ROBERT SILVERBERG “Double Dare.” Short story. Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1956. Reprinted in The Fifth Galaxy Reader (1961). Collected in The Cube Root of Uncertainty (1970), among others.

   While published before I discovered science fiction magazines at the local newsstand, which would have been a couple of years later, this is the kind of SF story I enjoyed immensely when I did, and which I don’t come across all that frequently any more.

   Which is to say a “nuts and bolts” kind of SF story, in which either a Terran scientist or a pair of engineers from Earth — as in “Double Dare” — are given a problem to be solved, and whatever their motivation, they go ahead and do it.

   In this case, the stakes are raised about as high as they can go, starting with a bet in bar about which of two races, Earth’s or the alien Domerangi, is the better at solving technological problems. To settle the question, a team of two experts from Earth are sent to the Domerangi home planet, where they are presented with three engineering or physics problems to solve, with two of the Domerangi doing the same back on Earth.

   The first two tasks are easy, but the third is a tough one: to build a perpetual motion machine. Given the right incentive — and on a personal level it is to be able to go back home again — the two from Earth … but telling more would spoil the point of the story. Suffice to say that everything works out in very fine fashion, and with a added twist to the tale as well.

   Stories such as this one are built on cheery optimism, I grant you, but they’re also a lot of fun to read.