ALAN E. NOURSE
Alan E. Nourse (1928-1992) was one of the first SF writers I read, starting with Trouble on Titan, his first novel. Nourse made his living as a medical doctor but supplemented it by writing. He also wrote one of my all time favorite short stories, "Brightside Crossing". Nevertheless, he is a rather minor figure in science fiction. His best selling novel was mainstream, Intern as by Doctor X, and he wrote several books of fiction and non-fiction, about the medical profession, some for younger readers. He was briefly an actor doing small parts during the early 1950s. Several of his stories and the novel The Mercy Men refer to the Hoffman Medical Institute, but some of the stories contradict others and it is not properly a series.
Trouble on Titan (1954) has an introduction in which the author lauds the potential of science fiction as an outlet for unfettered imagination but points out that he felt constrained not to contradict anything that was known about Saturn and its moons. He was writing this before the existence of the moon Themis had been disproved and before Janus, the real tenth moon, was discovered, but he was already skeptical of the former's existence. The story was meant for young adults and was one of the highly regarded "Winston Juveniles" which graced many a school library. Which is where I read it, not owning a copy until Lancer reprinted it in 1967, with no mention of it not being intended for adults. The setting is a familiar one, taking place just before 2200. Venus and Mars are being colonized but Earth still maintains control over the entire solar system. The protagonist, Tucker Benedict, has just graduated from high school and is about to be reunited with his father after the latter's three year stint on Mars. His mother died many years earlier. Borrowing from Heinlein, Nourse suggests that efficient management of solar energy would make rolling roads crossing the entire continent possible, eliminating the need for trucks or trains to carry freight. He actually underestimated how long it would take to land on the moon, pegging it at 1976 (the actual first landing was in 1969). Virtually unlimited power has made Earth a near paradise in some ways, but there are indications that not everyone thinks so. The colonies on Titan, which is where the metal is mined that is essential to the power system, are manned almost entirely by "convicts and rebels", suggesting that at least some of them are political prisoners.
Tucker's father is reassigned to Titan to try to head off a threatened rebellion and he wants his son to accompany him. Tucker considers the people on Titan "scum" and feels that it would be a waste of time for him to go, particularly as he has just been offered a full scholarship to a prestigious college. There's a bit of a leap of faith for the reader here. Someone sends a letter bomb to Tucker's father. Tucker discovers it, assumes his father's life is in danger, and decides to go with him to Titan after all. But he doesn't tell his father why. The trip to Titan is skipped over and they arrive in the midst of a crisis. Factions among the colonists threaten any attempts at reconciliation with Earth. Tucker also meets David Torm, son of the colony leader, and although they do not get along initially, it is evident that they are going to end up being friends. An attempt to kill them, along with the senior Torm, is averted but in a not entirely plausible sequence, Tucker senior suspects it was all a ruse to convince him of a schism in the colony that doesn't really exist. He also refuses to believe that the colonists are being systematically persecuted and deprived of supplies that could make their life more bearable, although Tucker is inclined to accept the statements made by the Torms. The living conditions in the colony are also pretty obviously terrible, but that doesn't shake his father's skepticism either. Eventually the two boys discover the colony's secret, a rebuilt spaceship. They also learn that the ship is supposed to take the whole colony to another star system on conventional drive, which would take three centuries. The amount of food and supplies needed to support five hundred people for three hundred years would certainly bulk far more than a simple exploration ship would hold, let alone the people themselves. Of course, the villains actually plan that only a few will go, the rest doomed to die when they destroy the mining colony. News of this completely and inexplicably reverses the stance ofBenedict senior and after that it's just a case of chasing down the bad guys.
There are certain inherent problems with young adult fiction that are difficult to avoid. The young hero almost always has to be instrumental in solving the main conflict in the story and this usually feels contrived to adult readers. That solution frequently results from the protagonist either being allowed to do things that aren't entirely plausible, or having him or her disobey authority figures, not always with justification. Of course, the author is in control and the outcome is preordained, but it still fails to ring true at times. The biggest problem in this particular novel is that in order for Tucker to save the day, his father - who is supposed to be an effective manager and negotiator - has to act stupidly throughout the crisis until his son helps him see the light. Unfortunately this makes the father into an obvious bigot and his reversal later just doesn't fit with his character as previously revealed. The boys find the solution - revelation of a secret project - more by accident than design. There are also a couple of things that should make the reader scratch his head. For example, why would mines on Titan have wooden support beams? I can't imagine transporting lumber aboard the infrequent supply ships. And when they find the rebuilt ship, the boys immediately conclude that it must have an interstellar drive - but how would they come to that conclusion if it is visually indistinguishable from any other Earth ship? It was a first novel and it has some very strong scenes, but it still fails to be convincing as a whole. I also found it interesting that in the final battle, all of the adults have lethal weapons but the boys are limited to stun guns, a frequently imposed restriction on young adult novels that would later lead to the rejection of Heinlein's Starship Troopers, which had to be published as an adult novel instead.
Nourse's first adult novel was A Man Obsessed (1955), half of an Ace Double that was later expanded and reprinted as The Mercy Men (1968). Jeff Meyer has spent years trying to track down and kill Paul Conroe, whom he believes was responsible for the death of his father, and just as he gets close his quarry escapes into a mysterious medical center, rumored to contain a contingent of the Mercy Men, a proscribed medical group that carries out illegal experiments on human volunteers. Meyer pretends to be interested in volunteering himself in order to pursue Conroe. The doctor who screens him suspects his motives but conditionally approves him for the program. Inside the facility, he runs into a woman whom he thinks has a connection to Conroe, although he lacks details, but it turns out he is wrong. Instead, she has some kind of psychic ability to affect the odds in gambling games so that she wins more than she loses. But it turns out that Meyer has a similar ability and when they're in the same room, probabilities become random and the results are unpredictable. While searching for Conroe, he discovers that the doctors are actually working toward a cure for a mental disease which is slowly spreading throughout the human race, contributing to political and business collapses in some unspecified fashion.
Meyer discovers that his father, whom he barely remembers, was a doctor working on this very same project, and that his research was skewed by an unknown force, presumably a version of the same ESP that his son is now exhibiting. We then learn that his pursuit of Conroe was actually manufactured to lure him to the medical center, which is so wildly implausible and impractical that it undercuts the credibility of the entire plot. And finally Meyer and the reader discover that he has an entire suite of psychic powers including psychokinesis, which all manifest themselves when they are needed. The original version is claustrophobic, slow paced, and at times confusing because there are gaps in the information we need to understand what's happening. The enlarged version corrects some but not all of these problems, provides a little more background though nothing very significant, and updates several references that became dated.
Rocket to Limbo (1957) opens with the launch of a generation starship, then skips more than three centuries into the future to follow the adventures of Lars Heldrigsson, a young scientist in a future where faster than light drive has made it possible to explore nearby stars, although no trace of the pioneering starship has ever been found. This is another young adult novel so the political background is predictably sketchy, but Earth's wild places have been settled and the population is booming, so the colonies on other worlds are considered a way of reducing the pressure, although in fact with only a handful of ships and a round trip that takes months, there is no possible way that they could be doing anything to slow population growth, let alone reverse it. Lars' parents don't understand why he can't just find new frontiers on Earth, setting up a generational conflict common to much science fiction of this era. Lars is about to go on his first star voyage on an exploratory mission but he encounters unusual security strictness at the site and the ship's officers are tight lipped about it. Even worse, and also common in young adult SF, he discovers that an old enemy from his college days has also been assigned to the ship, and that the ship is not going to the planet announced.College apparently comes early since Lars is only eighteen.
Shortly after takeoff, the truth gets out. They are traveling to a distant star to find out what happened to an earlier expedition that ceased communicating after landing, and whose last communications suggested the possibility that there were intelligent aliens on that world, the first such aliens humans would ever encounter. And just in case, the ship has been armed with nuclear weapons, although the rationale for this is never explained. As the journey continues, Lars discovers that his ex-classmate has a personal grudge against the captain because his father died under the man's command. He skillfully manipulates several crew members, pushing for them to commit mutiny and turn the ship around, playing on their fears although his agenda is simple revenge. There's a bit of contradiction in the set up. The captain is acting under orders from his superiors but Lars accepts that by misleading the crew he broke the law and is therefore personally liable and could be prosecuted. The two statements clearly conflict.
They reach the planet and spot the wreckage of the missing starship, as well as sight of what might be a single alien city in an otherwise deserted landscape. Since Earth received messages sent after the ship landed, and since no one could possibly have survived the crash, this poses a puzzling problem for Lars and his shipmates. The solution is that the crashed ship is not in fact the one they think it is but the generation starship launched at the beginning of the story. There is also a floating city inhabited by telepathic aliens - who look like humans - to which the crew is eventually transported. Except the aliens are actually descendants of the colony ship's complement, and they have been trained to use telepathy, psychokinesis, and teleportation by the mysterious Masters, whom we never meet, but who are members of a galactic civilization. The story pretty much falls to pieces once they reach the city, with the two teenage characters mastering the various esp talents in a matter of days and saving the day.
Scavengers in Space (1959), an expansion of "Gold in the Sky", follows the pattern of Nourse's young adult fiction. Two young males become friends despite some initial differences and together solve an adult problem. There are virtually no female characters in any of these novels; in all three the protagonist's mother is dead before the story begins. Tom and Greg Hunter don't believe that their father's death while exploring the asteroid belt was an accident. They are convinced that the mining corporation, Jupiter Equilateral, is responsible. But there is no evidence of their involvement, and for some reason their father ordered his partner to leave the area shortly before his fuel tank exploded. The authorities can't act without something more substantial than suspicion because of a delicate balance of power, but the brothers are not similarly constrained. When an official from the company offers them a ridiculously high price for their father's claims, the boys smell a rat and refuse, determined to go out to the Belt and investigate for themselves, a decision reinforced when their father's partner indicates that there was in fact some kind of great discovery, although even he doesn't know what it was.
Almost as soon as they reach their mining claim, they are attacked openly by a company ship. One of the brothers and their single crewmate are captured. During the battle, a scoutship is launched and the bad guys, assuming the other brother is making a run for it, destroy it with a missile. Naturally we all know it was a ruse. They are reunited aboard the hostile ship and that's when they realize that their father's hand weapon has been replaced by another clearly of alien manufacture. They use the weapon - a disintegrator - to escape but the company insists that they were the attackers and it looks like no one is going to do anything about them after all. Traps are set after the brothers realize that their father discovered remnants of an ancient civilization and the secret of interstellar drive. The chief villain is captured and the boys are heroes. The closing chapters seem rather rushed and some things fall together too neatly but otherwise it's not bad at all.There are some minor bits that are dated or illogical. Telephone booths on Mars seem very unlikely and the spaceship's log is recorded on tape. And why do the ships have major weaponry? But the two teenagers only have stun weapons, consistent with the general prohibition against deadly weapons in the hands of young adults in science fiction of the 1950s.
Star Surgeon (1960) is also theoretically for young adults although a shorter version was serialized in Amazing. Dal Timbar is a member of the most successful race in the galaxy. He is humanoid but not enough to pass for human when he enrolls in Earth's medical school. Humanity is a probationary member of the galactic community whose greatest asset is that they are the only race to have mastered the life sciences, and therefore are for all practical purposes the only doctors in the galaxy. This is a pretty big lump of disbelief to suspend all at once, but it's necessary to setup the conflict. Some influential humans want him disqualified because they fear that if aliens can become doctors, humans will lose their advantage. Nevertheless, Dal is assigned to a three man medical patrol ship with his only human friend and another young man who seems to be under the influence of those opposed to his participation in the program. The atmosphere aboard the ship is therefore strained although initially at least their professionalism overcomes their personal animosities. Dal's race also possesses a kind of universe pet/symbiote, the fuzzies, with whom they are able to influence the emotions of others, although Dal considers it unethical to use this ability.
The trio travel around a bit, solve some routine problems, have some minor clashes and some minor reconciliations, enough to establish that even the hostile member isn't really a villain. Then they receive a distress call from an uncharted planet from members of an unknown race - who conveniently have been listening to interstellar broadcasts and can speak the universal language. They are suffering from a plague whose origin is unknown, and since our heroes know nothing of their physiology, they are hard pressed to find a solution. This, of course, is an instance where they should have called for more experienced help, but they fail to do so for reasons never explained. The solution, which they realize only late in the game, is that the infected creatures are not intelligent after all; it is the virus that is intelligent, and coincidentally Dal's symbiote can reproduce almost without limit and provide a better host. That's followed by the final confrontation with the man chiefly responsible for Dal's problems and since we've known all along that he has heart trouble, it's no surprise that he has a heart attack and Dal has to save him. Not badly done, but there are just too many coincidences to be convincing.
The Invaders Are Coming (1959, magazine title Sign of the Tiger), a collaboration with J.A. Meyer, was meant to be an adult novel. It takes place some years after a general economic collapse has led to a kind of benevolent dictatorship in the US, which dominates much of the world. The space program has been ended and the military is much in evidence. Even more powerful, however, is the Department of Internal Affairs, one of whose highest officials is Julian Bahr, a man prone to violence and not particularly fussy about obeying the law. When someone steals radioactive material from a power plant, after which it is destroyed in an explosion before it can be recovered, Bahr seized the commander of the plant and illegally interrogates him, convinced the man was complicit in the theft, perhaps without being aware of it. We also learn that some years earlier three UFOs were sighted in various parts of the world, but that they disappeared and have been more or less forgotten. When Bahr's superior dies of a heart attack, he is temporarily in charge of the agency even though his psych profile should disqualify him for the job. Even worse, the story of the theft from the power plant leaks, and is followed almost immediately by reports that an alien spaceship has landed in Canada.
It becomes evident about half way through the novel that the aliens are a hoax designed to force the government, which has been in a rut for a generation, to choose a new path that includes a resumption of the space program. The resemblance to Agnew H. Bahnson's The Stars Are Too High, also published in 1959, is surprisingly strong. As the crisis grows, Bahr seizes more and more power, and the unpleasant side of his personality becomes more evident. The elaborate plot to rejuvenate American civilization may have inadvertently precipitated something even worse. Ultimately his mistress claims publicly that he is impotent which drives him into a murderous rage and subsequent mental breakdown.
Although this is well enough written, Bahr is such a repulsive character that it is impossible to sympathize with him or his problems. Nor is the society he represents a free one despite the trappings of democracy and the rule of law. There's also a good deal of rather silly psychological jargon about spaceships as phallic symbols and caves full of computers as Oedipal substitutes. There are also internal contradictions. At one point we are told that no one is obligated to submit to psychological testing and conditioning unless they hold a government position, but at another point we are told that publishers would be compelled to undergo the treatment if they published any science fiction (A character transparently John W. Campbell Jr. is burned to death by an outraged mob.) Oh, and a Scot would never refer to himself as Scotch.
Nourse's final young adult novel was Raiders from the Rings (1962). Earth has cut off its spacegoing colonies on Mars, the asteroid belt, and elsewhere, and is so fanatic about killing everyone not born on Earth that it strains credulity rather badly. Ben Trefon is a young spacer who is about to participate in a raid on Earth to steal food supplies and young women, both required apparently to keep the colonies functional. His father tries to dissuade him because he believes that something big is underway on Earth and that it bodes no good for the offworlders. The raid is an apparent success, even though as per the formula the young raiders are not armed with lethal weapons. Ben captures a girl, but ends up with her brother aboard his ship as well, which is a strict violation of the rules. The setup for this one is very poorly thought out. Although the spacers have many agents on Earth, none of them have had any warning that a gigantic space fleet has been constructed. But the two teenagers Ben kidnaps both know about it and it is apparently common knowledge. And if the spacers have the technology to build large fleets of spaceships of their own, why don't they have the ability to create hydroponic gardens so they don't have to raid Earth for food?
The Earth fleet destroys most of the installations on Mars including Ben's home, where his father has apparently died, leaving behind some mysterious artifacts with a note urging Ben to take care of them. As the survivors converge in the asteroid belt in order to counter attack, Ben and his involuntary passengers pursue a devious course to join them, but in the process they find an anomaly on their radar, which turns out to be an alien spaceship. The aliens eventually turn out to be benevolent, and in fact Ben's father had communicated with them some time in the past. The story falls rapidly to pieces from this point onward. The aliens cannot intercede for some reason, although they admit they have done so in the past. And then they intercede anyway. Our hero and his friends convince a spacer woman to sing a song of their history which is so compelling that it leads to a truce. Not only is this unconvincing but the entire sequence in which the humans agree to listen to the song is inconsistent with what we've been told about them previously. This is the weakest of Nourse's young adult books.
The Universe Between (1965) is actually a fixup of two previously published stories. The opening sequence involves a scientific experiment which appears to open a peephole into another dimension. The first several people who look through it die or are driven mad, but then a young woman with unusual adaptive qualities is recruited. She decides not to reveal what she has seen but instead finds a method of crossing into the other realm by a power of will, much to the frustration of all concerned. We then jump to the year 2001, which has a world government and universal peace, but with almost all raw materials in short supply. The inner solar system has been explored and there are plenty of resources there, but it's far too expensive to move them across space with rocketships. To this end, the scientist from the opening sequence is running a project to build a working matter transmitter, although once again he is running into funding problems. On the brink of being shut down, they achieve what they were aiming for, but impossibly the matter transmission is taking place even though the equipment is only partially assembled. This suggests that some other force is at play. Nourse ignores, or doesn't consider, the fact that matter transmission as he describes it would allow one to resend the same signal repeatedly, thus creating multiple copies of the original and therefore solving all the resource problems instantaneously.
The same day that the scientists have their breakthrough - their enthusiasm muted by the fact that objects don't always reappear exactly as they were to start with - the southern end of Manhattan Island mysteriously disappears. We also learn that the woman from the earlier experiment is now married and has a teenage son who can also enter and exit the other dimension. The son is adept at entering and leaving the Other World, which is inhabited by inexplicable intelligent creatures who have, until now, ignored his presence in their plane of existence. The matter transmission experiments are disrupting their universe so they continue to snuff out parts of our world as a warning while trying to communicate with the young boy, who can move readily back and forth between the two realities. Eventually he is able to communicate and negotiate a settlement by which cargo can be shifted through the other dimension back to Earth without use of the matter transmitter, so everyone is happy.
Appended to the main story is another set some years afterwards. Humans have now visited the stars and established colonies on Mars and elsewhere. A problem with a shipment from Mars leads to the discovery of a criminal conspiracy and other problems. Both stories are reasonably well told despite considerable oversimplification of the issues and occasional use of deus ex machina solutions to problems. It's also something of a bridge between the author's adult and young adult novels given the aging of the chief protagonist. Some of the speculation about the Other World is interesting but since we know that it is basically impossible for humans to conceive of it, that setting never quite congeals.
There was a substantial gap before Nourse's next novel, The Bladerunner (1974). It loaned its name but not its content to the movie version of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Bladerunners are people who acquire illicit medical supplies for renegade doctors who refuse to confine their practice to the government health service in a future dystopia. Given the paranoia about the Affordable Care Act, I'm surprised this hasn't been reprinted to play into those fears. There is also a significant group of people who are opposed to health care of any sort, analogous to those blockading abortion clinics today. Billy Gimp is a bladerunner who discovers that his room is being bugged by the government, part of a recent pattern of greater intrusiveness. During one clandestine medical visit, the police arrive and arrest Billy, although his doctor partner escapes. Billy realizes soon that there is something odd about the arrest; there was no effort to capture the doctor and the police seem much more interested in Billy. He is sentenced to surveillance by means of a transponder fastened to his wrist and realizes this effectively puts him out of business indefinitely.
While all of this is transpiring, we also learn that a new strain of meningitis, often fatal, is affecting people in the city and the hospital records on the subject are suddenly inaccessible. The doctor has another problem. Hospitals have been using neurological links to surgeons so that robots can be trained to perform complex surgery, a procedure which he opposes because of the lack of human adaptability. To this end he has been sabotaging some of these recordings and the head of the hospital suspects that these "accidents" and "miscues" were deliberate. Eventually we learn that there is a new plague brewing, and that the government has secretly been ignoring the underground medical treatments because it was the only way under the law to get treatment to those not qualified for government care. The plague, however, brings everything out into the open and we are told that the laws will be revisited.
I wasn't entirely convinced that the rising cost of healthcare would lead to large segments of the society rejecting medical care as immoral, but Nourse did foresee that it would inevitably lead to social as well as financial tension. On the other hand, this was much more restrained, thoughtful, and deliberate a novel than any of the earlier ones, though at times the narration slips into lecture mode. The doctor's objection to participating in the program to create robotic surgeons is never really justified - given the shortage of doctors this seems like a good thing. Dystopian novels usually have a government representative as chief villain, but in this case both establishment figures are actually reasonable, flexible, and have good intentions. In fact, there is no villain at all in the novel except the somewhat nebulous one of a bureaucracy constrained by its own rules. This was the first sign that Nourse might evolve into a serious and notable author of adult SF, but unfortunately he only wrote one more genre novel during his career.
The Fourth Horseman (1983) was Nourse's last novel, packaged as a mainstream thriller, although he continued to write nonfiction until his death. A forest ranger notices three dead chipmunks, begins to feel ill, and dies the following day. A handful of people who encountered either the woman alive or after her death fall ill as well and it's soon obvious that some kind of mutated form of the Plague is loose. The CDC is particularly concerned because the disease not only spreads much more quickly than normal but it seems to go direct from one person to another rather than through the usual intermediate stage of rats and fleas. Although this is basically a science fiction novel, it has a definite supernatural element. The apparition of a dirty, evil looking, bare footed boy appears to several people who have been infected. As the contagion spreads, Nourse frequently lapses into long discourses on technical details about the cause of plague and the methods used to detect it. A number of minor characters are introduced, only to die or carry on the infection. Eventually it sweeps across the world, bringing civilization to its knees, although about ten percent of the population survives to rebuild. Has its moments but the pacing is surprisingly slow for a story about a plague that spreads too quickly to be contained.
There were four collections of Nourse's short fiction published during his lifetime. They were Tiger by the Tail (1961), The Counterfeit Man (1963), Psi High and Others (1967), and Rx for Tomorrow (1971). Additionally there were many other stories that were not collected at the time. There have been recent collections drawing from all those sources but none of these are generally available. Although his short fiction all appeared in adult markets, the collections were often marketed for young adults. Many of his stories involve medicine or doctors and many but not all involve some degree of space travel. Nourse did try to get his science right, although he didn't always succeed. He seems to have thought that meteor showers would be a major problem in space travel, for example. Many of his stories seem hastily written. They often include plot elements that contradict each other, or problems that the author ignores because it would impede his plot. That said, he also wrote several very good tales including one of my favorites, "Brightside Crossing." Some elements in the stories are very dated. There are references to computers still using tapes and punched cards, spaceships carry printed newspapers from planet to planet, etc., but for the most part they hold up reasonably well.
Tiger by the Tail opens with the title story, a cute bit about an opening into a parallel universe and a tug of war that might destroy one or the other reality. In "Nightmare Brother" a man is subjected to a series of hallucinatory ordeals in order to toughen him for interstellar flight, a dubious premise though done well. "PRoblem" has a public relations man trying to convince the public to tolerate the temporary presence of millions of interdimensional travelers. Pretty minor. A cure for the common cold has unpleasant side effects in the quite humorous "The Coffin Cure". My favorite story by Nourse is "Brightside Crossing". Four men attempt to cross the bright side of Mercury but fail and only one survives. The description of the physical conditions there is superb. "The Native Soil" is a humorous problem story. The mud on Venus is valuable but only if the natives can be taught to harvest it. Earth is invaded by nasty critters in "Love Thy Vimp", who are defeated when people learn to love them. "Letter of the Law" pits a human con-man against a planet whose population believes telling the truth is a weakness.
The title story in The Counterfeit Man bears a close resemblance to "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr. A spaceship is returning from Ganymede when the ship's doctor realizes that one of the crewmembers has been replaced by an exact duplicate, a shapechanging alien intent upon reaching Earth. It's rather clumsily done, I'm afraid. At one point the doctor mentions that two of their crew were killed on Ganymede, but actually only one was killed there. The second man dies aboard ship and it is specifically mentioned that he never left the ship during the landing. The doctor messes up at the end and Earth is doomed but his lack of even rudimentary quarantine precautions makes the whole thing rather silly. "The Canvas Bag" is a mild fantasy about a man cursed never to have a home. "An Ounce of Cure" is a short satire about over specialization, specifically in the medical profession. "The Dark Door" is about a man who discovers that some people secretly have the ability to function in four dimensions, and he's on the run because they want to kill him to protect their secret. Or is it all an illusion? He was hired by scientists to analyze statistics about insanity. Could he have found something that drove him insane? The ending is meant to be clever but it's not particularly convincing.
"Meeting of the Board" is a frankly reactionary story about a future when workers command a majority of the stock and management is forced into a subsidiary role as the corporations all go bankrupt. The fact that this doesn't actually happen in the real world may not have been evident to Nourse. Eventually the disgruntled management goes on strike against the workers. A bad story. "Circus" (aka "The Utter Stranger") is very trivial. A visitor from another dimension can't convince anyone that he isn't human. "My Friend Bobby" is about a telepathic toddler who is ultimately abandoned by his family. Nicely written but the end is disappointing. "The Link" deals with a fugitive population of pacifists who fear an invasion by a spacegoing armada. Once again Nourse fails to think about his premise. If the scout who saw them can cross seven light years in a day or so, why would it take the enemy - who have the same technology - weeks or months to travel the same distance? It's an okay story but rather pedantic.
"Image of the Gods" has another scientific problem. A colony on another star could not keep abreast of current events on Earth by listening to radio broadcasts. It would take years to cross the distance between the two worlds. A small colony undergoes turmoil when a more repressive Earth government demands virtual slave labor. The chief villain is clearly defined when he suggests killing the intelligent native race for their fur. The bad guys are thwarted because the natives worship the colonists, although the ultimate fate of the colony is never explained. Minor. "Expert Touch" is set in the same world as The Mercy Men. A doctor manipulates a test subject into undergoing a dangerous psychological test, after which the subject refuses to divulge the results. "Second Sight" has an interesting premise. A young woman is a genuine telepath, but since she doesn't need to hear or see anything else, those senses atrophy.
Psi-High and Others actually consists of three loosely related stories and a brief frame in which we are told that these illustrate the three qualities by which the galactic community will judge the human race. "The Martyr", set in the Mercy Men universe, deals with the battle over control of a process that will extend human lifetimes into centuries. It's a minor variation of the standard assumption of much SF of that period that if we lived longer, we'd lose the drive to accomplish anything. The title story, which contradicts the frame rather badly, involves an alien landing on Earth as the prelude to invasion. The frame told us that all aggressive races were quarantined in their own systems, but the invader's race controls half the galaxy. The plot involves efforts to track down the alien with the assistance of one of the rare human telepaths, who are distrusted and feared by the population at large. "Mirror, Mirror" also contradicts the frame with another alien race proving it is vulnerable by panicking. None of these three are particularly outstanding.
Rx for Tomorrow opens with "Symptomaticus Medicus", the closest Nourse ever got to other worldly fantasy. There's a parallel universe where mental disease is cured through a pact with demons but biological disease is untreatable. One of the local physicians gets sent to our universe where he trades skills. The next two, "Rx" and "Contamination Crew" are in the same setting as Star Surgeon. In the first, a primitive culture is convinced to take modern medical treatment only when it is accompanied by meaningless rituals and in the second an apparently indestructible lifeform manages to get aboard a medical ship. "In Sheep's Clothing" is a very minor piece about a woman impregnated by a malevolent alien that can control other people's minds. "A Gift for Numbers" is a mildly humorous story about a bookkeeper around which extraordinary events occur.
"Free Agent" has an interesting set up but the plot is flawed. Selected individuals can be restored to comparative youth by a medical process, after which they spend one year in which they are above the law while adjusting to their new personalities. Why they would be allowed this latitude is never explained, nor how they are financed during that period. The real flaw is that the protagonist smells a rat when he cannot trace several other people who have undergone the treatment. This makes no sense because he was told in advance that they would be legally dead and untraceable unless they wanted to be found. It's all part of an elaborate and unconvincing program to have people travel to other stars. "The Last House Call" envisions a dystopian future when doctors no longer make house calls. Guess what! We're living in that one already. "Grand Rounds" has a demon coming to Earth to discredit a doctor who has saved too many patients. He fails. "Bramble Bush" is set in the same world as "Psi-High" and deals with difficulties helping children born telepathic. "Heir Apparent" is a retrospective look at a man who helped open up the solar system for colonization, from the point of view of the one who married the girl he left behind. "Plague!" is little more than a vignette about the onset of a terrible plague, but it foreshadows The Fourth Horseman in its evocation of a raggedy child as the harbinger of the pestilence.
There were many uncollected stories which can be found in quite a wide variety of now mostly extinct SF magazines. "Journey for the Brave" is about the tension preceding the first moon landing. "The Fifty-Fourth of July" is set after an economic collapse destroys civilization, brought on at least in part by the space program. Conflict arises about the potential destruction of the last functioning rocketship. Nourse used this theme more than once. A young boy wants to run away to space in the very minor "Wanderlust." "A Miracle Too Many", written in collaboration with Philip H. Smith, is a fantasy in which a doctor discovers that he can heal people by touching him, but that it's a curse not a blessing. "Hard Bargain" is a minor deal with the devil variation. "The Compleat Consummators" is short but effective. A computer dating service is so good at finding people ideally suited to each other that one couple literally merges into a single personality.
"Marley's Chain" is a gimmick story. The protagonist is shunned by everyone on Earth and it's not until the end that we find out that it's because he's White. "Bear Trap" was labeled a novel by Fantastic Universe but it's only a novelette. A prominent Secretary of State dies and a journalist decides to buck the establishment and write a true story about the man's life. It's pretty bad. Although he was noted as a pacifist, he was actually trying to precipitate a world war so that there would be a technological jump that would lead to space travel. "Consignment" is trivial; an escaped convict hitches a ride on an automated highway and ends up being dumped into a blast furnace. "Q-B-B" is a longish and not very interesting space opera involving the breakdown of interstellar communications. A heckler discovers that a performing magician is using genuine magic in the minor but cute "Magic Show." A man uses an android to fill in for him with his wife in "Prime Difference" only to discover that she has done the same. A man married to a witch gets his comeuppance in "What a Place the World Would Be."
There are a handful of Nourse stories I don't have access to, but I'll certainly read them when they show up. Although he never quite made it into the first rank of SF writers, he was a reliable and generally entertaining writer who will, alas, probably become ever more obscure with the passage of time.