Birthday Reviews: Cady, Clingerman, Gibson

Jack Cady (1932-03-20–2004-01-14)

“The Night We Buried Road Dog” (F&SF, January 1993)

This fantasy/horror novella is narrated by Jed, who is looking back on the events in his life and the lives of his friends in Montana from 1961-1965. Brother Jesse is the main foreground focus, along with his graveyard for the beloved defunct cars of folks who want to memorialize them, the plots of which are dug with his bulldozer. Jesse’s dogs, Potato and Chip. also figure prominently, along with big bald Mike and educated little Matt. The main background focus is Road Dog, a mythic driver in an incredibly fast Studebaker that everyone’s always chasing and that everyone keeps failing to catch. Those foci eventually interact in dark, twisty ways.

Relative to SF, I don’t read much fantasy of my own volition. I also don’t tend to wax ecstatic in reviews. But I first read this in Dozois’ The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eleventh Annual Collection and I didn’t mind this one story being there a bit, science fiction or not. And on re-reading, it’s even better. I think this is one of the select Great Stories like “Flowers for Algernon.” Jed’s voice is as clear as a bell. Jesse’s and Mike’s aren’t too far removed from Jed’s. Matt’s is completely different. Potato and Chip are every bit the characters the humans are. The main cars are, too. And what cars! The metal manifestations of restless, searching America before, and up to, the edge of the Viet Nam war. An America specifically of Montana and the circuit of Western states nearby. Wide open spaces, speed, and spirits, are all evoked powerfully and viscerally. You feel the wind blowing as you rocket down the road at a hundred miles an hour through the night and you see the occasional ghost of someone who has “found a ditch” and gotten a cross by the side. Occasionally, you even find that the headlights coming up behind you are the headlights of dead cars. This is a felt, lived, rich story, which mixes a little fantasy and a lot of reality; a little humor and a lot of pain and loss. I don’t mix anything in my emphatic recommendation.

Mildred Clingerman (1918-03-14–1997-02-26)

“Letters from Laura” (F&SF, October 1954)

Through letters from Laura, which are about her time travel trip to ancient Crete and are addressed to her mother, her friend, and an employee of the tourist agency, a character is cleverly revealed with impish humor. It’s hard to say anything more about this story (which is likely just 2-3,000 words) without spoiling it all and some may not appreciate its 1950s sensibility (though it can be seen as either reinforcing or subverting it) but most should get anywhere from mild to great enjoyment out of it which may even increase on re-reading.

William Gibson (1948-03-17)

“Johnny Mnemonic” (Omni, May 1981)

Johnny’s an empty head, using Intel Inside to store information he has no access to as he makes his way with it from point A to point B. Problem is that his point B of the moment, Ralfi Face, hasn’t come for the information but, rather, wants Johnny dead. So Johnny gets a shotgun to crudely adjust Ralfi’s attitude. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go so well until Molly Millions, with her implanted mirrorshades and retractable claws, decides to get in on the action. They start to take Ralfi some place where they can talk more quietly but a guy with a monofilament wire where his thumb is supposed to be has other ideas. After a stop with Jones, the cyborg dolphin, and a visit with Dog, the human with dog modifications, the assassin is still following them and it comes down to the climactic scene.

In a way, this is just some PKD mindfork stuff wrapped in noir style along with a dash of Brunner and Bester and is just as “80s” as the Clingerman is “50s” but it does have a lot of creativity in its details and does grasp the data-mining information-driven world that many people still haven’t grasped. And, of course, the next year, Blade Runner would show this sort of “decadent urban sprawl of futuristic downtrodden people trapped on Earth” on the Big Screen. It was certainly a nifty thing for a moment and a needed kick in the pants to SF but it’s still kind of amazing that this sort of thing dominated a good chunk of SF for at least a couple of decades and its echoes still reverberate. Just considered as itself, though, it’s a story worth reading.