Armageddon 2419 A.D.
"Armageddon 2419 A.D." is
Philip Francis Nowlan's novellawhich first appeared in the August 1928 issue of the pulp magazine " Amazing Stories". Later, in the 1960s, the novella and its sequel, "The Airlords of Han", were combined by editor Donald A. Wollheiminto one paperback novel, titled "Armageddon 2419 A.D." The characters and setting eventually evolved into Buck Rogers.
Nowlan’s novella tells about America in the 25th century, conquered by Hans in 2109 A.D. and only now beginning to rebel. The Hans are invaders from Asia with highly advanced technology. They have great aircraft armed with disintegrator rays that turn whatever they hit into nothing. From time to time, they raid American land "to keep the 'wild' Americans on the run within the shelter of their forests, and prevent their becoming a menace to the Han civilization."
Living in cooperative gangs and hiding in the forests from the Hans, Americans secretly rebuild their civilization and develop the new technologies "ultron" and "inertron". Inertron is a substance with "reverse weight" (anti-gravitational properties), so that a person with an amount of inertron equal to most of their weight (in the form of a “jumper” – "rocket motors encased in inertron blocks and strapped to the back") can travel rapidly across country in long leaps. Ultron, in turn, is an "absolutely invisible and non-reflective solid of great molecular density and moderate elasticity, which has the property of being 100 percent conductive to those pulsations known as light, electricity and heat." They use these technologies, as well as explosive rockets and radio frequencies the enemy can’t detect, in their struggle with the Hans.
The main character and the narrator in "Armageddon 2419 A.D." is Anthony Rogers, who later appears in the various
comic strips, radio shows, and film serials that follow as "Buck Rogers". Rogers recounts the events of the “Second War of Independence” that precedes the first victory of Americans over Hans, in which he plays an important role. He was a veteran of the Great War (World War I) working as an engineer for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation who, at the age of 29, fell into "a state of suspended animation, free from the ravages of catabolic processes, and without any apparent effect on physical or mental faculties." The incident took place in 1927 in an abandoned coal mine near Wyoming Valleyin Pennsylvaniaas the result of a mine cave-in. As a result of exposure to radioactive gas, Rogers remained in “sleep” for 492 years.
He awakes in 2419 and, thinking that he has been asleep for just several hours, wanders for a few days in unfamiliar forests (what was Pennsylvania almost five centuries before). He finally notices a wounded boy-like-figure, clad in strange clothes and moving in giant leaps, who appears to be under attack by others. He defends the person, killing one of the attackers and scaring off the rest. It turns out that he is helping a girl,
Wilma Deering, who, on “air patrol”, was attacked by an enemy gang, the "Bad Bloods", which is presumed to have allied themselves with the Hans.
Wilma takes Rogers to her camp, where he is to meet the bosses of her gang. He is invited to stay with their gang or leave and visit other gangs. They hope that Rogers’ experience and knowledge he gained fighting in the First World War may be useful in their struggle with the Hans.
Tony stays with the gang for several days, learns about the community life of Americans in the 25th century and makes friends with the people, especially with Wilma, with whom he spends a lot of time. He also experiences a Han air raid, during which he manages to destroy one of the enemy ships. Rogers and his friends hurry to the bosses to report the incident and explain the method he has used when shooting the aircraft. As the raid has caused much destruction, there is suspicion that the location of the gang’s industrial plants may have been revealed to the Hans by rival gangs. They await a fight with the Hans who will likely wish to take revenge for the destruction of their airship.
The bosses direct Wilma and Rogers investigate the wreck. While there, a Han party arrives to investigate as well. Thanks to Tony’s quick and wise instructions, he and Wilma manage to escape and also manage to shoot down some more of the Han’s ships. The day after, Wilma and Anthony get married and Tony becomes a member of the gang. Meantime, knowing Rogers’ technique, the other gangs start the hunt for Han ships. The Hans better secure their ships and the Americans need to take up some further steps to have any chances in the fight and to find the traitors quickly.
Anthony develops a plan to get the records of the traitorous transaction, which are kept somewhere in the Han city of Nu-Yok. With the help of other gangs, he creates a team that will go with him. They learn that the traitors are the Sinsings, the gang located not far from Nu-Yok.
The Americans appreciate Rogers’ courage and brave deeds and, grateful to him, make him the new boss. He instantly reorganizes the governing structures of the gang by creating new offices and makes plans for the battle with the Sinsings, again using the knowledge he gained in the First World War. The raid on Sinsings turns out to be a great success and gives the Americans the confidence in their ability to overcome the Hans.
The story, with its repeated counterposing of "The White Race" and "The Yellow Race" who fight for control of America, is seen as reflecting the mindset of "
Yellow Peril", prevalent among many Americans at the time of writing.
Allusions/references from other works
After "Armageddon 2419 A.D." was published, John F. Dille, the head of the National Newspaper Service, which syndicated comics and features, read Nowlan’s novella and convinced a dubious Nowlan to turn it into a daily comic strip. Dille renamed the character
Buck Rogers, possibly after a cowboy hero of the same name, and hired artist Dick Calkinsto do the illustrations. It was the first real science fiction comic strip, and one of the first strips to tell a continuous adventure story, while also using word balloons, rather than a text box.
Buck Rogers was a huge success, spawning many imitators such as
Nowlan’s novella and script introduced the public to science fiction and prepared them for a future that involved
space explorationand space/ arms race, that later, indeed, was going on between the USA and the Soviet Union. They also introduced many science fictions ideas, like, for instance, that of “personal flight” with the use of devices attached to one’s body.
* "", a 1995 novel by
Martin Caidinthat reimagines the events of "Armageddon 2419 A.D.".
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