“The Gunboat Dread” (novelette) by Daniel Walther
English Publication History: Travelling Towards Epsilon (New English Library, 1977)
Original: French (La canonnière Epouvante), 1972
Translated by Beth Blish, 1976
Synopsis: Within the Confederation, being on assignment on Celaeno of Peroyne is one of the most being duties. The planet, with its Long River, is seemingly uninhabited of higher lifeforms, yet it’s still a dangerous jungle-ridden landscape. When one gunboat approaches near Outpost 3, they see a scorched derelict of the old outpost and, amid the ruins, one survivor is found—Moyra Farsan. Her naked body drives thoughts into all of the men, but there’s more than chemistry at work among their minds. 28 pages
Analysis: The dangerous planet Celaeno of Peroyne is reflective of many other science fiction stories which have untamed, destructive fauna. The planet and its peculiarities aren’t quite original, nor is the background of the human space colonization (The Confederation) or even the mystery of the destruction of the outpost. The main focus of tension within the story is the uncanny sexual attraction radiated by the senseless naked girl at the burned down outpost.
Celaeno of Peroyne represent a primeval earth with its wild expansive fauna and the danger of death by fauna around every corner. Without any sightings of humanoid life, over time, the fact that the planet is uninhabited becomes an ingrained fact. Yet, the massive blaze at the outposts suggests either human treachery or alien meddling. Given that there was no distress call, the only answer seems to be the most unlikely of answers.
Immediately upon viewing the prone body of the girl, waves of lust penetrate the men from the gunboat. Each consider it a passing whim as they have been secluded on the boat on duty for a while and the girl, though motionless, has a rather comely figure. Though aboard the gunboat in safe keeping under the doctor’s watch, the memory of her prone-in-many-ways body has seeped into the long-term memory of the men, each of whom beg to see her again. When she awakens, she’s catatonic yet still exudes some heightened sense of sexuality.
When one man finds the convenience of a rendezvous, his and her passions are unbridled in their furious attempts to copulate. This awakening of the primitive human sexual drive brings the entire gunboat, and the entire colonization of the planet, one step closer to everything primordial about the planet’s existence. The radiate lust of the woman still can’t be explained, but when the boat is attacked by a fearsome river creature, a humanoid pair are viewed on the riverside, which is an impossibility because of the absence of the fact. The doctor considers: Could their lusty fever be a result of isolation or could there actually be aliens attacking our outpost and our humanity?