I was never a fan of Buck Rogers. Somehow, the whole thing slipped past me, I suppose because I simply didn’t see the comic strips. And Armageddon 2419 A.D. doesn’t have a lot to do with my vague image of Rogers, which is mostly rayguns and … well, that’s about it, really. Rayguns.
When I got down to reading this, the narrator’s name triggered the idea, “Hey, maybe this is Buck Rogers,” but I didn’t really know enough about Rogers to make a decisions. By the time rayguns appeared, I’d kind of forgotten about it. When he starts fighting the Han – the Yellow Blight – I thought of Ming the Merciless, but I just looked it up, and that turns out to be Flash Gordon – another comic strip character I know little about. Comic strips just weren’t my thing as a kid.
The Yellow Blight element of the story is a little much, but for a story written in 1928, I think the terminology is intended as descriptive. The Han are smaller, weaker, and more decadent than the rebellious Americans, but I can swallow that as simply intended as a slur on the ruling class. We don’t get to see enough of the Han – other than their oddly detailed communications to know whether there’s more of a racial element to it, but there is a reference to “saving the race”, so I’m not optimistic.
Beyond all of that, there’s a mildly amusing pulp adventure. Our hero naturally brings special skills to the table, wins the girl (who is quite capable, and whom he marries almost instantly), becomes the leader of the resistance, etc. Some of the geography seems a bit iffy – Wyoming seems pretty close to New York – as does the statecraft (“Russian Soviets”?)
It’s interesting and at times fun, in a Burroughs and Doc Smith way. I can’t say I’m likely to become a Buck Rogers devotee, but I have the sequel (The Airlords of Han), and I may zip through that at some point too, to see if my fears are correct, and to see how Rogers becomes Buck.