Musketeers and motorcycles
Carlos McCune’s science fiction novella Caverns of Time was originally published in the July 1943 issue of the pulp magazine Fantastic Adventures. A truck driver named Clive is hauling gasoline through the Utah desert when he stumbles upon four gentlemen in anachronistic dress. They turn out to be the heroes of Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers novels—Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan. The four adventurers have inadvertently wandered through a time tunnel into 20th-century America. Clive not only kindly helps the Frenchmen find their way back to their own proper time and place, he follows them into 17th-century France, fights alongside them as they battle Cardinal Richelieu’s guards, and even manages to fall in love with Queen Anne.
I have been unable to turn up any information on author McCune, but judging from the writing one would expect him to have been a junior high school student when he penned this yarn. The whole purpose of the piece seems to be to show the Musketeers riding motorcycles, firing machine guns, driving tanks, and other “Wouldn’t it be cool if . . . ?” moments. The plot, if there is one, is an afterthought. McCune is clearly a fan of Dumas’s books, as am I, but he doesn’t do justice to the characters in this schlocky effort. The four legendary heroes are reduced to taking orders from Clive, an incredible McGyver-like figure who seems to know how to build just about anything, in addition to being an accomplished surgeon and a master swordsman. Unlike most time travel fiction, in which efforts are made not to change the events of the past, Clive unapologetically introduces as much modern technology and culture to his newfound bons amis as he possibly can, cutting a swath of mayhem and destruction from Normandy to Bohemia. He also hasn’t the slightest ethical qualm whatsoever with bringing an automatic weapon to a sword fight.
Caverns of Time is included in The Second Time Travel Megapack, a grab bag of sci-fi short stories and novellas from pulp fiction purveyors Wildside Press. It is the lengthiest selection in the collection, and also unfortunately the worst. Those who appreciate adventure stories from the pulp era recognize that when reading such material it’s necessary and often even enjoyable to suspend one’s disbelief, embrace absurd situations, and revel in gratuitous violence. One still has to have standards, however, and this train wreck doesn’t meet ‘em.