Monday, September 3, 2007

Eric Frank Russell's "Jay Score": A passenger spaceship is on its way to fall into the Sun!

Quote from the story titled Jay Score by Eric Frank RussellThis thriller is a very good variant of Arthur Clarke's "Breaking Strain": a spaceship on earth to Venus voyage is hit with a tiny meteor. In Clarke's version, it's a cargo ship, & air is limited - making that a survival problem. In Russell's version, it's a passenger ship, & loses machines that control propulsion system - so the ship is about to be sucked into the Sun.

Story summary.
Space ship Upskadaska City aka Upsydaisy is headed for a human settlement on Venus with 8 passengers. And a crew drawn from at least 4 races:
  1. "white Terrestrials to tend the engines".
  2. Black terrestrials as medics "because for some reason no one can explain why no Negro gets gravity bends or space nausea."
  3. Ten-tentacled martians. "Every outside repair gang is composed of Martians who use very little air, are tiptop metal workers and fairly immune to cosmic ray burn."
  4. Emergency pilot Jay Score, a terrestrial who is neither black nor white.
Story is narrated by ship's Seargent-at-Arms. The accident described happens in the year 2270, & will eventually be known as "McNulty's Miracle Move"; McNulty is captain.

Jay Score is fairly new to the job, but quickly becomes known as competent & reliable crew member. But there are two specific actions that put him in a class of his own.

First is when the meteor hits. A part of the ship loses air, trapping an engineer beyond hope. It's Jay's heroics that save the engineer. The hit also damaged the ship's propulsion system that actually precipitates the crisis - the ship is headed for the Sun.

Propulsion system is quickly fixed, but how to get out of Sun's gravitational drag? I didn't quite catch the technicalities: "The idea is to build up all the velocity that can be got and at the same time to angle into the path of an elongated, elliptical orbit resembling that of a comet. In theory, the vessel might then skim close to the Sun so supremely fast that it would swing pendulum like far out to the opposite side of the orbit whence it came... The only point about which we have serious doubts is that of whether we can survive at our nearest to the Sun."

Tension in story is provided by this nearness to Sun - for four dangerous hours. Everyone will hide in the ship's "cold room", but someone needs to be in the cockpit! Jay Score, of course. When the time is past, everyone in the cold room has passed out but not fatally.

When Jay is retrieved, he is blind & mute, but alive in cockpit that has lost its air.

We will learn the secret of Jay's survival late in the story. Very good ending.

Collected in.

  1. "Major Ingredients" (ed Rick Katze). 
Fact sheet.
First published: Astounding Science Fiction, May 1941
Rating: A
Series: Jay Score (A), Mechanistria (B), Symbiotica (B), Mesmerica (B)
Related: All stories of Eric Frank Russell.
Listed among the stories from John Campbell's Astounding/Analog.

See Also.
  1. Robert Heinlein's "Gentlemen, Be Seated". Shared plot element is: to survive an accident in space, protagonists must expose their body physically to elements guaranteed to kill them. Protagonists survive in both stories.
  2. Heinlein's "The Green Hills of Earth": A spaceman loses eye sight & later life when performing valiant action during an accident in space.

2 comments:

Anton Sherwood said...

If memory serves, "Jay Score" shares a meme with Poul Anderson's "Turning Point" and Jack Vance's "Men of the Ten Books": that the surest way to negate a cultural threat is to assimilate it. I hope that's not a spoiler.

Tinkoo said...

Anton: I've not read Vance's story. Will now probably look it up. Thanks.

Assimilate theme is very strong, in fact key, in Poul Anderson's "Turning Point". "Jay Score" assimilation sounded a bit of a different kind.