I am somewhere over 40% done reading all the Hugo Best Novel winners and nominees. I hadn't quite realized that the list I had grabbed from the internet all those years ago included the Retro Hugos that had been handed out by that point, until I finished this book and went looking for the year Danger Planet had been nominated. I kind of like picking up the Retro Hugos in this list, but knowing that this award was handed out in 1996 makes it a little bit more baffling that Danger Planet made the cut. Perhaps there weren't that many novel-length SF books to pick from.
Which is not to say that Danger Planet is a bad book, precisely. It is a rollicking space pulp adventure, with a stalwart genius scientist/adventurer/atom gun quickdraw master/mastermind hero, as muscled and adoration-worthy as any other I can think of. But that is exactly what this book is, and it's not a lot more. It's not bad as science fiction pulp. As an award winner? Well, I like to see nominees that are trying something a bit more ambitious, although it's true that in every given year there are books nominated for all sorts of reasons, some better than others.
This is a book that bops along nicely, and doesn't bear thinking about for more than a second, although I'll go ahead and think about it regardless. And it was one absolutely terrible bit of wordplay at its core. That alone should have disqualified it, as far as I'm concerned. (I'm joking. Mostly.)
But I'll tell you, so you can decide for yourself. Most of the action takes place on the planet of Roo, where the herb that, scientifically treated, gives all of humanity incredible longevity. Roo is a terrible name for a planet, and you can probably see where this is going. We eventually find out that the long-gone evil race that used to rule the galaxy might still have some sleeping members on Roo's moon.
They are...wait for it...the Kanga.
Yup. This is all an elaborate kangaroo joke, with no real reason for it. It doesn't really pay off in anyway, other than to make me shake my head when they revealed the name of the evil race, a name that does much less than strike terror in any heart.
It's also one of those pulp books where the hero is a genius scientist in both biology (having invented the longevity treatment) and physics (invented the drive that gives humanity interstellar travel), as well as being the best quickdraw on the atom gun in the galaxy, and strong and stalwart, and deeply in love with his best gal, who follows along, and gets herself in some danger by being plucky, only to be rescued at the end.
He doesn't do this all by himself - Captain Future has the Futuremen. Oh, didn't I mention that his title is Captain Future? Curt Newton, Captain Future? In addition to being all that himself, he has a brain in a box, a coarse robot who gets as near to cussing as you can have in the 1940s, and an android who is a master of disguise. Together, these four (and his best gal Joan when she can follow along) travel to Roo to find out who is stirring up the natives, who burning down the plantations of the vitron (longevity plant) farmers. They're also the workers on those plantations, I think, and certainly the impact of out-and-out colonialism isn't examined in this particular book.
(But it made me more sympathetic to the Roon. Why should they work for humans hellbent on controlling a crop on their own planet, making huge profits and shipping it all off-world? Of course, they're not rebelling because of that. They're rebelling because they're superstitious uncivilized people, easily bamboozled by those occupying their planet. I was going to say by the White man, but although most of the human inhabitants of Roo do seem to be male, the names are split between names that read as White and those that deliberately give the sense of being Asian.)
A lot of this seems very much like a Western, transported to space. Of course, Captain Future manages to save the day at the end, even though the dread Kanga (I can't even type it with a straight face) do awake at the end, and are fairly quickly dispatched by Captain Future, even though it took the old good race the Denebians, a long time to fight them into stasis.
It's fun, but it's also one of those older science fiction books that, once you start thinking about it, is chock full of assumptions and tropes that make it a bit troubling.