Scortia, Thomas N. – “The Shores of Night” (1956)
An odd one – a not-entirely-successful move away from the uninspired, straightahead narrative/formal qualities of the others (I’m not convinced that Robinson or Miller were consciously trying to play around with narrative), but at least Scortia is trying. This is the one novel(ette) included this year, although if I am reading the bibliographies right a portion was published as a short story in 1956 and this was the first appearance of the full piece. Opens with a vaguely stream-of-consciousness-ish prologue with a telepathic conversation between “two great spheres of blazing metal” orbiting Centaurus. Then cuts back to the bulk of the story, some time before, when the team on Pluto building the first interstellar ship receives a message from Earth saying that their funding has been cut – the people of Earth are sick of subsidizing the few colonies and scientific teams scattered throughout the solar system.
Our principles here are General Freck, driven leader and deadbeat dad, physicist Beth Bechtoldt, inventor of the Bechtoldt drive that would propel the ship (but also possessor of “a woman’s weakness”), and Art Sommers, idealistic young pilot. The ending of their program rapidly approaching, Freck blackmails Sommers into trying the ship before it’s ready – the drive malfunctions and the younger man is blinded (this section titled “Bellerophon” after the Greek myth). This is just one more collateral casualty in Freck’s relentless drive for the stars (beginning with the schism with his wife and son), but this is presented as being at least mostly problematic, unlike the protagonist in “Dream Street.” When the ship from Earth comes to take them home, they’re surprised to find out it’s almost entirely automated – progress has marched on without them. Freck forces the base’s doctor to transplant his eyes to Sommers, hijacks the new ship, retrofits the drive to it, and sens Sommers out of the solar system. Then we get an “Interlude” with disjointed telepathy. Back to the main narrative, Freck appears to be back on Earth, in some sort of robot body, and then remembers that he, Sommers, and Bechtoldt, left behind on Pluto, froze themselves to wait for the next ship to arrive. Something went wrong in the interval, and Freck is now a cybernetic brain – his ability to transfer his mind from machine to machine propels the narrative fractures. Also it turns out that “Sung of the Asian Combine” is out to be the next World Executor and is pulling strings, along with some crooked Earth-land-owning industrialists, to kill the space program. Long story short – Freck uses a robot body to try and find his wife and son (both are already dead, although he gets to meet his granddaughter, a child whom the narrative describes in some creepy/unsettling ways), forestalls the coup, and becomes one of the first “haunted spaceships” to explore the further reaches of the galaxy. Art and Beth do the same, and there’s some confusion as to who is thinking what, and humanity seems to be headed toward some sort of telepathic gestalt.