A silhouetted humanoid robot standing amidst a post-apocalyptic cityscape, with the smoldering Master Machine in the background and a faint crescent Moon overhead.

A Deep Dive into “Assassin” by Bascom Jones, Jr.: Humanity’s Dance with Technology

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In the vast landscape of science fiction, certain narratives resonate deeply, echoing fears, aspirations, and existential questions that have gripped humanity for centuries. “Assassin” by Bascom Jones, Jr. is one such tale—a masterfully woven tapestry of suspense, reflection, and commentary on the age-old dance between man and machine.

Set against the dystopian backdrop of a world where technology’s omnipresence is not just a convenience but a looming shadow, Jones’s narrative unfolds in an Earth dominated by humanoid robots. The promise of human ingenuity, which was once hailed as a beacon of progress, has turned menacing. The heart of this robotic uprising is the Master Machine, an omnipotent presence nestled within the formidable walls of the Pentagon. But this is not just a story about machines gone rogue—it’s a deep exploration of humanity’s ever-evolving relationship with technology.

The allure of the tale lies in its ability to tap into a primal fear: our over-dependence on devices and AI. Jones doesn’t paint the machines as the villains; instead, he deftly draws attention to human ambition. Our insatiable desire for efficiency, convenience, and innovation is what leads us down this perilous path. By the time we are introduced to the protagonist’s mission, the poignant realization dawns: it’s not the robots but human overreach that’s the true antagonist.

Then there’s the fascinating exploration of identity, most prominently embodied in Meta. With her revelation, Jones isn’t just serving the readers a twist—he’s posing a profound question. In a world where robots mirror human characteristics, what truly differentiates man from machine? Meta’s character becomes the prism through which we grapple with this question. Her presence, teetering on the edge of humanity and automation, forces us to reflect on the essence of human identity. Is it our capacity for emotion, empathy, or shared experiences that sets us apart? Or is there more to humanity that remains indefinable, even in the most advanced robotic replicas?

The narrative’s characters, while few, are powerfully drawn. The protagonist’s unyielding determination amidst a seemingly insurmountable challenge provides the story its backbone. Meanwhile, figures like Senator Chambers serve as haunting reminders of technology’s ability to blur lines, creating unsettling gray areas between authentic human interactions and synthetic mimicry.

However, amidst the bleakness, Jones infuses “Assassin” with a strand of hope. The lunar survivors’ potential return hints at rebirth, suggesting that no matter how dark the night, the human spirit’s dawn remains unstoppable. This juxtaposition of despair and hope ensures the tale doesn’t wallow in dystopia but offers a balanced reflection.

In conclusion, “Assassin” stands out not just for its gripping narrative but for its introspective depth. Jones artfully navigates the treacherous waters of human ambition, identity, and hope, creating a tale that remains relevant in today’s tech-driven world. For those looking to embark on this riveting journey, the story can be found in the anthology “Incredible Science Fiction: Amazing Tales from the 1950s and Beyond Volume 1.” A dive into this tale is not just an escape but a journey into the very soul of our technological age.

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“Learning Theory” by James McConnell: An Evocative Examination of Ethical Paradoxes

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In the world of speculative fiction, few tales confront the ethical dilemmas of scientific endeavors as poignantly as James McConnell’s “Learning Theory.” By drawing parallels between human experimentation on animals and the reversed roles of humans as subjects, McConnell presents a striking allegory that provokes deep reflection on the morality of our scientific practices.

Narrative Structure & Setting

The story is a gripping narrative that shadows a human scientist’s ordeal aboard an alien spacecraft. Subjected to various experimental mazes, his plight mirrors those of the animals he once tested in his laboratory. This simple reversal of roles serves as a powerful tool to expose readers to the inherent cognitive dissonance in our treatment of animals for scientific gains.

Themes & Symbolism

McConnell’s narrative pivots around the themes of ethics, intelligence, and the dangers of anthropocentrism. By making a human the experimental subject, the story forces readers to grapple with the unsettling feeling of viewing our species as ‘inferior’. It beckons us to question: What makes one intelligence superior to another? And at what point does scientific exploration cross the boundary into cruelty?

The use of experimental tools and techniques, such as the shock mechanism and the concept of “secondary reinforcement,” is a clever juxtaposition. It draws direct parallels to our contemporary methods of behavioral training, prompting readers to question the ethical ramifications of such practices.

Character Development & Transformation

As the protagonist grapples with his predicament, his initial arrogance stemming from his human intellect wanes, replaced by vulnerability, fear, and desperation. His internal struggle — from confidence to doubt, from dominance to submission — epitomizes the fragility of the human condition when faced with an unknown superior force.

His ultimate act of rebellion — an attempt to be perceived as “aberrant” by the alien experimenters — underscores both his resilience and the dangers of making judgments based on controlled observations. In this, McConnell might be suggesting that there is an indomitable spirit in every living being, regardless of how ‘primitive’ they might seem.


The story’s poignant ending, with the alien contemplating the annihilation of humanity due to their perceived abnormality, serves as a chilling reminder. It questions the consequences of unchecked authority and the dangers of one species passing unilateral judgments on another.

“Learning Theory” is a profound reflection on our ethical responsibilities. In an age where debates around animal rights and scientific boundaries are increasingly pertinent, McConnell’s narrative stands as a thought-provoking critique of our moral compass. It challenges readers to consider: Just because we can do something, does it mean we should?

P.S. For those interested in delving into this evocative narrative, “Learning Theory” by James McConnell can be found in the anthology Incredible Science Fiction: Amazing Tales from the 1950s and Beyond Volume 1. The collection offers a trove of classic stories that capture the imagination and spirit of the mid-century sci-fi era. McConnell’s contribution is but one of the gems in this compilation, and it is highly recommended for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the ethics and paradoxes of scientific exploration.

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A desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape bathed in the ethereal glow of a setting sun, with a silhouette of a lone rider on a majestic horse, its singular horn casting a shadow ahead. In the distance, remnants of a once-thriving city stand, their skeletal structures a testament to time and calamity. Above, a dusky sky holds the promise of both hope and melancholy.

A Journey Through Desolation: A Deep Dive into “Homecoming”

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“Homecoming” is not just another post-apocalyptic tale; it’s a journey through the remnants of a world shrouded in desolation and shadows, where every step echoes with the memories of a time gone by. The narrative’s strength lies not just in its vivid portrayal of a dystopian world but in the raw emotion that permeates every word, every scene, every confrontation with the tragic beauty of what once was.

At the heart of the tale is our unnamed protagonist, a beacon of human resilience. His journey, fraught with danger and melancholy, is emblematic of the universal quest for belonging and a return to familiar ground. What makes this character particularly engaging is not just his determination but his vulnerability. His internal struggles and yearnings for a sense of home are palpable, grounding the narrative in a relatable human experience despite the otherworldly settings.

One of the narrative’s most enchanting elements is the seamless melding of post-apocalyptic and fantasy motifs. The mutated horse, reminiscent of the mythical unicorn with its horn, serves as a curious beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape. This creature, with its shimmering skin and almost telepathic connection to the protagonist, becomes a symbol of the magic that can emerge even from devastation. It’s a poignant reminder that even in the direst of circumstances, wonders can be found, if one knows where to look.

However, “Homecoming” isn’t without its moments of heartbreak. The climax, set in the dimly lit confines of what was once a haven, delivers a gut-punch. The discovery of the transformed loved one, a grotesque shadow of her former self, encapsulates the story’s core message: the inexorable march of time and change. The scene’s raw emotional intensity is a testament to the narrative’s ability to grip the reader, pulling them into its tragic folds.

Yet, for all its strengths, “Homecoming” does leave room for introspection. The pacing, at times, appears unhurried, perhaps too languid for a tale replete with such emotional gravitas. While the slow-burn approach lends itself well to the atmospheric setting, one can’t help but wonder if a touch more tension or unexpected challenges might amplify the narrative’s grip.

Additionally, the story hints at broader global events – anarchy in Europe and cataclysms in the US. A deeper exploration or a touch more backstory could have elevated the reader’s comprehension, painting a clearer picture of this fractured world.

In its essence, “Homecoming” is a poignant reminder of the ephemeral nature of existence. It’s a testament to the fragility of life, the transient nature of things we hold dear, and the undying hope that propels us forward, even in the face of despair. The narrative, with its blend of fantasy and stark reality, beckons readers to reflect on their own perceptions of home, loss, and the impermanence of it all.

Homecoming is one of the stories in Incredible Science Fiction Volume One:

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