Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jack Vance's "The Miracle-Workers" (short novel, free): A future society gone retro rediscovers the scientific method

An illustration accompanying the original publication of the story The Miracle-Workers by Jack Vance in Astounding Science Fiction, July 1958While the story covers a wide canvas, the best parts deal with something many of us go through while growing up: you see unlimited possibility in the world around & unorthodox ways of doing things; elders keep telling you why it won't work & is impossible! This is the story of a boy facing this constant discouragement, but refusing to be dissuaded.

Story summary.

"Sixteen hundred years before, with war raging through space, a group of space captains, their home bases destroyed, had taken refuge on Pangborn. To protect themselves against vengeful enemies, they built great forts armed with weapons from the dismantled spaceships.

The wars receded; Pangborn was forgotten."

Now humanity on Pangborn is divided into feudal "Keeps", with Faide Keep, led by Lord Faide, about to trump over the last resistance to its overlordship.

Humans isolated on this world have forgotten the scientific method, science & technology, but have developed powerful telepathy practiced by "jinxmen". Telepathy is widely used as a war weapon. A skilled jinxman can manipulate the mind of someone so the victim behaves as if possessed by a "demon", or feels discomforted, etc. Jinxmen's telepathy is also the only means of long range communications. Except for telepathy, its back to swords, arrows, horses, etc.

"First Folk" (also called "autochthon"), hominid hive-beings who were the world's original inhabitants & were hunted & driven out from their habitat to jungles by initial invaders, had adopted the scientific method of invaders. So the conditions are now right for a face-off between humans & First Folk - telepathy vs scientific method.

Scientific method will trump. But this is a Campbell edited story - so humans need to win! Quick unorthodox experiments of young Sam Salzar will make humans trump over 1600 years of scientific weapon making of First Folk!


  1. Title refers to original human colonists. Since their scientific method is now considered crude, & their gadgets miraculous & incomprehensible, they are sometimes referred to as the "miracle-workers".

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding, July 1958.
Download full text as part of the scans of Astounding issue where it originally appeared.
Rating: A.
Among the stories from Astounding/Analog issues edited by John Campbell.
Related: Stories of Jack Vance; Tuesday Classics; fiction from 1950s.


Larry said...

Ah yes Campbell was of the opinion that humans will always be superior to any alien race and so must always win! His one failing.

Tinkoo said...

In spite of that, he kept churning out the highest concentration of great reads. Whenever I'm short of A-stories, which happens often, I pick up one of these Astoundings - every one of these seems to have more than one great story! Highest likelihood of finding a good story in limited reading time.

Larry said...

Yes,have you read his story Who Goes There? It was the basis of the movie The Thing.
I only have one Campbell book, The Moon is Hell,haven't read it yet.

Tinkoo said...

"Who Goes There?" itself is based on his earlier "The Brain Stealers of Mars". Both are online. Search this site.

"The Thing" seems to be one of its several movie adaptations.

Also see "The Things" (2010) of Peter Watts - a modern retelling of "Who Goes There?" from alien's perspective. This too is online, & linked somewhere on this site.

But I wasn't referring, in comment above, to fiction he has written, but to Astounding issues he has edited. Great stuff.

PS: A good deal of fiction authored by Campbell would probably be in public domain now - his fiction is mostly, I think, from 1930s & 1940s. One of his very cool stories that doesn't get mentioned very often these days is "Forgetfulness"; I've been postponing a post on it for while now.

Larry said...

Talking of The Thing,did you know there will be a new film soon-it will be a prequel to the 1981 movie.

Tinkoo said...

No, I didn't know.

In fact, I haven't even seen The Thing; I have only read the text version of the story.

Larry said...

Oh the Thing is a great piece of SF horror,you must see it! Great music thanks to John Carpenter too!