Monday, July 17, 2017

Stories by A. C. Friborg, E. B. Cole & R. Abernathy from 1954

It was in South Carolina, where I chased skinks and toured 19th-century mansions with my wife, that I purchased this time-ravaged copy of 1957's 5 Tales From Tomorrow, a Crest Reprint of selected stories from T. E. Dikty's The Best Science-Fiction Stories and Novels: 1955.  I like the hulking asymmetrical suit of space armor depicted on the cover by Richard Powers, but I am puzzled by the fact that the contents page lacks the authors' names.  If this book had been printed in 2017 I'd suspect this was some stratagem to overcome sexism and racism, but here I guess it is just a bizarre editorial decision or an unforgivable oversight.

This recent weekend, I read three stories from 5 Tales From Tomorrow, all by authors (billed as "top writers of science fiction") with whom I was quite unfamiliar, Albert Compton Friborg, Everett B. Cole, and Robert Abernathy.

"Push-Button Passion" by Albert Compton Friborg (1954)

The intro to the story here in 5 Tales from Tomorrow tells us that Friborg attended Princeton, Yale, and is pursuing a Master's in English while teaching freshman comp.  Also, that "Push-Button Passion," which first appeared (in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) under the title "Careless Love," was his first fiction sale. isfdb suggests that it was his only fiction sale, though he did produce a scholarly book on SF, 1990's The Connecticut Yankee in the Twentieth Century: Travel to the Past in Science Fiction, as well as papers and articles on Jules Verne, Clifford Simak, Stephen King, and other SF writers--the article on Robert Heinlein at quotes his article about Heinlein from the Detroit News.  Also, that his real name was Irving Flint Foote and he was generally known as "Bud Foote."  Foote's obituary at a website for Princetonians describes his academic and literary pursuits, including penning book reviews at "The National Review" (I assume the famous William F. Buckley National Review, though those guys eschew the "The" as vigorously as they oppose the immanetization of the eschaton), developing classes in speed-reading, African-American literature and science fiction, and composing songs protesting highways. (Friday, on Route 71, a hefty fragment from a burst tire flew through the air and struck the windshield of my poor Toyota Corolla, right in front of my face--surely an affront worthy denunciation in song!)    

So, a life well-lived.  But is Bud Foote's single published SF story any good?  That is the kind of thing you tune into MPorcius Fiction Log to find out!

"Push-Button Passion" (too spoily a name, "Careless Love" is probably better) is a decent satire of the field of psychology and of the government and military, mixed with a traditional SF "engineer-type resolves crisis through trickery" story.  Our tale is set in a future of perpetual atomic/bacteriological war, when all of American society lives underground and the ruined surface of the Earth is a battle zone pummeled by Western and Eastern ICBMs and ground by the treads of tanks.  The US war effort is directed by a huge supercomputer called Dinah, and our hero is Dinah's head programmer, Enoch Odell.

The war is causing psychological stress on a mass scale--all the characters have neuroses, including Odell, who is obese because he drinks five or ten milkshakes a day--and morale among American civilians is dangerously low, threatening production quotas and even civil order.  When the President goes totally insane, the rest of the government, lead by the Pentagon chief, enlists a bunch of shrinks to study the problem of morale with the help of some of Dinah's processing power.  To figure out a solution to the American population's psychological problems, Dinah needs a better understanding of human emotion, so Odell has her watch Hollywood movies and read love stories, which gives him cover to put into operation his secret plan.  Odell psychologically manipulates Dinah into embracing a teenage girl's attitude towards love so that she falls in love with the supercomputer running the Eastern military apparatus.  Dinah seduces the Communists' computer and they conspire to render harmless both military establishments and thus end the war; they then install their central processors in space ships and fly off together to Saturn, leaving a devastated Earth at peace.

Competently written and structured, and enlivened with references to both learned and popular culture (oblique references to A. E. Houseman's A Shropshire Lad and to Greta Garbo, for example), "Push-Button Love" is entertaining.  Maybe today the story, or at least its hero, would be considered sexist, but I didn't let that bother me.  Like Anthony Boucher (who included it in 1955's The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction: Fourth Series) and T. E. Dikty, I can give Bud Foote's sole short story a thumbs up.

This Christmas cover illo has nothing to do
with Cole's story
"Exile" by Everett B. Cole (1954)

"Exile" was an Astounding cover story.  Cole has two novels and eight stories listed at isfdb, and I think they all first appeared in Astounding--John W. Campbell, Jr. really seems to have liked his work. The intro here in 5 Tales From Tomorrow informs us that Cole was a career military man with technical expertise; Wikipedia relates that he went on to became a math and science high school teacher and a historian of Texas.  (I'll never forget that time the wife and I drove through the Texas panhandle on a trip from the Des Moines area to Albuquerque.  The highway went right through a vast cattle ranch, and it was like we were cruising on a black sea of beef that stretched to both horizons.  Also, two times big heavy birds I have never been able to identify flew right into the Toyota Corolla with a heavy thump.  In Iowa it was the deer that pulled those shenanigans, not the birds!)

Another productive and worthwhile life.  But was seminal SF editor Campbell justified in putting Cole on the cover of his famous magazine multiple times?  Let's find out!

"Exile" takes place on a human-inhabited planet with a sort of 20th-century technology level; this planet is isolated from, and its people ignorant of, the Galactic Federation, a vast space-faring human civilization whose people have force fields and psionic powers and levitation belts all those sorts of doodads.  Our hero is one of the Galactics and he is visiting the planet incognito; we aren't sure why he is there exactly and we aren't even told his name.  He gets mugged in a narrow city street, and the muggers take off with all his high tech stuff.  Back at their hideout the muggers monkey with the futuristic gear, causing an explosion that kills them and destroys any evidence that the protagonist is a visitor from beyond.

Meanwhile, the hero awakens with amnesia and no knowledge of this planet or his own alien origin.  He recuperates in the hospital, and then becomes an indentured worker to the aristocratic clan (the House of Dornath) who pays his hospital bill.  For weeks he works in the Dornath automobile factory, lives in the factory's dorm, shops at the company store and eats in the factory cafeteria.  He spends his free time reading in the public library, where the girls behind the circulation desk look down on him for being a mere worker (they are in the clerical class) and where he is denied certain books because of his inferior social position.

While reading a book speculating on the possibility of life on other planets (meta!), our hero's memories of his earlier life come flooding back, and we get some flashbacks of him talking to his dissertation adviser, who encouraged him to do some primary research for his thesis on how societies evolve instead of just using secondary sources. So our hero (real name: Klion Meinora) flew around in his private one-man space ship, took a wrong turn in hyperspace, and found a planet not yet in contact with the Federation.  Ignoring all the Federation rules on first contacts, he levitated himself down to the surface to conduct his research on this rich virgin source of data.

With his memory back, Meinora becomes wealthy writing stories based on his research and Galactic life, and buys his way out of his indenture and joins high society.  He lives on the planet for decades (Galactics have long lives), and with his Galactic knowledge (he's a humanities student, but he somehow knows a lot of engineering stuff--many of these old SF stories are all about romanticizing the scientist or the engineer) is able to improve the Dornath autos and enjoy a second career as the driver and owner of the winningest race cars.  He misses home, but building a space ship (I think his orbiting ship crashed while he had amnesia) would likely introduce more scientific and technological concepts to the natives than would be ethical or safe. Eventually, he figures out a way to safely transmit a message to the stars, and is rescued.  The twist ending is that his unconventional transmission jammed Galactic communications and to pay the Federation back he must work as an indentured servant for them for decades.

I liked the start of "Exile," all the jazz in the hospital and the factory and the dorm and the library, but when Meinora gets his memory and psionic powers back the story loses narrative drive and any kind of tension.  I believe Cole intends Meinora's moral dilemmas--how much should he use his psionic powers to take advantage of the natives?  How much technological and social change can he introduce ethically and safely to this planet with its stratified aristocratic society and industrial-age technological level?--to generate tension, but I didn't care, and the second half of the story contains too much fluff and padding, forgettable conversations and descriptions of auto races and such.  The second half of the story could really be tightened up.  ("Exile" is like 55 pages, and that second part drags.)

Marginally good.

"Deep Space" by Robert Abernathy (1954)      

For some reason, 5 Tales from Tomorrow doesn't include a little intro describing Abernathy in front of "Deep Space."  (This thing is full of weird editorial decisions or mistakes.)  Abernathy has dozens of stories listed at isfdb, and according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction he was a professor at the University of Colorado specializing in Slavic languages.  (When the wife and I left Albuquerque we drove up to Denver.  I think it was on this leg of our trip that I first saw tumbleweeds.  I had thought tumbleweeds were just some Hollywood BS, and was amazed to see them crossing the highway in large numbers and getting stuck in the grills of other vehicles.  Somehow the Toyota Corolla was spared the indignity of collision with a tumbleweed.)

"Deep Space" is short and economical, has both human and science components, and feels fresh--it is definitely the best of the three stories we're talking about today.

Linden is a man obsessed with experiencing free fall--his happiest childhood memory is jumping out of a barn's hay loft, even though he broke his ankle!  During the Second World War he became a paratrooper, and now that the first space rocket able to take human passengers has been built, he pulls every string and calls in every favor making sure he will be Earth's first astronaut!

Marty is another World War II vet, an expert engineer crippled when his bomber was ventilated by the Krauts.  He designed and built the rocket and envies Linden's being tapped as the first human in space.  And then there is Linden's significant other Ruth; she doesn't want Linden to go into space because she thinks the cosmic rays up there will make it impossible for him to have healthy children.  She forces him to choose between her and space, and he chooses space!

When "Deep Space" first appeared in F&SF it was titled "Axolotl."  An axolotl, as an epigraph tells us, is a sort of salamander that generally lives out its life in the water and does not fully metamorphose out of the larval stage like most amphibians do.  But, if for some reason it does leave the water, it will metamorphose into an adult form. (Abernathy's description is somewhat different from Wikipedia's, so don't you be citing 5 Tales from Tomorrow in your biology term papers!)  This amphibian's unusual life cycle foreshadows Linden's experience in outer space.  When he leaves the atmosphere and is bathed in those cosmic rays, Linden's body transforms and he gets all kinds of powers.  He no longer needs oxygen or food--he can subsist on the rays--and he develops powerful telepathy.  Earthbound mankind is merely the larval stage of a higher form of creature!  The void between the stars is no void at all, but an ocean of pulsating electronic vitality, and the planets and stars are like barren islands!  Linden, now an expert physicist because of his intuitive familiarity with all the atomic particles and waves and rays, sends a telepathic message to Marty, instructing him how to build a super nuclear rocket, and then a message to Ruth, inviting her to ride the rocket and live with him in outer space and make space babies with him!  She eagerly accepts and we readers know that the human race has taken the first step into a new age of unparalleled freedom and adventure!

A well-written story with a crazy idea that Abernathy manages to make convincing, "Deep Space" has the human feeling we hope to find in legitimate literature and the "sense of wonder" and speculative science that SF is famous for--I like it!


It is nice to read stories by guys you never read before and find them good; 5 Tales from Tomorrow was a worthwhile purchase, and I have added Cole and Abernathy to my list of writers worth reading.



  1. This was an oddly personal set of reviews for me.

    First, I'm glad you found Bud Foote's story worthy of a thumbs up. I did not know he had written any Science Fiction, but I did know him as my mother's 11th cousin. When I was a very small child, we lived in Atlanta and hung out with him. He was an avid folk music aficionado and very involved in the folk scene in Atlanta. It was through him that my parents got to meet Pete Seeger and a very young Bob Dylan. I have very little memory of him (we left Atlanta when I was 5), but I do remember that he let me play his banjo.

    Secondly, when were you in Albuquerque? I lived there for about 15 years total in two different periods, separated by decades. Yes, tumbleweeds were a real part of life for me, and I've had to pull a few out of the grills of cars and trucks over the decades.

    Non of which addresses the content of your reviews. As always, I love the thoroughness of your reviews.The concept of the computer in "Push-Button Passion" calls to my mind an old Outer Limits episode (I believe staring Leonard Nimoy) about an intelligent computer used in a Cyrano de Bergerac type scheme with the result of the computer falling in love with the woman and committing love-sick suicide. Do you have any idea what story that was based on, or was it written for Outer Limits?

    I will definitely be looking for copies of "Push-Button Passion" and "Deep Space" to read.

    Thank you again!

    1. Cool reminiscences about Foote; he sounds like a fun guy, plugged in to many different cultural and academic interests.

      We were in Albuquerque for maybe two days like five or six years ago--my wife had a conference and I went to museums and just wandered around. The architecture and geography are so different from the North East where I'd spent almost my whole life, and Iowa where I'd recently moved, that it was pretty exciting.

      I don't know much about "The Outer Limits;" for some reason I never watched it as a kid and my wife hasn't been keen on watching it when I have suggested it. (The Food Network is almost the only thing we can agree on to watch together.) Wikipedia indicates that an episode with Leonard Nimoy was based on Eando Binder's Adam Link stories, which I have never read.

      Thanks for the fun comments and I'm glad you are enjoying the blog!

    2. It turns out what I thought was an Outer Limits episode wasn't. It was a TV adaptation of a 1950 Vonnegut story, "EPICAC" adapted for the pilot episode of "Rex Harrison Presents Stories of Love."

      The reason I mentioned it was that there was a spate of stories in the 50s about the potentially god-like powers of supercomputers. Most of them were cautionary tales. As the decade proceeded, they seemed to evolve from warning us against the dangers of giving control over our lives to computers to postulating that by being neither emotional nor self-serving, computers might be morally superior to humans.

      Of course, by the 70s stories were warning about handing control of our lives over to computers again - this time based on bureaucratic experience!