Nightmare Planet by Donald S. Rowland
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Kyle Barlor is captain aboard the spaceship Voyager on its exploration of the farther reaches of the Universe in a ceaseless hunt for minerals and chemicals badly needed by Earth and its space colonies in the solar system.
With these resources dwindling not just on Earth, but her surrounding colonies, there is little choice but to explore further into deep space. Voyager is nine hundred light years from Earth’s solar system…
Kyle’s mission was to find the Brontus Major Constellation and search it for any metals that may be used. The spearhead through space, carried out by men such as those aboard Voyager, never saw the fruits of their work. They would merely locate the planets containing sufficient metals and then push on to leave the transport freighters to strip them. A seemingly endless mission…
That is, until, an uncharted planetary system appears between them and the Brontus Major Constellation. Why does it not show up on their scanners? And what are the strange missile silos doing around the planetary system? Kyle decides their only course of action is to send out a search party to try to find out what forms of life are there. However, when they lose contact with the search party they realize something must be wrong.
So far from Earth, Kyle Barlor is the only hope of ever returning home for the crew aboard the Voyager, but even he is beginning to feel out of his depth.
***** *** *******
DISCLAIMER: Review copy from NetGalley
It didn’t take me long to suspect that this isn’t a recently written book, the language and style identifying it as an older work, reminding me of Hardy Boys and Biggles books that I read as a kid, just set in space. There are a number of old-school words used like “artificer” (technicians and engineers) and even the other use of “ejaculate” (to utter suddenly and briefly; exclaim) which I’ve not seen used in this context outside much older books. A quick look at the book’s copyright notice confirms that this book was first published in 1976, and more research told me that Donald S. Rowland (his actual name) is a veteran pulp writer who has used 55 pseudonyms to produce a very large number works of various genres. Few of these works have been science fiction which certainly shows through clearly in Nightmare Planet with it’s simple ideas and rather juvenile feel.
Now to the story itself, a short book which, I have to admit, is ably written and generally okay albeit basic in concept. The star-ship Voyager is on a journey with it’s fifty man crew to survey a distant star system for minerals. Earth’s resources of vital metals have become strained and many planets in our solar system and other systems near to Earth have been plundered for these. Survey ships such as Voyager locate the planets and other objects containing sufficient materials to warrant action, then push on to leave the following fleets of mining ships and transports to extract and take away the spoils.
Nine hundred light years out from Earth, yet still some distance from their objective, Voyager encounters a system of a star plus four planets which was previously unknown and mysteriously invisible to their sensors. The captain makes the decision to investigate the system for any mineral or threat potential. They are fired upon by missiles from the surface of the outermost planet which a landing party confirms to be barren and uninhabited. Further investigation detects life forms on the third planet and landing parties are again dispatched to check it out. What they discover there is interesting and becomes rather dicey when they find themselves in quite a spot of bother.
After much dangerous adventure, the remaining members of the landing parties cut their losses and make a hasty retreat back to the Voyager which is parked in orbit above the planet. In the end things conclude in a rather spectacular fashion and the book abruptly finishes without any of the big questions being answered. This was disappointing and quite frustrating, having gone through the detail of the planet-side exploits to be given no reveal or closure at the end. The final words of the book talk about what may lie ahead and it is “a future beyond Barlor’s (Voyager‘s Captain) wildest imagining” so maybe there are more adventures ahead for the Voyager and her crew which will solve some of the puzzles.
The characters are typical for a space ship adventure, with the Captain, his officers such as doctors, scientists, engineers and some security personnel and soldiers. We get to know most of them by name but they have little depth and we learn nothing about them as individual people. It’s a story with a decent amount of action yet gains no real traction with it’s plot or theme which is, again, disappointing.
I’d have probably enjoyed this a whole lot more as an adolescent, which I suspect is the market that this book was originally aimed at given it’s length and style. Maybe a similar audience is still in mind by the current publisher but I reckon that today’s young readers will struggle with it due to it’s dated language, basic theme and unsatisfying conclusion. For this reason I’m curious why the publisher has taken the punt in reintroducing it. Maybe with a reboot it could work, but in it’s current form I can’t see it doing all that well.
1/5 for concept
3/5 for delivery
2/5 for entertainment
= 2 out of 5