Science Fiction & Fantasy

  LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #10. C. N. GLOECKNER “Miscount.” Short story. First published in Analog SF, November 1972. Never reprinted.

   In his introduction to this story, Lester del Rey states his dislike for stories presented in the form of a diary or a series of communications (letters, emails, and so on) between two or more parties, but he decided to include this particular story as an exception to his rule.

   This one consists of a series of messages back and forth an operative for an alien salvage company and its headquarters, back wherever that may be. It seems that they picked up some discarded vacuum suits on the satellite of a planet of a developing culture in an area which was supposed to off limits.

   To correct their error and to stay out of trouble, they decide to replace them with facsimiles, but this serves only to make things worse. Read the title again, and you can easily figures out what goes wrong.

   This is short and cute, designed to give the reader a smile for just a moment before he or she moves on, but to include it in a Best of the Year anthology? Lester del Rey should have followed his basic instincts on this and said no.


Previously from the del Rey anthology: VERNOR VINGE “Long Shot.”

  DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

   #7. TANITH LEE “A Madonna of the Machine.” Short story. First published in Other Edens II, edited by Christopher Evans & Robert Holdstock (Unwin, UK, paperback; no US publication). Collected in Forests of the Night (Unwin, US, hardcover, 1989).

   During her lifetime — she died in 2015 at the age of 67 — Tanith Lee produced perhaps 90 novels and over 300 works of short fiction. She came to my attention in a big way, along with lots of other SF and fantasy fans, with the publication of her “Birthgrave” trilogy, all paperback originals from DAW: The Birthgrave (1975), Vazkor, Son of Vazkor (1978), and Quest for the White Witch (1978).

   What struck me the most about these novels was how she was able to take what on the face of them were pulp-oriented sword-and-sorcery books and give them a solid science fictional background. This wasn’t revealed until the end of the first book, and it fair knocked my socks off.

   “A Madonna of the Machine” takes a standard SFnal idea — that of a dreary super-regulated future in which the inhabitants have no future — and creates a tale in which visions of a rose-angel-goddess begins to appear to several main characters. They have never experienced anything in their lives like this before.

   Told in a lyrical, poetic and eventually magical or even surreal style, style, the effect is almost that of a fantasy tale than science fiction. Tanith Lee was a master of this, and if she hadn’t written more stories than I could ever read, I’d love to have read more of them.


Previously from the Wollheim anthology: KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH “Skin Deep.”

  LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #9. VERNOR VINGE “Long Shot.” Short story. First appeared in Analog SF, August 1972. Collected in True Names … and Other Dangers (Baen, paperback, November 1987) and The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge (Tor, hardcover, November 2001). Reprinted several times, including Explorers: SF Adventures to Far Horizons, edited by Gardner Dozois (St. Martins, trade paperback, April 2000).

   Vernor Vinge not only writes the kind of SF I like to read, but he has won Hugos for three novels he’s written: A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), Rainbows End (2006), as well as two novellas: Fast Times at Fairmont High (2002), and The Cookie Monster (2004). “Long Shot” didn’t win any awards, nor was it even nominated, but it’s a good one.

   For lack of a better word on my part, I’m going to call Ilse an A.I., although that may not be entirely true. She is female, that much is certain, so even though her brain is made of iron and germanium, laced with arsenic, the name Ilse fits her just fine.

   She is also the longest lived of all of Earth’s creatures “and perhaps the last.” Boosted into space and making a loop around the sun to gain acceleration, the ship she controls head off on a voyage lasting one hundred centuries and four light years.

   For what purpose? Although Ilse retains enough of her memory to make the minute changes in course to reach, Centauran system, by the time she nears the end of her voyage, she has forgotten the purpose of her mission, which of course is the entire point of the story. Which also when revealed to the reader, that very same reader will say “of course.”

   The math and the physics are only the clincher. This story is a prime example of hard SF at its finest.


Previously from the del Rey anthology: DONALD NOAKES “The Long Silence.”

  DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

   #6. KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH “Skin Deep.” Short story. First published in Amazing Stories, January 1988. First collected in Stories for an Enchanted Afternoon (Golden Gryphon Press, hardcover, 2001).

   Although she seems to have slowed down somewhat over the last couple of years, Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been one of the most prolific science fiction and fantasy writers over the past 20 years, producing dozens if not over a hundred novels and short stories over that period of time. Not only that, but she was the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction between July 1991 and May 1997.

   She wrote “Skin Deep” long before any of this, however. It was only her third published story, way back in 1988, and it’s a good one. It’s both a subtle and yet very perceptive story about a young man whose lineage is native to a planet that colonists from Earth have landed and are slowly taking over, as colonists from Earth always have a tendency to do, even though they are the “aliens” on the planet.

   He can pass for human for a time, but when that time is up, which happens regularly after a period of so many years, he must leave where he’s been living and go into hiding, perhaps to find others such as himself. This time, however, the adopted daughter of the family he’s been staying with is about to undergo the same Change in her life as well: note the title of the story. Should he go, or should he stay and help her?

   This is a solidly built story, both structured and told well. A future for this young author was easy to see.


Previously from the Wollheim anthology: IAN WATSON “The Flies of Memory.”

  LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #8. DONALD NOAKES “The Long Silence.” First appeared in Analog SF, March 1972. Not reprinted elsewhere.

   This one’s a puzzler. Not only was this story never published anywhere else, but this is the only SF or fantasy story that the author ever had published. What’s worse is that I don’t think the story’s very good.

   The time is sometime in the near future (probably on Earth, but the locale is not entirely clear). The early 70s must have been still in the transistor radio era since this is one of the ideas transported to as I say, a very near future. A technique that protestors (to what is not entirely clear) have found effective to have everyone wear transistor radios around their necks and turn them up to the highest possible volume.

   The resulting din would deafen anyone. The solution found by the police? Use a newly invented machine that at the flip of a switch cuts off all sound altogether. The result? Quoting the last two lines [PLOT WARNING] “Without noise they have to think. If they are forced to think for too long they go mad.”

   In spite of this being a fairly minor effort, those last two lines do make you stop and think, though, don’t they?


Previously from the del Rey anthology: ROBERT L. DAVIS “Teratohippus.”

  DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

#5. IAN WATSON – The Flies of Memory. Novella. First published in Asimov’s SF, September 1988. Expanded into the novel of the same title (Headline, UK, paperback, 1990).

   “The Flies of Memory” begins fine enough, a story told with many layers of meaning, or so it seems. The primary protagonist is Charles Spark, an expert in body language, a skill that places him in high demand by government agencies. And what better time to be called into service than when a mammoth ship from space lands in the Mediterranean, not far off shore from Alexandria.

   The ship is filled with large alien fly-like creatures (therefore immediately dubbed Flies) whose purpose on Earth is not known, but they act like tourists, visiting locales all around the world — the city of Rome most particularly — and committing what they see to memory. Why? No one knows.

   And by the end of the story I don’t think I still really know. It’s a long story, 55 pages in the paperback edition, and there is a quantum jump between the last 18 pages and what has come before, right about the time Spark and the nun who has been acting as the Flies’ guide are invited to enter the aliens’ spaceship.

   What had been an interesting collection of ideas and plot lines involving alien psychology, the mafia, the KGB and the inner workings of the Vatican turns in an instant into another story altogether, one with an ending that tosses away most of what came before, and produces instead … well, all I can say is that I was expecting more — a whole lot more. I’m sorry to say that I missed the boat altogether. You may do better with this one than I did.


Previously from the Wollheim anthology: GEORGE ALEC EFFINGER “Schrödinger’s Kitten.”

  LOU SAHADI, Editor – An Argosy Special: Science Fiction. One-shot reprint magazine. Popular Publications, 1977.

    #1. ROGER DEE – First Life. Short story. First published in Super Science Stories, July 1950. Not reprinted elsewhere.

   This late 70s Argosy Special consists (at first glance) of nine random stories selected from a group of second-rank SF magazines published by Popular Publications in the early 1950s. Assuming you’ll allow me, I’m going to go through the magazine story by story over the next few weeks, and write up my comments on them in a series of individual posts.

   First up is “First Life” by Roger Dee, the working byline of Roger Dee Aycock, born in Georgia in 1914. You may never have heard of him unless you’re a collector-reader of SF magazines from the 50s, even those not in the top three (Astounding, Galaxy, F&SF). He was the author of several dozen short stories in that era, but only one novel, An Earth Gone Mad, half of an Ace Double in 1954.

   In this story a young boy has been in touch with far advanced beings from the stars, and on the fateful night that the story takes place, a small individual spaceship has come to pick him up to meet his future. Unfortunately he also has to say goodbye to his parents and dog, and it isn’t easy.

   The story isn’t told in the most elegant of prose, but it caught my attention anyway. It reminded me of seeing each of my children off to school for the first time, knowing that they wouldn’t ever be the same, once the bus brought them home again. The poignancy is even higher in “First Life,” though, as young Donnie will never be coming home again. You will have to read the story yourself to learn why.

  LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #7. ROBERT L. DAVIS “Teratohippus.” Novelette. First appeared in Worlds of If, November-December 1972. Never reprinted elsewhere.

   If you looked to see who the author of this story was and couldn’t recognize his name, all is forgiven. No one else reading this review will have either — you can bet on that. This was the only SF story that Davis ever had published. The only other story that comes close was “Once Upon a Were-wolf,” which appeared in the November 1969 issue of an obscure horror magazine entitled Coven 13.

   A teratohippus is a gigantic slug-like creature the size of a football field which by means of several external layers of armored exo-skeleton is the only creature that can survive the now frigid climate of the once totally temperate planet of Betul.

   Not much is known about the creatures, but for some as yet unlearned reason they seem to take long migratory treks across some of the most inhospitable expanses of the planet. and of course when a skimmer filled with members of a scientific exploration from Earth is forced to come down in such an area, they do not know how lucky they are that a teratohippus is making such a journey nearby.

   Perhaps I am revealing more than I should, but I will tell you anyway. What they do is to find a refuge in a cavity inside the creature. What’s more, they discover they can change the direction the teratohippus is going from working inside it. This causes a huge dilemma, of course. Saving their lives will come at the expense of the creature’s, not to mention its soon to be born offspring.

   I can’t tell you that I believe all of the alien biology that’s involved, but that’s only the superficial trappings of a good, solidly-told story that happened to catch Lester de Rey’s eye, if no one else’s at the time. And now mine as well, even at this late date.


Previously from the del Rey anthology: R. A. LAFFERTY “Eurema’s Dam.”


SIMON HAWKE – The Dracula Caper. Timewars #8. Ace, paperback original, 1988.

   Monsters (werewolves and vampires) created genetically in the future begin turning up in Victorian England. Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells join with the time-traveling Time Commandos to eradicate the plague.

   The novel is prefaced by several pages of a Time Wars Chronology which I read with about as much interest as I read the potted summaries of fiction in standard literary histories.

   This will probably interest the science fiction fan more than the mystery fan, but the crossover fan (like me) may not find this well enough written to engage either side of his dual personality. Maybe if I had read the eight earlier volumes I would have appreciated this more, but dropping in on it, well along in the series, I found it something of a bore.

   Maybe it’s time to re-read Don Sturdy or Bomba the Jungle Boy.

— Reprinted from The French Connection #75, November 1989.

       The Time Wars series –

The Ivanhoe Gambit (1984)
The Timekeeper Conspiracy (1984)
The Pimpernel Plot (1984)
The Zenda Vendetta (1985)
The Nautilus Sanction (1985)
The Khyber Connection (1986)
The Argonaut Affair (1987)
The Dracula Caper (1988)
The Lilliput Legion (1989)
The Hellfire Rebellion (1990)
The Cleopatra Crisis (1990)
The Six-Gun Solution (1991)

EDITORIAL NOTE:   From Wikipedia: “TimeWars is a series of twelve science fiction paperback books created and written by author Simon Hawke beginning in 1984. The story involves the adventures of an organization tasked with protecting history from being changed by time travelers. In the world of the series, many people and events considered fictional are historical, and vice versa; the action of each book in the series weaves in and out of the events of a famous work of literature. For example, in the first book in the series, time travelers contesting the fate of Richard I of England become caught up in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.”

  DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

#4. GEORGE ALEC EFFINGER “Schrödinger’s Kitten.” Novelette. First published in Omni, September 1988. Published in a single volume by Pulphouse Publishing, hardcover/paperback, February 1992. First collected in Budayeen Nights, Golden Gryphon Press, hardcover, September 2003. Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette of the Year.

   The story begins with a young twelve-year-old girl waiting in an alley at festival time in the Budayeen quarter of the same unnamed Middle-Eastern city where several other works by George Alec Effinger take place. Her purpose: to kill the boy she knows will rape her.

   She does not know the boy, who he is, or anything about him. She knows what will happen only through the visions she has been having, many times over. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he does not. Sometimes she dies, sometime she lives. When she lives, sometimes she dies alone, after a bitter life of prostitution, sometimes she is rescued.

   And these visions alternate in the telling of the story with futures in which she become a noted nuclear physicist, working alongside the likes of Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger, in the era of Einstein, Max Born and Max Planck as they feverishly try to find the mathematics that correctly describe quantum physics.

   It’s quite a mixture. Jehan also has a hand in keeping the Nazis from succeeding in their experiments with the atom bomb. As it turns out, as experienced SFnal readers will quickly deduce, these not exactly visions that Jehan is having while she waits for her would-be rapist in the alley. I think most such readers will catch on very quickly, even before Effinger reveals their secrets, that these are glimpses of parallel worlds. Worlds that are created at every single fraction of a second, and have been since the beginning of time, branching out with the each of the billions of possibilities, continuing on now and the future.

   This is heady stuff, well told. It is no wonder the story won both a Hugo and a Nebula. It was well deserved.


Previously from the Wollheim anthology:   JOHN SHIRLEY “Shaman.”

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