Editor, John Campbell; Assistant Editor, Kay Tarrant
Enough Rope • novelette by Poul Anderson ♥♥♥
Solution Delayed • short story by Mark Clifton and Alex Apostolides ♥♥
Survival • novelette by Don Green ♥♥
Mission of Gravity (Part 4 of 4) • serial by Hal Clement ♥♥♥+
Cover • by Walt Miller
Interior artwork • by Walt Miller, Orban, Dreany, Van Dongen
“Our Catalogue Number…” • editorial by John W. Campbell, Jr.
The Analytical Laboratory: April 1953
Locum Tenens • essay by Wallace West
The Reference Library: Man, the Improbable • book reviews by P. Schuyler Miller
Brass Tacks • letters
This issue’s fiction starts with Enough Rope by Poul Anderson, the second of his ‘Wing Alak’ stories, a series about a Galactic League Patrol who operate as a department of dirty/slick tricks. In this one the Galactic League is being threatened by an external alien race called the Ulugans. Alak returns to Earth from their home planet and states they need to be stopped now, even though they will not necessarily cause a war for centuries to come.
The ensuing story tells how the Patrol fleet makes a number of feints in the alien’s neighbourhood (settling temporarily on nearby planets, etc.), and thereby lure the Ulugan commander into responding. These Patrol manoeuvres are just diversions, however, and they cause the Ulugan forces to chase shadows, harming their own forces and economy in the process.
The medical officer halted at the entrance to the tent. The steady, endless rain dripped off his shoulders and made a puddle about his muddy feet. By the one glaring lamp inside, he noticed that the fungus had begun to devour this tent, too. It would be a rag before the eight-day was out. And you couldn’t live in the metal barracks left by the Patrolmen—they were bake-ovens, and air-conditioning units rotted and rusted too fast to be of help.
He saluted wearily. The commandant of Garvish Base looked up from his game of galanzu solitaire. “What is it?” he asked listlessly.
“Fifteen more men down with fever, sir,” said the medical officer. “And ten of the earlier cases are dead.”
The commandant nodded. Light gleamed off his wet bald head. The blue face was haggard, unhealthily flushed, and the smart uniform was a sodden ruin. “The sanitators don’t work, eh?” he asked.
“Not against this stuff, sir,” said the doctor. “It seems to be a virus which isn’t bothered by the vibrations, but I haven’t been able to isolate it yet.”
“We just aren’t built for this climate.” The commandant wagged his head, and one shaky hand reached for a bottle. “We’re cold-world dwellers.”
A beast screamed out in the jungle.
“Poison plants got several more this eight-day,” said the doctor.
“I know. I’ve begged and pleaded with headquarters to send us air domes and space armor. But they claim it’s needed elsewhere.”
A faint hope flickered in the medical officer’s eyes. “When that planet Umung really gets to producing—”
“Yes, yes. But we’ll probably be dead then, you and I.” The commandant shivered. “ I feel cold.” His voice as suddenly high and thin.
“Sir—” The doctor took a nervous step forward. “Sir, let me look at you—”
The commandant stood up. For a moment he leaned on the table, then something buckled within him and he went toppling to the floor. p. 26
A straightforward but entertaining story.
Solution Delayed by Mark Clifton and Alex Apostolides does not get off to a good start with its talking-heads introduction. However, it picks up somewhat with a story about a group of non-conformists planning to steal a spaceship to escape from a stultifying future Earth. At the end of the story, of course, the technicians and administrators (spoiler) are shown to have set the whole thing up as they realise that only the non-conformists in their society will have the drive to spread humanity throughout the universe. I can’t say that this premise is particularly convincing, but overall it is an OK story.
You rather get the impression that Survival, by Don Green, is the product of a writer from outside the genre,1 given its central idea of a spaceship crashing onto an asteroid with an atmosphere. The story starts with one of the passengers regaining consciousness on the spaceship, and then proceeds to describe his activities in and around the crash site. He finds food, oxygen, spacesuits, etc., but no survivors. He disposes of the bodies and later explores the asteroid.
At the end of the story (spoiler) he finds an engineer alive but injured at the back of the ship. The narrative then turns into an astrogation lecture as they try to work out where to point their communications beam to get rescued. This was initially intriguing but got a little boring at the end so OK overall, I guess.
The last instalment of Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement brings matters to a suitable conclusion, with the expedition getting past the cliff, and also solving the problems of food supply, navigation, and finding the space probe.
It isn’t hard to appreciate why this novel was so popular when it first appeared: interesting aliens, a series of (almost endless!) scientific problems to overcome, and an eventful journey through the hugely varying gravity and terrain of the planet Mesklin. The flaws it has (two-dimensional characterisation, authorial info-dumping and some unclear description) are minor in comparison. I would suggest that this classic still holds up for modern readers.
The Cover 2 by Walt Miller illustrates the Poul Anderson story. A painting of a blue-skinned alien is accurate but seems a little juvenile to me.
The Interior artwork by Walt Miller, Orban, Dreany, and Van Dongen is all competent to good. There is a nice illustration by Van Dongen3 on p. 143 but, as it is in advance of the story, it rather spoils the final scene.
“Our Catalogue Number…” by John W. Campbell, Jr. is an editorial about the things that used to be SF but are now becoming reality. He lists a number of devices that are now available in the technical catalogues, cyclotrons, X-Rays, etc.
The old joke about Astounding/Analog is that it is the SF magazine ‘with rivets.’ We get a flash of that here with Locum Tenens by Wallace West, another dull article, this time about the development of metal technology with an emphasis on the history of the steel industry. It also examines other metals and materials at the end, and also quotes from a 1952 report from the President’s Materials Policy Commission which predicts what the future will hold in this field.
The report forecasts that domestic production of petroleum will start to decline in the 1960s. Eventually, it thinks, crude oil may be conserved for use in petrochemicals and fine lubricants while liquid fuels are synthesized from our tremendous supplies of shale, tar sands and low grade coal. Or the coal may be burned right in the ground to produce gas that can be liquefied under pressure.
Atomic fission may provide about a fifth of the world’s power until the uranium runs out a century or so hence. Then, unless the fusion of hydrogen has become practicable, more and more dependence will be placed on sun power, tidal power and warmth obtained from the earth itself by means of heat pumps.
Land and sea will be farmed with equal intensity, particularly if the world’s population keeps climbing at the present rate. Eroded soil will be rebuilt with synthetic resin conditioners and with synthetic ammonium nitrate and sulfate fertilizers made from oil and coal. The weather will be at least partially controlled to get the greatest benefit out of rainfall, delay frosts, et cetera.
Forests will be allowed to grow only the most useful varieties of trees while chips, bark, sawdust and roots will be made into chemicals, playwoods or food.
Magnesium, vanadium, salt and hundreds of other materials will be extracted from sea water. The fresh water obtained in the process is almost certain to be used in vast irrigation projects. Such projects are becoming vital even now because of the steady drop in the underground water table all over the world.
Fishing and the collection of kelp and other sea foods certainly will not be done On the present wasteful hit-or-miss basis. The PMPC report thinks the sea itself may be fertilized.
But the greatest visible change in the world of the not-so-distant future may be its use of glass and other silicon products to make everything from fabrics to highways; to replace many structural metals and to coat those that remain so they can resist corrosion indefinitely. Such products will remain as plentiful as the sands of the sea. They may well provide the substitutes to end all substitutes, the shining ones that, in the end, will make it forever unnecessary for mankind to creep back into- the cave in search of warmth and shelter. p. 99
Taxes well spent on futurology.
The Analytical Laboratory: April 1953 reports on the ongoing process of moving to an absolute rather than relative scoring system. Campbell reminds readers of his payment system:
For newcomers: The magazine pays a normal 3ȼ a word rate for stories. Yarns I think exceptionally good I’ll pay 4ȼ on. But if I underrate a story, and the reader-vote shows it earned the bonus . . . my error, and the author gets an extra check. (If I paid on one that you readers didn’t think earned it, the author doesn’t have to pay back the bonus, just to settle that question! But it’ll encourage me to make better predictions of reader response!) p. 100
The clear winner of the poll is the first part of Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement, followed by Chad Oliver, Alan E. Nourse, Charles Dye and April Smith, and W. T. Powers. This is pretty much as I had it, except I’d put the Dye/Smith in last place.
The Reference Library: Man, the Improbable by P. Schuyler Miller has a couple of interesting snippets after a long discussion about two books on evolution. One is that Andre Norton edited (‘into a neat whole’) Malcolm Jameson’s ‘Bullard’ stories for book publication; there is also this information about the anthology The Petrified Planet:
The “petrified planet” of the title in this Twayne “Triplet” is Uller, second planet of Beta Hydri, whose life-forms have evolved around a silicone metabolism, assimilating assorted minerals and excreting them as CO2, H20 and silica armor. It has a neighbor, Niflheim (Nu Puppis IV) with a fluorine economy. Both were invented for the occasion, and described in considerable detail, by Dr. John D. Clark, who lives at being a chemist but once sank so low as to sell two stories to this magazine in 1937 and to work out a biography of Robert E. Howard’s utterly unscientific hero, Conan.
Three skilled writers have then built stories around the chemistry of these two worlds: Fletcher Pratt in “The Long View,” H. Beam Piper in “Uller Uprising,” and Judith Merril in “Daughters of Earth.” The first two stories appeared in current magazines, while the book was in press. If the third did, I missed it, though it’s the best of the three. p. 162
Brass Tacks has a letter about solving mazes that runs for several pages.
A solid, if uninspiring, issue.
- ISFDB gives this as Don Green’s only SF story.
- The source for the (since edited) cover image is Siren in the Night.
- An illustration from Van Dongen:
And one from Orban: