James P. Crow

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First published in Planet Stories May 1954

Four hundred years in the future, long after a nuclear war, robots have relegated humans to second-class citizens after they convinced them that humans had been invented by robots and not the other way around.

The only way the humans can compete with the robots is through an impossibly difficult set of tests called the Lists. Only one human, James P. Crow, has been able to pass these Lists, and he did it by secret use of a time window which let him see the future answers to the test but also see into the past. Only he knows the truth that humans created the robots. 

Eventually Crow passes the final List and with a perfect score on all the tests becomes the highest member of the Supreme Council. He tells the robots if they leave Earth he won’t make the robot’s true origins public. They agree to his bargain leaving Crow in charge of the Government to rebuild a new human society. 

With the name “James P. Crow” this is an obvious attempt at a civil rights allegory. It’s kind of muddled in that sense, although I do like the premise.

Cast of characters

  • Donnie Parks – a young boy hoping to pass his Lists test
  • Edgar and Grace Parks – Donnie’s parents
  • James P. Crow – the only human to ever pass the Lists
  • L-87t – a robot sympathetic to the human’s struggle

The Impossible Planet

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First published in Imagination Oct 1953

Three hundred fifty-year-old Irma Gordon wants to see Earth before she dies, except Earth is just a myth that never really existed. She promises enough money to Captain Andrews that he decides to take her cash and find an ‘Earth’ for her to visit over the objections of his second in command Norton. 

Along with Irma’s robot they travel to Emphor III, a third planet with a single moon in a nine-planet system. When they arrive Andrews convinces Irma the barren rock is Earth. After landing Irma and her robot vanish into the ocean. As Andrews and Norton leave Norton picks up a coin stamped with E PLURIBUS UNUM which he assumes is just a piece of trash, and they prepare to head home.

This was adapted as “Impossible Planet” for season one of Electric Dreams. I like the design of this episode with a robot that looks like it’s straight out of ’60s or ’70s sci-fi, but I’m not exactly sure what they were going for by introducing a spiritual love story connection between Irma and the second in command. 

Cast of characters

  • Captain Andrews
  • Norton – the second in command
  • Irma Gordon 
  • Irma’s unnamed ’robant’ companion

Human Is

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First published in Startling Stories Winter 1955

Lester Herrick is a mean and bitter scientist until he returns from a trip to Rexor IV a changed man. Suddenly he enjoys spending time with his nephew, loves to cook and shows affection to his wife Jill for the first time in five years. 

It’s obvious to everyone his body was taken over by a Rexorian, and the Clearance agents intend to destroy the alien, retrieve the true Lester from Rexor IV and set things back to how they were before he left. Before they can do that they have to prove in court he isn’t human. They expect his wife Jill to testify to the change she saw in him. Instead, choosing this affectionate alien to take the place of her husband, she claims she never noticed anything odd, and this Lester is allowed to live.

“Human Is” was adapted for the first season of Electric Dreams where the costumes and production design look like community theater. The husband is a military officer instead of a scientist, but otherwise the story is the same. 

Cast of characters

  • Lester Herrick – a toxicologist for the military
  • Jill Herrick – Lester’s wife
  • Frank – Jill’s brother
  • Gus – Jill’s nephew
  • Clearance Director Douglas

Of Withered Apples

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First published in Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy July 1954

A woman has had what seems to be a love affair with an old apple tree. She goes to see the dried up old tree one last time to break up with it for good, but for some reason eats the apple that rolls down the hill behind her as she leaves. 

That night she gets violently ill. Their farm is far from the hospital, and she dies from what the doctor ends up ruling appendicitis before her husband can get her there. Seven or eight months later her husband and father-in-law visit her grave and find an apple tree growing in the field.

It’s obviously a quirky story but I like the mise-en-scène.

Cast of characters

  • Lori Patterson
  • Steve – Lori’s husband
  • Ed – Lori’s father-in-law
  • The apple tree?

The Hood Maker

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First published in Imagination June 1955

Loyalty to the Free Union is enforced by telepaths. Someone has been anonymously mailing ‘hoods’ (metal alloy bands that block the ‘teeps’) to members of the government. Once the Anti-Immunity Bill, which outlaws the use of these hoods, is passed through Congress there won’t be any way to stop the teeps from taking over the Union. Walter Franklin, a director of a government department, is sent a hood, and he is chased by the teeps until he meets up with hood maker James Cutter who explains what is going on. 

They go to meet Senator Waldo, the author of the Anti-Immunity Bill, to try to convince him to kill the legislation, but it turns out Waldo has been a teep all along. Cutter then spills his secret: the teeps aren’t the next step in human evolution as everyone believes, but rather they are just freaks from a radiation blast who are unable to reproduce. Cutter is more than willing to be scanned by the teeps at that point so that this news can be disseminated to everyone.

“The Hood Maker” was adapted for the first season of Electric Dreams. They tweaked the story to be more about the conflict between the non-telepaths and the oppressed teeps, only one of whom has just started working with the government to scan the citizens. Unlike a lot of the other chintzy episodes in the series this one visually looks great. All the telepaths have a facial birth mark of sorts to identify them, and the ‘hoods’ are actual creepy-looking hoods instead of some silly metal band.

Cast of characters

  • Clearance Director Ross
  • Peters – works for Director Ross in Clearance
  • Ernest Abbud – a telepath employed by Clearance
  • Walter Franklin – Director of the Federal Resources Commission
  • James Cutter – the titular Hood Maker
  • Senator Waldo – author of the Anti-Immunity Bill in Congress

A Present for Pat

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First published in Startling Stories Jan 1954

Eric Blake, returning from a work trip to Ganymede, brings a minor Ganymedean deity back as a present for his wife Patricia. This ten-inch creature, when offered a bit of food, wakes up and explains he is actually from another dimension on the hunt for the evil Nar Dolk. Eric’s co-worker Matson from Terran Metals shows up at the house and offends the ornery god who then changes him into a toad. Patricia has a fit about that, and the god turns her to stone. 

Eric’s boss Bradshaw demands he come to work right away to report on his trip. Bradshaw isn’t happy that Eric let one of their best workers get turned into an amphibian, so he fires Eric but keeps the toad. Back at home, Eric, Patricia (benevolently no longer a statue) and the deity plot how to get Matson back when the police, along with Bradshaw, surround the house. Turns out it is illegal to transport non-Terran life to Earth. Eric makes a deal to change Matson back to a human if they call off the troops, which his boss accepts but then reneges on once the deity has converted Matson back. Just then the deity realizes (long after the reader) that Bradshaw is the evil Nar Dolk in disguise, and the two of them fight before disappearing to their own dimension. 

Cast of characters

  • Eric Blake – brings Tinokuknoi Arevulopapo to Earth from Ganymede
  • Tinokuknoi Arevulopapo – a Ganymedean deity
  • Patricia Blake – Eric’s wife
  • Thomas Matson – Eric’s co-worker
  • Horace Bradshaw – Eric’s boss
  • Jennings – works in the biology lab at Terran Metals