Space By The Tale – Jerome Bixby

SPCBTHTLFJ1964Eleven short stories from the creator of It’s a Good Life, the most terrifying Twilight Zone tale I know about. These aren’t all science fiction, three or four are definitely fantasy.

My favourite story was The Young One, about a suburban kid befriending a young Hungarian immigrant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his new chum isn’t exactly what he seems. Ray Bradbury fans will love this one.

I also liked One Way Street, about a man zapped into a slightly pleasanter parallel universe, and The Draw, about an obnoxious cowboy with a difference. The last story, The Bad Life, was set on a planet-wide penal colony unencumbered by a legal system. While it was engaging, it felt like notes from an abandoned novel.

Bixby isn’t afraid to indulge in religious comedy. His story The Good Dog is about what happens to a dog whose soul is sold to the devil as part of a cunning bridge-building con. Funny things, that’s his answer. Another story, The Battle of the Bells, tells of an escalating argument between the Devil and an angel over a trivial prank involving an outhouse. Trace is about an encounter between the narrator and the Devil, played for awe instead of laughs. Bixby seems genuinely fascinated by theology. These stories put me in mind of The Screwtape Letters, and prefigure Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens.

There were two stories that were very similar to some older stories I’ve read. Bixby’s story The Magic Typewriter involves a pre-owned artifact that grants wishes, an imp, a man making his fantasies coming true, and who narrates this story to a friend who also benefits from the magic. Just like the Wyllis Cooper story Dark Grey Magic, from his brilliant radio show Quiet Please. Small War similarly echoes Murray Leinster’s First Contact, depicting the first encounter between two almost identical species and civilizations. (First Contact has apparently been adapted for radio three times, on X-Minus One, Dimension X and Exploring Tomorrow so it’s not exactly obscure.) It isn’t impossible that different authors can have very similar ideas, but I’m still suspicious.

Space By The Tale ought to be read only by the serious sci-fi aficionado, although Twilight Zone fans might want to quench their curiosity regarding the creator of that show’s mostly chilling episode.

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