(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition)
3/5 (collated rating: Average)
Between 1959 and 1981 Rick Raphael produced one fix-up novel—Code Three (1967), expanded from two previously published novellas—and ten other short fictions. The Thirst Quenchers (1965) gathers together three novelettes that appeared in Analog and one new novelette.
In my review of Code Three I wrote that it “charms with its realism.” The first two stories of this collection, although lacking the emotional heft of the novel, manage to present the daily lives and travails of the workers of the future in a compelling manner. All but the third story, “The Mailman Cometh,” feel part of the same moment in Raphael’s overpopulated and resource taxed world.
Somewhat recommended for fans of the type of SF that appeared frequently in Analog magazine. If SF about daily life and blue collar workers intrigues you, check out Code Three first.
“The Thirst Quenchers” (1963), novelette, 3.5/5 (Good): The collection’s title story successfully integrates a slice of life narrative with a realized world. Troy Braden and Alex Patterson, both hydrologists, work for the Division of Agriculture in a far future where every drop of water (in every stage of the water cycle) is regulated. As they monitor snowfall in one of the few remaining wildernesses, Troy and Alex are thankful that they don’t have to live in “those rat warrens they call cities today” (15). In this future, “water, not gold, now sets the standard of living for an overpopulated, overindustrialized continent” (15). And in this future any disruption to the carefully calculated system that regulates water consumption will have catastrophic ramifications… The plot follows Troy and Alex’s desperate attempts to maintain the system after a quake ruptures a reservoir’s damn.
Rick Raphael’s journalistic use of snippets of exposition and personal details add to the story’s realism. Raphael’s belief in the ultimate goodness of the people who work for the institutions, which maintain and protect the lives of Americans, runs throughout. If you enjoyed Code Three, find a copy of this one.
“Guttersnipe” (1964), novelette, 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good) reproduces, to lesser effect, the same formula of “The Thirst Quenchers.” The Federated Global Water Authority “ruled over the Earth and all that was above and below to the outer and inner limits of the hydrosphere” (51). Our hero Gordon Ascot works for the Sanitary Division of FGWA. The general populace holds the Sanitary Division workers in low regard despite their vital role in society: “he choked angrily as a pair of teenage boys eyed his uniform and then pretended to be seized by cough spells” (51).
A disaster strikes in the form of disease that appears to be caused by incomplete purification of sewage. However, closer examination reveals “that it might be some form of radiation sickness” (55). Into the vast “lace-work” (56) system of the tunnels and pipes of the water reclamation network Ascot must descend to fix a leakage of “contaminated oil pile coolant mixed with industrial nuclear wastes” (67). In the background public tensions rise as instigators claim that the Sanitary Division wants to “thin us out with radiation purges” (62).
Institutions and the people who work for them are not out to manipulate the populace but perform the dirty work which keeps everyone alive. Somewhat appealing due to the news story vibes and Raphael’s celebration of the blue-collar workers of the future.
“The Mailman Cometh” (1965), novelette, 2.5/5 (Bad): With this story the collection dips in quality although many of the same themes stay constant. Steve Prescott and Brian Aldridge work for the Galactic Postal Service sorting mail in a small space station above an alien planet. Alone and lacking sufficient resources, they revel in all the sorts of immature things young male adolescents do when left alone…. They put up naughty pictures, leave a huge mess around the station, attempt to brew various alcohols….
Word of the state of their garbage strewn station reaches the central postal command who send Sharon, a postal investigator, to access the crisis. Neither Steve nor Brian realize the identity of the woman utterly horrified at the state of the station. And she apparently didn’t realize how important it was to follow standard procedure: “Did you take your full immunization series before you blasted off?” (99). With Steve and Brian sick to the bone, Sharon, in order for to run the mail station in their absence, realizes that she too will need a good beer and a lot of mess.
“Odd Man In” (1965), novelette, 2.5/5 (Bad): Continuing in a similar overpopulated and resource scarce world with the first two stories in the collection, “Odd Man In” tells the tale of Old John Watts who owns the last ranch in the United States. Reversing thematic gear, Raphael presents Old John as an individual fighting against the institutions out for his land. Prone to waving his gun, Old John must resist the federal agents sent to annex his ranch in the middle of the North-west National Wilderness Park, the playground of those tired of the cities. Various members of society who were unable to integrate in the new world live and work on his ranch. In a way “Odd Man In” presents in simple strokes other side of the coin to “The Thirst Quenchers” and “Guttersnipe.”
(Eyke Volkmer‘s cover for the 1966 German edition)
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