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Adventures in Time & Space, edited by Healy & McComas

Edited by Raymond J. Healy & J. Francis McComas 

6 Jul, 2014

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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I know where I bought this – Waterloo Square – but I cannot recall if the Coles had opened yet or if the little bookstore whose name I have forgotten was still there, as yet uncrushed by giant chains and the grim realities of bookselling.

I am sure this would have been a major part of my teen years if it wasn’t quite so long. Thousand page books are awkward to tote around. It must have been very impressive when it first appeared in 1946; there would not have been many books like it, whereas I started reading SF during a golden age of anthologies and collections.

[contents lifted from isfdb]

Introduction (Adventures in Time and Space)” — essay by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas

This sets the tone for a thousand introductions in anthologies like this as it proclaims that we (or rather people in my parents and grandparents’ generations) live in an SFnal world, where atomic bombs and rocket ships are reality and therefore it makes sense to look at SF to see what perspectives it offers.

What I found interesting about this is that one of the pressing issues this book acknowledges is racism, not that you could particularly tell if they were pro or con from the stories that follow, and that at one point they acknowledge women exist, which is more than most of the stories do.

Requiem” [D. D. Harriman] (1940) — short story by Robert A. Heinlein

Previously reviewed, this is the story of how the man who gave humanity spaceflight finally managed to experience it himself. Looked at one way, it is a tragedy. Looked at another, it is not.

Forgetfulness” (1937) — novelette by John W. Campbell, Jr. [as by Don A. Stuart ]

Star farers find the home world of the beings who set the star farers on the long road to civilization, only to discover they are too late and their benefactors have apparently languished into decadence at the cost of their once-great civilizations. Plans to civilize the fallen do not proceed according to plan.

The star farers took four million years to find their benefactors because they bombed themselves into the swamps over and over, taking a million years to recover in between. How thoroughly do you have to nuke a civilization that it takes a million years to recover and how did they maintain enough cultural continuity to remember the visitors from the stars?

Not nearly as openly racist as I would expect from Campbell; the cultural clash is driven by misapprehension of the situation.

This is old enough the nebular model of planetary formation had not yet won out, at least as far as SF authors were concerned.

Nerves” (1942) — novella by Lester del Rey

Told from the point of view of a doctor, this details a gradually escalating crisis at an atomic facility; what at first seems like a comparatively containable mishap slowly unfolds into something that could sterilize a state or even the planet.

I am not a fan of Del Rey’s science fiction but I like the pacing on this one. That said, a lot of SF authors might have tried to use elements that would create the illusion that the author had done a jot of research into their subject, where as Del Rey is quite happy to make up imaginary substances and even eschews the term isotope (which had been coined more than a generation earlier) for a neologism of his own creation.

I wonder to what degree this was inspired by Blowups Happen”? There are parallels.

Even for a Golden Age story, this takes an astonishingly casual approach to dilute and disperse’. You do not want to live anywhere near these clowns.

The Sands of Time” [Sands of Time #1] (1937) — novella by P. Schuyler Miller

A paleontologist meets a man who claims to have a time machine but the traveller’s attempts to prove his claim by leaving items in the past for the paleontologist to find run into the problem that it is vanishingly unlikely that any particular fossil object will survive millions of years. Nevertheless the traveller does succeed but the story the relics tell is not a happy one.

I know Miller mainly as a reviewer. This story has some similarities to a particular Clarke but I cannot recall the title of the Clarke and so cannot compare publication dates.

The Proud Robot” [Gallegher] (1943) — novelette by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore [as by Lewis Padgett ]

Gallegher is a brilliant inventor who is only truly inspired when blind drunk; when sober, he often cannot recall vital details of his inventions. In this case, his vain and sociopathic robot interferes with Gallegher’s struggle to help a company deal with IP infringement, requiring the inventor to work out what exactly such a robot would have been built for in the first place.

Kuttner and Moore were husband and wife, popular authors together and apart. Because Kuttner got a better word rate, they were known to sell her work as his; they were also reportedly of the habit of picking up the other’s work in progress in mid-paragraph. This makes unravelling which of them wrote what nearly impossible.

Profound alcoholism was considered hilarious back in the 1940s, up there with drunk driving and wife beating. This story stands as example of why DOCUMENTATION MATTERS. If any publisher ever takes me up on my idea for an anthology, Thrilling Tales of Fantastic Technical Writing, this will probably be in it.

Black Destroyer” [Space Beagle] (1939) — novelette by A. E. van Vogt

Armed only with superscientific bafflegab, human star farers must contend with a murderous super-powered survivor of a dead culture.

I think this helped inspire Alien, although the movie happily tossed Van Vogt’s brand of Science Brand Nonsenseolium overboard. In his day Van Vogt and his dream-logic stores of super-science were very popular. This was his first story and it established him as one of the big names of science fiction.

Damon Knight wrote a scathing essay called Cosmic Jerrybuilder: A. E. van Vogt” but despite the flaws Knight pointed out, Van Vogt spawned his own lineage of authors inspired and influenced by him.

Symbiotica” [Jay Score/Marathon #3] (1943) — novelette by Eric Frank Russell

Star farers explore a life-bearing world whose inhabitants are dismissed as on the level of a Congo pygmy – maybe lower” but in fact the explorers – Human, Martian and Robot – don’t understand what they are looking at and proceed to get schooled.

I think this is the series where all space doctors are Negros because Negros are best at space doctoring; it’s an attempt to be inclusive that ends up being a caste system. This particular entry reminds me of a couple of Heinlein novels, as well as James H. Schmitz’s Grandpa”, stories where it turns out the local ecology isn’t just a pretty backdrop for bold adventurers to pose against.

Seeds of the Dusk” (1938) — novelette by Raymond Z. Gallun

Martian invaders and the descendants of humans struggle for control of an ancient and dying Earth. The humans have technology of a very high level but the Martian spores that rain softly to Earth are the product of millions of years of natural selection honing their ability to colonize worlds like Earth and rather like the antagonists of Symbiotica” have subtle technologies all too easy for the humans to overlook.

Huh, another biological technology versus the more familiar sort story. Was this a subgenre back in the old days? If Gallun had Wells’ War of the Worlds in the back of his mind when he wrote this, I would not be terribly surprised.

Heavy Planet” (1939) — short story by Milton A. Rothman [as by Lee Gregor ]

An unlucky space craft is forced down on a planet whose gravity is instant doom for the crew. For the native who happens on the wreck, it offers atomic power and escape from his world to his nation – but only if he can prevent his enemies from destroying it.

Rothman was a working scientist and fiction writing was just an avocation for him; his body of SF is not large. On the whole his fiction is no better than you’d expect for the period but this was considered a classic and has been frequently anthologized.

Time Locker” [Gallegher] (1943) — novelette by Henry Kuttner [as by Lewis Padgett ]

Another Gallegher story, this one involves a shady friend of Gallegher’s who is happy to exploit the criminal potential in Gallegher’s inventions without being too concerned about the fact even the inventor is unclear about important details of the inventions. This turns out to be a mistake.

The Galleghers are amusing fluff but why did the editors insist on multiple stories from particular authors? One each would have allowed them a greater variety, an issue their introduction makes it clear they were aware of.

The Link” (1942) — short story by Cleve Cartmill

A pitiful weakling, recognizable to us as the first human living among his brutish siblings, discovers his brains are as great a weapon as a caveman’s muscles. Unfortunately his relatives remain unimpressed.

I can see no subtext in this story.

I was going to put a caveman romance’ warning on this but actually this poor fellow is the sort of hapless wretch whose love life turns out to be entirely dependent on convenient tree falls.

Mechanical Mice” (1941) — novelette by Eric Frank Russell and Maurice G. Hugi

Time travel provides the opportunity to trawl the future for interesting discoveries, at the cost of conveying an existential threat to humans to our era.

What I found interesting was how quickly the horrible futures waiting us in this fixed history universe lose all emotional significance. Sure, it’s sad that humans will be enslaved by machines but that’s not for centuries so Not Our Problem. Well, until the explorer brings back one item too many.

V‑2: Rocket Cargo Ship” (1945) — essay by Willy Ley

A non-fiction essay in which Willy Ley tries to work out the technical details of the V2 rocket from the fragments of information let slip about the rocket and his own knowledge of rocketry. He concludes the rocket is useful only as a terror weapon and as a signpost of things to come.

What I found most interesting about this is who is not mentioned in it. Ley is pretty sure the architect of the V2 is the truly odious Hermann Oberth, of whom Ley had personal knowledge, and the name Von Braun does not appear as far as I can tell.

Ley was one of my favourite popular science authors when I was young and I am sad that his death, shortly before men landed on the Moon, consigned him to unjust obscurity.

Adam and No Eve” (1941) — short story by Alfred Bester

A bold inventor shrugs off suggestions that using a catalyst that turns iron to energy could be a bad idea on a planet rich in iron, certain that his precautions against disaster will be sufficient. He is wrong.

In his defense, the fact that the substance was possible at all meant that this world was probably doomed. His conviction that he has covered all the necessary angles to use his devil’s brew safely seems plausible, even if the substance itself is not.

Nightfall” (1941) — novelette by Isaac Asimov

Researchers believe that they have worked out the cause of the periodic collapses of civilization on their world but the reality proves far more terrifying than even they could have imagined.

How did people with such a profound fear of the dark even manage mines?

A Matter of Size” (1934) — novella by Harry Bates

An American man finds that he has agreed to play stud to a community of humans sufficiently divergent from our sort as to fall into the uncanny valley. This is not the impediment it might be but there are unmentioned complications that when revealed prove rather alarming.

This is very, very minor and I am not sure why it is even in here.

As Never Was” (1944) — short story by P. Schuyler Miller

Research into the mysterious origin of an object recovered from the future terminates in a disquieting revelation.

Odd how frequently the time travel stories in this involve forays into the future rather than the past. Also odd that the narrator doesn’t think to use time travel to track down the original traveller to ask where the mysterious artifact came from.

Q. U. R.” (1943) — short story by Anthony Boucher

Insistence on making robots look like humans turns out be hard on the robots.

The idea of owning thinking machines is abhorrent and this story does nothing to make it seem like a good idea.

Who Goes There?” (1938) — novella by John W. Campbell, Jr. [as by Don A. Stuart ]

Polar explorers have the misfortune to encounter an alien explorer whose biological abilities more than make up for its temporary technological embarrassment. As the humans struggle to kill or at least contain their foe, they realize they cannot predict what or even who among them is actually an enemy in disguise.

This is the basis for the various The Thing” movies, as well as a repellent Peter Watts short story. This is very likely to win a retro-Hugo later this year and for good reason.

The Roads Must Roll” [Future History] (1940) — novelette by Robert A. Heinlein

Previously reviewed. An administrator struggles to prevent a rabble rouser from exploiting his job for greater political power.

This would be the one where the story simultaneously admits the working class has legitimate concerns while declaring those concerns must never again shape policy. I know a blue collar worker for whom this was his first and last Heinlein story.

Asylum” (1942) — novella by A. E. van Vogt

A pitiful Terran discovers his is a world of morons, overseen by superior beings who are themselves idiots by the standards of the Milky Way. When super-intelligent space vampires attack, all seems lost but there is one hidden card to play.

Van Vogt gleefully uses IQ in this in a manner that would have people like Alfred Binet weeping in rage. In general I think van Vogt liked the feel of scientific terms without ever feeling the need to understand them.

Quietus” (1940) — short story by Ross Rocklynne

Aliens try to help the last survivors of a terrible calamity but their basic misapprehension of the situation produces only tragedy.
Rocklynne is generally known for puzzle stories like The Men and the Mirror” but this is closer to stories like Forgetfullness”.

The Twonky” (1942) — novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore [as by Lewis Padgett ]

A futuristic device offers the unfortunate couple who come to own it more convenience than they can possibly endure.

Again, this is one of those stories where having and reading an owners manual would have avoided a lot of inconvenience.

Time-Travel Happens!” (1939) — essay by A. M. Phillips‘

A rather Fortean piece asserting that on occasion people in the right place at the right time can step into the past.

Not intentionally fiction. Cousin to such stories as He Walked Around the Horses” and Midnight in Paris.

Robot’s Return” (1938) — short story by Robert Moore Williams

Intelligence robots stumble over the remains of an inhabited world, one that proves to have played a crucial role in their long-forgotten origin.

A comparatively minor archaeological SF story but it’s interesting (at least to me) how often stories of this general shape turn up. Pretty sure there’s a Lester del Rey that is much like this.

The Blue Giraffe” (1939) — novelette by L. Sprague de Camp

A young boy discovers that he is adopted and in the course of reassuring the boy that he is as loved as any biological child would be and explaining how it was the boy came to be adopted, the boy’s father spins a tale of insufficiently supervised super-science deep in a wildlife preserve in Africa.

Some details of this story have not aged especially well; De Camp was born in 1907 and sometimes it shows. Nevertheless he was an interesting fellow and I’d recommend reading his Hugo-winning Time and Chance: an Autobiography.

Flight into Darkness” (1943) — novelette by J. Francis McComas [as by Webb Marlowe ]

An unrepentant Nazi pretends to be rehabilitated so that he can secretly construct a rocket and establish the new Third Reich on Mars or Venus.

Not that McComas likely knew but the idea of a rocket full of Nazis touching down in the surface of Venus is actually pretty funny. I wonder how close they could get before the reality of what they were dropping into dawned on them.

I also wonder if Heinlein ever read this, not that secret Nazi cabals plotting revenge’ stories were uncommon in the 1940.

The Weapons Shop” [Weapon Shops of Isher] (1946) — novelette by A. E. van Vogt (variant of The Weapon Shop (1942))

The appearance of a Weapons Show in the middle of a staid little town triggers a series of events that force the conservative protagonist to see that the government to which he has offered unrelenting loyalty is in fact corrupt and exploitative.

Farewell to the Master” (1940) — novelette by Harry Bates

An emissary from the stars is shot and killed almost as soon as he and his enigmatic robot companion step out into the light of day; although the murder is the work of a madman, Earth is embarrassed and worried how the dead alien’s people will react. Happily, resurrection through a method of stupendous doubtfulness seems a possibility.

This is probably best known for being the basis of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Usually the changes made to adapt prose to film are unfortunate but in this case dropping the tomato surprise ending was a good idea, and so was abandoing the idea [rot13] lbh pna erperngr n yvivat crefba ol erirefr ratvarrevat gur fbhaq bs gurve ibvpr ba n cubabtencu erpbeqvat. Science fiction has had a lot of daffy ideas but that has to be one of the daffiest.

Within the Pyramid” (1937) — short story by R. DeWitt Miller

A forgotten pyramid deep in Central America contains hints of a history humans have utterly forgotten and leaves its discoverers with a choice between personal glory and greater responsibility.

Given all the Escape episodes about adventurers looting ancient treasures, archaeologists who worry about the ethical aspect of their work are a pleasant change of pace.

This was a bit odd in that I cannot think of many diffusionist models where pyramid building is thought to have spread from the Americas and not to them. This is isn’t entirely because most extreme diffusionists are overtly or subtly racist; pyramids in the New World date back as far as 1000 BC while Egyptian pyramids go back as far as 2600 B and ideally causes should not post-date effects. But there’s no reason to think pyramids are not just the sort of thing people working at the limits of their materials will independently arrive at over and over.

He Who Shrank” (1936) — novella by Henry Hasse

A sociopathic genius sends a hapless explorer through an endless sequence of microcosms, a journey that can never end.

The science in this is ludicrous but the story itself and the situation the explorer is in is genuinely horrific. I find it interesting that Hasse spots something still unclear to most SF writers: given the scale of the universe it is vanishingly unlikely any causally unconnected civilization we encounter will be at a similar level of technological development. It’s a lot more likely they will be, as Clarke once put it, apes or angels.

By His Bootstraps” (1941) — novella by Robert A. Heinlein [as by Anson MacDonald ]

One of Heinlein’s most famous time travel stories, this sees a rather unimpressive modern era man caught up in causal loops that happily for him are destined to leave him as the leader of a future Earth.

This is another example of an early Heinlein where the best tactic when meeting aliens is to keep one’s head down and avoid eye contact. Even seeing the beings is enough to age a man through shock.

It’s pretty much a rule that the more time travel a Heinlein story has, the more dickish the protagonist will be. In this example, the protagonist cheerfully comes to embrace the institution of slavery and adopts as one of his guidepost political tests Mein Kampf”.

The Star Mouse” (1942) — novelette by Fredric Brown

A twee tale of a mouse sent into space by a well-meaning inventor and what happens to the mouse as a result.

Brown was the master of short-shorts. Sadly, this is not a short-short; it goes on and on entirely too long. The use of comic dialect is not in the end an asset.

Correspondence Course” (1945) — short story by Raymond F. Jones

A grieving widower, still mourning the wife he lost in WWII, decides to take a correspondence course and by so doing embraces a future more wonderful than he could imagine.

Alternatively this is a horror story about a vulnerable man who falls prey to something more terrible than anything out of Lovecraft. It’s open to a wide range of interpretation.

Brain” (1932) — short story by S. Fowler Wright

Scientists, rightly seeing their mastery of ¡ Science! gives them the power to bully the rest of the planet into letting them run things, discover to their surprise that the struggle for power does not end when twenty-odd brilliantly murderous sociopaths establish themselves as the masters of Earth.