Of All Possible Worlds by William Tenn (book review).

William Tenn aka Philip Klass (1920-2010) had this anthology of 8 short stories, ‘Of All Possible Worlds’ out in 1956 with this reprint in 1966 and looking at google, many editions since. His introduction, ‘On The Fiction In Science Fiction’, is practically a pep talk for future generations as to what makes good SF. If you’re going to leave a legacy, then this has to one of those top of the tree. I’m picking a couple stories out here.

The first, ‘The Tenants’, has two odd characters called Tohu and Bohu, who want to rent the thirteenth floor of a building. Thing is, there is no thirteenth floor, superstition means you go from twelfth to fourteen with nothing in between, and the building real estate manager Sydney Blake can’t convince them otherwise. Instead, they go elsewhere to his manager and get the rights anyway. Blake doesn’t know what is going on, especially as decorators and such can use the lift to get in and go to the thirteenth and he can’t until they are finally leaving. If it wasn’t for the setting, then this could well be regarded as a fantasy but it’s a funny story with a twist.

A title like ‘Flirgleflip’ always deserves looking up. Tertin is a time traveller into the past and when, for the want of a better word, interrogated by scientists about the future has to explain what his speciality is. To quote, ‘A flirgleflip is one who flips fergs with a flirgleflip.’ Any wiser? Actually, it’s a residue left on Mars by energy beings which when ground into glass allowing time travel. If you thought the Kuttners were the only SF writers with a perchance for odd words, read this one.

‘Project Hush’ is a covert landing on Mars by the US Army and the discovery that there’s another base a distance from them. A lot of this story is about the three men, two of which are civilian, plan to do to find out who is there. I won’t reveal the twist and, although I don’t think it would work today, is that’s only because we know enough about the procedure.

The final story, ‘Party Of The Two Parts’ , has the alien amoeba-like (although not sure in what way other than reproductive) L’payr coming to Earth and trading in what, on his world and elsewhere, pornographic material and is arrested on his return. On Earth, it is seen as technical medical photos. Remember, this is 1956, so it even a hint of the subject matter at the time must have appeared risqué but truly an indication of what is in the eye of the beholder.

Picking out stories here rather than tell you about all of them is tricky. The range of stories in this volume extends into space and time and first contact and full of surprises. They also demonstrate the type of American personalities were like back then but we do a similar thing with modern stories as its easier to relate to the readers. That, itself, is also contradictory when you realise how many people read historical novels. Why should SF be excluded from that? There are also similar personality traits common to all eras.

GF Willmetts

January 2023

(pub: Mayflower-Dell, 1966 – many reprints since. 190 page paperback. Price: varies)

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