Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 36: June 1942

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When I started this Vacation back in January 2011, I was 38 years old. I celebrated my fortieth birthday while reading the June 1942 issue in preparation for this episode. By my calculations, I’ll be a month shy of 44 years old when this Vacation finally comes to an end on Leap Day 2016. It’s a bit hard to believe that we’ve now made it through 3 complete Vacation years, 36 consecutive issues of Astounding. It seems like each issue is better than the last. Another trend I’ve noticed (and you may have, too, is that each Episode seems to get longer and longer. Indeed, this episode sets a new record, pushing nearly 8,000 words, or almost 1/10th the length of the magazine in question itself. Sometimes, I can’t help it, especially when Isaac Asimov’s Foundation stories are involved. Then, too, Hal Clement makes his debut in this issue an his debut story, “Proof” rather took me by surprise. I hope, therefore, you will forgive me the length.

Editorial: Post-War Duty

Campbell’s 2-page editorial this month discusses what he feels will be the effects of the war on post-War economics. One side-effect, Campbell points out, is that “We are going to be immensely richer after the war is over than we were before.” Campbell defines wealth as both physical capital and “wealth in the form of knowledge,” or what today we’d call “intellectual property.” He argues that with production cranking up to unheard-of levels in order to support the war effort, there will be a necessary improvement in process and production that will carry over into the post-War era. As an example:

They had to find some way to air condition army tanks; men couldn’t fight efficiently in hot climates in the baking interior of a metal box. You can bet we’ll have air-conditioned cars when the war’s over.

Campbell was certainly right about that. He goes onto reason that at these high production levels and high consumption levels (remember all of this stuff being produced is being used as well), there will by necessity be increased wages or lower prices after the War. He argues for increased wages with prices staying about the same. A new car will still cost $700, but a man who made $35/week will now bring home $120/week.

Campbell then explores how the shortages (and accompanying rationing) caused by the War effort will affect industry–in particular the use of metals, of which the war effort needs huge quantities. Silver, he argues, is a terrible “jewel metal” and has much more application in practical manufacturing than could ever be gained from jewels. He goes on to say “There are ninety-two elements in the table–and we haven’t really used a good full half of them.” While he does argue that we could be making better use of titanium, I think he’s glossing over the fact that some of the elements are not used for practical reasons: safety, expense in obtaining them, expense in processing them. Just because it is in the table and fills a certain need does not mean it is easy to use.

That said, I do agree with Campbell that the massive increase in production that happened during the war could have happened at any time if people weren’t as lazy as they tend to be, if they weren’t as focused on doing the same thing in the same way that it’s always been done; if there was more incentive for innovation. Clearly, what was achieved in terms of production in World War II was possible–because it was done! The real question is: can that same kind of innovation in process and production be harvested outside the threat of war?

This issue is just packed with fiction: four novelettes, and five short stories, to say nothing of a science article and the usual mix of departments.

Bridle and Saddle by Isaac Asimov

Blurb: Given: a Foundation with much knowledge, much skill–and no military resources. And a whole series of plotting, ambitious planets to attack it. How can the few, the weak–but the wise!–men of the Foundation rule, as they must if they would not die?

Isaac Asimov thought he was being clever when he ended the first “Foundation” story in a cliff-hanger. He’d talked Campbell into such a frenzy with the notion for the story that Campbell send him home to write an outline, similar to what Heinlein had done for his Future History series. Asimov, however, was not Heinlein and couldn’t work from an outline. So he eventually tossed the outline and just wrote the story. As he wrote in his autobiography:

Knowing that Campbell wanted me to write a series, by the way, I had employed a little shrewdness in keeping him from backing away. After working up a complicated problem in “Foundation,” I had the hero muse at the end, “–the solution to the first crisis was obvious. Obvious as hell!”

And that was the end! I didn’t say what the solution was, and Campbell let me get away with it.

The idea was that Campbell would have to let me write the sequel now, and would moreover, have to take it. How clever of me!

What I didn’t quite take into account was that the second story would have to be published in the issue after the one in which “Foundation” appeared, making it a kind of two-part serial, meaning that I would have to have the second story done within a couple of months at most, or “Foundation” would be delayed in its appearance.

It was during this time, when Asimov was writing “Bridle and Saddle” that he quickly became stuck, and which Frederik Pohl helped to unstick him. The result is the story that appears in this issue–one that, in my opinion, is even better than “Foundation.”

In “Foundation,” the kingdom of Anacreon was landing ships on Terminus when mayor Salvor Hardin, after his coup, realized that the solution to the crisis at hand was “obvious as hell.” As “Bridle and Saddle” opens, we learn what that solution was: that the Foundation has been supplying Anacreon with technology that it had lost over the centuries. However, they have been doing this in a very careful manner, couching the technology in a kind of religion that only members of the Foundation, acting as “priests” understood. That is, the people of Anacreon actually had no idea how the technology worked. To them it was essentially magic. Despite this neat solution Salvor Hardin finds himself facing two challenges.

First, a young leader of the City Council, Sef Sermak headed a deputation to Hardin. The complaint was that Hardin was placating the kingdom of Anacreon. The Foundation was giving them the very technology that Anacreon would use to ultimately defeat the Foundation. He warns Hardin that they are going to have him out of office and then the deputation storms out.  We next see the “High Priest” of Anacreon, Poly Verisof who secretly meets with Hardin to give him the latest on what’s happening in the Kingdom–and his warning is similar to that of Sermak’s. It is during this discussion that we learn more of the details of the Seldon Plan and where we really start to get a glimpse of psychohistory as a whole. Verisof wonders if there is really a Plan:

“I just don’t see how it could be possible to chart history for a thousand years ahead. Maybe Seldon overestimated himself.” He shriveled a bit at Hardin’s ironical smile, and added, “Well, I’m no psychologist.”

Hardin shortly explains the fundamental notion of psychohistory that hasn’t, up to this point in the series, been made as clear:

“…even Seldon’s advanced psychology was limited. It could not handle too many independent variables. He couldn’t work with individuals over any length of time; any more than you could apply the kinetic theory of gases to single molecules. He worked with mobs, populations of whole planets, and only blind mods who do not possess foreknowledge of the results of their own actions.”

What Asimov was talking about was statistical analysis of a highly sophisticated kind. Given enough information and those from whom the data was collected relatively unaware of the collecting, future actions could be predicted with probabilities associated with them. While this idea might not have been unique to Asimov at the time the Foundation stories were being written, it might never have been expressed to clearly and vividly before this. In some ways, psychohistory is in full force today. Behavior can be predicted from the data available on the Internet, for instance, but generally only the behavior of masses. Mentions of a politician on Twitter during a debate can often “predict” the outcome of a debate. This is far from the sophistication of what Hari Seldon had achieved with his science in the Foundation stories, but everyone has to start somewhere.

The story then jumps to Anacreon and the young king, who we see is really controlled by (and frightened of) the regent Wienis. Wienis has demanded that the Foundation repair an old ship of the line, discovered derelict in space and the Foundation has agreed to do this. Wienis convinces the king that now is the time to attack the Foundation and be rid of them once and for all. With the ship the Foundation has fixed up for them, and with the Foundation defenseless, they will be no match. Wienis sends the fleet to attack the Foundation on the eve of the king’s coronation–which Salvor Hardin happens to attend in person. Wienis reveals his plans, and it is only then that Hardin reveals his own counterstroke: all of the technology that the Foundation has made available to the kingdom of Anacreon will stop working–even the ship of the fleet. Furthermore, the people will be told that Wienis has ordered an attack against the Foundation, and, masked in the religious tones that the Foundation has encouraged, the people fear for their souls.

Wienis is at a loss. He orders Hardin killed but no one dares do it. Wienis tries to kill Hardin himself but Hardin’s energy shield protects him and Wienis ends up killing himself. The new king signs a treaty with the Foundation. Later, Hardin, who has announced that Seldon will be returning again, is proved correct, and not only does Seldon show up in the time capsule but summarizes the crisis through which the Foundation has just gone through and demonstrated that Salvor Hardin was right in his actions all along.

In the end, Hardin’s friend, Yohan Lee, says of Seldon, “He didn’t say when he’d be back.”

Hardin replies, “I know–but I trust that he won’t return until you and I are safely and cozily dead.”

One thing that I find striking about the Foundation stories is that each one is better than the last. After complaints of inconsistencies in the stories (which I discussed in Episode 35), another complaint is that nothing really happens in them–that they are mostly dialogue and very little action. While it is true that there is a lot of dialog in the stories, I think it should be clear from “Bridle and Saddle” that there is action. And over time, the amount of action in the stories increase, even with the increasing length of the stories themselves.

One thing missing form the original publication of these stories are the quotes at the beginning of each “chapter” in the book form of the stories. The quotes are supposed to come from the Encyclopedia Galactica well into the Second Galactic Empire and the chosen passages have some bearing on the story being told. I found it interesting to learn that these quotes are not, in fact, part of the original story because ultimately, these quotes will tie everything together in a rather brilliant way at the end of David Brin’s Foundation’s Triumph (which was part of an “authorized” second Foundation Trilogy in the late 1990s.)

These quotes were written when Asimov put the novels into book form in 1950 or 1951. As an example, here is the quote that heads “Bridle and Saddle” (published as “Part III: The Mayors” in the original Foundation fix-up novel):

THE FOUR KINGDOMS–The name given to those portions of the Province of Anacreon which broke away from the First Empire in the early years of the Foundational Era to form independent and short-lived kingdoms. The largest and most powerful of these was Anacreon itself which in area…

…Undoubtedly the most interesting aspect of the history of the Four Kingdoms involves the strange society forced temporarily upon it during the administration of Salvor Hardin…

In that context, it provides “Bridle and Saddle” with an interesting hook at the very opening.

As I said, I think each story of the Foundation gets better and better, right up through the very end. It is only one of the reasons I think it to be the best science fiction series ever written. But we have to wait a while for the third story. “The Big and the Little” won’t appear until the August 1944 issue, Episode 62, which, if I stick to my schedule will make its appearance on April 1, 2013–one year from today.

The Slaver by L. Ron Hubbard

Blurb: He had always been convinced of his superiority simply because he inherited his position. But it took the slavers’ ship to show him that a man isn’t superior by birth alone.

L. Ron Hubbard returns again under his own name this month with a story about an aristocrat who has used slaves in the past–and who is captured and made into a slave himself. Kree Lorin of Falcoln’s nest is a young aristocrat of earth who is captured by a slaver ship, along with some local slaves and made into a slave himself. One of the other captured people is a peasant woman, Dara of Palmerton, who is much more used to the conditions of the slaver ship than Kree could ever be. The short story tells of Krees capture and of his eventual escape from the ship–with Dara–via a life raft.

What is perhaps most interesting about this story is that it is Hubbard’s second in a row that looks at the truly base levels of humanity. We saw this in his last piece, “Strain” (April 1942, Episode 34) and we see some of it again here. There is a kind of dual horror unfolding before the readers eyes. First, there is the brutality with which the slavers treat their slaves, and the conditions within which they live. Second, there is the nightmare in which Kree suddenly finds himself, his entire universe transformed from one of wealth and freedom to one of bondage and pain. The scenes are visceral with all of the human senses engaged within the bowels of the retched ship, the Gaffgon. Kree finds himself nearly beaten to death, chained, and whisked away into space without a second thought.

Hours blended and blurred and stretched themselves into a dismal chain of aching monotony wherein commingled the stench of the ship, the whimpering of the cargo, and all the gloomy suffering of silent men who knew that so many others had gone this way, never to return, and that the end of the voyage would only begin a more degrading phase.

While the first half of this short piece is a little slow, I was captivated by the horror of the description. The story picks up in the second half as Kree discovers that Dara has been taken away and attempts his escape.

It almost seems as if Hubbard is experimenting with horrors of the human condition and using the medium of science fiction as his laboratory. Not a bad story, but just as unusual as his previous.

I must add that Kramer’s interior, title page illustration for the story is just marvelous. Certainly one of the finer interior illustrations I’ve seen in quite a while.

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On Pain of Death by Robert Moore Williams

Blurb: The Martians welcomed anyone into their ancient City of Learning–provided they could pass the Milk Bottle and the Garden of Paradise. But the Milk Bottle baked, and then Garden of Paradise had worse than a snake to make it fatal!

After a year-long absence, Robert Moore Williams returns with a terrific story about a group of people seeking their heart’s desire on Mars. In “On Pain of Death” six people find themselves trapped in a “milk bottle” beneath the surface of Mars, five men and a woman. The story is told from the point of view of one of the men, John Wade, who was also the first man to come to Mars. (Take that, John Carter!) The men (and woman) have come for different reasons, seeking different things. Some are seeking worldly wealth; others are seeking immortality; others still are seeking knowledge of some kind. They have been attempting to get into the ancient City of Learning, but there are several challenges they must pass, the milk bottle being the first. It is desperately hot inside the milk bottle, and so far, only one man has managed to find a way out. When he returns, he claims to have found “heaven” but he quickly (and quite literally) evaporates into dust.

John Wade takes the lead in seeking a safe way out. Meanwhile, we slowly learn why each of the six people have come and what they are seeking. Once outside the milk bottle, then five remaining souls find themselves in a heavenly valley near a clear stream of water.

Men of Mars had designed this place, had built it, had lavished a painstaking, loving care on it. They had built here what no longer grew on the surface of the planet, a place where grass might grow and tiny streams might tinkle as they moved. A land where air was plentiful and fragrant, not thin and scorched with dust as on the surface. A cool and restful land, where the wanderer, after surmounting impossible obstacles, might rest in peace. Or rest in death.

Men of Mars, dreaming of heaven, built this place out of their fulfilled desires. As on Earth the desert-dwelling Arabs had thought of heaven as a great oasis, so here, on a planet that was almost entirely desert, heaven had been constructed as a greater, finer oasis.

All of them drink, except John Wade and the girl. He fears the water is tainted, which, of course, it is. Eventually, those who drank find themselves hallucinating about whatever it was they were seeking–and they die, blown to dust just like the first. John Wade follows the breeze to find a way into the ventilation system. Meanwhile, the one woman, Jean Ross confesses to having drank the water, and now it is a race against time for John Wade to try to successfully navigate the puzzles in hopes of saving Jean.

This he does manage to do (after facing a snake and an electrified floor) and greets the elder Martians head-on. They grant him his victory and his wish:

“All my life I have sought something,” Wade answered softly. “I did not know what it was, until I came here. Now I know. I want–the girl.”

We discover, in a kind of gentle twist, that by choosing the girl, Wade is also granted immortality:

“So you choose our immortality,” Wade heard Guzlick say. And he heard himself say, “What?”

“The only immortality we know, is in children–the immortality of the race, not of the individual.”

I really enjoyed the story. It captured my attention fully, pulled me into its mystery and made me turn the pages quickly to find out what happened next. Williams did a superb job. Of course, the story is, in some ways, a common one. We see a similar story in Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, with a group of men and women seeking something from what they perceive to be a greater intelligence and having to face challenges in order to get what they seek. Those challenges almost always come at a price. This type of story has been told again and again in various forms since Homer’s Odyssey, I imagine. That Williams took this idea and transplanted it to Mars is in some ways no different than Baum transplanting his tale to Oz. But Williams also did a very good job telling the story, putting in (mostly) believable characters who were not overly stereotyped. There were really no “red shirts” in this story and the fact that many of these characters died in pursuit of their desires made it all the more potent.

A Nose For News by Roby Wentz

Blurb: The nose wasn’t particularly necessary to find the news; the situation smelled to heaven, and clear across space to Earth. But it took something special in the way of a nose to find a way to get that story past the censors!

Roby Wentz is back with the second of four stories he would publish, three of which would appear in Astounding. Martin Canday is the publisher of a major newspaper. He notices that stories of a labor dispute on Venus have silenced and assumes the government news agency is censoring the details since the details would be pretty ugly–using the natives of Venus for slave labor. So he decides to send his ace reporter, Kelso Page, to Venus to investigate and report back before the elections in November. There are two problems. First, Page has terrible allergies; the second is how Page will manage to get his report through the censors. Page speaks fluent Venusian, but he still must use the only transmitter on Venus to get his story through. Page goes to Venus, meets up with the natives to get his story and then heads back to civilization in order to get his report back to Earth. To do this, he must convince the fellow in charge to let him send his story. He tells him the story is just one about how Polar City has changed in the five years since he was last here. When he gets the okay, he records the story, but ends up having what seems to be a sneezing fit throughout his recording. When the story is beamed back home, these intermittent allergic reactions are captured on the record. Canday notes that before each sneezing fit, there is a reference to “slowing down.” He realizes that those sneezing fits are the actual story sped-up. When they are slowed down, the real story comes through.

This story was all gimmick and not actually all that original at that. The gimmick, of course, was using Page’s known allergies as a way to code his actual message and get it past the censors. It seems to me that with a small change, Wentz could have made the story a bit more plausible. Page, after all, had a Ph.D. in linguistics and was fluent in the native language of Venus. That language came across in various whistle sounds. When I came to the scene when Page was going to record his message, I assumed he would record some parts in the native tongue and the censors would just think he was whistling. But Wentz instead decided to use his allergies (thus the “nose for news”) which to me seemed less plausible.

No Handicap Allowed (article) by R. S. Richardson

Blurb: Astronomical calculation methods are, given sufficient observational data, enormously precise. They are much, much too precise to permit that the late return of Halley’s Comet was a mere inaccuracy of calculation. Was it due to a disturbance by the gravitation of Pluto–?

The science article this month involves a mystery that surrounds the reappearance of Halley’s Comet every 86 years. At the time the article was written, the best attempt at estimating the arrival of Halley’s Comet in 1910 was off by 3.03 days. Since then, even factoring in the estimated mass of Pluto, things don’t seem to work out quite right. Why is that?

Richardson takes a unique approach in this article. After giving a brief history of the efforts at calculating the comet’s orbit, he talks about how this article was presented at a meeting of the Journal Club in Pasadena. The Journal Club is a kind of informal club of scientists who meet to discuss a problem through a kind of group brainstorming. Before presenting the findings of the Journal Club, Richardson challenges readers, having read the main part of the article, to come up with their own theory on why the calculations for the orbit of Halley’s Comet is still off.

He then presents, in some details, the ideas (and reception thereof) of the members of the Journal Club:

  1. The delay was caused by the decrease in the mass of the Sun between 1759 to 1910 by the conversion of its mass into radiant energy. Verdict: quantitatively insufficient.
  2. Halley’s Comet encountered a resisting medium which altered its motion. Verdict: unconvincing argument  with little observational evidence to back it up.
  3. A suitable resisting medium could be devised which would lengthen as well as shorten the comet’s period. Verdict: Not favorably received. Too vague for serious consideration.
  4. An unknown planet several times as massive as the Earth between the orbits of Uranus and Pluto caused the delay. Verdict: Unable to eliminate altogether, but seems unlikely on the basis of dynamical considerations.
  5. A close approach of to a GROUP of asteroids. Verdict: appealed to the club as the most sensible idea so far.
  6. A shift in the position of the cometary nucleus or center of gravity. Verdict: A stimulating thought and one with amble observational evidence for support.
  7. Entanglement with an intra-Mercurial planet. Verdict: Hardly necessary.
  8. The action of a powerful surge or wave of energy spreading throughout the solar system. Verdict: impossible to prove or disprove.

Of course, Halley’s Comet would return in 1986. But, as Richardson solemnly wrote:

Unfortunately none of that little group of scientists who smoked and laughed and wondered about it on a sunny morning in November 1941 would be there to hear the answer.

However, someone in this very issue of Astounding would be: Isaac Asimov. And not only would he be around to hear the answer, but having become one of the most preeminent and recognizable popularizer of science, he’s write an entire book on the subject. I don’t think Asimov, great as his ego was, would have dared image that possibility in the summer of 1942.

My Name is Legion by Lester del Rey

Blurb: Hitler should, no doubt, be given something special in the way of exile when we finish this war. Our personal choice would be this one; we like the idea.

Lester del Rey provides yet another strong story for this issue with his novelette, “My Name Is Legion.” The story is about a possible post-war punishment for Hitler, when exile seemed too kind. Or, as one of the story’s viewpoint characters puts it:

“Napoleon was exiled; Wilhelm died in bed at Dorn. Are leaders who cause the trouble ever punished, my Leader? I think not. Exile may not be pleasant, but normally is not too hard a punishment–normal exile to another land. I have devised a slightly altered exile, and now I shall do nothing to you. What was–will be–and I’ll be content to know that eventually you kill yourself, after you’ve gone insane.”

In the collapse of Germany, after the war, allied forces are on the hunt for Hitler. Two officers come across a small village where rumors of entire troops of Hitlers have been spotted. They find only a single man, Karl Meyers, who shows the men the dead body of Hitler–and then tells the story of how that death came to be.

Meyers (who we later discovered married a Jew and whose wife and children were killed by the youth groups) had spent time in a concentration camp where he studied the mathematics of what is essentially time travel. Upon his release, he invented a time machine that allowed him to pluck people or things from the future in a kind of self-perpetuating system. He could produce countless replicas in this way. It science makes use of the notion of a plenum:

“A complete universe, stretching up and forward and sidewise–and durationally; the last being the difficulty. The plenum is–well, the composite whole of all that is and was and will be–it is everything and everywhen, all existing together as a unit, in which time does not move, but simply is, like length or thickness. As an example, years ago in one of those American magazines, there was a story of a man who saw himself. He came through a woods somewhere and stumbled on a machine, got in, and it took him three days back in time. Then, he lived forward again, saw himself get in the machine and go back. Therefore, the time machine was never made, since he always took it back, let it stay three day, and took it back again. It was a closed circle, uncreated but existent in the plenum.”

What he is describing sounds to my ears like a multiverse, before scientists really had the concept of the multiverse. He is also describing a kind of perpetual motion machine–the kind of thing right up Cambell’s alley.

Meyer’s finds Hitler (the Leader) and tells him about the machine, offers him a demonstration and a way to win the war with the machine. Hitler then executes the plan, pulling 10,000 Hitler’s of various ages from the future to enlist into his army that will first reconquer Europe, and then the world. In bringing them to the present, there is some handwaving so that the original Hitler remains the leader. The other Hitlers cannot act against him. And yet, the Leader’s plan is spoiled by the eldest Hitler, who comes from the furtherest point in the future. The spell has worn off on him and, having gone insane, he tries to kill his younger self. But the Leader is ready for him, grabs a pistol and shoots and kills the elder man, thus sealing his fate.

For the whole plan has been a kind of payback by Meyers for the death of his wife and children. Rather than doomed to exile, the Leader is doomed to a life of knowing he is ultimately going to go insane, and be killed by a younger version of himself. He is yanked back in time and has twenty years to think about the fate that awaits him without being able to do anything about it.

There are certainly logic problems in the story, not the least of which is the notion of the plenum itself and how the cycle gets started or bootstrapped. But I found the story interesting nonetheless. Perhaps it wasn’t a difficult prediction to make, in 1942, that Hitler would kill himself before the end of the war. Then, too, portions of the story were told from the Leader’s point of view, as opposed to Meyers. I can think of no earlier science fiction story that featured Hitler as a view point character central to the plot of the story. (There certainly are later ones.) The elder Leader’s collapse into madness was also well done and at times, del Rey’s writing during those periods of madness are reminiscent (thought not quite as good) as the writings of Barry Malzberg. Here is what Lester del Rey himself had to say about the story in The Early Del Rey:

The readers were less enthusiastic about my Hitler story than Campbell was. Probably I made a mistake in the temper of the times, in not making Hitler more grotesque. But I wouldn’t change it; to me, the ruthless hunger for power without other purpose for that power is evil enough. I still agree with my friend Milt Rothman, who told me it was the best piece of writing I’d done in science fiction. He called much of my other writing lackadaisical, and I can see what he meant, though I don’t quite accept that word.

The notion of the multiverse would eventually catch on in science fiction, and done in somewhat more rational ways. (Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves is one example, where seemingly “free” energy is actually leaking through between universes.) But in 1942, attempts at rationalizing the cycle of paradox seemed flimsy at best. I have to at least suspect that del Rey’s efforts in “My Name is Legion” were spurred on to some extent by Robert Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps” (October 1941, Episode 28) and after the prestidigitation that Heinlein offered in that story, the challenge was sure to be taken up by others. As it was here by del Rey.

Time Dredge by Robert Arthur

Blurb: The German professor had a nice idea for making archeology a branch of Blitzkrieg technique–with the aid of a little tinkering with Time. His gadget fished up some strange specimens. One he never saw himself, though–

“Time Dredge” is the second time-travel story in this issue. Less complex in character and theme than Lester del Rey’s effort, this story is yet another attempt to explore paradox. I think it comes up a little short, but so do I imagine many fans since the appearance of Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps.”

The story is of two men, Terry Blaine and Pat Finlay, who are seeking out a German professor in the jungles of South America. They find the professor and are tricked by him and made his prisoner. They learn of his plans to help the Fatherland win the current war: he has invented a machine that can pull things our of the past–a time dredge. He has been using this to pull artifacts from the ancient South American civilizations. They also learn that he can pull animals, and even people, but they always seem to die quickly. However, with his two captives, he taps their blood to use in a transfusion to save the next people he brings through his dredge.

His reason for bringing people is because he is looking for someone who can tell him the science behind a device he found in the past. This device is a kind of ray that can virtually lift mountains and move them through the air. If the Fatherland could do the same with bomb, their victory would be assured. The first person he brings back and saves turns out to be a woman–a sacrificial victim. The next is a man: a priest/scientist. But before he has a change to explain the mysteries of the device, Pat attempts to wreck the machine. He succeeds only in damaging it, but the German professor is already repairing it when Pat comes to. His only problem is the gauge telling him how far back in time he’s dredging is not working. He makes a best guess, sees a man and tries to pull him through–when he is next seen, the girl and man are gone and the professor is dead–and has been for at least three months.

Working it out on their way home, Terry and Pat figure that the professor–not knowing how far back in time he was dredging–did not go back very far and ended up pulling himself through, thus undoing everything that had been done in the last three months.

The logic of the story falls apart in several places, it seems to me. Why can Terry and Pat remember the events if they have been undone? It seems awfully convenient that the professor would pull himself back and not one of the other four people in the same room. Still, the story had some interesting ideas. The notion of a time dredge for purely exploratory and scientific purposes–a kind of temporal archeology–would be a fascinating one for a story (and has been done many times since). The notion that the people being investigated: the Mayas and Incas added to the fascination because of the mysteriousness of those cultures. Substituting that potential with a war piece–two men have to single-handedly stop the Germans from gaining a secret weapon–was the obvious way to go in 1942, although I imagine even by then, such stories were already becoming cliche.

Mudman by M. Krulfeld

Blurb: A genuine pioneer has to be pretty much insane, for no entirely normal man would be able to take–and enjoy–the 10-to-1 odds against survival pioneering means.

M. Krulfeld’s second story in this Vacaton is a run-of-the-mill, “jungle-on-Venus” story, if you replace the jungle with mudflats. Indeed, the only thing that makes the story science fiction is the fact that it is set on Venus and has creatures that you wouldn’t find on Earth. Johnny Bishop is a space jockey who is stranded on Venus and is working for Kenny, a mudman who roams the mudflats. The two don’t particularly like one another, but when the become lost in the mudflats thanks to a hijacked signal beacon, they are forced to rely on one another. As they make their way through the flats, they encounter a massive mudsnake, which they manage to kill with light. They also encounter an attempt to make the recent treaty with Mecurians go bad by setting up the Mercurians and making it look like they are attacking. In the end, of course, Kelly is impressed with Bishop, pats him on the back and calls him a mudman in his own right.

The mudsnake is, perhaps, the most interesting feature of the story. They are massive, gigantic creatures (the square-cube law was apparently unheard of) and they lived in this tunnels carved into the mud. What I found most interesting about them is that they seem like precursors to the Shai-Hulud that will show up in Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Proof by Hal Clement

It was of great moment to me to get to read Hal Clement’s first science fiction story, “Proof” in this issue of Astounding. The reason: it is the first Hal Clement story I’ve ever read! I know that borders on sacrilege, but there are only so many hours in the day and I can’t possible read everything. Somehow, I’ve never managed to read Clement until today, although I know of his work, and somewhat of his person. Believe me when I tell you he is neither the first, nor the last who falls into this category.

But what a treat it was to read him here for the first time, in his debut appearance! And what a terrific story, second in my mind, only to Asimov’s “Bridle and Saddle” in this issue. And it is most certainly the hardest of “hard” science fiction stories to appear in this Vacation thus far.

“Proof” is the story of Kron, an intelligent creature from near the core of the sun who is taking a visiting Sirian of similar nature on a scientific voyage from one of their cities high in the solar atmosphere deep into the depths of the sun in order to get more neutronium for powering the cities. The Sirian is taking pressure measurements for a project of his own. Clement clearly gave a good deal of rigorous thought to the physical science of such creatures and the atmosphere in which they live, which is not really a solid state, but more of a gaseous or plasma state. As Kron describes his people:

They had evolved far down near the solar core, where pressures and temperatures were such that matter existed in the “collapsed” state characteristic of the entire mass of white dwarf stars. Their bodies were simply constructed: a matrix of close-packed electrons–really an unimaginably dense electrostatic field, possessing quasi-solid properties–surrounded a core of neutrons, compacted to the ultimate degree. Radiation of sufficient energy, falling on the “skin,” was stabilized, altered to the pattern and structure of neutrons; the tiny particles of neutronium which resulted were borne along a circulatory system–of magnetic fields, instead of blood–to the nucleus, where it was stored.

Kron’s people are living outside their native environment and in the cities because of more dangerous (but less intelligent) creatures living at the greater depths. During their journey, Kron asks his Sirian guest about his studies and the Sirian tells him about his research–about which the Sirian’s own colleagues laugh–on a seemingly impossible state of matter: solids:

The theory is simplicity itself. It has occurred to me that matter–ordinary substances like iron and calcium–might actually take on solid form, like neutronium, under the proper conditions.”

This jives with something that Kron has himself observed. He tells his guest the story of his trip to another star, and what happened on the way back, when the ship he was traveling with was swept into the orbit of something that didn’t seem to exist. That something turns out to be Earth (we learn this from a change in view point to an Earthman who witnesses the “meteor” crash).

Both creatures, Kron and the Sirian, are seeking “proof” for their theory.

This is a wonderful story for a number of reasons. Here are two scientists who are not human or anything like human in their structure, pursuing pure science. This is a nice change of pace from the scientists who are often involved in wars between planets. It’s also a nice change of pace from aliens whose body-plans are more or less human with subtle changes. The notion of gaseous aliens may not be unique with Clement, but his efforts at making them scientifically plausible is what puts the “hard” in hard science fiction. Furthermore, his twist of the notion that “solids” are an almost mythical state of matter helps to put the reader in a truly alien state of mind. The sense of wonder in this story comes form a combination of the unique aliens and their pursuit of something that is–to them–wonderful, and something that we regularly take for granted.

Certainly this story sets a new bar for hard science stories and I am already looking forward to Hal Clement’s next yarn.

Heritage by Robert Abernathy

Blurb: There are two ways of considering heritage–the heritage of physical kinship, of blood and racial descent, and the heritage of an intellectual, spritual sort. and which is the more important?

The last fiction piece in the issue is yet another time travel tale–and by this time, I must admit, I was getting a little tired of them–3 in a single issue! In this tale by Robert Abernathy, a kind of anonymous narrator is giving a speech about Nicholas Doody, inventor of a time machine, in which he recounts Doody’s story of being put on trial, far in the future, for claiming to be of human descent, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The bulk of the story is the story-within-a-story, the narrator conveying Doody’s story in the course of his speech. I didn’t find anything particularly outstanding in this time travel piece, except for the writing itself. I liked Abernathy’s style, which was rather contrary to what appears in Astoudning:

If everyone will please keep his seat and refrain from mobbing the platform, I will make a very confidential admission. I am closely acquainted with the great time traveler, Nicholas Doody.

More than anything else, it is the style that makes it an interesting story, even more than the question of the ultimate heritage of a human being in the far future. This story might have been better suited to a future issue, however, because I really felt that packing in three time travel pieces to a single issue was really too much–and this, coming from an ardent fan of time travel tales.

Book Review by L. Sprague de Camp

The very last page of the issue contains a book review by L. Sprague de Camp of George Gamows’s Biography of the Earth (Viking Press, 1941). The book is a popular account of the history of the Earth from its formation to its presumed death. de Camp gives it a generally good review, although he cautions the reader:

It is recommended with the reservation that the reader must not take all of Professor Gamow’s dogmatic statements concerning things that happened billions of years ago or billions of years in the future, too seriously.

Brass Tacks

The Brass Tacks column this month is rather shorter than last, but there is one letter worth mentioning, by an L. M. Jensen of Cowley, Wyoming. Jensen writes:

What’s this? Two consecutive issues with derogatory comments about the writing of E. E. Smith, and not a word in favor!

He then goes on to defend Smith’s stories for their galactic vision, getting us out of the neighborhood of Earth, Venus and Mars and into places much farther away. That said, Jensen says he agrees with Hoskin’s (who wrote the original letter of detraction that started this dialog) that “the good doctor is, very noticeably, not as good at character drawing as some of your other top-notchers.”

Analytical Laboratory and My Ratings

Here are the ratings for the April 1942 issue of Astounding (Episode 34):

Title Author AnLab My Rating
1. Beyond This Horizon– (Part 1) Anson MacDonald 1.0000 1
2. Co-Operate Or Else A. E. van Vogt 2.008 4
3. Strain L. Ron Hubbard 3.50 3
4. If You’re So Smart– Colin Keith 3.8 5
5. Monopoly Vic Phillips and Scott Roberts 4.3 7

Of particular interest is that Heinlein (MacDonald) got a perfect score of 1 out to four decimal places. That means that every vote that came in voted “Beyond This Horizon” in first place. I don’t think we’ve seen that happen before. Going further, virtually all (but perhaps one?) of those same voters but A. E. van Vogt’s “Co-Operate Or Else” in second place. While I agreed with the fans on MacDonald, I didn’t on van Vogt, but nevertheless, both stories were greatly enjoyed and loved by the readers.

Here are my ratings for the present issue:

  1. Bridle and Saddle by Isaac Asimov
  2. Proof by Hal Clement
  3. On Pain of Death by Robert Moore Williams
  4. My Name Is Legion by Lester del Rey
  5. No Handicap Allowed (article) by R. S. Richardson
  6. The Slaver by L. Ron Hubbard
  7. Time Dredge by Robert Arthur
  8. Nose for News by Roby Wentz
  9. Mudman by M. Krulfeld
  10. Heritage by Robert Abernathy

I thought it worth putting Richardson’s science article since I felt it good enough to be included in the top five, even among the fiction present. I have to say that this was a good issue, and the top five items in the above list were exceptional. Each could have easily been a number 1 story if they had appeared in independent issues instead of in competition with one another.

In Times To Come

In July 1942, the magazines printed in the United States, in a patriotic move, decided to print an American flag on their covers. The Street & Smith magazines were included in this bunch. As Campbell wrote:

Next month Astounding’s cover will not be done by Huber Rogers; out July issue will have a cover identical with that of all other Street & Smith magazines which use picture covers, featuring prominently something that will, at that season take complete possession of every magazine cover in the nation. Next month the magazine-reading public is going to have a unique opportunity; for once they can buy magazines on the basis of that old admonition which implies there’s more to a book than its cover. I rather wonder what is going to happen to circulation figures for the whole publishing field next month?

I couldn’t find information on what happened to publishing figures, but if you’re curious about those July 1942 magazine covers, the Smithsonian Institution has a great website on them, and Astounding is included among them.

Also, among the usuals appearing in Astounding, Campbell announces some writers new to the magazine, although they’ve been published in companion magazine, Unknown: Cleve Cartmill, Anthony Boucher and Fredrick Brown. Also coming soon, stories by “new” writer Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore); and a “first” story by Will Stewart (Jack Williamson). The war is picking up, but so are the stories in Astounding.

See you back here in two weeks.

8 thoughts on “Vacation in the Golden Age, Episode 36: June 1942

  1. The perfect score of 1.000 happened once before on your vacation – and was achieved by Bob Heinlein as well, for the final installment of “Methuselah’s Children”. Looking into the future, note that one more unanimous #1 vote is coming in 1942, and another in 1945 (with the bonus of an oh so close 1.01 in 1945 as well).

    1. You are correct. I think I misread Campbell’s notes. What he said was that this was the first time that the number one and number two spots were virtually unanimous.

  2. When these stories and novels from ASF (and elsewhere) were first reprinted after WWII, most were published by the small specialty presses, such as Prime, Fantasy and Gnome.

    There was an unwritten agreement between the fans that stories would not be duplicated across anthologies. The end result being that once Healy & McComas snatched up something like “Nightfall” for “Adventures in Time and Space”, that story would be off limits for all future anthologists.

    This treaty was broken by Judith Merril in 1950, when “A Shot in the Dark” came out from Bantam and included at least three previously collected stories. Soon after, with the informal proscription of only first-time reprints lifted, many of these Golden Age stories started to have a second life – the prime example being “Nightfall”.

    The above is all preliminary to the fact that as the fans were cherry-picking their favorite yarns from the back issues of the pulps the only Foundation story that was reprinted before the series was packaged into novel format was “Bridle and Saddle”.

    1. I had no idea about the informal agreement–or that “Bridle and Saddle” had been reprinted prior to the Gnome Press release. I wonder if Asimov even knew of this informal agreement. He never mentions it in any of his autobiographies, despite touching on the subject of reprints of his stories in Astounding from very early on. But I see now, looking at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, that the story was originally reprinted in Men Against the Stars (1950), which also happens to be a Gnome Press book. Fascinating!

  3. Many thanks for the pointers to these three time travel stories. Some years ago, I read “My Name Is Legion” in Early del Rey, but I reread it again this morning before adding to my time travel list. It made a much stronger impression on me during this second reading than in the first (or perhaps I just understood it better this time around).

    This issue of Astounding might have been the first to feature stories that were written after the US entered the War. In Early del Rey, Lester says:

    “Then came December 7, 1941, and Pearl Harbor. My uncle called me up to tell me the news. We weren’t too surprised; there were sources of information in Washington that had made us pretty certain Japan was going to strike. But we were horrified at the extent of the damage. And we were somehow relieved that America was finally going to fight. Hitler had been anathema to us for a decade, at least.

    “I was as caught up in the wave of patriotism and war fever as anyone else, I believe. My thoughts all began to center on the coming war. But I couldn’t quite stomach the silly stories of Hitler’s depravity; his real evil was far more terrible than the petty stories of his madness.

    “Eventually, I began thinking of a story about what would be a suitable end for a power-driven man like Hitler. I didn’t want to make him a clown or a fool, but to show him as I really believed him to be. And somehow, I found the idea that seemed to fit.”

    I would argue, though, that the story is not at all a multiverse time-travel story. In those stories, the appearance of the time traveler in the past causes an immediate bifurcation of the universe, one of which is the original sans traveler, and the other is the new one with the traveler. On the other hand, this story seems to be set in a single universe, where the new Hitlers appear because they always had appeared at that time–a single universe in which you can only do things that had/do/will occur. At one point, Hitler asks, “What do you want?” and Meyers replies, “Only the inevitable, Leader, only what will be because it has already been.” When Hitler first disappears at the end of the story–all of the other Hitlers (except the last) also disappeared at that same moment, to travel backwards in time one day.

    Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps” and later “‘–All You Zombies–‘” are in a similar, single universe, which to me bring up interesting questions of free will and determinism.

    I wish that I knew of the earliest story that posited a multiverse model. Fredric Brown’s “First Time Machine” is one possibility, but that’s not until 1958.

    The third big paradigm is also common in early stories: That there is just one universe, a traveler can go back to change it, and the changes somehow ripple through time creating a single new universe. Somehow, the traveler is outside of this change because he remembers the old time and sees the new, as in Bradbury’s “Sound of Thunder.”

    I’ve still to read the two other time travel stories in this issue.

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