- Author: Jr. John W. Campbell
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JOHN W. CAMPBELL
THE BLACK STAR PASSES
Copyright, 1953, by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Copyright, 1930, by Experimenter Publications, Inc.
An Ace Book, by arrangement with the author.
Cover art by Jerome Podwil.
Printed in U.S.A.
A sky pirate armed with superior weapons of his own invention....
First contact with an alien race dangerous enough to threaten the safety of two planets....
The arrival of an unseen dark sun whose attendant marauders aimed at the very end of civilization in this Solar System....
These were the three challenges that tested the skill and minds of the brilliant team of scientist-astronauts Arcot, Wade, and Morey. Their initial adventures are a classic of science-fiction which first brought the name of their author, John W. Campbell, into prominence as a master of the inventive imagination.
JOHN W. CAMPBELL first started writing in 1930 when his first short story, When the Atoms Failed, was accepted by a science-fiction magazine. At that time he was twenty years old and still a student at college. As the title of the story indicates, he was even at that time occupied with the significance of atomic energy and nuclear physics.
For the next seven years, Campbell, bolstered by a scientific background that ran from childhood experiments, to study at Duke University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote and sold science-fiction, achieving for himself an enviable reputation in the field.
In 1937 he became the editor of Astounding Stories magazine and applied himself at once to the task of bettering the magazine and the field of s-f writing in general. His influence on science-fiction since then cannot be underestimated. Today he still remains as the editor of that magazine's evolved and redesigned successor, Analog.Contents
These stories were written nearly a quarter of a century ago, for the old Amazing Stories magazine. The essence of any magazine is not its name, but its philosophy, its purpose. That old Amazing Stories is long since gone; the magazine of the same name today is as different as the times today are different from the world of 1930.
Science-fiction was new, in 1930; atomic energy was a dream we believed in, and space-travel was something we tried to understand better. Today, science-fiction has become a broad field, atomic energy—despite the feelings of many present adults!—is no dream. (Nor is it a nightmare; it is simply a fact, and calling it a nightmare is another form of effort to push it out of reality.)
In 1930, the only audience for science-fiction was among those who were still young enough in spirit to be willing to hope and speculate on a new and wider future—and in 1930 that meant almost nothing but teen-agers. It meant the brightest group of teen-agers, youngsters who were willing to play with ideas and understandings of physics and chemistry and astronomy that most of their contemporaries considered “too hard work.”
I grew up with that group; the stories I wrote over the years, and, later, the stories I bought for Astounding Science Fiction changed and grew more mature too. Astounding Science Fiction today has many of the audience that read those early stories; they're not high school and college students any more, of course, but professional engineers, technologists and researchers now. Naturally, for them we need a totally different kind of story. In growing with them, I and my work had to lose much of the enthusiastic scope that went with the earlier science fiction.
When a young man goes to college, he is apt to say, “I want to be a scientist,” or “I want to be an engineer,” but his concepts are broad and generalized. Most major technical schools, well knowing this, have the first year course for all students the same. Only in the second and subsequent years does specialization start.
By the sophomore year, a student may say, “I want to be a chemical engineer.”
At graduation, he may say, “I'm going into chemical engineering construction.”
Ten years later he may explain that he's a chemical engineer specializing in the construction of corrosion-resistant structures, such as electroplating baths and pickling tanks for stainless steel.
Year by year, his knowledge has become more specialized, and much deeper. He's better and better able to do the important work the world needs done, but in learning to do it, he's necessarily lost some of the broad and enthusiastic scope he once had.
These are early stories of the early days of science-fiction. Radar hadn't been invented; we missed that idea. But while these stories don't have the finesse of later work—they have a bounding enthusiasm that belongs with a young field, designed for and built by young men. Most of the writers of those early stories were, like myself, college students. (Piracy Preferred was written while I was a sophomore at M.I.T.)
For old-timers in science-fiction—these are typical of the [Pg. 9] days when the field was starting. They've got a fine flavor of our own younger enthusiasm.
For new readers of science-fiction—these have the stuff that laid the groundwork of today's work, they're the stories that were meant for young imaginations, for people who wanted to think about the world they had to build in the years to come.
Along about sixteen to nineteen, a young man has to decide what is, for him, the Job That Needs Doing—and get ready to get in and pitch. If he selects well, selects with understanding and foresight, he'll pick a job that does need doing, one that will return rewards in satisfaction as well as money. No other man can pick that for him; he must choose the Job that he feels fitting.
Crystal balls can be bought fairly reasonably—but they don't work well. History books can be bought even more cheaply, and they're moderately reliable. (Though necessarily filtered through the cultural attitudes of the man who wrote them.) But they don't work well as predicting machines, because the world is changing too rapidly.
The world today, for instance, needs engineers desperately. There a lot of jobs that the Nation would like to get done that can't even be started; not enough engineers available.
Fifty years ago the engineering student was a sort of Second Class Citizen of the college campus. Today the Liberal Arts are fighting for a come-back, the pendulum having swung considerably too far in the other direction.
So science-fiction has a very real function to the teen-agers; it presents varying ideas of what the world in which he will live his adult life will be interested in.
This is 1953. My son will graduate in 1955. The period of his peak earning power should be when he's about forty to sixty—about 1970, say, to 1990. With the progress being made in understanding of health and physical vigor, it's apt to run beyond 2000 A.D., however.
Anyone want to bet that people will be living in [Pg. 10]the same general circumstances then? That the same general social and cultural and material standards will apply?
I have a hunch that the history books are a poor way of planning a life today—and that science-fiction comes a lot closer.
There's another thing about science-fiction yarns that is quite conspicuous; it's so difficult to pick out the villains. It might have made quite a change in history if the ballads and tales of the old days had been a little less sure of who the villains were. Read the standard boy's literature of forty years ago; tales of Crusaders who were always right, and Saracens who were always wrong. (The same Saracens who taught the Christians to respect the philosophy of the Greeks, and introduced them to the basic ideas of straight, self-disciplined thinking!)
Life's much simpler in a thatched cottage than in a dome on the airless Moon, easier to understand when the Villains are all pure black-hearted villains, and the Heroes are all pure White Souled Heroes. Just look how simple history is compared with science-fiction! It's simple—but is it good?
These early science-fiction tales explored the Universe; they were probings, speculations, as to where we could go. What we could do.
They had a sweep and reach and exuberance that belonged.
They were fun, too....
John W. Campbell, Jr.
[Pg. 11]BOOK ONE PIRACY PREFERRED PROLOGUE
High in the deep blue of the afternoon sky rode a tiny speck of glistening metal, scarcely visible in the glare of the sun. The workers on the machines below glanced up for a moment, then back to their work, though little enough it was on these automatic cultivators. Even this minor diversion was of interest in the dull monotony of green. These endless fields of castor bean plants had to be cultivated, but with the great machines that did the work it required but a few dozen men to cultivate an entire county.
The passengers in the huge plane high above them gave little thought to what passed below, engrossed with their papers or books, or engaged in casual conversation. This monotonous trip was boring to most of them. It seemed a waste of time to spend six good hours in a short 3,500 mile trip. There was nothing to do, nothing to see, except a slowly passing landscape ten miles below. No details could be distinguished, and the steady low throb of the engines, the whirring of the giant propellers, the muffled roar of the air, as it rushed by, combined to form a soothing lullaby of power. It was all right for pleasure seekers and vacationists, but business men were in a hurry.
The pilot of the machine glanced briefly at the instru[Pg. 12]ments, wondered vaguely why he had to be there at all, then turned, and leaving the pilot room in charge of his assistant, went down to talk with the chief engineer.
His vacation began the first of July, and as this was the last of June, he wondered what would have happened if he had done as he had been half inclined to do—quit the trip and let the assistant take her through. It would have been simple—just a few levers to manipulate, a few controls to set, and the instruments would have taken her up to ten or eleven miles, swung her into the great westward air current, and leveled her off at five hundred and sixty or so an hour toward 'Frisco'. They would hold her on the radio beam better than he ever could. Even the landing would have been easy. The assistant had never landed a big plane, but he knew the routine, and the instruments would have done the work. Even if he hadn't been there, ten minutes after they had reached destination, it would land automatically—if an emergency pilot didn't come up by that time in answer to an automatic signal.
He yawned and sauntered down the hall. He yawned again, wondering what made him so sleepy.
He slumped limply to the floor and lay there breathing ever more and more slowly.
The officials of the San Francisco terminus of The Transcontinental Airways company were worried. The great Transcontinental express had come to the field, following the radio beam, and now it was circling the field with its instruments set on the automatic signal for an emergency pilot. They were worried and with good reason, for this flight carried over 900,000 dollars worth of negotiable securities. But what could attack one of those giant ships? It would take a small army to overcome the crew of seventy and the three thousand passengers!
The great ship was landing gently now, brought in by the emergency pilot. The small field car sped over to the plane rapidly. Already the elevator was in place beside it, and as the officials in the car drew up under the giant wing,[Pg. 13] they could see the tiny figure of the emergency pilot beckoning to them. Swiftly the portable elevator carried them up to the fourth level of the ship.
What a sight met their eyes as they entered the main salon! At first glance it appeared that all the passengers lay sleeping in their chairs. On closer examination it became evident that they were not breathing! The ear could detect no heartbeat. The members of the crew lay at their posts, as inert as the passengers! The assistant pilot sprawled on the floor beside the instrument panel—apparently he had been watching the record of the flight. There was no one conscious—or apparently living—on board!
“Dead! Over three thousand people!” The field manager's voice was hoarse, incredulous. “It's impossible—how could they have done it? Gas, maybe, drawn in through the ventilator pumps and circulated through the ship. But I can't conceive of any man being willing to kill three