A Little Intelligence
By Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett (Writing as Robert Randall)
Crippen & Landru, February 2009
A book bringing under one canopy seven stories written by Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett, in a collaborative fashion, between 1956 and 1958.
They had previously appeared in various science-fiction magazines of the day.
In the introduction, Robert Silverberg paints an affectionate portrait of Randall Garrett (1927-1987), a writer who was about eight years his senior. Their relationship was never exactly one of mentor and pupil, but the experience of writing and working with Garrett, the more established writer at the time, was clearly important to Silverberg. It validated him in his chosen profession, and right from college he became a full-time writer. Garrett had also gone out of his way to promote Silverberg, making him well-known to editors and the like.
These are sci-fi stories, of course, but a number of them have the characteristics of other genres too. The title story, for example, is a classic detective yarn. An alien delegation goes to a convent, a neutral place, in order to negotiate peace with Earth (we are at war). While there, a member of their party is murdered, and there are a limited number of plausible suspects. Political interests make murky the pursuit of justice, for what if the killer turns out to be a human being? The impact on the peace negotiations might be disastrous…
Another story, ‘Deadly Decoy’, is hard-boiled in tone and seemed eerily prescient too. For it is about a suicide bomber, a fanatic, who is intent on blowing up a key galactic headquarter.
There is a fascinating notion at the centre of ‘Catch a Thief’, a story set in a galaxy where the planets are isolated and their peoples suspicious of each other. Such is their suspicion, in fact, that no planet will trade legitimately with its neighbours. If any exchange of products, information or culture is to take place, it must be done through the black market. Thieves, so-called, must do it. Indeed, it is thieves who are granted the mantle of harbingers of progress and interplanetary harmony: a neat reversal of roles, a positive spin on perfidy!
Adventures take a back seat to ideas in ‘No Future in This’ and ‘Deus ex Machina’, two stories that feature a priest as protagonist, one Sean Aloysius Riley. We are presented with a time machine and the problem of free will in the first story, whereas the second one asks, ‘How do we choose between two evils?’ In particular when to shilly-shally, to choose not to choose as it were, is itself an evil.
You are given knockabout adventure and a dash of romance in the remaining two stories, ‘The Slow and the Dead’ (a Western, kind of) and ‘The Mummy Takes a Wife’ (a yarn whose many schemes and intrigues centre on an Egyptian relic), so you won’t find yourself empty handed in that department either, mind.
This is as intriguing and entertaining a collection of stories as you could wish to read. Though jointly authored, you cannot espy the seams: these stories are unitary, vibrant creations all.