Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, August 5, 2011


It's no secret that I like books, or that I like the older stuff.  I prefer to read stories as originally presented rather than those that have been abridged or "edited for modern readers".  (I also try to avoid network presentations of movies that have been "edited for television".  Grrrrr.)  Usually I'm rewarded by coming close to the author's original intention/work -- something that is important to me.  There are times, however, when I can't get past the clunkiness of the writing or the attempt to infuse a story with then-current jargon or what at the time were the latest technology.  Case in point, John Berryman's 1939 short story Special Flight.

     Special Flight originally appeared in the May 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, and has been reprinted several times, in Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest's Spectrum, in David Hartwell's The World Treasury of Science Fiction, and perhaps elsewhere.  The author was 20 years old in 1939 and this was evidently his first SF story.  I read it in the Amis/Conquest 1961 collection.

     The story is very simple:  There has been an accident on a mining base on the moon.  The surviving men on the base have a limited amount of oxygen left because the equipment that provides the oxygen has been buried.  A spaceship crew that has just returned to Earth must deliver a tractor that the base can use to clear the rubble to the moon.  The crew is tired, the ship has not been refurbished, and a deadly meteor shower lies between them and the 102 trapped miners.

     The story reads like it was written in the late 1950s.  I suspect it has been updated for the Amis/Conquest volume, but, if so, there's no indication on the copyright page.  (If it was not updated, then it is truly a technological tour de force.) 

     "The calculator itself, built by International Business Machines, could relay its information to the auto pilot in the event of a collision threatened..."

     An interesting tale.

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