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Lost Voices 8: Captain Empirical by Sam Nicholson

Captain Empirical

By Sam Nicholson 

27 Apr, 2000

Lost Voices


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Captain Empirical

Sam Nicholson

Ace Books [1979]

342 pages

Synopsis: A fix-up from several short stories published in Analog, framed by a story in which the main character, Captain Schuster, faces unanticipated danger in the asteroid belt, is feared lost and the various reactions of the folks back home during the time they think he is probably dead. Most of the stories [shown as personal recording played back by people breaking into Schuster’s private files for their own individual reasons, some self-serving, others self-serving in different ways] take place at sea:

The Fourth Stage Polygraph” features a device which can reprogram a person to have the skills they need, or it feels they needs, for their job.

Get the Lead Out” puts Schuster on an atomic yacht, giving him the chance to foil a piracy attempt and to hold forth on the atomic high priests he feels are holding atom-energy back.

A Rat of Any Psize” introduces a psionic rat trap which not only catches four-legged rats, it converts two legged rats into the four-legged kind, where they can be ground up and used for fertilizer with no moral qualms at all.

The Copra Population” places Schuster in the position of transferring a rat and insect infested cargo from one ship to another one run by a man with an insect phobia. Hijinks ensue.

Actions Speak Louder” has Schuster takes his first foray into space, where he quickly completely redesigns a space colony, conveys it successfully to the Moon, deals with a blow out and saves the life of a suicidal young intellectual, all while preventing head-in-the-clouds egg heads from screwing things up.

In Griggs and the Einstein Fallacy”, he cures a ship of a jinx, foils the IRA and prevents a debt-crazed man from killing himself.

In Now You See Her” he avoids a plot to frame him and his ship in an insurance scam and deduces how it must have been done from first principles, foiling the envious plan of a pointy headed intellectual fellow crewman.

More Deadly Than the Male?” pits Schuster against the women’s rights movement over the hiring and placing of two female employees, Ellerdown, the plucky and hard working girl with a solid work record and Copps, a make-up wearing intellectual who is college trained but who has no real life work experience [Guess which one sues over the hiring policies?]. Schuster kindly explains why girls get paid less and are worse risks than men. Eventually Ellerdown is rewarded and Copps is foiled and revealed as someone who has sex, the slut.

I seem to remember that Nicholson [Shirley Nikolaisen in real life] second novel wasn’t this dire but going on Captain Empirical”, I’d guess the career killer was the relative dullness of her stories. Sexism with just the right amount of sneering at

Third-Worlders would have gone over well in Bova’s Analog, given enough gadget content to keep the readers content. The fact that these stories could have been written by a computer with a few programed guidelines wasn’t as annoying when each story was encountered by itself but rereading the whole set of them together was dreadful, a complete waste of hours of my life. These are the perfect examples of the Platonic Ideal of the Bad Analog Story with the stock villains, the stock heroes and stock plots which can make an Analog issue an exercise in exquisite tedium.

Next: A Hostage for Hinterland , Arsen Darnay.