no critical faculties 4: michael moorcock (presents) best sf stories from new worlds 4 part 2

And I put things off for a time, the better to forget what I meant to say.

thom keyes’ period of gestation- ‘sup Moorcock?

Thom is one of the nicest people I know. This is one of the nastiest stories you’ve ever read.

Here is the peril of these little intros: it wasn’t one of the nastiest stories I’ve ever read at all. It was rather unpleasant, and very effective in building up that unpleasantness. I will accept that had I read it forty years ago, before the internet made nasty stories more readily available and corrupted every last bright and shining youth on the planet, it may well have been one of the nastiest stories I had ever read; but reading it in this dim and storied future I have to disagree with the voice of authority on this one.

However: it is quite good. Dudes on a spaceship, the suggestion that their madness in such a space is inevitable, the horrific act this ultimately leads to, etc. The prose is dense, a little disorienting at first, but readable. Great conclusion. Possibly my favorite story in this whole mess.

hilary bailey’s dr. gelabius-

Hilary Bailey rarely submits stories to NEW WORLDS. In fact, when we ask to see something, she often refuses quite rudely. We managed to trick her into letting us have this one after we had stolen it from her desk. It wasn’t as hard to steal as it might seem, since she is married to the editor and has to sleep sometime. I’m sure you’ll forgive the editor’s furtive cunning (a natural trait in editors) after you have read this disturbing little story…

AWWWW.

Moorcock being cute about his woman is the best part of this story.

Some geneticist had made a career of playing God, selectively breeding harderbetterfasterstronger babies. In the process, he kills off the ones that don’t look promising. In the story, he putters about his lab, kills a fetus, and then gets shot by the apparent irate mother of one of the disposed-of fetuses. THE END.

Impossible not to read as a commentary on abortion these days, but I won’t read the intent. When I got to the end of the brief (three page) story I said: oh. Huh.

Points for making the fetus disposal bit really quite unpleasant though.

joel zoss’ the valve transcript- Remember when I said I remembered nothing of my New Worlds anthology back home? I was wrong. About half-way through this reading, I recalled this story. I recalled being thoroughly underwhelmed by this story, and scratching my head at the ending. The reread did not bring any fresh and astonishing insights.

I feel like I should get something out of this one because it was collected twice so it must be really great.

I don’t.

I don’t get it, internet.

I give up.

thomas m. disch’s linda and daniel and spike- As near as I can tell, a young woman is impregnated with uterine cancer by her (explicitly identified as)imaginary friend, and after she refuses surgery the baby comes out, a demanding creature named “Spike”.

Huh.

I think it’s a darkly comic, surreal tale of an already less-than-sane woman who adopts a drug habit to help her deal with the cancer that eventually kills her, or else the already present drug habit helps when the news comes, and the habit is personified in her “son”, who it’s implied is still alive after the tumors, spread throughout most of her body, are cut out, and she’s dead, and–

Yeah, I’m still scratching my head a little.

This story is in no way offensive.

john t. sladek’s masterson and the clerks- By far, the longest of the inclusions in this collection. Called “funny”, but more just relentlessly clever (I appreciated but never actually laughed), “Masterson and the Clerks” is a satire on the dehumanizing absurdity of office life. In a series of carefully numbered and titled sections, Henry gets a job as a clerk, sitting in the middle of eight other desks, shuffling and marking papers in a specific but apparently aimless way before passing them on to the next man, who reshuffles, remarks, and sends them on in turn. One clerk just staples. The clerks take an absurd sense of pride in their work and never miss a chance to criticize the next jerk’s perceived inefficiency based on some detail of how they handle paperclips, all the while fearing that they will be summoned by the intercom to Masterson’s office. People called to the boss’ office never come back.

Incident happens. Eventually, everyone is called upstairs, which turns out to be just a new space to clerk, this time in concert with poorly-payed, frequently minority and/or immigrant, draughtsmen, drafting. In time the office stops putting out work, instead focusing its efforts on relentless, self-reflexive efficiency: a man who has taken up woodwork is asked to make tables so that they can sell the desks. When he can’t keep up with the demand, he removes the office’s doors, then the windowpanes for conversion into tables. They cancel janitorial services, shut off the water, and begin writing in disappearing ink, making it easier to keep reusing forms. Pay is cut, people are fired, and remaining workers are made into “efficiency experts.” Prior to absolutely giving up on bringing money in, Masterson has his draughtsmen erase every last line and number from a project proposal, asserting of the blank pages they send out

‘No one else could turn in work as neat as that, ever. Not one single mistake!’

Every step is taken to reduce costs, to help the company bottom line without actually resorting to producing. Everyone is assured, even as absolutely no work goes out, that everything is looking up, that profits have never been better.

Characters are obsessively anti-semitic, one going so far as to blame Jewish selfishness for taxing German logistics and leading to their loss of World War II. Masterson distributes memos claiming

We are fighting for, and expect to win, a return of power to the hands of the white, Anglo-Saxon, God-fearing, Protestant, not overly-intellectualized citizens of American descent…

Sladek seems intent on linking the office’s obsessive pursuit of self-consuming efficiency to Nazi Germany, but there’s a density of hatred (fear of communism, fear of “uppity blacks”), much like there is of everything else. This story is just that: dense. I had trouble with it, at first; trouble keeping track of the clerks, trouble caring about where it was going. It didn’t grab me, but after Henry receives the call to go upstairs things pick up, they gel.

I was most struck by the feeling that aside from the dated mechanics of the office work, this story could have been written last goddamn month. It’s satirical impact remains potent and applicable even today, making it probably the only story in this anthology to live up to Moorcock’s intro’s desperate carnival bark.

Pretty damn good would probably read again.

-the end-

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~ by ironcupshrug on 12/27/2009.

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