CRUSADE ACROSS THE VOID by Dwight V. Swain
MURDER FROM THE MOON by Robert Bloch
DEATH RIDES AT NIGHT by Leroy Yerxa
CONVOY IN SPACE by William P. McGivern
DWELLERS OF THE DARKNESS by Ed. Earl Repp
BAT-SCIENCE by Ellis White (nonfiction essay)
This is technically not a book, but I didn’t know that when I read it. To me, it was just a small collection of hard science fiction short stories no different from the many other omnibus collections on my dad’s book shelves. Three of those stories I read and reread over and over while the other two I actually didn’t fully read until just this week.
“Death Rides At Night” was filled with too much technical jargon and confusing imagery involving plastic super-highways for an 8 year old to understand and reading it as an adult with its rather weak characters and vague world-building did not make it any better. “Dwellers of the Darkness” had strikes and politics and economics that was, once again, too abstract for me to grasp at the time. Reading it as an adult was much more palpable, highlighting how greed for profit causes corporations to take less than decent care of their factories and workers, but it still falls down badly with the lone female character. And while I did read the nonfiction essay “Bat-Science,” there was nothing in it I hadn’t already learned from devouring numerous animal and biology books.
But the other three… those I lapped up. Repeatedly.
“Murder From the Moon” is a short but intriguing murder mystery with a science fiction twist. A visitor from the moon has arrived, looking specifically for Stephen Bennet whose father left for the moon in a rocket years ago, but never returned. This visit is a momentous occasion for Bennet, but then the moon-man suddenly and mysteriously dies. Then, during the autopsy of the moon-man to find out what happened, Bennet’s friend and guardian Changara Dass is strangled to death. It’s up to a sharp-eyed reporter to find the culprit before anyone else gets killed. “Murder From the Moon” is a short, but harrowing story, one that I think would have made an excellent one-shot episode like those created for The Twilight Zone.
“Convoy in Space” is a military science fiction short story about running the gauntlet. Earth and Venus are locked in a terrible war and a key outpost of Earth soldiers in the asteroid belt are in desperate need of the element U-235 to power their ships and weapons. However, the only route to them is patrolled by Venusian ships, making supply runs risky. Most of the pilots who make the run are killed, although one of them, a man named Reese, seems unusually lucky in making the runs, outliving most other pilots. The commanding officer, Mace, is short-handed, forcing him to accept a new (female) pilot named Dale Mason, although in true 1970s fashion, he’s very unhappy about it. They need to make a special run to get the U-235 to the Belt, but there may be a traitor in their midst… A wonderful blend of military SF, rum-running-style tactics, and mystery, “Convoy in Space” kept me on the edge of my seat.
But the story that really captured my imagination was “Crusade Across the Void.” This is just classic pulp featuring swashbuckling pirates in space. A man named Wolf Stone and his motley crew of Earthmen, Martians, Saturians, and other dregs from Earth’s solar system are wanted by the Interplanetary Police, but stage a daring escape across the void of space to another star system. But when they reach their destination, their ship is intercepted and they are imprisoned by the system’s dictator, a Lundar named Rsk. But Wolf Stone is not about to remain a prisoner and ends up escaping and pledging his men to fight on behalf of the Daus Princess Meersa to free her people and the star system from the merciless iron grip of the Lundars. It’s a slightly grimmer kind of Flash Gordon with the lines between friend and foe, good and evil, clearly delineated. But what it lacks in subtely, the story more than makes up for with action, adventure, clever plans, narrow escapes, and general daring. I always wanted to see this turned into its own classic TV serial when I was a kid. I still do.