Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Forgotten SF Novel: Where I Wasn't Going (aka Challenge the Hellmaker), by Walt and Leigh Richmond

Where I Wasn't Going (aka Challenge the Hellmaker), by Walt and Leigh Richmond

A review by Rich Horton

I posted a review of Walt and Leigh Richmond's Ace Double Gallagher's Glacier/Positive Charge back in April on the anniversary of Leigh's birth. Today would have been Walt's 96th birthday, so so here's a review of the only thing else I've read by them, an Analog serial.

They were a husband and wife SF writing team, who wrote mostly for Analog in the 1960s: about a dozen short stories between 1961 and 1973, of which only one appeared in another magazine, If. They also wrote five novels for Ace. Three of these were parts of Ace Doubles.

It would be fair to say that they were "late John Campbell" writers, who really couldn't sell to anybody else (except Don Wollheim). And it would be fair to say, based on what I've read, that this was on merit -- they were pretty bad, luckily for them bad in ways that appealed to the idiosyncratic and often annoying tastes of John Campbell in the 60s. Some of the novels were republished by Ace in the 1970s as revised by Leigh after Walt's death.

There is a rather amusing story about their method of collaboration. I've seen this independently attested by several people who met them at the Milford workshops in the mid-60s. Apparently, Walt would sit in his chair and telepathically transmit story ideas to Leigh while she typed. I'll go way out on a limb and say that I personally think Leigh Richmond is the sole author of all these stories, with her husband's name attached for any of a number of possible reasons. (It may well be that the scientific (or pseudo-scientific) ideas behind the stories came out of mutual discussions, mind you.) Leigh was 11 years the elder, by the way, though Walt died in 1977, only 55 years old. (I suppose one might adduce that date as evidence that the collaboration story was true: after all, their last novel was published in 1977, with the 1979 Phase Two being an expansion of a 1969 Ace Double half called Phoenix Ship.) Leigh died in 1996, age 85.

Leigh published one other story without Walt, though that was also a collaboration: "There is a Tide", with R. C. FitzPatrick, in the January 1968 Analog, and then one much later novel, Blindsided, with Dick Richmond-Donahue, her second husband, with her name given as Leigh Richmond-Donahue, so I assume Dick was her second husband. That book came out in 1993 from the obscure publisher Interdimensional Sciences. In 1992 she also published (as by Leigh Richmond Donahue) a (pseudo-?) scientific paper called Field Effect: The Pi Phase of Physics, through the Centric Foundation, which she and Walt had founded, and which seemed devoted to very Campbellian crackpottery. (This foundation was based in Maggie Valley, NC, a town in the Appalachians which as it happens I've visited.)

(Cover by John Schoenherr)
I had bought a few of the early '60s bedsheet-sized Analogs, and I ended up with both parts of the serial "Where I Wasn't Going", from October and November 1963. This was later revised and published as Challenge the Hellmaker in the little-regarded second series of Ace Specials, in 1976.

"Where I Wasn't Going" is set on a major UN project, a space station. The station is just becoming operational. The hero is an American Indian, Mike Blackhawk. The villain is a straight-arrow American military type. The heroes allies include a Russian woman, a black woman, a Chinese man, and various other ethnic types. (And they are mostly portrayed as pure types, though the black woman is, I thought, fairly well and sympathetically described.) In that way it is somewhat non-Campbellian, but otherwise it's pretty pure Campbell.

(Cover artist uncredited, Vincent Di
Fate perhaps?)
As the station comes online, a plot is put into motion by the military types to take over. It seems that the UN has decided that a space station is too powerful not to control, and not to use to control and regiment humanity even more closely. But fortunately at the same time, and by sheer accident, the Chinese scientist invents a space drive, based on some incredibly hokey "physics". (If I read it right, and I admit I may not have, it worked by aligning all the electrons and protons so that the charges were in the same direction, and thus it would be pulled "North". In Earth orbit! So that North, in terms of a magnetic field, wouldn't seem to have much meaning.) Using the space drive, and plenty of derring do, the heroes manage to escape, and to set the stage for humanity to be free to explore new frontiers. But not before casually (though, it must be said, by accident) using a laser to burn a hole through the Greenland glacier and destroy Thule, killing hundreds. (Luckily, we later find, they were all in league with the bad guys, so that's OK.)

Needless to say, it's pretty bad. I haven't read the expanded later version, Challenge the Hellmaker, so I can't say if it's improved or changed in any way.

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