That Mess Last Year, by John D. MacDonald and Galactic Heritage, by Frank Belknap Long appeared in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find complete scans of this issue. If I do, though, or if someone else posts them, I’ll update with links.
I’ve said for a while now that one of the worst fates a writer can have is to immediately follow up a Leigh Brackett story. Even if that were not the case, That Mess Last Year would probably not have grabbed my fancy. I’ve never been a fan of first person stories written in dialect, because a lot of times this is used as an excuse to throw in a lot of “Crazy, ain’t it?” and “Boyshuckshowdylemmetellya” asides. That Mess Last Year not only starts out with a first person recollective dialectic narrative, it goes into a recollection of another guy telling the actual story in first person recollective dialectic narrative!
A guy is out in the western American deserts on a job and gets to know a dorky loser scientist at a bar. The dorky loser scientist has the hots for a dame who’d never notice him in a million years. To make a short story shorter, a lab accident blows him up and he goes King Kong with her.
Galactic Heritage, while still falling well short of greatness, was at least a bit more original. In this one, the protagonist is a circus midget. You REALLY don’t see many stories where the main character is a circus midget, in SF or elsewhere. The main character struggles with a lot of the daily issues of being a little person, both mechanical and social, but he’s befriended by one of the other carnies, a giant. Now, the giant is really weird and really forward, and the little person is kinda creeped out by it, but something, perhaps his desire for friendship and social connection, draws him toward the giant and causes him to be more forgiving of his awkward but earnest gestures of affection than he knows he should.
Then the giant shows the little person the big secret he’s been working on – he’s got a monkey strapped into a crazy contraption and starts ranting about the powers of the human mind and unlocking it’s unlimited potential. The giant scoops the little guy up, straps the helmet on him and fires up the machine; next thing the little guy knows, he’s halfway across the circus camp, naked and on top of the elephant. The giant apologizes and explains that his device allows people to unlock enough of their hidden mind to move matter – his subconscious mind thought ‘elephant’ and teleported him there!
One small disaster after another ends up with the giant on the run and leaving instructions for the little guy to use the machine think hard on a specific location. The little guy reluctantly follows the instructions and winds up at an abandoned spaceship. The twist is that the two circus freaks were actually aliens (and twins! like from the movie with Arnold and Danny DeVito); the midget had lost his memories, and the giant needed to finish his machine to try to unlock both the psy-physical means for them to escape from earth back to their homeworld and cure the midget’s amnesia.
The writing in this one was a bit clumsier than I would’ve liked, and by far fell short of Brackett’s beautiful prose, but it was a neat story that definitely wasn’t the same-old-same-old.