Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Takeoff! can best be described not as a short story collection, but as a Randall Garrett Miscellany. In addition to some of Garrett's best short fiction, the book contains some of his science fictional pastiches ("Backstage Lensmen") and several reviews in verse of prominent science fiction and fantasy titles.
The strongest part of the book are the short stories, most particularly the Lovecraftian pastiche "The Horror Out of Time," about which anything said would totally destroy the fantastic ending Garrett successfully pulls off as investigators delve into the mysteries of the ancient temple risen from the depths of the sea to discover an entity more terrifying, according to Garrett, than Cthulhu. Preceding "The Horror Out of Time" is "Despoilers of the Golden Empire," which examines the role of the superman in history. Again, because of Garrett's deftness with an ending and his odd way of looking at the world, saying anything specific about this war story is saying too much.
This is, in fact, a recurrent theme in much of Garrett's work. He ranks with O. Henry as far as his ability to turn a surprise ending, thereby giving even the most pedestrian of his stories something with which to grab the reader.
Many of the stories in Takeoff! are responses to other science fiction stories. "Master of the Metropolis" neatly skewers the gosh-wow mentality which appeared in Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124C 41+ while the aforementioned "Backstage Lensmen" takes on E.E. "Doc" Smith's "Lensman" Cycle. The fact that these stories remain fresh and can speak to those who haven't read the originals speaks to the quality of Garrett's writing. In these satires, Garrett's love for his targets shows and he doesn't stoop to ridiculing them or attacking them, as frequently happens in satire aimed at a single object.
The second, shorter, section of Takeoff! is comprised of a series of reviews in verse of great science fiction novels. In much of his autobiographical literature, Isaac Asimov commented on the joy of creating doggerel on the spur of the moment in a friendly competition with Garrett. While these reviews are, obviously, carefully thought out, they do provide a demonstration of the type of verse Garrett was able to turn out, at the same time detailing the plot of the novel. Garrett wisely puts a warning not to read these verses if you are not familiar with the original, for he gives away the entire plot, while retaining much of the tone of each novel, or at least the author.
The book ends with Garrett's answer to "feghoots." A feghoot is a short-short story revolving around a (usually hideous) pun. The form takes its name from "Ferdinand Feghoot," the character who features in more than an hundred such stories written by "Grendel Briarton" (a.k.a. Reginald Bretnor). Writing as a fan more than a professional, Garrett uses the opportunity of skewering several well known science fiction authors in a series of extremly short stories.
Although a quick overview of the stories in Takeoff! seems to indicate that Garrett didn't have original concepts, he did. One of his most famous series of stories were the Lord Darcy series about a detective working in a world in which magic works. However the title of Takeoff! should be taken literally, not as a collection of stories about rocket launches, but as take-offs of other science fiction authors. While these stories may not show Garrett at his original best, they do provide a look at his singular wit. What makes the book even better is the knowledge that there is a second book, Takeoff Too! which collects even more of Garrett's humorous pastiches and paeans to science fiction.
|Gentlemen: Please Note||Prehistoric Note|
|Backstage Lensmen||Review of Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel|
|The Best Policy||Review of Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man|
|The Cosmic Beat||Review of L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall|
|Despoilers of the Golden Empire||Review of A.E. van Vogt's Slan|
|The Horror Out of Time||Review of Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions|
|Look Out! Duck!||Review of John W. Campbell's Who Goes There?|
|Master of the Metropolis (with Lin Carter)||Review of The Adventures of Little Willie|
|Mustang||Introduction to Benedict Breadfruit by Grendel Briarton|
|No Connections||Through Time and Space with Benedict Breadfruit|
|On the Martian Problem|