Everyone has gone to see a movie adaption of a book and heard someone say, “The book was much better than the movie!” Most readers have probably said that exact thing on a number of occasions. And, generally, the original format of the story stays the most popular. No Star Wars novel, for example, will ever be as popular as The Return of the Jedi, nor will the Harry Potter movies be as fondly remembered as the book series. However, there are certainly some cases in which this simply is not true. Cowboys and Aliens was successful in the box office, even though it was based on a graphic novel of the same name that not many people outside of the comics field had heard of.
Another excellent example of this is Buck Rogers.
From the incredibly popular comic strip, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D., to the Buck Rogers radio serial, to multiple films and television shows, comics, roleplaying games, and even novels set to continuing the Buck Rogers saga (which Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote the outlines for, tying the later novels into their collaborative effort, Lucifer’s Hammer), Buck Rogers has a lengthy history as a successful and popular character in multiple media. However, most people aren’t aware that the character that would become Buck Rogers originated, not in comics or film or television, but in two novellas published in Amazing Stories.
Philip Francis Nowlan was a newspaper columnist in Pennsylvania who hadn’t written any professionally published fiction when he sent “Armageddon—2419 A.D.” to Amazing Stories editor Hugo Gernsback. Exploding out of the “Yellow Peril” subgenre running rampant in pulp adventure magazines, Nowlan’s novel explored a future controlled by “Mongolian descendants” known as Hans, who, with the help of the Soviet Union, conquered the planet, before turning on their Russian compatriots. With the United States held under the tight fist of the Hans, Americans have been forced to live in the wildernesses surrounding the populated areas, where they can hide from Han attack forces.
All this means nothing to Anthony “Tony” Rogers. Living in Pennsylvania in 1927, Rogers was working in abandoned coal mines when he was trapped in a cave in. Due to some strange behavior of the radioactive properties of the mine, Rogers is knocked unconscious and sleeps for almost five centuries. Awakening after what feels like only hours, Rogers escapes from the mine to discover a whole new world on the surface. However, Rogers is quickly swept up in a violent, explosive gun fight, saving the life of a future American woman, Wilma Deering. From there, the adventure continues as Rogers meets Deering’s gang, which is promptly assaulted by the Hans, leading to a string of futuristic adventures. A year later Nowlan continued the saga of Tony Rogers, Wilma Deering, and the evil Han overlords in a sequel novella, “The Airlords of Han.”
Tony Rogers (He didn’t get the nickname “Buck” until the comic strip) manages to tie in his participation in World War I, his pulp hero steadfastness, and a surprising bit of equality towards women (not common in the pulp magazines) to create a story that is certainly a fun adventure piece. While at times heavy on the exposition, with large info dumps on the future world that Rogers is living in, the story is generally fast paced, building suspense, and is a fun read that is easily finished in one day.
Fans of science fiction adventure, and pulp adventure tales, will want to check this one out.