Like a wrapped box under the tree, this week’s offerings (or last week’s if you want to get technical) include a seasonal tale secreted among tales of time travel, interstellar exploration, shoes that really go places, and a lottery.
Alfred Bester (1913-12-18/1987-09-30)
“Of Time and Third Avenue” (F&SF, October 1951)
If you could have one book from the future, what would it be? This story presents one eminently sensible choice which may be surprising to some (I’m probably one of the few people who actually still gets them) and then presents another option which may be even more surprising.
Our very odd hero has to travel back to 1950 to try to convince a young couple to part with a 1990 book they’ve just purchased (without noticing its date) and provides an economical, almost Aesopian fable which is sure to instruct and amuse.
Arthur C. Clarke (1917-12-16/2008-03-19)
“The Star” (Infinity Science Fiction, November 1955)
A Jesuit astrophysicist is part of an exploration team which has come to a supernova remnant and discovered the time capsule an extinct race has left to posterity on what was once their outermost planet. In this concise and efficient but reflective tale, he makes another discovery of his own which tests him sorely. One of the all-time classics that deserves the cliche “I envy those of you who will read this for the first time” though I greatly enjoyed the umpteenth re-read as well.
Philip K. Dick (1928-12-16/1982-03-02)
“The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford” (F&SF, January 1954)
Adding to a colorful line of crackpot (or at least slightly squirrelly) scientists and inventors which includes Weinbaum’s Professor van Manderpootz, Kuttner’s Galloway Gallegher, and Leiber’s Dr. Dragonet, Philip K. Dick brings us Doc Labyrinth, developer of the Principle of Sufficient Irritation and inventor of the Animator (and you thought it was a Dutch oven!) which results in our bewildered narrator having one of his shoes baked and that’s only the beginning.
In a way, this fairly early tale has a feel of Dick trying on other people’s stories for size but, in another, it has PKD’s usual cockeyed view of things and his fascination with the animate and inanimate. Either way, this is much lighter than his average tale and is a lot of fun.
Shirley Jackson (1916-12-14/1965-08-08)
“The Lottery” (The New Yorker, June 26, 1948)
The townsfolk have gathered in the square for the annual lottery and all is right with the world on the fine day of June 27th. What is the lottery? Well, a clue is deftly placed early, lighting the fuse without our knowing it, which burns slowly and darkens on the way to its explosive end. This is excellently executed and is thematically akin to the passage I quoted from Brackett in the last birthday review about man, the reasoning being.