Tag Archive | jack vance

BWBC 32: The Lemmings


This week’s story is “The Lemmings” by Alex Comfort. Comfort’s most famous as the author of the 1970s era bestseller, The Joy of Sex. Maybe you peeked at it when you were a child? He was also a pacifist and a nudist. And while “The Lemmings” is a solidly okay story. But it does gain something by imagining it being screamed at you by a naked man carrying a sign that reads, “Wake up Sheeple!”

“The Lemmings” by Alex Comfort

Our nameless narrator travels to an island where he meets The Keeper whose job it is to tend the lemming colony on the island. Curiously, outside the title and the fact that the creatures are harvested for their fur, Comfort never refers to them as lemmings in the story. And while these creatures seem to match the Walt Disney fabrication of lemmings they’re also creatures with a sort of society. They form social groups and make laws and take pride in their appearance, and at a sign they march en masse into the sea to die. And that’s exactly what happens.

The narrator and the keeper chat about the creatures. The Keeper has affection for the creatures, but more as a curious dispassionate observer than as someone who will make any large changes to their existence. He crafts the creatures little medals that they award each other on their suicidal swim, and he dresses like a priest because it makes them more relaxed. A few lemmings refuse to take part in the mass suicide and suffer violence as a consequence, but by and large the suicide is approached as a necessary carnival mixed with a patriotic duty. Afterwards the Keeper and the narrator skin the drowned bodies once they start washing up on the island’s shore.

Wake up Sheeple! Etc.

Overall this is a barely off the nose sort of allegory with enough flourishes to make it rise above the straightforward. Like I said it’s solidly okay and doesn’t at all overstay its premise, and it’s jagged enough to have hooks that might even make it stay with you.

An odd aside, this story reminded me a little of Jack Vance. Except Vance would have either made it a footnote to a larger story or put an intergalactic casino nearby where jaded gamblers come to bet on the event and which would serve as the backdrop to some adventure short story.

Next week, another “Definitive Article Adjective Noun” short story.

One Book, Four Covers: Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth

dying earth 1Dying Earth 2dying earth 4dying earth 5

Jack Vance died two weeks back at the age of 96.

I loved the Dying Earth stuff from the word go, preferring Rhialto to Cugel, because WIZARDS, and I’d say his Demon Princes series is one of the best satires of SF written.

There’s been a lot written about him since his death, at least in the nerdosphere I inhabit, so it’s only apt to give him the One Book, Four Covers treatment.

Number one, by Ed Emscwiller, is my favorite. Sparse and slightly weird with its tentacled beasty. Then there’s number 3, which I think is really nice in capturing the book’s juxtaposition of the otherworldly and high society. Makes me dream odd dreams of Ms. Marple pitting her skills against Iucounu the Laughing Magician. The fourth cover is a bit too cheery. And then there’s the second cover with its John Berkey (I think) cover. It’s a fine picture but it’s stock like the art director pulled it out of a drawer to spare the expense of commissioning new artwork. It’s meh, which is a shame.

Also let me say how much I really hate Omnibus editions. As someone who did much of his reading on public transportation for years, it was a true pain in the ass to read a thick book on the bus or train. Paperbacks you can fit in your pocket – that’s what I’m all about.