Science Fiction, Children's Literature, and Popular Culture: Coming of Age in Fantasyland

By Gary Westfahl | Go to book overview

5
From the Back of the Head to Beyond the Moon: The Novel and Film This Island Earth

Though I have read several discussions of science fiction films derived from science fiction novels, I can recall no mention of the film This Island Earth ( 1955), based on Raymond F. Jones's novel of that name. Some scholars may be unaware of the novel's existence or may have been unable to obtain a copy, since it quickly went out of print after appearing in 1952 and did not resurface until its inclusion in a 1994 anthology, Reel Future, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman and Jean Stine. Other scholars may have recognized, or surmised, that Jones's novel was not exactly a science fiction classic on a par with other, more prominent novels turned into films, like Dune or The Martian Chronicles, and decided that it did not merit much attention. For whatever reason, neglect of the novel This Island Earth is unfortunate, for examination of its contents helps to explain why the film is so distinctive, so haunting, and so difficult for critics to approach.

The textual history of Jones's novel is not particularly complicated, but it has never to my knowledge been explained in detail. First, in the June 1949 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, then a bimonthly science fiction magazine, there appeared Jones story "The Alien Machine," divided into four chapters, which with minor changes became the first four chapters of the novel. The first story describes how radio engineer Cal Meacham of the Ryberg Instrument Corporation receives an astounding piece of electronic equipment, followed by a catalog, from a mysterious company; he orders the materials to build a device called an interocitor; after days of painstaking labor involving thousands of parts, he successfully assembles the device, and a man appears on its television screen to explain that Cal has passed the test and is now being offered the opportunity to work for the organization; then, at the designated time, Cal arrives at a runway to be met by a pilotless plane, ready to fly him to his unknown destination.

Since the next Meacham story did not appear until three issues later, it is reasonable to suppose that Jones finished "The Alien Machine" not entirely sure how, or even whether, the adventure would continue, and one can appreciate the story

-49-

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