Having in his pile of manuscripts more good long stories than can sensibly be put into his excellent ‘Magazine Of Fantasy Ad Science Fiction’, editor Gordon Van Gelder decided to publish some of them in a special one-off book edition. As you might expect from the title, this collection of four novellas leans towards the melancholy side of the human condition. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading, for it certainly is, but expect to be a bit saddened and even disturbed by some of the tales. Powerful fiction can do that. Powerful fiction is meant to do that. So, what are they about?
As the world’s best-selling book tells their side of the story, them Israelites have had it all their own way with parts of ancient history. Jan Lars Jensen re-dresses the balance a little in ‘Goliath Of Gath’. He fought with the Philistines, of course, against David but it turns out he wasn’t really one of those culturally bereft middle easterners. Goliath was of the Anakim, a tribe of giants who had been around since the early days of the world it was said, but were now reduced to just one family. Goliath had a few brothers but he was, for a while, the runt of the litter, an undersized giant and not respected. This made him a lonely soul. Eventually, things changed and he went on to fame, if not glory. Jan Lars Jensen wrings a touching story from the thin historical material, though he may have made it a bit too long. I won‘t give away the ending. I would once have assumed that everyone knows the ending but nowadays, who can tell?
Eric Carl Wolf‘s ‘The Demands Of Ghosts’ by way of contrast to the opening story, is set in the future and mankind has spread out to the stars. Our first person hero finds himself on Toom, a world of perpetual wind and endless grassland where the only industry is beef, the tastiest beef in the galaxy. The narrator meets an interesting woman named Una who runs a small shop selling musical instruments to the vaqueros. Toom is a company town and there’s not much to do. The endless grassland drives some crazy. As with Stephen King’s story ’Beachworld’, there’s a certain fascination, a sort of horror, evoked by the idea of a planet with just one kind of landscape but, though the setting is well-wrought here, it is secondary to the interplay of Wolf’s interesting characters as their back stories are gradually revealed. A good read.
‘One Day At The Zoo’ by Rand B. Lee opens with a mother throwing her twelve year-old daughter to the Alaskan brown bear at the Albuquerque zoo. I’m sure many parents have been inclined to similar actions with their teen-age children but it’s not nice. Our heroine, the twelve year-old victim, is Eulie and her father’s name is Leo Chan. He is a scientist who works in the Genetics Studies Division of the Department of Health and Education. She keeps repeating this to the nurses after she is rescued, hoping they will listen. Her mother is not just crazy but very dangerous, too, having trained as a combat soldier in the war with China. The back story also involves a plague which hit the USA and killed about a third of the population. The children of some survivors…well, I’m not going to tell you the plot. Suffice to say that Rand B. Lee tells a touching story with unfortunate echoes of some stuff that happens in the real world. There are also slight echoes of a well-known comicbook and film franchise but the author, via the protagonist, makes a joke of these near the end. Another good read with a couple of very likeable characters.
There are few likeable characters in ‘Final Kill’ by Chris De Vito. It begins with hired killer Passian passing through immigration on Ceres. He’s on a mission. This story is set in the solar system but maybe a couple of hundred years in the future. There are colonies on Luna and Mars, habitats circling the Earth. There has evidently been a lot of progress in genetics and medicine but not much in social values if the events here are anything to go by. Conglomerates, governments and other groups vie for power. Drugs, it seems, is the biggest business. The story is told in the third person from different points of view so we get a well-rounded notion of all the characters. It’s a complicated, visceral, powerful tale loaded with sex and violence though both are so coldly described as to seem unimportant. Organs abound, especially genitalia. It’s not for the faint-hearted but it might well be the best thing in the book for behind it all, as behind any really good Science Fiction story, is a great idea. You might not think it’s such a great idea by the time you finish.
It has been said, as Gordon Van Gelder notes in his introduction, that the novella is the perfect form for Science Fiction or fantasy. Long enough to pack in enough detail about your alternative world, short enough to be read in one sitting. Mostly, this is said by the very famous and gifted author Robert Silverberg. This collection of four novellas is good evidence in favour of his view.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. Kindle Edition File Size: 452KB. 267 digital pages. Price: $ 6.16 (US), $ 4.08 (UK))
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