mind control, a secret base in New Guinea, and a genetically altered tree on a mountain that actually contains a rocket ship intended to transport them to another planet where the Homo excellens hope to master their psi abilities. Under Williamson’s command such an implausible device such as having a rocket ship hidden inside a giant tree is made plausible. The second half of the book becomes a bit talkative as counter-plots are revealed, but the suspense level never abates. I own two copies of this Popular Library paperback, one in really fine condition. Dragon’s Island is typical of its era, but still so refreshing compared to the stale and uninteresting gobbledygook published today in Analog magazine or other such publications. This is the way science fiction should be – implausibility made convincing so that we are willing to suspend our disbelief, exciting and, yes, thought provoking.

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