Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Stranger Station" by Damon Knight

Last year I featured a book of mostly science fiction short stories, Bug-Eyed Monsters, edited by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg. After all these months, I have finally read some stories from that book. That post shows the front and back covers of the book and lists all the stories in the book.

"Stranger Station" is the first story in the Bug-Eyed Monsters anthology. It was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1956, but has been included in a good number of anthologies since then. I had never read it or any other story by Damon Knight, so I was happy to have this opportunity.

It is a first contact story, except that the story is set long after the first contact and this is more about the impact years after the initial meeting. The aliens were so massive and repulsive to humans that the contact has been sparse and only occasionally do the aliens visit a space station that is set aside especially to enable that visit. When one of the aliens comes, it is only for one purpose, to provide a substance for the humans which the humans have come to rely on. A lot of the background is left to the imagination, which was OK because I can make up my own story around the events. 

One human is selected to facilitate the exchange with the alien being. He is alone on Stranger Station until the alien arrives. He is supplied with a talking computer, an "alpha network" that can provide all his needs and that may be close to a sentient being. The human calls it "Aunt Jane" and they develop a bit of a relationship with each other. 

"Stranger Station" is a longish story (about 30 pages) and most of it consists of the  human, Sergeant Wesson, getting ready for his encounter with the alien and trying to find out more about the station. I enjoyed the story and will be looking for more to read by Damon Knight. I would also enjoy the same story with more length and explanation.

A side note: I was recently motivated to read this story and others in this book because Todd Mason had written a post at Sweet Freedom on short stories by Damon Knight in 1956 and "Stranger Station" was listed there. 

After reading "Stranger Station," I read four more stories in the anthology.

  • "Talent" (1960) by Robert Bloch
  • "The Other Kids" (1956) by Robert F. Young
  • "Puppet Show" (1962) by Fredric Brown
  • "The Faceless Thing" (1963) by Edward D. Hoch

Only one of those stories has an actual bug-eyed monster. The stories by Robert Bloch and Fredric Brown were my favorites. The other two had ambiguous endings, which usually don't bother me, but in these cases I wanted more than that.


Margot Kinberg said...

This sounds like a really interesting mix of crime fiction and science fiction, Tracy. And that's not easy to pull off! The collection actually sounds very interesting, too, and I do like Bill Pronzini's work. I'll be interested to hear more about the other stories in the book.

George said...

I read BUG-EYED MONSTERS long ago and remember enjoying many of the stories. Loved Robert Bloch's stories with their clever endings. The same for Fredric Brown. I just reviewed one of Bill Pronzini's short-short story collections on my blog today.

TracyK said...

Margot, I was surprised to see that Bill Pronzini had edited 90 short story anthologies (per Wikipedia), some with other editors, of course. Amazing. And different genres also.

TracyK said...

George, I am expecting I will like most of the stories in this book. It is an interesting group of stories.

I did go check out your review of Small Felonies by Bill Pronzini earlier this morning. My husband is a big fan of Bill Pronzini's Nameless series and he has that book, so I can check it out.

Cath said...

Damon Knight was one of my favourites sci-fi authors as a teen. Mainly this was because my library had quite a few of his books, those ones with the yellow covers published by Gollanz. Those yellow covers were a great way to find good books for a sci-fi mad teenager.

TracyK said...

I did not read science fiction until I was around 20, and after that read it only intermittently. As far as I know, I never read anything by Damon Knight. But I do want to decide on a novel to try, and I downloaded a Kindle with some more short stories. I will also be on the lookout at the next book sale.

I do have one or two books (mysteries) by his wife Kate Wilhelm, but she also wrote science fiction, so I should try that too.

Todd Mason said...

Glad to be a minor spur! Damon Knight didn't write a novel fully representative of his talents till the end of his career, and I like the CV trilogy better than some do, and his HUMPTY DUMPTY: AN OVAL is almost universally respected but not loved by some! However, at novella length and shorter, his fiction tends to range from brilliant to worthwhile if flawed, and a considerable amount leaning in the first direction. (For that matter, the short story that serves as the preface to the mid-career novel A FOR ANYTHING is a concise, bitter and tough work, while the novel which follows is a readable but not great pastiche of Heinlein and Anthony Hope in a sf context. His heart didn't seem to be in the longer works, or his passion at least.) Wilhelm was much more consistently good at novel length, and some of that work definitely strikes out on her chosen paths, such as DEATH QUALIFIED, which is a science-fantasy novel verging at times on horror which nonetheless begins a series of otherwise essentially realistic court procedural novels. One of her first novels, THE CLONE, a short collaboration with Theodore/Ted Thomas enlarging on one of his novelets, is the best Blob story you're likely to read. Her short fiction is also consistently impressive. I never had the nerve to ask if, after I did her and Knight a minor favor, she had named a character in the suspense novel THE PRICE OF SILENCE, who does a similar favor for the protagonist, after me, though her name is Mason.

Knight's books writing instruction and of criticism, his own and those he edited (including the short-lived journal MONAD) are also definitely worth reading, as is his memoir and history of the NYC-based budding writers/editors/artists/et al. fannish group THE FUTURIANS, of which he was a part, after a youth spent in Oregon (where he and Wilhelm would eventually settle). Glad you liked "Stranger Station"..."The Country of the Kind" and "You're Another" and "Rule Golden" and so many other pretty brilliant stories await you, along with the two good joke stories, "To Serve Man" and "Not With a Bang", which have gotten more attention over then decades, the former as a result of TWILIGHT ZONE and SIMPSONS adaptations...though they are not his best stories, any more than, say, "Nightfall" is the best Isaac Asimov story. Or "Streetcorner Man" is the best Jorge Luis Borges story.

TracyK said...

Actually, Todd, you were a major spur. I really thought I had read some of the stories in Bug-eyed Monsters, so I am glad that the post that you pointed me to reminded me about that book. I haven't finished reading your suggestions above so I will be adding another comment later.

TracyK said...

Thanks for all those suggestions, Todd. I have purchased one short story of Knight's on the Kindle, One Side Laughing.

Sam said...

I haven't read Knight either, but this story makes me want to take a look at his work. Love those old covers; I would have bought anything that look like that back in 1956, for sure. :-)

TracyK said...

Good to hear from you, Sam. I am very curious about Damon Knight's stories and novels. He had an interesting career. I am always discovering new authors (new to me, anyway).

I love that cover too.

Todd Mason said...

Others, including obviously Malzberg and Pronzini, are fonder than I am of Robert F. Young's work. Some of it rises to Not Bad. But a whole lot of it is simply terrible. While I am a fan of Hoch, though relatively little of his best work is in the realm of fantastica (though some of it, such as "The Oblong Room", comes close). Robert Bloch ("block" vs. Hoch's "hoke"--took me quite some time to learn the latter...happily I did so before meeting the man, who was a delight to talk with, much as Bloch was to correspond with) is a lifelong favorite writer of mine...some of his work is relatively minor, but so very much of it is brilliant, and I think some are less willing to admit that than they should be.

TracyK said...

Todd, If I run into more of Robert F. Young's stories, I will get a chance to see how I like other examples. I don't expect to like every story I read. I was surprised about the Hoch story; I haven't read a lot of his stories but I have enjoyed all of them. But they were crime fiction.

I think this was the first thing I have read by Bloch, and I liked the way he handled the story.