Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Trusting What I Smell
by Kenneth Schneyer

Taking Flight
by Peter Wood

Dumpster Dive
by Clint Spivey

To Die a Great Death
by Stephen L. Antczak

A Taste of Oranges
by Jacey Bedford

Athena’s Children
by Travis Heermann

Sinking Holes
by D. Thomas Minton

Free Range
by Kathleen Molyneaux

Shorter Stories

by Douglas J. Ogurek

Out of Her Head
by Amy Power Jansen

Icarus and Daedalus
by Sean Mulroy


Hearts on Demand
by Anthony J. Melchiorri

Internet Undercover
by John McCormick



Comic Strips





Doin’ it the Doc Savage Way

WHEN I WAS A PIMPLY PUBESCENT upstart, I read a pulp inspiration called “Doc Savage” under the byline “Kenneth Robeson” (who was actually Lester Dent and a few other writers over time). I think I only read this one novel, my usual diet being Heinlein, Niven, Bradbury, Clarke, etc. But I was so impressed by the Doc Savage character that it shaped my life in unforeseen ways.

Being the strongest man in the world took him only so far. The stories usually depended on his knowledge and skill ... and being the smartest man in the world, Doc Savage had the firm conviction that anything was possible. No sense lying down and giving up; there was always a way out of a bad situation. Of course this is the way adventure writers make their money ... inventing ways out of seemingly impossible situations. Reality has a way of determining what is possible and what is supernatural. But Doc Savage used no mystical powers. Everything he did was the result of years of exercise and study.

My father, who was hardly Doc Savage, had an admirable way of performing the nearly impossible feats, too. Once, when his 1953 red Chevy pickup truck lost its fuel pump miles from civilization, Dad siphoned some fuel into a savage soda bottle, tied the bottle to a walking stick tied to the radio antenna, and let gravity feed fuel into the carburetor. If a Cessna could use gravity-fed fuel, a Chevy truck could, too.

My dad’s friend, a fellow very-clever-engineer, was likewise stranded far from home by a shattered distributor rotor in his car. He looked at it for a few minutes, asked his wife for some sewing thread and some nail polish. He applied the nail polish as adhesive to the rotor parts, reinforced it with thread and more nail polish. He let it dry and installed it. The car started up and they went on about their day.

The story goes that a Russian Colonel (whose name I have forgotten) fell out of a helicopter over a mountain. The Colonel, who was a trained skydiver, carefully unbuttoned his coat to use as a wing, flew towards the mountain’s snow-covered downslope and skidded to a stop a couple minutes later, colder, but no worse for wear. The helicopter landed to retrieve its missing passenger. Doc Savage would have been proud.

The sinking of the Titanic, April 1912, was always a cause for speculation. If Doc Savage had been there, what would he have done?

For example, could anyone have climbed aboard the iceberg? The sea was dead calm. How far away was the iceberg?

Batavia Daily News, June 22, 1912

Curious indeed was the experience of the crew of the German ship Hansa with an iceberg. The Hansa struck an ice island at latitude 52 degrees a little before midnight in a freezing gale. The impact carried her bow far up on the berg and imbedded it firmly in the ice. Her back was broken by the force of the collision and before morning was wrenched away from the forward part by the battering seas and sank.

When the Hansa struck, the boats were lowered, but only one escaped being swamped after pulling away from the doomed ship. It was soon found, however, that this boat was leaking and that no amount of bailing would keep it afloat more than a few hours, so the mate in command of it made for the berg and succeeded in climbing up on it to a place of temporary safety. From the broken timbers of the Hansa's bow the castaways built a crude shelter and snared seabirds to eke out the scanty supplies they had been able to save from the ship. The berg held together for eight months and the Hansa's men traveled 750 miles before they were finally picked up at latitude 41 degrees, suffering from frostbite and hunger. But otherwise no worse for their long exposure.

Maybe. It turns out that fishing vessels especially have a had a long history of using icebergs for lifeboats, because old fishing boats routinely collected ice from bergs when at sea, and sometimes ran into trouble. Lots of people have been marooned on ice floes and icebergs. Recently the Russians rescued a dog from an iceberg. It sure beats treading water in the North Atlantic.

But I always wondered why the Titanic’s passengers didn’t employ their last two hours and forty minutes finding everything that could float, including water titaniccontainers, wine flasks and wine bottles (>1,500), 20,000 bottles of beer and stout, 3,500 canvas mail bags, fire hoses, lightbulbs (>10,000) and furniture. Of course, it has been reported that the passengers believed until the last minute that they would be rescued ... so why bother?

Doc Savage might have made a rough calculation and unbolted every single thing on the Titanic that would float, lashed together makeshift rafts, or stuffed objects into the mail bags and pitched them over the side. We’ll never know.

A far greater and more recent tragedy was the 11-Sept-2001 attack on the World Trade Center. Some reports say Osama Bin Laden had earned a degree in civil engineering—or perhaps his advisors knew—that a large commercial aircraft, fully fuelled for a flight to the West Coast, striking the building at the 2/3 level, would likely cause the building to collapse. Emergency services, despite their heroic acts, could do very little. The World Trade Center was an enormous structure, and after the airplanes struck, all paths for many to escape safely to the ground were blocked by the fire and tangled wreckage.

Forgive me, but—What would Doc Savage do?

I speculate about this occasionally even now. What materials were available to the survivors? Were there cardboard boxes, tape and other shipping supplies? Would the restaurant have been able to supply knives to cut materials? Could anyone have convinced others to build their own escape craft and use it? The people in the WTC had communications by cellphone. Did anyone have something to contribute?

Would it have been possible to roll a person up in ripped-up carpeting; form the end into an airfoil using a cubicle panel; tape everything up like crazy and slide it out a window? Would it descend like a maple seed?

Could one make a ram-air wing out of duct tape, carpet, and foam?

If I worked above rescue level in a tall building, I’d like to keep a pilot’s seatpack ram-air parachute in a shoebox in my locker. You’d never know. The outside would say “Florsheim” and the inside would say “Icarus JVX-37 Ram-Air Parachute.”

I think it reasonable (assuming the survivors knew they would not be rescued), to fill a large (cubic meter or more) cardboard box with packing peanuts and allow a small child to ride it down. They might have been able to survive a fall from any height.

Would the construction of parachutes have been possible? I suppose with enough tape and material, it could have been done for a few people. When you see a person in a wingsuit land without a parachute, one wonders if a clever person could have done a similar trick, and perhaps land in the Hudson.

It has been suggested that a cable could have been used to get the people out. I think this might have been what Doc Savage would have done. String a cable from somewhere near the top of the WTC towers and another building so that the cable curved upwards near the end. This cable would drape somewhat parabolic (actually a hyperbolic cosine or catenary curve). Fashion rope or duct-tape harnesses and snap a carabiner from the harness to the cable. No kidding. My older brother and I—suffering from teenage testosterone poisoning—used to do this from a condemned bridge until the town cop made us stop.

The Internet is full of proposals: e.g., a few large helicopters could have suspended a giant net that those trapped could have jumped into. There has been much discussion about why helicopters were not used for rescue (the FAA immediately grounded all aircraft ... except the Bin Laden family’s private jet). Understandably, air turbulence from the fire made this impossible. But did anyone have enough parachutes to airdrop onto the roof? Alas, the real reason rescuing these victims proved impossible was simply the shortage of time to execute any sort of plan. Even Doc Savage couldn’t stretch time.

Doc Savage and his crew of five men operated entirely without mystical or superhuman aids. Nevertheless, some consider him the world’s first “Superhero.” But Doc and his cohorts put a great deal of time and effort into honing their talents. In their off-hours, they were pumping iron and solving puzzles. No “super-skills,” no x-ray vision—hell, no cellphones or computers. Only brains, brawn, and exceedingly well-developed human skills (like the ability to speak Mayan with his crew when they wanted conversations to be private).

Any youngster could only hope to achieve some of the Doc’s powers.

Eric M. Jones