Throughout 2022, I’ll be reviewing short stories. Some of these may be classics, others forgotten. The two things that all will have in common is that they are part of my personal collection and they will be selected through a randomization process. What works and authors I look at will be entirely selected by a roll of the dice.
Lou Fisher published his first story in 1958 and then took a fifteen year break before his second story appeared. He published in spurts from 1973 through 1992, with four stories appearing between 1973 and 1975, three stories in the eighties, and two more in the 90s. After 1992, he took a break of 19 years before his most recent story appeared. In addition to those eleven short stories, he also published two novels, SunStop 8 and The Blue Ice Pilot.
Fisher’s fourth short story, “Nobody Named Gallix” appeared in the January 1975 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It would be reprinted a year later in a German translation, but has never been reprinted in English.
The story follows a human who is emphatically not named Gallix, but since he is never given a name, that is how he’ll be referred to here. Gallix is a prisoner in a war between human forces and some form of alien army. Since His minders appear to be differently shaped creatures, it is possible that their army is made up of a variety of aliens, but it is never made clear. Instead, Gallix focuses his story on his current minder, and orangish-yellow triangle who seems more amendable to talk to him than most.
Gallix has been given a task, although it seems ridiculous on the surface. He must watch a bubble in a tube and if it rises too high or drops too low he must make an adjustment with a lever. He doesn’t know why he must do this and none of his minders feel the need to give him an explanation, except that if he lets the bubble get too high or too low he’ll receive a shock.
The majority of the story is about Gallix trying to get information about where he is, why he is monitoring the lever and bubble, and what his real name is. He has no real sense of the passage of time and couldn’t begin to guess how long he has be following the same routine. At night, when he’s returned to his sleep cubicle he tries to find out what the other humans who are being held captive are doing. All seem to have similarly tedious jobs without explanation.
Fortunately, Fisher is able to pace the story properly without trying to drag it out too long. Gallix is eventually entrusted with his task without supervision, although his minder does let him know that despite its menial nature, his control of the lever is of vital importance and allowing the bubble to go too high or too low could actually mean disaster.
Eventually, Gallix is able to learn what his role on the ship, as well as those of the other prisoners actually is and they all are vital. When the ship is captured by other humans, Gallix learns that he and the other prisoners were all functional parts of the computer which made sure the ship remained on course. The bad news is that even though the humans now control the ship, those former prisoners who were trained in running the computer are still necessary. However, knowing his purpose, working for his own species, and knowing how much longer he has to do the task are enough to change Gallix’s feelings about the task, even if he still doesn’t remember his name.
There is nothing particularly distinctive about “Nobody Named Gallix” that would cause it to stand out, especially since the issue also contains the second half of Venus on the Half-Shell by “Kilgore Trout” (actually Philip José Farmer), and a story by Zenna Henderson. However, it is clear to see that Ed Ferman felt that Fisher’s story was a reasonably light tale that didn’t overstay its welcome.
Steven H Silver is an eighteen-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, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.