Planet Explorer (vt Colonial Survey) – Murray Leinster (1956)
‘As humans spread throughout the galaxy, thousands of planets have been colonized.
Often, the colonists discover too late that an apparently hospitable planet
conceals a terrible danger to their survival. The fate of these colonies scattered
across the galaxy rests with one man, whose own fate is to race forever against
looming interstellar disaster.’
Blurb from the 2003 Baen paperback edition
Originally published as ‘Colonial Survey’ by Gnome Press in 1956, and reissued in 1957 by Avon Press as ‘The Planet Explorer’, Leinster’s rather romantic view of humanity’s colonisation of other worlds is tempered by solid scientific theory. Some of the stories here (which have been re-written and combined into a novel format) are merely puzzle problems whereby colonies in mortal danger with no hope of rescue are saved by genial Colonial Surveyor Bordman who employs logic and scientific theory to turn each crisis into a mere drama.
‘Solar Constant’ is set on a planet where Humanity is doomed because of the arrival of a premature ice-age, Bordman uses rockets to scatter sodium above the atmosphere so that more sunlight is captured and reflected back onto the planet.
He works a similar trick in ‘Sand Doom’, set on a hot desert planet populated only by Black people and Amerindians because of their genetic tolerance for sunlight.
Similarly, in ‘The Swamp was Upside Down’ Bordman saves a colony founded on an escarpment which juts out of a world-spanning ocean, and which – due to Man’s stupidity – is sliding back into the sea.
In the longer and slightly less satisfying piece, ‘Combat Team’, Bordman is confronted by an illegal colony on a jungle planet; a man and a family of genetically engineered Kodiak bears. The official colony has been almost wiped out by an indigenous hostile species. Our ever genial and resourceful surveyor uses the bears to help rescue the survivors of an official colony; finds a way of eliminating the hostile species and is also able to authorise the man/bear colony as a viable experiment, thus legitimising their presence on the planet, since the bears function much better than robots in this environment.
Had Leinster been less casual about the genocide of an entire species (see also EE ‘Doc’ Smith) then this tale would be more palatable today. Some views of Humanity and its place in the universe date very badly.
It will be interesting to see what aspects of early 21st Century genre work date as badly.