Blackie and Son, 1954? 338 p.
What a strange old beast this is. It was first published in 1937 – and shows it. Its three protagonists are (in one case ex-) public schoolboys who say things like, “I say, you chaps,” “jolly well” and “Rather!” and get through more by luck than expertise. They become adrift in the stratosphere by accidentally taking off in a spaceship that someone has built (in a barn!) where they’d stopped off on a motorbike excursion. The radio on board (wireless set and radio are used interchangeably) can somehow access two week old broadcasts and their diet is provided by “super-vitamin tablets.” “One represents sufficient food for one person for one day. Dissolve in the mouth and swallow slowly.” Parse the last sentence of the quote, if you would.
Their adventures include passing through a belt of X-rays (which allow them to see through each other,) the ship being struck by particles from a passing meteor (without any structural damage,) an encounter with a cloud like stratospheric creature, being attacked by evil Martians (complete with death rays) and meeting a somewhat more benevolent set of comet dwellers. “The speed at which we travel through space sets up an action in the ether which covers us with a gas-like vapour. Your astronomers have fallen into the mistaken belief that we are composed entirely of gas.” The adventures come thick and fast but characterisation is non-existent. Plus the return of the chaps to Earth in the final page is very perfunctorily handled.
For its time I suppose it would have been unexceptional, a Boy’s Own Adventure indeed.
The author, one Prof A M Low, apparently designed a proto-television system he called Televista (a device of this name, which combines the “principles of television and that of the camera obscura,” appears in the book) but due to the Great War nothing much came of it.
Here Low uses the term stratosphere to describe what would now be called space. Whether that was a common usage in the 1930s I have no idea. He also employs the latter term in its modern sense. And the ship is at least once referred to as falling. In space you wouldn’t notice.
Typos corner (even in the 1950s!) – breath for breathe, noticably for noticeably.