|After the Final War, the evacuation of Earth, and battle with Martian terrorists, is eldest brother Jack fit to lead the United System Space Force? A look at the childhood beginnings of the Jack Commer saga.
After publishing seven Jack Commer novels I felt a need to pull together Jack’s entire history starting from my first fifth-grade story about him. It electrified my nine-year-old self. Although I’d already written numerous science fiction stories, “Voyage to Venus” was the first time I’d finished one and said to myself: Wow, this is cool, this is where I belong, this is what I want to be doing! That story began my writing path. I also debuted here as an entertainer; when I read my SF stories to the class, even the class bullies were spellbound.
The Ur Jack Commer is early and later experiments that never made it to the published Jack Commer, Supreme Commander series. Included also is high school’s “The Legacy of Jack Commer,” which was probably the real spark of this book. It took me quite some time to hunt down my ancient box of high school essays to find this class assignment that had reverberated over the years. I’d never forgotten it, but upon discovery it wasn’t quite how I’d remembered it.
I’ve left intact the misspellings and strange punctuation of the first stories, though I’d already corrected the 1964 Trip to Mars when I published it as a picture book in 2017. I didn’t start properly italicizing spaceship names until the twenty-first century, but I did that now for all the stories, as it eliminates some confusion.
I’m struck by how close in time the four fifth-grade stories about Jack are: September 1962 to March 1963. Maybe there’s another little picture book to make from those four stories! I’d also assumed that one of the fifth-grade Jack stories was an imaginary one where he died in the end, but that turned out to be another expedition to Jupiter in which a hapless astronaut steps into the Red Spot and dissolves, narrating his death in the first person. But ever-surviving Jack Commer managed to dodge that fate.
We get kid consciousness, in increasing maturity, through the first few stories, up through the abandoned eighth-grade draft of The Martian Marauders. Then “The Martian Holes” showcases my wild, sloppy, but somehow still amusing post-college writing style. The interviews with Jack in “Zorexians” develop a new adult flavor; in addition to finally admitting that he’s way in over his head with the sexy, unattainable Jackie Vespertine, Jack also muses on his long acquaintance with me and critiques my writing procedures.
We conclude with an aborted 1987 attempt to rewrite the eighth-grade version of The Martian Marauders. There were numerous difficulties integrating child and adult consciousness which I didn’t resolve until years later, when I resurrected much of this first dropped chapter and revised the book into a fast-paced adult novel, then wrote a cycle of Jack Commer novels.
- Voyage to Venus, September 1962
- A Voyage to Jupiter, January 1963
- The First Expedition of Saturn, February 1963
- Voyage to Venusian Death, March 1963
- Trip to Mars, Spring 1964
- The Martian Marauders, October 1965-March 1966
- The Legacy of Jack Commer, September 1968
- The Martian Holes, June 1974
- Zorexians, October 1981 – January 1982
- Plot 5, November 1982
- The Martian Marauders, Aborted Draft 2, Chapter 1, January 1987
All words and images copyright by Michael D. Smith