Month: January 2014

Marooned On Mars

Marooned on Mars

Marooned on Mars by Lester Del Rey was first published in 1952.   In various encyclopedias and listings, one finds this novel categorized as “juvenile” science fiction.  What that means, I think, is that this is basically a young adult novel (nowadays we call it YA).  However, I do not think that any of this is entirely locked-down, written-in-stone stuff.  Why is it called “juvenile”?  Because the main character is a young lad of 17/18 years old.  I guess, too, because there is not any cussing or wild sex scenes.  Some readers might suggest that the writing level is geared toward a younger audience.

vintage-sf-badgePersonally, I liked this novel for what it is.  I feel like when I was much, much younger, I read dozens of books similar to this one. It is somewhat hard to put my finger on what it is, but I can try.  The young main character, Chuck, is an example of the ambitious, curious, and well-raised young man one thinks of when one generalizes about 1950s youth.  He is helpful, good-hearted, and a little awkward.  He also has a lot of skills at his young age that I am not so sure youth of present time have.  He’s practically an expert in electrical work, radar/radio usage, welding, etc.  Simply put, if my spacecraft were hurtling toward Mars and needed serious repairs to the drive-control system, I don’t think I would, honestly, entrust the repairs to some teenager.

There’s not much I can really say about the novel without giving a whole lot of it away in spoilers.  Humans have colonized the moon.  Therefore, humans live on Earth and on the Moon – and a project has been developed in conjunction with both societies to make a trip to the planet Mars.  The Governor at Moon City wins a hard-fought battle to have someone from his colony be present on the trip.  Chuck, who meets many of the requirements, is selected.  The one requirement he does not meet is the lower limit age one.  They want a crew between 18 – 27 years of age.  Chuck is only 17.  So, in spite of all the things Chuck could bring to the team, he is replaced by another young man put forward by the Chinese delegation:  Lew Wong.

The ship is readied and Chuck is brooding and lamenting.  He was exceedingly excited to be headed to Mars, now he has to give his position to Lew.  Now, here is something neat about reading 1950s “juvenile” science fiction.  Even the youth seem bold and brave and not yellow cowards. They seem willing to explore and take on challenges and face risks.  This is an element of these sorts of novels that really keeps them worth reading.  That unabashed curiosity and bravery is always good to, at least, read about.

Anyway, Captain Miles Vance leads the ship to its takeoff from the Moon. But little does he know, there is a stowaway.  And we are led to believe that all the men in the crew rather expected to have a stowaway, but they simply couldn’t endorse this action officially.  Either way, Chuck is part of the crew now.

It isn’t quite a spoiler to say the ship/crew gets marooned on Mars.  So they get there and then they have to set about repairing the ship to leave right away.  This is where the novel lost two full stars in my rating.  What the heck was their plan?  How do you have winches and welders and stuff on this ship and you had no real plans for contingencies or maybe even what you were going to do once you got to Mars – if you had gotten there intact.  I mean, I feel the novel focuses only on the ship’s travel and gives no thought to why they are traveling.

I read this for Vintage Science Fiction month and also because I am spending a lot of time on Mars (my other read….).  Overall, I enjoyed this for what it was.  The middle is a little too slow, the writing is sufficient. A good example of 1950s stuff.  One thing totally worth reading is the little three page essay/introduction by the author.  It’s entitled “Tomorrow’s World” and it does explain the impetus for a lot of the science and psychological milieu in the novel.  It is a fun and interesting little tidbit.  Three stars for vintage-ness, comfort reading, and down-to-earth mellow writing.

3 stars

Captain Future and the Space Emperor

Captain Future – #1; Edmond Hamilton

Vintage Science Fiction Month

If you have heard of Captain Future prior to the TV show The Big Bang Theory, then you are a science fiction nut like myself and many of the bloggers that I know.  (For those who do not know, the characters on the TV show have a poster of Captain Future on their apartment wall.)  Anyway, my blogging friend the little red reviewer encourages us to read Vintage Science Fiction in January.  So I thought about it and selected a few items, one of which is the first “issue/novel” of Captain Future.  Now, I certainly did not go out to any big city comic book store and fetch up an authentic vintage copy.  I read a copy from Amazon.com on my Kindle.  Normally, I do not like to post reviews on items I read on digital readers, but it *is* Vintage Science Fiction month.

Captain Future was created by Mort Weisinger and the stories were generally written by Edmond Hamilton. The stories were published in pulp fiction magazines starting in (I believe) 1940.  The first “issue” that I read (on Kindle, vol. 1) was Captain Future and the Space Emperor.

Now, if you know anything about early pulp magazines/fictions, you know they were really pumped out by their respective authors and are not generally known for their high-minded, highly intellectual, or incredibly detailed writing.  Pulp.  What you get is a rollicking good story, action, adventure, and a neat concise ending.  Back in the day, one might say this was called “fun.”

And it was fun, which is the most I expected out of it.  I had a lot of fun reading it – and it does read oh so quickly.  Captain Future, Curt Newton, is a young lad who was born and raised on the moon.  His parents were killed by evil villains seeking to control their scientific inventions.  Well, Curt was raised, then, by those very “inventions,” to include a giant simple-minded robot, a synthetic “man,” and a brain-in-a-box ex-human.  As I write all of that – I have to admit:  how can any story involving that motley bunch not be filled with fun?!

The story begins by presenting a horrifying situation wherein humans are undergoing some sort of transformation which turns them into beasts.  They are, more or less, devolving into pre-human monsters. I didn’t count, of course, but I think the word “atavism” is used 2 million times in this volume.  The President of Earth calls Captain Future to solve the mystery – Captain Future is, naturally, our last hope!  So, Curt Newton and his crew of non-humans heads off in their fancy spaceship, the Comet, to Jupiter where all this atavisming is going down.

The rest of the story is full of action and adventure, as is to be expected.  I love how Captain Future is always so upbeat, positive, and confident! He can handle anything! No matter what happens, he knows what to do and knows how to solve the problem.  He’s skilled in science, strategy, fighting, etc.  He’s just the hero we need!  It is really charming, I suppose.  However, while 90% of this volume is action and adventure, I would be unfair to the author if I did not point out that there are times where he goes the extra step and “explains” why such-and-such device or science works.  It may not be gritty science and mathematics, but the attempt to give ratio for things is to be commended.  For example, I do not think I have ever read the word “acromegaly” before.  Also, in chapter twenty there is some solid ratio given for how “immaterializers” work – even to explain how acoustics still operate within them.

My favorite sentence:  “He looked up at the full moon that sailed in queenly splendor high above the soaring towers of nighted New York.”   Well, it’s just a hair shy of being purple prose, right? But it also has this fun, splendid way of describing the scene.  Anyway, I do intend to read the next volume and while this is not for those very serious types who read only hard sci-fi, well, it is perfect for people who want to have a fast read with a little vintage charm and a lot of fun.

3 stars

Whose Body?

Whose Body? – Dorothy L. Sayers; New English Library; 1988

Well, the first book to be read and reviewed in 2014 happens to be a Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) novel.  Whose Body? was first published in 1923; I read the 1988 New English Library edition, which I picked up used for $1.80.  This novel is the first of Sayers’ novels, therefore it is also the first in her series starring the private amateur detective Lord Peter Whimsey.

I have been reading older books rather than freshly published ones.  I am trying to especially bulk out the 1920s and 1930s. Why? Absolutely no reason whatsoever.  Random idea.  And I am not really serious about it, just something I am in the process of doing.  Hence, Sayers falls into this category.  She also falls into the category of early detective mysteries. But beyond that, one of the last things that a very old professor (Emeritus and with a lecture series named after them) was working on before they really retired [this can be taken in several senses] was commenting on the religious and philosophical ideas found in Sayers.  This may seem totally non-academic, but I must gently remind you this was more so busywork and senior-minded hobbying; the years for true academic research long past.  At the time I witnessed this work, the professor was 80 years old.  I was always slightly curious about their interest in the author/works.

Well, so, I started reading this novel with zero expectations. I did not know what to expect and I did not demand anything from the novel.  It starts off a little jarringly, I have to say.  The main character, Lord Peter Whimsey, is en route somewhere – but we join the story as he is requesting the cab driver to turn around and return to his house.  At first I was not sure what to make of the character or the story. I was really not sure that I would get through this novel in one piece. But Whimsey grew on me. And then I realized why I was becoming so fond of him….. he reminds me of me.

Seriously.  I didn’t realize it at first, but then I couldn’t help but notice. He’s not a dandy or a fop.  He’s this eccentric, extremely witty, aristocrat. A bon vivant, which is more or less…..well… me. He is an expert in foods and wines and wardrobe and he LOVES BOOKS and folios and incunabula.   Whimsey is 100mph and is a lot of excitement. Maybe this likeness tainted my enjoyment of the novel just slightly.  But also, his mother reminds me of my mother a bit, too.

“You see, Lady Swaffham, if ever you want to commit a murder, the thing you’ve got to do is to prevent people from associatin’ their ideas.  Most people don’t associate anythin’ – their ideas just roll about like so many dry peas on a tray, makin’  lot of noise and going nowhere, but once you begin lettin’ ’em string their peas into a necklace, it’s goin’ to be strong enough to hang you, what?” – Lord Whimsey, Chapter 7

Here’s the story sans spoilers:  a body is found in the bathtub of a certain simple-minded little man named Thipps.  Thipps has no idea who this is or how the body got into his bathtub.  Also, a self-made man of some repute has seemingly gone missing, wearing nothing but his birthday suit.  Lord Whimsey investigates with the help of his friend in the police, Detective Charles Parker and his totally awesome butler/valet Mervyn Bunter.  I suspect if I had a butler, he would have to be exactly like Bunter. And, really, Bunter is as much to credit for the resolution of the case as is Parker and Whimsey.

Sayers writes this novel utilizing lots of dialogue.  You have to follow along with discussions more so than descriptive prose.  This is okay because the majority of the characters say witty, interesting things.  One of the difficulties, though, is that Sayers does include dialect and slang and such.  So, unless you are British and/or reading aloud, it can slow your reading down just slightly until you get used to the “sound” of the voices.  I can see how this might drive some readers batty.  I got used to it and pressed onward without incident.

Sayers was criticized for the novel having a slightly anti-semitic tone.  Well, I am not going to really get into that – I do see how the criticism came about – certain characters do make some typically obnoxious statements, but I do feel it is par for the course with the setting and times of the novel.  It does not affect the novel in any major way, though.  Also, there is another detective that is investigating the case (Inspector Sugg) and it is hysterical whenever Whimsey and Parker mock him.  They obviously do not bear him ill-will, but they do get a kick out of mocking him.  So, the reader probably should take most of this novel on that level.

Anyway, I am definitely going to read more of Lord Whimsey’s series.  I am glad I read this one and I did have fun with it. Wrote down three quotes and laughed aloud a couple of times.  Also, I might start shouting for Bunter.

3 stars