Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Anthony Boucher's "One-way Trip" (novelette, slow glass, free)

An illustration accompanying the short story One-way Trip by Anthony Boucher in its original appearance in Astounding Science Fiction, August 1943This is a very involved story - best read as a short novel, though only of novelette length.

At a gross level, it's simple enough: a mad man comes in possession of a novel weapon, & dreams of becoming a world dictator. Hero, with help, will foil his plans. But there are many characters, threads, backgrounds, technology, ...

Title is related to social background of story. This is a world that has taken the "code of Devarupa", a man modeled after Mahatma Gandhi, to heart. Killing is banned, even by state. So the punishment for extreme crimes is "one-way trip": you're put in a rocket with enough provisions for your "calculated" life & blasted out to space with variable unspecified velocity - rocket might go in orbit around earth, moon, or somewhere else, but you're never going to talk to anyone else.


A clay found in Australia, discovered some 20 years ago. Also, the glass made from this clay. This glass has a curious property - light passes through it at about a quarter of its vacuum speed.

No one knew what to do with it, till recently. Emigdio "Mig" Valentinez, a very famous painter/tinkerer - a sort of Leonardo da Vinci, has taken up a project to paint himself. He finds mirrors unsatisfactory, & apparently still photography wasn't available.

Valentinez discovers that speed of light is not fixed in Lovestonite, but can be varied - from near 0 to near its normal (vacuum?) speed - by subjecting it to carefully controlled electromagnetic field. So he builds the gadget - combination camera & display device.

You stare at the gadget for a while while speed is set to near zero. You press a button so the light quickly goes to other side & again slows down. So you have your staring image coming out from other side for a while!

A crook finds his secret, & thinks up another use: as a weapon. Let a lot of sunlight enter it at slow speed; so glass acts as a battery, storing solar energy. Then release it at will at a specific target!

At the end of the story, hero will propose yet another use for it: as enabler for colonization of Mars because a thin sheet can store enough energy to burn a town! Made me wonder what the melting point of this glass be!


  1. A quote from story: "the practical vigor & solemnity of the western religion with the sublime mysticism of the orient."

    I've lived all my life in India, & I haven't seen much "sublime mysticism". I wonder where the myth of mystic East originated. Or may be India is not counted in the East?
  2. Story features a "World State", centered in US (of course). And there is a "world-wide spread of Basic English".

    May be the author could have suggested a solution to India's babel of languages, & saved us many a protest & riots! Going by India's experience, I have serious doubts on the feasibility of any single "world language".

See also.

  1. Bob Shaw's "Slow Glass" (download) is a more realistic story on Valentinez's gadget.

    Caution: at the moment, download link doesn't seem to be working - apparently due to server overload. But it should work eventually. At least it did when I copied the link.
  2. L Sprague de Camp's hilarious "The Exalted" also features a similar slow-glass weapon. But de Camp uses it in passing, as one of the inventions of a genius prankster.

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding, August 1943.
Download full text as part of the scans of Astounding issue where it originally appeared.
Rating: A.
Among the stories from John Campbell's Astounding/Analog.
Related: Works of Anthony Boucher; fiction from 1940s; Tuesday Classics.


Anonymous said...

Hiya. Thanks for taking the time to dig up these resources and post your excellent reviews!

Re 'single language' - were losing languages constantly (2 a month, who woulda thunk - http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/yourvoice/language_ecology.shtml). Homogeneity seems quite feasible, even inevitable.

Tinkoo said...

single language: I had an idea, but it seems to be a move towards consolidation around some big languages - I'm not sure big languages are going to disappear & get replaced with a single one.

And even towards this consolidation, we have a lot of riots in store - at least in India. Our states are divided on the basis of language - most states speak their own language. Kill the language - & they are being slowly killed as cross-country migration is only possible with Hindi which also offers better employment options, & the rationale for states goes away! Too many political careers rest of the idea of language based states here.