If you grow up in modern society, affluent enough not only to be exposed to multiple books during your formative years but to be encouraged to read them, you will eventually run across science fiction. How and when you do so may determine if or when you take up the chase of the future it represents. If you grew up an English reader in the United States and were of formative reading age in the 1960s through the 1980s, your first exposure to Science Fiction might have been through a strange character named Matthew Looney.

Matthew Looney was a boy, growing up like you might have been. He had a sister named Maria. He had a father who worked in the garbage disposal industry; he had a mother whose cooking he adored, and he had a famous uncle in the military who was a hero to the whole world.

Not our world.

Matthew Looney lived on the Moon. Our moon. Luna. Yep. His uncle, Admiral Lockhard Looney, was one of the commanders of the Lunar Navy, which Matthew aspired most desperately to one day join despite his father's hope he would go on to the family business. That meant the Powder Works where waste was ground up into powder used for filling in craters and crevices in the Moon's surface, since it wouldn't decay.

Matthew and his family and their fellow Loonites breathed vacuum, much as we breath air. They could breathe air, but after a while it made them ill, and they needed to get some good clean vacuum back in their lungs from handy vacuum tanks. Um, okay, we never said the science was good. Their technology seemed based around vulcanism - they used solar pistols which fired lava pellets, and their planet-wrecker weapons were called Lava-Four bombs.

There were four books about Matthew, and three about his sister Maria. The first was released in 1961 in hardback. All were written by Jerome Beatty, Jr. and illustrated by Gahan Wilson in a charmingly eccentric fashion. Matthew himself looked much like an anthropomorphized turnip, with a small sprout of hair at the top of a large misshapen head. Lockhard was mostly heroic chin. One of the common traits Wilson's characters shared was enormous, expressive eyes - which was handy, because when Matthew was wearing a spacesuit (um, why, if he breathed vacuum? It wasn't made clear) all you could really see of his turniphead was his eyes and forehead.

The stories were aimed at young readers, perhaps 6-10 years old. They were published by Avon books, and consisted of the following:

Matthew ended up in the Navy right quick - a Commander himself, eventually, in charge of mighty and strange spacecraft named things like Feebey. Shepherding colonists to a strange new planet despite unexpected detours to Australia, getting stranded on Earth and being shanghaied into the U.S. space program, all of these were in a book's worth for Matt. Along the way, he met his nemesis, U.S. Government agent/astronaut Wiley Kalmuck.

Maria took over the series eventually as her brother achieved rank in the Navy and his adventures grew a bit too grand and far-ranging for the young readers to stay with - as there were no more worlds to conquer, one might say.

The Matthew Looney books were wildly amusing as one got older - but their sheer silliness didn't prevent a secret longing for Matt's AGM and the ability to visit a strange and complex society living on the Moon's surface. If you have kids you want to draw into the notion of a world that exists within a book that they haven't thought of themselves, these are a wonderful place to start.

SciFiQuest 2106!