Wednesday, June 3, 2020

"You Are the Plant"

"Stellar Showboat."
By Malcolm Jameson (1891-1945).
Illustration by [A.] Leydenfrost (1888-1961; HERE).
First appearance: Planet Stories, Fall 1942.
Short story (20 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

     "A drama more fantastic than any the stage had ever produced 
was being plotted behind the curtains of the Showboat of Space. 
And between its presentation and inter-world disaster, waiting for 
his cue, stood only the lone figure of Investigator Neville."

There's a white collar crime wave sweeping through the outer Solar System; it's up to an undercover cop equipped with some fancy technology to put an end to what he calls "the Callisto-Trojan extortion racket"—provided he puts in enough rehearsal time . . .

Principal characters:
~ Colonel Frawley, Chief Inspector of the A.C. division of the I.P.:
  "'You say that there has been a growing wave of blackmail and extortion all over the System, coupled with a dozen or so instances of well-to-do, respectable persons disappearing without a trace. And you say that that has been going on for a couple of years and several hundred of our crack operatives have been working on it, directed by the best brains of the force, and yet haven't got anywhere. And that up to now there have been no such cases develop in the asteroids. Well, what do you want me for? What's the emergency?' The colonel laughed and dropped the ash from his cigar . . ."
~ Special Investigator Billy Neville:
  ". . . grimaced. He was not fond of plainclothes work."
~ Hallam:
  ". . . seems unhappy. He made two calls on a high officer of the Radiation Corporation and after the second one he came very angry and ruffled looking."
~ Milo Lunko:
  "He was so clever, in fact, that we were never able to make an arrest stick, let alone bring him to trial. That accounts for the absence of his picture from the gallery. He was also clever enough to fake his own death. The evidence we have as to that was so convincing we closed the file on him."
~ Simeon Carstairs:
  ". . . was of fair height, stockily built, and had remarkably frank and friendly eyes for a self-made man of the asteroids. Not that there was not a certain hardness about him and a considerable degree of shrewdness, but he lacked the cynical cunning so often displayed 
by the pioneers of the outer system. Neville noted other details as well—the beginning of 
a set of triple chins, a little brown mole with three hairs on it alongside his nose, and the 
way a stray lock of hair kept falling over his left eye."
~ Mariquita Carstairs:
  "Her Spanish blood heritage was evident in her warm dark eyes and proud carriage. 
Equally evident, were the lines of past suffering in her face. It did not take a detective 
to see that here was a pair who had at last found mutual consolation."
~ The captain of the Fanfare:
  "But my dear sir, as much as I would like to cooperate, I cannot do that."
~ The steward of the Fanfare:
  ". . . lapsed into complete speechlessness."
~ Colonel-General O'Hara, Head of the Bureau of Identification:
  ". . . was a gnome, scarcely five feet tall, with bulging eyes and wild hair that stood 
helter-skelter above his wrinkled face. He was staring at his desk blotter with a 
venomous expression, and his lower lip hung out a full half-inch."
~ The showboat:
  "I forget that your work has been mostly on the heavy planets where they have plenty of good playhouses in the cities. Out here [the asteroid belt] among these little rocks the diversions are brought around periodically and peddled for the night. The showboat, my 
boy, is a floating theater—a space ship with a stage and an auditorium in it, a troupe of 
good actors and a cracking fine chorus. This one has been making the rounds quite a 
while, though it never stopped here before until last year. They say the show this year 
is even better. It is the 'Lunar Follies of 2326,' featuring a chorus of two hundred androids 
and with Lilly Fitzpatrick and Lionel Dustan in the lead. Tonight, for a change, you can 
relax and enjoy yourself."

"Greatest Show of the Void—Come One, Come All—Your Money Back if Not Absolutely Satisfied"

Typo: "the smaller doomed [domed] settlements".

Let's admit it: Space probes have rendered the pulpsters' imaginations obsolete—but their productions are still a lot of fun.
- "little Pallas, capital of the Asteroid Confederation": "Pallas (minor-planet designation: 2 Pallas) is the second asteroid to have been discovered, after 1 Ceres. It is one of the largest asteroids in the Solar System, and is a likely remnant protoplanet. With an estimated 7% of the mass of the asteroid belt, it is the third-most-massive (and third-largest) asteroid, being three quarters the mass of 4 Vesta and one quarter the mass of Ceres. It is about 510 kilometers (320 mi) in diameter, slightly smaller than Vesta." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "on Io and Callisto": Moons of Jupiter; since 1979 Io, in particular, has proven to be a disappointment to most SFF writers. "With over 400 active volcanoes, Io is the most geo-logically active object in the Solar System . . ."; regardless, it did star in a major Holly-
wood movie (Wikipedia HERE, HERE, and HERE). "Despite its size and early discovery, 
[Callisto] has not been featured in fiction as much as the other Galilean satellites." 
(Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- "soured Ganymede and Europa": "Ganymede's size made it a popular location for early science fiction authors looking for locations beyond Mars that might be inhabitable by humans. In reality, Ganymede is a cold, icy, cratered world with a vanishingly thin atmo-
sphere." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE). "Europa is the smallest of the four Galilean sat-
ellites and the second closest to Jupiter. It is theorized to have an ocean of liquid water underneath its icy surface; the thickness of the ice is much debated. The probable 
presence of the water ocean has made it a favored location for modern fictional specu-
lation about extraterrestrial life in the Solar System." (Wikipedia HERE, HERE, and SPOILERS: HERE).
- "Vesta and Juno industries": Isaac Asimov's first story featured Vesta. (Wikipedia HERE 
and HERE). "Juno is one of the larger asteroids, perhaps tenth by size and containing approximately 1% the mass of the entire asteroid belt." (Wikipedia HERE and HERE).
- Twenty-four years later, an early Star Trek episode also featured a group of space-traveling performers (SPOILERS: IMDb HERE; SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE; and SPOILERS: Memory Alpha HERE).
- "from Venus, where the air was over-moist, heavy and oppressive from its stagnation, to windy, blustery Mars, and then here, where there was no air at all." He got the last two right. "Venus is a terrestrial planet and is sometimes called Earth's 'sister planet' because of their similar size, mass, proximity to the Sun, and bulk composition. It is radically different from Earth in other respects. It has the densest atmosphere of the four terrestrial planets, consisting of more than 96% carbon dioxide. The atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 92 times that of Earth, or roughly the pressure found 900 m (3,000 ft) underwater on Earth. Venus is by far the hottest planet in the Solar System, with a mean surface temperature of 735 K (462 °C; 863 °F), even though Mercury is closer to the Sun. Venus is shrouded by an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of sulfuric acid, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light. It may have had water oceans in the past, but these would have vaporized as the temperature rose due to a runaway greenhouse effect. The water has probably photodissociated, and the free hydrogen has been swept into interplanetary space by the solar wind because of the lack of a planetary magnetic field. Venus's surface is a dry desertscape interspersed with slab-like rocks and is periodically resurfaced by volcanism." (Wikipedia HERE). As for Mars's atmosphere: "Dust devils and dust storms are prevalent on Mars, which are sometimes observable by telescopes from Earth. Planet-encircling dust storms (global dust storms) occur on average every 5.5 earth years on Mars and can threaten the operation of Mars rovers." (Wikipedia HERE).
- Malcolm Routh Jameson's promising career was cut short by cancer; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE). His story "Blind Alley" (1943) was adapted as a Twilight Zone episode in 1963: (IMDb HERE) and (SPOILERS: Wikipedia HERE).
- By now we're quite familiar with Jameson's work: "Prospectors of Space" (HERE) and "Murder in the Time World" (HERE).

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