My life in outer space

The Astronauts Must Not Land – John Brunner (1963)

The Astronauts Must Not Land

The Astronauts Must Not Land – John Brunner (1963)

‘It was a time of glory and it was a time of fear. After two years, Starventure, the first spaceship to reach the stars beyond our solar system, was returning to Earth and all the world rejoiced. But it was to be a shallow triumph, for on the day Starventure landed, a huge monster appeared in the sky above southern Chile, and the terror that gripped mankind was the worst in the annals of recorded history.

Scientists were convinced that only the crew of the spaceship could unravel the mystery of the apparition. But, when the ship’s latches were opened it was discovered that the astronauts had been transformed into six-limbed creatures with twisted and warped bodies – and they knew no more about their fate than the terror-stricken people on Earth.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

David Drummond

As a science-writer he was used to explaining difficult ideas in simple terms – but now he had to explain the completely impossible

Carmen Iglesias

Her ancestry, she held, was one quarter Spanish, Irish, Amerind – and jaguar.

Leon Drummond

He had to struggle to remember what it felt like to have only one pair of hands.

General Suvorov

Desperation drove him to reveal the deadly secret of the starship’s cargo.

Dr Lenister

Like any good scientist, he knew that when natural laws are broken you have to scrap them and start over.

Brian Watchett

Thanks to him, the world was saved from panic by a convincing lie – which he hated.

Hermanos Iglesias

Carmen’s brother… only he wasn’t. Not any longer. He was someone – or something – alien.’

Blurbs from the F-227 1963 Ace Double paperback edition.

An experimental FTL ship employing hyperspace technology is sent to Alpha Centauri. On board is Leon Drummond, brother of top science writer, David Drummond.
On the day of the ship’s return to normal space within the Solar System, Drummond is convinced that he saw his brother in the street, who then disappeared.
Monstrous alien faces appear in the sky over various cities and Drummond – although he has received a transcript of a message from his brother on the ship – believes that a conspiracy of silence is preventing him discovering something that has happened on board.
David meets up with Carmen Iglesias, an occasional love interest who also has her brother Hermanos on board. Carmen also claims to have seen Hermanos recently in the street but he also disappeared.
It isn’t long before David is brought within the circle of secrecy and is told that the crew of the ship have been physically transformed into six-limbed aliens while retaining their minds and personalities.
David is sent on board the ship to speak with Leon in an effort to determine whether it is really Leon or an alien impostor, playing the role of Leon Drummond.
This (apparently later revised and released as ‘More Things in Heaven’) is one of the better Brunner Ace Double novels. It’s fairly lengthy for a double, being paired with the far shorter ‘The Space-Time Juggler’.
One is led to the increasingly likely conclusion that the aliens have switched minds with the crew and are roaming Earth in their bodies. Soon it is discovered that the visitors are not just observing humans but are preaching and drawing larger crowds each day. Thus eventually Drummond is able to trace and meet Hermanos who explains who the visitors are and why they are here.
It is, one feels, a weak denouement, with Brunner suddenly throwing in a link between Humanity and the fallen angels of Christian mythology. Hyperspace is apparently our real home, as we fled to our ‘imperfect’ universe following some unspecified heinous crime. We will return there it seems but it will take some twenty thousand years.
It’s not that it’s a bad idea but it seems – at least in the Ace double version – to be a conclusion hastily tacked on at the end.
Again, as in many Ace Doubles, there is a surfeit of characters who lack the space to develop into anything beyond the two-dimensional.
It may be interesting however to see how this novel sits chronologically in Brunner’s writing career since it certainly shows a better grasp of character and structure than some others in the Doubles series.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s