Monday, December 16, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Randall Garrett

Randall Garrett would have turned 92 today. Last year I reviewed his Psi-Power trilogy with Laurence M. Janifer as by Mark Phillips, all serialized in Astounding, beginning with "That Sweet Little Old Lady". This year, a look at some of his short fiction, that I've covered in a number of my looks at old SF magazines.

Retro-Review of Space Science Fiction, May 1953

Garrett's "Instant of Decision" features an intelligence agent tracking down a saboteur who discovers a mysterious and invulnerable intruder. The agent recovers a device from the intruder which turns out to be instructions for students of a future Galactic Empire studying Ancient Earth. Was the intruder a time traveler? At the same time he is assigned to track down a spy from the "Eastern League", with the hopes of averting a nuclear war. But the spy gets away, and the agent follows ... leading to a tense confrontation and a rather ironic ending, Not a bad story, not a great one.

Retro-Review of Science Fiction Adventures, December 1956

The most amusing aspect of this magazine is the contents list. In particular, it includes one story by Robert Randall, who, as most know, was actually Chum Robert Silverberg in collaboration with Randall Garrett. It also includes a story by Calvin Knox and David Gordon. Well, Calvin Knox was Silverberg's nicely Protestant pseudonym, and David Gordon was a pseudonym for -- Randall Garrett! The Robert Randall story is "Secret of the Green Invaders", the Knox/Gordon story is "Battle for the Thousand Suns". There is also a story by Edmond Hamilton, "The Starcombers", and a short story by Harlan Ellison, "Hadj". So -- an all-star lineup -- though in 1956 Ellison's name surely wasn't that prominent, and "Robert Randall", "Calvin Knox", and "David Gordon" hardly had the clout that "Robert Silverberg" and "Randall Garrett" do in retrospect.

Robert Randall's "Secret of the Green Invaders" is a fairly cute story in the tradition of Eric Frank Russell and Christopher Anvil. Earth has been ruled by a series of alien overlords for about a millennium, after humans nearly destroyed the planet. Galactic politics have led to a confusing series of changes in the particular alien race that rules Earth, but for the past few years the green-skinned Khoomish have been in charge. Josslyun Carter is the leader of a small resistance group descended from the US Marines, but just as he is ready to launch a rebellion attempt, he is arrested. He expects death, but the Khoomish leader has other uses for him ... I daresay most readers will guess the ending twist fairly easily, but its still nicely enough done.

The other Silverberg/Garrett collaboration is rather more routine. In "Battle for the Thousand Suns" Dane Regan is the exiled son of the rightful King of Jillane, one star of the Empire of a Hundred Kings, which controls a thousand or so stars in a globular cluster. The kicker is that humans in this cluster have mutated so that certain males, who have become the nobility, can kill or injure non-nobles by thought. Dane returns to the cluster in disguise and becomes a successful member of the space navy, but attracting too much notice as an up-and-comer is dangerous, and he finds himself the target of duels and nefarious attempts at his life. So he disappears again and returns as a playboy, romancing the daughter of his hated rival, who is poised to become the new Emperor. The end of the story turns partly on a "tradition" pulled rather out of the authors' hat, and partly on a twist about the nature of the new Emperor that seems to in retrospect support the idea of this oppressive nobility ruling the Cluster. On the whole, a competently executed but very ordinary story.

Retro-Review of Imaginative Tales, July 1957

This issue features four stories by some combination of Randall Garrett and Robert Silverberg, who, as I recall, were working together at the time, producing reams of fiction for the likes of Hamling. They often collaborated, and they shared pseudonyms. These stories are "Devil's World", by Garrett alone, "Hot Trip for Venus", listed on the TOC as by "Ralph Burke", bylined Garrett above the story's text, and possibly by both Silverberg and Garrett, though Silverberg doesn't remember -- perhaps it was Garrett alone; "Pirates of the Void", as by "Ivar Jorgensen", in this case, says Silverberg, was written by Garrett alone (the "Jorgensen" pseudonym was actually Paul Fairman's, but Hamling thought it was a house name, and to Fairman's distress, he used to slap it on stories by the likes of Silverberg); and finally "The Assassin", by Silverberg alone.

They're mostly fairly weak, though I did like "The Assassin". This is about a man who invents a time machine in order to stop John Wilkes Booth from killing Lincoln. The way his effort (inevitably) fails is very logical. The other stories are all pretty formulaic adventure, and each is at least a twist short of real interest. "Pirates of the Void" is the best of these, I suppose, about a sort of maintenance tech on an artificial satellite who happens to be their when pirates arrive. He has to hide, then find a way (unarmed) to subdue the criminals. I thought he had it a bit too easy ... "Hot Trip for Venus" probably has a more interesting setup, as a space pilot discovers that the spaceship line's owner and son are running drugs to the primitive inhabitants of Venus. He plans to return to Venus and find proof -- but his pilot license is pulled, so he implausibly impersonates another pilot ... and then on Venus it's just a short jaunt into the woods and he runs across the bad guy. Again ... just too easy. Likewise "Devil's World", where a man sent to investigate suspected crime on Mercury is caught and forced to work on the sunside. Again, his eventual turning of the tables was just too easy. And, in all of these stories -- not that it matters, really -- the scientific notions are just silly.

Retro-Review of Infinity, January 1958

"Beyond Our Control" is Randall Garrett at close to his worst -- no trace of his wit, no particular interest to the conception. Yardgoods. It's about a communications satellite that suddenly goes off orbit. It's vital to restore it to the proper place, so after some terribly unconvincing discussions of how it might have had its orbit altered, a robot probe is sent up -- and they find something surprising -- an alien. As I said, really a weak story.

Retro-Review of Fantastic, January 1959

“The Price of Eggs”, by Randall Garrett, is fairly silly SF, not uncommon for Garrett, with a distinct sexual aspect, unusual perhaps in SF of that day.

It is set on a planet occupied by a very humanoid race, which therefore humans decide, magnanimously, not to terraform. They are trying to negotiate a deal for an anti-cancer drug (available from a local plant), when one of the diplomats gets himself involved with a local princess. The problem is, the local species, for all that they are very humanoid (and the women very pretty), are egg-layers. And not, obviously, interfertile with humans.

The man in question is forced to marry the princess he’s gotten involved with, and if he can’t ensure the succession in a fairly short time, well, he’ll be executed. (Because of course divorce is unthinkable for a royal woman.) A sharp young Lieutenant is given the job of extricating the foolish man, and he comes up with a (reasonably science-fictional) solution.

As I said, it’s kind of silly, and it goes on too long for its (negligible) substance, but it’s entertaining enough anyway. (As I have noted before, the title of the “King” of the alien species here is “Shann,” and Garrett doesn’t miss the opportunity to originate a horrible pun that Roger Zelazny repeated in Lord of Light.)

Retro-Review of Analog, July 1961

The opening novelette is Randall Garrett’s “A Spaceship Named McGuire” (15200 words). A troubleshooter is hired to solve two problems for Mr. Ravenhurst, a leading spaceship manufacturer. One problem is that his new model spaceship, controlled by an AI (named McGuire, rather tritely as an abbreviation for the model number), has a problem – the AI keeps going insane. The other problem is that his daughter is intractable, and needs a bodyguard to make sure she gets to finishing school.

That the two problems are related is not a surprise – alas, the rather sexist working out of things is not a surprise either. This story had promise for a while, but flattened horribly at the end.

Retro-Review of Fantastic, January 1962

“Hepcats of Venus” is the sort of thing Randall Garrett could (and often did) toss off fairly casually, or so it seems to me: mildly amusing, a bit topical (if in this case by the time of publication probably a tad out of date), not too concerned with plausibility either as to scientific details or plot. Lord and Lady Curvert are supposedly British aristocrats but in reality they are Galactic Observers, charged with protecting the nascent Earth society from themselves and from nasty extraterrestrials. They notice that a jazz trio is making a splash at the Venus Club in New York… and that the the instruments seem to be part of the players’ bodies. Of course this all turns out to be a dastardly plot by shapechanging aliens…

Retro-Review of F&SF, February 1966

"Witness for the Persecution" is a fast-moving story in which a businessman attempting to introduce anti-gravity, and hence cheap space travel, is targeted for assassination by the Powers That Be -- but a mysterious visitor saves him almost against his will. Enjoyable enough, if minor.

No comments:

Post a Comment