Death Ship by Richard Matheson
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery-Thriller
Rating: 3.5/5 Rating
Great start to the anthology!
About the author:
Richard Matheson was an American author and screenwriter most known for his work in fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Some of his best-known works are The Shrinking Man, Hell House, and films adapted from his work, he also wrote several episodes of The Twilight Zone original series in the 1960s. “Death Ship” was first published in Fantastic Story Magazine in 1953 and then later adapted for television as Episode 6, Season 4 of The Twilight Zone, 1963.
I think telling someone the genre of a story is “time-travelling” is actually a spoiler itself. Time-travel isn’t always used as the big twist – sometimes a story starts by saying they have the technology – but when you read an anthology where the bases of every story is going to be time-travel, well, the author is going to have to be creative if they want to use time-travel as the main twist.
Mason is part of a three-man spaceship crew with Mickey and their captain, Ross. As they are flying over the earth of a new planet, Mason sees something shine out of the corner of his eye, and captain Ross lands the cruiser to see what this mysterious object is. Upon further investigation, the crew realizes that is a crashed ship, and is one of their own. Going inside the craft to find some answers as to what happened, they discover the three-man crew dead. Finding the dead bodies themselves isn’t the biggest shock; the biggest shock is that those three dead bodies are actually their own…
As I was saying: reading a time-travel anthology, I am already expecting time-travel to be in there somewhere, so it may be harder to trick me. From the little plot synopsis to start, you might think you know what is going to happen. I know I did, and you know what? The story tricked me!
Matheson is a great writer, and reading his prose was effortless. A couple of times I had problems understanding which “he” was talking, but probably personal issues. This story was written in 50’s and has that classic sic-fi feel to hit, but, man, was this thrilling and intense!
The story doesn’t travel outside of the crew being in the two ships, but the strength lies in the dynamic of the crew, and how Matheson plays on that. While we are in the mystery of trying to figure out how in world their dead bodes – if the are actually their own – got there, there is slowly, what I thought of as, a psychological thriller building up in the background, and it plays extremely well into the story to keep you double guessing as to what you believe actually happened.
The ending, like I said, was something that I did not see coming! However, I didn’t know if I was right or wrong… It turns out I was right, but I actually had to Google a reference to make sure it had to do with what I thought. This might be personal or it might be because this story was written in the 1950’s.
Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)
⊗⊗⊗ Did you expect that they were actually dead the whole time? I did not. I didn’t think they were actually time-traveling though either. I suppose they could have traveled to the future, and saw a future of them that crashed leaving the planet (and as they crash trying to leave this time, that would be when they would hit the time-warp again), but the whole time-warp thing didn’t feel right in the story. What did feel right was the alien theory.
Their original mission was searching for life on planets; then the captain goes psycho over that theory, so now the crew and readers think there is no way that’s it… but what if it turned out he is right? That would be a cool twist! So when they saw the ship again, I was out of ideas.
When Mason says “As they were” I instantly thought they were all dead. But then it ended with “The Flying Dutchman”… and I had no idea what that was. I thought my dead-theory was wrong, and I was lost about what happened in the story.
Maybe “The Flying Dutchman” was more popular in 50’s, because having to Google what that was, it did take away from the story ⊗⊗⊗
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If I had understood the ending, and wasn’t taken out of the story having to do research, I probably would have given this a 4 rating. Even if had known though, I still would have like a little more elaboration of what exactly happened, rather than things wrapping up in one sentence.
Classic sci-fi story feel; nothing blew my mind, but still a fast, fun, and thrilling read! A great start to anthology, and I’m looking forward to see how the rest of these ‘experiment’ stories use time-travel.
Also, this story is supposed to place in 1997! In the 50’s they thought we would already be traveling to other planets already for day jobs… just a little off! 😛
(And here is a link to that to that Twilight Zone episode)
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See you next Thursday for Ripples in the Dirac Sea by Geoffrey A. Landis