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.
Personally, 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.