Thursday, January 15, 2009
Forgotten Book Friday: Donald Wollheim
A week or so ago I posted about Donald Wollheim’s wonderful juvenile SF novel called The Secret of the Martian Moons (Moons), a favorite of my youth. Little did I know that I was about to discover—not some forgotten books, but some never known books. It turns out that Wollheim wrote a virtual trilogy of young adult novels with similar themes. The other two are called: The Secret of Saturn’s Rings (Rings) and The Secret of the Ninth Planet (Planet). I had never heard of either but I had to have them, and thanks to the internet I was able to order copies of each. I’ve already finished reading them.
The three books each feature a different main character, but all are young men just reaching adulthood. “Moons” features Nelson Parr. “Rings” features Bruce Rhodes. And “Planet” features Burl Denning. They are largely interchangeable, and character development is not the attraction of these novels.
You already know what I think of “Moons,” so here’s my take on the other two. The Secret of Saturn’s Rings features Bruce Rhodes and his scientist father in a desperate race to reach Saturn’s rings. To save earth, they have to prove Bruce’s father’s theory about how the rings formed. Much like Nelson Parr and his father in The Secret of the Martian Moons, Bruce and his father are endangered by saboteurs. “Moons” was first printed in 1955, and “Rings” is copyrighted 1954, which makes me think that “Rings” was almost a run through for the later “Moons.” “Rings” is not as strong as “Moons,” and is weakest of the three books by a good margin. Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s still a fun book.
The Secret of the Ninth Planet is copyright 1959, which makes it the last of the three. It is very good. I believe if I’d read it when I was a teenager I’d remember it about as fondly as I do “Moons.” In “Planet,” Burl Denning starts out working with his father on an archeological trip to South America, but he ends up, without his father, on a spaceship racing to save earth from a group of aliens who are “stealing” the Sun’s energy.
In some ways, “Planet” is actually better than “Moons.” Instead of being focused on one planet, Burl and his fellow crew members must visit Mercury, Venus, Mars, and some of the moons of the outer planets before they reach lonely Pluto. For sheer world building then, it tops “Moons.” However, the book gives much of the “Secret” away earlier in the book than in “Moons,” and the secret itself is not quite as “cool” as in “Moons.” I still rate “Moons” a touch above, but I liked “Planet” a lot too.
I wish I’d found both “Planet” and “Rings” in my youth. Touring the solar system with Donald Wollheim could have wiled away a few more of my hours. I would have liked that.
PS: NOTE: Since I’ve been so swamped at work, I haven’t had a chance to pick a winner in the Strange World contest. I'm going to let it run until the end of January. So if you’d still like to enter to win a free book, check out this post.