Short Story #59: The Business As Usual by Mack Reynolds

Title:  The Business As Usual 

Author:  Mack Reynolds

Summary

Damon Knight - A Century of Science Fiction
A time traveler arrives in the future quite excited to be there and looks to talk to someone.  He encounters a pedestrian whom he tries to explain his situation.  The pedestrian listens but continues to interrupt to clarify things.  The traveler has only fifteen minutes before he goes back and the pedestrian explains to him that when he goes back, he will forget everything because of the way the timestream works.  He then tells the traveler that the only way to prove he went to the future would be to bring something back like his knife.  The traveler agrees but then the pedestrian haggles for something exchange.  Eventually, the traveller offers everything on his body in exchange for the knife and the pedestrian agrees.  Just as the traveler strips and takes hold of the knife, he dissolves but the knife just drops to the ground because physical goods can't be brought back to the past either.  The pedestrian picks up the knife and the clothes and heads home.  His wife asks about the clothes and he laughs that he found another time-traveling sucker.  He throws the clothes into closet filled with other clothes he has acquired from previous time travelers.  

Reflection

A short but pithy story on time travel that leaves you smiling.  That pretty much sums up how the story operates.  It has actually given me my own idea for a short story which I can also appreciate.  

Short Story #59 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  2/25/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. 

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Short Story #58: Sail on! Sail on! Philip Jose Farmer

Title:  Sail on! Sail on!

Author:  Philip Jose Farmer

Summary

Startling Stories-December 1952-Philip Jose Farmer
Friar Sparks serves as the communications officer aboard the Santa Maria with Columbus.  He is part of the order of Roger; that is, Roger Bacon.  In this alternative universe, the Church took in Roger Bacon and pushed forward with science.  As a Rogerian, he communicates on a machine with the other Friar Sparks on the Nina and the Pinta as well with the homeland.  After transmitting what he needs for the night, he goes up on deck and chats with two men he finds there.  They begin to ask him about the nature of the machine he uses to communicate with the other ships and how and why technology is used through the eyes of the order.  Sparks engages in discussion but not without swindling their alcohol from them.  The next day, Columbus convinces them to keep going one day longer and they agree.  They find birds flying about--but these birds are odd in that they do not appear to have the ability to land.  It shortly after this, that they realize they have gone too far and the three ships sail off Earth into space.

Reflection

In some ways, this is a fun story in that it plays with the "what-if' and imagines a past quite different than our own.  That they fall off the Earth was well-done in that as the reader, you're anticipating them finding the Americans either already conquered by another civilization or with Native Americans armed with laser cannons.  Farmer also hit the mark with the ways he describes their understanding of the technology such as the radio being the product of angels sending messages back and forth.  The story itself is a little dry in its character interaction as Friar Sparks philosophizes with two crewmen.  Then again, this part of the story illustrates the problems still prevalent within the Church despite its technological advancements.  

Short Story #58 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  2/24/2014
Source:   A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. The story can also be found on this website as well.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Call for Papers - Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association

For about 5 years or so, I served as Chair for the Comics & Graphic Novels Panel for the Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association.  This meant doing calls on different listservs for people (typically academics) interested in presenting their research on different elements of comics.  Last year, I switched to chairing the Teaching Popular Culture panel which is focused on research on and overall approaches and strategies for teaching popular culture.  So here is the latest call for our conference this October.  


Lance Eaton presenting "Hyde'ous Evolution: Exploring  How the Dwarfish Hyde Became the Monstrous Hulk  in the Classroom" at NEPCA 2013.
Lance Eaton presenting "Hyde'ous Evolution: Exploring
How the Dwarfish Hyde Became the Monstrous Hulk
in the Classroom" at NEPCA 2013.

The NEPCA is a great conference to attend because it is local (for people in the northeast, that is), it's highly affordable, and it's a good opportunity to try out some ideas and perspectives with a friendly audience that will provide (respectful) feedback and questions.  I highly recommend it for new faculty, part-time faculty, graduate and even undergraduate students.  

2014 CALL FOR PAPERS: Northeast Popular/American Culture Association

The Northeast Popular/American Culture Association is seeking papers on popular and American culture, broadly construed, for its annual fall conference to be held on Friday October 24 and Saturday October 25, 2014 on the campus of Providence College in Providence, RI. NEPCA prides itself on holding conferences which emphasize sharing ideas in a non-competitive and supportive environment. We welcome proposals from graduate students, junior faculty, and senior scholars. NEPCA conferences offer intimate and nurturing sessions in which new ideas and works-in-progress can be aired, as well as completed projects.

NEPCA Fall Conference information, including the paper proposal form, can be found at
http://nepca.wordpress.com/fall-conference/. Please complete the form with abstract and send to the 2014 Program Chair Bob Hackey (rhackey@providence.edu) and to the appropriate Area Chair. For a complete list of area chairs, please visit the NEPCA web site:http://nepca.wordpress.com/fall-conference/nepca-area-chairs/. Both proposals for individual papers and complete panels will be considered. The deadline for proposals is Monday, June 9, 2014.




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Short Story #57: Of Time and Third Avenue by Alfred Bester

Title:  Of Time and Third Avenue 

Author:  Alfred Bester

Summary

Damon Knight - A Century of Science Fiction
A man calling himself Boyne shows up at a bar and spends $100 to rent the backroom.  The barman is skeptical but he is happy enough with the money. Oliver Knight and his partner show up and Boyne brings them into the backroom because he wants to talk with them. Once he has them there, he explains that he is from the future and that it is imperative that he takes the book that Knight purchased earlier that day.  Knight believes he purchased the 1950 almanac but Boyne knows it to be the 2050 almanac.  What ensues is a discussion about why it would not be advisable for Knight to keep the book (Boyne cannot forcibly take it without irreparable harm).  There is a rational discussion and finally, Knight gives over the book, but not without Boyne explaining that Knight would be repaid in some way.  Upon leaving the bartender raises a fury about the $100 bill that Boyne gave him because it is a fraud.  When Knight looks closer at the bill which is from the future, he sees his name as Secretary of the Treasurer and happily pays the bartender from his own pocket.   

Reflection

Time travel stories can sometimes be over-convoluted or replace action for meaning.  Bester's story provides some curious thoughts about the nature of success and whether we really need to know what the future holds for us.  The story's punchline was also well set up in that it was somewhat unpredictable and amusing.

Short Story #57 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  2/23/2014
Source:   A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. 

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Short Story #56: But Who Can Replace a Man? By Brian Aldiss

Title:  But Who Can Replace a Man?

Author:  Brian Aldiss

Damon Knight - A Century of Science Fiction

Summary

When the field minder reports to pick up more materials, the machine is met with another machine who can perform his duty.  Because he has a level-three brain, he is able to investigate why robots all around the farm are incapable of performing their tasks.  Eventually, another machine comes along that is level-two; even smarter than the field minder and they set off to the city to find humans or a level-one robot.  Other machines come along but eventually, they learn that the city is filled with war, so they set off for the mountains to create their own city and take care of themselves.  They even believe that they should stay clear of men because they are dangerous too.  As they make their way up the mountain, they lose at least one of their members and at the top, they find a man.  They approach the man and he orders them to find him food to which they obey.  

Reflection

The story's (mild) tension was interesting as you waited for the machines to turn on the humans (especially since they just left one of their own behind) but their overwhelming acceptance and adherence to the human was a nice twist.  Like some of the other stories I've read, I feel like this had the workings of a much longer and developed story and the short story just doesn't do the idea justice.

Short Story #56 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  2/23/2014
Source:   A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight.  The short story can be found at this website (as a PDF).

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Short Story #55: Reason by Isaac Asimov

Title:  Reason 

Author:  Isaac Asimov

Summary

Damon Knight - A Century of Science Fiction
Two men put together a new type of robot to take over administration of the spaceship they are on because it's a tedious job being stranded for long stretches on the ship just to be in the right position to protect Earth from harmful rays.  When they assemble the QT1, the robot perceives itself as a higher being than the two humans and stops listening to them, believing that the control center of the ship is the true "master."  Despite the arguments that Powell and Donovan make, the robot finds them highly irrational.  Eventually, QT (or Cutie) takes command of the other robots and takes control of the engine room, prohibiting the two men from anywhere near them.  They are isolated while QT and the others worship the control center.  Despite Donovan and Peterson's worries about QT being able to run the ship, his methods worshiping actually fall in line with the tasks the ship has to perform in order to protect Earth.  As their turn on the ship comes to an end, they realize that although QT seems absolutely crazy on their end, he is doing what he was designed to do.  

Reflection

This is one of Asimov's great stories.  It has it funny moments yet at the center of it is of course, a deep philosophical question about what it means to be alive, how we make sense of our own existence, and how we use (often faulty) logic to get there.  But the balance between the story and the ideas is well-balanced.  You're never overburdened with the deep philosophy but it is there.  This is probably one of those short stories that you could use to have deep conversations about bigger things and I may have to use it in the future for my course.

Short Story #55 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  2/22/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight.  The story can be found at this link (PDF).  There is a radio version of it as well that is assembled on this YouTube playlist.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Short Story #54: Sentiment, Inc by Poul William Anderson

Title:  Sentiment, Inc

Author:  Poul William Anderson

Summary

Science Fiction Stories - 1953
Colin Fraser falls for a gal named Judy.  The courtship is slow and steady but Judy is clearly interested in him, though they continue to date other people.  One day, when Judy professes her sincere interested in Colin, she goes off on a date with someone else, largely to break it off with that person.  Shortly thereafter, Judy is speaking of her true dedication to this person and breaking it off with Colin.  Colin grows suspicious when he learns that Judy has been several times to Sentiment, Inc as part of a supposed study.  As he investigates Sentiment, Inc, he discovers the owner of Sentiment, Inc, Dr. Kennedy has stolen a machine that can strongly influence people to do what he wants within reason.  Fraser gets Kennedy to confess his plan to him but only because Kennedy has used the machine to make many people willing to listen and protect him.  As a compromise to Fraser, he gives Fraser the opportunity to use the machine on someone so that Fraser will leave him alone (noting that if Fraser doesn't, Kennedy will use his power to do him wrong).  Fraser takes advantage of the offer and has a man who is seems completely unconnected to the whole situation.  Fraser then has a friend of his whom Kennedy is after go into Sentiment Inc to get the treatment.  After his friend has passed along information to Kennedy that has government secrets and which Kennedy is giving to Soviets, Fraser confronts Kennedy.  He explains to Kennedy that he used his one shot at the machine to get access to the room next to Kennedy's and disrupt the machine so it didn't work on Fraser's friend.  He now has Kennedy caught and is turning him in to the authorities to prevent further use of the machine.  The story ends with Kennedy committing suicide and Fraser getting married (presumably to Judy).  

Reflection

This felt like a standard science-fiction story that in some parts reminded me of Isaac Asimov.  It had a splash of actual science but mostly was plot driven which is how I prefer my science-fiction.  The story also had a good rhythm and proved enjoyable to read.

Short Story #54 out of 365
Rating:  3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  2/22/2014
Source:  I read the free version on Amazon Kindle.  However, you can also find it here on Project Gutenberg.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Short Story #53: Ship of Shadows by Fritz Leiber

Title:  Ship of Shadows

Author:  Fritz Leiber

Summary

Book cover:  Bill Fawcett - Cats in Space (1992) - Fritz Leiber's Ship of Shadows
Spar awakes from a nightmare about witches and vampires and meets a talking cat named Kim who may or may not be a witch-cat..  He has trouble remembering where he is from, he has no teeth, and really bad eyesight.  He works in a bar that's on a spaceship called the Windrush and believes as many others do that it is in fact, the universe.   With the help of the cat, he swears off moonmist, an intoxicating drink.  The bar is a popular place for drunks and some other questionable folks like Crown who has his harem of women and is constantly  abusing people around him.  Spar eventually gets mixed up in some events surrounding the disappearance of a bag that belongs to the Doctor but that Crown is claiming to be his.  Spar returns the bag to the doctor and the doctor helps him by providing him with fake teeth and glasses.  All the while, he's finding out that things are not what they appear to be--with the bar, with Crown and his harm, with everyone else, and with the ship itself.  His prying eventually leads to his capture by Crown and his harem who look to drink his blood along with other people but at the last minute, Kim comes to the rescue with others.  When all is said and done, it is revealed that Kim was sent to retrieve Spar and another character and help them remember who they were and to get the ship to join with another ship.

Reflection

Blah.  That's my initial thought about this story.  It felt like a lot of work for very little return.  This was a long short-story (about 40 pages) and felt like it was too underdeveloped and probably should have been a book.  You get the answers you need by story's end but they feel a bit empty after wandering so long within the story without much sense.  It's funny while I really liked this other Leiber story, this one felt like it was trying to hard to be something more than it was.

Short Story #53 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  2/20/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.  The story can also be found on this website.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Short Story #52: Well Worth the Money by Jody Lynn Nye

Title:  Well Worth the Money

Author:  Jody Lynn Nye

Short Story #52 out of 365

Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)



Book cover:  Bill Fawcett - Cats in Space (1992)
Date Read:   2/18/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.

Summary

Balin Jurgenevski along with two others volunteer to take an experimental spaceship to deliver and pick up goods at a space colony.  The spaceship was a dual project between humans and a friendly alien race but it's not quite clear how easy or likely it will work so the 3-person crew is being offered a whole lot of money to try it out.  Once aboard, the three find that the ship practically takes care of itself and they have little work to do besides take care of the ship cat, Kelvin.  The ship's operating system has user profiles for each person and thus, prepares, delivers, and checks in on the specifics of each person.  One day, they decide to create a user profile for Kelvin and sure enough, the ship's adaptive program begins caring for and working with Kelvin.  During one of the jumps, the crew end up in a dangerous part of the galaxy where a known race of alien blobs regularly seeks to do them harm.  An alien ship arrives and starts to attack with a beam that paralyzes the humans but Kelvin is still free.  The ship's computer works with Kelvin to fight the other spaceship and destroy them.  The rest of the mission goes well and they all speak on Kelvin's behalf as an official crew member.  

Reflection

A fun story overall.  It seemed clear pretty early the direction that it was going but it still was a good ride (pun intended).  The dynamics between humans and cats made sense and were humorous.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Hybrid Fluxed #02: That's Why We Call It a Pilot

I'm one month into teaching an American Literature I course using hybrid flexible pedagogy.  It's going good overall but I'm already coming up with a list of things to tweak and improve in the next rendering of this course. Before going into what needs fixing and what is working great, I thought I would provide more detail about how the course is running to better understand what's been done (and in the next post, a clear explanation of how to fix it).  

The Readings for American Literature

The readings are the centerpiece of a literature course.  This course is no different.  However, in this course, I changed up the approach to readings.  Several semesters ago, I redesigned the text order into a more thematic structure.  My old approach was to move through the course chronologically but I found the students had challenges around keeping track of it all and making sense how the different texts related.  I switched to breaking the course into four writing styles to explore: 

  1. First Person Narratives and Autobiographies
  2. Essays, Tracks, Arguments, and Speeches
  3. Fiction
  4. Poetry

I moved through them in the order above, believe that worked in terms of their literary challenges from easiest to hardest.  Within each unit, we then move chronologically with each week covering 1 or 2 centuries (e.g. 16th & 17th First Person Narratives & Autobiographies).  This structure was useful because we could layer not only the different types of writing but the different times for contrast.  

The Course Choices

Because I moved into the units identified above, it because less important on the specific works that they read and more important that they sampled and engaged directly with the different types of work.  The shift provided opportunities to create flexibility with the readings.  Now, instead of everyone having to read the same texts, we could have people read different texts but still be able to talk about their texts in relation to the subject matter.  Meanwhile, I could provide a close reading of a text in a given week to help students extrapolate and find approaches to the things they are reading.  So I created a master list of readings for each week and had students select a particular page amount that they were responsible for.  At the beginning of the semester, they would fill out a Selection Sheet for all the readings they were responsible for during the semester.  

Part of the reason I moved into this approach is that American Literature 1 is full of readings that may be important but are boring as all can be to many students.  I figured one way to stimulate interest was to have students have some say in what they were going to read in a give week.  

However, the real choice of the course was what format of learning the student chose.  As I mentioned before, I designed the course so the student could take it entirely online, entirely face-to-face, or go back and forth depending on his/her demands/priorities in a given week.  

Additionally, I expanded their choice in terms of the content of their assignments and even, which assignments they do (see below).

F2F Time vs Online Time

What makes the difference between online and face-to-face time?  In the online environment, students are expected to view the week's minilectures as well as make their way through a learning guide, do their readings, and participate substantially in a weekly discussion (one initial post of 200+ words and 3 peer replies of 100+ words).  

By contrast, in the face-to-face class, students must perform inclass writing assignments, engage in group discussions and projects, and of course, listen to/engage with the mini lectures I give in person.  (A side benefit to students in the F2F, if they miss something or need a refresher, they can always go online and review the videos). 

The Assignments

I've been trying to also play around with the assignments and believe I will expand upon this in the ensuing semesters as there could be some really great things done in terms of providing more choice and opportunity for students.  

All students must be active in the course.  In the face-to-face class, this includes participating in discussions, group projects and successfully completing the informal inclass writing assignments.  In the online course, it means substantially participating in the discussion.  There is also a course blog, where all the students come together and post their initial thoughts and ideas about a particular reading they enjoyed from a given week.  These are all formative assessments that help me understand where the students are at as well as help the students learn from one another.

Finally, we have three major assignments for them to complete.

Article Analysis:  The students must find an academic article that critically uses something they are reading this semester and write a 1000+ word review of it.  Students choose whatever article they can find so long as it meets certain criteria (over 12 pages of text, published in academic journal, published after 1970 and ties to a specific text we read).  Their article selection must be pre-approved before moving forward with the essay.

Close or Quote Analysis:  For their second paper, students can choose from two options.  They can provide a close-analysis of a fictional work that they've ready (at least 1000+ words) or they can analyze a self-selected quote from anything that they've read and then connect that quote to other readings in the course.  Which assignment and which text they chose is up to them; however, like the article analysis, they need to identify what they are doing for approval. 

Final Project:  Students have several options for a final project.  

  1. Standard Essay.  Students have three different essay options to chose from to write a 1500 word essay on American Literature.
  2. Librivox recording and reflective essay.  Students must find a text they wish to record and narrate the text for Librivox.org as well as write 300+ word reflective essay.
  3. Wikipedia entry.  Students must write an entry for Wikipedia on one of the readings or authors that isn't already on the site.
  4. Digital presentation.  Students must create some kind of digital presentation that substantially covers an idea throughout certain texts or substantially covers a particular reading from the course.
  5. Pitch an idea.  Students can pitch their own ideas for a final project.

That's what I've got going on in the course and I think thus far it's going well for the first round.  I expect to have some more thoughts about how to improve it in the future.  Also keep an eye out for future postings as I intend on making my materials accessible to those that are interested in using/borrowing them.

Check here for a full listing of posts on Hybrid Flexible Pedagogy.




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Short Story #51: Schrödinger's Cat by Ursula K. Le Guin

Title:  Schrödinger's Cat

Author:  Ursula K. Le Guin

Short Story #51 out of 365

Rating: 5 (out of 5 stars)



Book cover:  Bill Fawcett - Cats in Space (1992)
Date Read:  2/17/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.  The story can be found at this website.

Summary

The story begins with the narrator explaining a need for cooler and slower places and how a cat appeared and has come to sit on her lap.  She reflects on the nature of everything around her being in various ambiguous states or not doing the things that they are supposed to to be doing.  There is a clear instability and lack of clarity to the world around the narrator (who isn't even sure who she/he is).  She begins to focus on the cat and what it means to be a cat.  Someone knocks at the door and enters.  Though originally, she thought it was the mailman, she decided it was a dog--and it is a dog.  The man-dog sees the cat and says that it's Schrödinger's cat and the two proceed to explain who that is and why it matters.  As to two talk, the cat walks over and leaps into a box.  When the narrator goes over to open it, the cat has disappeared.  Just after they open the lid to the box and note the cat's absence, the roof is torn off the ceiling and they are left pondering, "I wonder if he found what it was we lost?"

Reflection

Finding the rhythm of this story is a bit challenging.  It is quite surreal.  While the first few sentences make some kind of sense, three sentences in, we're given this doozy of a passge:  

"On the way here I met a married couple who were coming apart. She had pretty well gone to pieces, but he seemed, at first glance, quite hearty. While he was telling me that he had no hormones of any kind, she pulled herself together and, by supporting her head in the crook of her right knee and hopping on the toes of her right foot, approached us shouting, "Well what's wrong with a person trying to express themselves?" The left leg, the arms, and the trunk, which had remained lying in the heap, twitched and jerked in sympathy. "Great legs," the husband pointed out, looking at the slim ankle. "My wife had great legs.""

The story continues with these various asides and comments that gives the story a very Kafkaesque vibe to it.  Of course, unlike Kafka, we end up with some means of explanation.  They are all in the box of someone else's experiment.  In that regard, I found Le Guin, whom I'm liking more and more (and maybe have to seek out more of her short stories).  That the chaos of the narrator's thoughts become a clear sense of order to the reader once we understand the dynamics of thought and perception in relation to Schrödinger's Cat is well executed and reminds me of why literature can be so invaluable to people to help make sense of things (or not make sense of things--hahaha).

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Short Story #50: The Tail by M.J. Engh

Title:  The Tail

Author:  M.J. Engh

Short Story # out of 365

Rating:  2 (out of 5 stars)

Book cover:  Bill Fawcett - Cats in Space (1992)
Date Read:  2/16/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.

Summary

This very short story is told through the first person view of a cat who tries to explain to the reader about the nature of a cat's tail.  He explains the different ways the tails work and are essentially a separate identity from the cat itself.  The two are in an eternal struggle with each other.  Shortly after this explanation, the cat recalls his most recent travails wherein the tail caught him off guard which led his humans to laugh and enraged him do battle with his tail and eventually subdue his tail.  However, he still eyes his tail questioningly.

Reflection

The story was all right.  Again, like other cat stories in this anthology, it opens up some interesting views of cats and their tails but it wasn't particularly too engaging.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Short Story #49: Space-Time for Springers by Fritz Leiber

Title:  Space-Time for Springers

Author:  Fritz Leiber

Short Story #49 out of 365

Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)

Book cover:  Bill Fawcett - Cats in Space (1992)

Date Read:  2/15/2014
Source:  Cats in Space and Other Spaces, edited by Bill Fawcett, Baen Books, 1992.  The story can also be found on this website.

Summary

Gummitch has a theory about himself.  As soon as he becomes mature, he will morph into his true human self and sit at the adult table with his true parents and drink coffee.  He is a genius but doesn't yet know how to speak human but once he does he will ascend to his proper place in the family.  His cat parents never learned to talk as such and therefore are left to be accepted as cats but his other siblings, the human baby and toddler named Sissy will eventually transform into cats.  But something's odd about Sissy and her repeated attempts to kill the baby and do other harmful acts.  Gummitch also believes in the mirror universe that he peers into every time he sees a mirror or reflective surface.  This world is filled with mere shells of the people who live in Gummitch's world, but desire to enter the real world.  So Gummitch must be careful with his ghost-self.  One night, Sissy sneaks into the baby's room where Gummitch often rests and he witnesses her bring a sharp object into the room and she has an evil look in her eyes.  Gummitch knows what's happening and leaps at Sissy, throwing his spirit into her to knock out the evil that is present.  As his spirit moves into Sissy, the ghost-Gummitch moves into Gummitch's old body.  The parents come in to see what's going on and with Sissy crying, Gummitch is sent to the basement for a few weeks.  When he comes out, he is aloof and less playful than when he was prior.  Sissy, on the other hand, becomes less violent and excels as a young child.

Reflection

This was a rather ingenious story by Leiber, who I'm growing to like more and more.  This is the second or third story I've read by him and I can understand why others find his work so prominent within the science-fiction and fantasy realms.  What was fascinating about this tale is how Leiber creates easy explanations for kitten and cat behavior as part of their attempt to become human as well as develop a lively world through the eyes of Gummitch.  We get a sense of what he sees and how he sees it (in so much as it's a projection of what we think a cat sees) but it is delightfully curious.  Leiber's best trick is that he introduces everyone as cats so it takes you a little bit to figure out who are the humans and who are the cats.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




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Short Story #48: The Man Who Liked Dickens by Evelyn Waugh

Title:  The Man Who Liked Dickens

Author:  Evelyn Waugh

Short Story #48 out of 365

Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)

Book cover:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur
Date Read:  2/13/2014
Source:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur.  You can find this short story on Scribd (for now).  Here is a link to the radio adaptation of the short story.

Summary

Living far within the Amazon forest for sixty years, Mr. McMaster rarely encounters anyone that is not a native so when a disheveled white man arrives, he takes a keen interest.  Once given food, the man, Mr. Henty explains that he was part of the Anderson expedition, a curse adventure that started with and continued to have innumerable troubles until he was the only survivor, wandering through the Amazon entirely lost.  McMaster's is a generally agreeable man and says that he's happy to help.  He provides food and dialogue with Henty, explaining how long he has been there and that the local inhabitants treat him like a father.  He also explains how he really likes to be read to and that his favorite is Dickens.  The last non-native person to visit him also read him Dickens and he asks that Henty read him Dickens.  Henty agrees to but as the days past he becomes restless.  He keeps inquiring about leaving but McMaster never answers him directly.  When Henty refuses to read, McMaster takes away his food.  As the weeks past, Henty becomes hopeful that a rescue party will arrive but little changes until one night when McMaster asks him to come to a party that night with him.  At the party with the natives, he is given a drink to enjoy, warning that it has quite a punch.  When Henty awakes the next day, he makes his way back to McMaster who explains that he has been asleep for nearly two days.  When Henty notes that his watch is missing, McMaster explains that he gave it to the nice men who had come by looking for him to give to his wife at home.  Henty realizes that not only has he missed the rescue mission but with the watch, they will take him for dead.  The story ends with McMaster excitedly thinking about re-reading Little Dorritt.

Reflection

In many ways, this is one of the most haunting stories in the book.  McMaster's malevolence and overall actions are downright dark in contrast to his jovial disposition.  Henty's helplessness being in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by people entirely loyal to McMaster becomes a life sentence without having necessarily done anything to warrant it.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.





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Short Story #47: A Cry from the Penthouse by Henry Slesar

Title:  A Cry from the Penthouse

Author:  Henry Slesar

Short Story #47 out of 365

Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)

Book cover:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur
Date Read:  2/13/2014
Source:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur.

Summary

On what must be the coldest night of the year, Chet Brander gets a call from Frank Coombs to come over because Frank finally has his money for Chet.  Unhappy about the hour and weather, Chet heads over to Frank's apartment.  Frank recently acquired a penthouse apartment in a new building that is still filling rooms.  Chet arrives and wants his money immediately but Frank wants to show off his lavish apartment.  He insists that Chet check out the balcony and so he does.  As he goes out onto the balcony, he sees Frank close the door behind him.  When he demands that Frank open it, Frank leaves and Chet realizes he has been set up to die out on the balcony in the freezing weather.  As he loses feeling in his body, he tries to find some way to get back in and this eventually leads him to scale the building to get to the roof and ripping up his hands in the process.  Once on the roof, he looks to get in through the roof entrance but it is locked.  He tears up the cable wires which eventually has the resides coming up to check out what's going on.  One of them takes him down to his apartment to help him recover.  When Chet recovers enough, he heads back to Frank's apartment and enters (a key was slipped into his jacket so that if he died on the balcony, it would look like an accident).  When Frank comes home, he sees that the door to the balcony is ajar and investigates.  Chet is nowhere to be found and so Frank steps out onto the balcony.  Chet races forward and shuts the door, leaving Frank on the balcony to die.  

Reflection

A typical suspense tale with its hard justice.  The story had a good pace but even more so, Slesar captured the cold quite well and you can feel it biting into Chet as he struggles to survive his climb to the roof.  .  


For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.




Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.