Sunday, 12 January 2014

Doctor Omega

Arnould Galopin Doctor Omega (1906)
It's nice to see a ton of vintage science-fiction titles returned to print through Black Cat Press, and Arnould Galopin's Doctor Omega is but one of many, purchased out of curiosity and because I'd actually heard of it. The reason for my having heard of it was a 2003 reprint offered for sale by numerous retailers of Doctor Who fiction. This earlier edition was translated from the French, or specifically adapted and retold as it stated on the jacket by Jean-Marc and Randy L'Officier who had seen in the original novel an apparent precursor to William Hartnell era Doctor Who, and thus was it marketed as a sort of ur-Who, if you will. I was curious, but the suggestion that material had been added in order to emphasise parallels with a 1960s television show annoyed me a little for reasons that should be frankly obvious to anyone with critical faculties - specifically that due to my being a fully grown man I am capable of appreciating written material without requiring that it be tied in to a fucking TV show.

Happily this new edition is a different translation - by renowned artist and author Ron Miller who also appears to be the driving force behind Black Cat - and one which I assume to be faithful to the original, and which makes use of Bouard's illustrations. My one gripe is that this version seems a little typo-prone in places, occasionally yielding sentences like I am you will not regret having taken me along; but on the positive side, the material is otherwise of such standard as to remain enjoyable and surprisingly absorbing regardless.

The main character is a crochety, elderly scientist with white hair who titles himself Doctor, which is as far as the resemblance goes and makes me particularly glad I never bothered with the 2003 edition. More striking is the obvious influence of H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon, particularly with space travel effected by means of an anti-gravitic substance, here named repulsite rather than cavorite. Galopin even appears to playfully acknowledge the influence of the Wells novel as Fred, one of his three space travellers, anticipates their arrival on the moon and is repeatedly set straight by Doctor Omega who reminds us that they are in fact heading for Mars. This may be taken as additionally significant in that Doctor Omega reputedly represents the first science-fiction novel to visit the red planet, thus anticipating Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis and the rest. H.G. Wells of course brought his Martians to Earth, and this is perhaps acknowledged in the form of a familiar heat ray device which crops up in the later chapters.

Doctor Omega is a travelogue, visiting a Mars populated with wild and dangerous animals and pseudo-tribal people as though it were a more exotic dark continent. It lacks the politics of Wells or the slightly harder science of Jules Verne, and is thus content to simply present itself as an adventure; and as such it bursts with imagination and is hard to fault. Why anyone would feel the need to "improve" on this by adding references to a television show is beyond me.

Available here.

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