Retro Sci-Fi Reviews: Gotta Catch ‘Em All

18 Jan

How many times have I told this story?  Once upon a time, it was the year 2000.  I was ten, having just survived Y2k, had a new appreciation for life.  I was going to branch out–put away Oregon Trail once and for all and play that weird computer game my mother bought, “Alpha Centauri.”  Or something like that, I don’t know, maybe my timeline’s off… it was so very long ago, after all.

In any case.  Grandpa Bob–better known to badass Cold War rocket engineers everywhere as Robert Schindler–had a similar idea.  For whatever reason (maybe I’d already shown interest in Captain Picard at such an early age), he decided to give me some of his old science fiction books (along with a very enlightening work of hagiography entitled Heroes of Our Faith).  There were two collection of old-timey science fiction stories: the 1962 A Century of Science Fiction and the 1974 Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930’s.  Yes, the apostrophe is really there between the 0 and the s.  Cue shudder.  They’re both hardback, and were purchased used in 1985 for 85 cents and $1.25, respectively, if anyone cares.

A Century of Science Fiction was edited by a man named Damon Knight, who’s famous for writing the story that inspired the classic Twilight Zone episode of the same name, “To Serve Man.”  Before the Golden Age was edited by Isaac Asimov, who’s famous for writing… absolutely everything.  Even at that age (and now that I think about it, it was probably more like 1998–like I said, the timeline’s wonky), I knew who Isaac Asimov was, mostly because my mom told me for years that she once served him when she was a waitress in college, even though it turns out that her memory was wrong and it was really Norman Mailer.  Except that that’s a Gilmore Girls episode, and I really have no idea where I’m going with this.

Oh yes.

That second book–Asimov’s–was the first place (and this I’m absolutely certain of) I ever learned about: cosmic rays, time travel, evolution, advanced alien life forms keeping humans as pets, aliens who aren’t actually trying to take over the world, historical counterfactuals, rudimentary cryogenics, parasites, the atmospheric composition of the  planet Venus, hive minds, brains in vats, and alternate universes.  Many of those stories have stuck with me for over a decade, even after one read–names of characters, settings, and most especially the wonderful plot twists.  The other book?  Well, I didn’t really read it.

But by 2003 I was hooked, and ended up subscribing to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine for only about a year (I cancelled in 2004… or maybe 2005? because some of those stories were just too provocative.)  Still, they stuck with me too–only I couldn’t remember the titles.

Over a year ago, I embarked on a quest to find two of the short stories I knew I had read in some issue of those magazine.  And after weeks of online research (and actually calling old used bookstores up for information–I’m that committed), I found the issue I remembered.  Jackpot.

Am I right, or am I right? This book cover is terrifying.

I was not so lucky with two of the other stories I remembered.  They weren’t in any magazine I could track down, and they weren’t in the Asimov anthology, and as far as I could tell, they weren’t in the forgotten anthology either.  I didn’t try too hard with that one, admittedly–I don’t know what, but something about it was always a little off-putting.  They wouldn’t be in there anyway–I never read it.  So I put feelers out on some SF forums and got… nothing.

Last night I pulled out A Century of Science Fiction again, just paging through the Table of Contents.  These stories had such frustratingly vague titles!  “Reason,” “The Star,” “Another World”?  These could be about anything–my mind jumped immediately to the conclusion that they were about, respectively, Thomas Aquinas,the Nativity and Epiphany, and the Rapture.  Which mostly says something kind of disturbing about me.

There was also a story listed with the title “Unhuman Sacrifice.”  I thought it seemed like something I, as a 10-year-old, would pick out of the line-up.  Which also says something disturbing about me.  When I opened up to page 152, however, I was disappointed: there was some crazy preacher trying to fix a translation machine (huh, maybe I wasn’t too far off before).  Not at all the plant people I was expecting.  And then I turned to the last page, because of this story, the thing I remembered most was that final line.

And there it was.

I was elated.  Thrilled.  I literally shouted aloud, alone in my dorm, “I FOUND YOU, DAMMIT!”  It was really friggin’ exciting.  A great victory for the memory of Isabela Morales.  I came up with the idea that I would blog about the 1958 story, so between classes today I re-read it in full.  And still, the waters of my mind were troubled, because there was one last story I needed to find.  That one I really thought would be in the Knight anthology, but I just didn’t have the patience to go through ever story and fish for key words like “strangle” and “invisibility” and “opium den.”  And then I realized: I’ve never been patient.  When I was ten, having finished “Unhuman Sacrifice,” I would have chosen the path of least resistance–start on the story directly after.

There is was, “Aliens Among Us,” with the telling subtitle–“What is it?”

I was elated. Thrilled.  I literally pulled out my phone with a triumphant laugh and texted to my dear Charlie:

AAAAHHHH!  I found the other story I’ve been searching for for years!  I have all 6… GOTTA CATCH EM ALL!

And so, after this long and frustrating quest, and even longer and more frustrating blog post, I would like t0 announce that indie science fiction reviews are hereby and forthwith to be supplemented by reviews of those epic stories of a bygone age, starting with “Unhuman Sacrifice.”  Look for it, like, tomorrow.

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