When news broke this month about the discovery of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, I thought almost immediately of Cadet Larry Stark, the spaceship Carden, and tough choices on a distant world populated by humans and dinosaurs.
Science fiction master Robert Silverberg‘s first book, Revolt on Alpha C, was published more than a half-century ago, in 1955. I got my paperback copy – a 1963 Scholastic edition – when I was around 6 or 7 years old. My uncle Rob – who was also responsible for introducing me to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – passed it along to me. (And he still remembers getting it through the Scholastic order form process when he was a kid in school.) It was one of my earliest introductions to science fiction books and became one of those stories I would turn to on rainy afternoons, even once I’d aged beyond the book’s target audience.
I hadn’t read it in years, but picked it up again this week to see how it holds up.
The verdict? Surprisingly well.
Cadet Stark, a graduate of the Space Patrol’s Earth Academy, is on his traditional post-graduation space cruise and serving as radio operator on the Carden, which is headed for the fourth planet of Alpha Centauri. There, “four small Earth colonies struggled for existence amid a prehistoric environment.” Stark’s shipmates include O’Hare, one of the “tubemonkeys” who work among the ship’s engines, and the often-abrasive intellectual Harl Ellison. (Yes, that’s a shout-out.)
The Carden arrives to find the planet mid-stride in the first steps of declaring independence from Earth, and Stark feels the pull from both sides of the revolution.
Reading a 57-year-old science fiction novel requires suspension of some disbelief, of course, but if, like me, you’ve got a weakness for atomic-age style art and the era-appropriate notions of space exploration and technology, it’s not hard to get drawn into the story.
It’s still a kids’ book, too, so things move along quickly through the episodic action, but even with his first book, Silverberg shows he knows how to tell an engaging tale. And though it’s aimed at children, Revolt on Alpha C manages to deals with some meaty ideas about loyalty, freedom, friendship, debts, and consequences.
It doesn’t look like there are any newer editions, but used copies don’t seem to be too pricey or difficult to find online, and if you’ve got a geeklet on the verge of that independent reader stage, I think Revolt on Alpha C would still make a good introduction to classic science fiction.