The Gods Hate Kansas by Joseph Millard
Monarch Books, 1964
Price I paid: this is my third Interlibrary Loan book in a row
It began with the landing of nine meteors in Kansas. Then, suddenly, it exploded into a massive catastrophe.
First, the meteorite investigating team were turned into automatons, ruled by an unknown, alien intelligence. They barricaded themselves from the world and began building a rocket project, aimed at traversing the stars.
Then, the Crimson Plague struck, sweeping over Earth’s population, destroying human capacities and defying scientific probing.
Only a few escaped the invasion from outer space, among them astrophysicist Curt Temple, whose girl friend, Lee Mason, was enslaved, her personality changed.
Curt knew he had to pit his slim knowledge against the most perfect intelligence in the cosmos to save the world—and the woman he loved.
I have two sets of thank yous to send out before I begin this review. The first is to Erika, who brought this book to my attention in the first place, and the second is to the University of Georgia library system, who lent it to me. Some hands of applause, please.
Another hand of applause for Jack Thurston, the artist behind this incredible cover art. Even though it turns out that this cover art doesn’t have much at all to do with the contents of the book, it’s still amazing. I wasn’t aware of Thurston until I just googled him, and here’s a sampling of his other work. It’s fairly standard pulp art, and I like it a lot. One book I see listed is The Spitfires and I think I might have to look that one up because it sounds incredible. He’s probably best known for his movie posters, I would guess. The Flight of the Phoenix and One Million Years B.C. are both iconic.
The back cover synopsis of this novel is typical in its inaccuracies so I won’t harp on it too much. Mainly I want to point out that yes, there is a rocket project, but no, it does not “traverse the stars.” It goes as far as the Moon. It does turn out that the aliens are from “the stars,” and I guess they want to get back somehow, but that all comes later. After-the-book-is-over later, in fact.
What I want to bring to your attention is the fact that the synopsis uses the phrase “girl friend.” Something about seeing that phrase as two separate words sure does make me think of the late 50s/early 60s. It’s just one of those tiny little language things, and I love it so much. The same is true of “boy friend,” of course. It’s the 20th century equivalent of “Maffachuffets.”
I wonder when that began to change? We were definitely spelling it “boyfriend/girlfriend” in the 90s when I was in school. I didn’t start seeing “bf/gf” until the mid-aughts, I guess, but I’m always behind the times on everything like that.
Anyway, thanks for coming to Thomas’s Linguistics Corner. Stay tuned for your regularly-scheduled book review, after a word from our sponsor.
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The Gods Hate Kansas turned out to be a pretty good book. I don’t know much at all about our author. This is his only listed science fiction novel, although it appears he had some short stories in the genre also. There was a Joseph Millard who was a Republican senator (Nebraska) from 1901 to 1907. Whoever wrote his Wikipedia page included this bit:
There was also a Joseph Millard who wrote science fiction novels, but there is no relation between the two men.
Because there’s no citation, I’m going to choose to believe that the assertion is false!
Anyway I think the author also wrote some Westerns.
I’m dancing around here, avoiding getting around to the book itself. I don’t know why I’m doing that. The book was fine. I’m gonna start talking about it for real now.
It kicks off by introducing us to a dirt farmer family, the Solles, in Kansas. Right off the bat we learn that the book’s title is true, because there’s no rain and the bank’s gonna take the farm.
(Actually the reason the book is named what it is comes later.)
Instead of rain, something else falls from the sky. It starts out as eleven meteors in a crisp flying-V formation, but two of them explode on entry. The remaining nine land on the Solle Farm, and then we cut to Science People.
Our main guy in this book is Curtis Temple, Professor of Astrophysics and Meteoritics at Culwain University. He is a typical pulp hero of this sort. In the movie, he was played by this guy:
The movie I’m talking about is They Came from Beyond Space (1967), which was based on this book. It is, apparently, terrible.
Temple is told about the meteors that landed in Kansas. This is the big one, what he’s been waiting for. It’s the most important thing that could ever possibly happen to him, career-wise. He gets his team together, up to and including his department assistant and fiancée, Lee Mason.
Mason is described as “a respected scientist in her own right” who “knew almost as much about his specialty as he did.” On the surface that seems pretty nice. It’s good to have a female character who is competent. I even thought, for a little while, that she avoided being a stock woman-in-distress figure. I was wrong about that, but I entertained the idea for a moment, which is more than usual.
There is an occasional whiff of “she’s a competent woman outside of the kitchen and therefore exceptional,” but that might be unavoidable given the time period. That doesn’t make it okay, so make sure you’re not doing it now.
What stuck with me is that the name “Lee Mason” sounds masculine and I got confused on more than one occasion. Also, she’s referred to by her last name a lot, just like the men are, which didn’t help matters. This is a poor reflection on me more than anything.
Temple is one step away from leaving when the president of the university tells him he’s not allowed to go. The rest of his team can, and they can send him all the information he needs, but Temple was in an accident recently and needs time to recover. The university can’t risk him coming to harm.
The accident led to him getting a silver plate put in his head to hold his skull together. I think we can all guess that this will somehow be IMPORTANT.
Temple sulks for a bit but then jumps into the task of reviewing all the data sent back by his team. And then the data stops coming and he goes to figure out why.
We, the readers, aren’t completely out of the loop. We’re there when the science team cracks open the shell on one of these meteors and are all mind controlled by a mysterious invisible force.
And when Temple goes to investigate, it turns out the mysterious invisible force won’t work on him because of the silver plate in his head. Temple doesn’t figure that out for a little while, though.
When he arrives in Kansas, he finds that the farm where the meteorites hit has been turned into a fortified bunker. He’s not able to get in. He meets an FBI agent who was played in the movie by Maurice Good, but in my head was definitely Kyle MacLachlan because he is all FBI agents to me forever. The two swap some data before the agent is overcome by what is later referred to as the Crimson Plague. Basically all his blood vessels explode and it’s pretty gross.
This plague starts hitting all over the place and the world descends into a panic. Meanwhile, Temple is trying to figure out if it has any connection to this bunker and whatever’s going up inside of it. He gets in and finds out that his girl friend is heading up this whole thing! Whaaaaat
I can’t remember a lot of the details from this book. A lot happened very quickly, it felt like. Somewhere, though, Temple figures out that there are some kind of aliens taking over the minds of people and forcing them to do stuff. The aliens are building a space ship that can go to the moon very quickly.
One thing about this book that I liked is that nobody came across as stupid. For instance, when the alien inhabiting Lee Mason’s body explains that all of this is benevolent, that the aliens knew about the Crimson Plague and are helping take the corpses of the dead to the Moon where they can’t hurt anybody, Temple calls BS and lists reasons why. Later, he figures that playing along will help him get out, so he hollers like “Hey, aliens (heyliens), I thought about it and I totally think you’re telling the truth now” and the aliens go “We’re not friggin stupid, a-hole.”
This reminds me that there was very little swearing in this book, to the point where I was a tiny bit shocked when one character called another a son of a bitch. To be more accurate, a very drunk character called another a “shun of a bish,” but still.
With some ingenuity, Temple breaks free and captures Lee Mason—
I just realized that the reason her name seems so masculine is because it reminds me of Lee Marvin
—and takes her (and alien ridealong) to his friend and fellow scientist, Farge. Farge is played in the movie by Zia Mohyeddin, who was also in freakin’ Lawrence of Arabia, so that’s wild. He was also in Danger Man with the woman who played Lee Mason, Jennifer Jayne. I don’t know if they were in any of the same episodes, though.
Together, Temple and Farge do a lot of science and figure out what’s going on. The aliens are invisible but they figure out some special glasses that fix that. Here’s where they figure out that the aliens can’t penetrate silver. Also, there’s some hooey about how the aliens are Pure Thought Energy and the book gets pretty deep into what that is supposed to mean. Most importantly, Temple was able to confiscate an alien energy weapon, and with Farge is able to turn it into a weapon that kills the aliens but leaves humans relatively unharmed. They test it on Lee Mason and free her from the alien menace, whereupon she stops being the MacGuffin and is able to contribute to the rest of the story.
The trio storms the alien compound and ends up on one of the alien rocket ships to the Moon. Once on the Moon, they learn all of the terrible truth about everything, and it turns out to be a pretty okay twist.
The aliens are the Xacrns. Despite all appearances, they’re not trying to take over the Earth. In fact, they’re not even all that evil! They’re just trying to survive and get back home. They also don’t have emotions.
The book has some kooky ideas about evolution and hammers home this idea that it’s always “upward,” whatever that means. It turns out that the Xacrns are “super-evolved” beyond bodies and emotions, but because they’ve reached the “pinnacle” of evolution, that somehow means that they’ll have to die soon? I dunno. It’s both nonsensical and cliché.
The Crimson Plague doesn’t kill people, it just renders them in a state where the Xacrns can take them to the Moon and use them to build a way back to their homeworld. The Xacrn’s usual client species, the Vard, are getting old and dying, which is why they need humans.
So Curt Temple tells the Xacrns the most shocking thing of all: They Could Have Just Asked.
There’s this passage I’m going to quote that is so pure and wonderful and cornball that I have to quote it in full:
We cry at sad pictures and lost kittens and send CARE packages to the underprivileged in lands we’ve never even seen. You can’t understand that but you’re going to have to in order to save yourselves. We call it the human spirit and it’s the reason you could conquer the Earth but never conquer human beings. It’s the tool that can rescue your race.Page 123
Yeah so it turns out that emotions are the thing that saves the day, and that to save themselves, the Xacrns will have to “de-evolve” themselves back to having them. And then they can understand friendship, and the humans will happily help them with anything they need to get home.
And that’s the end.
I’m struggling hard against my cynical side here. The fact that my entire experience in life tells me that the entire Human Spirit speech is crap is fighting against the part of me that knows What We Could Be and it’s a stalemate. It usually is.
Like, it’s nice how crying at lost kittens is to our credit, but our author didn’t say anything about genocide to balance it out.
Still, it’s nice to read a book where the Great Human Virtue that saves the day isn’t “the drive for freedom” or “unconquerability” or “sheer bloody-mindedness” but is, basically, sentimentality.
Is this a great book? Hell no. It suffers from some real pacing problems and is sometimes a bit hard to follow. It has one single woman who, while competent, is also described as “softly rounded” more than anything else. She’s also In Distress for most of the book, although once that’s over, she holds her own pretty well. It’s also got some kooky science ideas floating around, but it’s on par with most pulp.
Oh, the book’s title is a reference to the idea that more meteorites strike Kansas than anywhere else in the world. To the best of my knowledge, this is true only in the world of the book. However, it’s explained in the book that the Xacrns need helium to power their ship back home. Their meteor-ships are attracted to helium like a magnet, because they need to find it. It turns out that they keep landing in Kansas because there’s so much helium buried there. And that part’s true! Neat.
But if the aliens need helium, the second most abundant element in the universe, I’m sure they could find it in space much more easily than mining it out from under Kansas by means of mind control.
Still, it’s nice that Friendship Saves the Day.
Here’s a thing I’m wondering about:
So a lot of these “mind control” stories of the era, The Puppet Masters, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, etc., were explicitly about Communist Infiltration. Heinlein was a lot of things, but subtle wasn’t often one of them.
Anyway, the solution to so many of those stories turns out to be that Freedom wins because Individuality and America and Bootstraps.
The Gods Hate Kansas, on the other hand, ended in the spirit of cooperation. The aliens weren’t wiped out or beaten back, they were negotiated with and befriended. Their differences were recognized and accepted, even the ones that seemed inhuman, monstrous even. And everybody won. (Except for a lot of dead humans and aliens along the way).
So I guess I’m asking if this is an example of the very rare Cold War sci-fi that suggested that maybe the Commies aren’t so bad, and maybe if we would just stop yelling at each other we’d be able to set aside our differences and build a better world.
What a weird concept!