Friday, 15 May 2009

The Domes of Pico by Hugh Walters

Review #2 looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.

With the Brits having won the first space race by getting a man into space in Blast off at Woomera, the question then was: would we win the next race? The answer of course was the hell we would.

With the second-rate nations of the Russians and the Americans looking on in awe at our advanced technology, the plucky Brits returned in The Domes of Pico (pub 1958) with a mission to be the first to circle the moon.

This story cleverly picked up on an aspect of the first book in which Chris's spaceship had photographed a mysterious structure on the moon near the crater Plato. Now the mysterious structure is transmitting mysterious bursts of radiation that are causing nuclear power stations to mysteriously stop working. It's been many years since I read this book, but whenever I look at the moon through a telescope I always look at Plato and the range of mountains above where the action takes place.

Anyhow, this book moves away from the gritty and low-key plot of the first book to notch up the tension with a deadline along with bringing in what would become the series' main plotting style. Namely, a major problem is unleashed and Chris must face considerable danger to resolve it, but before he's got comfortable in his spacesuit in rapid succession several even bigger problems come along. Then, just when Chris is starting to think there's no way he can solve everything, a major calamity befalls… All the best books in the series stick to this brilliant plotting style. Those that deviate from it work less well.

So for this story the race against time is on to get a ship into space that can reach the moon. With every corner on safety being cut Chris pilots a ship into orbit around the moon, drops a probe, and only then does he discover that he's been duped. With the urgency of getting those nuclear power stations producing clean, efficient energy again, the scientists couldn't afford to waste time building a rocket that could bring him back home. This is strictly a one way mission.

Chris's stiff upper lip doesn't quiver for even a moment, and as he waits to die bravely out there in the depths of space, he pinpoints the domes' location accurately. Then the Americans and the Russians bomb the crap out of the site with their precision controlled nuclear bombs and so successfully wipe out the radiation.

But, just when it looks as if Chris is doomed to circle the moon forever, the seemingly nasty mission controller surprises everyone with the news that there's a second rocket sitting on the launch pad that nobody's noticed. Just in the nick of time, a brave rescue attempt reaches Chris and he returns home a hero, again.

Next week Chris becomes the first Brit to set foot on the moon.

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