Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Day in Town by Ernest Haycox

Joe Blunt brings his family to town to ask for a loan from the bank. His crop at Christmas Creek is not coming in and he needs supplies for his children. The banker, McKercher, tries to let Joe down easy, and stalls his refusal by telling Joe to return in an hour. Before he leaves, McKercher notices a slight gesture Joe makes towards his shirt pocket. Knowing he will be refused in an hour, Joe meanders around town while his wife and children wait in the wagon under the hot sun. Joe is refused at every turn, no work available anywhere. When he returns to the bank, he is refused by McKercher, whom notices the gesture towards the pocket once more. The banker offers Joe a cigar, and he refuses. McKercher decides to give Joe a loan.

McKercher explains to a teller that Joe was out of tobacco, and was too proud to take some from him.

Joe returns to his family, surprised he got the money. The wife says they will buy the needed supplies, some nice things for the baby, and some tobacco for Joe.

Fantastic Western. A touching little story about men's hearts, and pride.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Tale of the Ragged Mountains by Edgar Allan Poe

A tale of mesmerism about a young man named Bedloe who may be the reincarnation of a man who lived years earlier named Oldeb (In his obit, his name was misspelled "Bedlo").

Contains Poe's  sharp tongue, but not his best work. Very ambiguous, which leads to some plot confusion.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson

Three friends are sharing a drink when a well-off doctor named Macfarlane enters. One of the friends, Fettes, is apparently an old acquaintance of Macfarlane and accosts him angrily.

The friends find that the pair attended medical school together years earlier and part of their duties included collecting bodies for dissection and paying the suspicious men who supply them.

Fettes recalls receiving the body of a woman whom he knew, convinced she was murdered. Macfarlane talks Fettes out of reporting the incident.

On a later occasion, Fettes recalls Macfarlane receiving very rude treatment from a man named Gray. On the following night, Macfarlane brings Gray's body for dissection. Again, Macfarlane talks Fettes out of reporting the incident. The two men intricately dissect the body and send it to various institutes for study.

Fettes and Macfarlane are never implicated of the crime and continue their work. With a shortage of bodies, they are asked to extract a recently buried woman from the grave. As they head back from the cemetery, the body between them, they get anxious and nervous. They decide to take a better look at the body and to their horror, it is the body of Gray, which they thought they had destroyed.

Great little macabre tale from Stevenson. Interesting supernatural-esque ending that totally twists the naturalist presentation of the story.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beyond the Door by Philip K. Dick

Larry buys a cuckoo clock for his wife, but is snide about how he got it wholesale. This upsets Doris, who has been having an emotional affair with Bob. Bob comes over and Doris shows him the clock, but Larry shows up and kicks them both out, saying that the clock stays because he paid for it. Larry grows to disdain the clock, which will not chime for him, ever. He goes to destroy it with a hammer, giving it one last chance to come out. The bird does come out, and flies straight into Larry's eye, breaking his neck.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Second Variety by Philip K. Dick

The story takes place in in the post-nuclear landscape of Russia, who is at war with the United Nations. The UN has developed a series of crab-like robots, called claws, that destroy human targets. The story opens with a Russian approaching the UN bunker and getting completely obliterated by several claws. The UN forces realize that the soldier was carrying a distress signal and they send Hendricks to negotiate. Along the way, Hendricks meets a small boy, David. David refuses to stay back and Hendricks allows him to follow.

When they reach the meeting place, three Russians fire at the two travels, destroying the boy. But to Hendrick's surprise the boy was a robot. The three Russians- Klaus, Ruddi, and Tasso, a local prostitute- explain that the claws have developed their own killer robots, which have annihilated their forces. David is the third variety, or III-V. A wounded soldier was the first, or I-V. That means that they have yet to identify the second variety, II-V. During the night, Klaus kills Rudi, believing he is the second kind, but he was not.

The three remaining men make their way back to the UN camp, each suspicious of the next. When they reach it, there is no sign of life, just several David's attack them. In the gunfight, Tasso kills Klaus, gears and wheels go flying, meaning he must be the II-V. Tasso also throws a grenade-like bomb that destroys all the David's.
Suffering from internal injuries and a wounded arm, Hendrick's hopes to escape to the secret UN moon base. He and Tasso find the hidden escape pod, but it holds only one passenger. Tasso convinces Hendricks to let her take the pod and return for help. She flies away and Hendricks looks at Klaus' remains, which reveal he was the IV-V robot, not the II-V. He is attacked by a group of robots, including the wounded soldier, David, and several Tassos. Hendrick does have one final comfort as he sees that the Tassos have the bombs, which means the robots are already building machines that will destroy their own kind.

 Dick said of the story: "My grand theme—who is human and who only appears (masquerading) as human?—emerges most fully. Unless we can individually and collectively be certain of the answer to this question, we face what is, in my view, the most serious problem possible. Without answering it adequately, we cannot even be certain of our own selves. I cannot even know myself, let alone you. So I keep working on this theme; to me nothing is as important a question. And the answer comes very hard."

An influential science fiction story from Dick. Great ironic suspense tale.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Good Husband by Evelyn E. Smith

Ellen marries John, a man that seemed stuffy to her until she got older. As he begins to come home later and later she becomes suspicious, but does not want to nag him. She decides to follow him to work one morning and follows him to the family plot. As a vampire, John sleeps there during the day. At least he was not carrying on with another woman she thinks.

Clever and witty short.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Eyes Have It by Philip K. Dick

The narrator thinks he has discovered an alien invasion in literature, but he simply does not get figurative language.

Nice little tale of science fiction whimsy.

The Skull by Philip K. Dick

Conger is given a chance to get out of prison early if he travels back in time to kill a man that starts a religious movement that changes the world. He is given only a skull to identify the man. He travels back to a small town in 1960. There, locals start to take notice of him and he is labeled a communist by some. As the day the arrives when the man will appear, Conger realizes that the skull is his own, and he is the man that will change the world.

Good twisted noirish tale from one of the masters of science fiction.

Free text of the story. (Public Domain)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Feeding Time by James Gunn

A woman's therapy session leads to her releasing an inner monster (literally) that devours her therapist.

Pretty quirky and oddly frightening fantasy story.

Devlin's Dream by George Clayton Johnson

Cowboy Cooney Devlin wakes from a nightmare in which he had no right arm and he watched a hawk circle in judgement. He is immensely disturbed, especially because that is the hand he uses to draw and shoot his side arm. He practices drawing with his left arm and when satisfied, rides into town and picks a fight in a bar with a Swede . He draws from his left and shoots the Swede dead. Satisfied that he can draw quick enough if he ever loses his primary hand, he switches the gun back to his right. Just then, the sheriff enters and the two men have a standoff. Cooney reaches for his hip, his left hip, and is shot by the sheriff. The narrator steps outside as Cooney's right arm is removed at the shoulder. A lone hawk circles in the night sky.

What a great western short! Dark and foreboding. Such a great little read.