Saturday, July 30, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1950

Potential Hugo nominees from 1949 (1950 Worldcon)

This is the earliest set of potential Hugo nominees for 1950s Worldcons I'll do. I chose this date mainly because it seemed a clean break to posts on 10 years of Hugos -- for the 10 1950s Worldcons. (The 1950 Worldcon was NorWesCon, held in Portland, OR.) 

Another reason is that 1949 is a fairly significant year in the transition from the so-called "Golden Age" to the next phase ... the time when John W. Campbell's Astounding slipped from its unquestioned place at the top of the SF heap. For it was in 1949 that the first issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was published. (That first issue was called The Magazine of Fantasy.) It's also worth noting that by this time the sister magazines Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories were publishing fiction that was competing with that of Astounding, under the editorship of Sam Merwin, Jr. And, finally, my fairly intimate familiarity with the science fiction of the 1950s doesn't really extend that much before 1949. 

And, too, it turns out that there was some very fine SF published in 1949, and it wasn't difficult at all to produce very creditable nomination lists, especially in novel and (thanks to Ray Bradbury!) in short story.

Novels


The Sword of Rhiannon
aka "Sea Kings of Mars", by Leigh Brackett

Watch The North Wind Rise aka Seven Days in New Crete, by Robert Graves

The Paradox Men aka "Flight Into Yesterday", by Charles Harness

1984, by "George Orwell" (Eric Blair)

Earth Abides, by George Stewart

Other Possibilities

The Queen of Zamba, by L. Sprague de Camp

The Big Eye, by Max Ehrlich

Red Planet, by Robert A. Heinlein

Silverlock, by John Myers Myers

Atomsk, by "Carmichael Smith" (Paul M. A. Linebarger)

The Four-Sided Triangle, by William F. Temple

The Humanoids, by Jack Williamson

Seetee Shock, by Jack Williamson (as "Will Stewart")

I think that's a pretty damn good list of novel nominees. The winner has to be 1984, right? But Earth Abides is a pretty major novel. And the two from the pulps -- "Flight Into Yesterday" and "Sea Kings of Mars", to give them the titles they had on first publication, are novels I truly adore. Finally, I list a book I haven't read, Watch the North Wind Rise, because it looks very interesting. (It's a Utopian novel set in a a future in which technology has been rejected, and worship of the Goddess, in various forms, is encouraged.)

The "other possibilities" are interesting too. I have not read some of these, but I have heard good things -- for instance, about Silverlock. And The Big Eye. And William Temple's novel gets some praise -- though what I've read by him is not so great, and he seems known in great part for being a friend of Arthur C. Clarke. The two Williamson novels are significant in their way, but I haven't read Seetee Shock and I admit The Humanoids disappointed me relative to the pretty good opening novella, "With Folded Hands". Atomsk is an early novel by the man who became Cordwainer Smith -- again, I haven't read it. As for Red Planet -- it's a solid Heinlein juvenile. And The Queen of Zamba is a fun Krishna novel.

Thanks for the comments here and elsewhere about some of the books I hadn't read but mentioned as possibilities -- The Big Eye was one of the first (maybe actually the first) Doubleday Science Fiction book, and it got some exposure outside the field -- for that reason I thought it a prominent novel. But I am assured by some it is quite poor -- others argue for at least competence, and for being the first to bring its now hackneyed concept to a wide audience. As for Williamson's Seetee Shock, I am told it is pretty bad as well. But it is the novel which invented the word "terraform" (which actually appeared earlier in the novella "Collision Orbit", which became part of the Seetee series.)

(I chose Earle Bergey's cover for "Flight Into Yesterday" instead of covers for 1984 or Earth Abides because, let's face it, who wouldn't choose a pulp cover first! :) )

Novellas

"Queen of the Martian Catacombs", by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, Summer)

"The Lion of Comarre", by Arthur C. Clarke (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August)

"Gulf", by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding, November and December)

"Agent of Vega", by James H. Schmitz (Astounding, July)

"Venus and the Seven Sexes", by "William Tenn" (Philip Klass) (The Girl With the Hungry Eyes and Other Stories)

Other Possibilities

"Enchantress of Venus" aka "City of the Lost Ones", by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, Fall)

Farmer Giles of Ham, by J. R. R. Tolkien

"The Weapon Shops of Isher", by A. E. Van Vogt (Thrilling Wonder Stories, February)

I suspect "Gulf" or "The Weapon Shops of Isher" would have won back then. I think my vote, now, would be for "Agent of Vega". I don't think it's really a particularly strong set of novellas. "Queen of the Martian Catacombs", by the way, was expanded by a third, and somewhat changed, to the Ace Double half The Secret of Sinharat in 1963 (and the expansion was probably done by Edmond Hamilton.)  Farmer Giles of Ham was published as a book in 1949 -- I doubt all that many readers saw it until The Tolkien Reader came out in 1966.

Novelettes

"The Witches of Karres", by James H. Schmitz (Astounding, December)

"Opening Doors", by Wilmar Shiras (Astounding, March)

"Private Eye", by "Lewis Padgett" (Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore) (Astounding, January)

"The Lake of the Gone Forever", by Leigh Brackett (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October)

"The NRACP", by George Elliott (Hudson Review, Fall)

Other possibilities

"The Red Queen's Race", by Isaac Asimov (Astounding, January)

"Mother Earth", by Isaac Asimov (Astounding, May)

"The Sacred Martian Pig" aka "Idris' Pig", by Margaret St. Clair (Startling Stories, July)

My vote would have to go to "Private Eye" for this Hugo that never was, though "The NRACP" would have been an interesting choice; and "The Witches of Karres" (included in one of the SF Hall of Fame anthologies) is lots of fun. "The Lake of the Gone Forever" is more gorgeous pure pulp from Brackett. The St. Clair story is a madcap romp, also good fun, and I'm amused that when the story was collected in the 1960s St. Clair chose to give it a new title -- in a tribute (I am sure) to her important pseudonym "Idris Seabright".

Short Stories

"Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed" aka "The Naming of Names", by Ray Bradbury (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August)

"Kaleidoscope", by Ray Bradbury (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October)

"The Exiles", by Ray Bradbury (MacLeans, September 15)

"The Martian", by Ray Bradbury (Super Science Stories, November)

"The Long Watch" aka "Rebellion on the Moon", by Robert A. Heinlein (American Legion Magazine, December)

"The Girl With the Hungry Eyes", by Fritz Leiber (The Girl With the Hungry Eyes and Other Stories)

Other possibilities

"Entity", by Poul Anderson and John Gergen (Astounding, June)

"Marionettes, Inc.", by Ray Bradbury (Startling Stories, March)

"Hide and Seek", by Arthur C. Clarke (Astounding, September)

"History Lesson", by Arthur C. Clarke (Startling Stories, May)

"Delilah and the Space Rigger", by Robert A. Heinlein (Blue Book, December)

"Our Fair City", by Robert A. Heinlein (Weird Tales, January)

"The Hurkle is a Happy Beast", by Theodore Sturgeon (The Magazine of Fantasy, Fall)

Another incredible year from Ray Bradbury. Once again, it's hard to choose a winner, but I think I'd give the Hugo to "The Martian", one of my favorite stories (along with "Ylla" and "The Million Year Picnic") from The Martian Chronicles. But the other Bradbury stories are great, too. And Fritz Leiber was great again -- in 1950 I suggested he should beat out Bradbury for the short story Hugo, but in 1949, though "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" is excellent, Bradbury was better.


Sunday, July 24, 2022

From the Height of the New Wave: Vector for Seven, by Josephine Saxton

From the Height of the New Wave: Vector for Seven, by Josephine Saxton

by Rich Horton

I titled this review "From the Height of the New Wave", but I think that's an unfair description of the novel. That said, I think it's possible that the only place in publishing hospitable to a novel like this was the New Wave, particularly the British New Wave, in Science Fiction in the late 1960s. Josephine Saxton's imagination, and her style, were very much entirely her own; and the fact that that imagination intersected with SFnal images seems to have led her to the science fiction magazines.

Saxton was born in Yorkshire in 1935. Her first story, "The Wall", appeared in Science Fantasy when she was 30. Science Fantasy, edited by Kyril Bonfliglioli (with the yeoman assistance of Keith Roberts) was a sister magazine to Michael Moorcock's New Worlds, which at that time surely represented the epicenter of the New Wave in SF. Saxton's next story was in Judith Merril's England Swings SF (Merril had reprinted "The Wall" in her Best of the Year anthology.) Merril was the leading American cheerleader for the English New Wave, and England Swings SF was her attempt to showcase that movement for American readers. She also had stories in such New Wave associated venues as Harlan Ellison's Again, Dangerous Visions; and Samuel R. Delany and Marilyn Hacker's Quark/3. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was her primary home for short fiction. Saxton produced three novels in this period (1969-1971): The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith, Vector for Seven, and Group Feast. Short fiction appeared for a couple further decades, and a few more novels in the 1980s: two short novels about a character called Jane Saint, and her last full length novel, Queen of the States, in 1986. She has not published fiction since 1992, though a book about gardening appeared in 1996. She is still living, nearly 87 as I write.

Vector for Seven is subtitled "The Weltenschauung of Mrs. Amelia Mortimer and Friends". It opens at an airfield in England. Mrs. Amelia Mortimer is a 53 year old widow, and she has spent a healthy sum on an intriguing tour of a mysterious nature. There are five further tourists waiting for the tour to start: Sophia Smith, a blowsy young woman, given to exaggerating her sexual availability; Mr. Edward Hartington-Smythe, an older man, a widower, apparently looking for a final interesting trip; Obadiah Crutch, a young man with a motorcycle, evidently a typical late '60s youth; Martha, an older woman who seems to be a Gypsy; and Septimus, a boy -- actually an hermaphrodite, who strangely has no parent or guardian. 

The novel starts very very slowly, and the impatient reader may give up on it. This echoes the slow start to the tour -- nothing happens for quite a while, and then the "driver" (the only name by which he is called) shows up; and it turns out there will be no aeroplane -- they all get on a bus, and begin driving. And for a long time, they seem to get nowhere.

We do learn a bit about the various travellers. At first they seem a universally unpleasant group of people, but over the course of the book they grow, and we learn to know them better. After a shocking early incident (Obadiah's motorcycle is run over, and he sets it on fire, losing an eye in the subsequent explosion) the group's bus trip finally terminates at an airfield where they set off for South America. What follows is a phantasmagorical journey, by air, by bus, by train, by helicopter, by submarine, and by ship -- first to South America, and the Nazca plains, and a tribal group where Sophia decides to stay. Then to the US, and a trip across the country, and the return of Sophia. There are ambiguous encounters with UFOs. There is something nearly approaching an orgy. There is a striking variety of dinners described. Septimus learns to play snooker and chess. And throughout it all these characters grow in the reader's mind. The final sequence is an extended interlude back in England, at Mrs. Mortimer's place, featuring a "birth, a marriage, and a death" -- and a dinner! -- and some variety of resolution for all the characters. 

Quite unexpectedly the novel becomes powerful, quite moving. It is a thoroughly original exercise: I don't know of any book much like it. It is often quite funny. It is sexy at times. It is distinctly feminist. There is music -- pop music and, particularly, 20th Century classical music (notably Olivier Messiaen.) And there is a great deal I've said nothing about -- the beautiful armless and legless woman, for example. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started it, and I was surprised throughout. This isn't a book for everyone, but for the right reader, it's remarkable. John Clute and Peter Nicholls write, in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry on Saxton: "a register of perilous ambivalence, half Inner Space, half mutable and frustrating external world." -- which seems to get at where Saxton's imagination lives just perfectly.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1951

 Potential Hugo nominess from 1950 (1951 Worldcon)

As noted, I'm planning to finish up my posts on potential Hugo nominees for 1950s Worldcons, including those that didn't award Hugos. This is a case (as with 1954) where stories from the eligibility year (i.e. 1950) had a shot at Retro-Hugos, as Milliennium Philcon, the 2001 Worldcon, chose to award them. (Appropriate, I suppose, as the 1953 Philcon originated the Hugo Awards.) And in fact I wrote a post back in 2001 giving my recommendations for Retro Hugos that year. This appeared in SF Site here. I am bemused to find that my recommendations from back then are almost exactly the same as I came up with surveying 1950s SF just now.

The 1951 Worldcon was Nolacon I, in New Orleans, the ninth World Science Fiction Convention. As I said, they gave no Hugo awards. This was the first year of the International Fantasy Awards, and both were given to books published in 1949: fiction went to George Stewart's, Earth Abides (surely a strong choice) and non-fiction to The Conquest of Space, by Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell.


The Retro Hugos in 2001 ended up going to Robert A. Heinlein twice (Best Novel to Farmer in the Sky, Best Novella to "The Man Who Sold the Moon") and to C. M. Kornbluth's "The Little Black Bad" for Best Novelette plus Damon Knight's "To Serve Man" for Best Short Story. "To Serve Man", along with the best artist award to Kelly Freas, serve to illustrate two key problems with Retro Hugos -- one, that a story will get the award because people remember it due to its later adaptation (the award to "To Serve Man" ought to have been retitled "Best Twilight Zone Episode"); snd two, that a writer or artist will get an award because they gained (and deserved) fame for later work, as with Kelly Freas, whose only 1950 painting was his first pro work, and who at that time was far less accomplished than the likes of Virgil Finlay and Edd Cartier (to say nothing of the likes of Chesley Bonestell, Hubert Rogers, and Earle Bergey.) Anyway, I'll highlight the Retro Hugo nominees below with a bolded RH.

Novels

Needle, by Hal Clement

Shadow on the Hearth, by Judith Merril

Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake

"Time Quarry" aka Time and Again aka First He Died, by Clifford D. Simak

The Dreaming Jewels aka The Synthetic Man, by Theodore Sturgeon (RH nominee as novella)

Other Possibilities

Pebble in the Sky, by Isaac Asimov (RH nominee)

"... and Now You Don't", by Isaac Asimov (RH nominee as novella)

The Castle of Iron, by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt

"You're All Alone", by Fritz Leiber

Wine of the Dreamers, by John D. McDonald

First Lensman, by Edward E. "Doc" Smith (RH nominee)

The Dying Earth, by Jack Vance (RH nominee)

The Five Gold Bands aka The Space Pirate aka The Rapparee, by Jack Vance

The Wizard of Linn, by A. E. Van Vogt

Young Adult

Farmer in the Sky, by Robert A. Heinlein (RH winner)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis (RH nominee)

I've made some choices in delineating between "Other Possibilities" and my nomination list that might not have been made by voters back then: I didn't list "... And Now You Don't" partly because we now know it as the second part of Second Foundation. I consider The Dying Earth more of a story collection. I prefer the expanded version of "You're All Alone", The Sinful Ones, which I mentioned in my post for that year. I left off the two YA novels -- for one thing, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is novella length; but more to the point, though I like both books, neither are among the author's best. And, finally, I think First Lensman (the only Lensmen book I've read) is truly dire. Had I read it when I was 12, perhaps I'd think differently. The Five Gold Bands is minor early Vance, but kind of fun. The Wizard of Linn is actually almost good for a Van Vogt novel, which naturally means that people who "get" Van Vogt don't like it much! The Castle of Iron, by the way, first appeared in Unknown in 1941, but the book version is much expanded. And I didn't even mention I, Robot or The Martian Chronicles, arguably the two most important SF books from 1950 -- but I consider them both story collections.

My choice for a winner is Gormenghast, which wouldn't have gotten a sniff from fans in 1950. Needle -- a significantly expanded version of the 1949 two-part Astounding serial -- would be a good choice, as would the Sturgeon. But Gormenghast is clearly the one that has lasted the most.

Novellas

"Flight to Forever", by Poul Anderson (Super Science Stories, Nomvember) (RH nominee)

"There Shall Be No Darkness", by James Blish (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April)

"The Man Who Sold the Moon", by Robert A. Heinlein (The Man Who Sold the Moon) (RH winner)

"Paradise Street", by "Lawrence O'Donnell" (C. L. Moore) (Astounding, September)

"Guyal of Sfere", by Jack Vance (The Dying Earth)

Other Possibilities:

"The Rocketeers Have Shaggy Ears", by Keith Bennett (Planet Stories, Spring)

"Citadel of Lost Ages", by Leigh Brackett (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December)

"The Rebel of Valkyr", by Alfred Coppel (Planet Stories, Fall)

"Last Enemy", by H. Beam Piper (Astounding, August) (RH nominee)

"Chateau D'If" aka "New Bodies for Old", by Jack Vance (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August)

I don't really have a strong dispute with the choice to award the Retro Hugo to "The Man Who Stole the Moon", but my personal choice is pretty clear: "Guyal of Sfere", the final story of The Dying Earth, with one of my favorite last lines of all time: "Together they looked up at the bright stars. What shall we do?" "Paradise Street" is a very fine "space western". I attribute it to Moore solely, which seems the standard view, but as with most "Lawrence O'Donnell" stories there's a possibility that Kuttner contributed as well. 

I kind of struggled to fill out the other two spots on my fake nomination "ballot", and the Piper or the Brackett, at least, could have replaced the Blish or Anderson. (Or, indeed, I might have chosen The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe, as I did in my 2001 article.) I include the Keith Bennett story mainly for the title! The Alfred Coppel story is great fun, complete with horses in starship holds. Coppel later expanded it into a four book YA series, beginning with The Rebel of Rhada (1968), under the pseudonym Robert Cham Gilman.

The Retro Hugo nominees were curious -- besides "Last Enemy" and "The Man Who Sold the Moon" they were "... And Now You Don't", "The Dreaming Jewels", and L. Ron Hubbard's disgusting "To the Stars". "... And Now You Don't" -- a three part serial! -- and "The Dreaming Jewels" are both definitely novel length, and I think they should have been disqualified. (Indeed, I complained at the time, but didn't know how to bring it directly to the attention of the Hugo administrator.) "To the Stars" was a two-part serial, and is probably a bit shorter than 40,000 words, so it was eligible. (It was later expanded and published in book form as Return to Tomorrow.) I've discussed it before -- it's a morally vile piece of work. "The Man Who Sold the Moon" is also long enough at some 36,000 words it could have been called a novel.

Novelettes

"Okie", by James Blish (Astounding, April) (RH nominee)

"The New Reality", by Charles Harness (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December)

"The Little Black Bag", by C. M. Kornbluth (Astounding, July) (RH winner)

"Scanners Live in Vain", by "Cordwainer Smith" (Paul M. A. Linebarger) (Fantasy Book #6) (RH nominee)

"Contagion", by Katherine MacLean (Galaxy, October)

"The Second Night of Summer", by James H. Schmitz (Galaxy, December)

Other possibilities:

"The Star Beast", by Poul Anderson (Super Science Stories, September)

"The Helping Hand", by Poul Anderson (Astounding, May) (RH nominee)

"Evitable Conflict", by Isaac Asimov (Astounding, June)

"Bindlestiff", by James Blish (Astounding, December)

"The Dancing Girl of Ganymede", by Leigh Brackett (Galaxy, October)

"Enchanted Forest", by Fritz Leiber (Astounding, October)

"Dear Devil", by Eric Frank Russell (Other Worlds, May) (RH nominee)

"The Stars are the Styx", by Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy, October)

"Not to be Opened --", by "Roger Flint Young" (Peter Grainger) (Astounding, January)

Well, sometimes there's no debate about my vote! "Scanners Live in Vain" is clearly the greatest story here. (See my Black Gate piece about it: The Timeless Strangeness of Scanners Live in Vain). Having said that, this whole short list strikes me as very strong. There's another SF Hall of Fame story, "The Little Black Bag". There's the first story in what became Cities in Flight. There's the best of Katherine MacLean's early work; and one of James Schmitz's very best pieces. And Harness' "The New Reality" is really pretty cool, and it is one of the best iterations of a very clich├ęd SF idea. 

And there are very good additional stories -- another Cities in Flight section from Blish, for example. The last story from I, Robot. A strong story from Sturgeon. A very highly regarded Eric Frank Russell story. A good early Anderson story. And Roger Flint Young's story is kind of interesting too -- very Campbellian but a bit unusual.

Short Stories

"The Fox and the Forest" aka "Escape", by Ray Bradbury (Argosy, September 1950)

"The Veldt" aka "The World the Children Made", by Ray Bradbury (Saturday Evening Post, September 23)

"Ylla" aka "I'll Not Look for Wine", by Ray Bradbury (MacLean's, January)

"Usher II" aka "Carnival of Madness" aka "The Second House of Usher", by Ray Bradbury (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April)

"There Will Come Soft Rains", by Ray Bradbury (Collier's, May 6)

"Coming Attraction", by Fritz Leiber (Galaxy, November) (RH nominee)

"Spectator Sport", by John D. McDonald (Thrilling Wonder Stories, February)

Other Possibilities

"Green Patches" aka "Misbegotten Missionary", by Isaac Asimov (Galaxy, November)

"Oddy and Id", by Alfred Bester (Astounding, August)

"The Gnurrs Come From the Voodvork Out", by R. Bretnor (F&SF, Winter-Spring) (RH nominee)

"A Subway Named Mobius", by A. J. Deutsch (Astounding, December) (RH nominee)

"Friday the Nineteenth", by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (F&SF, Summer) 

"To Serve Man", by Damon Knight (Galaxy, November) (RH winner)

"The Silly Season", by C. M. Kornbluth (F&SF, Fall)

"The Xi Effect", by "Philip Latham" (R. S. Richardson) (Astounding, January)

"Nice Girl with Five Husbands", by Fritz Leiber (Galaxy, April)

"The Ship Sails at Midnight", by Fritz Leiber (Fantastic Adventures, September)

"Born of Man and Woman", by Richard Matheson (F&SF, Summer) (RH nominee)

"Liane the Wayfarer", by Jack Vance (The Dying Earth)

"Report on the Barnhouse Effect", by Kurt Vonnegut (Collier's, February 11)

Oh my gosh, what a year Ray Bradbury had! We forget sometimes how good he was! He was only this good for perhaps a decade, beginning in about 1946, but for that time he was brilliant. And that list of five stories up there is amazing, as good a set of short stories as any SF writer has ever published in a single year. (And I could have added at least one more, "The Long Rain".) Which is the best? It's hard to pick! "Ylla" is wonderful". So too is "The Fox and the Forest". And "The Veldt"! And is any single Bradbury story remembered more than "There Will Come Soft Rains"?

And for all that, I think the greatest SF story of 1950 was Leiber's searing "Coming Attraction". (Leiber had a darn good year too.) Really, in this company it's astonishing, and disheartening, that the Retro Hugo voters picked a story because they remembered the Twilight Zone episode and the gimmicky pun conclusion. 

In the other possibilities I'd like to highlight "Friday the Nineteenth", a really nicely done urban fantasy by the great crime writer Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. The two SF Hall of Fame stories here are "Coming Attraction" and "Born of Man and Woman". 

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Complete Works of Walter F. Moudy: No Man on Earth (plus stories, one other novel)

The Complete(?) Works of Walter F. Moudy

a survey by Rich Horton

Walter Frank Moudy was born in Cassville, Missouri, a very rural town in the Ozarks of Southwestern Missouri, near the Arkansas border, in 1929, and died in Kansas City in 1973, not yet 44 (I believe in a car accident.) I asked for help in learning more about him, and Paul di Filippo and Dave Hook came through, with an obituary from the Kansas City Star, and with the news that he had published at least a couple more stories in that newspaper's Sunday supplement, the Star Magazine, in 1972. Other details from the obituary: Moudy was a lawyer (as I had expected, based on internal evidence from his stories,) and he went to the University of Missouri. He had a wife and three children, heightening the tragedy of his early death.

(The Star's obituary mentioned three stories for their magazine, but that seems to have been an error. For the third story was not by Moudy. "The Silver Dolphin" appeared in the September 17, 1972 issue of the Star Magazine, and the table of contents advertised it as short fiction by Walter Moudy. But the story itself is bylined Robert W. Bailey, and the brief profile of the author stated that he was a student at Northwest Missouri State. Something clicked in my head, and I looked up Robin Wayne Bailey, a Kansas City SF and Fantasy writer, former President of SFWA. (And someone I've met personally, shared panels with, talked with at various conventions.) Robin went to Northwest Missouri State, and was there in the early '70s. And his legal first name is Robert. So I asked Robin if that was his story -- and it was, his first professional sale. (It is not SF.) I just thought that a delightful coincidence -- in looking up Walter Moudy's publications, I chanced across the first published story by a writer I know pesonally.)

Walter Moudy published an SF novel, No Man on Earth, in 1964, followed by three stories in Cele Lalli's magazines, Amazing and Fantastic, in 1965, and an erotic (rather tamely so) paperback, The Ninth Commandment (set, by the way, in Kansas City) in 1966. His only other SF stories were "The Peddler", one of the Star Magazine stories, and "The Search for Man", published two years after his death. The Star Magazine also published one non-SF piece, "Please Wrap Separately". One of his stories, "The Survivor", is well-remembered -- it was anthologized in Judith Merril's best of the year book, and has been reprinted several times since. (His byline alternated somewhat randomly between "Walter Moudy" and "Walter F. Moudy".) I should add that given my late discovery that he had published some stories in a Sunday supplement, it's possible that there are other Walter Moudy stories out there somewhere.

Moudy had some real talent as an SF writer, mostly centered on a powerful imagination. He wasn't a hard SF writer, for sure. And his characterization skills were thin. His prose was fine -- nothing special, but competent. (That said, his last few stories, from the '70s, were a bit more slickly written than his earlier work.) A couple of his stories remain worth reading, the novel is uneven as heck, but often interesting -- indeed all of his SF is at least OK. (I'd probably skip the sleaze novel.) Could he have had a more prominent career had he lived longer, and spent more time on it? It's hard to say, but it's too bad he didn't get the chance to try. 

No Man on Earth (Berkley, 1964)


This is Moudy's only SF novel, and his first publication, from Berkley in 1964. There were two UK editions, a Whiting and Wheaton hardcover in 1966 and a Corgi paperback in 1967. Despite these three printing, the book is rather hard to find. It recently got some completely unexpected notice when the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks cited it has her "Favorite Book no one has ever heard of" in a New York Times profile. 

It is a curious and interesting if not exactly wholly successful novel. It is one of those novels that changes directions and focus multiple times. You get the sense of a writer with a lot of ideas he wanted to make sure made it into his book. 

It opens in a rural setting, with a young woman pregnant with a child resulting from her rape by a rumored "manwitch". (For people of a certain age, it's hard to see the word "manwitch" and not think of a certain Sloppy Joe mix.) Once born, the child, named Thad, is clearly some sort of superman, even though he and his mother live in deep poverty in what we learn is a reservation of sorts, where a sample of pre-20th Century humans live in conditions resembling, perhaps, the Ozarks as of 1910 or so. The boy's differences attract the attention of the local teacher -- who is of course a representative of the future society that has maintained this reservation. He soon realizes he must escape, and so he does, despite the precautions taken to isolate the reservation. And he lands in Kansas City, while the government tries to track him down after getting a report from the teacher. Thad is interested, by now, in finding his father to take revenge on the rape of his mother, and also in learning all he can about everything -- science in particular. And after various mild adventures, Thad is suddenly making some remarkable inventions, and building a successful business. This becomes a great concern to the government, which has maintained peace partly, it seems, by suppressing innovation.

But Thad's success continues, and he is clever enough to avoid the government's attempts on him. Soon he is engaged in building a starship, having figured out that the "manwitch" who raped his mother must have been an alien. He falls in love with a government spy, who reciprocates his affections and abandons her spy position. The primary POV character throughout this part -- and indeed most of the novel -- is a government agent, Lloyd Coleman, who takes a liking to Thad, but who struggles with the idea that perhaps it is best that he kill him -- for the sake of the human race. 

The upshot is that, after Thad's girlfriend is murdered, the governmaent agrees to allow him to take his starship on a mission of exploration -- as long as he accepts Lloyd and two representatives of other polities -- a Russian woman and a Swedish man. So off they go into space, in search of Thad's father. There follow a few episodes -- almost in Star Trek mode -- as Thad and his crew visit various planets, having adventures such as being imprisoned by the local authorities and having to make a dramatic escape, or fetching up on a planet with very loose sexual morals and thus engaging in flings with the beautiful natives; eventually finding the major center of local galactic civilization, ever finding more and more evidence of Thad's father. The Swedish man and Russian woman, originally sworn enemies, naturally fall in love and decide to stay behind on one of the planets ...

I won't detail the ending. Of course it resolves in a return to Earth, after Thad has finally found his father. Thad decides on an appropriate "punishment" for that man -- only after Lloyd is finally able to work through his conflict about whether it is safe to allow Thad to live. And Thad faces his own destiny ...

This is not a great novel. There isn't a shred of scientific plausibility. The characters are cliches. The writing is competent but not exceptional. The sexual politics are laughable. The plot is a mess, structurally. But ... but ... my interest was maintained throughout. Moudy really had an intriguing imagination, and a clever way with the individual episodes. It's a fun if preoposterous read. 

Short Stories:

"The Dreamer" (Fantastic, April 1965) 3500 words

This is a very slight story, sort of a science fictionalization of a certain sort of fairy tale. It concerns a young failed merchant with a snarky talking parrot, who decides to take a starship to another world where there might be a market for his products. His laziness means he will fail there as well, but he does have one thing of value -- his parrot. And the efforts of his parrot, plus the young man's fortuitous bumbling with respect to a certain princess, do end up making his fortune, and more importantly that of the parrot. It's a trivial piece, but pleasantly enough executed.

"I Think They Love Me" (Fantastic, May 1965) 2000 words

There's a certain cranky get off my lawn aspect to this also rather slight satire of Beatlemania and the general passion showed by fans towards pop groups in that era, as the narrator tells the tale of his time as a pop star, beginning with training in somewhat military fashion for how to survive the raving crowds. Predictable end, and the satire kind of misses the point, but, again, tolerably well-written.

"The Survivor" (Amazing, May 1965) 10,800 words

The real find for me in the May issue was Walter Moudy’s novelet "The Survivor". This could easily have appeared, with trivial changes, in a 2016 magazine. It concerns what we would now call a reality show: a staged war in which 100 soldiers for the Soviet Union and the United States battle for economic benefits. The winning side gets a lot of money from the losing side, and any surviving soldier (the battle is over when all the soldiers on one side are dead) gets his own benefits: financial, no doubt, but mainly personal: he is now immune from prosecution for any crime. The story follows one American soldier, Richard Starbuck, as he experiences the battle, and, through sheer luck, becomes the only survivor, and therefore the reason the US wins. The denouement is inevitable, and shocking, and only too believable. The telling is effective, particularly in its depiction of the "expert" commentary. It’s an excellent story. It wasn’t ignored -- Judith Merril picked it for her Best of the Year book -- and it’s still remembered --Paula Guran reprinted it as recently as 2014. 

"The Peddler" (Kansas City Star Magazine, September 10, 1972)

This is an SF story, about a woman married to a successful man who seems maybe to be losing interest in her. Their house is automated -- '50s SF style automated house, or maybe Jetsons style. The husband leaves for work, warning her he'll be home late -- important meeting. Then a robot peddler shows up, with a special product -- a lie detector mesh to add to any chair in the house. And there's a free trial ... so she accepts the trial, and when her husband gets home late -- well, you can see what's going to happen, and that she'll keep the lie detector. A fairly trivial story, but professionally done. 

"The Search for Man" (In the Wake of Man) 16500 words

"The Search for Man" concerns a child named David Zimmerman, a robot in the far future, with a brain based on a mix of the brain material saved from 12 humans. It seems that humans have died out, but the robots who served them saved the brains of 12 of the best and brightest humans, and since then have made their children (robots do wear out) with intelligence derived from those humans. 

David grows up a particularly promising young man/robot, at first an eager adherent to the robot religion devoted to search for remnants of humans and human civilization. But as he grows older, he becomes disillusioned, and realizes that Man is truly dead -- and he becomes the Anti-Man, convinced that robots must throw off the influence of human history and make their own way. He lectures on this theme, until he meets a young woman who disputes his ideas -- she is the daughter of one of the robot religious leaders. David, against his will, is falling in love -- and he is drawn to meet the woman's father, who has a shocking revelation.

The upshot is that David and his lover head to Mars, where apparently a few humans tried to escape the catastrophe on Earth. And on Mars they find the remnants of those people, who live a horribly constricted life underground. David is able to offer them a return to their future Earth -- but the results of this will inevitably wholly change robot society. The resolution is curious -- inspiring in a way, but dark too, for if anything the Martian humans are more robotic than even the robots. But perhaps hey have more room to change?

It's an intriguing and readable story, though also rather silly in places. Moudy, in general, seemed uninterested in scientific plausibility -- his stories and novel could have almost the feel of 1930s SF. But the ideas behind them were solid and ambitious. He's an uneven writer, but his small oeuvre is worth reading.

Non-SF

The Ninth Commandment (Brandon House, 1966)

As far as I know, this was the only non science fiction book Moudy published. Brandon House was a major Los Angeles based publisher of what were called "sleaze paperbacks" (I apologize to the authors of those, a few of whom I know, who object that their books were not "sleazy" and were professional efforts, simply not publishable at that time by bigger publishers.) Milton Luros was the publisher. They did feature works by SF writers such as Philip Jose Farmer and Richard E. Geis.

This book, to my mind, fits on the tamer side of of the category. It does have several sex scenes, including at least one out and out rape (of a 13 year old girl by her 14 year old cousin), but the scenes are not terribly (if at all) titillating, nor very explicit; and, really, Walter Moudy's intent here seems fairly serious. He really does seem to be attempting to portray the sexual problems of a mid '60s couple in a frank manner -- though the view of, in particular, female sexuality seems profoundly off track. 

The story centers on Norman Thurston, an up and coming Kansas City lawyer in his late 20s, and his wife Rita, a beautiful woman, something of a social climber, but (it seems) somewhat frigid (to use the term then common.) Their lives are disturbed by the return of Norman's older brother Jack, a gambler and rambler (to coin a phrase) who wrote a well-received Kerouacian novel but hasn't done much else with this life.

The setup and the title (the ninth commandment is "Thou shalt not covet thy brother's wife") make it clear that sooner or later Jack Thurston is going to have sex with his sister-in-law Rita, but the novel takes its time. We learn about the early, mostly unsatisfactory, sexual experiences of all three. Of Jack and Norman's upbringing in rural Caryton (which I suspect resembles Moudy's home of Cassville) with an abusive and very religious father, and very little money. Jack gets out as soon as he can and starts wandering, learning along the way that he can easily seduce women but can't stay with them. Norman uses his basketball ability to get to college and become a lawyer. Rita grows up in more established circumstances, her father a successful store owner, her mother part of KC society. But her mother is smothering, and her parents' marriage is all but sexless, and Rita's early experiences (the rape) don't help her either. Her mother clearly thinks Norman, despite his good job, is too low class for her daughter. Rita's efforts to establish herself in local society seem an attempt to both please, and escape, her mother, and to do something about her boring housewife life. (She has a degree from Stephens College in Columbia.)

Jack stays with them, gets into a relationship with an old girlfriend who has gotten divorced, but it goes nowhere. Jack and Rita talk a lot, but there's no hint of sex, until one weekend when Norman has a major trip to make which may make his career, but which means Rita can't go to the society party she coveted ... so she and Jack go out for dinner and dancing instead, and she gets drunk, and Jack takes advantage. Of course leading to an explosive conclusion when both her father and Norman eventually find out ...

I honestly think Moudy was trying for something mildly ambitous -- a portrait of a dying marriage between two basically decent but messed up people. But his characterization is clumsy and forced, and as I said his notions of female sexuality as portrayed here strike me as terribly off; and Rita really seems a cliche. And the sex scenes are dry squibs -- in a novel published by Brandon House I would have supposed the real payoff was supposed to be the porn part ... though as I haven't read any more of those perhaps it was all like this back then?

What made the best of Moudy's fiction work was mostly his imagination. And in this book, he really has no room to use it.

"Please Wrap Separately" (Kansas City Star Magazine, October 1, 1972)

This a brief lightly comic satrical piece about an engineering manager from Kansas City who has been promoted to the home office in New York. He has a pretty wife who went to Vassar, and a pretty mistress on the side. Their birthdays are coincidentally on the same day, so he buys them the same present (perfume), asking the clerk to wrap them separately. But when he gets to his mistress' apartment, there's someone else there ... so he keeps her present, and when he gets home he gives them both to his wife, forgetting the note to his mistress. But on the way in to his apartment he heard evidence of someone sneaking out ... And the story ends with he and his wife realizing what they've both been up to, and deciding they will live with it: it makes things simple for both of them. It's smoothley written, nicely done -- a minor work but not bad.

Here's the Kansas City Star's profile of Moudy, complete with photograph:




Sunday, July 10, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1952

Potential Hugo nominess from 1951 (1952 Worldcon)

Here's my plan for the rest of these 1950s Hugo posts -- to round it off neatly, I'll end up doing one for each Worldcon of the 1950s, meaning stories from 1949 through 1958. I hadn't planned to do one for 1959 as that was the first year that eligibility was restricted to stories from the previous calendar year, and that there was a codified nomination process. The rest of these posts have been aimed at filling in years that didn't have fiction Hugos, either because there were no Hugos, or no Hugos in certain categories, or because the quirky eligibility rules meant that worthy stories were missed. 1958 was well represented at the 1959 Hugos, and so I wasn't going to bother, but I'll go ahead and do a post just to wrap up the '50s Worldcons, as it were. I also can't overemphasize that anyone interested in Hugo history should be reading Jo Walton's An Informal History of the Hugos. Therein Jo discusses the winners and nominees, and potential alternatives, in all the categories (not just fiction), and also includes a number of essays discussing particular Hugo-winning books at length. Anything I write here is superfluous compared to what you can find in her book -- the hope is only to fill in some thoughts on the sparser early years of the Hugos.

The 1952 Worldcon was Chicon II, in Chicago, the tenth World Science Fiction Convention. (This year will be Chicon 8!) As noted, they gave no Hugo awards. The International Fantasy Award went to John Collier's Fancies and Goodnights, a remarkable book, though as a story collection not eligible for a Hugo in this or any year. There was also a non-fiction award, to The Exploration of Space, by Arthur C. Clarke.

Novels

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

The Sands of Mars, by Arthur C. Clarke

Rogue Queen, by L. Sprague de Camp

Mars Child, by "Cyril Judd" (Judith Merril and Cyril M. Kornbluth)

House of Many Worlds, by Sam Merwin, Jr.


Other Possibilities

The Stars, Like Dust, by Isaac Asimov

The Starmen of Llyrdis, by Leigh Brackett

The Moon is Hell, by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Iceworld, by Hal Clement

The Hand of Zei, by L. Sprague de Camp

City at World's End, by Edmond Hamilton

The Puppet Masters, by Robert A. Heinlein

The Tritonian Ring, by Fletcher Pratt

The Weapon Shops of Isher, by A. E. van Vogt

Seetee Ship, by Jack Williamson


Young Adult

Between Planets, by Robert A. Heinlein

Comet in Moominland, by Tove Jansson

Prince Caspian, by C. S. Lewis

Miss Pickerel Goes to Mars, by Ellen MacGregor

Huon of the Horn, by Andre Norton

On the whole, what a dispiriting set of novels. I might vote for The Sands of Mars, which I enjoyed, though I haven't reread it in a long time. Alternately, I suppose Foundation is the most significant "novel" on the list, though I downgrade it as essentially a selection of stories from several years earlier, only "eligible" due to the (rather weak) opening section ("The Psychohistorians") which was written especially for the book. I suspect back then the winner might have been The Weapon Shops of Isher. Van Vogt just doesn't do it for me, but he's important to the field, and I can see why the final line of the "sequel" The Weapon Makers ("Here is the race that shall rule the sevagram.") thrilled readers. Of the YA novels, Huon of the Horn is possibly the very earliest Andre Norton I read, maybe only at age 10 or so, but I remember loving it.

Novellas

"Black Amazon of Mars", by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, March)

"The Continent Makers", by L. Sprague de Camp (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April)

"The Fireman", by Ray Bradbury (Galaxy, February)

"Beyond Bedlam", by Wyman Guin (Galaxy, August)

"... And Then There Were None", by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding, June)


Other Possibilities:

"The Virgin of Valkarion", by Poul Anderson (Planet Stories, July)

"Witch of the Demon Seas", by Poul Anderson (Planet Stories, December)

"Earthlight", by Arthur C. Clarke (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August)

"The Road to the Sea", by Arthur C. Clarke (Two Complete Science-Adventure Novels, March)

"A Stitch in Time", by Sylvia Jacobs (Astounding, April)

"The Illusionists", by James H. Schmitz (Astounding, March)

"Overlords of Maxus" aka "Maxos", by Jack Vance (Thrilling Wonder Stories, February)

"... And Then There Were None" is the Science Fiction Hall of Fame story here, and it's a good story, and of course "The Fireman" is the first version of Fahrenheit 451, also very good: but my vote goes without hesitation to the more adventurous, more unusual story, Wyman Guin's "Beyond Bedlam"; which is truly brilliant. It's a story that has never precisely been forgotten -- it was immediately anthologized in the first Galaxy Reader, and again in the Amis/Conquest Spectrum II, and later in Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg's Arbor House Treasury of Great Science Fiction Short Novels -- but though it has a mild reputation it deserves even more -- among other things it achieves real tragedy. 

Beyond THAT, I confess again my fondness for ancient unserious but fun pulp by citing the two glorious planetary romance stories by Poul Anderson, and Jack Vance's little known "Maxos", to say nothing of Leigh Brackett's classic "Black Amazon of Mars", which was later expanded and radically altered (probably by her husband Edmond Hamilton) into the Ace Double half People of the Talisman.

Novelettes

"The Marching Morons", by C. M. Kornbluth (Galaxy, April)

"Dune Roller", by J. C. May (Astounding, May)

"Bettyann", by Kris Neville (New Tales of Space and Time)

"Angel's Egg", by Edgar Pangborn (Galaxy, June)

"The New Prime", by Jack Vance (Worlds Beyond, February)

"Self Portrait", by Bernard Wolfe (Galaxy, November)


Other possibilities

"Honorable Enemy", by Poul Anderson (Future, May)

"Breeds There a Man", by Isaac Asimov (Astounding, June)

"The C-Chute", by Isaac Asimov (Galaxy, October)

"Second Dawn", by Arthur C. Clarke (Science Fiction Quarterly, August)

"Venus Mission", by "J. T. M'Intosh" (James MacGregor) (Planet Stories, July)

"Casting Office", by Kris Neville (Astounding, March)

"The Universe Between", by Alan E. Nourse (Astounding, September)

"The Incubi of Parallel X", by Theodore Sturgeon (Planet Stories, September)

There was a time the obvious choice might have been "The Marching Morons" (an SF Hall of Fame story) but for me its eugenicism (and concomitant bad genetic science) as well as the way its cynicism has curdled have soured the story. I think now that "Angel's Egg" should be the winner. The author of "Dune Roller" is Julian May, then married to anthologist T. E. Dikty, who had a slow burning writing career until it exploded with The Many Colored Land. "Casting Office" would have been a good nomination possibility as well. (John Boston recently reminded me of this story.) "The Universe Between" along with "High Threshold" were years later turned into the YA novel The Universe Between, which wowed me at age 12. "Second Dawn" is another story I recall thrilling me at age 12. "Venus Mission" is a better than expected J. T. M'Intosh story -- exciting adventure, with a female character with real agency (undermined as usual by M'Intosh's conventional sexism.) The Anderson story, as I recall, is the first to feature Merseians. The Sturgeon story, despite its lurid title and lurid premise (giant women in another dimension), is actually not bad. John Boston suggested Bernard Wolfe's "Self Portrait", a cynical story about advances in prosthetics and artificial intelligence and their likely actual uses (including voluntary amputation and war by computer (as borrowed in a Star Trek episode), by the author of the still-remembered Limbo, a true SF novel published in the mainstream and called by J. G. Ballard the best SF novel of its time.

Short Stories

"The Quest for Saint Aquin", by "Anthony Boucher" (William Anthony Parker White) (New Tales of Space and Time)

"The Fog Horn", by Ray Bradbury (Saturday Evening Post, June 23)

"A Pail of Air", by Fritz Leiber (Galaxy, December)

"Survival Ship", by Judith Merril (Worlds Beyond, January)

"The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles", by "Idris Seabright" (Margaret St. Clair) (F&SF, October)


Other Possibilities

"Duel on Syrtis", by Poul Anderson (Planet Stories, March)

"Of Time and Third Avenue", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, October)

"The Sentinel" aka "Sentinel of Eternity", by Arthur C. Clarke (10 Story Fantasy, Spring 1951)

"The Weapon", by Fredric Brown (Astounding, April)

"Quit Zoomin' Those Hands Through the Air", Jack Finney (Collier's, August 4)

"Nice Girl with Five Husbands", by Fritz Leiber (Galaxy, April)

"Feedback", by Katherine MacLean (Astounding, July)

"Pictures Don't Lie", by Katherine MacLean (Galaxy, August)

"Hunt the Hunter", by Kris Neville (Galaxy, July)

"Brightness Falls from the Air", by "Idris Seabright" (Margaret St. Clair) (F&SF, April)

"Built Down Logically", by Howard Schoenfeld (F&SF, December)

"Betelgeuse Bridge", by "William Tenn" (Philip Klass) (Galaxy, April)

"Null-P", by "William Tenn" (Philip Klass) (Worlds Beyond, January)

A pretty good set of short stories, I think. Once again I'm torn -- Bradbury's classic, Boucher's SF Hall of Fame story, and Seabright's mordant piece all strike me as worthy winners. Merril's story has the most pointed message, but isn't as well developed as a story. The whole list of other possibilities are, I think, on nearly the same level, and any of them would have made a good nominee.




Thursday, July 7, 2022

Obscure Classic Anthology: In the Wake of Man, edited (uncredited) by Roger Elwood

Obscure Classic Anthology: In the Wake of Man, edited (uncredited) by Roger Elwood

by Rich Horton

Roger Elwood published about 60 anthologies between 1964 and 1978, with more than 40 of them appearing in the three years from 1973 through 1975. This sudden outpouring, and its sudden cessation, led to a narrative that suggests that Elwood saturated the SF anthology market to an unhealthy degree in that period, and that that glut of books largely ruined the market. Elwood was also criticized for the low quality of his books, and for shady editorial practices.

I have felt for some time that these criticisms are overblown. Jonathan Strahan did a study of the quantity of anthologies published over time, and showed only a slight and temporary effect of Elwood's boom and following bust -- over time, the number of original anthologies stayed fairly constant. His editorial practices can fairly be criticized on a couple of grounds -- he was somewhat prudish, and apparently uncomfortable with depictions of homosexuality, or indeed with much sexual content at all. His series of novels, Laser Books (an imprint of Harlequin) did impose strict content restrictions, including a requirement for a happy ending, and very specific length restrictions. (It should be noted that these were not dissimilar to Harlequin's usual rules for their Romance novels.) Some have accused him of cheating authors -- if in fact this happened, of course it was wrong, but I have not seen any direct evidence of this.

The more interesting complaints, to me, concern the quality of the stories he published. I was buying books at that time, and I bought a lot of Elwood paperbacks. And I found them -- okay. They weren't great books, mostly, but they featured some good stories, among some mediocre stories, and some clunkers. As such they were comparable to -- I'd say, actually, somewhat better than -- Martin H. Greenberg's similarly massive outpouring of anthologies in the early 2000s. In no way were Elwood's books equal to the great anthology series of that era -- Orbit, New Dimensions, and Universe -- but they fit nicely at the next tier. He published a lot of new or unfamiliar writers, and regularly published some of the best writers of that time -- the likes of Gene Wolfe, Barry Malzberg, Edgar Pangborn, and R. A. Lafferty, for example. And a few of his books were a cut above. One example is the Continuum series -- four books each containing part of a series of stories by the same writers from book to book. Another example is his massive collaboration with Robert Silverberg, Epoch. And this book, In the Wake of Man, is a third example. 


It's a theme anthology of three novellas. The theme is, more or less -- what will come after man? The three stories all treat this theme in striking fashion, and in different ways. And they are all strong stories, with one of them a true classic. Two of the authors are all time greats, and the other is an obscure writer, who only published one SF novel and four shorter works. Herewith I'll discuss each story.

"From the Thunder Colt's Mouth" by R. A. Lafferty (27,000 words)

This is Lafferty at his most Lafferty-esque, to a fault at times, especially as the story opens. But by the end it coheres, and gains considerable power. It is set in New Orleans, some long time in the future, though none of this is at all clear at first, or for a very long time. We are introduced to an array of Lafferty eccentrics ... the stubborn and malodorous Zabotski ("He's about the last of them", people say, and only by the end do we understand), Margaret Stone, Mary Virginia Schaeffer, Absalom Stein, and, perhaps most importantly, Melchisedech Duffey, a very long lived person who owns an establishement called the Walk-In Art Bijou. This place has been overtaken by an organization called "The Society for Creative History" or "The Royal Pop Historians". Duffey doesn't know how this happened, and seems powerless to stop it, even as he notices that buildings seem to be mysteriously appearing and disappearing. 

The story continues -- rambles, of course it rambles, it's Lafferty -- as the people of this city attend the Pop History presentation (learning, for example, how to uncover past history as preserved in rocks) and discuss what's happening with each other and with some of the Pop historians. As with any Lafferty story, you need to be open to just absorbing his divagations, his wild descriptions, the strange events never explained; and to accept -- indeed revel in -- his elaborate tall-tale derived prose. And as we read on, more and more becomes clear, and indeed little things we saw at the beginning suddenly take on new meaning, such as the advertised Pop History topic "It Doesn't Matter, They're only Human". And, indeed, we learn that most of the characters -- certainly all the Pop Historians -- are not human, but some strange successor (?) species, perhaps imitating humans, and they are engaged in at last ridding the world of the malodorous unpleasant stench of Humanity.

In a curious way, I was reminded of a very different story, Samuel R. Delany's The Einstein Intersection -- not in theme at all, but in presenting what seem aliens impersonating -- in some fashion -- humans. This is just a passing resemblance, not truly a parallel, but it does seem to me that The Einstein Intersection fits the theme of this anthology very well. Also, I should mentioned that this story is part of Lafferty's extended Argos Mythos, in which one of the main characters is Melchisedech Duffey. It has not been reprinted in this form, but it seems to be part of one of the published Argos novels (More Than Melchisedech) and I suspect that in that context it will read somewhat differently thematically. (The only part of that long series I have read is The Devil is Dead, so it is hard for me to discuss it coherently.)

"Tracking Song", by Gene Wolfe (28,000 words)

"Tracking Song" is one of Gene Wolfe's great novellas -- like several SF writers (Damon Knight and Kim Stanley Robinson are other examples) Wolfe was magnficent at that length, and he wrote a great many of them. It's also one of his strangest and most difficult stories. Gardner Dozois used to say (in print and in person -- I heard him!) that he and Michael Swanwick spent an hour or more trying to figure out what really happened in "Tracking Song" and decided they'd failed. Me too, pretty much -- but it's still worth the effort. 

The story is told by a man called "Cutthroat" -- because he has a scar across his throat. He is living with a group of primitive people, who picked him up after finding him in the snow, shortly after the Great Sleigh passed by. He is telling his story into a recording device he has. It's clear his technology is advanced far beyond that of the people he is with. It's a cold place, and the Sleigh leaves tracks -- and Cutthroat decides to follow them.

Soon we realize (or should, perhaps on first reading it takes longer) that Cutthroat has been abandoned by the Great Sleigh, and the people he is with are actually uplifted animals. The Great Sleigh appears to continually circumnavigate this world, which seems much smaller than Earth. (Some readers suggest Mars (there are two moons), though to me it seems even smaller, perhaps an asteroid somewhere?) Cutthroat leaves the first group he is with, who seem to be wolf-derived, to try to catch the Great Sleigh. In the process he encounters a variety of different uplifted animals -- derived from pigs, deer, minks, birds ... He learns soon that the people of the Great Sleigh have revealed some things to the inhabitants of this world -- the world is warming, for one thing, and there are laws they must follow (though few do) -- particularly, they should not eat the meat of any intelligent being. (But the predator species still eat the prey!) A key person he meets is Cim Glowing, a woman who seems to be mink-derived. She is kidnapped and taken, leading to a key episode underground, in a city inhabited largely by robots of some sort, as well as some part-metal people, and one person, Mantru, who might be the "last man".

I don't want to keep synopsizing -- Cutthroat rescues Cim Glowing, fights Mantru, is seriously wounded, and back on the surface, keeps following the Great Sleigh, finally reaching it -- but perhaps on the point of death. The ending is obscure, perhaps transcendent, perhaps simply tragic (for Cutthroat, at least.) And what is really going on? My best guess, informed to be sure by reading several online discussions and listening to a couple of podcasts, is that humans -- possibly dying out, possibly simply unable to inhabit this particular world -- have done some degree of terraforming, and uplifted a variety of animals, and hope to leave the world to a cooperative group of varying uplifted species. Cutthroat's job -- unknown to him -- is to somehow evaluate the readiness of the uplifted species to be left alone.

It is, as I said, mysterious, strange, evocative, inspiring, frustrating. Wolfe's work remains essential to the SF field, and close examination of not just his great, also mysterious, novels, but his short fiction, remains fruitful

"The Search for Man", by Walter Moudy (16,500 words)

Walter F. Moudy was born in Cassville, Missouri, a very rural town in the Ozarks of Southwestern Missouri, near the Arkansas border, in 1929, and died in Kansas City in 1973, not yet 44 (I believe in a car accident.) He published an SF novel, No Man on Earth, in 1964, followed by three stories in Cele Lalli's magazines, Amazing and Fantastic, in 1965, and a sleaze paperback, The Ninth Commandment (set, by the way, in Kansas City) in 1966. His only other SF story was this one, published after his death. One of his stories, "The Survivor", is well-remembered -- it was anthologized in Judith Merril's best of the year book, and has been reprinted several times since.

"The Search for Man" concerns a child named David Zimmerman, a robot in the far future, with a brain based on a mix of the brain material saved from 12 humans. It seems that humans have died out, but the robots who served them saved the brains of 12 of the best and brightest humans, and since then have made their children (robots do wear out) with intelligence derived from those humans. 

David grows up a particularly promising young man/robot, at first an eager adherent to the robot religion devoted to search for remnants of humans and human civilization. But as he grows older, he becomes disillusioned, and realizes that Man is truly dead -- and he becomes the Anti-Man, convinced that robots must throw off the influence of human history and make their own way. He lectures on this theme, until he meets a young woman who disputes his ideas -- she is the daughter of one of the robot religious leaders. David, against his will, is falling in love -- and he is drawn to meet the woman's father, who has a shocking revelation.

The upshot is that David and his lover head to Mars, where apparently a few humans tried to escape the catastrophe on Earth. And on Mars they find the remnants of those people, who live a horribly constricted life underground. David is able to offer them a return to their future Earth -- but the results of this will inevitably wholly change robot society. The resolution is curious -- inspiring in a way, but dark too, for if anything the Martian humans are more robotic than even the robots. But perhaps hey have more room to change?

It's an intriguing and readable story, though also rather silly in places. Moudy, in general, seemed uninterested in scientific plausibility -- his stories and novel could have almost the feel of 1930s SF. But the ideas behind them were solid and ambitious. He's an uneven writer, but his small oeuvre is worth reading.