the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993
“How to Take Over the World,” “The Clearance of Esseen,” and “Waiting for the Bus”
Posted byMatthew Nadelhaft
Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.
"How to Take Over the World" by Shelley Lesher "The Clearance of Esseen" by David M. Gillveray "Waiting for the Bus" by John M. Floyd
These three short stories are not exactly part of an anthology; they just happen to have been published at the same time online by Jupiter World Press, and came to me in the form of PDFs from the editor. After some hemming and hawing about what to do with them, I decided to combine them into one review article, anthology or not. Does a website constitute an online anthology? I’m not sure… and I suspect that if I start debating the issue with myself, I’ll end up with something longer than the review of these three stories.
Which wouldn’t actually be a difficult thing to do, because the stories are quite short and not terribly substantial. I was surprised by the tone, subjects, and feel of all of them—very old-world-y, throwbacks to science fiction of the type one might have read decades ago. On the Internet I usually expect cutting edge, experimental stuff, but that probably says more about my expectations of the Internet than it does about what people are writing these days.
Shelley Lesher, for instance, in “How to Take Over the World,” uses simple language, almost children’s-book-like, to tell her story about the women of a small town banding together and baking tiny nano-clay warriors from a recipe Marjory finds in the lint trap of the industrial sewing machine at her workplace. The story is observed through the eyes of her husband, Fred. Generally, the way one reads science fiction stories is to suspend disbelief of the premise (for instance, “sure, I’ll buy that somebody invents a time machine…”) but then expect events proceeding from that premise to be believable. Sadly, that’s not the case, here. There are too many questions surrounding the note in the sewing machine to accept it at face value. Who the hell left it there? Why didn’t the writer of the note take over the world, instead of writing a note about how to? What makes everybody believe the contents of the note immediately? And the progression of the story, wherein the women of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, come to the conclusion that men are the source of all the world’s problems and that wiping them out—via the aforementioned nano-clay concoctions—is the solution, is a legitimate reaction, is too hurried to be even remotely believable. Presumably the note contained the recipe for making the critters, maybe even directions on how to get the materials. But could one fit a convincing enough treatise on gender inequality to convince an entire town’s women to massacre their husbands, fathers, and sons, into a sewing machine? It could be an attempt at humor, but the prose just isn’t good enough for the story to be funny. It’s as if Joanna Russ co-authored a “Dick and Jane” book with Pol Pot.
David M. Gillveray (or perhaps David McGillveray—his name is listed differently on the “cover” and title page) has a more serious offering in “The Clearance of Esseen.” It is, at least, a little more substantial, but it’s still overly familiar science fiction territory. Career officer Captain Joseph Yorrel is a fairly believable, and likable, character, caught up in a vast war that has long since grown beyond any rationale or ideology. His simple task is to look into the disappearance of soldiers from an island town that, a la Mai Lai, was wiped out despite noncombatant status. That Yorrel is surprised and disgusted to find out about this town and its fate is perhaps the most outlandish part of the story. His feelings certainly contribute to the likability of the character, but by the unspecified time when this story takes place surely such actions wouldn’t surprise any career soldier. Even now a jaded populace can watch reports of genocide in Darfur and elsewhere with little more reaction than a click of the remote.
The soldiers, it turns out, were killed off by the island’s volcano god, a touch I quite liked. But the understanding Yorrel comes to with the creature is far too easy and rapid, like the developments of “How to Take Over the World,” to be believable. It’s the manufacturing of a happy ending, out of a situation which doesn’t permit a happy ending, in too short a time.
John M. Floyd’s “Waiting for the Bus” is the shortest and slightest of these three stories. Daring the least, it also risks the least, and so is a bit more successful, like an athlete who is happy just to have made it to the Olympics, medals be damned. Dave Keeton, a tourist in Washington, D.C., meets an interesting and eccentric old man by the side of the road. Their conversation convinces Keeton the man is insane, but in a harmless and enjoyable way. Apparently the old fellow believes he was in Washington on a fact-finding mission for an alien race, and is waiting for his spaceship home. The sudden appearance of a helicopter, in a whir of engines and lights, makes for a nice bit of comic relief, and the interchange between the two characters is likable. But the eventual disappearance of the old man is too obvious, as is the trick ending in which Keeton comes to believe, all too easily, that he really had conversed with an alien.
It seems like Jupiter World Press is providing a site for aspiring authors to take their first steps (I hope these are first steps; if they are polished works by oft-published authors, I’ll be really worried about the state of science fiction). It’s a mitzvah, for sure. It just happens that those first steps will be a bit clumsy at times.