Fact and Fiction (February 1959 Galaxy, Part 2; 12-14-1958)

For your reading pleasure today, a piece in two parts.  First a bit on fiction, and then a bit on the other stuff.

Plowing on through the new maxi-sized Galaxy, the first story after Installment Plan is a slight bit of atmospheric by Charles A. Stearns called Pastoral Affair.  If you’ve read the Wells classic, The Island of Dr. Moreau, then you’ve essentially read this story.  Stearns, I understand, largely wrote for the pulps and less prestigious magazines, and his work reads like something from the 30s.  Not bad, just not much.

But the succeeding Fred Pohl piece, I Plingot, Who you?, is quite good.  My father was a science fiction fan of “Golden Age” vintage before his untimely passing some twenty years ago.  He once said, rather presciently, that the only way one could ever really unite the world would be the invention of an external threat, perhaps a world-destroying asteroid or (even better) an extraterrestrial invasion. 

Pohl takes this concept and turns it on its head: What if someone convinced all of the world leaders separately that an alien race was approaching, and the first to encounter it would get an exclusive and most rewarding deal?  And what if the race landed their spacecraft not in America or the U.S.S.R., but in the neutral powder-keg of French Algeria.  Why, it might kick off a bloody competition resulting in an all-out atomic war!  Now, what if that instigating someone were actually a representative of an alien species whose job was to fabricate the alien arrival to cause the destruction of Earth and ensure that interstellar competition was kept to a minimum?  You’d get Plingot.

The pacing and the writing really make this story, as well as the unexpected ending (which is very Heinlein-esque).  The story is from the eponymous Plingot’s point of view, and his wording and mood are subtly and suitably alien.  Interestingly enough, it is decidedly fixed in a very specific period of time—perhaps the next few months.  For the flag of the United States has 49 stars, and it is pretty clear by now that Hawaii will be a state very soon, to balance Republican and Democratic votes in the Senate, if nothing else.  Moreover, given the recent turmoil in France that brought DeGaulle back to the fore and created yet another French Republic (Number 5!), I can’t imagine that France’s hold on Algeria is anything but tenuous.  This all works, however, since the story is not a prediction of the future but rather a prediction of how the present might deal with a futuristic threat.

Now the non-fiction.  Willy Ley’s article this bi-month wraps up his article on “The World Next Door:” the alien realm of the deep sea, and ties in nicely with the unusually large number of undersea accomplishments achieved by the United States this year.  Did you know that the nuclear-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Seawolf stayed underwater for 60 consecutive days?  The air its crew left port with was the air the crew breathed for two straight months.  That kind of self-contained endurance is relevant to travel in Outer Space, where fresh air is even less accessible.

The Seawolf is the younger sister of the U.S.S. Nautilus, which made history in August by being the first ship to travel to the North Pole under water.  I saw/heard in a recent newsreel that there is talk of opening up underwater polar trade routes between East and West.  I don’t know how feasible that would be, but it is exciting nonetheless. 

So stay tuned!  I predict that the undersea science fiction genre (heretofore severely underrepresented—Fred Pohl’s Slave Ship serialized two years ago in Galaxy, is one of the few examples) will become a big component of published sci-fi in the near future.

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