A Miscellany of Short Fiction

Readers of First Impressions know of my inordinate fondness for the Alexandria Digital Literature site, which has to be one of my more obsessive peccadilloes given that I really don’t need more recommendations for literature. Fact is, I just wallow in the sheer joy of all that reading material that is still out there for me to enjoy, and I love anything that gives me a way of approach to the mountain of literature left to read. Recently, I increased the number of recommendations returned by Hypatia, and sought out the short fiction that came up:

  • Roger Zelazny, “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”–A nicely done story of cultures meeting, poetry, and prophecies being fulfilled. What makes this story work is Zelazny’s knowledge of poetry and the Bible, because the basic SF in it is just that–basic action/ adventure (think Edgar Rice Burroughs). Zelazny’s note in this edition (The Illustrated Roger Zelazny) confirms his fondness for Burroughs and the mythology of Mars and lost cultures.
  • C.L. Moore, “Vintage Season”–A science fiction classic about a perfect time and some visitors who came to enjoy the season. The concept behind the story has been a central conceit of many stories since (the most recent being John Kessel’s Corrupting Dr. Nice), but C.L. Moore was there first. It doesn’t affect modern readers the same as when it was published in the 1940s, however, mostly due to the amazing number of stories which have assumed its “trick.” Of historical value.
  • Roger Zelazny, “For A Breath I Tarry”–The idea that machines might one day live is both a hope and a fear. What makes something human was the question that Phil Dick devoted his life to, trying to distinguish between the real and the artificial. In this classic story, Zelazny took a try at the subject, with wonderful results. Frost is a machine with a hobby: the study of man. His interest leads him to the ultimate hubris, to become man. Well-reasoned and well-written.
  • Harlan Ellison, “Jeffty is Five”–I’m not one who cares over much for nostalgia, especially of those lovely days when life was so much simpler in the 50s or those heady days of revolt in the 60s. This dislike for reminiscence is one of the reasons I never cared for the work of Ray Bradbury. So why is it that I love this story by Ellison about the eternal 5-year-old Jeffty? I think it is because Ellison, while in love with the halcyon days of his youth, knows that he must hang the story on the characters, not the history. Jeffty may be the title character, but it is Donny the narrator who brings out the pathos of the tale. And because Donny is not Ellison, although a close substitute, he moves the story from autobiography to a larger universal. The ending gives me a shiver, even after the fourth reading in twenty years, so it’s got something working on me.
  • William Gibson, “New Rose Hotel”–It is always interesting to return to the scene of the crime–the place where it changed. Reading Gibson’s short stories again reminds me why we were so excited about cyberpunk at the time. The quick, tight prose. The brand names. The attention to detail. And, of course, the ugly element of the technology that wasn’t quite so friendly anymore.
  • Connie Willis, “Fire Watch”–The beginning of all of Willis’ time travel stories, and a strong start at that. The clever twist of it being a “test” for a history major is ancilliary to her theme that “history is people.” The research into the period is good, and the characterization even better.

[Finished 1 April 1998]

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