My life in outer space

1940s

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell (1949)

Nineteen Eighty-Four

There isn’t a lot I can add to the no doubt inexhaustible amount of analysis and dissection that this novel has engendered since its first publication.
Quite rightly considered one of the best Dystopian novels of the Twentieth Century, Orwell’s chilling vision of Britain under a totalitarian regime has become one of those odd iconic social phenomena which has lodged itself within the public consciousness. There is apparently a sizeable percentage of the population who claim, or even believe, that they have read the book without actually having done so, and there are many more who are familiar with the name Winston Smith and the phrases ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Room 101’ both of which became the titles of successful TV programmes, although only bearing a very loose connection to the original work.
I have not read this since 1976 when, as I recall, it was recommended reading in my O Level English class. Apart from the 1984 film starring John Hurt as Winston Smith which I saw on its release, I have had no experience of the narrative since. However, the novel seems to seep into us all as if by osmosis via public media and it is therefore perhaps not surprising that so many believe erroneously that they have actually read it.
For a novel of the late Nineteen Forties it has dated very little and is a tribute to Orwell’s writing and his characterisation. Whether the author planned it or not, the fact that the Powers That Be seek to halt social change and development gives contemporary readers an odd view of what life may have been like if a socialist revolution had occurred in the Nineteen Fifties and social development halted. It still reads as fresh and as powerful as when it was first published and is undeniably a brilliantly observed textbook of political control.
Having said that, although ‘Animal Farm’ was a direct analogy of the Soviet Revolution and its consequences, Nineteen Eighty Four is a far vaguer concept and looks to the future of what an authoritarian regime may eventually become. What is slightly chilling about this is how much our so called democratic governments are employing the techniques that Orwell so concisely explains. A ruling body does not have to be a left wing socialist dictatorship to seek to control the population through a reduction in levels of education and control of the media.
That’s been standard practice in the UK for at least the last twenty years, and one can see from looking at the actions of individuals such as Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch how adept the PTB have become in controlling what information is disseminated to the ‘proles’ and in what form.
Others have pointed out that if the society of Nineteen Eighty-Four exists anywhere, it is within the intolerant theocracies and religious dictatorships of the Middle East where victimless crimes such as Atheism or Blasphemy will have you up before the thought police before you know it, excommunicated from your family and very likely executed. Indeed, Winston’s society tends toward the religious model with Big Brother as its eternal Messiah. Like most fundamentalist sects for instance, The Party is against sex, and not content with merely restricting copulation for reproductive purposes, seek ultimately to eradicate the practice altogether and have the process automated by machines.
One wonders if Orwell considered that what he was writing was actually Science Fiction, or indeed if he cared. It’s an extraordinary work made more so by its lack of comparison to other genre works of the time. It’s hard to say however without further research what subsequent level of influence Nineteen Eighty Four had on the genre as a whole. Certainly it is fascinating to see so many ideas that we may refer to today as Dickian, such as the majority of the population of the world being unaware of the true nature of things (as in ‘The Penultimate Truth’) or the delightful and very Dickian concepts of machines that construct novels or pornography, or the versificator, which composes popular songs. ‘Thoughtcrime’ however, is the most Dickian idea here, and indeed, Dick did explore the idea of police who arrest people for crimes they have not yet committed.
Wingrove’s ‘Chung Kuo’ also owes a lot to Orwell, particularly in the ruling oligarchy’s policy to halt the ‘Wheel of Change’ and their rewriting of World History.
What most struck me about this book however, coming to it relatively afresh after forty years, was that it was not what I had expected. There are elements of the surreal and the absurd, such as the Party manufacturing pornography to be illegally sold on the black market. There are complex characters such as Julia, whose inexplicable declaration of love for Winston immediately raises suspicions, but which, given her later conversations with him, seems logical given their twisted emotional development under this repressive regime. Winston himself, is an extraordinarily complex character with very few redeeming features and not at all likeable to any degree, but yet is a far more real human being than any of the numberless fearless heroes that have infested our bookshelves since.
I can’t say I was that impressed back in 1976, but then, I did not know a great deal about the world. Now, I see it as a dark twisted mirror of our political world. It speaks to me all too clearly with a wonderful clarity.
If you haven’t read it, read it. Be enlightened.

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Empire of The Atom – AE van Vogt (1957)

Empire of the Atom

An interesting fix-up here which is loosely or partly based on Robert Graves’ ‘I, Claudius’, and has been assembled from five stories (“A Son Is Born” (May 1946), “Child of the Gods” (Aug 1946), “Hand of the Gods” (Dec 1946), “Home of the Gods” (April 1947) and “The Barbarian” (Dec 1947)), all originally published in Astounding.
On a far future Earth a child, ‘Clane’ is born to Tania, the daughter of the Lord Leader of Earth. The child is malformed as a result of his mother’s exposure to radiation.
Normally children such as this would be out to death but Jonquin, one of the scientist priests who maintain the temples of the God Metals, convinces the family to allow the child to live in order that he can study the development of such an unfortunate.
van Vogt here postulates a far future Earth where the automated production of power from nuclear materials continues in temples of scientist priests, although no one appears to understand the principles behind the science and attributes the power to Gods who control the God Metals. Following a war with an alien race known as The Riss, humanity has fallen into a stagnated society of ignorance. Nuclear powered ships travel from world to world despite the fact that the secrets of their construction have also been lost. It’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow, it has to be said.
The Lord Leader discovers Clane to be highly intelligent despite his nervous tics when in unfamiliar company, and takes his advice on military strategy when the Earth forces are under siege when trying to conquer the human population of Mars. As pointed out, it loosely follows events in at least Graves’ account of the life of Claudius. The Lord Leader’s exiled stepson, Tewes, for instance, is clearly Tiberius and the Lord Leader, the Emperor Augustus.
Clane fits in to the usual van Vogt ‘logical hero’ template and becomes adept at anticipating and deflecting assassination attempts and, when he finally assumes the position of Lord Leader, defeating invading barbarian armies from Jupiter. In retrospect it might have been far more interesting if van Vogt had kept to the Claudius template. Claudius avoided death because the schemers and plotters around him found him a harmless and somewhat ludicrous figure, which was far from the case. van Vogt has Clane control his nervous reactions very early on, and his physical abnormalities are concealed under voluminous clothing, and so may as well not be there.
Rather like the conclusion to ‘The Weapon Makers’ van Vogt throws in some surreal non-sequitors at the finale. Clane has been captured by the Barbarian leader Czinczar who brings in a package containing a deformed possibly alien body packed in ice. Clane proves that he has complete control of a ball of light which hovers within the room by killing the guards who try to harm him and then the Barbarian surrenders his entire forces to Clane. Is this body an alien threat from outside the Solar System, or one of the Riss?


Revolt in 2100 – Robert A Heinlein (1953)

Revolt in 2100

A minor fix-up novel from Heinlein, where he explores the theme of insurgency and revolution; a concept he was to return to again and again. In ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ the residents of Luna revolted and declared independence. ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ examined a subversive yet benign cultural revolution. Here, the rebellion is against a repressive Theocracy which has taken over the US in the year 2100.
A naïve young soldier in the private guard of The Prophet (the despotic leader of the Theocracy) is recruited into an Underground Resistance Movement and we follow his career until the moment of revolution.
An additional tale is set at a time when the new state has used psychological tools to create a mentally stable society.
Not all are happy in this tame paradise however and those who employ violence or seek to promote dissent are banished to a lawless community within a forcefield which is called Coventry. Another rash young man ends up here and finds himself attempting to escape, but only to warn the external society that the lawless misfits are about to break out and declare war.
The three stories employed here form part of Heinlein’s Future History series and comprise of ‘If This Goes On—‘ (1940), ‘Coventry’ (1949) and ‘Misfit’ (1939)


Tales of Outer Space – Donald A Wollheim (Ed) (1954)

tales

Tales of Outer Space

‘The most thrilling things to come will be the daring exploration and conquest of distant worlds. Here, in this brand-new science-fiction anthology, are five unforgettable novelettes which contain all the different types of excitement and peril that will follow the opening up of the universe to the rocket men.

Ralph Williams tells the strange story of the first break-away from Earth. Fox B. Holden introduces us to Mars and the incredible inheritance that waits there. Clifford D. Simak presents a mystery of one world’s inhuman inhabitants. Poul Anderson spins a cosmic web of the coming galactic empire. And L. Ron Hubbard tears through the veil of space itself to pose a turning point in humanity’s interplanetary epic.

Tales of Outer Space is an original collection of top science-fiction by top writers.

“Doorway in the Sky”

They thought their ship was the first to break into outer space until they spotted that derelict!

“Here Lie We”

The Martians had power, science, and experience — yet they were helpless before a fate that left Earthmen fearless!

“Operation Mercury”

No one knew whether the weird mimic of the Sunward Side was harmless — or crazy like a fox!

“Lord of a Thousand Suns”

He was just a man without a world until a certain space soldier blundered!

“Behind the Black Nebula”

With all the resources of super-science behind them, they still fought a losing war against that leaderless horde!’

Blurb from the 1954 D-73 Ace Double paperback edition

This volume, paired with ‘Adventures in The Far Future’ , are both edited by Wollheim. They are to a certain extent themed, since in ‘Tales of Outer Space’ we begin within the Solar System and when we reach Poul Anderson we head out to the stars.

“Doorway in the Sky” – Ralph Williams (Astounding Science Fiction , 1953, as “Bertha”)

Predating Clarke’s ‘2001’ we have the concept of an artefact left in Earth orbit to trap (for whatever reason) the first humans to visit. Although the author has encompassed the idea of weightlessness he has failed to envision that vomiting into a bucket in zero gravity would not be a good idea.

“Here Lie We” – Fox B. Holden (Startling Stories , 1953)

A Bradbury-esque and romantic tale of our first meeting with the Martian race. They are keen to teach humanity everything they know, because their species is doomed.

“Operation Mercury” – Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction , 1941, as “Masquerade”)

A very interesting early work from Simak here, set on a Mercury power plant, where the manager is about to solve the mystery of the local natives; the energy beings known as ‘Roman Candles’.

It’s possibly only Clifford Simak who could make an installation on the Planet Mercury seem like a cosy US mid-west homestead.

“Lord of a Thousand Suns” – Poul Anderson (Planet Stories , 1951)

Vintage Space Opera in which a military commander on a planet besieged by rebels discovers a cache of Elder Race doomsday weapons and a strange helmet. The helmet transfers the digitised consciousness of Daryesh, Lord of a Thousand Suns, into his head, and it’s a bit of a tight squeeze.

“Behind the Black Nebula” – L. Ron Hubbard (Astounding Science Fiction , 1941 as “The Invaders”)

Despite his somewhat tarnished reputation Hubbard was a fairly decent writer in his day. For its time this is a very imaginative story about a mine situated ‘Behind the Black Nebula’ which is a rich source of Hubbard’s particular brand of unobtainum. The mine is besieged by monstrous creatures and is up to a new technician to discover what they are and how to neutralise them. The answer is clever and unexpected, although the basic premise of the nebula and the mine needs to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.


The Changeling – AE van Vogt (1944)

The Changeling

‘THE WORLD WAS COMING TO AN END…. but only the toti-potents knew it. They were the instruments of the alien invaders.

Once they had been ordinary men. But when the invaders from space took possession of their bodies, they became immortal and perpetually young; able to read minds and predict and change the future; possessors of weapons infinitely more powerful than any Earth had known. And they began to hate men.
But because, outwardly, they still looked and acted like everybody else, there was no way to tell who they were – until they attacked!’

Blurb from the 1969 Macfadden books paperback edition.

This is a piece originally published in Astounding in 1944 which features a future world in which, for one thing, the sexual divide has become polarised. Many women have a drug that makes them the equal of men (although what exactly that entails, apart from increased strength is kept a little vague). The consequence of this is that no one will employ them and no man will marry them. To solve the problem President Jefferson Dayles has recruited them all as a personal Amazon Army.
The novel begins however with Lesley Craig, a man who is questioning his own memory. He has the conviction that he has been working at his current job for longer than seems to be the case, and when he decides to go home to question his wife on the matter he eavesdrops on her discussing him with a group of men.
He has also been kidnapped by a team of Amazons and taken to see Jefferson Dayles who questions him obliquely before Craig is returned home.
This would appear to be typical ‘stream of consciousness’ work from van Vogt, who presumably had no idea where the story was going when he started out. It would appear, however, that the story – then called ‘The Wonderful Man’ – was rejected by JW Campbell twice. Campbell noted ‘”I think you’ve been straining for something new and strange and different in this ‘Wonderful Man’ yarn. But my gut reaction is that while you’ve achieved that in part, you’ll do better without these particular strangeness.” [The John W. Campbell Letters, Vol. 2]
The basic premise is a little odd; that humans under extreme stress become ‘toti-potents’, gaining initially extended longevity and the ability to regrow limbs. When they enter the final toti-potent phase however, the brain begins regenerating all its cells, which means that all previous memory is lost. They gain however powerful mental prowess and the ability to absorb the contents of others’ minds.
It’s a minor van Vogt piece but nonetheless interesting for its sheer oddness and van Vogt’s singular and long-maintained attitude to the difference between the sexes. His depictions of women have always been somewhat disappointing. Indeed, more than most authors of his generation, van Vogt seems to go out of his way to emphasise how inferior women are in both intelligence and physical strength. Women here, with the possible exception of Craig’s wife, can not take on roles traditionally carried out by men unless they have been treated with drugs. Perversely, van Vogt seems quite fond of the dominant female here and elsewhere. Here, Craig is kidnapped by the Amazons and held hostage by them for a while, until Craig’s superior logical male mind manages to outwit them and escape.
Having said that, it has the usual surreal charm and ‘particular strangeness’ that marks van Vogt’s work, along with the recurring theme of the pacifist logical hero.


Children of The Lens – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1948)

Children of the Lens (The Lensman Series, #6)

Probably the quintessential Space Opera of its time, the Lensman series has dated – although not so badly as the work of some of his contemporaries – due mainly, in my opinion, to Smith’s rather one-dimensional characterisation, his dialogue and his depiction of female roles. Paradoxically, given the rather limited characterisation of the humans his aliens are sometimes truly alien. Indeed, the mindsets of some of the non-human protagonists are often far more skilfully depicted than their human counterparts.
Despite that, provided one bears in mind the social climate in which this was written and reads the novel in context, they can still be hugely enjoyable.
The term ‘Space Opera’ is actually used within the text at one point when Kim Kinnison – the hero of the series – goes undercover posing as a writer of the genre. Whether the alter ego was based on anyone in particular is not known.
This is the finale to Smith’s six volume saga. Smith was an early forerunner of today’s ‘Big Concept’ writers such as Greg Bear and Stephen Baxter, and though some of his scientific fabulations seem somewhat preposterous by today’s standards it was Smith and writers like him who created that ‘sense of wonder’ for many readers, not only when this was published as a magazine serial in the Nineteen Forties, but when republished in book form in the fifties and (for reasons unknown) enjoying an unexpected renaissance in the mid-seventies. The series has recently been republished by an independent publisher and hopefully will find a new generation of readers.
Smith’s strength lies in his ability to convey the vastness of Time and Space, his premise being that billions of years ago a race of humanoids – The Arisians – was born in our galaxy and evolved far beyond the point at which humanity now stands.
They learned that by observation and the calculations of their powerful minds they could predict the future to a certain degree. They knew that a galaxy was about to pass completely through their own galaxy, and that the gravitational pull of suns against each other would produce billions of new planets, upon which Life would evolve.
They also knew that another ancient race, the cruel and tyrannical Eddorians, had plans to dominate both galaxies and sate their immortal lust for power.
The Arisians only advantage was that the Eddorians were not aware of their existence, and so was set in motion a plan which was to span millions of years, taking us through the fall of Atlantis, the Roman Empire and thus through the Twentieth Century and beyond.
In essence, this is an epic war of ideologies, in that the Arisians represent democracy and free will, while the Eddorians represent a system of Hierarchical totalitarianism, enforced by a militaristic regime (In this respect it is interesting to compare the physical description of Smith’s Eddorians with Heinlein’s Puppet Masters, who themselves are a metaphor for the forces of Communism. Both are sexless, emotionless amorphous creatures, who reproduce by binary fission, with each new half retaining the memories and skills of the original).
The Arisians’ secret weapon is a selective breeding programme which has been in operation on four different planets since intelligent life evolved.
Only one of the four races can go on to produce the super-beings capable of defeating the Eddorians.
Humans, of course, win the ‘race’ race and the couple selectively bred to give birth to the Homo Superior children are inevitably white and North American.
This idea of selectively breeding humans rather puts a dent into the concept of Arisians as benign Guardians of Democracy, and although one can argue that it was the Arisians’ only option, it is never really addressed as a moral issue within the text.
The Children themselves are four girls and boy who, in their late teens, have to conceal that fact that they are the most powerful – if underdeveloped as yet – beings in the Universe. We are led to believe that the girls will ultimately become the wives of their brother, and the mothers of the race that will replace the Arisians as Guardians of Civilisation.
An oddly incestuous episode also ensues between Kit (the boy) and his mother in a strange scene where she – in need of brain-restructuring and training, for want of a better phrase – allows the mind of her son to enter hers, rather than submit to mental penetration by the Arisians (of whom she has an incurable phobia).
The description of this act is oddly violent and not a little sexual, made worse by the rather stilted professions of love between Mother and son before the procedure.
But Hell, this is Pulp Fiction. It never pretends to be Shakespeare, and despite its political incorrectness I still find it a nostalgic and stonking good read.


Three Worlds of Futurity – Margaret St Clair (1964)

threeworlds

 

‘Unusual stories of other worlds and strange peoples

CHILDREN OF THE SUN

On Venus: An ancient and powerful Venusian race finds its ultimate evolution – but can they accept it?
On Mars: The people of the Fourth Planet are eminently reasonable in all things – except for the cult of the sacred Martian Pig, for which “fanatic” would be entirely too reasonable a word.
And on Earth: On the unknown world of one or ten centuries from now, the strangest stories of all become haunting, fascinating reality, as one of science fiction’s most imaginative writers shows us that human beings are, after all, the most alien of creatures…’

Blurbs from the 1964 M-105 Ace Double paperback edition

The Everlasting Food (thrilling Wonder Stories Dec 1950)

A strangely poetic story in which a Venusian Sanedrin (someone who has the power of enhanced perception) loses her power but then gains the power of immortality, able to feed from lightning strikes, but then begins to lose her empathy for others. Somehow the premise doesn’t seem at all odd here. The setting is colourful and detailed. In the vein of Martian / Venusian romanticism.

Idris’ Pig (Startling Stories Jul 1949)

An Earthman has to take over when his friend and relative – who has been commissioned to deliver a blue pig to a Martian cult – falls ill.
Odd little farce.

The Rages (Fantastic Universe Jul 1954)

St Clair presents an interesting background to the story, one in which the populace is kept tranquilised on Euphoria pills to keep them from falling into ‘rages’. The central figure finds himself running short of the ‘Euph’ pills on which he has become dependent until he meets a kind of anti-establishment group of people who make him reassess his worldview.

Roberta (Galaxy Oct 1962)

Probably controversial at the time, this is a tale of transsexual murders along the lines of ‘Dressed to Kill’.

Island of The Hands (Weird Tales Sep 1952)

A dated bit of fantasy in which a man, searching for his lost love, crashes on an island where giant hands in the mist can shape one”s true desire. Humdrum stuff.


Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories – Leigh Brackett (2005)

Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories

This wonderful doorstop of a book (as Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks tend to be) is miscategorised (as again Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks tend to be) since although they have fantasy elements, they are at heart SF, although falling within that amorphous subgenre of Science Fantasy. The majority are set on Mars, with some on Venus, and were published over a period of around ten years from 1942 – 1951 (although two later stories are also included.).
Brackett has been clear in admitting that her major influence for these stories was Edgar Rice Burroughs, and this can be seen very clearly in the full length novel included, ‘The Sword of Rhiannon’ (vt Sea Kings of Mars).
Michael Moorcock in his 2005 Amazon review of this volume writes that Brackett was ‘one of the most influential science fantasy writers of the 40s and 50s, inspiring and eventually collaborating with the young Ray Bradbury. Her stories of Eric John Stark, some of which appear in this collection, are perhaps the best examples you can find in the sf pulps of her day, appearing in the likes of PLANET STORIES, STARTLING STORIES and THRILLING WONDER STORIES. I know they were a huge influence on my own early science fantasy tales. Through Bradbury, she also influenced J.G.Ballard in such sequences as his Vermilion Sands stories. As such she can be seen as a kind of godmother to the so-called ‘New Wave’.

Praise indeed, and well deserved.

This volume comprises of:-

The Sorceror of Rhiannon (Astounding Feb 1942)

A tomb-robber, lost in the Martian desert, finds an ancient ship in which ancient Martian science has held the mind of a sorcerer and his blue-haired female nemesis in suspended animation for untold millennia. The pair take possession of the robber’s body and that of his girlfriend, and head for a lost city and its possibly still active technology, pursued by Martian officials and other rapacious archaeologists.

The Jewel of Bas (Planet Stories Spring 1944)

Set on a world which could have been Mars, but doesn’t seem to be, a couple of roving gypsies are kidnapped as slaves and taken to where two androids are building a machine to take over the world, while the immortal Bas sleeps in the heart of the mountain, guarding a jewel of unlimited power.

Terror Out of Space (Planet Stories Summer 1944)

A military team on Venus has captured a form of lamia which adopts the form of seductive women and drives men insane. While being flown back the creature affects some of the crew, crashing the plane and killing all but the pilot, who escapes, meets an aquatic plant race and manages to enter into a dialogue with the creature.

Lorelei of The Red Mist (with Ray Bradbury) (Planet Stories Summer 1946)

Another Venusian tale in which Hugh Starke’s mind is snatched from his dying body and placed in the body of Conan (no, not that one). A musclebound hero, whose mind had been previously broken. He finds himself in the midst of a war between the sea-people and some land people, and then has to descend into an ocean of breathable red mist to convince another group of sea-people to intervene on behalf of the land people.

The Moon That Vanished (Thrilling Wonder Stories June 1949)

Back to Venus where a religion has evolved around a legend of Venus’ fallen moon. It is said those who have visited the moonfire either die or are made gods. The moonfire may be the radioactive remains of a fallen moon, but there may also be truth in the legends.

Sea Kings of Mars (vt The Sword of Rhiannon) (Thrilling Wonder Stories June 1949)

see review here

Queen of The Martian Catacombs (Planet Stories Summer 1949)

Eric John Stark, an Earthman, brought up on Mercury, is recruited by a mercenary army who wish to conquer and unite the warring factors of Mars. However, some of his colleagues are old enemies and seek to kill him. Stark then discovers that the leaders of the army are ancient Ramas, immortal humans who have the power to transfer themselves into young bodies when they grow old, and who plan to make the Martians their slaves.

Enchantress of Venus (Planet Stories Fall 1949)

Eric John Stark arrives ignominiously in a town where he was supposed to have been delivered as a slave to the Lhori, an inbred ancient people who are searching under the red sea for an ancient technological secret. It is a common theme in Brackett’s work that there is technology too dangerous for humans to dabble with, and seems very apt for someone working at the dawn of the atomic era.

Black Amazon of Mars (Planet Stories March 1951)

Stark agrees to accompany a dying Martian, Canar, back to his home where he must return a talisman stolen years before. Canar dies and Stark continues, escaping capture by Lord Ciaran and an army of barbarians who wish him to aid them in conquering the city.
Their ultimate aim, however, is to take their conquest to The Shining Ones, beyond The Gates of Death.

The Last Days of Shandakor (Startling Stories April 1951)

An Oddly Clark Ashton Smith-esque tale in which a traveller agrees to take a mysterious alien back to his home city to die. The human, however, becomes trapped in the dying city as it replays scenes from thousands of years past.

The Tweener (F & SF February 1955)

Seemingly unrelated to her other Martian tales, Brackett here gives us an Earthbound tale in which a doctor, returning from Mars, brings his nephews and nieces a Martian pet, or is it a devolved member of an ancient Martian race?

The Road to Sinharat (Amazing Stories May 1963)

Back to Brackett’s more familiar Mars, we see Earth taking a superior colonial view and attempting to employ technology to ‘aid’ the primitive Martians. One Earthman and his Martian friend set off in a race against time to find the evidence that will stop the Rehabilitation Programme.


Orphans of The Sky – Robert A Heinlein (1941)

Orphans of the Sky

‘Robert A Heinlein did more than any other writer to shape the Golden Age of science fiction and was, for well over two decades, the pre-eminent force in the field. ‘Orphans of the Sky’ first appeared in 1941, in the early days of his extraordinarily inventive and influential career.

The Jordan Foundation sponsored the Proxima Centauri Expedition in 2119, in an attempt to reach the nearer stars of the galaxy. But that was far in the mythic past. The original purpose of the Ship’s epic voyage has long been forgotten, and for generations the giant spaceship, lost between the stars, has been the only world that the people aboard have known. A strange civilisation has slowly developed, with its own superstitions, savage religion, rigid class structure and mutant outcasts. Then, one young man discovers the truth about the Ship and its destination, and a power struggle ensues that changes everything, for ever.’

Blurb from the 2001 Gollancz SF Collectors Edition.

Published originally in Astounding as ‘Universe’ and ‘Common Sense’ this early work by Heinlein may be also one of the first ‘generation ship’ novels of the genre, but by no means the best.
Presumably aimed at a juvenile readership it is centred around a young man called Hugh Hoyland, an apprentice scientist in the world of ‘The Ship’. Their sacred writings are manuals; works of physics and Ship’s records. Fiction is considered to be ancient records of real events. The ship’s inhabitants believe the Ship to be the Universe and that nothing can exist beyond its walls.
One day Hugh is captured by muties (mutants who live in the zero-gravity area near the hub of the ship), taken to see the control room, and begins to realise that everything his people believe is a lie.
Hugh manages to eventually unite the crew and the muties (which may also be a reference to Mutineers, since their current state of existence is due to a long-ago mutiny) and restarts the ship’s drive in order to complete the journey the ship set out on.
The boss of the mutie gang, Joe Jim may or may not have been an unconscious inspiration for Zaphod Beedlebrox of ‘the Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy’ since he has two heads, one being Jim, one being Joe. The argue incessantly until they reach some kind of consensus.
Sadly, there is a rushed and rather improbable ending, following a somewhat unlikely series of events. Hugh manages to learn how to launch a landing craft from the ship only to discover that they are within spitting distance of a life-bearing world, and then safely lands the craft.
Most of the book has Heinlein’s trademark amiable readability but the denouement is too rushed and contrived and no doubt causes even Heinlein fundamentalists to raise an eyebrow or two at such convenient coincidences.


Rocket Ship Galileo – Robert A Heinlein (1947)

Rocketship Galileo

‘Ross Jenkins, Art Mueller and Morrie Abrams are not your average high school students. While other kids are cruising around in their cars or playing ball, this trio known as the Galileo Club is experimenting with rocket fuels, preparing for their future education at technical colleges.

Until Art’s uncle, the nuclear physicist Dr Donald Cargraves, offers them the opportunity of a lifetime – to construct and crew a rocket that will take them to the moon. car graves believes their combined ingenuity and enthusiasm can actually make this dream come true.

But there are those who don’t share their dream – and who will stop at nothing to keep their rocket grounded…’

Blurb from the Ace 2005 paperback edition.

Three teenagers, Art, Ross and Morrie, are the only remaining members of The Galileo Club, a school science society. The boys have designed a rocket which explodes during testing. Leaving their testing area, they discover Art’s uncle, the atomic scientist Dr Cargraves, lying prone and injured, seemingly struck down by a piece of rocket schrapnel.
When recovered, the Doctor tells the boys that he wants them to help him build and crew a rocket to fly to the moon and back. However, it seems that the Doctor’s accident was not the result of the rocket, but a physical attack from people who do not want his mission to succeed.
Despite the juvenile style and the rather improbable circumstances of a) an atomic scientist asking three teenage boys to go to the moon with him and b) their parents readily agreeing to the plan, this is a highly enjoyable wish-fulfilment fantasy wrapped around a few science lectures.
It hasn’t dated too badly either, although the All-American coming of age pathos might be rather hard to stomach for readers of today.
The group attempting to stop the rocket launch turns out to be the remnants of Hitler’s scientific elite who have created a base on the moon from which to launch atomic bombs at the Earth. It is up to Dr Cargraves and the boys to defeat their dastardly plan and return to Earth safely.