Sunday, September 23, 2012

Space Prison by Tom Godwin

Space Prison by Tom Godwin (1958), are words engraved in my brain. My first real SF read.

At thirteen I had my appendix out in a cottage hospital in Glebe, Sydney, Australia. In those days, an appendix operation scored you ten days in bed. After my third or fourth escapade out of bed, the matron came to tell me ‘in no uncertain terms’ – she did not want again to hear of me setting even one foot on the floor while I was in her care.

The kid’s ward had four beds, two kids and an old wooden wardrobe filled with linen. My co conspirator across the aisle had his broken leg strung up in the classic cartoon style, and for weeks already. He was bored.

My mother was desperately ill in the same hospital. I wanted to escape into a good book and not worry. But books for Rita wouldn’t have been on anyone's to-do horizon. 

The hat shelf in the cupboard in our ward was stuffed with lairy yellow paperback books, my co conspirator said, seeing them each time a member of the staff opened the cupboard to get sheets or towels. 

With Master Broken Leg on watch as he could also see into the corridor, I took everything off my nightstand on castors, and sitting on it, pulled myself to the cupboard by curtains and the crash rail along the wall. I grabbed what books I could reach, five or six, and managed to toss half of them onto the bed across the room. One of the ones I kept for myself was Space Prison by Tom Godwin (1958).

The other two or three, that I swapped with MBL, apparently did not grip me. I have no recollection of them. Space Prison I took home with me, where it was seized on by various siblings and probably read to death.

Despite the melodrama above, the story told by the book was the important bit to me. It was pulp fiction, I recognize now, written and published at speed with hardly any editing.

But it introduced me to Space! Ragnorak! The telepathic rats, mongooses … ah, I remember, mockers! Unicorns and prowlers. Gravity other than Earth’s. A climate other than Earth’s. Story. Hell-fever. Cross bows. A dozen more ideas useful for a busy imagination. 

The original lurid yellow-jacketed book went missing. Perhaps it was finally lent out and not returned. I can understand that. For long years, before the days of Amazon and the Book Depository I could only rave about my first SF read. Latterly to my son, who shares my interest on SF. One birthday recently he got me a BiblioBazaar purpose-printed copy. Hooray, I can read it again.

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