“What’s It Like Out There,” Edmond Hamilton, 1952 – A young astronaut has returned from an expedition tasked with collecting resources from Mars. He suffers through visits with the grieving families in order to deliver the letters of his dead comrades; always, he lies to the families about the manner of their loved ones’ deaths. Although he wishes to tell the families the grim truth–that Mars is often unheroic, senseless, gruesome, and that their loved ones died in exactly that manner–he realizes that it would be futile. The people need heroes, something to believe in. They also need the resources of Mars to provide the power for the luxuries to which they’ve become accustomed. His own homecoming in Ohio is a farce. He stands before the hopeful crowd, essentially the entire town, studying their eager faces. Although he wants to chastise them for sacrificing good men for their comfort, he gives them what they want. He knows that he will always feel alienated from society, always feel old.
Comments: Considered one of Hamilton’s best stories. Themes of the hero, energy, resources, (soldiers), consumerism. Returning astronaut also an easy analog for the returning soldier. See also the review of this story at Futures Past and Present. Read in Best of Hamilton, SF Author’s Choice 4, and A Century of Science Fiction, ed. Damon Knight. Knight’s introduction provides a brief history of the space trope in sf, from Lucian to Wells. He adds that Hamilton was part of the realist revolt in early thirties, but he couldn’t get the story published then (1933), as the story was “too gruesome, too horrible,” editors said. Hamilton went back to world-wrecking and only published it decades later, after his wife, Leigh Brackett, found it in a file. He then rewrote it in a different form consisting of “dramatic flashbacks.”
Author: Wikipedia: “Edmond Moore Hamilton (October 21, 1904 – February 1, 1977) was an American author of science fiction stories and novels during the mid-twentieth.” “World-wrecker” Hamilton was an extremely prolific writer, particularly of space opera, and appeared frequently in Weird Tales. He was close friends with many prominent genre writers, including Jack Williamson, and was married to Leigh Brackett, a science fiction writer and a screen writer of several notable screenplays.