More and more I find myself referring back to things I wrote in these episodes and it was becoming increasingly difficult to quickly locate what I was looking for. For a while, I had in mind a master index, and shortly after Episode 25 was released, I also released the first version of the Author Index to the Vacation in the Golden Age. This index has proven very valuable to me since I first created it. It lists all of the authors who have appeared in the Vacation alphabetically, and then includes the list of stories or articles in the order that they appeared with a reference to the issue and Episode. If the story was written under a pseudonym, it will appear under the author’s real name with a reference to the pseudonym. The pseudonyms do appear in the main listing, but will always refer back to the main entry. In addition, I have put in bold any titles that I rated as the best title of the issue.
I plan to add the data for each subsequent issue just before the Episode containing that information goes live. So you will note that all of the stories contained in this episode also appear in the Index. You can use the search feature in your browser to search for a specific name or title when you are on the Author Index page. Over time, I’m hoping to add some additional features to this index to make it a more useful tool, but for now, I’ve kept it pretty simple. Of course, I am open to any suggestions that you might have.
Editorial: Atomic Power vs. Coal
Campbell’s 1-page editorial this month is exactly what it sounds like: a short discussion of atomic power vs. coal as a source of energy. The numbers presented by Campbell are interesting in a historic context but I think they’ve come to be dwarfed by reality and consumption. There are two interesting items about this particular piece worthy of note:
- Campbell predicts (big surprise) that atomic power will ultimately replace the need for coal as far as generating power goes.
- Campbell does not expect our need for coal to go away because of the byproducts of its processing: tar, benzol, toluol, etc.
As Campbell says in his conclusion: “Coal’s dirty stuff–but wonderfully useful, atomic energy or not!”
There are six stories and an article in this issue: two novelettes, three short stories, and part 2 of a serial. The Rogers cover for this issue is a nice one, but not an outstanding one, in my opinion. Indeed, as you’ll see later, it is hard to say what story the cover illustration is for. Certainly not Schachner’s “Jurisdiction.” There is a nice symmetry to the image, with the spaceships leaning on one slant and the clouds on the opposite slant, but the cover does not otherwise stand out for me. Not so for Alva Rogers, who writes:
August was distinguished by one of Rogers’ finest covers, a beautiful painting of steel blue space ships nestling in their launching pads, which illustrated “Jurisdiction” by Nat Schachner.
Really? What scene in the story does it illustrate? I can’t figure it out.
Jurisdiction by Nat Schachner
Blurb: Kerry Dale, sky-lawyer, proves a crook may be smart at sabotage, murder and assorted crime, but it takes a navigator to steal a sky mine!
Nat Schachner seems to have a good thing going in his “space lawyer” stories, of which “Juristication” is the second. We first encountered Kerry Dale in “Old Fireball” (June 1941, Episode 24) as well as his old cantankerous boss Simeon Kenton and the bosses daughter, Sally Kenton. Now Dale has struck out on his own, declining an offer of employment from Kenton and purchasing his own spaceship to act as a salvage around the asteroid belt. The refusal sets Old Fireball in an apoplectic fit. The old man hires a space on board a luxury liner under an assumed name, and his daughter manages to get on board as well.
Meanwhile, Dale, along with his former superior on the Flying Meteor, Gem, are stalking remote parts of the asteroid belt looking for salvage. In contrast to the elegance of the ship on which the Kenton’s are traveling, Dale’s ship leaves something to be desired:
The misnamed Flash rolled and wallowed in space and made loud, complaining noises every time the rockets jetted. It was a tub, rusty and dingy with long years of service, and the odors of suspicious freights clung to the interior in spite of thorough scrubbings. The tubes out of line and gave a wabbling motion. The struts quivered and groaned. The motors pounded and clanked unceasingly. The heavens gyrated and danced little, erratic jogs every time Kerry Dale glued his eyes to the observation telescope.
Eventually, they come upon a ship sending a coded message and after some consideration of the law the listen in on the message and find that it is their old ship, the Flying Meteor, in distress, not far from an asteroid. Thanks to the rants of a dying prospector, they discovered an asteroid made entirely out of thermatite, which supplies energy and is worth lots of money. But pirates knocked them off the asteroid and claimed it for themselves. The rest of the story is a list of legal manipulation and machinery in which Kerry Dale manages to acquire claim to the asteroid and at the same time, impress Simeon Kenton once again while winning a date with his daughter, Sally.
This is a fun story that I can see fans of the time really enjoying. A kind of rollercoaster ride that combines action with legal manipulations. And I had fun reading it. But there were two flaws for me.
First, as Dale understood the law, you are not supposed to listen into private messages unless you think the ship sending the message is in distress–he quotes some legal precedent for this. They opt to listen in, but it is clear from the narrative that Kerry is using this as an excuse to listen in–they don’t actually know if the ship is in distress and until they find out for sure, they are using the law in a way that was not intended. It seems a little underhanded to me, which doesn’t jive with Kerry Dale’s character.
My second problem with the story is similar to something that Campbell once said about science fiction and mystery. He said the two could never work together because you could always invent some technology to solve the mystery. I don’t necessarily buy that, but in the case of this story, it seemed that Nat Schachner was inventing legal precedent that worked for the story, as opposed to translating or projecting the law of the 1940s into a future environment. The precedent and law he quotes always fit nicely the situation that his characters find themselves in. It is too convenient.
That said, it was still a fun read. I like the characters and I look forward to seeing how the relationship between Kerry Dale and Sally Kenton progresses–and what Old Fireball has in store for our hero next.
One side-note related to the story. “Jurisdiction” was the lead novelette in Astounding this month and it was my understanding that the lead story typically gets the cover. Indeed, the only words beside the magazine title and date on the cover are “Jurisdiction by Nat Schachner”. However, the cover illustration is clearly, by Huber Rogers, is clearly not for this story. It appears to be a second cover for Robert Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children”
Meteor Legacy by Raymond Z. Gallun
Blurb: There was a strange sort of seed that rode the meteor, and under the right conditions, it produced a stranger sort of–plant!
It has been a while since I’ve come across a Raymond Gallun story (“The Long Winter”, May 1940, Episode 11), and when I started “Meteor Legacy” I thought, oh, here we go again with the “intelligent plants” story. But this story surprised me. It was a good story about “intelligent plants” but it treated the plants like true aliens (as opposed to vegetation) and was grounded in good scientific process (if not good science). The story was about Tom Simms, an old man who lived alone in the desert and liked to tinker, and his friend (and story narrator), Hal Chester. Tom had discovered a meteor in the desert and within the meteor, he found some seeds which after some trial and error, he was able to grow in a specialized greenhouse of his own construction. The greenhouse simulated the chemical environment from which the alien seeds came. How those seeds even managed to survive was well considered:
Plenty that made the thought of seeds or spores kept alive in a meteor, that had perhaps drifted for ages from interstellar space before it had reached the Earth, seem simple and commonplace. After all, life is rugged, and the absolute zero of the void should be an excellent agent to preserve things completely intact and changeless. And being embedded deep in clay in the cracks of the meteor, the seeds would not have been exposed to the terrific surface heat of friction, when the thing that bore them had plunged into Earth’s atmosphere.
Tom takes his friend inside the greenhouse to demonstrate how these plant-like creature are intelligent. They plugged a hole that allowed the outside atmosphere to seep in, for instance. They had tiny fibers that the men assumed to be a kind of chemical factory through which the plant-creatures could detect and effect their environment. Hal gets jabbed by one of the plants. When he leaves, he wants to tell the world about this discovery, but soon, he finds himself reluctant–and realizes that it has something to do with the drug the plant injected into him. It is more than a month before he returns, and Tom is nowhere to be found. There are some strange things inside the greenhouse, including scraps of Tom’s clothing and Hal is certain the plants have killed him. He burns down the greenhouse, only to have his buddy come running up behind him, asking what he’s doing! Hal explains and then Tom explains that the plants saved his life. He was inside the greenhouse and had a heart attack–and they saved him. Indeed, Tom, although 70, now looks and feels like an 18-year old.
The story was well written, not overly cliche, and part of the reason is that, while the men treated the plants with caution, they did not treat them as monsters–clearly Campbell’s influence. There are logical explanations for everything happening, and the men–rather than leaping to wild conclusions, except at the end when Hal reasonably fears that Tom is dead–try to puzzle out the answers instead of making wild and unfounded guesses.
As I said, this story surprised me. It exceeded my expectations and that is always a good thing.
Klystron Fort by William Corson
Blurb: The Klystron forts weren’t comfortable or diverting places, so the boys had to get a pet–a pet whale. The only trouble with having a pet whale in wartime was that it could be mistaken for a submarine–and vice versa.
It is interesting to me that, despite knowing much more about what’s beneath the surface of the ocean, I see few stories today that focus on stations and bases down there. Yet, in the early 1940s, we’ve already encountered at least three: “Rim of the Deep” by Clifford D. Simak (May 1940, Episode 11); “Crisis In Utopia, Parts 1 & 2″ by Normal L. Knight (July and August 1940, Episodes 13 and 14); and now, “Klystron Fort” by William Corson.
The story centers around the occupants of one of many Klystron forts that sit at the bottom of the ocean, looking out for enemy ships. They have adopted a pet whale, whom they call Gypsy Rose. There is some amusing dialog, but it was a little difficult for me to tell what this story was about. At one level, there were elements of technology in use for defense during a state of war, something that would certainly be on the minds of many of the readers of the time, when rumors of German u-boats patrolling the U.S. coast were abound. And yet the story seemed to focus very much on the details of the routine of life in the fort. There was lots of sleeping, and waking up in the middle of the night to check on signals being received.
I made one surprise discovery in the story. In describing the complexities of using television in their patrols, Lieutenant Clark says, “but–you know how it is–bugs in all these Goldberg inventions–”
The reference to “Goldberg inventions” did not surprise me, but the use of “bugs” did. I’d always thought it was first used in the sense of a defect in the 1950 or 1960s. Turns out, after some checking, that its earliest use in this sense was the mid-to-late 1800s. Apparently even Thomas Edison was aware of and used the term.
Then there was this reference, which amused me: “Twenty three big ‘waves’ coming our way, indeed! If that’ll fool anybody, I’m Mickey Rooney.” First, I supposed that this story was taking place some time in the future and so that contemporary reference to Rooney is a little out of place. But what amused me even more is that even in 1941 science fiction, Rooney was popular enough to gain mention. At the time of this writing, he is still alive and kicking. I wonder if he knows about this reference from 70 years ago. Would he be amused by it?
Methuselah’s Children, Part 2 by Robert Heinlein
Blurb: Part two of three parts. The tale of a race of long-lived humans, driven out by the hates and envies that the normal, short-lived, feel–
My experience over these last 25 issues of Astounding is that when a serial appears, the first part is the lead story and subsequent parts are usually the last item in the issue. So it was strange to encounter part 2 of “Methuselah’s Children” spanning the middle 45 pages of the magazine. I’d have expected it to be at the end. On the other hand, I’m glad it was in the middle. I read the issues serially and that meant I didn’t have to wait very long to get to read this next installment of Heinlein’s famous novel.
In part 2 of “Methuselah’s Children” we find the conspiracy progressing: the members of the Families are corralled by the authorities of Earth, but that is actually a sham to help get them off the planet. Lazarus Long purchases an old ship to ferry the members up to the starship sitting in orbit that they will use to leave Earth behind and find a new home. They pull this off, with no small sacrifice. Administrator Ford, who is in on the plot, is found out and voted out of office. He manages to catch a private vessel to the New Frontiers and is admitted as a passenger, despite being a short-lived human. The ship then plunges toward the sun, and using a seemingly simple device invented by Andrew Jackson Libbey, slingshots around and is accelerated to within a fraction of the speed of light. Using a rotation of hibernation, life on the ship progresses until they find a star with an earth-like planet. And it turns out the planet is populated with intelligent life–the Jockaira with whom the new human settlers attempt to get along.
There is a lot to talk about in this story and it is difficult to figure out where to begin. First, there are some connections with other stories in Heinlein’s Future History that I seemed to miss in Part 1. Part 2 mentions the lost starship Vanguard, which is of course the generation starship from “Universe” (May 1941, Episode 23). Then, too, Andrew Jackson Libbey is the “misfit” from the story of the same title, “Misfit” (November 1939, Episode 5). I don’t know how I failed to mention that in part 1.
I am really enjoying “Methuselah’s Children” and in thinking about why, I’ve come to realize that it’s because Heinlein doesn’t focus on one specific trope of science fiction but takes two or three and melds them together well. In this instance, he combines longevity and travel to the stars, and the relationship between the two is actually meaningful. I don’t see this type of thematic approach very much today, but one current writer who does this well is Robert J. Sawyer. (His novel, Rollback, involved extended life and communication with aliens.) Heinlein then uses the world he has built to explore all of the interesting facets of these tropes. And rather than making it one-sided, Heinlein (through Lazarus Long) does a good job exploring the flip side of these tropes. For instance, while the mass of humanity wants the long life of the Families, Lazarus Long, who has lived a long life, is more philosophical:
It scared him a little. He had once been told, and had been inclined to credit, that a loss of interest in living marked the true turning point in the balance between catabolism and anabolism–old age. He suddenly envied the normal short-lived people. At least they could go make nuisances of themselves to their children. Filial affection was not customary among the Families; it was not a feasible relationship to maintain for a century or more.
And there are subtle ways in which Heinlein illustrates the wisdom gained from long life, such as Long’s reflection that “he had very little faith in machinery that he had not personally overhauled.” Clearly Long had learned his lesson, possibly more than once, in the dim mists of his past.
What further impressed me is that of all of the stories I’ve read thus far in this Vacation, part 2 of “Methuselah’s Children” comes closest to making a good faith effort at real science when it comes to space travel. Throughout the middle of the story, Heinlein has scattered passages that would probably past muster with hard science fiction fans today, if one makes exceptions for what we knew about space travel in the 1940s. Many of the considerations that are often ignored in stories are taken up by Heinlein: how the ship produces energy, gravity; orbital maneuvers as opposed to flying “directly to” a destination:
Down, down, down toward the Sun, with a speed increasing by sixty-four feet per second for every second elapsed. Down, and still down, for fifteen endless hours of double weight. They had traveled seventeen million miles and reached the inconceivable speed of six hundred and forty miles per second.
Compare that “inconceivable” speed (approximately 3/10th of 1 percent of the speed of light) to the speeds we find in Smith’s stories and other stories where travelling to the next galaxy is as easy as pointing the nose of the ship thataway. And of course, Heinlein does this in his usual entertaining way, by giving real voice to his characters. In what might be considered by some a rather dry discussion of the law of conservation of energy, we have Lazarus Long (trying desperately to follow along) saying:
“Where I went to school they taught me to honor the flag, vote the straight party ticket, and believe in the law of conservation of energy”
Lines like that make Lazarus the memorable character that he is.
There are some techniques used that modern readers might grow a little impatient with. Once such technique is what I will call “hand waving.” Heinlein is not the only one who does it. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again, especially in some of Asimov’s Foundation stories. Essentially, it is when a character is said to “run off to perform some tasks” or something similar and we later find out that those tasks were a key to solving the problem at hand. It is an attempt to keep things off stage, keep things from the reader, while demonstrating that the author had a solution mind throughout the story. Heinlein does it in a few places in “Methuselah’s Children.”
So far, this has to be one of the better stories in terms of well-rounded science fiction that I have encountered in this Vacation, and I am eagerly awaiting to read the concluding part in the September 1941 issue.
Prelude to Engineering by Willy Ley
Blurb: When does an act become the use of tools as distinct from the use of a specially evolved limb or attachment? When does engineering begin–is a beaver an engineer or simply an animal following an instinctive pattern? A fact article on animal engineering.
Willy Ley is back with an interesting article on the kinds of ways in which animals use tools. He begins by distinguishing tools that are separate objects and tools that are evolved as part of the creature itself (making them specialized). Humans, obviously are not specialized in this sense (aside from our brains). He then goes on to talk about all of the different ways in which animals are “engineers” from termites building their nests, to bird nests and other types of building.
Much of what is in this article is common knowledge today and much of it has been improved upon through embedded studies over the last seventy years. But what I found most interesting about this article is the style in which it was written, beginning with the very simple, breaking things down in logical way and then proceeding down each line of reasoning and example. It looks very much like what Isaac Asimov would do with his own science essays a decade later and shows the influence that someone like Ley had on Asimov’s non-fiction; just as Simak had a similar influence on his fiction.
Biddiver by Theodore Sturgeon
Blurb: Biddiver was a little man who got rich, got drunk, got into the wrong “automobile” and–because it wasn’t an automobile, but something else–got changed!
Sturgeon’s latest story, “Biddiver” is an odd one, perhaps his strangest story yet. It is really two intertwined stories. First there is the story of two brothers, Eric and Budd, rich villains both of them. And like all villains they can trust no one, not even one another. Budd attempts to blackmail Eric. He wants in on some of Eric’s action and he has brought along a little gift: a super car. The car is a “Carrington ’78″ and in it is disguised an ultimate weapon. The car needs to fuel. It can produce everything its occupants need. It can travel at the speed of light. There is virtually nothing it cannot do. However, it has not yet been fitted to protect against the harsh radiation of space. This is where Budd would like some of Eric’s help–to get his engineers working on the problem. With a vehicle like this, the brothers could virtually rule the universe!
It is also the story of Biddiver, a working class man who has suddenly inherited a large sum of money. He drives to the same resort where the brothers are, and naturally, Biddiver drives a Carrington ’78. He proceeds to get drunk and then hit the road. Only–you guessed it–he gets into the wrong car.
Biddiver is transformed in this story into a physical manifestation of an evil villain that the two brothers are trying to pretend to be: The Fang. Because the car is not protected from radiation, when Biddiver takes it (drunkenly) into space, the radiation penetrates him and changes him:
Biddiver was quite dead now, if death is complete loss of personality, of human hopes and dreams and desires. There was another at the controls, certainly, one who moaned and gibbered and mewed at the stars spread about him, one who snatched and pawed at the sensitive, unprotesting controls before him. But it was not Biddiver, any more than the car itself was the ores and gases and fluids from which it was fabricated.
He goes on to seek out his strange revenge against the brothers, making them into what he is. What I found most odd about the story is that the style of writing seemed tongue-in-cheek at times, and verged on childish at other times. It was hard to tell what to take seriously in the story and what to laugh at. Was this an early, more amateur work that Sturgeon could now get published? Or was this an attempt to stylistically distance himself (and to some extent, make fun of) the typical Campbell stories. It’s hard to imagine it being the latter because he’d have to slip it by Campbell to make it such–and yet, there is a subtlety to the story that makes it seem just possible.
I’m not particularly fond of this story, but I applaud Sturgeon’s effort to tell it the way that he did.
Backlash by Jack Williamson
Blurb: Sometimes it isn’t the best possible idea to go back in time and have your enemy killed. That can make things even worse–
Jack Williamson’s second story in this Vacation is an interesting, if somewhat melodramatic, story about oppression, tyranny and the tragedy of cause and effect. The Yellow Guards, led by a man named Levin have taken over the world and run it as a tyranny, oppressing all others. When the story opens, we see the rescue from a prison camp of Nadya Stanislav, daughter of a Russian scientist who works for the resistance, known as the Pantechnion. The Pantechnicon is a secret group of people attempting to preserve science and culture beyond the ultimate demise of civilization. Or as described in the story:
A scientific Shangri La, to be a lamp of culture through the dark ages ahead… Vaults are cut in the mountain under our feet… they are filled with the books that Levin has been burning. Our museums contain all the art treasures and scientific equipment we’ve had time to gather.
If that sounds eerily like the ostensible purpose of the first Foundation in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation stories, I’ll remind my readers that we are still eight or nine months before we arrive at that first Foundation story–so Williamson was there first, even if Asimov took the story to its logical and ultimate conclusion.
The main thrust of “Backlash” is over the ethical problem: if you had the opportunity to stop a tyrant like Levin before he ever became a tyrant, would you do it? And to add to the melodrama of the story, we learn that Levin was not always “bad”; that in his youth, he was trying to escape oppression himself and was nearly gunned down in his attempts, watching his uncle die before his eyes. But suppose you had a device that could reach back into time and force the bullet that skimmed the young Levin’s head, wounding him, to center its mark and kill him instead. Would you do it?
After very little moral debate, the rebels decide to go through with the plan and they successfully use Dr. Stanislav’s invention to reach back into time and see to it that the bullet aimed for the young Levin takes his life. But this has unexpected consequences. For no sooner does that happen that the remaining survivors of the Pantechnicon find that a virus has killed just about everyone on the planet. And tracing back the cause of the virus, they find it was invented by a man who witnessed the seemingly senseless assassination of the young Levin, trying to make his escape.
Irony aside, it seems to me that as a thought experiment, this story had to have come out of some consideration of Hitler and what had now been going on in Europe for three years. Levin was likely an attempt to put a human face on a Hitler-like dictator and ask the question, would it be better if we could go back in time and kill Hilter before he got started? How many lives would be saved if not for his madness? It is an interesting question that is pursued to a much greater extent in the years immediately following the Second World War. In the case of “Backlash” I felt that the story was loosely built around this premise and that because of that it felt less like a science fiction story and more like a philosophical exercise.
I enjoyed Nelson S. Bond’s “Magic City” (February 1941, Episode 20). Indeed I thought it was the best story in that issue. Reader response, however, was mixed. I was glad, therefore, to see a letter in the Brass Tacks column from a Mr. William Bradner, Jr. who also liked the story:
The reader response to Nelson Bond’s “Magic City” came as a distinct shock to me. I found it one of the finest in a year of fine stories… There is a power in that story, based as it is on the universal striving of man to understand and conquer disease and death. And there is quiet, satisfying humor in the half-understood names of places and things; the innocent false association of ideas.
Also in the column is a very length letter by a Mr. Franklyn Brady in Beverly Hills who responds with his own “solution” to Anson MacDonald’s (Robert Heinlein’s) “Solution Unsatisfactory” (May 1941, Episode 23). His solution is far too lengthy and convoluted to report here, but what I found amusing was Campbell’s response:
MacDonald, a first-rate scientist is also a professional politician. His opinions are scientifically accurate. He has performed the actual experiment of doing some actual administrating instead of simply arguing about it.
Of course, Campbell is talking about Heinlein, but really? A first rate scientist? Maybe I’m missing something but I would never have thought of Heinlein as such. Politician, maybe, but not scientist.
I’d note that there were a few book reviews in this issue, two by de Camp and the third by Campbell. The books being reviewed?
- How Came Civilization? by Lord Raglan (1939) reviewed by de Camp.
- The Lungfish and the Unicorn by Willy Ley mispelled Wiley Ley in the review) also reviewed by de Camp.
- The Books of Charles Fort reviewed by Campbell
Analytical Laboratory and Ratings
Here are the ratings for the June 1941 issue:
|1. A Matter of Speed||Harry Bates||1.66||7|
|2. Old Fireball||Nat Schachner||3.25||1|
|3. Time Wants a Skeleton||Ross Rocklynne||3.50||5|
|4. Artnan Process||Theodore Sturgeon||3.66||3|
|5. Devil’s Powder||Malcolm Jameson||4.40||2|
Recall that I couldn’t get through Bates’ story but I guess a lot of people like it quite a bit because it score a cut above everything else in the issue.
Here are my ratings for the present (August 1941) issue:
- Methuselah’s Children, Part 2 by Robert Heinlein
- Jurisdiction by Nat Schachner
- A Meteor Legacy by Raymond Z. Gallun
- Backlash by Jack Williamson
- Biddiver by Theodore Sturgeon
- Klystron Fort by William Corson
I’d say that in this issue, “Methuselah’s Children” was a cut above the other five stories and that “Juristiction” was a cut above the four below it in my ratings so that the issue was a fairly uneven one in terms of the quality of the stories. What surprises me is to find Sturgeon and Williamson in that lower four.
In Times To Come
When I started this Vacation there were two pieces of fiction that I really looked forward to rereading and writing about, both by Isaac Asimov. The first was “Nightfall” and the second are the “Foundation” stories. Next month, we get to see Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall” which Campbell plugs by presenting the Emerson quote on which the story was based. Also in the next issue is Alfred Bester’s “Adam and No Eve” and, of course, the conclusion of Robert Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children.” We are deeply immersed in the Golden Age with issues filled with classics like these.
See you back here in two weeks.