Birthday Reviews: L. Sprague de Camp’s “The Figurine”
L. (Lyon) Sprague de Camp was born on November 27, 1907 and died on November 6, 2000.
De Camp won his only Hugo Award in 1997 for his non-fiction book Time & Chance: An Autobiography. He also won the International Fantasy Award for the non-fiction book Lands Beyond, written with Willy Ley and won the British Fantasy Award for The Fallible Fiend. In 1996 he was recognized with the first Sidewise Award for Lifetime Achievement and in 2003 received a Southeastern SF Life Achievement Award. He was named a Grand Master of Fantasy with a Gandalf Award in 1976 and received a Forry Award in 1977. In 1979 SFWA named him a Grand Master and in 1984 he received a Life Achievement World Fantasy Award. H was inducted into the First Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1989 and, along with his wife Catherine Crook de Camp, earned a Gallun Award in 1993. SFRA presented him with a Pilgrim Award for lifetime contribution to SF and F scholarship in 1998. De Camp was the author Guest of Honor at Tricon, the 24th World Science Fiction Convention held in Cleveland in 1966.
“The Figurine” was first published in the February 1977 issue of Fantastic, edited by Ted White. De Camp included it in his 1980 collection The Purple Pterodactyls, which was translated into German in 1982 by Thomas Schlück. The story has not, otherwise, seen print.
A trip to Guatemala in “The Figurine” results in Willy Newbury returning home with a small statue of a god that he places in his office. His children begin to joke that the god is ruining the television reception and they jokingly give the god a sacrifice of some plastic flowers, which clears it up. Newbury doesn’t really believe that the statue has magical powers, but he brings it along on a business trip, where he finds himself in the middle of a riot. He jokingly offers to sacrifice a chicken to the statuette in return for escaping unharmed. When he manages to get away from the rioters and gets home, he suddenly finds that things that were working previously aren’t anymore, and the figurine is no longer fixing things for plastic flowers.
When Newbury takes the statue to a friend who works at a museum, he identifies it as not exactly being a fake, since it wasn’t of recent manufacture, but not being particularly antique. His friend also knew of someone, a Guatemalan gambler, who would be interested in acquiring it. Newbury, unable to take any of the story seriously, refuses to sell the statue, instead allowing whatever fate had in store for him come to fruition, although things didn’t quite work out the way he planned and he winds up with nothing.
The story is a familiar one and other authors have handled the material better. In some ways, while it feels complete, it also feels as if it is an outline for a longer work. It also, strangely, seems like a story that should have been written by a different author. De Camp should have been able to bring more historical depth to the story rather than providing only an imprecision to his background.
Reprint reviewed in the collection The Purple Pteradactyl, by L. Sprague de Camp, Phantasia Press, 1980.
Steven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.
What was interesting to me in that issue of Darrell Schweitzer’s long conversation with Lin Carter about the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series.