In 1952 Gnome Press published Judgment Night, a collection of work by C. L. Moore, famous creator of Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry and collaborator of Henry Kuttner, her husband. The hardcover volume with a cover by Kelly Freas included the title novel and four short stories; in 1979 Dell reprinted the collection in paperback with a cover by God knows who. I own one of those 1979 paperbacks, and in our last episode we read the title work, originally an Astounding serial, the story of a princess's first love affair and the collapse of her civilization, a denunciation of human violence and an expression of skepticism of the value of gods. Today we will look at those four short stories, all of which appeared in Astounding after Judgment Night's appearance. I'm going to read them in the chronological order in which they were printed, not the order they appear in this book.
"The Code" appeared under the pen name of "Lawrence O'Donnell," like all four stories we are talking about today. This pseudonym was also attached to numerous stories on which Moore and Kuttner collaborated, including the highly regarded tales "Vintage Season," "Clash By Night" and "Fury," and served as the inspiration for one of the pen names used by Kuttner/Moore aficionado Barry N. Malzberg, "K. M. O'Donnell."
(The unusual cover of this issue of Astounding is a collage of US military personnel operating some of their heavier weapons. Maybe this is related to the included Eric Frank Russell story, "Resonance," the intro of which indicates it is about the Pacific War and whose illustrations feature what we would probably consider racist caricatures of "the Japs."
Bill Westerfield and Peter Morgan are scientists, medical types. They think that people get old and die for largely psychosomatic reasons:
"You've been conditioned to think you grow old because of time, and this is a false philosophy....you must be conditioned to reverse time. The body and the mind react inseparably, one upon the other."Bill's father Rufus serves as the guinea pig for their secret experiments on reversing the aging process, and they shoot the seventy-year-old full of drugs and hypnotize him so he will look at time differently. And it works! In the space of a few months Rufus develops the body of a healthy forty-year-old! But something is amiss with Rufus's brain or mind; he has vague memories that cannot be his own. Also, Bill and Peter think his face is different from that of the man Rufus was when he was forty...they suspect that Rufus isn't just "growing" younger, but changing into a different person altogether! Then X-rays indicate that Rufus's bones and organs are changing--Bill's father isn't just becoming a different person, but a whole different species!
Moore explains, using a metaphor about parallel train tracks that I did not find very convincing, that Rufus isn't regressing to the Rufus he once was, but an alternate reality Rufus in a universe where the evolution of intelligent life proceeded quite differently. Rufus, as he grows biologically younger and gets closer to that alien track, changes more and more. In his biological twenties he develops a nictitating membrane and becomes a drunk--the booze helps his mind cope with the overlapping memories of his English-speaking Earth youth and his alien youth in a world of strange languages and weird tuneless music; alcohol is also one of the few Earth foods his half-alien stomach can handle. He then seals himself in his room and ceases eating altogether, his body burning his tissues for fuel so that he shrinks and eventually becomes an alien egg or larva--for a brief moment Bill and Peter see Rufus's alien mother, before she and the embryonic alien Rufus vanish as he is fully integrated into that other time track.
"The Code" is like several stories I have read by Kuttner and Moore that are about Earth humans interacting with items or people from other times or dimensions. "Mimsy Were the Borogroves" is the most famous example, others include "Prisoner in the Skull" and "Shock." "The Code" is included in a handsome-looking 900-page collection of Kuttner and Moore stories published in 2005 by Centipede Press and titled Two-Handed Engine after one of Kuttner and Moore's most celebrated tales.
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MPorcius Fiction Log in early 2014
It is several hundred years in the future, and mankind has colonized numerous planets and moons within the solar system. To do so, scientists have used controlled mutation and selective breeding to fashion humans suitable for life on alien worlds. Some pure strain humans fear that the engineered humans are taking over civilization, that they, however freakish they might be, are the future of mankind. One such engineered human is Torren, the dictator of Ganymede, the product of the thirteen generations of breeding in "The Centrifuge" that was the abortive project to create people who could live on Jupiter. Torren weighs five hundred pounds and lives every moment of his adult life in a bath of oily fluid because he lacks the strength to walk--he can barely lift his own arm! (When I was a kid they told us that Brachiosaurus probably stayed in water to support his tremendous weight, but I think that theory has been abandoned.) Via TV screens and other devices Torren rules the people of Ganymede, humans specially bred to be able to endure Ganymede's deadly cold and breathe Ganymede's toxic atmosphere.
Years ago Torren chose from among the brats at an orphanage an heir, Ben Fenton, a pure strain human. Fenton is an adult now, and as "Promised Land" begins he has had it with Ganymede and tells Torren to find himself another heir--he is leaving! Why, you ask?
Torren is a selfish ruler who feels that the tragedy of his own life as the only survivor of the Centrifuges means he owes others no consideration. He is having Ganymede terraformed so a large number of pure strain humans can live on it and efficiently exploit its resources--this will mean the small number of peeps tailored for Ganymede will have to live under domes the way Terron and Fenton do today! Fenton sympathizes with the Ganymedeans and wants no part of throwing them under the bus.
Fenton's attitude was easier for me to understand when I realized that the people engineered to live on Ganymede weren't hideous insect people or ogrish yetis or something, but seven-foot tall Scandinavians with blue eyes and blonde hair and "milk-white" skin, and our man Ben Fenton has a crush on one of them.
He did not think he was in love with Krisitn. It would be preposterous. They could not speak except through metal or touch except through glass and cloth. They could not even breathe the same air. But he faced the possibility of love, and grinned ironically at it.Fenton goes to meet Kristin, and, while they sit in his ground vehicle, an air vehicle bombs them. They survive the attack, and Fenton sneaks back into Terron's palace to discover that a coup attempt is under way, Terron's pure strain assistant trying to take over. Fenton foils the coup attempt, saving Terron, but as the story ends we know that Ganymede is about to be rocked by a civil war between Terron and his agents and the Ganymedeans, lead by Fenton, who are determined to resist the terraforming of their chilly home. Who will win the war will be largely determined by the response to the crisis of the pure strain people on Earth and the engineered people living on Venus and Mars--who will intervene in the conflict, and on which side? Perhaps the outcome of the Ganymedean civil war will signal whether the new artificially bred human races represent the future of the human race, or will always be subordinate to those who created them.
This is a pretty good story; like Judgment Night it conjures up a strange milieu and presents SF ideas and a civilization on the brink of a new era, but it is economical. Perhaps Moore here is vulnerable to the charge of making things easy on herself by making the villain a big fatso and the innocent victims people who look like supermodels, however.
To my surprise, I discovered on its first page that "Heir Apparent" was a sequel of sorts to "Promised Land," being set in the same universe, though on Earth instead of one of the other inhabited bodies of the Solar System and at a later period of time, when the solar system is in crisis as the engineered humans on Mars, Venus and Ganymede seek to achieve independence from Earth. Our protagonist is Edward Harding, former member of Integrator Team Twelve-Wye-Lambda. As we see in flashbacks, an Integrator Team is seven men, each with a high level of expertise in one field, who connect psychically across long distances via a computer called an Integrator, temporarily melding their personalities and skills within the computer to solve difficult problems related to the governance of Earth's interplanetary empire. (A theme of this story is that empires collapse because managing them from what in college we called "the metropole" becomes too complicated.) These psychic connections are so satisfying that those kicked off Integrator teams become depressed and wander the world like lost souls, suited for no other work. Harding is one such lost soul, as is a former colleague of his, George Mayall, who blames Harding for getting him kicked off the team a few years before Harding himself was let go.
Bumming around the Pacific, Harding meets an obese rich guy, Turner, who is the head of a private espionage network. (Does Moore hate fat people? Or does she just hate rich people, and use obesity to signify indulgence and wealth?) Turner tells Harding that Mayall is working with the seccessionists from a base on a Pacific island. Mayall has camouflaged this island and surrounded it with traps so that it is almost totally invisible and inaccessible. Turner wants to capture this island and work his own lucrative deal with the seccessionists, and thinks that Harding--who has the ability to integrate his mind with a boat's computer, controlling the vessel as if it was his own body, and has intimate knowledge of Mayall's way of thinking--is the only man who can get him to the island safely. Harding and Turner become uneasy partners, each with his own agenda.
Once on the island Harding and Turner confront Mayall and we get doublecrosses and Mexican standoff situations involving guns, knives, holograms, paralysis rays, heat rays, post-hypnotic suggestions, etc. These standoffs resemble the relationships between Earth and its colonies--they all want independence, but really need to cooperate to prosper, maybe even to merely survive. The whole business of the Integrator, in which seven people fuse their psyches to produce a more efficient collective "being," mirrors this same theme.
Pretty good. "Heir Apparent" was included in a 1988 French collection of Moore stories.
Jaime Morgan was one of the first men on planet Loki. He is an irascible loner, a trapper who catches the sehft rats that infest the planet and drains their sehft sacs to sell the sehft oil. But times, they are a changin'; once-wild Loki, a place for an independent manly man, is becoming civilized! Settlers (Morgan denounces them as "Scum!") are putting down roots on Loki, starting farms and families, and they want to exterminate the sehft rats, who despoil their orchards. Sehft has also been synthesized off world, so the value of sehft has gone down by like 99%, leaving Morgan in real financial trouble. Law and order is also coming to Loki in the form of Major Rufus Dodd, an old friend of Morgan's--they grew up together on Mars.
"Paradise Street" is like a story about the old West, with a general store, a saloon, a new sheriff in town, desperadoes and ranch hands--there's even a minor character who is a Native American (a "hawk-nosed Red Amerindian.") It is also like a 20th century crime story--100% natural and organic sehft (not the synthetic stuff) turns out to be a powerful narcotic, and Morgan, due to ignorance and carelessness, gets mixed up with organized crime and the cops (in the form of his childhood friend Dodd.) Venusian crime bosses want to get their hands on some organic sehft, but Dodd has confiscated it and locked it all up, so the Venusians hire Morgan to cause a native herd of cattle to stampede; this will distract the settlers and the lawmen and give the Venus mafia a chance to liberate the sehft.
To stampede the beasts Morgan has to get in tune with nature, and Moore gives us a scene in which Morgan "feels" the rhythm of Loki through his fingers and toes as he crouches in the moss. Moore also gives us a quote from A. E. Housman's "The Night is Freezing Fast." (A. E. Housman seems to be a favorite of SF writers.) Morgan directs the stampede so it wrecks the crops the settlers have spent a year tending, but then the Venusians, with firearms, throw the stampede out of control so it damages the town and even kills a handful of innocent people. The settlers take up arms and outfight and then lynch the Venusians. The settlers want to hang Morgan as well, but Dodd, quoting Kipling's "The Explorer," (Kipling is another favorite versifier of the SF crowd, at least the conservative/libertarian faction of people like Poul Anderson and Robert Heinlein) helps Morgan escape, directing him to a merchant space ship on which he can stow away and get to a newly discovered planet, where he can play "hermit trapper in touch with nature" again. Morgan doesn't belong among civilized men, neither the boring community-minded types like the settlers nor the evil predatory type like the Venusian criminals--he belongs alone on the frontier.
There are some silly elements to "Paradise Street," and it does remind you of that famous Galaxy ad that derides that species of SF that is just Westerns in space, but it is smoothly written and entertaining.
All these stories are worth your time. "Heir Apparent," "Promised Land" and "Paradise Street" all have action and revenge elements, and all talk about imperialism and colonialism, how individual human beings and the government deal with exploring and conquering and exploiting new territories; "Heir Apparent" and "Promised Land" also do the thing that Malzberg told John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding, SF should do, explore how technology is "consuming" people, taking away their individuality and their ability to control their lives. (See Malzberg's essay "John W. Campbell: June 8, 1910 to July 11, 1971," in which our pal Barry recounts his meeting with Campbell; I know I have recommended it before--it is a great essay for those of us interested in both Golden Age and New Wave SF.)
|Squint or click to read about these Dell offerings|
D. F. Jones's novel Earth Has Been Found also gets a page to itself (no blurbs, though.) I thought it was funny that the marketing people at Dell thought that SF readers would be excited by the thought of a story about "California's finest doctor." Gordon Dickson's novel about astronauts going to Mars, The Far Call, is another item that gets the full-page treatment; "undersecretary for space" sounds a little dry, but next to "best sawbones on the Left Coast," maybe it's not so bad.
If your criteria is efficiency, the best of the four ad pages is the one with a list of thirteen books. I have a (peripheral, I admit) familiarity with a few of these.
For New Wavey, literary SF types, Dell offers Michael Bishop's Stolen Faces, which Joachim Boaz declared "a near masterpiece," and Richard Lupoff's Space War Blues (I read the ambitious and dense 90-page short story upon which this novel is based in my hardcover copy of Again, Dangerous Visions) and John Varley's The Ophiuchi Hotline, which I read before I started this blog and thought was alright.
Dell has stuff for the sword & sorcery and planetary romance fan as well. I assume I read The Silver Warriors by Michael Moorcock decades ago (I know I owned a copy, which my brother probably still has back in New Jersey, greatest state in the union) but I can't remember any specifics about it; it is the second of the Erekose books and sometimes printed under the title Phoenix in Obsidian. I actually remember the first Erekose book, more or less (I compared it to Edmond Hamilton's A Yank at Valhalla last year.) I enjoyed all those Eternal Champion books in my teens, and often think about rereading them. Flashing Swords #4 includes Moorcock's "The Lands Beyond the World," which I think makes up a third of the Elric book The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. Flashing Swords #4 also includes one of the component stories of Jack Vance's delightful Cugel's Saga (AKA Cugel: The Skybreak Spatterlight.) I own a copy of Andrew Offutt's Ardor on Aros, but haven't read it yet--I am interested in Offut's work, but I have got the idea that Ardor on Aros is a spoof, not a sincere adventure story, and this has put me off a little bit. I read the first two Callisto novels by Lin Carter in the 2000 ibooks omnibus edition; they were mediocre. Ylana of Callisto, according to isfdb, is the seventh Callisto book--I guess people were buying them.
Comments are welcome on all the advertised books, as well as on C. L. Moore, of course.
More SF from 1940s magazines in out next episode!