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Literature / Gulf

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Gulf is a science fiction novella by Robert A. Heinlein. The plot revolves around the plans for a superweapon called the "nova bomb" that can destroy entire planets, and a secret society of supergeniuses who hold themselves apart from humanity.

The story first appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1949, serialized over the November and December issues. The impetus for its creation came from a letter published in that magazine a year earlier, which jokingly purported to review the November 1949 issue sight unseen, mentioning several writers and stories by name including Heinlein and "Gulf". The magazine's editor, John W. Campbell, decided to run with the joke and invited the authors mentioned in the letter to write stories with the titles given.

It subsequently appeared in book form in the collection Assignment in Eternity. Several characters reappear or are mentioned in Heinlein's later novel Friday.

This work contains examples of:

  • Captured on Purpose: When FBS agent Joseph Briggs is captured by Mrs. Keithley's men, "Kettle Belly" Baldwin (the leader of a secret society of geniuses) tricks them into thinking he's also an FBS agent so they'll capture him too. His plan is that Mrs. Keithley's operatives will put him and Briggs together so he can trick Briggs into telling him where the "Nova Effect" document has been sent. Later he and Briggs break out together.
  • Counter-Earth: A downplayed variation. In the Back Story, an asteroid called "Earth-Anti" that is always on the other side of the Sun from Earth is destroyed by the "nova effect", a type of hydrogen bomb that can turn a planet into a nova.
  • Doomsday Device: The Nova Bomb, capable of destroying entire planets.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The nova bomb is a theoretical bomb that could destroy the entire Earth.
  • Give Me Back My Wallet: FBS (Federal Bureau of Security) agent Joe Briggs grabs the hand of a pickpocket as he's picking Joe's pocket. Subverted when the pickpocket turns out to be a secret agent who had already switched the wallet for a duplicate.
  • Language Equals Thought: The invented language "Speedtalk", in which each phoneme represents a distinct concept, and each word is an entire sentence.
  • Neck Snap: "Kettle Belly" Baldwin kills two guards this way when he and "Captain Gilead" escape from the New Age Hotel.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: There were plans and prototypes for the "nova effect", but they were destroyed as a security measure, along with everyone involved in creating it receiving hypnotic instructions to forget about it. Two sets of microfilms were made: one was to be taken to Earth for safe keeping, and a backup version was to be destroyed once the first set was safe. After a secret agent arrived on Earth with the first set the order was given to destroy the backups. Unfortunately the agent was pursued by the enemy and had to get rid of the first set before he could deliver them, and they were lost.
  • Red Pill, Blue Pill: When former FBS agent Joseph Briggs goes to "Kettle Belly" Baldwin to try to find out what's going on, Kettle Belly offers to set him up anywhere in the world with an air-tight secret identity and enough cash for a new start. Kettle Belly warns him that this offer is his only chance for a normal, happy life and that if he doesn't take it and gets the answers he's looking for, his life expectancy will significantly decrease. Briggs insists on the truth and ends up joining Kettle Belly's secret society of geniuses.
  • Secret Test: Joseph Briggs is being trained so he can join a secret society of geniuses. His teacher tests his personality in several ways, including not letting him eat or sleep, inflicting intense pain and subtly trying to goad him into irrational actions. He passes with flying colors, continuing to act rationally and reliably.
  • Static Stun Gun: A static stun gun called a "Markheim".
  • Super Breeding Program: A secret group of superintelligent humans who are engaged in a number of long term plans, including a breeding program to increase their own numbers as well as become a physically distinct species no longer capable of interbreeding with homo sapiens.
  • Talking through Technique: Two supergenius spies locked in a monitored cell communicate through a game of cards.