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.


laughingwolf said...

thx for this, charles... i read quite a bit of wollheim as a kid, too... dunno if i read these, it was eons ago :O lol

Spy Scribbler said...

Wow. A whole new world. Not a forgotten book for me, but completely undiscovered. Thanks, Charles!

Crushed said...

I've not come acroos him, actually but it's probably the sort of thing I would enjoy.

I'll have to look out for them.

David Cranmer said...

Good review and I'm just discovering some of these old sci-fi covers. After spending a lifetime collecting and reading the crime pulps this is a refreshing change.

Randy Johnson said...

Damn, the Matian Moons book was an old favorite you got me back in touch with. Now two new ones that were unknown to me as well.
Thanks for the heads up.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, I would have remembered these if I'd read them.

Spyscribbler, they're pretty cool.

Crushed, Donald Wollheim is the founder of DAW books.

David Cranmer, I like these covers a lot, although the "Rings" one looks like some guy ridig a cigarette through space.

Randy, they were a pleasant surprise to me as well, especially Ninth planet.

Sidney said...

I love your Friday posts, and I love seeing old cover art too. Great suggestions.

WH said...

I haven't read these, but I love to occasionally dip into the early work of Clarke and Asimov--books I read in my teens and that fired my imagination about the universe and made me a sci-fi fan for life.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read so little sci-fi. A real gap in my reading.

Scott D. Parker said...

Thanks for the review, Charles. It appears that these SF books were what Hard Case Crime books are today: fast, exciting stories with not a lot of world-building. I can't help but wonder if RPGs and their vast world building bloated SF/F books bigger than they need to be. Where are the short SF/F books nowaday? In many a crime/pulp book I read, chapter one introduces a character and he is set. The author (and reader) doesn't care about his childhood and how he came to be where he is on page 1. Just take it on faith, dear reader, and let me entertain you.

BernardL said...

Compelling reviews as always.

cs harris said...

I wonder if I'd like sci-fi if I'd read it as a child? I never did.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I am loving forgotten book Friday!


Charles Gramlich said...

Sidney, I've got a big folder full of this old cover art stuff. It's just fantastic.

Billy, Arthur C. Clarke is still a favorite of mine, though I don't have a lot left by him that I haven't read.

Patty, there's so much out there we all have gaps.

Scott Parker, I agree completely. The ideal book for me is between 175 and 220 pages. I like a lot of those old books at around 70 to 75 thousand words. They move!

Bernardl, thankee.

Candy, I'm guessing you would, but who knows for sure. We both read animal books and loved those.

Don, it's definitely a lot of fun to look back with nostalgia.

George said...

I grew up reading Wollheim's MIKE MARS series which is just as good as his other SF juveniles. Wollheim also wrote under the pseudonym of "David Grinnell."
--George Kelley

Cloudia said...

Oh, I wondered who had won!
Great post today; reminded me of a book they read to us in elementary school. It was about a boy & girl traveling through space in a home-made rocket. It flew because of some found material that they attached to the nose of their craft. I especially remember them meeting a fellow space traveler who looked young but had grey hair. He explained to them that what we consider normal ageing is avoidable. He used a vegetarian diet and excercise to stay youthful. I nevfer forgot that, now I'm married to that old young guy. anybody remember it? How about "My Father's Dragon?"
Wow, Charles- you got me going!!

Donnetta said...

Gotta find 'em and read 'em. Sounds like my kinda thing. Thanks for pointing them out, Charles. D

laughingwolf said...

you have a better memory, obviously ;)

Erik Donald France said...

These sound really cool, as is some of the new stuff coming out about Mars.

I'm happy to have kept some early Daw books, also very fun reads with memorable covers.

Nice finds fron the vaults. Hope you get MLK Day off, b/c the next day will be a circus!

Charles Gramlich said...

George, I missed those. I should probably look them up now. Thanks for visiting.

Cloudia, I remember a story I read about aliens crashing on earth from a Boy's life, I think. I wish I could find that story now.

Charles Gramlich said...

Donnetta, hope you enjoy.

Laughingwolf, my memory is actually pretty good. I've been lucky with that.

Erik, we actually are getting MLK day and Inauguration day off. I said, here is Obama, not even in office yet, and he's already done more for me than Bush did in 8 years. He got me a day off work.

Cullen Gallagher said...

Thanks for unearthing these books! I've added your blog to my site, so I'll be on the lookout for more updates.

Best wishes,

Miladysa said...

I really hope you enjoy reading them!

I recently reread one of my favourite books from my youth and although I enjoyed it - the magic just wasn't there any more :(

Steve Malley said...

These sound like great fun!

Charles Gramlich said...

Cullen, thanks. I'll be checking your site out as well. Glad you visited.

Miladysa, I've found it depends on the book. I don't think the magic is ever completly there, but sometimes I get a good approximation of it.

Steve Malley, fun is the operative word.

Randy Johnson said...

Charles, I had to drop you a note on this one. When I read this post on Friday, I immediately found and ordered both books. Saturn's Rings was in the mail Saturday.

ivan said...

Seems hard to beat the fifties SF writers.

Closest I can think of is that later TV series in the Seventies, Lost in Space.

Egad. I really identify with menopausal, cowardly Dr. Smith, now that I'm his age. :)

Barbara Martin said...

Thanks for the great review, Charles.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy, I think you'll like them both. As soon as I found out about 'em I had to have them myself.

Ivan, Dr. Smith made that show.

Barbara, no problem.

Vesper said...

They must be wonderful, Charles! Thank you! I'm going to look for them. :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Vesper, they aren't as hard to find as I thought they would be.