Today’s trip to the vault brings us two science fiction stories from 1962 both written by women and both being contemporary snapshots of their era. But that’s about all they share. The first, “The Sound of Silence” by Barbara Constant, is pitched as melodrama. The second, “The Glory of Ippling” by Helen M. Urban, is pitched more as satire. I’ll put links to each at the bottom of this post. Both are worth the few minutes they take to read.
First up, “The Sound of Silence” by Barbara Constant. Spoilers abound.
The artwork “by Schelling” hooked me before I even started the story. It’s like a still from a black & white TV show or soap opera or even an episode of Mad Men. The teary-eyed woman, clutching her handkerchief, the indifferent man with his horn-rimmed glasses, the décor in the background, all of it looks less like science fiction and more like a day-time television show. All before the story even starts. Interesting.
The story itself is about one Lucilla “Lucky” Brown, a secretary for a Los Angeles advertising firm. Lucky seems to have everything going for her at least as far as her boss and coworkers think. So why then does she leave the office at 4:30PM three days a week to see a psychiatrist? No one can believe it let alone explain it. Especially not junior executive Paul Chapman who all fall and winter was very interested in Lucky Brown, but by spring and summer wasn’t interested in anything much at all.
Well, turns out Lucky is telepathic and has been all her life. As a child she found great joy in this, but then her parents taught her to be ashamed of her ability. After that she managed to mask her powers from herself by simply believing herself “lucky”. For years that worked. But then she and Paul Chapman had to work together on an advertising campaign and while they seemed so sympathetic in so many ways, the outcome led to collapse for both of them. During the campaign, while doing project research, they read old pulp science fiction magazines, and Lucky found great comfort in their stories of people with fantastic powers, but Paul derided and mocked them. This made that old shame return. Only now it was worse. It brought nightmares of isolation and despair with it. Hence her trips to Dr. Andrews.
This is that sort of science fiction story I believe we are supposed to find uplifting, but which, mainly because I’m a horrible person who likely was hugged the wrong amount as a child, I can’t help but read as both sinister and too treacly sweet. The reason Lucky is going to see Dr. Andrews is because she feels shame that she’s different. Except the different she feels is of that sort that makes her special and there by better than the people around her. I know that’s absolutely not Constant’s intent, but that’s me. It’s absolutely valid to write the stories that reflect the world you wished existed or provide you with those connections you feel you lacked. But those aren’t the stories I like.
On to the “Glory of Ippling”!
Helen M. Urban’s “The Glory of Ippling” is also set in the world of 1962 California, but the vision it shows is one of wrestling events, burlesque parlors, and advertising gone rampant. It’s less Mad Men and more Mad Magazine and quite possible to read as a lampoon of a certain UFO cult that still exists to this day. All of which makes it almost the exact opposite of “The Sound of Silence”.
In “The Glory of Ippling” the Ipplings are a vast space empire of superior elitists who come across as caricatures of 19th century Austro-Hungarians. They’re big into uniforms and the excellence of their way of doing things. One of their number, one Boswellister who received his post less by skill and more by his social connections, has been sent by the Ipplinger Cultural Contact Group to make contact with humanity. Unfortunately Boswellister is finding it hard-going as humanity is a craven superstitious species, beholden to sensation whether in the wrestling ring or on the stripper’s runway.
When he finally does manage to get our attention, we see him not as the superior specimen of an intergalactic empire he absolutely believes himself to be, but as a salesman pitching a new product. The UFO technology, the dazzling lights, it’s all just more spectacle to get people to buy something. When Boswellister fails to produce the requisite “free samples” a riot ensues, forcing Boswellister and the rest of the Cultural Contact Group to abandon their mission and flee Earth.
This is a very silly story, but a quite fun one that delights in skewering pretensions. It’s a story where everyone is not simply ugly, but absurd. Humanity is absurd. The superior Ipplings are absurd. Especially Boswellister, Boswellister is extremely absurd. He is that guy who calls everyone else sheeple, prides himself on his logic, and laments the vulgarity of the modern world while harassing sex workers. If Boswellister had only waited until 2016. The USA would have elected him president.
Here’s the link to “The Sound of Silence”.
The next Yesterweird read will be Plague Ship by Andre Norton. If you like these sort of reads please consider supporting my Patreon.
Henry Kuttner’s Fury is one of those golden age SF books full of egomaniacal supermen and the form-fitting ballgown-wearing bombshells who love them. It’s overwrought and dopey, but also wonderful and deliriously entertaining.
Here’s your sentence of world building:
“The Earth is long dead, blasted apart, and the human survivors who settled on Venus live in huge citadels beneath the Venusian seas in an atrophying, class-ridden society ruled by the Immortals – genetic mutations who live a thousand years or more.”
Sam Reed’s an immortal too but he’s raised as a short-termer because his father’s insane and disowned him. So Sam lives on the wrong side of the tracks and gets involved with various criminals such as the Slider and the Sheffield Gang. Oh yeah, everyone has names like they might have worked at a 1950s Madison Avenue ad agencies, despite it being the 27th century. Sam finds himself at odds with the immortal Harker family (which he’s a member of but doesn’t know it) and the stage gets set for a confrontation. There’s a lot of yelling at each other over skype televisor and weird drugs get tossed around. Sam winds up losing the first round and put on ice for forty years. When he wakes up he’s pissed, but also surprised to realize he’s an immortal too.
A new battle of wits ensues played out with propaganda and the manipulation of the mentally unstable. Sorry, cuz. Sam swindles his way to temporary victory, and soon he’s backing terrorism and manipulating the masses with fear and false promises in order to achieve his ends. But all of it’s too much and the remaining immortals hatch a plan to breed an infiltrator assassin to take Sam down in a couple of decades. There’s more yelling. Sam gets needle-pistoled by his secretary and right when it looks bad, Mr. Ages shows up and says, “Well Sam, you’re a great Machiavellian dictator and humanity needs people like you from time to time to keep itself from stagnation. But you’re too unstable and prone to violence. So, I’m just going to keep you on ice until the species needs you again.” THE END.
Then there’s the epilogue where Sam wakes up again, and the book stops right there mid-sentence.
It’s a dizzy ride, full of fun stuff that you could probably make a great RPG setting out of: a hostile environment full of monsters, strange drugs and devices, mercenaries and criminals, bomb-shelter Keeps, immortals, and ruined settlements. It’s a quick read, by turns jaw-droppingly good and jaw-droppingly dopey like a soap opera. You can probably find it (either as Fury or by its alternate title Destination: Infinity!) for a buck or two in a cardboard box at your local nerd-emporium.
It’d certainly be better-spent money than the admission price to any half-dozen recent sci-fi movies.