[originally posted here at Castalia House]
Ali Baba’s Cave by “I.D.B.”(Illicit Diamond Buyer) appeared in the June 1944 issue of The Wide World.
Our next story in this issue of The Wide World takes us to South Africa during the diamond boom in 1929. The government is wanting to clamp down on illegal prospecting and has been buying up and securing prospect sites. While the bottom is on the verge of falling out, as one of the biggest sites has been sold for over a million quid and the government is in the process of getting it fenced off and patrolled, local adventurers and illicit diamond buyers are beginning to clear out. Our anonymous writer, however, is still hoping he can find a little excitement and wealth before all of the opportunities are finally gone.
During his first few weeks in South Africa, our anonymous I.B.D. has little luck in finding any diamonds. On the verge of giving up, he drives his beater down the coast to a place outside of Port Nolloth known as “the Cliffs” to get a little fishing in. It’s beautiful, picturesque, etc…. Heading down toward the water, Anon notices a water-spout shooting out of a window in one of the cliffs. Investigation reveals a fabulous seaside cave in the cliffs that can be accessed with a bit of swimming when the tide is right.
Fancy strikes Anon, and he imagines himself Ali Baba in a cave full of gems and precious treasure. Though he has no real reason to believe that he could possibly find diamonds in a cave (it goes against conventional wisdom of diamond prospecting), he starts digging with his hands in the sand and broken rocks. After several minutes of digging, Anon is shocked to actually find a diamond. It’s small—one carat, and ultimately only worth a few pounds—but it is a diamond. And it’s all HIS!
Anon purchases the tools he needs to dig and sift for more diamonds, taking them to his treasure cave, finding a regular fortune, and sneaking off to bury his finds elsewhere. Unfortunately, other prospectors in town have witnessed his comings and goings and saw him buy his tools, so rumor gets around that Anon has found something. At last the “40 Thieves” show up at Ali Baba’s cave, demanding equal opportunity to work the claim with him. Since it’s all criminal enterprise, there’s little Anon can do about it. The number of illegal prospectors in his cave quickly jumps from a handful to what seems like everyone left in town; of course, the large number of people now mining illicit diamonds in a seaside cave draws the attention of the authorities who raid the cave. The prospectors are all rounded up and arrested, save for Anon who escapes in the confusion through the window from which the waterspout he’d first seen his treasure cave by had shot out.
One thing this story had me thinking about is how easy it is to get great SF stories by recycling adventurous accounts such as this one and putting it “in space”. Though outlets such as Galaxy specifically prided themselves on the notion that they were only publishing serious True Science FictionTM rather than westerns or other stories that just happened to be set in space, I’d argue that great stories are great because of how they resonate with us – in the case of adventure fiction, the appeal to our sense of adventure and excitement; we wish to feel like we’re there and a part of that excitement and adventure that the characters experience. So why not take a story like this and put it In Space?
On an alien moon near a space-port, alien gemstones have been discovered; the local planetary authorities are trying to clamp down to keep the bottom falling out of alien gem prices. A spaceman adventurer finds a cave with gems; locals, including humans and aliens, find out about his treasure cave, so he has to dodge them, authorities, possibly organized crime, throw in a space princess or the beautiful daughter of a space mobster, and bam, you’ve got a great raygun romance!
They say that you should look outside the genre for inspiration if you want to write good science fiction and fantasy. I’d say that men’s adventure magazines would be a fine place to start.