One For All and All For One

Legion of Space Series 1977.

Everyone needs friends. This edition published by Sphere Books 1977.

Space travel is likely to require astronauts to be confined in relatively small spaces for long periods, and we often expect that anyone in such a situation will be at each other’s throats before long.  But that need not necessarily be so – with careful selection and training, a strong bond of comradeship may well develop between those who are sent out to carry the human race to the stars.

Science fiction stories often represent a small group of colleagues together braving everything that the cosmos has to throw at them, and demonstrating the resilience that true friendship can produce.  Such tales can be traced back to the great swashbuckling stories of the past, such as Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 classic novel The Three Musketeers.  The inseparable Athos, Porthos and Aramis – along with their newly-acquired chum D’Artagnan – are renowned in fiction for their adventures across seventeenth-century France and, above all, for sticking together through thick and thin.

There can be little doubt that this influenced the science fiction writer Jack Williamson’s Legion of Space series of stories.  In the first novel of that name from 1947, young John Star meets up with three colourful characters who are already well established in the Legion – the organization trying to ensure that law and order are maintained throughout the Solar System of the thirtieth century.

Much like the heroes in Dumas’ story, this group of close friends soon find themselves up against the hierarchy of the Legion, who appear to have their own agenda which is definitely not in the best interests of humanity, particularly when the first expedition to Barnard’s Star encounters some particularly unpleasant aliens with issues of their own – involving, as is so often the case, conquest and subjugation.  The stage is set for the non-stop action for which space opera is so well known.

After numerous harsh encounters in a fierce struggle across the surface of a seriously hostile planet, we understand what leads to their closeness: “they had gained an iron endurance, a new courage, an absolute confidence in one another.”  And so it might well be for anyone in the depths of space.

One sees much the same with Poul Anderson’s stories of David Falkayn, the adventurous trader of the Polesotechnic League, in books such as the collection The Trouble Twisters from 1967 or his 1968 novel Satan’s World.  Young David likes to think of himself as something of an independent spirit, but frankly, he wouldn’t get very far without the continuous help of his trusted alien pals.  One does wonder just how far friendship can be strained with someone quite so self-centred but, when the chips are down, relying on your friends – whether human or alien – may be the only way forward.

The relationships between friends and colleagues will always be a good basis for exploring how intelligent beings interact in difficult circumstances, as Becky Chambers recently showed in her 2014 first novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, though it is probably in the realms of fantasy that this approach has become fairly standard.  The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of Tolkien’s famous The Lord of the Rings trilogy from 1954, firmly set the trend for a small group of comrades venturing off on a quest to achieve a goal of great significance and, sometimes, to save the world.

The human race has had only limited real-life experience of how people will react in the enclosed living areas of spacecraft, but there has been little evidence of genuinely serious problems between those concerned.  At least, so far.  And there have been enough cases here on Earth, from sea travel and exploration of remote places, to give a good idea of who is likely to get on with others and who isn’t.  But, at this very early stage in our exploration of the universe, we can never fully plan for all the events that may occur in space, and that might force the issue one way or the other.


Richard Hayes, Assistant Editor (Odyssey)

With a lifetime’s interest in science, history and human behaviour, Richard Hayes focuses his writing on how the imagination has created the world in which we live, and where it may lead us in the future.  Odyssey, the e-magazine of the British Interplanetary Society, draws on the rich treasury of science fiction to explore many fields of speculation, enabling us to glimpse what might yet be, both here on Earth and out amongst the stars.

For related Odyssey posts, please click here: A Sense of Belonging | The Scoundrel’s Last Refuge

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