I’ve extended this series of looking at the whole Dan Dare canon to include a handful of exercises in contributing to the extended Dare Universe, but this is where the show finally reaches the end of the road.
The Invaders of Ixx is another prose novel by Denis Steeper, to follow on from the Pirates of Numidol Trilogy. It’s again set in the expanded continuity created by Steeper in The Report of the Cryptos Commission to link together all the original stories and bind them into a coherent history. The Invaders of Ixx is a much smaller, entirely linear story, set even later in Steeper’s chronology than anything before it, and resting upon one of the few continuity points Steeper was unable to incorporate into the Trilogy.
But for this link, however, it is almost completely detachable from the official canon. It is set in 2032, four years after Sir Daniel has become Controller in Chief of Spacefleet, in a universe that has changed drastically from that once depicted by Frank Hampson. Lasting peace holds between Earth and Numidol, even if mutual suspicion still affects both sides. Earth and the Therons have now moved on from their weakened state in the wake of the Treen Holocaust, though suspicion of the Treens still burns deep inside everyone. The Mekon’s resources grow ever thinner. Known Space, and the colonised worlds continue to expand. The Fenx are still an enemy and, in another region of Space, so too are the Vorde, despite a peace negotiated by Sir Daniel.
But it’s a Universe in which the cynicism that Steeper posits as inevitable after the Treen Holocaust has only gotten worse. Everyone is more corrupt inside, seeing only aliens and hating them and committing slurs. Politicians are more venal and self-directed. The military more eager for war. It’s a dirty, grimy Universe now, and one that Steeper lays on with a trowel, until it seems that only Dan and his immediate cohorts – Digby and Toby Spry, plus a Steve Valiant who is a junior but unrespected and ineffectual Dan Dare – are capable of acting with a concern for anything but their own private interest.
I’ll return to that thought before I finish, but it is all pervading.
The first of the five parts that go to make up this story, ‘Murder on Mars’, was originally serialised in Spaceship Away, where it appeared complete in itself. That concerns a plan by the Mekon to disrupt the Olympics on Mars, much as he attempted to do so when they were held on Venus, many moons ago. Mars is being terraformed, blocks of ice being catapulted from the Asteroid Belt and directed to sites on Mars where two oceans are slowly growing and more atmosphere is being pinned to the planet. The Mekon’s plan involves diverting one such iceteroid to crash onto the Olympics site…
All well and good, and properly diverted by Dan and Digby, but Steeper then goes on to build upon this footing a rather larger plan, with not too many direct links. Essentially, the Mekon has found allies, allies who are to invade the Solar System and take Mars for themselves, allies who come with an invasion fleet over 1,800 ships strong: an overwhelming enemy even for the combined forces of Earth, Theron, Thork and Lant.
These are the Ixx, and they are the insectoid race that briefly threatened the Outer Planets as long ago as Project Nimbus. Steeper posits their craft as being a scoutship for a race driven from their home planet, in search of a new home. He also posits two crewmembers being overlooked and surviving in a base on Jupiter’s Moon, Ganymede, now a part of Thorkspace.
And he posits these two Ixxians being found by the Mekon, who invites the Swarm in to take Mars from the cursed Earthmen, leaving the Mekon free to return to his rightful place on Venus. And, given the size of the Ixx Swarm, and it’s inevitable strength, humanity faces extinction.
Steeper uses the same technique as before, of multiple viewpoints weaving separate strands from multiple places. This time, without time travel, the timeline proceeds undisturbed. Dan and Digby fall into the Mekon’s hands at an early stage but escape with the aid of the two Ixxians who survived Project Nimbus, who introduced the Mekon to their people and who now bitterly regret it.
Ultimately, these two get Dan and Digby, now joined by Toby Spry, the Fleet’s leading zeno-expert, to the command of the Swarm where, with the aid of a surprisingly sympathetic senior advisor, not to mention Toby’s dueling skills with a Phant short sword, a treaty is negotiated to end the growing bloodshed without further loss or destruction to either side.
And only at the end is it revealed that the Ixx were not, in fact, the overwhelming menace they were taken for, and Earth could easily have had them. Indeed, Dan’s naturally chivalrous nature has struck one final time, instead of letting it all go to custard (a phrase that is used, over and again, in this novel, the meaning of which being obvious though not the derivation: maybe it’s just a New Zealand thing?)
I realise that I’ve presented the story in fairly perfunctory terms, and this is unfair to the novel. It is considerably more complex in its development and execution than I’m giving it credit for, and it’s a far better proof-read volume than the Trilogy. But in my present mood, I’m finding myself wanting to reject it.
Some part of that is that I am not in a sympathetic frame of mind at this time, some even is that I’ve been re-reading and writing about Dan Dare for almost a year and this is the end of it for me.
But most of it, too much of it is sadness and despondency at the Dan Dare story ending in this manner, ending in this damned grubby universe of mean and miserable people. Steeper is sadly right to say that, after the Treen Holocaust, it would be beyond naïve to think that Dan’s Earth would have, could have remained as clean and bright and optimistic, as utopianly hopeful as Frank Hampson had meant it to be. Jean Amery once said that “the first blow forever changes the torture victim’s world”. Beyond that, there is no more trust, no more illusion.
Steeper is only following that inviolable dictate. But that doesn’t make for a world in which I can be completely happy at seeing the Pilot of the Future: this, for me, is not the Future of which he was meant to be part. It may be realistic, but it is not worthy of Dan Dare, nor Digby, nor any of their companions who fought so many times to steer that world through dangerous presents, to achieve a universe that is as broken and corrupt as the one in which we live, you know, the one without an Impulse Engine.
I’d exclude The Invaders of Ixx if I could, consign it to an alternate Universe, much like that in which Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes’ Dare the Future belongs. But because of the Pirates of Numidol Trilogy, I can’t do that. It’s both or neither, and the Trilogy is too important to too many things in Dan’s universe to be ignored.
But I don’t have to like it.
Two things in this book exemplify the magnitude of this aspect. Steeper presents a series of newspaper headlines at the start of each chapter, from different levels of newspaper, one of which is clearly a tabloid. It’s headlines include the ongoing appearances, on page 3, natch, of Stephanie Rocket, a topless pin-up of implicitly voluminous size.
This latter aspect is emphasised when, turning the joke on its head, the implants explode during an illicit photoshoot at SFHQ.
It’s a mildly amusing but wholly irrelevant little strand, included presumably for satiric content, feeble though that is. But instead of leaving the joke at its evident punch-line, Steeper then goes on to write Ms Rocket into the actual story, with a slick lawyer intent on suing everybody even peripherally involved for million pound libel suits. A bitter taste extrudes itself into the mouth.
But for me the conclusive touch is indeed conclusive. One of Steeper’s creations is Major Hanna Bovaird, of Army Intelligence, stationed in Mekonta. Major Hanna plays an active role in investigations into the murders on Mars and subsequent intelligence operations derived from that. Her role changes once the Ixx Invasion ties up all of Earth’s resources, and Treenland revolts, throwing off the Occupation Forces’ yoke in readiness for the Mekon’s return.
Lieutenant Colonel Bovaird (promotion comes quickly) finds herself as Senior Officer. As such, she is responsible for the deeply secret Final Solution for the Treen Problem, an exceedingly illegal hydrogen bomb, stored in Mekonta, to be activated to wipe out the Mekon and the entire Treen race. Genocide.
Hanna, and a Sergeant, are the last ones left, with the responsibility of doing something that is ultimately the greatest wrong, but which will leave open the door for the human race to one day come back, a door the Mekon would close forever. It’s an irrevocable step: even the knowledge that the bomb, the plan existed, would forever change humanity’s relationship with every race that is prepared to trust it.
Dan’s success in negotiating a settlement with the Ixx obviates the need for the bomb. Hanna is a true-blue, honest, loyal patriot: though she gets a second promotion to full Colonel, she wants nothing in exchange for keeping her mouth shut. But that’s not good enough at the highest levels of Army Intelligence: the sergeant is killed in a hit-and-run accident at exactly the same time Hanna’s apartment block blows up, though she’s smart enough to avoid being in it at the time.
And to go on the run, keep out of it, until she reaches the Deputy of Spacefleet Intelligence, Steve Valiant’s old dorm-mate, Mark Straight. Under SF protection, she negotiates her safety at the highest level, a new role, posting to France, genuine prospects, and she will not speak.
All well and good. Steeper spends enough time on this, shows the value of intelligent diplomacy, the calming of the situation in everybody’s favour.
Virtually the last item in the book is a news item of the death of an Intelligence Officer, killed in a car accident in Paris, believed to have been drinking. Reports of a second car have been dismissed.
That’s too much cynicism for me. I could take it in the Trilogy, but it’s gotten too far away. No matter The Invaders of Ixx‘s qualities, I cannot accept the cynicism of the Universe any further. A very sad note on which to end this examination of Dan Dare’s Future.