G. Harry Stine’s 1954 Starship Through Space is a standalone juvenile SF novel. It was published under his pen name, Lee Correy. It shares a setting and a character with 1953’s And a Star to Steer Her By.
Granted a leave of absence from Schiaparelli Space Academy on Mars, Walter “Walt” Hansman is summoned back to Earth by his father. He fears that this might be bereavement leave, but Commander Le Farge assures Walt that whatever has happened, or is happening, it is not that Walt’s mother has died. Otherwise, neither the Commander nor the summons provides any hint as to what waits on Earth.
Warning: this review contains spoilers for a book I am pretty sure you will never read.
Thus far, man’s conquest of space has been limited by plausible rocket technology (and that darn Mr. Einstein) to the planets of the Solar System. Now, thanks to the work of scientists like Walt’s father, Project Thunderbird proposes to bypass space-time in order to reach the stars themselves. It’s all top-secret, which is why the summons was so vague.
Of course, not just anyone can take part in such a ground-breaking program. Having been summoned back to Earth, Walt and his school chum Don Salter (also the son of a senior staff member of Project Thunderbird) are subjected to the sort of painstaking tests needed to ensure that only the very best crew will be selected for the first mission to the stars. It’s just happenstance that the best people turn out to be the progeny of a couple of influential project members.
It does not take long to go from theory to worked metal in the form of the starship Vittoria. Aside from minor mishaps (like the one that costs Walt’s father both legs; oh, and nearly running Vittoria into Pluto at speed) the trial runs are almost a formality. Man is ready for the stars!
(But not Walt’s dad, who has to miss the trip while he recovers from the lab accident.)
Astronomers suspected that the Alpha Centauri system had planets. Vittoria confirms this. Even better, one of those planets appears to be very Earthlike. Touchdown reveals a rich biosphere roughly comparable to the Earth during the Pennsylvanian.
A second Earth is quite the win. The cherry on the sundae: New Terra has natives, the Ainsath. First impressions suggest the Ainsath are Stone Age. In fact, they command sophisticated biotechnology, using lifeforms where Terrestrials would use machines. The Ainsath are superficially human but close examination reveals that they are in fact completely human.
Humans, it seems, had a space age long before the current one, the details of which Walt and Don will be lucky enough to learn.
This novel was dedicated to Bob and Ginny, who I assume were the Heinleins.
I have a stack of Stine/Correy novels in the commissioned review stack. This was not one of them, perhaps because it’s so very much out of print. Or perhaps because it’s a legendarily terrible book. Damon Knight’s scathing review can be found in In Search of Wonder. To be fair, while I have not read In Search of Wonder in decades, my memory is that Knight’s critical niche was founded on being scathing towards pretty much everything he read. The fact he didn’t care for this book is not entirely informative.
Still, there’s lots to critique in this work. The novel reads as thought Stine had an idea of what he wanted to happen without a clear idea of how best to go about it. Having to shoe-horn a couple of teens into the book so it could be sold as a juvenile doesn’t help, although nothing about wanting a teen protagonist forced Stine to make Walt and Don both crack space cadets and kids who get invited along out of nepotism.
In addition, the pacing is odd. Walt and Don are called back to Earth well before Vittoria is finished. As a consequence, more than half the book is gone by the time they set out for Alpha Centauri. As a consequence of that, there aren’t many pages to deal with the Mystery of the Ainsath. Stine’s solution is both perfunctory and unsatisfactory: while Terrans may have forgotten about the previous space age1, the Ainsath have not2 and provide a quick, unconvincing explanation.
Unsurprisingly for a book of this vintage, the characters are obsequiously pious in the manner of a person aware they could be hauled up in front of a House Unamerican Affairs Committee on a moment’s notice. This ties into the solution: the Ainsath are not just humans, they are humans whose holy text is the same as the Old Testament right up to Genesis 11:1 – 9, the story about the Tower of Babel.
Still, at least the book is short and (unlike some juveniles I could mention) not only is there is strong evidence that women exist, some of them get to do stuff. Ainsath society is run by the women. Walt even finds a “mere girl” who isn’t too bad in Marge Harper:
[quote]Marge was a good kid, he thought […] He managed to get along with her, which is more than he could say for other girls he’d known. She was just as happy and grateful for a cup of coffee in the commissary as some girls were for a night of dancing at a ritzy place. Furthermore, she knew his language, was willing to just talk with him, and didn’t babble on about fashions and girl topics. [/quote]
Alas, we never find out how Marge feels about Walt…
Starship Through Spaceis out of print3.
1: Somehow, despite leaving some major evidence in the form of Mars’ canals, the previous cycle of civilization managed to clean up anything that would have tied their relics to humans, as well as leaving no evidence of a technological civilization of great antiquity on Earth. The characters decide that since humans have been around hundreds of thousands of years and recorded history only documents about six thousand years, lots of human history could have been misplaced. That does not address the physical evidence.
2: Among the benefits of the biological sciences: at least some of the people on New Terra are very, very long lived.
3: But it’s available used, according to Bookfinder. At prices ranging from $30 to $153. This may represent several copies … or it may just be resellers betting that they can get some sucker to order it. Then they will buy it cheaply somewhere else and sell it on. Profit! Which is how used book prices can ascend to stratospheric heights, as reseller bots compete for … profit!
A deceptive term for this is called book arbitrage, or book flipping, and if you google those terms, you will find that you can buy expensive courses that will teach you how to become a book flipper. Make big money fast!