Monday, July 18, 2016

"Imagination. Audacity. Victory."

"Racketeers in the Sky."
By Jack Williamson (1908-2006).
First appearance: Argosy Weekly, October 12, 1940.
Reprinted in A. Merritt's Fantasy Magazine, October 1950.
Collected in Gateway to Paradise: The Collected Stories of Jack Williamson, Volume Six (2008).
Short story (19 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"His name, appropriately enough, was Bull. Pompous and round and rosy-faced, he was the King of Quacks—a chiseling faker who had built a patent-medicine racket into a cosmic swindle. Then came the moment when death tapped him on the shoulder, and he knew he had a whole life to pay for. An unforgettably powerful novelet"
"A disreputable little quack doctor" accurately describes Doctor Bull who, luxuriating in la dolce vita on his own personal asteroid bought with the ill-gotten gains of a lifetime of deceiving people, unexpectedly finds himself in a desperate life-and-death struggle with a space pirate with grandiose ambitions: nothing less than a takeover of Terra and the Moon. But ironically enough, for Doctor Bull a lifetime of bamboozling suckers just might be the skill set he needs to save not only his own life but also the lives of everyone on Earth—if only he can get somebody to believe him . . .

Major characters:
~ Doctor Bull:
   "He was thinking back to the very beginning of his career—when he was just a six-dollar-a-week soda jerker, in a dusty small-town drug store, back on Earth, studying a mail-order course in dramatics, propped out of the view of his patrons behind the counter. Dramatics, he had decided, was more important than pharmaceutics."
~ Vera Frame:
   "Doctor, what is your plan?"
~ General Berg:
   "The men in the forts are uneasy. And panic is spreading in the hotels and hospitals—some rumor has got out. The telephones are swamped with questions."
~ Iron Scarr:
   "Your lies, Bull, probably killed more men than my ion-gun ever did. I still kill men honestly, for what I want. But now, I'm looting planets."
~ Lieutenant Carstairs:
   "That was lean young Lieutenant Carstairs, commanding the retreat, taking skilful advantage of clumps of vegetation, the hazards of the golf course, and the very curve of Taurus."
Super-duper science:
~ The geodesic drive:
   ". . . that was used to steer this tiny planet toward Earth from its former orbit."
~ The graviscreen:
   "A graviscreen under the pool halved the force of the gravity generators at the tiny moon's core, so that one swam with an exhilarating and luxurious ease."
~ The Mercurian lightning death:
   "The lightning death was the frightful disease that had denied the mineral riches of the hot planet to all save the one man in thousands who possessed a natural immunity to the virus—the fortunate few who showed a negative reaction to killed cultures could demand fabulous wages from Mercury Mines, Inc."
~ One consequence of an asteroid's low gravity:
   "Stunned, Dr. Bull peered stupidly after the diminishing hum—probably the bullet still exceeded the planetoid's velocity of escape; it would fly on, forever, across the black gulf of space."
~ Futuristic weapons:
   "There was an instant of breathless silence, then every battle-sound seemed amplified. Somewhere a man burned with an ion-beam was screaming with a thin and frightful monotony."
Typos: "General Berg burst furiusly through the crystal door"; "the intense blue needle of an iron-beam"; "crimes against the etchics of the IMA."
- Our author refers several times to "ikes," which is short for "iconoscope": "the first practical video camera tube to be used in early television cameras"; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Our last contact with Jack Williamson (HERE) wasn't that long ago.

The bottom line: "A successful swindler has to be a great salesman even more than a great actor."
David Suchet

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