The following review is the 9th post in my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.
As always, feel free to join the conversation!
Previously: Philip K. Dick’s “A Little Something For Us Tempunauts” in Final Stage: The Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology, ed. Barry N. Mazlberg and Edward L. Ferman (1974) [You can borrow this anthology online in one-hour increments]
Frederik Pohl’s “The Hated” (1958) first appeared in the January 1958 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold. He wrote it under the pseudonym Paul Flehr. You can read it online here.
“The Hated” (1958) postulates that astronauts will require psychological conditioning to survive the confines of space travel to Mars. In Pohl’s future, the Mars-craft crams six men in a space the size of a Buick (51). The continuous sounds of machine and crew, the fetid taste of the air filled with sweat, the omniscient fear of crushing your oxygen line while sleeping, the free fall, the dreams of drowning, generates an intense drive to kill your crewmates. Byron, the narrator, wants a knife for Sam, to strangle Gilvey with his bear hands, gun Chowderhead with one bullet to the belly, turn a tommy gun on Wally, and cage the captain with hungry lions. The conditioning is “like a straightjacket”–Byron elaborates: “You know how to make a baby cry? Hold his hands […] What they did to us so we couldn’t kill each other, it was like being tied up, like having out hands held so we couldn’t get free” (50).
And the conditioning against violence only lasts until his return to Earth. On Earth, in order to receive a pension and a prescription, the astronauts must stay far away from their crewmates as the desire to kill remains. And on Earth everyone wants to go to Mars and every woman wants an astronaut despite their overt symptoms of PTSD –“‘Mars,‘ the girl breathed. ‘Mars‘” (49). Byron illegally hangs out in a bar outside of his zone. He knows Chowderhead will also gravitate towards the boundaries where he too might encounter another crewman and satiate his violent urges.
It might be fruitful reading “The Hated” in conjunction with Samuel R. Delany’s later, and far more radical, “Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967). Both present the spacers who return to Earth an exotic “other” who holds sexual allure despite the personal transformation–the intense trauma created by close-contact and psychological treatment in the former and the astronauts who are neutered due to radiation in space in the latter—the spacers undergo. In some ways, I found treatment of the blue-collar experience of space travel in “The Hated” similar to that of Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “Death of a Spaceman” (variant title: “Memento Homo”) (1954). The spaceship is a grimy place, the smells and close quarters of a cramped gym locker room, and as oppressive as a mineshaft. There’s a twist ending. It fits nicely.
I’ll have to read more of Pohl’s short stories to come to a firm conclusion, but the claustrophobic intensity of the story reminds me of sequences in his later Hugo- and Nebula-winning masterpiece Gateway (1977). “The Hated” is all about the effects of travel, not the destination. The most subversive element might be that we learn nothing about Mars itself. Those on Earth might dream of the destination. Those that take the trip can only fixate on the festering wound inflicted by the voyage that refuses to heal.
If brief, dark, and intensely claustrophobic visions appeal to you, track this one down.
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