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.
Van Belkom won the Bram Stoker Award for his short story “Rat Food,” co-written with David Nickle. He has won the Aurora Award three times, for the short story “Hockey’s Night in Canada,” for editing Be VERY Afraid!, and for his novel Wolf Pack. He has written erotica under the pseudonym Evan Hollander and has written at least two Deathlandsnovels using the James Axler house name.
In the 1990s Mike Resnick published several alternate history anthologies, including Alternate Tyrants, which took various world leaders and put them in a situation which allowed them to exercise their dictatorial desires. Edo van Belkom’s submission was “The October Crisis,” a Canadian alternate history which has never been reprinted.
“The October Crisis” of the title of Edo van Belkom’s alternate history was a period that lasted for most of October in 1970 when members of the Front de libération du Québec took hostages in Quebec in an attempt to forward their separatist movement. While Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau implemented the War Measures Act, permitting himself a wide range of powers, the measures expired in November in our own timeline. In the world of van Belkom’s story, Trudeau continued to use the powers to suppress any dissent, political or journalistic.
The story follows our own timeline pretty closely until Trudeau decides to use the acts powers against the kidnappers directly, and also orders the secretive murder of the released kidnapping victim in order to drum up further support for his policies. At this point in the story, van Belkom switches point of view to have the leader of the opposition, Robert Stanfield, describing Trudeau’s excessive actions to Richard Nixon to attempt to get the US to intervene in the growing tyranny in Canada. Van Belkom introduces some ambiguity at this point, leaving the question open as to whether Nixon will respond to Stanfield’s pleas to help, or give into his own tyrannical tendencies to model his own manner of leading the US after the policies instituted by Trudeau.