Friday, January 08, 2010


If influences catch you early in life, then I reckon I owe a good deal of my career to Burke Publishing Co, a London publishing firm so thoroughly vanished that I couldn't find them on Google (were they absorbed by one of the conglomerates, or did they just evaporate - does anyone know?). First, because they published Maguerite Desmurger's Stories From Greek History, one of the first books I owned. It was given to to me as the Vicar's Prize at my primary school (no big deal, this; there were only 40 children in the whole school, and sooner or later almost everyone of them won some kind of prize). I was nine. I still have it. And it's a lovely little book, retelling with wit and concision stories of Sparta and Croesus, the Medes and Persians, the Athenian philosphers, and Alexander the Great. It showed me that history wasn't a collection of dry facts, revealed the ancient world to be another country with its own customs and habits, and taught me how to shape a story, and how to use the telling detail. And in the story of Alexander, it introduced me to that classic trope, the tragic hero.

Burke also published Patrick Moore, the British amateur astronomer who has done more than anyone else in this country to popularise the science. His TV programme, The Sky at Night, was first broadcast in 1957 and he is still featured on it today; he was one of the BBC's commentators for the Apollo 11 moon landing; and he wrote juvenile science-fiction novels. And he was a prolific novelist. His first titles, beginning with The Master of the Moon (1952) were published by another long-lost outfit, the Hardback Museum Press, but Burke published the novels featuring his best-known hero, sixteen year old astronaut Maurice Grey (Mission to Mars, The Domes of Mars, The Voices of Mars, Raiders of Mars, Peril on Mars). I read them all, and everything else of Moore's that I could find in the local library. They are very old-fashioned (even for the 1950s and 1960s) tales of derring-do by upright British chaps, and the prose is at best serviceable, but they were, for their time, scientifically accurate and stirred in me the first feelings of that good old sense of wonder. How could I not resist something like this, the opening of Wanderer in Space?
It was full Earth. The brilliant, bluish radiance flooded down upon the bleak landscape of the moon, catching the tops of the crater-walls abd making the floors look like pools of ink; there were no half-lights, and everything was either brightly lit or else totally dark. The sky seemed ablaze with stars, shining steadily and without the slightest sign of twinkle.
By the way, the cover of Wanderer in Space is by well-known space artist David Hardy.


Anonymous Sergey said...

Oh, I also read such books in school - there were Russian analogues of "Stories from Greek history". And in the end I became historian ;)

January 10, 2010 2:54 pm  
Blogger LarryS said...

Ooh I'm quite curious about the Patrick Moore book-I love Sky At Night!

March 06, 2010 5:21 pm  

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