"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The moon is heck: Two stories by Raymond F. Jones

Raymond F. Jones appears on T.E.D. Klein's canonical list "The Thirteen Most Terrifying Horror Stories."

As a reader I place a great deal of confidence in Klein's critical judgment. In the early 1980s while in high school I bought every issue of the magazine he edited: Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine. Cheaper and more efficient than college, though it has given me impossibly high genre standards: so much so that most current horror fiction is unreadable for me.

Today I read "Stay Off the Moon!" (1962) by Raymond F. Jones, which was on Klein's list. It is dated, written in 1962 and about moon survey probes preceding the Apollo missions. Not dated in the scattershot and charming way of 30s and 40s SF, but dated in some very precise and concrete details that anyone once obsessed with the Apollo program will notice.

Jones gives us these discoveries and conclusions by the man running a mobile drilling rover on the moon:

"What's the matter? Isn't it working right?" Sam asked anxiously.

Jim hesitated. "It indicates the presence of several silicates, some carbonates, and a high percentage of oxides. These are mostly of sodium, calcium, and iron, as you might expect. But there's something wrong with your calibration. The atomic and molecular characteristics aren't coming through right."

"....If the atomic weights are different, and the energy levels are different, they have to be different elements. It doesn't make sense."

"....It means the moon just doesn't belong, Sam! It means the moon is completely foreign to anything in the Solar System, in the whole galaxy—in any galaxy we have been able to analyze. It means the moon has come from somewhere else, from a region of space where atoms and electrons are not even the same as atoms and electrons here. It must be a somewhere that's so far away it's beyond the edge of space as we know it!"

Eventually the scientist drawing these conclusions, and some even more alarming ones, is fired and blacklisted.

He tries a press conference.

....Eddie Fry called him two days later. Eddie was the reporter who knew him best. "They killed the story," said Eddie. "We had to clear it with government sources, and they persuaded every press association and newspaper that knew about it to kill it. They said it would destroy the national economy that was being built up on the space program. We tried to make them believe it, Jim, but we couldn't do it. It was hard enough to be convinced when we were listening to you. Second hand, it just wouldn't go over. You really can't blame them....

The scientist, his colleague, and their spouses move to northern Canada. It's an interesting choice made by Jones: taking characters who have been indoors throughout the story and shoving them into wide open and unprotected spaces.

....In Canada that winter, Jim was sure the wolves howled on cold, moonlit nights more than ever before. And something new was happening to the moon. The silver light was taking on a faint tint of orange. The radio told of a very learned report by some astronomer who spoke obscurely of changes in albedo and percentages of atmospheric dust and angstroms of sunlight. Any fool could see the moon was changing color.

Jim listened to the wolves howling in the forest, and he thought of Cramer's Pond when he was a boy, and of a machine tumbling into a crevasse where a terrible darkness lay, and he wondered how long it would be.

I have skipped over the most tantalizing discoveries made concerning the moon menace. They straddle the absurd/sublime borderline, and seem very rickety upon reflection. The writing style Jones employs, similar to the mainstream midcentury slick style of a Jack Finney, muds-over our second thoughts as we go along.

After "Stay Off the Moon!" I moved on to "The Moon Is Death" (1953), from the collection The Non-Statistical Man (1964).

This is slightly more hardish SF, with men from a space station in lunar orbit trying to figure out why no one has returned from any of the moon landings. Men have landed on Mars and returned, but not from our own satellite.

And this is not just landing three men at a time. This is trios of atomic rockets landing hundreds of men. Real John W. Campbell stuff. And none return. Their radio reports are normal. Until the crisis begins, usually on day three. Then nothing.

It's a lovely ghostly tale of skeletons in space suits, weird clues, and dead men's dying diary entries.


3 May 2018

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