Thursday, 7 May 2015

"Slingshot" by Irving W. Lande

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: Astounding Science Fiction, November 1955

I read this story almost a week ago, and what is perhaps most remarkable is how little of it I remember. Dogfights in space, but that's really about it. One unfortunate turn of phrase. Cold war assumptions. Women only present as pictures in cockpits and voices on the telephone.

Let me try to rack my brain (short pause while I check whether it's rack or wrack), to tell you more. Starting with dog fights in space. In a presumed continuation of the Cold War where both sides want the moon, but neither has the firepower to take and hold it, both sides keep the other from doing so by having dogfights between ships in space. Why this doesn't spark WWIII on Earth is not really gotten into.

Most of the story centers around one dogfight, and the difficulties of effectively fighting ship to ship in space, the extreme unlikelihood that you're going to hit anything. While, by the 1950s, most of the stories had gotten away from the 1930s conviction that scientists are out to doom us all, there's a small tinge of it here. Not that scientists are by definition mad scientists, but the idea that those eggheads never come up with anything useful, it's the men manning the ships who really know best. Because, of course, someone comes up with an idea that just might turn the tide of the war. (Or, you know, work once and then the enemy will adopt it too and nothing will change, but you know. Let's not let that get in the way of military tactics.)

This idea to turn the course of the war is to use nuclear bombs in slingshot-like devices.

The unfortunate phrasing that made me giggle was this line: "thinking the turgid thoughts that always came when action was near." And then the battle starts. Or pretty near. There's nothing turgid about what's described, so using that word in this context made me smirk.

Once the dogfight is over and the Reds have been blown up, the pilots return to earth for some R&R. One guy gets on the blower to his gal right away and gets her to round up a girl for his pilot buddy too. That's pretty much all the screentime the women get.

And that's pretty much it. It's a very simple story, and doesn't add a whole lot in terms of ideas or characters. Disappointing.

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