Tomorrow the stars, p.1
The first science-fiction anthology merited a reader's examination as something new; the nineteenth (or fiftieth; the number changes rapidly) cannot plead that justification and needs a reason for being other than the well-known hunger of writers, editors, and publishers.
The purpose of this book is to give you pleasure.
The stories have been selected to entertain, and within the very broad category of "speculative fiction," no other criterion has been used. Our intention has been to bring together good stories, ones which give pleasure on rereading and which have not previously been available in book form. These stories may possibly instruct, mystify, elevate, or inspire; if so, consider such to be bonuses not covered by the purchase price; our single motive is to entertain you.
Science fiction has only recently become popular and is not yet fully respectable. Until the end of World War II it was, in the opinion of most critics, by definition "trash" and so convicted without a hearing. The scientific marvels of World War II—radar, atom bombs, giant rockets—and the rather spectacular success of science-fiction writers in predicting these things combined to cause a widespread postwar interest in speculative fiction, stories about the future, which in time forced the professional critics to notice this stepchild of literature.
And yet one may pause to wonder why the stepchild was so completely ignored before the war. Quite aside from the pulp specialty magazines, many worthwhile, deeply thoughtful novels of this genre were available to the critics before World War II, for example, S. Fowler Wright's monumental The World Below, or Olaf Stapledon's philosophical novels of the future of our race. And many of the standard literary lions had ventured at least one science fiction novel. Why should so much of J. B. Priestley's reputation rest on Angel Pavement while The Doomsday Men is almost unheard of? Why was there a rage for The Green Hat while Michael Arlen's Man's Mortality made hardly a ripple? The four authors cited cannot possibly be accused of being semiliterate hacks suited only to publication on pulpwood paper and catering to that portion of the public which moves its lips while reading. Why were their serious works in speculative fiction ignored?
I'll chance a guess. The story about the future never has fitted comfortably into the implicitly defined limits of serious literature. In the prose field, "literature" in the stuffy and respectable sense usually meant either the historical novel or certain rather pedestrian types of the contemporary novel. One gathers the impression that it helps for the author to be dead or to have had the good judgment to write his story first in a language less well known than English, but these are not indispensable requirements. Rather ponderous length seems to be part of the unspoken definition, extensive research should be either self-evident or claimed, and dialogue is usually sparse and not too sprightly. A clearly stated regional scene is a help too, especially if it is back country. Such a novel the literary critic can take inhis stride, read in one evening, and compose his review while shaving. It either does or does not come up to his standards and he knows why. Either way, it is an accepted type and a serious piece of work.
Science fiction does not fit into this frame; it's a much more exotic art. The critic may find himself shying away from this literary freak. He can judge quickly whether or not it is grammatical and readable, but what about the content? A man who has applied himself seriously to the field of English literature may not have had time to be well-read in geology, nuclear physics, rocket engineering, astrophysics, genetics, cosmogony, cybernetics, chemistry, biophysics, and electronics. Can he afford to recommend this item as a serious and worthwhile work? Does the author know what he is talking about—or is the rude fellow pulling one's leg? Perhaps his "science" is of the Sunday-supplement variety, in which case one would not wish to recommend it. But how is one to know?
The dilemma is quite real, for there are many stories around which bear the same close superficial resemblance to honest science fiction that a lead quarter does to a product of the Denver mint. The critic is hardly to be blamed if he chooses to pass up extravagant stories of the future in favor of the tried and true.
Science fiction is even less prepared to compete for attention in the most modern of the ultra-literary school. Science-fiction heroes are almost always likable, rarely psychotic (the mad scientist has had his day), and they almost never fall in love with their sisters or their fathers' wives or mistresses. The writers of science fiction without exception favor clear, lucid, grammatical sentences; I do not guarantee against an occasional split infinitive, but they never write in a Joycean or neoFreudian mishmash. As you can see, the fiction of the future is much too old-fashioned to win even a passing nod from the avant-garde school critics. Perhaps it is just as well.
Let me add that the skilled practitioners (no other sort are represented in this volume) have learned not to lard their stories with obscure and polysyllabic technical terms and have learned how to define in context such few special terms as may be indispensable to following the story. They have even given up the long-cherished practice of assigning to natives of other planets names consisting mainly of throat-rasping gutturals. I must admit that sparsely dressed and exceedingly nubile young ladies still appear on the covers of some of the specialist magazines, but they are rarely to be found now in the stories inside those same magazines; their persistence on the covers is simply a part of the same phenomenon to be found in cigarette, automobile, and deodorant ads.
Literature or not, science fiction is here to stay; it will not be crowded out even by the new Plunging-Neckline school of the historical novel, nor by the four-letter-word school of the contemporary novel. Youths who build hot-rods are not dismayed by spaceships; in their adult years they will build such ships. In the meantime they will read stories of interplanetary travel—and they are being joined by their entire families. The future rushes at us apace, faster than sound, approaching the speed of light; the healthy-minded are aware of our headlong plunge into a strange and different, possibly terrifying, future and see nothing improper in speculating about the shape of tomorrow.
Science fiction is sometimes miscalled "escape literature," a mistake arising from a profound misconception of its nature and caused by identifying it with fantasy. Science fiction and fantasy are as different as Karl Marx and Groucho Marx. Fantasy is constructed either by denying the real world in toto or at least by making a prime basis of the story one or more admittedly false premise—fairies, talking mules, trips through a looking glass, vampires, seacoast Bohemia, Mickey Mouse. But science fiction, no matter how fantastic its content may seem, always accepts all of the real world and the entire body of human knowledge about the real world as the framework for the fictional speculation. Since the field of human knowledge concerning the real world, its natural laws, events, and phenomena, is much too large for any one brain, every science-fiction author is bound to make some slips, but here it is the intention that counts: the author's purpose is not to escape from reality but to explore seriously the complex and amazing manifold of possibilities which lie unrevealed in the future of our race—to explore them in the light of what we do know now.
If such is escape literature, then so is an insurance policy.
(There is only one story here, "I'm Scared," by Jack Finney, which could possibly be called "escape literature"—but it provides no escape for the reader. Better skip it.)
All of the stories herein are honest science fiction, but there is another type of story masquerading as science fiction which circulates like the lead quarters mentioned earlier. Call it "pseudo-scientific fantasy." The writers thereof are either too ignorant or too careless to do the painstaking work required to produce honest speculation. Much of it gets printed, unfortunately, si
Science fiction is not fantasy, but it can certainly be fantastic—and be assured that the more fantastic it is, the more wild, the more extravagant it sounds, it is that much more likely to be a reasonably correct extrapolation of what our real future will be. Regard the difference between the 1900 horse-and-buggy and the 1950 faster-than-sound plane. Our fictional prophecies almost certainly err on the side of conservatism. In this book you will find stories of space travel (of course!), a gambol in the fourth dimension, telekinesis, robots, intelligent plants, strange nonhuman creatures from the other side of the galaxy, and invasions from Mars. The Wonderful Land of Oz has not more to offer—and none of it is fantasy.
Did I hear someone describe robots as fantasy? I myself find humanoid robots hard to believe in, but who am I to set my prejudices against the facts? I put it to you that a B-36 in flight is a fair example of a robot activated by a controlling human brain. I submit further that it is a longer step from the covered wagon to the B36 than it is from present cybernetic machines to Dr. Asimov's "positronic robots." But can a machine have consciousness, life, volition? We don't know, because we do not as yet know what any of those things are. Meanwhile, robotics is a legitimate field for speculation.
Time travel? We don't understand the nature of time; it is much too early to say that time travel is impossible. Telekinesis? Refer to the abstruse reports pouring out of Duke University and elsewhere, then resolve never again to bet on dice. The control of mass by the human mind is as factually established as yesterday's sunrise. (Tomorrow's sunrise is, of course, only a high probability.) For the impact that telekinesis may have on your grandchildren—or on you—see "The Barnhouse Effect" herewith. Space travel? Go down to White Sands, watch them throw one of the big ones away, and be convinced. Space travel is about to move from speculative fiction to contemporary fiction and news story, and some of us are a wee bit wistful about it. How can we dream up wonderful new Martians when the National Geographic starts running photographs of real ones?
One story is included here almost as a period piece—"Rainmaker." When first published shortly after World War II this piece was science fiction; now the commercial trade of rainmaking has reached the point where lawsuits dealing with it clutter the courts. Technology has overtaken prophecy. But a good story is not ruined thereby; "Rainmaker" is still fun to read.
Besides, it is clinching demonstration of the vast difference between pseudo-scientific fantasy and the real article. But it is the fact that "Rainmaker" was and remains a pleasure to read that controlled its inclusion here; we the editors are strongly convinced that science-fiction pieces should be stories, warm and human, not thinly disguised engineering reports. On that note this essay will close in order that you may get on with the real purpose of this book, the reading of stories about people who might be your grandchildren, facing new problems in this wildly fantastic universe. Each story has been read and reread by each of five editors—and enjoyed each time; we expect that you will enjoy them too.
My thanks to the other four—Truman Talley, Judith Merril, Fred Pohl, and Walter Bradbury.
ROBERT A. HEINLEIN Colorado Springs
I'M SCARED by Jack Finney
THE SILLY SEASON by C. M. Kornbluth
THE REPORT ON THE BARNHOUSE EFFECT by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
THE TOURIST TRADE by Bob Tucker
RAINMAKER by John Reese
ABSALOM by Henry Kuttner
THE MONSTER by Lester Del Rey
JAY SCORE by Eric Frank Russell
BETELGEUSE BRIDGE by William Tenn
SURVIVAL SHIP by Judith Merril
KEYHOLE by Murray Leinster
MISBEGOTTEN MISSIONARY by Isaac Asimov
THE SACK by William Morrison
POOR SUPERMAN by Fritz Leiber
by Jack Finney
I'm very badly scared, not so much for myself—I'm a gray-haired man of sixty-six, after all—but for you and everyone else who has not yet lived out his life. For I believe that certain dangerous things have recently begun to happen in the world. They are noticed here and there, idly discussed, then dismissed and forgotten. Yet I am convinced that unless these occurrences are recognized for what they are, the world will be plunged into a nightmare. Judge for yourself.
One evening last winter I came home from a chess club to which I belong. I'm a widower; I live alone in a small but comfortable three-room apartment overlooking Fifth Avenue. It was still fairly early, and I switched on a lamp beside my leather easy chair, picked up a murder mystery I'd been reading, and turned on the radio; I did not, I'm sorry to say, notice which station it was tuned to.
The tubes warmed, and the music of an accordion—faint at first, then louder—came from the loud-speaker. Since it was good music for reading, I adjusted the volume control and began to read.
Now I want to be absolutely factual and accurate about this, and I do not claim that I paid close attention to the radio. But I do know that presently the music stopped and an audience applauded. Then a man's voice, chuckling and pleased with the applause, said, "All right, all right," but the applause continued for several more seconds. During that time the voice once more chuckled appreciatively, then firmly repeated, "All right," and the applause died down. "That was Alec Somebody-or-other," the radio voice said, and I went back to my book.
But I soon became aware of this middle-aged voice again; perhaps a change of tone as he turned to a new subject caught my attention. "And now, Miss Ruth Greeley," he was saying, "of Trenton, New Jersey. Miss Greeley is a pianist; that right?" A girl's voice, timid and barely audible, said, "That's right, Major Bowes." The man's voice—and now I recognized his familiar singsong delivery—said, "And what are you going to play?"
The girl replied, " 'La Paloma.' " The man repeated it after her, as an announcement: " 'La Paloma.' " There was a pause, then an introductory chord sounded from a piano, and I resumed my reading.
As the girl played, I was half aware that her style was mechanical, her rhythm defective; perhaps she was nervous. Then my attention was fully aroused once more by a gong which sounded suddenly. For a few notes more the girl continued to play falteringly, not sure what to do. The gong sounded jarringly again, the playing abruptly stopped and there was a restless murmur from the audience. "All right, all right," said the familiar voice, and I realized I'd been expecting this, knowing it would say just that. The audience quieted, and the voice began, "Now—"
The radio went dead. For the smallest fraction of a second no sound issued from it but its own mechanical hum. Then a completely different program came from the loudspeaker; the recorded voices of Bing Crosby and his son were singing the concluding bars of "Sam's Song," a favorite of mine. So I returned once more to my reading, wondering vaguely what had happ
Then, undressing in my bedroom, I remembered that Major Bowes was dead. Years had passed, half a decade, since that dry chuckle and familiar, "All right, all right," had been heard in the nation's living rooms.
Well, what does one do when the apparently impossible occurs? It simply made a good story to tell friends, and more than once I was asked if I'd recently heard Moran and Mack, a pair of radio comedians popular some twenty-five years ago, or Floyd Gibbons, an old-time news broadcaster. And there were other joking references to my crystal radio set.
But one man—this was at a lodge meeting the following Thursday—listened to my story with utter seriousness, and when I had finished he told me a queer little story of his own. He is a thoughtful, intelligent man, and as I listened I was not frightened, but puzzled at what seemed to be a connecting link, a common denominator, between this story and the odd behavior of my radio. Since I am retired and have plenty of time, I took the trouble, the following day, of making a two-hour train trip to Connecticut in order to verify the story firsthand. I took detailed notes, and the story appears in my files now as follows:
Case 2. Louis Trachnor, coal and wood dealer, R.F.D. 1, Danbury, Connecticut, aged fifty-four.
On July 20, 1950, Mr. Trachnor told me, he walked out on the front porch of his house about six o'clock in the morning. Running from the eaves of his house to the floor of the porch was a streak of gray paint, still damp. "It was about the width of an eight-inch brush," Mr. Trachnor told me, "and it looked like hell, because the house was white. I figured some kids did it in the night for a joke, but if they did, they had to get a ladder up to the eaves and you wouldn't figure they'd go to that much trouble. It wasn't smeared, either; it was a careful job, a nice even stripe straight down the front of the house."
Tomorrow, the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes