How Do You Ride a Gray Planet? Ask Rip Foster! Or, the Unknown Space Cadet Rides Again.

The Whitman publishing company published a lot of science fiction in the late 50s and early 60s – SF that inspired many who would go on to become fans of the genre. Today we learn about one such tale with the adventures of Rip Foster.

A bit of nostalgic fun here.

In 1952 (the same year the first of the “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” novels, STAND BY FOR MARS, came out) the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin published RIP FOSTER RIDES THE GRAY PLANET.

Being only a year old, I was aware of neither book.

(Incidentally, the Whitman Publishing Company specialized in “Books for Boys and Girls” such as ‘TOM STETSON AND THE GIANT JUNGLE ANTS’ and ‘ROY ROGERS AND THE RAIDERS OF SAWTOOTH RIDGE’.)

However, on my ninth birthday, July 1960, my parents gave me a 1958 edition of the “Grey Planet” book now retitled ‘ASSIGNMENT IN SPACE with RIP FOSTER’.

RG Cameron January 17 Illo #1 AIS Cover

Admittedly the cover is a tad violent. My mother would have been suspicious. Probably my RCAF Dad had the final say. Flipping through the book he would have noticed illustrations with not very futuristic uniforms and multiple paragraphs emphasizing the importance of being able to do calculations in your head. This would probably have struck him as a useful motivational tool and not totally gibbering BS like most science fiction was (as he saw it).

(Note: B&W illos are from ‘GRAY PLANET’. Illos with a bit of colour are from ‘ASSIGNMENT IN SPACE’.)

I was delighted to receive a nifty book with so promising a cover. To me the phrase “with Rip Foster” implied it was one of a series of novels and I earnestly hoped my parents would buy me the rest as various celebrations went by, but alas, was not to be. It was a standalone.

Naturally I compared it to the Tom Corbett series I already possessed. I decided the Foster book was more ‘mature’ and therefore flattering to a little kid like me.

First of all, Tom Corbett is merely a “Space Cadet” striving to prove himself worthy of ‘The Solar Guard,’ the latter policing a Utopian future society where all one had to worry about were gangsters and space pirates.

Rip Foster, on the other hand, though a recent graduate, is a “Planeteer,” a sort of pioneer elite responsible for exploring and colonizing the moons and planets of the Solar System. They are in not-so-friendly rivalry with the “Spacemen” (formerly called “Rocketeers”) who man and maintain the actual space craft ferrying the Planeteers from one planet to another. Always ready to harass and humiliate each other, not to mention inflict the horrors of pranks and practical jokes whenever possible, their unity is rock solid in the face of the enemy.

RG Cameron January 17 Illo #2 Connie Commander

Ahh, the enemy. Bad guys you see. The good guys are the Planeteers and Spacemen of the FFG, or “Federation of Free Governments” who own about half the Earth and assorted cherry-picked bits of the Solar System. The bad guys are “The Consolidation of People’s Governments” (or “Consops” for short) who enslave half the Earth and rule left over bits of the Solar System (which leaves them feeling a trifle annoyed, they would prefer the best bits). But no one calls them “Consops.” They are “Connies” pure and simple. Hmm, ring any bells 1950s cold war style perhaps? Dang Connies.

As far as I can tell, the only visual difference between a Connie and a Planeteer (as you can see from the AIS Illo above showing a Connie Commander surrounded by two FFG Planeteers and a Spaceman) is that the Connies wear slightly higher boots and look unfriendly. Oh, and they wear RED tunics, hint, hint. The Planeteers wear black uniforms. Hmm. Who does THAT make you think of? Unintentional I’m sure. (Spacemen wear blue uniforms, possibly denoting their less elite status.)

(Note the RTGP illo below showing the visual impact of the black and dark blue FFG uniforms. The AIS illos de-emphasize how dark the uniforms are supposed to be.)

RG Cameron January 17 Illo #3 Planeteer

And the Connies don’t christen their Space Cruisers with names like “Sagittarius” or “Scorpius.” No. The inhuman rotters NUMBER their spacecraft., as in “Consolidation Cruiser Sixteen.”

Even worse, Connie spacecraft are purely practical in design “They were not graceful. Rip could see no beauty in their lines…” whereas “Snapper boats used by the Federation… were of American design, and they showed the American’s love of clean lines. Federation fighter craft were slim and streamlined, even though the streamlining was of no use in space.” (A similar comparison was often drawn between Soviet and American space craft during the Space Race.)

What else? Planeteers willingly jeopardize their mission to save wounded or captured fellow Planeteers, whereas Connies have no hesitation in sacrificing their comrades in order to carry out their mission. Perhaps, as a consequence of this, Connies defect at the drop of a hat, or should I say at the shattering of a space helmet?

In this article I show two illos comparing the style of spacesuits, one from each edition. Fair to say RTGP art (by E. Deane Cate) represents the last of the 1940s style of SF art, whereas AIS illos (by Denny McMains) is a transition to early 1950s style. Note the silly Connies wear tubular helmets.

I think the author of the Rip Foster book, Blake Savage (real name Hal Goodwin, allegedly) did a masterful job of inspiring “Gung Ho” patriotism among the young lads reading the book. (Well, me, being Canadian, not so much. Our brand of patriotism more laid back you see.) Rip Foster, Tom Corbett, Tom Swift, all that crowd, patriotic in the extreme. I’m not sure it was even possible to publish a young adult’s book in those days without due reverence to the established authorities as part of the theme.

Another difference between the Tom Corbett books and the single Rip Foster book has to do with the amount of alien life in the Solar System. In the Space Cadet books, apart from dinosaurs in the Venusian swamps, there is NO alien life. Oh to be sure, Space Cadet Roger is a Martian, and Space Cadet Astro is a Venusian, but they are quite human, being descendants of Earth colonists.

The Martians in the Rip Foster book I’m not so sure of. Neither is Rip Foster:

He tried to figure out… what it was that made them strange… It wasn’t the blue-whiteness of their skins nor the very large, expressionless eyes. It was something about their bodies… Suddenly Rip thought he had it. The Martian’s legs and arms joined the torso at a slightly different angle, giving him an angular look. That was what made him look like a caricature of a human. Although he was human, of course. As human as any of them.”

Mutated colonist adapted to the Martian environment? Intelligent alien species granted human status? The book isn’t clear.

What IS clear is that alien life is everywhere in the Solar System. There are nasty teekals on Callisto, water-hole people on Venus who like to fleedle, also Venusian rabbits, silly dillies on Mercury who resemble armadillos and are passionate about oxygen, goopies on Ganymede, and no doubt other critters I missed glancing through the book. Since these creatures are referenced, but none of the moons and planets visited, I assumed future books in the series would reveal more. Nope.

RG Cameron January 17 Illo #4 RTGP Tackle

And then there are the quick ‘throw away’ descriptions of advanced technology to lend authenticity to the futuristic ‘feel’ of the book. For instance:

“”The spaceman… was turning an audio-mag through a hand viewer, chuckling at the cartoons.”

Or:

Rip took the counter stylus and inscribed his name, serial number, and signature on the blank plastic sheet. Gears whirred as the data was recorded.”

And:

“…it happened that the spacemen of the SCN Scorpius turned their valves, threw their controls and disengaged their boron control rods, and the great cruiser flashed into space…”

Seems methane is heated by a thorium-powered nuclear reactor and somehow “a little nuclear material leaks into the tubes.” Result: the ship’s blast tubes get coated with carbon soot and radioactive thorium releasing Alpha particles “not dangerous unless breathed or eaten. It won’t go through clothes or skin.”

Rip and the nine Planeteers under his command are assigned the task of cleaning the Scorpius blast tubes. At least they wear protective clothing and masks with respirators. And they get their revenge when they leave the tubes:

“…somehow all their arms and hands beat against each other… the protective clothing was saturated with fine dust. It rose from them in a choking cloud, was picked up, and dispersed by the ventilating system. It was contaminated dust. The automatic radiation safety equipment filled the ship with an earsplitting buzz of warning. Spacemen clapped emergency respirators to their faces and spoke unkindly of Rip’s Planeteers in the saltiest space language they could think of…”

I’ll bet. Oh, we’re going to have a lot of fun with radiation in the future. All kinds fun practical jokes…

RG Cameron January 17 Illo #5 AIS Tackle

What about riding a gray planet? Where’s the gray planet?

Seems there is an small asteroid in the asteroid belt which has an unusual property, it consists entirely of radioactive thorium. So naturally Rip and his Planeteer squad are sent to this unnamed asteroid to explode a couple of atomic bombs and drive it out of the asteroid belt toward the Earth in a long loop past Mercury and around the Sun. They ‘ride’ the asteroid for months camped out on its surface and hiding in a cave they’ve carved out of a thorium cliff. And then there’s the lingering radiation from the bomb craters. By the time they reach the Earth they’ve been exposed to enough Alpha, Beta and Gamma rays to light up like Christmas trees. Not a problem. After a month in hospital:

The worst of the radiation sickness was over and he was mending fast. Here and there were little blood stains just below the surface of his skin, and he had no more hair then a plastic ball. Otherwise he looked normal. The stains would go away and his hair would grow back within a matter of weeks.”

All during the fifties people were worried about nuclear fallout from a nuclear war. Silly people. Why, all you’ll need is a month long rest cure in a hospital to get back in top shape… assuming you can find an intact hospital that is…

Plot? Almost forgot. After the Scorpius deposits the Planeteers on the asteroid, it leaves for duties elsewhere in the Solar System. Then Consolidation Cruiser Sixteen, jam-packed with Consop Connies, arrives to evict the Planeteers. Shenanigans ensue. Shenanigans with rules:

Connies and Feds… were constantly skirmishing. They fought over property, over control of ports on distant planets and moons, and over space salvage. Often there was bloodshed… But the law… said that no space ship could fire on a space ship… firing on a space ship was war, and the first such act could mean starting war throughout the Solar System.”

You’ll be glad to learn Rip Foster and his Planeteers improvise with material on hand as they ride the grey planet. Lots of guys get wounded on both sides, but no one is killed. Just like real life…

To be fair, the book IS a genuine glimpse into the fears and worries of people back when it was written. Worth reading for that reason alone. Plus it’s a fun adventure. Really.

RG Cameron January 17 Illo #6 RTGP Cover

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1 Comment

  1. Good article! Coincidentally I just learned of the existence of this book while rereading an old back issue of “BCSFAzine.” Synchronicity! I wonder if the Planeteers from DC Comics’ “Tommy Tomorrow” were named after the Rip Foster ones. And whether either of them had anything to do with the naming of the Planeteers in Ted Turner’s “Captain Planet” cartoon!

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