Rockets in Ursa Major

by Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle
Reviewed date: 2006 Jan 23
Rating: 1
144 pages
cover art

Rockets in Ursa Major is a stereotypical early science fiction novel, the sort that literary folks turn up their noses at, and point to as evidence of the genre's worthlessness. It's true, too: Rockets in Ursa Major is a crummy book, poorly written with a silly plot. The writing starts out with badly-written infodumps like this:

I went by tube to the Hempstead Heliport, where I was just in time to catch the helicopter taxi to Cambridge. I climbed in beside the driver. He picked up his punchcards, and selecting the Cambridge on pushed it into the reader. This mean information was fed to the central transport computer which would work out the best possible route, height and speed for the journey. All this information would then be passed to our destination so that, once we were in the air, automatic homing devices would take over and whisk us to our destination without traffic jams or accidents. The police have their own link-up with this computer. It greatly helps in crime detection, but I feel it is an infringement of individual liberty.

The writing never gets any better. The plot is no good either: deep space exploratory vessel DSP 15 returns to Earth without its crew. The only message it carries says "If this ship returns to Earth, then mankind is in deadly peril. God help you."

God does help them, apparently. In short order Earth comes under attack by a huge fleet of alien spaceships. Earth's hastily-developed space fleet is decimated when another group of aliens make their appearance and drive off the first group. The friendly aliens turn out to be humanoids from another planet, and they have been fighting the antagonistic Yela for centuries.

Earth's new allies say they cannot protect Earth forever, and that they only drove off the Yela temporarily in order to give humans time to evacuate Earth. The Earthmen disagree, and hit upon a plan: sneak near the sun and dump 300 tons of lithium into the sun's surface, to trigger a massive eruption that will destroy the waiting Yela fleet--and hopefully not kill everyone on Earth with hard radiation. It's a crazy idea, but it just might work. In fact, the book says: "I know it sounds a crazy idea, but it's just possible it might work."

The plan works. Earth is saved. The end.

Rockets in Ursa Major scores just a one out of five. It might have scored a two if the plan had failed and Earth had been destroyed.

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