Back in the 1950s, it was largely believed that the British would lead the space race, which care of ‘The Eagle’ comic and the talents of Frank Hampson and his team brought out into the fictional world of ‘Dan Dare’ set some forty-five years into the future, As writer Rod Barzilay points out in his introduction, things didn’t quite work out that way but makes for an interesting side reality where it did. I’ve been reviewing his magazine, ‘Spaceship Away’, for a few years now and cutaway art of the various spaceships has appeared there recently. This book, ‘Dan Dare: Pilot Of The Future (The Anastasia, Tempus Frangit, Nimbus, Zylbat And Associated Interplanet Space Fleet Craft’ shows not only those but many, many more that will make you all experts on the subject.
In some respects, the ‘Dan Dare’ stories are both an anachronism and a legend, up there with icon status James Bond, Modesty Blaise and Thunderbirds that a certain generation’s eyes will at least light up by recognising the name and sometimes associate it with ‘The Eagle’ comic. It’s only his time period and attempts to evolve him into a modern image that has ultimately failed to keep him in the public eye, although it hasn’t been for the want of trying. Saying that, as with many things Science Fiction, they now live in a pocket universe that stays mostly to its own rules.
However, that shouldn’t distract you from reading this book. Hampson took great pride in addressing all kinds of problems with the Dan Dare stories, like with fuel and gravity problems. Like many people in the 1950s, there was still a belief that there was life on the other planets in the solar system, which made it easier to populate them with sentient life than having to travel to the stars, although that did start to happen with latter stories. It should go without saying that without that happening, we would never have Dare’s arch-nemesis and deposed dictator, the Mekon, who hails from Venus.
Looking at the cutaway illustrations by Graham Bleathman here, there is a certain amount of Britishness in the design for their long trips and I had to give a wry smile, all right, out right laughter, at the Marco Polo explorer having a skittle alley. Thank goodness that it had some gravity. Considering that Hampson also included cutaways of some of the spacecraft in the original ‘Eagle’ comic, I doubt if such luxuries were additions and I suspect it will make many of you pore over the picture details and cross-index a lot. I’m still puzzling how a telescope for looking at the stars in a speeding spacecraft could have stayed fixed. If there is a criticism, then it’s a shame that so many of the pictures get caught up in the centrefold crease. Then again, the few toilets on some of the bigger spaceship makes me wonder if there are queues to use them first thing in the morning.
Some things I would have liked to have see justified. I can understand the use of, say, a periscope when navigating. I was a bit puzzled why some of the spacecraft had miniature computers because this wasn’t seen as likely at the time when tubes not silicon was used. It isn’t impossible to navigate based on relatively stationary stars as that was the way Apollo missions did flight corrections but a telescope wouldn’t have been much help for that although might have been useful to look at approaching spaceships in detail to see if they were friend or foe. What has always been a puzzle to me is why lie facedown on a couch to do such things which hardly ever looked the most comfortable way to fly and certainly not comfortable in manoeuvring. It was hardly as though pilots didn’t have upright seats.
Y’know, it wasn’t until half-way through the book that I realised that there was no dimensions given for any of the spacecraft nor even the velocities they travel at. The closest was with the Nimbus who could travel several thousand miles a second but even that would still be slow for interstellar flight. Considering that the most versatile Treen-built spaceship, the Anastasia has four engine modes, which means at four different velocities, you would have thought some comparison of the choices optioned by its pilots Dare and Digby would have been shown. Even if exact dimensions were never given, surely from the original illustrations it would have been possible to show the different size scale.
Although technical book for the hardware, I would have thought maps of the main planets of Venus and Earth should have been included if for no other reason than to guide pilots to the main spaceports when landing.
These are only minor criticisms. There’s a fair bet that if you left this book on your coffee table, your friends will find it impossible to at least give it a page flick and then you’ll have to warn them the Mekon will get them if they attempt to leave with it. Keep and read for yourself.
(pub: Haynes. 127 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-85733-286-8)
check out website: www.haynes.co.uk