Visions of Paradise

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Pritcher Mass

Since I retired I have been reading and re-reading old prozines, enjoying its short fiction which seems much more sfnal than much of the short fiction being published currently (much of which tends toward the fantasy and slipstream variety). This month I picked up three issues of Analog from August, September and October, 1972. I only subscribed to Analog for a few years in the 1970s when Galaxy was degenerating under editors Ejler Jacobssen and John J. Pierce (with a few years’ spurt between them under Jim Baen), but I was also given a box of Analogs in the 1980s by a Biology teacher who was cleaning out his dad’s attic. Since Analog almost always had part of a serial in each issue, I kept the issues which had serials I did not already have in book form (which was 14 serials total), and gave my friend George, a Physics teacher and SF fan, the issues which either had incomplete serials or serials I already owned). I was left with 56 issues overall, which I have been reading occasionally (but much less frequently than I read 1950s issues of Galaxy and IF, which are more recent additions to my collection).

I selected the three issues I did this time because they contain a serial by Gordon R. Dickson, The Pritcher Mass, which I have never read. Dickson is one of the grandmasters of SF by whom I have read sadly-few books, only 2 in fact: Three To Dorsai! (which contains three novels in his most famous series: Necromancer, Dorsai! and The Tactics of Mistake) and the standalone novel Time Storm (which, for some reason, I have never read).

But I actually have 2 Dickson serials in Analog, the other being The Outposter and, based on my enjoyment reading The Pritcher Mass, I hope to read that serial as well in the near-future. The Pritcher Mass is about a near-future, overpopulated, polluted Earth, in which the majority of people live in domed cities, never daring to leave the domes because of “the rot” which is a mutated plant life which enters the lungs and grows until the person chokes to death. But life in the protected cities is dominated by The Citadel, a massive crime syndicate whose tentacles stretch even into the government itself.

But there is hope for humanity in the form of the Pritcher Mass, a giant “structure” being built purely by telekinetic-like abilities of the rare people who possess that talent, its purpose being to seek out planets where humanity can emigrate. The main character has been trying to qualify for the Pritcher Mass, since its workers live on a space station away from the crowding and pollution. But he has been failing his tests by the slimmest margins until he finds a “catalyst” in the form of a rock outside the dome. Subsequently, he encounters a female witch whom he believes is actually a telekinetic talent. He also learns that the Citadel is opposed to his being involved with the Pritcher Mass for reasons he does not know.

The novel combines fast-paced adventure with thought-provoking elements about the future of humanity and the polluted Earth. It was a good, if although great, novel which was both worthwhile reading and encouragement to read more by Gordon R. Dickson.

The three issues of Analog also had several enjoyable novelettes, some by well-known writers (James H. Schmitz, Christopher Anvil) but others by unknowns which, in some instances, is the real joy of reading prozines. The October issue had a novelettes by a writer I have never heard of previously. David Lewis’ “Common Denominator” was a novel about space soldiers. The narrator is a war ace flying solo fighter ships in a war on a distant planet. While the story is ostensibly about the invasion of a planet which is an enemy stronghold, it is really about the attitude of soldiers, both the narrator’s companions as well as the enemy, and how there are times when perhaps the enemy is actually more noble than members of one’s own race, in spite of the extreme differences which are the foundations of the war.

The August issue had a novelette by “old reliable” writer James H. Schmitz. “Symbiotes” is one of his Hub series featuring Trigger and Telzey, two women who are involved with the Psychology Service. Recently I read Schmitz’ huge collection Eternal Frontier, which was very enjoyable, but contained only non-Hub stories. Baen Books has published 4 collection of Schmitz’ stories which contain primarily Hub stories: Telzey Amberdon, T‘n’T: Telzey and Trigger, Trigger and Friends and The Hub: Dangerous Territory. If “Symbiotes” is any indication, those books should be as good as Eternal Frontier and definitely worth reading.

“Symbiotes” tells of Trigger at a shopping mall when she encounters an 8" high man on the run from somebody who has apparently kidnapped him and two friends who are inhabitants of a distant world which was designed hundreds of years ago as a possible outlet for overcrowded humanity by having its émigrés shrunk so that more of them could fit on the planet without crowding. But apparently somebody has found a profitable way to kidnap some of the tiny people and sell them for considerable profit. In the process, Trigger encounters three of the most intriguing aliens I have seen in a long time. Good stuff.


  • Finally, one of your reviews that does not add to my "to be read" list. I already had "The Pritcher Mass" on my stack. Based on your review, it will move up in the stack.

    I love the experience you had reading the old magazines. The discovery of new to you authors is always a rewarding one.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 8:53 PM  

  • I read with envy. It is wonderful that you have that collection of old magazines. I got my first taste of the old Galaxy magazines last year when a friend gave me a couple of them to read. It felt like stepping back in time, in all the right ways. Of course it didn't hurt that the main stories in these issues were by Cordwainer Smith, a favorite, and Lester Del Rey, who I hadn't read but became an instant fan after reading "To Avenge Man". I hoping to pick up some more copies at shows/stores this year as I think it would be fun to read more of these older science fiction short stories in the format in which they initially appeared.

    By Blogger Carl V., At 10:55 AM  

  • As a young SF fan of the giants such as Robert A. Heinlein, Issac Asimov, Carl Sagan, L Sprauge DeCamp, Arthur C. Clarke, Edgar Rice Burroughs… I had devoured them all and many others cover to cover until they were dog eared and yellowed…then one day from a bin at the used book store I picked up a paperback copy of the Pritcher Mass on a whim because of the cool cover art… the slinky sex-pot with glowing eyes in green and red striped cammo, and the feral imagery of the wolverine, with the psychic wizard in the back and the industrial polluted future scene… tech art with the red flares of the Pritcher Mass rising in the background. I was only seven in 1976 but had already devoured every SF novelist of Hugo and Nebula level I took the dog eared copy for a few dollars and went into a park of tall pines in the Arkansas woods, leaned against a tree, and with one barefoot crossed
    over the other I opened the book in the early afternoon and there I was on that train, and in that wreck, and outside on the ground waking up with that cold stone held against my head desperately thinking of how to get back inside the city. Face it, we have passed beyond that golden age where the writers were the savants of imagery and emotion and their art form carried us all far beyond this space and time...because of the advance of technology we now live many of their dreams, but we now have that spark of mind from them in print still and like a time machine we can call back those early years where some of us sat in the deep of winter, having sneaked out an open window, to sit spell bound staring into the sky through a cheap metal telescope bought at the five and dime with change scraped together from recycled coke bottles found in the ditches and wondered, really wondered, did the stars really sing? If I had a spacesuit would I really travel? Are there giant hovering creatures on the gas planet Jupiter? Would we some day walk the red planet in suits escaping from an overbearing private school still wearing our custom painted helmet? Will we ever travel beyond this universe and see the wonders of it all? Thanks to the dreamers like Gordon who poured their thoughts and imaginations into a forge and out came, like molten gold, onto the page their adventures into space and time… thanks to them as long as we keep their print alive and pass it on the glitter of that golden age of SF genre they will never fade, and like gold their dreams will shine on for every young reader who is fortunate enough to find them still.

    By Blogger AbdullahMikail, At 10:05 AM  

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