Cover illustration by H. Kane
When lovely Nurse Pamela West was assigned to Lattimer Air Force Base to be part of the government’s space-training program, she realized that her new work would be both complex and demanding. Pam worked hand in hand with the first eight astronauts as they went through their rigorous training. The chief doctor on the base, tall handsome Steve Forrester was assisted by Sybil Paige, a very attractive young woman. Pam had a great deal of admiration for Dr. Forrester, but she was also aware of Sybil Paige’s hostility, although she could not understand it. Then someone warned her: “Don’t get involved with Steve Forrester. Others have and got nothing but trouble…”
“Hey, angel, I’m ready to orbit anytime if heaven has gorgeous dolls like you waiting.”
“Whenever I stick a pin into you, I draw ice water instead of blood!”
“Other gals have made cow-eyes at the guy before—and got nothing but a hatful of trouble.”
“Delia looked wonderful—in spite of the fact that in a few weeks, the wife of the astronaut was due to ‘launch’ her third child.”
“She’s thirty-five, an old maid, and always will be.”
“His brief smile sent a glow of happiness through Pamela, from the top of her primly starched nurse’s cap down to the tips of her neatly shod feet.”
“I know I’m not supposed to burden him with my feminine foolishness.”
“It was good to have decisions made for her, she thought, as she snuggled down in the red leather bucket seat.”
Pamela West is a lovely blonde from Connecticut when she lands at Lattimer Air Force Base, where she is to take up a new position packed with “the glamour and thrills of space nursing.” Not that she’ll actually be working in space, mind you—girls don’t go into outer space, silly!—but she’s assisting with some vague tests involving oscillators and G-force simulators on eight men who are being groomed for two spots on a spaceship that will soon be orbiting Earth.
She’s arrived with a broken heart, as her fiancé was killed in a plane crash, apparently just a month ago. But lo, upon arriving in Arizona, she meets Col. Dr. Steve Forrester, and meets up with Barney Steele, the man who talked her and Johnny out of eloping a week before his fatal crash and coincidentally is now one of the astronaut candidates. But she’s not had her first shower after arriving on base before “curious excitement stirred her. It wasn’t just that Steve was tall or handsome or competent and admirable in his profession. It was something chemical, perhaps—or something magical, induced by the spangled desert sky that reeled overhead.” And less than a week later, she decides she’s in love with the man—and is fighting for her career against the sabotage of Dr. Sybil Paige, the lady doctor who’s trying to get her own hooks into the doc. Steve does have something to say on the matter, however, and takes Pamela out on a horseback ride into the desert and kisses her. “What do you feel, Pam?” he asks her. “Is it what I feel, too?” It is, to be sure, but she tells him that she’s afraid that her involvement with him will jeopardize her career. He says he understands how she feels—and then, back at the base, gives her the cold shoulder for a week.
She’s upset, of course, and feels that she’s ruined her chances with Steve. But there’s Barney Steele to date in the meantime, even though she thinks of him only as a friend. Soon, however, he is blaring to the entire base that Pamela is “his girl,” and Steve is shooting Pamela cold looks. But out of the blue, he asks her to go on a picnic in the desert again, and this time, when he tells her, “I don’t want to take the chance on being rebuffed again,” the sly fox answers, “Try me.” Before he has the opportunity to do so, however, a jet plane crashes half a mile from them, and they have to hike up to the wreck to save the pilot. Steve has a bad leg, though, left over from an accident in his early Navy days, so it’s up to Barney Steele, flown in on the rescue helicopter, to climb down into the canyon to pull the man out. His heroics are somehow leaked to the press, along with the news that Pamela is his fiancée. So it’s back to fish eyes from Steve, and Pamela is sure she’s lost him for good now, because she couldn’t possibly go tell the man that it’s not true. “She wanted to tell him, but how could she do it in the face of his strange bitterness? She could hardly throw herself at him, could she? What value would he place on her love then?”
So she decides to request a transfer off the base and goes to Dr. Sybil Paige who, curiously, is in charge of such things. But at the last minute, Pamela, burning with inner patriotism, says that her work on the space mission is more important that her shattered little heart and tears up her transfer request. In the face of such devotion to career and man, Sybil admits that she has given up her quest to capture Steve—“Don’t be sorry,” she tells Pamela, “my work is enough for me. It will have to be, it seems”—and that’s all it takes for Pamela to chase Steve into the garden and fling herself at him, after all. Then it’s a quick proposal from Steve, accompanied by a little shared wonderment for their mission: “You and I, Pam, can help man in his final effort to break loose from the bonds of earth that have kept man a prisoner for so many, many ages!” Steve gushes. “Our part in it is small, but we can be useful, we can do what we can to help.”
This is easily one of the campiest books I have read in quite some time, and I laughed (or snorted) starting with the first sentence: “The hot desert sun, Pamela West thought, burned as relentlessly as the determination in each of the eight carefully chosen astronaut candidates.” And the gems keep popping up at regular intervals: “Clinging to past memories was selfish in the face of the excitement of conquering space,” “the singing in her heart could not be denied,” “it was too late for dreams.” But I just couldn’t bring myself to really like the book. Pamela does not win my respect for abandoning her feelings for her dead boyfriend so quickly—indeed, like most VNRN heroines, she decides that it wasn’t really true love at all—and likewise I cannot trust that her instant devotion to Steve after one week really is the be-all that she thinks it is. I’m not impressed, either, by her refusing to talk to Steve one minute and then rushing to him the next. And there are a lot of loose ends in the book—an astronaut’s wife virtually crippled by anxiety, the question of who leaked the story of Pamela’s alleged engagement to Barney to the press, a psychiatrist’s repeated requests that Pamela share with him her opinions on the fitness of the candidates for the mission—that are summarily abandoned as the next plot twist hoves over the hot desert horizon. I was surprised to find that Ruth Ives is the same author who brought us Congo Nurse, the first review I ever posted to this blog (while this review is my 201st, if you’re counting), as I don’t recall much amusing in that book beyond the New York socialite arriving in Africa with an iron lung. But my impression of that book, that I couldn’t bring myself to care for the characters and found the ending to be too perfunctory, holds true for this one. The camp factor is off the charts in Navy Nurse, and this alone makes it worth reading, but it won’t be winning any VNRN awards.