S.O.S. From Three Worlds — Murray Leinster (1967)

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Publisher: Ace Books

First Ace Edition, 1967 (stories originally appeared in Astounding in 1957 and Analog in 1964 and 1966)

Cover Art: Jack Gaughan

Plot Synopsis (of cover): John’s job was a soul-crushing ordeal. The day-to-day shuffle of paperwork and lambasting from middle management would have driven lesser men to acts of self-destruction. However, even though John was something of a heavy drinker in the off-hours, he kept his cool in the workplace, comforted in the knowledge that his vacation days were steadily accumulating. On this one particularly interminable Friday afternoon, John could hardly contain himself. Yes, most Friday afternoons tend to drag on in anticipation of the weekend reprieve, but this was the day when John would book his first off-planet getaway in a year. The clocks seemed broken. Time itself moved with frustrating lethargy. Unable to continue sitting idly, John decided to buck company policy and make reservations from his desk. As long as he was quiet, he reasoned, there would be no accusations of transgression upon the firm’s time. After dialing the number, he was greeted by a recorded female voice. “Hello, and welcome to the Jupiter 2 Interplanetary Travel Agency automated reservations menu. Your identity and credit information have automatically been transferred to the system. Please state the nature of your inquiry.” John cursed silently—this was one of those menus that required audio input. He moved his mouth close to the transmitter and, slightly above a whisper, said, “I’d like to book a trip, please.” The recording replied, “Response understood. You would like to book a trip. Please select your destination, or designate criteria to have a designation selected for you.” John thought for a moment, and whispered, “I’d like a place where I can let loose, chill on the beach, and have a drink.” The recording replied, “Response understood. Destination criteria set as ‘Pink.’ Lithium in the atmosphere of exoplanet Rho-Upsilon-486 causes instant death, but produces pink skies. Your destination has been selected, and your account has been charged.” John, terrified into silence until that point, desperately rasped, “No! No no no! Not pink! Drink! I said I wanted to drink!” The recording replied, “Input understood as ‘Hot Pink,’ interpreted as preference for ship color. The Jupiter 2 schooner ‘Liberace’s Ornament’ has been booked, and ancillary costs have been charged to your account. Overwhelming preference for pink noted—ship will be stocked with pink space suit, required for survival in planetary atmosphere, at no extra cost.” John was about to cry. He whispered, “Please, please let me talk to an operator!” After a few clicks, John was connected to a customer service specialist. Unfortunately, since the trip was already purchased, John could not cancel it without incurring substantial fees. The customer service specialist, at least, was sympathetic to John’s plight. Since John was unhappy, he would be connected with one of Jupiter 2’s partner companies, who would provide him with some discounted comfort on his journey. A couple more clicks later, and John was presented with another recording. “Hello, and welcome to the Jupiter 2 Interplanetary Escort Agency automated reservations menu.” John, flabbergasted, exclaimed, “Jesus!” The menu replied, “Input understood as ‘Rhesus’…”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: Reading this, I was overtaken by a familiar feeling. It’s similar to that I experienced as a child, when forced into activities that my teachers or parents thought would be “fun”—apple picking, or a field trip to some historical reenactment. This book smacks of a halfhearted attempt at that kind of “fun.” After all, there’s a monkey in it, right? Kids like monkeys, right? Fuck me, the author even spells out the monkey chattering as dialogue, writing out the same “Chee chee chee” line every time the bastard thing makes noise—pretending that the chirps have significance to the conversation beyond filler, like some brain-damaged 1967 Pikachu. But it ain’t just the monkey. The book—actually a collection of three short stories, clearly not edited or pruned in any way whatsoever to function better in a novel format—is stupid. It treats its readers like idiots, explaining things in curt statements of fact to an audience that it doesn’t expect can follow it. It repeats itself, not only across the three stories, but within each one (possibly a product of magazine serialization, likely fixable by spending an hour in the hands of a competent editor), describing situations and events that had already been described only pages before. Often, the peril faced by the protagonist is of the awful, unconvincing sort designed for said protagonist to be able to wiggle out of it (think MacGyver villains, but with none of the joy). Finally, the writing, on a semantic level, sucks. “Inside the ship, Calhoun again aimed the ship.” Shit like that. It’s excrement—uninspired and insipid candyfloss. If someone gets you this book as a gift, you should make them eat it.

Rating: 2.5 Cups of Coffee with AIDS

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Is the planet actually barren of life, or did all of the sentient inhabitants run for the hills when they saw what kind of taste their visitor had?
  • Are we to assume that the monkey doesn’t need a full space suit for some reason, or is that one of those cones you put on dogs so they don’t lick their neutering wounds?
  • Did somebody wash their space suit with their lucky red baseball cap?

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