Writer Eric Rosenfield's master feed of Wet Asphalt, his writer's blog and his twitter updates.
Eric's homepage is http://www.ericrosenfield.com
Intersteller Task Force One was earthward bound, from twenty years at space. Operation Tyler was complete. We had circled Barstow’s Dark Star, nearly a light-year from the Sun. The six enormous cruisers were burdened, now, with a precious cargo—on the frigid planets of the Dark Star we had toiled eight years, mining raw uranium, building atomic plants, filling the cadmium saftety drums with terrible plutonium.
We had left earth in a blare of bands and party oratory. Heroes of the people, we were setting out to trade our youth for the scarce fuel metals that were the lifeblood of the Squaredeal Machine. We were decelerating toward the Dark Star when Jim Cameron happened upon the somehow uncensored fact the both uranium and thorium are actually fairly plentiful on the planets at home, and concluded that we were not expected to return.
Allowed to test the cadmium safety drums that we had brought to contain our refined plutonium, he found that some of them were not safe. One in a each hundred—plated to look exactly like the rest—was a useless allow that absorbed no neutrons. Stacked together in our hold, those dummy drums would have made each loaded ship a director-sized atomic bomb, fused with an unshielded crticial mass of plutonium.
If Jim had been a Squaredealer, he might have got a medal. As a civilian feather merchant, he was allowed to scrap the deadly drums.
—”The Equalizer” by Jack Williamson, Astounding Science Fiction, 1947
The rest of the story isn’t nearly so good as this opening, but the opening is wonderful. I love the compounding of recompilations—there’s a dark star 1 light year from Earth; they’re sent on a one-way mission to it; even after they realize they’re betrayed by their own government, they they complete the mission as ordered; the fact that the man who saves them gets nothing for it because of his status in society; and now that they’ve completed their mission, what’s going to happen when they get back from the trip they were never supposed to return from? So many questions raised by so few paragraphs, and so much left for the reader to put together about the realities of the world of the story.
This was part of what John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, gave to science fiction in the forties. Recompilations, where multiple sfnal ideas compound on each other to create a more interesting, and better realized, world, and one which attempts to say something about the society we live in beyond the juvenile fantasies that had ruled the pulps in the 20s and 30s.
Pointed to this by Shelf Awareness, but it’s worth reblogging.
My story “Trials of the Dead King” will be appearing in LORE Magazine in April!
More info: http://wetasphalt.com/content/trials-dead-king-are-coming