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Ancient Songs

Stranger From the Depths

By Gerry Turner 

7 Jan, 2024

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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Gerry Turner’s 1967 Stranger From the Depths is a stand-alone science fiction novel.

Desperate to keep the family newspaper afloat, college student/editor Gary and highschooler Jordan Howard perch on a promontory in the hope of photographing an incoming tsunami. Their effort costs them their vehicle, but the resulting images earn them a healthy $1200 (about $11,000 in 2024 currency). The Bellbrook Times can survive for a little while longer.

In the aftermath left by the wave, the two orphans make a very curious find, a statue of curious design and even more astonishing age, embedded in an ancient cliff.

The statue depicts a humanoid figure with surprising lizard attributes. Consulting with geology professor Benjamin Shaw, the boys learn that the statue is made of either diamond (which would make it the largest diamond on Earth) or some unknown, even harder material. Carbon dating1 establishes that the statue is an impressive one hundred million years old, as old as the mountains of eastern United States. Someone or something carved the statue during the age of the dinosaurs!

Gary and his chum, plucky girl diver Lucy Weston, deliver the next vital clue to the mystery. The pals know of an underwater cave near the cliff where the statue was found. A passage leads from it towards the cliff. Under the supervision of the Museum of Natural History, the tunnel is explored for the first time. At the end of the tunnel, they find a coffin-like structure containing a Lizard Man much like the statue.

Concluding that the Lizard Man might be in suspended animation rather than merely well preserved, the humans tinker with the sarcophagus. They manage to revive the Lizard Man without killing him.

Once the language barrier is circumvented, first with written symbols and later with a language-imbuing machine, the Lizard Man — or Saa, as the humans call him — explains his doleful story. Saa came from Haad, a small but highly advanced city-state that engaged in incessant wars with rival city-states. Haad was buried by lava during the age of volcanoes that ended the reign of the dinosaurs. That was a minor inconvenience. What truly doomed Haad was a plague of which Saa was the only survivor.

Since Saa survived a hundred million years, Saa reasons that perhaps other Lizard Men survived as well. First step towards finding his lost kin: a trip to the long-buried Haad, accompanied by the young humans who woke him. 

Note: Saa is a herbivore and finds the oddly-shaped carnivorous primates accompanying him more than a little alarming. But a lizard’s gotta do what a lizard’s gotta do. 

There is at least one surviving Lizard Man city, deep in the Earth’s crust. Gaan depends on decaying machines that its inhabitants no longer understand. Life in Gaan is regimented, impoverished, and clearly doomed. The city’s past is largely a mystery to the inhabitants. One thing the Lizard Men of Gaan do remember? That Haad is their enemy.

Bad news for Saa, who having located Gaan, is even now on his way.


Older readers may remember Turner as the author of a scathing letter printed in the February 1938 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. If my review seems harsh, Turner was equally harsh towards subpar fiction.

This novel is a fine example of how desperate SF fans could be for reading material. Even when I acquired this book from Scholastic as a grade-schooler, I knew this was pretty dire stuff. Nevertheless, beggars cannot be choosers and I still have a copy.

It’s hard to know where to start with the science in this. First of all, carbon dating2 only works on objects less than fifty thousand years old. Second, I don’t think that even in 1967 the Appalachians and the Allegheny Mountains were believed to be one hundred million years old. Third, the means by which the Lizard Men survive deep in the Earth’s crust is, shall we say, dubious. Fourth, the academic’s comments about the most recent ice age (“about eleven thousand years ago — long before mankind inhabited this continent”) suggests that either he believes humans arrived in America even more recently than was believed in 1967 or that he does not count Native Americans as human. In general, the science in this would embarrass Doctor Who writers3.

On the other hand, crediting the extinction of the dinosaurs to massive volcanic eruptions wasn’t obviously ludicrous4 even to young James. There’s even a likely suspect in the Deccan Traps. (Unfortunately for Turner, the Deccan Traps are in India, not the USA.) As well, Turner does foreshadow the Silurian Hypothesis in the characters’ speculations about how humans might have overlooked the existence of a prior civilization.

There are some bright spots. For example, the financial desperation that drives two boys to stand in front of an oncoming tsunami seems plausible5. Lucy is relegated to a supporting character, but she does get to affect the plot in positive ways, not always a given with novels of an era when women — or girls, as they were universally known — were not permitted to conduct many adult activities without male supervision.

I particularly enjoyed the calm manner in which poor Saa reacts when he wakes to find himself surrounded by war-prone flesh-eating mammals. Managing his hosts expectations without actually handing over what would be in human hands doomsday weapons while avoiding being chewed to the bone by outraged ravenous apes denied shiny toys is a tricky task, but Saa manages it.

Stranger From the Depths is long out of print. That is probably for the best.

1: Yes, yes, I will get to the carbon dating issue later in the review.

2: See?

3: Speaking of Doctor Who, Who’s Silurians postdate Turner’s Lizard Men. It is possible that Stranger inspired Who, but I know of no evidence supporting this.

4: Even though Chicxulub is now believed to have put the nail in the dinosaurs’ coffin, it is a reasonable hypothesis that the Deccan Traps may have contributed to their demise.

5: Wait, you say, what about the diamond statue? Surely that should fetch a pretty penny, enough not only to keep the paper going but to support the boys in reasonable comfort? The boys seem too public spirited to sell it.

Evidently Professor Kincaid had returned the little statuette to his older brother. Later, he knew, they would have to decide what to do with the priceless diamondite carving. Probably give it to the museum for safekeeping and display, he supposed.