Short Reviews – Production Test, by Raymond F. Jones

Friday , 4, May 2018 6 Comments

Production Test by Raymond F Jones appeared in the October 1949 issue of Astounding. It can be read here at Archive.org.

While I was excited to see a Raymond F. Jones story in this issue, Production Test was something of a let-down. Unlike his noir thriller, The Martian Circe, or his raygun epic The Jewels of Chamar, Production Test is ultimately a parable about the importance of User Acceptability Testing.

The screwdriver-wielding Bryan Kimberly has just developed the next generation in space suits. “Trim! Safe! Comfortable! Kimberly!” The marketing campaign is under way and the first batch has been deployed into the field Lunar Flightways’ ship Lunar Queen for her maiden voyage…

…when disaster strikes! The suits are all defective. Out in the field, the joints blow out, leaving the suits’ occupants stranded and helpless until a rescue operation can be mounted, because the Lunar Queen had switched out all older models for the new ones. To top it off, the occupants swear the suits are ‘haunted’, as they can hear a madness-inducing, barely audible howl while in them.

Impossible! Kimberly swears by his suits, which had all undergone thorough and rigorous testing… Forgoing his vacation to the lake, Kimberly sets out to determine what’s wrong with the suits himself, putting one on and hopping into the vacuum environment testing chamber, nearly getting himself killed in the process when his suit blows out.

Turns out the ghostly howling was caused by the changes in pressure in the suit when air passed through the valve system. The resonance frequency causes the micro-filaments of the springs shatter at operating temperatures. Nobody ever bothered to test the suits with a person inside it. All that rigorous testing? Unit testing. The engineers never actually bothered to test the components under actual operating conditions together.

As someone who has spent years working in software QA, I appreciated this story more than I might’ve otherwise, and being by Jones, it’s well-written and quick paced enough. If anything, it shows how well Jones could write to his audience. Dames & Daring for Planet Stories and Thinkery and Tinkery for Astounding.

6 Comments
  • Cambias says:

    Stupid stories about deploying untested equipment abound in early SF. My favorite is a very old one by Villiers de l’isle Adam, in which the scientist protagonist is haunted by the consequences of his test of a new railroad brake system — which he tested by RUNNING TWO FULLY LOADED PASSENGER TRAINS AT EACH OTHER.

    • There seem to be a lot of those from the WWII vets. Probably serial numbers removed versions of classified stories about some weapon being rushed to the front.

      • Alex says:

        Like I said, having worked in software QA, I’ve seen way too many things go out into the field because someone skipped final testing phases, and some minor piece of code that everyone though worked ended up blowing up some critical process no one thought to test but was the first thing any user would’ve experienced.

      • Nathan says:

        Perhaps it might be time to take a look at John D. Clark’s IGNITION, or a science fiction writer/chemist’s look at the history of propulsion research. Because, yes, these sound familiar…

      • Terry Sanders says:

        I once had a copy (oh, I miss it!) of DOWN TO THE SEA IN SUBS, the autobiography of Admiral Charles Lockwood. He talked about the torpedoes American subs were trying to sink Japanese ships with early in the war.

        Short form? They. Didn’t. Work. After *numerous* complaints, he set up a research project to figure out what was wrong with them. They fixed the problem.

        Then they fixed the next problem.

        Then they fixed the next problem.

        Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

        He sent extensive reports back to the States. And got back stiff memos telling him there was nothing wrong with the most advanced toepedoes in the world.

        He ended up setting up a factory to make all the necessary modifications to the torps as they came off the supply ships, before they were moved to the sub docks.

        Then they supplemented his arsenal with the new, advanced, no-wake electric torpedoes. And he started another research project to figure out how to fix *them.*

        He went to his grave convinced that the loss of the *Wahoo* was directly traceable to those d*** torpedoes. “Mush” Morton had had a long string of duds, brought the rest back to base for examination, and went back out fuming. Lockwood was sure the sheer frustration and anger had affected his best, most aggressive captain’s judgment…

    • Terry Sanders says:

      At least Tom Swift Junior, when harassed into a public demo of the anticollision system on his Triphibian Atomicar, did include a backup plan. Even the unmistakable hacks doing that series didn’t make him *that* dumb.

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