Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Planet Strappers: A Free Book review

The Planet Strappers (free audiobook here) by Raymond Z. Gallun is a tale of the awkward age of space exploration from the awkward age of sci-fi. We were beginning to realize that maybe it wasn't quite so simple after all, that Mars probably didn't have any canals or ancient sages, that Venus was more hellhole than paradise.

A bit of a disappointment, really. I think that's why there's so much interest in retro science-fantasy where it really is as easy to get into space as the comic strips implied.

Anyway, in The Planet Strappers, the Solar System is still being explored: men have personally visited everything within Jupiter's orbit, and probes have reached much of the rest. Mars used to have an advanced civilization, but it and a rival civilization from what is now the asteroids wiped each other out, and now only plants rule the Red Planet.

It's the tech angle that I found interesting. Space travel (beyond escaping earth's gravity well) is managed on the cheap, thanks to Archers, space suits so thoroughly self-sufficient that they double as spaceships for fairly short trips, and bubs, or space bubbles, which are essentially large, spinnable plastic bags with ion drives that can take you from planet to planet in a few months. I couldn't help thinking what a little genetic engineering and nanotechnology could do to make bubs self-maintaining. The main problem (outside of shifting orbits, which I think would take more power than Gallun allowed for) would be psychological: even in a convoy of bubs where you could visit or call others, the isolation would get to most people. Still, it's an attractive idea, if only for fiction.

As to the story itself, it concerns a group of would-be space travelers who are more diverse than the crew of the Enterprise: woman who wants to make it in a man's world? Check! Black guy? Yup. Hispanic? ¡Por supuesto! Jock? Take two; they're big. Mama's boy? Don't make me cry! Rich kid? Ka-ching! Rebel without a clue? Why, soit'n'y! We've even got a handicapped guy--two if you count the innumerate goof who needs mathematical and other nursemaiding. Against all odds--well, except for the rich kid, whose odds are pretty good--they get a shot at the Big Vacuum, though there are washouts along the way--and some surprise returns. They go their separate ways, and we get a tour of space with a few of them.

It's a good yarn on the whole--a transition from the early gee-whiz sci-fi into the more realistic kind.

The Planet Strappers

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