It’s there. And I didn’t catch it till I read the amazing story inside. We’re highlighting some old pulp stories that particularly stand out, and this one called The Ultimate Salient by Nelson S. Bond was a worldshaker to me. It has really been striking, the sheer quality of some of the diamonds among the rough you’ll find in the old science fiction and fantasy pulps of the 30’s and 40’s. I’d like to share this one with you, and talk about that mystery in the cover.
Welcome to the Pulp Gems series.
Follow this link here to the entire issue of Planet Stories, Fall 1940. Or download just the Bond story we’re highlighting here in pdf format:
“Brian O’Shea, man of the future, here is your story. Read it carefully, soldier yet unborn, for upon it – and upon you – will one day rest the fate of all Mankind.”
That’s the opening blurb, then a strange visitor stops by the house of our first-person narrator framing the story. He needs a writer. That’s the purpose of the visit. He needs a writer to save the world. You’ve heard of telepathy, where two minds communicate with one another. In this case, it’s quite different, and is a case of “telaesthesia”, whereby this visitor, a psychologist, has caught the thoughts and impressions of a future soldier not yet even born who will fight in the battle-wrecked wastelands of 1963 America. Brian O’Shea will be his name. He’s nobody, or at least he will be nobody. But he may turn out to be the most important man alive.
1963. Louisville has fallen. The Germans have Fort Knox; the government has fled. The Army Of The Democracies is in utter rout. They’ve seized the Mississippi and cut off all contact between the eastern and western armies. The Japanese control California and Nevada. The Russian Navy holds the Great Lakes. All is lost. America has fallen.
But O’Shea hasn’t given up hope despite the tide of war, and hears of a mighty weapon and a scientist who shelters it. He takes the mission: find this weapon. Determine if it can be used to end all of this. And at last report, the scientist was in Louisville…the last place in America anyone needed to be going right now.
I don’t want to spoil too much of this page-turner for you. You really should take an hour or so and read this. I wrote in Love Letter To The Repairer Of Reputations of a bit of unintentional magic that happened when Robert Chambers wrote his King In Yellow stories in 1895. Chambers was just speculating about the future from his vantage, but as we read the tales now and see a weird Studio Ghibli vibe and World War One era costumes and mannerisms in what’s presented as a modern day America, it gives off a mystical and fascinating feeling. It’s alternate history, though that wasn’t his intention. The reason I bring that up is here in today’s story, The Ultimate Salient, Nelson S. Bond has created the same sort of magic. He was just speculating about the World War (the second, in his case) dragging on even after Hitler was killed (assassinated in this timeline). And we have a dark, apocalyptic vision of that America. And we have the hope of this terrible weapon a scientist has created. This was written in 1940, by the way, so forget 1945’s atomic bombs. Here, we have a bio-weapon, and one that will threaten all life on earth.
The mystery on the cover relates to the very ending of the story. I can’t really give that away, you know? O’Shea is going to need information, or it’s all over for humanity. He needs it, and given the telaesthesia only works one way, a story needed to be written to capture that information in a way it might make it to O’Shea. Something striking and likely to be appreciated for years to come. Something like a science fiction story that bears his very name on the cover.
And not just his name. A scrap more of precious information that can save everything…
Let me know what you think, guys. I was so impressed I picked up a collection of tales by Bond. I’d never heard of him before, and I’m glad I came across this one. Till next time.