Thursday, 26 March 2015

"Asteroid of Fear" by Raymond Zinke Gallun

 Hey guys! Did you realize that the Gutenberg Project has old science fiction? It does! (I don't know why this surprised me, but it did.) So, hey, why not read some of them and review them? Not to poke fun at the old science fiction, although there might be a little of that. No, I'm more interested in looking at what this old science fiction tells us about the worlds that were being imagined at the time. What did they think about science? Gender? Race? The eventual fate of the world?

From: Planet Stories, March 1951

I had a whee of a time reading this story. I'm nearing the end of my dissertation on temperance and masculinity, you see, and so I've spent years and years reading temperance stories and thinking about what they say about manliness and society. So when I found this story, which is not technically a temperance story, it had enough similarities that I almost rubbed my hands together in glee.

Plus, it had the wonderful epithet "hydroponic pun'kinheads." Which I plan to now use on everyone, ever. You have been warned.

Pretty much the only way in which this isn't a temperance tale is that John, the main character, isn't fatally doomed by his addiction to drink, and can, in the end, save himself by proving himself more manly than the others, rather than having to be saved from his terminal lack of will by a child, or a temperance advocate. (Rarely, if ever, a wife.)

John has gotten himself into trouble while drinking on earth, even spending time locked up in jail. While there, of course, it was too much for his long-suffering but always supportive wife Rose to run the farm by herself, and they lost it. (This trope of wife is always long-suffering but unfailingly loving.) So he's signed up the whole family to farm on an asteroid. They're the first settlers on Vesta since the destruction of the alien civilization there eons ago, although there is a mining camp on the other side of the asteroid.

He's trying to stay off the sauce, and so the miners think he's uppity, which quickly swells into anti-farmer homicidal rage. It's so over the top. One, how do they have the time or energy after a long mining shift to spend their sleeping time traversing to the other side of the asteroid and trying to kill John and his family? And why do they hate farmers? Food is kind of at a premium. Whatever, they're the personified forces of degenerated masculinity, out to kill and destroy, and even threaten rape of John's wife and daughter.

John must defend his homestead all by himself. (It's always strange to me - I'm pretty sure Rose could keep a watch too, and if the man must be the one to have the gun, she could wake him up.) The miners come and try to wreck the supplies he needs to live in the airless vacuum of space. (The suits in this story have, it seems, unlimited air.) He knows they'll be back, until his wife emasculates him by calling the cops.

So John gets to get his first crop in, and takes it to the mining camp to sell. Or at least, he would, if he doesn't decide that he needs a drink before he gets any money. This starts a fight, and the most homicidal of the miners tries to kill him, and he knocks him out and drags him back to his dome, where he proves his superior masculinity by...making him eat a whole bushel of tomatoes? This proves his superior control, and breaks the power of the other guy in the eyes of the other miners, as he's shown to be weak.

This story has it all, if you're looking for masculinity - drink, murder, and manly self-control. Of course, a long-suffering wife to set it off. And those miners. Man. They sure are jerks. But at least they aren't hydroponic pun'kinheads.

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