Before helping William Shatner with his early Tek novels and his own mystery novels about a wise cracking Groucho Marx solving murders in 1940’s Hollywood, Ron Goulart wrote a bunch of sci fi satire mysteries featuring overly competent laser packing heroes contending with interfering female reporters, inept rival investigators and sarcastic robots (the Tek novels being an obviously more serious version of these earlier books).
One of his last PBO’s was a bit of a departure from his usual futuristic comedies. Skyrocket Steele is set in the late thirties. The hero is a pulp writer who gets hired by a film studio to work on their new cliffhanger serial, Skyrocket Steele, a Flash Gordon rip off about an earth man fighting aliens on another planet.
Things take a strange turn when the writer uncovers that the props for the film, like ray guns and rocket ships, actually work. Further investigations reveal that the studio has been infiltrated by actual aliens who are using the prop department to build weapons so they can take over the Earth and use it as a base for their continuing war with another planet in their own galaxy. The studio is also infiltrated by their enemy aliens who are trying to steal the weapons from the prop department and take over the Earth for similar reasons, leading to an all out fire fight in the skies over LA.
The book is a breezy read with such humorous touches as the hero’s writing partner never quite getting around to writing anything due to a myriad of excuses always ending with a “relax, it’s Hollywood” slacker attitude, a budding romance between the hero and a studio secretary full of Thin Man-esque quips and a dim witted thug with the hots for the studio’s biggest star who keeps popping up at the wrong time, misreading what he sees and punching out the hero.
Underneath all this is a growing sense of paranoia, as the hero, and the reader, are never quite sure who is and isn’t an alien. A little more light hearted than Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Who Goes There, the fast paced adventure is a pleasant mixture of comedy, romance and sci fi action.