Re: The Cosmic Express

Not so long ago, Beam Me Up dusted off the old hand-crank and sent the wayback machine chugging to 1930 with a reading of “The Cosmic Express,” by Jack Williamson. Mr. Eric Stokes-Harding, a writer of men’s adventure stories, lives in a 25th century completely devoid of adventures. In fact, the world is just as devoid of nature, which means his beautiful wife, Nada, is an equally acclaimed poet of nature. The only place where they can find what they need is the jungle world of Venus.

So it’s a period piece, describing a far-flung future that still has typewriters, televisions, and subways. They even mention a bear market and imply Prohibition. (Now there’s a gloomy projection.) The one futuristic element is the Cosmic Express, which is basically a transporter beam.

After Eric and Nada discuss how it works (in a lengthy exposition that cites Millkan), they finally go to Venus. Finding the jungle a tad uncomfortable, they search fruitlessly for the necessities of life, “with a good fraction of the new planet adhering to their feet.” Just as it seems they are done for, they are saved by bureaucracy. To sum it up (in a very non-period way), Civilization Sucks, Civilization Rocks.

For all its faults, it held my attention with its descriptions and wit. It’s not fair, but I enjoyed catching the things the passage of time has done to the ideas in the story. I smiled at the foolishness of the characters diving into the unknown without bothering to look first. And I laughed at the ending, where Eric manages to profit from the episode after all.

I liked also that Nada is Eric’s peer. She prompts his exposition without acting as a dumb device. On Venus, she is the first one to say sensible things like: Did you bring any matches? And she is the first to admit hunger. Heck, she wanted to go to Venus in the first place, which makes her an instigator. I just wish her name meant something.

Holds up pretty well, considering.

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