Robert Silverberg’s first novel was published in hardcover by Thomas Y. Crowell in 1955 and then went through many printings as a thin paperback edition from Scholastic Books; see http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?2796 for a list of all editions, and cover images. I have the 7th, 1969 printing, that I bought from A Change of Hobbit bookstore on 31 March 1976. It’s a young-adult novel, by contemporary standards, in that it involves a young man finding his place in the world. It’s also remarkably ordinary, considering the heights that Silverberg’s literary career would later reach.
Gist: A new space patrol cadet takes his first interstellar trip to a planet of Alpha Centauri, where he learns that several of the Earth colonies there want freedom from Earth. When two of his friends defect to the rebels, and make appeals to the history of the American revolution, the cadet decides the right thing to do is to stay and help build a new planet, even though that means leaving the service, his father, and Earth all behind.
Take: An oddly political theme for a slender YA novel, though the book also has the standard adventure scene in an alien jungle, peril scene of being trapped out in space, and so on.
- Larry Stark, new cadet for the Space Patrol, is on the ship Carden bound for Alpha Centauri, now stopping off at Pluto. Also on board is Harl Ellison, a cadet from Mars. Larry enjoys hanging out with the ‘tubemonkeys’ in the engine room; O’Hare sings ballads, and is derisive of the captain’s authority, which makes Larry uncomfortable, having his own military father.
- A problem with the jets drops the ship out of overdrive; O’Hare, and Larry, exit in spacesuits to do the repair, and get separated from the ship, using jetpacks to get back.
- Arriving at Alpha C, the ship is refused clearance from the “Free World of Alpha Centauri IV”; but one of the other colonies, Chicago, allows them to land.
- The planet is in its Mesozoic Era, populated by dinosaurs; the colonies are surrounded by high walls.
- They meet a rebel leader, Jon Browne (!), who wants a united planet so they can negotiate with Earth—familiar complaints about taxes vs. representation.
- O’Hare gives Larry his guitar—as he leaves to change sides to support the rebels. Harl soon follows. Larry is shocked and angry.
- Larry and another cadet are sent to follow Harl and return with intelligence. But they are imprisoned as spies. Larry persuades O’Hare let him escape.
- Back at Chicago, the ship’s captain asks Larry to send a message to Earth, to bring reinforcements. Larry realizes he can’t do – and disables the radio instead.
- And so he flees with Jon Browne to the rebel colony of London, realizing he’s leaving it all behind – Earth, his father, his chance to visit other stars. Finally, satisfied that his father would approve of his following the maxim that a Space Patrolman must make decisions, and keep them, — he smashes the tube to render the ship’s radio impossible to repair.
- Silverberg seems to have named a character after Harlan Ellison, a close friend in NYC from early in both their careers.
- We get a standard explanation for why an ‘overdrive’ is needed to travel in interstellar space, with the familiar rationale of folds in space, like pleats, to allow movement across vast distances.
- The local landscape is jungle and dinosaurs, but the description as in the Mesozoic Era is inapt; no two planets would go through the same sequence of geological ages.
- Again, it’s unusual that such a political theme should dominate a young adult novel, especially considering that much of Silverberg’s other early work was pure pulp adventure. Presumably he was trying for something a little more substantial in this, his first novel.