It’s up to Hannibal Fortune to save the world from the Mind Muddler. Sometimes called the Happiness Machine (or simply a television), it is a device that can reduce the world’s population to the level of idiocracy. Fortune is equal parts man from U.N.C.L.E. and man from S.H.I.E.L.D. in this cheery mid-century satire.
As a high-ranking operative within a giant galactic peacekeeping organization called the Temporal Entropy Restructive and Repair Agency, Fortune lives in the year 2572 and his No. 1 directive is to make sure Earth remains a sovereign planet until then.
Problems arise when T.E.R.R.A. identifies a crisis on Earth back in 1966 that demands immediate intervention. “Technologically, Earth was on the threshold of the interstellar community. Politically, however, she was as explosive as the deadliest of her hydrogen bombs.” Fortune is sent back in time to make sure our planet’s future isn’t kidnapped by cosmic robber barons.
But going back in time is no easy proposition. Things can get messy pretty quickly. It demands sober considerations of alternatives and an extrapolation of known facts as they relate to future events. Fortunately, Hannibal Fortune is acutely aware of the problems he faces. Being a time traveling veteran, he’s logged over 60 years of experience in a mere 12 years. “Quite the accomplishment,” he boasts. He’s earned the right to tamper with the past.
If Fortune has one failing, it’s this: he is a man of sensual pleasures. In accordance with the rules of T.E.R.R.A., he is a learned historian. But otherwise he is driven by his passion for excellent food, fine clothing, expensive automobiles, swashbuckling adventure and uninhibited women. He must continually remind himself that “it is not part of his assignment to speculate upon the romantic proclivities of Earth’s female population.” This doesn’t stop him from flirting with cute cat ladies and leggy tour guides, however.
It’s here (as the T.E.R.R.A. agent arrives on Earth in 1966) when the book becomes an affable caper that borrows freely from multiple genres. Beyond the science fiction/spy/superhero milieu, the author also tweaks the zeitgeist of the swinging 60s, and plumbs the era’s fascination with flying saucers. Despite the dangers of the mission, the events are presented in a light-hearted manner. Along with his sidekick Webley, “a living yoke of protoplasm,” Hannibal Fortune is endlessly flummoxed by Earth’s primitive technology and tricky social customs. And, of course, the time-travel restrictions continually give the pair maddening roadblocks to overcome.
Through it all, Fortune and Webley are a resourceful team. Even when their secret mission becomes embarrassingly public, they find a way to patch things up. “It’s convenient,” Fortune realizes, “to operate in an era where secret agents are accorded a measure of respect.” Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin and Nick Fury couldn’t agree more.
[Agent of T.E.R.R.A. #1: The Flying Saucer Gambit / By Jack Owen Jardine writing as Larry Maddock / First Printing: 1966]