Monday, May 6, 2019

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Jack Sharkey

Jack Sharkey would have been 88 today. He was a pretty minor writer of SF, mostly for Cele Goldsmith Lalli's magazines, Amazing and Fantastic, between 1959 and 1965. After Lalli left those magazines he turned mostly to plays. He died in 1992.

I have to confess I don't like his work much -- I think he was one of Lalli's few weak spots. But let's take a look at some of this short stories. He also published two Ace Doubles, which I have already covered:

Ultimatum in 2050 A. D.;

The Secret Martians.

Anyway, here are several reviews of his short stories, from Amazing/Fantastic, published originally as Retro-Reviews at Black Gate:

Fantastic, November 1959

Jack Sharkey’s “Minor Detail” is, well, pretty minor. It’s about a blowhard General promoting his new superweapon, which will allow men to become strong enough to survive any fall, thus allowing them to dispense with parachutes. The idea is stupid, and the supposedly ironic reason it doesn’t work doesn’t make sense.

Fantastic, December 1959

“The Man Who Was Pale,” by Jack Sharkey, tells of a landlady welcoming a strange new tenant – he’s very pale, he’s nocturnal, he wants to live in the basement in a box full of dirt … what could he be? And what could go wrong?

No surprises here – just competent hackwork.

Amazing, March 1960

Sharkey’s “Old Friends are the Best” is a slight, mildly amusing, bit of SF horror… a plant is discovered on the Moon, and brought back to Earth as a scientific marvel – with, of course, unfortunate (and scientifically absurd) results.

Fantastic, April 1960

The cover story is “Doomsday Army,” by Jack Sharkey, an entirely too long story about a National Guard captain who ends up being the main intermediary to a bunch of (as it turns out) very small alien invaders. He’s portrayed as a fairly ordinary suburban husband, prone to taking shortcuts in solving problems his wife brings to his attention: so of course his solution to the alien problem will be a dangerous shortcut. And so it is, with an implausible solution.

There’s joke enough here for maybe 3,000 words at the outside, and this drags terribly at some 13,000 words. (I wonder if it was written to the cover, which does portray a scene from the story but in a very generic fashion.)

Fantastic, November 1963

"The Aftertime", by Goldsmith regular Jack Sharkey, begins as a very straightforward post-apocalyptic story, with a young man, Rory, waking to find his city bombed and his building mostly collapsed. He wanders the city, encountering a young woman and then a few more people, eating canned food, banding together for help, but slowly losing hope as nothing is heard on the radio, and then people start dying because of some strange energy organism. Then there's a shocking twist -- it fooled me -- and a quite strained ending concerning the less than plausible (to say the least) nature, origin, and weakness of the energy beings.

Fantastic, February 1964

Jack Sharkey was also a Goldsmith regular, and, in my view, one of her weak spots. He really wasn’t very good — though he was professional and, I suppose, reliable in his way. “The Orginorg Way”, that said, is better than usual for Sharkey, perhaps because it’s short. It’s about an unprepossessing man obsessed with a woman, who turns to manipulation of plants as a way to attract her — with, of course, unfortunate effects.

Fantastic, August 1964

Jack Sharkey's "Footnote to an Old Story" is amusing enough little piece about a 97-pound weakling who visits a Greek island and falls for a beautiful local girl. Somehow he gets the notion that letting his hair grow will make his body more attractive, and to his surprise it works -- soon he's a pretty impressive physical speciment, and the Greek girl is intrigued. So, it looks like the "Old Story" is the Samson story maybe -- but it turns out, in a slick enough conclusion, that it's another story entirely.

Fantastic, September 1964

Jack Sharkey's "Hear and Obey" is, like the Janifer story, a variation on a traditional theme, in this case the Genie in the Lamp. This Genie is a bit persnickety about how he grants the wishes, with, as one might expect, unfortunate results for his new owner. A bit strained, I thought.

Fantastic, October 1964

“The Grooves” is a brief horror story in which a young man vows to invade the troll’s cave in the mountains to claim at least some of the rumored treasure there… despite warnings that no one has ever returned, and that “you must never kill a troll, because trolls have inverted souls.” Minor work, but effective enough working out its fairly predictable premise.

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