Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Don't Ever Think Things Can't Get Tougher — They Always Do"

This posting has been revised and updated and is available (HERE).

Back in the mid-20th century Cleve Cartmill wrote a series of six stories featuring recurring characters:

   (1) "Salvage" (1949) (see below)
   (2) "High Jack and Dame" (1949)
   (3) "Thicker Than Water" (1949)
   (4) "Dead Run" (1950)
   (5) "Little Joe" (1950) (see below)
   (6) "No Hiding Place" (1950) (see below).

And what were these about?
Romance, Humor and Science Mix in This Space Adventure Classic! Jake Murchison and his crew love to tackle "impossible" problems in space and make incredible rescues. Sometimes the challenges they take on require them to improvise tools and bend the law a little to succeed. But even they can't bend the laws of science — which constantly work against them!
Cleve Cartmill was beloved by sf fans of the 1940s for his Jake Murchison-Captain Helen Wall series, which ran in the pages of the colorful action-adventure pulp, Thrilling Wonder Stories. Popularly known as the "Space Salvagers" stories, these tales are a science fictional riff on the classic, and highly-popular, "battle of the sexes" comedies of the era, like Bringing Up Baby, The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, and The Thin Man. Cartmill's tales of the sparks set off between Jake Murchison and Helen Wall, and their scientifically-premised exploits attempting to salvage abandoned ships and cargo in space, are a delightful change of pace for science fiction fans.
In this one-volume, complete collection of their adventures Space Salvage, Inc. must retrieve an immensely valuable cargo on a derelict hulk that couldn't be entered; rescue a spaceship trapped by a magnetic asteroid thirty miles in diameter; save ninety-seven people imprisoned under a lake of ooze on which nothing could float; salvage a ship full of fissionable explosives speeding relentlessly toward planetfall; turn a crippled patrol boat as the only available weapon against a pirate fleet; and race unarmed against a deadly enemy to locate one of the greatest scientific secrets of all time! — Amazon product description for the Kindle edition of Murchison & Co. - Space Salvagers (HERE).
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949.
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975; for sale HERE).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"Jake Murchison throws his life into the scales of fate when confronted by a derelict with a cargo of riches!"
A hundred and eighty-five tons of herculium, just the thing to make a warship invulnerable (and anyone possessing it rich beyond imagining), is floating out there in the derelict Astralot's hold, ripe for the taking, and the prospect of salvaging it has Jake Murchison and his friends in Space Salvage, Inc. seeing stars:
". . . this Astralot job will put us on Venusberg's main drag for life. Captain Lane and I can retire and live the life of lecherous ease we want. We can pay you back with a tremendous bonus, junk the Dolphin and have fun."
But life follows its own course . . .

Principal characters:
~ Jake Murchison (the narrator): First mate of the Dolphin.
~ Cap: Captain Lane of the Dolphin.
~ Pat: Pilot/navigator on the Dolphin.
~ Carroll: Ship's engineer and, as it turns out, serendipitous scion.
~ Amos T. Grubb: Litigious moneybags.
~ Jenkins: Field technician.


   "What happened was certainly unexpected. I didn't even see it happen. First thing I knew, I was flat on the deck and if my jaw wasn't broken it was a miracle. Quite a number of constellations were flickering behind my eyeballs. I recognized Orion as it flashed past."

    "Inside that vast ship I was going to have myself a job where a sure, quick touch might be necessary to keep me out of the obits."

   "I got the hang of the buttons and played the keyboard like a piano—but plenty pianissimo."

    "I'm not ashamed of the way I feel."

   "I was looking at the greatest fortune perhaps ever assembled in one place. I yelped once."

    "If I tore the hull I would cease to have any interest in—anything."

   "Well, this seemed to be it. I was wedged firmly, couldn't blast loose without wrecking my only protection. And the worst of it was I was going to have plenty of time to think about it. There wasn't going to be anything quick about it. It would be a toss-up which ran out first, my air or my heat. I would either suffocate or freeze or both. And even if I'd had a knife there wasn't room enough for me to get my arm free and cut my throat."

Diverting prose:

   "The hole was there, a great tear that punctured the ship to her vitals for almost all of her mile-long hull. Jagged points of metal along her port beam looked like a mouthful of filed teeth."

    "We had to choose between that and the Valadian drill. There isn't room on this ship for even a runt mouse to stow away."

   "He's going to be more trouble than a tank full of Venusian rock sharks."

    "Did you ever see a hundred bodies suddenly exposed to deep space?"

   "We had broken the contract and in this business, where fulfilling contracts often means saving lives and valuable property, penalties are fantastic. And rightly so."

The ad for the next story served to introduce an important character in the series:
"Jake Murchison didn't want to help Helen Wall, beautiful captain of the stranded Andromeda—but according to interstellar law, he had to, even though she called The Dolphin a 'pirate' ship in the fascinating novelet—HIGH JACK AND DAME—Second in the Space Salvage Series by CLEVE CARTMILL."
Unfortunately that story and the next two ("Thicker Than Water" and "Dead Run") aren't available online, but the final pair are. Bear in mind, though, that "No Hiding Place" references events in those unavailable stories.

~ ~ ~
"Little Joe."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1950.
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Short story (11 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF).
"The Space Salvagers Pit Themselves Against Pirates!"
Jake Murchison sets the scene rather well:
As we used to say when we were kids in school, more people killed and blood all over the stars.
That's the way it was, and only my choice of being eaten alive rather than burn-ed to death got me — or what's left of me — off the Piratoid alive. The doc says most of my skin will grow back.  . . .
For Jake and Carroll an emergency repair job nearly proves fatal.

Principal characters:
~ Jake Murchison (narrator): "I'm just a fair salvage bum, and I feel properly humble, even if I don't show it."
~ Cap: "You can run circles around me."
~ Pat: "Pat's a kind of lightning calculator. He astrogates in his head."
~ Carroll: "Give me one paralysis bomb, and I'm happy."
~ Gray Hardy, Port Patrol Officer: "I want you to get that ship into operation. If you can do it quickly, it can seek out the pirates' hiding-place and wipe out the worst band of— Well, you know what they are."
~ Little Joe: "There was a name to conjure with. Pirate, murderer, dirty dog. Escapee from Kragor, head of the worst gang of cutthroats in history."
~ Captain Tommy Garfield, Space Patrol: "I intend to go into action once we find Little Joe and his crowd. You might be killed. So it's a volunteer job."


   "That was perhaps the deadliest, most vicious voice I've ever heard. Believe me, I did exactly as it ordered. I even wished I could hold back my blood corpuscles until that voice said it was all right."

    "I didn't see the blow start or finish. All of a sudden I collided with a tremendous something I learned later was his fist, and I promptly lost interest in proceedings."

   "I shot a nervous glance at the cage. The pacer seemed to have taken quite a fancy to me. Those smoking yellow eyes never left me . . ."

    [When the bad guy offers Jake a choice of how he will die]: "I choose to have my great-grandchildren stuff me to death with goodies."

   ". . . if your upper lip is as limp as a wet butterfly, you've got to stiffen it somehow."

    "They didn't whine, but their giant bodies shook and cringed, and it seemed there should be whines."

   "I looked around for a club, anything, but you can't fight with panel switches."

    "The guard who had been quick when I last saw him was now dead, his head at an impossible angle to his body."

Typo: "Let's get stared, then."
~ ~ ~
"No Hiding Place."
By Cleve Cartmill (1908-64).
First appearance: Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1950.
Collected in The Space Scavengers (1975).
Novelette (36 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE (smudgy text).
"I wanted her along so badly I ached."
"Jake Murchison, Helen Wall and their rollicking crew of space engineers have it out with Solar Salvage in their climactic quest for a herculium hoard lost in the void!"
The long chase across the Universe to find a fabulous invention takes Jake to a savage planet with some very surprising inhabitants:
Suddenly they moved in unison in my direction. I say moved but it was more like teleportation. One instant they were a hundred feet away—the next ten feet, arranged in a kind of semicircle before the mouth of the cave, regarding me with unblinking, expressionless great eyes. There was no use to run, not when I was to them like a snail to a rabbit. It wasn't even any use to raise my blaster.
Chapter I - "Hold Everything!"
Chapter II - "Anything Might Happen"
Chapter III - Helpless Sitting Duck
Chapter IV - Cross Fingers!
Chapter V - "More! More"
Chapter VI - "That's what's out there"
Chapter VII - Look out behind you!
Chapter VIII - Remember? Atmosphere?
Chapter IX - I Don't Like Murder
Chapter X - Just Toss 'Em This Way
Chapter XI - Hang On!

Principal characters:
~ Jake Murchison (narrator): "If you want to keep right on living you'll have to let me run the show."
~ Cap: "I don't like murder, regardless of what the other guy wants to do with me."
~ Pat: "Pat, whose face was like baked mud, his nose a lump of red sandstone, and his eyes two dull emeralds deep-set in the muck, was the best pilot and astrogator I'd ever known."
~ Carroll: "You're the luckiest guy in the System, Jake."
~ Helen Wall: "They're planning to kidnap me to force Jake to tell what he knows. I learned it too late—I couldn't call for help. I was cornered."
~ Oliver Claybourne ("Junior"): "Do you think I'm fool enough to commit murder?"
~ Pete: "Now look, Mr. Clayborne. Don't get sore. You see, it was like this . . ."
~ Harry: "I'm gonna strap myself in my bunk and we're really going places."


   "The law of averages predicted trouble afoot—we always had trouble. It wasn't intuition, it wasn't premonition. I took a strictly scientific attitude. The facts that my heart began to beat faster, my hands turned clammy and a sense of doom oppressed me, I told myself, was a result of cold appraisal, not fear."

    "Captain Helen Wall, with twin comets on her snazzy uniform. I wondered how I'd look with twin comets."

   "He looked up and grinned, which did awful things to his face."

    "Looks like the fat's in the fission chamber now."

   "She was a Space captain. She knew what it took to run a ship. So she let me strictly alone and I did the same to her, and we were like a couple of animated sticks. Every time I looked at her I wanted moonlight and music on the piccolo and that made me mad."

    "I looked at her. Her eyes were wide and soft, her lush mouth parted, and I knew that whatever she asked me I would say yes."

   "I was a man of mixed emotions to put it mildly. My gal, my chosen woman—whither thou goest and all that stuff, I wanted her along so badly I ached."

    "Part of the make-up of a human male is the desire to protect and comfort his woman and I'm a human male. I wanted to give her a pep talk, to hold her, to murmur nonsense in her ear, tender nonsense. But did you every try it in a space suit, rubbing helmets, clasping mittens? It's no good. I didn't even try."

   "We drifted, in the silent dark, the dim glow of the instrument panels accentuating rather than diminishing the feeling of being lost in a limitless void. I skirted asteroids small and large and bored in toward the center."

    "If looks were lethal it would have been all over with me but the burying."

   ". . . Helen's body, necessarily pressing against mine, was like an angry exclamation point."

    "We looked at each other and laughed. Not because there was anything funny—it just seemed like a good idea."

   "If I hurried we might all go up in a blast—if I didn't we might be caught with our atoms down."

    "A downdraft grabbed us with windy fingers and the planet rushed up at us at sickening speed. My stomach felt as if it had checked out for parts unknown. We were like an eggshell in the hands of a giant."

   "I had only a momentary glimpse of it and though even it failed to penetrate my lethargy I was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of vague terror, of things obscene, unfit for the mind to dwell on, of Powers of Darkness beyond the ken of man, repulsive discards of far-off ages of superstition."

    "The blaster lay six feet away. It might as well have been six light years."

   "We struggled with the weakness of dying ants over a burden neither of us could lift alone."

    "I tried to think furiously, brilliantly, but my brain machinery achieved only a labored clanking."

   "I had left the helmet on in the interests of time, but it was good that I did, for I have a glass jaw. Any number of persons have knocked me out with a short jab to my chin, and I didn't know whether or not I was as vulnerable elsewhere."

    ". . .  planets, and especially caves—I now discovered—give me claustrophobia. I like Space, limitless space without a fence around it. You feel free there."

Typos: "I looked as the buildings again and shivered"; "the clumsy inaccurate tools of lanaguage."
- Cleve Cartmill will be forever associated with one of his stories, "Deadline" (1944), which described the then-top secret atomic bomb in such detail that Cartmill, Astounding, and editor John W. Campbell attracted the unwelcome attention of the FBI; see HERE (Wikipedia) and HERE (PDF, 13 pages) for more.
- Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) all have useful info about Cartmill.
- Sooner or later it could come to this:
Another interesting idea is the proposal to introduce a law of "Space Salvage." At sea the long-standing law of salvage allows the person who takes control of an abandoned vessel to claim ownership. One of the growing problems in Earth orbit is the amount of "space debris" — abandoned satellites, rocket stages and other pieces abandoned by the governments which launched them. By introduc-ing a law of salvage there would be a strong incentive for businesses to collect together useful objects. Because of the high cost of launch, any mass in orbit is valuable. Even at a launch cost as low as $100/kg, scrap metal would be worth at least $100,000/ton in low orbit! And so we can foresee that recycling is sure to become a major orbital business. — "Space Law," Space Future
- In 1979 a short-lived TV series called Salvage 1 (20 episodes) centered on a vaguely similar idea:
Harry Broderick (Andy Griffith) owns the Jettison Scrap and Salvage Co. and is a specialist in reclaiming trash and junk to sell as scrap. His dream is to recover equipment left on the moon during Apollo Program missions. — Wikipedia HERE, IMDb HERE and HERE

The bottom line: "In California, they don't throw their garbage away—they make it into TV shows."
Woody Allen

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