BOOK REVIEWS: “Space Patrol: The Official Guide to the Galactic Security Force” by “Stephen Caldwell” (1980)

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Ok, a little backstory here: Back in 1977/78, in the crazy Science Fiction boom following Star Wars, everyone was in a mad dash to get SOME kind of SF-related product out there to liberate us tykes from our parent’s hard-earned money. Into this melee of unsupervised, unexpected niche-capitalism came Stewart Cowley, a junior editor at some English publishing house or another.

He hit on the idea of printing Coffee-Table books of space-art. You know: the kinds of paintings you see on the covers of SF novels and bad disco album covers? Rather than JUST print the art, however, or the art with some little blurbs about the artist and the concept behind the painting or its publishing history or some boring crap like that, Cowley decided to come up with a concept that would tie the pictures all together. He picked a batch of forty or so images he liked – mostly spacecraft in combat situations – and then he cobbled together a backstory to go around them. The book was set up kind of like Janes’ Book of Fighting Ships, where each page had an (entirely-made-up) history and specs on the vehicle in the picture, wherein we learn little bits of history about a war that was fought between Earth, Alpha Centauri, and someone else, I forget who. Proxima Centauri, perhaps? I don’t remember.

Anyway, “Spacecraft: 2000-2100 AD” hit the shelves in early 1978, and it was a surprise hit. The most intriguing part for me is that it depicted cool art and the text indicated that it wasn’t too far in our own future, with the first starships launching in the 1990s. Who doesn’t love that? He cranked out a sequel, “Great Space Battles” about six months later, which also sold well, and justified yet another sequel, “Spacewreck” (entirely pictures of derelict spacecraft in various and sundry scenic space sargassos*) in early ’79. This, too, sold well (And is my favorite, I think, owing to the fold-out pages) which was followed late that year or early the next by “Starliners,” yet another Janes-styled book, this time about cruise ships.

This, alas, sold like crap, and that was the end of the series. For years afterwards, I’d hit the mall bookshops hoping for the next edition, but alas nothing ever showed.**

Heartbroken, I went on with my life, if you could call it that, but a part of me wishes I‘d died.

A couple years ago, I discovered that Cowley had actually done another series of these kinds of Harmony Gold Jerry-rigged plot stripmining books for another publisher, and these were called the “Galactic Encounter” books, all six of which were published in 1980. What’s more, it’s obvious that *some* of the content was intended for, or expanding on the “Terran Trade Authority” book series. It’s not exactly the same universe, but it’s obviously intended to be with just some name changes (And not all that many of them – some of the same characters turn up in each) I eagerly bought the first two of these that I found online, and found them to be…ehm….kinda’ weak.

But weak tea is better than none, and whenever I get to jonsin’ for being a stupid 12 year old again – about once a year – I track down one of these books and order it. Thing is, the “Cosmic Encounter” books are smaller and shorter than the TTA books. Whereas the TTA stuff was coffee table format, which was great for all the art, these are about the size and length of a young child’s storybook, so the pictures aren’t as great, the art itself is mostly stuff passed over by Cowley for the TTA series, and the text is all over the place. This book for instance, has 4 pages of paintings of people’s heads, all quite dull, and it’s written as though intended as an aid for people contemplating a life in the space force. Cool in concept, but hopelessly dragged out in reality. So: not much in the way of story or art to recommend this one, though one small painting from the TTA “Great Space Battles” book gets reprinted here as a centerfold, which is pretty sweet.

Reccomended only for bleeding-from-the-wedding-vegetables-type fans such as myself.

* - now THERE’S a quadruple alliteration for ya!
** - if you’re curious in these books, called the “Terran Trade Authority” series, you can find out all about ‘em here