Sunday, December 16, 2012

Consideration of Works Past: Shoot at the Moon

I discovered Shoot at the Moon in the late sixties. At the time I liked it all right. It had some fairly blatent female aggressive sex in it and being a young lad I think that was much of its attraction.

SATM was written by William F. Temple, a lesser British SF luminary, largely forgotten.

A quick plot: Franz Brunel is a small man with a small man's resentment of a larger world. He's a space pilot which he loves. But the invention of new atomic rockets threatens to make his expertise obsolete. He is drafted into an expedition to the moon run by an eccentric politician. The expedition will be automatic except for the take off from earth and the landing on the moon-- hence the need for Brunel.

The crew is an amazingly dysfunctional band of misfits:

  • Franz: no winner himself.
  • Marley: the eccentric overbearing minister. 
  • Thompson: a passenger that appears to have no purpose whatsoever except to snipe at people
  • Pettigue: a geologist who has been on several expeditions and has the nasty trick of being the ony survivor
  • Lou: a brilliant biochemist that suffers from multiple personality disorder. Also, daughter of Marley
The book suffers from a terrible lack of focus. Is it an adventure? Is it a murder mystery? Is it a story of automation versus the worker? Redemption of a dream of adventure? Rite of passage for a man to overcome his cowardice? It tries to be all of these things and, of course, fails in them.

Brunel meets Lou as part of the process of setting up the expedition. She's slovenly, spoiled and unpleasant. When he sees her five months later she's shed the weight, worked her flab into muscle and brought her brain back on line, all because she's fallen in love with Brunel. A good chunk of the novel is the love dance between Brunel and Lou. That's the best part.

They get to the moon and discover gold-- turns out this is an obsession of Marley's. But that's not too terrible. Then people start dying and it turns into a murder mystery. The resolution of that is actually fairly good except for all the other issues that seem to have to come along with it.

There's a certain Ship of Fools aspect to the novel that I like. What can I say? I enjoy dysfunctional relationships. But the book stretches incredulity in just too many ways. One example is Thompson who, literally, has no technical role on the ship. Marley is there because it is his expedition. Pettigue is a geologist. Lou is a biochemist and Brunel is the pilot. Thompson is just there to be Lou's ex-husband and give data on her. As soon as that is accomplished, he's fodder.

SATM has a distinct resemblance to Algys Budrys' Rogue Moon. RM has a collection of misfits pursuing a strange and perhaps unobtainable goal. SATM has a collection of misfits pursuing a strange and perhaps unobtainable goal. The difference is, of course, Rogue Moon is a work of brilliance and SATM, sadly, is not. In RM the misfits, quirks and idiosyncrasies is the way Budrys is critiquing the society of 1960. SATM does no such critique. 

I don't know if Temple read RM but I suspect he did. It's a little unfortunate that SATM was published in 1967. If he had managed to publish this in 1959 and there were no connection to RM it would have been seen as a bit more original.

But not a lot.

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