Evelyn E. Smith’s “The Vilbar Party” is a science fiction short story and possibly the shortest work I’ve ever been commissioned to review on its own.
Narli Gzann is arguably the foremost academic in his field, a position he won through hard work and a steadfast commitment to being a joyless mope. Thus, when he becomes the first Saturnian invited to teach on Earth, his focus is on all the downsides, real and imagined.
Still, the money is too good to turn down.
Horrors await him on Earth.
Gzann expects the humans to loath him as fervently as he believes his fellow Saturnians do. While it is futile to expect a person as inherently as unlovable as Gzann to bridge the gap between people and humans, at least he is uniquely prepared to live a solitary existence as a social outcast on Earth. Surely, he can be no lonelier on Earth than he is on Saturn.
There is, however, a fundamental aspect to human culture of which Saturn is blissfully unaware. Featured prominently in the childhoods of many humans is a toy known as a “teddy bear.” Saturnians bear more than a passing resemblance to these teddy bears. Therefore, when a human sees Gzann, they do not see an antisocial, grumpy academic. They see a welcome reminder of their carefree childhood days.
Gzann has spent a lifetime building defenses against rejection. Being showed with adoration and affection, however….
This ran in the January 1955 issue of Galaxy , whose Ed Emshwiller cover looks awfully familiar.
As far as I can tell, before reading “Vilbar”, I had only read one story in this issue of Galaxy. Pohl’s “The Tunnel Under the World.” Yet, I know I’ve seen that very cover somewhere else. Recently. No doubt I will kick myself when one of my readers points out what I am forgetting1.
You may ask “how can a being adapted to live on Saturn manage to survive the quite different conditions on Earth?” Very easily, if this story is any guide. Smith was not overly concerned with the minutiae of planetary science. Or the major elements either.
It’s hard to believe that any person, particularly one as intelligent as Gzann, could be such a self-sabotaging grump as to ignore or to recast as hostile every effort to befriend him. That’s what Gzann does, which is odd given that Gzann is supposed to be a very smart fellow, and intelligence should be the cure for all
human folly. Nevertheless, Smith does a reasonable job of selling her premise. Brevity is her ally here; the joke probably would not work at novel length, but it does not have to.
“The Vilbar Party” is available on Project Gutenberg.
1: In my defense, ISFDB doesn’t seem to track art the same way that it does prose. When art is reused, that instance appears to be treated as unique. A minor flaw in an otherwise invaluable resource.