Friday, 17 July 2009

Mission to Mercury by Hugh Walters

Review #8 looking back at the old and largely forgotten science-fiction series Chris Godfrey of UNEXA.
After being the first man in space, the first to step foot on the moon, the first to visit Venus, Mars and Jupiter, for Chris Godfrey's next mission, Mission to Mercury (pub 1965), he confronts terrifying new frontiers in the form of those odd-looking blokes who are called girls.

By now a lot of time has passed since Blast Off at Woomera in which Chris was a short, spotty bookworm at school. Now he's a grown man in his late twenties, as are the rest of his chums. But despite spending most of his life cooped up on space missions with a lot of hairy blokes, none of them has ever once mentioned an interest in women, or each other for that matter. Suddenly though after seven books the first women appear in the form of all-round top-notch girls Gill and Gail, twin sisters with a desire to be astronauts despite the fact they are girls and don't play cricket.

For this mission scientists look inwards towards the sun, but this is a tricky mission. Apparently, when a ship is close to Mercury, the sun's radiation will be so strong it'll destroy any radio signals that are tuned into the frequency that avoids the Martians and their weird noises. Clearly this is a major problem requiring an especially large cup of tea to solve and an especially well thought out scientific solution. That solution, after one too many strong brews, turns out to be telepathy.

Get two twins who are so close they're telepathic then let them send signals to each other over the telepathic airwaves from sixty million miles away, is the foolproof plan. Sadly, this plan has a major flaw and it's not the obvious one. You see, the most telepathically inclined twins the scientists can find aren't blokes. They are girls and that means a girl will have to do a bloke's job by going into space. On the other hand this does mean the guys will get some posh totty on board for a long cramped up mission to somewhere really hot where there's bog-all else to do but bump into each other in zero gravity. Sadly, such thoughts never enter anyone's mind.

Although Chris is intrigued when he notices that Gail and Gill are oddly-shaped. So he invites one of them out to the pictures to explore this discovery a bit more and to find out how a girl thinks. But he's not sure which twin turns up. The only way to tell identical twins Gail and Gill apart is from a freckle on the forehead. He decides it's not the done thing to lift a girl's hair up on the first date to see if she has a freckle. So he remains none the wiser as to who she is. This turns out to be a major clue as to where the story will go.

Just before the rocket is due to leave Gail gets ill with some typical girly illness and only one girl has been trained to be an astronaut, but luckily that girl is Gill. The guys, and girl, blast off to Mercury but Gill turns out to be a rubbish astronaut, spilling tea over the consoles and dropping catches at first slip. At first, everyone puts her stupidity down to her being a girl, but then Chris in a bold move lifts her hair and sees the lack of a freckle. The wrong twin got ill, it seems, and the rubbish one has come aboard disguised as her identical twin.

Now the whole mission and everyone's lives depends on a mere girl's ability to communicate with earth and get them home. Luckily though, while everyone is pointing out for the umpteenth time that she's rubbish, she rounds on them and tells them she's the one who's acting normally, it's they who are acting oddly. The guys look at each other and mutter darkly about how this emotional outburst proves that space isn’t the right place for a girl. But it turns out that she's right.

You see the sun's radiation is making the blokes behave weirdly and now they are so busy having boggly eyes the ship will crash into the sun. Chris gives her a manly punch on the arm, has a strong brew, and pulls himself together. Then he lands the ship on the dark side of Mercury. He has a bit of a shiver when he encounters the absolute zero temperature. Then with a stiff upper lip he blasts off and heads back home to ponder some more on whether odd-looking blokes might have a place in space.

Next week Chris and the other twin explore Saturn.

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