Monday, January 12, 2015

"The Callistan Menace" by Isaac Asimov

First Publication:  April 1940
Cover Artist:  Binder

Challenges:
Deal Me In Short Story Challenge
42 Challenge 2015
The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience
Vintage Sci-Fi Challenge

First Line:  "Damn Jupiter!" growled Ambrose Whitefield viciously, and I nodded agreement.

The Story Behind the Story

The first story written by the "Good Doctor" (Asimov's nickname) was named "Cosmic Corkscrew".  It was rejected, put in a drawer, and lost during one of the times he cleaned up his desk.  By the time it was rejected, he had already written a second story that he called "Stowaway".  He personally took the story to John W. Campbell's office on July 18, 1938.  According to his diary he received the rejection letter on July 22.  But something was different with this one.  "...it was he nicest possible rejection letter you could imagine."  Campbell told him that the idea was good and the plot was decent.  The dialog and handling were professional but it had an air of amateurishness.  Asimov was told that he just needed some more experience.  This fired up the author.  While "Astounding" was the king of the market, he decided to go to the next best markets ("Amazing Stories" and "Thrilling Wonder Stories").  It was promptly rejected.  Asimov had meanwhile moved on to writing a third story that would quickly go to publication.  The story received a couple of more rejections and it would have died except the science fiction magazine market experienced a boom time.  

New magazines started to appear.  One such magazine, "Astonishing Stories", was edited by a young 20 year old fan who happened to be a friend of Asimov's.  That young fan's name was Frederik Pohl.  On November 17, 1939 Pohl accepted "Stowaway" for the second issue.  Pohl was famous for changing names of stories so "Stowaway" became "The Callistan Menace".  Other famous authors who appeared in this issue are Clifford D. Simak and C. M. Kornbluth.

One of the main characters was named after Isaac's brother Stanley.

The Story

"The Callistan Menace" is a well told tale.  It has what is considered a staple of the field.  Multiple missions have been sent to Callisto.  None have returned.  The latest group is put together and are in transit when they discover a stowaway.  A young boy named Stanley hid on the ship so he could go on an adventure in space.  

The crew lands near one of the previous missions.  Exploratory missions are sent out and disaster strikes.  I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who wants to read "The Callistan Menace" so I will not reveal what happens.  All I will say is that the crew's salvation rests on the shoulders of the young stowaway.

I cannot argue with Campbell's assessment.  It is a professional story that seems to be missing something but is worth reading.  The easiest way to buy it is to pick up the collection "The Early Asimov, or, Eleven Years of Trying".  

If you are a fan of Asimov's work, I would definitely recommend hunting down a copy of this collection.  It is interesting to see him develop as a writer.




2 comments:

Carl V. Anderson said...

Love all the background information. That stuff always fascinates me. The story sounds like one I would enjoy reading, even if it is before he hit his stride. Thanks for not spoiling the ending. :)

bibliophilica said...

Though I haven't read a ton of his stories, I really did enjoy his "I, Asimov" autobiography a while back. Thanks for sharing all the info on this one.