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

   #3. GORDON EKLUND “Underbelly.” Short story. First published in Worlds of If, September-October, 1972. First collected in Retro Man: Selected Stories, Volume Two (Ramble House, trade paperback, 2016).

   Author Gordon Eklund broke into the the ranks of professional science fiction writers in a big way. From his Wikipedia page:

   “Eklund’s first published SF short story, ‘Dear Aunt Annie,’ ran in the April 1970 issue of Fantastic magazine and was nominated for a Nebula Award. Eklund won the Nebula for Best Novelette for the 1974 short story ‘If the Stars Are Gods,’ co-written with Gregory Benford. The two expanded the story into a full-length novel of the same title, published in 1977.”

   Between 1971 and 1980 he had some 16 novels published, then except for one novel in 1989, he and his writing virtually disappeared from view. I really shouldn’t speculate in print, but in cases such as this, it is often that contracts dried up and/or he decided to keep his day job.

   As for “Underbelly,” it reads like the first chapter of a much longer book. Why Gabriel Solar, living in an vaguely established post-apocalyptic village, is chosen to be the subject of a b experiment designed to enhance the physical powers of living beings conducted by two scientists with two differing approaches, working in a well-guarded compound nearby is only partially referred to.

   Even less clear is what will happen to Gabriel once he’s been given the gift of physical perfection. Can he return to his home where he’s now superior to everyone, making the rest of his life a very uncertain one?

   Which of course is the point. I’d like to read the rest of the story, though — the part that follows this one. My first reaction was that it could have been a lot more interesting than the snippet we’re given here — but then again perhaps not. Thinking about it later, I decided that just maybe what Eklund gives us in “Underbelly” is all we need, allowing us to fill out the rest of the story on our own.

   Conclusion: While not perfect by any means, this is a better story than I thought it was when I first read it.


Previously from the del Rey anthology: ROBERT SILVERBERG “When We Went to See the End of the World.”