Dark Dominion by David Duncan. Ballantine Books (1954), 206 pp.
This is the first of three science fiction novels (two set in California) that David Duncan wrote for Ballantine. They are all set in a time close to the present and involve the extension of existing scientific understanding and capability. In this book a five-year project at a secret government base near Big Sur is coming to a close. The project’s goal is to launch a huge, weapon-bearing space station, nicknamed the Black Planet, into polar orbit. Physicist Philip Ambert, the project’s director (and story’s narrator), has no problem with the military purpose of the venture. But he still supports the more theoretical atomic energy experiments of a young colleague, Tom Hernandez, which are yielding unexpected results. Ambert’s largest personnel problem comes in the form of a disgruntled older physicist, Warren Osborn, the supervisor of fuel research. Osborn’s sense of unhappiness is intensified when mathematician Gail Tanager shuns his advances and falls in love with Aaron Matthews, captain of the space station. Ambert needs only to hold everything together for another month or two until lift-off. This is a plot-driven story, so readers can be pretty sure he’ll not have an easy time of it. And it’s science fiction from 1954, so much of what will happen may seem absurdly implausible by today’s standards. His political message, about the baneful effects of science’s involvement with the military, is less out of date.