Summer Space Reading Camp
–The New Moon: relatively newer (and available) titles to directly appeal to todayâ€™s youth
–The Old Moon: classics from another time
–The New High Frontier: newer tales of the exploration of the Solar system
–The Old High Frontier: classic names which will never be forgotten
In this last episode in the Summer Space Reading Camp, we journey back a few more decades to find the last generation of space stories for juveniles. Since these aren’t Moon-specific I have to admit that I haven’t read a lot of them, at least recently. They’re primarily meant as filler for the High Frontier fiction sections (youth and adult) in the Lunar Library. Once I finish with the reviews of Moon fiction I’ll be able to turn my attention to the High Frontier stuff.
Moonbeam is back, or rather is getting started in his space adventures. This pair in the half-dozen Moonbeam series of books from the mid-60s make an interesting counterpoint to the First in Space graphic novel featured last week. Moonbeam at the Rocket Port is the second in the series, where the captured chimpanzee (Moonbeam is Caught) is handed over to Scott, her keeper, at the Rocket Port. Moonbeam is fascinated by the doctors and their tools, and is really excited by the rockets. I haven’t found the third in the series, Moonbeam and the Rocket Ride, but I do have the fourth book, Moonbeam and Dan Starr. In this one, we’re introduced to space man Dan Starr, who is going into space on a docking maneuver mission. Something like the Gemini mission with the ‘angry alligator’. At the night of the big dinner, Scott lets Moonbeam play dress-up with his astronaut outfit, but Scott reminds her that she can’t go up with the rockets tomorrow. Whilst Scott is away, Moonbeam escapes and goes running around the rocket port and finds a pie cooling on a windowsill. Moonbeam likes pies and takes one, but the cook sees and the chase is on, one which ends with the pie in the face of the General. Moonbeam’s on the run, and hides in the tallest thing she can find, the docking test article. Falling asleep after the madcap excitement of the chase, she misses the sealing of the test capsule, awaking to discover she’s on her way to orbit! During the test rendezvous, Dan accelerates too quickly away from his capsule towards the test article, and snaps his tether. Can Moonbeam rescue Dan Starr?
In Peter and the Unlucky Rocket, young Peter is introduced to the myriad kinds of complications that make rocket launches such a frustrating and patience-testing experience. Peter’s Dad works at the proving ground and knows all about rockets. Peter is a bright young lad, and soon he knows all about rockets too. He gets to go to the control center for a launch, but things keep happening that stop the countdown. A small pin that must be removed has been lost in the rocket, and must be removed before the rocket can launch. They keep sending in smaller technicians, and do locate it, but can’t reach it. Would Peter be able to help? Then bad weather starts rolling in fast. Will they be able to launch the rocket on time? In Peter and the Two-Hour Moon, Peter is on board the Moonbeam III when it is accidentally launched ahead of schedule to carries supplies and materiÃ©l to the secret space station. Also on board is a cat that lives at the rocket port. A good thing, too, because when one of the oxygen tanks starts making strange sounds, it is the cat that bring their attention to it, just in time to get it out of the rocket before it blows. Unfortunately, this leaves them short on oxygen, a relief mission will need to be launched. Still, work continues on the Von Braunian space station, and Peter is of enormous help. Eventually, it gets big enough that it can be seen from Earth. The secret of the two-hour moon is out!
For some reason, The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery at Missile Town always makes me think of the Bobbsey Twins series of books. The Hollisters happily travel to Florida to visit cousins. The first thing they see is a rocket launch gone awry, showering the beach with its pieces. They help search for the nose cone, which contains an important payload. The mystery deepens when a monkey that is supposed to be launched goes missing. Their investigation reveals a far more serious plot at work. Rockets spell danger in more ways than one! In Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint, Danny has a proclivity for daydreaming of great space adventures in class. Lucky for him he’s friends with Prof. Bullfinch, who happens to have invented a form of anti-gravity paint Ã la HG Wells’ story ‘The First Men in the Moon’. He and his friend Joe accidentally find themselves onboard after an unexpected liftof, and accelerating away from the Earth. A switch has gone bad, and they’re accelerating out to Saturn. Will they ever be able to get home?
The International Rocket Society has posted a $100,000 prize for the first person to orbit a two-hour satellite. Tom is determined to win, but his efforts draw the attention of international ne’er-do-wells in ‘Tom Swift and his Rocket Ship’. The Star Spear uses a special fuel that Tom invented, and is shielded in Tomasite. Before he can get it launched, though, there’s sabotage, espionage, and theft organized by a criminal scientific mastermind determined to thwart Tom Swift. Tom also has his enemies in Tom Swift and his Outpost in Space. He’s decided to construct an ingeniously designed space station to manufacture a new kind of solar battery that he has invented that becomes super-charged when exposed to the Sun’s rays in the vacuum of space. The broadcasting guys want a couple of modules, and the military is even interested. Also interested are the bad guys, who try to thwart Tom at every turn.
The Rocket’s Shadow introduces us to the hero of the Rick Brant Science-Adventure stories, apparently aimed at a Hardy Boys audience with a scientifical edge. Rick’s father works for a team competing for the $2Mn Stoneridge Grant. Their race to launch a private rocket to is being stymied, apparently by someone on the team. Rick finds a clue in his airplane that sets him on the trail of the saboteurs, but can he stop them, with the aid of his young ex-marine friend Scotty, in time for a successful launch? ‘The Forgotten Star’ is the first of the Dig Allen series of stories. Young Digby Allen is searching for his father, and he teams up with Jim and Ken Barry as he heads from the Moon to Mars and out to the asteroids, where he picks up the trail at asteroid 433 Eros. He’s surprised to find a way into the asteroid, and there discovers the last remnants of the civilization that contructed the asteroid as a space ship for a long journey. It contains miraculous technologies that could greatly aid in settlement of the Solar system, but the natives are not necessarily friendly, and Dig is anxious to find his father.
Dig Allen returns in Journey to Jupiter. Some of the technology found on Eros is being used on Ganymede to create an atmosphere in a deep valley on the Jupiter moon. Turns out there are also diamonds on Ganymede, and who likes diamonds more than bad guys? So the colonists have trouble to deal with, and Dig finds himself right in the middle of it. The do-badders are intent on riches, can Dig find a way to outfox them? The Space Explorers travel farther out in Robots of Saturn. They need Methane-X to power the moon/spaceship Eros, and Saturn’s rings are just the place to find it. It’s too dangerous for humans to venture therein, so robot substitutes are created, with a unique variant on tele-operation. Soon, however, the explorers see other robots, and they realize that something is up. Soon, things are out of control thanks to the misguided ego of a brilliant scientist. Will Dig and the team survive one man’s desire to walk on the Sun?
Tom Corbett is another widely recognized name in the space fiction canon. In Tom Corbett: Space Cadet – On the Trail of the Space Pirates, the cadets are showing off their rocketship Polaris at the Venus Interplanetary Solar Exposition, where their commander is giving a speech at the inauguration of a time capsule. Inside is a secret that the bad guys are willing to kill for, the energy lock. They steal it from the time capsule and go rampaging through space. Tom has to go undercover in the pirate’s den to get it back, but things get tough when he’s IDed by the scoundrels. He’s got to run, but space is an awfully big place to get lost in. In The Space Pioneers, Tom and the crew of the Polaris accompany a flotilla of colony ships to the satellite Roald to set up a new outpost of humanity. Greed gets in the way, when the leader of the colonists decides that the massive stores of uranium are best tapped under his leadership in order to maximize profit to himself. The landing is a disaster, and Tom and the other Space Cadets find themselves in a world of adventure.
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet is back yet again in Treachery in Outer Space. This time around the space cadets are tasked with inspecting the ships entered into a freighter competition to ship crystals from Titan. Greed is in the house, as one team decides that the contract is rightfully theirs, and so will do anything to win. Even sabotage. Trying to keep the competition fair proves to be most life-threatening for the Space Cadets, and Tom’s dedication to the Solar Guard might be the last thing he knows. Isaac Asimov was approached about scripting a TV series similar to the Space Cadet phenomenon, and his result was the David (Lucky) Starr. In this second story in the series, Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids, it is 25 years after space pirates killed Lucky’s parents, and now they’re back, menacing the spaceways. Lucky goes undercover, and tells the pirate leader he wants to be a ‘man of the asteroids’. He wins a duel to join the club, and begins his work. A trip to Ceres takes the danger to a higher trajectory. Strange visitors on Ganymede prove more threatening than the pirates could be.
The asteroid adventures continue with Rip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet. There’s an asteroid composed of pure thorium, and Rip, a newly-minted Planeteer, is sent to retrieve it. The Connies have their own ideas, and the race is on. This was a one-off story, probably because it hewed to real science in the solutions to problems. We’ll close things out with what is generally considered one of the finest science fictional stories around for juveniles, Robert Heinlein’s classic Space Cadet. This is the book that teaches young men about eating pie with a fork, and why it is important to do so. Many, many stories have tried to capture the spirit of this work (such as the Tom Corbett series), but few even come close. The training at the beginning is classic, and it is just a great story.
And there you have it, scores of stories for youngsters looking to work their reading skills on some science fiction that typically doesn’t always involve aliens, wormholes, treknology, or other science fantasy elements, but rather focus in on possible tomorrows right here in our own Solar system, adventures that could, just maybe, happen to the reader as our space future unfolds when humanity climbs out of the cradle of Earth.
Be sure to stop by next week for the super secret conclusion to the Summer Space Reading Camp.