Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "It Could Be You" by Frank Roberts, THE BULLETIN (Australia) 3 March 1962 and reprinted variously since

"It Could Be You" by Australian reporter and short story writer Frank Roberts is perhaps his best-remembered story, and was first published in a fairly typical issue of the public affairs magazine The Bulletin...not only did it see reprints in the U.S. in Short Story International (the September 1964 issue) and the Judith Merril speculative fiction best-of -the-year in 1965, but had previously been included in the Australian bi-annual best-short-stories series Coast to Coast volume covering 1961-62, and was later featured in a pioneering 1968 anthology of Australian sf edited by John Baxter, and in a few other anthologies, including a volume devoted to satire, edited in 1972 by the same Hal Porter who edited the '61-'62 Coast to Coast, and that book titled after the Roberts story. 

And it's a story that certainly stuck with me when I first read it, in the Merril annual, borrowed from a Nashua, NH, Public Library in 1978, age 13 (by the reckoning of some, the golden age of SF). John Boston, editor, critic and historian, in reviewing the Merril volume recently on the Galactic Journey blog, noted that its central concept "is not exactly a new idea to readers of the SF magazines, but it’s sharply written and no longer than it needs to be." Sharply written, and with a certain verisimilitude that could be missing from what Kingsley Amis had tagged "comic inferno" stories, even those written for Galaxy magazine at its height, in the 1950s and 1960s; the story is an acidic indictment of what we as humans will put up with in terms of random cruelty if the circumstances are Justified Just might be that this story, down to its last-line twist of the emotional knife, was particularly adept to speaking to me as an adolescent reader in a New Hampshire town not overwhelmingly friendly to recent arrivals nor nonconformity, but it holds up on re-reading, even if the notion of humans in various ways hunted by peers has seen a lot more variations in the decades since part because the metaphor remains both relevant and powerful. 

As noted, I first read "It Could Be You" in Judith Merril's The Year's Best S-F: 10th Annual Edition (1965, mostly selecting stories from 1964 publications). Merril was much taken with the then relatively new US magazine Short Story International, which reprinted stories in English or in translation into English from a wide variety of sources, and which ran 1963-67 and then was revived by the same publisher in 1977, and this iteration of the magazine survived into 1997 (when I found 1978 issues after reading this Merril volume, I wasn't at first aware the magazine had ever folded). The Roberts story first had been published in the Australian news-analysis magazine The Bulletin in its 3 March 1962 issue, and from there had been included in the appropriate volume of  the biannual Best Australian Short Stories anthology, Coast to Coast: Australian Stories of Today: 1961-1962, edited for this issue by Hal Porter (published, as the series was, by Angus and Robertson, Ltd, and distributed throughout the Commonwealth and to some extent in the US)--sadly, though, the Porter bi-annual failed to specify which issues of The Bulletin the several stories from that magazine in the volume were taken from. Short Story International picked up "It Could Be You" for a 1964 issue, where Merril saw it and took if for her annual (using the excuse that it was a 1964 story for most US readers, at least; the James T. Farrell story which follows the Roberts in the Merril book, reprinted from The Socialist Call in 1958 by SSI in 1964 was included under similar pretenses. Sadly, at no point in the Merril book is the Roberts story properly credited to its first publication site, either). 

This odd elision continued when Australian editor John Baxter included the story in The Pacific Book of Australian SF (Angus & Robertson, 1968), where at least Baxter cited The Bulletin without giving the issue date. Subsequent editions were apparently no more specific, at best, such as U.S. expatriate editor Tom Boardman, Jr., in his U.K. "instant remainder" anthology Science Fiction Stories (Octopus Books 1979). At least one major reference work in Australia erroneously attributes first appearance to the Coast to Coast volume, as well.

Here's the issue of  The Bulletin, which is archived by the National Library of Australia online at this link:

For more of today's short story selections, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Even given the typically cheap package this discount/instant remainder book received, it's odd how much the foreground character looks like a quick and dirty take on Sylvester Stallone as Rambo. Not quite what the target audience was likely to be, in 1979 nor later...


TracyK said...

I always enjoy all the book and magazine covers you include in your posts. This sounds like a very good story.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Tracy! A little sense of how they're published helps, I think. I like the story a lot, and John Boston finds it above average...