Bell curve of quality: simple, clever, simple (3/5)
I believe Joachim may have sent me this book along with a trove of others, most of questionable quality, as if receiving masochistic pleasure from the pain some of these books induce—i.e. Irvin Greenfield’s Waters of Death (1967). The inclusion of Nourse’s short story collection was a mixed blessing: he’s a new author to be and reading his short stories is a great opportunity to sample his work, yet what nefarious plans did Joachim lay for me in reading this collection… angelic altruism or demonic possession?
The latter description better suited Joachim as first two stories hastily slapped together pieces of, er, speculative fiction. This is especially true for “The “Counterfeit Man”, which felt like it had been squeezed from a 200-page novel to fit the form of a novelette, thereby losing all of its subtleness, intrigue, and refinement—if any of those had been present to begin with. Meanwhile, “The Canvas Bag” also feels like it was compressed to fit the short story form. What could have been an interesting unfolding of hallucinations or dream-like sequences, Nourse’s inexperienced hand took the short route possible and made it dully simple.
The collection peaks in the middle: “Circus” is a familiar alien-in-alien-land story with an unusual framing twist, “My Friend Bobby” is also a familiar boy-with-telepathy story but takes an unnervingly dark path to its just as dark conclusion, and “The Link” has all the right qualities for a modern-day space opera epic but it’s caged by its length and lack of vision.
Nourse’s other collection may be of interest: Psi High and Others (1967) contains longer pieces of his work (three novelettes), possibly examples that aren’t so hurried; Rx for Tomorrow (1971) contains stories from 1952 to 1971, so I’d gauge his early writing to be of similar quality to the ones listed here.
“The Counterfeit Man” (novelette, 1952) – 2/5
Return from a mission to Ganymede that was suspiciously dull, one man dies and another man exhibits bizarre blood chemistry that would surely have killed anyone else. Dr. Crawford is quick on the uptake and posits that the man is actually a counterfeit, but every fake has a weakness and it’s only in good time and cleverness that he corners the alien. 38 pages
“The Canvas Bag” (shortstory, 1955) – 2/5
After six weeks of stability in a small Indiana town with a stable girlfriend, Joe is considering settling down with a home, a job, and a wife. He wants to end his train-hopping vagabond days, but Jeannie isn’t sure of his promises or history. When she asks about his past, Joe begins to remember decades and decades of history. 15 pages
“An Ounce of Cure” (shortstory, 1955) – 3/5
Fifty-five years old and healthy, or so James thinks to himself, except for the bothersome little toe that twinges with pain. Seeing the doctor for relief, he’s only sent from specialist to specialist as each analyze him for some far-fetched diagnosis. As he just wants simple relief rather than a regiment of tests, James walks out to the unknown. 6 pages
“The Dark Door” (novelette, 1953) – 3/5
Henry Scott was hired to analyze data concerning the rise of insanity in the population, only for him to become insane from performing the job without a result to Dr. Weber, who now seeks to treat his paranoia. Henry, however, is convinced that fourth-dimensional people populate the city, until he further realizes that Dr. Weber is his source of prosecution. 33 pages
“Meeting of the Board” (shortstory, 1955) – 3.5/5
Since the Robling Titanium Corporation’s stock has been tanking due to poor production output, Walter Towne has been the whipping boy as he’s the Vice-President in Charge of Production. Behind the scenes though, administration has been sabotaging production to drive the stick down in order to buy is up cheaply while the laborers lounge about. Walter is frustrated yet reactive. 23 pages
“Circus” (novelette, 1963) – 4/5
Jefferson Haldeman Parks has been seemingly dropped on Earth and everything is exactly like it is back home, save for things like coinage and pets. When he tries to tell people the truth of his extraterrestrial origins, he only gets ridiculed. His one sympathetic ear is found in a diner, who also happens to be a writer, but both are bound for a mutual shock. 9 pages
“My Friend Bobby” (shortstory, 1954) – 4/5
Jimmy is just a five-year-old boy whose best friend is a dog named Bobby. The two are inseparable. Jimmy’s mother, however, is scared of him, telling his daddy that Jimmy can read her thoughts and that the boy and the dog have a unusual relationship. If she hadn’t beaten him and projected her ugly thoughts, Jimmy wouldn’t have threatened to kill her. 15 pages
“The Link” (shortstory, 1954) – 4/5
For two thousand years, Nehmon and his ancestors have been jumping from solar system to solar system to avoid the perpetual pursuit of the Hunters, another group of humans that no one in living history has ever met, yet they continue to run. But Ravdin and Dana decided to stay to try for peace, but only get so far as to play some music for them. 22 pages
“Image of the Gods” (shortstory, 1954) – 3/5
The tiny colony of Baron IV doesn’t have many people nor does it produce much taaro for export back to Earth, but this is home for Pete Farnam—he’s also the mayor. Even the planet’s indigenous intelligent life is rather dull: short furry beings who seem pleased with having the humans around. When an unscheduled ship lands dictating new Earth policy, everyone is up in arms. 23 pages
“The Expert Touch” (shortstory, 1955) – 3/5
Chris Taber was hired as a single-patient experiment to find a one-all cure for insanity. After two years of—literally and figuratively—digging through his brain, Dr. Palmer believes they are 90% near their goal, but then Chris gets scared and decides to quit the project. Knowing Chris’s mind, Dr. Palmer has a quick and persuasive word with him. 19 pages
“Second Sight” (shortstory, 1956) – 3.5/5
Amy is the first full telepath and though at the age of twenty-three, she’s never been independent as her parents had abandoned her and the Study Center has taken care of her and trained her. The kind Dr. Lambertson wishes to protect her innocence and independence while Drs. Custer and Aarons in Boston want to exploit her talent to develop other psi-latent patients. 17 pages