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Outposts in space by Wallace West
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Outposts in space

by Wallace West

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Recently added byjoiedelivre, dukedom_enough
2nd Copy (1) Avalon (1) G (1) hb (1) science fiction (2) sff (1)

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No excuse except nostalgia for reading this, a book I read probably just when it was published in 1962. There were large parts I didn't remember, turns out, and I don't think I had quite, at age ten or eleven, acquired the skills properly to decode plots. At the time, that effect made books seem mysterious and wonderful.

Like many titles published by Avalon Books in the 1950s and 1960s, this is a fix-up, or compilation, of related stories published at various times from 1931 through 1962, mostly in the 1950s. They comprise an episodic novel, more or less, about the early exploration of the solar system. The plot is inconsequential, having elements of planetary romance in adventures on the Moon and a jungle-covered, habitable Venus. The story looked forward to futuristic dates from 1969 through 2069.

The main lesson to draw is how greatly writing standards have risen in science fiction over the decades. Also, I was struck by how goofy some of West's ideas now seem. Written before anyone actually flew in space, this story employs the minor trope that I think of as "the great pain of space" -- the phrase from Cordwainer Smith, the idea that space travel would be harmful in ways that we now know it isn't. West assumed that low or zero gravity would discombobulate the human system in severe ways. The members of the first circumlunar expedition are paralyzed by gravity's absence, and later travelers must hibernate between Earth and Venus. In the 1/6 G at the Moon's surface, people get by - but do much better when music is played in the corridors to help them coordinate their muscles. Scenes with people dancing through the colony, to foxtrots and tangos. A pursuit by foot is speeded up as the music changes to "The Campbells are Coming." I don't think modern SF television has quite caught up with West's vision in this regard.

Venus, where incorrigible criminals are sent, is what you'd get if you explained libertarianism to a seven-year-old boy. By law, partnerships and cooperation are forbidden, although murder is fine if you can get away with it. However, if you rob someone and take his gun (mostly "tommy-guns", everyone has one), you must leave him with another weapon.

West is a bit shakey on some of his science. In trajectory to the Moon, sensed gravitational acceleration in the spacecraft falls off gradually, reaching zero only near the Moon. In one place, West seems to suggest that the natural logarithm of 2 might be changed. No.

Some of the dates don't seem quite to line up properly either, a plotting problem.

I was also reminded of how society has changed since West wrote. Hitting a 14 year old to get her to attend to her studies is presented as a reasonable thing to do, and a source of light comedy. Sexism isn't as great as in some era stories, but it's there; as was common, the female lead character is of the "spunky" variety.

In the end, the gang bosses of Venus are defeated and a bright new age dawns.

I can't possibly rate this, but can't recommend it for most readers.
  dukedom_enough | Dec 27, 2011 |
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