Scientist as hero; predictability as the villain (2/5)
Imagine my delight when, in the secondhand bookstore (though they are both compound words, I use the collocation so often I might as well compound it again to “secondhandbookstore”), my eyes fell upon a holy trinity of sorts: (1) an unfamiliar author, (2) a short story collection, and (3) a book from the 1950s. I call it a holy trinity because I love finding new authors, I love reading short story collections (less so for anthologies), and I love finding gems from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
Robert Spencer Carr’s (1909-1994) reputation as an author—having written stories between the years 1925 and 1952—is overshadowed by his later indulgence with UFO conspiracy. His legacy as an author is limited to two minor publications. The first novel, a non-genre mind you, was The Rampant Age (1928) which became a movie two years later, according to Wiki and IMDB. His second and late minor note as an author is his novelette “Easter Eggs”, which is included in this collection. Between 1949 and 1954, the story was printed seven times after its initial publication in The Saturday Evening Post (September 24, 1949). Sixty years after its last publication… it’s a tad better than the first two stories, but the first three stories feel terribly dated; however, “Mutation” is one story that has a timeless element.
Rear cover synopsis:
“Robert Spencer Carr is a storyteller of wit and imagination. These stories of his—ingeniously plotted, sparkling with life, written with a sure hand—are triumphant examples of science-fiction at its best.
This is a book to satisfy the most exacting s-f fan—and to delight the reader for whom science-fiction is still a strange and mysterious realm.”
Beyond Infinity (1951, novella) – 2/5
Synopsis: The aging astronomer, Dr. Burgess Wood, has a successful scientific career—including his recent developments in quadratures—but one thing has been absent from his life: love. To find his long-lost love, he sends his alluring niece to Don Brooks, a private investigator. He and Holly Mosley, the niece, track the unrequited love’s address to Dr. Wood’s professional rival’s desert estate, where they see the elusive Martha Madison and her husband Martin. A bizarre plan to planets unfolds in which the Madison’s will leave and return to Earth, a spectacle for which the press will attend.
The story starts off well enough with a handful of mysteries and subtle nuances, but soon becomes dampened by the cheesy developing relationship of Don Brooks and Holly Mosley, which continues until the very end (with predictable results common of pulp from the 20s or 30s):
“Did you hear what I heard? A far-off musical sound.”
“Celestial wedding bells?” (84)
Throw in some scientists, some techno-babble, and some glorification of the sciences (again, an annoying symptom of the age of pulp) and you’ve got yourself a rather amateurish attempt as writing science fiction.
The method which with the Madison’s leave and return to Earth is nonsensical. They leave at an appointed time to much spectacle, travel faster than the speed of light upon a rocket, and return later—after much deceleration—much younger and happy to have relived their childhood. Seemingly having experienced their lives repeatedly, they have become wise to point of speaking in riddles and remarking that “We found love that it literally the life eternal” (78).
Ah, the imperfect marriage of love and science.
Morning Star (1947, novelette) – 2/5 – Brian Dale is an ex-Navy pilot now in charge of the security detail for one of America’s most secret projects in the deserts of New Mexico: man’s first spaceship fueled by nuclear rocket. The four distinguished scientists heading the project meet under one roof to work out the manned trip to Mars while awaiting the arrival of one invited, but soon to be deported, Russian scientist named Dr. Eva Morgenstern, whose unexpected beauty and agenda wows them all.
Much like “Beyond Infinity”, this story has a sappy falling-in-love romance between Brian and Eva. Certainly, her aura is highly influential with all the men around her—the typical American WASP super-scientist type, you know—but they are all elderly (as super-scientists should be). Eva, with her alien femininity, massages the minds of the four, strongly influencing them to shift their space destination from Mars to Venus because she has a personal interest in the matter. Meanwhile, Brian is more susceptible to her charm; her beautiful aura plays the strings of his heart and wild images of her protection and their marriage dance in his mind.
Two aspects of this story strike me as ridiculous: (1) the inclusion of a brilliant Russian scientist in an American top-secret project and (2) Eva’s insistence and the scientists’ agreement that a flight to Mars can be easily switched to that of Venus. No one even knows what the Russian scientist looks like and Brian tries desperately to hold off on including her in the meeting, yet she still slides into the room, leaving the security guards breathless and misty-minded. Her inclusion in the meeting is a driven wedge in the plot, in which she is integral… so she feels misplaced. Then there’s such a ruckus about the manned trip to Mars and the specific weight of the vessel for its trajectory that two considerations aren’t taken into account: Venus would require much less fuel because the journey is sunward and it’s nearly ten million miles closer to Earth. The scientists seem to glance over these as if the details were for what color should the shower curtain be. Anyway, the entire story rests on a lingual twist: Morgen (morning) stern (star).
Those Men from Mars (1949, novella) – 3/5 – Outside the sacred lawns and grounds of the White House and the Kremlin, pink ellipsoids from Mars have been descending. Cold War paranoia urges them to send intense barrages of artillery at the eggs, but the eggs are impervious because of their deflector shields. As each falls to Earth, its’ intentions are stated: air, water, earth, and sunshine. As each of these are bountiful, the US and USSR are eager to promise that while saying they also have an essential fifth element: freedom. The Martians, as peace for millennia, are now arguing.
Everyone has their role here: the pretty girl is the secretary who is briefly kidnapped by the alien; the handsome White House correspondent who is protective of the secretary and anxious to jump into the scene; the general is the hot-headed man who blames everything on the Russians and demands things to be blown up; the president is the cool-headed, analytical one who approaches the egg with offers of peace rather than a pistol held up to its face. They play their roles perfectly and predictably.
In contrast, the alien inside the egg plays a unique and unpredictable role. After his initial askance of the four elements listed in the synopsis, the alien hams it up to the reporters and wows everyone with its tricks; it plays the part of the jester in an uncertain time. Likewise, a world away in the Kremlin, the reader is assuming that the same charade is unfolding there, too, with similar results. But behind the jest lie the predicament which sent the Martians to Earth—their need for physiological support. Though “freedom” isn’t part of their hierarchy of needs, it sounds tempting but the two Martians—communicating together—can’t agree if the US or USSR have the truer idea of “freedom”, something which they didn’t even want in the first place.
Compare this to the post-colonial world where both the US and USSR were jockeying for political influence over—what were once called—Third World nations. They simply wanted similar physiological support (clean water, food, soil, and air) but instead were given the ideological offering first: shake and agree with the hand of the politician before accepting the hand-me-down of aid. It was an ugly affair with the countries and an ever uglier affair with the peaceful Martians, whom fight to the death in order to champion the true harbinger of “freedom”.
Mutation (1951, shortstory) – 4/5 – On a Thursday evening, fatal ballistic missiles streaked to and from the skies of America, but Reverend Jones and his family are isolated in the mountains and are fortunate to survive the global disaster. Their son’s mannerisms and language regress to near-barbarianism and the forest’s fauna exhibit strange multi-million-old patterns of selection, from fish to deer. With his wife expecting their second son, she feels this one is different from Cane; Mary and Adam expect something miraculous.
Saved by mere luck or by the hand of God, the reverend and his family are saved by the nearly worldwide destruction. Somehow, they have also escaped the effects of fallout, but the wildlife of the forest they have found shelter in shows signs of mutation. Worries impact their consciousness as the reverend’s wife is expected to give birth. They worry: mutation or miracle? If their environment is any indicator, the baby will be an abomination. Regardless of the parched state of the earth, the regressed state of their son Cane, and the prognosis of their coming baby, their spirits remain high but his spiritual foundations weaken. Even upon reflection, the reverend is yet to be certain whether the catastrophe was even part of his great God’s plans.