HERE COMES CIVILIZATION
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
For several years, NESFA Press has been published collections, complete or otherwise, of classic science fiction which is not readily available in today's market. One of their recent targets is Philip Klass, who wrote science fiction under the pseudonym William Tenn. Tenn was named the Author Emeritus of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1999, for reasons which become apparent upon dipping into Here Comes Civilization, the second, and final, volume of NESFA's collection.
Containing all the stories which did not fit into the massive initial volume, Immortal Proposals, as well as Tenn's only novel, Of Men and Monsters, Tenn also includes a lengthy essay on science fiction and he agreed to write afterwords to each of the stories which are reprinted in this volume. The result is a collection of stories which stand on their own, but also take on added depth as the author points out his intentions or anecdotes about the stories.
Although Tenn is a humorist of the first order, his writing is not reminiscent of such recent SF humorists as Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett or Tom Holt. Instead, Tenn's humor is much more subtle, being comparable to the humor in Robert Sheckley or Fredric Brown's writing. Tenn sets the tone for the entire collection with the very first story, "Bernie the Faust" and continues to produce humorous short stories until "A Lamp for Medusa." The remainder of the book is taken up by an essay on science fiction and the aforementioned novel.
While humor may frequently be deemed innocuous and inoffensive, it can also be used to make powerful statements. Tenn uses satire and comedy of situation to draw attention to important issues, for instance the problem of displaced persons which is featured in "There Were People on Bikini, There Were People on Attu." Other stories lack a cause, but are no less enjoyable.
Tenn allows the reader to make up his or her own mind about the quality of each individual story, but in his afterwords he shows no sign of being easy on himself. He notes which stories don't work for him even at this late date, which ones should never have seen the light of day, and several of the stories he barely discusses at all, noting that they were written in order to pay the rent (and are collected under such a heading). Nevertheless, the author's opinions are not important if the reader discovers a gem the author feels is not worthy.
Here Comes Civilization collects a wide range of Tenn's writing, both the good and bad. It further give the reader the opportunity to read his only novel and wonder that Tenn's was not more prolific than filling only two volumes with his complete works. Editors James A. Mann and Mary C. Tabasko have provided a great service for science fiction readers by ensuring that Tenn's work would be readily available after so many years out of print.
|Bernie the Faust||Betelgeuse Bridge|
|"Will You Walk a Little Faster"||The House Dutiful|
|There Were People on Bikini, There Were People on Attu||She Only Goes Out at Night. . .|
|Mistress Sary||The Malted Milk Monster|
|The Human Angle||Everybody Loves Irving Bommer|
|A Matter of Frequency||The Ionian Cycle|
|Hallock's Madness||Richardo's Virus|
|The Puzzle of Priipiirii||Dud|
|Confusion Cargo||The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway|
|Sanctuary||Me, Myself, and I|
|It Ends with a Flicker||The Girl with Some Kind of Past. And George|
|A Lamp for Medusa||Of Men and Monsters|
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