"A Gnome There Was"
"When the Bough Breaks"
"The Children's Hour"
"Call Him Demon"
|A lesser effort from Brundage--the colors are bad,|
the perspective is clumsy, the composition
is weak, and the women's bodies
and faces are totally uninteresting
"A Witch Shall Be Born" by Robert E. Howard
SF stories often offer fanciful explanations of the sources of religions and mythology; in "Shambleau," C. L. Moore tells us the source of the story of Medusa the Gorgon, in "Myths My Great-Granddaughter Told Me" Fritz Leiber offers a theory on the origin of Norse mythology, and Arthur C. Clarke in Childhood's End supplies an explanation of where our traditional image of the Devil comes from. In "A Witch Shall Be Born" Robert E. Howard explains where the Biblical Salome came from! You see, in the prehistoric civilization inhabited by Conan, there was a queen who had sex with a "fiend of darkness" and gave birth to a witch. Her family was cursed, and so every century a queen of her dynasty gives birth to a baby girl with a "scarlet half moon" birthmark between her breasts--this baby girl is a diabolical witch! These witches are always named Salome, and will continue to be born long after Conan's world is forgotten.
One of these Salomes was born in Conan's lifetime, the twin sister of a girl without such a birthmark, Taramis, and she was left in the desert to die. But Salome did not die! As "A Witch Shall Be Born" begins, the adult Taramis, Queen of Khauran, is awoken in the night to be confronted by the evil twin sister she didn't know was alive!
Salome explains to the queen how she survived being exposed in the desert, was raised by a wizard, and has now come to Khauran to impersonate Taramis and take her place as monarch. An army of mercenaries led by Constantius the Falcon, a man who has designs on the virgin Taramis's body, marches into the city and Taramis is imprisoned in her own dungeon!
In the first half of Part II we eavesdrop on a conversation between Valerius, a soldier and a Taramis loyalist, and his girlfriend. We learn that Conan of Cimmeria was captain of Taramis's palace guard, and when Salome ordered the army of Khauran disbanded and Constantius put in charge of defense, Conan, seeing through Salome's disguise, refused. In the resulting fighting the loyalists were defeated by Constantius's mercenaries.
Half of Part III is a letter written to a friend in the West by a foreign intellectual staying in Khauran; it is seven months since the arrival of Constantius and this philosophe has been here to see the whole thing. He describes life in Khauran under Salome, whom he, like everybody besides Conan and Valerius, thinks is a Taramis gone crazy. Crushing taxation, human sacrifice and rape are the order of the day under the new regime, and it is rumored that the queen has summoned a monster to which she feeds captives.
In the other half of Part III Howard presents a scene of Salome tormenting Taramis by bringing to her cell the severed head of one of her friends. "A Witch Shall Be Born" skimps on the depictions of hand-to-hand fighting we expect in a Conan story, but is full of torture and abuse.
In the brief Part IV we learn how, in the course of seven months, Conan has taken over the band of desert raiders and also amassed an army of emigres, soldiers who fled from Khauran and hunger to retake their home. With these two forces united under his command, Conan hopes to liberate Khauran and settle his score with Constantius.
In Part V Howard again tells his story indirectly through the eyes of one of the characters, as we learn about the field battle between Conan's and Constantius's armies along with Salome, who observes it from atop a tower and then in her crystal ball. The battle demonstrates Conan's cunning; first he tricks Constantius into marching outside the city walls, and then he surprises Constantius with his Khauran heavy cavalry; Constantius had planned his attack in the belief that Conan led only the light cavalry of the nomadic desert bandits. Constntius beaten, Salome realizes she is doomed and hurries to murder Taramis before Conan can get into the city.
In the final portion of the story, Part VI, Valerius and other members of the loyalist underground rescue Taramis from the dungeon, only to be ambushed by Salome and one of her priests. The witch's sorcery overwhelms the true queen's rescuers and Taramis is carried off to be fed to the monster. Luckily for Taramis, Valerius recovers and catches up to them, slaying the priest and the witch. With her last breath Salome calls upon her monster, a huge black toad with fangs and talons, but before it can wreak havoc Conan's army arrives and their archery makes short work of the, apparently unarmored, creature. Conan then has Constantius crucified and gloats that the mercenary lacks the sort of strength a barbarian like he himself has.
This story is noteworthy for the crucifixion scenes, which are pretty gross and eye-opening, and noteworthy in a less impressive way for Howard's questionable narrative decisions which leave Conan off screen much of the time, keep Conan from personally coming to grips with either Salome or the monster, and have us experiencing much of the story through expository dialog and in the epistolary form. While remarkable for these reasons, "A Witch Shall Be Born" is only a decent Conan story--Howard has produced much better ones.
Donald Wollheim made "A Witch Shall Be Born" the cover story of Avon Fantasy Reader No. 10 in 1949, and twenty years after that Hans Stefan Santesson included it in the anthology The Mighty Barbarians: Great Sword and Sorcery Heroes.
"Black God's Shadow" by C. L. Moore
Jirel, commander of the castle Joiry, in her dreams hears a small weak voice begging for help--it is the voice of Guillaume! Because Jirel killed him with magic from an alien world beyond the dominion of God, Guillaume's soul did not go to Hell, but to some place worse--the alien world from which Jirel attained the super weapon from the nameless black god!
Jirel takes up her two-handed sword and goes down that tunnel to the alien world--this part of "Black God's Shadow" feels like a repetition of the similar scene in the first Jirel story. Once on the alien world Jirel again deals with a multitude of crazy apparitions and surreal terrain, though Moore has some new weird phenomena for us. Jirel follows Guillaume's pathetic pleading voice to a hideous caricatured statue of him, a statue which represents all the evil in his character and life history. Jirel, who is a good person even though it kind of sounds like she spends most of her time hitting people with swords, has a psychic battle with the unnamed black god for Guillaume's soul; this is a mental battle of light versus dark, Jirel summoning happy memories of friendship love and joy to hurl against the black god's engulfing darkness.
Guillaume's soul, in the form of a shadow, is liberated form the statue and floats across this insane countryside; Jirel gives chase, encountering viscous living bodies of water, dangerous animate trees, and other bizarre phenomena on the way which she must overcome with her wits, spirit and sword. She has two more psychic battles with the black god, the final in a temple full of carvings depicting the souls of the guilty suffering their punishment. (This alien world, I guess, is like Hell, but for people from other planets who are outside the influence of the God of Abraham, or something.) After this final mental/spiritual struggle, Guillaume's soul is released from this alien world and Jirel is able to leave knowing she has done a good deed; the last line of the story is "She toiled up the slope, dragging her sword listlessly, weary to the very soul, but quite calm now, with a peace beyond understanding;" that last phrase is presumably a paraphrase of the famous line from Paul's letter to the Philippians, rendered in the King James Bible as "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Moore is a good writer who conveys emotional and psychological states with passion and intensity and also offers up striking and strange images. However, in the Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry stories I am finding she hits the same themes and ideas again and again, within the same story and across stories, which makes them feel repetitive and dulls their power somewhat; "Black God's Shadow" is not a bad story, but it suffers from this characteristic of Moore's early writing. Did Jirel really need to have three psychic light vs dark struggles with the black god, each of which is much like the other? "Black God's Shadow" can also feel a little monotonous--there are no conversations and a minimum of physical confrontations; Jirel is just running through the dark from one surreal psychic battle to the next almost the entire time.
"Black God's Shadow" has been reprinted many times in Moore collections, but doesn't seem to have ever been anthologized in English. Now that Moore has exhausted the possibilities of Jirel's relationship with Guillaume (I think!), I am wondering what the lady of Joiry will be up to in the third Jirel story.
"Xeethra" by Clark Ashton Smith
Xeethra is a teen-aged goatherd living in a desolate mountainous area with the irascible old uncle who raised him because his parents died when he was very young. One day Xeethra finds a newly opened cleft in a cliff wall, from which a sweet smell wafts; he follows the tunnel to a beautiful fertile valley full of fruit trees and other vibrant life. He eats a delicious fruit and is thus cursed by the demon, Thasaidon, who owns this paradise.
Xeethra is afflicted with the memories of a king of a prosperous seaside kingdom, forgets he is a poor goatherd in the remote wilderness and takes on this monarch's personality. Not knowing how he ended up in this desolate mountain region, the king marches east for many days, seeking his kingdom. When he finally reaches his kingdom he finds its once prosperous villages and farmlands an unpopulated desert, and when he gets to the seaside capital city where his lies his palace it is all ruins, inhabited by lepers who make fun of him. His kingdom collapsed centuries ago.
Xeethra regains his memories of his life as a goatherd so that he now has both his ancient royal and current goatherd memories. A representative of Thasaidon appears, and makes Xeethra a bargain--if Xeethra pledges his soul to Thasaidon, his prosperous kingdom will be restored, but if he should ever regret being made monarch, the magic gift will be revoked. Xeethra accepts the deal.
Again Xeethra forgets his goatherd existence as the city and the kingdom are restored to vibrant magnificent life. For years, as peace and good economic times reign, Xeethra is a happy king. But then war and plague and drought strike, and, having no leadership abilities and none of a soldier's or administrator's skills, Xeethra can do nothing to save the kingdom but only sink himself in ever more decadent and outré entertainments. When he proves that he regrets being king by trying to sneak away, Thasaidon returns him to the present, to the ruined city haunted by lepers, where he again is afflicted with knowledge of a life as a monarch and as a goatherd, lives he precipitously threw away.
Much of this story is taken up by Smith's poetic descriptions of landscapes and cityscapes, which are good, but they are not particularly surprising or striking, and "Xeethra" lacks the horror or gore or jokes that make the best Smith stories so memorable. This one is just alright. In their extensive and interesting notes on the story, the editors of The Last Hieroglyph: Volume Five of the Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Scott Connors and Ron Hilger, call the story "heart-wrenching" (like Tom Shippey, they obviously enjoyed it more than I did) and quote Smith complaining that "the casual reader is purblind and even hostile to literature of a poetic cast" and that poetry in America "has fallen into the hands of a lot of literary gangsters."
These stories are a little underwhelming; all three are competent, but all lack something. "A Witch Shall Be Born" has the striking crucifixion scenes, but otherwise feels kind of detached, and Conan, Salome and the monster are all underutilized. (Weird Tales readers still voted "A Witch Shall Be Born" the best piece in the issue.) "Black God's Shadow" is kind of repetitive and monotonous, and "Xeethra" is a little long, flat and uninvolving. Judged against the whole universe of SF stories these stories are moderately good, but they are far from the stories I would say best exemplify what I like about Howard's, Moore's or Smith's bodies of work.
"The Black God's Kiss" by C. L. Moore
The people at WT sell this story for all they are worth, proclaiming it "the weirdest story ever told." I am reading it in my copy of 2002's Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams, where it appears as "Black God's Kiss," without the article.
"Black God's Kiss" comes to us in five parts over 30 pages, and brief Part I consists almost entirely of eroticized violence! The land of Joiry (which I guess is in medieval Western Europe) has just been conquered by the army of some guy named Guillaume, and he sits on the throne of Joiry, surrounded by dead bodies and pools of blood. His men bring to him the captured commander of Joiry's defeated armies--when the bound warrior's helmet is removed all see that the captive is a tall yellow-eyed and red-haired woman! Guillaume kisses her against her will, and in the struggle she bites him and he smacks her across the face, knocking her across the room! Va va voom!
In Part II Jirel escapes form imprisonment in a cell of her own dungeon and sneaks to the chapel to see a priest; she requests a blessing because she is about to go on a terrible mission, to a place "outside God's dominion" to seek a super weapon with which to destroy Guillaume.
In Pat IV Jirel enters the tower, meets a haughty being of light that mockingly takes Jirel's own form. The alien, which Jirel thinks of as a "light-devil," tries to lure Jirel into a death trap, but when Jirel proves to have the intelligence and fortitude to avoid the trap, the alien offers her a boon. When Jirel asks for a weapon to destroy the man she hates, the being hints that Jirel's hatred is the product of sublimated lust for Guillaume, then directs her to a black temple in a lake. There she feels compelled to kiss the statue in the temple, a sexless "semi-human" cyclops figure that crouches forward, lips pursed. After the kiss she is filled with fear and a spiritual or psychological weight and runs frantically to the tunnel, fighting monsters as she goes.
Back on Earth our heroine kisses Guillaume, passing that horrible weight on to him. In his eyes she can see that he suffers a despair that no human has ever felt, an agony only aliens have ever before experienced, and then he keels over dead. Only when she sees him dead before her does Jirel realize that he was the man for her, and she kneels over his corpse and cries.
On the back of my copy of Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams there is a Fritz Leiber quote about Moore's work: "there are strains of A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and even H. P. Lovecraft...." Moore here definitely handles travel to other planets much like Lovecraft does in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" and "Dreams in the Witch House," and Jirel does things like those Conan does; for example, carrying her two-handed sword in her teeth--Conan carries his sword in his teeth in "Jewels of Gwahlur," though Howard has the Cimmerian cut his lips in doing so. (Jirel bites her lip, drawing blood, while trying to stifle a scream of terror while fleeing the alien world.) Looking forward instead of back, I think we can see similarities to "Black God's Kiss" in Leigh Brackett's work (like the sexualized violence in the 1949 Eric John Stark story "Enchantress of Venus") and in the oeuvre of Michael Moorcock--I feel like in his Eternal Champion stories guys are always going to some other dimension or to some tower to get a super weapon.
"Black God's Kiss" was a hit, the most popular story in the October 1934 issue of Weird Tales, and has been reprinted in many Moore collections, anthologies of superior fantasy stories and anthologies of SF by women. isfdb lists five more Jirel stories, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of them.
Lord Ralibar Vooz, third cousin to the king, goes hunting at the head of a party of twenty-six men. His quarry: the subhuman savages known as the Voormis, who live in caves high atop volcanic Mount Voormithadreth. Mount Voormithadreth is also said to be home of Tsathoggua, a god who came to Earth from Saturn long ago, but Ralibar Vooz is an atheist and scoffs at such stories.
Forging ahead of his fellows, Ralibat Vooz by chance stumbles upon the lair of a hermit wizard, interrupting the sorcerer's incantations. His spell ruined, the angry wizard puts a geas on Ralibat Vooz, a sort of curse or hypnosis that compels him to pursue a quest--the quest is to fight his way through the fangs and claws of a tribe of Voormis to present himself to Tsathoggua as a snack!
Ralibat Vooz fights his way successfully to the god Tsathoggua, who looks kind of like a giant toad covered in bat fur. He offers himself as a meal, but Tsathoggua is full, having just eaten. So he puts a geas on Ralibat Vooz that has the man travelling through tunnels to a different monster god who lives under Mount Voormithadreth, a spider god who spins webs that serve as bridges across an abyss. This monster god doesn't want to devour Ralibat Vooz either, and puts still another geas on the hunter that sends him to yet another dangerous creature.
This happens again and again to Ralibat Vooz--he is repeatedly sent to what seems like certain death at the hands of some wizard, monster, or race of serpent-people only to be rejected and then compelled to present himself to yet another diabolical being deeper under the mountain. The shaggy dog ending of the story has the man getting killed thanks to an unlucky coincidence that has nothing much to do with the geases.
In letters quoted by Conners and Hilger in the extensive and insightful notes to "The Seven Geases," Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright complains that the story lacks plot, and H. P. Lovecraft expresses exasperation with plot, saying plot is "not only unnecessary but even intrinsically inartistic." I have to agree with Wright here; I personally like plots--I like a story to have a logical course and ending, to present characters who pursue goals and make decisions and who are rewarded or punished based on those decisions or other factors attributable to them, their strength or intelligence or ideology or whatever. Anyway, though "The Seven Geases" is well written and all the little episodes are fun, I, unlike Smith and Lovecraft, think it suffers from lacking a strong plot. I am still giving it a passing grade, but my enthusiasm is only moderate.
"At the Bend of the Trail" by Manly Wade Wellman
We also learn from this interview that Wellman was born in Angola and lived in Africa until the age of six. Which brings us to "At the Bend of the Trail," a very brief tale set in Africa.
Two British guys, one green, one an old Africa hand, are travelling through the jungle with their black bearers. The older man, talking about how Africans invest unusual objects with "a supernatural personality," points out a long serpentine root sticking out of the ground at a bend in the trail, a somewhat mysterious root because there are no large trees nearby. Every time he and his crew walk this way the Africans avoid the root scrupulously, and he follows suit. The young man, determined to expose this as nonsense, intentionally steps on the root--everybody is alarmed to see the root writhe like an animal, and they all resolve to leave it alone.
But the young Englishman can't stop thinking about the root, and at night decides to take an axe to the thing. But when he gets to the bend in the trail, the odd root is gone! He goes back to bed, and later that night the root, like a constrictor snake, attacks, trying to crush the life out of him! Luckily the older Briton snatches up the axe and chops up the monster; the young know-it-all suffers some broken bones, but will live.
A mediocre filler story, barely acceptable. In the 1990s this thing reemerged in a fanzine, The Tome, and in Stefan Dziemianowicz, Martin H. Greenberg, and Robert Weinberg's Barnes & Noble bargain book 100 Tiny Tales of Terror. In 2001, "At the Bend of the Trail" would be included in the Wellman collection The Devil is Not Mocked and Other Warnings.
Another issue of Weird Tales we can cross off our list, and an experience which has acquainted us with a host of pretty crazy monsters. Maybe we'll be meeting some new monsters in our next episode when we again read stories from an issue of Weird Tales.
It is time to break out into some new territory here at MPorcius Fiction Log and read four stories by people I have never blogged about before. Our guide on this expedition will be Judith Merril, a woman whose fan base may not be all that big (Barry Malzberg in a 2016 column for Galaxy's Edge reports that Donald Wollheim told him that Merril's famous anthology, England Swings! SF, "was the worst-selling Ace paperback in history") but its members are dedicated and powerful. Merril, by including them in the fourth installment of "The Most Acclaimed S-F Anthology," is telling us that these four stories are among 1958's "greatest," so let's give them a shot.
"Hickory, Dickory, Kerouac" by Richard GehmanBogie, Jerry Lewis, Gary Cooper, and the restaurant Sardi's. He apparently also hung around with the "Rat Pack." Gehman only has two fiction entries at isfdb. Merril's little intro to the two-page "Hickory, Dickory, Kerouac" here in SF: The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy: Fourth Annual Volume tells us it is a satire and points out that Playboy editor Ray Russell warned her he didn't think it fit into her SF anthology.
I'm a little reluctant to say this story is a total waste of time because I haven't read any Kerouac so maybe nuances are going over my head, and maybe people familiar with Kerouac love "Hickory, Dickory, Kerouac" when first they encounter it. But to me it is just a bunch of puns and goofs on hipster slang. For example, the protagonist, a mouse, tries pot, but it doesn't give him any kicks, so he tries pan. Later, still in pursuit of a transcendent experience, the mouse runs up and down a clock like in the nursery rhyme. Then he gives up on trying to get high from external sources ("in the final analysis, he had to look inward") and writes a novel and gets rich.
I guess Merril considers this SF because animals talk, but there is no speculation in it, no escapist adventure, no science--it's a gentle parody of a cultural phenomenon. I have to suspect she included it in her book of 1958's "greatest science-fiction and fantasy" stories in an effort to make it look like SF readers are sophisticates conversant with important literary movements and not just pimple-faced freaks who know how to use a slide rule.
"Hickory, Dickory, Kerouac" appeared first in Playboy under the pen name Martin Scott, alongside photos by Shel Silverstein of his trip to Moscow and a story by Richard Matheson. Merril loved it so much she included it in 1967's SF: The Best of the Best; Gehman didn't get his name on the cover among those of Brian Aldiss, Clifford Simak and Damon Knight (who famously panned Merril's novel The Tomorrow People at some risk to his career), but is instead lumped in with Steve Allen under the description "eleven other contemporary masters." "Hickory, Dickory, Kerouac" would be reprinted again in 1974 in a McGraw-Hill textbook, Fantasy: The Literature of the Marvelous. I guess if he is in a text book he really is a master!
"The Yellow Pill" first appeared in John W. Campbell Jr.'s Astounding, so I think we can expect it to be a better fit for conventional notions of what constitutes SF than is Gehman's piece. Rog Phillips actually has many stories listed at isfdb and a pretty long Wikipedia entry but somehow I have never read anything by him before.
Cedric Elton is the world's most famous psychiatrist. The cops bring to him Gerald Bocek, a man who murdered five people in a supermarket. Bocek claims those he shot down were in fact a boarding party of reptilian space pirates who had attacked the space ship upon which both he and Elton are serving as professional spacemen. Bocek insists that if Elton really thinks himself a head shrinker on Earth it is because he is suffering from space madness, an occupational hazard of space travel, and should take one of the yellow pills carried aboard to dispel such madness.
Over the course of several days, each man tries to convince the other that he is delusional and each employs strategies to cure the other. The twist ending of the story is that both succeed in changing the other's mind--as the story ends Elton has come to believe they really are spacemen whose vessel is full of charred lizardman corpses while Bocek has come to think himself a murderer (not guilty by reason of insanity) who has just been cured of his delusions by Elton the brilliant psychiatrist. After expressing his gratitude, Bocek walks out of the doctor's office...or did he just step into the airlock where he will die of asphyxiation?
This story is OK; competent, but no big deal. Editors have been keen on "The Yellow Pill" and it has appeared in numerous anthologies and reprint magazines.
In his introduction to the volume, Harrison stresses that science fiction is about science, and argues that we should see H. G. Wells as the first science fiction author, obliquely dismissing Mary Shelly's claim ("Modern SF definitely does not date back to the second century and Lucian of Samosata, or even to the Gothic and fantastic novels of the last century.") Then he crows that, while the mainstream short story is essentially moribund, science fiction writers continue to produce a large volume of short stories in magazines. Finally, he produces somewhat vague arguments for why stories from a book of new stories like this one (13 of the 15 pieces in Nova One are brand new) should be better than stories written for a magazine.
Ray Bradbury's name is at the top of the list on the cover, but his contribution to Nova One is not a new story but a three-year-old poem, "And This Did Dante Do," which appeared in 1967 in Florida Quarterly. The angle of this poem is that living in Chicago is hell, its fanciful conceit that Dante Alighieri created the Windy City in a dream or by travelling to the New World via some machine of his own invention. That the monstrosity Dante is devising is Chicago is revealed at the end of the poem as a kind of surprise punchline, and Bradbury's complaints about the hog butcher to the world--there is pollution; apartments are small--could probably be said of any decent-sized 20th-century city. This poem isn't all that bad an example of silly verse, but I enjoyed city life when I lived in a real city and so can't get behind the point of view Ray is espousing here.
Our beloved Barry Malzberg has two stories in Nova One. "Terminus Est" I read in 2018 when I decided to read all the stories that made up the fixup novel Universe Day as well as the novel itself; I really liked "Terminus Est" and suggested in my blog post that Malzberg was hewing closer to genre literature conventions when he wrote it, to its benefit. "In the Pocket," which appears in Nova One under the pen name K. M. O'Donnell, is one of the stories upon which Malzberg's novel The Men Inside is based. I read The Men Inside before I started this blog, and am toying with the idea of rereading and blogging about it; if I do I'll talk about "In the Pocket" in the same post. Suffice to say here that "In the Pocket" is a pretty good story and doesn't feel like a fragment or anything.
Now, let's read three stories new to me by authors with whom we here at MPorcius Fiction Log have some familiarity, Brian Aldiss, David Gerrold and James Sallis.
"Swastika!" by Brian AldissA Soldier Erect, made me laugh, so maybe the humor in this story will also work on me?
Or maybe not. Our narrator, whose name is Brian, has a meeting with Hitler, who survived the war and is living under an assumed name in Ostend. The bulk of the story, I guess, is satire, the point of which, I guess, is that 1960s politicians are really little better than Hitler. Lyndon Baines Johnson, Fidel Castro, Moshe Dayan, King Hussein of Jordan, and Sukarno, among others, are all said to have consulted Hitler, begging for his guidance, while Hitler admits to finding admirable qualities in Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Wallace and to having enjoyed the spectacle of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Throughout the story Brian expresses admiration for Hitler, and the punchline of the story is that Brian has come to Ostend to get Hitler to sign a contract so that Brian can put on a musical of Hitler's life, the title of which will be "Swastika!" Mel Brooks's The Producers was in movie theaters in 1967, and it is a little odd to see Aldiss and editor Harrison not spiking this joke and coming up with some other gag for the ending of this 1970 story. Maybe "The Producers" wasn't shown in England?
This story is not funny or interesting. Any effect it might have on the reader relies on the shock value of the narrator expressing admiration for Hitler, from the absurdity of Hitler's claims that he hasn't really lost the war because the war isn't really over yet or the idea of a musical about Der Fuhrer, or from reader sympathy with Aldiss's shallow criticisms of 1960s politicians, which essentially amount to name-calling--Aldiss's attacks on LBJ and the rest aren't much more specific or persuasive than Bradbury's attack on Chicago in "And This Did Dante Do." Aldiss's strategies in this story are basic, even childish, though maybe when the story was published their audacity excited readers. Thumbs down from me in 2021, though.
"Swastika!" would be included in Aldiss's oft-reprinted collection The Moment of Eclipse as well as Best SF Stories of Brian W. Aldiss.
"Love Story in Three Acts" by David GerroldSpace Skimmer, which I have to admit is not nearly as remarkable as the aforementioned books.
This story here is about a married couple...of the future! In Act One they have sex and then consult the computer which has been reading their vital signs through bands on their wrists. It reports they only achieved 34% pleasure! The wife pesters the husband about getting a computer that will be even more invasive--I mean helpful--so they can get a better score.
Act Two is at the husband's office. A salesman comes by; he was contacted by the wife. He convinces a reluctant husband to invest in a computer system that won't just read the couple's vitals while they are having sex, but guide their movements to better pleasure each other!
In Act Three the device is installed and the wife convinces the husband that they should use it. (This entire story is about the husband resisting pressure from others but eventually giving in to their manipulations--the modern world of feminism, capitalism and technology--as depicted in this story--is a world in which men are at the mercy of women, businesspeople and machines.) They hook themselves up to all the wires and then have better sex than they have had for years. The optimistic trick ending to the story is the revelation that they forgot to turn the computer on--if their sex was better it was because of some reinvigorated rapport between them...or the placebo effect.
"Love Story in Three Acts" would resurface in a Gerrold collection and in anthologies, including a French one and an English one which has what must be one of the worst book covers of the 20th century.
"Faces & Hands" by James Sallis"Field," "Delta Flight 281," and "The First Few Kinds of Truth," none of which I thought were worth my time. But maybe this time Sallis and I will be on the same wavelength--hope springs eternal!
It is the future! Mankind has achieved the ability to travel between the stars. The Earth has recently joined a space federation called "The Union" which seems to be culturally dominated by people from the Vegan system--everywhere you go people wear Vegan fashions and speak Vegan. In his little intro paragraph to "Faces & Hands," Harrison tells us Sallis is a poet, and Sallis employs little word games to make his story feel more alien or futuristic. On the first page of the story we find that the cliché "playing by ear" is now rendered "playing by air;" on page two we learn that "ziggurat" is now styled "zikkurat" and that the name Stein is pronounced "stain."
Our narrator, immediately after graduating college, was recruited by a guy named Stein to work as a "Courier," a sort of interstellar diplomat. He relates how, while on a diplomatic mission, he got temporarily stranded on the planet Alsfort thanks to a labor strike. While waiting for interstellar travel to resume he sat in a "wayroom" by the spaceport, drinking and people watching. Sallis gives us several pages of descriptions of people the narrator sees in the wayroom, giving us an idea of how diverse the Union is. The most pages get devoted to a bird-like alien woman, a beautiful singer, who sits and talks to the narrator. She describes how the culture of her race of bird people has been changed by contact with the peoples of the Union, changed in a way that causes social upheaval, with some embracing new technologies and ideas and others resisting them. Presumably these bird people and their problems are supposed to remind us of the fate of Third Worlders who become integrated into the world economy dominated by Western ideas and technology. Later Sallis makes his point explicit, that engagement with other cultures/economies/polities can both bring benefits and exact costs, and that whether such engagement is on balance worthwhile is not necessarily obvious.
"Faces & Hands" is in two parts. The second part is in the third person takes place after a space war between Earth and another planet; Vega sided with Earth and was severely bombed, reducing this formerly leading society to penury (there are black outs due to rationing of energy, as in poor countries nowadays and, according to rumor, California.) The narrative of this eight-page section of the story concerns a prostitute who has mild psychic powers and a space traveler who spends time with her. There are animal metaphors and a scene with bohemian artists that, I guess, is meant to show the effect of war on culture and maybe how different generations respond differently to change, echoing something the bird-lady said in the first part.
Because it presents characters and images and human emotions, seems to be responding to interesting historical events like imperialism, the World Wars and Cold War, and the growth of international trade, and sort of has a plot, this is the best story by Sallis I have ever read. I don't love it, but it at least is worth reading.
"Faces & Hands" has been reprinted in Sallis collections (as "Faces, Hands") and in an anthology printed in brave little Belgium.
It is always interesting and often fun to look into these old SF anthologies. So more short stories from one of the anthologies on the shelves of the MPorcius Library in our next episode!