Short Fiction Reviews: George R. R. Martin’s “The Second Kind of Loneliness” (1972) and Tom Godwin’s “The Nothing Equation” (1957)

The following reviews are the 21st and 22nd installments of 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. Many are far from the best. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

I’ve paired a take by Tom Godwin (1915-1980) and George R. R. Martin (1948-) on the psychiatric impact of isolation in the bleak emptiness of space. Both explore the interior landscape of the mind alone with itself and all its memories, and delusions, and terrors. There are no heroes in these pages.

Previously: Harlan Ellison’s “Psycho at Mid-Point” (1956) and “The Discarded” (variant title: “The Abnormals”) (1959)

Up Next: Philip K. Dick’s “The Infinites” (1953) and James Causey’s “Competition” (1955)

4/5 (Good)

George R. R. Martin’s “The Second Kind of Loneliness” first appeared in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, ed. Ben Bova (December 1972). You can read it online here.

At the Edge of the Vortex We Tell So Many Lies

The location: the Cerberus Star Ring, six million miles beyond Pluto (10). The manmade station, “a circle whose diameter is more than a hundred miles” (12), surrounds a nullspace vortex (think wormhole) to an unknown location across the universe. Humanity sends ships through the brightly colored swirling eddies of the portal to establish colonies somewhere beyond. A single man operates the machinery on the ring from a featureless white control room via a holograph helmet (11). The story follows the journal entries of an unreliable narrator ostensibly counting down the days until his relief arrives from Earth: “It will be at least three months before he gets here, of course. But he’s on his way” (10). It’s a mantra he tells himself. Relief is on its way. Relief is on its way. But does he want relief?

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Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCV (William Golding, John Wyndham, Mervyn Peake, Joan D. Vinge, Ralph Blum, and an anthology)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. 5 Tales From Tomorrow, ed. T. E. Dikty (1957)

From the back cover: “THE TIME: TOMORROW… when

…space travel is as simple as suburban commuting

…robots do everything from washing dishes to waging wars

…do-it-yourself surgery kits are as common as Band-aids

…giant electronic brains mastermind all human activity


where the cold, dark islands of abandoned planets drift in a fabulous universe flooded with blazing energy, the dust of old suns and the heat of smoldering new stars.

Space–the promise of new life to a crowded earth–the new frontier–the hope of tomorrow!”

Contents: Bud Foote’s “Push-Button Passion” (1954), Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations” (1954), Clifford D. Simak’s “How-2” (1954), Robert Abernathy’s “Deep Space” (1954), Everett B. Cole’s “Exile” (1954)

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