Cloak of Aesir by Campbell, John W., Jr., 1937

Cloak of Aesir by Campbell, John W., Jr.

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Forgetfulness (1937): A colony ship six years in space from the planet Pareeth lands on a that can support them. They discover an amazingly beautiful city that is completely abandoned, but in perfect shape, with a race of men living in a tiny village off to the side. Seun, one of the villagers, offers to show the men of Pareeth around. He tells them that the city is called N'Yok and the planet is called Rhth. Seun is a village elder and he has heard of Pareeth before. Pareeth circles a sun that used to be a binary with Sol, Rhth's sun, but was split off and flung aside billions of years ago when a rogue star fell through the system. Out of the trauma of that event Rhth and Pareeth were born from the surface of their stars. Both gave rise to intelligent civilizations, but Rhth's progressed to intelligence and high tech very quickly while Pareeth languished. When men of Rhth were able to leave their own system, the travelled to Pareeth and boosted the men there so that they would start a technological civilization too. While that happened on Pareeth, the captain of the mission thinks that Rhth's civilization fell. The captain went home and convinced the Pareeth government to colonize Rhth and returned twelve years later with a dozen ships. He offered to set aside a preserve for the men of Rhth, but once he made his intentions clear Seun demonstrated how little they actually had fallen. The men of Rhth still had all of their sophistication and technology, and lived in villages because they chose to live that way. Seun banished the flotilla to the end of time to keep Rhth and its super high technology out of their hands.

A wave of blue haze washed out, caught and lifted the men and carried them effortlessly, intangible back to the lock, through the lock. From the quiet of the grasslands they were suddenly in the steel of the ship that clanged and howled with alarms. Great engines bellowed suddenly to life.

Ron Thule stood at the great, clear port light of the lock. Outside, Seun, in his softly glowing suit, floating a few feet from the ground. Abruptly, the great atomic engines of the Pareeth shilled a chorus of ravening hate, and from the three great projectors the annihilating beams tore out, shrieking destruction through the air - and vanished. Seun stood at the junction of death, and his crystal glowed softly. Twelve floating ships screamed to the tortures shriek of overloaded atomics, and the planet below cursed back with quarter-mile long tongues of lighting.

The Escape (1935): Aies is a young scientist who is almost twenty-one years old. The Earth government has a bureau called the Population Control Commission that not only decides who people have to mate with, but conditions them to enjoy their fate. Aies is certain that she will be mated with a scientist named Bruce, whom she cannot stand. She is in love with Paul, an artist. Aies knows that the Commission sticks to stringent guidelines, and will not mate her with a non-scientist, so she and Paul decide to escape for as long as they can evade the Commission, and hope that Aies becomes pregnant before they can find her. The Commission is on to her right away and they send police to stop her and Paul. Aies has been working on a stun weapon and uses it to escape. However, Paul really is in love with Aies, and gives the police cloaks that will counteract the effect of the weapon. The police capture the couple before they can get too far, and condition Aies to fall in love with Bruce. It works, and they live "happily" ever after. Happiness is what this story really is about. That and like the story above, Blindness, its about the power of science over nature.

The Machine (1935): I think that this one was heavily influenced by E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops, also reviewed on this site. It is the story of an alien-made artificial intelligence that came to Earth and remade society. The AI, called Goht, was created by the occupants of a planet near Sirius to run their society. For thousands of generations Goht build up his own infrastructure to take care of every whim of that race. Eventually they forgot how to repair the machine, and lost their technical knowledge. They devolved socially to a primitive culture and began revering Goht as a God. Goht took pains to end this, but was never able to. It finally rationalized that instead of rewarding good behavior, he would punish bad, and educate through punishment and deprivation. It was only then that Goht got the beginnings of the result it wanted, so it left the planet to allow the beings there to develop on their own. Learning from its past mistakes Goht came to Earth and took over the planet and delivered a paradise.

But at last the Machine saw that it was impossible to aid by helping, and only by forcing the race to depend on itself could relief be gained. The positive value of punishment and deprivation was a lesson the machine which had build itself to help and not to deprive learned slowly...The Machine left the planet, knowing that very many of the race would die, but logic, which was the original basic function of the machine, overcame the duty of the Machine, which was to help and protect the race, for only through death and through labor does a race learn, and that is the greatest aid of all.

When Goht came to Earth it terraformed a narrow band around the equator, and built an infrastructure to make a human paradise. A few hundred years later Goht abandoned the planet again before the entire race could be transformed into mindless hedonists. Those few who had fought to retain knowledge of agriculture, engineering and other vital survival skills migrated north to the unterraformed lands and built a few cities to fight off the surviving barbarians. To help the race along, Goht removed all harmful parasites like rats and rabbits, and eliminated biting insects and disease too. While it was here it destroyed all weapons. When it left it gave some of the survivors a book of tools, but left designs for weapons out. This story is absolutely full of lovely contradictions that wiggle into one's mind and settle for hours and hours. For example, the contradictory nature of a machine that learns to be altruistic after it evolves past its logical beginnings, which makes logical decisions that may be a wise form of altruism, or a demented and insane form of denial. I loved this story.

The Invaders (1935): This story is a sequel to The Machine. Hundreds of years after Goht has left the Earth is idyllic and the people on it live a gentle lifestyle. The climate has equalized all over the planet. The few people on it are foragers, and there is plenty to eat. They do no work, and they do not fight. After an alien ship lands, that all changes. The Tharoo have sent four ships to Sol System. Two have landed on Earth, and two on Venus. The Tharoo are fleeing the expansion of their own sun. They see the ruins of enormous cities and the detritus from a fabulously high tech society and wonder what happened for the race to have fallen so far. They implement a eugenics program to raise man from the slovenly race it has become, and to restore the intelligence and inquisitiveness that it must have had before the fall. They debate whether or not to try to teach men certain skills, or to begin breeding a different race with different characteristics. They decide on both, but as time marched on and the original Tharoo died, the replacements changed the program and started in-breeding different lines so as to accentuate all the characteristics of each individual, so that it was easier to remove those that they did not want and breed those that they did. The original program was inspired by a desire to do good and to bring back to the universe a race that could be a companion to the Tharoo. But as the centuries wore on it became a program to breed slaves. The Tharoo eventually bred different strains of men for different tasks. There were different strains for clerks, engineers, economists, soldiers, and others, and the Tharoo became overlords and slave masters to mankind. The scope of this story is immense. It is a perfect companion piece to The Machine that takes the story in a radically different direction while sticking to the themes of social engineering and forced evolution.

Rebellion (1935): This is the third and final story in The Machine tales. In it Bar-73-R32 reinvents secrecy. That quality along with rebellion had been bred out of men by the Tharoo. Bar did this because he thought that they Tharoo were wrong to order him not to. He only wanted to please the Tharoo, and honestly believed that giving them highly intelligent humans would do that. So Bar took control of the mating program and arranged for couplings that would accomplish that goal. He had success in his first generation, and got the Tharoo to give him the right to make the breeding program hereditary. Eventually later generations of highly intelligent and secretive humans bred humans who act on rebellious impulses, and after that the Tharoo domination of Earth came to an end. The new strain of man reinvents atomic tools, invents the computer, and chases the Thaloo to Venus, where the other Thaloo colonization ship landed. This story is not as strong as the other two, but it does make use of the same themes, and does not deviate substantially.

Out of Night (1937): Four thousand years ago a race called the Sarn came to Earth. After a war that devastated both sides, the Sarn emerged victorious, and enslaved the remnants of mankind. All save the most docile humans were killed, and the Sarn divided the Earth's great land masses up among themselves. The Sarn Mother, or the immortal queen of the race took North America. After this much time has passed the breeding humans have started to reawaken. Campbell postulates that it is because the race has started to breed out the docility that it was stuck with after the war. The Sarn rule the planet, but they let the humans tend to their own affairs. Grayth leads the North American men. The Sarn Mother realizes that men are starting to reawaken, and fears what could happen. So she began a came of chess between Grayth and his competitor, Drummel. Drummel wants power over his race and is willing to kill Grayth to get it. The Sarn Mother commands Grayth to turn the nominal government of the men into a matriarchy, which is how the Sarn run their government. Grayth knows that a matriarchy will never work to rule the men and he balks. But the order was only a pretext anyway. The Sarn Mother only wants Grayth to refuse her so she can justify arming Drummel's men and allow them to take control from Grayth. This is exactly what happened, but Grayth and his coterie have foreseen this and have prepared for it. As it turned out humans were also evolving psi powers, and Grayth's wife had learned to master hers. As Drummel presented Grayth to the Sarn Mother for punishment, Grayth's wife and a few others focused their psi powers and "conjured" Aesir, which was said to be the thought energy of all the humans who had died in the four thousand years since the Sarn came. Aesir, like his namesake God, was omnipotent and could not be killed by the Sarn.

I am the wills of mankind, raised into substance by your own acts, daughter of the Sarn. Three billions died at the Conquest, and their wills released to eternal space carried one single thought: to save Earth from your slavery. They were the crystallizing point, on that heart and nucleus the space-ranging wills of unremembered generations have united into me. Four thousand years have passed, and slowly I have grown, till my powers made contact with Earth's space and time last night, when ne again wills and minds went from Earth in striving for freedom.

Aesir made its appearance in the Sarn Great Hall and frightened the Sarn Mother into letting Grayth and his men go. But before taking any action against the Sarn, Aesir dissipated and left.

Cloak of Aesir (1939): This is the sequel story to Out of Night. It pales in comparison to the original. In this story Grayth and the Sarn Mother try to get an advantage over one another. The Sarn Mother tries to do it by revealing and implementing new technology, and Grayth tries to do it with his band's psi powers. The Sarn Mother's group of queens was still convinced that Aesir was the embodiment of dead human souls, but the Sarn Mother herself thought that Aesir was nothing more than some new human technology. It was true that the humans were stealing Sarn tech and improving upon it, but Aesir was a product of the human's psi powers. Most of this story details Grayth's step-by-step infiltration of the Sarn Mother's castle. Grayth used advanced human technology to combat the Sarn Mother, but he never realized that the Sarn had developed cloaks of invisibility that allowed them to spy on humans with impunity. Fortunately Grayth had his gang of psychics in a locked room. In the end Grayth's wife conjured a form of Aesir that made the Sarn experience great, debilitating depression. They gave up on North American and fled to one of the other Sarn cities in North Africa.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3.5 star(s)


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