Archive for December, 2007

In the Ocean of Night – memorable

December 28, 2007

I’m not doing my memorable sf phrases/scenes in chronological order, but by one jogging another loose from my memories.  My early love of astronomy and spaceflight also colors my choices, then and now.

So thinking of “In the Cave of Night” immediately recalled a memorable sf scene from a story with a similiar title, 17 years later, also in an sf magazine.  This time the magazine was Worlds of If, the May/June 1972 issue.

A visiting space probe communicates with the human race, receives all of our knowledge, and eventually moves towards Earth. So astronaut Nigel Walmsley is lofted on an intercept course looping around Luna and ordered to prevent the ship from leaving the solar system. Coming out of the sun to mask his ship’s signature, flying blind to avoid alerting the Snark with his radar, Nigel is lining up his missiles when:

‘A voice said:

“I wish you the riding of comfortable winds.”

Nigel froze.  The odd, brassy voice came from his helmet speakers, free of static.’ And the computer AI starts to converse with him … [Part Four, chapter four, page 189 of the original Dell pb.]

And I was gripped by awe at seeing a far superior tech level in such a small detail as no static; I assumed the probe was directly manipulating his speakers without using radio. But our mileage varied, because I had read the original If version, which varied in the dialogue. I can’t refer to the issue, but I recall Nigel hesitating to launch, and the static-free voice asking, “are you all thus so double?”

All 4 of these Walmsley stories [including one that happened to a different character, rewritten to be Walmsley in the novel] were collected as In the Ocean of Night in 1977.

Seven years later, it became the first of the sweeping Galactic Center six novel series, when Across the Sea of Suns (Galactic Center 2) was published.

At the same time in Galaxy magazine, Dr. Ernest Taves was showing me The True School of Modesty in his Luna series, in my next memorable sf scene.


In the Cave of Night – memorable

December 22, 2007

My next personally memorable word, phrase, or scene (aha! cheating already – yep) is my very first one – “the cave of night.”  I’m a second-generation sf reader, and Mom kept her Galaxy and Astounding magazines lying around out on the (enclosed) porch of our 2nd floor apartment.

Wandering out there in 1955 as a seven-year old who had awakened to the worlds inside any block of black-marked sheets of unpowered paper, I found a Galaxy Feb issue.  I settled down to read a story called “The Cave of Night.” …

I learned of Rev McMillen’s plight in the first hours, along with the rest of the world.  Stranded – all his return fuel burnt, receiver out, air for 29 more days – trapped in the cave of night.  We listened to him talk of the beauty of the world turning below him, how there were no boundaries visible.  How many sunrises and sunsets he saw every day in orbit.  And we rushed to build the second ship…

James E. Gunn wrote this, and four more involving the Big Wheel space station they built to carry on Rev’s pioneering spirit.  These were published by Bantam Books in 1958 as Station in Space,


taking advantage of the Russians launches of Sputniks 1 through 3 to help sales.  According to Prof Gunn’s website, the television show I saw based on the story the next year was on Desilu Playhouse in 1959 as “Man in Orbit”.

Station in Space was reprinted in 2004 as an ebook Station in Space Kindle edition and paperback.  After you read it, if you are lucky enough not to be in an urban sea of nightlight pollution, look up at the stars … and consider how different our timeline was.

I think the 2 versions of Martin Caidin’s Marooned have been the best subsequent treatments of the theme, with honorable mentions to Dean McLaughlin’s ASF story The Last Thousand Miles, later revised as the first section of his 1965 novel, The Man Who Wanted Stars, and Charles Sheffield’s 1999 novel, Aftermath, in which returning expeditions from the Jovian moons and Mars find dead space stations (a subplot in Aftermath).

I’ll share other memories with you.  Next one, the 3rd: “In the ocean of night.” Let’s hear yours!

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