The Lost Kafoozalum
Reviewed date: 2018 Aug 16
"The Lost Kafoozalum" is a 1960 novella published in Analog. It was nominated for the Hugo award for Short Fiction, losing to "The Longest Voyage" by Poul Anderson.
Lysistrata "Lizzie" Lee is just about to graduate from Russett College on Earth when she and a handful of classmates are whisked away and blasted off into deep space on a top-secret super-important mission. Explorers have recently stumbled across a previously-unknown colony on the planet Incognita. The political situation on Incognita is tense. Each side in their cold war is developing the Ultimate Weapon, and war is projected to break out at any moment. Millions of lives are at stake. Their mission: prevent war on Incognita.
Professor D. J. M'Clare from Russett College is leading the mission, and he and his students come up with a plan. They will recover an old derelict spaceship, the Gilgamesh. They'll doctor up some records and personal effects, etc. to plant on the ship, then "accidentally" crash Gilgamesh on Incognita. With any luck, the Incognitans will stop fighting themselves and unify in response to a perceived external threat. By the time they eventually create a space force and track Gilgamesh back to where it came from, the threat of war on Incognita will be over.
That whole part I really liked. And I kind of liked the way Lizzie narrated the story. She has a distinctive voice and way of thinking, a real personality.
But what I had a problem with is Professor M'Clare revealing he's in love with Lizzie and asking her to marry him. After she has officially graduated, of course. It wouldn't have been kosher while she was his student. But he only waits three days after the official examination Results are announced. And she decides of course she loves him too, and just like that they're getting married. That's just too hokey.
One thinks perhaps there will be an investigation by the ethics committee when M'Clare gets back to Russett College. Then again, this was 1960 (well, written in 1960), Lizzie is 23 and Professor M'Clare is only 36, so I guess not. I found it creepy, but at least it's better than how Heinlein would have written it. (Let's see, M'Clare would have been about 250 years old and Lizzie his 14-year-old granddaughter and she would have proposed to him, right?)
I found "The Lost Kafoozalum" an entertaining story, but definitely dated. I wouldn't have pegged it for a Hugo nomination, but then again, I don't know what the competition was in 1960. Maybe that was the best there was. And I did find the premise and the writing style enjoyable.