Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Ape-Men of Xlotli by David R. Sparks

Into the lost world of Quetzalcoatl
The Ape-Men of Xlotli, a novel by David R. Sparks, was first published in the December 1930 issue of the pulp fiction magazine Astounding Stories of Super-Science. I came across it in The Pulp Fiction Megapack, a collection of vintage weird adventure stories from Wildside Press. The concept and plot of this lost-world sci-fi tale appear to be heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novel The People That Time Forgot, and to a lesser extent by Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. However, it somehow manages to be more entertaining than either of those more intelligent books by not taking itself too seriously and opting for macho action and pulpy thrills over scientific veracity.

Kirby, an aviator from Kansas, is training pilots in the Mexican Air Force when his plane unexpectedly goes down in a remote wilderness. Fleeing from bandits, he enters a canyon into which his pursuers decline to follow. Following this canyon to its opposite end, he finds the entrance to a tunnel that leads to a forgotten underground land of strange geological wonders and bizarre flora and fauna. He also finds beautiful women—lots of them—who appear to live without male companionship, and are more than happy to see him. These women are threatened by a neighboring tribe of hideous ape-men, atavistic relics preserved from mankind’s evolutionary past. After coming to the ladies’ rescue, Kirby learns that this new friends are citizens of a lost civilization, complete with a social hierarchy, religion, and government—a government that Kirby discovers is just ripe for a coup d’état.

The ape-men are the worshippers of Xlotli, the rabbit god, while the homo sapien women pray to Quetzalcoatl, the great feathered serpent god. In keeping with the Mexican setting, Sparks gives everything a vaguely Aztec feel, though he’s not at all concerned with anthropological accuracy. He likely chose Mexico as his setting because it has an ancient history of human sacrifice, which is always a good element to throw into a pulp fiction adventure. Like the aforementioned Burroughs novel, this is basically just a fantasy land designed to put damsels in distress so the spunky American tough guy can come to their rescue with fists flying and pistols blazing.

Not surprisingly, a book entitled The Ape-Men of Xlotli is no literary masterpiece, but if you’re into this sort of vintage adventure fiction you’re likely to find this brief novel entertaining. It can be predictable and formulaic at times, but there are fun moments of suspense and action as well. You never know what you’re going to get when you dig into those old fiction magazines, but this entry fares better than most.
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