Short Reviews – Finished, by L. Sprague De Camp

Finished, by L. Sprague De Camp, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

L. Sprague de Camp offers up something of a planetary romance with Finished, where I can’t quite tell if he just bungled his premise or was poorly spoofing Sword & Planet and Campbell ran it because he thought it would make the folks over at Planet Stories look like rubes.

Finished

Why do I feel like the genre is being mocked?

The truth may be somewhere in between. Finished is a mess of weird names and affectations, such that entire paragraphs barely register as coherent ideas expressed in English. De Camp is a smart guy who enjoys being smart, but he’s also a fairly decent writer who has done some really good humorous SFF that, while funny, didn’t quite dip into twee. So despite being a mess, there’s a damn good story at its core that makes me wonder why he didn’t work to tell it just a little bit better.

A planet in contact with the Galactic FederationTM is being kept at arm’s-length by the advanced space-faring culture; they’re just too primitive and barbaric to be granted access to the technical and philosophical knowledge of Earth (Ertsu). The planet has a perpetual regency: the “one king” of the planet is a revered and sacred mummy relic, and the princes of the planet rule in his name. The mummy is fraudulently taken off the planet, and the Prince demands the right to pursue it to earth to recover their world’s most sacred treasure.

Turns out, the theft was a sham. The prince allowed, nay facilitated, the theft of the mummy which could be stuffed with literature and technical manuals so that they might be smuggled back to his world.

There’s a large naval battle as one of the representatives of the galactic federation pursues the rogue prince, who fakes his death, faked a mummy (lost in the battle), and ultimately returns to his people with the promise of a new golden age.

Again, not a bad story, but it suffered greatly in the telling, and I would’ve much rather it be told by a Brackett or a Kline. It’s not something I can easily explain—not within the limitations of time I have for this column—so I can only suggest that you read it for yourself.

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Short Reviews – What Dead Men Tell, by Theodore Sturgeon

Castalia House’s back end is down right now, so I’m going ahead and posting this week’s Short Review here; we’ll get it mirrored up there once Markku gets us situated. What Dead Men Tell, by Theodore Sturgeon, appeared in the November 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at Archive.org.

What Dead Men TellFor poisoning the well against the pulps, crusty old Ted the Sturgeon really needed to blow me away. And once we got past the first couple of pages of autistic rambling, Teddy only managed to tell a moderately interesting story.

Hulon, a film projectionist, recently wrote a piece for an obscure literary magazine outlining his eudaemonic philosophy: the future is uncertain and the now is so finitely small as to be inconsequential, so true security can only exist in the ossified events of the past—one’s past actions and accomplishments were all that one could truly hold onto, therefore happiness and security is derived primarily from what you are able to put into your past.

Well, this bit of thinkery draws the attention of a mysterious group who has transcended the laws of life and death! They appear to him as ghosts—movie stars who he’s certain are dead, but there they are in his theatre, plain as day! After approaching the third of these supposedly-dead movie stars, Hulon is informed that they are willing to test him to join their ranks. He will be placed in a chamber where he will meet death.

Hulon finds himself in a seemingly endless corridor, all alone except for strange balls of liquid that supply nutrient nourishment and dead bodies of old men that he happens upon at regular intervals.

I’ll go ahead and spoil the riddle, because that’s really all there is to the story: the endless corridor is some kind of umbilic torus, the body is the same body over and over again (it appears different because of different lighting [it cycles through the spectrum with each circuit Hulon completes] and because it gets banged up when illusion-creating gravity centered on Hulon changes and it drops to the floor/wall), and the ‘death he will meet’ is old age.

How did the gravity in the torus work to make it appear that the corridor was perfectly straight? Hulon admits he can’t answer that when he gives his answer to the riddle, and Ted doesn’t answer it either (‘oh, you’ll learn that and more in good time’ the cabal members tell Hulon).

What Dead Men Tell is a riddle-story; an atmospheric riddle-story with a worthwhile riddle (at least it wasn’t one of Asimov’s Black Widowers yarns), but I needed more. What were the stakes? The weirdo film projectionist is granted immortality and is assigned a girlfriend to instruct him in the ways of the new cabal he has been welcomed into.

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Spring Short Reviews Roundup!

I’ve reviewed a LOT of science fiction stories since the start of the year. Here’s a handy link list you can use to catch up on my column at Castalia House:

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-science-of-time-travel-by-ray-cummings/ 

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-seal-maiden-by-victor-rousseau-emanuel/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-man-the-sun-gods-made-by-gardner-f-fox/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-tepondicon-by-carl-jacobi/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-love-among-the-robots-by-emmett-mcdowell/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-space-bat-by-carl-selwyn/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-fog-of-the-forgotten-by-basil-wells/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-example-by-tom-pace/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-savage-galahad-by-bryce-walton/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-breath-of-beelzebub-by-larry-sternig/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-jewels-of-chamar-by-raymond-f-jones/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-double-dyed-villains-by-poul-anderson/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-special-jobbery-by-h-b-fyfe/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-hide-and-seek-by-arthur-c-clarke/

Be sure to tune into Castalia House this friday when I continue to dump on the September 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction!

Winter/Early Spring Short Review Round-up

For those of you not following along at Castalia House, I’ve reviewed several more short stories, including a lot of G-Men detective yarns. Plus, I reviewed Kroese’s Starship Grifters and Cynthia Ward’s The Adventure of the Incognita Countess. Check em out!

http://www.castaliahouse.com/retro-fandom-friday-rocketship-x-m/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-panama-peril-by-jean-francis-webb/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-pa-howdy-goes-fishing/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-thieves-blueprint-by-ronal-kayser-as-dale-clark/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/review-starship-grifters-by-robert-kroese/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-too-smart-to-die-by-george-antonio-wetter/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-review-you-cant-plant-murder-by-donald-bayne-hobart-beware-and-the-black-chamber/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-death-by-a-dusty-blade-by-frank-johnson/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/review-the-adventure-of-the-incognita-countess/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-moon-that-vanished-by-leigh-brackett/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-that-mess-last-year-by-john-d-macdonald-and-galactic-heritage-by-frank-belknap-long/

 

Summer Review Round-up

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a round-up of my Castalia House Short Reviews.

One of the cool things is, since someone uploaded scans of a ton of Planet Stories back in December of last year, you can actually read a most, if not all, of the stories I’ve been talking about! Going forward, I’ve been including links to where you can read the stories within the articles themselves. Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about Queen of the Martian Catacombs.

14_1949_fall_planet_anderson.jpg.scaled1000raid on the termites

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-enchantress-of-venus-by-leigh-brackett/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-giants-return-by-robert-abernathy/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-ordeal-in-space-by-ralph-sloan/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-captain-midas-by-alfred-coppel-jr/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-signal-red-by-henry-guth/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-wheel-is-death-by-roger-dee/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-action-on-azura-by-robertson-osborne/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/pulp-advertisements/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/retro-fandom-friday-is-fandom-terrible-and-should-we-cut-them-off-yn/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-vulcans-workshop-by-harl-vincent/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-hellhounds-of-the-cosmos-by-clifford-d-simak/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-raid-on-the-termites-by-paul-ernst/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-priestess-of-the-flame-by-sewell-peaslee-wright/

A Quick Short Review Round-up

Here’s a quick look a what I’ve been talking about over at Castalia House.  If you haven’t read these, check them out.  Or better yet, find these stories and read them yourself if you can!

Coming of the Gods by Chester Whitehorn – Martian vs Rat-men
Assault on a City by Jack Vance – A pulp dame saves herself from rapists.
Cosmic Yo-yo by Ross Rocklynne – Asteroid Haulers crash the competition and find true love
Mists of Mars by George A. Whittington – A Martian Princess’ revolution succeeds with the help of a space cop
The Spider Men of Gharr by Wilbur Scott Peacock – Cryofrozen action scientist awakes to find Earth conquered by evil aliens
Retro Fandom Friday – 1940s fans celebrate and complain about Sci-fi

planet_stories_1945sum

Short Reviews – The Overworld, by Jack Vance

The Overworld by Jack Vance first appeared in the December 1965 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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Real Short Reviews will return at Castalia House next week with George A. Whittington’s Mists of Mars.  Today, check out this interview I did with Joe Stech of Compelling Science Fiction.  No foolin!*

Since I’ve been talking about thieves this week and have finally had a chance to dig back into my Dying Earth Omnibus again for the first time in nearly two months, expect to see some actual Vance stuff in the soontime.

*:Hopefully our site will be back up soon; we’ve had some ISP issues the last couple of days; apologies to anyone who has clicked through to the short reviews I linked earlier only to land at a 404 page.  Until Castalia House comes back online, the interview with Joe Stech can be found here.