How was it? Suprisingly, it was pretty much as I remembered it. I'm amazed that I retained such a clear picture of the story--wispies and demons, the frozen oxygen, crashed spaceships, space tractors--many of the details were as I remembered, or close to it. There were flaws in the story that I didn't remember, but suspected. This was a juvenile published in the pre-New Wave period, after all, and there's a great deal of clunky knife-switch and misguided technology choices in the story (why wouldn't a Mercury mining outpost use solar power?), but for when it was written the science is more or less accurate (Mercury tidally locked in its orbit is the most obvious example of obsolete science). The biggest problem is the actual writing style. There's a lot of "tell, don't show," at work here. If you watch the film versions of "Day of the Triffids" or "Puppet Masters," you'll know that as soon as the heroes figure out how to defeat the alien invaders, the movie skips forward past the implementation of said plan, and everyone's patting each other on the back saying, "Wow, that plan sure worked great!" That's at work in Battle on Mercury. There's buildup to a course of action, then said action is discussed in the aftermath, but the action itself often happens off-stage. When action does happen on-stage, it usually gets a couple of sentences, then a page or so of characters discussing what just happened. Fortunately, the book clips along at a good pace, so it never gets boring, and it's always fun. But I read it and see so much potential, and so much missed opportunity because the writer was following convention rather than serving the story.
Although the book's too dated to find much of a modern audience (no way it competes with Harry Potter--Rowling's writing, for all its flaws, is far more accomplished) I'm more convinced than ever that Battle on Mercury would serve as the basis for a very cool movie. It's got a linear race-against-the-clock plot, a straightforward man-against-nature theme, loads of exotic settings and weird aliens and robots. Plus, it's a coming-of-age tale that could be done on a budget. Cross "October Sky" with Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and you begin to get an idea of what this could be. The beats and scenes break themselves down nicely. If Lester Del Rey's estate is looking for someone to work this up into a screenplay, hey, I'm your guy.
Reading the story also helped me solidify some of the ideas I've been mulling over in my head regarding that YA SF novel I mentioned a while back. I'm more convinced than ever now that I could pull it off. It wouldn't be Harry Potter, but it'd be a pretty good book, I think, with an adult crossover appeal akin to Steve Gould's Jumper. And the name of this brilliant as-yet-to-be-written confection of fictiony goodness? Sailing Venus. You heard it here first.
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