Badge of Infamy
By Lester del Rey
Published by Librivox
Read by Steven H. Wilson
Sometimes, without meaning to, I overlook some of Science Fiction’s finest classic writers. I fear I must admit that when listing such writers in my mind I frequently forget Lester del Rey and that is a grave insult to him and his stories. Take Badge of Infamy, for example. Here is a story that has action, well-drawn characters, a serious message and also a darned good plot.
The story centers on Daniel Feldman, who was a doctor in good standing in Earth’s Medical Lobby until he made the mistake of saving a life, outside of a hospital, in violation of the Medical Lobby’s laws. Now (at the beginning of the story) he is officially a pariah, shunned, or worse, by all and forbidden to touch another patient on pain of death.
One thing leads to another and he boards a ship bound for Mars under false papers identifying him as a spaceman. When found out, he is stranded on Mars. Through luck and a mysterious benefactor, he has just enough air to get to safety. The problem is that even on Mars he is a wanted man and his ex-wife is in charge of the Medical Lobby on Mars.
Things are more relaxed on the colonial planet and Feldman is able to make a living acting as a healer among the colonists who value his knowledge and skill and do not really care where he came from. When Feldman investigates a strange “Martian Plague,” however, he finds a deadly disease poised to wipe out the entirety of the Martian colony and a fair part of Earth’s population as well. The Medical Lobby seems to be unwilling to do anything about the plague and so it falls to Feldman to find, not only the cause of the plague, but the cure as well.
The story is great on its surface, but is also an interesting bit of commentary, not only on the medical industry, but the nature of governments as well. In this future history, the power is split between the Space Lobby and the Medical Lobby and the two great unions respect each other’s respective territories so they do not seem to be in competition. Instead they act as a composite machine that grinds down the lives of the people they control.
Steven H. Wilson of the Promethius Radio Theater, reads the story well with just the right bits of emotion and vocal manipulation to define each of the characters and make the reading interesting without falling full into the trap of “funny voices.” I do not think I have heard anything else read by Mister Wilson, but I intend to find more if I can.
So, we have an interesting story that has a deep message, which, if you are not into such things, can be safely ignored and enjoyed on the surface level. I consider that a mark of great story-telling; handing the reader a moral without pounding it in with a hammer. We also have a fine and ultimately enjoyable reading of the story. I wished I’d known about this one long ago!