It turns out that this is where I picked up my ideas of what John Campbell looked for in a story when he was an editor. Asimov’s introductions to a few of these stories refer to Campbell’s liking for stories about supermen among us (preferably our descendants) and about plucky Earthmen outwitting the aliens. I think I liked those plots a bit more when I was a teenager, and certainly the dodgy biology irritates me more now. I can’t help but feel there’s a strong element of wish-fulfilment in the supermen ones too – you know, the “I’m so misunderstood, but one day I’ll find my own kind and we’ll rule the world” thing. And I’m afraid that makes me roll my eyes a bit now (tho I suspect that’s exactly what I was enjoying about them as a teenager … 🙂 ).
Interesting contrast between this anthology and the one for the previous year (post) in that the last one had a few stories that were very “we’re doomed and will die horribly” but this is more about superman mutants or unexpected weird effects of nuclear weapons. Perhaps not significant at all, perhaps an artifact of the editors’ choices? But still interesting. And I think this anthology has more paranoid stories than the last.
“Don’t Look Now” Henry Kuttner
Paranoid story about someone who can see the aliens among us. Not sure if I spotted the twist early on because I’ve read this before & remembered it or because it was obvious. It only occurs to me on this reading to wonder if all these paranoid stories about Martians are to do with the ramping up of the Cold War and the whole rooting out of the communists amongst us rhetoric? Or maybe this is too early.
“He Walked Around the Horses” H. Beam Piper
Alternate history, based on an actual disappearance – in 1809 Benjamin Bathurst walked around his horses in an inn courtyard in Prussia and vanished. This is the story of where he walked to – a Europe almost but not quite the same – told through the letters & witness statements of the people who saw him appear & had to deal with him. Possibly the first alternate history I ever read? One of my favourites in the anthology.
“The Strange Case of John Kingman” Murray Leinster (a pseudonym of Will F. Jenkins)
A man in a lunatic asylum has been there longer than seems possible, and has many other odd things about him. It’s both a “supermen/aliens among us” story and a story about not meddling with things you don’t understand. I find it a little too pat – it’s a trope Campbell was fond of as an editor, and I’m not so keen. At least in this case there’s not also a dodgy understanding of evolution/genetics to make it irritating.
“That Only a Mother” Judith Merril
Haunting story about a mother at the end of her time being pregnant & the first few months of her daughter’s life. The sense of ominous doom is built up well with the protagonist worrying about places she or her husband may’ve been exposed to radiation. And then the child is clearly different – extremely clever, faster developing brain – but still the sense of impending doom, only resolved at the very end. Nicely done.
“The Monster” A. E. van Vogt
Aliens arrive on a desolate Earth – and resurrect long dead humans to figure out why the Earth is empty (after all, if you’re going to colonise somewhere you want to make sure it’s fit for habitation). Things don’t go entirely to plan as one of our far future descendants out manoeuvres them.
“Dreams are Sacred” Peter Phillips
Bit of an odd story this one, tho quite fun. Some SFF writer has gone nuts, mind cracked under the strain of an illness, and he’s withdrawn from reality & in his imagination is living out the sorts of plots he puts in his books (very very pulp SF). Our hero is hooked up to a machine that inserts him into the man’s head so he can participate in the dreams and hopefully snap him out of it & back to reality. Afterwards there are indications of some effects on reality too, which seemed to come out of nowhere to me (and spoil the story a bit I think). I preferred the humorous puncturing of the plots in the dream.
“Mars is Heaven!” Ray Bradbury
The first manned landing on Mars, but some how it all looks like Earth circa 30 years earlier. As the crew explore they meet their dear departed loved ones – this must be heaven! Obviously not all is as it seems. I think this is the Bradbury story I remember when I think of him – paranoid Martian stories.
“Thang” Martin Gardner
Funny short-short about things bigger than us in the universe. I like it.
“Brooklyn Project” William Tenn (a pseudonym of Phillip Klass)
The Brooklyn Project is set up to make a device that can travel in time – and this is the demonstration. At each stop the apparatus takes a picture, and inevitably displaces whatever objects previously occupied that space. We start off one way and end quite differently, but our protagonists don’t notice they’re not the same. I think this is my favourite in this collection. And I want to read something set in the initial world (before it changes/without it changing) as it seems an interesting dystopia.
“Ring Around the Redhead” John D. MacDonald
Told as a murder trial – where the defendant turns out not to’ve murdered the victim, but instead the victim has meddled where he should not. The defendant has acquired (by some strange side effect of a nuclear weapon) a device that lets him reach through into other dimensions. He gets a girl (accidentally) from a time/place where tech etc is much superior to ours so that’s the romance subplot, and the victim tries to get gems & gold but his greed is punished. Fun, but you’ve got to approach it like Doctor Who – handwave the plot device & enjoy the ride, don’t pick at the details.
“Period Piece” J. J. “Coupling” (a pseudonym for John R. Pierce)
A 20th Century man brought forward through time attends an endless stream of parties talking to the people of the 31st Century about his own time. Or is that really what’s going on? Obviously it isn’t, and the inevitability of his discovery of the real truth is there from the very beginning of the story. The very end reminds me of a philosophical essay I read sometime ago, but I don’t want to explain as it would spoil the story a bit.
“Dormant” A. E. van Vogt
A remote island in the pacific ocean hosts an old device/creature that has been dormant for a very very long time indeed. This story both shows us the perspective of the people trying to figure out what on earth is going on with the very odd rock, and the device itself as it wakes up and tries to remember its purpose. A story of failure to communicate because of both sides not even seeing the other as communicable with.
“In Hiding” Wilmar H. Shiras
Another “supermen among us” story – a sweet and cheerful one about a teenage boy with extremely high intelligence. He’s hiding this to fit into school/society but opens up & trusts a psychiatrist and tells him about his real life & enthusiasms. I like the story while I’m reading it, and I liked it a lot when I first read this collection. But now I get stuck at the end of the story where there’s this supposedly optimistic note that perhaps there are others like him because he’s the result of a mutation because his parents were exposed to radiation. And it’s just not plausible – even if you accept that as how he came to be, the likelihood of a second identical mutation in another child is pretty much impossible. So it stops the story being quite as upbeat, and makes the end rather sad – he’ll never find an intellectual peer. (And I don’t think the author intended that.)
“Knock” Fredric Brown
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door …”. In this case, aliens have destroyed all creatures on the earth except for a pair of each. Plucky human man outwits the aliens and get them to leave, whereupon he, she and the other animals will repopulate the world (I guess the plants were all left alone …). I didn’t much enjoy this, not sure why – tone or style or something just didn’t sit right.
“A Child is Crying” John D. MacDonald
Another “supermen among us” story, this time disturbing and creepy. The highly intelligent child with mental superpowers is not sympathetic, and he and his cohorts are quite sure they’ll inherit the Earth when they’re good and ready. It’s also strongly influenced by the spectre of all out nuclear war. I liked this, even despite the dodgy biology.
“Late Night Final” Eric Frank Russell
Aliens (very human-type ones) come to conquer a far future Earth. But instead they go native. This is both “humans are better than aliens” and “hippies are better than warmongers” in flavour. It also reminds me of Bradbury’s Martian story, only we’re the Martians & it turns out the paranoia is wrong, going native really is the right answer.