Friday, December 11, 2015

1961 stories by Avram Davidson, Jay Williams, Evelyn Smith & Jody Scott

My eyes are always open, my antennae always quivering, my feelers always...feeling?  Thrift stores, antique malls, the sale shelf of a tiny library in a tiny town I never heard of...classic SF is out there, and it is cheap!  Recently, while in a Fairmont, Minnesota shopping mall on a mission totally unrelated to old books, the wife and I stumbled upon a charity book sale presented by the Rotary.  They didn't even have a cashier or price list, just a box for goodwill donations.  I gave one dollar each for two paperbacks I bought, one of them the 1966 printing of the eleventh The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Robert P. Mills. This collection first appeared in hardcover in 1962, and all the included stories appeared in the magazine in 1961.  Let's check out four of those 15 stories!

"The Sources of the Nile" by Avram Davidson

I feel like it was just last week that I was telling you Avram Davidson was a "C" student and was scrawling a big red "F" on one of his productions.  Luckily this submission merits something in the "C+" or "B-" range.

"The Sources of the Nile" includes the kind of erudite and esoteric references and "word play" that Davidson apparently enjoys indulging in, but, unlike in "The Singular Events Which Occurred in the Hovel on the Alley Off Eye Street," here his schtick is clever and interesting.  I like "One of those tall, cool buildings on Lexington with the tall, cool office girls..." and the references to the Jackson Whites, the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens and Kate Greenaway are intriguing or at least entertaining.

This is one of those stories about a writer who is having trouble making ends meet because the professional publishers and reading public don't appreciate (read: are not willing to pay for) his art.  After a convoluted series of encounters with various characters in the publishing biz and the advertising biz he discovers a family that, in an inexplicable fashion, can predict fads and trends; somehow, they know what clothes will be in style and what sort of books will be bestsellers in the near future.  Such information is extremely valuable, and our hero would love to capitalize on it.  But he is not the only one, and of those seeking to get rich from exploiting this uncanny family's weird ability, he is not the cleverest.

Not bad.            

"Somebody to Play With" by Jay Williams

I don't think I have ever read anything by Jay Williams as an adult, but isfdb is telling me Williams was the primary contributor to the Danny Dunn series of juveniles, and I know I owned and read some of those as a kid.  As a child (I was born in 1971) I was very strongly influenced by Star Wars, and I remember being very disappointed that Danny used the laser in Danny Dunn and the Heat Ray to dry up a puddle in the yard instead of to kill people.

As I might have expected after making the Danny Dunn connection, this is a didactic story about precocious kids!  It actually reminded me of something Heinlein might do: there is a wise teacher who is a little skeptical of the government and argues that liberty should be prioritized over security (talk about hot topics what with all the talk of gun control and Muslim immigration this week, right, kids?), and his bravest student who takes a risk and breaks the rules.

It seems humanity ruined the Earth (wise teacher gives a lecture on ecology), and only a small number of humans have survived and set up a colony under a dome on an alien planet.  The oldest of the kids born under the dome is independent minded, even rebellious, and likes to sneak out of the dome without his filtering mask!  While out exploring the kid meets an alien creature that is perhaps intelligent.  While he is trying to make friends, Dad appears and shoots down the native, explaining that just such a creature recently poisoned another colonist.  Not believing him, the son feels hatred for his father, and identifies with the now dead alien--the son is going native!

The reader is left to wonder about the future of the colony.  Will the humans make friends with the natives and live in harmony with this new planet, or wreck the place like they did the Earth?  Will there be war between settler and native or even among the humans over how to deal with this new world?

Not bad.

"Softly While You're Sleeping" by Evelyn E. Smith  

Evelyn E. Smith has a pretty long list of credits at isfdb, and the fun people at Ramble House sell a 300 page collection of her 1950s short SF stories, but I don't think I've ever read anything by her or even heard of her.

Did Nico or Andy Warhol have anything
to do with this cover?
Like the Davidson story, this one is set in New York City.  Don't get me started reminiscing! This is a real New York story, about an ethnic neighborhood full of poor immigrants, how their kids grow up and want to be more American, and how people we now might call hipsters--artists and actors, musicians and professionals--move into the neighborhood, changing its character.

Anna, who insists people call her the more "American" "Ann," is the daughter of now dead Albanian immigrants.  After returning from college she moved into her old Albanian neighborhood on the East Side, but she identifies with the aforementioned hipsters more than her co-ethnics, who nag her to marry a nice Albanian boy.  She is unhappy, unable to keep a boyfriend because she won't put out.

Then arrives the love of her life, a young man, dressed all in white, who sleeps all day and spends the nights on the street, whistling, singing, keeping Anna awake.  She is told he is a recent arrival from the old country, a Mr. Varri, but how could he be--the Iron Curtain has kept any Albanians from coming to America for years.  At first she fears Varri, but eventually she succumbs to the vampire's blandishments, and finds in his cold attentions an ecstasy she could never experience from the hot sweaty gropings of a living man!  She has never been so happy before, but everybody at the office begins wondering why she has become so thin and pale.  She worries about what will happen when she runs out of blood and becomes a parasitic monster herself, an immortal preying on the innocent and no longer the sole recipient of Varri's attentions.

When she voices these fears to Varri she realizes that he is as selfish a lover as any living man, and flees him, moving to a better apartment on the West Side.  At the end of the story it is hinted that her experience with Varri (and other men before him?) has made her selfish and corrupt--in order to afford the wide necklaces she wears to cover up the wounds on her neck she dates a jeweler who can give her a discount.

A pretty good story, and one ripe for feminist and class analysis--how do relationships with men change women?  How does life in America change immigrants' values?  Etc.

"Go for Baroque" by Jody Scott

Scott only has two novels and eight short stories listed at isfdb, but her first novel, Passing for Human, seems to have received extravagant praise, or at least superlative cover blurbs, from Barry Malzberg and the website io9.  "Go for Baroque" appears to be her first published story.

As the pun title and the fact that Malzberg called Passing for Human a "satire" in his ecstatic blurb had led me to suspect, "Go For Baroque" is a bunch of jokes.  Sample joke: "Anyway, we lived in Penury, a well-known subsection of Chicago."

The plot:  A guy visits a psychiatrist.  The patient tells the story of his life, claiming to be thousands of years old, of having lived for a time on the funny pages where he confronted Dr. Zarkov and had a love affair with Brenda Starr, etc.  The psychiatrist turns out to be as nutty as the patient, claiming he is from outer space and misses the exciting life out there. The patient, perhaps some kind of telepath and hypnotist, fast talks his way to becoming head of the office and it is implied that he has fast talked his way to becoming head of hospitals and other institutions in the past, and will soon use his power to take over the world and bring peace to the Earth.

This story reminded me of an animated cartoon, in particular "Symphony in Slang" with all its goofy puns and any number of Bug Bunny shorts with its fast talkery and slapstick antics, but not in a good way.  What works in one medium doesn't necessarily work in another.



The last page of my copy of The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: Eleventh Series is an ad for two anthologies of horror stories edited by super-editor Donald Wollheim, the hero of genre literature behind DAW books. These books sound pretty good: one includes H. P. Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep," which I love, and the other features Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," which I really enjoyed back in October when I was reading all those horror stories.  Looking them up on isfdb indicates that their covers (Emsh and Schoenherr) are absolutely gorgeous.  Is there any hope I will stumble into these one day on sale for a buck apiece?


There are at least four more stories in The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: Eleventh Series I want to read, so we'll be taking a look at this one again. 

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