Welcome to the blog of science fiction author Eileen Rhoadarmer--where science fiction and Mommyhood collide!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Good Old-Fashioned Sci-Fi

Awhile back, I promised a post on reading, so here it is. While leading the busy life of a parent, how do I find the time to read for myself? By depriving myself of sleep, of course!

Here's my typical (weekday) evening:
  1. Put child to bed
  2. Spend 15-25 minutes getting self ready for bed (this is so I can hit the sack immediately once I'm ready for sleep)
  3. Spend 1-1 ½ hours in office writing/blogging/wasting time on the internet (husband goes to bed sometime in this range)
  4. Realize that I should be getting into bed within 10 minutes. Decide to look at just one more thing online
  5. 20 minutes later, leave office
  6. Sit in comfy chair, determined to read for just five minutes to relax and wind down (if I haven't brushed my teeth earlier, I tend to snack now, too)
  7. 45 minutes later, slam book down, chide self for staying up too late, vow to start taking better care of self the next day, go to bed
  8. Repeat nightly
(I wrote part of this post a while ago, and this routine ended about two weeks ago. Now, you can replace writing, blogging, and reading with packing [though I'm still wasting time on the internet.] But I'm sure I'll return to the reading/writing routine once things calm down.)

And what do I read that is so engrossing as to keep me up too late, night after night? Connie's latest book, which I mentioned attending the release of a while ago? Something new (or old) that I've never read before? Now why would I do something like that?

It's a bit of a guilty pleasure for me to read and reread (and reread again) some of the books that I enjoyed as a kid/teenager. I think of them along the lines of security blankets or comfort foods--they gave me pleasure during my impressionable years, so they're easy and relaxing and fun to read, even now.

The most recent thing I have revisited from my past was the Tom Corbett series by Carey Rockwell (a pseudonym for who-knows-how-many authors.) This is a science fiction series from the 1950s about a group of space cadets learning to become officers in the Solar Guard, the military organization that polices the solar system (and beyond) after humankind has colonized the stars. They are (of course) the best team in the Space Academy and they (of course) have numerous adventures, typically involving the taking-out of intergalactic criminals bent on being greedy or undermining the principals of the Solar Alliance.
It is also very corny. You could feed cows with the contents of these books (a fact I did not fully appreciate until recently.) Parts of it just made me crack up (like the King Kong-esque battle between a giant snake and a Tyrannosaurus on the planet Venus.) It springs from an era of science fiction where if you're going to write about space cadets, everything must relate back to space. People don't wear boots, they wear space boots. They don't drive cars, they drive jet cars. They eat spaceburgers and drink Martian water. They live in Atom City. If they want to tell someone to f*** off, they tell them to "blast their jets," and when they swear, they swear "By the Rings of Saturn!!" (This same expectation of like-mindedness in the future causes science fiction movie producers to dress everyone in identical silver jumpsuits.)

According to Wikipedia, Tom Corbett (along with his cronies Astro and Roger Manning) also existed in television, radio, comic books, comic strips, coloring books, punch-out books and View-Master reels. It was interesting for me to read about all this, since I had no idea the legacy was so wide-spread. I only knew that my father had four of the eight books and he gave them to me when I was a child.

The books are written for adolescents and are easy to read, and the issues within are typically black-and-white. Mostly they're just simple and fun adventure stories; but for a child enamored of space-travel, they were a blast. Now that I'm older, I see a lot of holes and contradictions, but it was still fun to trip back through memory lane.

The books are also very much a product of their time, meaning that a lot of their science is bunk (although they were pretty accurate for what was known at the time, or so I've heard) and they're very sexist--but even as an adolescent I was willing to look past that for a good story. With one exception, the female characters fall into three categories: 1) the nurturing mother-figure, 2) the pure, innocent sister-figure, and 3) the object of sexual attraction (although this was pretty tame, considering the age group--no femme fatales or whores, these usually fit the "sister" type if they became more than eye candy.) But in my mind, there were girls as well as boys in the Space Academy.

As I said before, my father had four of the eight books while growing up (a friend of his had the other four) which he shared with me. So I got to read books 1, 3, 6, and 7. Therefore, the way the series ended was left to my imagination. I remember once asking my father whether they graduate from the Space Academy at the end, and he said he didn't remember, but he thought so. I very much wanted to read the other four books, so for years I did some searching at local libraries (I was a bit too young to grasp the concept of out-of-print and did not understand why they were so unhelpful) and the dealer's room at science fiction conventions--but to no avail.

It wasn't until I was a sophomore in college that I discovered the magic of alibris.com and, by extension, used books on Amazon. Within a few weeks, I was able to find decent, reasonably-priced copies of the four missing books. What a treasure, to find something like that from my childhood! I promptly set about reading all eight of them in order, and things went great until the final book, when I experienced the worst letdown I've ever encountered in the literary world.

To begin with, they got rid of my favorite character early on. Tom and Astro were just a little too perfect for me (I guess I understood the merits of literary conflict even at a tender age) and so Roger Manning, with his sarcasm, jokes, and his all-too-human tendency to make errors in judgment, was my favorite. (On this latest read-through, I didn't like how he often tended to be a scapegrace.) And in book 8, they went and transferred him to a different school at the beginning.

In addition to the fact that Roger was my favorite, there was another major problem with getting rid of him. Throughout the previous books, they went on and on about teaching the three boys to be a team--"the unit is the backbone of the academy"--and then they went and broke up their best group. They replaced him with another character, T.J., who personality-wise could've been his clone, and then carried on as though nothing had happened. All throughout the story, I kept expecting the narrative to follow Roger for a while and then for them to converge, but that never happened. In fact, there was no closure to the series at all; it ended the same way the rest of them did: with reflection on what they'd accomplished and expectation for the next big adventure. When taken as the individual ending of a kids book, this might not have been bad, but when you consider that it was the end of a series--and particularly an ending that I had been anticipating for the better part of a decade... Well, it left me in shock and dismay the first time I read it.

In retrospect, they probably had no intention of ending the series with only eight books. Perhaps Roger would have reappeared later on, if things had kept going. Or perhaps not; according to the Internet Movie Database, while Tom and Astro appeared throughout the entire TV series, Roger appeared in only half of them and was replaced by T.J. for the latter half--so perhaps the actor playing Roger wanted out, and the books were simply following the same progression as the TV show.

I discovered a few weeks ago that bibliobazaar has reprinted the first seven of these books, and that Amazon has come out with kindle versions of them (also the first seven,) so if anyone is interested in reading them, they are much more readily (and cheaply) available than they were to me. (I can't help but think that the omission of book 8 means that I'm not the only person to be upset with the ending!)

I reread this series recently partly for something easy, relaxing, and fun, and partly because I haven't touched the books since the huge letdown, and I wondered how it would be on a second read-through with lower expectations. I was still annoyed. I also discovered that I'm way too old for the series now--I guess adulthood and parenthood will do that to you. But this series will always have a place in my heart as something that fueled many dreams during my childhood.

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