Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Notable Prose and Poetry’ Category

Ray Bradbury is one of the best-known and most celebrated authors of science fiction, but it wasn’t always thus. Early in his career, many readers, editors, and critics considered him a marginal talent.

Bradbury published his first short story in 1938. He sold stories sporadically over the next decade, but success came slowly. He wrote the story below in 1951, a year after “The Martian Chronicles” prompted the industry to give him a second look and finally a seal of approval.

———

A Little Journey

By Ray Bradbury
Published in Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1951

There were two important things — one, that she was very old; two, that Mr. Thirkell was taking her to God. For hadn’t he patted her hand and said: “Mrs. Bellowes, we’ll take off into space in my rocket, and go to find Him together.”

And that was how it was going to be. Oh, this wasn’t like any other group Mrs. Bellowes had ever joined. In her fervor to light a path for her delicate, tottering feet, she had struck matches down dark alleys, and found her way to Hindu mystics who floated their flickering, starry eyelashes over crystal balls. She had walked on the meadow paths with ascetic Indian philosophers imported by daughters-in-spirit of Madame Blavatsky.

She had made pilgrimages to California’s stucco jungles to hunt the astrological seer in his natural habitat. She had even consented to signing away the rights to one of her homes in order to be taken into the shouting order of a temple of amazing evangelists who had promised her golden smoke, crystal fire, and the great soft hand of God coming to bear her home.

None of these people had ever shaken Mrs. Bellowes’ faith, even when she saw them sirened away in a black wagon in the night, or discovered their pictures, bleak and unromantic, in the morning tabloids. The world had roughed them up and locked them away because they knew too much, that was all.

And then, two weeks ago, she had seen Mr. Thirkell’s advertisement in New York City:

COME TO MARS!

Stay at the Thirkell Restorium for one week. And then,
on into space on the greatest adventure life can offer!

Send for Free Pamphlet: “Nearer My God To Thee.”

Excursion rates. Round trip slightly lower.

“Round trip,” Mrs. Bellowes had thought. “But who would come back after seeing Him?”

And so she had bought a ticket and flown off to Mars and spent seven mild days at Mr. Thirkell’s Restorium, the building with the sign on it which flashed: THIRKELL’S ROCKET TO HEAVEN! She had spent the week bathing in limpid waters and erasing the care from her tiny bones, and now she was fidgeting, ready to be loaded into Mr. Thirkell’s own special private rocket, like a bullet, to be fired on out into space beyond Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto. And thus — who could deny it? — you would be getting nearer and nearer to the Lord. How wonderful! Couldn’t you just feel Him drawing near? Couldn’t you just sense His breath, His scrutiny, His Presence?

“Here I am,” said Mrs. Bellowes, “an ancient rickety elevator, ready to go up the shaft. God need only press the button.”

Now, on the seventh day, as she minced up the steps of the Restorium, a number of small doubts assailed her.

“For one thing,” she said aloud to no one, “it isn’t quite the land of milk and honey here on Mars that they said it would be. My room is like a cell, the swimming pool is really quite inadequate, and, besides, how many widows who look like mushrooms or skeletons want to swim? And, finally, the whole Restorium smells of boiled cabbage and tennis shoes!”

She opened the front door and let it slam, somewhat irritably.

She was amazed at the other women in the auditorium. It was like wandering in a carnival mirror-maze, coming again and again upon yourself — the same floury face, the same chicken hands, and jingling bracelets. One after another of the images of herself floated before her. She put out her hand, but it wasn’t a mirror; it was another lady shaking her fingers and saying:

“We’re waiting for Mr. Thirkell. Sh!

“Ah,” whispered everyone.

The velvet curtains parted.

Mr. Thirkell appeared, fantastically serene, his Egyptian eyes upon everyone. But there was something, nevertheless, in his appearance which made one expect him to call “Hi!” while fuzzy dogs jumped over his legs, through his hooped arms, and over his back. Then, dogs and all, he should dance with a dazzling piano-keyboard smile off into the wings.

Mrs. Bellowes, with a secret part of her mind which she constantly had to grip tightly, expected to hear a cheap Chinese gong sound when Mr. Thirkell entered. His large liquid dark eyes were so improbable that one of the old ladies had facetiously claimed she saw a mosquito cloud hovering over them as they did around summer rain-barrels. And Mrs. Bellowes sometimes caught the scent of the theatrical mothball and the smell of calliope steam on his sharply pressed suit.

But with the same savage rationalization that had greeted all other disappointments in her rickety life, she bit at the suspicion and whispered, “This time it’s real. This time it’ll work. Haven’t we got a rocket?”

Mr. Thirkell bowed. He smiled a sudden Comedy Mask smile. The old ladies looked in at his epiglottis and sensed chaos there.

Before he even began to speak, Mrs. Bellowes saw him picking up each of his words, oiling it, making sure it ran smooth on its rails. Her heart squeezed in like a tiny fist, and she gritted her porcelain teeth.

“Friends,” said Mr. Thirkell, and you could hear the frost snap in the hearts of the entire assemblage.

“No!” said Mrs. Bellowes ahead of time. She could hear the bad news rushing at her, and herself tied to the track while the immense black wheels threatened and the whistle screamed, helpless.

“There will be a slight delay,” said Mr. Thirkell.

In the next instant, Mr. Thirkell might have cried, or been tempted to cry, “Ladies, be seated!” in minstrel-fashion, for the ladies had come up at him from their chairs, protesting and trembling.

“Not a very long delay.” Mr. Thirkell put up his hands to pat the air.

“How long?”

“Only a week.”

“A week!”

“Yes. You can stay here at the Restorium for seven more days, can’t you? A little delay won’t matter, will it, in the end? You’ve waited a lifetime. Only a few more days.”

At twenty dollars a day, thought Mrs. Bellowes, coldly.

“What’s the trouble?” a woman cried.

“A legal difficulty,” said Mr. Thirkell.

“We’ve a rocket, haven’t we?”

“Well, ye-ess.”

“But I’ve been here a whole month, waiting,” said one old lady. “Delays, delays!”

“That’s right,” said everyone.

“Ladies, ladies,” murmured Mr. Thirkell, smiling serenely.

“We want to see the rocket!” It was Mrs. Bellowes forging ahead, alone, brandishing her fist like a toy hammer.

Mr. Thirkell looked into the old ladies’ eyes, a missionary among albino cannibals.

“Well, now,” he said.

“Yes, now!” cried Mrs. Bellowes.

“I’m afraid –” he began.

“So am I!” she said. “That’s why we want to see the ship!”

“No, no, now, Mrs. –” He snapped his fingers for her name.

“Bellowes!” she cried. She was a small container, but now all the seething pressures that had been built up over long years came steaming through the delicate vents of her body. Her cheeks became incandescent. With a wail that was like a melancholy factory whistle, Mrs. Bellowes ran forward and hung to him, almost by her teeth, like a summer-maddened Spitz.

She would not and never could let go, until he died, and the other women followed, jumping and yapping like a pound let loose on its trainer, the same one who had petted them and to whom they had squirmed and whined joyfully an hour before, now milling about him, creasing his sleeves and frightening the Egyptian serenity from his gaze.

“This way!” cried Mrs. Bellowes, feeling like Madame Lafarge. “Through the back! We’ve waited long enough to see the ship. Every day he’s put us off, every day we’ve waited, now let’s see.”

“No, no, ladies!” cried Mr. Thirkell, leaping about.

They burst through the back of the stage and out a door, like a flood, bearing the poor man with them into a shed, and then out, quite suddenly, into an abandoned gymnasium.

“There it is!” said someone. “The rocket.”

And then a silence fell that was terrible to entertain.

There was the rocket.

Mrs. Bellowes looked at it and her hands sagged away from Mr. Thirkell’s collar.

The rocket was something like a battered copper pot. There were a thousand bulges and rents and rusty pipes and dirty vents on and in it. The ports were clouded over with dust, resembling the eyes of a blind hog.

Everyone wailed a little sighing wail.

“Is that the rocket ship Glory Be to the Highest?” cried Mrs. Bellowes, appalled.

Mr. Thirkell nodded and looked at his feet.

“For which we paid out our one thousand dollars apiece and came all the way to Mars to get on board with you and go off to find Him?” asked Mrs. Bellowes.

“Why, that isn’t worth a sack of dried peas,” said Mrs. Bellowes.

“It’s nothing but junk!”

Junk, whispered everyone, getting hysterical.

“Don’t let him get away!”

Mr. Thirkell tried to break and run, but a thousand possum traps closed on him from every side. He withered.

Everybody walked around in circles like blind mice. There was a confusion and a weeping that lasted for five minutes as they went over and touched the Rocket, the Dented Kettle, the Rusty Container for God’s Children.

“Well,” said Mrs. Bellowes. She stepped up into the askew doorway of the rocket and faced everyone. “It looks as if a terrible thing has been done to us,” she said. “I haven’t any money to go back home to Earth and I’ve too much pride to go to the Government and tell them a common man like this has fooled us out of our life’s savings.

“I don’t know how you feel about it, all of you, but the reason all of us came is because I’m eighty-five, and you’re eighty-nine, and you’re seventy-eight, and all of us are nudging on toward a hundred, and there’s nothing on Earth for us, and it doesn’t appear there’s anything on Mars either. We all expected not to breathe much more air or crochet many more doilies or we’d never have come here. So what I have to propose is a simple thing — to take a chance.”

She reached out and touched the rusted hulk of the rocket.

“This is our rocket. We paid for our trip. And we’re going to take our trip!”

Everyone rustled and stood on tiptoes and opened an astonished mouth.

Mr. Thirkell began to cry. He did it quite easily and very effectively.

“We’re going to get in this ship,” said Mrs. Bellowes, ignoring him. “And we’re going to take off to where we were going.”

Mr. Thirkell stopped crying long enough to say, “But it was all a fake. I don’t know anything about space. He’s not out there, anyway. I lied. I don’t know where He is, and I couldn’t find Him if I wanted to. And you were fools to ever take my word on it.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Bellowes, “we were fools. I’ll go along on that. But you can’t blame us, for we’re old, and it was a lovely, good and fine idea, one of the loveliest ideas in the world. Oh, we didn’t really fool ourselves that we could get nearer to Him physically. It was the gentle, mad dream of old people, the kind of thing you hold onto for a few minutes a day, even though you know it’s not true. So, all of you who want to go, you follow me in the ship.”

“But you can’t go!” said Mr. Thirkell. “You haven’t got a navigator. And that ship’s a ruin!”

“You,” said Mrs. Bellowes, “will be the navigator.”

She stepped into the ship, and after a moment, the other old ladies pressed forward. Mr. Thirkell, windmilling his arms frantically, was nevertheless pressed through the port, and in a minute the door slammed shut. Mr. Thirkell was strapped into the navigator’s seat, with everyone talking at once and holding him down. The special helmets were issued to be fitted over every gray or white head to supply extra oxygen in case of a leakage in the ship’s hull, and at long last the hour had come and Mrs. Bellowes stood behind Mr. Thirkell and said, “We’re ready, sir.”

He said nothing. He pleaded with them silently, using his great, dark, wet eyes, but Mrs. Bellowes shook her head and pointed to the control.

“Takeoff,” agreed Mr. Thirkell morosely, and pulled a switch.

Everybody fell. The rocket went up from the planet Mars in a great fiery glide, with the noise of an entire kitchen thrown down an elevator shaft, with a sound of pots and pans and kettles and fires boiling and stews bubbling, with a smell of burned incense and rubber and sulphur, with a color of yellow fire, and a ribbon of red stretching below them, and all the old women singing and holding to each other, and Mrs. Bellowes crawling upright in the sighing, straining, trembling ship.

“Head for space, Mr. Thirkell.”

“It can’t last,” said Mr. Thirkell, sadly. “This ship can’t last. It will –”

It did.

The rocket exploded.

Mrs. Bellowes felt herself lifted and thrown about dizzily, like a doll. She heard the great screamings and saw the flashes of bodies sailing by her in fragments of metal and powdery light.

“Help, help!” cried Mr. Thirkell, far away, on a small radio beam.

The ship disintegrated into a million parts, and the old ladies, all one hundred of them, were flung straight on ahead with the same velocity as the ship.

As for Mr. Thirkell, for some reason of trajectory, perhaps, he had been blown out the other side of the ship. Mrs. Bellowes saw him falling separate and away from them, screaming, screaming.

There goes Mr. Thirkell, thought Mrs. Bellowes.

And she knew where he was going. He was going to be burned and roasted and broiled good, but very good.

Mr. Thirkell was falling down into the Sun.

And here we are, thought Mrs. Bellowes. Here we are, going on out, and out, and out.

There was hardly a sense of motion at all, but she knew that she was traveling at fifty thousand miles an hour and would continue to travel at that speed for an eternity, until…

She saw the other women swinging all about her in their own trajectories, a few minutes of oxygen left to each of them in their helmets, and each was looking up to where they were going.

Of course, thought Mrs. Bellowes. Out into space. Out and out, and the darkness like a great church, and the stars like candles, and in spite of everything, Mr. Thirkell, the rocket, and the dishonesty, we are going toward the Lord.

And there, yes, there, as she fell on and on, coming toward her, she could almost discern the outline now, coming toward her was His mighty golden hand, reaching down to hold her and comfort her like a frightened sparrow…

“I’m Mrs. Amelia Bellowes,” she said quietly, in her best company voice. “I’m from the planet Earth.”

A Little Journey

 

Read Full Post »

No Man is an Island
By John Donne

Donne-J

John Donne (1572-1631)

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

———

There Will Come Soft Rain

By Sara Teasdale

Teasdale S

Sara Trevor Teasdale Filsinger (1884-1933)

There will come soft rain and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

———

Dreams

By Langston Hughes

Hughes-L

James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

———

Warning

By Jenny Joseph

Joseph-J

Jenny Joseph (1932-2018)

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

———

A Smile to Remember

By Charles Bukowski

Bukowski-C

Henry Charles Bokowski (1920-1994)

we had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, ‘be happy Henry!’
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
can
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t
understand what was attacking him from within.

my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: ‘Henry, smile!
why don’t you ever smile?’

and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw

one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother
smiled

 

Read Full Post »

New Jersey native Joseph Samachson (1906-1980) followed an unusual path into the writing profession.

At age 23, Samachson earned a PhD in chemistry from Yale and began teaching at a medical college. He drifted into technical writing, then drifted further and began writing science fiction in his spare time. Eventually, he hung up his lab coat to write sci-fi full time.

Between 1938 and 1953, under the pen name William Morrison, Samachson wrote prolifically for various trade magazines, and he contributed numerous Batman, Superman, and other stories for DC Comics.

He also wrote scripts for television’s first science fiction series, “Captain Video and His Video Rangers,” which began in 1949.

In 1953, after 15 years in the writing business, Samachson returned to his roots. He served as a professor of biochemistry at Loyola University until his retirement in 1973.

Samachson’s fiction is said to be noted for cynicism, irony, and tongue-in-cheek humor… little of which I detect in the short story below.

———

Picture Bride

By William Morrison
Published in Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1955

My brother, Perry, always was a bit cracked. As a kid, he almost blew up our house doing experiments. When he was eighteen, he wrote poetry, but fortunately that didn’t last long and he went back to science.

Now, when he showed me this picture, I figured he’d had a relapse of some kind. “This is the girl I’m in love with,” he said.

She wasn’t bad. Not bad at all, even if her clothes were crazy. She wasn’t my type — too brainy-looking — although I could see how some guys would go for her. “I thought you liked blondes.”

“I wouldn’t give you two cents for all the blondes in Hollywood,” he answered. “This is the only girl for me.”

“You sound as if you’ve got it bad,” I said. “You going to marry her?”

His face dropped about a mile. “I can’t.”

“You mean she’s married already?” I was surprised. This wasn’t like Perry at all.

He sort of hesitated, as if he was afraid of saying too much. “No, she isn’t married. I asked her about that. But I can’t marry her because — well, I’ve never met her. All I’ve seen of her is this picture and a few more. She doesn’t live here.”

“You mean she’s in Europe?” I’ve heard of these love affairs by mail, and they never made much sense to me. I said to Perry, “Why can’t she come to this country?”

“Oh, there are a lot of things in the way.”

It sounded worse and worse. I said, “Look, Perry, this smells like a racket to me. It’s the kind of thing a couple of shrewd operators cook up to take some hick for a ride. I’m surprised at you falling for it. How do you know there really is a dame like that in Europe? Anybody can send pictures –”

“You’ve got it all wrong,” he said. “I’ve spoken to her.”

“By phone? How do you know who’s on the other end? You hear a dame’s voice you never heard before. What makes you think it’s hers?”

Again he didn’t seem to want to talk, as if he had some secret to hide. But I guess he felt like getting things off his chest, too, or he wouldn’t have opened up in the first place. And he had already told me enough so that if he didn’t tell me more he’d sound like a dope.

So after hesitating even longer than before, he said, “Let’s get this straight, George. This is no racket. I’ve seen and talked to her at the same time. And the things she talked about, no con man would know.”

“You’ve seen and talked to her at the same time? You mean by TV? I don’t believe it. They can’t send TV to Europe.”

“I didn’t say it was TV. And I didn’t say she lived in Europe.”

“That’s exactly what you did say. Or maybe you meant she lived on Mars?”

“No. She’s an American.”

“This makes less and less sense to me. Where did you meet her?”

He turned red, and squirmed all over the place. Finally he said, “Right here in my own laboratory.”

“In your own laboratory! But you said you never met her in the flesh!”

“I didn’t. Not really by TV either. The fact is — she isn’t born yet.”

I backed away from him. When he was a kid and blew up our kitchen, I didn’t like it. When he wrote poetry, I was kind of ashamed and didn’t want my pals to know he was my brother. Now, I was really scared. Everything he had been saying in the last ten minutes began to make sense, but a screwy kind of sense.

He saw how I felt. “Don’t worry, George, I haven’t gone crazy. Her time is 2973, more than a thousand years from now. The only way I’ve seen and talked to her is on a time-contact machine.”

“Come again?”

“A kind of time machine. It can’t send material objects back and forth across time, as far as I know, but it can send certain waves, especially the kind we use to transmit signals. That’s how she and I could talk to each other and see each other.”

“Perry, I think you ought to see a good doctor.”

“It’s a remarkable device,” he said, paying no attention to how I was trying to help him. “She’s the one who first constructed it and contacted me. It’s based on an extension of Einstein’s equations –”

“You think you can explain so much,” I said. “Okay, then, explain this. This dame isn’t going to be born for a thousand years. And yet you tell me you’re in love with her. What’s the difference between you and somebody that’s nuts?” I asked, as if anybody knew the answer.

He certainly didn’t. In fact, he went ahead and proved to me that they were the same thing. Because for the next couple of weeks, the only thing he’d talk about, outside of equations I couldn’t understand, was this dame. How smart she was, and how beautiful she was, and how wonderful she was in every way that a dame can be wonderful, and how she loved him. For a time he had me convinced that she actually existed.

“Compared with you,” I said, “Romeo had a mild case.”

“There are some quantities so great that you can’t measure them,” he said. “That will give you some idea of our love for each other.”

There it went, the old poetry, cropping out in him just like before. And all the time I’d been thinking it was like measles, something that you get once and it builds up your resistance so you don’t get it again, at least not bad. It just goes to show how wrong I could be.

“What preacher are you going to get to marry you?” I asked. “A guy born five hundred years from now?”

“I don’t think that’s funny,” he said.

“You’re telling me. Look, Perry, you’re smart enough to know what I’m thinking –”

“You still think I’m crazy.”

“I got an open mind on the subject. Now, if you won’t see a doctor — then how about letting me take a look at this dame, so I can convince myself?”

“No,” he said. “I’ve considered doing that, and decided against it. Her voice and image come through for only about five minutes a day, sometimes less. And those minutes are very precious to us. We don’t want anyone else present, anyone at all.”

“Not even to convince me she actually exists?”

“You wouldn’t be convinced anyway,” he said very shrewdly. “No matter what I showed you, you’d still find a reason to call it a fraud.”

He was right at that. It would take a lot of convincing to make me believe that a babe who wasn’t going to get born for a thousand years was in love with him.

By this time, though, I was sure of one thing — there was something screwy going on in that laboratory of his. For five minutes a day he was watching some dame’s picture, listening to her voice. If I had an idea what she was like, I might figure out where to go from there.

I began keeping an eye on Perry, dropping in at the laboratory to pay him visits. There was what looked like a ten-inch TV tube in one corner of his place, not housed in a cabinet, but lying on the table among dozens of other tubes and rheostats and meters and other things I didn’t know about. Along the wall that led from this corner was a lot of stuff which Perry said was high voltage, and warned me not to touch.

I kept away. I wasn’t trying to figure out how to get myself killed. All I wanted to know was when he saw this girl.

Finally I managed to pin the time down to between three and four in the afternoon. For five minutes every day, during that hour, he locked the door and didn’t answer phone calls. I figured that if I dropped in then I might get a glimpse of her.

And that’s what I did.

At first, when I knocked on the door, there was no answer. In a minute, though, I heard Perry’s voice, but he wasn’t talking to me. He was saying, “Darling,” and he sounded kind of sick, which I figured was due to love.

Come to think of it, he might have been scared a little. I heard him say, “Don’t be afraid,” and it was quiet for about fifteen seconds.

Then I heard a terrific crash, like lightning striking. The door shook, and I smelled something sharp, and the first thing I wanted to do was get out of that place. But I couldn’t leave my brother in there.

I put my shoulder to the door and had no trouble at all. The explosion, or whatever it was, must have weakened the hinges. As the door crashed in, I looked for Perry.

There was no sign of him. But I could see his shoes, on the floor in front of that TV tube, where he must have been standing. No feet in them, though, just his socks.

All the high-voltage stuff was smoking. The TV screen was all lit up, and on it I could see a girl’s face, the same girl whose picture Perry had shown me. She was wearing one of those funny costumes, and she looked scared. It was a clear picture, and I could even see the way she gulped.

Then she broke out into a happy smile and, for about half a second, before the second explosion, I could see Perry on the screen.

After that second explosioneven though it wasn’t near as big as the firstthat TV set was nothing but a mess of twisted junk, and there was no screen left to see anything on.

Perry liked to have everything just so, and he’d never think of going anyplace without his tie being knotted just right, and his socks matching, and so on. And here he’d traveled a thousand years into the future in bare feet. I felt kind of embarrassed for him.

Anyway, they were engaged, and now they must be married, so I guess she had slippers waiting for him. I’m just sorry I missed the wedding.

Picture Bride

Original illustration from Galaxy Magazine by Ed Emshwiller.

 

Read Full Post »

Ad Astra

One of the stalwart writers who kept science fiction booming in the 1950s and 1960s was California native Alfredo Jose de Arana-Marini Coppel (1921–2004), who wrote as Alfred Coppel. A fighter pilot during World War II, he published his first sci-fi story in 1947. Over the decades, he wrote almost 30 novels and twice that many short stories.

“Turnover Point” is set in a future Wild West period of planetary exploration, when uncelebrated spacemen make a living hauling freight from Mars to the moons of Jupiter and beyond. They’re like long-haul truckers, forever on the road. Coppel’s description probably is how life in space will be someday.

The story is bleak, but in the end, satisfying in its own way.

———

Turnover Point

By Alfred Coppel
Published in Amazing Stories, April-May 1953

Pop Ganlon was no herohe was only a spaceman. A spaceman and a father. In fact, Pop was rather no-account, even in a profession that abounded with drifters. He had made a meager living prospecting asteroids and hauling light freight and an occasional passenger out in the Belt Region. Coffee and cakes, nothing more.

Not many people knew Pop had a son in the Patrol, and even fewer knew it when the boy was blasted to a cinder in a back alley in Lower Marsport.

Pop went on eating and breathing, but his life was over after that. He hit the bottle a little harder and his ship, The Luck, grew rustier and tackier, and those were the only outward signs that Pop Ganlon was a living dead man. He kept on grubbing among the cold rocks and pushing The Luck from Marsport to Callisto and back with whatever low-mass payloads he could pick up.

He might have lived out his string of years like that, obscure and alone, if it hadn’t been for John Kane. Kane was Pop Ganlon’s ticket to a sort of personal immortality — if there is such a thing for an old spaceman.

It was in Yakki, down-canal from Marsport, that Kane found Pop. There is a small spaceport there — a boneyard, really — for buckets whose skippers can’t pay the heavy tariff imposed by the big ramp.

All the wrecks nest there while waiting hopefully for a payload or a grubstake. They have all of Solis Lacus for a landing field, and if they spill it doesn’t matter much. The drifting red sands soon cover up the scattered shards of dural and the slow, lonely life of Yakki goes on like before.

The Patrol was on Kane’s trail and the blaster in his hand was still warm when he shoved it up against Pop Ganlon’s ribs and made his proposition.

He wanted to get off Mars — out to Callisto. To Blackwater, to Ley’s Landing, it didn’t matter too much. Just off Mars, and quickly. His eyes had a metallic glitter and his hand was rock-steady. Pop knew he meant what he said when he told him life was cheap. Someone else’s life, not Kane’s.

That’s how it happened that The Luck lifted that night from Yakki, outward bound for Ley’s Landing, with Pop and Kane aboard her alone.

Sitting at the battered console of The Luck, Pop watched his passenger. He knew Kane, of course. Or rather, he knew of him. A killer. The kind that thrives and grows fat on the frontiers. The bulky frame, the cropped black hair, the predatory eyes that looked like two blaster muzzles. They were all familiar to Pop.

Kane was all steel and meanness. The kind of carrion bird that took what others had worked for. Not big time, you understand. In another age he’d have been a torpedo — a hireling killer. But out among the stars he was working for himself. And doing well.

Pop didn’t care. His loyalty to the Patrol had stopped quite suddenly not long before — in a dark alley in Lower Marsport. This was only a job, he told himself now. A job for coffee and cakes, and maybe a grubstake to work a few more lonely rocks. Life had become a habit for Pop, even if living had ended.

“What are you staring at, Pop?” Kane’s voice was like the rest of him. Harsh and cold as space itself.

“At you, I guess,” Pop said, “I was wondering what you’d done — and where — and to whom.”

“You’re a nosey old man,” Kane said. “Just get me to Ley’s Landing. That’s what I’m paying for, not a thing more.”

Pop nodded slowly and turned back to the control board. They were above the Belt by now, and a few short hours from turnover point. The cranky drives of The Luck needed all his attention.

Presently he said, “We’ll be turning over soon. Want to get some rest?”

Kane laughed. “No thanks, old man. I’ll stay here and watch you.”

Pop eyed the ready blaster and nodded again. He wondered vaguely how it would feel to die under the blast of such a weapon. It couldn’t be very painful. He hoped it wasn’t painful. Perhaps the boy hadn’t suffered. It would be nice to be sure, he thought.

There wasn’t much for Pop to remember about the boy. He’d never been one for writing many letters. But the District Patrolman had come down to Yakki and looked Pop up — afterward. He’d said the boy was a good officer. A good cop. Died doing his job, and all that sort of thing. Pop swallowed hard. His job. What had ‘his job’ been that night in Lower Marsport, he wondered. Had someone else finished it for him?

He remembered about that time hearing on the Mars Radio that a Triangle Post Office had been knocked over by a gunman. That might have been it. The Patrol would be after anyone knocking over EMV Triangle property. The Earth-Mars-Venus Government supported the Patrol for things like that.

Pop guided The Luck skillfully above the Belt, avoiding with practiced ease the few errant chunks of rock that hurtled up out of the swarms. He talked to Kane because he was starved for talk — certainly not because he was trying to play Sherlock. Pop had long ago realized that he was no mental giant. Besides, he owed the Patrol nothing. Not a damned thing.

“Made this trip often?” Pop tried to strike up a conversation with Kane. His long loneliness seemed sharper, somehow, more poignant, when he actually had someone to talk to.

“Not often. I’m no space pig.” It was said with scorn.

“There’s a lot to spacing, you know,” Pop urged.

Kane shrugged. “I know easier ways to make a buck, old timer.”

“Like how?”

“A nosey old man, like I said,” Kane smiled. Somehow, the smile wasn’t friendly. “Okay, Pop, since you ask. Like knocking off wacky old prospectors for their dust. Or sticking up sandcar caravans out in Syrtis. Who’s the wiser? The red dust takes care of the leftovers.”

Pop shook his head. “Not for me. There’s the Patrol to think of.”

Kane laughed. “Punks. Bell-boys. They’d better learn to shoot before they leave their school-books.”

Pop Ganlon frowned slightly. “You talk big, mister.”

Kane’s eyes took on that metallic glitter again. He leaned forward and threw a canvas packet on the console. It spilled crisp new EMV certificates. Large ones. “I take big, too,” he said.

Pop stared. Not at the money. It was more than he had ever seen in one pile before, but it wasn’t that that shook him. It was the canvas packet. It was marked: Postal Service, EMV. Pop suddenly felt cold, as though an icy wind had touched him.

“You… you killed a Patrolman for this,” he said slowly.

“That’s right, Pop,” grinned Kane easily. “Burned him down in an alley in Lower Marsport. It was like taking candy from a baby…”

Pop Ganlon swallowed hard. “Like taking candy from a… baby. As easy as that…”

“As easy as that, old man,” Kane said.

Pop knew he was going to die then. He knew Kane would blast him right after turnover point, and he knew fear. He felt something else, too. Something that was new to him. Hate. An icy hate that left him shaken and weak.

So the boy’s job hadn’t been finished. It was still to do.

There was no use in dreaming of killing Kane. Pop was old. Kane was young — and a killer. Pop was alone and without weapons — save The Luck

Time passed slowly. Outside, the night of deep space keened soundlessly. The stars burned bright, alien and strange. It was time, thought Pop bleakly. Time to turn The Luck.

“Turnover point,” he said softly.

Kane motioned with his blaster. “Get at it.”

Pop began winding the flywheel. It made a whirring sound in the confined space of the tiny control room. Outside, the night began to pivot slowly.

“We have to turn end-for-end,” Pop said. “That way we can decelerate on the drop into Callisto. But, of course, you know all about that, Mr. Kane.”

“I told you I’m no space pig,” Kane said brusquely. “I can handle a landing and maybe a takeoff, but the rest of it I leave for the boatmen. Like you, Pop.”

Pop spun the flywheel in silence, listening to the soft whir. Presently, he let the wheel slow and then stop. He straightened and looked up at Kane. The blaster muzzle was six inches from his belly. He swallowed against the dryness in his throat.

“You… you’re going to kill me,” Pop said. It wasn’t a question. Kane smiled, showing white teeth.

“I… I know you are,” Pop said unsteadily. “But first, I want to say something to you.”

“Talk, old timer,” Kane said. “But not too much.”

“That boy — that boy you killed in Marsport. He was my son,” Pop said.

Kane’s face did not change expression. “Okay. So what?”

Pop’s lips twitched. “I just wanted to hear you say it.” He looked at the impassive face of the killer. “You made a mistake, Mr. Kane. You shouldn’t have done that to my boy.”

“Is that all?”

Pop nodded slowly. “I guess that’s all.”

Kane grinned. “Afraid, old man?”

“I’m a space pig,” Pop said. “Space takes care of its own.”

“You’re in a bad way, old timer,” Kane said, “and you haven’t much sense. I’m doing you a favor.”

Pop lifted his hands in an instinctive gesture of futile protection as the blaster erupted flame.

There was a smell in the control room like burnt meat as Kane holstered his weapon and turned the old man over with a foot. Pop was a blackened mass. Kane dragged him to the valve and jettisoned the body into space.

Alone among the stars, The Luck moved across the velvet night. The steady beat of flame from her tubes was a tiny spark of man-made vengeance on the face of the deeps.

From her turnover point, she drove outward toward the spinning Jovian moons. For a short while she could be seen from the EMV Observatory on Callisto, but very soon she faded into the outer darkness.

Much later, the Observatory at Land’s End on Triton watched her heading past the gibbous mass of Pluto — out into the interstellar fastnesses.

The thrumming of the jets was still at last. A wild-eyed thing that may once have been a man stared in horror at the fading light of the yellow star far astern.

It had taken Kane time to understand what had happened to him, and now it was too late. Space had taken care of its own. The air in The Luck was growing foul and the food was gone. Death hung in the fetid atmosphere of the tiny control room.

The old man — the boy — the money. They all seemed to spin in a narrowing circle. Kane wanted suddenly to shriek with laughter. A circle. The turnover circle. The full circle that the old man had made instead of the proper half-turn of a turnover.

Three hundred sixty degrees instead of one hundred eighty. Three hundred sixty degrees to leave the nose of The Luck pointing outward toward the stars, instead of properly toward the Sun.

A full circle to pile G on G until the Jovian moons were missed, and the Uranian moons and Triton, too. Ad Astra per Ardua….

With the last fragment of his failing sanity, Kane thought of how Pop Ganlon and the boy must be laughing. He was still thinking that as the long night closed in around him.

Turnover Point

Original illustration from Amazing Stories by Ed Emshwiller.

———

Coppel ended the story with the Latin phrase “Ad Astra per Ardua,” which means “To the stars through adversity.”

Usually, the phrase is stated the other way around: “Per Ardua ad Astra.” In that form, it is the motto of both the British Royal Air Force and the Mulvany clan of Ireland.

Why Coppel reversed the phrase, I don’t know. But as the story ends, the evil Kane certainly is on his way to the stars.

 

Read Full Post »

More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

———

November

By Thomas Hood

Hood-t

Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

No sun -- no moon! 
No morn -- no noon -- 
No dawn -- no dusk -- no proper time of day.
 
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, 
No comfortable feel in any member -- 
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, 
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -- 
November!

———

Who Has Seen the Wind?

By Christina Rossetti

Rossetti C

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

———

Justice

By Langston Hughes

Hughes-L

James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

--------

Hope is the Thing With Feathers

By Emily Dickinson

Dickinson E

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet — never — in extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.

———

The Ploughman’s Life

By Robert Burns

Burns R

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

As I was a-wand’ring ae morning in spring,
I heard a young ploughman sae sweetly to sing;
And as he was singin’, thir words he did say, –
There’s nae life like the ploughman’s in the month o’ sweet May.

The lav’rock* in the morning she’ll rise frae her nest,
And mount i’ the air wi’ the dew on her breast,
And wi’ the merry ploughman she’ll whistle and sing,
And at night she’ll return to her nest back again.

*Skylark.

 

Read Full Post »

I’m a fan of science fiction because the genre places no boundaries on the imagination of the writer. Virtually any scenario, from the mundane to the improbable to the bizarre, can be explored. The short story below nicely illustrates the point.

I won’t say more because this particular story is best read without the clutter of an introduction. Well, a short one is okay.

———

Cully

By Jack Egan
Published in Amazing Stories, January 1963

Above him eighty feet of torpid, black water hung like a shroud of Death, and still he heard his ragged breathing. And something else. Cully concentrated on that sound, and the rhythmic pulsing of his heart. Somehow he had to retain a hold on his sanity… or his soul.

After an hour of careful breathing and exploring of body sensations, Cully realized he could move. He flexed an arm; a mote of gold sand sifted upward in the dark water. It had a pleasant color, in contrast with the ominous shades of the sea.

In a few moments, he had struggled to a sitting position, delighting in the curtain of glittering metal grains whirling around him as he moved.

And the other sound. A humming in his mind; a distant burble of tiny voices of other minds. Words swirling in giddy patterns he couldn’t understand.

Shortly thereafter, Cully discovered why he still lived, breathed: a suit. A yellow, plastic, water-tight suit, with an orange-on-black shield on the left breast pocket, and a clear bubble-helmet. He felt weight on his back and examined it: two air tanks and their regulator, a radio, and… the box.

Suit, tanks, regulator; radio, black water, box; sand, sea, stillness.

Cully considered his world. It was small; it was conceivable; it was incomplete.

Where is it?

“Where is what?” He knew he had a voice — a means of communication between others of his kind, using low-frequency heat waves caused by agitation of air molecules. Why couldn’t he make it work?

Words. Thousands of them, at his beck and call. What were they? What did they mean? He shifted uncomfortably in the tight yellow suit, searching the near horizon for…

Where is it?

A vague calling came from beyond the black sea curtain. Objectively, because he could do nothing to stop them, he watched his feet pick up, move forward, put down; pick up, move forward, put down.

Funny. He had the feeling, the concept, that this action held meaning. It was supposed to cause some reaction, accomplish an act.

He wondered at the regular movement of his legs. One of them hurt. A hurt is a sensation of pain, caused by over-loading sensory-units in the body; a hurt is bad, because it indicates something is wrong.

Something certainly was wrong. Something stirred in Cully’s mind. He stopped and sat down on the sandy sea bottom, gracefully, like a ballet dancer. He examined his foot. There was a tiny hole in the yellow plastic fabric, and a thin string of red-black was oozing out. Blood. He knew.

He was bleeding. He could do nothing about it. He got up and resumed walking.

Where is it?

Cully lifted his head in annoyance at the sharp thought.

“Go away,” he said in a low, pleading voice. The sound made him feel better. He began muttering to himself.

“Water, black, s-sand, hurt. Pain. Radio tanks…”

It didn’t sound right. After a few minutes, he was quiet. The manythoughts were calling him. He must go to the manythoughts.

If his foot was bleeding, then something had happened; if something had happened, then his foot was bleeding.

“No!”

If something had happened, then maybe other things had happened — before that. But how could something happen in a world of flat gold sand and flaccid sea? Surely there was something wrong.

Wrong: the state of being not-right; something had happened that was not-right. Cully stared at the edges of the unmoving curtain before him.

Where is it?

It was a driving, promise-filled concept. No words; just the sense that something wonderful lay just beyond reach. But this voice was different from the manythoughts. It was directing his body; his mind was along for the ride.

The sameness of the sea and sand became unbearable. It was too-right, somehow. Cully felt anger, and kicked up eddies of dust. It changed the sameness a little. He kicked more up, until it swirled around him in a thick gold haze, blotting out the terrible emptiness of the sea.

He felt another weight at his side. He found a holster and gun. He recognized neither. Again he watched objectively as his hand pulled the black object out and handled it. His body was evidently familiar with it, though it was strange to his eyes.

His finger slipped automatically into the trigger sheaf. His legs were still working under two drives: the manythoughts’ urging, and something else, buried in him. A longing. Up-and-down, back-and-forth.

Where is it?

Anger, frustration flared in him. His hand shot out, gun at ready. He turned around slowly. Through the settling trail of suspended sand, nothing was visible.

Again he was moving. Something made his legs move. He walked on through the shrouds of Death until he felt a taut singing in his nerves. An irrational fear sprang out in him, cascading down his spine, and Cully shuddered. Ahead there was something. Two motives: get there because it (they?) calls; get there because you must.

Where is it?

The mind-voice was excited, demanding. Something was out there, besides the sameness. Cully walked on, trailing gold. The death-curtain parted…

An undulating garden of blue-and-gold streamers suddenly drifted toward him on an unfelt current. Cully was held, entranced. They flowed before him, their colors dazzling, hypnotic.

Come closer, Earthling, the manythoughts spoke inside his head, soothingly.

Here it is! Cully’s mind shouted.

Cully’s mind was held, hypnotized, but his body moved of its own volition.

He moved again. His mind and the manythoughts’ spoke: fulfillment — almost. There was one action left that must be completed.

Cully’s arms moved. They detached the small black box from his pack. He moved on into the midst of the weaving, gold-laced plants.

Little spicules licked out from their flexing stalks and jabbed, unsensed, into Cully’s body to draw nourishment. From the manythoughts came the sense of complete fulfillment.

From Cully’s mind came further orders.

Lie down. It was a collective concept. Lie still. We are friends.

He could not understand. They were speaking words; words were beyond him. His head shook in despair. The voices were implanting an emotion of horror at what his hands were doing, but he had no control over his body. It was as if it were not his.

The black box was now lying in the sand among the streaming plants. Cully’s fingers reached out and caressed a small panel. A soundless ‘click’ ran through the murkiness.

The strangely beautiful, gold-laced blue plants began a writhing dance. Their spicules withdrew and jabbed, withdrew and jabbed. A rending, silent scream tore the quiet waters.

NO! they cried. It was a negative command, mixed in with the terrible screaming. Turn it off!

“Stop it, stop it!” Cully tried to say, but there were no words. He tried to cover his ears within the helmet, but the cries went on. Emotions roiled the water: pain, hurt, reproach. Cully sobbed.

Something was wrong here; something was killing the plants — the beautiful blue things! The plants were withering, dying. He looked up at them, stupefied, not understanding, tears streaming down his face. What did they want from him? What had he done…

Where is it?

A different direction materialized; a new concept of desire.

Cully’s body turned and crawled away from the wonderful, dying garden, oblivious to the pleadings floating, now weakly, in the torpid water. He scuffed up little motes of golden sand, leaving a low-lying scud along the bottom, back to the little black box in the garden. The plants, the box, all were forgotten by now.

Cully crawled on, not knowing why. A rise appeared; surprise caught Cully unaware. A change in the sameness!

Where is it?

Again the voice was insistent. His desire was close ahead; he did not look back at the black churning on the sea bottom. His legs worked, his chest heaved, words swirled in his mind. He topped the rise.

Below him, in the center of a shallow golden bowl, floated a long, shiny cylinder. Even from here he knew it was huge. He knew other things about it: how heavy it was; how it was; that it carried others of his kind. He had been in it before. And they were waiting for him. He lurched on.

“Captain! Here comes Cully!” the midshipman shouted from the airlock. “Look what they’ve done to him!”

The old man’s grey eyes took in the spectacle without visible emotion. He watched the pathetic, bleeding yellow plastic sack crawl up to the ship and look up. His hands reached down and lifted Cully up into the lock.

They took his suit off and stared with loathing at what had once been a man. A white scar zig-zagged across his forehead. The Captain bent close, in range of the dim blue eyes.

“It was a brave thing you did, Cully. The whole system will be grateful. Venus could never be colonized as long as those cannibals were there to eat men, and drive men mad.”

Cully fingered the scar on his forehead, and looked unseeing into the old man’s compassionate eyes.

“I’m sorry Cully. We all are. But there was no other way. Prefrontal lobotomy, destruction of your speech center… it was the only way you could get past the telepaths and destroy them. I’m sorry, Cully. The race of Man shall long honor your name.”

Cully smiled at the old man, the words churning in his brain; but he did not understand.

Where is it?

The emptiness was still there.

Cully

Original illustration from Amazing Stories by George Schelling.

———

“Cully” is a solid story, skillfully presented and wrapped up nicely at the end. But frankly, I am disturbed — no, appalled — by the idea that we would move in and wipe out a population to make way for our colonists. The thought is horrifying.

Oh, wait. That’s how the Americas got here.

 

Read Full Post »

May

By Sara Teasdale

Teasdale ST

Sara Trevor Teasdale (1884-1933)

The wind is tossing the lilacs,
The new leaves laugh in the sun,
And the petals fall on the orchard wall,
But for me the spring is done.

Beneath the apple blossoms
I go a wintry way,
For love that smiled in April
Is false to me in May.

———

Fog

By Carl Sandburg

Sandburg

Carl August Sandburg (1878-1967)

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

———

Winter Morning Poem

By Ogden Nash

Nash O

Frederic Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snow men
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over lakes.
Smooth and clean and frosty white,
The world looks good enough to bite.
That’s the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue!
Snow is snowy when it’s snowing.
I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going.


———

Legacies

By Nikki Giovanni

Giovanni-n

Yolande Cornelia Giovanni Jr. (B. 1943)

her grandmother called her from the playground
yes, ma’am”
i want chu to learn how to make rolls” said the old
woman proudly
but the little girl didn’t want
to learn how because she knew
even if she couldn’t say it that
that would mean when the old one died she would be less
dependent on her spirit so
she said
i don’t want to know how to make no rolls”
with her lips poked out
and the old woman wiped her hands on
her apron saying “lord
these children”
and neither of them ever
said what they meant
and i guess nobody ever does

———

Autumn

By T. E. Hulme

Hulme-te

Thomas Ernest Hulme (1883-1917)

A touch of cold in the Autumn night
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »