THE PLANETEERS/THE ULTIMATE WEAPON
John W. Campbell (1910-1971)
ACE SF DOUBLE B-585
Rod Blake and Ted Penton have just left Earth in their home-made spaceship. They're in a hurry as one of their atomic experiments blew up Europe, but they were glad to have been given a multi-cannon salute even if the operators had forgotten to remove the shells before they were fired. They land on Mars in a patch of sand dunes near a boggy swale which is covered with three foot high dome-shaped plants with sword-shaped leaves. Blake notices a fifteen foot Japanese maple and points it out to Ted, using Ted's voice. Ted replies in Rod's and the two realize that the plants are telepathic and are projecting images into the minds of the recent arrivals. They reenter the ship and visit a ruined city they have spotted on the horizon. Landing in a sort of decayed plaza, they see that the scarred pavement is covered with centaurs. They exit the vessel and the elder centaur teaches them the centaur language and history in about 30 seconds via telepathy, which is apparently the principal means of Martian communication. They learn that the centaurs had visited earth thousands of years before, but had returned due to the cranky and unpredictable behavior of an emerging hominid species. In reality there aren't as many centaurs as appear to the two explorers, as some of them are the dome-shaped plants (called Thushol) they had previously encountered. As well as possessing ESP, the Thushol are also shape-shifters. The elder tells them that they had given up trying to distinguish the real centaurs from the imaginary ones and that it didn't make any difference as they all behaved the same anyway. While they're talking to the centaur they notice that more Teds and Rods are popping into existence all around them. Confusion reigns until one of the Rods sneezes, proving he's human. That Rod feeds the other Teds drinks of tetanus and they all run off except one, proving he's the real one. They both climb back into the ship and leave to explore other planets.
The Ganymedeans are 7'3" tall and are skinny with green hair and are divided into two groups, the Shaloor and the Lanoor. The former are upper class rulers and the others are slaves. Ted and Rod are in jail because the previous Earthlings had shot at the natives when they first landed and humans were now regarded as untrustworthy. Since much of their equipment is in jail with them, Ted is able to concoct a Crotonaldehyde cocktail which has the property of turning glass to a brittle solid. They use it to break a window and escape, stealing a car and getting caught in a traffic jam and run into a light pole. A sticky globular sort of creature (the Shleath) chases them until Ted drives it off with an atomic flashlight. They are caught and jailed again and anticipate being used as Shleath bait in a kind of Roman arena surrounded by bleachers which are occupied by the Shaloor. Ted invents electric soles for their shoes as he has discovered that electricity dissolves the Shleath, which otherwise absorb any other type of organism and get bigger. After they're shoved into the arena, they turn the boots on and trample the Shleath into submission, but one of the Shaloor, having appropriated one of their atomic pistols, overloads it and blows a hole in the arena wall through which Ted and Rod escape and dash off to their ship and leave the planet.
Callisto doesn't rotate: one side is always pointed at Jupiter so they have 16 day days and nights. It's a heavy metal planet with a nitrogen and carbon dioxide atmosphere. The Callistans make machinery and buildings out of cellular material and are mainly made of beryllium themselves. Ted and Rod's ship is also made of that element, so while the two are being entertained and are lecturing to the denizens, other Callistan mechanics are busy taking their ship apart. When they realize this, Ted and Rod dash off, chased by guards with air guns and wavy-edged swords. They find refuge in a sort of factory where they are befriended by a six-legged dachsundish dog that loves borax. It's name is gkrthps so they call it "pipeline" instead. Stealing a bio-car, operated by muscles that drive sets of feet, they hot-foot it to the landing field and retrieve their ship before it is totally vandalized and leave. Then they pay a brief visit back to Ganymede to drop off some of the doggies that seem to have the habit of multiplying exponentially when they get their favorite food: boron. Soon the Shleath that are terrorizing that planet will be wiped out by the voracious gkrthps's. (Memories of "The Trouble with Tribbles")
Curious about the tenth planet beyond Pluto, they fly there and land. It's a dark place as the sun is so small and they place the ship near a cliff made of what appears to be basalt. Exploring they observe that the surface is made of blue sand (frozen oxygen) and there's a lake nearby that's made of liquid hydrogen. The temperature is 5 degrees above absolute zero. Poking about, they see black cylindrical creatures rolling toward the lake. They are immense, about 100' long by 30' in diameter. arriving at the lake, they produce a long tubular appendage with which they suck up the liquid hydrogen. As seems universal, the "rollers" have telepathy. In a mental exchange, Ted and Rod learn that the rollers live a million years or more and that they are truly schizophrenic: Their minds and bodies don't communicate, so the personalities are just along for the ride, so to speak. When of the bodies finally dies, the mind forms a sort of vortex and lives forever. One of the beast spots the two voyagers and the whole herd gives chase. Ted and Rod take cover in a crevasse cut into the cliff while the pursuers mindlessly try to squeeze themselves into it, slavering over the potential juicy tidbits. The first roller kills itself trying to mash into the entrance, so they escape. Rod throws his water bottle into the air and shoots it, creating an explosion. The rest of the rollers run off and the two run back to the ship and take off.
And land on the tenth planet's moon, occupied by beings 5' high and 6' in diameter. The ship is parked in a sort of garden the surface of which is mostly pink moss. The name of the moon is Pornan and its a dense planet with twice as much gravity as Earth. Telepathy is the means of communication here as well, but the users are a type of monkey that delight in making life miserable for the staider residents. The latter drive cars that have immense inflated bumpers around each, because accidents are common. The Krulls, as the monkeys are named, take fiendish amusement in causing traffic tie-ups, stealing items not nailed down, and creating havoc whenever an opportunity presents itself. Their highly developed telepathic abilities enable them to project images into the minds of the more normal citizens. The most common projection being that they themselves are invisible. This allows them to practice all kinds of destructive and irritating pranks, such as automobile accidents. The Krull steal Rod and Ted's ship and make it disappear, but with the aid of their space goggles, they are able to find it on top of a big rock in the park. They stun the surrounding Krull with one of their atomic flashlights and escape the planet.
THE ULTIMATE WEAPON:
Buck Kendall of the Interplanetary Patrol and his six man crew are cruising near the orbit of Pluto when they intercept a distress call from a miner on Pluto, saying that a giant ship has landed and is firing on his dome. The signal cuts off abruptly and Kendall races to the rescue. He finds the mining location wiped out and all the platinum gone, but his sensors indicate that the invader is nearby. The two ships fire on each other but it's no contest: the larger one just absorbs the patrol ship and Buck and his crew barely manage to escape in a life boat. They are rescued two days later and inform their superiors that the ship not only had faster than light drive, but also used neutron guns as weapons. Since Buck is rich and an inventor, he resigns his post as lieutenant and begins experimenting in his own lab with answers to the FTL problem. He soon realizes that extra-dimensionality would be the only way to go faster than the speed of light; his analogy involving comparing the time it would take to run around a football field as contrasted with just dashing across it.
Meanwhile, one thousand light years away, in the Mira system, Gresth Gkae, commander of the 93rd expeditionary force reports to his superiors about the rich rewards being offered by the defenseless Solar System. Mira is a variable red giant star around which the two planets Sthor and Asthor revolve. Because of the erratic radiation, the worlds suffer from unpredictable heating and freezing eras, ice ages of indeterminate length, alternating with torrid epochs, also unpredictably protracted. So the Solar System seems like a good place to move to.
Buck in his lab on the Moon is soon involved in studying atomic energy and the quantum world. The lines of force observed to be perpendicular to light waves seem to offer a way to exceed light speed, but the problem of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle has to be solved first. (That relating to the impossibility of pinpointing the exact location of a given quantum: proton, neutron, electron, etc.). He builds an enormous generator using mercury as a regulator because it undergoes a change of state at very high temperatures. So he manages to create a magnetic bubble with which to contain and manage atomic energies. Then he designs a silver mirror to reflect the atomic reaction along a linear pathway. This light cannon is made just in time as the Mirans have invaded and decimated everything in their path including the planet Mars and its moons, Deimos and Phobos. Because of the Buck's invention, though, the war reaches a stalemate.
Continuing his research, Buck realizes at last that the Heisenberg Principle can be split into four different modes: quantum, atomic, molecular and mass. And he grasps the fact that the latter concept will give him control of FTL because it entails the total conversion of mass to energy: not only faster than light, but instantaneous travel. So he builds several versions of the HP: the 4th to power a ship and the 3rd to make bombs. In no time at all, the Mirans are driven out of the system and their own solar system is conquered. But Earth forces are not revengeful; they realize that the Mirans have a lot to offer and that cooperation is more productive than hostility. So they help locate another solar system for the Mirans to move to and share the discoveries about the utilization of the quantum universe.
I liked both of these epic creations of the Golden Age quite a bit. Campbell, as an magazine editor, had a reputation of being one, or THE popularizer of scifi in the thirties through his encouragement of writers like Asimov, Heinlein, and others, but he was a rather cranky and conservative sort of person and didn't get along with everyone. Opinionated and harsh upon occasion, he nevertheless raised the quality of published stories and novels into the realm of actual literature instead of letting them wallow in the depths of the pulp world...