In Retro Review: And Then The Town Took Off

A ridiculous concept that takes some fun turns with some really enjoyable cornball characters.

And Then The Town Took Off by Richard Wilson 

Published by Ace Books, Inc., 1960. Paperback of 123 pages at 35¢. 

Note: This is an Ace Double book. It can be flipped over for an additional story, which is The Sioux Spaceman by Andre Norton.

The cover: A fighter pilot high above Earth looks up to see the scooped city of Superior flying on the edge of outer space. This is a great tease of what’s to be found within, capturing a Norman Rockwell everytown in a science fiction setting. Overall grade: B+

The premise: From the first page, “The town of Superior, Ohio, certainly was living up to its name! In what was undoubtedly the most spectacular feat of the century, it simply picked itself up one night and rose two full miles above the Earth! Radio messages stated simply that Superior had seceded from Earth. But Don Cort, stranded on that rising town, was beginning to suspect that nothing was simple about Superior except its citizens. Calmly they accepted their rise in the world as being due to one of their local townspeople, a crackpot professor. But after a couple of weeks of floating around, it began to be obvious that the professor had no idea how to get them down. So then it was up to Cort: either find a way to anchor Superior, or spend the rest of his days on the smallest — and the nuttiest — planet in the galaxy!” I didn’t purchase this Double Book for this tale, but the one on the opposite side. My hopes are not high for this. I’m not a fan of reading comedic novels and this looks to be just that. Overall grade: C

The characters: Don Cort is aboard a train that finds its trip stopped when the tracks disappear. He has business with a bank, but it’s revealed there’s much more to him. He’s the character through which the story is told and he’s a level headed man who encounters characters of all kinds. The supposed source of Superior’s situation is Professor Osbert Garet who’s as nutty as one can imagine. He’s not insane, but his theories have all the reality of a lunatic. He’s harmless, but is he really responsible? Mayor Hector Civek could care less about how the city got in this situation, changes must be made! First and foremost is seceding from the United States, declaring Superior its own nation, and setting himself up as King. He’s not smart enough to come up with this on his own and the individuals behind his rapid rise in power are revealed later. An important member of the cast is Jen Jervis, secretary to Senator Bobby Thebold. She and Cort sit near each other on the train and only talk to one another when they realize they’re stuck in the drifting city. Thebold believes the Russians might be responsible for the city’s state, getting in his own plane to fly up and check it out, eventually landing and making matters worse. Alis Garet is the nineteen-year-old daughter of the professor, who doesn’t think he’s done what he claims. Her knowledge of the town will help out Cort as he tries to learn what’s happened. Ed Clark is the newspaper publisher of the town, still making papers to get out all the news that’s occurring, including events back on ground. There are some surprise antagonists that look familiar, but have much more sinister plans. They’re much more entertaining than I believed they could be, as were all the characters in this novella. Overall grade: A

The settings: Superior is the setting and it’s a solid anywhere America of the time period. All that’s missing is Norman Rockwell shown painting the backgrounds. The main street of the town has all the buildings one would expect in close proximity to each other: town hall, newspaper, police station, etc. The only building that’s a little different is the bubble gum factory. It’s brought up on the second page, so the reader knows that this odd mention is something important. What’s at the factory is important, as is what’s under it. Every building and room mentioned in this story had my brain thinking of classic Twilight Zone episodes in black and white. Overall grade: A

The action: The primary action of the tale is the mystery of how the town took off. It seems unsolvable until a child brings up a late night guest in her home. The reveal of who, or what, is responsible for the town’s state gets the back seat when Senator Thebold decides to land on the flying town and reassert American dominance over its population. The action is quick and intended to be humorous, which it is, even when the Russians start taking popshots at them. The final action sequence involves Earth possibly losing other cities to the antagonists, which spells doom for much of the planet. The action is intended to be humorous and it works. Overall grade: B

The conclusion: It’s a quick wrap up, though where the antagonists end up was neat. The door is left open for more encounters with the antagonists, though there doesn’t need to be any. Overall grade: A-

The final line: I really enjoyed this novella, much more than I thought I would. It’s a ridiculous concept that takes some fun turns with some really enjoyable cornball characters. I’m surprised this wasn’t a Twilight Zone episode — a humorous one. If you ever find a copy of this fifty-nine year old book, give it a shot. It’s fun! Overall grade: A-

To see a copy of the cover visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

To read the review of the flip book go to https://scifipulse.net/in-retro-review-the-sioux-spaceman/

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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