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The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast: S1E8

Short Story Review: Shill and The Girl in Tube 14.

By Edward GermanPublished 3 years ago β€’ 9 min read
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Introduction:

Hello and welcome once again to the podcast. Today I will be discussing two short stories from two different pulp magazines. First up is the short story Shill wrote by award-winning science fiction author James E. Gunn, first published in Worlds of IF magazine in April 1955. The next story is The Girl in Tube 14 by Dick Purcell first published in Fantastic Science Fiction, August 1955. This will be the first time I have read these stories and they have been an interest to me for a long while.

In the meantime, I hope that you have enjoyed listening to my podcast and find the material of interest. For each show I do try to alternate the different media I intend to discuss. I am still working on building a better quality show and any comments and suggestions would be appreciated. Please feel free to express your thoughts about my podcast in the comments section whenever it's posted. The podcast can be followed on social media, follow me on Twitter @EdwardGerman3, e-mail [email protected], the show is now on WordPress At the WordPress site I have been posting updates and progress of my podcast to help keep my listeners informed. Just look for the1950ssciencefictionpodcast.wordpress.com. I look forward to hearing from my listeners.

Shill

I got interested in this story from the cover of the magazine itself. The cover of the April 1955 issue of IF depicts a rocketship ascending into Earth's atmosphere. At the corner is the story title with the inscription The fate of the world depends on a crooked pair of dice. The description got me interested in the story and I finally got around to reading it. To my surprise, it was different than what I thought it would be.

The story is set sometime in the not too distant future in which aliens have made contact with Earth but look down on humanity as being primitive and brutal. Moreover, the aliens have put a force field around the Planet thus restricting Earth's ability to explore other worlds. The Galactic Council will lift the barrier once they deem humanity fit for membership but in the meantime, the Earth is subject to inspections. About every 50 years or so, the council sends an examiner to inspect man's progress.

It is during one of these inspections that we meet up with the protagonist, Fader Martian who is a Shill. A shill is a gambler who is a type of frontman, sometimes referred to as the banker. The Shill stimulates action by having others follow his example. He has a meeting with the Galactic Examiner and explains the progress that humanity has made. He takes him on a tour of a local town and they stop over at two distinct places. First is an elementary school and then a court of law. At the elementary school, we see school children playing marbles but making bets on who wins. Martain explains to the examiner that all coursework in schools pertains to the art of gambling. Latter they visit a courthouse and observe a judge imposing a sentence on a person caught cheating. The judge uses a pair of dice to decide the defendant's fate.

Well, what is all this about? The aliens have created a type of Nanny state in which human needs are taken care of by the aliens. There is no poverty, no need to work, no war or conflict among nations. However, there is still a need for a competition of some kind. Therefore humans need to do something so the art of gambling was chosen as the major occupation in life. The author explains the need for this throughout the story with passages about the history of gambling and human nature. The aliens accept the gambling culture of humans but do dislike cheating. There they say humans are flawed and can't be allowed out of the solar system. Fader tries everything to convince the galactic examiner that humanity is ready and even tries to question the reasoning behind their isolation of Earth but to no avail. Now it comes to one final test and everything rests on the shoulders of Fader Martain. Can he break the yoke of the Aliens or does he fail? Well, I would like for the listener to read the story from him or herself.

Well, what is all this about? The aliens have created a type of Nanny state in which human needs are taken care of by the aliens. There is no poverty, no need to work, no war or conflict among nations. However, there is still a need for a competition of some kind. Therefore humans need to do something so the art of gambling was chosen as the major occupation in life. The author explains the need for this throughout the story with passages about the history of gambling and human nature. The aliens accept the gambling culture of humans but do dislike cheating. There they say humans are flawed and can't be allowed out of the solar system. Fader tries everything to convince the galactic examiner that humanity is ready and even tries to question the reasoning behind their isolation of Earth but to no avail. Now it comes to one final test and everything rests on the shoulders of Fader Martain. Can he break the yoke of the Aliens or does he fail? Well, I would like for the listener to read the story from him or herself.

I realy enjoyed reading this story. I originally thought it would be space opera but it was set here on Earth. Shill was a thinking person's story. No action, no violence, and some subdued conflict. It is an easy read with just under 40 pages, equal to a long chapter in a novel. I did like the conversations between Farder and the examiner, Farder being very informal contrasted to the examiner's arrogance. This does make for a good debate between the two characters. The author makes good use of his background in Anthropology, throughout the story he keeps the reader informed of human history and culture in various passages. Overall it is an easy read.

Now the author is an award-winning Hugo science fiction writer. Mr. Gunn has written dozens of short stories and novels over the years. His best know novel is called The Immortals, written in 1962 and was made into short-lived TV series in 1970. The plot dealt with a man with a rare blood type that might hold the secret to longevity. In addition to that, some of his short stores were adapted for 50s radio dramas such as X-Minus-One. Over his lifetime, he received numerous awards and recognitions, in 1983 he won the Hugo award for the book Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction in the non-fiction category and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2015. Gunn also had the title of Professor Emutuis at the University of Kansas in which he earned an M.A. degree in English.

If you want to read this story for yourself it is easy to find. I had discovered it in the internet archive. Just go to archive.org and look for IF Magazine, there is a special section devoted to its issues. You can download it for free in various formats or just read it online. As for myself, I downloaded the issue and read it on my smart tablet using an adobe acrobat reader.

The Girl in Tube 14.

The cover of Fantastic Science Fiction Magazine August 1955.

Now for the second story, The Girl in Tube 14. This story appeared in the August 1955 issue of Fantastic Science Fiction and was also the cover story. Just like with the previous story, the cover art got me interested in reading the magazine. The cover depicts a robot ready to strike a metal hammer against a glass tube, while inside the tube is a figure of a woman.

The story is written by the author Dick Purcell. I have not found much information on him but the magazine does have a short bio of him published before the story. The bio says that he lives in New York and his father owns a restaurant and his mother was a housewife. Mr. Pucell never went to college but decided to take a chance at being a writer. After submission to Ziff-Davis publishing, his very first story was printed

The story is a cross between a Subby-Doo mystery and a mad scientist horror story. The story starts with its protagonist, Arthur trying to decide what to do on a Saturday. He is inside a drug store getting a drink still deciding on what to do, however, to his surprise he sees a very attractive young lady sit down at a barstool at the soda fountain. Now, this would not be unusual except for the fact the young lady is nude. Arthur can't believe his eyes, he is sitting there looking at this girl but no one else is making any comments. He asks his friend at the bar if he sees her but he says no. Arthur watches as the girl gets up and walks out the door and passes by pedestrians including a police officer, yet no one sees her.

During the next day while at school, the word gets around in regards to what he had witnessed. Everyone at school teases him and even his best friend gets doubtful of the events. Arthurs's new teacher hears about the incident and asks if he could go to his home and discuss the event in more detail. Later that evening Arthur and his friend go to the teacher's house and get invited inside. Arthurs friend is very curious about this place because of rumors of robots lurking around in the basement. He wants to see this for himself and much to his surprise he finds one in the teacher's laboratory. As it turns out the teacher is also a foreign scientist who was given refugee status after WW2. He has been conducting experiments in atomic power and robots as well. He assures that there is nothing to fear about the robot, that is just experimental. During this time, he examines Arthurs's eyeglasses and dismisses Arthurs's incident as just a hallucination. However, Arthur can still see the girl as plain as day standing next to the teacher although his friend doesn't see her.

Arthur is still suspicious about this new teacher so the following day he sneaks into the school and looks at his file. He sees there is no mention of a family but he knows he saw family photos in the teacher's home. So he decides to inform the FBI about his concerns and even talks to a G-Man in person. The agent tells him not to worry and they will look into it. Well, Arther is not satisfied with this so he and two other friends sneak into the teacher's house at night only to find the horrors that await.

Well, I am not going to say any more about the story, I would like for you to read it for yourself. It does have a climactic ending but a bit tragic as well. I enjoyed reading this story for its thematic elements and it was an easy read. I could relate to its protagonist and his personality type. Authur was by no means a loner but was very mild-mannered and not afraid to take a risk. This story is very much a product of its time with its mention of Atomic Power and foreign spies. It was the start of the Cold War between the US and USSR, and Atomic Power was on the cutting edge of science a the time. The story appeals to the adolescent reader as well with its teenage detectives sneaking into a house like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew novels.

If you are interested in reading this story, you can download it for free at this website. Science Fiction Periodical Archives (luminist.org) Just scroll down to the letter F and look for Fantastic, just the world only. There you will find not only that issue but many other issues as well, including other sci-fi magazine titles from the period. It is worth checking out.

Well, this concludes another show today. I hope you have listened to the end and enjoy my material. I do plan to do more short fiction reviews in the future and novels as well. However, all my shows do take time and I am not as able to publish very fast. So I do ask all of my listeners for their patience. I hope to have another show on the feed soon.

End of Transcript:

science fiction
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About the Creator

Edward German

A long-time sci-fi fan who loves the internet. I am also writing on subjects other than sci-fi.

you can follow me on "X" @EdwardGerman3 Listen to my podcast The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast on Spotify for Podcasters.

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