Friday, June 25, 2021

"Titanic War Hovered Darkly in the Background"

"Hotel Cosmos."
By Raymond Z. Gallun (1911-94).
Illustrations by H. Wesso (1894-1948; HERE).
First appearance: Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1938.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 140).
(Note: It will be necessary to download the entire issue, 158 MB as a PDF.)
(Further note: Text very faded but legible.)
     "A screaming fury was in his nerves—something that was like murder madness, urging him to kill and kill and kill!"

It has been said that being easy going instead of overly sensitive can lead to a long life; a security agent is about to find out just how true that is . . . .

Principal characters:
~ Dave Ledrack:
  "Concealed in his right ear was a tiny etherphone receiver, part of the equipment of every member of the Terrestrial Guard Police, to which he belonged as a requirement of his position as Chief of Watch in the greatest other-world hostelry in the Americas."
~ John Holman:
  ". . . was high-strung. Here in the grip of the sinister aura that pervaded this building, he would be a hopeless, homicidal maniac!"
~ 4-2-5:
  ". . . was reputed to be the greatest trouble-maker, and one of the most brilliant scientists, in the galaxy."
~ X-4-3:
  "Someone has tried to destroy me."
~ The proxies:
  ". . . hurtled toward Dave, like wickedly glittering projectiles, their camera eyes agleam, their metal arms extended like spearpoints."

References and resources:
- The hotel in our story is not to be confused with the one in Moscow (HERE).
- Twenty years after our story first appeared, "Journey to Babel," a Star Trek episode, developed a similar plot set-up; go to Wikipedia (WARNING! SPOILERS! HERE) and Memory Alpha (WARNING! SPOILERS HERE).
- "specially prepared for the individual for which it was reserved": Accommodating the diverse needs of aliens, these being sick or injured, was the prime focus of James White's "Sector General" series:
  "The series derives its name from the setting of the majority of the books, the Sector 12 General Hospital, a huge hospital space station located in deep space, designed to treat a wide variety of life forms with a wide range of ailments and life-support requirements, and to house an equally diverse staff. The Hospital was founded to promote peace after humanity's first interstellar war, and in the fourth book the authorities conclude that its emergency services are the most effective way to make peaceful contact with new species" (WARNING! SPOILERS! Wikipedia HERE).
- "Planet Five of Antares": It's unclear whether or not Antares has a planetary system, but if it does the inhabitants there are no doubt not enjoying the climate:
  "Classified as spectral type M1.5Iab-Ib, Antares is a red supergiant [roughly 550 light-years from the Sun], a large evolved massive star and one of the largest stars visible to the naked eye. Its exact size remains uncertain, but if placed at the center of the Solar System, it would reach to somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Its mass is calculated to be around 12 times that of the Sun" (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "a porous, silicous composition": Life forms based on silicon, rather than carbon, have been appearing in SFF for quite some time:
  "The silicon atom has been much discussed as the basis for an alternative biochem-ical system, because silicon has many chemical properties similar to those of carbon and is in the same group of the periodic table, the carbon group. Like carbon, silicon can create molecules that are sufficiently large to carry biological information.
  "In cinematic and literary science fiction, at a moment when man-made machines cross from nonliving to living, it is often posited, this new form would be the first example of non-carbon-based life. Since the advent of the micro-processor in the late 1960s, these machines are often classed as computers (or computer-guided robots) and filed under 'silicon-based life,' even though the silicon backing matrix of these processors is not nearly as fundamental to their operation as carbon is for 'wet life'" (Wikipedia HERE) and (Memory Alpha HERE).
- "they looked quite a bit like those abhorrent Earthly marine animals—sting rays": In the late '30s, SFF writers could with some justice assert that Venus was a water world:
  "Some scientists envisioned Venus as Panthalassa ('all ocean'), with perhaps a few islands. Large land masses could not exist, they said, because land would cause vertical atmospheric currents breaking up the planet's solid cloud layer" (Wikipedia HERE). "'Everything points to there being large amounts of water on Venus in the past,' says Colin Wilson, Oxford University, U.K. But that does not necessarily mean there were oceans on the planet’s surface" (Universe Today HERE).
- "a fragment of Old Mars": As with Venus, SFF pulpsters often fancied Mars as a dying desertified planet:
  "Mariner 4 in July 1965  found that Mars—contrary to expectations—is heavily cratered, with a very thin atmosphere. No canals were found; while scientists did not believe that Mars was a moist planet, the lack of surface water surprised them. Science fiction had so influenced real explorations of the planet, however—Carl Sagan was among the many fans who became scientists—that after Mariner 9 in 1971–1972, craters were named after Wells, Burroughs, and other authors. The Mariner and Viking space probes confirmed that the Martian environment is extremely hostile to life. By the 1970s, the ideas of canals and ancient civilizations had to be abandoned.
  "Authors soon began writing stories based on the new Mars (frequently treating it as a desert planet). Most of these works feature humans struggling to tame the planet, and some of them refer to terraforming (using technology to transform a planet's environment to be Earthlike)" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Raymond Zinke Gallun (pronounced "galloon") had a very creditable SFFnal career: Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), Fancyclopedia (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE; 3 credits).
- It has been almost five years since we made first contact with Raymond Gallun when we highlighted his story, "Saturn's Ringmaster" (HERE).
Artwork by Gary Larson.

1 comment:

  1. As with Venus, SFF pulpsters often fancied Mars as a dying desertified planet

    I especially love Leigh Brackett's poetically melancholy version of Mars.

    Gallun is yet another author I've been aware of for quite a while but haven't yet read.