I’m sneaking in one more post at the end of Vintage Science Fiction Month. Last week, I posted about Secret Agent of Terra by John Brunner, which I read in Ace Double #F-133. The other half of that double is The Rim of Space by Arthur Bertram Chandler. Chandler was a sailor and merchant ship captain, and I’ve read that many of his stories draw on his nautical experiences.
After some initial (well-done) world-building and character-building, The Rim of Space turns episodic, making me think it could have been the basis of a TV show to rival Star Trek. One episode has a member of the crew kidnapped by aliens, another episode has a different crew member kidnapped by internal security agents, and the final episode has the ship nearly destroyed by a hurricane while down on a planet for repairs. I don’t recall any plants bursting from an open hatch as depicted on the cover, however.
While Secret Agent of Terra reads like a story that could have been written today, The Rim of Space flags itself as a late 50s / early 60s story. The female crew member is the ship’s cook instead of its captain. The characters smoke and drink heavily. A hysterical woman is slapped to bring her back into rational mode.
If you like The Rim of Space and want more, or if you can’t find a copy but it sounds like your kind of thing, To the Galactic Rim might be of interest. I haven’t read the series, but it uses the same setting as The Rim of Space, following a different set of characters.
I was impressed by the writing of The Rim of Space, as I was with Secret Agent of Terra. Since both are shorter works, and written close to the pulp era, I expected them to open with pew pew laser gun action, but they didn’t. I enjoyed the way each book’s main character was introduced, with scenes that weren’t action, but still had plenty of tension.
In the Rim of Space, the main character is a ship’s officer who, for a reason not yet disclosed to the reader, has been dismissed from a top-of-the-line ship and is working on a second-class vessel. He’s planning to get off that vessel and join a third-class vessel heading out to the Rim Worlds, the far frontier of human space. I enjoyed how the worldbuilding came out, as the second-class ship’s crew tries to get him to stay, telling him their ship isn’t so bad, and warning him how awful the ships and worlds are on the Rim. It was much better than an infodump, and made me wonder “what did this guy do to get thrown off his first ship?” and “why does he want to go to the Rim so badly?”
In Secret Agent of Terra, the main character comes from a sophisticated background on Earth, and most of her coworkers in the Galactic Corps come from less-developed colonial worlds. She’s kicking herself, finally realizing how badly she’s behaved towards her coworkers, and thinking she’s about to be booted out because nobody wants to work with her. She’s called into her commander’s office and given one last chance, because an emergency has come up and he doesn’t have anyone else he can spare. Again, a lot of information was conveyed, and the character-building drew me in, unlike most modern character-building, which tends to make me roll my eyes or fall asleep.
Both of these novellas were written well enough that modern writers could take them apart for some lessons. The science-fiction elements occasionally seemed like tropes, but it’s possible they were real innovations when the stories were first published. I’m looking forward to reading my next Ace Double, and hope that I’ll learn more about writing techniques and about the history of science fiction.