The husband and wife team of Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem published the short story “The Perfect Diamond” in the first issue of Fantastic Worlds in 1996. This incarnation of Fantastic Worlds was a fanzine edited by Scott A. Becker, and was unrelated to an earlier fanzine of the same name published in the 1950s by Sam Sackett and Edward W. Ludwig. It isn’t clear how many issues Becker published, but the first issue included fiction not only by the Tems, but also Jeff VanderMeer, Stepan Chapman, Ken Rand, James S. Dorr, and other authors.
Christopher has just been released from jail with a small amount of money in his pocket and a nearly perfect diamond, which he had owned for as long as he can remember. In his memory, there was a time that the diamond was flawless, but at some point it somehow developed a gouge. Although he always carries the diamond with him, there are few people in his life who know of its existence.
During his first day of release, Christopher wanders through town, trying to figure out where to live and what to do with his life. He bumps into Gina, his ex-girlfriend, in a bar. Their connection goes poorly and Gina leaves him with a taunt that as long as he has his perfect diamond, he doesn’t need anything else, clearly unaware that the diamond is no longer perfect. He also bumps into the father who adopted him, another person who knows of the diamond, although his father doesn’t mention the diamond.
Eventually, Christopher finds a flophouse to live in and begins to move on with his life, fretting about the damage to the diamond and the fact that it keeps getting worse, especially each time he interacted with anyone, whether it was Gina, his father, or the obese man who lived under the stairs at his flophouse.
The story is an extended metaphor with the diamond representing Christopher’s life and self-image. When he pulls away from people, the diamond suffers further damage, whether the person tries to help him or not. Unfortunately for Christopher, he is so intent on himself, that he can’t see when someone is trying to help or not and he can’t allow anyone into his life. Eventually, he finds someone who is clearly more broken than he is and he sets out to help her and forge a connection to someone who isn’t himself.
Ultimately, “The Perfect Diamond” is less than satisfying as a narrative, focusing too much of its attention on the metaphor that the diamond represents to Christopher. Seen through Christopher’s eyes, the other characters are merely inconveniences rather than people, and even when he finds someone to help, she is invisible and less than a complete person, reflective of his own sense of self worth.
Steven H Silver is a nineteen-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.