I could not resist showing the cover of Tom Corbett Space Cadet Danger in Deep Space anymore than I could resist buying it yesterday while on a quick trip to return a blood pressure monitor. A tip to any younger readers as you age, there will be medical appointments. Have a good place in mind for breakfast and some shopping later as a treat.
Most of my posts lately have been on my Lovecraft blog, but I wanted to post something to Jagged Orbit. This post is more about reading science fiction than an in-depth look at any one story. It also concerns an experience I have intended to discuss for years. I began reading science fiction in the mid to late 1960s. Unlike many other bloggers of a similar age, I did not cut grass or have a paper route. So I had no money to join the Science Fiction Book Club or buy used paperbacks. I relied on the school library and the public library kitty-corner from my school. These libraries offered me books by Robert Heinlein, Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury and my beloved Andre Norton. Many of these books were published in the 1940s and 1950s. The flotsam of the New Wave did not wash up upon these shores.
I was a quick reader but probably not a good reader. The public school librarian complained that I referred to characters as that guy when I verbally reported on books. I realize now I did not remember the character's names; I still don't. I also do not form a mental image of the character or setting as I read. So descriptions of people or places the authors provide often go in one mental ear and out the other. What I do fix on is small incidents in the plot. So I know the moon colonists in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress kept Herefords in their tunnels. I learned that you could survive the Martian night in a giant cabbage if you leave your flashlight on (The Red Planet). That Enoch Wallace (Way Station) first realized his advanced age could officially come to someone's attention because he had not changed the name on his magazine subscriptions. It is what it is.
This section will contain spoilers.
As an adult, I remembered elements of three stores I wanted to reread but not the authors or titles. One involved a spaceship captain who learns Jesus Christ has visited the planet he is trying to trade with. Another involved a vampire(?) in a future where all corpses are incinerated. The last story involved people whose entire life cycle took seven(?) days. The young men fought with the inhabitants of another cave system who lived a few days longer. The eventual goal was to reach a grounded spaceship.
Eventually (isn't the internet wonderful), I identified these stories. All were by Ray Bradbury; I suspect I read "The Man" and Pillar of Fire" in his collection S is for Space and "Frost and Fire" in his collection R is for Rocket. Identifying these stories did indicate just how important a writer Ray Bradbury has been in my emotional and intellectual life. They entered the lexicon of Bradbury stories I remembered reading. Stories whose plots I recalled even if the titles were foggy, "The Garbage Collector", "The Veldt", "The Crowd", "The Dwarf", "Mars is Heaven", "The Million Year Picnic", "The Pedestrian", "The Fog Horn" etc.
I realize now that "The Man" appealed to the casual Christianity with which I was raised. Non-religious school pageants, there was no prayer in school that I remember but we sang God Save the Queen, there were Sunday School classes and youth groups in the United Church. I would identify myself as a Humanist now, but at the time, I did not think about or question religious belief. The story itself is simple. The trader/captain lands his ship, but no one appears to trade. Eventually, he learns a stranger has passed through preaching and healing the sick. The Captain takes this as a personal affront to his beliefs. There is no definitive proof; of course, the natives do not have photographs or medical evidence. It is enough for the crew, several of whom decide they wish to remain on the planet. However, the Captain intends to move on to other planets until he can come face to face with "The Man".
The next story was "Pillar of Fire", the character William Lantry (it turns out he is not a vampire) died in 1933. For some unexplained reason, Lantry has come back to life in a future where the last remaining graveyards are being destroyed and the contents incinerated. The story concerns his attempts to prevent this. Reading The "Piller of Fire" now I see it as a continuation of Bradbury's love of the horror story from his first published stories in Weird Tales Magazine, the collections Dark Carnival and The October Country, and the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. It also reflects Bradbury's fear of cultural erasure. Whether it is graveyards, the book-burning firemen of Fahrenheit 451, or the bureaucrats of Moral Climates in his short story "Usher II" who enforce the law "No Books. no houses, nothing to be produced which in any way suggests ghosts, vampires, fairies, or any creature of the imagination." Bradbury fears for them all.
The last story was "Frost and Fire". The survivors of a fleet of crashed spaceships live eight days because of planetary radiation. During the eight days they grow to adulthood, reproduce and then die. They do have a form of racial memory. The story follows Sim and his companion Lyte's adventures to reach the one remaining spaceship.This was a very interesting and unusual story when I read it. Quite different from the standard Heinlein or Clarke plot. In the science fiction community, Bradbury has been criticized because his stories are more planetary romances or science fantasy. He knew, and we knew that Mars he wrote about in the Martian Chronicles did not exist even as he wrote the stories. The little codger I was then did not care; the old codger typing this now still doesn't.
The significance of "Frost and Fire", for me, does not lie in the story. I have a terrible memory. I remember the Windsor of my youth (we moved outside the city when I was sixteen), probably more fondly than it deserves. What I wish I could remember more clearly some of the friends of my youth, the books I read and even which were the first books I actually owned. I have rarely had friends who shared my interest in genre literature. There was Dean in grade eight and nine who introduced me to Lovecraft, Jack London and Louis L'Amour. My wife Helen and friend Doug read science fiction but we often enjoy different authors. However, I am convinced that I discussed "Frost and Fire" and other science fiction works with another school chum, but I am unsure who it was and even if the memory is correct. (I also seem to remember a novel in which a crew crashed on a planet where the dominant warlike race has three buttocks and used squares instead of circles, but try searching that) It might have been a fellow geek, Angelo Marcellino, with whom I used to hang, but I am not sure. I do remember we found a dead terrapin in a puddle that he hoped to dissect, and a swarm of bees on a tree by the Willistead library that we tossed a couple of rocks at and the ran frantically away. Boys will be boys. Anyway, Angelo I do hope you fulfilled your dream of becoming a doctor or maybe a scientist.
I have gone on long enough, but here are some more illustrations from Tom Corbett Space Cadet Danger in Deep Space.