DAW Books, Inc. 2010, cover artist uncredited
I have made no secret of my admiration, for Schweitzer's anthology Cthulhu's Reign, one of the best mythos collections I have read, quality wise, most stories are good to excellent. There are a few, so so stories, but as the old saying goes if you have nothing nice to say …,
Which brings me to Mr Lupoff, his "Discovery of the Ghooric Zone - March 15, 2337" was the first story I discussed on this blog, and I loved it. It is fair to say I liked his contribution to this volume "Nothing Personal". I thought it was okay on first reading, even better when I read it again for this post, but I also found even more quibbles with the story overall on the second reading.
Yes we are off to Yuggoth again. Mankind has been exploring the solar system and the good news is there is life everywhere, but no obviously intelligent life.
" It took the exploration of dozens of moons to find jungles and prairies, natural gardens of unimaginable colors and forms, schools of swimming things that were surely not fish, and flocks of flying things that were anything but birds.
But no people. Not merely no humans, like those whose robot explorers first landed on Callisto and Mimas, Miranda and Proteus and Galatea and all the others. The people of earth both longed for and feared the discovery of alien intelligences, whether they looked like giant grasshoppers, self-conscious cabbages or whales with hands, whether they wrote epic treatises on the meaning of life or built machines to carry them across the dimensional barrier to other universes even stranger than the one from which they had come. "p.238
"That huge planet and its four satellites, Nithan, Zaman, Thog and Thok, rolled eternally in a counter planar orbit, crossing the plane of the solar ecliptic only once in a thousand years. No wonder it had gone undiscovered for so long," p. 237.
And on Yuggoth there are signs of intelligent life and Earth's robotic probes have sent back the images to prove it,
" images of structures that were undoubtedly artificial, yet that resembled no city ever built upon earth. They stretched for thousands of miles across the ruddy, pulsing surface of Yuggoth. They rose for hundreds of miles into the roiling, cloudy atmosphere of the planet. At the poles of the monstrous globe, black, glossy areas that must be ice caps reflected the light of a billon distant stars." p,239
And huge shapes move across the landscape. But all attempts at contact are in vain. So the Beijing 11-11, an observation satellite, ten years in the making is launched. It's two person crew, Dr. Chen Jing-quo and crewman Kimana Hasani have been sent from Earth's moon. Chen has trained for this type of mission her entire life. It seems children are selected as toddlers and sent to the moon to be trained as staff for Earth's ongoing scientific projects. Chen has been observing Yuggoth for the decade it has taken to build the Beijing 11-11. Upon arriving at Yuggoth, attempts to contact inhabitants of the planet, "Yuggothi" again go unacknowledged and there is no indication that the Beijing 11-11 has even been observed. So Kimana Hasani announces that he will take one of the External Excursion Pods for a closer look. These pods are intended for maintenance or as lifeboats, and this excursion is not part of the mission protocol. Despite Chen's protests Hasani leaves and it is here we will also leave our intrepid explorers.
Overall I enjoyed the story and, as I mentioned above, even more on my second reading. I liked the passages discussing mankind's discoveries in the exploration of the solar system and those concerning Yuggoth. There were obvious similarities with Lupoff's story "Discovery of the Ghooric Zone - March 15, 2337" as both concern small crews of explorers dispatched to Yuggoth. One difference that is apparent is the length this story, it is 11 pages long the earlier story was over thirty. This meant that in the "Discovery of the Ghooric Zone - March 15, 2337" Lupoff was able to offer us intricate explorations of the history of the various cultures of the explorers, similar to the long passages in HPL's "Mountains of Madness" or "The Shadow Out of Time". This much shorter story simply cannot accommodate the wonderfully atmospheric world building of the earlier tale. For all I know Lupoff may not have intended to create this type of back story to avoid comparisons with the earlier story. Whatever his intent "Nothing Personal" seems a bit short or rushed and there were, for me, some problems with the plot I had trouble with. I will discuss these under spoilers. Still I enjoyed the scope of the story, the interstellar arc of the work mirrors HPL's "Whisperer in the Darkness" where we first encounter Yuggoth With both of Lupoff's Yuggoth tales it is obvious we aren't in Arkham or even New England anymore.
These are some things I noticed that bothered me, maybe it is nitpicking, please don't judge the story by them, read it first. Remember I had lots of nice things to say.
That Yuggoth is made of anti-matter, this reminded me of Larry Niven's "Flatlander" in which Niven's character Bey Shuffler encounters an antimatter planet which damages his indestructible puppeteer built General Products hull.
There is no reason Lupoff cannot have an antimatter planet and I felt it was a nice plot twist. Chen is in the shower when the explosion caused by matter, the External Excursion Pod containing Kimana Hasani, contacts antimatter, Yuggoth's atmosphere. This explains why she is not blinded but wouldn't she be observing Hasani's progress? She also is able to watch and listen to what happens to Kimana Hasanibut it is not clear to me, is this supposed to be this taped? The "Yuggothi" indicate by their actions that they immediately associate the pod with Earth but not the larger satellite?
Things I liked, the fact that Earth uses hyper-lightspeed communications and avoids any time delay, this is good because I loved the speed at which things unfold, that while Chen and her moon based supervisor Jerom are still discussing what happened we are told, "They're here!" p.244 and we realize that the "Yuggothi" have already responded.