Sunday, May 31, 2020

Birthday Review: Stories of Bryce Walton

Bryce Walton would have turned 102 today. Bryce Walton, you say? Who he? He was a prolific contributor of short fiction in various genres between 1945 and 1969, with just one SF novel (Son of the Ocean Deeps (1952).) He was originally from Missouri, and he died in 1988. Frankly I found his work fairly mediocre -- but at times surprisingly ambitious. He's one of those names you'd have known if you read in the field in the 1950s ... but you might not remember him.

In his honor, here's a look at several of his stories that I have read in various 1950s SF publications.

Space Science Fiction, May 1952

As for the other story, "To Each His Star", it's wholly forgettable. Bryce Walton is not one of my favorite pulp-era writers -- I've read a lot of his work for Planet. So is this story, about four criminals who escape in a spaceship heading for a paradise planet, one of four stars. They can't agree on the right planet, though, and come to violence over it (after they have crashed and are apparently traveling light years in their spacesuits). Horrid stuff.

Science Fiction Stories, 1953

Bryce Walton's "By Earthlight" (5200 words) is an anti-war story. The first flight to the Moon is planned, and a secret organization smuggles a man onto the ship (which is not meant to be manned). It's all part of an unconvincing attempt to end all war, by reasons explained in the story that I couldn't believe. It's a very sincere story, that tries to be a powerful message piece, but fizzles.

Vortex, Volume 1 Number 1

"The Last Answer", by Bryce Walton (4300 words) -- Computers and robots have taken over all man's functions and man is stagnating. A supercomputer decides that for the good of man this must change.

Planet Stories, Summer 1954

I read "Mary Anonymous", by Bryce Walton (7400 words) a few years ago in Planet Stories and didn't remember it before rereading it in Don Wollheim's anthology The Earth in Peril. It's not too bad -- Walton's stories didn't usually impress me much, but he could show some real ambition. Mars and Earth have been at war for decades, and Earth has just figured out the weapon to exterminate the Martians. But as they launch it, Mary suddenly rebels, and, as it turns out conditioned by the Martians, destroys the Earth spaceship. It's a surprisingly cynical story -- both Earth and Mars come off as irredeemably evil. Mary is sympathetic but does bad things too. The story ends with a twist revelation about Mary that seemed obvious to me (but then I had read the story before!)

Orbit, July-August 1954

"The Passion of Orpheus", by Bryce Walton (7500 words) -- probably the most ambitious of these stories, though not quite successful. After some disastrous nuclear wars, a small remnant of humanity survives. They remember the great days of life in the City. Finally, a representative young man is sent to the City, with instructions to go to the Temple and sing the Song, which may do something good but unspecified. Near the city he meets some beautiful but unambitious people, who try to keep him with him (using sex and all), but he continues to the City, sings the Song, and learns its real purpose, and the real nature of the people he has just been with. It doesn't convince, but it's not without interest -- Walton at something like the top of his not very extensive range.

If, June 1955

Bryce Walton's "Freeway" (5000 words) is a curious combination of the "people living in their cars all the time" story with the "oppressed intellectuals" story. Our hero and his wife are driving all the time, forbidden to stop for more than 8 hours at a time because he has been accused of "philosophy", and also of supporting the previous administration. His wife is sick, and he stops illegally, and he is pushed to violence, but then ... The setup is strained, and the resolution implausible.

If, October 1957

The other novelette (note that at If even stories over 20,000 words were still novelettes -- as I have noted elsewhere, Novella did not become a common term until much later, though Short Novel was not uncommon) was Bryce Walton's "Dark Windows". This concerns a future in which "eggheads" are blamed for all the world's problems. People have periodic intelligence tests, and are subject to destructive brain-probes if they fail -- or, I should say, pass! Our hero, Fred, a loyal patriot, is recruited to the SPA to help hunt down eggheads, partly because he is held to have well-suppressed intelligence. Well, you can see where this is going -- Fred will become an Egghead -- but Walton does get to a slightly unexpected ending.

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