FFB: Five Against Venus by Philip Latham

Five Against Venus  by Philip Lathen (pseudonym of Robert S. Richardson), Winston Science Fiction 1952, third in series. Cover by Virgil Finlay.

This one is for the 10-year-old in you.

As a kid I was able to find some of the Winston Science Fiction books at the city library. I loved them. They’re now available in ebook format, and I’ve purchased several to read on my iPad tablet. This is the third in the series.

5 Against Venus cvrFive Against Venus, written by Philip Latham, is a science-fiction novel first published in the United States in 1952 by the John C. Winston Company. Philip Latham was the nom de plume of Robert S. Richardson, a professional astronomer who also provided technical assistance on movies such as Destination Moon.

This is one of the thirty-five juvenile novels that comprise the Winston Science Fiction set, which novels were published in the 1950s for a readership of teenage boys. The typical protagonist in these books was a boy in his late teens who was proficient in the art of electronics, a hobby that was easily available to the readers. In this novel, Bruce Robinson differs from that pattern in having no special skill, only a knowledge of astronomy.

Plot Summary (from Wikipedia):

“After another boring day at Los Angeles High School, Bruce Robinson is delighted to hear that his long-unemployed father, Paul Robinson, has found a job – on the moon. A short time later the Robinson family boards the rocketship that will take them to meet the deep-space ship Sirius, which will take them to the moon. But as they approach the disc-shaped deep-space ship they see that, instead of Sirius, they will be riding the Aurora to the moon.

Once the Robinsons have boarded the Aurora and settled in, Bruce meets Jim Gregor, who shows him the ship’s controls. Bruce and Gregor then join the engineer and the captain (neither man is named in the story) in the cargo hold to move some boxes. When one of the boxes breaks open and reveals a strange-looking machine, the captain warns Bruce never to tell anyone what he saw.

With the ship under way, Bruce develops a hunch that something has gone wrong. He sees that an emergency light has come on and informs Gregor. The pilot discovers that the ship’s engines have been over-running and that the ship is on a course that will pass close to Venus (in the 1950 movie Rocketship X-M the over-running of the engines takes the lunar-bound ship to Mars). With insufficient propellant to return to Earth, Gregor attempts to make an emergency landing on a mountainside and dies in the crash. Prior to the crash, the captain and the engineer bail out in a rocket-propelled lifeboat.

Little more than shaken up in the crash, Bruce and his father recover supplies from the wrecked spaceship. The supplies include, to their astonishment, a pair of carbines and boxes of ammunition. Finding a cave next to a waterfall near the wreck, they move in and set up camp.

On several occasions Bruce hears a soft rustling and on others he hears a ringing in his ears and feels heat on his face. The other members of the family have similar experiences and they dismiss them as part of getting acclimatized to an alien environment. With their supply of canned food running low, Paul and Bruce go hunting, assuming that Venusian animal life would be edible. They follow the stream coming out of their waterfall and soon find what appears to be an artificial enclosure woven from vines using trees as supports. Inside the improvised corral they encounter a creature similar to Diplodocus, but with a tame demeanor. They drive the docile creature toward their cave, intending to butcher it when they arrive, but change their decision and keep it as a pet after it saves Frank from a carnivorous plant.”

The story continues, but you get the idea. There are man-sized vampire bats… Originally aimed at the Fifties young reading audience, these are quick fun reading. This is one of the weaker books in the series, but I still enjoyed it. 

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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9 Responses to FFB: Five Against Venus by Philip Latham

  1. Steve A Oerkfitz says:

    Read a couple of the Winston juveniles in the early sixties when I was about 13. Thought them too juvenile then. Hate to think what I would think of them now.

  2. Jerry House says:

    I read this one about six or seven years ago and the pages just flew by — my ten-year-old self was amazed. Looking forward to the author’s other Winston ADVENTURES IN SF book, MISSING MEN OF SATURN; I hope to get to that one sometime this year.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    The Winston book I remember was FIND THE FEATHERED SERPENT by Evan Hunter, which I found and read after Bill Crider talked about it. It was fairly entertaining in its silly way. It’s a time travel book going back to the ancient Mayan civilization, 1400 years ago. Hunter also wrote DANGER: DINOSAURS! as by Richard Marsten, which I will probably read as it is available for $2.99 on Kindle. I see on the list that there is a third Hunter/Marsten novel, ROCKET TO LUNA. I also have Raymond F. Jones’s THE YEAR WHEN STARDUST FELL, which I got several years ago after reading a good review, but I haven’t read it yet.

  4. 1412064gk says:

    I loved the WINSTON SF SERIES when I was a kid. The cover artwork attracted me and the variety of stories kept me entertained. I’m not sure I’ve read all 35 titles, but I read many of them as a kid. I’ve seen many of the WINSTON SF SERIES for sale on the Internet..for Big Bucks! I have a copy of Jack Vance’s VANDALS OF VOID which is worth a Pretty Penny today.

  5. tracybham says:

    I had not heard of the Winston Science Fiction books, but if I had been into science fiction at an earlier age I am sure I would have run into them. I don’t think I read any science fiction before I was close to twenty. I checked out the link to the site, it looks very interesting.

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