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Off On A Tangent: F&SF Style
by Dave Truesdale

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Stories of John Morressy
(December, 1971-December, 2006)

In fond remembrance of John Morressy
(1930-2006)

Preamble

Every so often in this life seemingly random, otherwise unconnected events—beyond normal coincidence, understanding, or logic—conspire to fall together of their own chaotic accord into something unanticipated and quite special.

A case in point.

One otherwise unremarkable night the first week in April of this year, I awoke in the early pre-dawn hours unable to sleep. Having been offline since December and therefore unable to narcotize myself by puttering around the internet, and with my little 14" television tagged and lugged safely to some back shelf in the warehouse of the local pawn establishment (think the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark), I found myself staring blankly at the bookshelf whereupon resided my entire collection of F&SF. (While not complete, I am nevertheless proud of it. It begins with the November, 1957 issue, then skips to the September, 1959 issue in an unbroken run to the present, save for four issues: Sept., 1962, Feb., 1981, Oct./Nov., 1994, and Dec., 1995.)

I began leafing randomly through issues, heavy eyes blurrily scanning with nostalgia the Tables of Contents and Book Reviews. It soon struck home that quite a few issues held stories by John Morressy. Shoulders bent and sitting cross-legged on the worn carpet with issue after issue in my lap, back against the side of the bed with only the yellow glow from the small bedside lamp to break the 2 A.M. darkness, one of those irritatingly compulsive thoughts that over the years I have learned to count as both a blessing and a curse mugged me and wouldn't let go. Physically exhausted, but mentally abuzz, I muttered an all but silent, yet all too familiar when one of my "ideas" hit me, curse. Damn.

I took a deep breath, yawned, and began . . .

. . . working backwards down the years, then decades. I began pulling every issue with a John Morressy story. Then double-checked the annual (and in earlier years, bi-annual) indexes to the various volumes to make sure I hadn't overlooked a story; I only wanted to do this once.*

*[As noted above, I was missing the Dec., 1995 issue, the Dec. issues containing the yearly indexes. Since there could have been a Morressy story in this issue that would also have been listed in the index I was stuck not knowing if I had missed a story—almost. Fortunately, I simply thought to reference a great resource for such a case, and found that in Tangent #13, Winter 1995, none other than Eliot Fintushel had reviewed both the Oct./Nov. and Dec., 1995 issues of F&SF. No John Morressy story in the December issue.]

Hours later (tired as I was, I couldn't help but dawdle along the way, reading a scrap of this or that issue) I then saw displayed before me, in order, 49 issues containing a story by John Morressy. They dated from December, 1971 through March, 2006. Since then there have been two more, June and Sept., 2006, with a final one (as I type in late August) yet to come, but which will likely be in print by the time you are reading this. The editor of this "silent but golden" magazine has an acute appreciation for his magazine's history, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if John Morressy's final story saw print in the December, 2006 issue, 35 years to the exact month which saw his first.

So here we have the stories, at least by count, by the numbers. 52 stories spanning 35 years. A story a week, for one measure of perspective, if you will, for a year.

Soon they will be returned to their proper niches on the shelf, assuming once again their anonymity. But now, in their proper light, they stand before me, these wonderful stories within these magazines, with their brightly colored spines beckoning, measuring just over two feet on the coffeetable on which I type. Fifty-two stories and all for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

During the following week I proceeded to read them all, in order (in many cases re-reading). I found that the more I read John Morressy, the more I wanted to read him. I couldn't wait to get to the next one. I came away, finally, with a far greater appreciation for his work than I ever would have imagined. I then thought to write an article on Morressy's F&SF fiction for Tangent Online, no doubt surprising my managing editor I was sure, since she hadn't heard from me for over six months.

Prior to getting down to the real bizness of actually organizing Morressy's stories and blocking out the article (I was in no immediate hurry you understand; under no deadline save for my own to write the article whenever I got around to it), I took one evening—quite on the spur of the moment—to scribble an actual three-page letter to the editor of this magazine (on the back of photo-copied Sci-Fiction stories sent, over the years, from Ellen Datlow during her wonderful tenure there—she knew I hated to read fiction online, god bless her), to catch him up on what I'd been doing and reading lately (tons of old Leiber novels, some Avram Davidson and Ward Moore, and others) by way of letting him know I was still alive. Shortly thereafter in the mail came the next issue of F&SF and The New York Review of Science Fiction. Each contained brief notices of the passing, in mid-March, of John Morressy. I couldn't believe it and was naturally taken aback, stunned.

So dig it. On a sleepless night and on impulse from a stray thought, I had just harvested from 35 years of F&SF's John Morressy's entire output for the magazine. I'd just read them all. I was flush with joy at having really discovered him for the first time. Only then to lose him almost in the same breath. I was heartbroken. Whatever my self-imposed deadline for the Tangent Online article was, it was put on temporary hold until I could assimilate, come to grips with John Morressy's passing. How now would I pen this article after his death? Never having met him, or read any of his articles, interviews or commentaries (if any?), I was at a loss. All I had to go on were his stories for F&SF.

Then comes—and I repeat then comes—a return letter from Mr. Van Gelder (folded neatly in half inside the envelope with the next month's copy of F&SF), asking if I'd care to write an original monthly online column for his magazine—a first. I could write whatever I so desired. After careful consideration from my corner (I'd turned down paying gigs before, wanting my commentaries/ramblings to appear only at Tangent Online), we came to most agreeable terms (i.e. I said "Yes." I can't think of anyone in their right mind who would say "No" to an invitation to write for F&SF, be it in print or online, can you?).

But to this day, I'm still given to wonder why I couldn't sleep that night in early April, what led me to start riffling through random issues of F&SF (why not Asimov's or Analog or old Galaxy's or If's, which were also nearby?) and be drawn somehow to the stories of John Morressy of all people (why not Harlan Ellison or Fritz Leiber or Theodore Sturgeon?), then to read them all, and then be given the opportunity (out of the blue and totally unexpectedly) to write the already planned article—but now, at my choice, for F&SF.

I can only propose to you that . . .

. . . Every so often in this life seemingly random, otherwise disconnected events—beyond normal coincidence, understanding, or logic—conspire to fall together of their own chaotic accord into something unanticipated and quite special. Amble

So here now is a brief overview—with selected commentary—of the F&SF stories of John Morressy. I have placed them in three categories:

1) Non-Kedrigern stories (23)
2) Kedrigern stories (23)
3) Kedrigern Universe stories (6)
Non-Kedrigern Stories

"Accuracy" (Dec., 1971—short story)

"When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears" (Jan., 1973—novelet)

"No More Pencils, No More Books" (June, 1979—short story)

The first pair of stories were written and published near the close of the Vietnam war era. Not only Communist-inspired, violent, Left-Wing Radical groups were under our government's scrutiny (and rightly so), but FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was known to have been wire-tapping and otherwise illegally surveilling private citizens (Martin Luther King, Jr., and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for but two), and paranoia (some justified, some not) concerning government activities of all manner saw expression throughout the culture. Not least of which concerns Morressy's first story, "Accuracy." Editor Ed Ferman's introductory remarks sum up the theme of the story:

"The complex problem of invasion of privacy resulting from the gathering and storage of data about individuals has yet to be resolved. It is argued that even democratic governments need accurate information about its citizens, so as to take action for their welfare. For example, it is said that the depression of the thirties might have been prevented if the government had sufficient information and had taken corrective action. So then, why not sacrifice a bit of 'privacy,' which is rather an old fashioned notion; after all, it's for our own good . . . "
"Accuracy" posits a totalitarian (rather reductio ad absurdum) society controlled by DOMSEC (i.e. Domestic Security), where one's every move must be reported immediately, even down to minor injuries (in order to properly identify all individuals at any given moment). Failure to do so results in harsh penalties. A young man, his wife, and infant son plan their escape; to do so they need help from the underground—known as "evasion men," which, if successful, will get them only so far. They must "elude the scanners, the investigators, the random checkpoints, the plain-clothes spotters, and all the other apparatus that enables DEMCON [My Note: another gummint watchdog organization] to keep minute-to-minute track of every facet of the lives of half a billion people. . . . " And should they make it that far? They must then get beyond the minefield encircling their "city," known as Area 3. Suffice it so say that the story (if it were to be filmed today, would be given an R rating for graphic violence) is brutal, bleak, and depressing, with only a gratuitous glimmer of hope at story's end. Quite a shock to those of us accustomed to reading the lighter Kedrigern the Wizard stories to come a decade later, but not so surprising given the cultural context of the Vietnam war era. Morressy definitely began his sfnal career with a Point of View. Would it change, evolve—even ever so slightly and go unnoticed perhaps—some 35+ years later? Would a line or two here or there find its way into some of his future fiction (Kedrigern or no), given voice by some character or other, show a shift, a slight variance to the other side of the political spectrum from the more youthful ideology from his late '60s-early '70s liberal viewpoint? (Morressy's first short fiction began here in his very early 40s, remember, so my term "youthful" is relative only in regards to his fiction.) Does he evince a subtle change of heart on certain issues along the way due to the experience only age can bestow? While we have our educated guesses, this is not the venue to expostulate on them to any great extent, and thus they remain open to discussion, and a subject left to future critics more interested in the ideological political arc of Morressy's fiction.

"When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears" appeared a year and a month later, and Morressy again addressed a social issue; this time pacifism and/or non-violence. Earth has been devastated and the radioactive fallout may doom the human race. The Seeker III, a Noah's ark ship, has been sent to spread our seed among the stars should Earth not survive. The ship is hijacked by a superior race of guardian-like beings. The crew is told they will be tested to see if they are worthy to inhabit the stars. Unaware of what the testing comprises, they are released and eventually find themselves on a series of widely differing planets (sans any prior memory; they are all alive and well at each new planetfall). Doomed on each but the last, we see which among them are the selfish, aggressive types, and which the co-operative, more survival-of-the-group types. Needless to say, the pacifistic philosophy wins out and we are deemed worthy to "join your brothers among the stars!" While a worthwhile theme, in 1971 it had already been played out, and there is nothing about the prose worthy of mention.

For the next six and a half years, Morressy concentrated on writing science fiction; six novels and a couple of long novellas published as chapbooks. Not until June, 1979 would he reappear in F&SF with "No More Pencils, No More Books," a socially relevant story to this day. It deals with classroom discipline, the violence-laden battleground our schools have become, and how one wily high school teacher deals effectively (and quite anti-PC) with the problem in one inner-city school of the future. Someone should make (at the very least, an hour-long TV) movie about this one.

At an editor's suggestion that he turn his hand to fantasy, Morressy then began the Kedrigern stories. The first appeared in the April, 1981 issue, and seven others followed before he once again penned a non-Kedrigern piece. Readers would see five such stories before another Kedrigern story would appear. A complete listing, and brief comments on selected Non-Kedrigern stories follow:

"Nothing to Lose, Nothing to Kick" (Nov., 1983—short story) is a deal with the devil piece where a man whose wish for fame is more than he bargained for. Well rendered, but done many times before.

"Executives and Elevators" (Jan., 1984—short story)

"Stoneskin" (June, 1984—short story) is about a man granted the gift of invulnerability by a witch, and what he learns about inflated expectations from the commonfolk, who grant him celebrity status because of his efforts on their behalf, and how he deals with fame. This rather offbeat internal character examination dealing with celebrity status was selected for The Year's Best Fantasy Stories: 11, ed. by Arthur W. Saha (DAW, Nov., 1985)

"Some Work of Noble Note" (March, 1985—short story)

"Two Fables" (June, 1985—short story) Two clever little vignettes, the first of which is titled "The Pretty Fair Bear." The moral of this one is: "In this world, you can be anything you want to be, provided you're big and strong and have a lot of friends." Heh. Wry comment or no, an acknowledgment of Reality is the name of the game in this one.

The second is titled "The Roach Who Sought Justice." A German cockroach "of considerable talent and a lively intelligence" petitions the government as an endangered species. Omitting some of the best lines for length requirements, we include the final lines:

The Roach to a congressional aide: "Your position in this matter is illogical, unreasonable, and grossly unjust. I demand to see my congressman." At that moment, the congressman stepped out of his office. Seeing [the roach] in front of his secretary's desk, he squashed him flat. "I wish you people would try to keep this office clean," he said as he scraped the sole of his shoe on the rim of the wastebasket." The moral? "Everything that lives is holy, but that hasn't helped the cockroach." Morressy asks—along the way—which is more noble or attractive to the eye (and therefore worthy of protection from the gummint), a snail darter or the cockroach. The answer given is that at least snail darters don't "get into cereal boxes and under sinks." Observations in both vignettes now acknowledge a realistic view of how the world really works, whether we like it or not—irrespective of any ideology to the contrary. It's just the way Life is. Morressy is acknowledging objective reality here, not necessarily agreeing with it, mind you—especially in the first case. His voice in these vignettes I take to be sardonic—given his earlier work—those stories from '71 and '73, some 12 to 14 years earlier. Draw your own conclusions.
Morressy then turns to four more Kedrigern stories before giving us this pair of non-series tales:

"Timekeeper" (Jan., 1990—novelet) concerns an enigmatic clockmaker who quietly settles into a small town and gifts his patrons with a little bit extra where it concerns their repaired watches or clocks; and the ones they buy from him are somehow individually special as well (think The Twilight Zone). He is the friendly, harmless, innocent newcomer, the mysterious Outsider in a small community. Things are fine until frightened, rowdy rednecks spoil a Good Thing by attacking and driving the stranger they neither know nor understand away—into the fantasy ether from whence he came (we are given hand-waving "reasonable" {if you are hip to fantasy protocols} hints as to his origins, but nothing specific; which doesn't really matter given the theme). A standard treatment, yet convincingly portrayed. Selected for The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Fourth Annual Collection, ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (St. Martin's Press, 1991).

A bit of trivia concerning the cover for this issue of F&SF. Editor Ed Ferman obviously thought enough of this story to commission legendary, multiple-award winning, and much-beloved artist Kelly Freas to do the cover for "Timekeeper." Not only did the cover capture the flavor of the story, the Timekeeper is a self-portrait—snowy-hair and all—of the artist.

"The Three Wishes" (Aug., 1990—short story)

"The Liberator" (April, 1991—short story)

"Working Stiffs" (May, 1993—short story) Business is dead at the factory until the boss's college-aged nephew begins hiring zombies to replace the entire workforce (most of whom have quit or been laid off--whatever). This is one of the funniest, most inventive, and socially relevant of Morressy's Non-Kedrigern stories. It skewers the current (and decades, long-standing liberal) Union mentality, and shows how far it has gone askew from its initial noble ideals. A true underground classic in my view. A few brief quotes follow.

About Zombies as a workforce, Morressy tells us, through the voice of his nephew:

"They don't need medical benefits. No dental. No insurance. No pensions. No vacations. Minimum wage. No raises, ever."

"How can they live?"

"They don't have to."

Things are fine until the zombies want time off to watch the World Series (what an absolutely hilarious line!), then a night off here and there. So the nephew bows to their demands (another comment on Management vs. Union and how silly things have become in the Real World), and hires vampires to work the night shift. With even more complications. An A+, superior, over-the-top funny (horror?) story with a full dumpster load of (conservative?) social comment thrown in for good measure. Again, has Morressy eschewed some of his late '60s/early '70s liberal views as Time and Life Experience have altered his thinking? We can't offer definitive proof, but the evidence is mounting—at least on certain issues.

Scattered down the line among some Kedrigern pieces are the following:

"Rimrunner's Home" (Sept., 1997—novelet)

"Millmoth's Last Walk-In" (July, 2001—short story)

"When Bertie Met Mary" (June, 2002—short story) An amusing little SF romp where "Bertie" (i.e. Herbert George Wells) time-travels in hopes of meeting Dr. Frankenstein ("Vic the Stitch"). With nice little bits homaging The Time Machine. A nod to classic English literature.

"The Resurrection of Fortunato" (Mar., 2003—short story) A sober, thoughtful extension of Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." A nod to classic American literature.

"The Curse of the Von Krumpelsteins and Other Horrors: Contents of Volume 1" (May, 2003—short story) A satirical slap at trilogies.

"The Artificer's Tale" (Oct./Nov., 2003—novelet) A sad, yet uplifting tale of Daedalus' life after the death of his son Icarus. A most touching, heartfelt story. Somewhat of a departure for Morressy in tone, and well-received on our part. An overlooked story that should be reprinted. A nod to classic Greek literature.

"The Long Run" (May, 2004—short story)

"A Life in the Day of Eb and Flo: An American Epic" (July, 2004—short story) At just a smidge over 200 words, this short-short traces a man's entire life, from birth to death, compressed into a 24-hour Life Cycle. His last words—after a storybook, perfect, full life? "Where did the time go?" A timeless, chill reminder for us all. Famous others, and in various means and ways in literature, have imparted this same truth, but rarely so succinctly.

"Walter and the Wonderful Watch" (Dec., 2004—short story)

"The True History of the Picky Princess" (Mar., 2006—short story) In which three godmother-type fairies (ah, the vanity and competitive spirit even of fairy godmothers!) try to outdo one another when bestowing their gifts on a newborn princess. The final gift of pickiness in all things leads to disastrous consequences for the princess and her family. As in many of his fantasy pieces, wry social observation marks this amusing winner. And (not to get too philosophical) . . . how the Gods (historically imbued with our own human traits—good and bad) screw up our lives. Think the jealousy and machinations of the Greek and/or Roman gods as they toy with mere mortals in the tales that have come down to us in literature. So why not, in this case, a trio of fairy godmothers motivated with the same pride/vanity born of a competitive spirit amongst themselves, and with little thought given to the consequences for the human mortal—in this case a new born princess? A classic theme well-couched in a charming little story.

"Fool" (forthcoming) Kedrigren Stories

The first eight Kedrigern stories I whimsically refer to as Morressy's "Brereep" period. At the very end of each story (save for the third, "A Welcome Bit of Assistance" [Mar., 1982—short story]) he works in a "brereep," which denotes the only word Princess is able to voice. You see, Princess was once an enchanted frog, rescued by Kedrigren ("Wizard Goes A-Courtin' " [Aug., 1983—short story]). But Kedrigern's counterspell was, well . . . incomplete, returning her to human form, but leaving her unable to speak except as a frog (he rectifies this in an earlier story—they were not written in internal chronological order, "A Rarebit of Magic" [Jan., 1983—short story]). But lest we get too far ahead of ourself, let us begin at the beginning, with the first eight Kedrigren stories:

"A Hedge Against Alchemy" (Apr., 1981—short story) In which we are introduced to Kedrigern, his pet troll cum servant Spot, and Princess. As in many of the stories to follow, Kedrigern is relaxing outdoors in front of his cottage, feet propped on a cushion, happy simply to soak up the sunshine with a tankard of ale, and some bread and cheese upon which to nibble drowsily. Kedrigern dislikes travelling and crowds, but is invariably drawn into adventure after adventure, often at the prodding and gentle pleadings of his beloved Princess. Though adoring her beloved Kedrigern, her youthful spirit is markedly different, and his solitary life is not well suited to her.

In this very first Kedrigern story, Spot is given to us with the following:

"[Kedrigern] sprawled back in pillowed comfort, feet up on a cushion, and rang with languid gesture a little silver bell. From withindoors came the sound of sudden motion, and soon the slapping of huge feet on the flagstones. A small, hideous creature appeared at Kedrigern's side. "It was almost all head, and a very ugly head, too, with its bulging eyes and tangled brows and scarcity of forehead; with its great hook of nose, like a drinking horn covered with warts; with its ledge of chin and hairy ears like wide-flung shutters. Two great dirty flat feet splayed at the end of the creature's tiny legs, and great hands like sails jutted out from its sides. The top of its mottled, warty, scurfy head reached just to the level of Kedrigern's footstool, and there the creature shuddered to a halt, trembling with the eager will to serve. " 'Ah, there you are,' Kedrigern said mildly. "The creature wildly nodded its monstrous head, spraying saliva about in generous quantities, and said, 'Yah! Yah!' " 'Good fellow, Spot. Listen carefully, now.' "
Spot's appearance and humorous character are thus set in one brief opening scene. A few pages on, we are given this first description of Princess:
"Princess was a woman of spectacular beauty, with a tumble of glistening raven hair cascading to her hips, eyes the color of a midday August sky, and sculpture-perfect features. Her dress of emerald green clung to her slender form, and a circlet of gold ringed her brow."
The stage has been set for future adventures. Kedrigern, the somewhat older wizard who dislikes travelling and crowds, with his rather gruff exterior masking a heart of gold who loves his young Princess above all others; Princess, once an enchanted frog now freed by Kedrigern, who in turn loves and adores her companion (and later, husband); and Spot the troll, the doofus but loyal servant to them both.

In this first tale, one Buroc the Depraved, a giant barbarian with the brains of a gnat, finds Kedrigern at home and convinces him to leave his comfort in search of a mountain of gold. We are also given first glimpse of Kedrigern's intense dislike of alchemists, which disdain will figure in future stories. To Kedrigern's way of thinking, alchemists were at best third-rate wizards, flashy con-artists who wow the uninformed and easily swayed, but with no real substance, unworthy to be mentioned in the same breath as a wizard.

"The Gifts of Conhoon" (Sept., 1981—short story) In which we are introduced to Conhoon the Wizard—Conhoon of the Three Gifts—a member of the Wizards' Guild and old friend of Kedrigern's. Conhoon will later appear on his own in four of the six Kedrigern-Universe stories. Also mentioned in passing are Hithernils (treasurer of the Wizards' Guild), and fellow wizards Tristavar and Belsheer. Tristavar in one story, and Hithernils and Belsheer in another story, also later appear in the other pair of Kedrigern-Universe stories.

"A Welcome Bit of Assistance" (Mar., 1982—short story) In which Kedrigern is conned into taking on a too nave apprentice on a temporary basis, and a battle of wits ensues as the youngster attempts to outwit the great wizard. And of course fails.

"The Crystal of Caracodissa" (Sept., 1982—short story) Kedrigern must work his spells with a hangover and suffer the admonition of Princess.

"Kedrigern crept from his study, pale and bloodshot of eye, and shut the door behind him with trembling hands. He made his way to the breakfast nook of the cottage, walking like a man made of glass, and paused on the threshold of the sun-washed room to sigh and swallow loudly. Narrowing his eyes to slits and shielding them with his hand, he entered, slowly.

"Princess was already seated. She looked particularly fresh and lovely in a soft green robe, with her black hair loose about her shoulders. Kedrigern scarcely noticed. On this particular morning, Venus herself would have made little impression on him.

" 'Brereep?' Princess asked politely.

" 'Terrible, thank you,' Kedrigern replied, gingerly lowering himself into the seat opposite her.

" 'Brereep,' she said with a tight, self-righteous smile.

" 'No, it does not serve me right, my dear, and it's unkind of you to say so. I had no choice in the matter.' "

Kedrigern then tries to explain that he desperately needed something from Bess, the wood-witch, and so as not to offend her before the bargain was sealed, was obliged to drink cup after cup of her strong brew; a brew so potent and awful tasting that he "wouldn't offer that stuff to an alchemist." This, hic, is his story, and he's stickin' to it. God Amighty, we wish on several occasions in past times we had had such a great excuse for hangovers with our own (sigh) past Princess(es)! All hail, John Morressy.

The crystal of the title is a complex one that Kedrigern seeks. If he works his spell correctly, Princess will again be able to speak normally. After the first attempt, Princess can indeed speak, but backwards. Subsequent attempts find her speaking inside out, or, weirdly, a sentence ahead of Kedrigern, all of which is quite frustrating to them both. Finally, Kedrigern attempts to cancel everything and hopefully return Princess to her usual brereep. Hoping he has succeeded, he asks Princess to speak. To which she replies "Peererb." Enraged at Kedrigern's hungover clumsiness, she dashes the crystal to the ground, much to Kedrigern's horror. It seems to have worked, though, for the final line of the story is, of course, a return to normalcy and a welcome "Brereep" from Princess.

The bumbling, hungover wizard and the petulant little princess caught in a comedy of enchanted errors—at her expense. In a loose kind of way, sort of a reverse episode of Bewitched, where Samantha's spells go awry at hubby Darrin's expense. But Morressy is funnier in this domestic tale of magic gone wrong.

"The Hoppy Prince" (Nov., 1982—short story)

"A Rarebit of Magic" (Jan., 1983—short story) The story in which Princess finally regains her voice thanks to the magic of a minstrel and his harp, though not without difficulty. At first, she speaks like an infant, then in rhyme, then both she and Kedrigern speak only in rhyme. With some fine-tuning of the minstrel's magic, all ends well, and the only thing Princess won't be saying is, "Brereep." A sort of an auctorial extension, or replay if you will, of "The Crystal of Caracodissa" (Sept., 1982—short story); another attempt to restore Princess's normal voice, this time with total success.

"Welcome to Wizcon" (May, 1983—short story) One of the most memorable (semi-recursive SF) Kedrigern tales, as a convention of wizards acts as stand-in for a science fiction convention. Morressy's wry sarcasm is in full bloom as he makes pointed commentary on panel discussions, how certain types of fans (good, bad, nave, and otherwise) view pros and vice versa, and the levels of status writers accord one another in their own minds (or whispered to their wives). Morressy again takes a dig at alchemists attending the convention; those who somehow get the acclaim for their superficial achievements and so-called skills—when we know all too well that he is referring to a certain school, class, or type, of sf/f writer. And to top it all off, Morressy has Kedrigern dragged by the ever-gregarious Princess to a room party (the setup for which is priceless), where Bess the wood-witch—as party host!—and her infamously strong and foul brew serves as the match igniting a once rather tame, crowded affair into a loud, rowdy, foul-mouthed, violent zoo where (remember) everyone has magical powers, and now inflamed inhibitions are soon set loose to disastrous and literally tornadic effect. People are bashed about, and the room is trashed (sound familiar?), thereby vindicating Kedrigern's attitude toward travelling and crowds. "Welcome to Wizcon" is a downright hoot on several levels. What a terrific piece of satire. This one simply must be reprinted somewhere.

"Wizard Goes A-Courtin' " (Aug., 1983) In which the semi-retired wizard from Silent Thunder Mountain who specializes in counterspells finds himself lonely and seeks companionship. The tale where Kedrigern finds an enchanted frog (this time a princess, not the usual enchanted prince), and frees the woman within. Kedrigern finds his Princess, and, as they say, the rest is history. This is the last story (in published order, not internal chronological order) that Morressy will end one of his Kedrigern tales with a "Brereep." It has served its purpose well, but now it is time to retire this wonderfully flexible all-purpose word (which illustrates Morressy's keen knowledge of just how words can be tickled to convey meaning, given a proper understanding of how other words can bring them to life) to Kedrigern's cobwebby study, along with his dusty books of ancient magic, other accoutrements of his trade, and the spiders.

"Spirits from the Vasty Deep" (Dec., 1986) In which Kedrigern's magic is pitted against super-science when a "bowl-shaped" spaceship touches down in the meadow in front of his cottage. I don't know how Morressy pulls this one off (Well, we do, but . . . ). Somehow Kedrigern's magic is physically, in the real world of the story, as real as the scientific armaments (of our real world outside of the story) of the aliens. Kedrigern wins, of course, and it's a goofy, chuckle-filled few minutes. Morressy mixes (fantasy) magic with (SF) aliens, and (universal) humor to make it work.

"Mirror, Mirror, Off The Wall" (Aug., 1988—novelet) Five strange mirrors, witches, and a mystery to be solved. Morressy's ingenuity is again at full throttle.

"Alaska" (Mar., 1989—novelet)

"Cricket on the Hearth" (June, 1989—short story) "It was not even remotely fair. Kedrigren, who loathed travel as deeply and passionately as he despised alchemy, was off traveling on this glorious summer day, while Princess, who looked upon travel as one of life's great joys, was confined at home." Thus begins a tale where Princess—not altogether unfamiliar with magic herself—is the center of this quiet little piece, where she sympathizes with the lady Eda (who has been turned into a cricket), and must return her to her human form. A rare story where Princess takes center stage.

"Fair-Weather Fiend" (Jan., 1991—short story)

"Nest Egg" (Oct./Nov., 1995—short story)

"Reflection and Insight" (Mar., 1998—short story)

"Cold Comfort" (Feb., 1999—short story) In which Kedrigren returns from a job to find Spot and Princess missing, only to discover they have been stolen by a nasty frost giant who has them on ice deep in his frost castle. A decidedly different change of scenery for a Kedrigern tale, with some exciting, vivid imagery worthy of note. When it comes to Princess, don't make Kedrigern angry. . . .

"Floored" (July, 1999—short story) Grunjak, Lord of the Blighted Barrens, also known as "Grunjak the Gross, the Greasy, the Grisly, the Grim, the Grungy, the Greedy, the Gruesome, and the Grotty," has now been inflicted with a case of boils from head to toe. He begs Kedrigern to despell him. Kedrigern refuses, deeming it fitting justice for the man's evil ways. Princess, being more compassionate and trusting of human nature, uses her female wiles and frustratingly logical reasoning to convince Kedrigern to help the unfortunate creature. "Grunjak is a notorious liar," Kedrigern tells Princess. To which she rejoins, "Give him the benefit of the doubt. You owe it to society." Kedrigren muttering severely under his breath agrees, but sure enough, once cleansed of his boils Grunjak tries to stiff Kedrigren of his fee (giving credence to Kedrigern's view of Grunjak's ultimate nature). Alas, our wizard eventually wins the day and comes away with more than his initial fee. Down the road and some time later, Grunjak appears out of the blue and yes, actually repays Kedrigern with a flying carpet (how utterly retro-cool is this, a flying carpet!)—courtesy of his reformation as a human being; Princess now, in a twist in the story, is (sigh) proved right after all in her view of human nature. Morressy has all kinds of fun here, going back and forth with our philosophies of human nature, with Kedrigern and Princess playing foil and counter-foil.

Thing is, the flying carpet hates flying (who knew?), so Kedrigern transfers its magic to his favorite lounging chair.

" 'Time to go inside,' he said, with a friendly pat on the chair arm. 'Once around the grounds, then to the usual spot in the great room. And mind you keep low going through the doorways.' "
A flying lounge chair that obeys commands. What a perfect item of furniture for a tired wizard—or writer!

"About Face" (Oct./Nov., 2001—novelet) A worthy morality tale concerning a perfectly charming prince in every way but one—a spell has made him unbearably ugly. Through magical twists and turns Kedrigern breaks the spell on Prince Bondo who is once more handsome and now able to marry his beautiful bride. Morressy takes the opportunity to make wise comment on the nature of vanity and those who might become conceited.

"The Game Is a Foot" (Sept., 2002—novelet) A locked room mystery.

"The Unpleasantness at Le Chateau Malveillant" (Apr., 2004—novelet) Kedrigern is charged with saving the life of a king who has been threatened (through an Unknown Power) by six employed assasins. If the king can survive this multiple threat he will live and the kingdom will be saved. Kedrigern thwarts each ingenious attempt (which forms the bulk of the tale, and is worth the read) and collects his fee, only to see Death riding to the castle at story's end to claim the king's life—after all of his effort, something which his magic cannot overcome. There are some justice-balancing twists and turns marking this one as yet another morality tale, and it would appear that along with "The Game Is a Foot," Morressy is incorporating traditional mystery-genre elements into these latest pair of stories.

"The Tournament at Surreptitia" (July, 2005—novelet)

"The Long and the Short and the Tall" (Feb., 2006—novelet) In which the king of the dwarves and his faithful entourage chip, dig, and eventually tunnel into Kedrigern's dusty underground storeroom by mistake (which is for the most part full of crap and junk) searching for a stolen Belt of Power belonging to the king of the dwarves—all of which is a funny (think Keystone cops/dwarves) setup to the return of the Belt, thanks to Morressy's gift for, again, a comedy of errors (who hasn't drawn, or improvised, from Shakespeare?)—and how Kedrigern is once again drawn unwillingly into a most unlikely adventure involving—here we go—a caged giant in some village's market-place, up for sale as a slave, who is the unlikely key to the solution. I figger the long is the tunnel, the short are the dwarves, and the tall is the giant. The story is a minor hoot, mainly for the absurd set-up and Morressy's unerring gift for dialogue.

"The Protectors of Zendor" (June, 2006—novelet) With this story the tales of Kedrigern the wizard come sadly to a close in the pages of F&SF. Kedrigern Universe Stories

All of the primary characters in the following six stories (Conhoon, Tristavar, Hithernils and Belsheer) were first mentioned in the Kedrigern story "The Gifts of Conhoon" (Sept., 1981). The final two Conhoon stories feature Kate O'Farrissey and while technically Conhoon stories (he still plays a role), are classified as a subset of the four Conhoon tales.

"The Quality of Murphy" (Mar., 1987—novelet) Thrice the curmudgeon, loner, downright hermit, and eternal grump than is Kedrigern, Conhoon (a decidedly Irish-speaking wizard for all that) is drawn into a despelling involving a pooka and a djinnee, "One of them out of a brass bottle from far Araby, and him with a rag around his head, and the droopy drawers, and all." Another fine tale of magical intrigue, where everyone tries to out-trick, game, and scheme the other, and, as an afterthought, with Conhoon of the Three Gifts conniving to make an even sweeter deal at the end. Some of these wizards, indeed! Always the clever wheeler dealers, out to increase their larder by hook or by crook! A great bit of fun.

"A Legend of Fair Women" (Sept., 1987—novelet) More gregarious and amiable than Conhoon (what wizard isn't?), Tristavar's only solo adventure begins after a meeting of the Wizards' Guild, at which both Conhoon and Kedrigern have failed to attend. Among other bits of engaging story business, Tristavar almost ends up dinner for a tentacled monster in the wood. As always, Morressy's humor and keen sense of situation abound.

"A Tale of Three Wizards" (Dec., 1991—short story) A bitter young pup of a wizard, Grizziscus, has been denied membership into the Wizards' Guild five years previous, and sets about getting his revenge, said revenge involving to varying degree the Guild Treasurer Hithernils, and a fellow wizard named Belsheer. Needless to say, Grizziscus gets his comeuppance, in spades. Heaven help the SFWA Acceptance Powers-That-Be Committee for turning down that would-be writer who's sold to markets not quite to Guild Standards. Watch your back.

"Conhoon and the Fairy Dancer" (Mar., 2000—novelet) Corbal the Bold, greatest hero of the land, has come seeking Conhoon's help. It seems a spell has been cast and he must seek the hand of his wife--literally, for one of his fair bride's hands has been turned into a lobster claw. Leprechauns and fairies, Mulhooley and Old Mother McCrone (with but a single tooth in her head), enliven the cast of characters in this Irish-flavored, over-the-top romp.

"The Courtship of Kate O'Farrissey" (Oct./Nov., 2004—novelet) "Kathleen O'Farrissey was the daughter of an old acquaintance of Conhoon's, a charming worthless fellow who had gone off to live among the Good People and left her to shift for herself. A young lady considerably gifted in the magical line, by mutual compact she became Conhoon's ward and his apprentice. She was also his cook, skivvy, laundress, housekeeper, barber, gardener, carpenter, and maid of all work."

Thus are we introduced to the beautiful Kate O'Farrissey, in the first of two absolutely charming tales. This first takes place seven years after her never-do-well father has abandoned her to the likes of Conhoon, when she has now flowered into young womanhood, and the local boys have come to loiter around old man Conhoon's property just to get a glimpse of her. Ever the self-interested, lazy sort, and quite differently portrayed now in this first O'Farrissey story from his other appearances years before as a wizard and nothing more (Morressy is now subtly shifting Conhoon's prime personality from wizard to an Irish-father role), Conhoon swears he'll get rid of them, for they distract Kate from her work, but Kate's stubborn streak finally erupts and she finally (as we cheer) sticks up for herself.

Suffice it to say that a fairy godmother gets involved, it comes to pass that none of the young men courting Kate are to her liking, but the situation has got her to thinking about her future—and has scared the bejeezus out of Conhoon, for if Kate eventually does find a young man to her liking and leaves who will take care of his lazy arse?—so she works out a deal with her slave-driver "step"-father Conhoon through the fairy godmother (who sides with her) so that she can perform her normal duties and still have her freedom. After this is worked out in magical promises—involving pigs; don't ask, but it's a laugher—she queries her fairy godmother: "If I was in need of a ride to some prince's grand ball, could you turn mice into horses and lizards into footmen for me, and turn a rat into a coachman to handle it all?" And so Morressy has given us a new take on Cinderella, and because of his gift for dialogue, pacing, and humorous insight into the human condition, it works quite spendidly.

"The Return of the O'Farrissey" (Sept., 2006) Where Kate's wayward father, Finbar O'Farrissey, returns from his stay with the Good People and wants his daughter back. Both Conhoon and Finbar argue over who is to have Kate to look after them. Kate, now her own person, finally intercedes:

" 'Stop it, the both of you!' " . . . " 'You're tearing me apart! I can't go and I can't stay and I don't know what's to become of me! I should have married when I had the chance, and been shut of you both!' "
Then Kate's fairy godmother intervenes and through clever story machinations offers a solution: she finds a wife for Finbar, someone to care for the poor, selfish father: the Widow McGuffin (Don't you just love that name, McGuffin?—she is also known as The Iron Widow, a nasty b*tch known to have a terrible temper and more than an equal of the cantankerous Finbar—but this fact is not known to him, and which will be, to the readers' delight, his private karma-come-home). Justice is served, Kate stays with Conhoon (but with "perks" in her favor) and everybody wins.

What is so fun about the two O'Farrissey stories is Morressy's unapologetic use of Irish dialect; the Irish mannerisms of speech and peculiarities of expression in situations of domestic-oriented conflict (i.e. character tension). He lets out all the stops, no pretense as to how a wizard or his fellows are supposed to speak in a fantasy story milieu. Forget it. It's a straight-up, Irish mainstream, real life slice-of-life family story (or, well, pretty close, for all intents and purposes).

If you can, picture that great film—set in Ireland—from the '50s, The Quiet Man. It starred John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, and Victor McLaglen as O'Hara's over-protective, willing-to fight-at-a-moment's-notice father. Wayne (an American, the outsider) returns to Ireland from the States to inherit some land, meets and falls in love with the fiery, red-haired O'Hara, and is bent on marrying her. Though she has fallen in love with him as well, she damn well isn't about to let him know it, and the fireworks between them are classic. Well, Morressy has captured the argumentative spirit of the Irish temperament in his dialogue perfectly, so much so that while reading these stories I actually hear Maureen O'Hara's voice speaking through Kate. Coincidentally (or maybe not?), the O'Hara character's name is also Kate. While not a precise parallel, and with a scoche of imagination, one can also hear the voice of McLaughlin as either Finbar or Conhoon (take your pick), as they have at each other arguing over Kate (just as McLaughlin and Wayne fought over O'Hara). 'Tis a shame indeed there will be no more O'Farrissey stories.

So now we come to an end of this brief overview of the F&SF stories of John Morressy. We have listed them all, and commented on a majority.

A few closing thoughts are in order. As one can almost literally hear the voices from The Quiet Man in the O'Farrissey stories, in several of the other Kedrigern or Kedrigern Universe tales they (or at the least a few extended passages from them) should be read (bear with me now, for it works) with the voice of the narrator in that segment from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show titled Fractured Fairy Tales, for this is precisely what Morressy has given us in a number of his tales; delightfully twisted, ingeniously re-fractured fairy tales. Morressy must have had the time of his life writing them, chuckling all the while. He loved puncturing pretension with humor in many of them, very often slicing and dicing the vanity of the upper classes (kings and queens, princes and princesses, heroes and all others who misused whatever powers they had over the common folk). The real beauty to these morality tales is that far too often Morressy is showing us aspects of ourselves, and asks that we laugh along with him as he kindly, gently, and with no real malice, wags an admonishing finger at the human condition through his characters. We can absolutely, totally, identify with his situations and characters, and yet chuckle along with him as he gives us a wry look at our own foibles and character-flaws.

Though Kedrigern was a lovable curmudgeon who preferred solitude and the relaxed, contemplative life to travelling and crowds, he always, at the end of the day, ended up doing the Right Thing—more often than not at the urging of his lovely young Princess, who Morressy used as stand-in for Kedrigern's conscience. And more often than not, our own.

I never had the pleasure of meeting John Morressy. After reading his stories I now realize what a great loss that was. While doing research for this piece, I miraculously came across a letter he once wrote to the print version of Tangent. I had totally forgotten he had subscribed way back then. I ran it in the Sept./Oct. 1994 issue (#8) and reprint it here for the first time for those who may find it interesting, or of possible historical note. Remember that Morressy was a college English professor until around 1995, when he retired from teaching.

"Dear David,

Your editorial got me thinking about the questions raised by David Hartwell and endorsed by yourself. The questions are of real significance to readers, fans, editors, scholars, collectors, and booksellers—but writers should treat them like plague. A writer who worries about whether he's relevant, or his stories are character driven, or he's working with pure SF concepts, is a writer in trouble.

Writers who consciously strive to be relevant may succeed only in making themselves dated. Hot issues cool fast; tastes and criteria change. Life is not character-driven, so why should fiction be? Stories require both plot and character. Emphasis varies from story to story, but neither is intrinsically more important, any more than a lung more essential than a liver. Contemporary critical taste favors character over plot, but that's simply a modern convention, as the heroic couplet was a convention of Eighteenth Century satire. Tastes change, and conventions change along with them. In another century, today's mainstream fiction, with its emphasis on character, may appear as quaint as the blank verse epic, and plot-centered thrillers, SF, and mysteries may be hailed as the major writing achievements of the Twentieth Century. Maybe scholars will be crooning over sitcom scripts. Who knows? Frankly, who cares?

As for 'an SF idea,' your editorial offers persuasive evidence that an SF idea is any idea that can result in a good story.

I don't fault you for being concerned with these ideas. Tangent is a critical publication, and a very good one (You cover the field thoroughly, and obviously, you can write a pretty provocative editorial). The critic's job is to analyze, evaluate, compare, apply standards, offer judgments. Critics need the machinery of criticism in order to do their job. But writers do not.

A writer's job is to write well. All he needs for that is talent, hard work, and luck. Once he starts thinking about how critics may look at his work, he is in danger of losing his bearings. Read Aesop's fable about the man, the boy, and the donkey for a succinct example of what that can lead to.

Yours sincerely,
John Morressy"

Wise words, with which I agreed.

Remember that famous line of Bogart's in Casablanca, where he's slouched drunk long after closing time in his darkened tavern, and cursing the luck that has brought Ingrid Bergman back into his life? "Out of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to walk into mine."

I can't top that. But Bogart said it best, and all I can do is echo it when I say I'm eternally grateful that—somehow—John Morressy walked into mine.

* * *

Dave Truesdale began the short fiction review magazine Tangent in 1993. Since then, it has been honored with 4 Hugo nominations and 1 World Fantasy Award nomination. For several years in the 1990s, he was deeply involved with the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and in 1998 was a World Fantasy Award judge. He edited the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1999-2002. Tangent Online can be found at www.tangentonline.com.


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