My life in outer space

Pre Golden Age

The Lost World – Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)

The Lost World (Professor Challenger, #1)

It has to be said that there are books one reads of which no recollection at all remains after thirty or forty years. I do have notes to confirm that I read this in the Nineteen Seventies. My memory of this is in any case clouded by the 1960 Hollywood movie which I have always loved but which took a few liberties in its interpretation. (There have been at least 14 film, TV and radio adaptations, some more curious than others, such as the 1997 radio version which featured Coronation Street’s Mike Baldwin (Johnny Briggs) as Professor Challenger, Linus Roache (Ken Barlow’s real life son) and also starred Sir Kenneth Branagh and Sir Ian McKellen).
I was therefore coming at it with a completely fresh eye and expecting something along the lines of an Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure in exotic climes.
I should have known better since I was engrossed from the first few pages and enjoyed every second.
Conan Doyle, of course, is rather more well known for his Sherlock Holmes canon and it’s a shame this novel is not more widely read.
At the outset, an Irish rugby playing reporter, one Edward Malone, is attempting to woo a rather unresponsive young lady called Gladys. Gladys spurns his advances as she feels she can only give her heart to a man who is famous for his heroic deeds.
Mr Malone, she fears, is neither famous nor heroic enough to marry her.
In these opening pages there is far more depth of character and insight than in probably the entire ER Burroughs canon. Plus, it sets Malone up to request his editor to send him on a dangerous mission.
The Editor suggests that Malone arrange an interview with one Professor Challenger, a man who had recently returned from the Amazon with incredible claims but little evidence. Challenger, it seems, had been subsequently derided by his scientific peers and had taken up journalist-bashing as a supplementary hobby.
Malone, against all odds and following a sustained physical attack by Challenger, wins the confidence of the Professor and volunteers to join a new expedition to the Amazon to prove the Professor’s claims that creatures of the Jurassic era have survived on an isolated plateau.
Conan Doyle, one suspects, owes much to Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to The Centre of the Earth’ at least since the basic premise is that the Professor’s only evidence is a fragment of a pterodactyl wing and sketchbook from a previous explorer which showed a sketch of a stegosaurus – seemingly drawn from life.
In ‘Journey to The Centre of the Earth’ of course, the Professor’s catalyst was a note from Arne Saknussemm, found in an old book. Both explorers travel to a remote volcanic region where they discover dinosaurs and plant life from another epoch.
For me, Verne’s novel is far superior, but where Conan Doyle succeeds is in having Malone as the narrator being able to balance a fast moving plot (at least for the time it was written) with some impeccable characterisation and occasional dashes of humour.
Challenger, an erudite but physically formidable figure, is given a foil in the form of his professional rival, Professor Summerlee who – although converted from outright sceptic to believer – is always poised to prick Challenger’s somewhat pompous scientific bubble.
In parts the book may be unpalatable to modern readers where it deals with those who are not British. The native Indian guides (I use the word ‘Indian’ as it is employed by Conan Doyle within the text) and luggage carriers remain mainly part of the scenery while a lone ‘negro’ called Zambo however is described as ‘as willing as any horse, and about as intelligent’.
There are two distinct branches of humanity on the plateau; a somewhat civilised tribe of small native Indians and the larger hairy cannibal man-apes who just will not desist from attacking everyone.
Toward the end, the Indians and the white fellas engage in a final battle with the ape-men who are all but wiped out; their women and children then enslaved by the plateau Indians.
Although this concept of genocide seemed fairly acceptable in genre SF, particularly in the US, up until the Nineteen Forties at least it does seem a tad out of character for Professor Challenger to countenance it.
However we must accept that the values and ethics of most people in Nineteen Twelve were far removed from those a century or more later. Paradoxically, the figure of Lord Roxton, a typical huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ bit of aristocratic totty, seems quite familiar given the British aristocracy’s need to cling on to the past in case it flies away like Challenger’s baby pterodactyl.
Nevertheless it is a compelling and engrossing read, which should figure more prominently in the history of British SF and fully deserves to be more widely read.


The Thing From The Lake – Eleanor Marie Ingram (1921)

The Thing From the Lake

Roger Locke is a successful New York composer of stage musicals and popular sings who decides to buy himself a farm as an investment. The house is decrepit and stands beside a stagnant lake. He decides to spend the night in his new home but awakens to find a woman in his bed beside him who holds a knife to him in the darkness while he in turn grips a braid of her hair. She warns him to leave the house and he realises that she has used the knife to cut off the braid of hair he was holding, and has disappeared.
Meanwhile, his young cousin, (who has overbearing parents with impossibly high standards) has married Verne, a young cabaret entertainer. Roger is initially appalled but decides to reserve judgment. As Verne is originally from a farming family he offers the couple the chance to run his farm for him and supervise the renovation of the house while he is in New York.
When he returns to the farm a collapsed dam has been rebuilt and the lake has widened and deepened. However, from then on he is visited by both the mysterious woman and an evil presence who claims that the woman belongs to him and vows that Locke will be destroyed.
It’s a very readable book with some engaging and interesting characters. Ingram certainly manages to produce an atmosphere of dread and unearthly unease when the thing (from another dimension, it appears) manifests itself, while at the same time establishing a growing bond between Locke and his mysterious – possibly immaterial – female visitor, slotting this novel into the tradition of supernatural romances. Indeed, there is much in this that echoes with Anne Rice’s novels of Lasher and the Mayfair Witches.
It’s also an interesting window on the subject of class distinction in the US at the time. Locke’s family appear to be well-to-do, if not fabulously wealthy. Locke himself is described as being the wealthiest in his family, although his money is self made.
Locke’s reaction to his cousin marrying a vaudeville entertainer might seem a little puzzling today but it’s clear that entertainers, particularly those that perform in bars or clubs were thought to be disreputable folk. Maybe Ingram was making a conscious effort to disabuse her public of that notion.
Her unconscious may well have been doing other things, since at the denouement, the main characters aim to flee the house in a car and escape the malign creature’s reach. No provision appears to have been made for evacuation of the domestic staff who would presumably have been left to their fate.

The White Invaders – Ray Cummings (1931)

The White Invaders

It was very popular in 1930s SF literature to have as one’s heroes two men (one often a scientist and the other a more active type) and one or two women (one sometimes the relative of one of the men and in a potentially romantic entanglement with the other).
Here we have this arrangement, with an All-American trio, but with the unusual setting of Bermuda.
Ghosts have been seen, white figures floating about the countryside and now women have been going missing. White women only. The native women have been left unmolested.
The trio soon discover that a man called Tako has arrived from the fourth dimension, originally to capture women as slaves and mistresses, since the population of his world has been decimated following a terrible war.
Tako then sets his sights on a full-scale invasion, beginning with New York.
Cummings seems to relish destroying New York, all of its enormous buildings collapsing on themselves as transdimensional bombs are placed in their foundations. The only building left standing is the Empire State Building which is housing the deadly weapon of destruction.
It is interesting to compare this with Sewell Peaslee Wright’s ‘The Infra-Medians’ as they both feature a trio of protagonists as described earlier and creatures from another dimension, although it is a much shorter piece.
One is intrigued by the suggestion that aliens are only interested in white women which says a lot more about the demographic of the readership than it does about the writer.
There is, one imagines, a long history of the foreign invader coming to one’s land and bearing off one’s women. Was Cummings writing for a primarily white young male audience, playing on deep-seated fears or exploiting fairly recent mythology which had already been enhanced by similar tales of female kidnap. Burroughs used it as a plot device several times, but then, if you have a kidnapped princess, it at least gives the hero something to do. The nature of the kidnapper, however, can often throw up some interesting cultural questions.

Swords of Mars (Mars #08) – Edgar Rice Burroughs (1934)

Swords of Mars (Barsoom, #8)

‘Disguised as a mercenary warrior, John Carter sought to break the power of the Assassins of Zodanga. Spying on their councils, the Warlord discovered a plot to kidnap his beloved Dejah Thoris. But it was too late to save her. She was already in space, on the way to Thuria, Barsoom’s nearer moon!’

Blurb from the 1980 Del Rey paperback edition

John Carter is again the central figure in this story which starts when Carter returns to earth in the documentary prologue to tell his tale of the kidnap of the incomparable Dejah Thoris.
Carter takes a trip to Zodanga in order to spy on the Guild of Assassins, and in the guise of the mercenary Vandor, accepts the position of bodyguard to Fal Sivas. he is a paranoid and sadistic scientist who has built a ship capable of travelling to Thuria (Mars’ nearer moon).
Fal Sivas has a rival, Nar Gal, who is also building a similar ship, but one which lacks Sivas’ secret invention, a mechanical brain which not only flies the ship automatically, but can be operated by the power of thought.
Too late, Carter discovers that the Guild, with the aid of Nar Gal, have kidnapped Dejah Thoris and taken her to Thuria, where no doubt, she will be subject to many unwelcome indignities.
With the help of the slave girl Zanda and a young soldier of Helium, Carter steals Fal Sivas’ ship and sets off in hot pursuit to Thuria.
As enjoyable as this book is, it merely sees Burroughs retreading old ground. A kidnapped princess; two evil scientists here for the price of one. there’s also some very dodgy physics. By some unfathomable scientific deduction, Fal Sivas has worked out that because if a peculiar relationship of mass between Mars and Thuria, The moon (when the travellers reach it) will seem just as large as Mars and exhibit the same gravitational force. This turns out to be true, which saves all that messing about with fighting and adventuring in low gravity surroundings with no air.
The Thurian native Umka (a chameleon-like creature with one eye and two mouths) whom Carter befriends, is a more interesting creation than the (again) obligatory evil Jeddak. This time he is the leader of the invisible Thurians.
I suspect that Burroughs might have been under pressure to bring the tale to a close since the last few pages conflate a sequence of events that would have normally filled a couple of chapters.
Suffice to say, evil is vanquished and Dejah Thoris is returned, unharmed, to her husband.

Planet of Peril – Otis Adelbert Kline (1929)

Planet of Peril

Grandon, a restless young man, is kidnapped by someone calling himself Dr Morgan. Dr Morgan imprints some information on him telepathically and makes a proposal. It appears that Dr Morgan is a master of telepathy and, due to this, is able to send his thoughts back through time to a civilisation on Venus millions of years ago. Not only that, if two bodies and minds share enough similarities, Dr Morgan is able to exchange them.
There is, apparently, a young man in ancient Venus, willing to exchange bodies with Grandon, and Grandon agrees (as you would!).
It’s a clumsy device, but for 1929 it was no doubt an exciting idea.
So, Grandon awakes as the slave of a tyrannous Empress, but soon escapes. As he is inhabiting the body of a young prince of Uxpo he is soon rescued by his own people. Meanwhile, the Empress’ cousin has hatched a plot to seize the throne by kidnapping the Empress. It seems that if she is absent from the kingdom for a year she will be automatically exiled and stripped of her title.
Grandon, in the first of a series of increasingly unlikely coincidences, meets up with the kidnappers and manages to rescue her.
There then follows encounters with vampire batmonkeys, and a valley of human-enslaving termites, from whose immense pincers Grandon escapes with the Empress to return to her kingdom and claim it back from the usurper.
It is, despite my somewhat sarcastic précis, immensely enjoyable hokum. There was a rumour circulating at the time, started it seems by Donald Wollheim, that ER Burroughs and Kline were involved in a feud since Edgar R considered Kline to be stealing his ideas. The author later confessed that he’d made it all up for the sake of a good story.
It is true that Kline wrote some Mars novels, some Venus novels and some novels set in a jungle with a strong-thewed hero. There are certainly some broad plot similarities between the two, and both employ the almost obligatory device of somehow transporting an Earthman to Mars or Venus. Kline, it seems, much like Leigh Brackett, seemed to realise that there wouldn’t be much mileage in trying to flog the concept of a living civilisation on Mars or Venus, so they transported their heroes back through time to a Venusian or Martian civilisation that flourished millions of years ago.
Kline’s work, although enjoyable, is not in the same league as Burroughs. One gets the impression that Kline made it up as he went along. In one chapter, trapped and very near to being at the mercy of the giant termites, he hides in a corner under a pile of edible fungi, and just by chance finds a hole that leads down into a forgotten armoury of a lost race. There’s lots of armour, some useful weapons and…oh, what’s this? A whole chest of drawers full of plans for machines which can destroy the termites, and full instructions on how to use them.
Kline is a bit too fond of his Deus ex Machina resolutions, which leads me to assume that he was indeed … making it up as he went along. Good trick if you can keep it up, and keep it interesting.

The Land That Time Forgot – Edgar Rice Burroughs (1918)

The Land That Time Forgot (Caspak, #1)

The author’s explanation for how this manuscript got into his hands is that it was stuffed into a vacuum flask by the original author and ended up on the shores of North America.
The journal is written by one ‘Bowen’, a man who is inadvertently captured by a German submarine during World War I. His fellow captives eventually manage to overpower the Germans but find that they can dock nowhere, and are fired on by ships. Lost, they find themselves at a land mass surrounded by cliffs, one which has a subterranean river leading to the interior.
This is standard fare for Burroughs. ‘The Lost World’ in essence, since there are plenty of dinosaurs. The central mystery however and what distinguishes it from Conan-Doyle is that there are men on the island who seem to range from pre-human ape-like creatures at one end of the land to the level of modern man at the other. It is suggested that these humans are moving through various stages of evolution during their lives and moving across the island to live in the various communities as they develop.
It’s an interesting concept which Burroughs puts aside to examine further in the remaining volumes of the trilogy.

Out of Space and Time – Clark Ashton Smith (2009)

Out Of Space And Time

Originally published in paperback edition as Out of Space and Time 1 & 2 in 1974 , these have now been reissued in a single volume by Bison Books who are doing a sterling job of reissuing vintage genre literature.

Out of Space and Time

The End of the Story (Weird Tales – May 1930)
A Rendezvous in Averoigne (Weird Tales – Apr 1931)
A Night in Malneant (Auburn Journal – 1931)
The City of The Singing Flame (Wonder Stories – July 1931)
The Uncharted Isle (Weird Tales – Nov 1930)

Judgments and Dooms

The Second Interment (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror – Jan 1933)
The Double Shadow (The Auburn Journal – 1932)
The Chain of Aforgomon (Weird Tales – Dec 1935)
The Dark Eidolon (Weird Tales – Jan 1935)
The Last Hieroglyph (Weird Tales – Apr 1935)
Sadastor (Weird Tales – Jul 1930)
The Death of Ilalotha (Weird Tales – 1937)
The Return of the Sorcerer (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror – Sep 1931)

Hyperborean Grotesques

The Testament of Athammaus (Weird Tales – Oct 1932)
The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan (Weird Tales – Jun 1932)
Ubbo-Sathla (Weird Tales – Jul 1933)


The Monster of the Prophecy (Weird Tales – Jan 1932)
The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis (Weird Tales – May 1932)
From the Crypts of Memory (Bohemia V2 #3 – 1917)
The Shadows (Auburn Journal – 1922)

The End of the Story

A young man visits a Monastery in Averoigne and falls under the spell of ancient book, which leads him to be ensnared by a Lamia

A Rendezvous in Averoigne

A young man who arranges a picnic finds himself, his fiancée and servants trapped in the thrall of vampires who subject them to a fearsome dinner and overnight stay at a phantom chateau.

A Night in Malneant

On a journey a man finds himself in an otherworldly village where everyone seems eternally preoccupied in the funeral arrangements for one Mariel.

The City of The Singing Flame

One of Smith’s interdimensional tales in which the narrator, happening to walk between two unusual boulders, finds himself in a fantastic and colourful world where an ancient city is the site of a flame which appears to consume all those it entices with its siren song.

The Uncharted Isle

Another interdimensional tale in which a shipwrecked sea-traveller finds himself on an island, which is not of our Earth, populated by grotesque humanoids and their gross deity.

The Second Interment

A rather clichéd tale of premature burial

The Double Shadow

Two sorcerors find an ancient tablet washed up by the sea and, deciphering its ancient text, summon one of the elder gods of a long dead race, much to their regret. Shadows begin to follow them, one by one, and they become transformed.

The Chain of Aforgomon

A writer, wishing to try the efficacy of a rare Eastern drug which purports to bring back the memories of past lives, discovers that he committed an ancient crime against the God of Time and is now suffering the final penalty for his actions.

The Dark Eidolon

A powerful wizard returns for vengeance against the gross and cruel king who ran him over with his horse when he was a child.

The Last Hieroglyph

When a none-too-successful astrologer finally finds his work beginning to pay off, his own horoscope shows a strange journey before him, and he is guided to his ultimate destiny by three cipher avatars.


A demon tells a tale to a lamia of how he visited the dying world of Sadastor and found a siren, weeping in a pool which was diminishing as the waters of the world dried up.

The Death of Ilalotha

A tale of revenge from beyond the grave when Ilalotha, lady in waiting to a jealous queen, dies. The Queen thinks that Ilalotha’s man will now be hers, but it looks like Ilalotha can pull men even when she’s dead.

The Return of the Sorcerer

A sorcerer, originally chopped into many pieces which were then separated, begins to reassemble himself to seek revenge.

The Testament of Athammaus

Athammaus, executioner of Hyperborea, tells the tale of the creature who is beheaded and continually regenerates, each time into a more warped and protean being.

The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan

A morality tale is which Avoosl, a greedy merchant, is given a prophecy. He is then sold two emeralds which escape him and lead him far into the depths of a mountain where he is trapped by an eldritch creature and eaten.


A man finds an off stone in an antique shop and is transported back to the time of Ubbo-Sathla, the primordial being.

The Monster of the Prophecy

A human is transported to a far world to become the monster who was prophesied to appear and signal an end to the rule of a tyrant.

The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis

Archaeologists on Mars investigate tombs that the natives will not enter and awaken strange bat-like life-forms that kill and then reanimate their victims.

From the Crypts of Memory

A short tone poem

The Shadows

A short tone poem.

The Moon Pool – A Merritt (1919)

The Moon Pool

‘On the island of Ponape in the South Pacific, the cold light of a full moon washes over the crumbling ruins of an ancient, vanished civilisation. Unleashed from the depths is the Dweller, a glittering, enigmatic force of monstrous terror and radiant beauty that stalks the South pacific, claiming all in its oath. An international expedition led by American Walter Goodwin races to save those who have fallen victim to the Dweller. The dark mystery behind the malevolent force is Muria, a forgotten mythic world deep within the earth that is home to a legendary people intent on reclaiming what was theirs long ago. This commemorative edition of The Moon Pool features an introduction by Robert Silverberg, a review of the first edition, and a glossary of the Murian language.’

Blurb from the 2001 Bison Books edition.

Although excruciatingly verbose in places, ‘The Moon Pool’ is a lost gem, now justifiably reprinted by the University of Nebraska for the entertainment of another generation of readers.
Originally serialised in two separate strands, the combined parts were eventually revised as a novel and the evil villain (who was originally either a Prussian or German agent; possibly both) transformed into a cunning Russian, giving the story a topical twist since the Revolution was still fresh in people’s minds.
For its time it’s surprisingly accurate regarding scientific principles of the day, and the introductory chapters (which formed the original story ‘The Moon Pool’) take the form of a translation of a report on an ill-fated expedition to the ruined temples of the Nan-Matal in the South Seas.
At the time of the full moon, The Dweller, a vampiric creature of pure energy, comes forth from beneath the island and claims human victims. When his friend Throckmartin is abducted from a ship by the creature, Dr Goodwin, accompanied by O’Keefe (a colourful Irish-American), Olaf (a bereaved Neo-Viking ship’s captain) and the evil Marakinoff, descend into the temple of the Moon and discover a path into the subterranean land of Muria and its inhabitants. It’s suggested they are the ancestors not only of the Irish, but of the Gods of Irish Legend.
Despite the extended and occasionally over-florid prose the MS remains readable and entertaining, giving us wonder upon wonder and gradual revelations.
It is interesting that at this point in time writers were so fascinated by the interior of the Earth. Jules Verne has already written a definitive subterranean novel, and Burroughs’ series of ‘Earth’s Core’ novels posed a similar premise. All feature the concept of an ecosystem shut off from the world and where Burroughs and Verne tended to freeze evolution in the far past, Merritt goes further by extrapolating certain evolutionary developments in animals and plants (Indeed, Merritt seems incredibly knowledgeable about botany in particular)
This novel also features an Elder Race, an ancient species of birdlike creatures which have evolved far beyond the human level of development: The Silent Ones.
For its time, the story was given a patina of realism by the clever use of footnotes and references to real academic works. Merritt references Arrhenius for instance, whose theories of life spores travelling world to world were also an inspiration for McCaffrey’s ‘Pern’ series, begun some forty-odd years later.
Merritt also, in his own way, obliquely explores weighty topics such as the varying perceptions of those whose belief-systems are either religious, superstitious or scientific. Goodwin is of course the rational scientist who sees Muria as an ecosystem divorced for millennia from the surface of the world. Olaf sees it as a troll-kingdom of Viking myth, while O’Keefe sees it as the manifestation of ancient Celtic beliefs. Merritt somehow manages to persuade us that all their views are facets of the same truth.
‘The Silent Ones’ are shown to be godlike, but also quite definitely the result of the same evolutionary process which produced Homo Sapiens. Apart from the appearance of the leprechaun, which we assume to be a product of O’Keefe’s imagination, there are no supernatural or fantasy elements to be found. The background however – as in the work of Burroughs – contains many conventions familiar to students of fantasy and legend. There are, for instance, dwarves, cloaks of invisibility, a dragon worm and the obligatory beautiful dark and evil priestess, Yolara.
The Silent Ones also display an early example of a convention common to Elder Races; they leave with their entire race, usually into some euphemism for Death. Later, EE ‘Doc’ Smith would send the Arisians on to ‘the next plane of existence’. Tolkien sent the Elves into the West, and more recently in ‘Babylon 5’, the Vorlons and The Shadows abandoned the younger races to travel ‘Beyond the Rim’.
Is there some deep psychological basis for this convention? There may be a case for arguing that historically ‘Gods’ have vanished, their earthly exploits long finished. One could also argue that Gods who stick around become too familiar and lose their mystery. As a literary device, they are far more powerful in their absence.

The Ultimate Weapon / The Planeteers – John W Campbell (1936 – 38)

Planeteers / The Ultimate Weapon

This would be of interest to those researching Campbell’s work. It’s one of the Ace Double releases from 1966, which featured two novels back to back in one volume (with two front covers).

The Ultimate Weapon (from 1936) is a bit of a vintage piece. Back in the day, heroes of space were built like brick outhouses, had an IQ of 209 and were, for the most part, filthy rich having made a mint from a science-based private business.
Buck Kendall is no exception and, having accepted a bet from his friend and Technical Engineer, Rad Cole, has taken up extraterrestrial mining and is – at the start of this tale – zipping around the outer Solar System hunting for rare minerals. They are therefore the first to witness an advance scouting party from the system of Mira, a vast red variable sun whose output of radiation is getting a bit too much for the residents of its habitable worlds. They have set their sights on our Solar System as a new home and don’t intend to let the humans stand in their way.
Serialised in ‘Amazing’ this is essentially a tale of rapid scientific development on the part of the humans in order to repel the highly advanced invaders.
The Solar System has to suffer a lot of death and space battles before Kendall comes up trumps with the Ultimate Weapon, developed around the concept of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.
It reads a little like EE ‘Doc’ Smith, although Smith at least understood literary concepts such as pace, drama and suspense and whose aliens, however dated they may seem today, came across as fully-rounded alien individuals.

The Planeteers

Consists of:-

The Brain Stealers of Mars (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1936)
The Double Minds (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1937)
The Immortality Seekers (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1937)
The Tenth World (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1937)
The Brain Pirates (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1938)

Penton and Blake are pioneers of atomic power, and having caused devastation on Earth with their experiments, have taken to space in a nuclear rocket and through these five stories visit various planets and moons of the Solar System, all of which have life and civilisations of various kinds.

Despite the fact that ‘The Brain Stealers of Mars’ has to be one of my favourite SF titles, the tales are somewhat dated, but have a nostalgic charm which many may appreciate.

Islands of Space – John W Campbell (1930)

Islands of Space

‘John Campbell’s book was written as a sequel to ‘The Black Star Passes… and believe me, it was a world-beater in those days.

‘Arcot, Wade, Morey and their computer, Fuller, put together a ship which will travel faster than light… they give us what may have been the first space-warp drive. The concept was simple; to make it plausible wasn’t – unless you were John Campbell.

‘With this out-of-space drive they hightail it among the stars. They locate the fugitive planets of the Black Star… find a frozen cemetery-world of a lost race… then head out for another galaxy… and wind up in a knock-down-drag-out interplanetary war in the other galaxy.’
-P. Schuyler Miller, Astounding Science Fiction

Blurb from the Ace 1956 paperback edition.

The sequel to Campbell’s ‘The Black Star Passes’ sees our four strapping heroes; Wade – the muscle-bound chef; Arcot – ‘the world’s greatest living physicist’; Morey – ‘his brilliant mathematical assistant’ and Fuller, the design engineer (not, as P Schuyler Miller seems to believe, the computer) building – on a whim – an intergalactic ship and setting off on a joyride across the Universe.
For the time it was written, the cosmology is convincing even if the means by which the four manage to travel between galaxies makes no sense at all. Their drive is built on the principle of space-strain, which allows the ship to effectively travel through hyperspace at phenomenal speeds. Luckily the boys have stopped at regular intervals to take photographs of the stars behind them so that they’ll be able to find their way back.
After discovering a dead world of frozen cities and getting trapped in the orbit of a dead star they eventually wind up embroiled in a war of ideologically opposed planets and of course, being American and all that, they have to join in and ensure the right side wins.
It’s an unapologetically masculine novel in every sense. Quite apart from the fact that not one single female (human or alien) appears throughout, the behaviour of the characters is more that of teenage boys than responsible adults. When arriving on the planet Nansal the boys decide they would like to have a swim and so use their fabulous weapon-toys to destroy all life in the lake they have chosen to swim in.
Nasal and the planet Sator have been at war for centuries, Nansal being a planet which has developed a worldwide ethical and philosophical system, opposed only by those who prefer lives of cunning and wickedness. These reprobates long ago settled on Sator and have been attempting to reconquer Nansal ever since.
On Sator the boys make friends with Torlos, a Nasalian spy and return with him to Nansal, where they help the Nasalians to build supertoys of their own with which to fight the Satorians.
Torlos, like the rest of his race, is very tall, hugely muscled and has bones of iron; a veritable archetype of hyper-masculinity.
Reading this with the benefit of historical perspective the book comes across as an extreme example of sexism in SF of the time. Other writers such as Van Vogt and EE Doc Smith, although handling female characters badly, at the very least acknowledged their existence. The women in this book are most notable not only for their absence, but also the absence of any mention of them.
At the outset the boys approach their Fathers, one of whom is Head of Transcontinental Airways, for finance for their project and their implicit consent for their expedition. There are no wives, girlfriends or mothers. None are spoken of, even in passing. Looked at from a contemporary perspective this allows a rather surreal interpretation which one presumes was certainly never intended by Campbell.