In previous posts I have discussed the novels Mutant 59 : the Plastic Eater and Brainrack, written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. The Dynostar Menace was their third and final novel together. It continues their preoccupation with threats to the environment, but adds another element: a murder mystery in space.
The novel is set in 1986 in a world in which nuclear reactors have been abandoned around the globe following the nuclear accident at Grimess, vividly portrayed in Brainrack. With fossil fuels exhaused a new source of potential power has been developed – nuclear fusion – potentially offering humanity safe, unlimited power. The device, known as the Dynostar, is housed for safety in a satellite orbiting the earth, ready to send power back down to earth. However, just before it is switched on, an environmental group, the Council of Twelve, provide conclusive evidence that the Dynostar’s magnetic fields would destroy the earth’s ozone layer and lead to a worldwide ecological catastrophe. The scientists working on starting up the Dynostar are ordered instead to immediately shut down the device. As they start work, three of them die, apparently in an accident, but the reader already knows that someone has murdered them.
The head of the project on earth, Lee Caldor, sends a senior astronaut, John Hayward, up to the Dynostar to supervise the operation. When other deaths follow, Caldor and Hayward realise that one of the scientists on board will stop at nothing to prevent the shut down. On earth Caldor investigates the background of the scientists, speaking to their wives and lovers, in a desperate effort to find a clue as to the identity of the murderer, while in space Hayward battles rising fear and paranoia as more men are murdered, and the ship ‘s systems are sabotaged:
Now the haggard exhausted crew, already strained beyound any reasonable limits of control, found their last psychological support snatched away by the battery failure. The additional knowledge that one of them was both insane and a murderer, had completely stripped away the reamaining veneer of ordinary civilised behavour.
Now one by one, the elegantly balanced systems of the great Spacelab complex were failing around them. The inertial ship orientation system had ceased to work, so that the ship was no longer rotated to even the heating effect of the sun’s rays and they were now beating down on the dorsal surface of the ship.
In the dramatic final pages the identity of the murderer is revealed, and venturing in space on the outer skin of the Dynostar, Hayward desperately fights his opponent to save his own life and stop the device sparking into life with fearful consequences:
…for the first time, Hayward caught a glimpse of his face. It was expressionless, the eyes set in a look of total concentration.
The flame burnt across the front of Haywards’s suit. Immediately, the epoxide fibre of the suit flared briefly and then charred, leaving a crumbling black scar across the suit. Part of the instrument bezel. softened and deformed.
He lost his grip and spun away from the walkway, striking the side of the monitor can. His umbilical suddenly tautened and sprung him back on rebound until he came to halt, spinning in the space between the monitor can and Dynostar.
Overall this is a taut and claustrophobic scientific and psychogical thriller. Kit Peddler clearly did a great deal of research for the novel, and sometimes the scientific detail is overdone and clogs the narrative. Also, as in their previous novels, there is not much of a role for women , other than providing the occasional sexual frisson. But if you are interested in their work for Doctor Who, Doomwatch etc , it’s well worth a read.
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