Jerome Bixby’s 1964 Space by the Tale is a collection of … you’ve guessed it, short stories and novelettes.
I reread this book because I was going to include a paragraph about Bixby’s tour with the Lincoln Brigade in this review . On closer examination, I appear to have to confused Bixby with his contemporary Theodore Cogswell. Cogswell’s career paralleled Bixby’s in some respects but not in that one. Ah well.
This collection does not include “It’s a Good Life,” which is almost certainly the only Bixby story you might have read. In fact, if the ISFDB can be trusted, while the story has been widely anthologized, it doesn’t seem to have been included in any collection until 2014’s Mirror, Mirror , years after the author’s death (1998). To repeat myself, ah well.
For the most part these tales are unremarkable page-turners, punctuated with moments of shallow religiosity (the devil may manifest but he’s not going to win; he seems more of a cardboard villain than anything else). Such women as appear suggest that Bixby would have been better served to leave women out of his fiction entirely. This book was something of a disappointment, except for the last two stories which were tremendous disappointments. At least I only paid a quarter for this (back in the day) and the collection was only 160 pages long, one of which was ads.
“The Draw” • (1954) • short story
Able to draw his gun faster than the eye can see, Buck focused on his core competency: bullying people with plausible threats of homicidal violence. Unfortunately for Buck, a chance encounter with a travelling academic inspires Buck to ask himself how Buck does what he does, a question he would have been better off not asking.
The Young One • (1954) • novelette
Young Johnny traipses off to the local caves in the company of his quaint Romanian pal, Bela. Bela has a very strict bedtime, one that the two boys overstay when they become lost in the caves. Why does Bela have to be home before the moon rises? Perhaps Johnny will find out.
“Laboratory” • (1955) • short story
A momentary lapse by two highly advanced but unlucky scientists saddles them with unwanted houseguests: a human couple, who have to be kept in the dark about the aliens. At any cost.
The sexism of the few lines given to the woman is impressive. Even for 1955.
“The Good Dog” • (1954) • short story
Tricked into crossing a cursed bridge, the adorable dog’s problems were over. Hell’s problems were just beginning.
“One Way Street” • (1953) • short story
The inexplicable car wreck should have killed Pete. It didn’t. He was still alive. Just in the wrong world.…
“Small War” • (1954) • short story
Two travellers encounter each other on a desolate world. The first of their respective species to meet, they will define future relations by
A: greeting each other peacefully, or
B: reaching for their powerful sidearms.
What do you suppose happened?
“Trace” • (1961) • short story
A lost traveller has an amiable conversation with a being whose nature the traveller utterly misunderstands.
“Angels in the Jets” • (1952) • short story
Contagious madness spared a single member of the explorer team… but only for as long as he could fend off his crewmates’ efforts to entice him into their delightful insanity.
“The Battle of the Bells” • (1954) • short story
The cowbell connected to the toilet’s pull-chain was supposed to be an amusing practical joke. Instead it became the pretext for a battle between Good and Evil.
“The Magic Typewriter” • (1963) • short story
What could someone do with a typewriter whose every word is truth? Don used it to compel a parade of beautiful women to jump into his bed. But then he left his magic typewriter unattended.
Rape jokes used to be a venerable humor subgenre. This one is almost a carbon copy of Anthony Boucher’s 1943 “We Print the Truth.”
The Bad Life • (1963) • novelette
A would-be social worker is dispatched to the worst place in the Solar System.
Well, this was even more unpleasant than the previous story. An unfortunate tone on which to end the collection.
Space by the Tale is long out of print. Of historical interest only.