Book Review: Space Prison

Book Cover from Amazon

Space Prison by Tom Godwin


AFTER TWO CENTURIES….The sound came swiftly nearer, rising in pitch and swelling in volume. Then it broke through the clouds, tall and black and beautifully deadly—the Gern battle cruiser, come to seek them out and destroy them. Humbolt dropped inside the stockade, exulting. For two hundred years his people had been waiting for the chance to fight the mighty Gern Empire … with bows and arrows against blasters and bombs!



For a long while, after I got old enough to read big words for myself, my mother would pass books she thought were good to me – Robert Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, for example. Eventually she approved me going into the collection directly and I worked my way through her shelves which included this gem from HER college years – first published in 1958. A book she loved enough to transport from one end of the country to another through at least four different moves.

I loved it too. Massive worldbuilding, MacGyvering, action. I reread it again and again. Now a group of sci-fi classic lovers have uploaded the book for free viewing on Kindle.

Note for the formatting – if you get the free one – it’s free, the page numbers are included in the text and there are a couple-few transcription issues. The overall result is fine though – especially free for a book which only had a 5,000 first run.

I reread the book in 2017, and the worldbuilding still remains amazing. The ecology of Ragnarok from its climate to its animals is breathtaking. Originally titled “The Survivors”, this book makes you feel the hell planet a group of colonists are dumped on by their enemies. The MacGyvering to survive and then thrive remains really cool – gems always have worth. 

Downside for modern times – no female characters of note. The women and children are a background group – dying but essential to survival. Mr. Godwin does show them working along side the men, doing the same sacrifices and more; much more, there are no old child-bearing women. On a 1.5 gravity world where reproduction is as essential as exploration, the explorers will be limited to the men – and those are the ones Mr. Godwin follows. The women stay home and die in childbirth. Not the exciting part of the story for the 1950’s readers. The author never demeans women or says they can’t do what the men can do, but because they can do something the men cannot do they are not a part of the story.

The story follows the colonists and their descendants for 200 years.

The main lacking in this story is character attachment, you sympathize with the characters but don’t empathize. Consider how many people die, not feeling each death personally is a plus. The initial two nights after the colonists arrival on the hell world makes George R.R. Martin’s Red Wedding look sedate.

Still a great worldbuilding story even after 60 years; definitely worth the space on your kindle if you like classic sci-fi.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Eric Flint, in conjunction with Baen Books, has collected many of Tom Godwin’s works into “The Cold Equations” (published 2003), including The Survivors/Space Prison and his famous short story “The Cold Equations”. While not free, like kindle edition linked above, it’s available in paperback so you can have it for your shelves.

SECOND ADDITIONAL NOTE: Side amusement, the cover of Cold Equations is for “Space Prison” story and has a person standing holding a crossbow and unicorn goggles (should be black), with a mocker on the shoulder and two prowlers – but, typical of early sci-fi, the person is a scantily garbed woman.

THIRD ADDITIONAL NOTE: Mr. Godwin did a follow-up to this story. Do not read it. Think Highlander number 2 and hopefully it will eventually disappear off the interwebs.