Tuesday, July 07, 2009
  Eric Frank Russell and Hubert Rogers
In the spring of 1950, I discovered Astounding Science Fiction, and during that summer I also began reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction appeared on the newsstand just as I began the eighth grade. Keeping up with these magazines, plus Other Worlds and Imagination, took up a good deal of my time in the jr. high study hall. Near the end of that school year, I was sitting in a car parked at the high school football field, holding the June 1951 issue of Astounding, completely absorbed in Eric Frank Russell's ...And Then There Were None, while occasionally glancing at the Hubert Rogers cover illustration. Russell later expanded the novella into his novel The Great Explosion (1962).

...And Then There Were None

by Eric Frank Russell

Chapter 1

The ambassador went silent as the ship closed in and the planet's day-side face rapidly expanded. Then followed the usual circling and photographing. A lot of villages and small towns were to be seen, also cultivated areas of large extent. It was obvious that this planet -- while by no means fully exploited -- was in the hands of colonists who were energetic and numerically strong.

Relieved that life was full, abundant and apparently free from alien disease, Grayder brought the ship down onto the first hard-standing he saw. Its enormous mass landed feather-like on a long, low hump amid well-tended fields. Again all the ports became filled with faces as everyone had a look at the new world.

The midway airlock opened, the gangway went down. As before, exit was made in strict order of precedence starting with the Ambassador and finishing with Sergeant Major Bidworthy. Grouping near the bottom of the gangway they spent the first few moments absorbing sunshine and fresh air.

His Excellency scuffled the thick turf under his feet, plucked a blade of it grunting as he stooped. He was so constructed that the effort came close to an athletic feat and gave him a crick in the belly.

"Earth-type grass. See that, Captain? Is it just a coincidence or did they bring seed with them?"

"Could be either. Several grassy worlds are known. And almost all colonists went away loaded with seeds."

"It's another touch of home, anyway. I think I'm going to like this place." The Ambassador gazed into the distance, doing it with pride of ownership. "Looks like there's someone working over there. He's using a little motor-cultivator with a pair of fat wheels. They can't be very backward, it seems.
Eric Frank Russell
"H'm-m-m !" He rubbed a couple of chins. "Bring him here. We'll have a talk and find out where it's best to make a start."

"Very well." Captain Grayder turned to Colonel Shelton. "His Excellency wishes to speak to that farmer." He pointed to the faraway figure.

"That farmer," said Shelton to Major Hame. "His Excellency wants him at once."

"Bring that farmer here," Hame ordered Lieutenant Deacon. "Quickly."

"Go get that farmer," Deacon told Sergeant Major Bidworthy. "And hurry -- His Excellency is waiting."

Bidworthy sought around for a lesser rank, remembered that they were all inside, cleaning ship and not smoking, by his order. He, it seemed, was elected.

Tramping across four fields and coming within hailing distance of his objective, he performed a precise military halt, released a barracks square bellow of, "Hi, you!" and waved urgently.

The farmer stopped his steady trudging behind the tiny cultivator, wiped his forehead, glanced casually around. His indifferent manner suggested that the mountainous bulk of the ship was a mirage such as are five a penny around these parts. Bidworthy waved again, making it an authoritative summons. Now suddenly aware of the sergeant major's existence, the farmer calmly waved back, resumed his work.

Bidworthy employed a brief but pungent expletive which -- when its flames had died out -- meant, "Dear me!" and marched fifty paces nearer. He could now see that the other was bushy-browed, leather-faced, tall and lean.

"Hi!" he bawled.

Stopping the cultivator again, the farmer leaned on one of of its shafts and idly picked his teeth.

Smitten by the ingenious thought that perhaps during the last few centuries the old Terran language had been abandoned in favour of some other lingo, Bidworthy approached to within normal talking distance and asked, "Can you understand me?"

"Can any person understand another?" inquired the farmer with clear diction.

Bidworthy found himself afflicted with a moment of confusion. Recovering, he informed hurriedly, "His Excellency the Earth Ambassador wishes to speak with you at once."

"Is that so?" The other eyed him speculatively, had another pick at his teeth. "And what makes him excellent?"

"He is a person of considerable importance," said Bidworthy, unable to decide whether the other was trying to be funny at this expense or alternatively was what is known as a character. A lot of these long-isolated pioneering types liked to think of themselves as characters.

"Of considerable importance," echoed the farmer, narrowing his eyes at the horizon. He appeared to be trying to grasp a completely alien concept. After a while, he inquired, "What will happen to your home world when this person dies?"

"Nothing," Bidworthy admitted.

"It will roll on as before?"


"Round and round the sun?"

"Of course."

"Then," declared the farmer flatly, "if his existence or nonexistence makes no difference he cannot be important." with that, his little engine went chuff-chuff and the cultivator rolled forward.

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Bhob, if I were to pick a dozen subjects to hear about for the rest of my days, one of them would without a doubt be your experiences reading pulps and comics as a youth.


-Mike Hunchback
Hubert Rogers -- a master. I especially liked his interior black-and-white illustrations where he would have a portrait of one of the characters and the name above in a hand-lettered Roman font -- like a Renaissance painting. Some of my favorites were the illustrations for Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s "Izzard and the Membrane" (one of the earliest sf stories, to my knowledge, depicting a mainframe computer). Rogers was a cut above and unlike any other sf illustrator of that time. Has there ever been a collection of his work, as there has been of Bok's and Finlay's?
See Pulp Culture: The Art of Fiction Magazines by Frank M. Robinson and Lawrence Davidson (Collectors Press, 1998) and Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art by Vincent di Fate, (Penguin, 1997). Exhibitions were at UMass in 2006, at Boskone in 2007 and in Chicago two months ago.
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