W.E. Johns Space Books
I feel it is important to set any science fiction book into the context of the time the book was written. In this instance, the set of 10 books in the Space Series were written before Man had gone to the moon, although plans, I assume, were in motion. The series was published between 1955 & 1963.
W.E Johns is famous for his Biggles books, of which there are around 100. He did try his hand at other genres including a couple of romance novels, gardening magazines and books. However, it will always be his children's books for which he is remembered including Worrals, Gimlet, and Steeley. Some of my personal favourites are his Space or Science Fiction novels. As with all W.E. Johns’ books, they are good easy reading yet fast paced novels. Unlike some of the Biggles books which can become a bit formulaic, at the end of each Space series book there are unanswered questions which draw you straight into the next book - not so much a cliff-hanger, as in modern television, but more intrigue.
So let me introduce you to the main characters:
Group Captain Timothy Clinton - is a retired RAF officer and a well known aircraft engineer. His nickname is Tiger.
Rex Clinton – son of Tiger.
Professor Lucius Brane – inventor extraordinaire and, as with many of this type of character, the line between genius and madness is a little blurry but for the child reader he is the brains of the operation.
Judkins – the Professor's butler and probably the professor’s best friend.
These are the main characters in the first book, Kings of Space. In the next few books of the series we are introduced to friendly aliens: Vargo, Borron and Gator and the troublesome alien, Rolto, Rex’s girlfriend; Morino who is a resident on the planet Minos; and all manner of strange plant life and creatures.
A few story summaries.
Tiger and Rex are deer-stalking in the Scottish Highlands when they lose their way in the mist and stumble across Glensalich Castle where they meet Professor Brane and Judkins. Once the Professor learns of Tiger’s occupation he shows him his latest invention - a spacecraft, called Spacemaster, which can harvest the power of cosmic rays. Initially tested by remote control the four are soon off on various missions in the Spacemaster including a landing on the Moon & discovering dinosaurs on Venus. Next is a visit to Mars where they discover an almost abandoned city obviously built by a more advanced civilisation, but what has caused their destruction? They start to explore and discover a seriously ill man, and eventually come to the conclusion that the residents are losing the fight against what could be seen as the equivalent of our mosquitoes. They decide to return to Earth to try and help, but upon their return some earth-born baddies bring about the loss of the spacecraft...
For this adventure they are joined by Squadron Leader Clarence Paul M.D., nicknamed 'Toby'. A year has passed and the Professor has built Spacemaster II, and manufactured an organic insecticide to deal with Mars mosquito problems. In the abandoned city they have called Utopia they find a 'man' (Vargo) and using telepathy he is able to communicate with Rex, whilst Toby treats him. Meanwhile, the insecticide is working although causing some unusual effects such as giant animals. Vargo recovers very quickly and is soon able to tell his tale after first quickly learning English. During the discussions they discover the Earth is doomed, as a small planet is due to collide with it. The story continues apace with Tiger getting kidnapped, the Spacemaster gets seriously damaged and abandoned on Phobos. As in all good stories there is a happy outcome.
After setting in motion a pre-arranged signal, Varo & Gato return to Earth to collect the adventurers in a new and big spacecraft called Tavona. The professor wants to explore further into space and discover how progress is going with the rebuilding of Utopia.
The next 7 books in the series follow a similar premise with our heroes getting into all sorts of scrapes but eventually finding their way out of them.
The other books in the series are:
As a sign of how quickly these books were produced there are several inconsistencies: for example, the naming of Multavo from one book is inexplicably spelt Multova in the next. Another example is Professor Brane becomes Doctor Brane on the wrapper front flap but is Professor in the book. However this should not detract from the easy reading, enjoyable nature of the stories and as an avid reader of W.E. Johns they are among my favourites.
Although I have read all of the books, my thanks goes to Roger Harris and his W.E. Johns website for providing some excellent story summaries which was an aid to my memory. You can view his website at www.wejohns.com/SciFi/
Why not visit our information page of W.E. Johsn space book, to view photos of every edition of this book.
Contributed by Adam
(Published 14th Jan 2016)