Archives for category: short fiction

The first story in Out of the Unknown (1970), is by A.E. Van Vogt, and might best be categorized as adventure-horror. Titled “The Sea Thing,” the eponymous creature, which we learn is “the god of sharks,” goes on land and takes human form to wreak vengeance upon the isolated fishermen of a remote island. Van Vogt begins, and for much of the story continues, by using this creature as the viewpoint character. This is the unique thing about “The Sea Thing” — otherwise it is very old-fashioned, a sea-based horror fantasy.

Despite that apparently damning judgment of “very old-fashioned,” I do not seek to dismiss this collection of tales. First, they were all originally published in Unknown, a short-lived pulp edited by the great John W. Campbell — hence the book’s title. Second, the authors of the stories are a husband-wife writing “team” who, despite their alleged status as a team, wrote each story in the book separately.

The penultimate tale of this collection, Lord Dunany’s “The Sack of Emeralds,” is simple and effective. It is so simple that one might blink and wonder why we should take any notice of it. Dunsany wrote many similar stories. But they are timeless, and flawless in their own way. This is a little longer, I think, than his best short shorts, like “Charon,” from Fifty-One Tales, and is nowhere near as moving. But it is a worthy inclusion.

This anthology also contains Ray Bradbury’s grand exercise in low-key bizarrerie, “The Jar.”

This paperback, with its unfortunate torn top-right corner, is of a slightly smaller size than what we think of as a normal-sized pocketbook paperback. It was published in 1963, during the period when this size was most popular.

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When Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., 46th President of These Benighted States, speaks, we should listen. Amidst his fits and starts and faux pas we can find real gems of revelation.

The latest examples come from his G7 adventures. Speaking of Russia, he wants to appear smart. He obviously enjoys every old-timey turn of phrase, and he smiles as he says Russians have “bitten off some real problems they are going to have trouble chewing on.” I wonder if he rehearsed that. It is not exactly Shakespeare, but it is the Bard Himself compared to his repeated references to “Libya.”

You see, Biden meant to say “Syria,” which Russia has defended against repeated U.S. attempts at the overthrow of the Alawite regime. Biden wants to make Putin look bad here, for getting in the way of noble, peace-loving U.S. intervention. But Biden ruins this brilliant bit of misdirection by repeatedly bringing up Libya. For Libya’s the far bigger mess, and it was a mess caused by the United States, the Obama-Biden Administration in particular.

So, why would he do that?

I figure that his ability to lie is low, his pre-frontal cortex being so shriveled up that he cannot maintain the prevarication. Libya is the counter to everything Biden wants to say about Russian and Syria. It shows that it is the United States that is in way over its head, or, to use Biden’s preferred cliché, has bitten off more than it can possibly chew. The Obama-Biden-Clinton team ruined Libya. It is the U.S. that is responsible for that mess, and what a mess it is! And Biden knows that HE MUST NOT SAY IT, so he says it.

The Imp of the Perverse is Edgar Allan Poe’s metaphor:

Induction, à posteriori, would have brought phrenology to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible. I am not more certain that I breathe, than that the assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution. Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong’s sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements. It is a radical, a primitive impulse—elementary. It will be said, I am aware, that when we persist in acts because we feel we should not persist in them, our conduct is but a modification of that which ordinarily springs from the combativeness of phrenology. But a glance will show the fallacy of this idea. The phrenological combativeness has for its essence, the necessity of self-defence. It is our safeguard against injury. Its principle regards our well-being; and thus the desire to be well, is excited simultaneously with its development. It follows, that the desire to be well must be excited simultaneously with any principle which shall be merely a modification of combativeness, but in the case of that something which I term perverseness, the desire to be well is not only not aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment exists.

An appeal to one’s own heart is, after all, the best reply to the sophistry just noticed. No one who trustingly consults and thoroughly questions his own soul, will be disposed to deny the entire radicalness of the propensity in question. It is not more incomprehensible than distinctive. There lives no man who at some period, has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker is aware that he displeases; he has every intention to please; he is usually curt, precise, and clear; the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance upon his tongue; it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger of him whom he addresses; yet, the thought strikes him, that by certain involutions and parentheses, this anger may be engendered. That single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing, (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences,) is indulged.

Something like that is going on in Biden’s poor head. I suspect it is not unrelated to other impulses, which we see at play in the Law of Nemesis.

Biden knows he must not mention Libya, but cannot help but bring it up.

The imp is upon him, like the narrator in the Poe story, who is mysteriously impelled to run out into the public confessing to murder — inevitably bringing on his own destruction.

He is utterly in thrall to that imp.

That imp now rules America.

twv