Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Joseph N. Bell, Seven Into Space (1960)

Not to be confused with the little-known Enid Blyton SF adventure of the same name ("Janet watched in horror as the alien face-hugger devoured Peter's tongue. 'Gosh!' she cried, unholstering her laser pistol. 'This won't do at all!'") -- this is factual: 'the story' (as the subtitle puts it) 'of the United States astronauts and Project Mercury'. What makes it especially fascinating is that it was published before the first Mercury launches. That means that Bell has to negotiate a tricky narrative voice, balanced between past ('since the beginnings of recorded history men have been chasing stars'), present ('John and Anne Glenn have two children') and future ('Much of the battle between Communism and the free world for the minds and hopes of uncommitted men in the years ahead is going to be fought in outer space'). The account of the training and development is good, but the account of what space travel will be like is either rather flimsy:

(I'm sure you can make out the continents, there) -- or else rather gloriously over the top. What will a launch into space be like? well, it will be sexy:

Orgasmic side-effects apart, there's also some splendid, copper-bottomed optimism as to the imminence of mankind's colonisation of space (you can embiggenclick this image, if you like):

I find this prophesy of men on Mars by 1990 and so on a little mournful, actually; although the mood is saved by the caption to that photo of the moon, there ('this is what the moon will look like to space explorers as they easy down to the moon's surface', it says: because 'this is what the moon looks like right now, through a telescope', though more accurate, is less thrilling). Further into the future there are a couple of lovely two-tone illustrations of the alternate timeline we should be, but alas are not, living right now.

Click it and make bigger; it's a doozy.


Ian Sales said...

The classic example of the space future we never had is Collier's magazine's "Man Will Conquer space Soon!" series from 1952 to 1954. You can see some of the artwork here (the webpage's text is in Italian, though).

Ian Sales said...

The classic example of the future in space we never had is the Collier's magazine series "We Will Conquer Space Soon!" from 1952 to 1954. See here from some lovely pictures (but Italian text).

Adam Roberts said...

Some very cool images at the other end of that link! I wonder why, why speculative artists often got structural aspects of spacecraft right (shapes, say), they so often got the skin wrong: all that polished silver and chrome!

Al R said...

Regarding Ian's comment, I got to handle a beautifully pristine set of the Collier's magazine series last year. They were so well-preserved that they felt like magazines that had just been purchased, which made them feel far more like contemporary publications than dusty artifacts of the early fifties.

As to why the artists got the skin wrong - I guess they were influenced by prevailing trends in aeronautics? Early supersonic jets and high-altitude planes often *were* left in bare metal, weren't they?

I can't make head or tail of that spaceship in the final picture - are those helicopter blades on the ends of the wings?

Ian Sales said...

I think a lot of aircraft of the time were covered in aluminium paint, rather than being left bare metal.

Incidentally, someone is making a film using von Braun's plans - as in Collier's - for the Moon and Mars - see here.