Time Travel Tuesday: Richard Matheson’s “Death Ship”

 

richard-matheson

Richard Matheson

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story was written by another of the genre’s great ones, Richard Matheson. Matheson began to make a name for himself in 1950 with the publication of his very first story, “Born of Man and Woman,” and he is probably still best known today for I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, two of his earlier novels.

I have a real soft spot for today’s story because it so reminds me of my teenage years when everything was fresh and possibilities still seemed endless. Back in 1963, Twilight Zone was my favorite television series, and I doubt that I missed more than an episode or two during the several successful seasons the series enjoyed. As it turns out, one of the 1963 shows was an adaptation of “Death Ship,” the Richard Matheson story I am featuring today. The show also featured two of my favorite Twilight Zone actors, Jack Klugman and Ross Martin, so it is one of those that particularly stick in my memory. (I doubt, however, that I noticed at the time that it was from a Richard Matheson story.)

The story is about three future space explorers (way up in 1997) whose mission it is to find other planets upon which humans might survive. They are in the process of doing a low-altitude scan of a potential planet when a sudden flash catches the eye of one of the men. Deciding to land near the spot of the flash in order to see what caused it and to collect the usual surface samples, the men are about to get the shock of their lives.

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They discover that the flash of light that earlier caught their attention was a reflection from what seems to be the remnants of a crashed space vehicle much like their own. They are certain that no one could have survived the kind of impact that pushed the rocket’s main structure some fifteen feet below the surface of the hard ground they are standing on, but decide to explore the wreckage anyway. But almost miraculously, they find that the main cabin is still largely intact and manage to pry open its twisted door – where they find three dead crewmen.

Although all of this happens in the first six pages of this twenty-page story, I am going to end my plot summary here so as not to risk spoiling the story for those who have not yet read it. The remainder of the story focuses on the efforts of the three space explorers to understand the meaning of what they have discovered on this nameless planet. As the men consider several theories and the possible personal repercussions of each, the reader has to wonder right along with them as to what it all means.T

So is this a Time Travel story, or is it something else? You’ll have to read “Death Ship” (or watch Twilight Zone) to know the answer to that one.

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