Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov

Today I am highlighting Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov. There are six books of stories about the Black Widowers and this is the first, published in 1974. 

I have only read the first two stories in this book, and so far these two are less crime related, and more about morality or ethics. I enjoyed both of them. The Special Note and the Introduction by Asimov at the beginning of the book was very funny. Each story has an Afterword by Asimov explaining any changes to the story since original publication, and those are entertaining also.

This excerpt from an article by William I. Lengeman III, at Criminal Element gives an overview of how Asimov came up with the Black Widowers stories:

Asimov was a member of the Sherlock Holmes fan organization, the Baker Street Irregulars, and the Wolfe Pack, a fan group convened to sing the praises of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. But it’s his membership in another group, the Trap Door Spiders, that led to the creation of some of his most popular mystery stories. The Spiders, like their fictional counterparts, the Black Widowers, were an all-male group that convened regularly to eat, drink, discuss, debate and whatnot. Like Asimov, a number of the members of the Spiders were popular science fiction authors, including such notables as L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter and L. Ron Hubbard (in his pre-messianic incarnation).

The Black Widowers were six men from the upper strata of society. Much like the Spiders they would met every now and then for dinner—typically with a single guest on hand—and ended up solving some manner of puzzle presented to them by that guest. 

Here is a list of the stories in the book. When there are two titles for a  story, the first title is the one used in the book, the second is the one used when published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

  • “The Acquisitive Chuckle” aka “The Chuckle”
  • “Ph as in Phony” aka “The Phony Ph.D.”
  • “Truth to Tell” aka “The Man Who Never Told a Lie”
  • “Go, Little Book!” aka “The Matchbook Collector”
  • “Early Sunday Morning” aka “The Biological Clock”
  • “The Obvious Factor”
  • “The Pointing Finger”
  • “Miss What?” aka “A Warning to Miss Earth?”
  • “The Lullaby of Broadway”
  • “Yankee Doodle Went To Town”
  • “The Curious Omission”
  • “Out of Sight” aka “The Six Suspects”

The remaining books are:

More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976)

Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980)

Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984)

Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1990)

The Return of the Black Widowers (2003)


Lex @ Lexlingua said...

Really interesting! I like to read about writers' groups. I remember reading some time back that both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were part of the same writer's group called The Inklings. That must have been wonderful.
And on the title "Black Widow" itself, I came across a joke (a poor one, though) just yesterday -- Why do the black widow spiders kill off the men? They kill off the men to stop their snoring before it starts. Sheesh!
~ Lex (lexlingua.co)

Cath said...

I've read the first three stories, several weeks ago now, but they haven't stayed in my memory for some reason, even though I enjoyed them and thought the writing was excellent. Odd.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I loved these at the time. Have to revisit.

George said...

I read the first couple of collections of THE BLACK WIDOWERS but didn't know there were more published. I'll have to track them down! Nice review!

col2910 said...

Strangely this collection sounds quite appealing today. I doubt I'll seek it out though. I'm belatedly half-heartedly accepting of the fact that I just can't read it all.

Margot Kinberg said...

Asimov wrote some great short stories, didn't he, Tracy? And I'm not surprised you found several concerned with ethics; I've found that a frequent theme in his work. He's my husband's all-time top writer, so it's good to see him featured here.

TracyK said...

Margot, How interesting that Asimov is your husband's top writer. I can understand why. I want to read more of his science fiction also. I don't know when I am going to find the time, though.

TracyK said...

Lex, I find writer's groups interesting too. That is a pretty bad black widow spider joke, but I laughed anyway. Maybe because snoring (and complaints about it) is funny.

TracyK said...

Cath, I do think these stories benefit from reading one or two a day, possibly, to savor them more. I do like Asimov's style of writing.

TracyK said...

Patti, I had heard about these stories but I did not think I would like the premise. I am glad I finally read one, I discovered I was wrong and am enjoying them.

TracyK said...

Thanks, George. I found that the Black Widowers anthologies were relatively expensive to buy online (Abebooks), but this one was worth it. And I will be getting more of them. And figuring out which Asimov novels I am interested in.

TracyK said...

Col, we both need to accept that we cannot read it all. But... I think you have a better chance of accomplishing that (reading it all) as you are younger than I am.

Rick Robinson said...

prefer his SF.

TracyK said...

Rick, I have read two of his science fictional mysteries about Elijah Baley, and The End of Eternity, since I have been blogging. I do plan to read more of his science fiction. Foundation for sure.

Rick Robinson said...

By the way, something will be heading your way in a few days, when I can get to the Post Office, by media mail, so slowly, but eventually, in a cobbled together box and I don't know if you'll even like or want it but if not you could donate it or...something, I guess but maybe you'll find it of interest, or not.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Rick. I am looking forward to getting it. You are so thoughtful.