Sunday, December 30, 2018

Four stories by Evelyn Goldstein from 1959 and 1960

In our last episode we read three stories in 1950s SF magazines by Evelyn Goldstein that were about traditional SF stuff (post-apocalyptic life, robots, genetic science) but also about parenthood in bizarre or difficult circumstances.  I thought all those stories had merit, so let's read four stories from the tail end of Goldstein's brief career as a SF writer.  Just like the three from last time, today's four stories are available for free at the internet archive.

"Man's Castle" (1959)

This is a gimmicky sort of twist ending story, brief and sort of shallow.  A married couple, Arnby and Marilee, live in a village, and through their conversation we learn that the wife spends her time carving the work of important poets into stone; she has just finished up Whitman's Leaves of Grass (carving it in in espanol and francais as well as English) and is going to start on A. E. Housman.  We also learn that her husband has just been elected king.  I thought this was going to be one of those SF stories about how in the future there is no work so people have elaborate hobbies.  But then came a strange passage which suggested that, during a period of government mandated "trial matings," Arnby and Marilee each had sexual relationships with other people.  Finally, at the end of the story, we learn that Arnby and Marilee are among the last hundred or so people left alive on Earth, that a nuclear war sixty years ago when A and M were kids killed almost everybody and left any survivors sterile.  The trial matings, twenty or so years ago, were a vain attempt to find a fertile couple, and all that carving Marilee does a quixotic effort to preserve the height of Earth culture for eternity.

Acceptable but weak.  "Man's Castle" was published in Fantastic Universe, alongside stories by Harry Harrison and Harlan Ellison.

"Man Under Glass" (1959)

Thirty-seven-year-old Craig lives in a domed city, a futuristic metropolis with moving sidewalks where what jobs people work and what clothes they wear and who they marry and how many kids they have is carefully controlled by government.  Tonight is Carnival, an annual celebration, and everybody wears strange costumes and dances in public and throws confetti about--the government head shrinkers think the citizens of this conformist society need one night a year to act wild, getting  drunk and having promiscuous sex, to "let off steam."  But Craig is not losing himself in the party atmosphere; he wears an old military uniform, one to which the revelers respond with unease.  In a series of flashbacks and exposition as we follow Craig's Carnival experience--he encounters a pretty girl who on this festival night is performing as a fortune teller and then a mutant apeman--we learn the history of Craig's future world and his own place in it.

Craig is out of step with his time, an expert on the past and an aficionado of the old ways who works as an archivist.  Over two centuries ago the world was wrecked by an atomic war.  Old nations collapsed and new ones were built under domes, and the public and government revolted against science and the military; mobs lynched service men and many types of scientific research were legally forbidden.  Craig's grandfather was a high ranking military aviator and one of the victims of the mob--the uniform Craig wears is his grandfather's, an heirloom hidden from the authorities.  (People in this story live to be 150 years old, so don't worry your head that there is some oddity about Craig's grandpa being a young man 200 years ago.)

When Craig was a kid it was determined that the air outside the dome was finally safe to breathe, and the dome doors were unlocked, but (as we see in a flashback to Craig's experience on that day) nobody was brave enough to go outside!  The whole human race has agoraphobia!  To this day, though it is not illegal to go outside, there is a powerful social taboo on leaving the dome, and nobody has done it--except our man Craig!

Infertility brought on by nuclear war is a theme in three of the Goldstein stories we have read already, and so it is here in "Man Under Glass"--the number of new births is dwindling, threatening the human race with extinction.  In Craig's youth, scientists developed an artificial means to create people, but almost all the people they were able to brew up in their labs (the "Laborn") were hideous mutants, freaks with wings or lacking limbs or with nebulous blob bodies or whatever.  The common people formed mobs to lynch all these monsters (lynch mobs are a recurring motif of this 30-page tale and we see them in action in another flashback to Craig's incident-rich childhood) but some have survived--on this Carnival night Craig meets two, the aforementioned fortune teller (her mutations are not visible to the naked eye) and apeman.  Craig tries to help the apeman when a mob and the cops come after him, but the simian sport can just teleport to safety and it is poor Craig who is captured by the police.

Goldstein's plot moves at a rapid pace after Craig finds himself in custody, and we readers and our hero are confronted with a whirlwind of developments and twists.  Craig is interrogated by Bordon, the "Chief of Mental Security," who then enlists him to marry his daughter Ann--that beautiful fortuneteller!  One of the lab grown mutants, Ann a psychic who is expected to enjoy a 1000-year lifespan and has been living incognito as Bordon's daughter.  Ann is also a virgin who has been exempted from the government-mandated premarital sex exercises, and when Craig climbs into bed with her to consummate their marriage the psyker teleports away!

Craig is the only normal human able to leave the dome so he is sent out to find Ann and the other lab grown mutants; fortunately they are not shy about revealing themselves to him.  Ann and a similarly gorgeous Laborn man, Everett, tell Craig that they are homo superior, and will be the Adam and Eve of the new human race--it looks like Craig's marriage with Ann is off!  And there is more bad news coming!  Ann and Everett (and even sterile mutants like that apeman) can teleport to other planets and communicate with various alien races.  It turns out that all the aliens are gentle and pacific, just like homo superior, and they don't want violent and aggressive homo sapiens screwing up their peaceful galaxy; Ann and Everett have decided to accommodate them and keep the peace by euthanizing the lot of us!  Fortunately Craig, by pointing out some of mankind's achievements that show an inclination towards peace (like the writings of Confucius and the Magna Carta), convinces the mutants to issue a stay of execution.  Then Craig hurries back to the dome, full of plans to work with more flexible and innovative dome citizens like Bordon to reform the human race so we are worthy to shine the shoes of all those peaceful people out there in space and explore the universe.

"Man Under Glass" is not bad, but it is no big deal.  Goldstein crams in a multitude of common SF elements, from the domed city, a post apocalyptic world, and artificial people to homo superior, the human race on trial and government control of sex, but doesn't do anything terribly new with them.  Maybe the most novel thing is Goldstein's emphasis on puberty and sexual maturity.  Bordon theorizes that, because she is going to live 1000 years, that Ann (though she has the body of a thirty-year old) won't achieve sexual maturity psychologically until she is seventy or eighty years old; in the event it is Craig's sexual advances on their wedding night that shock her into full possession of her galaxy-trotting psychic powers.

"Man Under Glass" was published in Fantastic in the same issue as stories by (among others) Fritz Leiber and A. Bertram Chandler.

"Days of Darkness" (1960)

"Days of Darkness" is probably Goldstein's most critically successful story--according to isfdb, it is the only one to ever be republished.  It first was printed in Fantastic (in the same issue as the first of Keith Laumer's Retief stories) and then was selected by Jean Marie Stine for inclusion in the 2004 e-book Future Eves: Great Science Fiction About Women by Women, which in 2010 was printed as a trade paperback with a slightly different title and additional content.

"Days of Darkness" may have the approval of the feminist cognoscenti and start off with a Bible verse, but it has a B-movie premise!  A flying leech from outer space lands in rural Washington state and begins murdering people living on isolated farms and then entire small towns!  The government has its hands full trying to kill this extraterrestrial menace because most of the time it is invisible--human eyes can only detect it when it is in the act of feeding--draining the blood of its victims!

Martha and Zipporah Otumn (dig the Dickensian name!) are elderly women living in a cottage on the last remnants of the Otumn estate--once, before the automobile, the Otumn family were the leaders of the community, their lumber mill its vital economic engine and their mansion its social center.  But since then the Otumn family has fallen on hard times--they had to sell the mill and move out of the mansion, it being too expensive for them to heat.  Zipporah has been an invalid, bedridden and kept alive by a regimen of pills, for decades.  When the state militia comes to evacuate Otumnville to create a free fire zone for the air force to bomb should their new detection scheme pinpoint the space leech there, M and Z refuse to leave!  In flashbacks and dialogue we learn all the details of the decay of the Otumn family, which can be traced to M and Z's mother's extreme jealousy, and about how Martha put her own desires aside to serve the interests of the family and look after the ungrateful Zipporah.  Back in the present it is not the American war machine that kills the space invader, but Martha--the leech detects its victims by homing in on their selfishness, but selfless Martha is invisible to it!  Martha, wielding a cleaver, is able to strike by surprise as it is sucking Zipporah dry and hack the menace from another world to into bite-sized pieces.

"Days of Darkness" is about the response of Earthpeople to invasion by a giant invisible flying leech from outer space, but it is also about women's difficult sexual relationships with men and, more so, women's difficult relationships with each other.  Goldstein presents us with two extreme versions of archetypes of female behavior--Zipporah and mother Otumn are jealous, envious, selfish and cruel, while Martha is selfless and giving; the jealousy of the selfish Otumn women leads to their own deaths and the collapse of a successful family, but Martha's self-sacrifice saves the world!  I'm tempted to say that Goldstein is putting forward embodiments of how individual women see other women, and how individual women see themselves, but that could just be my own lifelong experience of talking to women coloring my judgement.  There is also the possibility that the story is a lament over the shabby way women treat each other, Goldstein taking the line recently espoused in the 2006 book Tripping the Prom Queen.  More generally and more directly, Goldstein's story exhorts us to put love of others before love of self--Martha's former boyfriend actually spells this out for us on the tale's last page: "the hopes of mankind lie in its selfless people.  Survival will come through the love of one's neighbor over one's self!"  Maybe Goldstein wrote "Days of Darkness" with Cold War implications in mind--maybe she thought we should overlook all that business with the Katyn Forest and Berlin Blockade and Hungarian Uprising and just be nice to the commies!  (Personally I find the idea that the story is about the dangers of irrational female rivalry over men to be more compelling.) 

With its focus on women's relationships and its world-saving heroine, it is easy to see why Stine chose it for Future Eves.  And if you can accept the contortions Goldstein goes through to marry the two forms together (uh, we are invisible to the monstah unless we are selfish and it is invisible to us unless it is eating our blood?), it is also a decent alien invasion story and a decent capsule version of a tragic saga of the collapse of an upper-middle class family.  I like it.

"The Vandal" (1960)

This is, apparently, Goldstein's last published story.  "The Vandal" was boldly announced on the cover of Fear!, a magazine which only ever had two issues, but without the author's name.  This is what the kids call a bummer!

In five of the seven stories by Goldstein we have read the author has cast her gaze forward to observe a world ravaged by nuclear war, and in "The Vandal" she does the same; as she does in "Man's Castle" and "The Land Beyond the Flame" she reveals the nuclear was as part of a twist ending.

Abel is an astronaut, the product of a eugenics program and the first man to land on Venus.  Abel has a lifespan three or four times that of a normal human being, higher intelligence, and various psychological attributes that are designed to allow him to withstand the pressures of being the only man on Venus.  Goldstein narrates how he has explored a desolate cloud-covered wasteland inhabited by only the most primitive organisms as well as a pair of beautiful little Venusioan fairies.  If only the human race could learn to live like these little winged people, who love each other and live in harmony with nature and would never ever engage in an atomic war!

One day Abel discovers that the cave where he has been collecting samples and conducting experiments for almost a year has been ransacked.  Who on Venus could have done such a thing?  Abel searches the grim and inhospitable landscape for the culprit until finally the truth is inescapable--Abel himself vandalized his own research work!  Then comes a realization even more horrible--this desolate planet bereft of higher lifeforms is not Venus but Earth!  Abel went to Venus, met the fairies, and brought the fairies back to Earth, but found the Earth had been devastated by nuclear war in his absence.  His psychological defense mechanisms kicked in, and to keep himself sane he convinced himself that this was Venus, and started collecting specimens of things like amoebas and lichens--the only survivors of the war--and studying them.  Periodically Abel realizes the unsupportable reality and smashes everything in a rage, but then his delusion that he is on Venus starts all over again.  This cycle of thinking he is on Venus conducting explorations, then realizing with horror he is on Earth, the last of the human race, only to start the cycle anew, has been repeating itself for many years.

Not bad.


These stories, with the possible exception of "Man's Castle," are worth reading for conventional entertainment purposes, but I especially recommend them to those interested in SF by women; "Days of Darkness" in particular is about the lives of women, especially how women deal with each other.  On the negative side, in her other stories Goldstein bangs away at the same themes again and again.

I am still enjoying reading all these old SF magazines at the internet archive, and in part because it is convenient (I am away from home and the MPorcius Library) we will continue to explore them in our next installment.

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