Judith Merril: The Year's Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy 4

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Judith Merril The Year's Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy 4
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SF: The Year's Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy: 4th Annual Volume

Edited by Judith Merril


by Judith Merril

You’ve heard the one about the old egghead (slightly cracked, but not quite addled yet) who’s got this gorgeous girl assistant, and this formula (or Frankenstein, or maybe a giant ant). Anyhow, the old boy means well, but he just can’t stop himself. (One more experiment! he says each time, and then I’ll quit.) And he would have sure enough destroyed the world if the young reporter (or engineer, or Marine lieutenant) didn’t bust in the door and marry the poor girl just in time.

Well, maybe I got it a little mixed up, but you know the one I mean. What I wanted to say was . . . you won’t find it here.

* * * *

The name of this book is SF.

SF is an abbreviation for Science Fiction (or Science Fantasy). Science Fantasy (or Science Fiction) is really an abbreviation too. Here are some of the things it stands for. . . .

S is for Science, Space, Satellites, Starships, and Solar exploring; also for Semantics and Sociology, Satire, Spoofing, Suspense, and good old Serendipity. (But not Spelling, without which I could have added Psychology, Civilizations, and Psi without parentheses.)

F is for Fantasy, Fiction and Fable, Folklore, Fairy-tale and Farce; also for Fission and Fusion; for Firmament, Fireball, Future and Forecast; for Fate and Free-will; Figuring, Fact-seeking, and Fancy-free.

Mix well. The result is SF, or Speculative Fun...

Happy reading.

—J. M.


by Carol Emshwiller

Does your science-fiction magazine look different lately?

If it does, there’s a fair chance (one in six, by my count) that Carol Emshwiller is a good part of the reason why.

The reason for that is that Mrs. Emshwiller—who is now a housewife, mother of three pre-schoolers, married to a rising young professional man, in the world’s most suburb, Levittown. Long Island—once went to Italy on a Fulbright fellowship to study art.

No, she does not illustrate her own stories. Her husband, the young professional man who was also in Italy on a Fulbright, usually does; Carol just poses. (Frequently, I mean. You’ll find “Emsh” on the cover of just about every third s-f magazine these days; on just about half of those you’ll find a girl who is—usually recognizably—Mrs. “Emsh.”)

Carol Emshwiller is typical of a number of new authors in the field in that she has been writing for about five years, on a part-time basis. She is completely atypical (of anything or anybody) in the individuality of her style, the uniqueness of her perceptions, and the seemingly effortless clarity with which she conveys them.

“Pelt” is the story of a dog and a man on a hunting trip on a far distant planet in a future perhaps not too remote.

* * * *

She was a white dog with a wide face and eager eyes, and this was the planet, Jaxa, in winter.

She trotted well ahead of the master, sometimes nose to ground, sometimes sniffing the air, and she didn’t care if they were being watched or not. She knew that strange things skulked behind iced trees, but strangeness was her job. She had been trained for it, and crisp, glittering Jaxa was, she felt, exactly what she had been trained for, born for.

I love it, I love it . . . that was in her pointing ears, her waving tail ... I love this place.

It was a world of ice, a world with the sound of breaking goblets. Each time the wind blew they came shattering down by the trayful, and each time one branch brushed against another, it was: Skoal, Down the hatch, To the Queen . . . tink, tink, tink. And the sun was reflected as if from a million cut-glass punch bowls under a million crystal chandeliers.

She wore four little black boots, and each step she took sounded like two or three more goblets gone, but the sound was lost in the other tinkling, snapping, cracklings of the silver, frozen forest about her.

She had figured out at last what that hovering scent was. It had been there from the beginning, the landing two days ago, mingling with Jaxa’s bitter air and seeming to be just a part of the smell of the place, she found it in crisscrossing trails about the squatting ship, and hanging, heavy and recent, in hollows behind flat-branched, piney-smelling bushes. She thought of honey and fat men and dry fur when she smelled it. ’

There was something big out there, and more than one of them, more than two. She wasn’t sure how many. She had a feeling this was something to tell the master, but what was the signal, the agreed upon noise for: We are being watched? There was a whisper of sound, short and quick, for: Sighted close, come and shoot. And there was a noise for danger (all these through her throat mike to the receiver at the master’s ear), a special, howly bark: Awful, awful— there is something awful going to happen. There was even a noise, a low, rumble of sound for: Wonderful, wonderful fur—drop everything and come after this one. (And she knew a good fur when she saw one. She had been trained to know.) But there was no sign for: We are being watched.

She’d whined and barked when she was sure about it, but that had got her a pat on the head and a rumpling of the neck fur. “You’re doing fine, Baby. This world is our oyster, all ours. All we got to do is pick up the pearls. Jaxa’s what we’ve been waiting for.” And Jaxa was, so she did her work and didn’t try to tell him any more, for what was one more strange thing in one more strange world?

She was on the trail of something now, and the master was behind her, out of sight. He’d better hurry. He’d better hurry or there’ll be waiting to do, watching the thing, whatever it is, steady on until he comes, holding tight back, and that will be hard. Hurry, hurry.

She could hear the whispered whistle of a tune through the receiver at her ear and she knew he was not hurrying but just being happy. She ran on, eager, curious. She did not give the signal for hurry, but she made a hurry sound of her own, and she heard him stop whistling and whisper back into the mike, “So, so, Queen of Venus. The furs are waiting to be picked. No hurry, Baby.” But morning was to her for hurry. There was time later to be tired and slow.

That fat-man honeyish smell was about, closer and strong. Her curiosity became two pronged—this smell or that? What is the big thing that watches? She kept to the trail she was on, though. Better to be sure, and this thing was not so elusive, not twisting and doubling back, but up ahead and going where it was going.

She topped a rise and half slid, on thick furred rump, down the other side, splattering ice. She snuffled at the bottom to be sure of the smell again, and then, nose to ground, trotted past a thick and tangled hedgerow.

She was thinking through her nose now. The world was all smell, crisp air and sour ice and turpentine pine . . . and this animal, a urine and brown grass thing . . . and then, strong in front of her, honey-furry-fat man.

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