Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 34: April 1942

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The beginning of the month is always a fun time. These days, a number of the science fiction magazines to which I subscribe send out their electronic version on the first of the month. (Interestingly, I still receive Analog and Asimov’s two-to-three months ahead of their cover date. Thus, I already have the May Analog and April Asimov’s.) When I get a new issue, the very first thing I do is skim the contents page to see if there are any of those authors I truly admire listed. Today, it’s authors like Jack McDevitt and Connie Willis and Robert Silverberg and Joe Haldeman and Nancy Kress  and Barry Malzberg whose names I look out for. I also look for those writers whom I know personally. I carefully review the contents page and then turn to the “Coming Attractions” department to see who will be appearing in the coming months. Sometime, the anticipation of knowing that a new Barry Malzberg or Connie Willis story is on the way is as exciting as the anticipation leading up to a vacation.

I can only imagine that fans in the 1940s felt the same way. When the latest issue arrived at the local newsstand, or in their mail box, they’d open it up and turn at once to the contents page, looking down the line to see if the issue contained any stories by Heinlein or Asimov, de Camp or del Rey, Jameson or Hubbard. And upon seeing their favorite authors with stories in the issue, they’d then turn to that story and start reading at once, delighted at the notion that there was something brand new by one of these writers. Of course, not every story by a favorite writer is a good one, but there is a kind of quantum state that is formed, the moment when you turn to a new story by a favorite writer but have not yet read it. Will it be a good one? Will it become a classic, a story that fans will talk about for years or decades?

It is impossible for me to wonder this with stories that appear in this Vacation. But I sometimes read a story today, a novella like Ken Liu’s “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” and wonder, will this story be talked about 70 years from now as a classic of the genre, in the same way that Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children” or Asimov’s “Nightfall” is spoken about today? Can we really recognize a classic when it first appears, or does time and criticism make it a classic?

Editorial: Too Good at Guessing

Campbell’s 1-page editorial this month touches on the sensitive subject of military secrets and science fiction. Campbell wonders whether, during a time of war, science fiction writers, who are often apt at guessing uses of future technology, should be making those guesses after all. Put another way, should science fiction writers be self-censoring in the same way that scientists were self-censoring about work on the atomic bomb?

Campbell quotes one of his writers (not by name):

Good science fiction is apt to contain some pretty accurate guesses. I’m doing research work of a restricted, confidential nature; other men in my lab are doing other secret work. If I write a story and, on the basis of my technical background, guess reasonably accurately, I may describe something one of those other men is actually developing. There would naturally be a feeling that it was a leakage of secret material. I’d like to write–but I’m afraid I might guess right. I’d better not.

This brings to mind the incident that will take place just a few Vacation-years from now, when Cleve Cartmill’s “Deadline” appears in the March 1944 Astounding. The story describes, with a fair degree of accuracy, an atomic explosion; accurate enough that federal agents paid a visit to the Street & Smith offices. Eventually, the matter was dropped.

While science fiction has predictive value, it is not about predicting the future. It is about exploring possible futures and how changes in technology affect humanity. I think Campbell gives science fiction (and science fiction writers) too much credit here. They are, after all, writing fiction, however realistic or possible it may seem. Any potential leak can easily be cast in that light. Campbell argues that in the short term science fiction writers should probe the distant future as opposed to near future because any far off inventions will seem less real. I think this is a silly argument, and indeed, the Cartmill incident demonstrates that even Campbell did not always follow his own advice.

Beyond This Horizon– (Part 1) by Anson MacDonald

Blurb: The theme is old–controlled heredity. But in a way only MacDonald could achieve, this two-part novel presents a full-view picture of the world that would result from such a change.

The April issue opens with part 1 of a 2-part serial by Anson MacDonald–who we all know as Robert Heinlein–called “Beyond This Horizon–”. Campbell played this one up a bit, but in this case, so far through part 1, the story meets all of the praise he lavished upon it. Reading “Beyond This Horizon–” in the April issue was my very first time reading this particular Heinlein story. The only difference between me and contemporary readers is that I know MacDonald is Heinlein and that slants my view of what is contained in the story. And what is contained is Heinlein at his best to-date.

The story takes place on an Earth where genetic control has eliminated most of human suffering, and better economic control has eliminated whatever suffering was left. The hero of the story is Hamilton Felix, a rich man of seeming leisure, who made his fortune inventing games of chance and selling them off through an agent. He is also among the finest genetic stock, but has no interesting whosoever in having children because he believes that in the grand scheme of things, there is no purpose to life. Felix is friends with another man, Monroe-Alpha Clifford, a mathematics genius with whom Felix spends some of his time cavorting. Being in the position he is in, Felix is being pulled in several directions. First, he is being gently pushed by his Moderator of Genetics, Mordan. Mordan urges Felix to have children in order to continue his fine genetic line. He offers a possible mate in Longcourt Phyllis. Felix doesn’t show much of an interest, by Phyllis is not your typical woman and she manages to get under Felix’s skin. At the same time, Felix has managed to accidentally infiltrate a group of rebels who plan to overthrow the current regime and replace it with a genetics program of their own–one that is much more in line with what we’ve come to expect of the Nazis. Felix reports this to Mordan and acts as a double-agent. As he is pushed and pulled in various directions, we find that part 1 concludes with the “Survivors Club” getting ready to make their big move. Felix has discovered that Monroe-Alpha is one of their members and Felix himself has been ordered to kill Moderator Mordan.

All of this would make for an exciting story, but it is in this story that I think the Heinleinesque touches really come alive for the first time. Heinlein has hit his stride and one can see throughout the story Heinlein’s fingerprints all over the text. For instance, Heinlein, it seems to me, set himself apart from other science fiction writers by throwing in lots of technology but only explaining the stuff that was important to the plot. Whereas other writers let technological details bog them down, Heinlein uses it as window dressing:

He punched the door with a code combination and awaited face check. It came promptly; the door dilated, and a voice inside said, “Come in, Felix.”

There is also evidence of the witticisms that Heinlein includes in stories, quotes that come off has homespun wisdom, but have a ring to them that echoes true within the narrative. For instance, when it is described that Felix spends his breakfast catching up on the news, Heinlein writes:

No news, he thought, makes a happy country but a dull breakfast.

And later, when setting the scene of men gathered in a gentleman’s club, Heinlein describes the men, rather tongue-in-cheek:

They were engaged in the ancient sport of liquidating the worlds problems in liquid.

Also in evidence is Heinlein’s penchant for building a strongly rule-based society, where the rules are agreed to by gentlemen and work to keep society running smoothly, but where, improbably, almost no one questions the rules themselves. In “Beyond This Horizon,” personal privacy is paramount, and how you conduct yourself in public is a reflection of that personal privacy. A duel takes place in a restaurant in part because a patron was not happy with the way Felix handled an accidental breach of someone else privacy. (And, whereas nearly everyone in the society carries a laser weapon of some sort, Hamilton Felix carries a .45 that he got from a museum and it makes for quite a scene in the restaurant duel.)

Part of what seemed to be missing from the story is an unaltered human to compare the genetic alterations to–not just the “genetic naturals.” And yet Heinlein even anticipates that need and introduces the character Smith, who was placed in a statis field in the 1920s and has just “arrived” in the present time. He can supply information about the “primitive” world back then, but he also acts as a yardstick against which the genetically altered humans are compared.

The feeling of utter strangeness in this world is rather startling and I think a case can be made that “Beyond This Horizon–” is the first generally “post-Singularity” story ever written in science fiction. At least, I have seen no earlier story that does as a good a job of making a self-consistent but virtually unrecognizable human society so integral to the plot of the story. I think of the sense of strangeness and displacement I got when reading Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End and recognize that same sense of strangeness here. Even the title implies what we are seeing is beyond some kind of (event?) horizon, that we are getting a glimpse of something we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to see or comprehend.

If that is indeed the case, it makes the story all the more remarkable. I am already eager to begin Part 2.

Busbars and Shortages (article) by John W. Campbell, Jr.

One thing I’ve been fortunate to avoid in my lifetime (with one minor exception1) never to have to experience major shortages. There has been no rationing in my lifetime and abou the worst I can think of is during winter, just before a major storm when crowds rush to the grocery stores for milk, bread, shovels, etc.

But that wasn’t so during most of WW-II. People who lived through it (and people who’ve read the history of the war) know there were all kinds of shortages and rationing. Campbell’s article briefly discusses an interesting shortage: that of copper, which was used frequently in busbars. All available copper during WW-II was being put into the war effort, in driver bands and shell casings and the like. The absence of copper, therefore, posed a problem for the constructing of busbars.

Campbell’s solution–a typically Campbellian solution–was to make use of silver because metallic silver acts as a good conductor. And so it is that Campbell suggests the following clever plan:

The government has nearly one hundred thousand tons of metallic silver in its bullion vaults2. If it were simply cast into busbars, it could be installed in the defense plants and serve a useful function while still being perfectly good bullion reserve! It would be thoroughly safe against theft; the plants producing the light metals are currently under heavy guard, and operating twenty-four hours a day. And it would be a highly ingenious thief indeed who could hack saw out a section of silver busbar without interrupting the steady flow of current!

“If You’re So Smart–” by Colin Keith

Blurb: Seems a pretty obvious crack for a business sharper to make an inventory. “If you’re so smart, why don’t you just make some money yourself?” Maybe so. But this scientist had an even better answer–

Ever since learning last month that Malcolm Jameson (who occasionally uses the pseudonym Colin Keith) will die of cancer in 1945, I look forward to each of his stories and articles that appear in Astounding with joy, knowing there aren’t too many Vacation-years left. His latest story “If You’re So Smart–” is an amusing little story of David versus Goliath in the world of modern finance, and it’s lightheartedness and brisk pacing is typical of Jameson’s stories–especially what I’ve come to expect from his always-reliable Bullard stories.  That this is not a Bullard story (he reserves his own name for those) makes it even more interesting.

The plot is a simple one, a scientist in the Saturn system is trying to get funding for a gadget he invented, but the local tycoon won’t give him a favorable loan. And since the tycoon owns virtually everything in sight, it makes the scientists life miserable. The little invention he has created is a way to warp space to allow instantaneous communication between any two points. For instance, it takes multiple hours for round-trip communication from Saturn to Earth. It would be great to be able to make this instant. The scientist, Kellog, hits on an idea that might get him the money he needs. He uses his device to tune into the stock market back on Earth. Instantly, he can see the ups and downs. But that knowledge won’t reach Saturn through normal communication channels for several hours so he uses his information to play the market to his advantage. He makes enough money to continue developing his device, but is stymied in other ways. Where the story goes a little off the rails is when Kellog figures out he can, first, transmit power using his device, and later, use it for instantaneous matter transmission. Eventually, he cleans up and puts the evil boss man out of business.

There are a couple of interesting science fictional notions in the story. Instantaneous communication over great distances–always assumed to be an easily solvable problem in many stories, is used as the lynch-pin in this one. Then, too, the idea that you can make use of the delay in information to get a better position in the market was an interesting one for Jameson to come up with. In the past (and even in the future) this was often done using time travel (C. M. Kornbluth will do this via time-travel in one of his stories.) But using the natural delay of light and a way around it is a clever technique for a short piece. And in the end, it’s nice to see the good guy win every now and then.

Silence Is–Deadly by Bertrand L. Shurtleff

Blurb: Radio is an absolute necessity in modern organization–and particularly in modern naval organization. If you could silence all radio–silence of that sort would be deadly.

I’d never heard of Bertrand Shurtleff when I saw his name on the contents page and, as it my wont, I looked up the name in the Internet Speculative Fiction database to see if it wasn’t, perhaps, a pseudonym for one of the more famous regulars. It turns out that Shurtleff is not a pseudonym. “Silence Is–Deadly” is the last of 6 stories that he published, beginning way back in 1929 with a story in Argosy. But what was even more interesting to me was the fact that at one time Bert Shurtleff was an offensive lineman in the NFL, playing on the Providence Steam Roller (1925-26) and later for the Boston Bulldogs (1929). I’m not sure there have been any other professional football players to publish science fiction during that Golden Age (or after, for that matter).

And the story that Shurtleff has this month is an entertaining one. “Silence Is–Deadly” is one of those class of stories that doesn’t take place in the future. It takes place in the present, but presupposes a technology that wasn’t available at the time, and then looks to examine the consequences. In the case of “Silence Is–Deadly” that technology is the ability to cause a complete radio blackout within a given sphere. One way of telling this story might have been to look at the laboratory implications of such a technology, but Shurtleff shuns that approach. Instead, he mixes it into a war adventure story in which German sleeper agents in the U. S. Navy collaborate to steal a navy vessel by making use of the radio silence technology. The story is a fun story, but it leans more heavily on adventure than it does science fiction. There is very little threat to the characters directly. The threat that hangs over the story is that of the greater harm that can come from the technology falling into the hands of the Germans. That said, there were some tense moments, as when the ship’s commander, Curtis, is thought to have been in on the job and has to prove his innocence.

Of course, in the end, the plot is thwarted by clever, low tech American ingenuity and the scientist who invented the technology in the first place (and whose family was essentially held hostage by the Nazis) is killed in an explosion. Not a bad story, and I’m curious as to why Shurtleff, who lived until 1967, stopped writing at this point.

Strain by L. Ron Hubbard

Blurb: The essence of military success is teamwork–the essence of that is absolute reliability of every man, and every unit of the team, under any strain that can be imagined. And the duty of a good general–?

L. Ron Hubbard’s latest piece is unusual for Astounding. It is science fiction only in the sense that the story takes place somewhere out in Saturn’s sphere of influence. The story could just have easily taken place on Earth. There is no real science fiction in the story, no technology, no time travel or speculation. The story is about two captured soldiers from Earth who are to be interrogated by Saturnian interrogators in order to extract information about a pending attack. One of the soldiers is a young man recently a civilian. The other, the captain, is a graduate of West Point who understands that the success of the mission depends on not divulging any information. Beyond that, there are several things that mark the story as somewhat unusual.

First, it is one of the more graphic stories I’ve seen published in Astounding. In both instances, the most graphic scenes were demonstrated upon animals so as to put some sort of psychological fear into the captives. For instance, when a tray of food is delivered to the men’s cell, they open it up to see what is inside:

On the platter a cat was lying, agony and appeal in its eyes, crucified to a wooden slab with forks through its paws, cockroaches crawling and eating at its skinned side.

Later on, a similar scene involves the destruction of a dog.

The second unusual item is that we learn that ultimately, both men die and while the younger solider gave up some information, the captain died without giving up any information and that was key, because, as we learn, when the Earth general receives word that the two men were captured, he decides to change plans.

And that was it. It seemed like a bit of an out of place story for Astounding, unless one considers the fact that it was possibly a propaganda piece, designed to teach the importance of keeping your mouth shut to protect the unit: the good of the many outweighs the good of the one, etc. In any case, it is, at least, Hubbard’s most unusual story that I’ve come across in this Vacation so far.

Co-Operate–Or Else! by A. E. van Vogt

Blurb: It’s perfectly possible for men to live among a civilized, highly intelligent race–and not know it! Particularly if that race doesn’t believe in the slightest cooperation–

1942, as I understand it, is where A. E. van Vogt really begins to hit his stride and becomes an extremely prolific author for Astounding. I find van Vogt’s work very uneven. Last month’s “Recruiting Station” was a very good story, in a competitive month. This month’s selection from van Vogt, “Co-Operate–Or Else” is best described as–interesting. It is not a bad story, just unusual, and unusually written. It does not begin with the vivid descriptions that normally mark a van Vogt piece. The writing is much more choppy. He seems to fall back on some of the older writing techniques, for instance, using “dialog” to communicate the thoughts of a character who is wandering by himself. But at the same time, the story captivated me in unexpected ways.

At the beginning of the story, we find Jamieson and a creature called an ezwal falling through the sky on an antimatter plate. We quickly learn they are mortal enemies. The ezwal has kill all the crew of Jamieson’s ship–hundreds of men and women. The ezwal is a massive, dinosaur-like creature, and as these two creatures fall toward the planet, they seem to be engaged in a roughly civilized conversation, initiated by Jamieson, regarding how they will have to cooperate once on the surface if they are to survive. The ezwal, who can read and project thoughts, is utterly opposed to this and works hard to argue against such an alliance, even after they finally make it into the jungle. But eventually, the ezwal finds Jamieson and agrees, begrudgingly, to an alliance of forms. We soon learn that the Rull–a deadly enemy to humans and other aliens–has followed Jamieson, or at the very least, detected his presence on the planet. The Rull are portrayed as the ultimate evil creatures in the universe, even worse that the ezwal. The ezwal is treated as nothing more than an animal by the Rull and even considers teaming up with the Rull against the humans–until it learns their true nature. Eventually, the ezwal and Jamieson form a real alliance and in the end, we find that Jamieson needs to rescue the ezwal from a ferocious intelligent plant creature.

What made the story really fascinating for me–so much so that I couldn’t put it down–was the strange dialog between Jamieson and the ezwal. The absurdity of the situation brought to mind scenes in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Here was more of a battle of wits than of braun, although Jamieson had his gun and the ezwal had his brute strength. While there is some vivid action in the story, it is more a philosophy piece and somewhat unique in that respect. I am hard pressed to think of another story that treats two enemies in such a similar way as van Vogt did here. My understanding is that “Co-Operate–Or Else” ultimately makes up the first part of a larger novel, The War Against the Rull. But to me this story wasn’t about the Rull or even setting a foundation for them. It was a story that would be a good lesson, perhaps, in today’s political environment. Even sworn enemies must find common ground.

The Eagles Gather by Joseph E. Kelleam

Blurb: The mercenaries of the war lords had fought their last paying fight. They–the war lords–the civilization was bankrupt–

Joseph E. Kelleam produced one of my favorite stories on this Vacation with his “Rust” back in the October 1939 (Episode 4) Astounding. He returns for his third appearance, a short, but good story about four mercenaries gathered around a camp site at the end of a long war. War Lords have been fighting one another for a long time, but they have run out of uranium, which gives them their power. The war lords fight these battles with mercenaries–soldiers for hire–and the four “eagles” gathered around the fire are just such mercenaries. Duane was the first and started the fire. He was followed by the Captain, and then two other men, Belton and Shaffer. They trade stories and brag about riches that they’ve found out in space that they will return to someday to claim their fortunes. The Captain is interested in these stories. Belton claims his find was stolen from him by pirates, and when he learns the name of Shaffer’s ship, he discovers Shaffer was one of those pirates. The two men fight, and Shaffer kills Belton. Shaffer attempts to kill Duane as well, but Duane is too quick and kills Shaffer. This upsets the captain because he was hoping to discover the location of Shaffer’s claim. Duane sends the Captain away and is once again, alone.

The story, while not as good “Rust” still has some of that sad emotion that you don’t find too much of in Golden Age stories. Too often the stories are tinged with silver and overly dramatic, but Kelleam has a way of finding just the right emotions and expresses them well. When discussing why he thinks the war lords won’t resume the war for a long time, Duane says:

We weren’t ready to conquer space. We made a mess of it. Oh, we had ships and guns. Mechanically we were perfect. It was us who was wrong. We conquered space but we hadn’t conquered ourselves.

The loneliness in the story, the gradual falling apart of these men who tried and lost does echo some of what was in “Rust,” with the robots steadily falling apart and no one around to fix them. Duane is perhaps more of an optimist than any of those robots, thinking that mankind still has a chance to conquer itself–which I took to mean conquering human nature. But whereas “Rust” was about the slow decay of a handful of robots, the crumbling of the group of Mercenaries in “The Eagles Gather” represents a microcosm of what is happening all over their universe.

The Fatal Coloration (article) by Willy Ley

Blurb: We know the size, the shape, and even the diet of the giant reptiles of the Age of Saurians. But one thing we don’t have any direct way of learning is–their color. And modern reptiles can display an astonishing range of poster-bright color–

Willy Ley’s article this month was not, in my opinion, up to the standard of the last few he’s done. The article focused on fossils and the reconstructions that people make based on fossils, and that nagging question that seems to form in every little kids mind who ever looked at a book of dinosaurs: “Mom, Dad, but how did we know what color they were?” At least I can recall asking this question. It is a good question and Ley has some interesting thoughts about coloration and was assumptions and inferences can be made from facts. These vary based on the type of animal you are talking about and are often influenced by the environment.

But what I found even more interesting was the inevitable question that Ley came around to, which was: what made the dinosaurs go extinct. If you ever wonder at the speed at which our knowledge of the universe increases, reading a 70+ year old article like this one can really help clue you in. Today, I believe that the best theory put forth for the extinction of the dinosaurs (and of much life on earth at the time) is the collision of an asteroid of some kind. Much of what I have read on this places the collision somewhere in the Yucatan. But 70 years ago, this didn’t seem to be a consideration. The cutting edge science of the time ascribed the extinction of the dinosaurs to a “heat death” due to climate change. Now, if you look at just the climate change aspect, there are plenty of similarities because an asteroid collision of the magnitude believed to have occurred would have caused dramatic climate change. The difference, of course, in the the evidence presented in favor of the current theory and the layering of discovery and fact upon each other in the seven decades since Ley wrote his article to be confident in both the cause of the extinction. Today we can say that rapid and dramatic climate change killed off the dinosaurs and that is somewhat similar to what Ley argued. But we can, in addition, explain what caused the rapid and dramatic climate change and back it up with evidence, something that was tenuous at best with theories in the early 1940s.

Probability Zero

Campbell’s Probability Zero department makes its debut in this issue. There are three stories, all of which are by Campbell regulars, although you might not immediately recognize the name of the last. The purpose of the Probability Zero column was to provide an entry point for young new writers to gain a foothold in the magazine. Campbell had a specific type of story in mind, and in order to demonstrate what they type was, he enlisted a few of his regulars to get the column started. He also explains further what he means in the In Times To Come column:

The old gag about truth being stranger than fiction is founded soundly; many an actual truth is highly implausible. We’re looking for the exact reverse–something that’s absolutely untrue, but highly plausible sounding.

The types of stories that appeared in the PZ column are what today we’d call “flash fiction”; very short stories, often humorous, that end in a pun or with a dramatic twist. I’ll discuss each story briefly below and in future Episodes will forgo the brief introduction to the department. But I’ve indicated the story is a Probability Zero story with the PZ that follows the title in parentheses.

Some Curious Effects of Time Travel (PZ) by L. Sprague de Camp

The first PZ story is a short de Camp yarn about so men who attempt to go back in time some 750,000 years in order to bring a wugug back to the present. Initially, they attempt to go back via astral projection, using a Yogi for the purpose, but the Yogi, upon making his test mission, falls in love with a native and decides never to return. (They learn this from a note carved into bark.) The men eventually build a time machine and witness the “curious effects” that time travel has, most of which has to do with aging in reverse and finding yourself replaced with a mirror-image. Eventually, they find the wugug but are unable to bring it back successfully and in order to forgo the expense, they create a paradox by returning to a time slightly before they left and then never go in the first place.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about this piece, but I will say that the humor in it had a decisively Douglas Adams feel to it. Of course, Douglas Adams wasn’t even born yet, so a more correct way of stating this would be to say that Adams’ sense of humor had a distinct de Campian feel to it, as when de Camp writes:

I won’t weary you with the details, save to remark that [the time machine] operated by transposing the seventh and eleventh dimensions in a hole in space, thus creating an inverse either-vortex and standing the space-time continuum on its head. (The space-time continuum later complained of a headache.)

Pig Trap (PZ) by Malcolm Jameson

I wouldn’t have expected Malcolm Jameson to bring his featured character, Captain Bullard, into a PZ story, but in “Pig Trap” he does just that. Several officers are settled around talking and impressing the younger men with tall tales. One man tells the story of the Iapetan kangothru:

“They are marsupials, of course, but slightly different from the terrestrial kind. You see, they have a very bizarre sort of pouch. Corner one and it promptly pops its head into the bag–”

“And then?” asked the subaltern eagerly.

“Well, it just goes on it, all of it. There’s nothing left to catch.”

It comes Bullard’s turn to tell his tall tale. He tells of catching the ellusive vacuum hogs of Pluto. The somewhat involved tale, dealing with the vacuum and lack of light on Pluto results in a clever way of catching these creatures. Bullard shines a light on them and they become frozen in place. Why? Because the light causes the hogs to show a shadow and the shadow instantly freezes in the cold vacuum, trapping the hogs where they stand.

Time Pussy (PZ) by George E. Dale

Finally, we have Mr. George E. Dale telling a story about a four-dimensional cat-like creature that lived out in the asteroid belt. These cats lived in four dimensions, meaning they stretched through time as well as space. You fed them long after they digested their food. They would alert you to an intruder 24 hours before one arrived. But they began to die off and when they died, they came apart. Scientists back on Earth offered a million dollars for each intact carcass brought back to Earth. But no matter what they tried, the carcasses kept spoiling into uselessness. Finally, they decided to freeze the carcass so fast, there would be no time for spoiling. But there was just one problem:

“We did it too doggoned fast. The time pussy didn’t keep because we froze that hot water so derned fast that the ice ws still warm!

And by the way, in case you don’t recognize the name George E. Dale, you might know him under his more familiar byline: Isaac Asimov. Campbell doesn’t directly reveal who George E. Dale is. I learned this a long time ago from Asimov’s autobiography. But Campbell does unintentionally semaphore that Dale is not who he seems. In the In Times To Come column, he writes:

The little items preceding were concocted, of course, by a sound trio of first-class, professional liars.

Certainly de Camp and Jameson fits this bill. But George E. Dale was unheard of before this appearance. Asimov had never used the pseudonym before.

I found it interesting that each of the three stories, coincidentally perhaps, dealt with a creature of some kind. There was de Camp’s “wugug”, Jameson’s “vacuum hogs” and Asimov’s “time pussy.” de Camp and Asimov both used time travel in their stories, but Asimov’s was the only one to end in a pun. You can’t expect these stories to be very good when they are constrained in this way. (That is not to say that flash fiction cannot be good. It most certainly can, witness for instance what is being done over at Daily Science Fiction.) But the PZ stories were meant to be easy, light stories that could get new writers in the door.

Time will tell if this proved successful, although, looking at a current copy of Analog one will still find a Probability Zero story in most issues.

Monopoly by Vic Phillips and Scott Roberts

Blurb: Sheer efficiency and good management can make a monopoly grow into being. And once it grows, someone with tyrant mind is going to try to use it as a weapon if he can–

I don’t have much luck with Vic Phillip’s collaborations. I got halfway through this story, which seemed like a poorly done version of Jack Williamson’s “Breakdown” and finally gave up on it. The story seemed like a fine action/adventure type of story with people being chased through the old tunnels on Venus, but there was nothing original about the plot or the writing.

Brass Tacks

Of the several letters that appeared in this issue, there was one in particular, a very long one, by a “Wild Bill” Hoskins from Morgantown, West Virginia, that  I found of interest. Hoskins discusses the types of stories he feels fit Astounding versus those that fit into Unknown, and those that don’t really fit either. He argues, for instance, that C. L. Moore’s “There Shall Be Darkness”, “excellently written and worth a careful reading for the beauty of the scenes it presents” really belonged in Unknown. He then goes on to complain about the direction Smith has gone with his stories:

Dr. Smith has, I think, written himself out on a limb. A galactic limb, of course, light-centuries away from Washington, D. C., where it all started when Dick Seaton’s steam-bath flew out the window. Dr. Smith has been receding from the Earth ever since, very much like that steam-bath, with his viewpoint expanding after the pattern set for our universe. The first two Skylark stories had a findable frame of reference in things human, but from “Skylark III” on, things have been too darn galactic in scope.

I think he makes a convincing argument. In trying to outdo himself with each succeeding story, Smith has been competing with his own legacy and he had been losing that competition lately, with his stories growing too outlandish to be believable, or even compete with the “modern” science fiction stories appearing in Astounding in 1942. It is no wonder that “There Shall Be Darkness” won out handily over “Second Stage Lensmen.” A reader could empathize with the characters in the former much more than the latter. They were recognizable humans with recognizable faults. There were not Smith’s superman. Hoskins goes on to observe:

Mr. Smith’s only convincing villain vanished when DuQuesne became a thought-wave. His heroes fared better, “Spacehounds” and “Triplanetary” both containing reasonably convincing characterizations and Seaton and Crane, above all, remaining more or less human and interesting through four-fifths of the Skylark series.

He then makes the following observation in favor of Smith’s most recent novel:

Smith has, in the Lensman series, discovered that a female can, in fact, once in a while, get in there and do something.

He suggests a collaboration between Smith and de Camp. The former for his aliens, the latter for bringing a human quality to the stories. While some of his observations are tongue-in-cheek, I think Mr. Hoskins has hit the nail on the head when discussing the difficulties with Smith’s recent story. I think it echoes why C. L. Moore’s novella was able to defeat the conclusion of Smith’s serial so handily; and it probably echoes what many fans of the time were thinking, but, out of respect for Smith’s body of work, were hesitant to say in print.

Analytical Laboratory and My Ratings

Here is what the fans of 1942 thought of the February 1942 issue of Astounding:

Title Author AnLab My Rating
1. There Shall Be Darkness C. L. Moore 1.66 3
2. Second Stage Lensmen (Part 4) E. E. Smith, Ph.D. 2.33 -
3. Starting Point Raymond F. Jones 3.6 2
4. Medusa Theodore Sturgeon 3.90 1
5. Sorcerer of Rhiannon Leigh Brackett 4.25 4

 

C. L. Moore made me proud. Even though I rated her story #3 in my personal rankings for February, I think that in terms of theme and style, the writing she is doing is on the cutting edge, while Smith is lagging far behind. So I am hearted to see that other fans felt the same way and that Moore managed to beat the concluding installment of “Second Stage Lensmen” by a pretty fair margin. I did not think that was possible. I suspect Campbell was equally surprised, for, as he writes in his notes on the Analytical Laboratory, “Catherine Moore, with her ‘There Shall Be Darkness,’ has won first place–a very real accomplishment in the face of competition from E. E. Smith’s ‘Second Stage Lensmen.’” It is also possibly the first time that a woman has gotten the top vote in the AnLab, at least within the duration of my Vacation.

In my ratings for this issue, I was torn as to whether or not to include the Probability Zero stories as these are not listed individually on the contents pages of the issue. While I have opted to include them in the Author Index and comment on them individually, I am not going to include them in the monthly ratings because it seems to me that their purpose is more to give new writers a foothold in the magazine. It would be difficult for stories such as these (even those included in the present issue) to compete with the normal stories that appear in Astounding. So my ratings will not include Probability Zero stories. That said, here are my ratings for the present, April 1942 issue:

  1. Beyond This Horizon– (Part 1) by Anson MacDonald
  2. The Eagles Gather by Joseph E. Kelleam
  3. Strain by L. Ron Hubbard
  4. Co-Operate–Or Else! by A. E. van Vogt
  5. “If You’re So Smart–” by Colin Keith
  6. Silence Is–Deadly by Bertrand L. Shurtleff
  7. Monopoly by Vic Phillips and Scott Roberts
Hubbard’s and van Vogt’s stories were nearly a tie for 3rd place this month. I gave the edge to Hubbard because the story was something very different for Astounding, while we’ve seen similar stories from van Vogt already in this Vacation. Thus, in this case, originally won out, where all other things were equal. “Beyond This Horizon–” won first place by a fair margin. None of the other stories in the list approached the level of this one. I think it is Heinlein’s finest work thus far.

In Times To Come

Campbell spent the entire “In Times To Come” column talking about what he was looking for in the Probability Zero department and didn’t mention a single upcoming story. Fortunately, I can look ahead at the May 1942 issue and give you a little taste of what to expect in Episode 35. Of course, we have the conclusion of Heinlein/MacDonald’s “Beyond This Horizon–” There is only one short story in the issue, but there are three novelettes. The lead novelette is A. E. van Vogt’s “Asylum.” Alfred Bester makes his third appearance with “The Push of a Finger.” And Isaac Asimov returns with a novelette with the simple title, “Foundation.” There were a few stories I was particularly excited about when I started this Vacation. Asimov’s “Nightfall” (September 1941, Episode 27) was one of them. Even more than that one, I’ve been looking forward getting to write about “Foundation.” Asimov’s Foundation series is my favorite of all science fiction series.

And the June issue brings us another Foundation story, plus a story by a new writer who will also make a big name for himself in the science fiction world. See you back here in two weeks.


Notes

  1. In the mid-1970s, living in New Jersey, I can recall sitting in the back of my parents car, while they waiting in long lines for gasoline.
  2. How Campbell knows this, I am uncertain as he doesn’t cite any references in the article.

15 thoughts on “Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 34: April 1942

  1. The feeling of utter strangeness in this world is rather startling and I think a case can be made that “Beyond This Horizon–” is the first generally “post-Singularity” story ever written in science fiction.

    Yeah, you, me and Fred Kiesche talked about this on Twitter. I think you can make a good case for it.

  2. I beg to differ that “Beyond This Horizon” is the first post-singularity story. No, rather Heinlein’s novel is firmly in the tradition of Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel “Looking Backward 2000-1887″, complete with a representative of the present day (1920s) reacting to this brave new world.

    1. Mark, I probably should have been more explicit and said that it was the first post-singularity story that I’d come across that felt like it could be a more-or-less modern post-singularity story. Post-singularity in the sense that the author paints a good picture of a world that is hard for the reader to conceive because it is so different from their own.

  3. My idea of a post-singularity story is more of a rapture of the nerds type of tale. “Beyond This Horizon” is to my eye a straight utopian novel. Heinlein’s story doesn’t take place a world that is hard for the reader to conceive (aka Stross’ GLASSHOUSE), but instead describes how society can be better organzied if only us gentlemen get together and agree to live by our rational rules.

    1. I never read GLASSHOUSE, but I did read Vinge’s RAINBOWS END, and I had that in mind. The bizarre setting in that story reminded me of the strange culture in BEYOND THIS HORIZON. That said, I can see your point about it being a utopia story. But Heinlein’s social rules, of course, would only work in a perfectly rational society, and as economists have been finding out, people don’t always behave rationally, which makes his vision a little more difficult to believe. I still think it is a terrific story so far.

    1. I had a tough time getting through RAINBOWS END, but I did manage to get through it. I suppose it depends on how you view what the Singularity is, but certainly Heinlein’s title implies something along those lines. “Beyond This Horizon–” predates the notion of an event horizon like that within a black hole, and so contemporary fans might see it as a Utopian novel, and I wouldn’t disagree. But looking at it today, that title takes on further implications and I’m not sure that the notion of a singularity and Utopia are mutually exclusive. True, most of what was happening in the novel (the first half that I’ve read, anyway), is recognizably human, but it is going down a path that might make things quite unrecognizable. It just hasn’t quite yet gone beyond that horizon, I suppose.

  4. Thanks for the title, Jamie. It’s in my local library, so I’ll grab it this week.

    My catalog of time travel adventures (at http://www.storypilot.com ) is now up to 350 stories and has a slowly growing, but definitely positive first derivative. I’d love to hear of any other stories that you (or others) can point me to, just as you think of them.

  5. Jamie,
    Obviously I’m WAAAAAY behind on reading these, but had to comment on your statement from review of “Co-operate or die”, [...]am hard pressed to think of another story that treats two enemies in such a similar way as van Vogt did here[...]. Perhaps it’s not what you meant, but what about Longyear’s “Enemy Mine”?

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