Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Yes, I'm going to read it

In answer to the unspoken question out there, yes, I'm going to read Battle on Mercury when it comes in. I know this is a dangerous proposition. You can't go home again. I grok the concept.

The Golden Age of science fiction is 12. Or 7-9 in my case. Star Wars bit me bad when I was 7, and absolutely nothing else SFnal worth watching came out after that with the exception of Battlestar Galactica, which I watched religiously. Still have most of the novelizations as well. But depravation of good SF on TV or the movies drove me to get my fix elsewhere. In third grade--this would be 1978--I had my first science class with a chapter on the solar system in the science book. There were glossy cutouts of the planets above the lockers in the back of the room. This might be the first time I ever read anything in a textbook because I wanted to. I couldn't wait until we reached that point in the book, because I was brimming over with questions. Naturally enough, the teacher skipped that chapter because it wasn't important.

But the local library had a surprisingly good section on natural science, and a good kid's section as well. I read a bunch of those, learning about Mars and Venus and the other planets (actually, learning a lot of outdated information--Pluto was still described as being larger than Mercury in most cases, and Venus and Mars were described as potential abodes of life). But the science books held my interest until I stumbled across Battle on Mercury, which came about because I was actually trying to find a space science book about that planet, if I remember correctly. From that point I devoured all the Danny Dunn and Mrs. Pickerell books available at the library, and somewhere in there discovered Tolkien, Clarke and Asimov. And the Science Fiction Book Club.

Do I expect Battle on Mercury to be the revelation it was a quarter of a century ago? Of course not. One of the best things about it is that it reminds me of a George Pal movie--but that's also one of the drawbacks. It's certainly dated, in a Flash Gordon lever-switch controls sort of way, with slide rules instead of calculators. You know the drill. It's unabashedly 50s chauvenistic, with men being the only proactive characters and women hovering worried in the background. And since I read it without too much trouble at a time before I became a voracious reader, I suspect that its prose is spare and simple at best. But the plot is solid, the action dependable and a great deal of creativity is on display. The science is wrong, simply because we know a lot more about that world now, but it isn't bad science. I really don't know of many other Mercury-themed novels out there, or even short stories. When I read it this time, I'll be doing so with an eye toward technique, style and structure.

And you know, if anyone from the del Rey estate happens to be reading this blog, I'm more than willing to put in some serious man-hours on developing a screenplay based on Battle on Mercury to dangle before the Hollywood film factory. And I work cheap, too.

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