the Little Red Reviewer

In The Orbit of Saturn by Roman Starzl, a guest post from Joseph Starzl

Posted on: January 8, 2014

What Joseph didn’t mention in his bio is that the last name isn’t coincidence: he’s related to Roman Starzl.  If that’s not bragging points, I don’t know what is!

On Roman Starzl and In The Orbit of Saturn, a guest post by Joseph Starzl

Joseph Starzl is a science fiction and fantasy aficionado in his early twenties, currently living at a children’s home in Santa Barbara, Honduras. When not roaming the halls of the bilingual elementary school he works at, “Mr. José” can usually be spotted playing soccer with a gaggle of kids, huddled over a computer screen typing away, or lounging on a hammock with a good book. If you’d like to follow Joseph and his random ruminations, you can read his on-line journal: http://xzlonlinejournal.wordpress.com/

Considered by some to be one of the critical pioneers of science fiction, Roman Frederick Starzl wrote some twenty stories between 1928-1934; he was notably featured numerous times in Amazing Stories. The owner of a newspaper in LeMars, Iowa, Starzl began writing for financial reasons related to his newspaper business, and retired from writing science fiction once his monetary issues were resolved— his pragmatic motives, however, did nothing to dilute the quality of his writing. Roman Starzl is most appreciated for his story “Out of the Sub-Universe,” in which he explores the already established concept of a microscopic world-within-a-world, but adds the critical element of relative time; the blink of an eye in one world lasts millions of years in the other, a discovery with tragic consequences for those who seek to travel between the two.

Despite his contributions to the genre, Roman Starzl has mostly faded into obscurity, though if you look in the right places his writing can still be found. Fortunately, some of his stories can even be downloaded for free from the Project Gutenberg website. I recently read one such story, “In the Orbit of Saturn”.

“In the Orbit of Saturn” begins with a sentence that openly advertises the pulp flavor of the ensuing story, set in the year 2159: “Disguised as a voluntary prisoner on a pirate space ship, an I. F. P. [Interplanetary Flying Police] man penetrates the mystery of the dreaded ‘Solar Scourge.’” The I. F. P. man in question is Quirl Finner, the adventurous protagonist heroically dedicated to bringing down the band of pirates, under the leadership of the mysterious Captain Strom, who have thus far eluded the law. Quirl’s cover is soon blown, and he must navigate a series of plot twists and character surprises in order to complete his mission.

“In the Orbit of Saturn” is filled with all the essentials one might expect from a sci-fi story published in 1931: morally-upright handsome heroes, despicable villains, plenty of action featuring futuristic weapons, and of course, a tearful and exceptionally beautiful woman serving the role of a love-interest. Yet despite committing the common sexist and racist sins of his generation, as well as following some all-too familiar tropes, Starzl’s story gradually reveals a depth that belies the reader’s first impression.

My favorite part of the story occurs when Quirl and Lenore, the sole female character, share their past with each other. Roman Starzl exhibits his talent for world-building, providing the reader glimpses of exotic settings that lend a captivating backdrop to the narrative—mines on Titan, tropical rains on Venus and Mercury, and other planets with even more incredible environments. The adventurous appeal of science fiction is in full display.

The characters are also written with more nuance than found in your typical pulp magazine story. Captain Strom, initially cast as the villain, is revealed to share much in common with Quirl, complicating the conflict between the two. Lenore, while still quite passive by today’s standards, actively defends herself more than was normal for female characters at the time. While it’s true that several characters in the story remain fairly static and one-dimensional, Starzl still manages by the conclusion to resolve their threads in refreshingly ironic manner.

“In the Orbit of Saturn” is an entertaining story, a quick read, and a fine sample from one of science fiction’s lesser known founders.

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3 Responses to "In The Orbit of Saturn by Roman Starzl, a guest post from Joseph Starzl"

Reblogged this on El hogar and commented:
Anybody looking for quick read? ;)

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Joe, I wanted to thank you again for writing this post. Later in the month I’ll be talking about the first issue of Astounding Stories, where Starzl had a number of short stories published. In the editorial of that first issue, the editor is talking about authors they are proud to have stories from, and he specifically mentions Starzl.

Project Gutenberg has become one of my favorite sites, as so many of these older works are becoming harder and harder to find in print.

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You’re very welcome, and thanks for hosting this awesome event on your blog. I’ll be looking forward to that blog post.

And I agree, Gutenberg is such a great treasure trove.

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