Now that you’ve all read Despoilers of the Golden Empire, I imagine you’ll want to know my thoughts.
I feel as if I waited an inordinate amount of time for the shoe to drop only to be hit in the ear with a wet sock.
As I read Garrett’s piece, I kept thinking to myself, “All right. This is clearly modeled on Pizarro’s trek through Peru. What’s he going to do with it?” Was he going to reveal his feelings about intolerant imperialism, either favorably or unfavorably? Was his protagonist going to bring about the ironic ruin of the father Empire through hyper-inflation? I mean, what’s the point of an analogy without a point?
And then I got to the end, and there was no analogy at all. It was the literal story, and the only reason one might think it was supposed to be science fiction was the fact that appeared in a magazine called Astounding Science Fiction.
Perhaps Garrett’s work was supposed to be a dig against inferior science fiction. After all, H.L. Gold opened up Galaxy by denigrating the “space western.” Maybe this piece was made to show how easy it is to dress up non-science fiction as science fiction with the minimum of trappings.
Somehow, I don’t think so. I think this was an early April Fool’s prank, and not a very clever one. Here Garrett was leading us to think there was going to be a trick ending to the story… and there actually wasn’t (though he might argue that was the trick all along).
The rest of the book is pretty unimpressive, too. George O. Smith’s Instinct, is about the abduction of an Earther by aliens who have tried seven times to smash humanity back into the Stone Age only to have us come back as world-beaters every time. The aliens want to know what makes us tick so they can stop us once and for all or peacefully integrate us into their galactic federation. Their plan backfires in the biggest of ways. Not badly written, but not much of a story.
Silverbob’s Translation Error is really bad. It’s not the concept–meddling alien returns to Earth 50 years after having ended the Great War early hoping to find a backward but peaceful world. Instead, he finds that none of his historical changes took, and the resultant world (our world) is on the brink of nuclear war and the threshold of space. I like alternate histories. The problem with this one is there are about three pages of story and ten more pages of recapitulation. It is poorly written, repetitive stuff with a conclusion so obvious, one wonders why it was written at all. This is the worst story, technically, that I’ve read in Astounding. Interestingly enough, my 17 year-old nephew, David, loved this story. There’s no accounting for taste.
The only bright spot (aside from part 2 of Murray Leinster’s serial, which I have not yet read, and which I shan’t review until next month along with part 3) is Algis Budrys’ The Man who did not Fit. It’s another in the genre where an advanced civilization has figured out how to determine the ideal employment for each of its citizens. Of course, the few who do not fit in to the system are destined to rule. Seen it. Read it. Many times. But this one is nicely done with a rich setting: a conquered Earth at the crossroads of interesting interstellar politics. The protagonist is the son of the Terran government-in-exile (a bit of self-insertion by the author, whose father was the consul general of the Lithuanian government-in-exile after the Soviet take-over). Not a brilliant story, but a good one, and it shines in comparison with the rest.
Thus, excluding the Leinster, the issue barely manages to cross the 2 star mark. I suppose that if you enjoyed Part 1 of The Pirates of Ersatz, you should pick up this issue for Part 2, but there’s precious little else for you in the March 1959 Astounding.
Happy Valentine’s Day, by the way. If you want to recommend any appropriately romantic science fiction, I’m all ears!
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