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[November 3, 1960] With a little help from a friend (Murray Leinster’s Men into Space)

Keeping up with all the science fiction releases is virtually impossible for one person.  Luckily, I’m not making this Journey alone.  When it turned out I could only review one of October’s books, long-time fan TRX offered his services as a guest contributor.  He chose to cover Murray Leinster’s Men into Space, a collection based on the recently completed television show which had garnered a strong fan base (alas, I was not one of them).  Let’s see what he’s got for us…

Our Gracious Host asked if I might do a guest post about the new Leinster book.  I naturally leapt at the chance.

While it’s officially an October release, the book hasn’t completely propagated through the publishing supply chains yet.  After a fruitless search through the local stores, I had an idea and called the lady at Big River Books (my favorite store) and gave her the title and author and asked if she could special order it for me.  Sure, not only that, she’d have it drop-shipped to my house to save me a trip to pick it up.  And she’d let me pay for it next time I was in.  I was delighted, but I’m not sure of the wisdom of being able to buy books over the phone with credit…

A plain brown envelope (well, buff is close enough to brown) showed up in due course, containing one (1) newly-printed book.

From the description on the back cover, “Men Into Space” sounds like it might be a “media tie-in”, like the novel released after Forbidden Planet hit the theaters a few years ago.  If so, neither of my local stations has picked up the show.  I can only tell you about the book.

“Men Into Space” consists of short stories following the career of Space Force officer Ed McCauley:

As a lieutenant, McCauley makes the first manned rocket flight.

As a captain, McCauley deals with an injured crewman while piloting the first space-plane.

As a major, McCauley deals with a potentially-fatal construction accident while in charge the building of the first space station.

As a colonel, McCauley deals with a murderous personnel problem while overseeing the establishment of a series of radio relays to the moon’s far side, then deals with a technical problem aboard a rocket to Venus, and another personnel problem on a Mars mission.

Lots of nuts and bolts details about ballistics, rocket fuels, radiation, the van Allen belts, and so forth.  And with each story, McCauley deals with progressively more complex human problems as he moves up in rank.

If you’re starting to smell something odd… yes, this is a juvenile.

It’s a *good* juvenile, however.  I was a rocket-head from the time I learned about the Army’s missile program after the war, and if I was thirteen years old again I’d be all over this book.  I would have been entertained and instructed at the same time.

The problem is, judging from the cover, it appears to be marketed as a normal science fiction novel, not as a collection of stories appropriate for “Boy’s Life.”  I think most of the readers here at Galactic Journeys would be quite disappointed… and then they’d find their kids under the blanket reading it by flashlight after bed time.

Men into Space author Murray Leinster made his first sale in 1916.  In the last 44 years he has written a huge number of novels, short stories, and both radio and television scripts.  He has written westerns, mysteries, romance… and lots of science fiction.  He’s an old hand who knows his craft back to front, and I expect he wrote exactly what he intended to.  Or what he was contracted for.

I don’t know how the book will be marketed to schools and libraries, but the mass-market paperback edition is almost certainly going to be shelved with the rest of the science fiction instead of with the juveniles, and I expect that most purchasers will be in for a shock.  And that’s doubly sad, since many of the the youth Leinster wrote for may never come across the book.

In short, Men into Space probably aims too low for the average Galactic Journeyer…but Christmas is coming, and if there are any ten-to-fifteen-year-old readers on your shopping list, they might find the book very enjoyable.

The nicely typewritten review was accompanied by the following note scrawled on a half-sheet of legal pad.

“Reading a book for review” is a very odd thing.  Book reports in school were mostly done to prove I’d actually read the book.  Here, I’ve tried to describe what the book *is*, not just what happened in it, and to make a guess as to what others here might think of it.  And I only made it a few pages in before I thought “what is this trash and how did it get printed?”, and I started composing a scathing review in the back of my mind as I was reading.  I would have put the book down before finishing the first story had I not committed to writing a review.  About halfway through I realized what kind of book I was reading, and then had to stop and reconsider everything I’d read up to that point.  And when I finished and wrote the review, I looked at it again the next day and realized it was ridiculously long and crossed out most of it before retyping it and going to the Post Office.  Murray Leinster might be an old hand, but this sort of thing is new to me!

Experts make the challenging look easy, I guess.  But practice makes perfect, and I’m happy to say that we will likely see TRX again someday!