Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Another Old SF Collection: Teen-Age Science Fiction Stories, by Richard M. Elam, Jr.

Teen-Age Science Fiction Stories, by Richard M. Elam, Jr.

This time I’m looking at another obscure collection of Science Fiction stories. This book, as its title makes abundantly clear, was aimed at young readers. It is one of two collections of stories, and several novels, that Richard M. Elam, Jr., published in the 1950s and 1960s. He had a long life: born in 1920 in Richmond, VA, died in 2013, age 92, in Dallas, TX; was educated at William and Mary University and at Arizona State; and served in the Army Air Corp in the Second World War.

Teen-Age Science Fiction Stories was first published in 1952 by the Lantern Press, and reissued in 1954 by Grosset & Dunlap as part of The Teen-Age Library. There were later editions, possibly in paperback, from Lantern Press. There are a number of black and white illustrations by Charles H. Geer. The book contains an introduction by Captain Burr Lawson, “Trail to the Stars”, which discusses the near term prospects of space exploration, reasonably sensibly though with just a bit too much optimism (I can say with hindsight). The stories are:

“What Time is It?” (6400 words)
“The Strange Men” (3200 words)
“Project Ocean Floor” (4000 words)
“Lunar Trap” (10300 words)
“Red Sands” (3700 words)
“The Iron Moon” (5500 words)
“Venusway” (3700 words)
“By Jupiter” (3600 words)
“Sol’s Little Brother” (3200 words)
“The Day the Flag Fell” (2700 words)
“Hands Across the Deep” (4300 words)

At least one of the stories (“Lunar Trap”) and I suspect a few more, were originally published in Boy’s Life.

Six stories in the middle, from “Lunar Trap” through “Sol’s Little Brother”, cover much of the career of Rob Allison. In the first story, he is part of an expedition to the Moon, despite the objections of the expedition’s leader, his much older brother Grant. The elder Allison is pretty hard on the younger one, and partly as punishment, Rob is left behind when the bulk of the expedition investigates a Lunar geyser … giving him the opportunity for heroism when a moonquake traps the explorers. A similar template applies to some of the other stories: Rob, making his way in the space service, is in trouble after a minor mistake, and partly as a result is in position for a more major heroic act. The Allison stories form a sort of Solar System mini-travelogue, with trips to the Moon, Mars, an artificial satellite, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury. The scientific details are a mix of OK for their time (things like dinosaurs on Venus – silly now, but perhaps not ridiculous in 1952) and downright silly and wrong. There’s a subplot in a couple of the stories involving a slightly older and very resentful fellow space cadet. 

The other stories are something of a piece. “What Time is It?” involves a couple of very young boys (they seemed perhaps 12 but maybe Elam meant for them to be in high school) accidentally going on a trip in a local inventor’s Time Machine: they visit the Pleistocene, the near past with Native Americans, and the near future before returning. “The Strange Men” is about three boys who happen across an alien spaceship and some malevolent aliens. “Project Ocean Floor” is one of the lesser stories, a kind of nothing piece about exploring the depths in a bathyscaphe-like vessel. “The Day the Flag Fell” is set on an asteroid used unconvincingly as a monitor station to keep the world peace, and an effort by a nasty national power to destroy the UN station on the asteroid and so take over the world, foiled by the heroism of a young soldier who has been suspected of treason (because his stepfather is a traitor.) And finally “Hands Across the Deep” concerns a mission to Proxima Centauri, where humans discover peaceful advanced aliens with mind powers but little tech, who threaten to kill them until they can cure a sick young Proxima native. 

This is a pretty weak set of stories overall, even in the context of early 50s Juvenile SF. The science is dodgy, the plots are at best rudimentary, the writing is uninspiring. Not good at all, though who knows, maybe I’d have felt differently if I encountered them at age 10.


  1. I read it at about age 10, and it wasn't very good. But I'd already started reading adult, and the better YA, sf by then.

    And dinosaurs on Venus were already pretty damned unlikely by the measures of the planet we had in the early '50s. I'm reminded of Damon Knight's description of the attitude of, iirc, CAPTAIN VIDEO scriptures of the lazier sort.

  2. That was "scripters" before Apple spellcheck got ahold of it.

  3. I think CAPTAIN VIDEO scriptures seems like it might be a cool idea! :)

    Yeah, dinosaurs on Venus were a silly idea even then but not as ridiculous as some of the other stuff he passes off in this book.

  4. Gospels for the Trump Era. "And the Burning Bush said, If you don't deliver these commandments, You're Fired."

  5. I'll bet I'd have love these when I was 8 or 9 or so, now that I'm old enough, might love them again. As for the dinosaurs, they had to put them in somewhere, and short of using time travel, i guess the steamy jungles of Venus was the obvious place.