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Old Time’s Sake

The Wall Around the World

By Theodore R. Cogswell 

10 Sep, 2023

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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Theodore R. Cogswell’s 1962 The Wall Around the World is a collection of science fiction and fantasy stories. Cogswell was a stalwart of 1950s SF, although what I remember him for is having been a member of the Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Cogswell was primarily active in the 1950s and died in the late 1980s. He is therefore not a household name at present. Nevertheless, he has entries on Wikipedia and in the SFE (Encyclopedia of Science Fiction). The inclusion is a bit surprising, as Cogswell only published a single novel, Spock Messiah, which isn’t considered a classic1.

I would have described Cogswell as an unremarkable Astounding author, except that he wasn’t an Astounding author. Only one of the stories in this collection, The Specter General, was published in Campbell’s Astounding2. In fact, a cursory glance at ISFDB suggests that this might have been his only sale to Campbell. It’s odd that Cogswell didn’t appear more often in Astounding. Perhaps Campbell simply didn’t care to buy from someone from the anti-Franco side of the unpleasantness.

Cogswell appeared in a diverse assortment of magazines, including Galaxy, If, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Clearly his work appealed to a broad cross-section of editors, including those of the most respected magazines of the 1950s. This would explain how it is that his collection features introductions by two giants of the field. On the other hand, neither introduction spends much time discussing Cogswell, so perhaps those editors did not care for his work all that much.

The Specter General and the retro-Hugo-nominated The Wall Around the World are likely the best-known stories in this collection, but the most effective is the short but horrific The Burning.” Otherwise, Cogswell displays basic competence but rarely surprises; knowing the setup generally is sufficient to guess the destination.

Nevertheless! Readers looking for words arranged in reliably mildly entertaining order to place in front of their eyes will certainly find them in this collection.

At least, they could if this collection were in print, which it is not.

Let’s dive in.

Introduction: Fantasy and/or Science Fiction (The Wall Around the World) • (1962) • essay by Anthony Boucher

Boucher struggles to define SF before perfunctorily introducing Cogswell.

Introduction: Fantasy in Science Fiction” — No (The Wall Around the World) • (1962) • essay by Frederik Pohl

In stark contrast to Boucher, Pohl provides a heart-felt tribute to the subject of his introduction … Cyril Kornbluth. Cogswell is also mentioned — barely.

These two introductions are completely bonkers. Were they written for other books, and minor amendments made for this collection?

The Masters” • (1954) • short story 

The spider-people of Alpha Centauri prudently kill all humans and most living inhabitants of Earth before colonizing our world. Unfortunately for the aliens, the Count is not living at all, although he is quite hungry.

The Specter General • (1952) • novella

The Empire has fallen, replaced by the ramshackle, declining Protectorate. Only one world preserves Imperial technological know-how, in the form of rituals without relevance to daily life. A chance meeting between representatives of both sides could trigger a renaissance … if paranoia does not first lead to violence.

The Protectorate is caught in the classic trap that people who know how to do things are seen as potential threats to rulers. Rulers are inclined to see potential threats as active threats that are best dealt with immediately. Thus, capable officers are shot while technicians who can fix stuff are carefully kept away from machines needing repair.

Wolfie” • (1954) • short story

Thanks to a minor mishap, a simple deal with what is surely an alien armed with super-science goes very wrong.

Emergency Rations” • (1953) • short story

The invaders’ cunning plan to infiltrate human defenses delivers them right to human stomachs.

The Burning” • (1960) • short story 

Boys survive their horrific society by ruthlessly betraying each other to their cruel Mother.

Thimgs” • (1958) • short story 

A lazy, dishonest detective’s cunning gambit to avoid a hellish afterlife in retribution for a life of cheating and exploiting people succeeds horribly well.

I can see why this wasn’t published in Unknown (Unknown was long gone by 1958). I was a bit surprised that it wasn’t published in Astounding, as Campbell loved stories about lies that turn out to be true. Perhaps, as I noted above, Campbell may not have wanted to deal with the dangerously lefty Cogswell.

Test Area” • (1955) • short story 

A bold time travel experience solves all of Mars’ problems.

Prisoner of Love” • (1962) • short story

A demon falls victim to a particularly ruthless client. However, even the most bewitched demon knows how to interpret orders creatively.

Invasion Report • (1954) • novelette

The Alpha Centauri system has no colonizable worlds. That and the impossibility of FTL killed the interstellar dream. Cheap planet to planet teleportation killed most space flight. Only a collection of bored kids ever visit humanity’s only sub-light starship, now mothballed in orbit. Thus, when an alien armada comes calling, it is those kids who have to work out how to use an obsolete, unarmed starship to save humanity.

I could definitely do Five Stories Where Teleportation Killed Spaceflight” for Tor.

The Wall Around the World • (1953) • novelette

Porgie Mills ignores his magical studies because he is obsessed with the Wall that surrounds his community. Rather, he is obsessed with getting over the insurmountable Wall to see what is on the other side. Will Porgie ever become a proper wizard or, like his disgraced father, is the boy destined to be carried off to a fate unknown by the menacing Black Man?

Again, this tale of seeming oppressive rules that turn out to serve the greater good, and magic that is really psionics seems like a perfect fit for Astounding. Wall appeared not in Astounding but in H. L. Gold’s considerably more obscure Beyond Fantasy Fiction.

Beyond Fantasy Fiction was to Galaxy Magazine what Unknown was to Astounding.

I have memories of encountering Wall in an anthology in the 1970s, but none of the anthologies that collected it look familiar. False memories?

1: Longtime readers may remember Cogswell’s name from that time I got Cogswell and Jerome Bixby confused. The two authors did fill the same niche, writing mostly harmless, generally forgettable stories in which people get what they are owed, not always to their benefit. Cogswell’s offerings might have been a bit more forgettable than Bixby’s (Bixby wrote It’s a Good Life,” after all), which would explain why Ballantine published Bixby collections and why the less prestigious publisher Pyramid put out this Cogswell collection.

2: Before writing this review I believed (incorrectly) that Cogswell was an Astounding author. Why? Cogswell co-authored a story in the Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology.