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Author: Steven H Silver

Random Reviews: “The Pilot and the Bushman” by Sylvia Jacobs

Random Reviews: “The Pilot and the Bushman” by Sylvia Jacobs

Galaxy, 8/51, Cover by Emsh
Galaxy, 8/51, Cover by Emsh

Sylvia Jacobs has a career in science fiction spanning eighteen years, from the publication of “A Stitch in Time” in the April 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and running through the April 1969 issue of Galaxy Magazine, when her story “Slave to Man” appeared. Her body of work, however, is not entirely reflective of that longevity, consisting of eight short stories and two essays, all except one of which were published within a decade of her first appearance.

Her second story, “The Pilot and the Bushman,” appeared in the August 1951 issue of Galaxy Magazine and would eventually be reprinted in Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction the following year. It belongs to the same category of science fiction as Fred Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (originally published in Galaxy as Gravy Planet), using an advertising executive to look at consumerism and aliens, although Jacobs’ work has a very different feel than the more famous story.

Jacobs tells the tale of Jerry Jergens, a New York advertising executive, and the Ambassador from Outer Space.  Following an accidental statement by the Ambassador that aliens had a Matter Repositor which made trade and manufacturing unnecessary, Earth began to suffer from a buyer’s strike. The Ambassador admits that discussing the Repositor was a mistake, but he refuses to deny its existence and interstellar law forbids him from sharing the technology with humans. Jerry, however has an offer to help get the Ambassador out of the fix he’s in. In return for which, Jerry wants to be able to market Earth to aliens, a proposition that the Ambassador does not see as something that can be successful.

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Random Reviews: “Dead Men on TV” by Pat Murphy

Random Reviews: “Dead Men on TV” by Pat Murphy

Full Spectrum, edited by Lou Aronica and Shawna McCarthy, Cover by Peter Stallard
Full Spectrum, edited by Lou Aronica and Shawna McCarthy, Cover by Peter Stallard

Pat Murphy is best known for her 1986 Nebula Award winning novel The Falling Woman or her 1987 Nebula Award winning novelette “Rachel in Love.” The following year, she published the short story “Dead Men on TV” in the debut volume of Full Spectrum, edited by Lou Aronica and Shawna McCarthy.

The unnamed narrator of “Dead Men on TV” spends her nights watching old movies on television, specifically films in which her late father appeared. Through the story, she reveals that her family life had not been great. Her mother was not prepared for the lifestyle that being married to a Hollywood actor entailed and committed suicide when the narrator was young. Her father, who had ignored her mother before she killed herself, shifted his efforts to ignoring his daughter after he was widowed, focusing on his career and living the lifestyle of a star.

Watching television, therefore, is her way of attempting to reconnect with her father’s memory and build an ersatz relationship with him. Her need, however, to watch his films when they are on, no matter the time of day, is clearly unhealthy. Although she has videotaped many of his movies, she feels closer to him when watching them at a time that other people could be watching them as well, leading to many late nights in front of the screen.

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Random Reviews: “The Passing of the Beacon Star” by Chuck Rothman

Random Reviews: “The Passing of the Beacon Star” by Chuck Rothman

Tomorrow, 4/94, Cover by Jacek Yerka
Tomorrow, 4/94, Cover by Jacek Yerka

Chuck Rothman’s story “The Passing of the Beacon Star” appeared in the eighth issue of Tomorrow Speculative Fiction in April of 1994.  Although it has a strong fantasy feel, the story is a science fiction tale, set on another planet in which the human settlers carry around insect-like jerritch on their shoulders.

The jerritch act as retainers of the human’s memories, so individuals have no long term memory. If they need to access details of something that has happened in the past, whether to them or to the world at large, their jerritch plugs its antenna into a port on the human’s neck and allows the person to access the memories they need. This allows each individual to essentially live a variety of lives without reference to their earlier existence and in the process they take on new names and identities.

The story is set in the city of Amak during a festival known as “Choosing Day.” On this date, the citizens of Amak not only choose their new identities, but also choose which House of Guidance, essentially a sect, will guide the city for the next year.

Rothman focuses on a woman who is using the name “Weaver of Colors.”  Wandering through the crowded city aimlessly, she connects with her jerritch looking for a place to get away from the crowds. The jerritch leads her to the Cult of the Beacon Star, which is the current Guiding House for Amak. Unlikely to be selected again, the house is empty except for one of its Holies, the priest who oversees the sanctuary.  Weaver and the priest learn, through their jerritches, that they were once lovers, and although their recollections are limited, they reconnect with each other until the votes are cast and the Cult of the Beacon Star is not longer the guiding light, at which time, Weaver learns more about herself from her jerritch.

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Random Reviews: “Slaves of the Magic Lamp” by Anthony R. Lewis

Random Reviews: “Slaves of the Magic Lamp” by Anthony R. Lewis

Aladdin: Master of the Lamp, DAW 1992, Cover by Maren
Aladdin: Master of the Lamp, DAW 1992, Cover by Maren

In November 1992, Disney released the animated film Aladdin, with Scott Weinger providing the title character’s voice, Linda Larkin portraying his love, Jasmine, and the late and lamented Robin Williams voicing the Genie. About the same time, Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg edited an original anthology designed to take advantage of Disney’s new film. DAW Books published Aladdin: Master of the Lamp in December 1992, containing more than forty original stories by authors ranging from Janet Kagan and George Alex Effinger to Kate Daniel and Mark Aronson.

Atypical of most original anthologies, Aladdin: Master of the Lamp contains two stories each by Jack C. Haldeman II, Anthony R. Lewis, and Barry N. Malzberg. Lewis, who is best known as the Chair of twenty-ninth Worldcon, Noreascon, in 1970, and for the work he has done with NESFA Press, has also written several short stories, including “Fair Exchange,” which opens Resnick’s anthology, and “Slaves of the Magic Lamp,” which appears about half-way through.

Lewis elects to structure his story as a tale within a tale, although it isn’t clear that such a conceit is necessary, aside from playing homage to the version of the Aladdin story told in One Thousand and One Nights. In this case, the narrator is Lady Vashti, a cat/shapeshifter who exists outside the bounds of the physical world.

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Random Reviews: “S.P.S.” by Edo van Belkom

Random Reviews: “S.P.S.” by Edo van Belkom

Tails of Wonder, Spring 1993, Cover by Calliope
Tails of Wonder, Spring 1993, Cover by Calliope

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.

One of the magazines in my collection is the first issue of Tails of Wonder, dated Spring 1993 and edited by Nicolas Samuels. According to a card tucked into the issue, the magazine was previously called (or meant to be called Sharp Tooth), but a name change occurred prior to publication. The magazine does not seem to have any existence on the internet that was just beginning to appear when it was released and most of the authors who appeared in its pages do not seem to have gone on to publish anything else. I have not been able to tell if there was ever a Tails of Wonder issue #2.

Among the authors who did continue to publish after their appearance in Tails of Wonder was Edo van Belkom, who had already been publishing fiction for three years, under both his own name and the pseudonym Evan Hollander. His contribution to Tails of Wonder is the short story “S.P.S.”  He would reprint the story in his 1998 collection Death Drives a Semi.

By 1993, the idea of virtual reality was mainstream enough that the next year the television show Mad About You included an episode in which one of the main characters decided to invest in a virtual reality device.  In van Belkom’s story, “S.P.S.” stands for “sensory perception simulators” and are beginning to be marketed to the general public.  The story is told from the point of view of the woman whose husband, Marty, has decided to buy one of the units.

Right from the beginning of the story, with the opening line, “My husband died during childbirth,” the reader knows this story isn’t going to have a particularly happy ending.  However in the slightly over two pages the story runs, van Belkom manages to accomplish a great deal with both technological extrapolation and character.

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Random Reviews: “Rocketship Red” by Michael R. Colangelo

Random Reviews: “Rocketship Red” by Michael R. Colangelo

Tesseracts 14, Edited by John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory, Cover by Erik Mohr
Tesseracts 14, Edited by John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory, Cover by Erik Mohr

Michael R. Colangelo’s “Rocketship Red” was published in the fourteenth installment of the long-running Canadian anthology series Tesseracts, a volume edited by John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory in 2010.  In addition to writing short fiction, Colangelo has served as a reviewer for FearZone and the fiction editor for The Harrow, an on-line zine that ran from 1998 until 2009.

“Rocketship Red” feels a bit like a throwback piece, the sort of story aimed at juveniles in the 1950s, which gives it an almost instantaneous feeling of nostalgia. It opens with Eagan running through the Canadian wheatfields near his father’s soy farm, flying a bright red kite and pretending the kite is a rocket and he’s its intrepid pilot. Although Eagan hated working the soy farm, he knew it would be his life, however a visit from two American air force captains who were coming to buy soy, would change the trajectory of his life.

Eagan’s interest in rockets and space, however, causes him to forge a bond with Captain Sampson, who tells Eagan to reach out to him when he turns seventeen and is able to attend “rocket flying school,” a phrase that reinforces the nostalgic element of the story. The rest of the story briefly outlines Eagan’s conflict with his father over leaving the soy farm, his attendance at the Flight Academy, and his career as a pilot, all covered in less than three pages.

If that seems like a lot to fit into a few short pages, it is. In many ways Colangelo’s story feels more like an outline for a longer story, or even a novel, that could follow Eagan’s journey from soy farmer’s son to cadet at the academy to his career flying rockets for the air force with explorations of Sampson’s mentorship of him.  Furthermore, Colangelo introduces various throw-away concepts in the story, such as antimatter farming projects, dark zones in space, and the rift.  None of these are given any detail, but they do serve to provide broad strokes for Eagan’s career.

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Random Reviews: “Children of a Greater God” by Julian Flood

Random Reviews: “Children of a Greater God” by Julian Flood

Interzone, October 1992, Cover by Tony Roberts
Interzone, October 1992, Cover by Tony Roberts

One of the issues with selecting stories to read using a completely random method is that some of the stories won’t be of particular interest, won’t completely succeed (or in some cases fail entirely), or not be particularly noteworthy. Eight weeks into this series, I have come across a story that I didn’t entirely bounce off of, but which didn’t really work for me. It has some interesting ideas behind it and I think it is clear that the author knew what he had in mind. I just don’t think he was particularly successful in translating it to the page.

Julian Flood published ten short stories, with nine of them appearing between 1992 and 1997 and three of those appearing in the first year. Half of his fictional output appeared in the pages of Interzone. The August 1992 issue of that magazine (whole number 62) contained his third story, “Children of a Greater God.”

The action is set on the planet Dub’s World, which is not conducive to human existence. The atmosphere of the planet is such that people need to have their bodies rebuilt each evening, although Flood isn’t entirely clear on the various mechanisms that cause this to happen aside from some hand waving about the atmospheric composition of the planet and people connecting to robots for the rebuilding.

Flood’s narrator is either an alternative comedian or a private eye (or some combination of both), although there is nothing humorous about his act, which includes self-mutilation and violence. Flood does have his character discuss comedy with the nightclub owner, noting that “Funny’s not what alternative comedy’s about,” although he doesn’t offer what he, or his character, thinks it is about.

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Random Reviews: “BAXBR/DAXBR” by Evelyn E. Smith

Random Reviews: “BAXBR/DAXBR” by Evelyn E. Smith

Time to Come, Edited by August Derleth
Time to Come, Edited by August Derleth, Cover artist unknown

Evelyn E. Smith was born in 1922 and in addition to her career as a science fiction author, which spanned from approximately 1952 until 1985, she also wrote romance novels using the name Delphine C. Lyons and also worked as a crossword puzzle writer. This latter job is very much evidenced in her 1954 story “BAXBR/DAXBR” (also “DAXBR/BAXBR,” its title should appear as two words that cross at the X).

The basic gist of the story is that George, Smith’s main character, often finds himself commuting in proximity to a man he doesn’t know, but things of as “the little man from the Planetarium,” since that is where their pathways often converge.  On rare occasions they greet each other and the man has a strange accent that George can’t place, but that is generally the extent of their interaction.

On the day the story takes place, fate and a crowded subway car throw the two men together. While the little man reads some letters, George tries to ignore him, playing mental games with words in which he ideates a crossword puzzle based on the words he sees. During this time, his eyes happen to fall on one of the man’s letters and he sees a word he is unfamiliar with, “BAXBR.” Rather than assume the word was gibberish, a private joke, or something in code, George obsesses over it.

As it happens, both men find their way to the main branch of the New York Public Library, where their paths diverge. George finds himself searching for the word in the dictionary and, when he can’t find it there, tries to find it in dictionaries for several foreign languages, trying to get a clue for the word’s origin from the man’s incomprehensible accent. Even the reference librarian who tried to help George was unable to find the word.

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Random Reviews: “Final Report” by Richard Grey Sipes

Random Reviews: “Final Report” by Richard Grey Sipes

Analog, January 1965, Cover by John Schoenherr
Analog, January 1965, Cover by John Schoenherr

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.

“Final Report” by Richard Grey Sipes appeared in the January 1965 edition of Analog Science Fiction – Science Fact, an issues more noted for including the first part of Frank Herbert’s serial The Prophet of Dune, which would eventually be published as the second part of the novel Dune. The issue also included stories by Christopher Anvil, Harry Harrison, John T. Phillifent, and James H. Schmitz.

Sipes was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania and in 1928 and died in Missouri on June 12, 1989. He worked as aan Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Long Island University and was a cross-cultural correlation methodologist who wrote several papers on the topic, including “War Sports and Aggression: An Empirical Test of Two Rival Theories” and “War, Combative Sports, and Aggression: a Preliminary Causal Model of Cultural Patterning.”

“Final Report” really doesn’t qualify as a short story. There are no characters and it has no plot. Instead, the piece is a written as an army evaluation of new communications equipment. Sipes’ language and format follow a very proscribed and technical manner and he commits fully to the piece. Unfortunately, this has the effect of making the essay dry. The reader keeps expecting Sipes to deviate and throw in something humorous or off kilter as the testing of the equipment enters the science fictional realm, however the entire article is written almost straight faced.

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Random Reviews: “Blue Haze on Pluto” by Raymond Z. Gallun

Random Reviews: “Blue Haze on Pluto” by Raymond Z. Gallun

On February 18, 1930, Clyde W. Tombaugh, a 24-year old astronomer, noticed a miniscule dot that flickered when he ran two astronomical slides through a device known as a blink comparator.  Tombaugh had been working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona since April of the preceding year trying to find an hypothetical ninth planet that Percival Lowell had predicted would exist.  Tombaugh realized he had made the discovery and reported the news to his superiors. The news of the discovery was announced on March 13 and the new planet would be named Pluto, at the suggestion of an eleven year old girl, Venetia Burney, whose great uncle, Henry Madan, had suggested the names Phobos and Deimos for the two moons of Mars 52 years earlier.

The first science fiction story to be published that mentioned Pluto appeared in Fall of 1930 when John W. Campbell, Jr. published the story “The Black Star Passes” in Amazing Stories Quarterly.  Other stories followed suit and in the June 1935 issue of Astounding Raymond Z. Gallun published the story “The Blue Haze on Pluto.”

Gallun’s story opens with the aftermath of the crash of a transportation craft on Pluto’s surface. His protagonist, Terry Sommers, is injured and willing to wait for rescue until he remembers that the person in the seat in front of him, Dr. Cairns, had commented that he was transporting a serum to cure Sylfane plague that had struck the city of Pindar. Upon discovering that Cairns, along with most of the other passengers, had been killed in the wreck, Sommers decided it was his duty to try to make it to Pindar with the serum, despite a broken arm.

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