Leigh Brackett’s The Big Jump (1955) is a solid (if predictable) pulp sci-fi adventure with a few delightful poetic moments. Although Brackett is primarily known for her numerous short stories from the 40s and 50s and screenplays (The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, The Empire Strikes Back, etc) her novels deserve to be read as well.
Despite The Big Jump‘s positives it often feels like a short story and the by-the-numbers plot might frustrate modern readers. The work suffers from an extreme case of brevity (128 pages) and as a result lacks substantial character development. Brackett also has the unfortunate tendency to complete important actions between chapters (along the lines of “…and after the landing”). However, Brackett’s prose is adept at creating haunting sequences, poignant images, and genuine excitement.
Brief Plot Summary
Across the gulfs between the worlds, from end to end of a Solar System poised taut and trembling on the verge of history, the rumors flew. Somebody’s made it, the Big Jump. Somebody came back.
Comyn, cut from the working man heroic mode (brawn, street smarts, no-nonsense talk), chases rumors of the first interstellar flight, christened the Big Jump. Comyn seeks to uncover information about his friend Paul Rodgers who didn’t return from the small expedition to Bernard’s Star. Ballantyne, the only crewman to return, is more dead than alive and posses a manipulated body chemistry.
Comyn tracks down Ballantyne and hears his “last” words about the planet and the crew’s discoveries. Various people attempt to kill Comyn because of the information he now possesses. Our hero soon falls in with the ultra-wealthy Cochrane family who have cornered space travel within Earth’s solar system and constructed palatial establishments on the Moon and Mars. The Cochranes and Comyn do not get along due to Comyn’s impulsive nature. However, Comyn pretends to know more than he does inorder to rescue his friend.
The Cochranes decide to quickly equip a second vessel to preempt their rivals and hope with Comyn’s help find the rest of the crew. Of course the Cochranes have ulterior economic motives and Comyn suspects one of his new crew wants him dead.
Despite the simplicity of The Big Jump‘s plot and the work’s extreme brevity there’s much to admire: the excitement, the moments of beautiful prose, and just enough technological interjections about spaceships, the mechanics of interstellar travel, etc to keep the reader hooked. Despite the dearth of character development Comyn’s likable yet impulsive nature and drive to rescue his friend manages to come across.
Worthwhile for fans of 40s and 50s science fiction. A fun, fast, and exciting read.