Three Classic SF Novels, Volume 3: Greener Than You Think; Starman's Quest; This Crowded Earth [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Robert Silverberg & Robert Bloch & Ward Moore
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: Three great science fiction books for one low price! When a genetic experiment goes wrong, grass threatens to take over the Earth. In Ward Moore's acknowledged masterpiece, as individual people struggle to survive, scientists struggle to stop the disaster only to realize it is easier to wreck an ecology than to fix it. When a starman leaves his returning ship to search for the twin brother who stayed behind, as hugo winner Robert Silverberg tells the story in this, his first published sf novel, the starman discovers some of the dark secrets that underpin his society, and is soon on the run and the subject of his own manhunt. Then the mordant, satirical eye of Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, look ahead to an era when overpopulation threatens to put an end to This Crowded Earth.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2010
Robert Silverberg (Copyright 1958, no record found of renewal.) * * * *
4 Reader Ratings:
FOR BILL EDGERTON 1933-1956 * * * *
The Lexman Spacedrive was only the second most important theoretical accomplishment of the exciting years at the dawn of the Space Age, yet it changed all human history and forever altered the pattern of sociocultural development on Earth.
Yet it was only the second most important discovery.
The Cavour Hyperdrive unquestionably would have held first rank in any historical assessment, had the Cavour Hyperdrive ever reached practical use. The Lexman Spacedrive allows mankind to reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star with habitable planets, in approximately four and a half years. The Cavour Hyperdrive--if it ever really existed--would have brought Alpha C within virtual instantaneous access.
But James Hudson Cavour had been one of those tragic men whose personalities negate the value of their work. A solitary, cantankerous, opinionated individual--a crank, in short--he withdrew from humanity to develop the hyperspace drive, announcing at periodic intervals that he was approaching success.
A final enigmatic bulletin in the year 2570 indicated to some that Cavour had achieved his goal or was on the verge of achieving it; others, less sympathetic, interpreted his last message as a madman's wild boast. It made little difference which interpretation was accepted. James Hudson Cavour was never heard from again.
A hard core of passionate believers insisted that he had developed a faster-than-light drive, that he had succeeded in giving mankind an instantaneous approach to the stars. But they, like Cavour himself, were laughed down, and the stars remained distant.
Distant--but not unreachable. The Lexman Spacedrive saw to that.
Lexman and his associates had developed their ionic drive in 2337, after decades of research. It permitted man to approach, but not to exceed, the theoretical limiting velocity of the universe: the speed of light.
Ships powered by the Lexman Spacedrive could travel at speeds just slightly less than the top velocity of 186,000 miles per second. For the first time, the stars were within man's grasp.
The trip was slow. Even at such fantastic velocities as the Lexman Spacedrive allowed, it took nine years for a ship to reach even the nearest of stars, stop, and return; a distant star such as Bellatrix required a journey lasting two hundred fifteen years each way. But even this was an improvement over the relatively crude spacedrives then in use, which made a journey from Earth to Pluto last for many months and one to the stars almost unthinkable.
The Lexman Spacedrive worked many changes. It gave man the stars. It brought strange creatures to Earth, strange products, strange languages.
But one necessary factor was involved in slower-than-light interstellar travel, one which the Cavour drive would have averted: the Fitzgerald Contraction. Time aboard the great starships that lanced through the void was contracted; the nine-year trip to Alpha Centauri and back seemed to last only six weeks to the men on the ship, thanks to the strange mathematical effects of interstellar travel at high--but not infinite--speeds.
The results were curious, and in some cases tragic. A crew that had aged only six weeks would return to find that Earth had grown nine years older. Customs had changed; new slang words made language unintelligible.
The inevitable development was the rise of a guild of Spacers, men who spent their lives flashing between the suns of the universe and who had little or nothing to do with the planet-bound Earthers left behind. Spacer and Earther, held apart forever by the inexorable mathematics of the Fitzgerald Contraction, came to regard each other with a bitter sort of distaste.
The centuries passed--and the changes worked by the coming of the Lexman Spacedrive became more pronounced. Only a faster-than-light spacedrive could break down the ever-widening gulf between Earther and Spacer--and the faster-than-light drive remained as unattainable a dream as it had been in the days of James Hudson Cavour.
--Sociocultural Dynamics Leonid Hallman London, 3876 * * * *
The sound of the morning alarm rang out, four loud hard clear gong-clangs, and all over the great starship Valhalla the men of the Crew rolled out of their bunks to begin another day. The great ship had travelled silently through the endless night of space while they slept, bringing them closer and closer to the mother world, Earth. The Valhalla was on the return leg of a journey to Alpha Centauri.
But one man aboard the starship had not waited for the morning alarm. For Alan Donnell the day had begun several hours before. Restless, unable to sleep, he had quietly slipped from his cabin in the fore section, where the unmarried Crewmen lived, and had headed forward to the main viewscreen, in order to stare at the green planet growing steadily larger just ahead.
He stood with his arms folded, a tall red-headed figure, long-legged, a little on the thin side. Today was his seventeenth birthday.
Alan adjusted the fine controls on the viewscreen and brought Earth into sharper focus. He tried to pick out the continents on the planet below, struggling to remember his old history lessons. Tutor Henrich would not be proud of him, he thought.
That's South America down there, he decided, after rejecting the notion that it might be Africa. They had pretty much the same shape, and it was so hard to remember what Earth's continents looked like when there were so many other worlds. But that's South America. And so that's North America just above it. The place where I was born.
Then the 0800 alarm went off, the four commanding gongs that Alan always heard as It's! Time! Wake! Up! The starship began to stir into life. As Alan drew out his Tally and prepared to click off the start of a new day, he felt a strong hand firmly grasp his shoulder.
Alan turned from the viewscreen. He saw the tall, gaunt figure of his father standing behind him. His father--and the Valhalla's captain.
"Good rising, Captain."
Captain Donnell eyed him curiously. "You've been up a while, Alan. I can tell. Is there something wrong?"
"Just not sleepy, that's all," Alan said.
"You look troubled about something."
"No, Dad--I'm not," he lied. To cover his confusion he turned his attention to the little plastic gadget he held in his hand--the Tally. He punched the stud; the register whirred and came to life.
He watched as the reading changed. The black-on-yellow dials slid forward from Year 16 Day 365 to Year 17 Day 1.
As the numbers dropped into place his father said, "It's your birthday, is it? Let it be a happy one!"
"Thanks, Dad. You know, it'll feel fine to have a birthday on Earth!"
The Captain nodded. "It's always good to come home, even if we'll have to leave again soon. And this will be the first time you've celebrated your birthday on your native world in--three hundred years, Alan."
Grinning, Alan thought, Three hundred? No, not really. Out loud he said, "You know that's not right, Dad. Not three hundred years. Just seventeen." He looked out at the slowly-spinning green globe of Earth.
"When on Earth, do as the Earthers do," the Captain said. "That's an old proverb of that planet out there. The main vault of the computer files says you were born in 3576, unless I forget. And if you ask any Earther what year this is he'll tell you it's 3876. 3576-3876--that's three hundred years, no?" His eyes twinkled.
"Stop playing games with me, Dad." Alan held forth his Tally. "It doesn't matter what the computer files say. Right here it says Year 17 Day 1, and that's what I'm going by. Who cares what year it is on Earth? This is my world!"
"I know, Alan."
Together they moved away from the viewscreen; it was time for breakfast, and the second gongs were sounding. "I'm just teasing, son. But that's the sort of thing you'll be up against if you leave the Starmen's Enclave--the way your brother did."
Alan frowned and his stomach went cold. He wished the unpleasant topic of his brother had not come up. "You think there's any chance Steve will come back, this time down? Will we be in port long enough for him to find us?"
Captain Donnell's face clouded. "We're going to be on Earth for almost a week," he said in a suddenly harsh voice. "That's ample time for Steve to rejoin us, if he cares to. But I don't imagine he'll care to. And I don't know if I want very much to have him back."
He paused outside the handsomely-panelled door of his private cabin, one hand on the thumb-plate that controlled entrance. His lips were set in a tight thin line. "And remember this, Alan," he said. "Steve's not your twin brother any more. You're only seventeen, and he's almost twenty-six. He'll never be your twin again."
With sudden warmth the captain squeezed his son's arm. "Well, better get up there to eat, Alan. This is going to be a busy day for all of us."
He turned and went into the cabin.
Alan moved along the wide corridor of the great ship toward the mess hall in Section C, thinking about his brother. It had been only about six weeks before, when the Valhalla had made its last previous stop on Earth, that Steve had decided to jump ship.
The Valhalla's schedule had called for them to spend two days on Earth and then leave for Alpha Centauri with a load of colonists for Alpha C IV. A starship's time is always scheduled far in advance, with bookings planned sometimes for decades Earthtime by the Galactic Trade Commission.
When blastoff time came for the Valhalla, Steve had not reported back from the Starmen's Enclave where all Spacers lived during in-port stays.
Alan's memories of the scene were still sharp. Captain Donnell had been conducting check-off, making sure all members of the Crew had reported back and were aboard. This was a vital procedure; in case anyone were accidentally left behind, it would mean permanent separation from his friends and family.
He had reached the name Donnell, Steve. No answer came. Captain Donnell called his name a second time, then a third. A tense silence prevailed in the Common Room of the starship, where the Crew was assembled.
Finally Alan made himself break the angry silence. "He's not here, Dad. And he's not coming back," he said in a hesitant voice. And then he had had to explain to his father the whole story of his unruly, aggressive twin brother's plan to jump ship--and how Steve had tried to persuade him to leave the Valhalla too.
Steve had been weary of the endless shuttling from star to star, of forever ferrying colonists from one place to another without ever standing on the solid ground of a planet yourself for more than a few days here, a week there.
Alan had felt tired of it too--they all did, at some time or another--but he did not share his twin's rebellious nature, and he had not gone over the hill with Steve.
Alan remembered his father's hard, grim expression as he had been told the story. Captain Donnell's reaction had been curt, immediate, and thoroughly typical: he had nodded, closed the roll book, and turned to Art Kandin, the Valhalla's First Officer and the Captain's second-in-command.
"Remove Crewman Donnell from the roster," he had snapped. "All other hands are on board. Prepare for blastoff."
Within the hour the flaming jets of the Valhalla's planetary drive had lifted the great ship from Earth. They had left immediately for Alpha Centauri, four and a half light-years away. The round trip had taken the Valhalla just six weeks.
During those six weeks, better than nine years had passed on Earth.
Alan Donnell was seventeen years old.
His twin brother Steve was now twenty-six.
"Happy rising, Alan," called a high, sharp voice as he headed past the blue-painted handholds of Gravity Deck 12 on his way toward the mess hall.
Startled, he glanced up, and then snorted in disgust as he saw who had hailed him. It was Judy Collier, a thin, stringy-haired girl of about fourteen whose family had joined the Crew some five ship-years back. The Colliers were still virtual newcomers to the tight group on the ship--the family units tended to remain solid and self-contained--but they had managed to fit in pretty well by now.
"Going to eat?" she asked.
"Right enough," said Alan, continuing to walk down the plastifoam-lined corridor. She tagged along a step or two behind him.
"Today's your birthday, isn't it?"
"Right enough," Alan said again, more abruptly. He felt a sudden twinge of annoyance; Judy had somehow developed a silly crush on him during the last voyage to Alpha C, and since then she had contrived to follow him around wherever he went, bombarding him with questions. She was a silly adolescent girl, Alan thought scornfully.
"Happy birthday," she said, giggling. "Can I kiss you?"
"No," returned Alan flatly. "You better watch out or I'm going to get Rat after you."
"Oh, I'm not afraid of that little beast," she retorted. "One of these days I'll chuck him down the disposal hatch like the little vermin he--ouch!"
"You watch out who you're calling vermin," said a thin, dry, barely-audible voice from the floor.
Alan glanced down and saw Rat, his pet and companion, squatting near Judy and flicking his beady little red eyes mischievously in the direction of the girl's bare skinny ankle.
"He bit me," Judy complained, gesturing as if she were going to step on the little creature. But Rat nimbly skittered to one side, leaped to the trousers of Alan's uniform, and from there clambered to his usual perch aboard his master's shoulder.
Judy gestured at him in frustration, stamped her foot, and dashed away into the mess hall. Chuckling, Alan followed and found his seat at the bench assigned to Crewmen of his status quotient.
"Thanks, fellow," he said softly to the little being on his shoulder. "That's kid's getting to be pretty annoying."
"I figured as much," Rat said in his chittering birdlike voice. "And I don't like the way she's been looking at me. She's just the kind of individual who would dump me in a disposal hatch."
"Don't worry about it," Alan said. "If she pulls anything of the sort I'll personally see to it that she goes out right after you."
"That does me a lot of good," Rat said glumly as Alan's breakfast came rolling toward him on the plastic conveyor belt from the kitchen.
Alan laughed and reached avidly for the steaming tray of food. He poured a little of his synthorange juice into a tiny pan for Rat, and fell to.
Rat was a native of Bellatrix VII, an Earth-size windswept world that orbited the bright star in the Orion constellation. He was a member of one of the three intelligent races that shared the planet with a small colony of Earthmen.
The Valhalla had made the long trip to Bellatrix, 215 light-years from Earth, shortly before Alan's birth. Captain Donnell had won the friendship of the little creature and had brought him back to the ship when time came for the Valhalla to return to Earth for its next assignment.
Rat had been the Captain's pet, and he had given Alan the small animal on his tenth birthday. Rat had never gotten along well with Steve, and more than once he had been the cause of jealous conflicts between Alan and his twin.
Rat was well named; he looked like nothing so much as a small bluish-purple rodent, with wise, beady little eyes and a scaly curling tail. But he spoke Terran clearly and well, and in every respect he was an intelligent, loyal, and likable creature.
They ate in silence. Alan was halfway through his bowl of protein mix when Art Kandin dropped down onto his bench facing him. The Valhalla's First Officer was a big pudgy-faced man who had the difficult job of translating the concise, sometimes almost cryptic commands of Alan's father into the actions that kept the great starship going.
"Good rising, Alan. And happy birthday."
"Thanks, Art. But how come you're loafing now? Seems to me you'd be busy as a Martian dustdigger today, of all days. Who's setting up the landing orbit, if you're here?"
"Oh, that's all been done," Kandin said lightly. "Your Dad and I were up all last night working out the whole landing procedure." He reached out and took Rat from Alan's shoulder, and began to tickle him with his forefinger. Rat responded with a playful nip of his sharp little teeth. "I'm taking the morning off," Kandin continued. "You can't imagine how nice it's going to be to sit around doing nothing while everyone else is working, for a change."
"What's the landing hour?"
"Precisely 1753 tonight. It's all been worked out. We actually are in the landing orbit now, though the ship's gimbals keep you from feeling it. We'll touch down tonight and move into the Enclave tomorrow." Kandin eyed Alan with sudden suspicion. "You're planning to stay in the Enclave, aren't you?"
Alan put down his fork with a sharp tinny clang and stared levelly at the First Officer. "That's a direct crack. You're referring to my brother, aren't you?"
"Who wouldn't be?" Kandin asked quietly. "The captain's son jumping ship? You don't know how your father suffered when Steve went over the hill. He kept it all hidden and just didn't say a thing, but I know it hit him hard. The whole affair was a direct reflection on his authority as a parent, of course, and that's why he was so upset. He's a man who isn't used to being crossed."
"I know. He's been on top here so long, with everyone following his orders, that he can't understand how someone could disobey and jump ship--especially his own son."
"I hope you don't have any ideas of----"
Alan clipped off Kandin's sentence before it had gotten fully started. "I don't need advice, Art. I know what's right and wrong. Tell me the truth--did Dad send you to sound me out?"
Kandin flushed and looked down. "I'm sorry, Alan. I didn't mean--well----"
They fell silent. Alan returned his attention to his breakfast, while Kandin stared moodily off into the distance.
"You know," the First Officer said finally, "I've been thinking about Steve. It just struck me that you can't call him your twin any more. That's one of the strangest quirks of star travel that's been recorded yet."
"I thought of that. He's twenty-six, I'm seventeen, and yet we used to be twins. But the Fitzgerald Contraction does funny things."
"That's for sure," Kandin said. "Well, time for me to start relaxing." He clapped Alan on the back, disentangled his long legs from the bench, and was gone.
The Fitzgerald Contraction does funny things, Alan repeated to himself, as he methodically chewed his way through the rest of his meal and got on line to bring the dishes to the yawning hopper that would carry them down to the molecular cleansers. Real funny things.
He tried to picture what Steve looked like now, nine years older. He couldn't.
As velocity approaches that of light, time approaches zero.
That was the key to the universe. Time approaches zero. The crew of a spaceship travelling from Earth to Alpha Centauri at a speed close to that of light would hardly notice the passage of time on the journey.
It was, of course, impossible ever actually to reach the speed of light. But the great starships could come close. And the closer they came, the greater the contraction of time aboard ship.
It was all a matter of relativity. Time is relative to the observer.
Thus travel between the stars was possible. Without the Fitzgerald Contraction, the crew of a spaceship would age five years en route to Alpha C, eight to Sirius, ten to Procyon. More than two centuries would elapse in passage to a far-off star like Bellatrix.
Thanks to the contraction effect, Alpha C was three weeks away, Sirius a month and a half. Even Bellatrix was just a few years' journey distant. Of course, when the crew returned to Earth they found things completely changed; years had passed on Earth, and life had moved on.
Now the Valhalla was back on Earth again for a short stay. On Earth, starmen congregated at the Enclaves, the cities-within-cities that grew up at each spaceport. There, starmen mingled in a society of their own, without attempting to enter the confusing world outside.
Sometimes a Spacer broke away. His ship left him behind, and he became an Earther. Steve Donnell had done that.
The Fitzgerald Contraction does funny things. Alan thought of the brother he had last seen just a few weeks ago, young, smiling, his own identical twin--and wondered what the nine extra years had done to him.