Monday, September 10, 2012

Three surprises

When in my early teens, I joined the Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club, like so many boys my age and older did in the late 1950s. Those science fiction novels and short story collections became the nucleus of my personal library, although by the time I entered college I was reading very little science fiction. That remains true to this day, although I have kept most of those book-club editions. Recently I leafed through one of those books, The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: Ninth Series, published in 1959. I discovered three noteworthy things in this anthology, noteworthy at least to me.

1. The book contains two stories by creative writing instructors at Ohio University while I was a student there in the 1960s. The stories are "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes and "Far from Home" by Walter Tevis. Keyes later turned his short story into a novel, the one for which he is best known. The Tevis story is a delightful little thing about how a blue whale wound up in an Arizona swimming pool. Tevis, the only one of the two I had for a class, is best known for The Hustler, but he also wrote the science fiction novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. When I took that class under Tevis, I didn't remember that I had once read one of his stories.

2. There is a poem, An Expostulation, by C.S. Lewis. I had never heard of Lewis at the time I read this book, but I later read many of his books, including the Narnia Chronicles, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. He also wrote a science fiction trilogy that remains in print more than half a century later. His poem laments the fact that so many sci-fi stories could just as easily be set in the Bronx, Montmartre or Bethnel Green. It is, he writes, the "same old stuff we left behind."

3. The anthology contains several feghoots. A feghoot is a contrived little story that leads to an outrageous pun. Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine regularly ran stories called "Through Space and Time with Ferdinand Feghoot" between 1956 and 1973. They were written by Reginald Bretnor under than name Grendel Briarton. The stories in the book ended with puns like "give 'em an Inge and they take a knell" and "the little fish is his herring aide."

These tiny sc-fi stories, never more than a few paragraphs long, are the reason elaborate puns like these are today often called feghoots. Check out another blog,, for some entertaining feghoots.

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