To The Tombaugh Station – Wilson Tucker (1960)
‘Was His Spaceship Haunted – or Only Booby-trapped?
MANTRACK TO THE ENDS OF SPACE
Kate Bristol was a born huntress. Her keen senses and steel nerves were infallible, and nobody knew it better than her superiors at Interworld Insurance. They took it for granted that when they put Bristol on the case she would bring back the man — and the facts!
But even Kate began to doubt her ability when they handed her the job of tracking a murder suspect on board the spaceship Xanthus. One, the ship was bound for the farthermost outpost of civilization. Two, there would be no one on board the ship but Kate and the suspected murder-pilot. And three, the trip would take at least two months!
For Kate this assignment was more than just a challenge — it was life or death. She had always to stay one step ahead of the suspect or she might never live to return from that trip TO THE TOMBAUGH STATION.’
Blurb from the 1960 D-479 Ace Double paperback edition
The unfortunately-named Kate Bristol is a kind of female ninja insurance investigator who has been asked to take on an undercover insurance investigation. One of the partners in what is essentially an interplanetary haulage business is dead, possibly murdered.
Kate hires their only ship to take her on a long haul flight across the solar system, knowing that her main murder suspect will be the captain and pilot.
Bristol leaves the destination up to Webb, the man suspected of the foul deed, but she is not expecting Webb to pick up a lucrative haulage deal from the Tombaugh station on Pluto.
It’s a bit of an odd premise that insurance investigators would go to such lengths as chartering a space ship to fly to Pluto and back, but this was in the days when writers imagined that in the future we’d have individuals with their own spaceships flying hither, thither and yon.
It’s not one of Tucker’s best and lacks suspense. Bristol is hardly ever in danger at all so the journey to Pluto is hardly a rollercoaster of white knuckle drama.
Having said that, Tucker has created two credible characters here between whom the dialogue and interaction work very well. With a little more work, some moments of tension and more ambiguity over Webb’s guilt or innocence, it could have been raised to a whole other level.
Tucker should also be credited with creating a tough independent (and intelligent) female lead character at a time when most writers (and editors) were still a little Neanderthal in relation to gender equality. One could argue that she is, to a certain extent, still being portrayed as a sex object. It’s a step in the right direction however and a far cry from van Vogt’s dumb helpless maidens who need Men to sort out their problems.
Nineteen Sixty, it appears, was a pivotal point for change.