Sunday, September 30, 2012

Short Story of the Week (October 2012)

Each week at the Classic Science Fiction Message Board we read a short science fiction piece (short story, novelette or novella). These stories are always available for FREE online so that anyone can participate in the discussion. The stories are chosen by a different member every month, so that we get to read a variety of stories. October's stories are being picked by Jim Harris

I’ve lived in Memphis, Tennesse since 1971, but spent most of my first 20 years living in Miami Florida, but also lived in South Carolina, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Texas.  I’ve been married since 1978, to my wonderful wife Susan.  She sometimes reads science fiction, but mostly not.
I’d say science fiction is the defining attribute of my life.  Science fiction gave my childhood a tremendous sense of wonder that has never diminished.
I discovered Robert A. Heinlein in 1964 and he became my literary father, and lifelong favorite science fiction writer, although I rebelled against him four years later because of the Vietnam War.  After I got over my Heinlein hero worship, I read widely in science fiction, finding many writers to admire, but I never found any other science fiction book that gave me the sense-of-wonder thrills than those 12 Heinlein juveniles I read at age thirteen.
I moved to Memphis in 1971, I joined the local science fiction club, started going to conventions, put out fanzines and apazines, and embraced the whole fan culture.  I gafiated in 1974 and sold off my whole collection of books and pulp magazines. Because of getting married, finishing college and starting my career in computers, I didn’t read science fiction for many years.
For some reason in 1984, I got back into science fiction, and have been reading it ever since. 
In 2002 I joined and I started buying audio books of all the science fiction I read as a teenager.  I still read science fiction with my eyes, but I mostly listen to it.  I love finding audio editions of classic science fiction short stories, but they aren’t that common.  

Week #1- "Tumithak of the Corridors" by Charles R. Tanner 

From the January 1932 issue of Amazing Stories.  I discovered this story decades ago in Asimov's Before the Golden Age anthology.  All I can remember about the story was it was my favorite of the whole anthology.  I haven't even reread it yet.  I thought it would be fun to see if it's still good, and for us to read something really old.

If you like Tumithak, there was three sequels that were made into a book.  Amazon even has it as a $3.99 ebook.

Week #2- "The Chronic Argonauts" by H. G. Wells

Did you know that H. G. Wells wrote this short story about time travel seven years before his classic novella, "The Time Machine" came out in 1895? 

I vaguely knew this and always meant to check it out, but until now I haven't.  I'm hoping that picking it for this week's story will get me to finally read it.  I always thought it was just a shorter version of the novella, but that's not true.

By the way I have this really cool edition of THE TIME MACHINE called A Norton Critical Edition edited by Stephen Arata, which contains both stories and many essays, early reviews and even an alternate ending and other writings by Wells related to the story.  Here's what they say about it at Amazon:

Intrigued by the possibilities of time travel as a student and inspired as a journalist by the great scientific advances of the Victorian Age, Wells drew on his own scientific publications—on evolution, degeneration, species extinction, geologic time, and biology—in writing The Time Machine. This Norton Critical Edition is based on the first London edition of the novel. It is accompanied by detailed explanatory annotations and “A Note on the Text.”

“Backgrounds and Contexts” is organized thematically into four sections: “The Evolution of The Time Machine” presents alternative versions and installments and excerpts of the author’s time-travel story; “Wells’s Scientific Journalism (1891–94)” focuses on the scientific topics central to the novel; “Wells on The Time Machine” reprints the prefaces to the 1924, 1931, and 1934 editions; and “Scientific and Social Contexts” collects five widely read texts by the Victorian scientists and social critics Edwin Ray Lankester, Thomas Henry Huxley, Benjamin Kidd, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), and Balfour Stewart and Peter Guthrie Tait.

“Criticism” includes three important early reviews of The Time Machine from the Spectator, the Daily Chronicle, and Pall Mall Magazine as well as eight critical essays that reflect our changing emphases in reading and appreciating this futuristic novel. Contributors include Yevgeny Zamyatin, Bernard Bergonzi, Kathryn Hume, Elaine Showalter, John Huntington, Paul A. Cantor and Peter Hufnagel, Colin Manlove, and Roger Luckhurst.

A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.

Week #3- "Gulf" by Robert Heinlein 

"Gulf" is a fascinating story. It was a trial run back in 1949 for what Heinlein would later explore in Stranger in a Strange Land.

"Gulf" might be one of the most subtly offensive stories ever written for science fiction, and might reveal the basic beliefs of Heinlein.  It appears to suggest, if you study this story in context of his other writing, that Heinlein thought he knew better than other people about how things should work.  There's a kind of hidden elitism here that's fascinating to observe.  I think back in the 1940s and 1950s science fiction fans really wanted to be Slans.

Apologists for Heinlein always claim that his characters aren't speaking for him.  But when you hear character after character express the same old ideas, it's hard to believe that.

It explores the problem:  Do geniuses know how to rule better than ordinary men?

The story deals with language and developing the mind.  It also deals with ESP, but a different take.

I think this story is worth knowing as part of knowing about science fiction history.

Week #4 "The Scarlet Plague" by Jack London

Here's another classic science fiction story, "The Scarlet Plague" by Jack London. It's a little long though. It's something I've always wanted to read.


  1. Great feature/intro Jim. When I read those Heinlein juveniles I can connect with that sense of wonder you describe. These stories are still so infused with that sense of wonder that they continue to make an impression today. I have several friends who have all re-discovered these together over the last few years and we've all been impressed. One has been reading them to his teenage children and they are fans as well. I love that about good stories.

    I kind of got away from science fiction during part of my 20's in large part because I wasn't as avid a reader as I had been in my childhood or now have been over the last 15 years or so. I'm glad I did get back to it. It is my first love and it is great to have a relationship with it again.

  2. One of us should nominate a Heinlein juvenile for one of our 2013 group reads? The question is which one?

  3. Jim would nominate Have Space Suit Will Travel, and I'd vote for it because it is one I haven't read.

  4. It's a great one...I guess I was hoping for one I haven't read, but unless it's my nomination I can't be all that picky, right?

  5. Well there are several I haven't read so I'm open to bribes!!!

  6. I don't know what I'd bribe you with, but I'm thinking "Star Beast" or "Citizen of the Galaxy"

  7. I haven't read Citizen. I have listened to the most excellent audio version of Star Beast and would certainly be up for it again. Such a fun book.

  8. Have Space Suit-Will Travel was nominated in the last round, and lost to Podkayne of Mars? I'd still like to see it get discussed.

    Bill likes Citizen of the Galaxy.

    My second and third choices are Tunnel in the Sky and Time for the Stars.

    Yeah, we should decide on one and not split the vote. I'm willing to go along with whatever you guys choose.

  9. I'd be willing to do "Time for the Stars."

  10. Another I haven't read, so I'd vote for it

  11. OK, I'll nominate Time for the Stars when the time comes. Let's hope someone else doesn't nominate a conflicting Heinlein.

    1. If they do we'll have to put a hit out!

      I say get yours out first and that may discourage a competing book from the same author. I know when I see an author out there I don't have any desire to nominate a competing book. Seems like a sure way to have neither of them make it.

    2. LOL. Put a hit out. :)

      Well, I'm glad the Heinlein matter is settled. Now I just have to figure out what I'm going to nominate. I always think of books months before the nomination, but then forget.

    3. You see I figured this out and then promptly forgot. So I'll post it here so it's in writing. "Time and Again" by Jack Finney which I've wanted to read since we talked about it when we were doing our top ten lists. And "Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis

  12. Great! I love Time and Again. I read it years ago after my best friend moved to New York. It was fun to read it after having visited there a few times. The Dakota Building is one of my favorite buildings anyway and that book is part of the reason.

    And I have Doomsday Book and have wanted to read it for some time.