Browsed by
Author: Steven H Silver

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.

Read More Read More

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.

Read More Read More

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.

Read More Read More

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.

Read More Read More

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.

Read More Read More

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.

Read More Read More

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.

Read More Read More

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.

Read More Read More

Now Streaming: Sliding Doors

Now Streaming: Sliding Doors

Sliding Doors
Sliding Doors

Although the 1998 romantic comedy Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, and Jeanne Tripplehorn may not immediately spring to mind as a science fiction film, it is one of the two micro-alternate history films that can be used to really explore the concept of alternate history on the personal level, the other being the 1946 Christmas Classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Both films focus their attention on how things would have been different if things had worked out differently. In George Bailey’s case, Clarence shows him what Bedford Falls would have been like if he had never been born. Sliding Doors explores two alternatives for Paltrow’s Helen.

The film opens with Helen (Paltrow) heading into her public relations office for a normal day.  When she arrives and learns that she has been fired on trumped up charges, she heads back home.  The film shows her both catching her train and missing the train by moments, setting into motion the branching timelines for Helen’s life.

In the world in which she catches her train, she meets James (Hannah) who tries to jolly her out of her funk. He fails and she returns to her apartment to discover that her boyfriend, Gerry (Lynch) is having an affair with Lydia (Tripplehorn).  Fleeing the apartment, she eventually finds herself staying with her friend Anna (Zara Turner) and bumping into James again in a local restaurant.  Over the next several weeks, she and James become friends, and possibly more, and he encourages her to open her own public relations firm.

In the world in which she misses her train, Helen decides to take a cab home and finds herself on the wrong end of a mugging.  Stopping off at the hospital, by the time she gets him, all evidence of Gerry’s affair is long gone.  While Gerry continues to struggle with his novel, Helen begins working two jobs to try to make ends meet. Gerry continues his affair and also gaslights Helen whenever she begins to question him about things.

Read More Read More

Now Streaming: The One I Love

Now Streaming: The One I Love

The One I Love
The One I Love

The One I Love is the feature film debut of director Charlie McDowell and stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. It was released in 2014. Although the film begins as a reasonably straightforward getaway for Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) at the advice of their therapist (Ted Danson), the story quickly takes a quirky turn, giving it the feel of an episode of The Twilight Zone produced for the big screen.

The first scene makes it clear that at some point prior to the movie, Ethan cheated on his wife, Sophie. Flashbacks show the start of their relationship when everything was fresh and exciting as well as their failed attempts to rekindle those feeling. After listening to them, their therapist offers them access to a country house where they can rediscover each other in a secluded environment, noting that several of his patients have successfully made use of the house.

Upon arriving at the country estate, Sophie and Ethan discover there is a main house and a guest house, both of which they have full access to. After a first night getting used to their surroundings, they begin to explore separately. They also notice some oddities, for instance, Sophie prepares a breakfast of bacon and eggs for Ethan, who comments that she hates it when he eats bacon. Things get even weirder when Sophie mentioned how great the sex was the night before and Ethan has no recollection of having sex with her.

Read More Read More