So earlier this evening I was reading the comments in a thread about whether or not someone new to the fantasy and science fiction fields should read Asimov, Heinlein, and Tolkien. More than a few of the comments said that not only should a new reader not read bigoted dead white guys, those authors should go out of print.
Personally, I found many of the comments to be bigoted, at least as much if not more than the authors the comments were directed toward. Rather than get into a fight with
idiots people I don’t know on the internet, I decided I was in the mood to read some dead white guys. And since there has been a bit of discussion about the works of L. Sprague de Camp in the comments here since yesterday’s post, I was wanting to revisit his work. I thought I would read some of his short stories.
Here are my thoughts on what I read:
“The Gnarly Man” First published in Unknown in the June 1939 issue, this is the story of an immortal Neanderthal. There have been a couple of other tales in this vein, such as Phillip Jose Farmer’s “The Alley Man” (which I didn’t care for), but this was one of the first. (I want to say “Old Man Mulligan” by P. Schuyler Miller falls into this category. I’ve read it, but I’ve long since forgotten the details and my copy isn’t where I can get to it easily).
The story de Camp tells is about a woman, an anthropologist by profession, who comes across an Ape Man in a sideshow. She quickly realizes that he’s not someone dressed up in a costume and makeup. Upon getting to know the man, she discovers that he’s the last Neanderthal. There were some rough spots in the story, but it was one of de Camp’s early efforts. I found the story a little predictable, but then I’ve read it at least twice before, so that’s not surprising. I like this story. I’m a little surprise it was published in Unknown. It’s more of a science fiction story than a fantasy; de Camp tries to provide a semi-logical explanation for why a Neanderthal would survive into modern times.
A month later in Unknown de Camp returns with a straight fantasy, “Nothing in the Rules”. Unlike the previous story, in which de Camp treated his subject matter straight, here he goes for screwball comedy of the Cary Grant variety. While it wasn’t laugh out loud funny, his tale of a mermaid competing in a women’s swim meet had its moments. Especially when the mermaid begins to get drunk on the freshwater in the pool. L. Sprague de Camp had a dry sense of humor, and it shows in this tale. I like it at least as well as “The Gnarly Man”, and I think de Camp handled the cast of characters better in this one. One thing that struck me was how he used dialogue and his different characters’ speech patterns to show their personalities.
The final story I read was from the Gavagan’s Bar series, which de Camp wrote in collaboration with Fletcher Pratt. “A Better Mousetrap” is the story of a man who borrows a dragon to rid his apartment of mice. He lives over a restaurant, and his landlady won’t allow exterminators on religious grounds. It’s against her faith to harm a living creature. So the man borrows a small dragon from a magician while the magician is away at a conference. Only he loses the dragon.
The Gavagan’s Bar stories are structured like a group of people in a bar telling each other stories. Pratt and de Camp make them sound like real conversations where a group of guys are sitting around drinking and talking. There are interruptions and distractions, and from time to time the story rambles the way someone casually telling an anecdote will ramble. The tone is very informal. I’ll definitely be rereading this series. “A Better Mousetrap” was a light, fun read.
So that’s how I spent my evening, rereading some stories by a dead white guy that I had enjoyed some years ago. And enjoyed again tonight.