TEETHING RING--James Causey
THE DIVERSIFAL--Ross Rocklynne
THE CYBER AND JUSTICE HOLMES--Frank Riley
THE PECULIAR PEOPLE--Betsy Curtis
DOUGHNUT JOCKEY--Eric Fennel
THE LANSON SCREEN--Arthur Leo Zagat
SIT BY THE FIRE--Myrle Benedict
THE SUBLIME VIGIL--Chester D. Cuthbert
Since the dawn of modern science fiction in 1926 with Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, there have been at least a couple of hundred anthologies presenting "best of" stories. The first of these titled, The Best of Science Fiction, was published in 1946 and skimmed the cream of the crop of the previous two decades of sf. By 1950, the genre was producing so much work of such high quality that an annual series was inaugurated. Since editors often differ on just which works are "best," this first annual series was followed by others. And, since the late 1960s, there have generally been at least three such anthologies every year, each under the helm of a different editor. In addition, many science fiction magazines have issued their own stand-alone or annual anthologies, comprising the "best of" selected from among their pages. Furthermore, other editors have put together such ingenious twists on the idea as, My Best Science Fiction Story and Science Fiction: Editor's Choice (wherein editors of various magazines selected their personal favorite from among the publication's stories).
Because of the huge volume of stories in these anthologies, and the age of some, which have been out of print for more than a half century, many of these gems of science fiction have been forgotten. This anthology hopes to correct that tragedy, at least in part, by restoring to print a generous helping. We are certain you will enjoy these tales as much as we did while rereading them for Lost Stars.
Jean Marie Stine
(Selected from The Second Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction, 1954)
Half an hour before, while she had been engrossed in the current soap opera and Harry junior was screaming in his crib, Melinda would naturally have slammed the front door in the little man's face. However, when the bell rang, she was wearing her new Chinese red housecoat, had just lustered her nails to a blinding scarlet, and Harry junior was sleeping like an angel.
Yawning, Melinda answered the door and the little man said, beaming, "Excellent day. I have geegaws for information."
Melinda did not quite recoil. He was perhaps five feet tall, with a gleaming hairless scalp and a young-old face. He wore a plain gray tunic, and a peddler's tray hung from his thin shoulders.
"Don't want any," Melinda stated flatly.
"Please." He had great, beseeching amber eyes. "They all say that. I haven't much time. I must be back at the University by noon."
"You working your way through college?"
He brightened. "Yes. I suppose you could call it that. Alien anthropology major."
Melinda softened. The initiations those frats pulled nowadays--shaving the poor guy's head, eating goldfish--it was criminal.
"Well?" she asked grudgingly. "What's in the tray?"
"Flanglers," said the little man eagerly. "Oscilloscopes. Portable force-field generators. A neural distorter." Melinda's face was blank. The little man frowned. "You use them, of course? This is a Class IV culture?" Melinda essayed a weak shrug and the little man sighed with relief. His eyes fled past her to the blank screen of the TV set. "Ah, a monitor." He smiled. "For a moment I was afraid--May I come in?"
Melinda shrugged, opened the door. This might be interesting, like a vacuum-cleaner salesman who had cleaned her drapes last week for free. And Kitty Kyle Battles Life wouldn't be on for almost an hour.
"My name is Porteous," said the little man with an eager smile. "I'm doing a thematic on Class IV cultures." He whipped out a stylus, began jotting down notes. The TV set fascinated him.
"It's turned off right now," Melinda said.
Porteous' eyes widened impossibly. "You mean," he whispered in horror, "that you're exercising Class V privileges? This is terribly confusing. I get doors slammed in my face, when Class Fours are supposed to have a splendid gregarian quotient--you do have atomic power, don't you?"
"Oh, sure," said Melinda uncomfortably. This wasn't going to be much fun.
"Space travel?" The little face was intent, sharp.
"Well," Melinda yawned, looking at the blank screen, "they've got Space Patrol, Space Cadet, Tales of Tomorrow..."
"Excellent. Rocket ships or force-fields?" Melinda blinked. "Does your husband own one?" Melinda shook her blonde head helplessly. "What are your economic circumstances?"
Melinda took a deep rasping breath, said, "Listen, mister, is this a demonstration or a quiz program?"
"Oh, my excuse. Demonstration, certainly. You will not mind the questions."
"Questions?" There was an ominous glint in Melinda's blue eyes.
"Your delightful primitive customs, art-forms, personal habits?"
"Look," Melinda said, crimsoning. "This is a respectable neighborhood, and I'm not answering any Kinsey report, understand?"
The little man nodded, scribbling. "Personal habits are tabu? I so regret. The demonstration." He waved grandly at the tray. "Anti-grav sandals? A portable solar converter? Apologizing for this miserable selection, but on Capella they told me?" He followed Melinda's entranced gaze, selected a tiny green vial. "This is merely a regenerative solution. You appear to have no cuts or bruises."
"Oh," said Melinda nastily. "Cures warts, cancer, grows hair, I suppose."
Porteous brightened. "Of course. I see you can scan. Amazing." He scribbled further with his stylus, glanced up, blinked at the obvious scorn on Melinda's face. "Here. Try it."
"You try it." Now watch him squirm!
Porteous hesitated. "Would you like me to grow an extra finger, hair?"
"Grow some hair." Melinda tried not to smile.
The little man unstopped the vial, poured a shimmering green drop on his wrist, frowning.
"Must concentrate," he said. "Thorium base, suspended solution. Really jolts the endocrines, complete control ... see?"
Melinda's jaw dropped. She stared at the tiny tuft of hair which had sprouted on that bare wrist. She was thinking abruptly, unhappily, about that chignon she had bought yesterday. They had let her buy that for eight dollars when with this stuff she could have a natural one.
"How much?" she inquired cautiously.
"A half hour of your time only," said Porteous.
Melinda grasped the vial firmly, settled down on the sofa with one leg tucked carefully under her.
"Okay, shoot. But nothing personal."
Porteous was delighted. He asked a multitude of questions, most of them pointless, some naive, and Melinda dug into her infinitesimal fund of knowledge and gave. The little man scribbled furiously, clucking like a gravid hen.
"You mean," he asked in amazement, "that you live in these primitive huts of your own volition?"
"It's a G.I. housing project," Melinda said, ashamed.
"Astonishing." He wrote: Feudal anachronisms and atomic power, side by side. Class Fours periodically "rough it" in back-to-nature movements.
Harry junior chose that moment to begin screaming for his lunch. Porteous sat, trembling. "Is that a Security Alarm?"
"My son," said Melinda despondently, and went into the nursery.
Porteous followed, and watched the ululating child with some trepidation. "Newborn?"
"Eighteen months," said Melinda stiffly, changing diapers. "He's cutting teeth."
Porteous shuddered. "What a pity. Obviously atavistic. Wouldn't the creche accept him? You shouldn't have to keep him here."
"I keep after Harry to get a maid, but he says we can't afford one."
"Manifestly insecure," muttered the little man, studying Harry junior. "Definite paranoid tendencies."
"He was two weeks premature," volunteered Melinda. "He's real sensitive."
"I know just the thing," Porteous said happily. "Here." He dipped into the glittering litter on the tray and handed Harry junior a translucent prism. "A neural distorter. We use it to train regressives on Rigel Two. It might be of assistance."
Melinda eyed the thing doubtfully. Harry junior was peering into the shifting crystal depths with a somewhat strained expression.
"Speeds up the neural flow," explained the little man proudly. "Helps tap the unused eighty per cent. The pre-symptomatic memory is unaffected, due to automatic cerebral lapse in case of overload. I'm afraid it won't do much more than cube his present IQ, and an intelligent idiot is still an idiot, but?"
"How dare you?" Melinda's eyes flashed. "My son is not an idiot! You get out of here this minute and take your-things with you." As she reached for the prism, Harry junior squalled. Melinda relented. "Here," she said angrily, fumbling with her purse. "How much are they?"
"Medium of exchange?" Porteous rubbed his bald skull. "Oh, I really shouldn't--but it'll make such a wonderful addendum to the chapter on malignant primitives. What is your smallest denomination?"
"Is a dollar okay?" Melinda was hopeful.
Porteous was pleased with the picture of George Washington. He turned the bill over and over in his fingers, at last bowed low and formally; apologized for any tabu violations, and left via the front door.
"Crazy fraternities," muttered Melinda, turning on the TV set.
Kitty Kyle was dull that morning. At length Melinda used some of the liquid in the green vial on her eyelashes, was quite pleased at the results, and hid the rest in the medicine cabinet.
Harry junior was a model of docility the rest of that day. While Melinda watched TV and munched chocolates, did and redid her hair, Harry junior played quietly with the crystal prism.
Toward late afternoon, he crawled over to the bookcase, wrestled down the encyclopedia and pawed through it, gurgling with delight. He definitely, Melinda decided, would make a fine lawyer someday, not a useless putterer like Big Harry, who worked all hours overtime in that damned lab. She scowled as Harry junior, bored with the encyclopedia, began reaching for one of Big Harry's tomes on nuclear physics. One putterer in the family was enough! But when she tried to take the book away from him, Harry junior howled so violently that she let well enough alone.