[originally posted here at Castalia House]
The Giants Return by Robert Abernathy appeared in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories.
Quest III has been on a 900 year voyage from an Earth whose burgeoning population threatens the future of Mankind. As one of three ships sent forth to scout out likely locations to establish colonies to transplant large segments of the human race, Quest III is ultimately returning in failure. While it has been ten long years for the crew—many of whom have children who have yet to see the earth—due to time dilation from near-light speed travel, an epoch has passed on Earth.
The crew and captain wonder if their mission was even remembered and how what government now in charge—if there even is a government—will receive them and do with the information they return with.
Upon arriving near Earth, the Quest III finds itself under attack; a barrage of high intensity missile fire from an unknown enemy pounds the ship. Luckily for the crew, the Quest III has pretty effective deflector shields, which are required for near-light speed travel—the field disperses any and all impacts, from space particles to asteroids, evenly across the entire shell. The ship maintains its approach towards Earth, but the hundreds of blasts take their toll on the Quest III’s energy supply.
The Quest III is finally issued a warning by the attackers—surrender and die, kill yourselves by flying into the sun or be destroyed just like Quest I and II. The captain notes that there’s no time delay on the communications—the tiny missiles are actually space ships! A strange and misshapen creature declares the Quest III to be full of monsters who are a threat to humanity—Earth had long since given up on the Quest project; instead, humanity has engineered itself to grow smaller with each passing generation and now, “humans” are only a few millimeters tall and number in the trillions!
After the miniscule creature rejects the offer of all of Quest III’s research data in exchange for fuel and permission to leave peacefully, the captain makes the horrifying realization that the “human” creatures have become so small that their eyes can’t perceive visible light—mankind can no longer even see the stars! In a final gambit before the deflector shields go down, the captain provokes the tiny “humans” to attack with everything they have; by timing it just right, the Quest III is able to ride the explosion by converting the deflector shield’s dispersal to propulsion and reach near-light speed and cruise on their remaining fuel to Omega Centauri, a prospective world that had previously been passed up, as nearly 40,000 years would’ve passed on Earth by the time Quest III could make its return trip.
Considering some of the reader complaints in the Vizi, The Giants Return delivers some of the “hard” sci-fi that a handful of folks had been clamoring for. I’ve got to admit, the concept of miniaturization made my mind go straight to the Zentradi (“They’ve been miclonized!”), though I seriously doubt this obscure little piece had any direct influence on Macross. I do find it interesting that, while Abernathy takes into account that the shrunken human eye would’ve been too small to permit the visible wavelength of light, the shrunken lungs could still take in oxygen (something Farscape once hung a lampshade on in an episode where everyone was shrinking). That’s the one problem with injecting scientific realism in sci-fi—once a little real science gets injected you start feeling entitled to more!
As a Novella, Enchantress of Venus took a bit longer, so I didn’t have time to dig too far below the surface on The Giants Return, but like many stories from the Pulps, it is nowhere described beyond its title and publication data outside of here at Castalia House, so… Trying to do my part! While it wasn’t one of the greatest Planet Stories, it still had an interesting premise and was a solid story. Abernathy was rather prolific during the 40s and 50s (the period which most of my collection falls within), so I’d not be surprised to see more of him in the near future. And unlike Vaseleos Garson, I’ll actually be looking forward to him.