Review of Breaking Point by James Gunn
Filed under: Reviews
Welcome to Reviewopolis! Three stories to go…
By James Gunn; Read by Julie Davis
Approx 2 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Forgotten Classics
Podcast: March 2009 (Episodes 111-113)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Aliens / Space Travel / Psychology /
The strength of the unit is the sum of the strengths of its members. The weakness of the unit can be a single small failing in a single man.
First, a few notes about the Forgotten Classics podcast: I really enjoy this podcast for a few reasons. Julie is an avid podcast listener, and if you are looking for podcast recommendations, look no further. She opens most episodes with something interesting from the Podosphere. These Podcast Highlights come from all over the map! For example, at the beginning of one the episodes containing this story (Episode 113), she highlights “Bob Dylan’s Themetime Radio Hour”. Would you have predicted Bob Dylan and James Gunn in the same podcast?
Another thing I like about Forgotten Classics is Julie’s commentary. She comments on the material she’s reading at the end of each podcast, providing a denouement that makes me think she’s just closed the book and knows everything I know up to this point in the story and nothing more.
Perhaps most important is the fact that Julie is a very good narrator. She reads clearly and with emotion. Stories are well-paced and enhanced by her pleasant voice.
The story at hand is “Breaking Point”, by James Gunn, which was first published in Space Science Fiction in March of 1953. A starship crew lands on an alien planet, crew a fairly well-oiled machine. The Captain recalls Leinster’s “First Contact”, when he mentions to the crew the importance of keeping the location of Earth secret “at all costs, until we’re sure we’re not going to turn up a potentially dangerous, possibly superior alien culture.” They quickly realize that they have done exactly that, when some external force, through unknown technology, won’t allow the hatch to be opened.
At this point, one of the crew members snaps. How could the hatch not open? There are many safeguards – this should not be happening! Cue the hysterial laughter. The aliens then start closing the crew in with a mysterious black (nothingness!) wall. Crew members flip out, one by one, as they try to figure out what’s happening before the walls close in completely. Are the aliens moving to close them all in, or are the alien moves specifically designed to unnerve specific crew members one at a time?
Julie said exactly what I was thinking when she mentioned that this story would be a comfortable fit on The Twilight Zone. Very weird stuff. It also reminded me of Stephen King’s The Langoliers, with the real world being blacked out in sections while people flee. Here, though, there’s nowhere to flee.
At the heart of the story is a conversation between the Captain and the medical officer about teams and how they are put together. Paresi, the medical officer tells the Captain:
Look, this is supposed to be restricted information, but the Exploration Service doesn’t rely on individual aptitude tests alone to make up a crew. There’s another factor—call it an inaptitude factor. In its simplest terms, it comes to this: that a crew can’t work together only if each member is the most efficient at his job. He has to need the others, each one of the others. And the word need predicates lack. In other words, none of us is a balanced individual. And the imbalances are chosen to match and blend, so that we will react as a balanced unit.
This while their living space continues to shrink. Is the medical officer saying that there is no such thing as a balanced individual, or that unbalanced people were purposefully selected and fitted together to make “a crew”? Either way, interesting. Thanks, Julie, for the story!
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
- Forgotten Classics: Breaking Point by James Gunn
- Forgotten Classics: The Aliens by Murray Leinster
- Review of Big Big Space by Roger Gregg
- The Flying Cuspidors by V.R. Francis
- Review of Voodoo Planet by Andre Norton
- A Thousand Deaths by Jack London