The ALAN NOURSE Reader
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Item added to your basket View basket. Proceed to Basket. The aliens cannot intercede for some reason, although they admit they have done so in the past.
Alan E. Nourse (Author of Star Surgeon)
And then they intercede anyway. Our hero and his friends convince a spacer woman to sing a song of their history which is so compelling that it leads to a truce. Not only is this unconvincing but the entire sequence in which the humans agree to listen to the song is inconsistent with what we've been told about them previously. This is the weakest of Nourse's young adult books. The Universe Between is actually a fixup of two previously published stories. The opening sequence involves a scientific experiment which appears to open a peephole into another dimension.
The first several people who look through it die or are driven mad, but then a young woman with unusual adaptive qualities is recruited. She decides not to reveal what she has seen but instead finds a method of crossing into the other realm by a power of will, much to the frustration of all concerned. We then jump to the year , which has a world government and universal peace, but with almost all raw materials in short supply.
The inner solar system has been explored and there are plenty of resources there, but it's far too expensive to move them across space with rocketships.
To this end, the scientist from the opening sequence is running a project to build a working matter transmitter, although once again he is running into funding problems. On the brink of being shut down, they achieve what they were aiming for, but impossibly the matter transmission is taking place even though the equipment is only partially assembled. This suggests that some other force is at play. Nourse ignores, or doesn't consider, the fact that matter transmission as he describes it would allow one to resend the same signal repeatedly, thus creating multiple copies of the original and therefore solving all the resource problems instantaneously.
The same day that the scientists have their breakthrough - their enthusiasm muted by the fact that objects don't always reappear exactly as they were to start with - the southern end of Manhattan Island mysteriously disappears. We also learn that the woman from the earlier experiment is now married and has a teenage son who can also enter and exit the other dimension. The son is adept at entering and leaving the Other World, which is inhabited by inexplicable intelligent creatures who have, until now, ignored his presence in their plane of existence.
The matter transmission experiments are disrupting their universe so they continue to snuff out parts of our world as a warning while trying to communicate with the young boy, who can move readily back and forth between the two realities. Eventually he is able to communicate and negotiate a settlement by which cargo can be shifted through the other dimension back to Earth without use of the matter transmitter, so everyone is happy.
Appended to the main story is another set some years afterwards. Humans have now visited the stars and established colonies on Mars and elsewhere. A problem with a shipment from Mars leads to the discovery of a criminal conspiracy and other problems. Both stories are reasonably well told despite considerable oversimplification of the issues and occasional use of deus ex machina solutions to problems.
It's also something of a bridge between the author's adult and young adult novels given the aging of the chief protagonist. Some of the speculation about the Other World is interesting but since we know that it is basically impossible for humans to conceive of it, that setting never quite congeals. There was a substantial gap before Nourse's next novel, The Bladerunner It loaned its name but not its content to the movie version of Philip K.
Bladerunners are people who acquire illicit medical supplies for renegade doctors who refuse to confine their practice to the government health service in a future dystopia. Given the paranoia about the Affordable Care Act, I'm surprised this hasn't been reprinted to play into those fears. There is also a significant group of people who are opposed to health care of any sort, analogous to those blockading abortion clinics today. Billy Gimp is a bladerunner who discovers that his room is being bugged by the government, part of a recent pattern of greater intrusiveness.
During one clandestine medical visit, the police arrive and arrest Billy, although his doctor partner escapes. Billy realizes soon that there is something odd about the arrest; there was no effort to capture the doctor and the police seem much more interested in Billy. He is sentenced to surveillance by means of a transponder fastened to his wrist and realizes this effectively puts him out of business indefinitely. While all of this is transpiring, we also learn that a new strain of meningitis, often fatal, is affecting people in the city and the hospital records on the subject are suddenly inaccessible.
The doctor has another problem. Hospitals have been using neurological links to surgeons so that robots can be trained to perform complex surgery, a procedure which he opposes because of the lack of human adaptability. To this end he has been sabotaging some of these recordings and the head of the hospital suspects that these "accidents" and "miscues" were deliberate. Eventually we learn that there is a new plague brewing, and that the government has secretly been ignoring the underground medical treatments because it was the only way under the law to get treatment to those not qualified for government care.
The plague, however, brings everything out into the open and we are told that the laws will be revisited. I wasn't entirely convinced that the rising cost of healthcare would lead to large segments of the society rejecting medical care as immoral, but Nourse did foresee that it would inevitably lead to social as well as financial tension. On the other hand, this was much more restrained, thoughtful, and deliberate a novel than any of the earlier ones, though at times the narration slips into lecture mode. The doctor's objection to participating in the program to create robotic surgeons is never really justified - given the shortage of doctors this seems like a good thing.
Dystopian novels usually have a government representative as chief villain, but in this case both establishment figures are actually reasonable, flexible, and have good intentions. In fact, there is no villain at all in the novel except the somewhat nebulous one of a bureaucracy constrained by its own rules. This was the first sign that Nourse might evolve into a serious and notable author of adult SF, but unfortunately he only wrote one more genre novel during his career.
A forest ranger notices three dead chipmunks, begins to feel ill, and dies the following day. A handful of people who encountered either the woman alive or after her death fall ill as well and it's soon obvious that some kind of mutated form of the Plague is loose.
The CDC is particularly concerned because the disease not only spreads much more quickly than normal but it seems to go direct from one person to another rather than through the usual intermediate stage of rats and fleas. Although this is basically a science fiction novel, it has a definite supernatural element. The apparition of a dirty, evil looking, bare footed boy appears to several people who have been infected. As the contagion spreads, Nourse frequently lapses into long discourses on technical details about the cause of plague and the methods used to detect it.
A number of minor characters are introduced, only to die or carry on the infection. Eventually it sweeps across the world, bringing civilization to its knees, although about ten percent of the population survives to rebuild. Has its moments but the pacing is surprisingly slow for a story about a plague that spreads too quickly to be contained. There were four collections of Nourse's short fiction published during his lifetime.
Additionally there were many other stories that were not collected at the time. There have been recent collections drawing from all those sources but none of these are generally available. Although his short fiction all appeared in adult markets, the collections were often marketed for young adults. Many of his stories involve medicine or doctors and many but not all involve some degree of space travel. Nourse did try to get his science right, although he didn't always succeed. He seems to have thought that meteor showers would be a major problem in space travel, for example.
Many of his stories seem hastily written. They often include plot elements that contradict each other, or problems that the author ignores because it would impede his plot. That said, he also wrote several very good tales including one of my favorites, "Brightside Crossing. There are references to computers still using tapes and punched cards, spaceships carry printed newspapers from planet to planet, etc.
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Tiger by the Tail opens with the title story, a cute bit about an opening into a parallel universe and a tug of war that might destroy one or the other reality. In "Nightmare Brother" a man is subjected to a series of hallucinatory ordeals in order to toughen him for interstellar flight, a dubious premise though done well. Pretty minor. A cure for the common cold has unpleasant side effects in the quite humorous "The Coffin Cure".
My favorite story by Nourse is "Brightside Crossing". Four men attempt to cross the bright side of Mercury but fail and only one survives. The description of the physical conditions there is superb. The mud on Venus is valuable but only if the natives can be taught to harvest it. Earth is invaded by nasty critters in "Love Thy Vimp", who are defeated when people learn to love them. A spaceship is returning from Ganymede when the ship's doctor realizes that one of the crewmembers has been replaced by an exact duplicate, a shapechanging alien intent upon reaching Earth.
It's rather clumsily done, I'm afraid. At one point the doctor mentions that two of their crew were killed on Ganymede, but actually only one was killed there. The second man dies aboard ship and it is specifically mentioned that he never left the ship during the landing. The doctor messes up at the end and Earth is doomed but his lack of even rudimentary quarantine precautions makes the whole thing rather silly. Or is it all an illusion? He was hired by scientists to analyze statistics about insanity. Could he have found something that drove him insane?
The ending is meant to be clever but it's not particularly convincing. The fact that this doesn't actually happen in the real world may not have been evident to Nourse. Eventually the disgruntled management goes on strike against the workers. A bad story. A visitor from another dimension can't convince anyone that he isn't human. Nicely written but the end is disappointing. Once again Nourse fails to think about his premise. If the scout who saw them can cross seven light years in a day or so, why would it take the enemy - who have the same technology - weeks or months to travel the same distance?
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It's an okay story but rather pedantic. A colony on another star could not keep abreast of current events on Earth by listening to radio broadcasts. It's a fine set up, and the implications of their discoveries quickly balloon - I don't want to say too much, but let's just make clear that haters of COMOLD have nothing to fear from this one.
The brothers mention briefly that their mother passed, and after that females are mysteriously vanished, without a trace or even a mention. Asimov and Heinlein at least made habits of putting women into their tales now and then, so I don't think it's necessarily an unfair criticism to make, even if one must brace oneself for certain antiquated attitudes when reading older fiction. However, that may only show that I've not been mixing with the right women.
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