Thursday, September 16, 2010

Retro review: 1948 novel The Purple Twilight by Pelham Groom

The Purple Twilight, by Pelham Groom. Laurie, London, 9/6.

Reviewed by Geoffrey Giles.

Having written ten thrillers around the character of Peter Mohune, one of those ex-RAF types who fall naturally into the role of "debonair adventurer," ex-R.A.F. officer Pelham Groom looked about for an idea for his next book. A friend called Archie came up with the suggestion that the versatile Mohune, this time, should take off into space; should fly, in fact, to Mars. Archie, we strongly suspect, was a member of the Combined British Astronautical Societies, and knew whereof he spoke; he convinced Groom that it wasn't such a bad idea at that. At any rate, Mohune's creator was moved to do much reading of the works of Ley, Oberth, Esnault-Pelterie and our own Mr. Cleator, as well as to consult various other literature appertaining to rocketry, such as the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society and a paper on "Space Flight and Atomic Power," by our old friend Dr. Janser.

For this painstaking research he is to be commended; and the result is a story of interplanetary travel by a writer accustomed to more down-to-earth themes which, for once, is as technically sound as any initiated reader could expect. To all his sources of reference he makes due acknowledgment, even finding it compulsory to admit that much credit must go to the Germans for their pioneer work on space-flight theory, which inspired writers like Otto Willi Gail and Theo von Harbou to do, 20 years ago, what Mr. Groom has done to-day.

His space-ship, the Eve Curie, is suitably equipped with a pumpkin-leaf "oxygen plant" and BIS coelostats, and goes through the correct theoretical manoeuvre of "braking ellipses" in order to land on Mars. Before venturing on this expedition, the redoubtable Mohune and his henchmen (generously financed by an American millionaire who is full of enthusiasm for von Braun's ideas), establish the first terminal in space, thus preparing the most hesitant reader for the real plunge into the void, for which we became somewhat impatient.

But although the author has been to great pains to satisfy the technically-minded upon the astronautical background, his story, as such, has suffered rather than gained by it. His characters, while plausible enough in themselves, hardly fit into the setting; from the start, we did not feel happy about our fellow-travellers, and we were not surprised when they turned out rather inadequate to the occasion of the first interplanetary adventure. We were willing to allow the insistence of the heroine on making the trip, rather than have her as a stowaway, but not the inclusion as "scientist" of a pigheaded German whose unscientific attitude was consistent only with the demands of plot-development. And we were disappointed to find on reaching our destination that the plot was much thinner than the atmosphere, and that the real story of ruined Mars had ended 25,000 years before.

This, of course, is scientifically valid, besides pointing an admirable moral. But it is not so satisfactory on artistic grounds that the account of the Martians' spiritual invasion of Earth, leading to the destruction of Atlantis and, subsequently, to their own undoing, should have been sandwiched into a couple of chapters; especially when, to our chagrin, these events are far more interesting and original than the visitors' aimless investigations of the decimated planet, ending in the killing of Gaskle and banishment of Astrogator Gunner into the Everywhere. We would have preferred Mr. Groom to have left us intrigued with the idea of repopulating the planet, and saved his story of ancient Mars, which is worth a book to itself. Which suggestion, we trust, will give him the cue for his next.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paul,
    Your yesterday post on "Monstro, the monster of Mars" has disappeared.
    The comic is here in pdf: