Birthday Reviews: Dean McLaughlin’s “The Permanent Implosion”

Birthday Reviews: Dean McLaughlin’s “The Permanent Implosion”

Cover by John Schoenherr
Cover by John Schoenherr

Dean McLaughlin was born on July 22, 1931.

McLaughlin’s career began in 1951 and his most recent story, “Tenbrook of Mars,” appeared in Analog in 2008 and won the next year’s Analog Readers Poll. His 1968 novella “Hawk Among the Sparrows” was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Award, losing to Robert Silverberg’s “Nightwings” and Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonrider,” respectively.

“The Permanent Implosion” originally appeared in the February 1964 issue of Analog Science Fact & Science Fiction, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. It was reprinted in 1966 in the anthology Analog 4 and was the cover story of the 1970 anthology The Permanent Explosion: Science Fiction Edited by John W. Campbell. McLaughlin included the story in his only collection, Hawk Among the Sparrows: Three Science Fiction Novellas, published in 1976. Stanley Schmidt chose the story for Analog: The Best of Science Fiction in 1985.

“The Permanent Implosion” is a puzzle story in which Mick Candido must try to resolve a problem that has been dropped in his lap. Candido runs a successful well capping company, called in to extinguish oil fires and make sure the wells are covered. He is drawn into a different sort of situation when the government calls upon him for help in capping a different sort of well, one for which Candido’s team doesn’t have any experience, but neither does anyone else.

Outside of Denver, a hole had opened between our world and the vacuum of space. The hole is sucking our atmosphere in an attempt to equalize the pressure on both sides; the eventual result will be an Earth with an atmosphere so tenuous that life is impossible. Candido and his team, with the government’s guidance; get to work.

The story is an exploration of patience and failure. The initial solution for which Candido’s team was called in fails to stop the leak, but he remains with the team, helping them implement other potential solutions, all of which fail. As the team becomes more and more despondent of ever finding a solution, Candido begins to look at the problem from a different point of view, eventually coming up with a solution which will also serve to make his fortune.

Despite the fact that the team has to go through several attempts, each of which is meticulously planned, the story does seem a little simplistic in that it appears that the team Candido is working with is the only one tackling the issue. It seems as if, given the massive impact of the leak, there would be several teams looking for ways to stop the leak. Candido is also something of a one-dimensional character. Clearly smart and competent, he is also a consummate businessman, not allowing any aspect of humanity or compassion to enter into his worldview or his way of dealing with the situation. He knows what his time and abilities are worth and is not willing to budge an inch. That makes the story a little more interesting, since it postulates an almost Heinleinian superman who comes face to face with failure and must figure out how to achieve success without capitulating to the failings of lesser men.

Reprint reviewed in the anthology Analog: The Best of Science Fiction, edited by Stanley Schmidt, Galahad Books 1985.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-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 “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 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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R.K. Robinson

It’s a good story, and I think I liked it better than you reflect in your review of. I read it in that Analog issue and it was my favorite.

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