“Dethroned” by I.N. Potapenko – selection 38 of #DealMeIn2018

Yes, I’m actually posting about a short story from Deal Me In 2018!  Can you believe it? 🙂

The Card: ♣2♣ Two of Clubs – a wild card.  I stayed with the Russian theme, but looked to another volume for my wild card selection, finding one in Best Russian Short Stories that I hadn’t read before.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my Suit for (mostly) stories from the anthology Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky, BUT deuces are WILD in #DealMeIn2018, and I strayed from this volume (see above)

The Author: I.N. Potapenko, who I’ve never read – nor even heard of – before. He wrote in what is now Ukraine. I don’t know if he’s related to the former NBA Player, Vitaly Potapenko. 🙂

The Selection: “Dethroned” published in 1917.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Dethroned

“They were two types of beauty very likely to divide the gentlemen of the regiment into two camps of admirers. But women are never content with halves.”

I didn’t know anything about this story before selecting it so, as is often the case, I only had the title as a hint about its subject matter. Would it be about some great political coup? A Tsar who has met his hostile successor? No, thrones in the ordinary world were seemingly not of interest to Potapenko – this is the story of two women who are in competition to be the proverbial “belle of the ball.”

On the one hand, we have Mrs. Zarubkin, the Captain’s wife, a schemer and the “defending champion,” and on the other we have her main challenger, Mrs. Shaldin. The former was rather plump and with “rather light” hair, while the latter was “a brunette with a pale complexion and large dark eyes.”

We see most of the story’s action through Mrs. Zarubkin’s eyes, for Mrs. Shaldin is away on some kind of “rest cure”-like vacation. Mrs. Z fears that Mrs. S will return with the latest fashions from “abroad” and that, left with her own seasoned wardrobe, won’t be able to retain her status. She engages many  others on her errands to seek intelligence on what Mrs. S’s gown might look like, and makes the only dressmaker in town swear to give her preferred customer status and to spend the last few days before an upcoming “annual ball’ working only on her gown.  She also enlists one her household servants to spy on the the Shaldin’s house to gain information regarding Mrs. S’s return.

“…the lady’s manner toward the servant was far friendlier than toward her husband. Semyonov had it in his power to perform important services for her, while the captain had not come up to her expectations.”

In the end, it is the pretender to the throne who emerges victorious, as she has returned to town with a new “Empire”-style gown, one that the town’s dressmaker cannot or will not duplicate.  At the ball, it soon becomes clear that Mrs. Z had been dethroned:

“For in comparison with the make and style of Mrs. Shaldin’s dress, which had been bought abroad, hers was liked the botched imitation of an amateur. That was evident to everybody, though the captain’s wife had her little group of partisans, who maintained with exaggerated eagerness that she looked extraordinarily fascinating in her dress and Mrs. Shaldin still could not rival her. But there was no mistaking it, there was little justice in the contention. Everybody knew better; what was worst of all, Mrs. Zarubkin herself knew better…

I enjoyed the story a lot and also reading of “the furious resentment of a dethroned goddess” that Mrs. Z displayed. Reading it was a pleasant return to and reminder of all the great Russian Short Stories I’ve read as part of Deal Me In over the years.

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A Servant of History by Ron Rash – Selection 13 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦2♦ Two of Diamonds

The Suit: For #dealMeIn2018, ♦♦♦Diamonds♦♦♦ is my Suit for (mostly) stories from the anthology Everywhere Stories.

The Author: Ron Rash. One of my book clubs read his great collection, “Something Rich and Strange” last year. When I drew a wild card this week, I decided to revisit a story from that book

The Selection: “Servant of History”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

A Servant of History

“When his ship docked in London harbor six weeks later, Wilson’s tongue had not fully healed.”

Why is it that some of us (myself admittedly included) enjoy so much stories in which someone gets his ‘comeuppance?” I suspect it’s because so often those people we ourselves know who are “full of themselves” are never held accountable for their haughtiness. My granddad used to say that such people were “too big for their britches.” But being full of oneself isn’t exactly a crime, is it? And, as much as we may want to ‘go upside someone’s head’ for such behavior, actually doing so would be an overreaction. (It would, wouldn’t it?)  My Granddad’s actually a somewhat appropriate authority for this particular story too, as he was a denizen of Appalachia as well as most of the people in this story. In his case, the mountains of West Virginia, in their case in Jackson County, North Carolina.

The story is set in 1922, when James Wilson, the story’s protagonist, and a member in good standing of the English Folk Dance and Ballad Society, journeys across the ocean to venture “among the New World’s Calibans” in search of ballads that, “though lost to time in Britain might yet survive in America’s Appalachian Mountains.” Upon arrival, he makes the acquaintance of an elderly resident who serves as his guide in the ‘neighborhood’ letting him know of an established local family, the McDonald’s who immigrated from Scotland, though long ago. His guide says the family has “their great-granny yet alive,” and that she’s “nigh a century old but got a mind sharp as a new-hone axe. She’ll know your tunes and anything else you want, but they can be a techy lot, if they taken a dislikin’ to you.”

It turns out old great-granny McDonald does indeed know some old Scottish ballads, though is hesitant to share them. Rash describes Wilson’s first meeting and seeing the old woman wonderfully: “…Wilson only then saw that the Windsor chair was occupied. The beldame’s face possessed the color and creases of a walnut hull. A black shawl draped over her shoulders, obscuring a body shrunken to a child’s stature. The old woman appeared more engulfed than seated…”

Wilson’s efforts to coax the old woman include posing as if his own Scottish heritage (not really much of one, but he exaggerates it in hopes of gaining favor) is of great and long-standing importance to him. He leaves his chair and “…walked over to the red-and-black tartan hung on the wall, let a thumb and finger rub the cloth. He nodded favorably, hoping to impart a Scotsman’s familiarity with weave and wool. ‘Our tartan hangs on a wall as well, blue and black it is, the proud tartan of Clan Campbell.'”

Suffice it to say perhaps that Wilson should have done a little more research about the Clans whose descendants he might encounter, and especially about what their relationships might have been to his clan, which he so suddenly remembers and claims allegiance to…

(below: I imagine the top tartan here might be like the one hanging on great-granny McDonald’s wall)

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Have you read Ron Rash’s “Something Rich and Strange?” It was a big hit with my book club, and I have posted briefly about it before. What are some of your favorite ‘stories of comeuppance?’

 

“Mr. Templar” by Jason Sizemore – Selection 13 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Seven♠ of Spades

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ is my Suit for “dark/sci-fi/horror stories from various sources.

The Author: Jason Sizemore https://jason-sizemore.com I’ve featured a couple of his stories before in prior iterations of Deal Me In, notably “Yellow Warblers” and “The Sleeping Quartet”

The Selection: “Mr. Templar,” which I own as part of the author’s collection, “Irredeemable”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Mr. Templar

“In eight centuries, Mr. Templar had never fully grasped the true desolate nature of the Earth. However, riding at high speeds two hundred meters in the air, seeing the same grey, dusty landscapes hour after hour, he began to appreciate the total annihilation of the humans’ nuclear bombs.”

First things first, The title character, Mr. Templar, is an Android. There are no humans left on Earth at the time of this story. And the androids that are left are running out of fuel. They roam a desolate landscape several hundred years after humanity has fled the nuclear wasteland of an uninhabitable world they created.

Mr. Templar’s search for fuel leads him to meet another android, who he calls Mr. Ruby (Ruby can’t remember his own name as his memory has been compromised by “data flies” – the reigning pest in this post-apocalyptic world). Ruby has picked up a signal from orbit and believes it to mean that their human “masters” are returning. How will they react? Wishing to reunite with the humans, together they head off to search for jet packs when Mr. Ruby shares that he knows where are cache of them are stored – in a bunker two hundred feet beneath Cape Canaveral.

What struck me about this story was that, in the absence of human stewardship of Earth, the technological life that now remains begins to exhibit some very human characteristics. Those that remain are embroiled in bitter competition for dwindling resources. Sound familiar? It’s every man – er, Android- for himself in this world. The remaining “life” forms also deteriorate into their own form of racism too: When Mr. Templar first encounters Mr. Ruby, he scoffs, “Only robots speak the old language. You must be a worthless robot.”

A good story, on a ♪personal note♪, the abandoned androids reminded me of an old Star Trek (The Original Series) episode (titled “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”) where Kirk and the gang encounter a certain Dr. Corby, off on a remote planet making androids with the help of “Ruk” (portrayed by Ted Cassady of “The Addams Family” fame!). Ruk, too, was an Android who was left behind by his creators…

“Yes. The Old Ones… The ones who built us!”

Rose Wept by William Trevor – Selection 9 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card♠Ten♠ of Hearts

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♠Hearts♠ to the stories of William Trevor, a personal favorite author of mine who passed away in 2017.

The Selection: Rose Wept – from the collection “William Trevor: Selected Stories” which I own via an e-copy

The Author: William Trevor. A “KBE” (Knight of the British Empire), Trevor is widely acknowledged as one of the best contemporary writers of short stories. I was first introduced to him via the “Ana the Imp” blog (sadly, no longer active) whereafter I read through his great collection “After Rain.” The title story of that volume after rainremains one of my all time favorites. I blogged about it here. There are a couple other stories of his that I’ve blogged about before, Gilbert’s Mother and Lost Ground. “I’m very interested in the sadness of fate, the things that just happen to people,” – William Trevor (as quoted by Publishers Weekly in 1983)

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Rose Wept

“She wept for his silent suffering, for his having to accept a distressing invitation because of her mother’s innocent insistence… She wept for the brittle surface of her mother’s good-sort laughter and her father’s jolliness, and Jason’s (her older brother) settling into a niche. She wept for all her young life before her, and other glimpses and other betrayals.”

Rose Dakin is a marginal student, one on the cusp of being admitted to a good university. What do well-meaning parents do when their child is in that situation?  Well, if you’re the Dakins, you hire a tutor to ensure a successful move for your child up the next rung of the latter.

The occasion of the story is a dinner party to celebrate Rose having been admitted to university and, since the tutor, Mr. Bouverie, was instrumental in her success, he and his wife were invited. His wife “can’t make it” and therein is the introduction of the gist of the story, the whole of which takes place at the dinner, but, through flashbacks, we learn “The Rest of the Story” about Mr. (& Mrs.) Bouverie. Seems all this time – a year of Thursdays – whenever Rose would visit him, Mr. Bouverie’s wife would use the time to entertain a special male “guest,” a certain “Mr. Azam.”

When she realizes what is going on, Rose at first feels terrible for Mr. Bouverie, yet indelicately shares the knowledge with her gaggle of young friends. Later, to her increased horror, she realize that Mr. Bouverie is aware that this is going on. As one of her friends says “When a husband knows, he’s not so much a cuckold as complaisant.”

During the dinner Rose imagines what hell the life of Mr. Bouverie must be, and regrets not being there for him as some kind of confidant, but “had betrayed him” (by telling her friends) even before he offered any confidences.

A sad and bitter story which left me wondering how Rose would “do” at University – and indeed for the rest of her life. If I were a betting man, I’d say her parents “won’t be much help.”  It’s as if this one dinner laid bare all the pitiable features of her life – and Life with a capital L as well. I hope she makes it.

♫♫ Personal Note:  I did learn a new “word” while reading this story.  Do you know what a “Gooseberry Fool” is?  It’s an English Dessert made by “folding pureed stewed fruit (normally Gooseberries) in sweet custard”  (or whipped cream). According to Wikipedia, ROSE water may be added as a flavouring agent, so there’s my Deal Me In coincidence of the week.  P.S. Looks delicious!

What short stories did YOU read this week? Are you enjoying the “8th Annual” Deal Me In challenge?

Visiting Chairman Mao by Jocelyn Cullity – Selection 8 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦Seven♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of Diamonds to stories from the anthology, “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction From a Small Planet.”

The Selection: “Visiting Chairman Mao” – I don’t think I had a reason for choosing this particular title from those in the anthology. The author says the story “came to her” after teaching in China in the 1990’s.

The Author: Jocelyn Cullity, a native of Australia, she grew up in Canada and has spent time in other countries before now living in the United States. She had a novel published last fall, Amah and the Silk Winged Pigeons . Learn more about her at her website https://www.jocelyncullity.com

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but the short version is that it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

(below: old postcard of the throngs of people going to “visit Mao” in his mausoleum)

Visiting Chairman Mao

“‘So many followers, even after all that tragedy. Such respect. Astonishing.’ She spoke too loudly. Li labored with the purpose of her statements. ‘We have an official saying,’ Li said. ‘Chairman Mao was sixty percent right and forty percent wrong.”

The title of this story intrigued me, which is probably why it found its way onto my 2018 DMI list. I admit I was somewhat disappointed to learn I wouldn’t be reading a story with Mao as one of the characters, though. Visiting him, in this case, only meant going to view his embalmed body in his grand mausoleum.

The story describes a brief incident where an earnest young woman, Li, working as a tourist guide, takes her (also young) American charge, Claire, to view the legendary Chairman Mao. Both seem unassuming at first, though with Li, who  “…couldn’t get used to her informality,” continually worrying about Claire not knowing when to keep quiet and how to show proper respect.  “At the entrance to the second room, the viewing hall, a guard put up his hand and the line slowed. There would be positively no talking inside the chamber.”

It turns out Claire has other plans and ends up staging a scene of some kind and “shrieking something about democracy” Li becomes “collateral damage” in Claire’s haphazard protest and is forced to leave Beijing, but not before Claire, while being led away by the police, hands Li her bandanna as a gift. At the end of the story, back home, Li decides she will keep it close at hand:

“She would use it as she thought Claire should have used it – to wipe away the fog on her classroom windows when she wanted to really look at the world outside.”

Nice.

This was my eighth story read so far this year for #DealMeIn2018.  Are you also participating in the challenge?  What have been some of your favorite stories so far?

(Below: Mao wasn’t the only one cultivating a Cult of Personality: clockwise from upper left – Stalin, Koreans Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, Ho Chi Minh, and, well, the band who sang about it in the ’90s)

“In Paris” by Ivan Bunin – Selection #7 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♣King♣ of Clubs

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of Clubs to stories from the anthology, “Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky.”

The Selection: “In Paris” – from “Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky.” In a prior year’s iteration of Deal Me In, I devoted Clubs to stories by Russian authors, and almost every one was a “home run” for me. Hoping to recapture that magic in 2018’s edition! 🙂

The Author: Ivan Bunin – the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which was awarded to him in 1933 “for following through and developing with chastity and artfulness the traditions of Russian classic prose.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but the short version is that it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

In Paris

 “…from year to year, from day to day, in our heart of hearts there’s only one thing we wait for – a meeting that will bring happiness and love.”

‘Nikolai Platonych.’ Is a middle-aged Russian man in Paris. I’m not sure of the year in which the story is set, but I guessed it was sometime not long after the end of the second World War. We don’t know a lot about Nikolai other than “Many people knew that his wife had left him long ago, back in Constantinople, and that ever since then he had lived with a wound in his soul.”

Dining in a small Russian restaurant on one of the dark side streets near Passy, he is charmed by a waitress. She seems sophisticated beyond what her current employment would ordinarily suggest. He reasons that she must have some “ami” (a French “sugar daddy!”) who keeps her in such fine clothes, etc., and he finds himself jealous.

“How could she afford those good-quality, expensive shoes? There must be some well-to-do, middle-aged ami. It was a long time since he had felt as animated as he did this evening – thanks to her – and the thought of this ami was rather annoying.”

I liked that part about it having been a long time since he had felt so “animated.” It reminded me of how sometimes I will experience a feeling of (initially) unaccounted for happiness which, after I question myself “why am I in such a good mood today?” can usually, eventually be traced back to a personal encounter of some kind that elevated me. Why I have a “delayed” reaction, though, that’s for the psychiatrists to say.

Undaunted by his insecurity – and the fact that the waitress, Olga Alexandrovna, is married with an absent husband (working in Yugoslavia), the two make a “love connection” nonetheless.

I also enjoyed a quotation in French that the story shared:

“Rien n’est plus difficile que de reconnaitre un bon melon et une femme de bien.”

Or, “there’s nothing harder than picking out a good melon or a decent woman.” Ha ha ha. Anyway, it was a short if bittersweet story and I enjoyed the style of this author. I’d read him again.

Playing card coincidence/trivia: I’ve pointed out before that the four kings in a standard deck of cards are alleged to represent four actual historical ‘kings’, David, Alexander, Caesar, and Charlemagne, with Alexander being the King of Clubs, i.e., the card I drew this week. Our female character in this story’s patronymic is “Alexandrovna” which if I’m not mistaken means “daughter of Alexander.” How about that?

What short stories did YOU read this week?

“Unseen – Unfeared” by Francis Stevens – Selection 5 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠Ace♠ of Spades

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♠Spades♠ to stories featuring horror, sci-fi or fantasy.

The Selection: “Unseen – Unfeared,” from the awesome, Jeff VanderMeer anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. I’ve been working my way through the 110stories in this anthology for years now. I’ll be sad when I’ve exhausted them.

The Author: Francis Stevens, the nom de plume of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, an early pioneer for women writers of fantasy and science fiction. I was intrigued when during my research I found that she wrote an early dystopian novel in 1919 called “The Heads of Cerberus.” I will definitely have to look for that one! Stevens is the second “New-to-me Author” that I’ve been introduced to already in Deal Me In this year.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Unseen – Unfeared

“Yet I tell you there are beings intangible to our physical sense, yet whose presence is felt by the spirit, and invisible to our eyes merely because those organs are not attuned to the light as reflected from their bodies.”“Everywhere I looked they were – centipedish things, with yard-long bodies, detestable, furry spiders that lurked in shadows, and sausage-shaped translucent horrors that moved – and floated through the air.“

Have you ever encountered something that was not easily explained by your intellect but, later, when some “plausible explanation” is found – even if only via quite a stretch – you clung to that explanation like grim death because to believe “something else” was more than you could bear? Yeah, me neither. 🙂 BUT, I think it is in our nature to do this as a kind of defense mechanism, which is just such a path that our narrator of this story chooses.

The narrator of the story has just finished dining with an “ever-interesting friend” who also happens to be a detective and thus sets the tone of the story as one of mystery. On his way home, through a neighborhood where the people are “mostly bareheaded, unkempt and generally unhygienic in appearance,” he realizes that “They were all humans, and I, too, was human. Some way I did not like the idea.” In other words, he’s in the perfect mood for a detour into … the Twilight Zone… Well, that’s what he would be if this were a television show in the late 50s or early 60s, but this is a short story of 1919!

With “a sense of evil in the air” he comes upon a drug store with an advertisement shouting “SEE THE GREAT UNSEEN! Come in! This Means You! FREE TO ALL!” He finds this irresistible, and with the mindset that the “there is only one way to deal with an imaginative temperament like mine – conquer its vagaries,” he knocks on the door…

If there are indeed such creatures as described in the lead-in quotation above, where might they come from? How might they be seen? The latter is achieved in this story by viewing them in a strange, green light, produced by looking through a “membrane” from South America(!) Where they come from however, is why we choose to leave them unseen and thus… “Unfeared” as the title suggests.

“Out of the ether – out of the omnipresent ether from whose intangible substance the mind of God made the planets, all living things, and man – man has made these! By his evil thoughts, his selfish panics, by his lusts and his interminable, never-ending hate he has made them, and they are everywhere!”

I almost “liked” (not the right word, but anyway) the disgusting feeling this story invoked regarding the faults of our species, and perhaps its impact on me was similar to that upon the narrator who actually beheld these creatures. I also had not heard of the author before, about whom the introduction to her story in my anthology says she was “the first major American female writer of fantasy and science fiction.” How had I not known about her before?! I think I will look for a copy of her novel “The Heads of Cerberus” and give her some attention she deserves.

♪♪ Personal notes: The author’s descriptions of the creatures in this story kept reminding me of a “toy” we had growing up (pictured below). “Creepy Crawlers” was a set of molds of various creepy crawling insects, arthropods, or arachnids, and using them – and different colored “liquid rubber” you could make your own playthings. How we never managed to burn the house down using the “thingmaker” and its heating element remains a mystery. Maybe other kids did, though, and that’s why they stopped selling them? I also like that there’s a little girl pictured on the box “enjoying” the results! This would never happen in my neighborhood!  I also remember my brothers and I had a box full of our “creations,” most of which would not have been out of place in this story…

ca975c38fff384a6bec9ac2ebb400706--antique-toys-vintage-toys

What about YOU? What did you read for Deal Me In this week? Are you old enough to remember “Creepy Crawlers?”

“Gods, Fate, and Fractals” by William Leisner – Selection 3 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♠♠♠Jack♠♠♠ of Spades

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ to to dark/horror/sci-fi stories.

The Selection: Gods, Fate, and Fractals, from “Strange New Worlds II” an anthology of stories from the Star Trek universe. I learned of this series when a local writer tweeted that he had submitted something for consideration in one of the future volumes. Now, I’m not a rabid “trekkie” or anything, but I have enjoyed all the series and (most of) the films immensely. I grew up watching re-runs of The Original Series, and can even remember that one local news station’s evening news team would end their broadcast by “beaming up” as the reruns of the show followed their half-hour every weeknight. I wasn’t very old at the time either and frankly am a bit surprised that my parents would let me stay up “that late” on school nights. Clearly, though, they appreciated the edifying capabilities of such a quality program… 🙂

The Author: William Leisner. (my 2nd “William” in a row for Deal Me In, though with a whole suit devoted to William Trevor I don’t think I can get away with labeling it a coincidence) The author is totally new to me. The ‘about the authors’ section of this collection tells us that he “lives in Rochester, NY, where he is manager of the book department of a multimedia superstore.” I wonder what that could be…  Find out more about him here.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be 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 the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Gods, Fate, and Fractals

“Yes, we knew the old joke, a joke as old as the D.T.I. itself (one hundred two years, ten months, twenty-nine days). The joke was, “All temporal investigations lead, eventually, to the U.S.S. Enterprise.”

This was a fun read for me. As I mentioned in the header, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek in all its forms ever since I was old enough to watch television. To this day, I still feel compelled to watch any reruns of The Original Series when they are broadcast on my local cable network (though I – almost literally – have those episodes all memorized). This story was in the ST:TNG (That’s Star Trek: The Next Generation for any uninitiated) section of the anthology, and takes as its “kernel of truth” an episode titled “Journey’s End” from the seventh season of that show’s run.

This story features two operatives, Lucsly and Dulmer of the Federation’s Department of Temporal Investigations (or the “DTI,” like the FBI, you know, though I’m pretty sure they don’t wear windbreakers with DTI in big block letters) who are trying to track down the source of the latest disruption to the correct time line, i.e. the time line they know. How do they know something is “wrong?” The “Maquis” a resistance group fighting against the Cardassians, has been eliminated from history. As a sidebar, I didn’t know until reading this story that the Maquis are a real historical group in our history – part of the French Resistance during World War II’s German occupation. If you’ve watched Star Trek: Voyager, you’ll know that part of that ship’s crew is made up of ex-Maquis members stranded in “The Delta Quadrant.” I realize all this will sound like Greek to non-ST fans, but those who are fans now have a foothold in this story’s setting I hope.

(below: bonus trivia points if you can name all four of these Maquis characters from Star Trek: Voyager. Go!)

Anyway, they eventually track down the “anomaly” to acts of former Enterprise Ensign Wesley Crusher. The two investigators “re interview” Jean-Luc Picard about the incident in the “Journey’s End”episode and are shocked by what he tells them.

“Had Picard used a phrase like “planes of existence” in an official log, the D.T.I. would have been on him like blue on an Andorian.”

Ha! Like Blue on an Andorian! love all the inside jokes in this story that I know only fans of the show will appreciate! I also love some other things that are consistent with the various traditions established by the various versions of the show, 220px-JourneyBabele.g. naming a starship in Star Trek universe is something I suspect writers take very seriously. In this one, we have the U.S.S. Lakota, which goes well with a “U.S.S. Crazy Horse” mentioned in another ST:TNG episode. Another ship in this story is captained by a “Captain Benteen” (I kinda see a pattern here, do you?).

Anyway, the story leads the agents to encounter Wesley Crusher and “The Traveler,” who has a couple appearances in ST:TNG, and confusing time anomalies and paradoxes and philosophical temporal mechanics ensue, etc. As I said, a fun story to read. I would read more Star Trek fiction by this author.

The Deal Me In coincidence this week? Well, there’s a local public “book club” (Books, Booze & Brains) that is meeting at the end of the month to cover the book, “Ready Player One” which I bought the audible.com version of to listen to during my commutes this month. At the start of the audio book, I heard the words, “read by Wil Wheaton…” (the actor who portrayed Wesley Crusher in Star Trek, not to mention portraying himself in a recurring role on the popular series, The Big Bang). I groaned internally as I am not particularly a fan of his work, BUT I must say that, at about 2.5 hours in, he’s doing an excellent job.

(below: Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher in season one of ST:TNG – the first time he and “The Traveler” appeared together on the show.)

Is Wesley Crusher the most disliked ST character ever?  In another DMI coincidence, guess what came up in my Twitter feed on the same day I wrote this blog post…  https://screenrant.com/worst-characters-in-star-trek/?utm_source=SR-TW&utm_medium=Social-Distribution&utm_campaign=SR-TW&view=list

How did YOUR Deal Me In 2018 reading go this week?  What? Not participating?  Well it’s never too late to start. You only need to read a few short stories to be “all caught up.” 🙂

Solitude by William Trevor – Selection 2 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♥Ace♥ of Hearts

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ to stories by Irish writer William Trevor, a widely acknowledged titan of the short story form. He passed away last year; how sad that there will be no more new stories from his pen.

The Selection: Solitude, from William Trevor: Selected Stories. I selected it solely because of the title, for I am among those who often enjoy solitude. 🙂

The Author: William Trevor. I became acquainted with Trevor through his collection, “After Rain,” which I acquired back in 2010. The title story of that volume after rainremains one of my all time favorites. I blogged about it here. There are a couple other stories of his that I’ve blogged about before, Gilbert’s Mother and Lost Ground.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be 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 the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

Solitude

“In the hotel where I live, in Bordighera’s Regina Palace, my friends are the dining-room waiters, and the porters in the hall, and the bedroom maids; I do not turn away such friendship and I have myself for company too. Yet when my face is there in the glass of my compact, or reflected in shop windows when the sun is right, or glimpsed in public mirrors, I often think I do not know that woman. I wonder when I gaze for a moment longer if what I see is the illusion imposed by my imagination upon the shadow a child became, if somehow I do not entirely exist. I know that this is not so, yet still it seems to be.“

This story is the first person account of a girl named Villana told from when she was a little girl of undisclosed age (though young enough to still have imaginary friends) to being a teenager, to being fifty-three years old and living on after the death of her parents. It’s the evolution of her relationship with the parents across the decades that makes this story worth reading.

When Villana is in her youth, her father is often absent (he’s a kind of “wanna be Egyptologist”) which leads her mother to find a new (male) “friend.” While they are certainly not the first family to encounter such “difficulties,” their case is made especially painful due to the mother & friend’s careless lack of discretion, which leads to Villana witnessing something “no child ever should.”

How this “secret” effects Villana then, and at different stages of her life is the engine that drives the story, which takes some twists and turns – including a real shocker that is thrown in, if only by implication. Her later life seems a sad and incomplete one, as the quotation shared above no doubt let’s you know. Perhaps it is her parents’ “normalizing” the past indiscretion – or at least not making a “big deal” out of it, which contributes most to her life of solitude.

“There is no regret on my mother’s part that I can tell, nor is there bitterness on his; I never heard a quarrel.”

Maybe if there had been a standard “row” about it there would have been closure for her, and she would have led a more normal life. Certainly a sad story, but one well told.

Two down and fifty to go! How did your #DealMeIn2018 reading go this week?

 

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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