Smith stuck in a technical, dull, and predictive rut (2/5)
The cover of the collection notes two things: (1) stories and (2) memoirs. This is fitting since George O. Smith is famous in the science fiction world for two dubious things: (1) the Venus Equilateral stories and (2) stealing John Campbell’s wife. The memoirs of much, much more notable than the stories, however:
(1) I’ve read the Complete Venus Equilateral (1976), which has stories published between the years 1942 and 1973, and found a wealth of humor and intelligence but the stories followed a similar track so they all felt repetitive—a problem spurs brainstorming resulting in a clever solution with vacuum tubes. It was kind of charming, but also irksomely old-school. Smith’s collection Worlds of George O. (1982) has exactly the same feel: cute in an old-school sort of way, but the plots are repetitive and the conclusions are as predictable as they are gag-worthy (how many stories could possibly end in a lovey-dovey marriage!!!).
(2) Between the stories, Smith pens a fascinating history of his experience in the science fiction world as a fan, a writer, as a professional, and as John Campbell’s bane of existence. The close relationships of the Golden Age is a great read, where Frederik Pohl and L. Ron Hubbard casually drop by for a drink, where John Campbell invites George Smith and L. Sprague de Camp for dinner, where Henry Kuttner and C. L Moore are on familiar terms, where L. Jerome Stanton and Theodore Sturgeon trade story origins. Then there’s the time Dona Campbell told John Campbell she wished to divorce him so that she could marry George O. Smith, which actually did occur, much to Campbell’s understandable dismay, and which also effected Smith’s career as a writer.
Each story by itself is average—all receiving a blank-stared, mollified 3-stars—except for the radio script of “Meddler’s Moon”, which is only notable because it has a distinction which all the other stories lack. As mentioned in the first point above, the number of marriages at the end of the stories is truly terrible—women are the prize, women are the feeble, women are the meek. This could be for two reasons: (a) Smith is a terrible writer with little imagination outside of his technical expertise or (b) this is an in-joke with Campbell after he married his ex-wife in 1949. Either way, it makes for gag-worthy reading. Taken as a whole, the entire collection is dull, repetitive, and achingly awkward, in of artistic flourish rather than technical knowhow. Stick with the Venus Equilateral stories.
Blind Time (1946, shortstory) – 3/5 – Peter Wright has a job no one loves but he happens to excel in his profession—insurance adjusting and insuring claims. The Oak Tool Works plant constructs train carriages and sues hidden rivets, which need a temporal treater… an odd contraption which causes certain parts to pass through time to match its counterpart. However, someone is always—always—injured in the process, which is where Peter Wright and Interplanetary Industrial Insurance come in.
The Planet mender (1952, novelette) – 3/5 – The one billionth arrival on Mars draws near yet the planet has become inundated with a torrential downpour of rain—water beamed from the planet Mercury. Phil Watson heads the Mars station and appoints himself savior of the planet by zipping off to Mercury to solve the problem of the overflow of water, only to realize that Mercury is half the problem. With Ms. Watson at his side, Phil embarks for Uranus to root out the true problem of overflow.
The Catspaw (1948, novella) – 3/5 – Tom Barden is met by an alien intelligence during his dream, yet his dream includes a clear dialogue and Tom having been imparted with a wealth of alien data regarding fantastic technology. Only a layman, Tom is unable to find a foothold in the professional world to exhibit the gift he has been given—until he invents a superior vacuum tube device. Thence, Dr. Ward takes his side with trepidation and they test their dangerous knowledge.
Rat Race (1947, shortstory) – 3/5 – During the war, factories have stopped making mousetraps so that they can focus their precious metals and industrial capacity to build war machines. Peter scavenges items from his lab to build a, literally, better mousetrap. The old trap’s unpleasantness came from disposing of the vermin’s corpse, but Peter’s Better Mousetrap sends the pests into oblivion. Curiosity gets the best of the scientist and tracks the place of their emergence, but he’s frustratingly unable to pin down the time.
Meddler’s Moon (1947, novelette) – 3/5 – The betrothed couple Peter and Laura are visited by a man of similar age to their own claiming to have come from the future—and as being the grandson of Peter, yet with a different woman. Marie Baker is Peter’s future wife yet the Peter and Laura are set against the mysterious plans announced by future Hedgerly, until Marie and her beau come to the door and make the future more probable than ever. Plans are soon concocted.
Meddler’s Moon (first aired in 1958/rebroadcast in 1965, radio script) – 4/5 – Unannounced, a man appears in Charles’ doorway expecting to see that Charles’ fate is set in stone. Confounded by the man’s claims of time-travel and direct lineage from Charles, he disbelieves everything the man says. His unexpected bride-to-be, Amelia, comes to his door with her own man beside her, a fact which reassures Charles of the unlikelihood of so-called fate. Amelia and Charles posit fooling the man from the future, only to realize their fate is actually quite probable.
In the Cards (1947, novelette) – 3/5 – The bizarre product of nuclear bombardment and the proper ownership of the government, zonium is a perfect conductor in as many ways as it has axes. Jim Forrest steals the perfectly transparent cube from Ellen Hayes’ ship, who has rightly stolen the object from the government because her father invented it and the government simply mothballed the little wonder. After the two thieves is Captain Turner, enforcer and protector.
History Repeats (1959, novelette) – 3/5 – On the purportedly peaceful planet of Xanabar, Peter and his cognizant canine named Beauregarde pound the streets scenting the trail of a kidnapped human female. Splintering doors and bloodying guards, the Earthly duo track the girl yet meet resistance upon their not-so-stealthy withdraw. Relying on the flawless companionship between man and his best friend, the two fight their way out with Earthly flare.
The Big Fix (1959, novelette) – 3/5 – As the Kentucky Derby draws near, Wally Wilson, a bookie for the bets on the horses, gets word from on high of a particular mobster’s interest in rigging the top three finishers. Powerful and persuasive, Wally cringes at the punishment and even possibility of fixing a race in a telepathic world. With the beautiful Tomboy Taylor on his heels and Gimpy Gordon begging for cash, Wally sees a glimpse of opportunity where he can make the Big fix.
Fire, 2016! (1964, novelette) – 3/5 – Scarce are the fires that ravage buildings. The tract of land between Boston and DC has seen very few fires, yet a full unit of firemen still await the call. Since they have so much free time on their hands, the firemen are urged to pursue advanced degrees. One fireman, Lansing, the son of a fire claim adjustor, fails to provide a useable thesis for fighting fires, but his time to shine comes when his suitor’s father’s house goes aflame.
Understanding (1967, novelette) – 3/5 – Terry Lincoln studies Understanding in the Scholar’s Cluster where the three sun system shines upon the youth striving for universal knowledge. Stopping on Xanabar on the way to Earth, Terry loses his way in the city of Coleban. Aimlessly running, Terry stumbles into the slums of the city and continually chances upon some curiously omniscient Peacekeepers. There to assist, Beauregarde guides Terry back to the spaceport and through even more curious circumstances.