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Alien Worlds: 01-The Sunstealers Pt 1
james_nicoll
Alien Worlds: 01-The Sunstealers Pt 1

We're quickly introduced to our cast of characters, given a bit of tragic back story for tow of them - this better not end in romance, guys - and given the first problem facing our heroes: the Sun is going out. Our two rocket jockeys are fired off towards the Sun, to what end is not clear, and while the station Poindexter has worked out what could be causing the problem, nobody is listening to him. This may be because his voice actor isn't very good (but his lines aren't that great).

In short order, the two rocket guys have found and been captured by the source of the problem, which is aliens! Sun-stealing aliens! Who in their defense don't seem to have anything against humans specifically. Our extinction is merely the necessary cost of keeping their civilization powered and who can argue with that?

This name-drops Arthur C. Clarke but the influences are considerably more pulpy than ACC: think Buck Rogers, Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, Rockets in Ursa Major or the contemporary Canadian show Johnny Chase: Secret Agent of Space.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.

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The first time I saw this gimmick was in the Winston juvenile "The Secret of the Ninth Planet".

I think that was actually written by Donald Wollheim, which may be why he's better known these days as a publisher.

And proving there is nothing new under the sun:

The years of space flight since the orbiting of Sputnik I back in 1957 had produced many fascinating results, but they had also brought a realization of the many problems that surrounded the use of rockets for space flight. It was generally believed that no one should risk a manned flight until absolutely everything possible that could be learned by robot and radio-controlled missiles had been learned. It now looked as if Venus and Mars trips were still a dozen years away.

It's easy on the one hand to jeer at the space boosters for their can-do know-nothingism; it's quite another to acknowledge that the problems with rockets were well-known back then (in 1959!) as well as the consequent realization that space exploration was best done by machines (until something better comes along). I think that sometimes people tend to be just a little-bit smug when they figure this out for themselves; after all, doing better than Libertarians! In Space! is an awfully low bar to clear.

And here's something that reminded me of you :-)

He went on to explain that what then happened was that the vessel, exerting a tremendous counter-gravitational force, literally pushed itself up against Earth's drive. At the same time, this force could be used to intensify the gravitational pull of some other celestial body. The vessel would begin to fall toward that other body, and be repelled from the first body—Earth in this case.

As every star, planet, and satellite in the universe was exerting a pull on every other one, the anti-gravity spaceship literally reached out, grasped hold of the desired gravitational "rope" hanging down from the sky, and pulled itself up it. It would seem to fall upward into the sky. It could increase or decrease the effect of its fall. It could fall free toward some other world, or it could force an acceleration in its fall by adding repulsion from the world it was leaving.


This is like the gravity repulsion scheme in that book that got sent to you for review, only fifty years earlier. I didn't want to quote too much, but Wollheim also makes noises in his physics wank that you don't get something for nothing and it still takes gobs of energy to move mass out from a gravitational well - at least as much as hauling it up an elevator. Pity he didn't go on to note the other limitation - that if you just switch signs so the Earth's field repels rather than attracts, your final velocity is . . . 11 km/sec. Earth's escape velocity. Same applies to the Sun of course. Wollheim's trip to Pluto via grand tour of the solar system isn't going to take weeks, or even months, which are the constraints given for the plot device to work.

It's not a good book but the image of Callisto's thin surface breaking up after the alien nuclear device stayed with me for years.


No, it's not a particularly good book, and to his credit Wollheim (as I understand it, you may know otherwise) rated himself at best as barely average.

But you know, when I read it by flashlight out at our old farm at the age of - what Eight? Nine? Maybe ten - that old sensawunda hit me like a freight-train full of meth. Just the sort of thing to motivate a young lad to learn all he could about radio tubes[1] and whatnot.

[1]It seemed like only months later, though it had to have been years, that I was hooked by Blish's "Welcome to Mars". Which, oddly enough, also relied upon gravitic repulsion to get the business of the story done. And if Dolph Haertel could scrounge together a spaceship in his suburban garage, well, by God, I could pull off the same thing what with all the junk we had lying around in all the outbuildings, plus my dad's auto shop. All I had to do was figure out how gravity and magnetism were related . . . and I had six years to beat Dolph's record :-)

But to play devil's advocate: is lying to a child about science or engineering any better than lying to them about politics, or economics, or history?

I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Are you saying the authors deliberately lied when cooking up the numbers and the "science" in stories? I dunno about that. Bear in mind that these guys were not for the most part, um, broadly educated.

Also, times they were a-writing in were different; it really felt like controlled hydrogen fusion was just fifty years away, that it was only a matter of time - certainly less than a hundred years - before every major planet would be visited by a human presence, that some new theory unifiying gravity with everything else was immanent and give us stuff like antigravity! and ftl!. Pluto? Not only was it still a planet, but it was once thought to be anomalously dense, perhaps denser than solid platinum. Definitely a mystery there.

Ah, it was good to be ignorant back then :-) And I don't blame these writers at all for their misplaced optimism.

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