Published in 1946, this adventure story about a trip to Mars has more of the feel of Jules Verne than post World War Two fiction. It was one of only a few science fiction books in my grade school library, though, and I liked it a lot then. In rereading it now, I see that the science aspect is greatly lacking, and author Cross does much worse than Verne in his space voyage books despite this one being written many decades later, but as an adventure story for children it’s not bad. The excellent illustrations by Robin Jacques help.
Professor Andrew McGillivray in Scotland has been building rockets, and has finally made one big enough to travel through space. His neighbor and friend, writer Stephen MacFarlane, helps when he can, and the two men plan a voyage to Mars. Things get complicated when Stephen is forced to take charge of his nephew Mike Mallone and Mike’s cousins Paul and Jacqueline Adam for a few weeks. Unknown to the Professor and Stephen, the children stow away on their rocket just before it leaves for Mars, and the five travelers arrive there unharmed. What they find is superficially like other versions of Mars:—the dry, red, sandy landscape for instance—but the Martians that greet them and bring them to their city are quite different, as seen in the cover illustration above. These Martians, who call themselves The Beautiful People, communicate through telepathy, and are friendly once they realize the travelers mean them no harm, and the group enjoys exploring their city and their way of life.
Not long after they arrive, though, the space ship Albatross is attacked by a different, malevolent type of Martians who succeed in capturing young Mike. Soon the two Martian races are preparing for war, with the travelers caught in the middle. When that war begins, even more danger comes from a volcanic eruption. Will they be able to escape in their ship and return to Earth? Of course the reader knows they will, as the book is told in a series of chapters and reports by the five travelers after they’re home, but it’s an exciting adventure all the same, and I liked the characters. This is not as interesting a Mars as those written by Edgar Rice Burroughs or C.S. Lewis, but it has its moments. Looking online I found there was a sequel, which I’ve never seen. I’ve ordered it.