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The Rim of Space on Audio

Blackstone Audio have release The Rim of Space on Audio as part of A Galaxy Trilogy VOL. 4

Solar No: 44 1967

Solar No: 44 1967


Late last year I was approached by a firm of American paper-back book publishers who asked me to write them a novel in which civilisation was to be almost destroyed by some plausible, here-and-now agency total collapse being (of course) averted by the ingenuity and bravery of the hero They also wanted a strong love interest. And they wanted a Triangle. And they wanted the first two chapters and a synopsis as soon as possible, on their approval of which all concerned would sign the contract and I should receive my first dollop of Advance Royalties.

Well, the destruction of civilisation by any agency whatsoever is, at first glance, merely a matter of routine to the modem science fictioneer. But it’s not as easy as it looks-not if one wants a new angle. Old H. G. Wells, the grand-daddy of us all, started the ball rolling with his Martian Invasion in THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. He followed it up with THE WAR IN THE AIR, and he used fission bombs in THE WORLD SET FREE, written long before the lint misguided physicist has gotten around to splitting the atom. Then from other pens, there have been quite a number of Second Deluges. There was the dead sun wandering into the Solar System from outer space in Philip Wylie’s WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. There were the intelligent, carnivorous, mobile plants in John Wyndham’s THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. There was the virus that destroyed all grasses, including cereal crops, in John Christopher’s THE DEATH OF GRASS. And quite a few writers, in their various ways, have Given the Ants a Chance.

I finally decided on mutated rats. The idea wasn’t new, but the story from which I stole it was one of my own stories, written and published some years ago. And it’s not to im­plausible a concept. Rats are prolific and not unintelligent, and a mutation might quite well produce a being with mental powers equal to our own. As for the cause of such a mutation-well, then’s radio-activity from fall­out, and it has been proved that many of the modern pesticides have muta­genic properties.

Cavil Publishers

A Bertram Chandler at WoodlandsThe first two chapters and the synopsis were written and air-mailed to New York. The publisher didn’t like them. One of his quibbles was concerning the conduct of the hero; the wicked man actually walked around his own bedroom in his own house in a state of nudity! There were quite a few other complaints as well. An exchange of slightly acri­monious correspondence ensued, in the course of which I made it plain that I’d do the novel in way or not at all. Finally-anything for a quiet life and a few dollars-I compromised to the extent of making my bold hero sleep in pyjamas, but insisted (in keeping the nudist club sequence in the book.

As a matter of fact, its of no great importance to the development of the plot-but, like all of us, I have often been either amused or annoyed by the treatment accorded to Naturism in works of fiction. Sometimes the ludicrous aspects are stressed (but what in this life is not ludicrous?) sometimes the writer is as salacious as he dares to be. My own aim was to try to depict nudists as they really are-neither figures of fun nor liber­tines on the rampage but essentially decent people.

The novel was written during my annual holidays at Woodlands. Rather to my surprise the publishers ex­pressed their satisfaction with the completed work, nudist club sequence and all. Even so, I’m rather curious as to what the reactions of fellow members of the movement will be. A synopsis of the book-THE HAMELIN PLAGUE-follows, and with it the chapter in question. If you don’t like it, please say so, and please say why.

The place is the coastline of New South Wales, the time is the near future. Timothy Barrett, the hero, is Chief Officer of an Australian coasting steamer. Like everybody else in the world he is perturbed by the mounting wave of unexplained disasters by land and sea and air. Tension mounts-and, finally, the balloon goes up.

It is the mutated rats that are the menace. They are Intelligent, and have achieved manual dexterity. After a few relatively small scale rehearsals they strike simultaneously all over the world. Fire is their chief weapon-after all, it used to be the axiomatic that one skilled saboteur with a box of matches could do more damage than a squadron of heavy bombers.

When Sydney goes up in flames Barrett succeeds in taking his ship to sea with a skeleton crew and a number of refugees, among whom are a retired Admiral and his niece, Pamela. The Admiral thinks that a retired Admiralty scientist, with a private laboratory on one of the Broughton Islands, may be able to make a weapon to use against the rats. Barrett takes the ship to the Broughton Group and then he and Pamela, who knows the scientist, make a landing.

Beginning of Fiction

Chapter 20
The big advantage of Fleming Gear is that skilled oarsmen are not required for the propulsion of a boat. There are levers, geared to the shaft so that their to and fro motion is converted to a rotary one. There are no heavy sweeps to handle, no crabs to catch. After a slight initial confusion the men at the levers worked with a will, the boat slid easily through the still water. In the sternsheets, Barrett and Pamela looked towards the rather decrepit jetty ex­tending from the sandy beach into the sea, alert for any movement. But there was none. The island might well be deserted. And yet the sign displayed at the head of the little pier-PRIVATE PROPERTY- was in good repair, freshly painted. And the same thought Barrett, could be said about the building-Piper’s laboratory?-that could be glimpsed through the trees.

Harry,” Barrett called to the bowman, “stand by!

The man got to his feet, holding his boathook at the ready.

Way enough.” ordered Barrett. The men at the levers, still pumping, looked at him in puzzlement.

Stop pulling.” amended Barrett.

And pushing.” he added just to make sure.

The boat lost way, drifted in to the jetty. There was an iron ladder at the head of it. The bowman caught one of the rungs with his boathook, pulled the boat in. He called to one of the others to pass the end of the painter ashore.

Barrett stopped him. “No,” he said “No. Don’t make fast. As soon as Miss Henderson and I get ashore, Harry, you will he in charge. Get the boat out into deep water, well clear of the jetty. Stay there until you see us come back.

And if you don’t come back?” asked the man.

If there’s any trouble,” Barrett told him, “you’ll hear some shooting.” He patted the butt of the forty-five. “I hope.” he added mentally.

He made his was forward stepping carefully over the thwarts. He clam­bered up the ladder, whipped out the revolver as soon as he was standing on the planked deck of the jetty.  Pamela who had followed him, laughed a little uneasily. She said. “I wish I had a camera.

He said. “The United States Marines have landed. All is well.”

She said. “And what’s wrong with the Royal Marines?

Make it the Swiss Marines if you like.” he told her, “But I’m afraid that I’m not cut out to be a Commando.

He went back to the end of the jetty, watched the boat backing out under the stern power of her reversed screw. “That should do,” He called. “And stay there until you see us coming back.” He looked beyond the boat to the ship. She was king there safely enough, her engines stopped, only the faint feather of her generator exhaust showing at the funnel top. Barrett could see the Admiral standing in the wing of the bridge, and another man with him. He could see the figures of men and women about her decks. He wondered if Jane were among them.

And what now?” Pamela was asking.

We’ll investigate that building. Damn it all, there must be somebody there.

Or something.” she said.

Don’t be so bloody cheerful, Woman.

Nudist Club Sequence

Together they walked the short length of the jetty, started up the sandy path that led inland. It wound up the hillside, was bordered by flowering shrubs and creepers. It was wild—but it was evident that trimming had been carried out, and recently. And front the undergrowth came the somehow reassuring voices of birds, the fluttering of wings. A lizard started to run across the path, paused to look at them and then darted from sight.

Then Barrett clicked back the safety catch of the revolver. He could hear movement on the path above them, the scraping of feet over the sand. Of feet-or claws? The sweat on his body was suddenly cold, clammy. He motioned to Pamela to get behind him. She ignored the unspoken order.

The woman came round the bend of the path. pause to inspect the purple blossoms of one of the vines. She was wearing sun glasses and sandals, and a bright beach towel slung carelessly over one shoulder, the col­oured stripes of which were in vivid contrast to the dark tan of her skin. In spite of  her nudity she conveyed the impression of slender elegance.

Suddenly she looked around and down, stared at the intruders. So self-assured was she, so clothed in her hauteur, that Barrett felt as though he were naked and she fully dressed.

She demanded, “Can’t you read? Don’t you know that this is private property?

‘‘But,’’ began Barrett, “this is important …”

It had better be. Who are you? What do you want here?

At least,” said Barrett, ‘‘They don’t seem to have reached here yet.

Who haven’t reached here?” She stared at the badge on Barrett’s cap, the Company's house flag with its surround of golden laurel leaves. ‘‘You aren’t Navy, even. Are you playing at pirates, or what?’’

If you would just let me explain . . .” persisted Barrett.

There is neither explanation nor excuse for wanton violation of privacy.

Pamela stepped forward. ‘‘Then we apologise. And belive you me, we envy you your rig of the day.” She was unbuttoning the throat of her shirt as site spoke. “We aren’t dressed like this just for the fun of it. And it’s vitally important that we see Dr. Piper at once.

Piper?” repeated the other woman. “Piper? Dr. Piper? I don‘t think that he’s one of our members although with our Christian names only rule . . . But we have only one Doctor . . . Annette . . . And I’m sure that her other name’s not Piper . . .

Members?” asked Barrett, mystified.

‘‘0f the sun Island Club of course.’’

This Dr Piper,” said Pamela, “is not a nudist, as far as I know. And he’s not a medical doctor. He’s a scientist. We think that he has a laboratory on one of the Broughon Islands. . .’’

Not this,” said the naked woman definitely. ‘‘But perhaps if you follow me to the office . . .

Take me to your leader . . .” whispered Barrett, at appreciatively watching the swing of the shapely sun-darkened buttocks - and then yelped as Pamela’s sharp elbow caught him in the ribs.

Incongruously Idyllic

They sat on the terrace outside the Club’s office - Barrett, still in his sweat-soaked khaki, still with the pistol belted to his waist, Pamela, now as unselfconsciously naked its the Sun Islanders, the benign, bronze, Buddha whose name was Charles and who was Club President, and Betty, whom they had met on the path and who was Club Secretary. Before the terrace, their bright towels and mats spread on the cropped grass, were twenty or so members. It was an idyllic scene, thought Barrett. Incongruously idyllic. And yet, he knew, it was himself that so struck the one incongruous note. In his stiff, hot clothing with the ugly weapon at his hip, he was like a Time Traveller from the  Twentieth Century intruding upon some Edenic culture of the Past – or of the Future.

 “Well, Captain Barrett?” said Charles.

Keep to your Club rules,” suggested Pamela with not unpleasant mockery. “Call him Tim.

Well Tim?

I think we had better wait until Sue is back,” said Betty.

They could hear the returning messenger hurrying up the path. Then the young girl walked out on to the lawn, peeling off her blouse as she did so.   She stepped out of her shorts, plopped clown on the grass. She looked at Barrett with the scorn of which only adolescents are capable. said, “I don’t see how anybody can wear clothes on a day like this.

That will do,” snapped Betty. “Did you pass the message?

Of course. I called to the men in the boat, told them that Captain Barrett had things under control and would be some time. They said that they would go back to the ship to wait. There’s a ship out there in the bay Betty . . .

So you’ve a ship.” Betty said. “What is this, Captain? Tim, I mean. An  invasion?

Yes,” Barrett told them, “But not by us. Don’t you people listen to the news?

Sometimes,” admitted Charles. “But our radio broke down some days ago and, believe it or not, there’s not a single working transistor set on the island. But Tom and Jerry took the launch in this morning for supplies. They’ll bring the papers back with them.

Barrett said, “There won’t be any papers. Perhaps not ever again. And Tom and Jerry mightn’t be back.

So you really don’t know what’s been happening?” asked Pamela.

No” said Charles. “There do seem to have been some rather bad bushfires on the mainland, but that happens every Sumner. But what was that about Tom and Jerry not being back? What was that about the papers?  Is it the Third World War?”

“We should have heard the blasts,” said a painfully thin woman, “We should have seen the mushroom clouds.  And surely, by this time, some of us would be exhibiting the symptoms of radiation sickness.”

Are you sure of that, Annette?” asked Charles.

Before she could answer, Barrett said, “There’s been no Third World War - at least not the kind you’re all thinking about. There have been rockets fired - but, as far as I know, the only cities destroyed by thermonuclear weapons have been Moscow and Leningrad, and they were bombed by the Russians themselves . . .

Then our cities,’’ said Charles, “are safe.

They aren’t,” said Barrett. ‘‘I witnessed the destruction of Sydney myself, and I think that every other town and city – yes, and every village – went the same way. . .

Disturbing News

And then trying to keep his voice cold and dispassionate, he told his story. He noticed the club members looking at him and at each other, uneasily, as he did so.  But he went on.  He told them of what he had seen and experienced himself, of what the others had seen and experienced, of what had been heard on the radio before It had been put out of commission by the pirate’s rifle fire.

At last he finished.

He’s mad,” said Betty scornfully.

It’s true,” snapped Pamela. “Every word of it.

And they would believe her, Barrett realised, when they would not believe him. He was still the stranger, the outlander, to be treated with sus­picion. She, by disrobing. had made herself one of them, especially since on some private roof or balcony she had already built up an overall tan as deep as theirs.

It could be true” said the Doctor, Annette, judiciously. “It could well be true. Too much and too far have we drifted from healthy simplicity, too much have we interfered with the balance of nature. I have often had cause to suspect the mutagenic nature of certain chemical pesticides myself. I remember that the last time I took the launch over to see Theodore we discussed the problem. . .

Theodore,” repeated Pamela. “Theodore Piper. . .

Yes. Piper’s his name.

The girl was on her feet. “Is he still here? We must see him.

Yes. He’s still around as far as I know, although he’s more of a recluse than any of us, even. But I haven’t been across to his island since he got the rats. . .

The rats?” demanded Barrett, his heart sinking.

Yes. A few cages of white rats, for experimental purposes.

Then there’s still time.” breathed Pamela.

Of course there’s time. But you’ll never find Theodore’s place without a pilot; it’s tucked away up on one of the inlets. If you don’t mind waiting until I get dressed . . .

Meanwhile, Betty and Charles were arguing. The girl was saying, “I still maintain that the story is utterly fantastic.

Suit yourself,” said Barrett, breaking in. Then to Charles, “Meanwhile, what weapons can you muster? There’s no police force no army or navy or air force to defend you.

I think that Des has a .303 . . .” muttered the President. “That right, Des? And there are a couple of pea rifles . . .

Get yourself organised,” said Barett. “Apart from the mutants, then are the odd fishermen turned pirate,
and the like.” He got to his feet, and the stiff khaki that he had been hating so much now felt like comforting armour on his body. “Furthermore, you’d better get some clothes on, all of you. Rats are dirty fighters and go for the essentials.

If the rats come,” sneered Betty. “If there are any rats.

There are rats, all right.” Pamela told her grimly. She quoted:

They fought the dogs and killed the cats.”

And bit the babies in the cradles . . .

And worse,” said Barrett. “Much worse.

Post look-outs,” Pamela told them, “Set up an alarm system. I think that you’re fairly safe here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were able to handle a small boat.

Annette came out front a cabin on the other side of the lawn. She was wearing slacks and a heavy shirt. She said, “I overheard all that, and I advise you all to do as the man says, at the first hint of danger.

Even so, it’s a pity” grumbled Pamela, climbing back into her own clothing.