Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein, juvenile sf #1. Scribner’s 1947, hardcover and paperback.
Another in my series of reading the Heinlein juvenile SF novels. Last time it was Citizen of the Galaxy, this time it’s the first of his juveniles, Rocket Ship Galileo. Again, though these aren’t forgotten, they are of interest to science fiction readers.
It was the first in the Heinlein juveniles, a long and successful series of a dozen science fiction novels published by Scribner’s. The novel was originally envisioned as the first of a series of books called “Young Rocket Engineers” but was initially rejected by publishers, because at the time going to the moon was considered unlikely. Thus each of the novels has separate characters, locations, themes and plots.
After World War II, three teenage boy rocket experimenters are recruited by one boy’s uncle, Dr. Cargraves, a renowned physicist. They buy a conventionally powered surplus “mail rocket” and convert it to run on a thorium nuclear pile which boils zinc as a propellant. In a desert test range, which has been cleared of WWII military test weapons, they set up shop and get to work, despite prying and sabotage attempts by unknown agents.
Upon completion of the modifications, they stock the rocket, which they name Galileo, and take off for the Moon, taking approximately three days to arrive. After establishing a semi-permanent structure based on a Quonset hut, they claim the Moon on behalf of the United Nations.
As they set up a radio to communicate with the Earth they pick up a local transmission, the sender of which promises to meet them. Instead, their ship is bombed. However, they are able to hole up undetected in their hut and discover that there is a Nazi base on the Moon. They are able to capture one of the enemy ships and bomb the base. One survivor is found, revived, and questioned.
Using the unwilling Nazi leader’s instructions on how to fly the ship back to earth, they are able to radio Earth of the location of the hidden Nazi base, leading to its destruction; they return as heroes.
This, the first of Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels is the weakest of those I’ve read so far. It had a Rick Brant, Tom Swift Jr. feel to it that made me take it lightly, which is about right. The books get much better after this. I’ll do a wrap-up of the novels at the end of my series of post on them, but I’m pretty sure this one will land at the bottom. Next time: Space Cadet.