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Random Reviews: “The Perfect Diamond” by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem

Random Reviews: “The Perfect Diamond” by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem

Cover by Allan Koszowski
Cover by Allan Koszowski

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.

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Random Reviews: “In the Company of Heroes” by Diane Duane

Random Reviews: “In the Company of Heroes” by Diane Duane

Cover by Bob Warner
Cover by Bob Warner

Diane Duane’s short story “In the Company of Heroes” appeared in Past Perfect, one of the numerous anthologies Martin H. Greenberg co-edited for DAW Books, this time with Larry Segriff. Originally published in 2001, Duane’s story is one of a dozen time travel stories in the book, and she reprinted it a decade later as the lead story in her collection Uptown Local and Other Interventions.

Robert Willingden is an incredibly wealthy and powerful man who has a hole in his life. Much like Charles Foster Kane, he lost the one thing he cared about as a child.  Unlike Kane, he knew exactly what happened to it. His parents had always denigrated his love of comics and he hid them in the attic, carefully retrieving them one at a time to read and then smuggle back to their safe spot until the night there was a fire in the attic. Although the comics made it through the fire, they were lost to a thief who used the hole in the attic caused by the flames to steal his treasure.

He hatched his plan when a priceless clock he owned was damaged. Taking it to a renowned clockmaker in Lucerne, Switzerland, the clockmaker, Uli, indicated the he did more than simply repair clocks and might be able to help Willingden stop the thief from ever having the chance to steal the long missing comics.

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Random Reviews: “In the Bookshadow” by Marianne de Pierres

Random Reviews: “In the Bookshadow” by Marianne de Pierres

Cover by John Picacio

In 2002, Greg Ketter, the owner of Minneapolis’ DreamHaven Books, published the original anthology Shelf Life: Fantastic Stories Celebrating Bookstores. The anthology includes one of my favorite stories, P.D. Cacek’s “A Book, By Its Cover.” It also included sixteen other stories, and, while I have re-read Cacek’s story over the years, I haven’t necessarily re-read many of the other stories since the book was originally published. While the book includes work by major names such as Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe, Charles de Lint, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Harlan Ellison, it also contains stories by less well-known names, including Marianne de Pierres, who had only published a handful of stories when Shelf Life came out, although she has proven to be more prolific in the years since.

Her contribution of Shelf Life is the story “In the Bookshadow,” which explores some of the more marginal customers at a bookstore. Anyone who has worked in retail knows that there are a variety of customer types.  Most come and, make their purchases, and leave, the presence only noted by the brief exchange at the cash register. Others are star customers. The staff knows them and looks forward to their visits. They are personable, spend a lot of money, and make the employees feel as if they are doing a real service. De Pierres’ protagonist is the employee who takes care of the marginal customers who give everyone else the willies.

When she begins to start seeing things out of the corner of her eye in the bookstore, she points them out to the customers, who don’t confirm her visions, but also appear to be doing something to protect her from the strange entities that seem to appear when nobody else is around.

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Random Reviews: “Paramount Ulj” by Avram Davidson

Random Reviews: “Paramount Ulj” by Avram Davidson

Cover by Dember

Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.

I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I role several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing.  This week, I rolled 26,559 which turned out to be Avram Davidson’s short story “Paramount Ulj.”

One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a person point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.

Avram Davidson could be extremely erudite, yet, at the same time, rather silly.  “Paramount Ulj” is a story that tends to fall on the latter side of that spectrum and is completely predictable if you share Davidson’s penchant for wordplay. It is one of his more slight stories, which may explain why its only appearances were its original publication in Galaxy (with translations appearing in the Swedish, French, and Italian versions of the magazine) and in Strange Seas and Shores, one of Davidson’s collections.

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Random Reviews: “The Loser of Solitaire” by Paul David Novitski

Random Reviews: “The Loser of Solitaire” by Paul David Novitski

Cover by Steve Fabian
Cover by Steve Fabian

The introduction to Paul David Novitski’s short story “The Loser of Solitaire” in the January 1979 issue of Fantastic Stories notes “Paul Novitski is not a prolific author.” In fact, he sees to have published a total of five short stories over a period of seven years, with the first two, appearing in 1973 and 1975, published under the name Alpajpuri, and the last three, all appearing in 1979 under his own name.

Novitski tells the story of a man who is looking someone named Zo. Through the course of the story, we learn that this man is a rover, someone who travels at relativistic speeds through space and therefore ages differently than mere mortals. He also has four arms, although at no point does Novitski address whether the arms are natural or an augmentation.

His search for Zo takes him into a night-club/brothel, where he is assaulted by the sights, colors, and sounds while he is being propositioned until he finds Zo. When he does find her, he explains that they have a friend in common, Sergi, although it is unclear how much of a friend Zo considers him. What is clear is that Zo is something of a writer and Sergi had shown the rover some of her writings, which has caused him to want to track her down.

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Random Reviews: “Divina” by Sarah Ash

Random Reviews: “Divina” by Sarah Ash

Cover by Roy Virgo
Cover by Roy Virgo

Sarah Ash’s “Divina: A Tale of Bel’Esstar” is set in her city of Bel-Esstar and focuses on the opera composer Avenel Brumiere and his muse, the Divina Oralie. Unfortunately for both of them, the story opens with Oralie’s costume igniting on the stage lights and the soprano suffering horrible burns all over her body, to which she would succumb despite the intervention of a mysterious doctor.

Part of Ash’s story deals with Brumiere’s attempts to work through his grief at the loss of his paramour and inspiration. As may be expected, Brumiere’s attempts to complete his next opera are stymied by the loss of the only woman he believes would have been able to sing the part he was writing. Dust comes to cover the score he was working on.

When the mysterious doctor appears with the offer to not only help Brumiere through his grief, but also help him regain his ability to compose, Brumiere ignores his offer. At this point, the story appears to move from a study of grief on the creative process into a deal-with-the-devil story, supported by the doctor’s business card which identifies him as Asmodé, who exhibits automata at the House of Asphodel.

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Random Reviews: “The Troglodytes” by Fred M. Barclay

Random Reviews: “The Troglodytes” by Fred M. Barclay

Cover by Morey
Cover by Morey

Fred M. Barclay had a story to tell, “The Troglodytes,” and he told it. Apparently, he said everything he had to say, because there is no indication that he ever published anything else. In Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years, Everett E. Bleiler’s biographical note on Barclay states, “No information.”

Barclay uses a framing technique that was relatively common at the time. His narrator, Joe Everett, is found disheveled by a family on a country road and when they take him in to make sure he is okay, he tells them the story of his adventure, which began with Joe and two of his friends, John and Jim. The three men found a cave and decided to explore it, discovering an ancient civilization living underground and completely divorced from the surface world.

It is clear from the start that John and Jim did not return to the surface world with Joe and the main tension is the story is what happened to them. An initial expectation that they were killed by the troglodytic race known as the Ampu appears to be subverted once the trio meets them. The Ampu are welcoming to them and treat them well, giving them a tour of their subterranean world, almost as if they were honored guests.

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Random Reviews: “The Problem with Reproducible Bugs” by Marie DesJardin

Random Reviews: “The Problem with Reproducible Bugs” by Marie DesJardin

Cover by David A. Hardy
Cover by David A. Hardy

Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.

I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I role several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing.  This week, I rolled 28,223 which turned out to be Marie DesJardin’s short story “The Problem with Reproducible Bugs.”

One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a person point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.

Authors frequently introduce protagonists who are suffering from amnesia, or don’t know where they are, who they are, or what is happening to help provide an entry point for the reader, who often has to have those things explained in a science fiction story. In Marie DesJardin’s story “The Problem with Reproducible Bugs,” Vince’s inability to remember what is going on it central to the point of the story.

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Random Reviews: “The Weather Master,” by Arthur Cave

Random Reviews: “The Weather Master,” by Arthur Cave

Cover by Leo Morey
Cover by Leo Morey

Arthur Cave’s only science fiction story appeared in the July 1935 issue of Amazing Stories. The story looks into the far future of 1980 and while Cave depicts a few aspects of that distant year with some relative success, overall his view of the world seems grounded in a much simpler time.

“The Weather Master” was published in 1935 when the United States and the Soviet Union were engaging in cultural exchanges and an attempt to normalize relations and the Cold War wouldn’t begin in earnest for another decade, Cave foresaw the tension between the superpowers. His 1980 sees a hot war between the two nations with Russia having wiped out the US air fleet and the President working with his War Council to come up with their next steps.

Those next steps involve Professor Wilton, America’s leading (generic) scientist, who just happens to show up at the White House demanding an audience with the President, a demand which is granted, although the President only agrees to give him two and a half minutes. Wilton had spent the past two years incommunicado on an arctic expedition and was widely believed to have died. Instead, he has learned how to control the weather, which provides his answer to how to victoriously end the war with Russia.

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Random Reviews: “Roses” by Deborah Burros

Random Reviews: “Roses” by Deborah Burros

Cover by Ron Walotsky
Cover by Ron Walotsky

Deborah Burros had a relatively short writing career, publishing a total of five stories between her debut in 1991 with “Masks” and her most recent story, “Artistic License,” which appeared in 2002. Three of her stories appeared in the Sword and Sorceress anthology series, while the other two appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. Her middle tale, “Roses,” appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of the magazine.

Burros tells the story of the marriage between Lady Rose and Lord Sleet. It is not a happy marriage, for neither of them loved the other and it was understood by both that Lord Sleet had married Lady Rose for her family’s money and Lady Rose had married Lord Sleet in order to gain a veneer of respectability for a family whose money was apparently made under unsavory conditions. The couple seemed to have come to an arrangements, however, wherein Lady Rose would spend her time cultivating a rose garden and Lord Sleet would spend his time in dalliance with his mistress, Jade.

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