10 Best Adventures of 1932
April 15, 2017
Eighty-five years ago, the following 10 adventures — selected from my Best Twenties (1924–1933) Adventure list — were first serialized or published in book form. They’re my favorite adventures published that year.
Please let me know if I’ve missed any 1932 adventures that you particularly admire. Enjoy!
- Aldous Huxley’s Radium Age sci-fi adventure Brave New World. Six hundred and thirty-two years A.F. (After Ford), a narcissistic culture of youthfulness, consumption, mood-altering drugs, and sexual promiscuity has become dominant throughout the World State. Fetuses are manipulated, and children conditioned, in such a manner as to produce an optimal ratio of labor to management; two of the story’s main characters, the “pneumatic” Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx, work in London’s Directorate of Hatcheries and Conditioning. Bernard is troubled by the methods by which society is sustained; Lenina is content. While on vacation at a “Savage” (pre-Fordist) reservation in New Mexico, Bernard and Lenina discover John, a young man whose mother was from the World State; John sees everything in terms of Shakespearean characters, plots, and tropes. John makes attempts to intercede in the smooth functioning of the soulless “brave new world” he discovers; he is thwarted at every turn, though. Will he succeed in winning “the right to be unhappy”? Fun fact: One of the most famous science fiction novels of all time, Brave New World anticipates real-world developments in reproductive technology. The Modern Library ranked it fifth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder’s children’s frontier adventure Little House in the Big Woods. Not a thrilling adventure — but a charming Robinsonade, of sorts, which details a year (1871–1872) in the life of the Ingalls family, Wisconsin homesteaders who live in a log cabin. Through the eyes of five-year-old Laura, we watch Pa hunt for fresh meat, trap for furs, take care of their livestock, plow the field, and play the fiddle; Ma, meanwhile, cooks, cleans, gardens, and takes care of the girls. The girls help with chores and tasks — from making cheese and weaving hats to making maple syrup and putting up food for the winter. Though the story does not contain the more mature themes — danger from Indians, serious illness, death, drought, crop destruction — addressed in the author’s subsequent Little House books, there’s a run-in with a bear, and another with wolves; and always, lurking in the background, is the prospect of starvation. Fun facts: This autobiographical novel, the first in a series of nine Little House books, has been named one of the Top 20 children’s novels of all time.
- Olaf Stapledon’s Radium Age sci-fi adventure Last Men in London. This is the story of Paul, a teacher telepathically possessed by a member of an evolved human species (the Last Men) living in the distant future, and one of Paul’s students: “Humpty,” a London teenager and “supernormal” in whom there is “some promise of a higher type.” As adolescents, the reader is led to believe, all “submerged supermen” like Humpty (whose nickname refers to his oversized cranium) are misfits: they don’t take themselves seriously, they don’t want to get ahead, they despise athletics, they’re puzzled and bored by religion and patriotism, they don’t regard sexuality as shameful, and they remain idealistic long after childhood. Humpty outlines a plan to found a new human species — one that will control the world and eliminate or domesticate the “subhuman hordes”; however, luckily for the rest of us, he succumbs to despair. Fun fact: Stapledon writes insightfully about homo superior — he’s credited with coining the term — in three of the four novels for which he’s remembered.
- Edwin Balmer and Philip Gordon Wylie’s Radium Age sci-fi adventure When Worlds Collide. Two rogue planets are entering the sun’s orbit! The League of the Last Days — an international band of 1,000 brilliant scientists, action heroes, and fertile women (I exaggerate, but not much) — hatch a desperate plan, and set about designing, constructing, and outfitting rocket-arks. We are treated to two terrifying apocalyptic scenes: One, when the rogue planets first pass by the Earth, triggering stupendous cataclysms; and the other, when worlds collide: “The very Earth bulged… It became plastic. It was drawn out egg-shaped. The cracks girdled the globe. A great section of the Earth itself lifted up and peeled away….” But it’s the post-apocalyptic scenes that are the most haunting: a deserted Chicago whose skyscrapers are knocked out of plumb; violent, half-naked mobs battling the National Guard in Pittsburgh; an army of hate-filled Midwesterners that nearly succeeds in wrecking the rocket-ship project. Sequel: After Worlds Collide (1934). Fun facts: The book influenced the strip Flash Gordon, while Siegel & Shuster lifted key ideas from both When Worlds Collide and Wylie’s earlier SF novel, Gladiator when they created Superman. George Pal’s 1951 movie adaptation of Worlds is a sci-fi classic.
- Dorothy L. Sayers‘s crime adventure Have His Carcase. While on a walking holiday in southwestern England, crime novelist Harriet Vane stumbles upon the body of a dead man; however, shortly after she reports the discovery he vanishes. Lord Peter Wimsey, in his eighth outing, helps Harriet investigate. The dead man, they learn, is a Russian professional dancer and gigolo who was engaged to a foolish rich widow. Was it suicide or a complex murder plot? Exactly when was he killed? The police regard Harriet as a suspect; Wimsey wants to marry her. In the end, it’s a complex puzzle — the sort of murder mystery that only a mystery writer like Sayers, or Harriet Vane, can solve. Fun fact: This is the second novel in which Harriet Vane appears. The title is taken from William Cowper’s translation of Book II of Homer’s Iliad: “The vulture’s maw / Shall have his carcase, and the dogs his bones.”
- Graham Greene’s political thriller Stamboul Train (also known as Orient Express). Onboard a train from Ostend, Belgium to Istanbul: an accidental collective of lost souls. We’ve got Dr. Czinner, an exiled revolutionary leader headed back to Belgrade — where the revolution has already failed; Myatt, a Jewish merchant on a business trip (he suspects his firm’s agent in Turkey has been cheating them); Coral, an ailing showgirl in search of love (who believes she has found it in Myatt); Mabel, a lesbian journalist, chasing a big story, and her young lover; not to mention a sociopathic cat burglar, a novelist, a priest, an army major, and a luxury-loving police chief. Over the course of the three-day journey, there’s sex, murder, robbery, and a trial. Myatt, who faces anti-Semitism both on and off the train, travels back to Subotica to rescue Coral, when she disappears. Fun fact: Of this novel, Greene said: “In Stamboul Train for the first and last time in my life I deliberately set out to write a book to please, one which with luck might be made into a film. The devil looks after his own and I succeeded in both aims.” It was adapted as a movie in 1934.
- Clark Ashton Smith’s Radium Age sci-fi adventure Zothique (1932-1953). In sixteen stories, not to mention a verse play (!), all written in gorgeous, ornate prose, and all published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales, Smith depicts the dark goings-on of Zothique, a continent where the elites live in perfumed decadence, and lost kingdoms litter the deserts. Most of the story’s main characters are necromancers: indeed, the first-published Zothique story is titled “Empire of the Necromancers” (September 1932). Other memorable titles include “The Isle of the Torturers” (March 1933), “The Dark Eidolon” (January 1935), “The Tomb Spawn” (May 1934), and the Robert E. Howard-esque “The Black Abbot of Puthuum” (March 1936). So is this fantasy, as opposed to science fiction? It’s both. The Zothique stories are set in the far future, when Earth’s sun glows a dim red; Zothique — comprising what once were Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, and parts of northern and eastern Africa — is the only continent extant. In fact, Smith is credited with having pioneered the Dying Earth genre of science fiction. Fun fact: Along with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith made the years 1933-37 a Golden Age for Weird Tales.
- Hergé‘s Tintin adventure Les Cigares du Pharaon (Cigars of the Pharaoh, serialized 1932–1934; as a color album, 1955). In Tintin’s fourth outing, and one of his trippiest, the young Belgian reporter is traveling in Egypt when he and his dog, Snowy, stumble upon an underground tomb… in which he discovers the mummified bodies of missing Egyptologists! They pursue drug traffickers across the Middle East and India. Along the way, Tintin meets the bumbling, spoonerism-spouting policemen Thomson and Thompson (“with a ‘p,’ as in ‘psychology'”) for the first time; the criminal mastermind Rastapopoulos makes his first appearance here, too. Tintin hits it off with the Maharaja of Gaipajama, and must rescue the Maharaja’s son from a fakir! Fun fact: Hergé was inspired, in part, by the tabloid speculation surrounding an alleged Curse of the Pharaohs following the 1922 discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.
- A. Merritt‘s fantasy adventure Dwellers in the Mirage. Hiking in northern Alaska, explorer Leif Langdon and his Native American friend discover a Hggrd-esque hidden valley inhabited by golden-skinned pygmies and the descendants of Mongolians. Soon Langdon, who was once told he was a descendant of Dwayanu, an ancient Mongolian king, finds himself possessed by the spirit of Dwayanu. Langdon/Dwayanu starts a civil war between the valley’s inhabitants; can he fight off the influence of his ancestor? Meanwhile, Merritt is in top form: we encounter giant leeches; a Cthulhu-esque octopoid creature — from another dimension — that dissolves whatever it touches; and a beautiful witch woman! Fun fact: One of Michael Moorcock’s favorite fantasy novels. Dwellers in the Mirage was originally serialized in Argosy beginning with the January 23, 1932 issue.
- Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall’s historical seafaring adventure Mutiny on the Bounty. In 1787, the Bounty sets sail for the West Indies. Captain Bligh, we realize in the first part of the story, is not a kind-hearted man, and the life of a British sailor is brutal; by the time the ship arrives in Tahiti, a beautiful land populated by noble savages, the crew has become restive. In the book’s dramatic third section, Bligh begins to demean his officers, particularly Mr. Christian — who leads a mutiny against Bligh and eighteen of his loyal followers. Bligh and his men must make a desperate trek — across thousands of miles of open sea — in an open boat, before they arrive safely home. The Bounty returns to Tahiti, where several of the non-mutineers and a few of the mutineers decide to stay. Five years later, the Tahitian colonists are captured and brought back to England, where they face a dramatic trial. The book’s narrator, Roger Byam, wasn’t a mutineer — yet he may hang… Fun facts: Loosely based on a true story. The Bounty Trilogy continues with Men Against the Sea and Pitcairn’s Island. Mutiny on the Bounty was adapted as movie in 1935 (with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable) and 1962 (with Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, and Richard Harris).
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