Saturday, August 1, 2009

Putting up with "Too Many Boards"

Harl Vincent's "Too Many Boards," from the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, seems at first glance to be your standard cautionary tale about the perils of Big Government. Corporate CEO Larry Conover's troubles with the countless boards in his life sounds superficially like a satire of the New Deal with its alphabet soup of government agencies. Except, of course, that "Too Many Boards" was published two years before the start of the New Deal, when the laissez faire economic policies of the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover triumvirate were still in place.

Furthermore, as the story progresses, we find out that Conover's troubles with the Board of Eugenics are caused, not by the government, but by a private individual: a wealthy investor named John X. Mills who owns a controlling interest in Conover's company. Mills, it turns out, has been manipulating the supposedly incorruptable Board of Eugenics to ensure that his ward, Alta Farrish, marries Conover; meanwhile, Mills has used fraud to convince Farrish that she would remain his ward until she married. Thus, "Too Many Boards" actually proves to be a warning about the corrosive effect of money on the institutions of government. Ambassador Nordstrum, the only character in the story who actually works for the government, proves to be an honest and honorable man. And Larry Conover may fret about the power of the boards, but he admits that the world they regulate is a pleasant one, and when he is given a chance to escape their influence on Mercury, he finally decides he prefers to live in his well-regulated Utopia.

By far the most interesting character in "Too Many Boards" is Chick Davis, the captain of the interplanetary cruise liner Rocket III. Davis, we learn, has evaded the Tri-planetary Alliance's ban on travel to Mercury, has learned the Mercurian language, and has even earned the respect of its ruler. When Conover seeks out Davis's help, the captain is eager to provide it, regardless of the fact that doing so involves breaking countless laws and resorting to subterfuge. Chick Davis, in short, is a distant ancestor of James T. Kirk, Han Solo, and every other daring spaceship captain to be found in science fiction.

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