Sunday, November 08, 2009

Luan Ranzetta

The oddly named Luan Ranzetta was a pen-name used on a series of four science fiction novels published by Digit Books in 1962-64, all uniformly bad as SF and not especially good as novels. The SF Encyclopedia sums them up as "routine sf adventures, which focus on alien invasions and great disasters".

The author behind the name—Luan perhaps an anagram of Luna, which was thought to be suitably science fictional when coupled with the guttural Ranzetta, which harks back to the days of ghastly SF pen-names Vektis Brack, Volsted Gridban and Vector Magroonhas never been revealed (but see the update below). The Ranzetta nameas V. Ranzettahad been used previously on another Digit original, The Uncharted Planet (1961), which I don't have.

I picked up one of Ranzetta's books at the recent ABC Show and, discovering I now had all four, thought it might make for an entertaining cover gallery. As someone who is masochistically entertained by bad science fiction, I even started reading one of them. The Yellow Peril has come in for some stick elsewhere, notably in Neil Gaiman & Kim Newman's Ghastly Beyond Belief, which extracts a number of passages for mocking. One of my favourites occurs early in the novel where top space-ship pilots Barry and Paul are discussing the latest scientific discovery: the met boffins are, apparently "quite upset by the earth's behaviour". Barry "sobered instantly":
"... but you're right about the boffins. They say the earth is shrinking at the poles. That makes it feasible that it will bulge in the middle, doesn't it? I can't visualise how that affects us, but I do understand that it slows up the earth's revolutions. That could be important."
__Paul Duffy grinned. "Just shows you how much we depend on the Sun, doesn't it? Though last summer he must have taken his holidays the same time as I had mine!" He closed his eyes thoughtfully. "God! That camping business!"
From scientists (sorry, boffins) predicting the destruction of Earth to memories of a miserable camping trip in one easy paragraph. But even this kind of bad writing has a certain charm to it (well, I think it has charm) and makes you wonder if the author hasn't misremembered something he's heard about global warming and shrinking ice caps (and this way back in 1962).

All four books are as bad. The Maru Invasion, for instance, begins with two pilots struggling to get their rocket back to earth. We learn that they, Don Winters and Gavin Carter, have been involved in a secret project to drop off 100 men on an uncharted planet, Maru; now, returning to their home planet, the rocket 's systems have died. Despite promises from the boffins back home that nothing can go wrong, Don is worried that the rocket could continue its journey until the "super-fuel" runs out or the rocket's walls deteriorate and allow cosmic rays to penetrate. His solution to the problem:
"Gavin, old man. What about trying another look-see out of the window? Might be something new."
They reach Earth, parachuting out of the rocket to land on an atoll that appears to have suffered the effects of an atomic bomb blast. Eventually, Don discovers that the Maruans have invaded for that time-honoured reason: they need to steal some women:
"The Maruan women, for some time, had been given all the privileges of men. They were equal, they had the same rights. Of course they bore that children; that was the catch ... The women rebelled against what they called 'the servility of child-bearing'. It was a farcical situation, and executing them had not made matters any better..."
__"That's where you made you mistake, old boy! We've never let our women know that they were our equals!"
...says Don.
Before we descend completely into misogynistic claptrap, I will say that the paperbacks of the era were full of this kind of casual sexism, although few go quite as far as executing feminists. Actually, the book has lost its charm long before that point and starts to drag after the first 20 or so pages. But it does have a surprisingly down-beat ending for this kind of pulp writing; the books usually end with the hero and his girl looking forward to a bright future. In The Maru Invasion, it's as if the author suddenly remembered the cover and thought he'd better write in an explanation for it. Thus we have a silver alien spaceship approaching the hiding place of a small group of earthmen on the nuclear blasted surface of an atoll and Don's final words are: "Well, here they come, the bastards!"

Here are the covers and blurbs for all four of Luan Ranzetta's novels:

The Maru Invasion by Luan Ranzetta (Digit Books R606, Jul 1962)
He leapt back as a wide jet of crimson flame scorched forth from the blunt barrel, hitting Argos full in the face. There was a loud, inhuman scream. The others were transfixed with terror, but Don could take no chances and turned the gun on them as they stood there, eyes stark with fear. Flame belched again and they fell to the ground, their hands clawing at their faces and throats...
The World in Reverse by Luan Ranzetta (Digit Books R618, Sep 1962)
Lanny stood still, his eyes glued on that crumpled form by his feet. He wanted to run back downstairs, to safety and sanity, but he had to know what it was. He stopped to examine the upturned face and gasped, in horror, as the ghastly picture fixed itself in his mind...
__It was a woman. A woman with blonde, wavy, luxuriant hair. Hair that was matted with dark, red, glistening substance. Blood. Across the face which had once been beautiful, there ran a gaping wound, filled with congealed blood.
He put his hand out to turn the poor bruised head towards him, and, as he did so, the whole face seemed to slide sideways, as it it were some dreadful, artificial mask.
The Night of the Death Rain by Luan Ranzetta (Digit Books R717, Jun 1963)
The ominous, leaden sky brooded threateningly over the earth: the sultry heat became daily more stifling. What was the cause of these oppressive clouds which came ever closer and for which the scientists could hazard no explanation? Then it came, a blinding, havoc-wreaking death storm: relentless, tearing rain and the earth's surface gouged with craters, shattered beyond recognition...
__A small party of survivors find themsel
ves on an alien planet, hurled there by the cosmic force of the earth's upheaval. Can they ever escape from this bleak world with its stern silent inhabitants? Their plans are dependent on a second even more violent nuclear storm, and they are flung once more into a hostile universeto safety? or total destruction?
Yellow Inferno by Luan Ranzetta (Digit Book R836, Mar 1964)
A party of scientists have been sent on a mysterious journey to Tibet. None of them knows why.
__As they step from their space-ship none of them could be aware of the terrifying dangers that lay ahead.
__They must prevent the sinister Doctor Chung-Yin from carrying out his threat to destroy the entire Western World. Either they are successful, or they die a horrible death themselves.
Update: 29 November 2009
As I mentioned above,
the author behind the Luan Ranzetta pen-name has remained unidentified for many years. I'm pleased to say that this post, and a follow-up which covered the V. Ranzetta novel, resulted in a message from Matt Ranzetta, who tells me that V. Ranzetta was indeed the same author as Luan Ranzetta. "However, the V stands for Valerie and Ranzetta is indeed her real surname."

So my original guess that Luan Ranzetta might have been one of the pen-names used by T. C. P. Webb turns out to be wrong. Hopefully some more information on Valerie Ranzetta will be forthcoming.


  1. Damn! I hope I can turn up a copy of The Night of the Death Rain...

    I prefer to remain anomalous...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I have, only slightly prompted by this post, just read World in Reverse, for the first time - I have had a copy sitting on my bookshelves for 20 odd years now and never got round to opening it - god, it's dreadful. Are the others as bad?



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