“Old Faithful,” Raymond Z. Gallun, 1934

“Old Faithful,” Raymond Z. Gallun, 1934 – The story of the Martian, Number 774.  His work, as he considers it, is to attempt to communicate with Earth, who is also attempting to communicate.  However, without common experiences, or even the concepts that underpin their words, he makes little progress until he realizes that one of the messages from Earth is a basic system of describing the “quantity of anything” (3 + 3 = 6).  This then leads to “and,” “are,” “no,” and “yes.”  But 774 has lived his allotted number of days with little to show for it, and will not be granted an extension because his work is not deemed useful by the Rulers, as they only approve research that is useful to culture.  Convinced his research is important, he defies cultural tradition and hitches a ride on a comet to Earth. Unfortunately, the journey kills him, and his friends on Earth are now aware of the possibility of interplanetary travel.

Comments: 774 is extremely punctual in his communication with Professor Walters, thus “Old Faithful.”  Everett Bleiler in The Gernsback Years notes that this is a story dealing with semantics and linguistics, as well as one of the first to sympathetically and more fully depict the alienness of a non-human culture. 

In Asimov’s intro to the story in Before the Golden Age, Book 2, he discusses the The War of The Worlds and the perception that intelligent beings in sf always view Earth as something to conquer, “which was a natural thought at the time, since that was what the Europeans were doing to Africa.”  However, this story forced a change, Asimov argues, and was very popular with fans.  Gallun was was pushed into writing a sequel, as a result, and sympathetic portrayals by more sophisticated authors of aliens became more of the norm, while aliens as mindless villain “receded into the primitive byways.” Asimov believes this was due in part to the events in Germany; Nazis were making racism unpopular in public (although some sf authors felt differently in private) and anything that resembled the Nazi doctrine had difficulty getting into print in sf.  The “easy assumption” of early science fiction writers that the darker the complexion, the more villainous, and that Nordic whites where the natural heroes had to disappear. “And inasmuch as the easy assumption of villainous extraterrestrials was a kind of reflection of terrestrial racism, that, too, began to fade.”

Author: Wikipedia: “Raymond Zinke Gallun (March 22, 1911 – April 2, 1994) was an American science fiction writer.”

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About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1926-1939, communication, language/libraries, the Other. Bookmark the permalink.

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