Tales of the Future From the SF Greats of the Past
Also by mcgrew:
Foreword and commentary © 2015 mcgrew
The stories and illustrations are in the public domain in the U.S. Not authorized for sale in countries where any of the stories or illustrations are still under copyright protection.
All commercial rights reserved. No part of this work can be used or reproduced for commercial purposes in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except for brief quotations and other fair use purposes. You are free to share electronic versions of this book so long as no money or other goods change hands, and are free to post it on web sites so long as the page it is on contains no advertising and it is posted in its entirety. For permission to publish contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Go to mcgrewbooks.com and read free!
Cover photo: NASA
Back cover illustration: ERBLE, 1953
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-9910531-1-7
Printed in the United States of America
Thanks to all the online databases, encyclopedias, and other tools that make research easy.
This book started with a search for public domain science fiction novels I could post on mcgrewbooks.com. I found a lot of public domain short stories, out of the thousands of short stories published in the last century.
One might think I would be all for ever-increasing copyright lengths, having registered copyrights as early as 1984 and still registering them. One would be incorrect.
Art and literature, like science and technology, are built on what has come before. “If I see farther than ordinary men, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Art (especially music) and literature are both suffering very badly because of the ridiculously long copyrights, and we, as a society, stand to lose much if not most of it. Imagine how technology would suffer if patents lasted for ninety five years! That’s how art and literature are suffering.
Many of the twentieth century science fiction giants I would have liked to have included, such as Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, have no works that have entered the public domain.
But as I said, I was able to collect enough for this book, which I hope you enjoy.
In assembling this, I’ve tried to get it as close to the originals as possible, changing nothing except typeface, page size, and line spacing. I’ve even left in typographical errors when possible, but these stories are from books that have largely had errors that appeared in the original magazines “corrected”. Some of the edited versions have edits marked; I reinserted the typos. Since I didn’t know where illustrations were originally placed, I put them as close to the text describing them as possible – with the exception of the first story, where illustrations might be spoilers.
I thought this project would be easy, but I was wrong. It seems that after six decades I still don’t know myself very well, and I soon complicated it and strove for something more than my original goal.
I ran across one very good story I wanted to add to the book, but could only find a PDF of pages scanned from the magazine. So I opened it in GIMP, converted it to image files and ran it through an OCR program. Then, of course, I had to edit it to remove the inevitable OCR errors.
When I finished this labor-intensive chore, a thought hit me – I wanted to get this as close to the original as possible, why not present the original scanned material? I kept the original OCR of course; I’ll need it for the HTML version of this book.
I started looking for original scans of stories I had chosen for this book, and found five of them. This added more work, since these scans were from magazines that were largely printed on newsprint and were over half a century old. There was scanned dirt, smudges, and other artifacts of time, as well as errors introduced by the scanning process itself that had to be corrected. But I think the final product is worth the work employed.
The scanned stories are largely identical to the magazines, except page size and therefore the size of the typeface may be different. It’s possible I’ve removed smudges and other errors introduced in the primitive printing technologies used to print these old books. Also, I’ve removed the magazines’ page numbers and “continued on page...” statements.
These old stories remind one (well, remind me even if I’m the only one) of how far science and technology have progressed in the last century, and how only a stroke of genius or luck can really foretell anything. Nobody except Murray Leinster foresaw the internet, and I doubt he thought his story was in any way prescient.
A couple of these stories have photographic film, and who in the twentieth century ever envisioned a digital future where film was quaintly obsolete? well, maybe Poul Anderson, who has photography in Industrial Revolution not only with no mention of film, but they send the photos electronically to a space ship.
When these stories were written, there were no space stations, no artificial satellites... in fact, nothing built by man had ever been in outer space. There were no space telescopes, and Earth-bound telescopes have greatly improved, with computer control to eliminate distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere, the invention of radio telescopes – telescopes that measure frequencies of light and radiation the human eye can’t see.
Venus and Mars were blurs, and of course imagination had science fiction writers envisioning intelligent life on them. We now know, of course, that both planets are lifeless.
I was born in 1952, the world’s first programmable electronic computer was patented six years earlier, and I was twelve before I saw my first one.
When I was a child, almost all televisions and programming were black and white. There was no way to record a TV show at home. Homes had no microwave ovens. Automobiles had no disc brakes, antilock braking systems, air bags, or even seat belts.
Medicine was primitive. There were no cat scans or ultrasonic imaging, and in fact the physician’s only tools were his knowledge, a stethoscope, and an x-ray machine.
Star Trek made its maiden voyage when I was fourteen. The “communicators”, Uhura’s bluetooth thing in her ear, doors that opened and closed by themselves, voice activated computers with flat screens, all were as much fantasy as the replicators and warp engines.
I live in a science fiction world. We have robots on Mars!
Today, I have an amazing, wondrous thing in my pocket. To someone who is now five years old, it holds no wonder. What’s the big deal?
When I was five, such a thing had never been envisioned by anyone.
When I was five, a telephone was a large, heavy, clumsy thing that hung on a wall or sat on a table, tethered to a wall. A phone in one’s pocket was a fantasy even ten years later when The Man From Uncle had one like a pen. There was no such thing as the internet; indeed, only multimillion dollar organizations had computers at all, and they weren’t networked.
When I was five, a camera, even a small one, was a bulky thing that usually sat in a closet or drawer until a vacation or a birthday party or some other special occasion came along. You would go to the drugstore, buy a few rolls of film, photograph what you wanted, send the film to be developed, and the photos would come back a week later.
This marvelous device will take a decent picture without film, instantly viewable in color, and can be immediately sent to anyone in the entire world.
What’s more, when I was five, nobody had sound recorders. Well, almost nobody – Roger’s dad worked at a radio station, and Roger had an old wire recorder that his dad had brought home from work. We were all amazed by it and had all sorts of fun with Roger’s fart recorder. Even ten years later, my tape recorder was the size of a cigar box. A good one was the size of a small suitcase. Now it’s built into that wondrous device in my pocket, which holds hundreds of songs in high fidelity.
A movie was something you saw at a theater or on TV, or one a rich family had made of themselves with an eight millimeter film camera; very poor quality picture and no sound, unless you count he sound of the shutter clacking sixteen times a second. The camera and the projector were fairly large and clunky, and very expensive.
This device will make movies, with sound, in high definition, and send them instantly to anywhere in the world.
It contains a library with more books than any one person could read in a lifetime. Read Tale of Two Cities? Just pull this marvelous device from my pocket, there are more books on it than a large metropolitan library, even if they aren't exactly “on” it.
It has the largest encyclopedia ever made. One can look up almost any fact one wishes. Want to read a newspaper? When I was five, someone threw a paper on the porch in the morning, which would be read and discarded. Now, just pull the device from your pocket, and almost every newspaper published is there.
Want to listen to the radio? When I was five there were radios that would fit, albeit not very comfortably, in a shirt pocket. They were full of static and would only pick up stations close by. This device will let me listen to almost any radio station on the planet.
Works of visual art by the great masters, all instantly available.
To a five year old, it’s nothing special. These things were always around.
But the five year old is ignorant. The device in my pocket is indeed a wondrous thing. The wondrous things today’s five year olds will see are beyond our imagination today, just as the phone in my pocket was something beyond imagination when I was five.
Yet science fiction has gone hand in hand with real science and technology. Many science fiction writers were also scientists. Much scientific and technological jargon was coined in the pages of the science fiction magazines. The words robotics, gas giant, astronaut... actually, the first use of the word “astronaut” is in a story in this book.