Science Fiction of Mark Clifton, The by Clifton, Mark (Maltzberg & Greenberg, eds.), 1950

Science Fiction of Mark Clifton, The by Clifton, Mark (Maltzberg & Greenberg, eds.)

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The plots of Clifton's stories were practically indescribable because they were so complex and multi-faceted. As dense and realistic as his plots were, his characters were orders of magnitude moreso. Even the little one-time-use throw away characters were given some motivation and personality. The reader will encounter excellent characterization, logically complete plots with most of the story lines resolved, and cool ideas devised by an informed and experienced writer who knows how to breath real life into his stories. He or she will also find some radical ideas, for the 1950's anyway, about the basis of scientific knowledge, the experimental method, sources of power and the strengths and abilities of the individual mind. Clifton's fiction has a strong "there are far stranger things then you know" vibe to it, and in every story in this collection he delivers brilliantly on that premise.

WHAT HAVE I DONE?, by Mark Clifton 1952, originally published in Astounding: An industrial psychologist prides himself on being able to instantly categorize any person that he meets. In a drugstore one day he encountered a man who had no outward show of emotion, and was thus uncategorizable to him. Intrigued by the possibility of finding a new type of personality he pursued the man and lost him, only to find later that the odd man reported to the psychologist's job agency in search of employment. Excited still by the prospects, the psychologist sat down to interview the man. It soon became apparent to the psychologist that this man was more different than he had originally thought. The psychologist was a SF fan, and had a very open mind. He thought that the man, named Hoffman, was an alien pretending to be a human. It did not help Hoffman that he kept referring to the ten planets of the Solar System.

Still intrigued the psychologist followed Hoffman to a house in the suburbs. Confronted with questions, the owner of the house, an old woman, denied any knowledge of Hoffman. A few months later a Norwegian named Johnson showed up at the employment agency who demonstrated the same curious lack of affectation and emotion. The psychologist pegged him as the same man right away, and Johnson admitted that he was indeed an alien. He was from Arcturus and he was there with thirty other of his species, disguised as humans. They were there to colonize Earth, but they had not decided on how to do it yet. One option was to wipe the face of the Earth clean of humans and start reproducing. The other option, the one they favored as more humane, was to integrate into the human population and mate among themselves while denying humans the right to mate and reproduce, and delude the humans into thinking nothing was wrong until they were gone for good. The aliens were impressed with the psychologist's powers of observation, and wanted to recruit him to teach them how to integrate. If he denied them assistance, then they threatened to just wipe all life on Earth out and start over.

This psychologist demonstrated the character trait that predominated in many of Clifton's other main characters. Clifton's main premise when it comes to the interplay between science and the para science was that a practitioner of either, but mainly of science, must have an open mind about the other or many valuable observations will be lost.

Mine has been a driving, burning desire to know people. Not from the western scientific point of view of devising tools and rules to measure animated robots and ignoring the man beneath. Nor from the eastern metaphysical approach to painting a picture of the soul by blowing one's breath upon a fog to be blurred and dispersed by the next breath.

Mine was the aim to know the man by making use of both. And there was some success.

Again and again and again in Clifton's fiction you will encounter this open-minded approach to phenomena that the normal scientist would balk at. Coming from Clifton, who was an accomplished industrial psychologist who in his twenty-five or so year career had interviewed over 50,000 individuals, it loses the strangeness that it otherwise might have had, though not entirely. That is not to say that the source of the message is the most convincing aspect of it. Clifton's skill with the written word is amazing. Never once did he sound hackish or boorish; both real possibilities considering that he was selling a good bit of his fiction to John W. Campbell in the post Golden Age years, after Campbell became obsessed with and developed a stable of hackish writers who produced, among other Campbell directed things, a steady stream of boring psi-powers stories.

The resolution of this story was incredibly compelling, and is probably why this story is listed first, date of publishing aside. The psychologist realized that despite outward appearances, there was no point of connection between our two races. He sold them a bill of goods, then sent them out into a world he was certain would see them as strange, and destroy them. The implications of it all will keep the reader thinking for days. On one hand the human race has been saved at the expense of a small contingent of hunters. A good thing, right? But the psychologist had also put into place a method of indoctrination for any Arcturan who came along later that would result in its death. That race was fleeing its ancestral home because of hopeless overpopulation and rapid environmental destruction. What will be the result there, and is it really the collaborative, optimistic result that a psychologist would really advocate for, absent the threats? Certainly not, and I think that this darker message is in accord with other things that Clifton wrote later in his career.

STAR, BRIGHT, by Mark Clifton 1952, originally published in Galaxy: A young widower's daughter, named Star, demonstrated an abnormally high IQ at three years old. The girl's father became concerned for her as he knew personally the ostracism that befalls abnormal bright people. The father tried to teach Star to hide her brilliance, but Star was so smart that she figured out on her own that she should hold back, especially in the company of other children. As time went on Star demonstrated odd abilities, such as telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation, psychometry and even time travel. She gained the ability to influence the minds of ordinary people, whom she referred to as "stupids." She was a "bright," and her father and a few others like him were "tweens," who had lots of brain power, but could not divine the use of any mental powers on their own. Eventually Star and a friend of hers, another bright named Robert, influenced the neighbors to move away and Robert's parents to move in. Robert, Star and Star's father spoke openly about the children's abilities, and when the father learned that the children were traveling back in time he made them promise that they would not time travel any longer. The children, who were good kids, agreed to stay put in this time, but they eventually grew bored and figured out how to travel to another dimension. Dad, who was being trained by Star to use psi powers, tried to follow them and bring them home. This story was obviously heavily influenced by Mimsy Were the Borogoves, which had been published only a few years prior. It's unique I think because in it the children, who acquire god-like powers, essentially stay kids and do not develop into immature super-beings whose powers run rampant. Instead they use their powers for mischief, but the kind of mischief that harms nobody. In that sense, it presents an comfortable and cozy view of children and childhood. Mimsy Were the Borogoves stayed away from the obscene-god depiction of children suddenly infused with incomprehensible power as well, but that story was more about outside control of those beings by a third party or futuristic mechanism, and was as a result much darker. All-in-all, I prefer this one.

There is also an interesting theory of the flow of time in this story. Usually when authors try to describe some theory of time's construction, especially a proprietary one that they came up with, my eyes kind of gloss over and I drool a bit. This one pushed me a bit in this way, but in the end I think I got it, and it at least made sense as some of the others.

CRAZY JOEY, by Mark Clifton with Alex Apostolides 1953, originally published in Astounding: This story, along with one other one in this collection, was woven into the narrative of Clifton nad Frank Riley's 1953 novel Hugo Award winning novel They'd Rather Be Right. Barry Maltzberg, in his various essays about Mark Clifton, including the Afterward to this volume, fails to state how a short story written by Clifton and Apostolides could morph into a novel by Clifton and Riley without suitable credit. To me it beggars the imagination, but here you have it.

This one is pretty dark. It is about a small, abused little boy named Joey who cannot make friends or escape the anger of his father. He is weird and out of touch with everyone else because he has psi powers and has not learned how to control them. Although he did touch on the subject with a few paragraphs, Clifton dropped the ball here by failing to show exactly what kinds of problems it was Joey was having as a direct result of his psi powers: We are told, for example, that Joey was having trouble with the lustful and aggressive thoughts of his father, but that's pretty much it. What we weren't shown was how those lustful thoughts, at least some of which should have been directed at Joey's mother, were confusing him and/or affecting any Oepidal Complex he was working through.

The campus of Steiffel University was familiar to Joey from the outside. He knew the winding paths, the stretches of lawn, the green trees, the white benches nestled in shaded nooks. The other kids loved to hide in the bushes at night and listen to the young men and women talking. They snickered about it on the school playground all the time. Joey had tried it once, but had refused to go back again. These were thoughts so precious that they belonged to no one except the people feeling them.

Personally, I disagree. I'm reading this story, so I think that those thoughts belong to me. I would have loved to have heard them, and seen what they really did to Joey. Also, that is a great name for the university, don't you think?

The real focus of this story was a multi-faceted view of how science and scientists failed to do anything to either understand or help Joey. Joey's overbearing father, a janitor at a local university, went to a practitioner in the psychiatry department and asked someone to look at Joey. Ames, the head of the department agreed, but when Joey and his mother showed up for the appointment, Martin, Ames' young associate was the only one who was there. Joey had been conditioned by reading his father's mind to lie about the problems he was having: Joey's father just wanted all the problems to go away magically, and buried his head in the sand as often as he could. Martin, because of Ames' absence, did the initial testing and work-up of Joey's case. Martin was open-minded about what was going on, and figured out in pretty quick order that the boy was psychic, and strongly so. But Martin knew that Ames would call him a crackpot for saying so, and since he had a young wife who enjoyed her status as an important educator's wife, he remained silent. He wanted to help, but did not want to rock the boat too much, so he ignored his own better judgment and deferred to Ames' diagnosis and recommended course of action. Ames was a traditionalist; an orthodox psychiatrist, if you will. As an adult he was the type who liked to tell stories about walking uphill to school (both ways) in the snow, year round, so he told Joey's mother to stop molly-coddling him so much, and recommended that his father continue to try to correct him with physical punishment.

The story is much more aggressive than Clifton's earlier stories in its treatment of the scientific establishment. Ames' character was a quintessential example of the kind of thinking that Clifton decries as old fashioned and limiting. Martin's character still had a chance to see the light, but because of the way that the establishment had already gotten its meat-hooks into him, he probably had no chance. For example, As Ames delivered his diagnosis to Joey's mother, Martin tried to ignore their voices and concentrate on something else so he would be less inclined to intrude and state a hypothesis that he knew would get him fired.

Consciously he shoved the problem into the background, and made himself concentrate on the words of the student's paper before him. The worlds leaped into startling clarity, for they were a reflection of his own train of thought.

". . . it becomes apparent then that just as physical science varies it(s) (sic) techniques from one material to the next to gain maximum result, psychology must obtain an equal willingness to become flexible. I suggest that objective physical science methodology will never permit us to know a man; that such methodology limits us merely to knowing about a man. I suggest that an entirely new science, perhaps through somatics and methodology derived therefrom, must be our approach."

Dr. Martin shoved the paper away from him. Must warn that student. His entire train of thought was a violation of orthodox psychology. Ames would crucify the boy if he ever saw this paper. Did he dare warn the boy? Students show so little caution of ethics. He could hear him now down at the milkshake hangout.

"Martin told me to soft-pedal my thinking if I wanted to get a grade."

And the answering chorus from all around the room, the Tanenbaum chant:

"Oh Steiffel U will stifle you,

We all must think as granddads do!"

Best just to give the student a failing grade on the paper, and let him draw his own conclusion. Got to be orthodox.

This is a very powerful story about the pitfalls of rigid scientific thinking, and the levels of desperation that someone who was failed by it could be driven to. The ending is one of the most pathetic, sad things I have ever read.

WHAT THIN PARTITIONS, by Mark Clifton with Alex Apostolides 1953, originally published in Astounding: First in a sequence of four stories, also including Sense from Thought Divide, How Allied, and Remembrance and Reflections about an industrial psychologist named Kennedy who is struggling to perform his duties to the employees of a military contracting firm called Computer Resources Corporation, while devising a way to distill and use the energy of psi powers, and apply them to industrial processes. The title of this story, and the next three presented here, came from a work by Alexander Pope titled Essay on Man. I always thought that Pope was trying to invoke a sense of nostalgia with that language. Now I see that it has more to do with perception. Perhaps the meanings are not mutually exclusive, as no matter how you parse it there is a required action of looking backwards, but in the context in which Clifton uses it, it is clearly about his pet issue; that of the failure of scientists to see what is plainly in front of them.

The plot of this story is every bit as complex as the plot of Crazy Joey. In it Kennedy was presented with two problems. First, one of the most experienced workers wanted to quit her job and leave. Her daughter was a student at the factory's day care, and the children and teachers were "mean to her." What she didn't mention was that little Jennie could throw objects without touching them and start fires without matches, and that kind of freaked out everyone else in the room. The other problem had to do with another employee, Dr. Auerbach. Auerbach was working on developing an AI, but wanted to manufacture a brain that worked on principles of chemistry. His boss, who controlled his every movement, wanted to make a brain that was mechanical in nature. Auerbach felt stifled and wanted to talk to someone about his frustration, so he sought out Kennedy. Kennedy promised to help him, and accepted a few of the tubes of goo that Auerbach proposed to use.

Once Auerbach left Jennie came in, scared out of her wits that Kennedy was going to punish her. Kennedy opened his mouth to talk to her and Jennie freaked out, delivering him a powerful psi blast that repelled virtually everything in his office out the plate glass window behind him. Startled by the force of the blast, Kennedy let the girl go when she ran off in fear. But when he was cleaning up his office he realized that the tubes that Auerbach had given him were gone. He found them later, stuck into the drywall of the ceiling. When he pulled them out he discovered that they repelled themselves from the floor; the little girl had somehow worked a viable form of anti-gravity. Kennedy concluded that the goo in the tubes acted like photographic paper, and could store the residual force of psi-energy. He went to his boss to show him how it all worked, and was ordered to set up a factory to mass produce the tubes. Before Kennedy could think about the implications of his orders the military was called in. They were very interested in a workable anti-gravity system. Kennedy went to all sorts of extremes to replicate the event that created the first five or so tubes, but Jennie had been so freaked out by the force of her last blast at Kennedy that she had decided to become a "good girl" and be as normal as she possibly could. Jennie's mom certainly was happy about that, but Kennedy was up a creek without a paddle. For months he tried to coax Jennie into giving him a blast; he even went so far as to manufacture a chamber of horrors to scare her into blasting the tubes, and he had a little luck with that, but was so disgusted with himself that he resigned to tell the army off and stop work. The best he was able to come up with was telling the army that he needed six of their best poltergeists, little boys only since little girls were so testy. The army agreed without realizing what a poltergeist was.

If I have not yet mentioned it, one of the things that I love about Clifton's writing is that all of it seems to come directly from his own experiences. They always tell you to write what you know, and I believe that is what Clifton did time and again.

In this story for the first time Clifton revealed an idea of his that popped up in later writings. It has to do with his own analytical approach to the world; the method by which he analyzed things. As a lawyer who typically deals with factually complicated liability questions and even more complex contracting matters, it is an idea that I use practically everyday. I mention it here because I obviously think it makes a lot of sense, and one of the defining characteristics of this author, despite the fact that he is constantly blathering on about psi powers and other mumbo-jumbo, is that I think he makes a lot of sense, particularly with what he has to say about the scientific method:

". . . [W]e approach any complexity by breaking it down into its basic parts, and each part taken alone is not complex. Complexity is no more than arrangement, not the basic building blocks themselves."

Kennedy does have an open mind about the existence of psi powers, and he has clearly seen proof positive that they can be harvested, but industrial application seems impossible to him because individual needs and prejudices cannot be efficiently mated to industrial production. Kennedy also failed to see the way out of his predicament, so he did the best that he could think of: He knocked the ball into the army's court with some ambiguous material requisitions, and hoped that they would go away. Unfortunately for him, that was not to be the case. And despite Kennedy's failures, I think that his solutions were pretty humane. His outlook was also pretty optimistic. He does go back and forth, but I cannot say at all that it creates any problems with readability or enjoyability. In fact, just the opposite. Clifton's stories are a joy to read.

SENSE FROM THOUGHT DIVIDE, by Mark Clifton 1953, originally published in Astounding: This is the second part of the Kennedy stories about the industrialization of psi powers. In this story the army has called Kennedy at his game. One day Kennedy opened his door and found a young lieutenant standing in his ante-office with a turban wrapped swami and a letter. The swami said, "let me read your palm." The letter said, "we know he's a fake, but he comes from the newly created poltergeist department. Quit screwing around and finish developing the anti-gravity device."

Realizing that he could not resist the push of the United States Army, Kennedy set out to use the swami's psi powers, if any, to help with the project. After some hemming and hawing he allowed the swami to conduct a seance. It was obviously a sham; the "swami" was a con-man from Brooklyn and had probably never seen any of the mystical lands in Asia. But after the seance Kennedy observed that the cylinders which had been scattered on the table were all oriented, pointing towards true north. Kennedy confronted the swami with his observations and challenged him to help capture psi-energy for the project. The swami ran out of Kennedy's office, which convinced Kennedy that even though the swami obviously had some psi power, he doubted it himself. Regardless, there was something there, so Kennedy put his vast knowledge of personality to help the swami ferret it out.

Clifton's characters were always very well described and fleshed out. It is in this area that Clifton's years of interview experience is put to best use:

I could have sworn his square chin quivered at the note of sympathy in my voice. I wondered, irrelevantly, if the lads at West Point all slept with their faces confined in wooden frames to get that characteristically rectangular look.

"You knew I was from west Point," he said, and his voice held a note of awe. "And you knew, right away, that Swami was a phony from Flatbush."

"Come now," I said with a shrug. "Nothing to get mystical about. Patterns. Just patterns. Every environment leaves the stamp of its matrix on the individuals shaped in it. It's a personnel man's trade to recognize the make of a person, just as you would recognize the make of a rifle.

And in this too:

When she came through the door the lieutenant gave her one appreciative glance, then returned to his aloof pedestal of indifference. Obviously his pattern was to stand in majestic splendor and allow the girls to fawn somewhere down near his shoes. These lads with a glamor-boy complex almost always gravitate toward some occupation which will require them to wear a uniform. Sara cataloged him as quickly as I did, and seemed unimpressed. But you can never tell about a woman; the smartest of them will fall for the most transparent poses.

And finally, he also does an adequate job describing why some people have psi powers and others do not:

"To a child who never knew anything else," I answered, "one who had never learned to distinguish reality from unreality - as we would define it from our agreed framework - a special coordinate system might be built up where 'Everyone was up in the air at work, today,' might be taken literally Under the old systems of physics that couldn't happen, of course - it says so in the textbooks - but since it has been happening all through history, in thousands of instances, in the new systems of multivalued physics we recognize it. Under the old system, we already had all the major answers, we thought. Now that we've got our smug certainties knocked out of us, we're just fumbling along, trying to get some of the answers we thought we had.

That I think says a lot more about human nature than it does about psi-powers. It says that no matter how ingrained our system of beliefs is, some new paradigm someday will come along that will not only change our minds, but will probably change the course of human history. And also psi-powers, it seems to Clifton, are an innate part of who we are as humans. We just need to realize it.

HOW ALLIED, by Mark Clifton 1957, originally published in Astounding: This is the third of four Kennedy stories. One day five young men show up for a group interview at Kennedy's corporation. The recruiter has no idea what to do with them, so he sent them to Kenned. The five claim to be childhood friends who grew up very close to one another. As they aged they began to work to create a group consciousness. Eventually they succeeded and a gestalt mind, whom they called "George" had come not to take their minds over, but to unify them and give them access to each other's thoughts. Convinced that he was being lied to, Kennedy nevertheless hired all five of them and put them into different departments. He tried to find the best job for George, just to see if there was anything to their claim. Kennedy was certain that in a complex corporation there must have been several hundred things that a creature like George would be perfect for, but he could never think of one and eventually lost interest several months later.

A certain realization also dulled my search, and faced me with defeat. Both industry and science are founded upon the basic premise that there cannot be perfect communication and coordination between individuals. The procedures are all set up to compensate for that lack. Deeper still, like any hypothesis founded upon a basic premise that is unquestioned, all theories and questions are shaped by that premise, and all evidence is rationalized to fit it - like the wondrous structure of astronomy build around Ptolemy's basic premise that the Earth was the center of the universe. It takes a complete breakthrough, a destruction of the basic premise, before we can think of the questions, much less arrive at answers.

That is why Kennedy gave up searching for a perfect job for George, and incidentally, if that statement does not presume that there is a way out of every problem, I'll eat my hat.

A few years later the joint services, who are the corporation's largest contractor, announce that they will make some inspections of the facility. After digging around a bit George learns that the Army was concerned because every single one of their contracts recently has been delivered on time and in perfect accordance with the terms therein. At first they did not know about George, but they did think that a spy had infiltrated the corporation and they wanted to root him out. Eventually it turned out that George was the culprit: Every time a contract was entered into and it came to one of the gestalt members in the contracting department, that individual would set it up so that everyone else could get their work done efficiently. The problem arose because in the handling of these contracts clearance and approval must be given for different tasks before any work can be done, and George's component parts were circumventing those requirements. The resolution of the story is a little hokey, and the point is, again, that there are far stranger things in the world than the average reader can comprehend. But it also turns out that Kennedy was able to find the perfect job for George. He just had to look at the problem from ten thousand miles up in the air instead of from his comfortable office chair. I kept waiting for the hilarity to ensue. It never really did, but it was a fine story nonetheless.

REMEMBRANCE AND REFLECTION, by Mark Clifton 1958, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: The final and very bittersweet Kennedy/Computer Resources Corporation story. Kennedy is approached by Colonel Logart of the Pentagon Poltergeist Division. Kennedy had recently become interested in hypnotism as a method of increasing the work output of Swami and little Jennie, neither of whom have ever been very productive. Logart met with Kennedy one day and at first convinced Kennedy that he was a true believer, then he insulted Kennedy, leaving him with the impression that the Colonel was all talk. The Colonel suggested that Kennedy failed to find suitable work for George because he was locked into an incompatible mindset; his failure of imagination was due to his science-influenced ideal set, and unless he was willing to release himself and accept that there are things stranger than he could comprehend, he would never be any use to George. But the Colonel also said that he was in charge of a Pentagon effort to send a colony ship to another planet, and he thought George, Swami and Jenie would be ideal to work the project. Of course everyone involved accepted the Colonel's offer.

Once the project got going the Colonel segregated the special employees in a lab outside of the main building, and Kennedy found himself overwhelmed with the day-to-day details of the business, including picking up the slack left off by George when all five parts of him left the jobs they had been doing. Months later Swami went to Kennedy with a sad look on his face, and tried to explain to him why he was being excluded. In recent days Swami had married Jennie's mother, and all five parts of George had married their girlfriends in a mass ceremony. Kennedy was just too busy to wonder what was going on out at the facility where they were building the colony ship, but made the time for Swami, an old friend. In fact, in recent years all of the special employees had come to think of Kennedy as a father figure; a position he was proud of. In somewhat obscure terms Swami tried to get Kennedy to admit that he had been excluded because he was unable to realize what psi power really was.

"Suppose an ancient Greek philosopher met up with a modern solar scientist. Suppose this ancient Greek said to the solar scientist, 'Tell me about the sun.' The solar scientist starts sketching his basic knowledge of the sun. 'No! No!' the ancient Greek objects. 'Don't give me all that vague and mystical mumbo jumbo. That doesn't mean anything to me. Tell me how many wheels Apollo's chariot has, how many horses draw it across the sky, what metal the chariot is made of, what its dimensions are, what figures are embossed on its doors. Be scientific, man!' What could the solar scientist say?"

"In short," I said, "our science, in trying to measure psi, get a description of it, is like trying to measure a chariot that doesn't exist, driven by a god who doesn't exist."


"But psi does exist."

"The sun exists," he said. "It is the frame work of approach to knowledge, to measurement that is wrong. Man couldn't learn any thing more about the sun until he quit thinking in terms of Apollo's chariot."

It was an impasse. I couldn't give up my scientific approach to knowledge - any more than the ancient Greek could give up his certainty that Apollo drove his chariot across the sky.

What Swami was trying to say was that you cannot use ordinary scientific principles to understand anything about psi powers. You cannot measure them, qualify them, capture them or make full use of them by ordinary scientific means, because they are as different from phenomena of the physical world as gods and legend. Swami was trying in a last ditch attempt to get Kennedy to understand this, because as long as he failed to do so, he would never really know the special employees; he would never really know his symbolic children. Unfortunately Kennedy failed the test, and when the Colonel and George, Jennie, Swami and their families stole the colony ship to go start a civilization based on psi, Kennedy was left behind.

As I sit here I am thinking to myself that I could probably go on for hours about this story. It's very powerful, possibly equal in impact to What Have I Done?. At its heart the story is about the failure of human imagination, and the costs that can have to society and, in this case, on the life of an individual. I cannot imagine how lonely and insignificant Kennedy's life would have been after the conclusion of this story. He lost his "children." He lost his friends. He lost the major focus of his work (likely due to the Colonel's psi manipulation of Kennedy, who probably used telepathy to keep Kennedy from focusing on the project at all), and all because he failed to really understand the one power that he had essentially dedicated his life to understanding. Powerful and sad.

HIDE! HIDE! WITCH!, by Mark Clifton with Alex Apostolides 1953, originally published in Astounding: Billings is the head of psychosomatic research at Hoxworth University, when Mr. Roga, the "chief investigator," who seems to have a lot of political power, informs him that the domineering government, which liked to ignore civil liberties, has selected him to design a machine that can see into the future. They want the device so that government vehicles will be able to travel at great speeds and will not have to rely on driver or pilot perceptions to stop for danger. Billings knows that the government will make him disappear if he fails, so he enlists the help of a graduate student named Joe. Billings has observed Joe for many years and has come to believe that the kid can read minds. Joe in fact can read minds, but hides that fact because he is afraid that people will try to harm him if they know that he is that different. The project, once Billings and Joe get their heads around it, is multi-disciplinary, and Billings uses Joe to subtly push men of different disciplines psychically so that they work well together.

The teams work day and night for years and eventually produce an artificially intelligent machine named Bossy. Bossy will eventually be re-designed to see into the future, but before they can even bring her fully on line the pitchfork and torch wielding masses hear of her existence, and storm the university demanding that she be dismantled and destroyed. They all fear for their livelihoods, and think that if an artificial person can be designed it will one day replace them all in their jobs. In the end Joe and Billings smuggled Bossy out of the university, and the rest of the story is told in Clifton and Riley's They'd Rather Be Right.

This is one of the angriest stories in the book.

CLERICAL ERROR, by Mark Clifton 1956, originally published in Astounding: Dr. Kingston, the chief resident psychologist at an asylum, has been asked by Dr. Moss for permission to lobotomize David Storm. Kingston is unpopular with the staff at his hospital because he has spoken out against lobotomizing patients. Most of the other doctors in the facility prefer to use the technique because it works so well, but Kingston thinks its like using a shotgun to cure a headache, and has required the others to give him final say on any lobotomy. The problem is that this particular facility treats government workers with the highest levels of security clearance, and Kingston, being new to the job, lacks the clearance necessary to even meet Moss's patient, much less treat him.

To circumvent the problem Kingston sends his officious secretary on a paid vacation, and chases the security people out of the building. Then he fakes confinement papers for himself, and issues orders that he be picked up on sight. He also shifted patients around so that he would be incarcerated in Storm's room, and when he is put into the room, he works some psychological magic and cures Storm.

While it turned out pleasant in the end, Clerical Error started out sounding angry. As I read through this book I am starting to realize that the strategy that Clifton tended to get angrier and angrier as the fifties wore on.

WHAT NOW, LITTLE MAN?, by Mark Clifton 1959, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: An absolutely incredible story about psychology, with a strong moral lesson about the ways we are likely to treat an alien race that we do not understand. MacPhearson is a farmer on the planet of Lido, where rare gems are mined and sent back to Earth. Lido is populated by a few humans who herd a species called Goonies, who look remarkably like humans. Men have administered intelligence tests and psychological tests to Goonies and have concluded that they are mere animals. MacPhearson farms the lands and maintains herds of Goonies, which are slaughtered for meat. The Goonies are very affable, and will do anything men ask them to do. They are used as manual labor and beasts of burden, but MacPhearson trained a few to speak, write and do clerical work. Surprisingly they took to that work well, but MacPhearson remained quiet about what he did because others in Libo City would ostracize him: Goonies are also physically beautiful, and humans don't like to be compared to them. If others found out that MacPhearson was training them in jobs that men ordinarily did, he would be made an untouchable.

While MacPhearson was training the Goonies to speak and write, the company that ran Lido sent Miriam Wellman, a psychologist to Lido. Her job was to whip up passions and inflame the colonists so that she could identify trouble-makers and those who were unable to calm down easily, then remove them from Lido. The company had invested too much in the colony for a few ne'er-do-well's to screw things up, so they sent Wellman around to clean up before problems arose. They also sent Hest, and officious accountant to run Lido for a time. Hest swindled MacPhearson out of an intelligent Goonie when he learned what MacPhearson was up to. He told MacPhearson that he wanted to teach the Goonie advanced accounting principles, but he really wanted to take the Goonie out into the wilderness and kill it. MacPhearson chased Hest down to save the Goonie, but Wellman got to Hest first. It seemed that Hest was used by Wellman as lightning rod: Hest believed he was a valuable accountant for the company, but he really was employed because he had the type of personality that drew trouble makers to him. Wellman sent Hest in to various colonies a few months before she arrived, because he made her job of rooting out the fools easier.

I think that this story was well told, though the story was really not too clean and Clifton made a few errors in the telling. He spent quite a bit time in the beginning explaining how Goonies were the only source of food on the planet because Earth crops would not grow there, then forgot himself later when MacPhearson was tending to his "orchards" in the back forty. Clifton also led off with a hook about how hard radiation from space flight and because of the thin atmosphere on Lido ruined colonist's chances of ever having children. I was getting ready for a cross between Cordwainer Smith (the pain of space) and Octavia Butler (inter-species mating), but before too long he veered into a tale about the mistreatment of a race that could be our intellectual equals, or even our betters.

As usual, Clifton's ideas were top notch. About the Goonies Clifton's characters suggest that mankind has purposefully ignored their potential, rather than repressed them, as part of a strategy to feel superior. MacPhearson got into a conversation with one of his friends about the Goonies one day, and his friend told him a story about a book he had read before immigration. It was by an Australian bloke, and it was about kangaroos. The author told his readers innumerable times that kangaroos were stupid animals not worthy of caring for, but everything else in the book, the stories he told about what they could do, led MacPhearson's friend to conclude that kangaroos were in fact smart, adaptable creatures. The two wondered why the author was being duplicitous, and why he was calling them stupid when all available evidence was to the contrary.

"The economy of Australia is based on sheep," he said. "And sheep, unaided, can't compete with kangaroos. The kangaroo's teeth are wedge-shaped to bite clumps, and they can grow fat on new growth while sheep are still down into the heart of grass unable to get anything to eat. The kangaroo's jump takes him from clump to sparse clump where the sheep will walk himself to death trying to stave off starvation. So the kangaroo has to go, because it interferes with man's desires."

"Does that answer 'Why?' " I asked.

"Doesn't it?" he countered. "They have to keep it killed off, if man is to prosper. So they have to deprecate it, to keep their own conscience clear. If we granted the Goonie equal intelligence to man, could we use it for food? Enslave it for labor?"

And that is probably what Clifton was really trying to say here. One may think that it takes a special kind of man to feed upon and enslave another race, even when there is good evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that they are our equals, but it really does not. All it takes is economic incentive, or a primordially driven sense of inadequacy.

HANG HEAD, VANDAL!, by Mark Clifton 1962, originally published in Amazing Stories: This is the most literary and the strongest story in the collection. It begins with strong words of regret and shame, focused on the image of a space-suit scarecrow on Mars. The mission there is obviously pulling out. The hook ends with these words:

So on an abandoned Martian landing field thre hangs a discarded spacesuit - the image of a man stuffed with straw; with straw where heart, and mind, and soul ought to be.

Published at the beginning of the space age, Hang Head, Vandal is about mankind's quest for the stars. In it scientists have been granted access to Mars, a supposedly dead world, to begin developing and testing a "slow burn" nuclear drive. They have developed this technology already, and believe it will function in a starship as a Bussard Ramjet would, but they lack the ability to turn the system off. In other words, they can fuse bits of interstellar dust and other matter, but once the reaction starts, they are unable to make it stop. I'm not going to tell you more. This is a sad, sad story, and as Maltzberg says in the introduction, it is one of the most important indictments of our species in all of SF.

Copyright 2009, Gregory Tidwell

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


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