Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, August 19, 2016

1972: The Metallic Muse (Biggle, Lloyd, Jr.)

Reflection on forms of art take predictable directions (3.5/5)

Prior to his death in 2002, Biggle, as a SF writer, had produced about twenty novels, three collections, about forty short stories. Though he’s not a well-known SF author, Biggle had two other facets to his habit of writing: mystery and music; neither of these is explored fully in his seven-story collection, but it’s obvious that some of his personal interests are imposed on the stories, as the back cover comments: “seven fine science fiction stories of what could happen in the world of music and art and television”.

This thematic collection of “art” comes right after my reading of Effinger’s thematic collection of “sport”, neither of which particularly suited me. I guess I prefer a broader range of topics by a single author (such as Tsutsui Yasutaka’s Salmonella Men [2006]) or a broader range of authors on a single sub-genre (such as Paul Kane & Stuart O’Regan’s The Mammoth Book of Body Horror [2012]).

Overall, the stories show a good streak of originality in regards to plot, but most—if not all—stories end on rather predictable notes. The first five stories are obvious inclusions to the theme of art, but this theme tapers away along with the flow of the stories: “In His Own Image” is more about religion, idolatry, and worship than any form of art; and “The Botticelli Horror” is named after an artist but is really about alien life-forms eating people on earth.


“The Tunesmith” (novelette, 1957) – 4/5
Erlin Baque is the best at what he does but feels that it offers no personal enjoyment or even professional advancement. His commercial compositions sell well and are well remembered but Baque has his sights set on moving from the Tunesmiths’ Guild to the Performers’ Guild, thus getting work playing the multichord at the Lanky-Pank Out. Onbreak from performing old commercials, Erlin takes the stage by himself to play music without a visiscope or lyrics—and the crowd went wild for it as they had never heard anything  other than commercials in their entire lives. 41 pages

“Leading Man” (shortstory, 1957) – 3.5/5
Patient #1319 acts at the Duke of Wellington as he prepares to address the nation about the Spanish crisis; meanwhile, the Duchess who used to be Cleopatra when 1319 was Caesar, urges him to complete the speech. Immediately, 1319 beckons for his harem, whom he watches dancing as he sits upon a pile of rugs eating camel stew; meanwhile, the same woman—then Cleopatra and the Duchess but now a shy harem member—sits in the corner. When she drugs 1319 to sleep, she contacts her team on 1319’s progress, but 1319 also has time to contact his team. 13 pages

“Spare the Rod” (novelette, 1958) – 3.5/5
In a small town, there seemed only room enough for one violin teacher—Professor Oswald Perkins—who had about two dozen students, that is until a new teacher arrived on the scene: Sam Beyers’ robot. With Oswald’s tutorship, students make slow yet steady progress on their own; however, while listening to the robot’s lessons from outside a window, the students seem to be able to play perfectly from the very start. To investigate, Oswald himself takes a free lesson from the robot to learn from the very source. 21 pages

“Orphan of the Void” (novelette, 1960) – 3/5
When the “Homing Song” becomes a galactic hit, people from all over begin to feel the pains of homesickness that eventually take them back to the place they call home, including star-pilot Thomas Jefferson Sandler III; however, while he calls Earth his home, he’s not an Earth-native. When he inquires yet receives no answer about his original home prior to adoption, he digs deeper and finds himself in trouble with the authorities across the galaxy. He also finds a wandering drunk who shares more in common with him that first thought. 48 pages

“Well of the Deep Wish” (shortstory, 1961) – 4/5
Solar Productions has a quota to meet: write and produce ninety-six one-hour films per day. Only recently, however, they’ve been way behind on developing scripts because it seems that the writers have stopped writing and nothing can inspire them to return to their so-called art. Kalder is hired to get to the bottom of things, which isn’t hard to do since everyone lives at the bottom of their subterranean housing. The bottommost levels of their lives don’t inspire the writers as much as the virtual reality in the Tank where they often take respite. 19 pages

“In His Own Image” (shortstory, 1968) – 4/5
Nearly four-hundred people died in a spaceship explosion except for Gorton Effro, who was sleeping off stolen hooch in an escape pod. Lucky for him twice again is that he’s near an emergency station that hasn’t been inhabited by anyone for fourteen years yet can still house over a thousand. He’s stunned to meet one man who survives alone on the base who seems religiously inclined, quotes bible passages, and treats Gorton as a priest. The hermit also commands a flock of machines in worship of a god in contrast to Gorton who they see as a sinner. 13 pages

“The Botticelli Horror” (novelette, 1960) – 2.5/5

All imported biological Venusian items are fingered when children near a carnival are partially eaten, curiously leaving only their shoes behind. At first, the giant slug is blamed yet could hardly make the journey without leaving prints behind; finally, a type of chromatic moss is accused as it has recently taken flight. The area where the moss takes its victims keeps spreading as their number increases, too; regardless where the victims are, they leave their shoes behind. The army is quick to learn and battle the moss. 41 pages

1 comment:

  1. Biggle's The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets is well worth a read, being an anthropological study of a new musical instrument introduced into an alien culture as a revolutionary weapon.