Shiva and Other Stories
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by Barry N. Malzberg
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Twenty-two tales by a mythologist for the new millennium, Shiva and Other Stories brings together some of Malzberg's finest work from the 80s and the 90s, including many stories featured in major Year's Best anthologies. From pragmatists like Huey "Kingfish" Long, who plays human nature like a pat-hand of cards to win the presidency and then deal with a punk named Adolf Hitler, to soulless bureaucrats, to a long parade of recalcitrant dreamers who tragically attempt to impose fantasy on unyielding reality, Malzberg shows that neither super-science nor djinni magic can prevail against human folly. At the same time, he's very funny. A time traveler must face the idea that he may have committed a serious crime against his alternate selves. A moralist puts his indignation ahead of his survival instinct, again, and again, and again; a detective investigates the murder of the 20th Century itself. This is a wry and brilliant collection by one of the greatest social critics in science fiction. Table of Contents ; Anderson; Reason Seven; Kingfish; Playback; Coursing; Folly for Three; Posar: With the Aliens; Demystification of Circumstance; I'm Going Through the Door; Reparations; The Trials of Rollo; Tap-Dancing Down the Highways and Byways of Life, etc.; What We Do on Io; O Thou Last and Greatest!; On the Heath; Grand Tour; Ready When You Are; The Twentieth Century Murder Case; Celebrating; Rocket City; The Shores of Suitability; Shiva
eBook Publisher: Electricstory.com, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: December 2001
13 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [260 KB]
Reading time: 165-232 min.
He is elected President of the United States by an overwhelming margin. A mandate. Fifty-eight percent of the popular vote, five hundred and twelve votes in the Electoral College. Inexplicably, his opponent wins Nebraska. On the day after the election, Bitters whooping in the huge suite says that the first action of the administration will be to settle with those hayseeds. Anderson looks at him quizzically. "I don't want to punish anyone."
"What the hell," Bitters says, "don't you have any sense of humor?" * * * *
"I have a gloomy premonition that we will soon look back on this troubled moment as a golden time of freedom and license to act and speculate. One feels the steely sinews of the tiger, an ascetic 'moral' and authoritarian reign of piety and iron."
--Robert Lowell, 1967 * * * *
Winding down. Everyone knows that it is on the line now; this is the time when men and boys get separated. It is a time for greatness. Fourth and one on the ten-yard line, thirty-six seconds left on the stadium clock, no time-outs, game hanging in the balance. Anderson perches over the center, his eyes filled with alertness, his chest heaving with the excitement of it all, the lacerating cold turning warm inside, each exhalation truly a burst of fire. He has never felt so alive as at this moment when truly he is dead, the ball coming into his hand, he scurries and sees the middle linebacker shooting through unblocked, coming upon him, eyes huge. Anderson gives an eh! of woe and cocks the ball for a desperation pass, try and get it into the end zone anyway but his foot slips and even before the linebacker hits him he feels himself falling to the hard Astroturf and then the man is upon him, grunting.
Even as the horn sounds, Anderson hears not only the game but all circumstance spilling from him. He knew that it was going to be very difficult but could not surmise that it was going to be like this. Not quite. Sounds are all around him as he spirals out. Down and out. Game to go on the two. In coma, he hears the sound of engines. * * * *
Anderson, awakening from an unrecollected dream of loss, plots his moves, considers his fortune, then opens his eyes to look at the lustrous plaster of the bedroom as his wife tumbles all over him. This is not characteristic of Sylvia. Petulant, demanding, she seizes him. Wearily, he commits himself. Foreign policy, ceremonial pens, the medal of freedom, state banquets, it is just another of the obligations of office.
Sylvia is inflamed by the idea of touching a President: she has never shown so much interest in the act as in this last year. Anderson does as he can, serves as he will, utters oaths of office, does as he must, holds to the center. He is a moderate. Sylvia capsizes upon him mumbling. Anderson charts his own release, thinking of ICBMs as convulsively, absently, he climaxes. * * * *
Anderson lights a cigarette calmly and blows out the match, tosses it, inhales, then in a single graceful motion pushes in the swinging doors of the Circle Bar and walks through. In the poisoned darkness the two Lump brothers stand glaring at him, hands on their holsters. Half-consumed whiskey bottles stand behind them over the deserted bar. The bartender has dived for cover, the customers, no fools they, have filched out a side door. "All right," Anderson says, "this is it. One at a time or both of you, I don't care."
"Taste lead," Tom, the older one, says. His gun is in his hand and poised to fire when Anderson shoots him in the wrist. Tom Lump shrieks and falls. His point thirty-eight clatters to the crude surface of the bar.
"Next," Anderson says, the gun cocked, drawing down on Charles. The tall Lump stares at him; his eyes shift, his expression weakens. Slowly he raises his hands.
"I'll take you on with fists," Anderson offers, "right outside. Let's go."
On the floor Tom whimpers. "Listen," Charles says carefully, "we don't want any trouble here. You got us wrong."
"Not wrong, just drawn down," Anderson says. He holsters his gun. "Okay," he says. "Any arguments?"
Charles Lump says, "I got nothing to do with this. Tom brought me along for the ride, I ain't got nothing against this town and I'm the first to say so. Anything this town wants to do is okay with me, so there."
"Oh shut up," Tom says weakly, "you're in this with me up to the hilt. I'm going to bleed to death here you don't stop talking and get me a doctor."
"You can get to a doctor out of town," Anderson says. He throws down his cigarette, carefully stomps it out with a circular motion. No fires when the marshal is around. "Get up."
Charles turns, shrugs elaborately. On the floor Tom begins to dry heave, then vomits brightly. "Pack him over a horse and get him out," Anderson says, "there's a doctor over in Bluff City twenty miles west, you ought to be able to get him there before he passes out if you get going now."
There is no spirit left in either of the Lumps. Charles nods, bends, yanks Tom to his feet and lurches him past Anderson, out the swinging doors. Anderson watches them carefully, joins them then as they saddle up their horses, Tom clumsily in an attitude of prayer. Charles unhitches.
"There will be another time, Anderson," Tom says weakly. "This isn't the way it ends."
"Shut up," Charles says, helping him mount with a push. "Just get those reins and let's get outta here."
"I had hoped for more from you than that," Anderson says carefully. "Maybe a little more fight next time, eh?"
"Maybe," Tom says. "Nothing ever ends. It replicates. It goes on and on."
"For Christ's sake shut up," Charles says. "Let's just get the hell going."
"Got nowhere to go," Tom says. He seems to be edging into delirium. "Anywhere we go, got to come back and face it. Unless we die out of it, Charlie. I think maybe I'll do that."
"Ain't so easy," Charles says. He glares at Anderson. "Ain't going to be so easy for you either; this is a tough country." Anderson stares back flatly, showing the outlaw his inner strength and Charles Lump drops his eyes, coughs, shakes his head, mounts his horse and taking the tether of the other, moves slowly away. He does not look back.
Hands on hips, gun dangling from his index finger, Anderson watches them all the way out of Tombstone. Their figures and the horses diminish to small, concentrated blobs of darkness that blend at last with the landscape to leave him there eternally and as always, alone. Soon enough it will be time to turn and face the silent crowd who have massed behind him; he knows to pay them homage but for the moment Anderson does not need them, needs none of this at all, needs only the proud and terrible isolation which has been imposed on him in the role which he so humbly but gracefully has assumed:
The Avenger's front man.