Thursday, August 24, 2023

Astounding April 1941: L R Hubbard, M Jameson and P Schuyler Miller

Here at MPoricus Fiction Log we are reading the Kilkenny Cats series, a bunch of stories written by L. Ron Hubbard that appeared in Astounding in the early 1940s under the pen name Kurt von Rachen.  We are reading these tales in scans of the magazines in which they debuted, and sampling other offerings from each issue as we proceed.  Today we read the fourth Kilkenny Cats story, "The Mutineers," from the April 1941 Astounding, in which also appear two stories I have already read, Theodore Sturgeon's famous classic "Microcosmic God" and A. E. van Vogt's "Not the First," as well as the first part of a serial by L. Sprague de Camp.  Leaving those pieces aside, at least for the nonce, today we'll be reading the tales in this issue of John W. Campbell, Jr's iconic magazine by less prominent authors Malcolm Jameson and P. Schuyler Miller.  

"The Mutineers" by L. Ron Hubbard 

In "The Mutineers" Hubbard builds up the backgrounds of hero Steve Gailbraith and his other characters, for example describing in greater detail than heretofore vouchsafed to us Gailbraith's decision to betray the aristocracy and side with the rebels who overthrew the monarchy, and providing us more info on Fagar, the miner at the head of the communist faction of rebels who made himself dictator of Earth and had Gailbraith and other non-communist rebels killed or sent into exile on Sereon.  Besides these sorts of flashbacks and expository passages, we learn how the exiles have fared since Gailbraith captured them a ship and got them off Sereon in the last episode.

An experienced space naval officer who has already saved the exiles' lives repeatedly, Gailbraith felt it natural he should take command of the ship, but neither the leader of the small coterie of scientists among the exiles, Jean Mauchard, nor the leader of the hundreds of longshoremen, Dave Blacker, would recognize Gailbraith's authority.  And Gailbraith is also on the outs with beautiful blonde Fredericka Stalton, who like Fagar fought her way up from the working classes to be a leader of the rebellion (the charismatic and gorgeous Stalton found her ladder to success in the propaganda department.)  Stalton objects to Gailbraith's imperiousness, and Gailbraith's aristocratic attitudes about women, whom he doesn't see as fit for leadership, also rankle.  At the same time, Hubbard makes it still more clear that Gailbraith and Stalton belong together by revealing that Stalton has aristocratic blood--she grew up in a tenement because she was abandoned and unacknowledged by her philandering upper class father (ripped from today's headlines!)

We also learn more about Mauchard, who is the prime mover of the plot of this story.  The scientist knows of a planet, New Terre, rich in natural resources, and wants the exiles to travel there in their captured battleship.  Gailbraith and Blacker are reluctant to go, Steve warning that such a valuable piece of real estate is probably guarded by a force of Fagar's or has even been captured by hostile aliens during the chaos of the Terran civil war, while Blacker objects because he suspects on such a planet his working-class followers will be consigned to the position of laborers--Blacker's idea is that the exiles they should use the battleship to take up space piracy.  In an effort to cut this Gordian knot, Mauchard pumps the ship full of sleep gas, leaving only himself and his dozen or so fellow scientists awake so they can take over the ship and chart a course to New Terre, where, after the twelve-day trip they are, sure enough, fired upon by the locals.  Luckily Gailbraith has woken up a little earlier than everybody else and employs his sterling leadership ability and intimate knowledge of space ship operations to quickly win the subalterns over to his way of thinking, take over the ship from Mauchard, and save the day by bluffing the hostile aliens.

This is an entertaining classic-style SF story with space naval battles and people using technology and trickery to try to defeat foes and overcome other plot obstacles.  Like the first Kilkenny Cats story, it explicitly denounces revolution, and like so many SF stories, it romanticizes the role of the individual in society and endorses what we might call "the great man theory of history," pushing a sort of elitism and suggesting the common people should defer to their betters if they want a stable and comfortable society.  Perhaps interestingly, Hubbard in "The Mutineers" favors the highborn fighting man over the middle-class scientist, though the blackest villains of the piece are of course vengeful working-class thugs.  Hubbard in Steve Gailbraith tries to depict a character who evolves--a man who has made a terrible mistake and is almost psychologically destroyed by regret, but under pressure proves his abilities and works towards some kind of redemption, and who, perhaps, is going to grow out of his antediluvian attitudes about women.

"Slacker's Paradise" by Malcolm Jameson 

Way back in 2015, I read a story from Malcolm Jameson's Bullard series and denounced it as something a child would write.  Eight years later I read another Bullard tale--will I like it any better?  

The Solar System is wracked by war, millions dying as the the alliance of Earth and Mars resists the expansion of the Jovian Empire.  The main character of "Slacker's Paradise" is a young junior lieutenant in the space navy, MacKay, skipper of a patrol boat; as the scion of a wealthy family, he is experienced in operating small spaceships because he has his own space yacht.  MacKay is somewhat ashamed because he has never been in a battle--his influential aunt has pulled strings, against his wishes, to make sure he is never sent in harm's way--"slacker's paradise" is the slang term for his vessel's assigned duties, which are far from the battle zone.

Suddenly, MacKay gets an opportunity to be a hero!  His idol, Captain Bullard, winner of many battles, needs MacKay's fast patrol boat to deliver a message so important it cannot be transmitted through the aether, only hand delivered!

On the mission strange and unexpected circumstances arise that force MacKay to make drastic decisions that may well determine the fate of the war and the futures of all the peoples of the Solar System.  The plot is a little complicated, but basically it looks like Earth and Mars are worn out and may have to come to terms with the Callistan dictator who has forged the Jovian Empire by subjugating the other moons of Jupiter, but MacKay, by luck, learns that many of the peoples of the Jovian moons are sick of the war themselves and will consider rebelling against the Callistan tyranny if promised Terran aid.  Inspired by the example and advice of his hero Bullard ("any action is better than inaction"), MacKay takes the radical risk of shouldering the responsibility of Terran diplomacy without any authorization from his superiors, sending deceptive messages to the Callistan rulers and to potentially rebellious factions within their empire.  MacKay's trickery pays off, the war is won, and Bullard pins a metal on MacKay's chest.

A long footnote from Jameson explains how a major part of the plot of "Slacker's Paradise" is based on an incident at the end of the First World War, the surrenders of the Austrian battleships Zryini and Radetzky to American submarine chasers.  Maybe we're supposed to think of Callisto as being an analog of Prussia.  

"Slacker's Paradise" feels a little like a juvenile, what with its plot that centers on a young person meeting his role model and earning the respect of this father figure by making good by following surrogate daddy's advice, but the story is reasonably well-written and kinda fun.

"Bird Walk" by P. Schuyler Miller

"Bird Walk" is set in a wildlife preserve on Venus, which has been inhabited by Terran colonists for like 200 years.  These have been two turbulent centuries, with a struggle for independence from Earth which ended up founding an autocratic monarchy which was in turn overthrown and replaced by a democratic republic; since then there has been a series of royalist revolts.  One of the symbols of the currently deposed Venusian royal family is a huge ruby, and more than once leaders of the royalist uprisings have kicked off their restoration attempts by seizing this jewel from its resting place in a museum and using the fabulous relic to inspire royalist sympathizers among the masses.

The hero of our tale is the junior of the two-man staff of a small space navy outpost on the edge of the wildlife preserve.  Young New York-born officer Dave is a keen amateur ornithologist who knows the wildlife preserve like the back of his hand and has become an expert on the local flying fauna.  Miller's story begins with some metal-eating Venusian birds somehow getting into the outpost's radio shack and destroying the only radio in the area; the outpost's senior officer accuses our boy Dave of letting the gluttonous birds in, but he protests his innocence, and soon evidence arises that somebody else probably let the birds get at the radio as part of a scheme to hide the royal jewel, which the naval officers learn has just been stolen again.  Could the culprit be the head park ranger, an aristocratic type with whom the space naval officers don't get along?  

A tour group arrives at the wildlife refuge--our heroes deduce that a member of this group must be in possession of the jewel, and Dave uses his knowledge of the exotic local fauna and a lot of chicanery to identify the rebellious royalists and save Venusian democracy. 

"Bird Walk" reminded me a bit of Jack Vance's short stories.  As Vance sometimes does, Miller develops a somewhat elaborate background full of speculative politics, sociology and biology, including a long list of strange animals, to serve as the foundation of a crime story.  Among the things that really struck me as Vancian were Miller's suggestion that life on Venus, after only two hundred years, could lead to changes to the human phenotype, with Venus-born humans having a different skin and hair color than Earth-born humans, and how fashionable people in the story's universe cosmetically alter their skin and hair color.                 

Pretty good.  I've only read one other story by Miller (1944's "As Never Was"), but I have enjoyed both, so maybe I should make an effort to read more work by him.  


Three stories about space naval officers fighting autocracy by outwitting people, perhaps a reflection of the time in which they were written as well as the SF genre in general.  I enjoyed all three, but none of them has ever been anthologized; the Hubbard and Jameson stories have been reprinted in collections, while it looks like the Miller has never reappeared.  I, for one, generally find it profitable to read these sorts of minor almost-forgotten SF stories, and I certainly did so today.  Kudos to the internet archive yet again for making this sort of material easily accessible.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Astounding Jan 1941: L R Hubbard, M W Wellman and M G Hugi and E F Russell

Let's twiddle the knobs and tune in the pre-Dianetics L. Ron Hubbard and read the third installment of Hubbard's Kilkenny Cats series in its January 1941 incarnation in an issue of Astounding, the leading science fiction magazine, at that time edited by the towering figure of John W. Campbell, Jr.  Also in this issue is the first part of Robert Heinlein's serialized Sixth Column, a novel I haven't read yet and won't be starting today.  What we will be reading today from the 1/41 Astounding besides Hubbard's contribution is a story by Manly Wade Wellman, author of many weird stories and space operas, and a collaboration between Eric Frank Russell, reportedly Campbell's favorite author, and Maurice G. Hugi, a guy I don't know anything about.  

(Here are links to my blog posts about the first two Kilkenny Cats stories, "The Idealist" and "The Kilkenny Cats.")

"The Traitor" by L. Ron Hubbard

The colony of exiles on Sereon is in trouble.  Not only are the tensions between the small cadre of educated professionals and the large group of laborers erupting into violence again--perhaps even worse, a green plague has started infecting the colonists.  Fortunately, former royalist space naval officer Steve Gailbraith, who turned revolutionary and once the revolution was won and had  turned on him turned reactionary, a man who doesn't really get along well with the eggheads or the working class thugs, is on the scene to patch things up. 

Steve pretends to be a traitor to his fellow exiles, commandeering the colony's communications apparatus by force and transmitting a cock and bull story to the communist government that exiled them about how the colonists have dug up a space worthy warship abandoned on Sereon long ago and are now preparing it to harass government shipping.  This call brings back to Sereon the space battleship that brought the exiles to the planet.  The ship's officers are untrained and uncharismatic incompetents whom the ordinary spacers and marines don't respect, so Gailbraith is able to seize control of the ship through trickery and personal magnetism.

"The Traitor"'s chase scenes and military scenes, involving various ray guns and force fields and people getting gruesomely blasted, are pretty entertaining.  Hubbard also provides the pay off for the scenes in the last installment that showed how unfit for command were the revolutionary officers of the battleship, and advances Gailbraith's relationship with beautiful propaganda officer Frerdericka Stalton.

Pretty good.  Now that Gailbraith has a space ship, I guess we'll see what he does with it in the next installment of the Kilkenny Cats series.

"Lost Rocket" by Manly Wade Wellman

Here we have a murder mystery in space with not only a cast of suspects/potential victims and a bunch of clues for the cast to cogitate over and argue about, but also the space suits, ray guns, and zero-G physics we SF fans crave.  Wellman handles all this material pretty well, so I enjoyed "Lost Rocket." 

It is the spacefaring future; mankind's furthest flung colonies are among the Jovian moons.  Some robber barons are making more money out there under the Great Red Spot than the government on Earth likes, so in the mail on the latest supply ship is a written order to the current colonial governor, whom the Terran officials have deemed too friendly to the robber barons--he is to stand down and make way for his second-in-command.  But the supply ship doesn't make it to Jupiter intact!  The vessel's engines explode, killing some thirty men!  The bow of the vessel and a limited supply of oxygen remains intact, and the five spacemen who were there when the motor went boom survive: the captain, his lieutenant, a squid-like Martian mechanic, and two ordinary spacers, one young and enthusiastic, the other gruff and "beefy."  The five men figure that one of their number must have sabotaged the ship at the behest of the Jovian robber barons, making sure he was in the bow so he would survive the blast and live to get his reward from the Jovian monopolists.  No doubt a ship working for the robber barons will collect them, rescuing the robber barons' agent and killing the other four men.  Do the innocent spacemen have time to figure out who the villain is before they are picked up by the criminals and murdered?  Could they somehow alter the course of their unpowered coasting rump of a ship?  And what will the canny saboteur do to protect his identity and make sure he hooks up with his payday? 

I liked the space walk scene and the fight scenes, but the mystery is pretty good as well.  Thumbs up for "Lost Rocket!"  

Wellman is a pretty well-known and well-liked writer, and I recommend "Lost Rocket," but according to isfdb it has never been reprinted.  The publishing world can be as cruel and inexplicable as the void between the stars!

"The Mechanical Mice" by Maurice G. Hugi and Eric Frank Russell

Anthologists may have given "The Traitor" and "Lost Rocket" the cold shoulder, but not "The Mechanical Mice," which appears in multiple US and European anthologies.  The story was printed under Hugi's name here in Astounding and in the 1957 edition of Healy and McComas' Adventures in Time and Space I consulted at isfdb; Terry Carr, however, in his 1978 anthology Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, credits it to Russell, and explains in his intro to the tale.  It seems that Russell wrote the story based on the germ of an idea that was included in a story Hugi wrote but which was rejected by editors some twenty times; Carr tells us Hugi was a good friend of Russell's, but "a dreadful writer."

(Carr's intro is pretty colorful, describing Russell typing the story in Liverpool during a Luftwaffe raid and letting Hugi take credit for it as a favor to a sick friend close to death who would be cheered up by seeing his name in Astounding.  Like a real scholar, Carr provides a long citation list of his sources for his intro, which also touches on the history of SF in Britain in the early 20th century, so if Russell or British SF generally is one of your interests, check it out.)

"The Mechanical Mice" is a pretty good SF horror story, with gore and some sense of wonder elements that perhaps inch into cosmic horror territory.  One of my complaints about "The Mechanical Mice" is that while Russell employs first-person narration, he also includes long passages describing in detail events to which the narrator was not a witness; Russell should have just composed the entire thing in the third person.  

The narrator is a writer, and he has a friend who is an inventor.  Friend some years ago invented a super efficient battery.  In the beginning of this story the narrator learns how his pal came up with that impressive invention.  You see, this brainiac also has, secretly, invented the "psychophone," a thing you attach to your noggin that allows you to look into the future!  What you witness is largely random, but the inventor was lucky enough to peer through the mists of time and watch a person of the future manufacturing a battery; he was then able to reproduce that process in his own 20th-century lab and thus made a mint marketing to consumers the superior technology of the far future.

(As in so many time travel stories, in "The Mechanical Mice" Russell addresses time paradoxes and the possibility of changing history; Russell asserts that you cannot change history.)

The narrator dons the apparatus and takes a crack at observing the future and witnesses scenes of violence and grue in a totalitarian dystopia in which people are controlled via headsets they are obligated to wear.  The tone of "The Mechanical Mice" is that of a weird horror tale, and the futures it depicts are strange and disturbing.

The inventor has another mind-blowing revelation for the narrator.  For years now, based on his glimpses of the future, he has been building a machine, but he doesn't actually know what the machine does.  It appears that the inventor, gazing into the future, laid eyes upon an advanced machine, a robot, that was capable of detecting the inventor's prying eyes and even look back, implanting into his mind blueprints and hypnotizing him into making a replica of itself in the 20th century.  The inventor shows the resulting mystery machine to his friend; it is is a sort of refrigerator-sized box on casters adorned with camera eyes as well as antennae that remind the narrator of a devil's horns.  In keeping with the story's horror tone, the narrator repeatedly describes the machine as being the size and shape of a coffin, and both our main characters uneasily recognize a sinister "air" about it.

The second half of "The Mechanical Mice"'s 18 pages concern how this future machine proves to be a terrible menace and our heroes and some minor characters fight it.  Russell uses animal analogies to explain how the machine operates.  The machine, it turns out, is like a queen bee that gives birth to swarms of smaller robots; these robots are likened to rodents, being mouse- or rat-sized, and capable of scurrying along with terrific dexterity at astonishing speed.  So like rodents are they that cats who see them instantly attack them, but these little droids are armed with wickedly sharp blades, and over the course of the story many felines are killed, Russell describing in some detail their bloody wounds.  The mechanical mice steal watches and clocks and bring them back to the mother robot, and anybody who tries to stop them gets cut.

Our two guys wreck the mother robot, and we have a sort of climax and denouement in which the inventor muses on the robot-dominated future of Earth (offering a crumb of optimism by raising the possibility that the robots only take over the world because mankind has graduated from an Earthbound existence and emigrated to the stars.)  But then for some reason the story keeps going, with another mother robot discovered (built by mice from the first one) and the mechanical mice's reign of terror continuing.  So our heroes have to find and destroy this one as well.  This final part has some good gore scenes and a fun idea on how to defeat the robots, but Russell should have somehow integrated that material into the struggle with the first robot queen--two climaxes is one too many; after the defeat of the first robot queen I couldn't muster up sufficient interest in a second queen to make lengthening the story in this way worthwhile.

As I have suggested, I have some gripes about the construction of this story, but the plot and themes are good and individual sections are all well-written.  So, thumbs up.


Three entertaining stories that make good use of so many beloved standard-issue SF components: inventors, space warships, forcefields, space suits, ray guns, malevolent robots, and time travel.  A solid issue of Astounding.

More Astounding and L. Ron Hubbard next time here at MPorcius Fiction Log.   

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Astounding Sept '40: L R Hubbard, R Rocklynne and V Phillips

Here at MPorcius Fiction Log we are reading stories from the issues of Astounding in which L. Ron Hubbard's Kilkenny Cats stories debuted.  Today we've got the September 1940 issue, from the pages of which we will read not only Hubbard's contribution but a piece by Ross Rocklynne, even though the last time we read a Rocklynne story I denounced it as a "repetitive" and "tedious" "waste of time" consisting of "anemic jokes" (ouch) and a story by Vic Phillips, about whom I know nothing. 

(This important issue of John W. Campbell, Jr.'s magazine also features the first installment of the serialized version of A. E. van Vogt's famous Slan, and a story from Robert A. Heinlein's Future History, "Blowups Happen."  I read a book version of Slan many years ago, and may read this magazine version someday.  "Blowups Happen" I blogged about way back in 2014.  I reread "Blowups Happen" yesterday, and can't think of anything additional to say that is any more interesting than what I said back then.)

"The Kilkenny Cats" by L. Ron Hubbard

Like the first Kilkenny Cats story, "The Idealist," "The Kilkenny Cats" appears under the pseudonym Kurt von Rachen.  According to isfdb, this story has never been reprinted on its own, just in the 1980 Italian Kilkenny Cats collection I ribelli dell'universo and the 1992 small press hardcover Kilkenny Cats collection.  

At the end of "The Idealist," the leaders of the Anarchist party were captive on a starship headed for planet Sereon, having been sentenced by the newly installed communist government of Earth to exile on that mysterious planet.  (The naive anarchists had been the commies' allies in the revolution against Earth's aristocratic rulers, only to find the Reds turning on them as soon as the aristos were out of the way.)  Hubbard spends the first few pages of "The Kilkenny Cats" demonstrating somewhat comically how the starship, run efficiently when manned by the men of the old Royal Space Navy, is now being run haphazardly and lackadasically by the uneducated communist dopes who have succeeded the deposed aristocrats.  We also learn that the dictator of Earth, Fagar, has given the commander of the starship, Lars Tavish, instructions to set up the penal colony on Sereon in such a way that will foster a self-destructive fight between the disparate groups of anarchist exiles.  The two main factions are the seventeen middle-class scientists led by Jean Maucahrd and the longshoremen (375 in number) led by Dave Blacker; also in the mix are our two main characters, Colonel Stephen Gailbraith, a space navy veteran and hero of the revolution who now heartily regrets his support of the revolution and Fredericka Stalton, master propagandist and former poster child for the communist party who has been exiled along with the anarchists because Fagar worried her popularity threatened his rule, especially after she expressed misgivings about communist policy.

Lars Tavish sets up the scientists in one camp and the laborers in another, the former with all the food and high tech equipment, except for the rifles, which go to the longshoremen.  Almost immediately following the departure of the ship, the two groups are at each other's throats.  Meanwhile, Gailbraith, accompanied by Stalton, who don't get along with either Mauchard or Blacker, march off into the wilderness.  Demonstrating an iron will, a talent for command and endless resourcefulness, Gailbraith succeeds in getting Mauchard's boffins and Blacker's laborers to stop fighting each other and work together by introducing an external threat--packs of native carnivores.  Stalton, a tough and cynical girl whose ability to manipulate others carried her out of the tenements and into the top ranks of the revolution, constantly bickers with Galbraith, but as he proves his abilities and saves her life she begins to respect him.

An acceptably entertaining SF story in the classic mold, showing one clever man overcoming obstacles using logic and trickery and demonstrating how diverse social demographics need to work together to make a thriving society, though it will probably take elite manipulation to get them to do so.  Again Gailbraith's future--as the man who will overthrown the communist government--is foreshadowed.  Presumably we will see this feat in a future installment of Hubbard's Kilkenny Cats series.

"Quietus" by Ross Rocklynne

Two bird-like aliens arrive on Earth in their spherical spaceship to discover that your home planet and mine is a total wreck, having been hit by an asteroid 15 or so years ago.  Except for a few thousand square miles in North America, the Earth's surface is a barren waste punctuated by ferociously active volcanoes; but in that green strip in the Western Hemisphere lives 21-year-old Tommy and his pet crow Blacky.  Blacky can talk, and parrots things Tommy says and occasionally repeats things people said when Tommy was just a little kid, before the cataclysm that killed everyone Tommy knew, phrases Tommy can't quite understand.  (Impulsive Tommy survived the asteroid strike because he had run away from home and was hiding in a cave the night of the disaster.)

Tommy is crying because of a hunger he cannot define--we readers of course instantly recognize that Tommy's hunger is for a woman.  Tommy stumbles upon evidence that he is not the only human left on Earth, and that the other survivor is a girl!  He starts tracking her, and she, shy and skittish, evades him, but as time goes by she becomes more and more curious about him.

All the worlds love a lover, and I'd like to tell you that Tommy and whatshername live happily ever after, but, as the title of his story suggests, "Quietus" is a tragedy and Rocklynne lays a depressing twist ending on us.  The two avian aliens watch Tommy, and one of them assumes that Blacky, who rides on Tommy's shoulder and is always jabbering, is the intelligent being and Tommy a beast of burden.  Again and again, Blacky's cries and chatter startle and scare off the young woman, and eventually the emotional Tommy vents his frustration with his black-feathered friend by throwing pebbles at him.  Thinking she is saving a fellow bird-person from a mere animal, one of the aliens shoots Tommy down; the last Earthwoman emerges from cover to stand sobbing over the corpse of the last Earthman.

Not bad.

Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas saw fit to reprint "Quietus" in Adventures in Time and Space (one of the most famous s-f collections of all time!) and Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg included it in the volume of their series The Great Science Fiction Stories covering 1940, which was later reprinted under the moniker Isaac Asimov Presents the Golden Years of Science Fiction.  (Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere, angel.)

"Emergency" by Vic Phillips

It is the future!  Mankind has colonized the solar system, and operates under a single central government on Earth.  Human civilization relies on powerplants that can transmit energy safely and efficiently through air or vacuum to where ever it may be required.

"Emergency" begins in the chamber where the Earth's ruling council of seven men are confronting an unprecedented and bewildering crisis.  Over the last few hours, all contact with the other planets and moons of the solar system has been lost, one after the other, suggesting some alien force is travelling through the system, deactivating the power transmission infrastructure in each colony as it proceeds.  Earth's rulers have no idea what to do as whatever it was that has just silenced Mars approaches our home planet!

All machinery on Earth ceases functioning, and the capitol city goes dark.  But wait, out the window, is that a single light?  Yes, the centuries' old electric bulb on display at the museum!  The eighth man in the council chamber, the "chief liaison officer," who seems like a sort of secretary and office manager, leads the councilmembers to the museum, where he has a brain wave:
Whimhurst, Farraday, Franklin, Hertz, the ghosts of these and a dozen others of the ancient pioneers seemed to be with him at that moment....
Gathering together tools and materials from the museum, and recruiting hobbyists who have obsolete skills that have not been remunerative for hundreds of years, they labor to build a last ditch defense against the invader.

We learn what this defense is in the climax.  At the direction of the secretary, amateur technicians have generated a powerful static electricity charge using hand-cranked generators ("Taupler Haltz machines"), and stored the charge in a human "condenser," a line of thousands of hand-holding volunteers.  When the alien, a six-foot wide sphere that is absorbing all of the power generated by human civilization's powerplants and transmitting it back home, hovers close enough, the head of the line of volunteers touches it, discharging the static charge.  Fifty of the Earth's heroes are killed in the explosive discharge, but it interrupts the alien's energy piracy long enough to bring Earth's defense weapons back online so they can blast the alien.

A decent enough science gimmick story.  "Emergency" has, it seems, never been reprinted.  Sometimes we dig up the deep cuts here at MPorcius Fiction Log!


Readers, I presume, were happy with this issue of Astounding; not only does it include the major van Vogt and Heinlein stories, but even these three lesser pieces are pretty entertaining and full of daring deeds, tragedy, life advice (don't get mixed up with commies!) and science.

More Kilkenny Cats, and more Astounding, in our next episode.