Long ago we discovered a copy of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s classic sci-fi novel, “The Skylark of Space.” What impressed us was how the action centered around two civilian scientists who build an amazing spacecraft and come up with the means to launch it into deep space where they have many fantastic adventures. Smith is often credited as being the father of that sci-fi sub-genre known as the Space Opera. But at that time most such tales generally featured military heroes whereas not so in this story. The fact that the heroes were civilians was one of the many aspects of the book we enjoyed and so remember it fondly to this day.
Which brings us to Ralph Angelo’s “The Cagliostro Chronicles,” a bonafide space opera that follows in Smith’s footsteps with its protagonists being the crew of a civilian made spaceship. Genius aeronautical engineer, Mark Johnson, has built the massive Cagliostro and outfitted here with a unique magnetic engine of his own invention that will allow it to travel faster than light; in effect transport him and his crew to the far reaches of the galaxy in the blink of an eye. He and his hand picked crew are about to embark on a “shake-down” flight when Johnson’s friend, General Abruzzi begins acting very strangely. Johnson suspects, for whatever illogical purposes, the general not only does not want him to launch the Cagliostro but is in fact planning to forcefully take it from. Heeding his instincts, he takes off ahead of schedule and sure enough finds the entire Earth Space Navy chasing after him and his crew.
Using their new FTL drive, they manage to escape to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and there, Johnson confides in his team; made up of a beautiful telepath named Ariel, a super-strong security chief and several other gifted scientists. Under secret orders of the President, Johnson has learned that evidence exist of alien incursions into out Solar System and has been ordered to discover the origin of mysterious space messages intercepted by the government. The Cagliostro’s first mission is to discover who is sending these transmissions and what their intent is.
We found this first half of the book slow. Understandably Angelo was burdened with laying out the basic plot, identifying his characters etc.etc. in the basic set-up. Still we kept hoping the pacing would pick and are happy to report it does so in grand fashion once we get to the inhabited, alien worlds. From that point on Angelo is clearly channeling classic pulp writers like Doc Smith and Edmond Hamilton as he propels our likeable heroes into one adventure after another as they eventually realize the Earth is in jeopardy from a full-blown alien invasion armada. By the time they race back to our Solar System, there isn’t a moment to spare. Clones of government officials have infiltrated the highest branches of the government and are working to assure the invasion’s success. Exposing them is only a small part of the ray-blasting action. Now it is up to Johnson and the crew of the Cagliostro to orchestrate a viable defense strategy that will give the Earth forces a chance to survive the coming onslaught.
If you like super space battles with thousands of ships engaged in a life and death struggle, with heroes larger than life and last minute rescues, “The Cagliostro Chronicles” was written for you and all Space Opera lovers. It is a headlong rush into the wonders and dangers that mankind will some day have to confront. Let’s hope we have real men like Captain Mark Johnson to lead the way.