from the science fiction of
Eric Frank Russell

This page:

Basic Right
Introduction, by Jack L. Chalker, to Sentinels From Space
Sentinels From Space
Sinister Barrier
Still Life


Science Fiction

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Copyright © 1955 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.

There was a feeling in his bones that something was sure to cause a last-minute ruckus. A shortage of any item would be serious enough unless covered by a previous report. A surplus would be bad, very bad. The former implied carelessness or misfortune. The latter suggested barefaced theft of government property in circumstances condoned by the commander.

For instance, there was that recent case of Williams of the heavy cruiser Swift. [...] Williams had been found in unwitting command of eleven reels of electric-fence wire when his official issue was ten. It had taken a court-martial to decide that the extra reel—which had formidable barter-value on a certain planet—had not been stolen from space-stores, or, in sailor jargon, “teleportated aboard.”

Once again it was being demonstrated that the Terran life form suffers from ye fear of wette paynt.

“I’m fairly sure the thing is your pigeon, anyway.”


“Because it’s typical of the baby names used for your kind of stuff. I’ll bet a month’s pay that an offog is some sort of scientific allamagoosa. Something to do with fog, perhaps. Maybe a blind-approach gadget.”

“The blind-approach transceiver is called ‘the fumbly,’ ” Burman informed.

“There you are!” said McNaught as if that clinched it.


Logic (examples)

“It’s one of the most useful things in the ship,” contributed McNaught, for good measure.

“What does it do?” inquired Cassidy, inviting Burman to cast a pearl of wisdom before him.

Burman paled.

Hastily, McNaught said, “A full explanation would be rather involved and technical but, to put it as simply as possible, it enables us to strike a balance between opposing gravitational fields. Variations in lights indicate the extent and degree of unbalance at any given time.”

“It’s a clever idea,” added Burman, made suddenly reckless by this news, “based upon Finagle’s Constant.”


Fakin’ it

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Basic Right

Copyright © 1958 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.

Once again it was about to be demonstrated that lesser life-forms are handicapped by questions of ethics, of morals, of right and wrong. They just hadn’t the brains to understand that greed, brutality, and ruthlessness are nothing more than terms of abuse for efficiency.

Only the Raidans, it seemed, had the wisdom to learn and apply Nature’s law that victory belongs to the sharp in tooth and swift in claw.

“All species are afflicted by what they consider to be virtues. We know that from our own firsthand experience, don’t we? The disease of goodness varies as between one life form and another.”



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Copyright © 1955 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.

They had become space-sophisticated. They had learned to lounge around with a carefree smile and let the other life forms do the worrying. It lent an air of authority and always worked. Nothing is more intimidating than an idiotic grin worn by a manifest non-idiot.

Quite a useful weapon in the diabological armoury was the knowing smirk.



From this vantage-point he calmly surveyed the mob, his expression that of one who can spit but not be spat upon. The sixth diabological law states that the higher, the fewer. Proof: the seagull’s tactical advantage over man.



‘There are no two alternatives to anything,’ Hillder asserted. ‘There is black and white and a thousand intermediate shades. There is yes and no and a thousand ifs, buts, or maybes.’

‘How many directions are there in deep space? How many radii can be extended from a sphere?’

‘Not being a mathematician, I –’

‘If you were a mathematician,’ Hillder interrupted, ‘you would know that the number works out at 2n.’ He glanced over the audience, added in tutorial manner, ‘The factor of two being determined by the demonstrable fact that a radius is half a diameter and 2n being defined as the smallest number that makes one boggle.’



‘One can go through a lifetime and not see everything. If you calculate the number of seeable things in existence, deduct the number already viewed, the remainder represents the number yet to be seen. And if you study them at the rate of one per second it would require . . .’

‘I am not interested,’ snapped Grasud, refusing to be bollixed by alien argument.

‘You should be,’ said Hillder. ‘Because infinity minus umpteen millions leaves infinity. Which means that you can take the part from the whole and leave the whole still intact. You can eat your cake and have it.’



‘Your thinking remains a little primitive.’ He hesitated, added with the air of making a daring guess, ‘In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if you still think logically.’

‘In the name of the Big Sun,’ exclaimed Bulak, ‘how else can we think?’

‘Like us,’ said Hillder. ‘When you’re mentally developed.’ He strolled twice around the cell, said by way of musing afterthought, ‘Right now you couldn’t cope with the problem of why a mouse when it spins.’



Mordafa eyed him shrewdly. ‘They’ll grab at the advice to restore their self-esteem. If it works, they’ll take the credit. If it doesn’t, I’ll get the blame.’ He brooded a few seconds, asked with open curiosity, ‘Do you find it the same elsewhere, among other peoples?’

‘Exactly the same,’ Hillder assured. ‘And there is always a Mordafa to settle the issue in the same way. Power and scapegoats go together like husband and wife.’

‘Authority lives by eating its vitals.’



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Introduction to Sentinels From Space

Jack L. Chalker

Copyright © 1986 by Jack L. Chalker

A number of common themes run through the bulk of Russell’s work, including contempt for authority in any form and a totally cynical attitude toward humanity’s institutions. A number of his stories from the forties and fifties, most notably “And Then There Were None . . .,” have become the philosophical building blocks of modern-day libertarianism. Yet, in most writers, this consistent attitude would produce gloomy and negative takes, either very downbeat or very idealogical, or both. Russell, on the other hand, somehow managed to be consistently optimistic about humanity’s future.

The other major theme that runs through all Russell’s work is Forteanism—the study of real events that can not be explained by conventional science and the belief that intellectual dogmatism and bureaucracy prevented us from finding the true explanations. He had a lifelong obsession with the idea that we might be the property, or the playthings, of superior beings.

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Sentinels From Space

Copyright © 1953 by Eric Frank Russell

Chapter 2

“It’s no business of ours,” she decided. “Let argumentative worlds fight it out between themselves.”

“That’s exactly how I was tempted to view the situation,” he admitted, “until I remembered how history shows that one darned thing leads to another. [...] Tempers rise, each side’s boosted by the other’s. Restraints are thrown away one by one, then in bunches. Scruples are poured down the drain until some badly frightened crackpot on one side or the other plants a hydride bomb to show who’s boss. Your own imagination can take it from there.”

Chapter 7

It was a pity they could not be told the truth—but there are facts of life not told to the immature.

No natural laws had been or could be abolished.

A supernatural phenomenon is one that accords with laws not yet known or identified.

Chapter 8 “The trouble is that wars have a habit of getting hopelessly out of hand. Those who start one usually find themselves quite unable to stop it.”



Chapter 15

Not one was mentally alert. Bored by a long night devoid of incident and within half an hour of being relieved by the daytime shift, each was solely interested in seeing thirty minutes whisk past so that he could pack up and beat it for breakfast and bed.

Raven appreciated this common state of mind; it created psychological conditions in his favor. Timing is a factor important to success in anything and the clock is a greater autocrat than most folk realize. Attempting something difficult, one could be rebuffed when the clock’s hands were in one position and scrape through when in another.

The enraged speaker in the control tower was now reciting a harrowing list of pains and penalties selected from regulations one to twenty, sub-sections A to Z, and had become so engrossed in this data on what the human frame could be made to suffer that he was blind to everything outside. He was the only person Raven had ever heard who could mention the most trying items in italics.

“There is nothing I can do merely on your say-so. [...] It’s one thing to state a fact; another to prove it.”

“There are men whose nature won’t let a defeat go unavenged. There are men hard enough to sit in an antigrav and watch a loyal supporter dive to destruction. There are men who can become very frightened if properly stimulated. That is the great curse of this world—fear!” He stared hard at the other, pupils wide, irises shining. “Know what makes men sorely afraid?”

“Death,” ventured Carlson in sepulchral tones.

Other men,” Raven contradicted.

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This one is a pulp-fiction classic, in some ways a primitive forerunner of Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters.

Sinister Barrier

Copyright © 1939 by Street & Smith Pub., Inc. for “Unknown”
Copyright © 1948 by Fantasy Press

Chapter 6 “Nothing was worse than the bow and arrow—until gunpowder came. Nothing worse than that—until poison gas appeared. Then bombing planes. Then supersonic missiles. Then atom-bombs. Today, mutated germs and viruses. Tomorrow, something else.” His laugh was short, sardonic. “Through pain and tears we learn that there’s always room for further improvement.”



Chapter 7

“When you see this world riddled with suspicion, rotten with conflicting ideas, staggering beneath the burden of preparation for war, you can be certain the harvest time is drawing near—a harvest for others. Not for you, not for you—you are only the poor, bleeding suckers whose lot it is to be pushed around. The harvest is for others!

Chapter 8 “From now on, every time a troublemaker shoots his trap, we’ve got to ask ourselves a question of immense significance: who’s talking now?” He put a long, delicate finger on the article under discussion. “Here is the first psychological counterstroke, the first blow at intended unity—the crafty encouragement of suspicion that somewhere lurks a threat of dictatorship. The good old smear-technique. Millions fall for it every time. Millions will always fall so long as they would rather believe a lie than doubt a truth.”



“From the journalistic viewpoint, truth exists to be raped. The only time facts are respected is when it’s expedient to print them. Otherwise, it’s smart to feed the public a lot of guff. It makes the journalist feel good; it gives him a sense of superiority over the suckers.”



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Still Life

Copyright © 1959 by Street and Smith Publications, Inc.

Between them they made sure that not one dollar of Forman stock was held or controlled by the representative of any foreign power, either in person or by nominee. Admittedly, there was no such thing in existence as a foreign power but that was beside the point.

By now the original requisition had attached to it the following:

1. The scientific division’s certificate.

2. An interdepartmental slip signed by Quayle informing Stanisland that the requisition was passed to him for attention.

3. A similar slip signed by Bonhoeffer saying that he had ordered Quayle to do the passing.

4 to 11. Eight quotations for an irradiator, Forman’s having been stamped: “Accepted subject to process.”

12. A copy of Forman’s supply authorization.

13. Forman’s affidavit.

14. An intelligence report to the effect that whatever was wrong with Forman’s could not be proved.

15. A finance department report saying the same thing in longer words.

Item twelve represented an old and completely hopeless attempt to buck the system. In the long, long ago somebody had made the mistake of hiring a fully paid-up member of Columbia University’s Institute of Synergistic Statics. Being under the delusion that a line is the shortest distance between two points, the newcomer had invented a blanket-system of governmental authorizations which he fondly imagined would do away with items thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.

This dastardly attempt to abolish three departments at one fell blow had just gained its just reward; a new department had been set up to deal with item twelve while the others had been retained. For creating this extra work the author of it had been hastily promoted to somewhere in the region of Bootes.

“Some day,” offered Purcell, grinning, “it may dawn upon you that it is possible to buck a system, any system. All you need do is turn the handle the way it goes—only more so!”



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Background graphic copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen