Monday, 25 May 2009

Operation Columbus by Hugh Walters

Review #3 looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.

With the previous book in the series giving America and Russia a role in the space race, even if that was bombing the crap out of alien technology, the race to be the first nation to put a man on the moon hots up.

In the third book Operation Columbus (pub 1959), the brash Americans and the sneaky Russians decide they can't cope with losing out to the Brits on being the first to do everything in space. Both nations are determined to plant their flag on the moon first. The Brit scientists, viewing the whole empire building in space malarkey as being terribly unsporting and just not cricket, decide to drink tea and watch the test match instead.

With the sneaky Soviets being secretive Chris goes over to America to explain space travel to the technologically inferior Americans. But despite his help it looks as if the Russians will win. With super-slimy cosmonaut Serge Smyslov being ready to blast off first, the Americans seem doomed to come second.

So they fast track square-jawed all-American hero Morrison Kant, their chosen astronaut, but the trouble is they fast track him so much he falls over and breaks an arm. Tragically, despite spending several billion dollars on the space program, nobody thought to train a second astronaut. With failure looming, an ingenious Brit come up with a solution: send Chris Godfrey up in the American spaceship.

The race is now back on. Both rockets blast off at the same time. The Russians try some sneaky manoeuvres, but their duplicity can’t compete with American know-how and a plucky Brit's space piloting skills. Both crafts land on the moon, but they arrive so closely that nobody knows for sure who landed first. But with the Russians having fast-tracked Serge so much they didn’t have the time to build him a spacesuit, Chris leaps out of his ship and plants the Union Jack.

Chris has a spot of tea then explores the blasted to hell domes of Pico, but then he encounters a problem. Serge Smyslov is hell-bent on killing him. If he can’t be the first to the moon, then he'll make sure he's the only one to get back. He comes out of his ship in his rover and destroys Chris's ship. Then he moves on to get Chris. But with the radiation from the ruined domes being so strong it's appearing as a mysterious grey mist that seemingly has a mind of its own, it's making them both woozy. The attempted murder fails and Serge only succeeds in blowing up his own lunar rover and trapping himself inside.

Chris is now free to steal the Soviet ship and pilot it back to earth, but despite their fundamental differences, Chris resolves that Serge can’t be left on the moon to die; it's just not the British way. So he drags Serge out of his rover to take him back with him on the Soviet ship, even if the extra weight will ruin his own chances of returning to earth. They argue, they fight, they argue some more, but no matter Chris crams Serge into the ship and they return to earth.

Despite going on a diet to get home, this act of international non-diplomacy almost starts World War III. With nuclear warheads trained on Buckingham Palace, tensions on the ship are nearly as high. But then the ship suddenly has a new problem to face. A meteorite rips through the craft and they start losing their air.

Worse, a holed ship means they'll burn-up on re-entry. As they have no sticky tape available after throwing all non-essential objects out the airlock to save on fuel, there's only one way to save the ship. Serge and Chris put their own bare hands over the holes and plug the gaps. With them co-operating for the first time, the ship lands safely. There's probably a message there, (and it's not that they'd burn their hands off on re-entry) but the whole world is happy. World peace is declared, the cold war ends, and from then on international co-operation in space is the only way.

Next week Chris returns to the moon for the last time.


David Cranmer said...

I may never read this but I enjoyed your entertaining review. I love sci-fi films but dip into the books maybe just once or twice a year and Operation Columbus sounds like the type of plot to hook me.

Btw I purchased season one of the original Star Trek series. This version has the new enhanced special effects and I gotta tell you after watching just one episode, The Man Trap, it's awesome to watch and I would recommend it.

I.J. Parnham said...

Thanks for the kind comments. I've only got about ten more books in the series to go!

The revised TOS is first on my list of things to buy when I get a Blu-ray, but it might be a while. I just can't face having yet another box and set of wires hooked up to the tv!

David Cranmer said...

I bought the HD DVD combo format and spent ten minutes wondering what was wrong with my player until I realized I needed to flip the darn thing over. I'm trying to bypass Blu-ray knowing the next thing is right around the corner.