Since the second decade of this century, humanity has been indiscrimately pouring out a star’s worth of electromagnetic waves. First with radio and now television, there is a sphere of information heading out to the stars at the speed of light that has already passed Arcturus, Capella, and is just now reaching Alderamin. Imagine what conception an alien race must have of us judged solely on the basis of our advertisements, entertainment programming and news bulletins.
Now imagine an alien whose very form is shaped by these media. That’s the premise behind Avram Davidson and Laura Goforth’s cleverly titled Love Called This Thing. Like all of Davidson’s stuff, it’s short and brilliant (I have not heard of Ms. Goforth before; perhaps the story was her idea). Read it if you can.
Security Plan by Joe Farrell is no great shakes, but it is a cute and diverting tale of time travel involving the years 1959 and 1991. There is apparently a lot of profit to be had in inflation. My favorite parts dealt with the outré styles of the future; they are extreme extrapolations of modern beat culture. Absolutely sub-zero, o-daddy!
Fred Pohl’s The Bitterest Pill is another science fiction potboiler involving an eidetic-memory drug. You’ll see the ending a mile away. Possibly the weakest entry of the bunch.
Rounding out the issue is Gordy Dickson’s The Man in the Mailbag, which I liked very much. Not quite a first contact story, in this one, humanity is trying to negotiate diplomatic and trade relations with a race that is singularly unimpressed with humans. It’s not difficult to see why: the aliens (Dilbians) are all eight feet tall if they’re an inch. Prideful, honorable, and incredibly strong, humans are comparatively puny and inspiring of mistrust. As it is put by one of the elder Dilbians (in my favorite passage of the story), “What if, when you were a lad, some new kid moved into your village? He was half your size, but he had a whole lot of shiny new playthings you didn’t have, and he came up and tapped you on the shoulder and said, ‘C’mon, from now on we’ll play my sort of game?’ How’d you think you’d have felt?”
Solving the diplomatic and economic impasse is left to the temperamental young redhead, John Tardy. It so happens that a young lady, nicknamed “Greasy Face” has been abducted by a Dilbian tough (with the ominous and deserved name of Streamside Terror), and Tardy’s boss believes that sending a Terran out to rescue her is just the ticket to demonstrates humanity’s pluck and worthiness. To ensure that Tardy makes it all the way to Streamside Terror without being waylaid, he is dispatched as a mail parcel to be carried on the back of a Dilbian postman. This is about the safest place to be as the proud Dilbian postal service has a work ethic that would be familiar to anyone who served in the United States (or Persian) Postal Service. Of course, this story has a twist, and the damsel in distress is not quite so distressed (and far more resourceful) than one might think.
What I really like about this tale is that this time, for a change, despite all our unquestionable technological prowess, humanity is on the weaker footing and the writer treats the aliens with respect. But then, this isn’t Astounding. Or Cliff Simak.
Feeding the issue into JOURNEYVAC, this issue comes out a solid 3.75 stars. The magazine seems to be weathering the format change reasonably well, so far.
See you on the 10th! And if you’re new to the column, leaf through the older entries. Feel free to share them with your friends, too.
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