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Short Reviews – Ordeal in Space by Ralph Sloan –

Short Reviews – Ordeal in Space by Ralph Sloan

Friday , 3, June 2016 7 Comments

Ordeal in Space by Ralph Sloan appeared in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories.  It is unrelated to the Robert Heinlein story by the same name.Planet Stories Logo

Ordeal in Space is a gritty story of a cop who’s walking a dangerous line between the law and his desire for revenge.  It’s a pretty ‘tough’ tale that’s only slightly marred by one of the sillier sci-fi elements, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Space Patrol Lt. Mike Logan approaches a prison cell with hate and revenge in his heart – he’s going shoot Edward Snyder, the criminal who murdered his brother.  Before he can pull the trigger, Logan is apprehended by one of the prison guards.

Logan’s punishment is to personally take Snyder back to Earth to be hung and see that he gets there alive and in one piece.

Should anything happen to Snyder en route to Earth, Logan will wash out of the Patrol and become a pariah in the Solar System, forever dashing the hopes he and his brother had for getting a charter to explore the outer Solar System.

His CO explains the situation to him and regales Logan with an anecdote of his own:

“It takes guts on the outer planets, Logan.  I was born on Neptune.  At ten I watched drunken natives work a Mhulo Taag sacrifice on my mother after killing my father and tying me up.” He paled. “The priest used a sharp razor.  I never forgot it or his face.  Twelve years later I brought him in over six thousand miles of ice when I’d have given my soul to kill him.”

He’ll do it.  He’ll do it for Johnny.

What ensues is a hellish 48 hour space flight from the Jupiter prison to Earth.  All the while, Snyder taunts Logan to go ahead and kill him.  After multiple ordeals (in space) during which Logan has to restrain himself from putting a bullet in Snyder’s head, an incident forces Logan to make an emergency landing on the Moon.  Following a life and death struggle, Logan is finally able to subdue Snyder and the both are picked up a patrol.

Logan wakes to find that he’s been out for a number of days and missed Snyder’s execution.  He’s called in for a debriefing where one of the captains is prepared to bust his balls over ‘assaulting the prisoner’; the general sends the captain off and finishes debriefing Logan.

“Why didn’t you kill the blasted maniac?  It would have been self-defense.”


Logan experienced a wave of bitterness.  The hell had been for nothing.  Something he didn’t even remember clearly had caused him to fail Bates, fail Johnny. “Bates told me he had brought in the native that tortured his mother to death,” he said weakly.  “I tried to show as much guts.  I guess I haven’t got it.”


“Bates, eh?” Winkham mused and looked out the window.  “I was his commanding officer then.  The native was alive all right, but we always wondered how his ears got sliced off and stuffed in his mouth.  We questioned him but couldn’t make out his language.”


“Neptunian priests all speak English,” Logan contradicted.


“I know, but none of us did,” the general returned with a wry grin. “And I don’t think anyone on this post will either.  Even if I have to break a captain to hangar-monkey.”

Daaaaang!  The whole time he’d struggled to remain true to his morals and justice, and the system was so corrupt that he could’ve gotten away with it!

Anyway, I mentioned ‘sillier sci-fi elements’ earlier.  For whatever reason, Snyder is allowed to have a pet alien monkey thing called a Moon Mimic with him all the time.  He’s able to use this thing frequently to either irritate Logan or assist in his various escape attempts.  There’s a reason why death row criminals aren’t allowed to have helper monkey or pet chimps with them in their cell or during prisoner transport.  Other than that, this was a pretty solid story and makes me ask myself “Why can’t we have L.A. Confidential In Space?!”

Ralph Sloan would go on to have only a few more features in various pulps after this one – a shame, because I’d certainly like to read more from him.

  • Carrington Dixon says:

    The “Moon Mimic” seems to have been borrowed from Edmond Hamilton’s Captain Future stories. It may not have been original even there. There is a reason that John C Wright says you cannot parody space opera!

    • Alex says:

      I know! It’s more or less impossible to try to write anything in the genre more over-the-top than a lot of what’s out there. Even if you think you’ve veered into the realm of parody, Vance has more ridiculous situations and monsters, Burroughs has more daring heroes, Brackett has sexier villains, Jones and de Pina have crazier drugs, Leiber has more daring quests, heists and dungeon crawls than whatever you’ve come up with. Heck, Raiders of the Second Moon!

  • PCBushi says:

    I can’t help but reading these pulp SFF reviews despite having a book queue out the door and down the block. I guess it’s just as well; I don’t even know where I’d find this one to buy it!

    • Alex says:

      The overwhelming majority of the stories I cover in Short Reviews can only be found in the original magazines themselves. That they are nowhere described or summarized beyond noting their existence on isfdb is a big part of why I’m doing these.

      That said, Pulps are not that hard to find, nor are they prohibitively expensive. Now, I did luck out in getting my giant stack of PS and Thrilling for between $4 to $20 a copy at a flea market, but even on ebay, lots of these can be picked up for between $10-$40 an issue – they are absolutely worth it; out of the four I’ve read, they’ve averaged only one mediocre story per issue. The price range on some can fluctuate wildly, and some issues (especially early ones and ones with famous cover stories) can be a bit steep, but I’d say just pick one or two that are out there in the $10-$20 and grab it; you likely won’t be disappointed.

      I’d note that the covers are very fragile and flimsy, so you’re never going to find one in even VG+ condition, so you’re better off just getting a cheap one that has the cover at least intact (not too much tape, and you might want to ask if it’s attached to the spine – there the tape is not a terrible thing, really). The interior pages themselves are pretty thick and have held up pretty well after all this time, all things considered.

      Here’s the one I finished with a couple weeks ago for $15:

      Here’s the one I’m on now for only $10:

      • Carrington Dixon says:

        For that matter you can find full-issue scans of many, many pulp magazines on the Internet. has a good selection. If that whets your appetite, you can join the pulp interest group on Yahoo and find pointers to more than you could ever hope to read,

    • Alex says:

      In fact, that copy of Fall 1949 I linked to is in remarkably good shape (better than mine), so I would urge you to snatch it up for the Brackett story alone, if nothing else.

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