Seetee Ship, Jack Williamson

This 1949 novel is one of grandmaster Williamson’s best-known for good reasons.

The story starts with Rick Drake returning home to the asteroid belt after completing his college degree in “spatial engineering”. He hopes to work with his father to develop an antimatter (here called “contra-terrene”, “CT” or “seetee” matter) power source, to break the hold of atomic power monopolist Interplanet Corporation on the Solar System. However, he gets sidetracked, partly by the influence of a beautiful woman within Interplanet, to work for the corporation for a year or two. When he realizes his work is being used to develop weapons instead of energy production equipment, though, he refuses to renew his contract and heads out to work in the family business. From there, things get interesting, as a mysterious antimatter explosion out among the asteroids points to the possibility of new technology for controlling CT matter from a “terrene” world. Rick Drake then must fight the corporation’s suspicions that his father has developed CT technology illegally as all parties race to get the secret of controlling CT.

The book doesn’t miss many golden age tropes: The hero is a hypercompetent, square-jawed engineer. His love interest is a capable corporate executive and heiress. Men can call women “gorgeous” instead of using their names, without irony. All human space colonies are characterized by the stereotyped racial characteristics of the nations that founded them. Politics of the year 2190 reflect the obsessions of 1949. The one break is the character of Paul Anders, balanced between his loyalty to Interplanet and a strong independent morality.

Despite the many cliches, I enjoyed the book because of the engaging story and rapid plot advancement. Even after I spotted the gimmick coming halfway through the book I was able to keep turning the pages to find out how the remaining mysterious details would resolve.

Seetee Ship is a golden age classic, and a very fine story, but if you are easily offended by the prejudices of the past, you won’t find that it transcends its time.

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