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Whole World Laughing

What’s Become of Screwloose? and Other Inquiries

By Ron Goulart 

11 Feb, 2024

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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Ron Goulart’s 1973 What’s Become of Screwloose? and Other Inquiries is a collection of comedic science fiction stories.

I meant to review this back in 2022, the month that Goulart died, but I couldn’t find my copy and as I will repeat later on, Screwloose is out of print. Used copies were not to be had in local shops, which suggests that people hung onto their copies

Goulart was the poor man’s Robert Sheckley, with a line in unremarkable prose and largely inoffensive absurdist comedy, comedy driven by the fact that most of the characters were idiots. There was (and may still be) a niche for this sort of light amusement, as evidenced by the fact that the magazines to which he sold were a who’s‑who of SF magazines of the time: If, Fantastic Stories of Imagination, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, not to mention a number of anthologies.

Not Galaxy, though. Goulart was too much of a puff pastry for Galaxy, likely why he was relegated to If. Not Analog, either. Goulart’s jokes might have been insufficiently racist or sexist for Campbell.

Goulart wasn’t a world builder. All his settings are America circa when he was writing + SF props, even the stories are set on other planets. His aliens are just humans in rubber masks. The point was to provide his characters with the opportunity to fumble their way through absurd plots. 

Sheckley eventually tried his hand at more ambitious works. Goulart did not (as far as I know). He’d found his niche (SF stories like these, tie-in works, pulps, ad copy, and ghost writing for untalented people) and he stuck with it. However, what he lacked in literary ambition, he more than made up for in a quiet, relentless productivity. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, Goulart wrote a bewildering multitude of books across many genres. An appropriate author to review for this, the five hundredth Because My Tears Are Delicious To You review. 

All of which might sound like damning with faint praise. However, returning to this collection after half a century, I discovered some of the stories were old friends whose author I had forgotten.

Screwloose is likely to be the only Goulart reviewed here. Nothing wrong with reading one Goulart, but there is no real need to read two. Note that the editors of the SFE would probably disagree with me.

What’s Become of Screwloose? and Other Inquiries is out of print.

Let’s drill down.

What’s Become of Screwloose? And Other Inquiries (frontispiece) • (1970) • interior artwork by Jack Gaughan

An illustration of a robot man coming to bits.

What’s Become of Screwloose?” • (1970) • short story

Why has Mary Redland vanished and from who — or what — is she hiding?

The tone in Goulart’s stories is generally upbeat, which does not prevent this tale in particular and the collection in general from being filled to the brim with murder, both attempted and successful.

Junior Partner” • (1962) • short story

A dying businessman entrusts his disappointing son with the secret to successful business management: voodoo! Can the amiable doofus be trusted with the ensorcelled lives of his employees?

I think there’s a law that says questions like that last one are always answered no.”

I would have sworn I’d read this not so long or heard a radio adaption. ISFDB offers no likely culprits.

Hardcastle” • (1971) • short story

An out-of-work man finds his temporary accommodations — a robot house — not to his liking. His long-suffering wife disagrees. At least two of the three characters involved enjoy a happy resolution.

Into the Shop” • (1964) • short story

A hard-working cop all too slowly comprehends that his robot cop car has a very serious malfunction. With his sweetheart’s life on the line, the cop has no choice but to keep using the car.

On the one hand, executing person after person because the car thinks they are the same serial killer is kind of bad, but maybe the dead people were guilty of other stuff.

Prez” • (1970) • short story 

An unlikable lothario gets on the wrong side of his girlfriend’s cybernetically-enhanced dog.

Confessions • [Jose Silvera] • (1970) • novelette 

A ghost-writer’s struggle to get paid plants him in the middle of a murder mystery.

I suspect that Goulart might have been drawing from personal experience in the matter of getting publishers to pay what’s owed.

It was this point in the collection that a certain Goulart quirk began to grate on me. Too many of his stories end on an oddly flat note, often with a bit of prosaic dialogue.

Monte Cristo Complex” • (1971) • short story 

Cops pursue a man bent on revenge for past computer-instigated injustices.

I don’t know where Goulart got the idea that computers could make mistakes or that organizations would refuse to correct obvious errors.

The Yes-Men of Venus” • (1968) • short story

A highly episodic planetary romance parodying the style and rapacious capitalism of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Was this intended as a fond mockery of an old-time author with amusing quirks or had the ERB Estate’s litigiousness1 undermined any good-will that younger authors might have had towards Burroughs?

Yes-Men’s last lines have stayed with me for half a century:

What transpired next would fill a book itself. And this is exactly what my agent has advised me to do with it. 

Keeping an Eye on Janey” • (1970) • short story

A cheating wife’s dalliance with a gangster puts her and her doting husband in the cross-hairs of a gangland execution. Their lives depend on the determination of a tough-talking robot bed.

Hobo Jungle • [Ben Jolson / Chameleon Corps] • (1970) • novelette

A semi-retired shapeshifting agent is dispatched to a backward region of a backward planet to search for a briefcase containing one! million! dollars! of embezzled funds.

I couldn’t help but wonder what denomination would those bills have to be if one wanted to fit a million bucks into a brief case. It turns out that someone else calculated how many US bills would fit into a briefcase: about 2000. $1,000,000/2000 bills = $500 bills.

1: As you know, the Burroughs Estate later went after DAW with both fists over the (wildly inaccurate) tagline The Epic Novel of a Black Tarzan” on the first printing of Charles R. Saunders’ Imaro. The first printing was pulped, with subsequent deleterious effect on Imaro’s sales.