Hugo Winners, Vol. 1, The by Asimov, Isaac, ed., 1953

Hugo Winners, Vol. 1, The by Asimov, Isaac, ed.

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Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

The Darfsteller, 1955, by Walter M. Miller, Jr., originally published in Astounding Science Fiction: Taking its title probably from the German word "darsteller," which means "actor," Walter M. Miller's novelette The Darfsteller is about a failed actor's return to the stage. Miller's story is about the effect of technological innovation on the psychology of professionals, and it is a winner.

Ryan "Thorny" Thornier was at one point in the past one of those actors who you see all the time on the cover of People and Us Magazines. He and his lady-friend, Mela seemed to be more image that substance, but during their run they held the world as their oyster. Then along came a company called Smithfield and everything changed. Smithfield had invented a way to animate "dolls" and project lines and emotional reactions into them through a machine called the Maestro. The dolls effect was a little flat, but they were realistic enough to convince theater owners to fire their actors and invest in Smithfield's product. Thorny's fortunes fell virtually overnight, while Mela embraced the technology and licensed her image to Smithfield. Mela retired as a young woman to a life of luxury and Thorny became a janitor at a seedy theater so he could stay close to his art. As the years passed Thorny became bitter, until he eventually decided to commit suicide. To do it he sabotaged the theater's production of a play called The Anarch by ruining the tape that controlled one of the characters. Thorny planned to wait until the last minute after the producers realized their problem, then offer his services reluctantly to step into the role, which was one of the last ones he had before his career ended, and which he was best known for. At the end of the play was a scene where his character shot one of the other characters, then a third came in and shot him. Thorny switched the prop gun for a real one with two bullets in it. He wanted to go out in a bloody spectacle that would be talked about for years. But once Thorny enters the stage he begins to feel like his younger self again. The Maestro was a very complex machine that monitored audience reaction and in the true spirit of pandering was capable of changing the play mid-stream to suit the audience's desires. Once Thorny came onto the stage the Maestro read the audience's displeasure with him and tried to write him out of the last two acts. But Thorny outwitted the machine and in the latter parts of the play realized that he did not really want to die. His old flame Mela showed up also as a special appearance, because her image was being used on one of the dolls. Once she saw what Thorny was up to she decided that she wanted to act again also.

The story here is pretty interesting, but I think the real power of this piece is that Miller's obvious love for the theater really shines through. He revels in the meticulous details here and treats the theater like a sensuous old friend.

Thorny retreated into misty old corridors and unused dressing rooms, now heaped with junk remnants of other days. He had to get a grip on himself, had to quit shaking inside. He wandered alone in the deserted sections of the building, opening old doors to peer into dark cubicles where great stars had preened in other days, other nights. Now full of trunks and cracked mirrors and tarpaulins and junked mannequins. Faint odors lingered - nervous smells - perspiration, make-up, dim perfume that pervaded the walls. Mildew and dust - the aroma of time.

And although the story's theme is the displacement of people by machines, Miller does acknowledge that sometimes technology is not all it's cracked up to be:

"Sorry, Jade. I slipped a cog, I guess."

"Never mind! Just get the new pickup mechanism over here for Thomas. And the Peltier tape. And don't have a wreck. It's two o'clock, and tonight's the opening, and we're still short our leading man. And there's no time to get anything else flown in from Smithfield."

"In some ways, nothing's changed, has it, Jade?" He grunted, thinking of the eternal backstage hysteria that lasted until the lights went low and beauty and calm order somehow emerged miraculously out of the prevailing chaos.

I never really was much of a theater-goer. I used to like movies a lot more than I do now, and I do watch a few television shows religiously, but honestly, I could give it all up without much change in my life. Miller struck me with one of his observations in this story that is a very honest incrimination of the drama industry. I was somewhat surprised to see it in a story from the 1950's, as I always considered dramatic presentations from that era to have more respectability.

She opened her eyes, make a sick mouth. "Like always, Thorny, like always. Nauseating, overplayed, perfectly directed for a gum-chewing bag-rattling crowd. A crowd that wants it overplayed so that it won't have to think about what's going on. A crowd that doesn't want to reach out for a feeling or a meaning. It wants to be clubbed in the head with the meaning, so it doesn't have to reach. I'm sick of it."

Of course Thorny survives the end of the play by out thinking the doll with the gun. And even though he is a washed-up has been and the play was panned, Thorny finds a little success and reason to live in the end. This one won a Hugo in 1995 for best novelette, and probably deservedly so. The SF is in the background, and Miller's passion really shines brightly here.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Allamagoosa, 1955, by Eric Frank Russell, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction: Eric Frank Russell was a British writer of SF who found most of his success in the United States, particularly with John Campbell in Astounding. He produced a prodigious body of work in his lifetime and did pretty well at the awards ceremonies. Today's review is of his humorous short story Allamagoosa, which won the 1955 Hugo Award for the best short story. Itís about how lying to avoid trouble with those above you will get you into more and more trouble. Four out of five stars.

Captain McNaught is the captain of the cruiser Bustler. As the story opened he was completing paperwork on the Bustler and waiting his turn at shore leave, when Burman brought him notice that Rear Admiral Cassidy was coming for a full inspection of the cruiser. Cassidy was a notorious tight-wad, and McNaught knew that absolutely everything must be perfect or his vessel stood no chance of being declared ship shape. He called all the sailors back from shore leave to prepare. While the officers were going down the inventory lists they noticed that the Bustler was issued one "offog" when it was originally outfitted. Nobody on the ship had ever heard of an offog before, and nobody knew what it is supposed to do. McNaught got more and more nervous as the inspection date neared. He has hard tales of Cassidy bringing officers to court-martial for misplacing official items and for not keeping adequate records of disposition. He had no idea what the item could be, and was very worried that it could be expensive. So he had Burman, his first mate, fabricate a nifty little gizmo with switches, and hoped that they could fool Cassidy.

After Cassidy arrived he immediately began going down the ship's manifest, checking things off as he went. Cassidy finished checking off things related to the ship's ratter, a dog named Peaslake who was issued a bed, a collar and tags, then got to the offog. Cassidy noted that he had seen this item on the manifest lists of other ships and wondered what it was. McNaught showed him the box and Cassidy questioned him about its function. The Captain thought fast and told him that it was for controlling gravitic pressures when the ship was navigating between two close stars.

"It's one of the most useful things in the ship," contributed McNaught, for good measure.

"What does it do?" inquired Cassidy, inviting Burman to cast a pearl of wisdom before him.

Burman paled.

Hastily, McNaught said, "A full explanation would be rather involved and technical but, to put it as simply as possible, it enables us to strike a balance between opposing gravitational fields. Variations in lights indicate the extent and degree of unbalance at any given time."

"It's a clever idea," added Burman, made suddenly reckless by this news, "based on Finagle's Constant."

"I see," Cassidy said, not seeing at all. He resumed his seat, ticked the offog and carried n. "Z44. Switchboard, automatic, forty-line intercom, one of."

"Here it is, sir."

Cassidy glanced at it, returned his gaze to the sheet. The others used his momentary distraction to mop perspiration from their foreheads.

Victory had been gained.

All was well.

Accepting that answer and seeing the device, he checked it off and completed his inventory review. Two weeks later the Bustler was ordered to Earth for an engine refit. Burman reminded McNaught that they may have fooled Cassidy, but there was no way that they were going to fool the experts on Earth. McNaught and Burman decide to note the "offog" as destroyed in its ordinary use, and radio to Earth to report the destruction of the "offog" under gravitic pressure. They immediately receive a response that was broadcast to the entire fleet, ordering everyone to stop everything and make way for the nearest port. It turns out that "offog" was a typo of "off. dog,Ē meaning "official dog," or Peaslake. Earth engineers are worried that their every FTL engine in space is faulty; how else would a dog on a ship be crushed by gravitic forces?

This story is pure parody of the military mindset. It reads to me like an episode of M*A*S*H plays, and its very fun. Its been anthologized quite a bit, and should be easy to find.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Exploration Team, 1956, by Murray Leinster, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction: I have always thought that Murray Leinster's own personal story was infinitely more interesting then anything he ever wrote. Known as the "Dean of Science Fiction," Leinster started publishing in the pulps in 1916. He was one of the authors who contributed frequently to Argosy Magazine, and one of the very few to survive the schism in the pulps when they started to specialize in the mid twenties. He contributed to Gernsback and Campbell both, a fact which alone would have differentiated him from just about every other author in the field. Although I personally am not a huge fan of his, Leinster is credited with writing the first stories to use some important concepts including alternate reality, first contact and artificial intelligence (some of these stories are already reviewed here, and others are forthcoming). Leinster also had a knack for prediction. In the story reviewed here Leinster employed night-vision gun sights, portable Klieg lights and networked computers. Exploration Team won a Hugo in 1956 for Best Novelette. Itís an ecological story and I enjoyed it, but it was a bit elliptical in that the real problem resolved is one that is caused purely by the application of another pure genre motif; that of robots replacing the work of men. If you can get past that, which is harder than I thought it would be, then you are in for an entertaining and well written tale, though with an unsavory ending. Four out of five stars.

Exploration Team is set in a group of stories that Leinster wrote called the Quarantine cycle. In it a governmental agency called the Colonial Survey decides which planets are to be left alone and which are to be opened for colonization. No suitable planet is ever ignored, but many are closed at first because of the risk of biological contamination travelling to other established planets with colonials as they are moved around. In other stories millions had been killed by careless decontamination procedures. In this story Huyghens is a renegade colonist who has set down on a forbidden planet with three genetically augmented Kodiak bears which are massive and are intelligent. Huyghens also has a giant bald eagle for aerial reconnaissance. The planet that Huyghens is on is populated by massive one-ton creatures called Sphexes which mass upon and eat anything that moves. The bears and Huyghens guns keep most of the Sphexes at bay. Huyghens is a true pioneer, and abhors the Colonial Survey's way of using robots to build colonies and eliminate biological risks because they cannot deal with every problem that arises, only what they are programmed to deal with. He is in the employ of a company to help them get a leg up on understanding the planet when Colonial Survey opens it up, but he is living out his fantasy of pioneering a new land.

One day an automatic ship deposits Roane, a Colonial Survey man on Huyghen's landing pad. The ship had locked onto Huyghen's beacon and dropped Roane there, thinking that it was a Colonial Survey advance colony. Roane realizes right away that he has been dropped at an illegal colony and decides that he has to arrest Huyghens. Too bad the bears will eat him if he does. Huyghens is surprised to learn that there is a colony on his planet. The two rig a radio and realize that the colony has been overrun by Sphexes, but that there may be some survivors in a deep mine. Huyghens decides to help and set out with his bears, his eagle and Roane in tow. They have to make a two week journey across Sphex-infested lands, and along the way they make some startling discoveries about the nature of Shpexes. They are large carnivores, but they have a breeding cycle that brings them back to spawning grounds every year, and when they mate they produce eggs. Huyghens realizes that the secret to eliminating the Sphexes is to trace all the various groups to their mating grounds and spread a material on the ground that will destroy all viable eggs. Within two years the Sphex threat will be eliminated, and men could move in safely. Did I mention that this one was written in 1956?

The central idea behind this story is that man is capable of overcoming any and all obstacles to colonization and the capture of land, and that should be done even if the tool that must be used to do it is genocide. The very idea is one that splits us even today, though I think that the lion's share of people with an opinion on the matter would be in the "no" camp. Leinster doesnít even present the option of a preserve, or perhaps a continent where the Shpexes would be allowed to roam as they always have. But in this early SF story the dilemma is not over whether or not this kind of thing should be done. Itís over two other things. First, itís over whether or not men should do the clearing, or robots. Second, in a round-about way itís about the way that technology robs us of our capabilities because we rely on it so much. As to the first point, Huyghens is, both in the context of this story and in the era in which I am reading it, a throwback. He grew up on a planet where the only way to survive the natural predators was to breed a strain of highly intelligent, massive Kodiak bears, then sic them on whatever looked at you funny. That is what they did there, and they conquered the land, and if Huyghens has his way, that is what they are going to do here. But as to the second:

Roane's convictions as a civilized man were shaken. Robots were marvelous contrivances for doing the expected: accomplishing the planned; coping with the predicted. But they also had defects. Robots could only follow instructions - if this thing happens, do this, if that thing happens do that. But before something else, neither this nor that, robots were helpless. So a robot civilization worked only in an environment where nothing unanticipated ever turned up, and human supervisors never demanded anything unexpected. Roane was appalled. He'd never encountered the truly unpredictable before in all his life and career.

Roane at the idea of men going out into the bush, but he had not ever considered it before, because he had never put himself out there before. Maybe Iím reading too much into this, but it seems as if the real hobgoblin here is the "Machine Attitude."

Despite the "unenlightened" character of the story, its one of Leinster's better written stories, which is not saying much but was enough to get it into Campbell's Astounding. As an adventure story its great, and the bear aspect is wonderful. They are portrayed as three-thousand pound puppy dogs, and I loved reading about them. This one has been heavily anthologized and is available in a lot of older books.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

The Star, 1955, by Arthur C. Clarke, originally published in Infinity Science Fiction: I have commented in the past on Arthur C. Clarke and atheism. I noted before that in his early stories he never really disavowed the existence of God, though he did take some serious swipes at church dogma. This short Story, called The Star is one of his early masterpieces, and it presents the reader with a "how could you possibly worship a being who does things like that?" type of question. Four out of five stars.

In The Star a Jesuit astrophysicist has had a major crisis of conscience. He is on an interstellar craft that is exploring the Phoenix Nebula. They discover that the nebula is not really what it seemed to be. Instead of being proto star matter, it is the gaseous remnants of a supernova that has been reduced to a white dwarf. The ship descends to the white dwarf where they discover a lonely planetoid in roughly a Pluto-type orbit that survived the blast thousands of years ago. And on that planetoid they find a vault. Inside the vault are the remnants of a thriving civilization that one day not so long ago occupied a planet closer to the primary.

Even if they had not looked so disturbingly human as their sculpture shows, we could not have helped admiring them and grieving for their fate. They left thousands of visual records and the machines for projecting them, together with elaborate pictorial instructions from which it will not be difficult to learn their written language. We have examined many of these records, and brought to life for the first time in six thousand years the warmth and beauty of a civilization which in many ways must have been superior to our own. Perhaps they only showed us the best, and one can hardly blame them. But their worlds were very lovely, and their cities were built with a grace that matches anything of ours. We have watched them at work and play, and listened to their musical speech sounding across the centuries...This tragedy was unique. It was on e thing for a race to fail and die, as nations and cultures have done on Earth. But to be destroyed so completely in the full flower of its achievement, leaving no survivors - how could that be reconciled with the mercy of God?

And that of course suggests that their God was ours, does it not? Or at least that God in his infinite Mercy should have kept this beautiful race from perishing just because it was the right thing to do. But that is not the point of the story. But if you have not guessed yet, that is not the point.

We could not tell, before we reached the nebula, how long ago the explosion took place. Now, from the astronomical evidence and the record in the rocks of that one surviving planet, I have been able to date it very exactly. I know in what year the light of this colossal conflagration reached Earth. I know how brilliantly the supernova whose corpse now dwindles behind our speeding ship once shown in terrestrial skies. I know how it must have blazed low in the East before sunrise, like a beacon in that Oriental theater.

There can be no reasonable doubt: the ancient mystery is solved at last. Yet - O God, there were so many stars you could have used.

What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?

I think I read this one sometime in my youth, because I remember the hook in this story. Itís pretty powerful, and there really is not much more that I can say.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Or All the Seas with Oysters, 1958, by Avram Davidson, originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction: For just about his entire career Avram Davidson has been better known for fantasy works than for SF. He has written mostly short stories in his career, and to me, he seems best known as a pun-ster and practical-joke-man, but that is probably because he was very agile with the written word and could turn humor without effort. 1957 was a good year for Davidson, as he won a Hugo award for this little ditty, Or All the Seas with Oysters. It is about a nerdy bicycle repairman who notices one day that the numbers of safety pins and wire hangers in his possession seem to change on their own. He cannot figure out why safety pins are never on hand, but coat hangers are plentiful.

One day his partner, a gruff, alcoholic womanizer named Oscar stole his French racing bike to pedal down a tart in the park. When Oscar returned his bike Ferd (the Nerd) views it as soiled and wants nothing to do with it anymore. To show his displeasure he destroyed the bike in a fit of anger. A few days later Ferd and Oscar returned to the shop and the racing bike was miraculously repaired. Ferd disavowed knowledge of the repair and became frightened, then told Oscar that of his theory: Ferd had come to believe that metallic objects were an alien form of life that went through various metamorphic changes. In their infancy they were safety pins, wire hangers in their youths, and bicycles and cars and wrought iron gates and the like as adults.

Ferd said, "One day there's a cocoon; the next day there's a moth. One day there's an egg; the next day there's a chicken. But with. . . these it doesnít happen in the open daytime where you can see it. But at night, Oscar, at night you can hear it happening. All the little noises in the nighttime Oscar - "

Oscar blows him off and threw Ferd on the bike, but the bike bucked him off! Oscar noticed nothing and told Ferd that he was being weak and whiney. Oscar said nothing to anybody when Ferd disappeared two days later, never to be seen again. For an absurdist little pulp-derived tale such as this one, I think it was probably Davidson's reputation as a skilled writer more than the mechanics of this story that won him the award. Three stars out of five.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

The Big Front Yard, 1958, by Clifford Simak, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction: The Big Front Yard is an award winning novella by Clifford Simak. Simak is best known for writing in a pastoral voice, and I mean that in both senses of the word. That is to say, his focus is often on rural imagery, and his characters go to great pains to take care of one another. Simak, like Ray Bradbury, was from the Midwest. Also like Bradbury, many of his stories are tinged with strong Midwest values. This one is no exception. It also reflects one of his more important and bigger works, City, and presages a later one, Way Station. As a starting place for Simak's body of work this story and another, a short story called Huddling Place are probably the best.

The Big Front Yard is the story of a handyman, named Hiram Taine, and his loyal dog, Towser. Taine lived in his family's ancestral home somewhere in the Midwest with Towser. People in town brought broken devices for Taine to fix all the time, and by that and antiquing Taine supported himself well enough. One day Taine noticed that a broken television set was fixed by someone else before he got a chance to get to it himself. Not only that, but the black and white set was changed so that it showed in color. Taine had noticed that other items in his house showed signs of being tinkered with and inexplicably made to function better, so he started looking around his house to find and explanation. He learned that all of the plenum in his home had been modified and filled with a plastic-like material that would not dent or scratch no matter how hard he pounded on it. Around the same time Towser dug up an unusual cylinder in the lot in front of Taine's home. Rather stoically Taine came to the conclusion that a race of aliens had set up shop in his home and were paying rent by fixing things that were broken.

In the story that follows Taine discovered his house had been made into a portal to another world, and joined into a network of transfer points. He explores an alien planet in his pickup truck (a great scene), with his dog riding shotgun. Upon his return he found that someone had alerted the National Guard, and they had surrounded his home. Taine had to figure out how to out-fox the Guard. Fortunately the aliens had selected him, not just his home, because he was a skilled negotiator and trader. Taine learned that the aliens who put the plastic into his home were really armoring it against all destructive forces. They intended for the house to be a point of contact between many worlds for trade and communication, and that it last forever. Taine became the guardian of the home, and managed trade among a number of worlds, and started by trading the concept of paint for an anti-gravity device.

If you have never read Simak before, you are in for a treat. When I said that he brought his Midwestern sensibilities to SF, what I really meant was that he brought a pleasant sense of slow, country life. And when I said that he brought a sense of pastoralism, that means that his characters really express a love and respect for each other through what they did, and not so much what they said. The relationship between Towser and Taine here is the strongest. I wish more authors would include canine characters in their stories, because there really is nothing as heartwarming as the love between master and dog, and Simak brought that to the forefront here. More than that though Taine was guided in just about everything that he did by a deep and abiding love and respect for his family heritage. He may have been a wise negotiator and savvy businessman, but his main motivations here were to save his dog, and preserve his family's ancestral home and lands from invasion by the National Guard. I've heard some say before that for that reason this is a libertarian piece: I laugh out loud at that notion. This is the story of a guy who loved where he came from and wanted to stay. This was a story of belonging and friendship and love, and its also about the trade of ideas.

This is the reality, thought Taine, this is all the reality there is. Whatever else may happen, this is where I stand - this room with its fireplace blackened by many winter fires, the bookshelves with the old thumbed volumes, the easy-chair, the ancient worn carpet - worn by beloved and unforgotten feet through the many years.

And this also, he knew, was the lull before the storm.

It seems to me that there is something about that idea that is completely lost on other SF writers. I suppose it has to do with the modern and time-forward-oriented aspects of SF. Those notions are considered archaic so they are abandoned with the rest of history as the world moves forward. Astonishingly though, at the same time Simak manages to sound pretty progressive in his outlook. Taine (and Simak for that matter) may have been "country," but they wee not fools, and not without strong heart-felt motivations too.

But more, Taine thought, than the linking of mere worlds. It would be, as well, the linking of the peoples of those worlds.

For those of you who have read Simak before, The Big Front Yard recycles an idea from his earlier masterpiece City (smarter-than-average dogs), and gives the first use of another idea from another masterpiece, Way Station, (interplanetary rest-stops on Earth for traveling aliens ). This story won a Hugo in 1959 for best novelette, and is available in several anthologies and in at least one of Simak's collections.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

That Hell Bound Train, 1958, by Robert Bloch, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Hell Bound Train is a Hugo winning short story from Robert Bloch about outsmarting the devil himself. It is about a hobo-thief named Martin who rode the rails out of respect for his father, who was a rail man himself, and who died one day while working drunk. One day while in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a train that was taking forever to get to him, Martin decided that he would toe the line, and make a real man out of himself. He vowed that he would clean up his act and live on the straight and narrow. Hearing this in Hell, Satan decided that he could not afford to lose this soul, which he reckoned he had for sure, so he visited Martin in a train straight out of Hell. When he arrived he offered Martin anything his heart desired in exchange for his soul. Wary of the ways of the trickster, Martin tried to outsmart Ole Scratch, and wished to be able to stop time whenever he wished, forever, and told Satan that he would do it when he reached his happiest moment. He also told Satan that if he could stop time, he would never die and Satan will have lost. Not really caring for Martin's opinion, Satan gave Martin a watch and told him when he pulled the peg, time would stop and he would get his wish.

"There we are," the Conductor smiled. "It's all set, now. When you finally decide where you'd like to call a halt, merely turn the stem in reverse and unwind the watch until it stops. When it stops, Time stops, for you. Simple enough?" And the Conductor dropped the watch into Martin's hands.

The young man closed his fingers tightly around the case. "That's all there is to it, eh?"

"Absolutely. But remember - you can stop the watch only once. So you'd better make sure that you're satisfied with the moment you choose to prolong. I caution you in all fairness; be very certain of your choice."

"I will." Martin grinned. "And since you've been so fair about it, I'll be fair too. There's one thing you seem to have forgotten. It doesn't really matter what moment I choose. Because once I stop Time for myself, that means I stay where I am forever. I'll never have to get any older. And if I don't get any older, I'll never die. And if I never die, then I'll never have to take a ride on your train."

The Conductor turned away. His shoulders shook convulsively, and he may have been crying. "And you said I was worse than a used car salesman," he gasped, in a strangled voice.

Thereafter Martin's life proceeded quite normally. He got a job, then a raise, then a promotion, then a car, a girl, a home and a family. Then came fame and a good reputation. He was riding high, but he never pulled the stem, thinking optimistically that things would just get better and better and better. But then he was caught cheating with a pretty young thing, and he lost his family and his reputation, and as he grew older and older he had a harder time rebuilding what he had lost. But he was always contemplating when he should pull the stem; when he should stop time and stop changing forever. But that moment never came. Before too long Martin knew that if he pulled the stem he would wind up living unhappily forever, so when Legba came back to claim what was his, he still had the watch on his person, running forward.

This is a pretty starkly told tale about how we never really know when we are happy, and about how we lack the focus to keep those moments and those feelings going. The ironic fact is that Martin never really did need the watch to keep happiness going, but even if he had the sense of himself to recognize true happiness, his human nature would have scuttled it eventually anyway. The watch was a symbol, and with it in his hands Martin should have been "watching" for the right moment. But he failed to, and when Satan reappeared in his demon infested train and Martin complained that he had been cheated, Satan told him "nobody ever pulls that stem anyway, youíre no different than the rest of them, because they were never satisfied either." But Martin had the last laugh. He realized that being on a train and working one was his childhood dream, so he pulled the stem before Satan could get the watch back, then asked for a job, because now that train would never get back to its terminus.

I have always loved Bloch's stories, although I have not real many of them yet. For a short story this one says a lot about human nature, and itís got a great twist at the end. It's widely available in a number of anthologies and collections. Four out of five stars.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Flowers for Algernon, 1959, by Daniel Keyes, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: When people say that SF is a gloomy body of literature, I think that they have stories like this week's in mind. Flowers for Algernon is not a tale of the failure of science to make people's lives better. The operation that was performed in this story was expected to fail, so what it really is about is how science and scientists treat other humans like lab rats, and the effect that experiments that are not wisely performed can wreck havoc on the lives of the participants. Five out of five stars.

Flowers for Algernon is about a medical experiment, a surgery really, that was designed to make the subject more intelligent. Algernon was a mouse who has been put to the knife, and whose intelligence tripled because of it. Charley was a good natured retarded man with an intelligence of 68. He was so good natured because he was too simple to know that his "friends" spent most of their time making fun of him with idiotic jokes about his mental capacity. The team that operated on Algernon wanted to operate on a human being to see if they could achieve the same effects. Charley was chosen because he was willing to work with the team, and was not angry at the world. The team performed the operation, even though they knew that the boost in intelligence was only going to last for a very short time. That is to say, none of the animal subject to date which had undergone the procedure had retained the intelligence gains past a certain point in time, and nobody expected Charlie to be any different. They just wanted to produce some amazing results so that they could write a paper and become famous.

The story is told in diary format from Charlieís diary, which at first is called his "progris riprot." Charlie is sweet, kind and very optimistic about the surgery he has been given.

I asked Dr Strauss if Ill beat Algernon in the race after the operashun and he said maybe. If the operashun works Ill show that mouse I can be as smart as he is. maybe smarter. Then Ill be abel to read better and spell the words good and know lots of things and be like other people. I want to be smart like other people. If it works perminint they will make everybody smart all over the wurld.

But as Charlie gets smarter, he realized that for all of his life he actually had been the butt of jokes at the hands of those whom he thought loved him, especially his coworkers. He was a janitor at a mill, and the other employees were always smiling and patting Charlie on the back, so he thought that they were being kind to him. What they were really doing was saying things like "you just pulled a Charlie Gordon," whenever someone screwed up. Charlie just did not understand that they were calling him foolish and stupid. Unfortunately for Charlie, he made this realization just in time to also realize that if they teased in the past him for being stupid, they now feared him for being smart. Some fools even likened his place in the world to that of Eve's, who sinned by eating from the tree of knowledge, and brought sickness, death and pain to the world. Charley developed a strong sense of pride, driven by what he saw as his own foolishness before, laughing with those who laughed at him.

Eventually Charlie became a hermit who just got smarter and smarter. He became so smart that he sometimes lost the ability to communicate the complex concepts he came up with because of the limits of all the languages he had taught himself. Sitting alone all day Charlie became nasty and spiteful, and when his intelligence started to fail, just as Algernon's had, he reverted to his former level of intellect, but kept all the hate and anger in his heart.

I have read this story I don't know how many times in the past; twice this year alone, and it never fails to strike me as one of the most unfair things I have ever experienced. Not only to be given that much intellect, but to have it taken away, with no say or control, and to be left with the core realization that the world is against you, just pounds me in the heart every time. I don't have any trouble seeing how Charlie lost out completely on this one. I do think that sometimes ignorance is bliss, and Charlie had that taken away from him, all for an "experiment" that everyone knew would fail. Science ruined a beautiful soul here, so if you are of the ilk that thinks SF is all about doom and gloom, this one should be your rallying cry.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

The Longest Voyage, 1960, by Poul Anderson, originally published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact: The Longest Voyage is yet another Pohl Anderson story that starts out well, but goes down to nothing quickly. Yes, this is just my opinion, and I realize that pretty much nobody else in the world shares it with me, but personally, I cannot stand this author. This story is about a race of men who live on a distant planet who have just made scientific discoveries enough to fabricate ships capable of leaving the shore line. One race has sent out a exploration ship just to see what is out there. This race, however, has been visited by Earth men in spaceships. During the course of their voyage they came across another nation that actually had a spaceship, but could not operate it. The engines were broken and needed some quicksilver, and some repairs. Neither of the groups trusted each other. One of the groups also has an Earthman. I could not finish this one.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)


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