This collection of Leigh Brackett short stories finally moves out past Mars, into and beyond the Asteroid Belt! It also provides a nice lesson in why I should look over omnibuses carefully before beginning a review series: it would have worked better to ignore the organization of the omnibus and simply review each novel on its own and then write one huge review covering all the short stories. There are only five short stories in this collection, all published between 1941 and 1950, and they’re all fairly slight.
No Man’s Land in Space • (1941) • novelette
The wilds of the Asteroid Belt offer refuge to the disaffected and criminal. One asteroid in particular has become the haven of a gang of cutthroats and space pirates! Now interplanetary war has disrupted the cosmic brigands’ happy life of attacking and looting passing ships. Worse yet, something unspeakable has joined them on their obscure little rock and is hunting them down, one by one.
There are two morals to this story: “Brackett cares not for your plausible astronomy if her story requires a semi-habitable asteroid,” and “no good deed goes unpunished”; the protagonist’s plans derail about the time he starts acting on his altruistic concerns for other people.
“Child of the Green Light” • (1942) • short story
A mysterious intrusion from another universe spreads a plague of premature aging across the Solar System. A team of brave volunteers heads to what they know is almost certain doom to try to save the inhabitants of the Solar System, only to have their efforts stymied by an unexpected foe: the Child of the Green Light.
Various details lead me to suspect that the malign intrusion came from the same (or at least a similar) universe as the space vampires and their Veil from The Veil of Astellar. The Child and the people responsible for the intrusion aren’t actually evil; the system-wide aging side-effect surprises the Child when he hears about it. That doesn’t make the intruders any less dangerous.
“Outpost on Io” • (1942) • short story
Prisoners of war on Io are forced to make a terrible choice: slave away for the Europans for the few months it takes Io to (painlessly) kill them, or die on their feet LIKE MEN?!
I had two thoughts on reading this fairly predictable little tale: one was that the idea of jovium, an isotope that makes other metals explode, is pretty silly, and two, it’s called Antarctic vibranium or anti-metal over in the Marvel Universe. It wouldn’t surprise me if Stan Lee, John Romita, and Jack Kirby were remembering, consciously or otherwise, Brackett’s older, pulpier stories when they came up with the idea for vibranium.
The Halfling • (1943) • novelette
The boss of an interplanetary circus and traveling exotics show has to deal with all kinds of entities; at least the new dancing girl is a regular human. Or is she?
Suspense is a bit undermined by the fact there’s not much story if the dancing girl is just a dancing girl.…
The idea of gathering up perfectly normal (drug addictions aside) examples of various human and humanoid races so that the punters can gawk at them might seem a bit odd to the modern reader. This once common and accepted practice was alive and well for decades after this story was published. And … I wouldn’t feel confident in asserting that it’s been entirely dropped, given that Africans were being put in display in a German zoo as recently as 2004.
The Dancing Girl of Ganymede • (1950) • novelette
What is the dreadful secret that makes one woman untouchable? Can the budding romance between the woman and her human protector survive a revelation?
In Brackett’s solar system, no one approves of mixed-marriages. Everyone hates everyone else and children belonging to more than one race are hated by the races of both (or all) parents. In this story, we learn that that there is a group that is despised by everyone else, even by the half-castes.
I was pretty sure this would turn out to be a Tragic Mulatto story but actually it’s a Mixed Marriages Just Don’t Work tale. Which isn’t actually better.