Reading Kate Wilhelm’s The Mile-Long Spaceship was an attempt to broaden my classic S.F. reading beyond the standard Asimov/Heinlein axis. The book was free, and had been sitting on my shelf for a while. However, my anti-love affair with Golden Age science fiction continues. Most of the stories in the collection were less than amazing and I had to force myself to finish the book.
There are eleven stories in the book. Six of them had been published previously.
The Mile-Long Spaceship
I had to re-read this story three times, and I’m still a little confused. Xenophobic aliens contact a human telepathically. He only communicates with them when he’s out of it after an accident, and doesn’t realize the dreams he had of space are real. Very so-so of a story.
Fear Is A Cold Black
I kinda liked this story about a mysterious disease attacking passengers on a space ship. It seems like nothing they can do prevents additional people from catching it, but there are some oddities. Meanwhile, they can’t go back to civilization because it can’t be allowed to spread. The passengers are going stir crazy with the inability to do anything and worry about what will happen to them. I’m sure a half dozen episodes of the Star Trek franchise copied the plot from this story.
Jenny With Wings
This story is awful awful awful. Jenny has wings. Boys treat her badly because of them. She then saves a man in a car wreck who doesn’t freak out about her wings, so she thinks she’s in love and plans to marry him. All this she’s telling to a doctor. She’s gone to a doctor to find out if she can have sex without lying on her back (because that’s where her wings are). It’s very very talky. She’s annoying and the doctor is annoying, particularly at the end. It’s no wonder this story was previously unpublished. I’m surprised the Berkley editor said,
put that one in.
A Is For Automation
At what point did the
If computers get too smart, they’ll turn on us meme become overdone? I ask because it’s possible this story might have been published before that. Story is predictable. All the characters are complete caricatures, including the computer. It also assumes an advanced computer system isn’t fault tolerant. We had better systems that knew about margins of error and backups well before the story came out.
Gift From The Stars
Aliens are monitoring us. They have a secret monitoring station in the basement of a building that Mr. Talbot wants for his latest venture. Another mediocre story that follows the script.
No Light In The Window
I kinda liked this one. Connie and Hank are training for a colony ship. They get married, but Hank is a perfect astronaut trainee and Connie worries about what she’ll do if she doesn’t make the grade. Will he leave her behind?
One For The Road
A scientist makes an inadvertent comment about atmospheric radioactivity and the entire world starts rioting against scientists, leading to a complete breakdown in civil order. I know there was a lot of fear about the bomb and Communists at the time, but it’s a little bit much. The unreality is then compounded with the solution: let a tranquilizing gas out into the mob surrounding the Institute of Science. Everything worldwide will be fine after that. Really.
Andover And The Android
Andover wants an illegal android as a stunt wife. He doesn’t want to be married, or have anything to do with women really. Just interferes with his other pursuits. But the owners of his employer don’t trust single men, so he won’t get promoted unless he gets married. Enter the android, which he’s not supposed to have. He’ll go to any lengths to maintain the appearance that he’s really married. Better than most of the stories in the book.
The Man Without A Planet
A mission to Mars goes badly, and one crew member kills everyone else in order to return to Earth. Not enough supplies to get everyone home, but enough to get one home. He figures it was the only way to save the space program. Once on Earth, he’s sentenced to live the rest of his life in space, never to see real earth or open atmosphere again. This is the story of his second trip to space.
The Apostolic Travelers
Humanity has discovered a treatment that makes people immortal. But if we all become immortal, there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone. The solution? Some people are given immortality and sent out in faster than light ships to find additional places for people to live. The group at the center of the story is a pair of religious monks who are selected to receive immortality. I think this is my favorite story in the collection.
The Last Days Of The Captain
The military discovers a planned surprise attack by the alien Amories on the colony planet Kulane. The colonists will be evacuated quietly so the Amories will think nothing is amiss, and then the government will counter-attack. One military man stays behind against orders to help evacuate a couple of stragglers. It’s a race against countdown to the last ship leaving the planet.
As noted above, it’s been a while since I’ve read any golden age science fiction, so I am having trouble bringing to mind how this would compare against other collections from the period. I vaguely remember clunky writing in some Heinlein short story collections. Is this worse? Perhaps. Been too long for me to say anything with certainty.