Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 15, 2013


Battle on Mercury by "Erik van Lhin" (Lester del Rey) (1953)

The John C. Winston Company's "Adventures in SF" series was a staple of my childhood.  These sometimes well-written, often exciting, and usually scientifically accurate for its time juveniles were influenced by Robert A. Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo and well aimed for a market a step or two above that of the pulp magazines.  When I was young, I thought there had to be hundreds of books in this series, but there were only 34 -- or 35, depending on how you count.  Less than three dozen books over a period of ten years.  But what books:  early novels by Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, Milton Lesser, Raymond F. Jones, Ben Bova, Donald A. Wollheim, and Lester del Rey!

My understanding is that many books in this line were based on concepts by Lester del Rey and Milton Lesser, which is probably the reason why so many of the books were written by one or the other.

Del Rey published books here under his own name and under the pseudonyms "Philip St. John," "Kenneth Wright," and, with Battle on Merecury, "Erik van Lhin."

Humans had colonized the twilight belt of Mercury, that small area that bounds the planet's hot side and cold side.  One of the smaller colonies is the Sigma dome, now threatened by a immense solar storm.  A ship containing needed fuel and that was supposed to evacuate Sigma has crashed, leaving the tiny colony at the mercy of the solar storm and with only enough  power to last a few weeks.

17-year-old Dick Rogers had wanted to be an engineer but missed out on a chance to study engineering on Earth due to politics an nepotism.  Dick has a pet -- a wispie, a creature of pure electricity that he had rescued while exploring the hot side.  Wispies feed on energy, making them feared by the colonists.  Wispies can easily drain vital machinery of power and are typically destroyed by the colonists whenever possible.  Dick has to keep his pet wispie, Johnny Quicksilver, away from his fellow colonists.  Also native to the planet are a type of large wispie, called Demons, which are destructive and cannot be controlled the way that Dick seems to control Johnny Quicksilver.  Also rumored to be native to the planet are silicones, giant amorphous silicon creatures said to be unfriendly to humans.

Johnny Quicksilver has been acting strangely.  Dick, after many months, has finally repaired a derelict robot that he had named Pete.  Johnny darts into Pete's head and seems to control him.  Suddenly Pete head out to the hot side, indicating that Dick should follow.  Although unsure whether he should trust Johnny (because so little is known about wispies), Johnny follows, coming onto a wrecked tractor owned by Hotside Charlie, an old miner who has been roaming Mercury for forty years.  Dick revives Charlie and, using almost all his strength, manages to bring Charlie back to Sigma.  Charlie is the bearer of bad news, telling the colony that he had seen the supply ship crash.  The people of Sigma are stranded, unable to communicate with the larger colonies because of the solar storm an about to run out of power.

An attempt is made to repair Charlie's tractor is somewhat successful and an attempt to repair the supply ship ultimately fails.  Dick has faith in Johnny Quicksilver and is sure that Johnny knows the best way to reach the Twilight Relay Station, where they might be able to send a message.  Dick and Charlie follow the wispie in Charlie's tractor hoping to reach the relay station.  It's a hard trek, with many dangers, and the pair will have to use all their wits to survive the hostile terrain.  Along the way they discover the secrets behind the wispies and the Demons and have to contend with legendary silicones.

A good juvenile -- actually today it would be called a YA -- in which the author piles obstacle upon obstacle for Dick and  Charlie.

And, just for your information, here are the titles in the Adventures in SF series:

  • Earthbound by Milton Lesser (1952)  Lesser is better known as Stephen Marlowe, a name  he legally adopted.
  • Find the Feathered Serpent by "Evan Hunter" (1952).   Although under his Hunter pseudonym, this was before S. A. Lombino legally changed his name to Evan Hunter.
  • Five Against Venus by "Philip Latham"  (1952).  The author was astronomer Robert S. Richardson.
  • Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke (1952).  Previously published in England; this is the first U.S. publication.
  • Marooned on Mars by Lester del Rey (1952).  Winner of the 1951 Boy's Award for Teen-Age Fiction.
  • Mists of Time by Chad Oliver (1952).
  • Rocket Jockey by "Philip St. John" (Lester del Rey) (1952).  The 1955 British edition was titled Rocket Pilot.
  • Son of the Stars by Raymond F. Jones (1952).  The first book in the Clonar series.
  • Sons of the Ocean Deeps by Bryce Walton (1952).
  • Vault of the Ages by Poul Anderson (1952).
  • Attack from Atlantis by Lester del Rey (1953).
  • Battle on Mercury by "Erik van Lhin" (Lester del Rey) (1953).
  • Danger:  Dinosaurs! by "Richard Marston" (Evan Hunter) (1953).
  • Missing Men of Saturn by "Philip Latham" (Robert S. Richardson) (1953).
  • The Mysterious Planet by "Kenneth Wright" (Lester del Rey) (1953).
  • The Mystery of the Third Mine by Robert (A.) W. Lowndes (1953).
  • Planet of Light by Raymond F. Jones (1953).  The second book in the Clonar series.
  • Rocket to Luna by "Richard Marsten" (Evan Hunter) (1953).
  • The Star Seekers by Milton Lesser (1953).
  • Vandals of the Void by Jack Vance (1953).
  • Rockets to Nowhere by "Philip St. John" (Lester del Rey) (1954).
  • The Secret of Saturn's Rings by Donald A. Wollheim (1954).
  • Step to the Stars by Lester del Rey (1954). The first book in the Jim Stanley series.
  • Trouble on Titan by Alan E. Nourse (1954).
  • The World at Bay by Paul Capon (1954).  First published in 1953 in England.
  • The Year After Tomorrow edited by Lester del Rey, Cecile Matschat, and Carl Carmer (1954).  Matschat was the editor of the Adventures in SF series; Carmer was the consulting editor.
  • The Ant Men by "Eric North" (1955).  North was a pseudonym for Australian writer Bernard Charles Cronin.
  • Secret of the Martian Moons by Donald A.Wollheim (1955).
  • The Lost Planet by Paul V. Dallas (1956).
  • Mission  to the Moon by Lester del Rey (1956).  The second book in the Jim Stanley series.
  • Rockets Through Space by Lester del Rey (1957).  This is the "iffy" book in the series, a non-fiction "Special Companion Book" for the series.
  • The Year When Stardust Fell by Raymond F. Jones (1958).
  • The Secret of the Ninth Planet by Donald A. Wollheim (1959).
  • The Star Conquerors by Ben Bova (1959).
  • Stadium Beyond the Stars by Milton Lesser (1960).
  • Moon of Mutiny by Lester del Rey (1961).  The third book in the Jim Stanley series.
  • Spacemen, Go Home by Milton Lesser (1961).


  1. I owned a few of these as a kid. The covers and the endpapers were wonderful. So were the stories. I miss the old days.

  2. Fine. Send me the set.

    I LOVED these books as a kid, and I bet I still would.

  3. The artwork on these was wonderful. (I looked them up!) Thanks for the review.