Iconic sci-fi writer Murray Leinster is generally credited with being the first to concoct the ideas of parallel universes, computers, the Internet, and universal translators in his fiction. In This World Is Taboo, part of Leinster's Med Service series, the author is again ahead of his time.
Trained actor Victor Bevine performs this audiobook about the intergalactic adventures of Calhoun. Bevine is a perennial audio fan favorite, due in part to his exceptional command of pacing in action scenes. He was recently chosen (by fans and author R. A. Salvatore) to perform roughly 600 hours (28 books) of the Dungeons and Dragons series.
There's an emergency on Dara and Calhoun, an Interstellar Medical Serviceman, feels duty-bound to respond. But Dara is under quarantine. And if Calhoun goes there, he'll be targeted as a plague-carrier - who can be shot on sight. Will Calhoun risk everything for a planet that's taboo?
I read some of the Medservice stories when I was a kid and remembered them fondly. It pays to go back and reread fiction as an adult. There are surprises. As a child, I read the story; now I read the subtext. It is fascinating to see some points made are just as appropriate now as when the story was written and others not. (This is probably be the only SF short story that you will ever read that includes a cattle stampede.)
The main thrust of this story is prejudice. Leinster writes a story about two worlds and the tension that was created when a plague made one world fear the other. The visible reminder of the plague, patches of blue pigmented skin on survivors and their children, serves to keep the fear alive in the world that escaped the plague. Generations later politicians are using fear mongering to prove that they are each tougher than the other guy in keeping the world free of plague even though the plague is past tense. Sound familiar?
The problem is that the blue-skin planet is facing starvation and is desperate. The plague free planet has excess food but is so rabidly anti-contact that they refuse to consider any kind of trade, ignoring any possible way to help the other planet, even though there is profit to be had. Instead politicians advocate destroying the blue-skin planet (which is plague free now).
Calhoun sets out to solve this conflict, and you know that his medical skills will be brought to bear, and his trademark monkey-like companion will contribute a cure of some kind.
But there is another subtext here that is painful for me as a woman and an illustration of the toxic role models of the 50's. The one woman in the story (setup as potential love interest) is a cipher appropriate to the kind of woman considered desirable in media then. "Look pretty and give the hero a chance to explain things."
She was sent as a spy since she is one of the lucky ones that doesn't have blue patches; she "passes" as non-tainted. Her boyfriend back on the blue-skin planet is actively trying to avert starvation by engineering food from weeds. He sent her off planet to spy, expecting her to desert and find a better life. Instead she returns to be with her true love.
Calhoun trains a group of pilots to ferry food back to the blue-skin planet. She asks why he didn't train her.
Commence eye-rolls: He explains that he saved her from being one of the heroes! That her boyfriend wouldn't love her if she outshone him! Instead Calhoun instructs her on what medical breakthroughs she should "steer" her boyfriend toward in the future!
This is 50's think, folks. The little woman standing behind her man and pushing him forward without his knowledge. Oh, the subterfuge.
So I would call this story as one hit, one strike, and two balls (food and payment exchange is overly complex, and genetically engineered plants fail to have calories). Sorry if my baseball analogy is off-base.
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