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Birthday Reviews: J.T. McIntosh’s “Hermit”

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Schoenherr

Cover by John Schoenherr

J.T. McIntosh was born James Murdoch MacGregor on February 14, 1925 and died some time in 2008 or late 2007. He used a variation of his primary pseudonym for most of his writing, occasionally spelling it MacIntosh or M’Intosh. When he wrote in collaboration with Frank Parnell, they published as Gregory Francis, and he used Stuart Winsor for works written with Jeff Mason.

His first story, “The Curfew Tolls” appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1950 and three years later he published his debut novel, World Out of Mind. In addition to his science fiction, he also wrote a couple of detective novels and in 1956 he collaborated on the screenplay for the film Satellite in the Sky. He retired from writing in 1979 after publishing the novel A Planet Called Utopia.

Tom Godwin’s short story, “The Cold Equations” was published in the August 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Over the years, many authors have written stories which attempt to resolve the dilemma that Godwin described. In the June 1963 issue of Astounding Science Fact Science Fiction, J.T. McIntosh wrote a story which in many ways was reminiscent of Godwin’s original piece.

“Hermit” is the tale of Experimental Station Officer Duncan Clement, on duty at Station 47 for ten months of a year-long stint. Located in a secluded area of space, his orders are to destroy any terrestrial ship that attempts a landing. When he hears a distress call from a lifeboat with a single young woman on board, he decides to rebel against his orders.

The woman turns out to be, or claim to be, Lesley Kay, the seventeen year old daughter of a Senator. The gender politics of McIntosh’s story are dated and somewhat jarring. Although Clement’s age is never revealed, McIntosh continuously tries, without much success, to build up a sexual tension between the two characters and many of Clements actions, which McIntosh himself notes, are the result of the fact that the lifeboat’s passenger is female.

Clement keeps failing to follow orders to kill Kay, even as the orders become more urgent and provide him with evidence that she may not be who she claims to be, but rather a saboteur, similar to those who have destroyed several other Weapons Testing Stations like the one Clement is stationed on. Although McIntosh has set up the psychological profile for the sort of person assigned to the stations, Clement seems to be driven entirely by his gut feelings, rather than evidence, orders, or a sense of duty.

In the end, Mcintosh’s denouement feels forced, which may be why so many remember the earlier Godwin story while this one exploring similar themes is forgotten and unreprinted.

Reviewed in its only publication in Astounding Science Fiction, edited by John Campbell, Jr., June 1963.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a fifteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Big White Men—Attack!” in Little Green Men—Attack! Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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