My life in outer space

1950s

Adventures in The Far Future – Donald A Wollheim (Ed) (1954)

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‘Excitement beyond tomorrow’s horizons!

Spanning the next million years, this thrilling science-fiction anthology breaks through today’s horizons to explore the wonders of far time and endless space. In five specially selected novelettes, five leading fantasy writers take you through startling adventures on worlds undreamed of.

Trouble-shoot the interstellar airways with Lester Del Rey. Explore a city-sized starship with Chad Oliver. Fight against a galaxy-wide conspiracy with Murray Leinster. Visit the world of 1,000,000 A.D. with Martin Pearson. Sit in on a world’s last day with Poul Anderson.

ADVENTURE IN THE FAR FUTURE is a new science-fiction collection prepared especially for ACE BOOKS by Donald A. Wollheim.

The Wind Between the Worlds
If they could not seal the break in the cosmic life lines, a dozen worlds would die quickly — and ours among them!

Stardust
Though there was bitter mutiny among the crew of that star-travelling Columbus, none guessed that time itself was the chief culprit.

Overdrive
Did that lost space liner hold the only key to the terrible marauders of half a galaxy?

The Millionth Year
It took a traveler from the forgotten past to read the message of the phantoms in the sky.

The Chapter Ends
They drew a line down the middle of the universe — and the Earth was on the wrong side of the boundary!’

Blurb from the 1954 D-73 Ace Double Paperback edition

The Wind Between the Worlds – Lester Del Rey (Galaxy Science Fiction, 1951)

A matter transmitter portal becomes jammed open and is transmitting Earth’s atmosphere to another world. Scientists race to solve the problem before the Earth is doomed. Fairly lightweight hokum but enjoyable enough.

Stardust – Chad Oliver (Astounding 1953)

An interstellar ship discovers a lost generation ship and have to find a way to set them back on course without revealing their existence and jeopardising their morale or depriving them of their chance to reach their destination on their own. Flawed, but interesting. Generation ships were a big thing in the fifties. The concept seems to have run out of steam of late.

Overdrive – Murray Leinster (Startling Stories 1952)

A passenger ship’s insterstellar drive cuts out leaving the ship stranded. Luckily an insterstellar secret agent of sorts is on board and suspects a sinister plot. Leinster’s mostly very readable, and doesn’t disappoint here, although one suspects that this was planned as a longer piece, or part of an ongoing sequence.

The Millionth Year – Martin Pearson (Science Fiction Stories 1943)

Possibly put in as a page-filler, this rather lacklustre tale from 11 years previously sees a man transported a million years into the future and then is returned in spirit to watch human history over the intervening period.

The Chapter Ends – Poul Anderson (Dynamic Science Fiction 1953)

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the best contribution comes from Poul Anderson. Humanity have spread out to the stars and have come to an agreement with a race who occupy gas giants that they will occupy separate areas of the galactic region. This means that Earth, which only has a small remnant of Humanity, will need to be evacuated, One man, however, has decided to remain and live out his life alone. Poignant and character driven.

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Lost in Space – George O. Smith (1954)

Lost in Space

‘A SPACE NEEDLE IN A UNIVERSE-WIDE HAYSTACK

Commodore Ted Wilson’s intuition told him right! He should never have let his fiancee, Alice Hemingway, take off on Space Liner 79 — the flight that fate had singled out to change the destiny of the galaxy!

Once out in deep space the ship’s engines failed and Alice found herself stranded in a tiny lifeship with two amorous men. Besides this, there was no way for Wilson to find them except by combing the light-years of all space for the tiny craft.

Unbeknown to all of them, the most terrible threat of all hovered nearby. Bizarre and powerful off-worlders were watching the rescue attempts — trying to decide whether humans should be annihilated in toto or simply subjugated to their superior culture’

Blurb from the 1960 D-431 Ace Doubles paperback edition

Commodore Ted Wilson, a man used to travelling in space, despite his only recent promotion, is understandably concerned about his fiancee’s insistence on travelling the worlds of the galaxy before she settles down to become a housewife.
She is travelling with her much older boss, Mr Andrews, who has not so far suggested anything inappropriate.
When the ship’s engines fail however, Alice Hemingway, finds herself in a lifecraft with Mr Andrews and the hunky captain of the ship, both of whom it appears have designs on her.
Ted puts together a search party of ships to comb the area where the passenger ship came to grief.
Meanwhile a warfleet of aliens is tuning in to their communications. The leader of fleet has two deputies who have opposing views on how to deal with humans. One wishes to attack immediately and subsume humanity into their culture, while the other wishes’ to approach the fleet and have Humanity submit willingly to a superior force.
The action flits between the lifecraft, Ted’s fleet and the aliens.
Society hasn’t moved on in Smith’s future since Nineteen Fifty Four when this novel was first published, and the attitudes of Ted and Alice seem somewhat quaint from today’s viewpoint. Smith does, to his credit, portray Alice as far more mature and level headed in a crisis than either of her male companions.
The novel is standard fare for the Nineteen Fifties and brings nothing new to the table although Smith does include some interestingly detailed science and engineering concepts.


The Weapon Makers (vt. One Against Eternity) – AE van Vogt (1952)

One Against Eternity (The Weapon Makers)

This sequel to ‘The Weapon Shops of Isher’ was originally serialised in Astounding Science Fiction in 1943 and revised for novel publication in 1952. It is set some seven years later where Robert Hedrock, immortal agent of the Weapon Shops, discovers that he is to be sentenced to death by The Empress Innelda Isher following his lunch with her and her advisors. However, he manages to talk his way out of this, but finds himself also under sentence of death by the weapon Shop Council who have discovered his immortality and suspect him of being an alien spy.
The main plotline hinges around the suspected invention of an interstellar drive, the disappearance and search for its inventor and attempts by all parties to get their hands on the technology for their own various agendas.
There is genuine excitement in this novel, and a semblance of plot, since Hedrock has to use his weird-science inventions and his ingenuity to get him out of a series of cliffhangers. Many of them are, to be honest, Deus ex Machina plot devices which do not bear close logical or scientific scrutiny, but with van Vogt, it hardly matters as it’s what he does best and it seems somehow to work.
At one point Hedrock, having escaped Innelda’s troops in a small ship powered by the revolutionary drive, is captured in interstellar space by an advanced race of telepathic spiders and for a time exists in a world of virtual reality while the aliens test and examine him.
It is revealed, somewhat obliquely, that Hedrock not only founded The Weapon Shops but has also been the husband of previous Isher Empresses and the father of their children, which brings a somewhat disturbing and incestuous flavour to the mix.
Again, in terms of regular van Vogt devices, we have the fifty-mile long spaceships, the great phallic building (within which is hidden the interstellar ship), powerful female aristocrats, the superman/logical hero and van Vogt’s annoying philosophy of masculine superiority.
Hereditary monarchies and aristocracies pepper van Vogt’s work. I have mentioned elsewhere that those writers who exhibit a fondness for monarchist systems tend to be those who live in countries without them, and don’t have to suffer the reality of it. This may not be true of van Vogt, being Canadian, although he did move to the US in 1944.
The Empress is the only female character in the novel. Her ‘court’ is exclusively male, as is the Weapon Shops Council and although this reflects the attitudes of the time and is related to the demographic of the readership, van Vogt regularly appears to emphasise the inferiority of women. It is not so evident here although not entirely absent. The Empress Innelda, ruler of Earth, Mars and Venus, is essentially a powerful dictator but in van Vogt’s view is not complete until she has found a man to sort her out. That man, as is suggested early on, is Hedrock, a man who is also some kind of ancestor several times over.
Putting aside the innate sexism and some rather complex incest issues, it is one of his better novels, remains highly engaging and hasn’t dated too badly.
What has made this novel in particular one of van Vogt’s most discussed works is the final line, uttered by the interstellar spider-beings. ‘Here is the race that shall rule the Sevagram’.
It’s a brilliant and original touch, as the Sevagram is never mentioned anywhere else and would have left readers of the time, and up to the present, somewhat open-mouthed at this lack of conclusion, this vast open question guaranteed to leave the book hanging in one’s mind. As John Clute points out in his overview of van Vogt in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia ‘this resonantly mysterious Slingshot Ending, which seems to open universes to the reader’s gaze, may well stand as the best working demonstration in the whole of genre sf of how to impart a Sense of Wonder.’


Martin Magnus on Mars – William F Temple (1956)

Martin Magnus on Mars

In the conclusion to Martin Magnus’ adventures Magnus and his young cohort Cliff Page find their helicopter drawn off course by a rogue Venusian homing beacon, set into the rocks at the edge of the Venusian lake where the amoeboid Venusians dwell.
Magnus senses a mystery since the signal was not sent on a wavelength that humans would use and therefore was not intended as a lure.
Magnus has no time to investigate however as his superior, Old Baldy, is sending them to Mars in a prototype ion ship since something has been discovered at the polar ice cap. As the ice has melted, a white patch has been revealed, a perfect white circle, not constructed of ice.
The Martian settlers in that area have taken it upon themselves to investigate and have found a huge circular ‘pill box’ constructed of an impervious white substance. The leader of the Martian base in the area is determined to open the structure before an Earth team arrives. Things are made complicated by the fact that the hot-headed Martian leader is Phil Bruce, Old Baldy’s nephew.
It’s up to Magnus to stop Phil from destroying what could be the only relic of an extinct Martian race.
One has to admit to being very sad that this was the last of the Martin Magnus books. Despite the fact that they were aimed at what we would term today ‘a young adult audience’ one never gets the impression that this was the case. No one gets killed or badly hurt, it has to be said, and there’s a good dose of humour sloshed in here and there, but one does not feel it is dumbed down or patronising, which was a feature of some ‘juvenile’ literature of the day.
I can not conclude this review without pointing out that fans of this series owe Simon Haynes an enormous amount of thanks for going to extreme lengths to ensure that these novels are available for download, rather than languishing in Space Opera oblivion.
His memories of Martin Magnus and how the novels came to be re-released can be found at his blog.

Thank you Simon. I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming reacquainted with Magnus.


The Brain-Stealers – Murray Leinster (1954)

The Brain Stealers

‘He Alone Defied the Cosmic Vampires!

When the outlawed scientist Jim Hunt leaped from the prison plane, he had no suspicion that he was not the only one falling silently through the midnight sky. But other, stranger exiles were landing at that very moment in the same backwoods region… exiles from the unknown depths of outer space, exiles seeking human food.
When Jim started to make his way back home, he discovered the full horror of that night’s events. For the people he met had become mere flesh-and-blood puppets, mindless creatures doing the bidding of the unseen invaders. And though every man’s hand was against him, both free and enslaved, Jim knew that he alone was humanity’s only hope for survival.

Murray Leinster’s BRAIN-STEALERS is an unusually gripping science-fiction novel of thought transference, invaders from space, and vampirism on a world-wide scale!’

Blurb from the 1954 Ace Double D-79 edition.

This is an expansion of the novella ‘The Man in the Iron Cap’ from Starling Stories (November 1947) and fits right into that subgenre of specifically US novels of the time which feature ‘aliens among us’ which may possibly represent a reflection of the US’ reaction to the cold war and the nationwide paranoia over communism at the time. (see The Puppet Masters and The Body Snatchers)
Leinster has created a future Earth where the Powers That Be – a worldspanning organisation known as Security – have become so obsessed with Human Safety that all dangerous research has been banned.
Jim Hunt was experimenting with thought fields, and was subsequently arrested and charged due to the dangerous nature of his experiments. Jim escapes from a plane, convincing the authorities he is dead.
Meanwhile, a ship of telepathic bloodsucking aliens have landed and have been mentally enslaving the population of an increasingly large area of rural America. Hunt discovers this and narrowly avoids becoming enslaved. He devises a cap made of iron wire that blocks the alien thought signals, then has to escape from the area, somehow warn the rest of the world and design a device that could save mankind.
There are some interesting parallels with Heinlein’s ‘Puppet Masters’, but one cannot say whether either writer was aware of the other’s work at the time, and without reading Leinster’s 1947 novella, I can’t say how much was changed for the 1954 novel, published after Heinlein’s 1951 Galaxy serialisation and novelisation.
The aliens, for one thing, breed though fission, dividing into two and moving on to new hosts. They are not concerned about the health and well-being of their hosts and, as in this novel, were brought to Earth by another enslaved race.
They are however very different novels, Heinlein’s being in any case by far the superior.
It’s very readable however, as Leinster’s work generally is, and has its moments of real drama and suspense, but ultimately is nothing out of the ordinary.


The Sun Smasher – Edmond Hamilton (1959)

The Sun Smasher

‘A CROWN FOR THE STAR-CROSSED

“It can’t be true! It must be some kind of hoax!” These were the words that went spinning through Neil Banning’s mind when the Greenville authorities told him that the house he had grown up in, the aunt and uncle who had raised him, had never existed.
So Banning found himself in jail, charged with disturbing the peace – and maybe insanity. But when a stranger from outer space came to his cell at midnight and hailed him as the Valkar of Katuun, then Banning decided that maybe the authorities were right, maybe he was crazy. Because the only alternative was to believe the impossible explanation of the Outworlder – that he really was the exiled ruler of a remote star-world, and the personality of Neil Banning was an elaborate fraud.
It didn’t really matter, though, who was right. Banning was on his way to Katuun whether he liked it or not. And as Banning – or the Valkar – he would have to save that star-world from the terror of THE SUN SMASHER…or perish with the loyal subjects he might never have known!’

Blurb from the 1959 D-351 Ace Double paperback edition

Young Neil Banning, on a business trip, decides to take a detour to his old home town. On reaching there however, he finds that not only is his childhood home a vacant plot, but that there was apparently never a house existing there. Getting more and more frustrated by what he sees as a deliberate attempt by the townspeople to cover up the past he is eventually arrested and thrown into a cell.
During the night, a stranger arrives and stages – in Banning’s opinion – an unwanted rescue. The stranger is Rolf, who tells Banning that his past life is a fiction, that he is in fact Kyle, the lost Valkar of an interstellar Empire.
Kyle is needed to reclaim the throne from those who altered his memory and exiled him to Earth, and locate The Hammer, a weapon of interstellar mass destruction whose location only Kyle/Banning knows.
This is one of those odd romantic flights of fancy that imposes a medieval feudal culture on an interstellar civilisation. It features the literary devices of the amnesiac hero and the Maguffin which in this case is a device (as can easily be deduced from the title of the book) capable of triggering a nova in any sun.
Banning has to come to terms with the fact that he may not be who he thinks he is, while leading an army of loyal followers across the galaxy in search of a lost and terrible doomsday weapon.
Added to that, we have a feisty princess, a sundered love affair and a race of deadly telepathic spider people loyal only to the Valkar.
It is explained early on that Earth is a lost part of the Empire that has not yet been reclaimed as we are a fringe world and somewhat retarded.
One day we’ll be really advanced and united under an unelected hereditary galactic monarchy. Can’t wait.


People Minus X – Raymond Z Gallun (1957)

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‘Scientific experiments on the moon and an accidental lunar explosion that seared the earth triggers another tale from the imaginative pen of Raymond Z. Gallun.
The secret of life and the restoring to the living of victims of the holocaust initiate a conflict for Ed Dukas, Gallun’s scientific pioneer of the future. Restoring persons through scientific methods, personality records and the memories of near kin, leaves one fatal flaw. They lack one indefinable quality – a divine spark, perhaps a soul.
Gallon depicts a struggle between the restored people and the natural living. Life on the asteroids, thought machines, a journey to Mars and a star ship expedition to Sirius are woven into the plot.

People Minus X is packed with action, science-fiction style. – Detroit Times’

Blurb from the 1958 D-291 Ace Double paperback edition

The plot is straightforward enough. Ed Dukas’ Uncle, Mitch Prell, is a scientist whose creations include Vitaplasm, a synthetic but living flesh which can not only aid with repairing limbs or organs but – once one’s body has been screened – can reproduce a copy if the human original is killed.
These bodies are stronger, faster and can absorb light and radiation as fuel for the body. Prell has also developed android bodies for the same purpose. As Ed’s father is dead, but wasn’t screened, Prell collects as much information as he can with a view to having Ed’s father resurrected.
Not long after however, there is an explosion on the moon related to one of Prell’s experiments and the Moon disintegrates into a ring of asteroids around the Earth, but only after a large number of them have already hit the Earth causing mass fatalities and chaos. Everyone blames Prell for the disaster and for the fact that victims of this holocaust are returning from the dead, something to which a vocal minority fiercely object.
Ed and his mother are forced to leave and live in the asteroids for a while until she receives a message and tells her son that they have to return.
Ed’s father has been resurrected as a Vitaplast human it seems. but is not the same man. Ed decides to accept him though, as do other families whose relatives, killed by some of the moon debris, begin to return to them.
Slowly tensions rise as Human purists begin to campaign against the Vitaplast and android returnees, a campaign which escalates to the point of open warfare.
Prell is believed to be still alive and one day Ed finds the word ‘Nipper’ – Prell’s nickname for his nephew, written in ink on a blank sheet of paper.
From herein on, Ed is on a mission to find his uncle and try and put a stop to the madness that has been unleashed on the Earth. It’s a journey that takes him and his girlfriend to Mars where they are given knowledge and power that could halt the war that is about to erupt.
It’s a marvelous little buried gem, this; a colourful and thrilling story which – serendipitously- echoes the the rhetoric of the current US Christian Right in their hate-filled pogroms against people whom they believe have no right to exist.
The dialogue is a little strange, even for the Nineteen Fifties. Oddly this seems to imbue the book with its own character. The narrative packs a huge amount into a minimal number of pages and – whether consciously or not – the author manages to make a telling point about how the US deals with the problem of xenophobia within its borders. You push all those ‘different people’ onto a ship and send them off on a one-way trip to the planets of Sirius.
But hey, that was the Fifties. Sixty years later we are still seeing people doing the same thing in Syria and in Europe. These ‘different people’ aren’t wanted and are being told to move on or go back.
They’d maybe welcome a giant spaceship to Sirius.


Overlords From Space – Joseph E Kelleam (1956)

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‘BEWARE THE PLANET-WRECKERS!

The regime of the Zarles had turned Earth into Hell. Possessing strange unearthly perception, weapons of cosmic destruction, and motivated by an inhuman cruelty, these overlords from space had enslaved the Earth in a feudal terror. Then, one day, Jeff Gambrell, a human slave, defied his particular tyrant once too often and found himself facing the seemingly impossible challenge – how to escape. It had been done once before, therefore he knew that what had always seemed impossible was not…

Jeff’s life and death struggle against the fiendish cunning of the Zarles is set against a startling background of unleashed interplanetary fury. Joseph E. Kelleam’s new novel explores the frightening depths of man’s inventive powers with brilliant detail and breath-taking power.’

Blurb from the 1956 D-173 Ace Doubles paperback edition.

Kelleam’s novel of Earth occupation by the tentacle-handed Zarles isn’t actually that bad. Earth has been occupied by these alien invaders for generations and humans appear only to now exist in slave labour camps.
Jim Gambrell, assisted by his brother Jeff, manages to escape over the wall, and although hunted by by his alien slavemaster Raiult and his equally alien hounds, is at the last minute whisked away by a rescuer in a globular air vehicle.
The narrative then follows Jim’s brother Jeff, left alone in the labour camp and plotting an escape of his own.
Raiult has a ‘pleasure slave’ for want of a better word. The Zarles have bred a strain of human women called Kittens who are essentially pets. They are blonde and petite and one can’t help but make comparisons with earlier US works such as Cummings ‘The White Invaders’ where aliens (often dark skinned aliens) take a liking to the white womenfolk of America.
There’s no suggestion of sexual exploitation here as the Zarles – as is explained later – are essentially sexless and have transferred their reproduction to technological means. Raiult employs his Kitten as a companion and seems to derive pleasure from her singing.
She is not as docile and compliant as Raiult imagines, however, and steals some of her master’s devices to help Jeff escape where he is in turn rescued by Red O’Leary (the pilot who rescued his brother and father) and reunited with them in a space station of free humans seeking to overthrow the power of the Overlords.
There’s a bit of an odd detour through the worlds of probability, which looks like a desperate way of solving a couple of plot resolution issues, but on the whole it’s a pleasurable enough read.


Across Time – Donald A Wollheim (as David Grinnell) – (1957)

Across Time

‘ONE MAN VS. THE YEAR ONE MILLION

Time-traveling UFO’s jerk our hero one million years into the future and launch him on a trans-galactic venture, brightened by such incidental items as an attractive post-homo sapien race of evolved simians, and an Ultimate Spaceship.
Chasing mysterious celestial phenomena was part of Zack Halleck’s Air Force duties, so it wasn’t strange that he was assigned to assist in his brother’s experiment. For his scientist brother had devised a method of deliberately attracting and trapping any such sky objects. But the experiment backfired – and the Hallecks themselves were its victims.

When Zack opened his eyes again, it was on the Earth of a million years in the future. And Zack learned that the only way he could rescue his brother and return to his own time would be to accept a role as a human pawn in a conflict of galactic supermen.’

Blurb from the 1958 Ace Double D-286 paperback edition.

Zack Halleck is an Air Force pilot assigned to track mysterious objects in the skies above Earth. He is none too happy to be reassigned to a related duty, which is to assist with a project devised by his scientist brother Carl. The brothers had always been competitive. with Carl winning every competition, up to and including wooing and marrying Zack’s girl Sylvia when Zack went missing in action, presumed dead.
Carl has invented an electronic screen which can somehow attach a homing signal to the strange spheres of light that have been appearing in the skies.
When Carl and Sylvia are up a mountain fine-tuning the device, Zack is left in the laboratory; the only place from which the screen can be turned off. It is then that the green lights appear, seemingly heading straight for Carl and Sylvia. Zack, still angry from a lifetime of belittling, delays switching off the device which is attracting the mysterious lights. When he does, it is too late. Sylvia and Carl are gone.
He then flies off, determined to confront the UFOs, and crashes into one. When he awakes, he finds himself on an Earth of the far future, being looked after by humanoids descended from apes of our time.
Humanity, he soon discovers, has also evolved into two separate lines of beings of almost pure energy. Some appear as white spheres, and some as green. The white ones are benevolent. while the green ones have enslaved some humanoid races and are working towards a goal of a kind of mind-meld singularity by combining their consciousnesses to produce a single mind.
It is they who have kidnapped Carl and Sylvia (for reasons that frankly don’t make a lot of sense) and it is up to Zack, with the help of a Late Humanity thinking warship, to rescue them.
Wollheim’s attempt to explore the sibling rivalry aspect is a bit clunky but at least gives the tale a bit of depth.
Comparisons can be made to ‘Doc’ Smith’s Arisians and Eddorians in the Lensman series, since they were two races diametrically opposed in ideologies. One supposes that SF authors of the Fifities employed metaphors, either consciously or unconsciously to represent the struggle between Communism and The Free World, or at least, how they perceived it, or maybe I’m reading far too much into it.


Cycle of Fire – Hal Clement (1957)

Cycle of Fire

Hal Clement’s genius was in his talent to write rounded likeable characters and set them into a background of realistically thought out planets and environments.
This is no exception and can be seen as a kind of bridge between Stanley G Weinbaum’s ‘A Martian Odyssey’ and Barry B Longyear’s ‘Enemy Mine’.
Young Nils Kruger finds himself stranded on alien world. He had earlier become separated from his colleagues on a survey expedition and they now believe him dead.
This world is highly volcanic and part of the complex orbit of one planet and two suns.
Not far away is Dar Lang Ahn, an alien male whose glider crashed while he was travelling back to his home in the Ice Ramparts carrying valuable books for his people.
Nils finds the alien sick and dehydrated, and shows him how to get water from the analogue cactus plants that stud the desert, which makes Nils suspect that Dar might not be a native of this world either.
Communicating at first in gestures and drawings, the two begin their journey toward safety and knowledge of each other.
Clement throws in cosmological and anthropological mysteries along the way which are not fully explained until quite near the end.
To a certain extent novels like this shame many of today’s writers who, it seems, can’t be bothered to world build or create credible alien lifecycles, preferring to employ ‘Star Trek’ aliens who are essentially humanoid with two genders – although they may be lizards or birds – or just human with a few bumpy ridges on their noses.
Clement does worldbuilding in the truest sense and this is almost a masterclass in designing a species that has evolved to survive on a world with an eccentric orbit involving two suns.
The bonus is that it is also highly enjoyable.