Jeffty is Five by Harlan Ellison – Selection #26 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♥5♥ Five of Hearts (image from playingcardcollector.net) Honestly, it was not intentional that I assigned this story to a “5” card, just a happy coincidence.

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the “Fates” from Classical Greek Mythology who “sang of things that are yet to be” i.e., things in the future – the setting for this story. Atropos is also frequently represented as holding a pair of scissors with which she snips the thread of life which is spun by her two sisters, Clotho and Lachesis.

The Selection: “Jeffry is Five” – First published in 1977 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction thus not surprisingly included my copy of The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction volume 2.

The Author: Harlan Ellison – Born in Ohio in 1927 (on my birthday, I just discovered!) I was a little surprised to find that I had never blogged about one of his stories before. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you are familiar with some of his work. He wrote the screenplay for one of the most acclaimed (& rightly so in this blogger’s opinion) episodes of the original series: “City on the Edge of Forever” which featured a young Joan Collins as a guest star. His 1957 short story, “Soldier of Tomorrow” was adapted for the television series Outer Limits’ episode, “Soldier.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Jeffty is Five

“It’s a good world, all things considered. It’s much better than it used to be, in a lot of ways. People don’t die from the old diseases any more. They die from new ones, but that’s Progress, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Tell me. Somebody please tell me.”

I’ve always had a fondness for stories that play around with time. (I’m actually reading one right now – Jack Finney’s Time and Again). Vonnegut’s most famous protagonist – Billy Pilgrim if I have to tell you! – is just that because he becomes “Unstuck in Time.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Benjamin Button puts a different spin on time, aging “backwards” after having been born an old man. There are other stories of those whose time is accelerated somehow, but what of Jeffty in this story? What’s his temporal oddity? What can we learn from a five year old about time? Pretty much, it turns out, because not only is Jeffty five. He’s always five.

We learn this from our narrator, Donny, who, though he has now grown up, was once five together with Jeffty, enjoying all that the magic of the world and the friendship of that age has to offer. Of all the characters in the story – even Jeffty’s parents – Donny is the one person who remains close to Jeffty, somehow appreciating him in spite of his oddity.

How does Jeffty remain always five? It seems this is partly achieved by his somehow being able to tune in to “live” radio shows that are no longer in production. At one point in the story Donny finds, for example, that Jeffty has a brand new decoder badge from the Captain Midnight radio program. That program has been off the air for twenty years, so how did Jeffty get this new “merch?” He simply “sent away for it,” apparently.

Alas, Donny is also a busy and successful businessman, and a stop by his television and appliance store with Jeffty on the way to the movies might spell doom…

“Nowhere… is there recognition of the ferocity the Present always brings to bear on the Past. Nowhere is there a detailed statement of how the Present lies in wait for What-Was, waiting for it to become Now-This-Moment so it can shred it with its merciless jaws.”

Have you read anything by Harlan Ellison? What other stories or works by him would you recommend? (below: from Ellison’s famous episode of ST:TOS)

“He knows, Doctor. He knows.”

♫♫ Personal notes: I became aware of this story a little more than two years ago when a “short story book club” I formed at my office was collecting story suggestions from our readers. This was one that never got picked and, perhaps not coincidentally, the member that proposed it only came to our first meeting. It has remained on my radar though, largely because on the intriguing title. In the intro to the story in my anthology, it is revealed that Ellison once “mis-heard” someone at a dinner party talking about their little boy, Jeff, saying “Oh, Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” (I love hearing these origin stories about literary works!)

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The Future is Now by Katherine Anne Porter – Selection #23 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♠A♠ Ace of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s sings of things that are (i.e. the “present” for Deal Me In purposes). This story’s title meant I could probably put it with Fate representing the present or future. I went with the present.

The Selection: “The Future is Now” – published in 1950  and included my copy of The Best American Essays of the Century” edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I found a google docs pdf copy of the essay online here.

The Author: Katherine Anne Porter – Born in Texas in 1890 and famous for her novel “Ship of Fools” and countless stories and essays. She’s been featured at Bibliophilopolis before, and my post about her short story “Theft” remains one of my more frequently visited pages.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The Future is Now

“And yet it may be that what we have is a world not on the verge of flying apart, but an uncreated one – still in shapeless fragments waiting to be put together properly. I imagine that when we want something better, we may have it: at perhaps no greater price than we have already paid for the worse.”

 (above: had to go with an Ace of Spades from my Game of Thrones deck since… Season 7 is coming)

I never fail to be impressed by writing that “holds up” over the years and can still read as relevant in a totally different time and circumstance. Porter’s essay, “The Future is Now” is a good example. Written in 1950, it expresses legitimate concern about the future of humanity and shows how these thoughts are almost always with us.

This essay was written by Porter shortly after her having read an article about what to do in case of a nuclear attack – something that was starting to worry many at that point in history – and the futility in trying to prepare for one (see the underlined sentence in the photo above). Apparently, the testing of first Hydrogen Bomb was also eminent, and Porter had this in mind as well, leading to this essay also musing about the status of the human race and it’s love-hate relationship with technology.

I heartily recommend reading this essay (link given in the intro) to anyone in any time period (that sounds funny when I put it that way – what can someone of the 19th century do about it? – but I hope you understand what I mean). Personally, I choose to be hopeful in a world that often doesn’t seem to offer much hope for the future. Porter seems to choose hope as well, which is why I used the quote I did as the lead in above.

Why is the essay titled as it is? Porter explains:

“I was once reading the writings of a young girl, an apprentice author, who was quite impatient to get on with the business and find her way into print. There is very little one can say of use in such matters, but I advised her against haste – she could so easily regret it. ‘Give yourself time,‘ I said, ‘the future will take care of itself.‘ This opinionated young person looked down her little nose at me and said, ‘The future is now.‘”

Have you read Katherine Anne Porter? This essay would be a good start. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? When people at the office accuse me of being a pessimist, I deny it, borrowing the old line and saying “I’m not a pessimist, I’m just an experienced optimist.” 🙂

 

The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi – Selection #25 of Deal Me In 2017

 

The Card: ♥2♥ Two of Hearts – *wild card*

The Suit:  For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato, sings of things that are to be (i.e. the “future” for Deal Me In purposes). This story is set in a distant future where human physiology has been enhanced by the incorporation of machines.

The Selection: “The People of Sand and Slag” was originally published in 2004 and was a nominee for the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novelette. I own it as part of the anthology The Very Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume 2. This was a wild card selection and I picked it because it was in a source I was already using for Deal Me In 2017 and because I had read the author’s novel “The Windup Girl” last year. This story may be read online at the author’s website.

The Author: Paolo Bacigalupi  – A Colorado writer most famous for his novel, The Windup Girl, which was named by Time as one of the top ten books of 2009. Learn more about him at his website.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The People of Sand and Slag

“Still, I remember when the dog licked my face and hauled its shaggy bulk onto my bed, and I remember its warm breathing beside me, and sometimes, I miss it.”

I don’t know how much more dystopian you can get than a world where there are no longer dogs, or at least one where they’re so rare that hardly anyone has ever seen one. Such a world, however, is inhabited by Jaak, Lisa, and Chen – three security-guard types who, at the onset of this story, are sent off to intercept and eliminate the source of “hostile movement” within the corporate boundaries of “SesCo’s” mining operations.

What they find is not some perpetrator of corporate sabotage or espionage, but an old, wild, and mangy dog.  They can’t believe their eyes, believing at first it’s some kind of quadrupedal “bio-job.”  Jaak confirms the ID, however, saying “Oh yeah, it’s the real thing all right. I saw a dog in a zoo once. I’m telling you, this is a dog.”

But what would three bio-engineered, machine-enhanced humans of the future do with a dog? Lisa laughs that “It’s hard to believe we ever lived to evolve out that. If you chop off its legs, they won’t regrow.”  (Lisa’s broken femur from the team’s “helo-casting” into the slag pits already having healed.). The company flies in a biologist (“You mean a bio-engineer.” “Nope. Biologist …they study animals”) to take a look at it.  He confirms authoritatively that it is indeed a dog, and the team are surprised that he doesn’t want to take it with him.

One member of the team wants to eat it. One wants to keep it. All are worried about the hassle of taking care of it and providing for it. Food, for instance, is an issue. These humans can eat rock and sand, which provide all the “nutrients” their types of bodies require (“Who needs animals if you can eat stone?”).

What will become of this poor creature while under the “care” of its new masters? You’ll have to read the story yourself to find out the rest.

windup girl

As I mentioned in the intro, I also read Bacigulapi’s novel “The Windup Girl” last year and, while I didn’t quite connect as much as I hoped to, I found it – and it’s own dystopian future – quite interesting.

 

 

“Hippies and Beats” by Edward Hoagland Selection 24 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♦8♦ Eight of Diamonds

The Suit:  For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Diamonds is the domain of Lachesis, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato, sings of things that were (i.e. the “past” for Deal Me In purposes). This essay deals with “Beats” and “Hippies” two groups that are hard to find representatives of these days.

The Selection: “Hippies and Beats” – originally published in volume #80 of New Letters magazine. I own it as part of my Pushcart Prize XXXIX Best of the Small Presses anthology.

The Author: Edward Hoagland  – A well-traveled American novelist and essayist born in New York n 1932. Learn more about him at http://www.edwardhoagland.com/

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Hippies and Beats

“The Beats were patriarchal, for the most part. Women were crash pads where you showered, pigged out and got your ashes hauled, after driving night and day… Hippies by contrast were sisterhood, matriarchal…”

The author of this essay, Edward Hoagland, finds himself writing of two social movements, both of which he experienced but neither of which he was truly part of. As an accident of the timing of his birth, his own “sociological awakening” took place in the borderlands between these two movements. Perhaps this gave him just the right perspective for this brief essay comparing and contrasting the two. As he puts it: “Being a little younger than the Beat Generation writers and yet older than the mainstream Hippie movement later on, I observed both with a certain skeptical affinity.”

I enjoyed reading this essay even though, like Hoagland, I was not a part of either movement (too young!). For me, though, counter-culture is always interesting as I find those who look at things a different way to be quite compelling. Of course, every movement has its crackpots and parasites taking advantage of whatever current direction the wind is blowing, but one would hope that, at its core, there is something there…

For my part, the hippies were a loathed anti-establishment force in the days I was growing up in a conservative Midwestern family. They were perceived as dirty, amoral and a general nuisance. I didn’t encounter many of them growing up in Indy, but was exposed to them on our almost annual summer camping trips out west. It seemed whatever campsite we chose in a National Park would more often than not have a group of hippies somewhere nearby in the campground. As soon as nightfall arrived a guitar would invariably be broken out as they sat around their campfire. Looking back now, I would probably view them as largely harmless, but I guess I might feel differently if I had children I was packing around the country and was trying to “raise them right.” I suppose this was the dilemma my parents felt they were facing.

I didn’t know anything about or discover The Beats until much later in adulthood and my view of them was forged by reading most of the books of Jack Keroauc (and some of the others) about 10-12 years ago.  Kerouac became a favorite of mine, not so much for the Beat movement he chronicled, but for the quality and freshness of his writing style.

What about YOU? Have you read any Kerouac, or any others of the “Beat” writers?

“I’d been pent-up, pull-mell like On the Road and like another perambulatory, though broader-beamed book of the period, Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Audie March, during the 1950s. And we need that kite-flying spirit back, minus Beat inebriation.” – Edward Hoagland

Stephen King’s “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” — Deal Me In 2017, Selection 22

The Card: ♠6♠ Six of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s sings of things that are (i.e. the “present” for Deal Me In purposes). This story is set in, more or less, the present time. Though “time is funny here” as the story tells us…

The Selection: “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” from my e-copy of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2.

The Author: Stephen King – you may have read something by him before. If you haven’t read his memoir “On Writing” though, I heartily recommend it.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

New-York-Times-Logo

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates

“And don’t go to the bakery anymore on Sundays. Something’s going to happen there, and I know it’s going to be on a Sunday, but I don’t know which Sunday. Time really is funny here.”

***Spoilers Follow*** A mysterious title for a short story (you know how I enjoy puzzling over story titles) – and one whose meaning isn’t revealed until the very end.  It’s the story of Annie, and the aftermath of losing her husband, who died in a plane crash and is somehow able to call her two days after he has allegedly died.

Can we communicate with those who have passed out of this life? Though many, and I count myself among them, do not think so, there are legions of those who believe that we indeed can. This explains how cranks like John Edwards can become wealthy ‘fishing for information’ from credulous live audience members on talk shows, etc. “Does anyone in the room have a relative who’s recently died whose name began with an… “A”?”  What are the odds…

johnedwards

Author Stephen King does not make use of a ‘medium’ or any other facilitator in this story. The dead husband, James, makes contact himself, by calling his widow via a cell phone – a cell phone whose battery is almost dead. (I’m glad this happens on “the other side” too!)  Anyway, the story was great. It seems Annie is the only one who heard the phone ring when he called, and afterward, when she attempts to use *69 to call back, the last call it thinks she received was many hours before.

James doesn’t know where he is, and he isn’t afraid. He’s just “worried” that he doesn’t know where to go next, as he relates to Annie that he’s standing in someplace like “Grand Central Station” but there are no trains there, just doors. He tells her how some of his fellow passengers on the ill-fated plane are reacting to the situation. He tells her not to go to the bakery on Sundays anymore. It seems that, where he is now, he has some special foreknowledge of future events (“Time’s funny here.”) and also tells her not to employ a certain young man to clean the gutters next fall. Both of his warnings turn out to be valid.

The story actually follows Annie’s life a few years down the road – providing ample time for his warnings to make sense – and even after that much time has passed, she still remembers the phone call:

“She has dreamed of that call so many times it now almost seems like a dream itself. But she has never told anyone about it.”

When the story ends she is still ‘plagued’ by the memory and tormented by any unanswered call. Near the end she returns home and her sister, Sarah, is in the house with the music blaring, not hearing the phone ring. Annie can’t get to it in time to answer. When she *69’s it, a recorded voice “offers to sell her The New York Times at special bargain rates that will not be repeated.”

The funny thing for me about reading this story was that, apparently, I’ve read it before but have no memory of it. I know that I got Stephen King’s “Just After Sunset” story collection once for Christmas and read it, but I didn’t remember this story. I’ll have to find my copy of that and see if I underlined or made any notes in it at that time. It’s very strange that I don’t remember anything about a story – almost like I only dreamed that I read that book…

This was my 22nd story or essay that I’ve read for Deal Me In 2017 (I’m supposed to read one a week and am behind as usual.) I haven’t been able to blog as much in recent months as I used to, so rather than try to catch up and post about all the stories in order, I’ll just try to share one here or there as I’m catching up. Okay? 🙂

How about YOU? What is YOUR favorite Stephen King short story?  There are certainly a lot to choose from.

 

 

Tradition and the Individual Talent – an essay by T.S. Eliot – selection #13 of Deal Me In 2017

 

The Card: ♠3♠ of Spades (image at left found here)

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that are.”

The Selection: “Tradition and the Individual Talent” from my hard copy of The Best American Essays of the Century (edited by Joyce Carol Oates). Originally published in The Egoist in 1919.

The Author: T.S. Eliot – You may have heard of him. 🙂 He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948, and one of his best known works is 1922’s “The Wasteland” – one of the “best known poems in the English language” according to Wikipedia.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Tradition and the Individual Talent

“Some one said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are what we know.”

I have to say that this reading was one of the most challenging I’ve ever done for Deal Me In over the years. I guess it serves me right for including some essays this time, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, I pressed on and spent about forty-five minutes reading the mere nine pages this essay contained. Even the author himself seemed to recognize the difficulty of his subject – roughly the poet’s place in the literary tradition and his relationship to the past. At one point he even says, “To proceed to a more intelligible exposition…” which I found a remarkable thing for an essayist to “admit.” Near the end of the essay he begins a paragraph with “The point of view which I am struggling to attack…” if the writer himself is struggling, what may be expected of a poor reader like me?

One part of the essay I did find myself connecting with, however, was when Eliot employs an analogy from Chemistry, that of the concept of a catalyst, specifically, the reaction when platinum is introduced into a chamber that contains oxygen and sulphuric dioxide:

“When the two gasses are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum.”

Eliot’s chemical analogies continued, including: “The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.”

That’s all I got. I’ll leave you with that. What has been your most challenging read of Deal and In – this year or any year?

Next up: A Deal Me In quarterly report and the Deal Me In Challenge’s first-ever giveaway! Stay tuned.

“La Pulchra Nota” by Molly McNett – selection #12 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♠9♠ of Spades (image at left found here).
The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that are.”
The Selection: “La Pulchra Nota” from my hard copy of Pushcart Prize Winners anthology XXXIX “Best of the Small Presses.” Originally published in issue 78 of the “Image” journal. I also just realized I own this story in two places, as it is included in the 2014 edition of Best American Short Stories. Read it online here.

The Author: Molly McNett– She says she wanted to write a story about a music teacher and student, but didn’t want it to come out sounding like “Glee,” and her solution was to set the story in another time and place. Read more about her and this story at http://northernpublicradio.org/post/niu-author-best-american-writer (where the picture above may also be found)

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked! Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

La Pulchra Nota

La Pulchra Nota is the moment of beauty absolute, but what follows – a pause, however small – is the realization of its passing. Perhaps no perfection is without this silent realization.”

Okay. Full disclosure. This story is my new leader for favorite Deal Me In story of 2017. I am rarely truly moved emotionally by a story and rarer still moved in multiple directions, e.g., from extreme empathy, to clear disgust, and back again, as I was in this story. I also did my traditional “drive by” online research of the story after reading, and was quite pleased to learn some of the details of its origins. (I also note with interest that, as Easter approaches, Deal Me In has dealt me up two stories in a row with a “religious” element…)

The story is the first person narration of John Fuller, who lives in the late Middle Ages – the late fourteenth century to be exact. It is a time when human life remains hard and mere survival – and accompanying happiness – likely involves healthy amounts of both faith and luck. Fuller, for example, is the youngest of twelve children of which only five survived childhood. The other seven being “called back to the fold” by the Lord.

Though Fuller lets us know that though, at the time of his narration, he “no longer has the use of his hands” and his pain “is not inconsiderable,” and that he was born with a deformity of one eye, he initially enjoyed at least some good fortune, including a fortunate marriage to a nine-years older woman, Katherine. He and his wife are “blessed” with twins, though apparently in the Middle Ages many believed that twins “must be sired by two fathers” (something I was unaware of or have forgotten) and she faced condemnation as a harlot by many.

Fuller reveals that “divine providence was pleased to take the life of our dear twins two days apart from each other” – victims of a fever that the narrator himself contracts but survives. Though he notes that “every devout man knows the great mercy He shows us in taking a child out of the world” his wife never recovers from the loss, leaving him in – to the modern eye – a hellish existence with a half-mad wife, who goes on a sort of medieval hunger strike to coerce him into going to see the “anchoress” as a solution to their grief: “John, I have given you sorrow. But the Lord has a remedy. We must go to the anchoress, declare celibacy, and I will again wear white.” John, hardly surprisingly, resists this request.

In the meantime, he continues to follow his vocation as a music teacher, which includes instruction of new young student, Olivia, who has talent far beyond what he normally sees among his pupils. Indeed, his regular lessons with this particular student serve as a kind of lifeline for some scant happiness in his life. He feels she may be capable of achieving the titular “La Pulchra Nota,” the existence of which he reveals to her then quickly regrets. “…your voice at times comes close to a moment of perfection – what Jerome has called la pulchra nota. Let us begin to listen for it. Mostly it appears with no strain whatsoever. But be attentive, for when such a note comes, if you know it, you may ever after use its sound to guide you.” He fears he may have given her false hopes, yet later, in a subsequent lesson, she does achieve la pulchra nota and knows it. This has serious consequences for both teacher and pupil…

I’ve “spoiled” the story enough already, but if you should like to read it, it’s available online at https://www.imagejournal.org/article/la-pulchra-nota/

(I don’t know if the “Jerome” referenced in the story is St. Jerome, but I though it was a safe enough assumption to include a picture of a famous painting 🙂 )

“Winter Elders” by Shawn Vestal – selection #11 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: 10♦ of Diamonds (image at left found here.

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Diamonds is the domain of Lachesis, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that were.”

The Selection: “Winter Elders” from my hard copy of Pushcart Prize Winners anthology XXXIX “Best of the Small Presses.” Originally published in Ecotone magazine #15

The Author: Shawn Vestal – who grew up in Idaho, but is now a columnist and reporter for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. See his info on Goodreads.com here.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Winter Elders

“He noticed he didn’t feel surprised. He hadn’t expected this, but now that he was in the middle of it, it didn’t feel unexpected.”

Our protagonist is Mr. Bradshaw. A new father, a former member of the Mormon Church, and a man who had expected to have “found his place” in the world by now, but is concerned because he still hasn’t. The story opens with him being visited by two young missionaries of the church, still hopeful of drawing him back into the fold. They tell him they’re just checking in to “see if there’s anything we can do for you.” He gruffly suggests that they could rake his yard, and when they’re done with that, clean out his gutters. Their undaunted reply: “Don’t think we won’t.”

Bradshaw’ wife Cheryl, once his “partner in cynicism” has changed now, since the baby had been born, and was “always serious” now. She has no patience for the missionaries who, throughout the story, exhibit a dogged persistence in their attempts to reclaim “Brother Bradshaw.”

A health crisis for the couple’s baby precipitates an angry driveway confrontation between Bradshaw and the more vocal of the two elders, which sets up the passage quoted above.

I enjoyed the story and felt it deftly described the inner struggles of a young father who has yet to truly come of age. There was a lot of great writing too, e.g. describing the missionary “…there was something stubborn in him and, deeper, the sense that he was proud of his stubbornness.” And once, during a theological argument with the elder, Bradshaw becomes frustrated and angry and “…a gate unlocked inside him. The beasts trampled out.”

I hadn’t read this author before, but certainly would be happy to again.

Did YOU read any good short stories this week?

(below: great cover of  the issue (15) of Ecotone Magazine that includes this story. Buy one at https://ecotonemagazine.org/issue-15/ )

“The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger – selection #10 of Deal Me In 2017


The Card: ♥8♥ Eight of Hearts

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the “Fates” from Classical Greek Mythology who “sang of things that are yet to be” i.e., things in the future – the setting for this story. Atropos is also frequently represented as holding a pair of scissors with which she snips the thread of life which is spun by her two sisters, Clotho and Lachesis.

The Selection: “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” from my e-copy of the anthology The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2, from which I am taking several stories for this year’s Deal Me In.

The Author: George Alec Effinger (pictured at left, from Goodreads.com), author of the novel What Entropy Means to Me and a series known as the “Marid Audran” books. As the intro in my anthology says, “Much of his writing is marked by his strong sense of humor, which is in full flower in “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything

“Mother ship?” I asked. “You haven’t seen it? It’s tethered on the Mall. They’re real sorry about what they did to the Washington Monument.”

After finishing this story, and looking back at my Deal Me In reading over the years, it struck me how few stories I’ve read that could truly be considered humorous. This story made up for a lot of lost time in that regard!  When I picked the story as part of my 2017 DMI reading plans, though, I knew nothing about it (there I go, picking based on a title again).

The story documents a visit to a future earth (Washington D.C. in particular) by extra terrestrials. Maybe I should say a return visit, as they had come once before, during the Eisenhower administration. The “Nuhp” – as the aliens were called – came this second time expecting the earthlings to be prepared for their visit, but they weren’t. The story the aliens were told in the ’50s was that making their presence known to an unprepared public would be disastrous.

This story is also unique, at least in my experience, in that it’s first person narrator is the President of the United States. (This was a president I wasn’t that impressed with, though.) He seems lost without his advisers, and doesn’t seem to thrilled with any responsibility that falls to him. At one point the Narrator President inquires of his aide if the aliens disclosed anything about their prior meeting with Eisenhower (which the Narrator-President was unaware of) and is told that the alien’s leader “says all they discussed with Mr. Eisenhower was his golf game. They helped correct his putting stroke.”

It soon becomes evident that these aliens, though more or less benevolent, are insufferable in their sharing of opinions about things, especially when it comes to the quality of things. Early on, they comment that though Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is beautiful, it is “certainly not his best work” (in their opinion it his his Piano Conecerto No. 5 in  E-flat major).  This is according to “very rigorous and definite critical principals” naturally. While the Narrator-President is wondering “what could this Nuhp know of what Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony aroused in our human souls?” the Nuhp adds that even the Piano Concerto is not the best human musical composition (that honor apparently goes to the score from the motion picture Ben-Hur, by Miklos Rozsa(!) A good choice,I agree, but the best EVER?


The Nuhp soon immigrate to Earth in huge numbers, and quickly everyone grows fatigued by their opinions on everything.* The punchline (I guess you could call it that) of the story is that earth people begin to emigrate themselves, to other splendid worlds that the Nuhp have made them aware of, but NOT necessarily because of the attractiveness of those other worlds. Rather, they are mainly just tired of listening to the Nuhp and are fleeing their incessant and officious take on everything. What kind of places did they emigrate to? “These planets had one thing in common: they were all populated by charming, warm, intelligent, humanlike people who had left their own home worlds after being discovered by the Nuhp.”

All in all quite an entertaining story, and one that raised some interesting questions. One interesting passage, too long to quote here, was the story of a human named Barry,who was quite like the Nuhp in terms of being a self professed authority on everything and how everyone knew he was the man to go to if there was a question about something, but that no one did. Because they all hated him. 🙂
Other entries on the Nuhp’s Hall of Fame of Earth #1’s:

Best cuisine: Tex-Mex

Best U.S. president: James K. Polk

Best Movie: Grand Hotel (sorry, Ben-Hur, I guess  your great music wasn’t enough!)

Best Novelist: Alexander Dumas

Best Flowers: Hollyhocks

Best Car: 1956 Chevy Bel Air

Best Color: Powder Blue

 

“Safety” by Lydia Fitzpatrick – Selection #9 of Deal Me In 2017


The Card:
♠7♠ of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “the things that are.”

The Selection: “Safety” from my e-copy of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016. Originally published in One Story magazine.

The Author: Lydia Fitzpatrick – Currently a Los Angelean, and  a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program and a Hopwood Award winner.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Safety

“The children know that, for the first time, they are hiding without wanting to be found.”

I read this story on my lunch hour at work, and it held my attention better than most that fall victim to that unfortunate time slot. I found myself holding my breath during parts of it, as it was quite suspenseful.  The setting?  A school shooting, seen through the eyes of an aging gym teacher and a young student who turns out to actually know the (at first) unknown active shooter, recognizing the Saint Michael’s (patron saint of soldiers) medallion dangling from his neck.

The gym teacher protagonist isn’t named, but was easy enough to like. We learn that he “is old, has been at this school for decades, and with each passing year, the children like him more and listen to him less..” and that dripping of the shower of the locker room has become “the metronome of his days.” I liked that one. He’s in the process of leading his class of eighteen small children through the “wind-down” phase of their exercise period, when an out of place sound fractures their normal routine.  The sound reminds one boy of “the sound a baseball bat makes when it hits a baseball perfectly” and one girl thinks it is the sound of lightning – “not lightning in real life, because it is sunny out and because she can’t remember ever hearing real lightning, but like lightning on TV, when the storm comes all at once.” Only the teacher and one other boy (who has “been to the range with his father and brother”) recognize the sound.

The teacher leads the children to a hiding place in his office (within the boys locker room) where they “huddle” and where he covers them with an old blue parachute that “the children play with on Fridays.” There they hide… and listen. They hear the sound of the gunman entering the gym, then the door to the locker room. They hear footsteps moving across the floor.  One boy thinks it’s the principal “because the principal is the only one who walks through the halls when they’re empty.” Then they hear metal clang on metal (the gunman’s hitting a locker with the butt of his gun?)

I have to admit, this story got my adrenaline flowing. The topic is certainly not a pleasant one, though, as the term “school shooting” has sadly entered the language in recent years. I included this story in my Deal Me In roster at random, maybe because I was curious about the title. I didn’t know in advance where it would lead me. The author states (in the story notes in the back of the book) that she started the story just after the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, noting that she’d “just had a baby, and all of a sudden, my fears involved this new person and the safety of her current self, over which I had some control, and her future self, over which I have way less control.” These thoughts led to a good story – one good enough to make the O. Henry Prize Stories collection for 2016.

What about you? Have you ever encountered stories that – even though they were about a topic you would prefer to avoid – you found really “worked” for you? I’d have to say that was the case for me with this one.

 

 

 

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