Ace Double Reviews, 71: Gallagher's Glacier, by Walt and Leigh Richmond/Positive Charge, by Walt and Leigh Richmond (#27235, 1970, $0.75)
by Rich Horton
Walt and Leigh Richmond were a husband and wife SF writing team, who wrote mostly for Analog in the 1960s: about a dozen short stories between 1961 and 1973, of which only one appeared in another magazine, If. These stories were concentrated in one year: 1964, in which fully half the issues of Analog featured a Richmond piece. They also wrote five novels for Ace. Three of these were parts of Ace Doubles. Their last novel was slightly anomalous: Challenge The Hellmaker, published in 1976 as part of the curious and often denigrated "Second Ace Special" series. There was also a short serial, "Where I Wasn't Going", in Analog in 1963. It would be fair to say that they were "late John Campbell" writers, who really couldn't sell to anybody else (except Don Wollheim). And it would be fair to say, based on what I've read, that this was on merit -- they were pretty bad, luckily for them bad in ways that appealed to the idiosyncratic and often annoying tastes of John Campbell in the 60s.
There is a rather amusing story about their method of collaboration. I've seen this independently attested by several people who met them at the Milford workshops in the mid-60s. Apparently, Walt would sit in his chair and telepathically transmit story ideas to Leigh while she typed. I'll go way out on a limb and say that I think Leigh Richmond is the sole author of all this stories, with her husband's name attached for any of a number of possible reasons. Leigh was 11 years the elder, by the way, though Walt died in 1977, only 55 years old. (I suppose one might adduce that date as evidence that the collaboration story was true: after all,their last novel was published in 1976.) Leigh died in 1996, age 85. It's worth noting that the first of their stories was originally published as by Leigh alone ("Prologue to an Analogue", Analog, June 1961). It was reprinted twice under her name, but in this collection there is no indication that it is not a collaboration, and the title is slightly changed (to "Prologue to ... an Analogue"). Leigh published one other story without Walt, though that was a collaboration: "There is a Tide", with R. C. FitzPatrick, in the January 1968 Analog.
So what of these stories? The collection almost completely negligible. "Prologue to ,,, an Analogue", the longest at 10,000 words or so, was anthologized a couple of times, but I'm not sure why. An advertising agency puts together an ad campaign for a cleaning product featuring 13 witches, and somehow their incantations end up "cleaning up" whatever situation was mentioned on the news program just prior to the ad running -- situations such as attempted bacterial warfare by China (blamed on the US and USSR), slum clearance, a crippled child, etc. And that's pretty much it. Four stories feature inventions by the unworldly Willy Shorts. Three of them are directly about Willy, signalled by the titles: "Shorts Wing" (6200 words, original to this book), "Shortstack" (6700 words, Analog, December 1964), and "Shortsite" (3500 words, Analog, April 1964). In these three Willy is shown coming up with crazy ideas of the sort Campbell liked (at least one reminded me of the Dean Drive), and then his unscrupulous salesman friend markets them. None convinced me. The other Shorts story is "I, BEM" (Analog, June 1964), told from the POV of an AI robot designed by Willy, after the robots have taken over the Earth with kindness, and most humans have left. It's probably one of the best Richmond stories. There is another Richmond story I haven't read, not in this book, called "Poppa Needs Shorts" (Analog, January 1964), and I wonder if it too features Willy Shorts.
The other stories include "M'Lord is the Shepherd" (3100 words, If, September 1965), in which aliens monitoring Earth try to promote human development in order to help defend against another encroaching alien race, but (surprise!) get more than they bargain for when humans prove even more dangerous than the original enemy. The Richmonds get off a couple of cranky jokes -- one plan for holding back human ingenuity once it gets out of hand is introducing television, one of the alien field operatives is called a "teslar": he introduces alternating current, of course (i.e. he's really Nicola Tesla). "If the Sabot Fits ..." (5400 words, Analog, February 1968) comes close to suggesting an original and prophetic idea: computer viruses. All kinds of problems suddenly happen in one city at the same time, all based on computerized operations (from library book distribution to chemical plant operations). They are eventually traced to an educational program which just happens to be sending a binary signal over the TV channel which just happens to be read by local computers as a program. That particular means of introducing a virus is kind of silly (especially as it seems to be pure chance in the story), but the basic idea is at least a bit prescient -- perhaps. Anybody know of any virus stories before 1968? Finally, "Cows Can't Eat Grass" (4800 words, Analog, August 1967), is a problem story about a scout marooned on an alien planet who manages to survive, despite all the local food being apparently undigestible. His rescuers have a hard time believing he's not really a local alien shapeshifter until they figure out the mechanism, which is perhaps a bit strained but OK I guess.
Now for the novel. Gallagher's Glacier (31000 words) is an expansion of a short story of the same title, from the November 1964 Analog. Human colonized space is under the grip of evull corporations. The narrator is a decent space captain who has learned how bad his employers are. He hires Gallagher out of necessity, and is impressed by his abilities as an engineer -- alas, abilities that violate the "book". He also witnesses Gallagher claim an icy asteroid and turn it into a spaceship, the only independent spaceship in the colonies. I assume this ends the original story.
We pick up again a few years later. The narrator runs into Gallagher again on a brutal mining planet. Gallagher, with the help of a standard issue "whore with a heart of gold", shows the narrator the evull side of the company. He naïvely decides to storm off to Earth to reveal these abuses, and of course gets arrested for his pains. Rescued by Gallagher, he joins a nascent rebellion, meets a pretty girl, and, well, you can see where the story is going. (Complete with implausible tech that only the rebels are independent enough to understand.)
The story is by fits and starts kind of entertaining in a routine way, but mostly unredeemable cliché. That said, I'm not surprised Wollheim published it, and it ranks well above the worst of the Ace Doubles.