At BristolCon this year, I harvested some very speculative books from the 'free' table, as well as a couple of gems. One of these was by Clifford D Simak, and was called 'Space Engineers'. What an eye opener.
Simak is one of the 'Golden Age' writers, although the definition of exactly when the golden age was is open to argument. The only thing I could remember reading of his was 'Shakespeare Planet' where a disparate group of travellers, mapping the apparently random star-tunnels, get trapped on a world were the tunnel has no controller. I figured I as in for a similar bet with Space Engineers. Did I ever get a surprise.
Now, I have to admit (slightly shamefacedly) that my first affair with SF involved a gent by the name of E E 'Doc' Smith. He's famous principally for the seven Lensman books, or perhaps the four books of the Skylark series. I lived it. I all but memorised it. Only when I was quite a bit older did I realise that it was the most hackneyed, corny space opera ever written across decades from the '30s to the '60s. Having said he was corny, in 1966 the Lensman series was only beaten out of the World Science Fiction Conventions 'Best All Time Series' by ............ Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series.
So here was the shock. 'Space Engineers' was terrible! Honestly. It was the worst of jingoistic American space opera, mixed with insubstantial science and huge doses of Deus ex machina. It was barely a novella in length, and had cardboard cut-out characters with square jaws and the right stuff, or coming over like a cross Barbara Bain in Space:1999 and Jessica Rabbit.
And still I read it from end to end and enjoyed every moment, spun back through time to a freezing cold bedroom, the blankets propped over my head, reading by torch after lights out and poking my head out when I started to run out of oxygen. Nostalgia is a funny thing.