After the Martians, the next extraterrestrial beings met with in Jeff Hawke were of an entirely different order. On its prospecting mission to the Asteroid Belt, the spaceship Argosy is run down by a stray planet which comes out of nowhere – “as smooth as a billiard table, and just as green”, no bigger than the Moon, with approximately a quarter the radius of the Earth, yet with a gravity field greater than Earth’s. (Since the gravitational attraction of a sphere operates as if concentrated at its centre, and since the effective gravity is proportional to the inverse square of distance from the centre of mass, the surface gravity should actually be more than 16 times Earth’s.) It turns out that the true planet belongs in another dimension, but is trapped within ours by the shell of vegetation which is under the dominance of a sentient plant monster (Fig. 1).
In Evolving the Alien, the Science of Extraterrestrial Life (Ebury Press, 2002), Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen examine the subject of Exobiology, looking at many examples from science fiction and assessing their feasibility. It’s to be distinguished from astrobiology, which studies whether ‘life as we know it’ could exist in known astronomical environments such as Mars or Europa, and it ranges a great deal wider, with interesting results when its principles are applied to the plants of ‘The Search for Asteron’. Biologists have found similar ‘ground’ of roots and mosses at the summit of Mount Bosavi in New Guinea (‘Lost Land of the Volcano’, BBC-1, September 15th 2009). But in telepathic contact the monster’s thoughts are “sea-green”, suggesting it’s aquatic. Its most plausible origin would be as a free-floating life-form, ruling a floating raft of vegetation, on a world with oceans but also continents, or at least reefs, because it’s evolved sharp hearing, presumably to detect breakers and avoid dangerous coasts and shoals. It reacts particularly to the sharp sound of gunshots, which perhaps it equates with lightning, also to be avoided – using psychokinesis, I would guess, in view of the mental powers it displays. Those powers enabled it to detect and seize the extradimensional planet as it passed through its own, presumably going fast enough to carry off the vegetable mat into space and out of the creature’s solar system. The creature is apparently very old, not just because of its own huge size but because the vegetable mat it controlled had roughly the surface area of our Moon, about the size of South America.
Such rafts have played major rôles in the evolution of life on Earth, many of which we can only guess at. It appears that the New World monkeys are descended from a lost ancestor who separated from the Old World African track around 40 million years ago, and migrated to South America (possibly on a detached fragment of mangrove swamp) between 40 and 25 million years ago, when Africa and South America were much closer. Even today, in October 1995 at least 15 green iguanas, up to two metres in length, arrived on the eastern beaches of Anguilla in the Caribbean “on a mat of logs and uprooted trees, some of which were more than 30 feet long and had large root masses. Local fishermen say the mat was extensive and took two days to pile up on shore.” Iguanas are also found on Fiji and Tonga, which are much more distant. (Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life, Phoenix, 2005.)
Evidently the creature draws psychic energy from the trapped extradimensional world, and with that, it and the vegetable shell could perhaps cross interstellar space. Although the incoming energy from starlight would be very low, the collecting area as large as a continent might sustain plant life over an interstellar journey, as Prof. Freeman Dyson suggested for genetically engineered trees on comets (see ‘Comets, Part 4’, ON, January 2nd 2022). But for sustenance the monster and its dependent life require carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen compounds, plus minerals for trace elements. Aided by a Jupiter flyby, perhaps, the monster has taken the planet into the orbit it needs, grazing the Asteroid Belt to embed asteroids in its shell, at relatively low velocity, containing all the materials that it needs – carbonaceous asteroids from the outer edge of the Belt, stony ones from the middle and metallic ones from the inner edge.
Prompted by a spurt of growth among the vegetables in the ship’s refrigerator, in an attempt to extend the monster’s consciousness into the ship, Hawke realises that it can interact with terrestrial plants as well as alien ones. He has a consignment of grass seed delivered from the Argosy by rocket, to distract the creature from its mental grip on the vegetation making up the planet’s shell and causing it to disintegrate, releasing both the Argosy and the trapped extradimensional planet with ‘a cry of jubilation’ (Fig. 2).
The fifth Hawke story ‘The Sanctuary’ introduced the galactic warlord Chalcedon, hotly pursued by the multiracial police fleet of the Galactic Federation. As he points out in a broadcast to the ‘slaves, curs and animalculae of the Galactic Federation’, from our satellite in Venus orbit, under their own laws ‘it is forbidden to dismantle, alter or improve – or destroy the scientific devices of a primitive culture!’, while he plots his next move from within it.
The fleet is commanded by His Excellency, a reptilian being never introduced by name (Fig. 3). Reptilian intelligences are a favourite with science-fiction writers, and I’ve featured them in my own stories (see ‘My SF, Part 2’, Fig. 1, ON, 17th September 2023,). Reptilian intelligence could have evolved here on Earth, if the impact which wiped out the dinosaurs had never happened. One of the most detailed treatments of the possibility is the ‘Eden’ trilogy by Harry Harrison (Fig. 4). The physiology, culture and history of Harrison’s ‘Yilané’ (Fig. 5) were actually worked out for him by Jack Cohen, who did similar background work for Brian Aldiss’s ‘Helliconia’ trilogy and the later books in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series.
His Excellency’s unscrupulous assistant Kolvorok (Fig. 3) is obviously from a low-gravity planet, though it may have fairly high atmospheric pressure. His race relies on speed to get away from predators, so accounting for his general timidity. But he moves quite happily in what to us is normal gravity, without any kind of antigravity belt, so presumably he has flotation bladders. That would explain the balance organs either side of Kolvorok’s head (Fig. 6), and suggests that the pods at the base of his body are ballasted. The bladders are presumably hydrogen-filled and the home planet may have had one or more large satellites, generating big tides, so that Kolvorok’s ancestors evolved for mobility when stranded. The same would apply to Chalcedon’s sidekick Tallid, who actually does float (see Part 3 Fig. 5). Tallid’s cognomen, ‘The Reasonable Fish’, certainly implies a marine origin. (‘Reasonable’ is used here in the sense of ‘able to reason’, which The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes as ‘rare’.) In a Christmas card strip of 1997 Sydney Jordan revealed that Kolvorok’s skin colour is dull green, presumably for camouflage, and on the Bolland cover of “Jeff Hawke Book One”, Tallid is portrayed in the same colour (Part 3 Fig. 6).
Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen portrayed a world like Kolvorok’s and Tallid’s in The Collapse of Chaos (Penguin, 1994). “Suppose that on Earth flight had first been invented by creatures that evolved tiny sacs filled with hydrogen gas, and not by the development of wings. These creatures could, for instance, have produced hydrogen from water or methane by enzyme action, or even electrochemistry. They would have taken to the air, at first borne randomly on the breeze but gradually evolving more sophisticated controls that would at least let them decide when to descend to the ground again…” and so on, in more detail than we need here.
The Galactic Federation covers not just our Milky Way, but all three spiral galaxies of the Local Group. Chalcedon flees to the Andromeda galaxy at the end of ‘The Sanctuary’, and in ‘Counsel for the Defence’ (1961), he launches an elaborate legal ploy to make himself ruler of all three. (The irregular and elliptical galaxies are presumably beneath his notice, and most of the dwarf spirals hadn’t been discovered yet.) The Galactic Court, where he launches his plot, is enormous and always in session. The body of law which applies there is a hodgepodge of fragments from many different cultures, so much so that an implanted data capsule is needed to qualify anyone as a Counsel – as anyone therefore can be. Many of the laws are so old – ‘in desuetude’, to use the actual current phrase – that the only penalty still on the statute books is ‘a crawling and abject apology’. When sentenced to one, Tallid declares, “Bring me the last one from the files and I will theatrically repeat it”, and as he does so, the Judge remarks, “You may not be able to crawl, but you might at least look a little more abject”.
In one enlightening case, the accused is charged with sucking eggs, and attempts to plead ‘Pure malice!’ But there is no biological war between his species and the victims’, so the plea fails. As the Judge declares, “We cannot have people going round sucking eggs, it strikes at the roots of society”. The point is emphasised by ‘The Ambassadors’ (1962), where two intelligent owls arrive to bring us the benefits of civilisation in the form of the Quiggifier, ‘which eliminates work’. The notion arouses no end of trouble, but eventually it transpires that the machine is simply an incubator. “You see, they thought that we laid eggs… most living creatures do!” In the Mars novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, even human beings do. The hero, John Carter, marries a Martian princess who bears him a son, initially in the form of an egg – as Carl Sagan remarked, “about as likely as a successful mating of a human being with a petunia”.
But the Federation guards, who have to maintain order in this clanjamfrie, are probably hatched from eggs. Mostly portrayed as figures of fun, their multi-legged anatomy implies that they evolved on a high-gravity planet, with a great deal of heat and pressure at the surface. Their feeder tentacles are evidently designed to catch some floating form of nourishment, as creatures like sea anemones do on Earth, but they’ve become land-dwelling, so it might be airborne. From Brian Bolland’s cover for Jeff Hawke Book 2 (Titan, 1987), we learned that their skins are green, as if for concealment in foliage (Fig. 7).
The elongated neck and big eyes for all-round seeing imply a herd social pattern, in which some are always looking for predators while others graze. That would account for the lack of individuality, but make them a good choice for guards because of their watchful, protective psychology. They also have stings in their tails, in case they’re attacked from behind, but since they manufacture venom in their bodies, under attack the herd might form a defensive circle and grab assailants, perhaps to spit venom on them – their posture is reminiscent of a cobra’s. They have very tough skins (cp. human skin in ‘Spacesuits, Part 2’, ON, 1st October 2023) so they can withstand vacuum, at least for short periods, (Fig. 8), so they’re accustomed to large pressure changes; they withstand blaster bolts which blow holes through heavily armoured creatures (Fig. 9), even if floored by them.
Probably they adapted to the highland areas of their planet in order to harvest ground-dwelling plant life, which would explain why the forelegs adapted into hands to pick and shred leaves, later to seize attackers, still later to hold weapons. After I’d worked all that out, I phoned Sydney Jordan and said, ‘Not so funny now, are they?’, to which he replied that he hadn’t thought of any of that, just ‘thrown them down in a moment of desperation’, under the pressure of producing six episodes of the strip per week.
A special word is needed for the SNARG, described initially by Chalcedon as ‘a fabulous beast’ which is evidently the ultimate predator and is normally written in bold capitals. Extremely intelligent – “the SNARG turns every trap to is own advantage” – it nevertheless isn’t sentient, because it can be hunted, if you have the nerve for it. Evidently it has established itself on a number of worlds, because it’s universally dreaded; exporting its eggs is understandably forbidden, and carrying them as contraband is a severely punishable offence. Its fins can be made into a soup which is an understandably rare delicacy. Apparently we never see one: there is one among a menagerie of monsters being carried as cargo by Chalcedon in ‘Prodigal Son?’ (1963), but it’s never identified. Putting all the clues together, I had deduced that it was amphibious and a cliff-dweller, and it wasn’t until many years later, when William Rudling supplied me with a copy of the syndication-only ‘Heir Apparent!’, that I found out I was correct. At the beginning of that final Hawke story, we’re told that Chalcedon has met his end by falling into a SNARG’s nest while fleeing from the law yet again. But knowing his ability to get out of almost any tight corner, I wouldn’t have been surprised to meet him again if the strip had continued. Indeed he was seen once more, mysteriously, in the title episode of the McLane story ‘Star-Maker!’ (1979, Fig. 10) in which he didn’t appear, but which did feature the Frigidons, who were in ‘Sitting Tenants’ (1973) and now turned out to be members of the Continuance, one of whose military leaders had visited Earth in ‘The Great Atlantic Crossing’ (1965-66). As the hero looks more like the clean-shaven former Hawke than the bearded McLane, maybe it’s a glimpse of a Hawke story that never was. It’s not the only one: in 2015 the Jeff Hawke Club blog published the opening episodes of an alternative version of ‘Moratorro’ (1975).
While many more of the creatures in the original Hawke and the extended version were plausible, Sydney Jordan did take some major liberties with the sizes of others. The Klahrrids of ‘Wondrous Lamp’ (1960-61), whose surviving population of 2 million is teleported here to end an interstellar war, decide that Earth will be a pushover because we’re stupid enough still to be using ‘powered gliders’ for transport. The first unit of the invasion lands at Heathrow under orders to “OBLITERATE all opposition!” and is promptly stepped on by a BOAC stewardess. The battle for Earth eventually takes place on an office carpet in Whitehall, where the Klahrrids’ artillery successfully defeats a beetle, but the whole force is roundly trumped by the office cat, whose fur is impervious to their electric rifles. Supposedly there is one marooned Klahrrid still loose on Earth, leading a hobo’s life (Fig. 11), but I take leave to doubt it, especially as Hawke had him disarmed. To quote the proverb, you’re never more than ten feet away from a rat.
The issues at stake were discussed by J.B.S. Haldane in an essay ‘On Being the Right Size’, in his book Possible Worlds (Chatto & Windus, 1930), updated by Arthur C. Clarke in Profiles of the Future (Gollancz, 1962), and also by Prof. Krafft Ehricke’s paper ‘Astrogenic Environments’ (Spaceflight, January 1972). If you double the dimensions of a human being, you square the cross-sectional area of the bones and cube the volume and mass of the body, so the bones would disintegrate under the load. Similarly if you shrank a human being to Klahrrid size, the muscles and everything else would be out of proportion, the rate of heat loss through the skin would be way too high, and we’d end up with a life-style like a shrew’s, with every waking moment occupied with the search for food. Prof. Ehricke brought in consideration of the spectral type of a planet’s star, and in Man and the Stars, in a chapter called ‘First Contact after Landing’, I concluded, “Thus after landing on an Earth-like planet, we would not expect to miss a local intelligence because it was too small for us to notice – we would be right in intuitively looking for beings of about the same size as ourselves.”
The engine-room staff of His Excellency’s flagship in ‘The Sanctuary’ appear to be the same species as in ‘Prodigal Son?’ Evidently they’re amphibious, but it isn’t obvious why that or their very small size qualifies them for starship engineers. I felt sorry for the ones of ‘Prodigal Son?’ because they’re devoured by two of the truly monstrous sentient beings whom Chalcedon is carrying in secret (Fig. 12), with the merely ferocious ones of the outer hold as camouflage.
The customs officers of the planet Remukk have missed all of that, because they’re giant birds, much too big to enter the spaceships they’re supposed to inspect (Fig. 13), and hitherto their job has been a sinecure.
Largest of all Sydney Jordan’s creations was His Nebulosity, a gaseous being living on the fringe of the Horsehead Nebula, in ‘Sitting Tenants’, 1963 (Fig. 14). Fed up with the misbehaviour of the sitting tenants on the planet he bought as an investment, he fits himself into a gigantic vessel to visit an estate agent on one of the Federation’s administrative hubs, joking that he wants action because he’s ‘under some pressure’ (500 atmospheres, to be precise).
In the colourised version for Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos of Sydney’s 1999 montage (Fig. 15), he appears, suited, as a giant figure in yellow behind Chalcedon and the Judge. He expands to planet-size to form several oases on his body simulating conditions on other worlds he owns, to see if humans can survive there. Unfortunately for us, potentially, with his astronaut’s training, reflexes and physique Jeff Hawke manages to do so, and the evacuation of Earth is duly ordered. As one of the assessors leaves, he says, “If you’re shipped to Sirius Five, look me up! I know a video producer who could use you!” In a second error of judgment, they return Hawke to Earth, and he sets about to organise an unconventional defence. His Nebulosity turns up to supervise the deportation, unsuited, and is subjected to a humiliating defeat by an even larger incarnation of the Great God Pan.
That takes us into the supernatural element of the strip, which began (after years of protest from Mephisto) with reincarnation in ‘Ghost Errant’ (1966), continuing with lesser demons and the demigod of ‘Sitting Tenants’, ancient Egyptian souls in ‘The Poltergeist’ (1968), a Hebrew demon and archangels in ‘Shorty’s Secret’ (1973), a ‘normal’ ghost in ‘Ghost of a Chance’ (1978), a full-blown demon in ‘Baphomet’ (1981) and finally Cthulhu (by arrangement with H.P. Lovecraft’s estate) in ‘Even Death May Die (1985-86, Fig. 16) – interesting encounters, but outside the scope of an astronomy and spaceflight column!
All the Jeff Hawke stories have been reprinted, in five books, 30 magazine and a supplement, edited by William Rudling for the Jeff Hawke Club, with critical notes by Duncan Lunan throughout. For details see their website, www.jeffhawkeclub.co.uk.
‘The Art of Sydney Jordan, Dream Pedlar’ exhibition will be in the Foyer Gallery, Tower Building, University of Dundee, DD1 4HN, from 11.00 a.m. to 16.00 p.m. BST, at 9.30 a.m. through November and till 22nd December,, closed from 23rd December to 2nd January, and open again until 6th January 2024.