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When we hear a work has been written by person or persons unknown under a house pseudonym, was part of a series that ran simultaneously in the newspaper comics, on TV, on radio, and in cheesy-looking off-size paperback books, we feel safe we can assume that the content will be not just forgettable, but something we’ll be better off forgetting. But work made for hire isn’t always so awful, actually, or it didn’t used to be, anyway. And in the case of the book you hold in your hands – first in the Tom Corbett series by “Carey Rockwell” (whoever he was in real life) – this book is really pretty damned neat. It’s the tale of three young men who join the Solar Guard to serve as Space Cadets (yes, really! That’s what the book calls them). It tells of the challenges that face them, and the way they triumph over adversity. Neat stuff! Read it now!
244 pages, with a reading time of ~3.75 hours (61,000 words), and first published in 1952. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2009.
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“Stand to, you rocket wash!”
A harsh, bull-throated roar thundered over the platform of the monorail station at Space Academy and suddenly the lively chatter and laughter of more than a hundred boys was stilled. Tumbling out of the gleaming monorail cars, they froze to quick attention, their eyes turned to the main exit ramp.
They saw a short, squat, heavily built man, wearing the scarlet uniform of the enlisted Solar Guard, staring down at them, his fists jammed into his hips and his feet spread wide apart. He stood there a moment, his sharp eyes flicking over the silent clusters, then slowly sauntered down the ramp toward them with a strangely light, catfooted tread.
“Form up! Column of fours!”
Almost before the echoes of the thunderous voice died down, the scattered groups of boys had formed themselves into four ragged lines along the platform.
The scarlet-clad figure stood before them, his seamed and weather-beaten face set in stern lines. But there was a glint of laughter in his eyes as he noticed the grotesque and sometimes tortuous positions of some of the boys as they braced themselves in what they considered a military pose.
Every year, for the last ten years, he had met the trains at the monorail station. Every year, he had seen boys in their late teens, gathered from Earth, Mars and Venus, three planets millions of miles apart. They were dressed in many different styles of clothes; the loose flowing robes of the lads from the Martian deserts; the knee-length shorts and high stockings of the boys from the Venusian jungles; the vari-colored jacket and trouser combinations of the boys from the magnificent Earth cities. But they all had one thing in common–a dream. All had visions of becoming Space Cadets, and later, officers in the Solar Guard. Each dreamed of the day when he would command rocket ships that patrolled the space lanes from the outer edges of Pluto to the twilight zone of Mercury. They were all the same.
“All right now! Let’s get squared away!” His voice was a little more friendly now. “My name’s McKenny–Mike McKenny. Warrant Officer–Solar Guard. See these hash marks?”
He suddenly held out a thick arm that bulged against the tight red sleeve. From the wrists to the elbow, the lines of boys could see a solid corrugation of white V-shaped stripes.
“Each one of these marks represents four years in space,” he continued. “There’s ten marks here and I intend making it an even dozen! And no bunch of Earthworms is going to make me lose the chance to get those last two by trying to make a space monkey out of me!”
McKenny sauntered along the line of boys with that same strange catlike step and looked squarely into the eyes of each boy in turn.
“Just to keep the record straight, I’m your cadet supervisor. I handle you until you either wash out and go home, or you finally blast off and become spacemen. If you stub your toe or cut your finger, come to me. If you get homesick, come to me. And if you get into trouble”–he paused momentarily–“don’t bother because I’ll be looking for you, with a fist full of demerits!”
McKenny continued his slow inspection of the ranks, then suddenly stopped short. At the far end of the line, a tall, ruggedly built boy of about eighteen, with curly brown hair and a pleasant, open face, was stirring uncomfortably. He slowly reached down toward his right boot and held it, while he wriggled his foot into it. McKenny quickly strode over and planted himself firmly in front of the boy.
“When I say stand to, I mean stand to!” he roared.
The boy jerked himself erect and snapped to attention.
“I–I’m sorry, sir,” he stammered. “But my boot–it was coming off and–”
“I don’t care if your pants are falling down, an order’s an order!”
The boy gulped and reddened as a nervous titter rippled through the ranks. McKenny spun around and glared. There was immediate silence.
“What’s your name?” He turned back to the boy.
“Corbett, sir. Cadet Candidate Tom Corbett,” answered the boy.
“Wanta be a spaceman, do ya?” asked Mike, pushing his jaw out another inch.
“Been studying long hard hours in primary school, eh? Talked your mother and father deaf in the ears to let you come to Space Academy and be a spaceman! You want to feel those rockets bucking in your back out in the stars? EH?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Tom, wondering how this man he didn’t even know could know so much about him.
“Well, you won’t make it if I ever catch you disobeying orders again!”
McKenny turned quickly to see what effect he had created on the others. The lines of bewildered faces satisfied him that his old trick of using one of the cadets as an example was a success. He turned back to Corbett.