Nine months after the cold days of February, three Grand Masters were born on consecutive days (and several other authors were born during this week that, but for time and space, I could have covered—and may some year soon). They give us tales of an interstellar war, an immortal neanderthal, and a very odd couple.
Poul Anderson (1926-11-25/2001-07-31)
“Time Lag” (F&SF, January 1961)
This may not be among Anderson’s best stories (at one point, a character thinks “a short, dry lecture might soothe” another) but I like it and it’s the one I wanted to re-read this time.
Elva the Vaynamoan is returning home from having been out doing leader-like things in her stable, non-sexist, free, open, healthy, low-population society which preserves the environment of her colonial planet and respects the semi-intelligent natives thereof when a spaceship enters the atmosphere for the first time in centuries. Of course, it turns out that these are invaders from a society that is antithetical to hers in essentially every way and they destroy Elva’s home, kill her husband, and capture her, but fail to shock the Vaynamoans into immediate surrender. The leader of the expedition, Golyev the Chertkoi, takes her back home with him as he readies a second expedition, to be followed by a third intended to finally bring Vaynamo to subjection even though it will take quite some time due to interstellar travel and even longer for the two worlds due to time dilation and the twin paradox. This leads to a pyrotechnic climax in which we learn more about Elva and the Vaynamoans. The story’s full volume is not as simplistic as I’ve boiled it down to and produces an exciting and involving experience.
L. Sprague de Camp (1907-11-27/2000-11-06)
“The Gnarly Man” (Unknown, June 1939)
An anthropologist happens to go to a sideshow where she meets what’s presented as “Ungo-Bungo the ferocious ape-man” but whom she recognizes as (im)possibly something else: a neanderthal. She manages to talk with him and introduce him to some of her fellow scientists, who take varying views of him, while we learn that he was struck by lightning fifty thousand years ago and hasn’t aged since. He’s gone from time and place in various guises and occupations, most recently being Clarence Aloysius Gaffney, sideshow actor. Problems arise when he tries to get some poorly mended broken bones treated and finds a doctor who seems willing to help him, but actually has other ideas.
This reads almost like a sequel to Lester del Rey’s “The Day Is Done” (published a month earlier) if the neanderthal in it thought he was the last one, not knowing that one of his kind had become immortal. On the other hand, it’s almost like a rejoinder in which the pitiable misfit is replaced by an admirable one. It could be more strongly plotted (only having enough to produce some tension and hang the main notion of a modern-day neanderthal on) but it mostly works with good old-fashioned story-telling, with that intriguing central notion, an effective tone and mood, and some nice phrases.
Frederik Pohl (1919-11-26/2013-09-02)
“Day Million” (Rogue, February/March 1966)
Many of today’s readers might be interested in and surprised by this story’s take on non-binary omnisexuality which transcends most of today’s “cutting-edge” but, really, this tale of the love of “Don” and “Dora” is a tour de force of future shock which uses sparkling prose and intense conviction to convey both how far we’ve come and how far we may go. Its six pages are the distilled quintessence of science fiction, itself.