Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: "And the Moon Be Still as Cheddar" by Robert Silverberg (a parody of Ray Bradbury's fiction) and "Cherchez le Message" by Harlan Ellison, GRUE, March 1955, edited and published by Dean Grennell

(cover by Dean Grennell; image courtesy Curt Phillips)

Grue was a long-running, if not atypically sporadic for most of that run, fanzine put together Dean Grennell (and should not be confused with the fine "little" magazine devoted to horror and suspense fiction of the latter '80s and '90s, edited by Peggy Nadramia), and, at least until issue 29 in 1958 (with #30 in 1962 it became a scaled-back and smaller production), one of the most literate and widely-read of the "genzines" or general-interest fanzines, as opposed to at least somewhat autobiographical "personalzines", or critical and/or historical "sercon", or serious and constructive, 'zines or "faannish" or fannish 'zines (mostly about fans and fandom--the more As added to "fan" indicated how decreasingly one was interested in the fiction so much as fandom itself)...and then there were the fanzines that took off in other directions, such as folk-music, rock generally and, later, specifically punk rock fanzines (Ms. Lee Hoffman, Paul Williams the founder of Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone's advocate for Philip K. Dick, and Greg Shaw, respectively, among the most notable of those 'zinesters), comic books (not least there, Richard and Patricia, or Pat and Dick, Lupoff), and film (Bhob Stewart) and other pursuits. Grennell was for several decades, professionally, managing editor of Gun World magazine. His Grue, apparently initially subtitled "A Fan's Magazine", was titled as a parody of True: A Man's Magazine --a datum that writer/editor Ted White disputes as a witness athe time, noting that Grue was originally Grennell's portmanteau of  Green and Blue, and that the True joke was an after-the-fact one-time improvisation.

With the 23rd issue of Grue (which can be read here), along with a lead article by James Blish about his "reading-fee" work at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency and Robert Bloch's parody of sf fanzines' typical approach toward (basically) any topic, in this case Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address", Grennell had the opportunity to publish vignettes, of a, not atypically for his magazine's remit, satirical nature, by budding professionals Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison, both of whom had been active fans and fanzine editor/publishers. Silverberg (whose first professional sale was scored in 1954, with a story in the Scottish sf magazine Nebula) contributes a rather deft parody of Ray Bradbury, "And the Moon Be Still as Cheddar", which involves the kind of portentous repetition, distended metaphor using sfnal tropes, and pocket cataclysm that Bradbury's least work could deal in spades:

The grubby well-dressed man came back. "I'm back," said Rogers. Two men with guns stood behind him. 

"Take me to the Moon," he told Olsen. "I have to have more green cheese. You wouldn't sell it to me before." 

"Not for anything," Olsen said. "I hate you and your filthy kind." He looked up at the lonely Moon. 

"No more cheese. I won't take you. Vandals like you destroyed Rome." 

"I don't know anything about Rome," Rogers said. "Take me where the cheese is." 

While the Ellison (who would have his first professionally-published story in Infinity Science Fiction the next year, in 1956) vignette is more of a grim but intentionally over-the-top shaggy dog story, with a less specific target (I suspect), instead rather the tropism (in sf and elsewhere) of the hero surviving ridiculous obstacles in pursuit of an unlikely and cliched goal. 

It opens thus: 

Karj Dandrea, extra-special secret agent of the Galactic Federation sat quite still as the banks of klieg lights burned down into his eyes. 

From somewhere beyond their perimeter he could hear the words of the Supreme Commander, "The Hedge are advancing on our system, Dandrea, and the only person who can save Terra and all its dependent colonies is--you." 

The last word struck Dandrea with power and clarity. Suddenly his shoulders sagged, for he felt the burden was too much. The Commander continued as though he had not noticed the change in Dandrea: "The message we are preparing to pour into you, under hypnosis, is the keystone. It could only be carried by one man--one man thoroughly trained to get through the Hedge lines and hypnotically conditioned so the message cannot be dragged out even under mind-wrenching torture. Are you ready to undergo this treatment? It is more thorough than anything yet dreamed in the mind of man." 

Dandrea's head bobbed momentarily. The lights flared.

It, like nearly any magazine issue (professional or otherwise), is an amusing time-capsule, and certainly worth the look. As far as I know, neither of these vignettes have been reprinted (I believe the Blish essay has been) elsewhere, though there may be intent to offer the Silverberg in one of his retrospective collections. 

For more of today's Short Story reviews, please see Patti Abbott's blog.


pattinase (abbott) said...

You really need to write a book on the history of science fiction and fantasy magazines.

Todd Mason said...

Others have, most notably Mike Ashley, and to varying extents Silverberg, Frank Robinson, Earl Kemp, Barry Malzberg and others, who have done (particularly in Ashley's case) more direct research than I, or in Robinson, Kemp, Malzberg and Silverberg's as well as Ashley's, have had interaction with more of the writers and editors and other relevant people and hold even more impressive collections than I. I will plug along, I think...I might put a book together of some sort...thanks for the kind thought. When INTERZONE editor David Pringle suggested, in regard to my survey of 1950 fantastica magazines, that no one else could write that set of posts quite the way I did, I took it as a compliment, as I think it was meant!

That series:

TracyK said...

I thought Patti's idea was good. I did not realize that Mike Ashley had written that type of thing.

Todd Mason said...

He wrote a (comparatively) short history in the '70s, and over the last decade+ has published a muiti-volume set with Liverpool University Press...though LUP hasn't been making it the easiest thing to find nor purchase at times!

And thank you, too, Tracy.

Gary Farber said...

Good write-up of a classic fanzine.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks! Entirely too many sf fans today would be innocent of GRUE, much less those outside of fandom. But, happily, the archives are accessible as they wouldn't've been not so many years ago, for those interested in looking.