By Frederick Pohl, adapted by Neal McPheeters & Victoria Petersen (DC Comics)
Alternatively entitled ‘The Merchants of Venus Underground’ Pohl’s captivating novella appeared in the compilation The Gold at Starbow’s End in 1972; a biting satire on free market capitalism seamlessly blended into a gripping escapade of treasure hunting in the grand style of Jack London, Joseph Conrad or Carl Barks.
Audee Walthers works as a pilot on the desolate colony of Venus. Most of the work is babysitting tourists who come to see the ancient remnants of Heechee civilisation: million year old tunnels and incomprehensible technology from a star-faring race that upped and vanished overnight, long before our ancestors climbed down from the trees.
There isn’t much to see. The odd tool or prayer-fan, bizarre and incomprehensible gadgets immune to aging and damage often dot the sub-surface tunnels the aliens left, and which are still being found regularly, but Venus is a big planet and everybody dreams of finding lost The Heechee jackpot: a cluttered warren, actual images of the mysterious unknown creatures or best of all, understandable tech that will be usable and pay off in big rewards from the Government or Corporations.
Audee is especially keen on that fabled big find. His liver is failing and in a ruthlessly commercial society where everything is costed and paid for, he hasn’t got the cash to stay alive much longer. So when millionaire Boyce Cochenour and his popsy Dorotha Keefer hit “town” the pilot smells someone as desperate as he for hunting Heechee, and moves Heaven and Earth to meet them. Together they will find that special something or all die trying…
This enthralling yarn led to some of the very best adventure/science fiction novels ever written, and once you’ve read this review and are seeking out the graphic novel you should add Gateway, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, Heechee Rendezvous, Annals of the Heechee and The Boy who Would Live Forever (A Novel of Gateway) to your shopping list. They’re not comics but they’re just as good…
During the 1980s DC, on a creative roll like many publishers large and small, attempted to free comics narrative from its previous constraints of size and format as well as content. To this end, legendary editor Julie Schwartz called upon contacts from his early days as a Literary Agent to convince major names from the fantasy literature world to allow their early classics to be adapted into a line of Science Fiction Graphic Novels.
This comfortably traditional adaptation from the highly experimental graphic novel series comes courtesy of painter and straight illustrator Neal McPheeters, who adapted the tale with his wife Victoria Petersen, with lettering from Todd Klein.
This is a fine tale well-told and effectively illustrated. It’s a great shame it and the other DC Science Fiction Graphic Novels are currently out of print. Collected together they’d make a killer “DC Absolute” compilation…
© 1972 Frederick Pohl. Illustrations © 1986 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.