This story begins in 1960, when Man (for some unknown reason Man is always with a capital "M") is entering the great Golden Age of Space-travel -- that is, he's being kicked and shoved and bullied from behind by one Arthur C. Clarke, who will never let anyone just sit down and rest and take things easy, least of all Man, who has to keep to Mr. Clarke's schedule - or else.
The first real space-ship is about to make an attempt to get to the Moon. It's an atomic-powered rocket, designed by the British Interplanetary Society, for a crew of two. If they succeed, these two will be the first men in the moon. Needless to say, one of these men is Arthur C. Clarke -- and that is only because even he can't be both of them. In passing, I might mention that in the course of his career, Mr. Clarke somehow acquired the label of "Ego" Clarke -- or perhaps I should say he earned that name.
Actually, of course, Clarke could pilot and navigate this whole ship single-handed, and indeed, he intends to. He's only taking the other fellow along to do the housework. He picks William F. Temple for this honour. This isn't strange. I've had a lot of experience in that type of work. There was one dark interlude in my life when I had to share a flat with Arthur C. Clarke. One day, when I'm strong enough, I'll write a book about it. I think I'll call it, The Ego and I.
Naturally, in those days, as now, Mr. Clarke couldn't squander his peculiar talents on just housework. He lived a life of pure thought -- well, thought, anyway. This higher cerebration was concerned exclusively with the problem of getting to the Moon. His Moon. Few people know that Mr. Clarke annexed the Moon in the name of Mr. Clarke -- for the benefit of all mankind -- the moment he first saw it through his nursery window. So, at the Flat, it was I, who had to do all the shopping, mending, and dusting -- I had to dust the Great Brain itself twice a day.
Right, then, the rocket-ship is ready. Clarke and Temple get in -- Clarke carrying a notice board saying "Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted -- By Order -- The Grand Lunar." Everyone starts to count -- 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, etc. Then someone takes away the number he first thought of, and the ship starts with a bang and a flash. And it mounts upon a vast pillar of smoke with the roar of a million Niagaras, a gleaming speck, while the Earth trembles at its passing ... (see any Arthur Clarke Sunday newspaper article.)
Up and up the ship goes, to the top of the atmosphere. And now we come to Climax I -- the ship won't go any further. Despite Clarke having made it a law of nature that rockets will travel in a vacuum, it turns out, after all, that they won't. To everyone's astonishment, the ship starts to climb down the vast pillar of smoke, etc.
This is a terrible blow for Clarke. He's spent half his lifetime expounding the principle of the recoil of the rocket, and in fact, he's got a permanently frostbitten foot from continually demonstrating that principle with a machine gun on sheets of ice.
He says sharply to Temple: "This is quite impossible. Don't believe it."
But unfortunately, Temple does believe it. He knew that "up" was the way they were going, and it isn't the way they're going now. The ship is falling headlong back to Earth. There seems no escape -- Temple is doomed to be smashed to pieces in that frightful impact. Is there any hope? Can he get out of it alive? (You'll notice here that the author, to increase dramatic tension, skillfully concentrates on the more important character.) This is Climax I. To be continued next week ...
Next week, of course, we can't just let Temple smash to pieces on the ground. It would spoil the story -- to say nothing of spoiling Temple. So we have to think up a way out.
Clarke is pretty hot stuff with mathematics, as we know from his writings -- I enjoyed every figure of his last article. So here he does some lightning calculations and finds that if the ship be rotated three times rapidly about its own axis at a height of 7.77 recurring miles above the Earth's surface, it will, at that point in the gravitational field, owing to the Doppler Effect, the Nebular Hypothesis, and Bode's Law, rotate through hyper-space, and so reach the Moon that way.
At that height, Clarke fires the side-jets and rotates the ship. The ship instantly vanishes and is never seen again by mortal eye.
The world honours the two martyrs -- these valiant men who fell in the cause of space-travel, etc., these heroes in the vanguard of human progress, etc., these symbols of man's unconquerable Mind, and so forth. And mankind builds noble monuments to them, hallows their names in biographies, prints articles about them in the READER'S DIGEST and -- Greatest honour -- NEW WORLDS.
And then mankind makes no more attempts to get to the Moon because (a) if Clarke couldn't do it, nobody else could hope to do it (b) rockets don't work in a vacuum (c) who the devil wants to go to the Moon, anyway? They just sit back and cultivate their gardens and enjoy the boon of a Clarke-less world.
A couple of generations pass, and now we borrow n angle from the film, THINGS TO COME, and pick up the story again with the grandsons of Clarke and Temple respectively. (As Mr. Clarke isn't married, we shan't go too deeply into family history.)
Clarke III has inherited all of his grandfather's enthusiasm for getting to the Moon. Indeed, he wants to vindicate his grandfather's great project. Rockets won't work, but there must be other ways.
(illo: spaceship of the future? Eliz. Farmer)
Now we introduce our solitary completely original idea. Clarke III happens upon a scientific discovery that was made as long ago as the 1930's, not that anyone took much notice then. Common or garden vegetables emit certain peculiar rays, called mitogenetic rays. These rays have a definite measurable thrust -- not much, but detectable and measurable by scientific instruments. And easily the strongest emitter of these rays is the Spanish onion. It's really fierce! Clarke reasons, logically enough, that the larger the onion, the larger the output of these thrusting mitogenetic rays. So he employs a champion marrow-grower to grow a champion onion. This fellow is really good at his job and grows an onion as big as a house. Its output of rays is so strong, it develops such a thrust, that steel cables have to be fastened around the thing to hold it down.
Clarke III conscripts Temple III. More housework. Also, he shoots him a line about "It's our duty to carry on the traditions of our grandfathers and conquer the Moon for the benefit of me and all humanity, etc." In fact, he sounds just like his father's old man.
So the two scoop out a small egg-shaped cavity in the interior of the onion, fix it up as a cabin for navigation, and get in. The cables are thrown off. Propelled by the rays from the onion, the onion-ship rises rapidly and speeds off toward the moon.
Now we're getting near the end of the installment. We've got to provide Climax II. So we borrow a remarkable idea from a remarkable film called ROCKET SHIP XM. The crew has underestimated the speed of their ship. It misses the Moon altogether and flies on into outer space -- toward Mars.
For the next installment we can work up towards a climax over the food situation. Naturally the voyages have taken only enough food for the short trip to the Moon. Now they're committed to the far longer trip to Mars. They run out of food. The last baked bean is gone. They're forced to live on the onion itself. They start nibbling at the walls.
The cabin becomes larger and larger. But never large enough for them. Not when they're eating onion all the time. Their respective breaths smell of onion so strongly that the atmosphere becomes insupportable. They're choking each other.
Then Temple remembers that in the medicine chest there's a bag of cachous. Faint and weak, almost overcome, he crawls toward it. Will he reach it in time? Climax III. To be continued next week. If your breath has a smell, you can't feel well.
Next week, of course, the cachous are reached in time. The voyage goes on. At last the ship begins to fall towards Mars. The two men have now eaten so much of the body of the ship, that the output of rays has fallen enormously. It's not strong enough to resist the gravity pull of Mars.
The ship lands with a bounce, settling in a patch of queer-looking plants, like lettuces thirty feet tall.
Now just about here, we ought to introduce another original idea just to show that we don't borrow all the time. But new ideas don't grow on trees -- nor in lettuces. However, it's quite easy to form an artificial new idea. One of the commonest ways to get a reputation for startling originality is to take something that's very familiar and merely turn it back to front.. Anything suddenly presented backwards looks novel, and is often mistaken for a sign of wit or genius. George Bernard Shaw built his reputation for profundity and wit largely by the employment of this trick. So did G. K. Chesterton and Oscar Wilde. It's because there's always some gleam of an unrealized truth in the converse of the accepted and familiar. For instance, I know only too well from my own experience the truth in Oscar Wilde's typical remark: "Work is the curse of the drinking classes."
I've noticed that Mr. Clarke in his stories very often employs this method. Sometimes he goes the whole hog, turns himself back to front, and talks out of the back of his neck.
So here we need to present some inhabitants of Mars with a new angle. We want something different. At first, I thought of making these Martians all vegetarians, but that seemed tame -- especially as in this country we're all vegetarians now. So then I applied this reversal technique. Instead of Man Eats Vegetable, let's have Vegetable Eats Man.
Temple III and Clarke III look out of their ship and see that these huge lettuces are slowly perambulating around on their roots. Then, to their horror, they see neat little rows of living humanoid heads on the ground. And it dawns on them that these are the heads of men and women buried in the earth up to their heads.
A lettuce comes along, and with its strong leaves pulls up a man, much as one pulls up a carrot, and begins to eat him. Temple and Clarke shrink back in terror.
Now the lettuces notice this great new vegetable -- the onion -- which has suddenly appeared like magic in their midst. It is a vegetable like themselves but so much bigger, so much more beautiful, and so silent and strong -- very strong. So they imagine it must be the god of all the vegetables and begin to worship it as such, and they lay offerings before it -- men and women slightly chewed.
Temple and Clarke are still cowering inside, too frightened to move. Now it's time for us to work up the suspense for Climax IV. Temple and Clarke dare not get out of the onion. They have to stay in there -- but they also have to eat. And there's nothing to eat but the onion. As they nibble away inside, its walls get thinner and thinner. It's an awful predicament. The choice is between starving to death or eating away their camouflage.
At last the ship is reduced to little more than a balloon of onion-skin fabric, and it begins to waver in and out in time with their breathing. The lettuces start to take notice, thinking the onion is making signs at them, and they begin to wave back. Temple and Clarke, scared of the attention they're drawing, start a system of planned breathing -- that is, one inhales as the other exhales, so that the onion-skin remains distended. But they get out of synchronization. They both start inhaling together. The walls of the ship begin to flap wildly. The lettuces approach to investigate, reach out with their leaves ... Climax IV.
The leaves of one of the lettuces suddenly part, and a crowd of men come rushing out, brandishing ray-guns, and blast the other lettuces out of existence. Their own lettuce was merely an imitation one, so that they could creep up within ray-gun range of the real carnivorous ones. In short, their plant was a plant.
These newcomers dig up their own kind and dust them off. Clarke III and Temple III break out of their ship, and their rescuers are surprised but friendly. The leader of the men looks at them curiously and asks: "Ooway areyay ooyay?"
Clarke and Temple are amazed. English backslang.
They're conducted to a Martian city. Clarke III is told that he's to be interviewed personally by the Master. He's led into a long hall and left alone with the Master, who's sitting on a throne at the far end of the hall. He approaches. The figure on the throne is quite bald but has a long white beard.
Here we have a fine chance to steal a bit from the film LOST HORIZON.
Clarke looks at the old man and sees that coyly peeping from under the beard is ... a frostbitten foot!
In awe, he drops to his knees and says: "You are old Father William -- I mean Grandfather. It's incredible. You are still alive after 100 years."
Then old Arthur Clarke tells his story. He has difficulty in speaking straightforward English. He has a tendency to slip into backslang. It appears that when he rotated the rocket-ship and journeyed through the fourth dimension, he and Temple got their speech-centres reversed in hyper-space. Also, not being able to count, he miscalculated and rotated the ship only twice instead of three times, and it was flung through hyper-space at Mars instead of the Moon.
(illo: the Throne room E.F.)
They'd found the Martian people friendly, when they'd dug up a few and taught them their idea of English. They also found that these men and women were being grown by the lettuces for the purpose of being eaten, and the lettuces were so greedy that there weren't too many of these people left. So Temple gave them a little talk on the facts of life and told them that they were silly to allow themselves to be grown by others, and that it was much more fun growing themselves. So they tried it -- and liked it.
And Clarke and Temple took over the burden of reviving this vanishing race of humanoids, and when they had sufficient numbers, they declared war on the tyrannous lettuces and liberated their own kind.
"But the building of a great race from a handful of people is a colossal task," says old Clarke to his grandson, "and Temple died from exhaustion. I've been carrying on alone, extending my life with faith, hope, and an elixir. But my day is almost done, my son. In your hands I must now place the future of Shangri-la. Here is the key of the production room."
He gets up, trips over his beard, falls, and dies.
Clarke III walks sadly and soberly away, carrying the key.
Temple III is waiting anxiously in the anteroom. "Well," he says, "is he going to let us have the porters?"
In a quiet hushed voice Clarke tells him the story of their grandfathers. And he adds: "An immense responsibility now rests on us. We must dedicate ourselves to this task of spreading seeds of mankind over Mars.
And Temple says gravely: "Yes. Our duty lies clearly before us. We must not shirk it. The third door on the right, did you say?"
They square their shoulders resolutely, and set out to fulfill their momentous destiny.
You'll notice that the final climax lifts the entire story on to a nobler, more inspiring plane than the previous smaller climaxes, which were only sensational in essence. And that is as it should be.
Well, I hope you've now gotten some idea how to construct a s-f serial. And if there is any editor who is sufficiently interested to commission me to write this one -- well, he can always contact me at the bar.
Data entry and page scans provided by Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
Updated June 28, 2015. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.