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Short Stories > "MISSING LINK" by Frank Herbert

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message 1: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4078 comments Mod
I was surprised to find that Frank Herbert "Missing Link" had a few short stories available on Librivox & Gutenberg. I picked this one pretty much at random for our short story group read. While I've read a few other books by Herbert, I know & like him best for Dune.

This story is free in multiple etext formats from here:

Several of his stories are also available in audio format on here:

message 2: by Marc-André (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments How are they?

message 3: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4078 comments Mod
Haven't had a chance to read any of them yet. I'm hoping to get to this particular one soon, though.

Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) Hm. Interesting. The beginning confused me, and I'm still not sure of Stetson's goals & pov, but the main story is... interesting.

(very short story)

message 5: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4078 comments Mod
That was an interesting first contact story. People haven't changed much. A lot of bureaucratic infighting with entire planets at stake. I wonder what wars or foreign policy blunders caused him to think that way?

I always try to put stories like this into historical context & this was published in 1959, a pretty busy year historically. Sometimes I find the author is saying something obvious about current events. I looked up the Wikipedia entries for 1958 & 59.

- Legos!
- A couple of bad accidents with nuclear bombs
- Vanguard 1 was launched & remains the oldest man made object in orbit.
- Castro starts his revolution
- the last commercial sailing ship sinks
- NASA is created
- the integrated circuit is created
- the first communications satellite is launched

- Castro took over Cuba
- The Dalia Lama had to run
- Alaska & Hawaii became states
- Barbie!
- The Antarctic treaty was signed
- Pioneer 4 managed to break Earth's orbit & fly by the moon
- NASA introduces the first astronauts
- Rod Serling's Twilight Zone!
- Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens & The Big Bopper die in a plane crash
- the first large action in the Vietnam War takes place
- the first mass produced electric car sold in the US
- HIV claims its first victim

message 6: by Keith (new)

Keith (twofarwest) | 4 comments I was born in 1949 and remember a number of these events. I remember seeing Edward R Murrow interviewing Fidel Castro on his TV show “The Big Picture”. My cousins Claudia and Paula getting the first Barbie doll, the one with the black and white swim suit. When Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union. Technology began to explode at that time because of the space race.

message 7: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 142 comments The first HIV victim was in 1959?

message 8: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4078 comments Mod
Rafael wrote: "The first HIV victim was in 1959?"

I just listed what I found in the Wikipedia entry, Rafael. You can check the article & find it in there. Generally there's a link to further info.

message 9: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4078 comments Mod
There's a sequel to this story "Operation Haystack" which features two of the same characters. It's a little longer & pretty good. You can find it here:

RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 638 comments This story was published 9 years before I was born. My folks were still in high school and wouldn't meet for another 5 or 6 years.

I liked that most of the plot was conveyed through dialogue. That's unusual in Science Fiction. 1959 seems early for surgically-implanted communication devices, which were a staple of Cyberpunk.

Sex glands in the chins reminds me of the coneheads.

message 11: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
Meh. But I am glad to have read something by Herbert other than Dune.

message 12: by Dan (last edited Aug 23, 2018 07:28PM) (new)

Dan I am one of the few who don't particularly like Dune, but I don't fault Herbert's writing technique in that book. His writing style there is deep and mature.

The writing in this short story, published only a few years earlier, is not. It was a surprise to me the technique is so amateurish. I especially didn't like the dialogue because it didn't sound authentic to me. It wasn't set up well. I didn't understand people's motivations for saying what they were saying, especially at the beginning.

message 13: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
Dan wrote: "I am one of the few who don't particularly like Dune..."

I read it too young to really appreciate it. But I've never felt interested in going back and trying again.

Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) Ed wrote: "Dan wrote: "I am one of the few who don't particularly like Dune..."

I read it too young to really appreciate it. But I've never felt interested in going back and trying again."


message 15: by Dan (last edited Aug 25, 2018 04:56AM) (new)

Dan When I try to do a close reading, which is how I pretty much read everything, I fail. Right from the start. Does anyone else really make sense of this drivel?

"WE OUGHT to scrape this planet clean of every living thing on it,” muttered Umbo Stetson, section chief of Investigation & Adjustment.

[SCRAPE a planet? Of what consists the scraping of a planet? Furthermore, if one is a section chief of investigation, wouldn't it be the role of someone else to make needed adjustments? To both investigate and adjust is to perform some other role that can best be described in one word, like chiropractor maybe. And why is he muttering it? Does he want only a few to hear him? Why are we starting a story with something said that is so insignificant it is only muttered?]

Stetson paced the landing control bridge of his scout cruiser.

[What in the world is a landing control bridge? Aren't control and bridge the same thing? Is controlling a landing so involved it needs its own bridge to preside over the function? Is a scout cruiser so big it can have many bridges? Why are we being told about this Stetson who is on the bridge of a minor function if he is an important character?]

His footsteps grated on a floor that was the rear wall of the bridge during flight. But now the ship rested on its tail fins—all four hundred glistening red and black meters of it.

[Does our spaceship lack gravity control so that we have to use a wall as a floor when the ship is in flight? Why does the author consider this, the number of fins, or their color, significant enough to mention? Why does the scout ship need a hundred times the number of fins most fish have? Is it that aerodynamically unsound?]

The open ports of the bridge looked out on the jungle roof of Gienah III some one hundred fifty meters below. A butter yellow sun hung above the horizon, perhaps an hour from setting.

["Ports", besides being coastal towns, have a minor definition, one I had to look up: "a small opening in a container or vessel especially for viewing or for the controlled passage of material". But why would a bridge have ports? These belong in cargo bays. "Jungle roof"? Does he mean treetops? "Butter" yellow? Why not "corncob" yellow, or "urine" yellow while we're at it? "Perhaps an hour from setting?" Might it be two hours, or thirty minutes? The narrator knows everything except exactly how long it will be until sunset?]

“Clean as an egg!” he barked. He paused in his round of the bridge, glared out the starboard port, spat into the fire-blackened circle that the cruiser’s jets had burned from the jungle.

[Few things are cleaner than eggs after all, once you've washed them off. We have just gone from mumbling about cleaning to barking about it. Spat into the jungle roof that's 150 meters below? They must have watched that loogie descend for quite some time.]

The I-A section chief was dark-haired, gangling, with large head and big features.

[Was? What is he now, and why should I care?]

He stood in his customary slouch, a stance not improved by sacklike patched blue fatigues. Although on this present operation he rated the flag of a division admiral, his fatigues carried no insignia. There was a general unkempt, straggling look about him.

[Thanks for the last sentence. I'd have never figured that out from the prior two.]

Lewis Orne, junior I-A field man with a maiden diploma,

[Didn't know one could get that kind of diploma. Does one get that right after one's sex change operation?]

stood at the opposite port,

[opposite the one that other guy just loogied out of, right?]

studying the jungle horizon.

[By looking down 150 meters at the jungle roof?]

Now and then he glanced at the bridge control console, the chronometer above it, the big translite map of their position tilted from the opposite bulkhead.

[Wow! This guy is looking everywhere all at once. The jungle roof horizon, the landing bridge console and clock, I mean chronometer, and even a translite map on the opposite bulkhead. I wonder how many eyes this alien has.]

A heavy planet native, he felt vaguely uneasy on this Gienah III with its gravity of only seven-eighths Terran Standard.

[Feeling light equals feeling uneasy? This matters why?]

The surgical scars on his neck where the micro-communications equipment had been inserted itched maddeningly. He scratched.

[Again. This is important enough to mention to us why? Did he scratch them out? Is his itching neck of microcommunications gear, which need to be microsized - why ? - equipment going to be a story element later on?]

“Hah!” said Stetson. “Politicians!”

[Of course he said that. Everything has been leading up to Stetson saying just that. Now it all clears up.]

I write all the above because I didn't want anyone to think I was unfairly accusing Mr. Herbert of some really poor writing.

message 16: by Dan (last edited Aug 24, 2018 09:20PM) (new)

Dan If you're a fan of Frank Herbert, please allow me to atone however slightly for the preceding post by informing you his first science fiction story was published in 1952 and is available here:

Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) Heh. You're not wrong! I was confused, too, but *unfairly* blamed myself.

message 18: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4078 comments Mod
It reminded me of a lot of the sloppy pulp space opera which is one reason I found it so fascinating. It's nothing like his other work.

message 19: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
Dan wrote: "If you're a fan of Frank Herbert, please allow me to atone however slightly for the preceding post by informing you his first science fiction story was published in 1952 and is available here..."

I don't understand your point. Are you indicating that is a story that you like more? or less? than "Missing Link"?

message 20: by Dan (last edited Aug 26, 2018 06:18PM) (new)

Dan I actually happen to like the story, "Looking for Something." It seems like Herbert put more work into it so that he could break into print. Once he got there, maybe he got complacent, giving us "Missing Link".

But that's not my point. My goal was to let Frank Herbert fans know another short story of his was available for free and where it could be found. I'm a nice guy who likes to do a public service like that when I can.

message 21: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1901 comments Mod
Dan wrote: "I actually happen to like the story, "Looking for Something."..."

OK. Thanks.

Although I didn't much like "Missing Link", I am not in any way bothered by any of the things you pointed out about it. It didn't strike me as great writing, but not exactly bad either. Different things will bug different people, I guess.

message 22: by Oleksandr (new)

Oleksandr Zholud | 805 comments Dan wrote: "When I try to do a close reading, which is how I pretty much read everything, I fail. Right from the start. Does anyone else really make sense of this drivel?"

Okay, I admit that because English is not my native language, I sometimes miss some details. However, the comments are a little unfair: I see small details as an attempt of info-dumping - like that communication gear can b implanted, the planet is Earth-like, cruiser ships are that long etc. I don't think that the approach is wrong. Yes it all may be flashed out better, but at that time (the early 1950s) it wasn't expected that SF should meet high literary standard

message 23: by Dan (last edited Aug 28, 2018 08:33AM) (new)

Dan If info dumping were all that was wrong, I'd have mentioned it, maybe provided an example or two, and moved on. I've done that for other works in the past. The start of this story was simply incoherent IMO.

I could have been fairer and mentioned that at the point I stopped close analysis, going forward, the rest of Herbert's story holds together better. There were fewer "What in the world?" moments.

I also have since I wrote my post come to realize that Herbert wrote a number (how many, I don't know) of short stories with these same characters in the same world. My guess? He wrote a novel that couldn't sell and decided to chop it up and sell short stories out of it. That's what I would have done. If I am right, that also may account for how this story got off to such a rough start. He really was in media res.

message 24: by Oleksandr (new)

Oleksandr Zholud | 805 comments Dan wrote: "The start of this story was simply incoherent..."

A lot of novels like to start with throwing the protagonist [and reader] into middle of something to explain things later. This often irritates me because I constantly doubt - is there something I missed as a non-native speaker or there has been nothing to miss. This month's read A Fire Upon the Deep starts this way for me

message 25: by Dan (last edited Aug 28, 2018 09:04PM) (new)

Dan Starting a novel in medias res makes it more challenging to read. I have wondered why so many authors like to do that.

For a long time, I thought it was because authors were trying to sound more sophisticated and to challenge their readers more so that readers know they are reading adult rather then YA fiction.

But honestly, I now think it more likely they do that because their editor tells them the book starts too slow. Start it at chapter five, which has a great action sequence, and then fill the reader in on what they need to know as briefly as possible as you proceed. Thus, writers just pitch the first ten to forty percent of their books overboard.

I definitely think something like that happened to Dune, for example. That's one reason I give Ender's Game higher marks. It may read less sophisticated to the superficial reader because it doesn't start in medias res the way Dune does. But I prefer books with proper beginnings that explain their terms as they go. Challenge me in other respects please.

message 26: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4078 comments Mod
Dan wrote: "Starting a novel in medias res makes it more challenging to read. I have wondered why so many authors like to do that...."

I think you're right about the reasons authors do it. Everything I've read about writing says the author needs to captivate the reader very early on & starting with an exciting scene is one way. I generally like it. An extreme example is Zelazny's Doorways in the Sand. Every chapter starts that way.

Cheryl is busier irl atm. (cherylllr) I agree with you, Dan. Challenge me with the ideas, themes, projections, explorations.... Literary gimmicks that are done for the sake of publishers' ideas of what the public wants, or that are done for the sake of showing off, are just that, gimmicks. A great story doesn't need them.

I don't know if Herbert's story here was written that way with *any* intent. Learning that it was one of several with the same characters is what convinced me that we're reading a 'fragment' instead of a carefully written complete & intact story.

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