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Aural Delights Nov 2008

The A Bertram Chandler Story UFO is now available as an audio podcast from Starship Sofa Aural Delights No 48

The Mentor No: 21 - Oct 1971

The Mentor No: 21 - Oct 1971


No, I never watch MISSION IMPOSSIBLE on TV, It’s not that I’ve anything against it in fact I’ve heard some episodes spoken very highly of but it just doesn’t fit in with our viewing habits. I did, however, watch a film on Channel 9 the other night called MISSION MARS. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE would have been a far more apt title...

The everloving went out, after an early dinner, to play bridge, leaving me with the idiot box for company. My intention was to watch the ABC News and then THIS DAY TONIGHT, after which I was going to carry on with the latest misadventure of Commodore Grimes. But I glanced through the day’s TV programmes, just to check up if there was anything worth seeing, and MISSION MARS was among the good (?) things listed. Ah, thought I Science fiction. This I can watch with a clear conscience, saying that the time which I should have spent walloping the typewriter was devoted instead, to Market Research. (That’s the excuse that I always use when I’m accused of reading too much and writing too little. ..)

Well, there was a long, long string of credit titles - but no names, including that of the author (or perpetrator) of the story, were familiar. Accompanying these were the lovesick bleatings of a third rate male vocalist to the twangings of a guitar. It just didn’t sound like space opera music to me, and I began to think that the title was misleading and that Mars might be the name of a nightclub or something. After all, we do have the Mars Steak Houses &c &c in Sydney…

But what happened next was a series of fairish shots of count-downs and blast-offs. So far, not too bad. After that it was made distressingly obvious that there was a “love interest”. Astronauts do have wives, of course, but I hope, for their sakes, that the real life wives aren’t such silly, soppy, little bitches as the two in the film. Two of the Mars-or-bust bays were married; the third (wise man!) was a bachelor.

The story was about the first American manned Mars shot. The Russians, apparently, had launched theirs months previously, but there had been a failure of radio communications between their Mission Control and their space-ship. The boss cocky of Mission Control in Houston was a burly, bearded dim-wit, Dr. Somebody-or-other, who, at frequent intervals, trotted out utter absurdities in a most portentious voice.

Mars I, heartbroken, lonely wives notwithstanding, blasted off on schedule. There were standard shots of the three astronauts crushed down into their couches by acceleration. There were shots of Earth and Moon tumbling arse-over-tit outside the viewports - which was rather strange, as shots of the rocket from outside showed it steering a beautifully straight course with no pitch or yaw whatsoever. But it was when the spaceship fell into orbit about the Earth that the rot really set in. The captain reported to Mission Control, “Weightlessness is no problem.” It most certainly wasn’t. All hands were stomping around their commodious spaceborne home unit as though the thing had never left the ground. Some time later, after they had docked with the supply rocket launched earlier and were falling free towards Mars, they “enjoyed” their first meal in Space, three tablets of concentrates dropped one by one - plink, plink, plink! - into three tin plates, water being aided to reconstitute them.

Later, telling the everloving about the film, I harped on this absurdity. She, who has been having a bad time lately with glassware and china (to be more exact, the glassware and china having a very bad time with her), insisted that she could drop things in Free Fall, as long as they were breakable.

Anyhow, the long voyage was under way. At frequent intervals the astronauts bored each other and and at least one member of the audience by reeling off facts and figures about Mars. There was a little excitement when the ship passed through a “meteoric shower” - I could be wrong, but, in Deep Space, I’d be more inclined to call it a swarm - without sustaining damage, not even the teeniest puncture. There was more excitement when she passed with spitting distance of the ‘wreckage of the Russian rocket, complete with two space-suited corpses. Mphm? as Commodore Grimes would grunt, dubiously. I, myself, may be only a surface navigator, but as a one-time gunnery officer I also know something about ballistics, and the problems involved in shooting from a moving platform at a moving target.

Everything, of course, was being reported to Mission Control by radio telephone. If the astronauts bad been billed for every call it would have cost them a not-so-small fortune. They asked permission from Mission Control for literally everything. I do admit that their radio telephone made this quite practicable even when they were on Mars. The clots responsible for the film obviously had never heard of such little things as the velocity of light (and radio waves)! two-way conversations were indulged in without the drawback of a time lag of at least six minutes..

Mars, as a close approach was made, looked rather like the Moon with a polar ice cap stuck on to it. As the original film was in colour it could be that I am being a little unjust. Then the landing, a fairly orthodox soft descent, was made, the supply rocket being jettisoned from a high altitude. Oddly enough it hit the sands of Mars without being at all damaged, when -found by the astronauts it was quite intact save for the hole burned in it by somebody or something hostile.

The three bold astronauts clambered out of their ship within seconds after landing. They wore wearing very lightweight suits little more than longjohns - and flimsy looking transparent plastic helmets. There was no indication of suit radio, yet, in spite of their helmets and the thinness of the atmosphere, they were talking as they would have talked, unhelmeted, on Earth. They were walking that way, too. Their first objective was the crashed supply rocket, but the geologist lagged and wandered, chipping at handy rocks with his little hammer. He found what at first looked like a humanoid statue, but what turned out to be a deep-frozen Russian. (“Poor devil The heating unit of his suit must have failed”). I still can’t see how the cosmonaut remained deep-frozen during the quite warm Martian day.

The geologist was told to take the presumed corpse back to the ship (why?) and the other two carried on with their search for the supply ship, blazing their trail with a line of marker balloons. They found that something had burned its way into the rocket, so decided to get back to their own vessel in a hurry. But the marker balloons had vanished.

Meanwhile, to sound effects reminiscent of the monolith sequence in 2001, the Russian had thawed out and returned to life. The geologist asked Br. Know-all back at Mission Control for advice, and was told to give the cosmonaut a drink of water. Yes, water. If it had been vodka it would have made more sense.

The other two boys, meanwhile, were having their troubles. An odd looking brute or contraption kept on appearing, disappearing and reappearing, acting in a vaguely hostile manner. They got back to the ship, after a struggle, told their story to Mission Control. Dr. Know-all got into the act, dubbed the beings, which looked rather like mobile, mechanical, flowering plants,. “Polarites”. He also aired the theory that the “Polarites” were (a) being remotely controlled by something else and (b) were creatures from some extra-Solarian planet. (Why not Martians? They seemed to be getting alone quite nicely on Mars.)

Then the Intelligence controlling the “Polarites” appeared. It looked like an enormous orange. It jammed radio transmissions from the ship to Earth, although not from Earth to the ship. When the astronauts went out to investigate it one was killed by some sort of lethal beam and drawn into the sphere through a vertical slit that opened in its surface. The other two went back inside in an understandable hurry. Communication was re-established with Mission Control and they were ordered back to Earth. But the super-intelligent orange put some sort of jinx on the rocket drive.

The two survivors - the captain and the geologist - went out again, and the thing talked to them. It wanted a living specimen. After the usual yackety yak the geologist did the inevitable Captain Oates act, marching in through the vertical slit armed with a submachine gun. He and the malevolent citrus fruit expired simultaneously. The captain sat the now-almost fully-recovered cosmonaut in the co-pilot’s seat - not only had he regained all his faculties but was quite at home at the controls of a strange spacecraft - and off they went, like the proverbial bat out of hell.

The “happy ending” was when Dr. Know-all, in Houston, allowed the captain’s wife to natter with him on the radio telephone. She, coyly, kept on dropping all sorts of hints, but it was the marvellous Russian who first realised that his shipmate was going to become a father...

No doubt the people who made this epic were clambering on to the 2001 bandwagon.

They deserve an Award.

It is a pity that there is not, as yet, an Anti-Hugo.