Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Weaponized Water

The planet Paladra has no water at all. It apparently has some sort of tactical or strategic value, though, since humans keep a garrison there. So that means water has to be shipped to them. This is done in a clever way--millions of tons of water are condensed into basketball-sized metal spheres, so a single ship can transport it to Paladra.

This is the premise of "Raiders of the Waterless World," from Mystery in Space #56 (December 1959). I should mention that my copy is a reprint from 1972, so the panels I'm showing might be colored differently than in the original.

The guy piloting the water ship is typical of any military cargo ship pilot in any work of fiction ever written about cargo pilots--he wants to be a fighter pilot, by golly! He wants to be where the action is! But here he is acting as water boy yet again--as he did on the college football team.

 This is a very cliched characterization, but writer John Broome handles it well and uses this to lead into the story's wonderful action set piece. Warlike aliens called the Megans have besieged Paladra. The pilot has a choice--run for home without delivering the water or try to get through despite having an unarmed ship.

Or is the ship unarmed? The pilot realizes he can use the condensed water spheres as weapons. He launches one out of his ship. The absolute zero of space expands and freezes the water, turning it into a huge bludgeon that crushes a Megan ship.

He launches another out of his ship's jets. The temperature of the jets prevents the water from freezing when it expands and he thus takes out the remaining Megan ships with a tidal wave.

There's a fun twist at the end. The pilot is recognized for his heroic actions and promised a reward. He assumes he'll finally get to fly a fighter. But, no, his reward is a new state-of-the-art water transport!

I'm afraid I don't know if the physics here make complete sense--I don't know how vacuum as well as temperature would affect the water. But this is a comic book story, by golly---real-life physics need not apply. And the whole thing gives artist Gil Kane to draw some awesome images of weaponized water destroying enemy space ships. We don't often get to see a tidal wave in space. When we do get to see one, we shouldn't complain.

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