“Dormant” (1948) by A. E. van Vogt

TITLE: “Dormant” (1948) by A. E. van Vogt
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Story
SOURCE: BEST SCIENCE-FICTION STORIES edited by Michael Stapleton (Hardcover, Hamlyn, 1977, ISBN: 0-600-38243-5, 750pp)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Startling Stories, November 1948

I was rummaging in the vaults a while ago, and I came upon an old anthology that I haven’t read in years. Well, me being me, I couldn’t resist having a browse through it, and looking at the extensive contents listing of excellent stories, the memories started flooding back.

I fondly remember this particular story as one of my favourites from that anthology. A. E. van Vogt’s short story “Dormant” was one of those Golden Age of Science Fiction classics first published in the November 1948 edition of Startling Stories, and the story isn’t one of those far-future, outer space tales, but is actually pretty much in a contemporary setting, 1948, the same year as the actual publication date of the story. Being an historian (I was actually studying history at school at the time I read it), I’ve always really liked the strong post-World War II setting of this tale, with the US destroyer Coulson and it’s crew doing mop up operations on a remote pacific island, finding hidden caches of fuel and other goodies left behind by the Japanese.

But they also find a lot more than just Japanese leftovers. There’s the perplexing mystery of a gigantic rock, weighing millions of tons, which seems to be able to move around the island at will. A rock with a surface temperature of many hundreds of degrees, and which hurls out seemingly random destructive radioactive blasts. A giant rock which is not actually a rock, but an ancient, sentient robot bomb left on Earth countless millions of years ago by some alien race in a long-forgotten interstellar war.

The sections of the story from the POV of the bomb are among my favourites. The bomb, which actually has a name (it calls itself Iilah), has been dormant for countless aeons, but has recently been reawakened by the radiation from the atomic bomb tests on Bikini Atoll in 1946. It has got only low-level life functions back, and is suffering from amnesia. It cannot see the water, air, and even the humans around it. It’s simply totally unaware of their existence. All it can see are the ships and the planes, which it takes for strange lifeforms, flying around in the “sky”. And it’s the bomb’s attempts to communicate with these “lifeforms”, to try find out where it can get more sources of atomic energy to revive it, which unwittingly causes so much destruction and kills so many people.

And of course the humans, predictable as ever, just HAVE to start shooting at the damned thing. The giant “rock” fights back, kicking their asses and destroying the Coulson, much of the other equipment, and unknowingly snuffing out dozens of lives of which it is totally unaware. The remainder of the taskforce is ordered off the island, and an atomic bomb dropped, which is, ironically, exactly what Iilah needs. The flood of energy totally reinvigorates it, and it remembers its mission. It IS a robot bomb, after all, so it promptly follows orders, explodes and knocks Earth out of its orbit and into the sun. And so the world ends in 1948. 🙂

“Dormant” must be one of the first A. E. van Vogt short stories that I read (maybe even the first) back in the day, although I’d definitely read a few of his novels before that point. It was during this timeframe that I also came across three other van Vogt short stories – “The Monster”, “Vault of the Beast” and “Black Destroyer” – in anthologies that I’d taken out from the local library, but I’m pretty sure that I read “Dormant” before any of the others. Those four stories became huge favourites of mine during my mid-to-late-teens, and kick-started my obsession for hunting down collections of van Vogt short fiction.

“Dormant” (indeed all four of these stories) has stuck in my mind these past forty years, and is one of those early gems that cemented my newly-acquired obsession as a hardcore SF fan. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this one.

Anyone who might want to read this story, and is finding it hard to get a copy of this anthology, can also find the story in a couple of van Vogt’s short story collections, notably Destination: Universe! and Transfinite: The Essential A.E. van Vogt.

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6 GREAT SHORT NOVELS OF SCIENCE FICTION (1954) edited by Groff Conklin

6 Great Novels of Science Fiction

For this post, we have an anthology, this one from 1954. It’s another from one of the old dependables and one of my own personal favourite anthologists, Groff Conklin.

This anthology is a paperback, published by Dell, one of their Dell First Edition range, number D9, to be precise. It’s billed as “six short novels by six masters of imaginative storytelling”. One of the six is a long novella (98 pages), and the other five are all short novellas, and one long novelette, spanning 49-58 pages in length, from shortest story to longest.

 

TITLE: 6 GREAT SHORT NOVELS OF SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: Groff Conklin
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Paperback, 384 pages
PUBLISHER: Dell First Edition, New York, 1954.

CONTENTS (6 Stories)

  • Introduction by Groff Conklin
  • “The Blast” by Stuart Cloete (novella, Collier’s, April 1946)
  • “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, July 1940)
  • “The Other World” by Murray Leinster (novella, Startling Stories, November 1949)
  • “Barrier” by Anthony Boucher (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, September 1942)
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish (novelette, Galaxy, August 1952)
  • “Maturity” by Theodore Sturgeon (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, February 1947)

The first story, “The Blast”, is a bit of an oddity, as it’s by a writer that I’ve never heard of, Stuart Cloete, and it didn’t even appear in one of the science fiction magazines, but rather in an April 1946 edition of Collier’s, one of the big mass market, general magazines, which was published in the US between 1888 and 1957.

The other five stories are all from science fiction magazines, Astounding, Galaxy and Startling Stories, and all spanning the years 1940-1952. I’m familiar with three of them (Leinster, Boucher and Blish), and they’re old favourites of mine, although it’s many years since I’ve read any of them. The titles of the Heinlein and Sturgeon stories vaguely ring a bell for me, so I may or may not have read them at some point in distant past, but I recall absolutely nothing about them.

Quite an interesting anthology of stories. Should be fun reading this one.

POSSIBLE WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Groff Conklin

TITLE: POSSIBLE WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: Groff Conklin
CATEGORY: Anthology
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Fiction
FORMAT: Hardback, 256 pages
PUBLISHER: Grayson & Grayson, Ltd, London, 1952.

That’s the various general details, here’s a listing of the contents:

Introduction by Groff Conklin

PART ONE: THE SOLAR SYSTEM

  • “Operation Pumice” by Raymond Z. Gallun (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1949)
  • “Enchanted Village” by A. E. Van Vogt (Other Worlds Science Stories, July 1950)
  • “Lilies of Life” by Malcolm Jameson (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1945)
  • “Asleep in Armageddon” by Ray Bradbury (Planet Stories, Winter 1948)
  • “Not Final!” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1941)
  • “Moon of Delirium” by D. L. James (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1940)
  • “The Pillows” by Margaret St. Clair (Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1950)

PART TWO: THE GALAXY

  • “Propagandist” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1947)
  • “Hard-Luck Diggings” by Jack Vance (Startling Stories, July 1948)
  • “Space Rating” by John Berryman (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1939)
  • “Limiting Factor” by Clifford D. Simak (Startling Stories, November 1949)
  • “Exit Line” by Samuel Merwin, Jr. (Startling Stories, September 1948)
  • “The Helping Hand” by Poul Anderson (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1950)

This is an interesting anthology, edited by one of the great classic SF anthologists, and another of my favourites, Groff Conklin. The theme of this anthology is “Possible Worlds”, mankind’s possible future exploration of space, and the worlds and lifeforms he might encounter “out there”. The book is divided into two sections. The first, containing seven stories, deals with possible worlds within the solar system. The second section, comprised of six stories, takes us out to encounter worlds and life out in the galaxy.

There are quite a few familiar names here from the many anthologies I’ve collected over the years. Anderson, Asimov, Vance, Simak, Van Vogt, Leinster, Bradbury and Gallun. The others – Merwin, St. Clair, Jameson, Berryman and James – aren’t familiar to me at all. I either don’t know them at all, or have met them so infrequently that they don’t register in my fading memory. As for the stories, however, only the Van Vogt, Asimov, Bradbury and Leinster ring a bell. I don’t recall the others at all. Maybe I’ve read some or all of them at some point in the distant past, but I just don’t remember them. So it should be fun making my way through this anthology, given that I really love vintage SF from this era.

We’ve got thirteen stories in all, the oldest from 1939, the newest from 1950. They are culled from a range of SF magazines from that period – unsurprisingly there’s a large contingent (six stories) from Astounding, and the rest are spread around Startling Stories (three stories), Thrilling Wonder Stories (two stories), and one story each from Planet Stories and Other Worlds Science Stories.

I’ve had this anthology in my collection for many years, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually read it. As I have a rather huge collection of many thousands of SF books, it’s not exactly on its lonesome there – so many books to read, not enough years left in my life to read ’em all. But at least this one has moved to the top of the list and will not remain unread before I shuffle off this mortal coil. 🙂