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.
Martin Magnus returns initially to the Moon where his protégé, Cliff Page, attempts his first Moon landing but settles the ship on a thin crust above one of Moon’s liquid water deposits. As the crew are escaping they discover the wrecked submarine of an alien race. This contains a map which leads to a strange pit in a crater at the bottom of which are chambers full of fantastical machines, as well as archaic helmets and weapons of seemingly gigantic humanoids.
Magnus and Page have no time to explore further as they are scheduled to set off for Mars.
In the first volume, Magnus encountered the amoebalike beings of the Venusian lake who were distinctly hostile.
This time the crew decide to land some way from the lake where it seems a village is located. The natives are humanoid and initially hostile, but once contact has been made they tell the Earthmen that they work for the Mek Men, digging ore. The Mek Men are gigantic humans it seems who carry armour and weapons identical to those found on the Moon
In the native village there is a very hit-tech metal well which fills automatically when water is taken. Water disappears when the natives fail to mine ore for the Mek Men. And so, it is up to Magnus to travel to the city of the Mek Men and discover their secrets.
Although a little more minimal in action and plot than ‘Planet Rover’ it’s an entertaining and well-written piece, peopled by larger than life human characters spiced with some mild humour. The Venusian natives, for instance, are won over ultimately by fried potatoes, which they appear to adore.
Magnus himself is the most fascinating character, however. He is a wisecracking Londoner who is very much a maverick anti-establishment figure, does not suffer fools gladly and has no time for senseless orders passed down through the chain of command.
In this respect it is interesting to compare this book in particular with Heinlein’s ‘Space Cadet’ from seven years earlier. Heinlein would certainly not have approved of such a disrespectful attitude to the chain of command one imagines, and Temple and Heinlein have distinctly different styles and temperaments. What is interesting is that both novels feature Venus and an attitude to colonialism that seems ingrained in the culture of the West at the time.
The Venusians who live in the lake have made it very clear they don’t want humans on their world, but us Homo Sapiens have decided we are going to there anyway, with no discussion or agreements needed with the inhabitants, which is much the same as the situation in the Heinlein novel. This sense of cultural superiority was a regular feature of earlier US SF but does not crop up often in British SF. This in itself is surprising, since the British, after all, are the experts on colonialism. One suspects also that the reasons for this cultural view differ markedly between the UK and the US. The British, or more specifically the English, retained an inherited sense of superiority from the Victorian era, while the US authors (bearing in mind that writers from both sides of the channel at the time were predominantly white male heterosexuals) tend to dwell on issues of racial superiority.
Even so, it’s an interesting parallel.
‘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.
‘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.
FROM MARS TO VENUS – TO DANGER-FILLED ADVENTURES DEEP IN OUTER SPACE
Only the best and brightest – the strongest and the most courageous – ever managed to become Space Cadets. They were the elite guard of the solar system, accepting missions others feared, taking risks no others dared, and upholding the peace of the star system for the benefit of all.
But before Matt could earn his rightful place in the ranks, his mettle would be tested in the most severe and extraordinary ways- ways that would change him forever but would still not prepare him for the alien treacheries that awaited him on strange worlds far beyond his own.
Blurb from the 1990 Del Rey paperback edition
A minor yet appealing work from Heinlein which reads a little like a tamer version of ‘Starship Troopers’ in that a teenager enrols in ‘The Patrol’, makes friends and works his way through the trials of his cadetship.
It’s an unashamed wish-fulfilment fantasy aimed at a specific demographic but is nonetheless notable for the odd seductiveness of Heinlein’s style. Other critics have pointed out that even though readers may violently disagree with Heinlein’s rather right-wing (and naïve) view of human nature, he creates a very cosy atmosphere in which to express it.
Matt Dobson is our hero, a young man of ‘the right stuff’ who applies to become a cadet in The Patrol and makes friends with not only ‘Tex’ Jarman, a Texan, but also Oscar and Pierre who hail from Venus & Ganymede.
Following initial testing and training, and the elimination of weak links, the successful candidates are posted to the Randolph school ship where physical training is augmented by forced education under hypnosis.
The Patrol is an interplanetary peace-keeping force which – one presumes – rather in the manner of Gort’s robots from ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ – keeps the peace between worlds and nations by threatening to nuke the aggressor. The Earth is, for instance, surrounded by a ring of nuclear bombs, stretching between the poles, capable of striking any point on the planet’s surface.
Heinlein doesn’t go out of his way to explore the morality of this issue, other than a brief discussion between Matt and his father on the topic which is hastily curtailed for fear of sending Matt’s mother into hysterics. Matt’s mother, being a woman, is naturally hysterical and doesn’t know what keeps the moon up in the sky. Similarly, Matt’s ex-girlfriend apparently has trouble distinguishing between stars and planets.
This is probably why there are no women in Heinlein’s Patrol. Later, the Cadets are stranded on Venus and taken in by the froglike Venusians. The assumption, which is implicit within the text and not otherwise discussed, is that humans have a right to land on Venus, exploit its mineral wealth and set up a colonisation process. The Venusians – a peace-loving and philosophical race – are expected to be diplomatically talked around to the idea.
This correlates to a certain extent with the views expressed in ‘Starship Troopers’ to the effect that all species, whether intelligent or not, will compete for territory and resources. Although a diplomatic solution is proposed here, the idea of leaving Venus and its mineral wealth to the Venusians is never even considered as an option.
Despite the fact that Heinlein goes out of his way to make the point that ‘Venusians are people’ through Oscar’s discussions with other cadets, he fails to take this to its logical conclusion of the Venusians being responsible for the decisions on who should or should not, visit their world.