"The Road to Cinnabar" (1971)
I read this one in Infinity Two, an anthology edited by Robert Hoskins, where it first appeared in the year of my birth. "The Road to Cinnabar" would go on to be the first selection in Bryant's 1976 collection Cinnabar. (SF bloggers Joachim Boaz and 2theD both own copies of Cinnabar, as revealed in this blog post, but I don't think either has written about it yet.)
"The Road to Cinnabar" is a decent story; it reminded me a bit of an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Cinnabar is a city on the coast in a desert. A man, Cafter, walks into the town from the desert, but can't recall how long he walked or where he came from. He sits in a bar for a long time, watching the establishment's owner abuse his staff. Cafter is a labor organizer, and tries to convince the staff to organize, but the staff has no interest in being organized. A giant, a dwarf and an albino with a film camera come into the bar, and are surprised when Cafter addresses them. At the end of the 12-page story it becomes clear that the inhabitants of Cinnabar are robots of some kind and the town is an elaborate film set--the robots are the actors. The giant, dwarf and albino are film crew, and the Cinnabar people (the giant calls them "simulacra") are "conditioned" to not see them. Cafter's having seen them is evidence of malfunction, and he is deactivated so he can be repaired.
The story is well-written, so an acceptable entertainment.
|At Infinity, clothing is optional|
"Audition: Soon to be a Major Production" (1972)
This story appears in Robert Hoskins's Infinity Four, and was not included in 1976's Cinnabar. In fact, I don't think it has ever appeared anywhere else.
"Audition: Soon to be a Major Production" is a humor piece, a parody of adventure fiction. It is too long, 18 pages, but I laughed at some of the jokes so I will have to say this is a positive review. The punchline to the whole thing is that aliens invade the Earth in order to have a subject to film. "I'm told the production will gross an incredible amount in the Rigel System," our first-person narrator passes along to us. I guess Bryant has film on the brain.
Bryant lived for many years in Wyoming, and this story is set in that state. The first seventeen or so pages reads like a pretty conventional mainstream story. We meet our four characters as they party in the mountains after their senior prom: Paul, the Japanese-American who is bitter because of the 1940s internment of his ancestors and lingering racism; Carroll, the cheerleader and valedictorian whose brother committed suicide; Steve, the smart but underachieving slacker kid who wants to be an actor; and Ginger, the girl who feels out of place in the country because she grew up in Cupertino, California. Fifteen years later they meet again back in Wyoming, all of them having suffered setbacks, like divorces and abortive careers in Hollywood or big city journalism. Paul is the head geologist of an energy company that Ginger, reporter at the Salt Creek Gazette and Paul's lover for a period after Paul divorced Carroll, believes is abusing the Indians and the environment. Is Paul despoiling the environment and getting rich to get revenge on Wyoming and show the people of Wyoming how superior he is?
Over the course of his life Steve has often had weird dreams and seen UFOs, and in the last ten pages of the story, when Paul, Carroll and Ginger seek to take advantage of Steve's strange sensitivity to supernatural phenomena, we get the real SF stuff. The ghost of a mosasaur or pliosaur (in the Cretaceous Wyoming was underwater, you know) or some such creature has been scaring the energy company employees. Steve's high school chums want him to help them find it! So they pile into an energy company truck to go look for the ghost. Ginger moans about the environment ("Nobody actually needs air conditioners,") as they drive the mountain roads. When the huge flying ghost scares them they crash, and Paul is killed. Ginger laments that the death of her former boyfriend will probably not stop oil and coal extraction.
"Strata" is competently written but the soap opera stuff and the environmental debates feel tired, and we seem to spend a lot of time meeting these characters for the size of the payoff. Maybe people familiar with Wyoming would get more out of it than I did; one theme of the story seems to be how Wyoming's beautiful terrain and wildlife get under your skin, into your soul, etc.
These three stories are alright, but no big deal.