Picking up where I left off a couple of years ago, here are reviews of stories selected from people born in the coming week of October 10-16 (or what would have been the coming week if I weren’t a few days late). The stories include a cake baking contest, a bank robbery aftermath, and a contrasting pair of fractured fairy tales.
(There is one birthday that falls in the missed days that I feel like mentioning even if no short fiction goes with it: Happy Birthday and Halloween to Mr. Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1924-10-10/1978-12-10)!)
William Morrison (1906-10-13/1980-06-02)
“The Model of a Judge” (Galaxy, October 1953)
There aren’t many SF stories about judging a cake-baking contest but this is one, involving as it does a wolf-like native inhabitant of a moon which humans have colonized who has been conditioned away from his carnivorous ways and modified into a semblance of humanity, but who still retains his amazingly discriminating taste and more. As the judge overhears seemingly scattered conversation amongst the bakers and then tastes their wares, he reflects on his past, his present, the people who have made him what he is, and then comes to his interesting decision. This is an unusual, well-constructed, efficient, thought-provoking tale.
James H. Schmitz (1911-10-15/1981-04-18)
“An Incident on Route 12” (If, January 1962)
James H. Schmitz is best known for his strong female characters, ranging from mature scienstists to cute little witches who exist in far-flung times and spaces but this little gem features a tough bank robber on the way to make his escape when he encounters car trouble. The horror he inflicts on a good Samaritan is nothing to the horror to come. A really short, hardboiled, powerful masterpiece.
Oscar Wilde (1854-10-16/1900-11-30)
“The Nightingale and the Rose” (The Happy Prince and Other Tales, 1888)
Best known for his witty plays and powerful novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde also wrote poetry and short fiction. In this, a Student of the philosophy that he’s read in books wants to dance with a girl who has said she would if he gave her a red rose, but he has no rose. A nightingale hears his lament, decides he’s a true lover, and undergoes an astonishing ordeal to help him. This tale makes me think of things like “philosophy will clip an angel’s wings” and “love is blind” and so on, but the point is that it’s quite a striking and cynical “fairy tale.”
P. G. Wodehouse (1881-10-15/1975-02-14)
“Sir Agravaine” (Collier’s, June 29, 1912)
Perhaps it’s best to let Wodehouse sum up his own story:
Some time ago, when spending a delightful week-end at the ancestral castle of my dear old friend, the Duke of Weatherstonhope (pronounced Wop), I came across an old black letter MS. It is on this that the story which follows is based.
I have found it necessary to touch the thing up a little here and there, for writers in those days were weak in construction. Their idea of telling a story was to take a long breath and start droning away without any stops or dialogue till the thing was over.
I have also condensed the title. In the original it ran, “‘How it came about that ye good Knight Sir Agravaine ye Dolorous of ye Table Round did fare forth to succor a damsel in distress and after divers journeyings and perils by flood and by field did win her for his bride and right happily did they twain live ever afterwards,’ by Ambrose ye monk.”
It was a pretty snappy title for those times, but we have such a high standard in titles nowadays that I have felt compelled to omit a few yards of it. We may now proceed to the story.
And so it goes that the weak and homely knight and the plain maiden find out what is above strength and beauty and all else. I don’t know that this is his best and, despite threats of dragons and other fanciful things, really only the theme makes this a speculative story but, still, it’s entertaining and amusing, especially (for some reason) regarding the sort of indigestion someone like Agravaine could cause a dragon.