"The Ship From Outside" is a 1963 novella by British-Australian writer A. Bertram Chandler, who wrote over 40 novels and novelas, mostly taking place in the same shared universe. This book was published as an Ace Double, with the other side also being by A. Bertram Chandler.

Are you familiar with this book? Are you familiar with A. Bertram Chandler? Unless you are a devout student of science-fiction, probably not. This book was an Ace Double, meaning it was classic pulp. And not to disparage A. Bertram Chandler, but this anonymity allows us to study the book as a case of an anonymous, average example of old style pulp sci-fi.

The basic history of science-fiction was that, before Frank Herbert, Ursula K Leguin and Phillip K Dick, science fiction was a story of rockets and laser blasters, of square jawed heroes fighting bug eyed aliens to win the hearts of diaphanously clad space princesses, all in stories that were basically Western novels or Cold War espionage stories, reset in space. This is the basic story I compared this story against.

Derek Calver, along with his wife Jane, and a half dozen other crew members, are sailors/astronauts on an interstellar merchant ship plying the Rim of the galaxy, an unfashionable and sometimes poor place where traders sail in older, rickety ships, looking for work. (If this reminds you of Firefly, you aren't alone.) During one of their voyages, they hear rumors that outside of the galactic rim, there is some type of intergalactic artifact. Although usually looking for just his next paycheck, Calver is intrigued and wants to investigate. When an ex-girlfriend, a seductive member of the galactic federation intelligence services shows up, the intrigue grows larger. But do the aliens even exist, and what type of tension will this Quixotic quest raise in his crew?

On several points, this story totally misses the image of what a pulp science-fiction story is. Most notably, the story involves almost no acts of violence, and nothing like a blaster fight is even approached. The aliens that appear in the story are not monsters, but are peaceful trading partners with the humans, with one race being mentioned as having its major trait its philosophical and pedantic nature. And while brave, Calver is described as being much more a man trying to do his job and get along with his crew, than a macho warrior. The biggest thing he fights in the story are disagreements among his crew, planetary bureaucracy, and misfunctioning drive equipment.
The one place where the story really does show its age is in the sexist nature of the story. There are women aboard the ship, but they are usually in lower ranking positions, like supply and communications. One of the major conflicts with his wife comes about because "women want security", and she doubts the need to explore, as well as her jealousy. But even though that seems like a sexist plot, it still is treated as important: the psychological and emotional differences are the heart of the book, rather than a hero commanding everyone around him to do what he wants.

This is just one example, but I would say that even though older science-fiction shows many stereotypical points, that the "stereotypical" space opera as described above is pretty rare: books might have one or two points from the list, but many depart from it in most other respects.

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