Science Fiction Short Story Review: "The Stoker and the Stars" by Algis Budrys
This is another in the series of “It Came from the Pulps!” where I review science fiction short stories that were originally published in the pulp magazines of mid-20th century. Many of these have become available in electronic form as free downloads, particularly from Project Gutenberg, or for a low price.
The story begins with an unnamed narrator reminiscing about “him.” He knew him. Well, everybody knows him now. What was he like? Well, the narrator guesses he doesn’t know him that well. What did he look like? He looked like a man.
Earth had reached out beyond Centaurus and Sirius and then earthlings met the Jeks, the Nosurwey and the Lud. Baker mutinied, shot Cope, and surrendered the remainder of the human race to the wiser, gentler races in the stars before they were wiped out. They were then left alone to carry out trade with those outside the solar system. And they did so, not with murder in their hearts simply waiting for their chance to get back, but with gratitude, accepting the peace for the gift that it was. Too many of their best men lay dead for them to have any remaining claim to these things in the own right.
It was after the war and with earth thoroughly beaten that the stranger approached the Serenus on a godforsaken landing field on Mars. First Officer MacReidie and the Second, the narrator, were loading cargo.
“Got a job?” the stranger asked.
This is hard science fiction, taking place on interstellar transports. It deals with alien races, interplanetary trade and relations in a post-war galaxy, an obvious parallel to post-WWII Europe. It is happily optimistic, even tipping its way toward anti-racism. It is a surprise and pleasant to read, even if it turns just a bit Pollyanna.
Author Algis Budrys was born in what was then Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kalingrad, Russia), the son of the consul general for the Lithuanian government. His family emigrated first to Paris then to New York in the 1930s. Budrys was active not only as writer, but as a critic, an editor and teacher.
Title: “The Stoker and the Stars” first published in Astounding Science Fiction Feb. 1959
Author: Algis Budrys (1931-2008)
©2015 Denise Longrie
An earlier version of this review appeared on another site. It has been removed from that site and is no longer visible. The review has been updated and expanded for its inclusion in PP
Image Credit » http://pixabay.com/en/galaxy-barred-spiral-galaxy-10994/ by WikiImages
alexdg1 wrote on June 4, 2015, 12:54 PM
When you read these pre-1970s, pre-Star Trek/Star Wars science fiction stories, do you visualize the settings in modern-day, high-tech mental images, or does the written-in-the-1950s vibe influence what you "see" and flood your mind with the look of the era in which the stories were published?
I think I asked this before, but since most of my sci-fi experience is cinematic or TV-based rather than literary, I tend to see the visuals in pre-1970s stuff the way they appear in video-based media. Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 novel conjures up the look of the movie, but his older stories don't.
msiduri wrote on June 4, 2015, 12:58 PM
Since this one is so heavily influenced by WWII and its aftermath, I thought of destroyers and diesel motors, I think.
CalmGemini wrote on June 7, 2015, 2:29 PM
I read the story.It was perhaps too optimistic.But I liked the story.I felt an underlying sadness while reading about ''the stoker''. I did like the story.
msiduri wrote on June 7, 2015, 2:38 PM
CalmGemini I agree that is was overly optimistic and sad at the same time, but I found it enjoyable just the same. It was written well enough that it keeps the reader's attention, I thought. I'm glad you enjoyed it.1