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Author: Steven H Silver

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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Random Reviews: “Nobody Named Gallix” by Lou Fisher

Random Reviews: “Nobody Named Gallix” by Lou Fisher

F&SF, 1/75, Cover by Mazey and Schell
F&SF, 1/75, Cover by Mazey and Schell

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.

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Random Reviews: “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman

Random Reviews: “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman

F&SF, 2/52, Cover by Chesley Bonestell
F&SF, 2/52, Cover by Chesley Bonestell

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.

“Minister Without Portfolio” was Mildred Clingerman’s debut short story and first appeared in the February 1952 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It is the sort of short story which occasionally appears, but not often, but perfectly captures the time in which it was written.

Mrs. Ida Chriswell is a widow living with her son and daughter-in-law, and, in fact, living in some fear of her daughter-in-law.  Not particularly worldly, she has few hobbies aside from crocheting, apparently has few friends, and little interest in the world around her.  As the story opens, she is going out to try her hand at bird watching at her daughter-in-law’s insistence, although Ida points out that her inability to see color, reflective, perhaps, of the drab existence she has, will limit her enjoyment of the pastime, which she isn’t actually interested in. Her daughter-in-law’s insistence and her own desire not to rock the boat, results in Ida heading out to an empty field to watch birds, or at least pretend to watch birds while she sits by a tree and crochets.

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Random Reviews: “Night of the Cooters” by Howard Waldrop

Random Reviews: “Night of the Cooters” by Howard Waldrop

Omni cover
Omni, April 1987

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.

“Night of the Cooters,” originally appeared in the April 1987 issue of Omni, edited by Ellen Datlow. Howard Waldrop has explained that he was inspired to write the story while on a fishing trip with Chad Oliver shortly before LoneStarCon I, the 1985 NASFIC, and proceeded to write the story between his arrival at the convention and his scheduled reading the next day.

Set in the small Texas town of Pachuco City in 1898, Waldrop focuses his story on Sheriff Bert Lindley, who simply wants to keep the peace in his town.  A typical day includes him having to serve summonses, talk to two young boys who stole peaches from the wrong orchard, and try to cope with the horrendous Texas heat.  Lindley knows everyone in town and their stories and knows how to get his job done.

Until a meteorite falls at the Atkinson place and everybody began to head over to take a look to see the oddity.  After taking accounting of the various cows that were killed by the meteorite, Lindley left some of his men to keep watch on it and make sure nobody did anything stupid while Leo Smith, who was home from college, reached out to professors at the University to see if they wanted to take a look.

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Erekosë and Me

Erekosë and Me

The Eternal Champion
The Eternal Champion, Cover by Frank Frazetta

Michael Moorcock’s Erekosë saga is contained in three novels, and graphic novel, and a couple of short stories which were incorporated into his novels of Elric, Corum, and Hawkmoon.  I was first introduced to the character when I came across him in those interpolated adventures and I sought out his own novel, The Eternal Champion. When I first read it in the early 1980s it became one of my favorites of Moorcock’s novels.  At the time, I had some difficulty tracking down the second novel, The Silver Warriors (original title Phoenix in Obsidian), which I eventually did at a used bookstore in New Haven, Connecticut. I then had to wait several years for the publication of The Dragon in the Sword, which linked Erekosë with Moorcock’s von Bek family.  It was only much later that I came across the graphic novel, The Swords of Hell, The Flowers of Heaven, written by Howard Chaykin, which is set between Phoenix in Obsidian and The Dragon in the Sword.

The series begins with John Daker, a married man with a child, who lives in London, although his wife and child are forgotten throughout the books. After a series of troubling dreams, Daker finds himself pulled into a different world, where he is informed by King Rigenos that he is Erekosë, the Eternal Champion of Humanity, and must help destroy the evil Eldren who threaten their existence. Yearning to return to the life he knew as Daker, Erekosë accepts his role unquestioningly and adapts quickly to his new existence. In many ways, he is a troubling aspects of the Eternal Champion.

Although his summoning is similar in many ways to the manner in which Corum is summoned at the beginning of The Bull and the Spear published a couple years after The Eternal Champion, one of the major differences between the two characters is that Corum was native to his world and Daker was not.  Enough of Daker remained within Erekosë, especially at the beginning of the novel that as a human raised on twentieth century earth the idea of being surrounded by slaves should have caused some issues. Similarly, for someone for whom World War II was such a recent memory, the idea of leading a genocide against the Eldren should have caused some moral qualms.

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Random Reviews: “The Yeast Men” by David H. Keller

Random Reviews: “The Yeast Men” by David H. Keller

Amazing Stories, April 1928
Amazing Stories, April 1928, cover by Frank R. Paul

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.

The Yeast Men,” which originally appeared in the April 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, was the second science fiction story published by David H. Keller, M.D., as his byline often read. He had actually been publishing as early as 1895, with the story “Aunt Martha” in Bath Weekly, under one of many pseudonyms that he used. He is believed to have been the first psychiatrist to write science fiction.

When Hugo Gernsback launched Science Wonder Stories in 1929, he listed Keller as the magazine’s Associate Science Editor. Keller also served as the editor of Gernsback’s Sexology magazine from 1934 to 1938.  Keller lived from 1880 to 1966. He served in the US Medical Corps during World War II. A fan of H.P. Lovecraft, Keller was able to provide August Derleth with a sizable loan to keep Arkham House from going bankrupt during a period when there were cashflow issues.

“The Yeast Men” is set in 1930 in the fictitious European countries of Eupenia and Moronia. Premier Plautz of Eupenia is planning ahead for the next war with Moronia with the plan of utterly destroying the neighboring country, much as Cato the Elder ended every speech by calling for the destruction of Carthage, Plautz ends each speech calling for the destruction of Moronia.

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