I didn’t know either. I’ve even seen the name on Ace Doubles at a local used bookstore. I would have guessed, given that I live in an area with many of them, that he was a Finn. John Clute’s Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry on Petaja confirms he was an American of Finnish descent.
It also mentions that his best known work is a science fiction series based on the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala. Ian Watson was later to do a two book series based on that work too: Lucky’s Harvest and The Fallen Moon. But, of course, Watson’s and Petaja’s series weren’t the only thing inspired by that Finnish saga. One J.R.R. Tolkien was a fan of it too. Thus, in some sense, Finland’s influence on modern Anglophone fantasy is rather like Jamaica’s influence on global popular music — way out of proportion to its size.
Though he was eventually awarded the Science Fiction Writers of America’s first Author Emeritus award, Tom Purdom, author of the novel on the flip side of this Ace Double, says he was unfamiliar with him in 1967.
Review: Lord of the Green Planet by Emil Petaja
The plot is hackneyed. Scout ship pilot Captain Diarmid Patrick O’Dowd crashes on a beautiful land populated with critters and places and people straight out of Irish legend. Naturally, he runs afoul of a local tyrant, the sadistic Flann, and falls instantly in love with Flann’s betrothed, Fianna. And, of course, there are many a convenient rescue in this Burroughsian style planetary romance.
And, at least for the first 70 pages (out of 118), the style is an annoying mix of slang, humor, and what seems a sort of mock medieval argot. Then things get interesting and more science fictional. The world of T’yeer-Na-N-Oge is slowly revealed as a stage setting created by one alienated scholar armed with superscience.
Clute, in his entry, says Petaja’s work was not poorly conceived. That’s sort of true here. The conflict between Arthur Deel, the man who created this world, and Diarmid is a conflict of ideas. Deel represents the values of art, beauty, legend, stasis, the romance of violent conflict, and an aristocracy. Diarmid represents science, technology, progress, and freedom though he respects Deel’s values if not his actions. He even lets Deel live.
But, at the end, Petaja goes for an ending of pure romance. Diarmid stays behind with the lovely Fianna after killing Flann and throws away the talisman which contains a useful collection of all of man’s accumulated knowledge, easily accessed by a sort of mental interface. Thus Diarmid opts for the romance of Deels’s world if not accepting its political structure.
The conflict between the races, human and otherwise, brought to the world by Deel, a world sealed off from the human civilization he fled, and the original inhabitants was interesting. One race is the Wees, a civilization of microscopic creatures that helps Diarmid out through sort of a direct mind interface.
One logical problem of the novel is why Deel bothered to introduce a legend of a figure that will overthrow him (which, of course, is Diarmid).
A rather tedious reading experience saved by the last fourth of the novel. But I still won’t seek out the sequel, Doom of the Green Planet.