Pleiades, built by the non-profit Galaxian Society, is Earth’s first starship, and nobody, not even its builders, fully understands how it works. Theory says it should be able to leap instantly from a given point in space to another one somewhere else that’s similar, but whether it will be the similar point closest to starting place or some random one elsewhere in the universe is an open question. The only way to find out is to try it, so the president of the Galaxian Society (a guy named Clee Garlock) and its top engineer, James James, take it out for a test run, hoping they’ll somehow be able to figure out how to get back. It belatedly occurs to the Society that they might have to give up and settle down somewhere Out There, so two women are added to the crew at the last minute. Well, I exaggerate. It’s not the last minute. They actually come aboard at least 5 or 10 minutes before launch.
Clee and James are handsome and muscular men under 30. The women, both about 25, are brilliant scientists. From her description, Belle (who, we later learn, secretly intends to use her sexuality to take over the ship) must not have had time to change after her shift at Hooters. Lola is dressed more modestly (if not by much), in keeping with her role as ship’s virgin.
All these people have more going for them than looks and education. Clee and Belle are the most powerful “psiontists” in the world and James and Lola only a little less capable. All of them can read minds, communicate telepathically, move objects with a thought, and teleport themselves or other people and objects thousands of miles. Empty a handgun at them and they’ll catch the bullets in mid-air and return them to you for recycling, unless they’re in a bad mood and instead teleport your hands off the ends of your arms. (They do that.) On the other hand, assuming you still have one, their powers don’t include an ability to utter believable dialog. And in keeping with the future as seen from 1959, they all smoke every chance they get.
Each crew member has a private cabin, but everything else seems to happen in a presumably smoke-filled gymnasium-size place called Main, which is equipped not only with control panels and viewscreens but also with deep-pile carpeting, a breakfast nook, and multiple large sofas scattered about. At least I assume the “Davenports” referred to are large sofas, since the characters lounge on them and at one point someone hides behind one, but for all I know they’re Davenports in the British sense of small writing desks, or maybe Davenports are where they plug in Daven cables.
Anyway, our protagonists strap in and off they go, quickly finding themselves in some indefinite remote corner of the cosmos next to a planet reasonably like Earth and populated by humans, and I don’t mean just humanoids but what appear to be wholesome chain-smoking Midwesterners, friendly and welcoming to a fault but with a far more liberal attitude toward sex. In fact, the female inhabitants, impressed by handsome guys from out of town driving a sporty muscle spaceship, are very eager to bear the men’s children. The secretary of the planet’s chief executive is first in line and pretty blatant about her intentions. There are also somewhat mysterious four-armed blue-skinned aliens in orbit who handle planetary customs and immigration and apparently live to do favors for humans (but they don’t come on to anybody).
I admit I’m leaving a lot out, but this is the gist of what happens in Chapter I. Later, the pace picks up.
If this sounds like a parody of superscience space opera adventure of the sort Doc Smith was known for, I have a suspicion that he didn’t mean it to be taken entirely seriously. There’s too much here that’s deliberately comic, as when one of the heroines vows that her male crewmate will never get her into his bed except by force, and when he later very gently guides her toward his cabin she points out that three or four dynes* is still technically force.
* Less than the weight of a housefly
I just finished reading it, and it reminds me strongly of The Number of the Beast. I wonder if Heinlein’s women don’t owe a whole lot to Smith’s.