The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"The Stare" by John Wyndham: An Appreciation by Gavin J. Grant

Reviewers have to review. Editors have to fill their pages (paper or otherwise). Writers (apparently) have to write. And the profusion of books shops happily supplying their addicted customers perfectly illustrates that readers have to read.

But no one, reviewer, editor, writer, or reader had to go back, dig into the archives, find a loved or admired story (or one that nagged, or a new story, fresh, still sparkling, or...) and take the time out of their busy lives to write about it.

SCI FICTION and this project embody what to me is one of the best parts of the internet: the continued availability of these works (although I hadn't realized quite so many of the older stories had been taken down); the community of readers and writers and the equalization of same; and the ability to look backward into the archive and forward into the future--every week when a new story was posted.

Many of my favorite writers have stories on SCI FICTION. So many that I thought I wouldn't be able to choose. If I were to write about Ray Vukcevich, what about Carol Emshwiller? If Jeff Ford what about Suzy McKee Charnas? Terry Bisson? C.M. Kornbluth, Ursula Le Guin, Maureen McHugh, Octavia E. Butler? Kessel. Rowe? Butner? Duncan, Waldrop, Tiptree, Fowler, Rickert? Ad (almost) infinitum. No matter, there are many readers and many writers and the fun is in the choosing of something, not necessarily a personal best, but something enjoyed, something worth pointing to.

So to John Wyndham's "The Stare" a brief, satisfying club tale with a tiny unexpected bump at the end. Wyndham was a teenage favorite. (I'd love to add his novel The Chrysalids to our Peapod Classics reprint line.) The only problem I had was that he published under so many variations of his name (John Beynon Harris, sometimes with a Lucas thrown in) and that some of his books were published under more than one title so that I could never quite be sure if I had read all of them. What I would have done then for the SCI FICTION Author Biography and Bibliography!

Though slight, "The Stare" embodies much of what is wonderful in Wyndham's writing. He instantly establishes the tenor of his characters--passing time at the club, half-bored but ready to listen--and then takes us off into another story. His writing is full of great descriptions--although this one is more familiar now than it may have been to readers when the story was first published in The Daily Express in 1932:

"By day the subway is a mass of men and women all apparently ten minutes behind time, but late at night it echoes with a dreary desolation, and the trains seem to rattle and crash indecently through a world more than half dead."

Ellen Datlow's SCI FICTION was an invaluable resource for readers. Not only could readers explore the work of new writers, SCI FICTION also worked as a filter through which piles of ancient paperbacks, pulps, and magazines passed through and delightful stories such as "The Stare" emerged to be enjoyed by new readers. I hope that SCI FICTION will relaunch with Ellen at the helm (I hope for world peace first, though) or that she can find another venue to do the same wonderful job.

Should the SCI FICTION archives ever disappear, "The Stare" may still be available here.

Link to story.


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