A classic bit of sci-fi from 1951, presented here with some background info about how it came to be - this is a pretty nice format, I'd be very happy to read a lot more of these Rosetta e-books. The background info is just enough to place it in the overall world of SF, and not so much you're dazed and confused with names and magazines. In particular, there's some nice biographical detail about the cantankerous Harold Gold, who commissioned this story, and del Rey himself (who with his wife Judy, much later started the legendary del Rey imprint and then went and inflicted Terry Brooks on all of us. I forgive him. I do.)
So basically the plot is simple: We have transporter technology but it's an equal exchange system (mass for mass) and it's an instant exchange system - send a thing, get back a thing. It's not intended for the portals to stay open, so when an accident causes the portal to get jammed open, the unthinkable happens: Our atmosphere starts being teleported to a planet on the other side of the galaxy. And we start getting theirs, except, theirs isn't oxygen, it's chlorine.
It's up to two men, one woman and a sentient polygamous tree to solve the problem before two worlds are poisoned, or worse the US drops a bomb on the whole deal, which the techs think will probably just jam the portals open forever, sealing everyone's fate.
- This is a particularly interesting story for a number of reasons:
Humanity stumbles on the beginnings of transporter technology, and that's the trigger for observing aliens to step in and finish it off for us with tech far beyond our means.
- By making it high tech, but we don't even understand it, del Rey gets to write a fairly hard sci-fi story but without bogging down in actual technical detail. This is far less about the tech than it is about the effect the tech has on our society and culture.
- That means we've now got instantaneous travel and trade with other alien cultures, without having created either space travel or even conquered our own solar system. Comparatively, we're not just primitives, but seem to be acting like it. Babes in the woods. Naturally that doesn't sit well - how can we be the inferior species?
- There's a woman high up in the chain of command, and she's sexually aggressive (don't worry, this is no romance.) That must have been far far out there back when this was written. It's interesting to read, because it was so unexpected.
- del Rey is clearly fond of engineers and not so much of politicians, which pretty much fits my world view, so there's a lot of fun to be had there.
There's a couple of plot points that are mentioned to be editorial suggestions, later removed, but this is the original text of the first published version. I think I'd like to read the later version where those two small things were reverted. I don't think I'd like to read this in novel length, the story is exactly right for this novelette format.
I'd highly recommend this wee treasure to anyone who's interested in trying out some of the classic 50's era sci-fi, but can't figure out where to start (or has been burnt by trying to wade into all that by themselves - lord knows I have.)