Sunday, September 13, 2020

Review And Commentary On The Free Old School Science Fiction Download - Rocket Jockey (1952.Winston) - Philip St. John For Your Old School Space Opera

 Rocket Jockey 1st Edition Dust Jacket.jpg

 Grab it Right Over
Need a fast overview of a retro future nineteen fifties style tour of the solar system? Complete with a real settlers of the solar system vibe. This book was part of the Winston series of science fiction books for boys and girls back in the 50's. They make a great addition to a DM's arsenal of books that can be turned into instant adventures simply add water or monsters! The plot according to Wiki :
The story follows the heroic efforts of young man Jerry Blaine in his efforts to win the famous rocket race, the Armstrong Classic. Rocket Jockey is a part of the Winston Science Fiction set, a series of juvenile novels which have become famous for their influence on young science fiction readers and their exceptional cover illustrations by award winning artists.

Most often these novels are man vs man sorts of affairs of science fiction while sneaking in some science 'facts' about the planetary locations featured in the books.  Believe it or not these books are great for OSR games like X plorers or Stars Without Number when you don't have a lot of time for doing preparation for a campaign. 

Believe or not this one was by Lester Del Ray under the pen name of Philip St. John. It had a few reprints and its worth taking a look at. The story is pretty well done. The situations, ideas, and overview make a solid campaign.
 In depth Plot Overview(With Major Spoilers) according to Wiki : 
Jerry Blaine, a young man studying at the Space Institute, is kicked out just after his second year exams at the request of his brother, Dick, in order to help him get his ship, the Last Hope ready for the 18th Armstrong Classic. Jerry is initially bitter, but realizes that how he conducts himself in the classic will go a long way toward proving himself as a spaceman, and eventually being readmitted to the institute.
The Last Hope is a refitted asteroid mining ship using the Jerry and Dick's father's experimental fuel which is supposed to be a radical improvement upon existing technologies. Their parents were both killed in the first test of the fuel however, and it is only now, years later, that improvements in materials and engine design will allow the fuel to be tested again safely.
Just before liftoff, Dick is injured when fuel splashes in his face, temporarily blinding him. Jerry is forced to take control of the Last Hopewhile his brother is incapacitated below decks. The qualification run to the moon is begun, and Jerry is racing against 10 other ships from earth for the right to represent their home planet in the classic proper. Jerry manages to win, but only after he witnesses the first fatality of the classic; a fellow earth pilot pushes his engines too hard and his ship overheats and is destroyed.
After some political wrangling on the Moon that puts Jerry officially in charge of the Last Hope despite his brother's seeming recovery, they head out to touch on the 4 Galilean moons, Mars, and Venus. Heading for Mars first they make good time and land with high spirits.
The Martians are not happy to see them, however. There has always been a bitter rivalry between the two worlds, and Mars has a reputation for winning the classic at all costs and through any means, scrupulous or otherwise. When they try to refuel the Last Hopethey discover their shipment of fuel has somehow disappeared from the warehouse in which it was stored. A long drawn out search finally locates the missing fuel in a pile of garbage that was ready for destruction. Jerry, Dick, and Tod all believe that Mars was intentionally responsible for the delay of 18 hours searching for the fuel. They take off from Mars and head towards Jupiter.
Halfway however, Jerry discovers that Dick has not fully recovered from his injuries. He becomes sick and delirious, and they are forced to turn back to Mars to get Dick the medical care he needs. By the time the Last Hope leaves Mars for the second time, they are nearly 100 hours behind schedule, and their carefully planned course is now useless.
En route to Jupiter for the second time the Last Hope loses power due to a blockage of the rocket tube. Losing more time, they coast while making repairs. Unfortunately, they coast so far, they no longer have the distance necessary to decelerate to rendezvous with the Jovian moons. Jerry is forced into a nearly suicidal braking maneuver into the Jovian atmosphere known as the "Dead Man's Orbit". Despite Jerry's vague recollections, such a feat had never before been accomplished, and he receives admiration and applause upon arrival on Io.
After visiting the other 3 Jovian moons and experiencing an unfriendly reception on Ganymede, considered by many to be a puppet of Mars, the Last Hope set course back to the inner planets: Venus, Mercury, and Earth. While approaching the asteroid belt, they intercept a distress call, and come to the aid of what appears to be the Martian racers. After rendering assistance and parting ways, Jerry realizes his asteroid chart has been stolen. He must now navigate the belt by memory and luck.
After some close calls and an actual impact with a small pebble, the Last Hope makes it through the belt relatively unscathed. Because of the delay with the decoy Mars racer, they are no longer in a position to rendezvous with Venus. Mercury is now their best stop.

Once  Again Wiki: 
As a part of the Winston Science Fiction set, Rocket Jockey has helped lay the foundation for many young science fiction readers. The dust jacket was illustrated by Alex Schomburg, a prolific comic artist, and Hugo award nominee for Best Professional Artist in 1962.

 The plot concerns a desperate race against odds put against the backdrop of interstellar politics and spacecraft. The book is well written and a fast read. The ideas still ring well and the book isn't that well known at all today. So borrowing plot elements for old school campaigns is a breezy.  It  would also make a great campaign for the old Buck Rogers T$R era game or for Star Frontiers as well.

Rocket Jockey takes a realistic scientific look at rocketry and space navigation, utilizing technologies that were understood at the time of publication. It extrapolates the advancement in chemical rocketry to a point where constant 1-2g acceleration is possible, making travel through the solar system a matter of days rather than years.

All in all I was pretty happy to have stumbled upon this one while doing some research for an upcoming game!

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