I grew up in a home where if the book was on a bookshelf then I could read it, regardless of my age and the alleged reading age of the book. Given my parent’s taste in books this meant I grew up with Isaac Asimov, Harry Harrison, and many other classic SF authors. What this meant was that on days off school feeling ill I’d curl up under a blanket with something like an old “New Writings in SF” and that meant I was introduced to the Unorthodox Engineers in the short story “Getaway from Getawehi”.
This book is an anthology of the 5 stories Colin Kapp wrote about The Unorthodox Engineers. I’d read 3 of them in other works and always wondered if there were more. Then many years ago when Amazon first existed I found this book on there second hand and immediately bought it. It’s something I go back to occasionally as reading comfort food.
The Unorthodox Engineers in question are part of a wider engineering division as humanity explores the universe. Their principle motivation is that you can’t rely on technology or tools in deep space exploration so you need to be able to make do with what’s in your environment and some creative thinking. Whilst waiting for their deep space exploration to be approved they work with the main engineering and exploration teams and generally upset them terribly by being more than a little eccentric.
Our main characters are Fritz Van Noon and Jacko Hine, genius inventor and probably equally-genius-slightly-more-stable sidekick. These stories cover such crazy capers as trying to build a railway on a planet where random volcanos happen continuously, getting a 2 million year old subway running, and coping with a planet where gravity changes direction and 1+1 does not equal 2.
Obviously the technology in these books is now dated – being written in the 60s or so – and there’s a distinct lack of female characters (though you can mentally make Fritz or Jacko female and nothing would change in the story which might be a cool update…), but I still find these tales so much fun. I also always agreed with the principles here – knowing how to do things so you can adapt to situations is so valuable. One of the reasons I liked The Martian is that I felt it had that same ethos of very skilled people who could still think their way out of trouble rather than having to rely on complex solutions. Give it a shot if you want some light SF with quirky characters