Tuesday, September 19, 2023

J.F. Bone's Second Chance

Second Chance is a science fiction novella by J.F. Bone. It was published in Satellite Science Fiction in February 1959.

J.F. Bone (1916-1986) was an American veterinarian who moonlighted as a science fiction writer from the late 1950s to the 1970s.

Bennett is an early 24th century spaceship pilot. He doesn’t know where he is. All he knows is that he’s in the biggest building he has ever seen. It is unimaginably vast. It seems deserted, and it also seems like it has been deserted for a very very long time.

Eventually he discovers that he is not alone. He encounters a young woman, obviously human. She seems confused and ill. She claims to be Laura Latham but that’s impossible. Laura Latham, the fabulously wealthy space travel tycoon, is an old woman. This girl cannot be more than twenty-two.

The girl recovers and Bennett discovers that she thinks it’s the year 2289 while he thinks it’s 2316 but his recording device says it’s 2327. It’s all very puzzling.

The answer eventually becomes clear. She is Laura Latham, or rather she is and she isn’t. Either way Bennett and the girl are soon a couple. That has consequences.

The vast building is located on top of a mesa on a desert planet. And they discover that there is someone else there’s or something else there. Something intelligent, but it isn’t a human or a robot or an alien. Well, not exactly.

We later find out why the story is called Second Chance.

The science is typical pulp sci-fi pseudoscience but there are interesting speculations about non-human intelligences. And there’s more than one non-human intelligence in this story.

The author deals with faster-than-light travel in an interesting way. In this tale such things are possible but not so easy as in most science fiction stories. You can travel through hyperspace but interstellar voyages still take years, although to the travellers themselves they might seem to take only days. There is faster-than-light communication but it’s by no means instantaneous. Over interstellar distances it can take years as well. So the hero and the heroine, marooned in a remote part of the galaxy, are in practice completely isolated. They will have to face the problems they encounter on their own.

I think it’s a nice compromise. Allow faster-than-light travel but don’t make it so easy that it can be used like magic (and in a great deal of science fiction FTL travel really is effectively magic).

The plot is rather clever and the two main characters are faced with some tricky choices and have some strange truths to deal with. They have to face truths about themselves and about each other.

There is a love story here but it’s made very unusual by some age and time paradoxes.

This is not an action/adventure science fiction tale. The author was shooting for Big Ideas science fiction. He succeeds reasonably well. He was not one of the giants of the genre so don’t expect the complexity of ideas that you’d get in an Arthur C. Clarke novel, but there are interesting ideas here.

Armchair Fiction have paired this one with Frank Belknap Long’s Mission to a Distant Star in yet another of their wonderful two-novel paperback editions. They really have come up with some fascinating and often excellent obscurities for this series.

Second Chance is worth checking out. Highly recommended.

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