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This was a hardcover book I read in the early 1970's.

The hero was falsely convicted of a crime, and was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. He resists and is knocked unconscious. As he is taken to prison, the guards carry him past a pallet of power cartridges. These are cylinders about the size of a D-cell battery, containing potent atomic fuel encased in a metal called "intertite" (I'm not sure of the spelling) to contain the radiation. Our hero surreptitiously steals a cartridge under the noses of the guards and hides it on his person.

The prison is an underground mine about a mile below the surface. The mine is dome shaped, with the upper part of the dome far too high for the prisoners to reach. This is the location of the only entrance/exit to the mine, with a chamber containing armed guards. The prisoners are dropped from here to the floor of the mine.

The prisoners labor in the mine to extract intertite. If they mine enough that day, the guards will give them food and water. Otherwise the prisoners starve.

Our hero hordes intertite, and uses it to form a crude rocket engine. When it is finished, he take his stolen power cartridge, scratches the base, then inserts it into the engine. The atomic fuel blast with the might of atomic power (which can only be contained by intertite), and our hero clings to the rocket, rides up to the guard post, overpowers the guards, and escapes.

Does this sound familiar?

  • I found an ancient Usenet thread regarding what is clearly the same book: groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.arts.sf.written/4PKYD3n2WgI – Daphne B Feb 24 '16 at 18:53
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    Thanks, but unfortunately "Nyrath" is me. That's how long I've been trying to find the answer. And the Usenet thread came to no conclusion. – Winchell Chung Feb 24 '16 at 19:09
  • Should I bring up the Ogre thing? :) – Organic Marble Feb 24 '16 at 19:13
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    Only if you think it would help. ;) – Winchell Chung Feb 24 '16 at 19:14
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    Very certain it is not Tom Swift. Main character is more like Riddick than like the Hardy Boys. Background was a dystopian future. Besides I have read all the Tom Swift books and they are not the novel in question. – Winchell Chung Feb 25 '16 at 17:44

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