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Dreaming Again

Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo the first A Bertram Chandler story to be published in 24 year is now available in the Anthology Dreaming Again edited by Jack Dann.

ARK No: 1 - Dec 1974
(Cover Virgal Finlay)

ARK No: 1 - Dec 1974


I am a creature of habit. (According to my everloving wife, I am getting old and set in my ways.) I love routine. I enjoy myself, now and again, when in command of a ship on a ship on a regular timetable, by claiming, not without justification, that it would be possible for you to set your watch by my arrivals and departures. When I am at home the idiot box is switched on at precisely 1855 hours, giving it time to warm up and for any necessary adjustments to be made before the ABC News at 1900 hours. How long it stays on after the News and This Day Tonight depends upon what is offering on the various channels.

My last ship - I am writing this while on leave - was employed on the trade between Hobart, Sydney, Port Kembla and Newcastle, carrying mainly newsprint and zinc north, and steel products south. In Newcastle, in summer, my routine is like clockwork. Shortly after breakfast I leave the ship, carrying towel and bathing trunks in my briefcase as well as any necessary documents. I enjoy my stroll along Hunter Street - “The Golden Mile” - and, as well as purchasing the morning paper, do a little browsing in bookshops. Finally arriving at the branch office I discuss ship’s business, have a cup of coffee with the Assistant Manager, and then carry on to the Merewether Beach. I swim and sunbathe until about l245 hrs., then get dressed and stroll to Tattersall’s Club for a light lunch, finally returning to the vessel to discover what crimes have been committed during my absence.

But industrial strife plays hell with the best organised timetables. I was caught in Newcastle by the recent (at the time of writing that is, there may well have been another one by the time this appears in print) marine engineers’ strike.

This meant that I had a dead ship on my hands - no power for my cranes, no lights, Ito air conditioning, no mod, cons, at all, in fact. With no means of cooking meals and with no services it was necessary for all hands to live ashore until the strike was over. My employers booked me into the TraveLodge motel, quite luxurious and with an ocean view from every room - and very handy to the Merewether Beach. Even though my cherished routine had crashed in ruins about my ears I saw no reason why I should not enjoy myself, and swam and sunbathed in the afternoon as well as in the morning. One such afternoon the sky clouded over and a chilly breeze began to set in from seaward. So, returning to the motel, I looked at the TV programmes to see what was offering in the way of entertainment at an hour at which I would never, normally, be a televiewer.

LOST IN SPACE, I read, at 1700 hours. Why not? I asked myself. Since a certain publisher has been after me to write a series of s/f juveniles, this would be good market research. So I switched on, filled and lit my pipe, and watched in horrified fascination.

No doubt some of you reading this follow the adventures of the Space Family Robinson, never missing an episode. This was my first experience of the series - and it will be my last. Even in a juvenile there is no excuse for having ships bumbling about in intergalactic space at sub-light speeds, as well as many other absurdities. For the benefit of those of you who have never watched LOST IN SPACE herewith is a brief summary of what I saw.

The title of this particular episode was THE HAUNTED LIGHTHOUSE. It started off with the most junior Robinson girl, Penny, stumbling upon a boy, an obvious castaway, clad in rags, upon what seemed to be a desert planet. A large lion - a dinkum Terran lion - appeared from nowhere and began to make menacing noises. Then one of the male Robinsons - I never did get them sorted out - came to the rescue, opening fire with his blaster, apparently completely disintegrating the lion. After this the Robinsons took the boy, whose name was J9 (or Jay Nine?) aboard their flying saucer. Before leaving the cave in which he had been living Jay Nine scooped something invisible but audible (meow! meow!) up from the sand and stuffed it inside his shirt.

RobotNow, the Robinson spaceship... It seemed to be equipped with apparatus purchased from a here-and-now disposals store specialising in obsolete electronic gadgetry. There was a robot, however, which could have been the illegitimate result of an affair between the famous Robby and a female Dalek.

And now, the Robinsons… Commanding the ship was Professor Robinson, with a younger man (son? brother? cousin?) as his First Mate. Both these gentlemen wore silver paper uniforms. The matronly Mrs. Robinson, bulging in a definitely here-and-now trouser suit, looked almost old enough to be the Professor’s mother. There was a quite attractive, miniskirted Robinson girl, and the rather juvenile Penny, already mentioned, the inevitable and too American little boy. There was the ship’s medical officer, a Dr Smith, wearing what seemed to be a blue uniform with some meaningless braid on one sleeve. Talking of what everybody was wearing, nobody aboard the Robinson ship thought of offering Jay Nine clothing to replace the rags in which he was clad when picked up. As for Jay Nine himself, although obviously some sort of alien, he spoke with as vile an American accent as Garner Ted Armstrong. He didn’t know where he had come from, but he wanted to go home. It should have been obvious to the Robinsons what his world of origin was. Who but a compatriot of Mr. Spock would have those pointed ears? And Jay Nine’s pet, the imaginary kitten, kept on appearing as a menagery lion at the slightest provocation.

So the Robinsons went blundering on their merry way, with frequent breakdowns of their U.S. Army surplus electronic equipment being fixed by the mysterious Jay Nine, who seemed to be the only person aboard who knew what he was doing. And, then, quite by chance, they found a huge space station drifting in the interstellar emptiness. If they’d been proceeding at a speed in excess of ten knots they’d have hit it.

Professor Robinson, putting on a goldfish bowl helmet over his silver paper uniform – but no gloves - boarded the seeming derelict. He found it to be a space lighthouse or lightship or weather station - the script writer was very vague = manned by an untidily dressed, grey-haired and walrus-moustached elderly gentleman. This character, overjoyed at having company after years of loneliness, introduced himself as Colonel Bogey (or possibly Fogey - but by the time it got to the credit titles I was in rather a daze) and hurried off to change into his best uniform, which was, in every detail, identical with the battle-dress type uniforms worn by various Services here-and-now. There was a great splurge of fruit salad on the left breast - but that was excusable. As long as people wear uniforms they’ll put fruit salad on them. Nonetheless, even with the film in black-and-white, some of the ribbons looked suspiciously like World War II ones...

This reminds me - digressing slightly - of one Chief Engineer I had, who holds a commission as Lieutenant (E) in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve. For some reason he had the idea that merchant officers are never entitled to fruit salad. Until then I never used to wear my ribbons on my battledress blouse, and my dress uniform I seem to put on only for funerals. Anyhow, just out of spite, I sported my ribbons with battledress. Then the Chief Officer put up a single ribbon. I had to ask him what it was; it turned out to be the one issued for the Suez Campaign. Then the Second Officer a refugee from the Army’s Navy put up a chestful of Vietnam decorations. Then the radio Officer an ex-Canadian - appeared with one unidentifiable splash of colour - the U.N. Gaza Strip ribbon. And all the engineers up to and including the bold Lieutenant (E) R.A.N.R. - were still running around half naked...

Anyhow the much-decorated Colonel Bogey (or Fogey) decided to throw a Thanksgiving party, complete with turkey and champagne, aboard his space station. By this time it was becoming obvious that Jay Nine was hoping that he’d be able to seize the Robinson’s ship, leaving them to keep the Colonel company, and, with star charts borrowed from the station’s centrol room, make his way back to his home world. In the middle of the excellent meal put on by the Colonel - cooked with his own fair hands - there was a great clanging of alarm bells, and everybody, with the exception of Dr. Smith, rushed away from the table to find out what was the matter. The worthy medico stayed in his seat - wise man - chomping on a drumstick and slurping champagne. But this was Jay Nine’s intention. The invisible pet made another appearance - not as a lion this time, but as lush sex kitten, tempting the quack not only with the body beautiful but with the mountains of diamond, emerald and ruby alleged to be part of the scenery of Jay Nine’s planet. When Dr. Smith was in a suitably receptive mood, befuddled with champagne, lust and avarice, Jay Nine returned to the dining room and revealed that-he was not only a master electronicist but a master hypnotist, in at least the same class as Mandrake the Magician. The idea was that Smith should accompany Jay Nine back to the Robinson ship and there instruct the robot to take orders from its new, alien master.

And then, when it came to the crunch, Jay Nine found that he couldn’t do the dirty on dear little Penny, and confessed that his invisible (most of the time) pet was only a dear little kitten that he had imagined to comfort him in his loneliness on the desert planet, and then the Colonel broke down and confessed that he didn’t have a clue as to how the equipment in his space station worked, or even why, and that he wasn’t a real Colonel anyhow, but only the cook-cum-handyman… (The real Colonel, apparently, had gone off somewhere and never come back. Governments are notoriously feebleminded - but can you imagine any government, present or future, building such an enormous and enormously expensive contraption and knowing that its crew would be there for years before being relieved, and having only one qualified technician on board?)

So it all finished with the Robinsons shoving off for further mis-adventures in the Great Unknown, with Jay Nine - his invisible pet having flown the coop once there was no longer any need for it - staying behind quite happily to hold the pseudo-Colonel’s hand, looking forward to having, a huge space station full of electronic equipment to play with.

Personally I’d have preferred the invisible pet it its sex kitten manifestation.

But my (and Grimes’) opinions on electronic gadgetry are quite notorious.