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, November 30, 2005

"The Other Celia" by Theodore Sturgeon: An Appreciation by John Joseph Adams

If there's anything positive to take away from the closing of SCI FICTION, it's that it gave me an excuse to re-read "The Other Celia" by Theodore Sturgeon.

I chose to appreciate this story because it's one of the first stories I remember reading on SCI FICTION, and it made me slap myself upside the head for not having read more Sturgeon (this was quickly thereafter remedied).

If I recall correctly, when I read "The Other Celia," SCI FICTION wasn't the must-read magazine for me that it has since become. I was aware of it, sure; I think the only other story I'd read was "Cucumber Gravy" by Susan Palwick. I'd really enjoyed the Palwick, but for some reason I never got around to checking in every week. All that changed after I read "The Other Celia."

Sure, it's a reprint of a classic, by one of the undeniable masters of short SF, but still, it really opened my eyes to what Ellen was trying to do with the site, and made me keep coming back week after week after that.

Another reason reading "The Other Celia" on SCI FICTION stuck in my mind, is because when I read it, I hadn't actually planned to sit and read a whole story. I had just idly clicked on the link to see the first few lines, intending to perhaps read it later. But that's all I needed to be utterly hooked.

Here's how it begins:

If you live in a cheap enough rooming house and the doors are made of cheap enough pine, and the locks are old-fashioned single-action jobs and the hinges are loose, and if you have a hundred and ninety lean pounds to operate with, you can grasp the knob, press the door sidewise against its hinges, and slip the latch. Further, you can lock the door the same way when you come out.

Slim Walsh lived in, and was, and had, and did these things partly because he was bored.

The poetry of Sturgeon's language is what really captured me from the get go. "Slim Walsh lived in, and was, and had, and did these things . . ." That line right there is what did it.

But these opening paragraphs also paint this compelling character portrait of our hero, and then the story moves on into this really strange but undeniably compelling fantasy--as Slim becomes obsessed with Celia, so does the reader.

Robert Charles Wilson has said that "The Other Celia" is "in its way as perfect a science-fiction story as The Time Machine." I agree completely, and it's hard to say it any better than that.

“There’s a Hole in the City” by Rick Bowes: An Appreciation by M. Rickert

After September eleventh, after the great bullhorn speech, and the raising of flags everywhere, bitterness set in. Solemn silence settled over the date. This was mourning and this was patriotism. Many who had something to say said they would move to other countries to say it. The dead were silenced, and the country was silenced, except for the singing of the national anthem.

Writers don't have to write about war, terrorism or brutality. They don't have to do it, and not all should. Writers, most of all, must find their voices. That is the covenant they make with the word. But for those writers who are given the material, the passion, the voice to speak of things that make us sad to be human, it must be said; truth is not lost, until it is silenced.

The first time I read Rick Bowe's story, "There's a Hole in the City" I caught on fire. My hands burned and my eyes teared up from the smoke. My breath shortened. I walked away and left the fire where it started, in the story on the computer. I thought of peaches.

The Sunday before September eleventh one of the woman in my Tai Chi group brought peaches to share. I live in upstate New York and hadn't had a good peach since I was a kid. Peaches in the supermarket were hard and dry. I had given up eating them. But these peaches, locally grown, were incredibly sweet and juicy, so much so that after Tai Chi that day, my husband and I drove to the farmstand to buy our own. It was a tenderly beautiful day, the sky, true blue, the way a kindergartner might paint it, dotted with fat, white Georgia O'Keefe clouds. I remember how light I felt, as if the light of that day, combined with the sun- infused peaches was something I had ingested or become a part of. That was September ninth. I don't remember if I ate a peach the next morning, or the one after that, but for some reason the flavor of peaches is, for me, the flavor of September eleventh. I am sure I will never eat another peach without tasting ash.

After the fire went out, the story lingered on my tongue with the taste of peaches and death.

The large story of loss here is composed of the individual stories of loss. If, like me, you burn from memory and fear when you read this the first time (that's how perfect the writing is) read it again, because the story is essentially one of solace. There is suffering. There is death. There is love. (Ashes, peaches, sweet flavor of life.) You will find more solace in rereading this story than you ever will by watching the towers fall again.

What can we learn from the dead? Why look at such bleak faces when we can be making love, eating chocolate, smelling the apple blossom scent of snow? Why walk with the dead when there will be enough time for that eventually? Read this story. The dead walk with us. They have things to say.

Link to story

"And He Built a Crooked House" by Robert A. Heinlein: An Appreciation by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon

The first book of "real" SF short stories I ever bought with my own money was Heinlein's collection The Green Hills of Earth (1951). There are many Heinleins, I would discover, and this was the innocent storyteller of the 40s and 50s. Very suitable for a boy of 10 or 11 in the world of 1969. And I remember every story in that collection, almost as if I read them yesterday. I'm usually happy if I truly love 20% of a collection or SF magazine, but 7 out of 10 stories in The Green Hills of Earth make the grade in my book. Whether through starry-eyed innocence or blind luck, I'd stumbled across a winner early in my SF readings and then proceeded to read every one of what we might call today Heinlein's YA novels in my junior high library.

I don't remember when or in whose collection I first read "And He Built a Crooked House" (1940). But I do know that I had already discovered tesseracts and the idea of a four-dimensional object, along with the intriguing mysteries of the Möbius strip and the Klein bottle, and I'd read Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott, so I took to "And He Built a Crooked House" in a flash.

D&D players know about portable holes, Dr. Who fans know that the Tardis is larger than a London call box and the latest Harry Potter movie includes spacious quarters housed inside a modest pup tent. But those of us who read Heinlein's story knew how to make a house bigger on the inside than the outside -- build perpendicular to the usual three dimensions.

It's an engineer's house, full of quirks and disturbing realities as one can watch oneself disappearing into a room down the hall. And while the views from the windows are a wee bit unusual, they're certainly conversation starters. There's just one small technical problem with the place.

This story appeared some sixty-five years ago and yet the opening sentiments are still fresh:

Americans are considered crazy anywhere in the world.

They will usually concede a basis for the accusation but point to California as the focus of the infection. Californians stoutly maintain that their bad reputation is derived solely from the acts of the inhabitants of Los Angeles County. Angelenos will, when pressed, admit the charge but explain hastily, "It's Hollywood. It's not our fault--we didn't ask for it; Hollywood just grew."

The people in Hollywood don't care; they glory in it. If you are interested, they will drive you up Laurel Canyon "--where we keep the violent cases." The Canyonites--the brown-legged women, the trunks-clad men constantly busy building and rebuilding their slap-happy unfinished houses--regard with faint contempt the dull creatures who live down in the flats, and treasure in their hearts the secret knowledge that they, and only they, know how to live.

Lookout Mountain Avenue is the name of a side canyon which twists up from Laurel Canyon. The other Canyonites don't like to have it mentioned; after all, one must draw the line somewhere!

Hard to imagine that this 1940s California was just a shadow of what it would become today. Yet the iconic imagery of carving subdivisions and mansions out of what should've been left desert is buried deep in our collective unconscious--Hollywood TV and movies have seen to that. Perry Mason himself could've driven his car up to Heinlein's tesseract house to investigate what happened. So we're well grounded right at the beginning of the story, even nodding at how crazy we Americans really are. And Heinlein's characters are straight from his box of tricks--part optimist, part charlatan-cum-make-a-buck, part progressive, part conservative--and his sense of timing perfected. And it's not only culture which requires this story to be embedded in California . . .

Okay, so the characters are a bit dated and woefully politically incorrect by today's standards. And you'd never get anything built so quickly today without dealing with zoning boards, etc. It's an old short story, I'll willingly make allowances.

But the real reason I wanted to write this appreciation was that a few years ago I stumbled onto one of the greatest accolades I've ever seen for a story: Bob Seitz's 1997 tribute to "And He Built a Crooked House".

Preamble: The plot and the title for this story belongs to Robert Heinlein. I read it in a science fiction anthology decades ago and thought it was pretty amusing. Unfortunately, I don't know where to find it. I have rewritten it from scratch to go with my paper on relativity.

To tell the truth, I was using Google to try to find Heinlein's story and found Seitz's first. And while it is really intriguing to look at his story in comparison to Heinlein's, this helps illustrate why SciFiction was so important. So someone could find a story like this online. So that we don't have pull a Bob Seitz and write our own versions when we can't find a remembered work online or in print.

See, I'm not so sure we're ready for the Phil Kaldon version of a Time Enough For Love, which thankfully is still in print. But that's a different, later, longer Heinlein than this one and for another time and place.

Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon

Link to story