I haven’t posted in a while but it’s not because I’m done with the birthday reviews (I started doing them for the week beginning January 25 and won’t have finished the year until I’ve covered things to the end of January 24) but because I’m late. This one was supposed to have been posted around December 26 and have covered the week to January 1 but I didn’t get it done. I so didn’t get it done that I was supposed to have posted another one on Isaac Asimov’s birthday (January 2) that should have covered the week to January 8 but I haven’t done that yet, either. But that’s the holidays (and me) for you. Better late than never and all those other cliches. And happy belated birthday as well to Ellen Datlow (1949-12-31) who published the final story in this group.
Charles L. Harness (1915-12-29/2005-09-20)
“The Chessplayers” (F&SF, October 1953)
Harness wasn’t the most prolific author but managed quite a bit of variety within that compass. His van Vogtian The Paradox Men was one of the more explosive textual objects I put in my head as a teenager but he can write everything from that to legal dramas to this, which is a short, comical tale of a mere civilian chess club treasurer trying to convince his club of chess nuts to take on a chess-playing rat that has been trained by a professor when he and the rat were in a concentration camp. With perfect political correctness, the leading club members aren’t convinced the rat is skilled enough at chess to merit playing with them.
“But Jim,” I protested. “That isn’t the point at all. Can’t you see it? Think of the publicity…a chess playing rat…!”
“I wouldn’t know about his personal life,” said Jim curtly.
This one’s intrinsically entertaining and funny but also has something to say about different perspectives and perhaps the imminent space race.
Bob Shaw (1931-12-31/1996-02-11)
“Light of Other Days” (Analog, August 1966)
This story (which I can’t help but think of as “Slow Glass” despite its actual title, which is borrowed from Thomas Moore’s 1815 poem, “Oft in the Stilly Night”) is one of those stories like “Flowers for Algernon” which perfectly bridges the “two cultures” of the sciences and humanities with its poet narrator and wife in marital turmoil, a salesman suffering even more, and the brilliant idea of the technology of “slow glass” which can be “ten light years thick” and “in phase” but can also help and hurt the human heart. Just a masterpiece of a story which can’t be missed.
Connie Willis (1945-12-31)
“At the Rialto” (Omni, October 1989)
Not to be mean on what would have been her birthday but not everyone can appeal to everyone, at least not all the time, and I’m not the biggest fan of Connie Willis’ work, generally, but I jumped at the chance to re-read this because I remembered it as being one of the funniest stories I’d ever read. It’s actually not as funny as I remembered, but it’s still pretty funny. In addition to having the humor of this post’s first story, it has the humanity (undergirded with scientific elements) of the second. And while it references things like It Happened One Night, it makes me think more of Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story as it contemplates quantum physics from the perspective of a member of the International Congress of Quantum Physicists while she tries to check into her Hollywood hotel room despite the “help” of Tiffany, the model/actress who’s just working at a hotel to pay for her transcendental posture lessons (and should have been played by Lisa Kudrow), avoid the colleague she’s romantically bound to, and figure out life, the paradigm for understanding the comedy that is our quantum universe, and everything.