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Authors: Frederik Pohl

The Wonder Effect

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THE WONDER EFFECT

by Frederik Pohl

 

CONTENTS

Introduction

Critical Mass

A Gentle Dying

Nightmare With Zeppelins

Best Friend

The World of Myrion Flowers

Trouble In Time

The Engineer

Mars-Tube

The Quaker Cannon

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Cyril Kornbluth, who was my good friend as well as my collaborator over a period of two decades, was seventeen years old when we first began writing stories together, was not quite twenty. Neither of us was entirely an amateur – I was editing two science-fiction magazines, long since perished, and Cyril had already published three or four science-fiction stories – but we were so near to it as made no difference, and many of our writing habits were formed at the same time, writing the same stories.

In all, we wrote together seven published novels and perhaps thirty-five short stories. The short stories were what we did first, and most of them are awful. Of the thirty or so of these which we wrote from 1939 to 1943 at least twenty-five will forever remain buried under the pseudonyms under which they were first published, if I have anything to say about it; but a few of them do seem to be worth another look, and they are included in this collection.

Then we both went into the Army in World War II. The idea of writing anything, particularly science fiction, seemed pretty remote to both of us. I recently came across a letter Cyril wrote to me while he was a machine-gunner in Belgium and I was a weatherman near Foggia in which he said, 'I'm
afraid science fiction has had it, killed by radar and the sniper-scope.' I don't remember whether I agreed or not. Certainly it seemed like a logical point of view at the time. Science had caught up with science fiction and there didn't seem to be much future for the art ... Less than a year later we were both civilians and both writing science fiction again; but Cyril was in Chicago, a newsman employed by a wire service, and I was writing advertising copy for an agency in New York, and we didn't collaborate again until 1951, when we wrote
The Space Merchants.

A number of reviewers have speculated, and readers from time to time ask, what the mechanics of collaboration were between us. I take this to condone the vanity of supplying an answer. There isn't one single answer, though, because we tried everything. At first I made up plots, Cyril fleshed out the stories and I rewrote them in final form for publication. That was the technique that produced the bulk of the early stories which I now hope to see forgotten. It was not a very good way of writing a story, and we never wrote a complete story that way after 1942. (I do retain some fondness for a few stories produced under that scheme.
Best Friend, Mars-Tube
and
Trouble in Time
were written that way.)

The Space Merchants
was written on an entirely different basis. I had written the first twenty thousand words of this story with the intention of doing it all by myself; but I showed it to Horace Gold, editing
Galaxy Magazine,
who wanted to publish it as a serial – not in ten years or when I got around to finishing it, but soon. Cyril had just come East. I showed him the part I had written and asked if he wanted to come in on it; he did; he went home and wrote the next twenty thousand words or so and then, turn and turn about, we wrote the last third of the book together.

That turned out to be a remarkably pleasant way to write a book. As we ultimately refined the process, we would spend a day or two talking out ideas and plot and then go on a concentrated, around-the-clock schedule, one working while the other slept, of producing manuscript in five-page chunks. What emerged was a good, healthy first draft. There were always revisions, which I usually did; but the changes were mostly cosmetic. The watch-on watch-off writing was generally done at my house in New Jersey, where Cyril had a room permanently set aside for him, and thus, in alternate increments of 1,500 words or so, we constructed
Search the Sky, Gladiator-at-Law
and most of our three novels which were outside the science-fiction field. (Two of these were done wholly in this way. The third was like
The Space Merchants
in reverse; Cyril had begun a novel and was behind schedule and we finished it together.)

I don't know how well this system would work for anyone else. We had the advantage of long practice – and of having done some of our growing up together, so that our attitudes were more or less similar. Quite often a species of telepathy seemed to come into it. Several times 1 ended a page in the middle of a sentence and discovered, when it came my turn again, that Cyril had used the exact wording I had had in mind to complete it.

Wolf bane
was a different sort of story. We planned it as
a
15,000 word novelette—and wrote it that way, too, turn and about. But it was almost unreadable, far too telegraphic and compressed; and I opened it out to about 40,000 words, in which form it was published as a magazine serial; whereafter Cyril expanded it to about 60,000 words for the final book version. This was almost the last writing Cyril did before his death.

Of the stories in this volume,
The Engineer
was the only short we wrote together in the period between
The Space Merchants
and
Wolf bane,
and it was an accident. (In a different form, it was intended to have been a sequence in one of the novels.)
A Gentle Dying,
which was one of the last of our stories to be published, was actually almost the first we wrote. The manuscript was misplaced for years and did not turn up again until Cyril had died. The remaining stories in this book are all projects which were incomplete at his death, and which I subsequently completed. There are still one or two lost manuscripts, but it isn't very likely that they will turn up at this date, and barring such event there will be no more.

As this is not an obituary for Cyril Kornbluth but only a note on some of the stories we wrote together, I do not suppose it fitting to dwell on personal matters. But Cyril was a good, man: intelligent, able, illuminating every gathering in which he took part. It was a pleasure to work with him. I cannot say how much I regret that it is over.

 

Frederik Pohl

 

 

CRITICAL MASS

 

 

THE NEUTRON was a plump young man named Walter Chase, though what he thought he was was a brand-new Engineering graduate, sitting mummified and content with the other 3,876 in Eastern’s class of ‘98, waiting for his sheepskin.

The university glee club sang the ancient scholastic song Gaudeamus Igitur with mournful respect and creamy phrasing, for they and most of the graduates, faculty members, parents, relatives and friends present in the field house thought it was a hymn instead of the rowdy drinking song it was. It was a warm June day, conducive to reverence. Of Eastern’s 3,877 graduating men and women only three had majored in classical languages. What those three would do for a living from July on was problematical. But in June they had at least the pleasure of an internal chuckle .over the many bowed heads.

Walter Chase’s was bowed with the rest. He was of the Civil Engineering breed, and he had learned more about concrete in the four years just ended than you would think possible. Something called The Cement Research and Development Institute, whose vague but inspirational commercials were regularly on the TV screens, had located Walter as a promising high-school graduate. He was then considering the glamorous and expensive field of nuclear physics. A plausible C.R.D.I. field man had signed him up and set him straight. It took twelve years to make a nuclear physicist. Now, wasn’t that a hell of a long time to wait for the good things of life? Now, here was something he ought to consider: Four years. In four years he could walk right into a job with automatic pay raises, protected seniority, stock participation and Blue Everything, paid by the company. Concrete was the big industry of tomorrow. The C.R.D.I. was deeply concerned over the lack of interest in concrete engineering, and it was prepared to do something about it: Full four-year scholarship, tuition, living costs and pocket money. Well?

Walter signed. He was a level-headed eighteen-year-old. He had been living with a pinch-penny aunt and uncle, his parents dead; the chance of the aunt and uncle financing twelve years of nuclear studies for him he estimated to lie midway between the incredible and the impossible.

Two solid hours dwindled past in addresses by the Chancellor, the Governor of the State and a couple of other politicos receiving honorary degrees. Walter Chase allowed the words to slip past him as though they were dreams, although many of them concerned his own specialty: shelters. You knew what politician talk was. He and the 3,876 others were coldly realistic enough to know that C.S.B. was a long way from being enacted into law, much less concrete-and-steel Civilian Shelters in fact. Otherwise why would the Institute have to keep begging for students to give scholarships to? He drowsed. Then, as if with an absent-minded start, the program ended.

Everybody flocked away onto the campus.

In the hubbub was all the talk of the time: “Nice weather, but, Kee-rist! those speeches!” “Who d’ya like, in the All-Star?” “Nothing wrong with C.S.B. if it’s handled right, but you take and throw a couple thousand warheads over the Pole and-“ “My, feet hurt.” Chase heard without listening. He was in a hurry.

There was no one he wanted to meet, no special friend or family. The aunt and uncle were not present at his graduation. When it had become clear from their letters that they expected him to pay back what they had spent to care for him as soon as he began earning money, he telephoned them. Collect. He suggested that they sue him for the money or, alternatively, take a flying jump for themselves. It effectively closed out a relationship he loathed.

Chase saw, approaching him across the crowded campus, another relationship it was time to close out. The relationship’s name was Douglasina MacArthur Baggett, a brand-new graduate in journalism. She was pretty and she had in tow two older persons who Chase perceived to be her parents. “Walter,” she bubbled, “I don’t believe you were even looking for me! Meet Daddy and Mom.”

Walter Chase allowed his hand to be shaken. Baggett père was something in Health, Education and Welfare that had awakened Walter’s interest at one time; but as Douglasina had let it slip that Daddy had been passed over for promotion three years running, Walter’s interest had run out. The old fool now began babbling about how young fellows like Walter would, through the Civilian Shelters Bill, really give the country the top-dog Summit bargaining position that would pull old Zhdetchnikov’s cork for him. The mother simpered: “So you’re the young man! We’ve

heard so much about you in Douglasina’s letters. I tell you, why don’t you come and spend the All-Star weekend with us in Chevy Chase?”

Walter asked blankly: “Why?”

“Why?” said Mrs. Baggett in a faint voice, after a perceptible pause. Walter smiled warmly.

“After all,” he said, shrugging, “boy-girl college friendships. . . . She’s a fine girl, Mrs. Baggett. Delighted to have met you, Mr. Baggett. Doug, maybe we’ll run into each other again, eh?” He clapped her on the shoulder and slipped away.

Once screened from the sight of their faces, he sighed. In some ways he would miss her, he thought. Well. On to the future!

In the dormitory he snapped the locks on his luggage, already packed, carried them down to be stowed in the luggage compartment of the airport bus and then circulated gently through the halls. He had in four years at Eastern made eleven Good Contacts and thirty-six Possibles, and he had an hour or two before his plane to joke with, shake the hand of, or congratulate the nine of those on the list who shared his dorm. He fooled the fools and flattered the flatterable, but in his wake a few of his classmates grimly said: “That young son of a bitch is going to go far, unless he runs out of faces to step on.”

Having attended to his nine he charitably spread some of his remaining tune among the couple dozen Outside Chances he ran into. To a sincere, but confused, servo-mech specialist he said, man-to-man, “Well, Frankie, what’s the big decision? Made up your mind about the job yet?”

The servo-mech man clutched him and told him his tale of woe. “God no, Walt. I don’t know which way to turn. Missile R and D’s offering me a commission right away, captain inside of two years. But who wants to be a soldier all his life? And there’s nothing in private industry for inertial guidance, you know.

Damn it, Walt, if only they let you resign from the service after a couple years!” Chase said something more or less comforting and moved on. He was careful not to chuckle until he was out of sight.

Poor Frankie! Got himself educated in what amounted to a military speciality-who else could afford servo-mechanisms?-and discovered he hated the Army.

Still, Chase meditated while nodding, smiling and handshaking, thirty years as an Engineering Officer might not be so bad. As it was one of the alternatives open to himself-that was what C.S.B. was all about -he allowed his mind to drift over the prospects. It wasn’t like the bad old days of fighting. A flat and rigid policy of atomic retaliation had been U. S. military doctrine for fifty-three years, and backing it up was a large, well-trained U. S. military establishment of career men. And the regulations said career. The only way out short of thirty-year retirement was with a can tied to your tail and a taint to your name. He dismissed that thirty-year dead end with light contempt, as he had before.

The air-raid warning sirens began to howl their undulating hysteria.

Chase sighed and glanced at his watch. Not too bad. He should still be able to make his plane. Everyone around him was saying things like, “Ah, damn it!” or “Oh, dear,” or “Jeez!” But they were all dutifully following the arrows and the “S” signs that dotted the campus.

Chase trailed along. He was kind of annoyed, but nothing could really spoil his day. The first shelter he came to was full up. The freshman raid warden stood at the door-Chase had been a raid warden himself three years before-chanting: “Basement filled to capacity, folks. Please proceed to Chemistry building. Don’t block the exit, folks. Basement here filled-“

Because of the extra crowd caused by the graduation the Chemistry building basement was filled, too, but Chase got into the Administration building and sat down to wait. Like everybody else. Women fussed about their dresses-they always had, in every air raid drill he had taken part in, say, four a week for fifty-two weeks of each year for the nearly twenty years since he had been old enough to toddle alongside his late mother and father. Men grumbled about missing appointments. They always had. But for the most part the battery-fed air-raid lights gleamed equably on them all, the warden fussed with the air conditioner and the younger folk smooched in the corners.

It wasn’t a bad shelter, Walter Chase thought. The Law School basement was a mess-too high a pH in the mortar mix, and the aggregate showing hygroscopic tendencies” because of some clown not watching his rock crusher, so the walls were cracked and damp. Chemistry’s had been poured in a freeze. Well, naturally it began to sinter and flake. This was better; trust the Chancellor to make sure his own nest was downy! Of course, in a raid none of them would be worth a hoot; but there weren’t to be any real raids. Ever.

A jet plane’s ripping path sounded overhead.

Evidently this was going to be a full-dress affair, at least regional in scope. They didn’t throw simulated manned-bomber attacks for a purely local do. Walter frowned. It had suddenly occurred to him that with the air-transport flight lanes screwed up by military fighters on simulated missions everything within a thousand miles might be rerouted into stack patterns. What the devil would that do to his plane’s departure time?

Then he smiled forebearingly. He was, in a way, pleased to be annoyed. It meant he was entering into the adult world of appointments and passages. They said that when a raid drill began to be a damn interruption instead of a welcome break from classes and a chance to smooch, then, brother, you were growing up. He guessed he was growing up.

“Goddam foolishness,” growled the man who sat next to Chase on the bench, as though it were a personal attack. More jets shredded sound overhead and he glared at Chase. Walter inventoried his English shoes, seal ring and pale cigar and at once engaged him in conversation. The man was some graduate’s father; they had got separated in the raid drill, and Pop was sore as a tramped bunion. The whole drill thing was damned childishness, didn’t Walter see that? And vindictive damned childishness when they chose to throw one on graduation day of a major university. If only Crockhouse had been elected in ‘96 instead of Braden, with his packed ballots in Indiana and. Puerto Rico!

Here Walter Chase’s interest cooled, because Pop sounded like a politician, revealed himself to be a Nationalist and thus was out of power. But there was no escaping the bench. What Pop objected bitterly to was the multiple levels of expense. Here the drill was knocking men out of production, but the damn Middle-Road Congress said they had to be paid anyhow. And if the Defense Department was making it a full-scale simulated raid, did Walter know what that meant? That meant that there went thirty or forty Nineveh Abies at a hundred and fifty thousand dollars apiece, and was that enough? No. Then they sent up four or five Tyres at ninety thousand apiece to knock down the Ninevehs. Did that make sense? He paused to glare at Walter Chase.

Walter said, “Well, that’s the Cold War for you. Say, who d’you like in the All-Star-“ He didn’t get to finish the sentence.

“L.A.” snapped Pop, without losing a beat. “Get the damn monkey-business over with, that’s what I say. I’m a sneak-puncher and I’m proud of it. If we’d put our man in the White House instead of that psalm-singing Braden there wouldn’t be any Moscow or Peking or Calcutta by now and we wouldn’t be sitting here on our butts!”

Somebody clawed through from the bench in front;

with horror, Chase recognized old man Baggett. But Douglasina’s Daddy did not recognize him. Flushed with rage and politics he had eyes only for the sneak-punch advocate. “You’re right it’s monkey-business, fat-mouth!” he snarled. “No thanks to you and your Crock-house we aren’t dead in this cellar instead of safe and secure! President Braden is a hundred percent pledged to the C.S.B., God bless it, and-“

The rest of his sentence and Sneak-Punch’s angry reply were drowned out by a further flight of jets overhead, and then the wham-wham-wham of interceptor missiles blowing simulated attackers out of the sky.

Somehow, heaven knew how, Walter Chase managed to sneak away, inching through the packed rows of benches. As soon as the All Clear siren toots began he was up and out, ignoring the freshman warden’s puppy-like yaps that they should remain in their seats until the front benches had been emptied-

Routine. It was all strictly routine.

Out on the campus, Chase headed for the airport in earnest, and was delighted to find that his flight was still on time. How lucky he was, he thought, with more pride than gratitude. “What are you, sir?” asked the robot baggage-checker, and he said, “Washington,” with pleasure. He was on his way. He was headed for Washington, where Dr. Hujes of The Cement Research and Development Institute would assign him to his job, doubtless the first rung of a dizzying climb to wealth and fame. He was a young man on his way. Or so he thought. He did not know that he was only a neutron ambling toward events.

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