And finally, after looking at various award winners over the past year and articles about authors’ debuts and the novels published in 1979, it has come time to close out this series of articles with a look at some of the non-award winning short fiction published in 1979.
By 1979, Philip José Farmer had published the first three novels in his Riverworld series as well as a novelette set in the same world, entitled “Riverworld.” When he reprinted the novelette in 1979 in his collection Riverworld and Other Stories, Farmer expanded the story from 12,000 to 33,750 words, effectively publishing a new story in the popular series about humanity’s afterlife on an infinite river.
John M. Ford has made the news recently as the rights to reprint his all too few works, plus an unfinished novel, have been disentangled. In 1979 he published six stories in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (his first sale was in 1976). These stories included “Mandalay,” which kicked off his Alternities, Inc. series of stories, as well as “The Adventure of the Solitary Engineer” and “The Sapphire as Big as the Marsport Hilton.”
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro introduced her vampire, the Count Saint-Germain, in 1978 in the novel Hotel Transylvania. In 1979, she published her first short story about him, “Seat Partner,” detailing his experiences on an airplane, a far cry from the historical settings of the novels he usually inhabits.
Reginald Bretnor was born Alfred Reginald Kahn on July 30, 1911 and died on July 22, 1992.
Bretnor’s short story “Earthwoman” was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1968 and his story “The Gnurrs Come from the Voodvork Out” was nominated for a Retro Hugo in 2001. His non-fiction book Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future was nominated for a Retro Hugo in 2004. Bretnor may be best remembered for his series of short shaggy dog stories about Ferdinand Feghoot and published under the pseudonym Grendal Briarton, an anagram of Reginald Bretnor.
“Cat” was originally published in the April 1953 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas. It was translated into French as “Langue de chat” and published in 9th issue of Fiction in August 1954. Annette McComas included it in her 1982 anthology The Eureka Years and it was the first story in the Bretnor collection The Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor, edited by Fred Flaxman in 1997. The story also appeared in The Second Cat Megapack: Frisky Feline Tales, Old and New, edited by Robert Reginald and Mary Wickizer Burgess.
Reginald Bretnor’s title “Cat” refers less to the animal and more to the language spoken by those animals, which Dr. Emerson Smithby and his wife, Cynthia, not only claim to have learned, but also claim they can translate and teach. Their claims wreak havoc for Professor Christopher Flewkes, the head of the language department at Bogwood College, who must try to maintain the college’s reputation amidst Smithby’s spectacular claims and the other professors’ refusal to work in the same department as a man they view as a charlatan.
While “Cat” may not be as humorous as the Papa Schimmelhorn stories of the Feghoots for which Bretnor is best known, it does have its moments of humor as Flewkes and one of the professors in his department, Witherspoon, try to either expose Smithby or place him into compromising positions with the aid of a private investigator. In the end, their attempts to subvert Smithby and his wife prove to be their own undoing.