Monday, April 13, 2020

Birthday Review: Stories of Theodore L. Thomas

Theodore L. Thomas (1920-2005) is probably best known in the SF field for his novel with Kate Wilhelm, The Clone (expanded from Thomas' short story reviewed herein.) He was a chemical engineer and patent lawyer, and he is also known for a series of four stories examining SFnal notions from a patent lawyer's view, written as by "Leonard Lockhard", because the first of these stories ("The Professional Look") was written with another SF writer/Patent lawyer, Charles L. Harness, and the pseudonym combines their two middle names. He was born on this date, so following is a look at a few of his short stories, based on reviews I did of the old magazines they appeared in.

Review of Space Science Fiction, September 1952

Finally, Theodore L. Thomas's "The Revisitor" is set in the near future after a test has been developed to determine everyone's capacity and abilities. The story tells of a mysterious person taking the test and proving to be a "Number One" -- i.e. perfect in everything, more or less. He embarks on a project to create life ... The meaning is a bit obscure, signalled only at the end by the title and a reference to a lot of progress in the past 2000 years.

Review of Future #28

Theodore L. Thomas's "Trial Without Combat" (9000 words) is another didactic story in nature. In this case the villain is religion. An agent of the Federal Bureau of Control is stationed on a distant planet, charged with guiding it to civilization in subtle ways. Unfortunately, the bleeding hearts/meddlers/whatever back on Earth have decided that simply assassinating the bad guys won't do. (In the story, this anti-assassination view is presented as a ridiculous stance on the face of it.) So our hero must work more cleverly, especially if he wants to get back to Earth in time for his baby to be born. (This is an enlightened future society, so naturally all the women are pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen ...) What's the problem? An oppressive religion, one in particular that has begun engaging in simony. And what's the "subtle" solution? Get arrested for heresy, and in the trial, convince the religious leaders that they are wrong by arguments so sophisticated any sophomore will be glad to use them! And use your handy-dandy force field plus personal spaceship to fend off trouble. A stupid stupid story, kind of a low rent knockoff of Everett Cole's Philosophical Corps.

Review of Super Science Fiction, August 1957

"Twice-Told Tale", by Theodore L. Thomas, is also silly -- an obsessed scientist has determined that space is curved and that a starship can travel around it in 15 years. Everyone scoffs at him. But he gets funding from the Queen -- no, Madam President -- of Castile -- no, Brazil -- and he takes a spaceship -- no, THREE spaceships ... and of course he is proved right. You really don't want to know -- well, you already do know, I'm sure -- what the spaceships were named. (I also did some math. His ships are stated to travel 4*1028c -- so in 15 years they would go some 60,000 light years. THAT is enough to go around the universe?????)

Review of Fantastic, January 1959

Theodore Thomas’s “The Clone” is a somewhat well-known story, later expanded, with Kate Wilhelm, to a novel of the same title. The title creature is not what we would now think of as a “clone,” but rather a spontaneously generated life form, created in the sewers of a Midwestern city that appears to be Chicago, that feeds on anything it encounters, including people.

It’s pure SF horror (with an obvious ecological theme), and it drives from its open to the necessary dark conclusion, mostly by exposition.

Review of Fantastic, February 1964

The other short story is a short-short from Theodore L. Thomas: “The Soft Woman,” a horror story that I confess I didn’t quite get, about a man who encounters a beautiful woman and takes her to bed — with, to coin a phrase, unfortunate effects. Here Thomas was too subtle for me, I suppose — was this revenge from a briefly mentioned previous lover?

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