Technical, touchy, and clever at times (4/5)
Courtesy of Project Gutenberg and ISFDB.org, I've metaphorically thumbed through the speculative fiction of the 1960s and 1950s to put together a few collections. Last June I put together three novelettes by Milton Lessor and found that the variety of an unknown author appealed to me. Randall Garrett is yet another author with scores of stories in Project Gutenberg and I've put together three novelettes which are reviewed below. I have an Excel spreadsheet sorted by years with novella and novelettes waiting to be read on my Sony Reader and collected into a form like below.
Novelette: “Hail to the Chief” (4/5)
Pen name: Janat Argo and Sam Argo
First published: February 1962
Original length: 31 pages
Word count: ≈ 12,690 words
“’Hey!’ Cannnon yelled good-naturedly. ‘Any more slaps on the back and I’m going to be the first President since Franklin Roosevelt to go to my Inauguration in a wheelchair!’” (18-19)
Senator James Harrington Cannon is unanimously chosen to be the next President-elect. Where “image” is important, Senator Cannon is the face of the campaign but he chooses Matthew Fischer as running mate and Vice President-elect. Once a State Attorney General, Fischer seems like an odd choice for a running mate, but Cannon stands behind his selection with conviction. Cannon is reassured of his choice when he receives word that an experimental American spacecraft had been shot down near the Russian moon base, a situation which is handled by the keen intelligence, natural tact, and effortless decision-making of Matthew Fischer. The resulting victory of decision by Fischer vaults the running mates into a victory over a televised debate with the current President. When Election Day dawns, the votes flood in for Cannon and Fischer, a situation which any President-elect could ever wish for, for Cannon has higher plans for his tenure and for his country.
This novelette has a very non-sci-fi feel to it, only lapsing into the realm of science when the situation on the moon in involved, a situation which highlights Fischer’s unique talent but a situation which could have easily have been something terrestrial of origin and non-scientific. It’s more of a story of a Presidential-hopeful’s idea of what makes a good campaign, what makes a good running mate, and what makes a positive influence on American progress. The unfolding conclusion is surprising, conniving, and touching, which is also sown with the seed of speculative fiction more than the steady foundation of fiction; one can only wish for politics to be so humanistic.
Novelette: “Nor Iron Bars a Cage…” (5/5)
Pen name: Johnathan Blake MacKenzie
First published: May 1962
Original length: 37 pages
Word count: ≈ 16,760 words
“But the one thing that I am working on right now and will continue to work for is a real cure, if that’s possible. A real, genuine, usable kind of psychotherapy; one which is at least in a par with the science of cake-baking when it comes to the percentages of successes and failures.” (36-37)
A car thief has been rehabilitated, a fighter has been unconditioned to fight, and now the police are after a child murderer. His actions are heinous and he’s gotten away with one gruesome murder already, so their vigil against another is tense. The method of psychotherapy which the organization uses has caught the attention of an English Duke who is also a policeman over in England. Impressed by the results, the Duke rides shotgun with a detective to track down the murderer. When an urgent call comes of a recent kidnapping, the detective and Duke use cold logic to prevent a crime, free a victim, and capture the crook. Though the methods of psychotherapy are as controversial as those of Hammurabi’s Code, the resulting nature of the cured patient is improved and deviant behavior of the patient is radically changed—a better change for society against the victimization of the repeat offenders.
There’s a sinister initial unfolding of the plot, jarring the reader into facing the crimes within face-on, perhaps the writer’s method of justifying his psychotherapy theory by shocking the reader. The police work isn’t too detailed yet at the same time isn’t too lenient on the facts either; with the introduction of the nimble-with-a-cane Duke, the scene is set for bringing the reader up to pace with developments. Partially didactic with twists of malicious intent and acts of heroism, the flow is smooth and smacks the reader’s attention to an upright position. It would have been a 4-star reader if the author hadn’t thrown in doozy of a left hook right on the last page, a pirouette of sorts which neatly ties everything in one tight, little package of a novelette!
Novelette: “Anchorite” (3/5)
Pen name: Johnathan Blake MacKenzie
First published: November 1962
Original length: 45 pages
Word count: ≈ 18,300 words
“There's an old saying that neither money, education, liquor, nor women ever made a fool of a man, they just give a born fool a chance to display his foolishness. Space ought to be added to that list.” (39)
An assembly from Earth is concerned about the published number of deaths resulting from anchoring asteroids in the Belt. The Belt’s business/government arm has a touchy relationship with Earth, who hold tax regulations against the Belters in order to keep them where they are. For the benefit of the assessors, once man from Earth with space experience is chosen to undergo anchor training to prove that their methods and equipment are in perfect form. Earth’s man concern is the number of deaths and the resulting insurance payments paid to the Belt versus the minimal amount of actual injuries on the job. With a seemingly flawless system for anchoring asteroids, the assembly returns to Earth and the Belt is eager to hear of their findings, one which has financial ramifications to the Belt.
The main plot above doesn’t have much steam behind it; rather the plot is carried onward by the dynamic anchorites, Captain St. Simon and his eccentric pilot Jules Christian. The oddball duo set the story up with a technical, too technical, explanation of how they anchor the orbiting rocks. Their odd conversation breaths a fair bit of life into the rather drab technicalities, but the sudden shift to the Earth and Belt relationship is jarring. From there on, most of the plot dabbles in politics, details of the relationship, and some closed conversations on both sides. Only when Captain St. Simon is back on the Belter’s home of Pallas does he once again command the plot by training the Earthman in the finesse of anchoring.