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“World of Doomed Spacemen”

Part three in a four-part series on From Beyond the Unknown #23! Previous installments include “Language-Master of Space!” and “Secret of the Man-Ape!” Today, “World of Doomed Spacemen!” Story by Gardner Fox, art by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs. (Part four will be the letters column, which is pretty interesting in itself.)

A deserted Earth spaceship with no sign of its crew—a fantastic giant who was the only living thing on a far distant planet—! Had the giant destroyed the Earthmen? Or was there a stranger menace waiting to doom the rescue ships from Earth?

[Rescue ship crewman:] “The giant snapped us up like a pair of toy spaceships! What’s he going to do to us?”

This is an episode in an ongoing Space Museum series, the premise of which is that a son and his father go to the Space Museum and discover some odd and intriguing artifact on display. “Behind every object in the Space Museum there’s a story of heroism, daring, self-sacrifice…” a story which little Tommy Parker’s father tells him. This episode, Tommy and his dad find a pair of contact lenses. And let me tell you, these are some huge contacts. They’re like the size of an entire eyeball! Why are people in the 25th century still wearing contacts, anyway? They also drive flying cars that have wheels. Why do they have wheels if they fly? I guess for landing, but come on, how about vertical landing/take-off? The people of the future are slackers if this is the best technological advancement they can come up with.

But back to contact lenses. What is the story of heroism, daring, and self-sacrifice behind a pair of contact lenses? Glad you asked! The contacts belonged to Tom Miller of the Star-Gazer, the first manned spaceship to travel to the stars! During its maiden voyage, the Star-Gazer is lost somewhere between the Sirius and Procyon systems… Earth sends out two rescue ships! As the commander of one ship explains, “If the lead ship runs into the same disaster, the follow-up one will try to save it—or at least determine the menace!” Astute readers will do doubt catch the logical problem here—it’s sort of a “Who watches the watchmen?” for spaceships… who rescues the rescue ship? Who rescues the rescue-rescue ship? And so on. Sending two rescue ships is only a partial solution, but the problem is that a partial solution is the best you can manage. Sending a backup rescue ship to rescue the rescue ship wouldn’t really significantly increase the probability of a successful rescue mission. You just have to hope the rescue crew are smart and don’t get into trouble themselves. As the story continues, the futility of a backup rescue ship is effectively demonstrated. The rescuers track the Star-Gazer to the planet Procyon, but as soon as they arrive on Procyon a giant shows up and grabs both rescue ships. The backup ship was totally useless!

Luckily for the rescuers, the giant is a friendly giant. In fact, when the giant uses a machine to reduce himself, it turns out it’s Commander Tom Miller! How did Commander Miller find himself giant-sized? Well, after the Star-Gazer landed on Procyon, its crew began disappearing one by one, until none but Commander Miller was left. As Commander Miller searched the barren landscape for his crewmates, a voice spoke to him inside his head! “Follow my thoughts, man of Earth! Your friends are with me, waiting for you…”

[Commander Miller:] “The voice in my mind explained that it belonged to a mighty robot of inestructible metal! It had been created on a far-distant planet called Strykor… Not content with life on Strykor, Extar the Robot decided to journey to other worlds…”

[Extar the Robot:] “All I need to teleport myself across space is mind-energy—which I’ll absorb from the people on this planet…”

There’s an important lesson here. If you build a robot, do not give it the ability to eat minds. If you insist on giving it the ability to eat minds, do not give it the ability to decide to eat your mind. People always get this wrong—they make a killer robot and the robot goes crazy and kills them. Obviously the people of Strykor were not Isaac Asimov fans.

Extar absorbed the mind energy of the Strykorians, teleported to Procyon, and got stuck there because Procyonian civilization is long dead—no mind-energy to absorb! Luckily, Commander Miller and Co. arrived. But wait—Extar was able to mind-control the Star-Gazer crew, but when he tried to mind-control Commander Miller he failed miserably! (Can you guess why?) The Commander narrowly escaped, discovered the enlarging/shrinking machine, and enlarged himself in preparation for battle with Extar the Robot.

Now, did you guess why Extar was unable to mind-control Commander Miller? If you guessed that the mind-control rays were distorted due to the refractive index of the glass, and thus failed to strike the control centers of the commander’s brain… you are correct!

Commander Miller and the rescue crew form a battle plan:

  1. Bust into the robot’s lair
  2. Throw the enlarging/shrinking machine at the robot (distraction, see?)
  3. Put glass space helmets on the mind-controlled Star-Gazer crew

Brilliant plan, right? But there’s one problem: the mind-controlled crewmembers are still even after they get space helments! Commander Miller, Space Sleuth, deduces that “The robot must have changed the frequency of its mental rays to allow for the distortion of the glass, figuring to capture me this way!” Commander Miller leaps into action and operates the englarging/shrinking machine to shrink Extar to subatomic size! Another crew member, now free of the robotic mind control, marvels, “The robot’s so small now that it is on one of the uncounted trillions of sub-atomic worlds! It’ll never find its way back! Our universe is now safe!” Wow, uncounted trillions of sub-atomic worlds… Commander Miller replies, “The machine used up all its power in shrinking Extar! It’s useless to us now because we don’t know on what fuel it operates!” Alas!

If you’re wondering how Commander Miller avoided being mind-controlled after the robot altered the frequency of its mind-control ray, you’re not alone:

[Tommy:] “But, Dad, how did Commander Miller prevent the robot from overcoming him as it did the others?”

[Dad:] “When he realized that the robot had altered its mental waves to compensate for glass, Miller removed his contact lenses—an thus Extar’s mental waves couldn’t overcome him!”

Luckily, Commander Miller’s eyesight wasn’t too bad without his contacts in. It’d be pretty embarrassing to be fighting an evil robot and trip on a chair or something because you’re too blind to see it.


  1. David Fiore says:

    “There’s an important lesson here. If you build a robot, do not give it the ability to eat minds. If you insist on giving it the ability to eat minds, do not give it the ability to decide to eat your mind. ”

    I’m pretty sure that the guy at Mars Comics in Montreal must have read this story at some point in his youth and taken its lesson to heart. He is morbidly sensitive about the threat robots pose to our well-being…


    — 1 April 2004 at 8:41 pm (Permalink)

  2. Steven says:

    David, you must write more of this Mars Comics!

    — 1 April 2004 at 8:50 pm (Permalink)