Oh, stop sputtering. What’s that? How can it be influential when you’ve never heard of it? When it has won no Hugo or Nebula awards? Well, perhaps you’ve heard of the main character—Buck Rogers. This book contains the story that started it all, the original Buck Rogers tale.
Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan was first published as a novella in Amazing Stories in 1928. It spawned a huge entertainment empire, consisting of Buck Rogers comic strips, radio programs, motion picture serials, and TV shows. Today they would call that a “franchise.” Buck Rogers became a pop culture hero, a household name, in a way that most of the greatest science-fiction books never matched.
Still, I honestly can’t even remember what initially attracted me to this book. Probably the cool cover. The whole Buck Rogers cultural phenomenon was well before my time. It was another generation’s entertainment. When I started reading science-fiction in the 1970s, Buck Rogers already had a bit of a campy air about it. There was a TV show revival in the late 1970s, but I don’t recall watching it.
When a concept has been through so many iterations, it can be hard to separate the quality from the crap, and that probably also colored my opinion. But once I started reading the original source material, I was sold. Armageddon 2419 A.D. is one of those books I used to re-read on an annual basis. I have a friend who felt the same way and he borrowed it several times. Of course, as science-fiction it was dated even in the 1970s, let alone now. But it’s a solid pulp adventure tale. “Anthony” Rogers, a WWI vet, was working for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation, investigating a strange gas in a Pennsylvania coal mine. There’s a cave-in, and the gas holds him in a state of suspended animation until he wakes up in the year 2419. Much adventure ensues fighting the Airlords of Han.
The original two novellas from Amazing Stories were excavated and published together in paperback form by Ace in 1962. Pictured is the third Ace printing from 1972, which is the one I plucked from the science-fiction shelf at my local bookstore. It has been read so many times it is beginning to feel a bit fragile. Fortunately, in our digital age books never have to die, and you can get Armageddon 2419 A.D. in e-book format for free through Amazon. Buck would appreciate that.