old weird herald

This is all from memory, and includes only one stage of my career as an appreciator of science fiction. (The other stage was much later, and by then I’d learned to call it speculative fiction.) In the town where I grew up, the local library held, for some reason, a very generous selection of s.f. anthologies, and I must have checked out every one of them at least three times. This was when I was around 8-12 years old. Anyway, the stories are burned into my memory, whether accurately or not.

>>> Modern scientists visit a monastery in the Himalayas. The monks are reciting the nine billion names of God. They’ve been working their way through the list for millennia, and when they get done, the world is scheduled to end. The scientists scoff. I think the last line is, “One by one, the stars began to blink out.” Just calling it to mind still sends a shiver up and down my spine.

>>> A spaceman is marooned alone, and immobilized by a broken leg, on a strange planet where he may or may not be rescued by his compatriots. He plays a musical instrument (probably a flute or harmonica, it would have to be something pretty small.) To his amazement, another instrument joins him. The alien musician turns out to be incredibly hideous, but they play music together until the search party finds them and kills the ugly alien. The spaceship’s crewmen are astonished when the musician/spaceman does not thank them for saving his life. That was a heavy, heavy story, but the only way you’d ever know it is, if it happened to stick in your mind for, like, fifty years.

>>> I think this one’s called “By the Waters of Babylon,” and there’s a little girl named Sophie with six toes, which is bad news for her because of the pogram against mutants.

>>> The parents are both magicians, and they want their boy to grow up and take his place in the family business, but he’s a math geek, and of course he rebels against them. They summon up a terrible demon to scare their son into obedience, but an even more powerful supernatural entity appears, the Accountant, and he defeats the demon, and protects the boy’s autonomy.

>>> On this planet the sun shines only one day a year, and everybody looks forward to it. A mean boy locks up a girl in the school closet and she misses the brief appearance of the sun. I’m betting that it’s called “All Summer in a Day.”

>>> The kid is having a Halloween party. They play the game where everybody sits in a circle in the dark, passing around various raw fruits and vegetables, and other substances, while a story is narrated. For instance, peeled grapes – “These are his eyes…” and all the little girls go “eeewwwww.” Well, it turns out that one of the parents is a psychopath. I’m pretty sure the last line is, “Then some fool turned on the light.”

>>> A little boy named Anthony had the power to make anything happen, anything at all, just by wishing it. All the adults were his terrorized slaves, who had to always agree with him and pretend that everything was just fine. It was a reversal of usual power dynamic between parents and children in real life. But, viewed from another angle, it was an all too realistic picture of what some otherwise perfectly sane parents will do in order to keep the peace. A kid can just wear you down so much, you’ll do anything to placate him and stop the whining, or whatever kind of meltdown they threaten to subject you to. Also, it was an allegory on the relationship of people to God, who was, after all, the omnipotent Being that people were most concerned with, before Anthony came along. What a great story.

>>> A Canticle for Liebowitz is a novel, not a story, and I’m pretty sure I read it early on. I don’t even remember exactly why any more, only that I trust my earlier judgment enough that if I had to pick ten desert island s.f. books today, it would be on the list.