Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, April 10, 2020


30 Day Wonder by Richard Wilson (1960)

A founding member of the legendary fan group the Futurians, Richard Wilson's name is not as well known as many others in that group -- Frederik Pohl, C. M. Kornbluth, Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, Robert A. W. Lowndes, Donald Wollheim, Judith Merrill, or Hannes Bok -- belonging more in the second tier with the likes of Larry Shaw, Dirk Wylie, David Kyle, John Michel, Arthur Saha, and others.  Not because he was less talented than those listed in the first group, but he published sporadically after the early Sixties.  From 1955 to 1962, Wilson (1920-1987) published three science fiction novels (The Girls from Planet 5, And Then the Town Took Off, and 30 Day Wonder) and two collections (Those Idiots from Earth and Time Out for Tomorrow), all paperback originals.  After that, Wilson published a few occasional stories and chapbooks.  In the past decade, however, three major retrospective collections have appeared:  The Storywriter and Other Stories, The Man Without a Planet and Other Stories, and Masters of Science Fiction: Richard Wilson.  Wilson's work has always been readable and often outstanding.  He had gentle satirical touch that was also sharp as a razor, combined with a sense of whimsy and a knack for characterization.  The man could write.

Wilson's Nebula-winning nevelette "Mother to the World" was also nominated for a Hugo Award.  His short story "The Eight Billion" was nominated for a Nebula, as was his novella "The Story Writer."  The Town That Took Off and The Girls from Planet 5 has been published in the omnibus The Town from Planet 5.

Wilson's science fiction writing took second place to his real-world jobs, first in a New York City radiowire news bureau, then as director of Syracuse University's News Bureau.  His background with the wire services formed the background of 30 Day Wonder.

Sam Kent works for World Wide, a radio news wire service, chasing and editing American news to be forwarded to London and then to clients around the world.  What looks to be a dull day takes a turn when stories begin coming about an alien spaceship landing in a golf course outside of Washington D.C. -- surely a hoax or the result of someone having too much drink.  But the stories keep coming in and the alien "invasion" soon appears to be the real thing.

Frist of all, it's not an invasion (we think).  The aliens are completely human-like, male, handsome, and well-spoken.  They call themselves Monolithians.  They are here to negotiate a peace treaty with the United States, as well as other countries.  Well, they were so darned polite and sincere, you just couldn't help but like them. 

In a very short time, the president of the United States proposed them for membership in the United Nations, which is overwhelmingly approved.  The U.N. has just become an interplanetary organization.  Everybody loved the Monolithians.

"They were law-abiding too.  If a local speed limit was 25 m.p.h., that's how fast they'd go, no matter of traffic snarled up for miles in back of them.  If a Blue law town said nobody should work on Sunday, they'd do their duty as citizens and let the town burn before they's permit a fireman to put out a blaze.  No one could do anything about it because the Monolithians were impregnable."  Did I mention that that's what they were, impregnable?

Sam ends up kidnapped but no one knows it because the Monolithians have made a robot clone of him.  But the Monolithians do it so politely.  Somehow Sam is convinced to become the press secretary for the American president and he and the president and all the major world leaders are shipped into orbit for a conference on the Monolithian's ship.  And then the president is clones.  And all the major world leaders.  And new treaties and agreements are pushed through by these clones.  But all of this is done very politely, of course.

All three of Wilson's novels involve unique alien invasions.  All three are gently original in concept and accomplishment.  All are enjoyable.  Needless to say, I really liked this one.


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  2. One of my early media crushes (after reading Damon Knight's account THE FUTURIANS and Frederik Pohl's autobiography THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS, both the year after they were published, in 1978) was on fellow Futurian Doris Baumgardt, who did most of her early writing and editing as Leslie Perri, and liked the nickname Doe in private life. Richard Wilson was her third husband, and I still think I envy him that. (Frederik Pohl was her first.) She died relatively young.

    Wilson, since he was at Syracuse, chose to audit one of the play-writing courses a young Barry Malzberg was taking. Malzberg and Joyce Carol Oates were in the same graduating class at Syracuse. I like to imagine a graduates' shelf in one of SU's libraries, one groaning bookcase full of Oates's volumes, one similarly overstuffed with Malzberg's, and one relatively sensibly filled case between for everyone else.