Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits. I was sitting and thinking yesterday when a book that I last read around fifty-five years ago, when I was but a wee lad, popped unbidden into my head. It was a science-fiction novel, now long out of print, titled THE ANGRY PLANET and it was written by a British author named John Keir Cross. I can remember exactly where I got the book — the Lane Avenue Shopping Center branch of the Upper Arlington, Ohio Public Library system — and why I picked the book up. There was a movie that was heavily advertised at the time titled The Angry Red Planet that was making the rounds of the drive-ins at the time, and I thought that maybe the film was based on the book. It wasn’t, and as it turned out the book THE ANGRY PLANET was much better than the similarly titled movie could have ever hoped to be. It was, in fact, the first book that really and truly grabbed me by the lapels and made me a reader.

THE ANGRY PLANET was aimed squarely at the youth market in general and boys market in particular, and was originally published in 1946. The basic plot concerned a couple of teenagers stowed away on a rocket to Mars and had a number of adventures. There were two species of Martians at the top of the food chain which naturally were at mortal war with each other. One type was tall and thin and benevolent and friendly and resembled a  celery stalk;  the other type was short and squat and evil and resembled a mushroom without the stem. The nice Martians had these long, thin razor-sharp swords which they used to dice the bad guys up; they needed them, because the bad guys were much stronger, and possessed these powerful tendrils which they used to pick the nice guys up and snap them in two like a Slim Jim or a…well, like a celery stalk. The book ended with the Earth guys escaping from Mars by the skin of their teeth just as it looked like the nice Martians were going to lose a huge battle with the nasty ones. I read that book several times; at some point after the fact learned that there was a sequel to the book titled RED JOURNEY BACK, which I never saw or got to read. Remember, this was in the very early 1960s,  when the only “Amazon” was Wonder Woman or a river in South America, take your pick, “computers” were what we called people who could operate slide rules or adding machines, and “kindle” was something you did to keep the fire going. Things moved on. I discovered detective fiction and paperback books on those revolving wire racks in the drugstore. But I never really forgot THE ANGRY PLANET. Sure, it got buried in my subconscious under birth dates and telephone numbers and learning how to drive, but I never truly forgot that book.  Cross really had a talent for writing battle scenes, and the story was illustrated here and there with black and white line drawings that were somewhat disturbing for reasons that I couldn’t quite identify then but undoubtedly could today, if I had a copy of the book in my hand.

Just for grins I thought I would see if RED JOURNEY BACK was available on any of the e-book platforms. It isn’t. Along the way, however, I did some research and learned that Cross, back in the day, was somewhat renowned as a writer and editor of adult horror fiction. Some first editions of his work, including THE ANGRY PLANET, trade hands for a pretty penny. I also discovered for the first time that I’m not the only one who read THE ANGRY PLANET; there are any number of bloggers out there with memories better than mine who also have an actual copy of the book and still take time to re-read it.

Accordingly, I’m wondering…what is the first book that really and truly made you a reader? Do you have a copy of it? Is it still in print?



    • Asimov was something, Michael. Very prolific. I used to love his science column in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He also wrote a series of youth-oriented science fiction under the name “Paul French.” I think the character’s name was Lucky Starr, if memory serves.

  1. I don’t recall which title exactly, but when I graduated from the Hardy Boys it was to Ross MacDonald and his Lew Archer series of novels. I still have a bunch of them. Best PI of his time IMO. 🙂

    • MacDonald’s Archer books continue to read well, David. I don’t know how closely you follow rock music, but there’s a tie between MacDonald and Warren Zevon. Zevon had problems with alcohol and his wife did an intervention (before they were called that) and brought Ross MacDonald. Zevon was a huge fan of MacDonald’s — some of his early music reflects this — and MacDonald’s presence had a major effect on him. For awhile.

    • David, I’d start with the first, self-titled album, then Excitable Boy, Mr. Bad Example and proceed from there. They’re all on Spotify. Enjoy!

  2. When I was a kid, someone gave us an incomplete set of children’s classics. I read them until the bindings wore thin. The ones I remember are:

    The Wizard of Oz
    The Peterkin Papers
    Grimm’s Fairy Tales

    I still have a couple of them and all are public domain, most available on Kindle free or very cheap. For comedic timing, The Peterkin Papers cannot be beat.

    And as for the other three, I feel bad for kids only exposed to the Disney interpretations. These are the unedited hair-curling versions that pull no punches (including lines such as “I believe an apt punishment would be to be put naked into a cask studded with nails and dragged through the streets until dead.”) And who could forget the Hammerheads in WOZ? Great stuff for a 10-year-old.

    • Terri, I still love Grimm’s Fairy Tales and have the complete volume on my Kindle. We also have a physical edition in my home library.

      When my younger daughter was in pre-school I nicknamed her “Stephanie King” because she was so taken with offbeat and horror literature and movies. She watched “The Nightmare Before Christmas” over and over. We got her the plastic bendable figures as well. She is starting college next month — at 15 —so it must have hoped some synapses that in her father are permanently welded shut.

  3. The first book I remember catching me by the lapels was “Treks Across the Veldt” by Theodore J. Waldeck. It was non-fiction, but read like fiction and was full of adventures in Africa. I was in 3rd grade, I think. I remember getting hooked on Jules Verne, The Hardy Boys. By 5th grade I was writing stories and serials and passing them around school.

  4. I just checked and “Treks Across The Veldt” was published in 1944, and can be found on Amazon for less than 10 bucks. I just ordered one. Thanks for the memories, Joe.

    • And thank you for sharing yours as well, Dave. I’m glad you could get a copy of your book! I also loved your account of writing stories and passing them around in school. Very cool.

  5. Hardy Boys, Tarzan, comic books when I was a kid. I loved the Classics Illustrated series. Some of the great books rendered in comic form. In junior high, though, I got hold of The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. Blew me away. Took me to other worlds. I still have that paperback version (red cover, the illustrated man sitting there). But about ten years ago I went to hear Bradbury talk at a bookstore, where they were selling new hardcover editions of several of his titles. I picked up The Illustrated Man and he signed it for me. He loved other writers and gave me hearty good wishes.

    • James, that’s a great story, particularly about meeting Bradbury. He remains an example for us all. I have that red paperback of The Illustrated Man as well, though, alas, without the autograph. What a treasure!

  6. “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes. I didn’t discover until I was an adult that it was a Newberry winner (1946). All I knew was it spoke to my heart.

    It is about a Polish-American girl named Wanda Petronski who is mocked by schoolkids for being different and because she has only one dress to wear to school. Wanda tells them she really has 100 beautiful dresses in her closet at home. She enters the school art contest and her drawings of the dresses win but she moves away and never finds out.

    This story touched me because my own early childhood was so itinerant and hardscrabble. I didn’t have 100 dresses but I could draw really well. Which is why I ended up an art major, I guess.

    Years ago (pre-Internet), when I was in D.C. I went to the Library of Congress and asked them to pull the book for me. Holding it in my hands that day was thrilling.

    • So many fabulous stories. P.J., I’m going to read that book, even though I’m somewhat out of its intended demographic audience(s). What a beautiful story, and what a great review. Thanks!

  7. Great topic! Hardy Boys and then on to SF, with the really first one that I can remember being Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Heinlein. For some reason, it was in my small village high school library. This Heinlein classic is listed as an e-book, and I would think all of his would be available. Regarding classic comics, there was always an add for Off on a Comet, but I never found that one in the five and dime where we got our comics. Great memories. Thanks.

    • Thank you, Lance. You opened up the memory banks with this one. Have Spacesuit Will Travel was my first Heinlein read as well. I’m looking forward to his entire list being available eventually. Ironically, Off on a Comet was the first Classics Illustrated comic I bought, followed by The Time Machine and The Invisible Man a week later. I’m sorry you never found a copy; I see a couple used copies available on Amazon today, if you’re interested. I think mine, alas, was stolen by a neighborhood kid.

    • Thanks, Joe. I think I will look into a used copy. I was never a collector. The five and dime owners were pretty conservative, so no Time Machine or Invisible Man. Ivanhoe was the one I remember.

    • “Have Spacesuit …” was the one for me, as well. My whole family were voracious readers, with trips to the library a weekly part of our calendar, and my dad read to us almost nightly. But when I was given my cousin’s worn copy of “Have Spacesuit,” that really kind of locked it in for me. It’s the story of a normal kid who gets whisked away on an intergalactic adventure with the fate of the Earth at stake. Great stuff.

  8. Although I was already a committed reader of science fiction, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller stopped me in my tracks. I did something I never do – I immediately reread it. Of course, I’ve read it several times since.

    Miller was a short story writer who used three of his stories and the WWII Battle of Monte Cassino as the basis. But the themes of the story and what it says about belief are what was important to me.

  9. Brian, I was stopped right with you. I will never forget the closing sentences of “A Canticle for Leibowitz”…haunting. Have you read the companion volume,”St. Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman” which was unfinished by Miller at the time of his death and completed by Terry Bisson? I haven’t, but it’s in my must read pile. Thanks for remember Miller, who was one of the greats and who was under-appreciated throughout his life and thereafter.

  10. My mother kept our bookshelves packed with excellent books, and I think I read every one of them. I can’t remember all the titles, but I do remember the Nancy Drew mysteries. We had a handful of them, and when I showed an interest, my mother starting buying all she could find at garage sales. There were Little Golden Books when I was small (Hansel and Gretel was a favorite, as were Snow White and Cinderella), Grimm’s fairy tales, classics like Treasure Island… I clearly remember starting Helter Skelter when I was maybe 10, and my mom took it away when she saw what I was reading! It got shelved at the top of the bookcase. That bookcase was a beloved structure in my home for many years.


    • Sonja, I loved those Little Golden Books as well, Rudy Kazoo and the whole bunch. All of my children and now my granddaughter have read at least some of them. They are truly classics, the perfect size for small hands. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about them (but don’t tell anybody). And it’s not that much of a stretch between Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Helter Skelter!

  11. My ex-wife just sent me a box she’d had in the garage for 20 years, my collection of the Rick Brant Science Adventures. They were sort of the Hardy Boys, but with science. I’ve reread the first 7 this week and they’re not bad, although of course the science is hopelessly outdated. But what I most remember about them is my pride of ownership. We had literally thousands of books in the house, but these were MINE.

    • I loved the Rick Brant books even better than the Hardy Boys, John! And the covers were much better! The Wailing Octopus, The Blue Ghost Mystery (“Be prepared! Buy Blue Ghost Health Insurance!)”…and, of course, there was the bondage cover that someone slipped by Grosset & Dunlap on The Electronic Mind Reader. I LOVED THOSE BOOKS! Apparently someone else does too…The Magic Talisman, which was published in a limited edition of 500 copies, is going for four figures on Amazon right now.

    • I never read The Corner Back, MG, but I went through a spell where I read a bunch of Tex Maule’s other books. You don’t hear about so much anymore but he was at one point THE guy for sports books. Thanks for reminding me of him.

  12. The first one was a book about a raccoon that I read when I was in kindergarten. After that, I moved on to C.S. Lewis because my brothers would tell me the stories and I pushed myself to read well enough to read them myself and collected them. The rest is history.

  13. Question for you: how could we go about finding out who has rights to the book now and if they would be interested in having it put into an ebook? I’d be willing to do it.

    • Beth, could that have been The Adventures of Robby Raccoon? Or maybe Little Raccoon’s Nighttime Adventure? I’m sure there are hundreds of them. As far as finding out who has the current rights to a book, I’d strongly recommend retaining an attorney who specializes in literary intellectual property to do the heavy lifting, particularly if you are contemplating publishing the work in e-book form.

    • Thanks, Brian! It’s a great book, and though the science is somewhat outdated, to say the least, it picks up and moves along. I’d love to read the sequel Red Journey Back and I see that on Amazon.uk there’s a used copy of it under the title “SOS From Mars” which is quite reasonably priced. I may give myself an early birthday present this year.

  14. I got hooked reading Nancy Drew books. After moving to Florida, I sold my collection as I didn’t want to expose them to the humidity here.

    • You did WHAT, Nancy?! Couldn’t you have stored them in a freezer, or in an air conditioned locker? I hear Joe Moore has lots of room, too!

  15. Will Cuppy’s “The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody.”
    I found it at the library and read it over and over. I partcularly remember what he said about Alexander the Great’s achievements: In the end, the only that remained of his empire was that all the people he killed were still dead.

    • Elaine, that reminds me of the poem “Ozymandias.” Sobering, to say the least. It sounds like an interesting — and funny — book. Thanks.

    • “…all the people he killed were still dead.”

      Wow, that’s a pretty good way to sum it up. Makes writing all the more important, because the worlds we build on paper will be all that are left for the future.

      I have a book in my safe that is an exact replica of my wife’s family geneology. She’s Korean but the earliest part of the book, 1500 years old, includes a narrative that is in an ancient form of Chinese that is no longer used and mostly untranslatable. What parts could be translated refer to a kingdom that that is not mentioned in other history books and was likely wiped out prompting the Ma family’s move to Korea (then called Goguryeo). The only thing that remains of the memory of her ancestors is the book and the secrets locked in its ancient language.

      And the fact that those who would know how to unlock those secrets are all still dead.

  16. When I was six or seven I read a picture book version of Johnny Tremain. At maybe nine I read it again in novel form and was awed by the deeper telling from the picture book. By the fifth grade I was devouring Louis L’Amour’s books, especially the Sackett series, like they were life sustaining nourishment.

  17. Basil, that story about the record of your wife’s geneology is amazing! Have you ever used that as a blog topic? If not, would you consider doing so? And soon? That sounds fascinating!

    Do you remember the Disney version of Johnny Tremain that was on Mickey Mouse Club or the Sunday Disney show? It made me read the book. I can still sing the song: “Johnny Tremain/of old Boston town/remember his name/he fought against the Crown…” See, now you got me started…

    • I remember watching that movie on the Sunday Disney show. It was the first time I realized books and movies were somehow related.

      As far as the genealogy story, I haven’t written much on it before but I should do something on it. Since my personal blog has all of 12 readers, perhaps another format or blog would be better to get it out.

    • Well, ya know Sonja…that’s just entirely too logical.

      Basilsands.blogspot.com for bloggin’


      http://www.Basilsands.com for webbin’ & bloggin’ combined.

      As I am actually writing this comment from wooded clearing beside the highway to Fairbanks here in the Land of the Midnight Sun the post on the book will have to wait till our is nearer laptopable locales. Currently my cellphone is being charged solely by the ultrasonic buzz of the mosquitoes surrounding my tent.

  18. I’ve been in love with reading for as long as I can remember. My first real obsession was the Berenstain Bears books. Now I get to buy them for my daughters and relive the joy every time I read them! Yay!

    • I hope that at some point your daughters appreciate that they have a mom who reads to them. As they say down South, it’s better than owning an oil well. I STILL read the Berenstain Bears. The stories and art are terrific!

  19. Kids’ books: Nancy Drew. First adult read that set my imagination on fire: Gone With the Wind, which I read in the 6th grade. And The Source by James Michener.

    • The latest Michener book was always on my parents’ reading table the day it was published, Kathryn. They were huge fans. And Nancy Drew…where would the mystery genre be without her? Those books still stand up. Hope you kept yours!

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