Flashback Fridays: “Wanted: A small space ship about eight feet long, built by a boy, or by two boys . . .”

Aaaaand I’m back!  This is going to be a quick post since I’ve only just gotten in from a family vacation.  But I didn’t want to miss out on a Friday post if I could help it!

Science fiction has always been a genre of dreams.  Not the dreams of pure fantasy and magic, but the dreams of where humankind might go . . . and what it might discover.  Before a man orbited the Earth, before Sputnik was launched and started a race in space faring technology, writers dreamed of interplanetary travel.  They wondered how we might engineer a spacecraft,  and wondered what was out there in space, waiting for us to discover.  In this story two boys build a craft and discover an adventure that will take them into space . . . all the way to a most peculiar planet.  Do you remember:

The Wonderful Flight To the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron, illustrated by Robert Henneberger (Little, Brown and Company, 1954)

David and Chuck find a strange ad in their newspaper in green while the rest of the paper is the regular black and white and wants a space craft built by young boys.  Of course, there’s no way these two are going to turn such an opportunity down!  They meet Mr. Tyco Bass, who is delighted with their ship, and the boys wind up on a wild trip all the way to the planet Basidium(The Mushroom Planet).   A shining example of a boy’s adventure science fiction tale, this lovely classic of the genre can still be found haunting library shelves . . . though it doesn’t garner near as much attention.

Granted, there’s a lot of historical dust that has gathered in the writing:   in the decades since the book was published humankind has made it to space, and to the moon. Our contemporary knowledge of science and technology easily topple some of the speculations and explanations the author chooses in her story to explain how Basidium stays hidden, and how our heroes travel through space.  It is also very singularly a boy’s  adventure.  Not that girls can’t read it, but it simply doesn’t think to include any female protagonists in the story.  Given the time frame that the story was written, that’s not entirely surprising, but it does date the book.

Still, this story has garnered a lot of love.  I was chatting with someone about my blog this week and he suddenly grinned.  “The Wonderful Flight to Mushroom Planet” he told me. “I must have read that book a dozen times.”  Truth be told, I’ve heard this title mentioned by quite a few adults . . . even those who might not regularly read science fiction.  They still fondly remember this book.  Often, they’ll recall that there was a second book.  In The Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet (1956) David and Chuck get a chance to return to Basidium, but a dangerous stowaway hides on board, and he’s determined to use the planet to further his own ambitions of scientific fame.

You might still find copies of this one floating about.  It’s also been reprinted a handful of times.  But these weren’t Eleanor Cameron’s only books about the Mushroom Planet.  Fading into some obscurity are four more stories about this marvelous world.  Mr. Bass’s Planetoid (1958),  A Mystery for Mr. Bass (1960)Jewels From the Moon and The Meteor that Couldn’t Stay (1964) and Time and Mr. Bass (1967).  I’ve never come across any of these other titles in my book wanderings, and the information available about the stories is fairly slim.  Unlike the first two books which have remained popular and and in the public eye even to this day, the rest of the series has never been reprinted.

Have you read some of these, or the entire series?  If you’ve read the other four books, how do they measure up to the first two?  Opinions wanted!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on July 13, 2013, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

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