Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter XIV - New No Chicago

Now that the filthy subhuman species that infest the galaxy have been dealt another blow, we join the Hound of Heaven as it completes what's called the "Big Bear Circuit," a shipping route through the Ursa Major - excuse me, Ursus Major constellation.  The path runs from Johnny's Landing, Wherever to "Paradise, Alcor, from Paradise Alcor to Sweeney Merak to Coppaccine Dubhe and Coppaccine Dubhe to Earth, or as the pilot had it, to Earth Sun."  It was an exhausting trip made the more difficult by mechanical failures, inadequate fuel and supplies at the places they visited, and a surprise dearth of spare parts on Dubhe.  So all said it's been about a ship year since their last visit to Earth.

I'd just like to point out that Alpha Ursae Majoris, also known as Dubhe, is roughly 123 lightyears away from Earth, and that Hubbard insists that the Hound is cruising along at just short of lightspeed.

But let's not let boring ol' science get in the way of a science fiction story.  The Hound enters Earth's outer atmosphere and just floats for a bit while Swifty does reconnaissance in his plane.  No, some traffic control officer in Halloland doesn't start yelling at them over the radio for getting in the way of lunar-bound freighters.  No, they aren't being bombarded by television broadcasts as they approach humanity's birthplace.  No, the ship's computer doesn't link up with the planetary internet to get updated on what's going on.  This is the norm for Hubbard's idea of space travel, but in this case when Swifty returns he reports that it looks like Earth went through a war a few hundred years back.  So if this story did acknowledge that long-distance communication was a thing, this is the sort of situation where there wouldn't be any, even if the characters in it can't remark on how strangely quiet this planet is because of the author's failures of imagination.

Obviously, the thing to do when it looks like some disaster has befallen your travel destination is to go ahead and land.  The Hound descends towards what was once Chicago, then New Chicago, and eventually became Candia, but instead of a bustling spaceport they find nothing but cattle grazing on an open plain.  So Jocelyn has them relocate west, and in two hours the Hound puts down in what was once Colorado, but is now "a sprawling, irregular city some hundreds of miles in extent."

A city so big, in fact, that we might wonder why it wasn't spotted from orbit, and why Swifty's recon flight overlooked the fact that there was no spaceport in their usual landing spot, but there was an enormous population center just a few states over.

The Hound descends butt-first into "a strange sort of port" next to another parked spaceship, a landing that uses the last of its "take-off fuel," and man are they gonna be embarrassed if it turns out there isn't a place to fill the tank up in this city.  But the first challenge will be finding another human being in this spaceport, which is both strangely fortified, with barred metal gates, and seemingly deserted.  Spooky.

Captain Jocelyn... well, our stern, rabidly xenophobic captain has taken a bit of a turn since we last saw him.  See, they landed on a world that was "deceptively inviting but poisonous with beryllium oxide," which must have gotten through a loose valve in Jocelyn's space helmet or something.  I guess that space suit had a high heat tolerance, since Wikipedia says beryllium oxide is a colorless solid with a boiling point of over seven thousand degrees Fahrenheit.  Regardless of how he managed to get poisoned, the captain has picked up a cough and looks tired, and scuttlebutt on the ship is that Strange warned that Jocelyn's illness might be terminal.  What a shame.

Anyway, the captain tells Corday to check out the ship they just parked next to and see if they know what's going on, but when Corday hails the vessel - not over the radio, but by walking up her gangway and yelling "Hello the officer!" into its open door - there's no response.  The First Fairaway out of Mars is not only empty, someone's completely stripped its interior so it's just a spaceship-shaped shell sitting on the landing pad.

So the spaceport is strangely deserted, its gates are locked, and there's an empty spaceship sitting conspicuously on the tarmac like a wooden duck in a pond.  But if the characters think this might be a trap, we're not told.  And what are their options, anyway?  They were dumb enough to use up the last of their fuel by committing to a gravity well, and then relocating hundreds of miles from the open field they initially landed in to a proper spaceport.

No, the only thing to do in this situation is to have Hale suit up, take a team to those gates, and "If they are locked, make no overt move but call any human you may see and demand freedom of the port."  Jocelyn gives the order, Hale gives a cheerful farewell to Corday, and the away team of sixteen men marches across the "wide plain of the port" to those locked gates as the Hound's remaining crew watches from the viewports.

Unfortunately, everyone must have put on their red uniforms that day because when they reach those gates, "With a suddenness which meant long planning and great practice," the ground beneath the away team explodes and "long tongues of brilliant orange" blast through the gate.  Hale nevertheless tries to rally three other survivors to attack, but after another valley he gets a dramatic, paragraph-long death where he's able to turn and stagger towards the Hound despite being "torn almost in half," and raises his arm before one final blast fells him.

Hey, who was Hale again?  Swifty's the recon pilot, Bill the Eye is the kid pilot, Gow-eater was Corday's minder for a bit, and Hale... oh, he was like another officer, wasn't he?  He tutored Corday in space stuff way back in Chapter V.  Okay, now I can feel appropriately shocked and saddened by this character's death.

Corday at least is pissed, and in a murderous rage nearly kills... the Hound's gunner, for sitting and watch the ambush happen, though Corday quickly concedes that as close as Hale's party was, there was no way to safely provide fire support.  But the upside of having that landing party be wiped out is that there's no friendly targets to worry about now, so Jocelyn, "icily emotionless," gives the order to load smoke.  Or rather, he tells Snoozer to pass on the order to load smoke.  Because this ship doesn't even have those high-tech yelling tubes we saw back in "Space Can."

So we get about a page of Jocelyn yelling orders, Snoozer repeating those orders, and descriptions of what those orders accomplished.  First the Hound saturates the ten square miles around the spaceport gates with a thick cloud of smoke, then Jocelyn has the gunner fire on the "memory plate" image of where the gate was in all the murk.  As opposed to, say, telling the gun's targeting systems to revert to an earlier, stationary target.  Then the Hound shoots some "G19" charges that, "at least in other days, had foiled detectors which might search for the Hound."  So unless these attackers have had their guns aimed at the stationary spaceship for the past ten minutes, there's no way for them to target the vessel.  For an encore, the Hound farts out some "regurgitant gas to cling to the particles of smoke," in order to... I don't know, make the bad guys throw up?

Corday has already grabbed his helmet and gun before Jocelyn gives the order for "Battle party stand by the starboard ground lock in full space kit," but then the captain surprises him by suiting up to lead it himself.  Corday has been in other battles, after all, and as the ship's remaining mate he should be the one leading the next scratch force.  But instead Jocelyn leaves him in command of the Hound during his absence, since Corday is now "sufficiently informed of these thing to sell her not inexpensively should I fall."

He took to coughing and the eyes of Mistress Luck were round with concern.  He cleared his throat and then continued.  "You are young and impulsive and have many faults to overcome.  Let no quixotic stupidity lead you to risk this vessel and the women, children and crew which remain within her unless you have clear and unavoidable cause.  I will be back, I am sure.  Remember that," he added hastily.

So Corday gets to sit and fume about how meaningless it is to be in charge of a grounded spaceship when all the superior officers are either dead or absent, and how obviously Joceyln doesn't trust him after that incident at Johnny's Landing even though Corday has since redeemed himself over several other exciting adventures the author didn't see fit to put to page.  Meanwhile the landing party gets out some vague "equipment" that will help sneak around and attack their foes from the rear and take hostages they can use to bargain for freedom and supplies.  "Long-passage practice, time worn and usually successful."

And man, this book is almost over and there still isn't anything in it to explain why going through the long passage is worth it.  You throw your life away for a voyage between stars, all in the gamble that you'll be able to sell whatever you find out there to whatever you find when you return home, assuming you don't have to wage war on whatever alien race has popped up while you were gone, or are forced to struggle along because one of your stops didn't have any supplies for you.  And now here's the revelation that the Hound has been forced to fight people on some of the worlds it visits, to take hostages just to get enough supplies to take off again and go to another planet, where you might have to repeat the process.

Science fiction is supposed to make you look forward to the future, right?  To make you want to go out and explore other worlds?  But instead this book makes me want to groan and tell NASA "don't even bother."

Anyway, Corday's in charge, and he decides to be a jerkass in Jocelyn's absence by telling Irma the "bridge talker" to stay at her post when she asks if she can run down and tell Joe goodbye before he leaves the ship.  Then he has Snoozer pass on an order for Swifty to do a head count of everyone still onboard - turns out that with the second away team gone, and the first one killed, the Hound of Heaven is "down to five old men, forty engineers and technicians, sixty-eight women" who of course cannot be among the aforementioned specialists on account of their gender, "thirty-one kids and thee and me."  Swifty jokes about how one of the crew said "Glug, glug" around a mouthful of milk when asked what his emergency station was, Corday ignores it and has all hands put on "full battle kit, gamma-proof spacesuits."  Presumably they make wargear in kids' sizes in the future.

Swifty points out that, since they're stupid and now sitting on an open field in an unfueled spaceship, they're not going to last very long if the bad guys are serious about killing them.  But Corday snaps that the bad guys want them intact so they can be salvaged like the other ship.

So, you know what's dumber than throwing your life away to join the long passage?  Setting up an elaborate trap in the hope that one of those ships from the long passage will land on your world in your lifetime, so you can ambush its crew and steal all the obsolete crap aboard a millennia-old spaceship.

Also, Corday is concerned that if the enemy has any "telepathy machines" they may be able to target them, smoke or no smoke.  This is the only time such devices are mentioned in the story, and of course the author fails to elaborate on them.  Just a bit of randomness that means we're in a setting where ships can't break the lightspeed barrier, but humanity has somehow constructed a device that grants its user extrasensory perception.

Normally I'd be all over this, except I'm distracted with what happens next: Corday isn't feeling very secure and wants to know how Joeclyn's task force is doing, so he sends someone outside the ship to listen.  And he tells Swifty to give this guy a phone.  There are ways to communicate other than via teenage courier.  It might even be possible, assuming this "phone" isn't on an extension cord, to send messages great distances, even between spaceships in orbit and speakers on the ground.

So why are we using this phone to communicate with a lookout listening for Jocelyn's progress instead of using a phone to stay in contact with Jocelyn directly?  Do those space helmets have no way of conversing with others?  Do these space men communicate with hand signals while they're walking around on the hull of the ship, attempting repairs?

I mean, this book was published in 1954!  They had radios back then!  Commercial air travel!  Television!  So why doesn't this story?!

Sigh.  Swifty's upset about the sentry thing, but not for the same reason I am.

"Won't that spot us, old boy?"

"That happens to be the least of our worries," said Alan.  "Post the man."

Aww, lookit him, trying so hard to be as big a prick as his cappie.

"If you say so," shrugged Swifty and went off on the errand.

Alan worriedly twisted at his scarf, realized what he was doing and hurriedly stopped.  Waiting was hard.

Not as hard as reading about someone waiting.


Back to Chapter XIII

Friday, May 27, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter XIII - Suffer Not the Alien to Live

This chapter opens with a snippet of song, but it's unclear why.  There's no mention of any crewmen singing in the background, or of a radio or anything playing.  Since it's the first thing in the chapter it might be one of them fancy quotations from a fictional source that some authors use as an extra bit of world-building, except Hubbard hasn't bothered with any of that before.  Maybe the ship is haunted or something.

Behold the funny passenger
Afloat in the thinnest air
Missing on all gravities
His coffee in his hair...

Also it seems to suggest that low air pressure is what causes people to float around.  Guess that makes sense, right, like how stuff underwater sinks?

Our first scene is set in the Hound's wardroom, where the ship's officers and whatnot can eat without having to rub shoulders with the rank and file.  Which is not to say that there isn't any rankness - Queen is there griping about how much she looks forward to the ship finally getting cleaned out after its colonist passengers leave, even though she has still declined to make use of the water recycling system that Corday installed several voyages ago to give herself a much-needed scrub.  Meanwhile Corday is treating himself to a packet of cigarettes, and I was going to remark about how stupid filling a closed air system with burnt tobacco smoke and carcinogens would be, except it turns out that the US Navy actually allowed submariners to indulge in this suicidal vice up until 2010.  This doesn't make the idea less stupid, mind you, it just goes to show that the most powerful military force on the planet can still make some shockingly bad decisions.

Oh, and Corday notes that the last time he was in the Solar System, smoking seemed to have been out of style for centuries.  Sure is a good thing they didn't show up with a cargo full of Denebian tobacco or luxury cigars from Aldebaran.

While he's wasting precious oxygen and adding to the filth coating the Hound's insides for the sake of a flavorless cigarette, Corday realizes that he still doesn't have any friends among these galactic vagabonds.  Queen is a grimy old bat with a ribald sense of humor who is overly-familiar with everyone else in the crew, "still part of the ship, part of his country.  And like his country and his ship, she now ignored him."  Swifty is a nice enough fellow, but still distant to Corday even while sitting at a table with Queen, joking about what good sports the women on the last world they visited were.  And since that's everyone sitting in the room with him, that's the extent of Corday's musings.

But there is a rather shocking moment on the next page - a Hubbard character reflects on his flaws.  Corday acknowledges that "he had a lot of things to overcome," like the aloof, abrupt manner of someone born into the tenth class, whatever that is.  Even though there is no such thing as a tenth class these days, Corday is still hesitant to cast that part of his past aside.  "How did a man shed his background?  Could he do so?"

A lot of people somehow manage to reinvent themselves and make a conscious effort to alter their behavior, but Corday is considering more drastic measures, like a visit to the ship's doctor.

Strange, ingratiating to all, even Alan, had said something one night about wiping out experience from the mind.  Strange had claimed that an ancient work he had seen in his youth gave forth a method which would eradicate even loyalty from the mind.  If he could just forget-  But he shuddered at the vision of some of the crew, empty-eyed people on whom Strange had worked.

Isn't is str- isn't it weird how little Dr. Strange has appeared in the story?  Even if this tale was written before Hubbard's distrust towards psychology escalated to a global conspiracy out to turn everybody gay, a mind-scrubbing quack is such an intriguing notion that you'd think such a character would play a bigger part in the plot.  But nope, there's that early chapter where we learn that Corday's tenth class training makes him immune to Strange's tricks, and then the psychologist fades into the background.  Just like all the lobotomized crewmen who don't have any names or screentime.

Hey, you know who else follows orders unerringly and isn't bothered by the horror of the long passage?  Robots.  All the utility of mind-scrubbed humans, but they can work 24-7 and you don't have to feed them.  Just putting that out there.

Anyway, Corday is about to ask Swifty about the crew's opinion of him, but then... huh.  So all through this story, characters on the Hound have been behaving as if there was gravity, right?  They've been walking down halls and climbing steps rather than launching themselves along tubes and drifting to their destination.  It's unclear whether the ship has some sort of artificial gravity system, or if the author simply flunked physics.

Well, something floats in this chapter, Corday's cigarettes.  Or rather, they had been "floating upwards from ungravity," but then they abruptly fall into his empty coffee mug, which Swifty takes to mean that the Hound is "check blasting for a land, what?"  And I just don't know.  It might be that the Hound's gravity systems have a more pronounced effect on smaller objects than humans, except again I can't remember anything else floating in the story.  Maybe the cigarettes are supposed to be levitating from the ship's high speed, and it's only when the Hound slows that they come crashing down, but why are they alone affected by this?  Why isn't Corday lurching as his spine briefly compresses like an accordion?

At any rate, we learn that the twelve-year-old Bill the Eye is flying the spaceship, and that he got in trouble for buzzing a parade last time they were on Earth.  Corday is summoned to the bridge for a navigation check in a message relayed by Snoozer, "big-eyed, clean scrubbed" in contrast to Queen.  She reminds him to not leave his cigarettes behind, and is more or less ignored for her trouble - Corday doesn't respond when she delivers Jocelyn's summons, and doesn't even mumble a "thanks" as he leaves the officer's mess.

So much for our hero trying to shake off his tenth class habits.

Paragraph break, and we're back on Johnny's Landing, now "speckled with farms and cities, laked with artificial dams and netted with something Alan recognized as ancient power lines," and Captain Jocelyn does not like it, no sir.  Corday and Jocelyn are peering out from the Hound's bridge after landing on a commanding hill, and the former notes how the latter's face is "bone-white with hatred."  A moment later Corday finds what Jocelyn is looking at, an army complete with tanks and artillery advancing along the road from a nearby city.  "But they were not men."

Yes, it's a task force of about five hundred aliens polluting a wonderful planet with their inhuman stink, and Jocelyn, "strained white with ferocity," whips into action, ordering Corday to lead a twenty-man force against them.  No, it's not a suicidal order, Corday notices "the antiquity of their weapons" and rounds up some irregulars.  Including their young pilot, who's brought along as a messenger.  Huh.  Not the sort of person I'd want on the front lines for a number of reasons, but I'm sure Corday's surveyor-engineer tenth class training has prepared him for this sort of thing.

Or maybe Corday realized that he needed someone along to jabber some exposition at us before the fight scene, since Bill remembers seeing these creatures from a previous trip to Johnny's Landing - "The Earth colony here used 'em as slaves.  Then they all died off from something."  But a couple thousand years later they must've "sprung out of some place again."

If we're meant to make a connection between the previous colony's disappearance and these little degenerates, the book doesn't exactly spell it out for us.  But I guess that's a possibility, some escaped alien slaves ran off to a distant corner of Johnny's Landing, passing down stories of Terran oppressors, and gradually built up their numbers until they were able to rise up and crush their former masters.  Except now Corday and everyone are here to stop them.

"Old Jocelyn's death on these sentient races," chattered Bill.  "Seen him burn down five hundred thousand Gleeanites oncet [sic].  Burned 'em clean off Majority Capella.  That was before your time.  You got any chewin' gum?"

Yes, in between carrying cargoes of questionable value across the lightyears and eons, the Hound of Heaven dabbles in a bit of genocide.  Excuse me, pest control.  And really, who can blame them?  Aliens are gross.

Watching that crawling snake of an army, Alan shuddered a little. It was a chilly thing. These "people" had no features or eyes that he could see through his glass.

We can only assume they're man-shaped blobs of putty since this is all the description we get of them.  On the other hand, this is a refreshing change from Hubbard's other aliens, which tend to be humans with exaggerated features that can make them into racial caricatures.

Then he shifted to their nearest town and then to a power line. Strange but those things were quite different from anything he had seen in the ancient histories of Earth.

Different in ways we can only imagine, since the author can't be bothered to explain the difference between a 20th Century Earth power line and a Whateverth Millennium alien power line.  Also, despite how alien these constructions allegedly look, Corday was able to scope out an approaching army and identify things as tanks and artillery without any trouble.

With sudden amazement he shifted back to the oncoming army.  The things could evolve a society that included finite physics.

So... physics then?  What in Xenu's sinister mustache are you talking about, Hubbard?  Has Corday cracked infinite physics in his free time?

And then a slight chill hit him.  If they could get this far, they could some day throw ships into the long passage.  And that army showed that they had no slightest use for man.

Except just the very last chapter the author explained how interstellar war was unfeasible, since any army sent against a world would be centuries if not thousands of years out of date in comparison to its defenders.  Except in this chapter we have human invaders from another planet with more advanced weapons than those of the society they're attacking, who have had thousands of years to develop since their last visit.  So who the hell knows.

Ugh, let's fight already.  The enemy's already within the two mile range of Corday's company's "enfilade hand fire," I have no idea either, but he waits until the tanks pass a boulder just over a mile away before springing the ambush.  Corday gives the signal, which is to say he dramatically chops his hand instead of giving the order over the radio, and then "The defile crackled, the air ionized, the daylight went dim." The incoming mass of aliens more or less turns to fire and smoke.  GG, 2 EZ.

Unfortunately, these guys don't have any tricorders or anything to warn them of sudden surprises, nor do they have a drone overhead to mark enemy positions on the minimap, and Swifty isn't flying his plane around or anything.  So three alien tanks are able to suddenly surge out of the smoke a mere hundred yards right in front of them.  As the "spacemen" adjust the range of their ray guns, the landed Hound provides some covering fire from its forward battery that turns "the air overhead into green tatters," but... wait, why not fight from the comfort of the Hound?

Then- oh, is that why?  'cause despite this volley from the ship's guns, the tank menacing Corday is unaffected, and lowers its "muzzles" to blast the guy.  Except then Bill grabs Corday's sidearm and blasts the tank with it, creating "an explosive boil of molten metal and fragments of a blazing thing" which he then shoots again just to be sure, the scamp.

So, not quite a flawless victory.  Corday screwed up by not focusing on the enemy armor and forgetting that it could charge at him under the cover of the smoke from his weapons, a mistake which earns him a bandage and got another guy killed, but he didn't even have a name so who cares.  Corday himself would have died were it not for young Bill the Eye, and now we know why this ship uses underage messengers instead of friggin' walkie-talkies.  Jocelyn is sure to give him an earful after this bungled job.

At last Jocelyn came up on the bridge.  Alan stiffened.  After the first glance Jocelyn walked away and went into his cabin.

Or not.  I bet not getting bitched at by Captain Jocelyn is somehow worse than getting bitched at by him.

On the bright side, Regiment Hauber and his company have a lot of ready-made buildings to occupy once Swifty makes a "quick flight with virus over the towns of these hideous things."  Because as we all know, the best colonies are those built on the bones of their previous inhabitants.  God bless America.

I guess the Hound of Heaven always devotes some cargo space to jars of "virus" just in case of this sort of situation.  And it's some pretty potent "virus" that's able to work against any species encountered on any planet.  But not such potent "virus" that it renders the planet unsuitable for human habitation.


Back to Chapter XII

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter XII - Uranium, Diamonds, and Other Garbage

This book is like the anti-Star Trek.  There's no joy to space exploration, just the misery of being displaced by time due to traveling at relativistic speeds.  You don't do it out of a sense of adventure, or because it's profitable, or because you want to, you do it because it's too much effort to stop and try to make a new sidereal life for yourself.  And you may not have had a choice in the matter, depending on your skillset and how far a captain was willing to go to "hire" a person with your talents.

It's just so depressing.  There's not even a sense of wonder from seeing new worlds shining in the light of foreign suns, just a materialistic hope that there's something down there you might be able to sell on the next world you visit so you can buy enough booze to temporarily suppress the pain of your pointless existence.

Or, since this came first, maybe Star Trek is the anti-Return to Tomorrow.  Anyway, lets get back to it.

The Hound has landed on Earth again, and things have changed since the last visit however many years ago.  Corday is trying to haggle with someone running a shipyard just outside New Chicago-

"You mean Candia," said the superintendent.  "I recollect somebody sayin' there was another town here once, but Candia's been around - let me see - darned if I know.  Maybe six-seven hundred years.  Real old.  We got some buildings they say go clear back to the Third Triarchy.  Oldest in Halloland."

"Where?"

"Halloland, the continent."

"You mean North America."

-and the city itself, whatever it's called, is now a megalopolis "sixteen levels high, suburbs extending eight hundred miles all about."  There's a "mechanical renaissance" going on at the moment, which is good news for the Hound since it means Corday should be able to get year-old replacement parts for pretty cheap, even if these rapid advances in technology confuse him.  Some new air filter "broke air into individual atoms and used the unwanted impurities for power," while uranium has been rendered completely obsolete by something called "cataphan," an ore extract shipped in from Pluto that you can pour on sand to run an engine "two million H.T.U. of heat to the jib."

Yet despite these technological wonders, Corday is of the opinion that each time he returns to Earth, "the human race was not quite as vital as the last time he had contacted it."  So this futuristic society is apparently racing along the tech tree in a listless fashion.  Or maybe Corday's just cranky that the yardmaster is talking about the Hound as "a bloomin' antique" and the language gap is such that it's getting hard to converse even in "lingua spacia," the business jargon of rocket men.  But Corday doesn't have any options, this port is the only place on the continent with the "racks" an old ship like the Hound can land on comfortably.  And where else are they gonna put down?  Asia?  Africa?  No, sir!  This here's a respectable tramp freighter.

So, the haggling.  The first challenge is working out exchange rates, since the locals are using something called "tylers."  Corday has to do this by hand, with a pencil on paper, using the price of a plate of ham and eggs from the spaceport restaurant as a unit of conversion, and figures out that the repairs and upgrades and whatnot will all cost upwards of thirty thousand dollars.  And I guess there's a bank or something nearby that will take whatever centuries-old currency the Hound is carrying and swap it out for current cash?  Wait, no, they don't need to exchange currency, the Hound is currently unloading a cargo of "Mizar puronic" fur, gold and scarlet pelts worth eight billion spacebux-

"Hey now, don't let yourself get skidded. My guess is they're worth twenty billion if anybody ordered eight, just on the principle. Women will be women."

Sure is lucky the Hound happened to land on Earth at a time that civilization was thriving and willing to shell out so much money for luxury items, and wasn't being consumed by war, or decided that wearing the hide of dead animal was barbaric.  Then they'd be no better off than that ship that landed with a hold full of uranium last May, or the Molly Murphy and its cargo of useless diamonds that are now sitting behind a shed.

You know, maybe Jocelyn and the other space traders need to change their angle.  Luxury items and fuels can go out of style or be rendered obsolete by advances in technology, but sometimes the most valuable stuff on a ship from the deep passage is just old "junk."  Corday's pistol for example is an antique that the shipyard master wants to swap for two brand-new "burners," while the crew of the Wanderbar IV did well by selling off the ship's library.  And the aforementioned Molly Murphy didn't go home emptyhanded, it managed to recoup its losses by selling stuff to a museum like some six-thousand-year-old flag - "Red, white and blue.  Stars.  Pretty."

I think our heartstrings are supposed to tug at the thought of the great US of A being forgotten, rather than our brains throbbing as we wonder why this civilization can't look this stuff up on Wikipedia.  Did that great revolution against the whites end up destroying much of society's historical records?  Were those dastardly hypnotists undertaking a Cultural Revolution to purge the new order of antiquated ideas?  Or is this the result of a different apocalypse that Corday missed while he was mining hot rocks off Betelgeuse?

Hmm, six thousand years... Ole Doc Methuselah was last seen at about a thousand years old, if I remember correctly.  So either those stories and this one don't belong in the same continuity, or else, thanks to the magic of relativistic travel, all that nonsense with the Soldiers of Light and galactic empires and extra-galactic travel with miraculously-fast engines all came and went without Corday and the other folks on the Hound of Heaven ever being aware of them.  Heh.  The idea is not without its appeal.

All this to say, Corday eventually gets a deal worked out for new parts, especially after he realizes that he saw a whole mountain of that "cataphan" stuff somewhere else, causing the yardmaster to give him a cigar even though "I won't even be dust when you come in here again."  He returns to the Hound to report to Jocelyn, and bumps into Snoozer just inside the airlock.

"Jocelyn aboard?"

"He's got some people up there," said Snoozer, brushing out the folds of a scarf she had wheedled out of a peddler.  "Are you going townside, Mr. Corday?"

But Alan was up the ladder and into the big cabin in a rush.

You know, Corday, maybe you haven't made any friends aboard the Hound not because you still don't fit in with that band of misfits, but because you just aren't good with people.

Jocelyn is conferring with a Regiment Hauber, who wants to set up a colony on Johnny's Landing.  You remember, the planet with the abandoned colony the Hound and that other ship found, but didn't bother to investigate?  Corday does, and tries to protest, but the archdick keeps interrupting.

Alan started to speak in a rush, but he was halted by a flash in Jocelyn's usually languid eye.

"He thinks highly of it," said Jocelyn. "He was once there. These gentlemen head up a potential colony, Mr. Corday. We may have the pleasure of carrying them and their equipment. Now tell these gentlemen frankly what you know of Johnny's Landing. Is it fertile?"

"Yes, I-"

"And unit gravity?"

"Of course, but-"

"And there's no animals except those useful to man?"

"No, they-"

"And water and air were good?" said Regiment Hauber.

"Of course. But I-"

"What were you going to say, Mr. Corday?" said Jocelyn. "Go on and tell the gentleman."

Corday eventually finds his tongue, and... well, it's a bit confusing.  You might think that Corday is objecting to Jocelyn taking some rubes to a planet where the last batch of rubes went all Roanoke without the courtesy of leaving behind a note.  But instead Corday tells Jocelyn about that "cataphan" stuff, how it's the fuel of the day and worth two thousand spacebux an ounce.

And then the exchange comes to a screeching halt so the author can talk about space colonization for two pages.  Using the power of editing, I will pretend that these paragraphs come somewhere else in the chapter, so not to interrupt the flow of the confrontation between our two main characters.

So Corday thinks he's gotten Jocelyn good, and is faintly mocking when he makes his declaration about how valuable "cataphan" is.  So I guess the idea is that Jocelyn will decide not to ferry the colonists in favor of going after that lucrative resource, thereby sparing Hauber and his settlers the horror of colonizing a previously-colonized planet.  But Jocelyn pulls a fast one on Corday, reasoning that since the "cataphan" deposit being used by Earth right now is a small vein on Pluto, by the time the Hound came back with more, society would have undoubtedly exhausted it and discovered an alternative fuel.  So Jocelyn apologizes for his "rather young" officer distracting his passengers and asks that they excuse his "bric-a-brac," and Corday gives his boss a "glare of pure hate" before stomping out of the cabin as Jocelyn and Hauber discuss how many people to bring and how much space to devote to supplies.  They're thinking three hundred women and one hundred men, which falls about a hundred people short of the minimal size for a healthy gene pool.  Hope some frisky long passage ship comes by to visit before the population dies out to inbreeding.

Snoozer was still at the air lock.  Alan scarcely saw her, such was his bitterness over this venture.  Ten thousand tylers the passenger.  And a high bill for freight.  And half a dozen of the best young men shipped forever and the prettiest women detained

Look, if they want to go, what's the harm?  What if they've made their peace with the idea of never seeing anyone from their hometowns again?  That's what being a colonist means, they're willing to make a new start somewhere else.  Just because you got shanghaied and had your life ruined by the captain you inexplicably continue to serve doesn't mean that everybody else hates space travel.

 and a colony planted where a colony had suddenly perished before-

Now that, that's a better thing to be angry about.  Although it's undermined by your total lack of interest in this mystery and your failure to investigate it.  And compounded by your failure to mention this fact to the colonists about to be sent there.  What, are you afraid of harming your relationship with Jocelyn?

"Are you going to hit dirt?" said Snoozer.  "I have six of these funny tylers-"

"The man's a devil," said Alan with heat.  "A devil!  A devil!"  And he walked angrily down the gangway and out of sight while Snoozer, drooping, her new scarf not so pretty to her now, looked after him through misting eyes.

So shoot him or something, sheesh.  Or at least stop doing his bidding if he's so evil.  But Corday can't do that, because being a space tramp is all he knows, he doesn't belong anywhere else, there's nothing but heartbreak and confusion waiting for him on terra firma, and yadda yadda.

Now, rewinding a bit to the author's spiel about space colonies.  We're told that most colonists are "convicts, political refugees, defeated nationals or the eugenic outcasts," and only rarely do people like the idealistic and wealthy Hauber undertake a private enterprise to settle a new world.  This is because Earth, despite its people's long history of settling new lands and building empires, is wholly uninterested in colonizing other planets.  This is due to the logistics of the process.

Regiment Hauber might or might not know the truth about other systems.  But a colony, laid down anywhere out there, could not expect intelligence of its whereabouts to return for generations.  News would not circulate widely in the vessels of the long passage for more than a handful of millenniums.  No other ships would stop unless the planet was rich.  It was abandonment complete and isolation utter, a somewhat frightening prospect even to a brave man.

I'm pretty sure that not every single one of those people who traveled to North America from Europe did so only on the condition that they'd be able to return if they wanted to.

So all things considered, Earth is pretty neutral on the subject of colonies.  There's no immediate advantage to setting them up, and since interplanetary trade is problematic, as we've seen, there's little material benefit.  But Earth's governments don't try to discourage people from leaving, either, since it's a "minute but welcome" drain on the planet's bloated population of ten people per arable acre of land, or "about one hundred sixty per cent of what current agriculture could provide."

So... the planet is in the middle of a "mechanical renaissance," but is suffering from overpopulation and presumably a terrible famine because there's not enough farmland to feed everybody.  Unless they're importing food from off-planet?  Shipments of grain from Alpha Centauri?  Suddenly, encouraging colonization sounds like a very good idea.  As does the invention of some kind of birth control, maybe something simple like a pill?

The notion of interplanetary combat is also raised, but dismissed - Earth's leadership knows it has nothing to fear from a rogue colony, since technology on their planet will keep advancing while a colony will start out decades if not centuries behind due to the quirks of relativistic, one-way time travel.  And of course any attackers "would have to compose itself of soldiers very desperate indeed to leave their homes behind them - for the men in any force from any star would not return home in time to resume concourse with their peoples."  As if everyone in Earth's historical imperial armies could be certain of returning home after pacifying the native populations of wherever they got shipped to.

There are non-human civilizations out there, however, but although "Many hostile and even terrible races had been discovered out amongst the stars but none of them with enough technology to conquer or attempt to conquer space."  We'll kill a few of them next time.   And the notion that some alien empire out there might have started far more advanced than Earth, so that by the time it reached our planet it would still have a technological edge, isn't even considered.  As is the idea that Earth might enter a dark age and fall behind its colonies or rival galactic civilizations.

All this to say, for a story exploring interstellar, slightly-slower-than-light commerce, it's not giving us any reasons to view such a thing as practical or beneficial - at best you can load up a colony ship to get rid of some excess population as a fire-and-forget sort of rocket, at worst you're like the people on the Molly Murphy, throwing your life away to haul in a load of worthless shiny rocks.  This will make the story's final message all the more baffling.


Back to Chapter XI 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter XI - The Cold, Dark Void of Purpose

I guess if nothing else, last chapter showed why Jocelyn, who had already shown a willingness to hold people against their will to fill a vacancy on his spaceship, didn't just handcuff Corday to the celestolabe while the rest of the crew had their shore leave - clearly Jocelyn knew that Corday, upon discovering that all his hopes and dreams had been reduced to ash, would find no other recourse than to return to his prison and continue to serve under the man who had destroyed his life.  Wise man, that Jocelyn.  Not sure about Corday, though.

The quivering Hound of Heaven hurled herself on course, blazing bow to bridge with particle flame, drives snarling with subdued ferocity as they sped to higher speeds - a lance of fire in the black of absolute zero.

Yeah, we've gone straight from New New Chicago to the cold heart of space, and also timeskipped ahead by two years, and not a whole lot has changed aboard the good ship Flea Circus.  There's a new comms man on the bridge since the old one got killed in some battle, but since I can't remember the previous guy's name, assuming we were ever introduced, I'm not too torn up about it.  The bridge itself is still "a belt of black ports through which one saw the march of stars; a worn deck which was never washed, panel on panel and rack on rack of meters, dials and controls scummed each one with grease."  The recycled air is still stinky.

But Corday?  Our hero has taken several levels of Dashing Spaceman after learning that his previous Surveyor-Engineer class is more or less defunct.  He carries himself like a seasoned star-sailor, habitually grasping rails and such while at his station, "the spaceman's habit of never going far from a hand-hold and never being unprepared against ungravity."

Ungravity is not to be excused with antigravity, which may be what allows Earth's taxis to hover, or artificial gravity, which is presumably what allows Corday to stand on the deck in the first place.  Maybe the author means zero-gravity, suggesting that the Hound's artificial gravity can crap out at times and send people a-floating?

This would fit the ship - Corday's spent enough time on the Hound to know that the ship's engines tend to be a bit uneven when accelerating between one-forty- and one-fifty-thousand miles per second, probably due to the new fuel catalysts installed ten trips back.  But it's worth it once you get to the 150's and up, "for one's weight eased down as the gravity curve decreased."  Because when... when you're going fast, when flying far enough from a planet that there's no gravity, there's even less gravity, so...  Hmm.  Maybe this is that ungravity Hubbard was talking about?  Like they're in a zero-g environment, but the ship has artificial gravity so they can walk around normally, but then they go fast enough for some force to ameliorate some of that artificial gravity?  Instead of just turning the thing down.

Hubbard Science - always good for a perplexed chuckle, like trying to figure out why someone's wearing a duck as a hat while he insists that there isn't a waterfowl on his head.

Beyond the technical stuff, Corday is also becoming a better officer, someone able to say "Silence on the bridge" without getting any grumbling in response.  He's also gotten pretty good at calculating courses and navigating, which isn't to say that the arch-dick won't jump on any mistakes - Corday's ears still burn when he remembers that time Jocelyn noticed that one of Corday's calculations was off by a whole tenth of a second.

"I don't misdoubt, Mr. Corday, that some day when I am old and bent you'll have mastered simple trig.  Mr. Hale, loan Mr. Corday a book on sphericals.  You won't need one on arithmetic too, will you, Mr. Corday?"

Presumably Jocelyn is one of those old-school types who refuses to let those under his command use calculators.  There's certainly no mention of, say, a computer system to crunch these numbers with greater speed and accuracy than anyone abducted from the last port of call.

Unfortunately, these new character levels have not been accompanied by any new friends for Mr. Corday - he's not really bonding with anyone, and still doesn't feel like he belongs aboard the ship.  Heck, he's even down an acquaintance since Gow-Eater killed himself eight months ago. Corday's not associating with Queen since her mutiny idea never got off the ground, especially after five shipwrecked sailors picked up on Venus ended up turning on Jocelyn and getting chucked out the airlock for their trouble.  Gow-Eater and someone named Mag Godine had gotten into an argument whether the mutineers froze from the absolute zero or experienced explosive decompression first.  (For the record, they're both wrong - you wouldn't swell up and explode or freeze over, you'd quickly pass out for lack of air before dying of an embolism or internal decompression damage a few minutes later.)  At any rate, watching someone else get executed for a crime he was considering has made Corday keep his head down these past two years.

But at least there's Snoozer, the courier girl who seems to like Corday, right?  She burst into tears when he disembarked back at New Chicago, and presumably was very happy to see him come back, so surely she counts as a friend?  Wrong.  Hubbard doesn't even mention her, which is weird because- well, later.

There's a lot of singing in this chapter of introspection and exposition, too - a paragraph-long song called "Viva la Company" which is 30% the word "viva," and more than a page is wasted on a tune called "Voyage" that I won't quote in full.

A full ten times a hundred years
Will pass as on we run
A full times a hundred years
Earth spins around the Sun.

Then back we'll be with ore and gem
Enough a town to buy
The Hound but six months older now
For only planets die.

God bless the mates
And keep our crew from harm upon this day
And God bless Captain Jocelyn 
Who walks his lonely way.

Again with the mineral wealth and shiny rocks.  What, is Earth gonna run out of uranium in a few centuries?  And the best place to get more is far outside the Solar System?

The song does get Corday thinking, though.  He still feels flashes of shame whenever he thinks about Queen's plot against Jocelyn and his role in it, even though Corday absolutely hates the man.  And as the crew moves on to "Why, Why, Why Do We Cruise the Useless Sky," Corday ponders the question in the song's title.

They had no purpose.  They had no goal.  They were outcasts, condemned to exist until they died, without home or friends, behind the skin of this vessel, accomplishing nothing, idly watching the parade of the pointless centuries.

Uh oh, Hubbard, even your characters are questioning the underlying premise of the story.

So when Hale comes by at the end of Corday's watch and reports that they'll be at Earth again in a couple of months, Corday abruptly asks why, and points out that they could've joined the colony on the last planet they visited, a pretty nice ball of dirt called O'Rourke.

"Stayed on - on O'Rourke?" said Hale.

"Why not?  We could do worse.  We've got odds and ends of the craft aboard.  We have a government.  And we could live our lives like people."

"Live our lives -?  What are you?  Drunk?"

"Give me a good reason against it."

"Why, why... there's plenty against it.  I-"  And he floundered and began to get angry because he didn't have an answer.

Corday points out that it's been fifty generations since they were last on Earth, and they have no "command ground" [sic] with the population, who have no problem with screwing over these traveling merchants since even their great-grandkids will see the Hound again.  Hale counters that Corday is breeding discontent and says if he doesn't like being on the ship, fine then, leave!  And Hale stomps off, angry, and Corday is mad too because he knows he very well could - "He knew they could do without him.  Jocelyn said it often enough."

Then why the hell did he kidnap Corday?

But Corday balks at the thought of giving up life on the long passage.  After all, it's three and a half millennia since he was born, so if he went back to Earth he'd have to start completely over to have any hope of fitting in.

He did not belong on Earth any more.  He was homeless, a wanderer in absolute zero and eternity.  But Hale need not have driven it so hard.

He frowned.  Jocelyn liked his creature comforts.  Why didn't Jocelyn see how really easy it would be to make a new colony of his ship on some hospitable star?  Earth, no.  But a good planet in an astronomically reliable system - why not?

Good question!  The economics of this whole enterprise are pretty iffy, as you're basically spending a lot of rocket fuel hauling crap from world to world, flinging Supply out into the void and praying that Demand will be there waiting instead of doing the smart thing and answering a known Demand with your Supply in a timely fashion.  And then if you profit off this venture, you spend it on whatever baubles can fit aboard your quarters as you take off to do it again, there's no endgame you're working toward.  And all the time there's the misery of being temporally displaced, watching everything you know and love get buried under the weight of years that pass you by thanks to a quirk of physics.  So why the Manco Devil would anyone choose this life?

And then he recalled the brutality of some of their visits and the greed and licenses of the crew.  Those, he though, disheartened, were answers.

If you think that this is going to preface a flashback or something elaborating on those brutal visits or greedy crewmen, think again.  So to make sense of this statement, we can only use what details we've already been given.  Thus, the facts that some planetside merchants like to rip off long passage freighters and a few of those traders like to gamble or tried a mutiny that one time means that the crew of the Hound is basically stuck crewing the Hound.  They don't fit in on Earth, and they can't join a colony on a place like O'Rourke because... well, it's just best to keep doing what you're doing, even if you hate it and aren't sure why you're doing it.

Hubbard thinks he has a better answer, but it'll be a while before we learn his profoundly stupid justification for all this.  Until then, look forward to more high adventures in outer space, such as next chapter, when Corday gets into an argument with a spaceport mechanic and rages at Jocelyn some more.


Back to Chapter X

Friday, May 20, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter X - New Old Chica

Wait a minute, wasn't New Chicago a starport in one of the Ole Doc Methuselah stories?  Could this be a prequel, taking place before the advent of faster-than-light engines and the dystopian regime of the Universal Medical Society?  Is Still-Relatively-Young Doc Methuselah working in a hidden lab somewhere, perfecting his cure for mortality and other medical wonders that he will refuse to share with the rest of the galaxy?

Anyway, let's have our dramatic and tragic chapter.  Corday walks between rows of crummy shacks, accompanied by a professional light bearer who jabbers on about how successful he is, a captain of industry able to afford a six-by-six shack nearby in Brightpark, and how things are really looking up for this fellow republicanites - why, unemployment is below thirty percent these days!  Corday boggles at this for a moment since he remembers only ten percent of people being out of work, but stays on track and has his guide take him to the Montgraine residence, the old mansion of Sunnylawn.

They find it, of course.  The government has divided up the lot so the grounds are now home to a number of huts barely bigger than dog houses, but the old barn is still there, as is the mansion itself, and Miss Cerita Montgraine's name is right there by the door!  Corday pays the professional light bearer generously and rings the bell.  He waits a bit, adjusts his clothes, and finally takes off his white jacket, a relic of a class war he managed to miss and which has completely failed to get him into trouble despite other characters making a big deal of it.  He rings the bell again, determinedly not being worried.

Chica.  Well, he'd have to do some fast explaining at being gone so long.  And he'd be very well braced against seeing her older than he had really expected.  Make her as old as could be.  That was all right.  It was his fault

Jocelyn's fault.

and they could tie something together and make a life of it.  What if she was even forty-five or fifty.  That was all right.  A woman needed some age to take proper care of a man.  Who had said that?  Queen?  Funny old Queen.

Said that last chapter too.  But it's probably the character repeating himself and not the author, at least in this case.

And he'd been up there where the stars were shining and he'd thought he'd never get back.  What an entire fool he was.  Jocelyn was right.  He was a fool.  He figured he'd never get back and here it was right on the bell, "Miss Cerita Montgraine."  And how he'd watched that speed dial!

Oh, and this is all one rambling paragraph, but again, it works in this case.

The door eventually opens a bit and a "sad-faced little dwarf of a man" tells Corday to scram, but our hero puts a foot in and explains that he's a very old friend who means no harm and is here to see Miss Chica, who will surely know him on sight.  The dwarf is skeptical, but lets Corday inside to the back of a house, and announces through a "panel" that Miss Chica has a gentleman caller.  Then he asks if she's up.

A thin little voice answered him. "I'm awake, Saib. I'm not in bed, am I? Of course I'm awake. I'm dressed so I'm not in bed."

"Gentleman to-"

"Here, let me!" said Alan, and thrust the panel wide.

Aaaand paragraph break.  For drama.

He was not certain what he saw, after the first glance.  Afterwards he could not recall where she had sat or how she had looked.

There was a mantle with some crockery on it, some overcrowded tables with China dogs and horses on them, several heavy chairs and a very narrow, covered bed.

"Is it going to rain?  All day long I have felt it was going to rain.  It isn't raining, is it?"

The three pages or so that follow are pages I can't much complain about.  This may be the one chapter that really works, that effectively get its point across.  We are never actually told what Chica looks like, but it most certainly wasn't what Corday was expecting even in his most buried fears, because the guy is so shocked that it affects the narrative - we no longer hear his thoughts, only get brief mentions that he sat down at one point, or stood up at another.  True, other Hubbard heroes have been similarly closed to us, but in this case it seems an artistic choice rather than a failure on the author's part.  A page ago we could hear Corday's excited jumble of thoughts as he daydreamed about how everything was going to work out after all, now his mind has gone blank after being confronted by the damning evidence from his eyes and ears.  And we don't really need to be told just how old Chica is since her dialogue and actions make it clear, plus this leaves our minds free to imagine some truly decrepit old hag.

"I was just about to have tea," she said.  "Saib, bring in the tea things and serve the gentleman.  I know I am dreadfully impolite not to be more hospitable but ever since my husband died I have kept alone pretty much you see.  You knew him?  A fine man.  So strong and handsome.  And such a way with him.  He was an engineer-surveyor and when he came back we were married.  You'd have liked him.  I don't see very well, but you look young.  Are you young, sir?  Excuse an inquisitive old lady, but perhaps you knew one of our sons in school.  Ah, there's the tea.  You'll have one lump or two?"

Saib put down the tray.  It was a barren tray, a heel of bread, a tiny pat of butter and a teapot.  She poured shakily and sought to place his cub beside him.  Saib quickly assisted her an instant before disaster.

"Heavens, you'd think I couldn't do a thing," she said.  "But you were telling me about one of my sons.  Was it Raymond?  What a good boy he is.  Writes me every week.  You do think he's handsome, don't you?"

Saib gently tries to clarify that the visitor is a Mr. Corday, and Chica is confused for a moment before deciding he's talking about her son young Alan, that rascal who will surely settle down someday.  Yep, some day all her sons will make their father proud.

Alan was standing, tearing at his cap.

"Oh, do you have to go so soon?  And it's such good tea tonight.  Real tea, but Saib is such a dear child.  Can't you stay until Alan returns?  Until Alan returns?  Until Alan returns?"

Okay, I will deduct a few points for a character's brain skipping like a broken record.  But this chapter still earns a passing grade.

Chica wishes her visitor a "good-by" though, nice of her, and tells her servant to bring the car around so young Alan's friend doesn't get soaked.  On the way to the door Saib explains - well, he actually did some of this earlier but I'm going to lump the explanation here - anyway, Miss Chica managed to survive that war against the whites thanks to an amnesty on account of her mental problems, while he himself was a driver for the old regime but was kept around so he could tend to the stables, and wound up helping a doctor look after the old bat.  He can only wonder what drove Miss Chica bonkers and figures it must have been the revolution, and Saib confirms that she never married and her sons exist only in her mind.  Corday says nothing, thinks nothing, but hands over all his money, which Saib promises to use to help Chica pass her remaining years in comfort - she's eighty, after all, so she probably doesn't have much time left.  Saib's questions about where Corday came from or got the money go unanswered.

Sadly, the mind can't flee from the truth forever...  Okay, that statement is more dramatic than accurate - yes, your brain can go on vacation from reality indefinitely, as seen with Miss Chica.  But we're on page 96 of 157 so we need Corday functional.

Alan, two hours later, found himself walking in the rain she had feared.  It was a heavy rain and it soaked his white jacket through and through.

He stood for moments and looked at the lowering sky, gray in the lights of the town.

She had said she thought it would rain.

Again, this would be a stupid statement to end the chapter on, but it accurately reflects our protagonist's mental state, so it works.

So there you have it, the shocking revelation that Corday has been gone for nearly six decades and everything about his old life has been destroyed.  Hopefully the impact of this revelation justified the author taking care that our viewpoint character was never so gauche as to just ask someone for the day's date, though you could say that it was the character continuing to lie to himself to avoid any information that might threaten his fantasy of a happy ending.

And now?  Back on the spaceship, of course.  Where else could Corday go to try and build a new life for himself?  It's either New Chicago or go gallivanting between stars for centuries sidereal time.  What's he gonna go, run off to Nuevo Argentina to hang out with the other political exiles?


Back to Chapter IX 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter IX - New New Chicago

In this chapter, we set aside Hubbard's entertaining misunderstanding of science to see what grim course he thinks the future might take, which is just as interesting.  Just don't expect any of this to have a lasting impact on the story beyond influencing whether Corday will take Jocelyn up on his offer of another cruise.

Corday's cabbie is real excited to have a passenger from a ship like the Hound, the likes of which he's never seen before, and is surprised when Corday explains that it's no mere Martian freighter but a ship back from the long passage.

The cabbie gave a start, looked back through his rear window and then put on a little more speed.  "Why doesn't somebody tell a feller these things?

I don't know much about modern port protocol, so I'm not sure if there's a way for people to look up where a given ship is in from and what it's next destination will be without interacting with the captain.  This is probably a moot point, though, since in Hubbard's stories spaceships don't seem to even need clearance to land.  Just plop down on the tarmac and then get in an argument with the port authority over whether your potentially plagued passengers can disembark.

I was right there when she landed expectin' a good, all-night cruise around the fireworks dispensaries with a thirsty convoy.  Whew!  Glad you tipped me, bub.

Aww, dammit.  This is what happens when you don't fill the void of a character with even a cursory description - there's nothing stopping my mind from deciding that the cabdriver is now everyone's favorite short, clawed mutant.

Them babies are man-hungry."  He suddenly turned back to Alan.  "Meanin' no offense, you understand.  I didn't mean-"

"I'm through with her," said Alan happily.  "And I know what you mean."

So hey, why can't Alan go right to the authorities and report that he was held prisoner for weeks, his time, after being more or less kidnapped?  Why doesn't anyone recognize the Hound from previous incidents, and why wasn't there a nice policeman knocking on the port, asking to see Captain Jocelyn?  Or has the statute of limitations not been updated for relativistic space travel?

We get a partial answer to some of these questions, and surprisingly it isn't "because the plot requires it."  The cabbie talks about how the last time one of these deep passage ships landed, there was a ring of police standing "ten deep tryin' to keep her from leavin'.  But no use."  Not trying to apprehend the captain, mind you, but standing around a landed spaceship in hopes that this would somehow prevent it from taking off.  But the problem, besides the police force's evident stupidity, is that "a police department can hardly stay in power long enough to catch the same ship again."

Corday's a bit slow on the uptake, and insists that he hasn't been gone long as the conversation moves on to what "guzzle emporium" they're headed to.  It's only when the cabbie reminisces about how "old New Chi has been runnin' wide-open and fully-soused" after they "got that church out of power" that our hero finally asks for an update on what's happened in his hometown over his long voyage.

So we get about two pages of exposition, punctuated by Corday being confused and the cabdriver saying "bub."  No "snikt"s though.

Once upon a time in the land of New Chicago, the "whites" - presumably this is a political faction instead of an ethnic group - "fixed up a church to keep down the 'common people'" following a war in which the "Beggar's Guild," a slang term for the "People's Party," did most of the fighting and dying.  Though the whites' church wasn't really a church church, but an organization that used "jawnotics," or perhaps hypnotics, to preach at people "over the air," presumably the radio.  The People's Party had a church too, "The Fission - no, the Electrician - shucks, some church or other," but all their priests literally got burned.  Anyway, someone named Conners led a revolution against the whites and set up the Christian Church, and now someone named Justinius Murphy leads the Republicanites, and now things are mostly peaceful.  Though "once in a while somebody will denounce somebody as a white and there will be a fine hoorah and a firing party and free beer."

Sounds vaguely like Russia during the lead-up to the communist takeover, in other words.  The mention of hypnotics suggests that those sinister psychologists might have been involved, but we can't be sure - Hubbard doesn't state as such, and this story seems to have been written before he was really frothing about the clear and present danger of the world psychiatric Nazi conspiracy.

Corday is a mite bewildered by all this, and his cabbie suddenly worries that he might not be carrying a proper republican (little R, not the GOP), and orders Corday out.  Corday remembers that he is a lordly aristocrat and decides he won't be "brawling with menials," tries to pay his fare, then quadruples his starting offer when he sees the contempt on the cabbie's face.  And now he notices that his cash is weird - the bills are printed differently, and the coinage is "iron money with a glowing center."

So that answers a question from last chapter - yes, Corday got paid in local currency.  Now we just have to wonder how Jocelyn was able to get a money lender so quickly and where Corday got his coins, since Jocelyn distinctly paid him in dollar bills last chapter.  If they were part of his winnings from Dr. Strange, surely he'd have noticed what the coins looked like, right?

Anyway, since Corday tipped so generously, or is "playin' the grand duke" as the cabbie puts it, the driver advises him, like Jocelyn did last chapter, to get rid of that white coat, and also to tear off the eagle-and-compass badge of an engineer, tenth class from Corday's collar tab.  Because "Who do you suppose took over the world?"  Dramatic sting, I suppose.

The driver... drives off, presumably to fight alongside several superhero teams simultaneously and hog the spotlight.  Corday spends a moment stunned by the knowledge that "time had passed," that the cabbie only knew about this stuff thanks to history books.  But he still doesn't know how much time has passed because Hubbard won't let Corday check a newspaper for the day's date, or just out and ask his driver what year it is.  We still need to be good and shocked by the twist in the next chapter, after all.

After a paragraph break, Corday resolves to walk home, and is troubled by the "unfamiliar buildings which stood beside familiarly named streets," but takes heart when he passes a park bench carved with the message "A.C. lvs C.M.," a relic of his and Miss Cerita "Chica" Montgraine's second date.  He decides that his Chica might be a little older, maybe even a bit gray-haired, but that doesn't matter, love conquers all, etc.  "And it took an older woman to properly understand a man," as Queen said.  Good ole "Fat, globulous Queen.  She was right, too."  But he's still haunted by Einstein, by those equations about Mass and Velocity and the Constant.  Spooooky physics, oooooo.

The rest of the chapter isn't as interesting as the cabbie's history lesson, I'm afraid.  Corday eventually finds his old home when he recognizes the garden wall, but when he tries to push his way through the gate he discovers "a strange sort of hothouse without any glass or lights or vats for liquid food," which a man explains is "a paper box factory."  I don't know either.  The guy explains that this is most certainly not the Sir Alton Corday residence and directs our hero to a nearby deacon who may know where the Cordays went to, and off our hero goes in search for answers.

He felt a little dazed.  Deceleration, he told himself.  Being three or four gravities for days made a man feel funny for a while.

Or, you know, snap your bones under your own weight, tear your muscles from the effort of merely sitting up, strain your heart as it struggles to pump blood around in such an environment, and generally just kill you horribly.  Also, way to tell us about this high-G deceleration sequence last chapter during our approach to Earth, Hubbard.

Corday continues on through muddy, broken streets to find a run-down church that looks like it's been through a fire, but a wizened old deacon answers the door and bobs his head, "bob, bob," every time he talks.  Corday asks about his family crypt, but the registers are moldy if they're not burned, and don't even ask about electronic data storage.  There's also a weird moment where a lantern-bearing man comes up to lecture the deacon for illegally selling Corday a candle, forcing Corday to shell out again to a "dues paid member of the light guild."  But this is the intentional sort of weird that shows how strange life has become over Corday's absence, not the result of the author's idiosyncrasies, so it works.  In the end, the deacon remembers that they've been pulling out headstones to fill a hole out front, and after a half hour of digging Corday uncovers a fragment of a slab inscribed with "-ay."

And Corday must be a skilled surveyor-engineer indeed, because he seems to know that this stone can only be from his family tomb, and not that of the Murrays or Grays or anyone.  So after digging a bit more in search of another fragment, he abruptly stops.  The light bearer offers to round up a crew and get the whole street dug up.

And then Alan saw them.  He saw the mud and the ragged light bearer and the cloaked deacon and the street.  He saw the church as it had been and now the church as it was.

He straightened.  "Thank you," he said.  "It won't be necessary.  If you wish to accompany me, I will pay your hire."  He turned with precision and paid the deacon who bob-bobbed thankfully.  He indicated the way he would go to the light bearer.

And he turned his steps from the broken slab marked "ay."

Got the strangest urge to play XCOM now.

So that's our first chapter back on Earth, and the dramatic reveal of the changes that have taken place since Chapter I.  It just doesn't work.

The principal problem is that we never got a good feel for New Chicago at the story's start, beyond some vague remarks about aristocratic engineers.  So not only do we lack a conception of Old New Chicago to compare this New New Chicago to, Old New Chicago itself felt pretty weird in relation to our own time.  Thus the changes don't hit home for the reader nearly as hard as they do for Corday, assuming we can even tell what's changed since as I mentioned we barely spent any time in his hometown before flying off in the Hound.

The city is also strangely empty - there's no mention of other foot traffic, or vehicles on the roads, or anything like that.  New Chicago is inhabited only by Corday, his driver, that "paper box factory" owner, and a deacon.  Nobody pointed at Corday's white jacket - there's no indication that he ever removed it despite being warned about it twice now - and Corday doesn't get to boggle at the strange fashions of his fellow New Chicagoans.  He's not impressed by the new model hover cars, or the not-hover cars as the case may be.  There's not even a bit where he notices that his favorite movie is now in its third reboot.  It's just Corday jumping from scene to scene.  Heck, it's hard to simply tell what time of day it is beyond a mention that it's "early" enough for the deacon to promptly answer Corday's knock.

And of course the unstated conclusion that Corday's family is dead doesn't hit very hard since we never got to meet his ailing father or loving mother.  Which is going to take away some of the impact when we are finally introduced to Chica in the next chapter.


Back to Chapter VIII

Monday, May 16, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter VIII - Many Partings and Unfinished Physics Equations

I guess it's a good thing that the Hound of Heaven wasn't running low on food or air or fuel or anything, since there's no mention made of it stocking up while at Johnny's Landing, or the quartermaster or whoever being distraught that with the colony abandoned there's no one to resupply them.  And of course the crew spent their time on the planet digging up radioactive material instead of hunting or foraging or whatever.  I guess you have to be overstocked like that when you're blindly traveling through space, hoping that society won't have collapsed the next time you're trying to dock and unload whatever crap you picked up on the last planet you visited.

Anyway, now that the business on Johnny's Landing is concluded, Corday is in a good mood, because

He was going home.  He had no idea of his distance from Earth, the number of ship hours which had elapsed or the number of years which had passed on Earth.  But he was young and with each passing watch the hope beat higher.  Perhaps less than fifteen years would have passed.  If that were true, then he could realize his goals.

'cause I mean what's a decade or two for Twue Love, right?  Surely whassername will be faithfully waiting for him, and then he'll show her father all the money he made on his involuntary trip to another solar system, and then-

Wait, is Corday forgetting that he promised Dr. Strange his "pay for the entire cruise" in exchange for not telling Jocelyn that Corday was raving about a mutiny during his illness?  Um.  Well, it was twelve whole pages ago, and surely a lot has happened since then.

So like I said, Corday's in a good mood.  He's doing his duty with gusto, mastering the Hound's steering and damage control systems, and getting so good at astronavigation that he's able to tighten up Hale's courses and save them some time.  He's chumming it up with a handful of other crewmen who are also eager to get back to Earth, he's put aside any thought of Queen's mutiny, and he's even tolerating Jocelyn as a necessary, temporary evil.

And he's also deluding himself.  Corday is still being haunted by the evil spirits of Physics, the poor bastard, and when he's working on something else he sometimes looks down to find himself writing out those relativity equations - but he always stops short of actually working through the math and calculating how much time has passed on Earth.  He's also entering the wrong watch number in his crappy personal log, or the same watch number repeatedly.

But whatever, man, it's just numbers.  Corday... oh, is this why?  Well, Corday gets clever and, get this, uses psychology on Dr. Strange.  I'd say it's bizarre for a Hubbard character to use the methods of the enemy like that, but 1) Dr. Strange isn't really an antagonist and 2) Hubbard heroes are pretty damn hypocritical.  Anyway, Corday is able to chat with the weirdo about how chess is not a game about luck, but "a truthful commentary on a man's brains," and starts betting on matches so that by the end of the voyage, Corday's won back not only his entire pay for the voyage, but three thousand spacebux extra, which combined with his cut of the uranium haul would equal about twenty-five thousand spacebux.  Bam, student loans are done.

You know, if it were me, I'd have put this explanation about Corday winning his money back near the start of the chapter, so there's not three and a half pages of him being happy while the reader is wondering if he's overlooking something.  But maybe that'd interfere with the pacing and use up space that should be prioritized for reprinting those physics equations.

Anyway, there's another nod to the fundamental problems with interstellar commerce when another crewman expresses his hope that Earth is still using uranium when they get back, and brings up that time two voyages ago where they ended up hauling in a load of gold (of course) that nobody wanted.  But What.  Ever.  Corday is gonna go home to Chica and get married and tell everyone exciting stories about the rough characters that might be encountered on the long passage.  The poor bastard doesn't realize that there's eight more chapters in this book, which probably isn't going to spend the last half of the story focused on his happy domestic life in New Chicago.  I mean, we haven't had the scene on the cover with the spacemen in ridiculous space helmets and rayguns.

Eventually Jocelyn interrupts Corday's daydreaming to give word that they'll be at Earth in ten watches, and

And then, swimming up at them, green and blue and shimmering was the loveliest sight in the heavens - Earth!  She came to them like a grand queen, robed in her silvery mists, attended by her page, the Moon.  And the Sun Corona flamed beyond her in a fireworks of welcome.

Not even a break in the paragraphs.  Guess the story's in a hurry to get back too.  Also, we didn't get anything like this when we visited Johnny's Landing, did we?  No brief paragraph about Corday's first look at an alien world, we just cut to him already looking down at it from orbit ten hours after arriving, while Gow-Eater blathered about diamonds and women.  Wasted opportunity, like a lot of that chapter.

Corday gets to fume and seethe with impatience for a bit, because even though they've back home, Jocelyn insists on waiting in orbit for five hours, sending Swifty and his plane to "Take a scout and locate any possible wars or commotions, taking due care to fly well beyond the possible ranges and accuracies of any new weapons."  Yes, the captain is ordering a pilot to somehow divine the capabilities of hypothetical weapons developed while they were away.  No, there's no one at a control tower planetside sending the Hound landing instructions or a warning to stay away from Eurasia because Russia is at it again.  No, nobody's listening to broadcasts or radio signals coming from Earth and discerning what the situation is based on them.

Swifty doesn't come up with anything, so they end up landing in New Chicago at dusk, an event that takes all of a sentence.  Before he can go tearing off, Corday is summoned to Jocelyn's quarters by Snoozer, who has washed her face for once.  Corday says goodbye to with a pat on the hand and an "Aye, aye, countess."

You know, I may have to give Hubbard some credit here.  This may actually be foreshadowing and not something that was random and kind of creepy when first introduced.

Corday hasn't been in Jocelyn's quarters before, but don't expect a good, fat paragraph detailing all the fascinating nick-knacks that have built up over decades/millennia of adventure or anything that might help characterize this cruel and aloof captain - all Hubbard has to say about the room is that it's big and has some old flags in one corner.  As Mistress Luck is polishing Jocelyn's pistol... um, his actual handgun.  And holster.  Ahem.

Anyway, Jocelyn bids Corday sit down and, not unkindly, gives him a little speech, which I will abridge even further while quoting one or two high points.

"You are very young," said Jocelyn, "and you have a very great deal to learn.  But with application you may possibly some day make an excellent third in command."  He stretched out his legs and began to toss a small deck knife from hand to hand.  "You possibly conceive your liberty to have been violated when you came with us

Jocelyn is still an unrepentant dick, by the way.

and doubtless have many complaints of your treatment aboard.  I see you still bear two small scars on your right hand.  I am sorry, Mr. Corday, that such measures were necessary.  There is much you don't know."

Spoiler alert - nothing we learn by the end of the story will make us feel that Jocelyn has the moral high ground here.  He is simultaneously an enormous dick and full of crap, a veritable anatomical wonder.

Alan twisted around in the chair, trying to be polite. He could afford politeness now.

If it were me, I'd get through this meeting without punching Jocelyn only by thinking about how I was going to get off this ship, go home, grab a ray gun, walk back onto the ship, and put a new porthole in Jocelyn's forehead.  Corday may be a bigger man than I am.

Jocelyn goes on for another page about how the Hound will be in port for the next ten days or so, though they'll relocate slightly so they can get new engines installed.  When Corday says that he has no intention of signing up for another voyage, Jocelyn makes a remark about how "There are worse things that could happen to a man," but does write up some paperwork and pays out twenty-four thousand dollars for... huh, are these US dollars?  Jocelyn doesn't have to mix in the currencies of other worlds to get the full amount?  Did he have to adjust the pay for inflation?  Or are wages as stagnant in the future as they are now?

Whatever, Corday gets his spacebux and is free to go.

Alan stood up.  He gave a brief, formal bow to Mistress Luck and another to Captain Jocelyn.

"You will not reconsider now?" said Jocelyn.

This is like tying a guy up, force-feeding him sauerkraut for two months straight, untying him, and acting surprised that he would rather have a hamburger and french fries than more of the thing he didn't want in the first place, and only ate because you forced him to.

"You may not like what you find, Corday.  Believe me, the first return-"  He bit it off and stood up, not offering his hand.  Hard bitterness came suddenly back to his handsome face.  "I see that you won't.  Good-by [sic], Mr. Corday."

On his way out, Corday encounters Snoozer waiting wide-eyed in the passageway, and gives her a tip for some soap, "countess."  He also sees Jocelyn pour some powder into a hard drink, drain the glass, and hurl the empty container to shatter onto the floor.  Corday then pats Snoozer on the head and- okay, when you put the actions in that sequence it's a bit disjointed.  Maybe put Snoozer a bit further away so the light-hearted parting and dark drama don't overlap.

Or maybe it's all drama, because Corday thinks he can hear some girl sobbing as he heads to the gangplank, but he decides its "Some ship kid without shore leave," because who else could possibly be sad to see him go?  Certainly nobody he's bonded with over the voyage.

In leaving he noticed that his new-rigged sheeves had operated smoothly and that the gangway reached the precise distance to the ground.  And then, without another glance at the ship, hailed a hovering cab.

I've paged ahead to try to determine whether the cab was waiting expectantly around the spaceport, or whether it was literally hovering over the ground.  At best Hubbard says it "skimmed" along at one point, but that's still a bit ambiguous.  But hey, we're back on Earth now!  Corday is looking forward to being reunited with that girl of his and living happily ever after!  It's only been...

Well, the author's being coy and hasn't told us how much time has elapsed just yet, to deepen the upcoming shock.  But shouldn't that have been a part of Jocelyn's sales pitch?  "Kid, it's been-" oops, I won't spoil things just yet.


Back to Chapter VII

Friday, May 13, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter VII - An Unimpressive Name for a Ghost Planet

So we've seen Corday get a feel for the work involved in running a spaceship, and we've raised the possibility of a mutiny that got sidetracked when Corday got sick and was defeated by the sadness.  Now we'll get a chance to see what interstellar trade looks like.

We join our hero and that Gow-eater guy as they look out a window at the mountains and valleys of the planet below, Johnny's Landing.  I can only assume that this world was settled relatively recently, and that all the good colony world names were already taken.

They were in second con, standing by preparatory to landing.  It was an all-hands evolution and, the ship being about a quarter manned, everyone down to five years of age had his or her post.  It took a lot to bring the Flea Circus down to the ground, particularly when no landing racks had been provided - and in strange areas Jocelyn liked to have at least token crews on her after batteries just in case somebody proved hostile.

And no, they're never hailed by space traffic control and get permission and instructions on where to land, nor do they spend some time listening in to radio or TV transmissions as they approach a world.  As far as I can tell, the Hound of Heaven just arrives in orbit over a planet, maybe scouts with its little plane, and then parks somewhere.

In this case, though, there's nothing coming out of Johnny's Landing for a reason beyond the author forgetting that radios exist.  Gow-eater has good memories of the place, the enormous diamonds you could find along rivers, its uranium-rich hills, the delicious apples the locals have cultivated, and its "mighty pretty," "much obligin'" womenfolk, but that was a ship-year ago and at least five hundred years sidereal.  Or maybe more like twelve hundred, the old opium addict's memory ain't so good.  But that was then, and now there's no sign of the world's population, so Swifty the scout pilot is trying to figure out where everybody went.

Hence the captain's caution here, with Corday on the auxiliary bridge located close enough to the engines to be rumbled by the "chemical explosions" of the ship's drives.  If there is danger, and something disastrous takes out the Hound's main bridge, Corday and his crack group of back-up crewmen will be ready to take over.

A gong clanged and they stood more precisely to their stations.  The ten-year-old kid who was handling second con's communicator bent a keen, veteran eye out the port and said, "There comes the-"

"Bill," said her mother sharply from her post at the phones, "you watch your language."

"Well, he does anyhow," said the undaunted Bill.

The more we learn about this ship, the less surprised I am that it accidentally collided with a planet's atmosphere.

Swifty the scout comes back safely, and we get his report second-handed - he spotted a town on the coast, and more interestingly another spaceship, the King's Lion out of Boston.  Now, I suppose it's possible that there are vessels flitting around out here that launched from more diverse places like Mumbai or Yokohama or Durban.  But the ones we'll be seeing in this story are reassuringly white and American.  Which is to say that the King's Lion is the only other named spaceship I can remember appearing.

Anyway, they're gonna go and land now, and the other ship is gonna come with.

A moment later the bridge sighted her with the help of metonic locators.  The uneasy situation of second con in regard to gravity - since the Hound's decks were perpendicular to planet surface in this cruising position - was corrected by the bow pointing skyward as the ship crawfished down.

I'm not sure if Hubbard is implying here that the Hound has some sort of artificial gravity to keep people from floating around, and it's a bit weird experiencing both that the increasing pull of a planet you're descending toward, or whether everyone's being pulled sideways by the planet's gravity and the author has just taken it for granted that they're able to walk around normally in deep space.  There certainly isn't any mention of those gimballed chairs Hubbard put in Tug One.  Or will put.

But yes, the Hound successfully lands on its tail on the beach, and it doesn't topple over or anything because it doesn't have a safe, stable landing pad to rest on.  It also takes the vessel twenty minutes to get there from orbit; for reference, the space shuttle takes about half an hour to hit the runway, and spends several hours beforehand positioning itself and decelerating.  The Lion must have landed nearby, even though there's no mention of this development, because the crews of both ships get out to have a little mixer.  Both ships are of the same class, you see, and were both struck in Old Angeles and are about forty subjective years old.  Just because the Lion's crew is two hundred years, relatively-speaking, older than the Hound's crew is no reason for them not to chum it up.

Though this generation gap does lead to a little awkward moment, where someone brings up those fine ladies on "Caterdice of Deneb," leading to puzzled looks because the last time another guy was in the system "the dominant race on the planet had been African pygmy labor importation."  Because when you think of people suited for hard labor on an alien planet, obviously the first thing you'd pick would be... really short guys...

I wonder if sentences like this were just as baffling to readers in 1954 as they are now.  Surely, even in those unenlightened times, there were people staring in befuddlement at their copy of Return to Tomorrow, trying to puzzle out how this statement could possibly make sense.  Like, maybe Deneb has a lot of little tunnels in its spice mines or whatever, so you'd want little folk to get at them?  Or maybe Deneb has high gravity, so compact frames are ideal.  The author sure as hell doesn't give us any context to help.

Oh, and it goes without saying that everyone is running around without helmets on, enjoying the fresh air of this perfectly-habitable planet, with no concerns about any local diseases that they wouldn't have any immunities against.  Dr. Strange must have given everyone their shots off-camera.

Corday's wandering around feeling out of place - the way the setting sun turns the clouds gold and green certainly doesn't help - and overhears Jocelyn conferring with the Lion's nameless captain.  Let's call him Horatio.  Captain Horatio describes how as far as he can tell, the planet's population just "Tucked up and left," leaving behind "Bread in the oven, plows in the field, pigs and chickens gone wild all through the bresh."  Captain Jocelyn suspects that Horatio is just telling tales to try to scare a rival merchant off, but Horatio is an honest sort, and swears that "I wouldn't make er man burn atoms in such a wasteful fashion not if he war my most blessit enemy."

I'm not sure if this is Hubbard attempting a Boston accent, or if the author is trying to show how English (or whatever language they're speaking) might have evolved in the centuries separating these men.  The latter would be clever, but, well, it's Hubbard.

Captain Horatio explains that he was here to pick up some "air yewranium," and when Jocelyn asks reveals that yes, the local uranium mines are still intact.  Jocelyn thinks that's good news, since if the "Mine's all right, then there'll be no raid."  And hey, why is the Hound here, anyway?  Is it carrying goods it was hoping to sell to the colonists?  Is it after the uranium too?

See, with conventional trade, you have a destination and associated trade good in mind when you set out.  You sail all the way to the Far East to pick up some porcelain or spice or whatever that you know is in high demand back in Europe, and in return you give the locals some muskets or crap that they don't have.  That's what trade is, moving stuff around to where it's needed for a modest (or exorbitant) fee.

Except with relativistic, interstellar trade, everything gets all screwy.  It's been six hundred local years since Jocelyn has been to Johnny's Landing.  That's a lot of time for the supply of goods to change on this planet, and a lot of time for demand for those goods to change on Earth.  So what, is the Hound just winging it, opportunistically picking up whatever stuff is available on the worlds they visit and hoping that someone on the next planet will buy it?  And they'll make enough money to cover the cost of operating and maintaining an increasingly out-of-date spaceship, and compensate for the angst of being travelers out of time without a country yadda yadda?

It's like the author is taking an old concept, a trade ship and how being away from a place to call home for extended periods might take its toll on you, and then he's transplanting it to a sci-fi setting, which he recognizes would emphasize one aspect of this concept for even greater drama, but he doesn't see how this shift would also undermine the very premise of the story.  Kinda like how "The Great Secret" fell apart because the technology involved in setting up the story would've solved the problem of finding a lost city in the first place.

Anyway.  Jocelyn summons Swifty from a crowd of the Lion's womenfolk, says "we've got a mystery here," and sends him to find that colony Horatio described.  Which I thought Swifty found in his initial flight.  Or was the "he" mentioned in that paragraph Captain Horatio?  Whatever, Swifty gets Corday to clear some driftwood so... I dunno, so the Hound can relocate to the colony, except that driftwood didn't impair the ship's landing, so maybe it's just insulting busywork?

Except Corday does nothing of the sort - Swifty takes off in his scout jet, then Corday's following a group of people to the deserted colony.  Maybe there's a paragraph break that got messed up when the manuscript got divided into pages.

Where the roofs were still intact one could enter houses and find there strewn toys, set tables, and what the sea air had left of clothing not worn the past fifty years.  The wandering groups of spacemen and women touched nothing, not from honesty but from a highly developed sense of luck.  But soon their superstition faded away enough to bring about the election of a mayor, the making of a bonfire from tattered park benches and the trial and execution of a wild pig who was promptly cooked and eaten.  Somebody else discovered a cellar and Alan at length found himself on the outskirts of a singing crew, forgetful already with bumpers of sweet wine.

Nothing about how Corday feels about this, walking through the abandoned homes of people presumed dead.  No speculation from anyone about what might have happened here, no fear that it might happen to them.  No description of the way the overgrown paths muffle their footsteps, or how the wind moans mournfully through empty windows and open doors, or how the normally-rowdy crews are hushed and humbled by the tomb-like emptiness of the city.

Nope, everyone's just hungover the next morning, they move their ships over to the uranium mines, the crews spend ten days grubbing through dirt with Geiger counters until the Lion and Hound are full of hot rocks, and then the former is off for Pollux while the latter heads toward Earth.  The story spends all of a page describing the abandoned colony and how the spacemen helped themselves to some nearby minerals before leaving.

Of the colony's fate they had no faintest clue.

"Note it down in your Star Pilot, Mr. Hale," said Jocelyn.  "Johnny's Landing is open for a colony,  A colony with some brains."

What, you thought we'd solve this mystery?  You must be confusing this story with an episode of Star Trek or something.

Also, what about the situation on Johnny's Landing requires brains?  Did the previous colonists stupid themselves to death?  Or perhaps Jocelyn is suggesting that some halfway smart guy come along with the next load of settlers, and maybe they can be bothered to figure out what wiped out the previous group.


Back to Chapter VI