Book #32: Rocket Ship Galileo, by Robert A. Heinlein. Unabridged audio.
This is first of Henlein’s “juvenile stories,” a successful series short novels that would fit today somewhere between the “middle grade” and “young adult” categories. The story was published in 1947, and served as a loose inspiration for the 1950 film “Destination Moon.
A few years after the end of WW2, three teenagers have dubbed themselves the “Galileo Club,” and manage an almost successful backyard rocket launch. One of the boy’s uncle is a physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project, and he like the boys’ attitude and ideas. They convert a “mail rocket” into a vehicle that takes them to the Moon, the rocket ship Galileo.
As soon as the four arrive on the Moon, they attempt communication with Earth. But the first contact they make is with another ship that is already there, and has been for some time. In hiding. After this secretive crew attacks them, the four Americans learn that they have stumbled onto a secret Nazi moon base, who still plan to being the Reich to Earth.
Yes, “Space Nazis” have become a bit of a trope over the last few decades, but I imagine it was a fresher idea when Heinlein first developed this story. And after the drama of the Moon flight itself, readers are as unprepared for this attack as the astronauts are. The tension is high as the Americans struggle to defeat the Nazis, much less return home.
Heinlein does a good job keeping the proposed science of his novel within the realm of the reasonable. Or at least within the realm of “that sounds reasonable.” And each of the boys is given enough of a different personality to make the book an enjoyable adventure yarn.
Note: Science fiction writer Spider Robinson narrates this audio version of this novel. He was a longtime friend and supporter of Heinlein, and the pair collaborated on a series of novels. Robinson’s does a good job bringing a sense of youthful exuberance to his narration.