I remember having had a collection of science fiction shorts in the 80s that contained a story about space cadets being sent to space for the first time in a solar sailing vessel.

The instructor is rumoured to be mad and appears to be constantly drunk. He tells the cadets that he was foretold that he would die in space and that this would be his final journey, if I recall correctly.

Things keep breaking and eventually it turns out that the instructor had deliberately broken or removed crucial equipment in order to test the cadets.

I can't remember the author or title of the story or the anthology I read it in.


1 Answer 1


This sounds very much like a novelette by Jack Vance called Gateway to Strangeness (known as alternatively as Sail 25 and Dust of Far Suns), first published in 1962.

As the OP recalls, it details the misadventures of a crew of cadets on a solar sailing vessel, the Sail 25, one of the earliest appearances of solar sailing vessels in SF magazines. Wikipedia gives a nice summary:

Eight space trainees apprehensively await their new instructor, Henry Belt. Despite the many strange and outrageous stories they have heard about him, including his legendary drunkenness, one of them notes that all of the top men in space seem to have trained under him...

Belt first gives some of the cadets an impossible task to do, and in frustration two of them resign. The remaining six cadets go on the voyage:

However, a mistake repairing a malfunctioning computing device causes them to miss their rendezvous, first with Mars, then with Jupiter. No other planet whose gravity could halt their outward flight (their solar sail can only propel them away from the Sun) is within reach. Belt dismantled their radio and the box of spare parts turns out to contain Belt's whiskey, so they cannot call for rescue. It seems that they are doomed. One man commits suicide, while two others become catatonic. Henry Belt insists that he is fated to die in space and offers no way out of their predicament.

The three remaining men eventually come up with a way to return safely to Earth. As they prepare to debark, spare parts for the computing device mysteriously appear.

The complete story is available form the Internet Archive, in the August 1962 edition of Amazing Stories. If you read it in an anthology in the 1980s, it was quite possibly The Seven Deadly Sins of Science Fiction.

  • 1
    Sail 25 would have been my answer as well...
    – Alith
    Jun 16, 2022 at 11:05
  • Yes, you nailed it! Jun 16, 2022 at 14:38
  • If I remember right, Vance was commissioned to write that story about an existing cover painting.
    – user14111
    Jun 16, 2022 at 18:48

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