Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe

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9780765334596: Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe

Perhaps no living author of imaginative fiction has earned the awards, accolades, respect, and literary reputation of Gene Wolfe. His prose has been called subtle and brilliant, inspiring not just lovers of fantasy and science fiction, but readers of every stripe, transcending genre and defying preconceptions.

In this volume, a select group of Wolfe's fellow authors pay tribute to the award-winning creator of The Book of the New Sun, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Soldier of the Mist, The Wizard Knight and many others, with entirely new stories written specifically to honor the writer hailed by The Washington Post as "one of America's finest."

Shadows of the New Sun features contributions by Neil Gaiman, David Brin, David Drake, Nancy Kress, and many others, plus two new short stories by Gene Wolfe himself.

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About the Author:

Bill Fawcett has been a professor, teacher, corporate executive, and college dean. His entire life has been spent in the creative fields and managing other creative individuals. He is one of the founders of Mayfair Games, a board and role-play gaming company. As an author, Fawcett has written or coauthored over a dozen books and dozens of articles and short stories. As a book packager, a person who prepares series of books from concept to production for major publishers, his company, Bill Fawcett & Associates, has packaged more than 250 titles for virtually every major publisher. He founded, and later sold, what is now the largest hobby shop in Northern Illinois.

GENE WOLFE is the Winner of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, as well as the Nebula Award (2), the World Fantasy Award (3), the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the Prix Apollo. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Frostfree

GENE WOLFE

 

Roy Tabak had a new refrigerator. There could be no doubt of that. It gleamed. It was wider than his old one; it was taller, too. It made everything else in his kitchen look small and a trifle dirty. Brand new, he decided, and styled in a subtly pleasing way nothing in the store was. No doubt he had special-ordered. No doubt it had been delivered, and he had opened the door for the delivery and exchanged a few tired jokes with the men who brought it. When they had gone, he had no doubt wiped it down and waxed it with appliance wax.

Roy Tabak sold refrigerators, and he could remember none of that.

He opened the main compartment. There was food in it, and it looked good. There was beer in it, too, twenty bottles as least. It was not his brand, and the food was not his. What was that green stuff?

Movers, clearly, had been moving furniture and so forth into a new apartment. There had not been room enough in the van for this large refrigerator, so they had made a separate trip for it. They had put it in his apartment by mistake. No doubt they had been amateurs, friends helping some friend move. They had failed to notice that the refrigerator had been full of food and beer.

It was all very simple and convincing, and it would be more simple and convincing after a beer. Still more after six or eight. Aloud, Roy Tabak said, “Hell and damn!”

“If you are unable to find that which you seek,” his new refrigerator said politely, “I may be able to direct you, sir.”

Roy Tabak went into the living room and sat down. How many beers had he had? None at all. He had just gotten home from work. Besides, beer didn’t do that. He took off his suit coat and hung it almost neatly in the hall closet, loosened his tie, then removed it altogether and draped it over the back of a chair. His collar was not tight, but he unbuttoned it anyway. Tight collars could make you hear voices, right?

After much searching, enlivened by some pacing up and down, during which he was careful not to look through his cramped little dining room into his kitchen, the phone book provided the number of the Free Psychiatric Hotline—“Trained Psycholagists on Duty 24/7.” The misspelling of “psychologists” did nothing to increase his confidence, but he dialed the number anyway.

“Free Psychiatric Hotline. How can we help you?”

“It’s not normal to hear voices, is it?”

“That depends. You’re hearing mine right now, aren’t you?”

“I don’t mean like that,” Roy said. “You know what I mean.”

“Voices that accuse you of things?”

“No.”

“Voices that urge you to commit murder?”

“Huh-uh. This voice offered to help me find something in my—I mean in the refrigerator in my kitchen.”

“Ummm.”

“It was very polite. Like a woman’s voice, but like the noise a refrigerator makes when it runs. You know.”

“I wish I did. Is there a woman there with you?”

Roy Tabak winced. “No. No, there’s not.”

“Maybe a neighbor?”

Mrs. Jackson was not at all bad looking; there had been times when he had envied Mr. Jackson. Mrs. Adcock was a bit too old. “No,” he said. “I’m alone.”

“Perhaps someone just dropped in. Someone selling something.”

Dahlia—over in Lingerie—was hotter than hell. Roy said, “I sell things myself. Stoves, refrigerators, trash compactors, microwaves. Stuff like that. I’m the only one in here who sells things.”

“What do the others do?”

“There aren’t any others.”

“I see. How often have you heard the voices?”

“Just one voice, and I’ve only heard it once.”

“Okay.… It was probably somebody outside, or else a radio or something. If you hear these voices again, call back.”

Feeling defeated, Roy said, “Sure.”

“Especially if they want you to kill people. Or kill yourself. I’ve been looking through the index, but there’s nothing about finding stuff in the refrigerator, see? So what I need is something that’s here in DUFFY AND STANKY.”

“Uh-huh.” Roy Tabak hung up. It had been a dream. Almost certainly it had been a dream that he had somehow taken for reality. He would call out to the refrigerator, and it would not reply.

A little later, when he felt more secure.

What had happened to his tie? He switched on the TV, winced, and muted the sound. Baseball was never on when he wanted to watch it. Somebody must be in charge of that.

“We single men,” he said, “we like to go out at night. We cruise the bars, and now and then we hook up. You start the game around seven-thirty, and we don’t watch because we know we won’t get to see anything past the fourth inning.”

The TV remained muted. It would be nice, Roy Tabak reflected, if they would build TVs that listened to you.

He returned to the kitchen, half expecting that his old refrigerator would be there. The new refrigerator still gleamed. It had no eyes, no nose, and no mouth, yet it somehow looked quiet. And helpful. It was eager to help. You could see that.

Both his kitchen chairs were narrow, shiny, and much less than comfortable. He pulled one out just the same and sat down on it to study the refrigerator.

The refrigerator studied him back. After five minutes or so, he got it. The freezer door was opaque from outside but transparent from inside, sort of like the security mirrors in the store. The refrigerator’s eyes were behind it. Watching.

He got up, opened the food storage door, and got a beer. It was a SUPER-URB lager, brewed in Al Fashir, New Jersey. He opened it, said, “Here’s to you,” and drank. It was better than his brand.

There were corn chips in the bread box. He opened the bag. “I don’t suppose you have any chip dip?”

“I have three,” his new refrigerator said politely. “Guavacado, whipped kasseri, and fava-bean habas. Which would you prefer?”

Roy Tabak sipped his beer, rose, opened his new refrigerator, and took out the green stuff.

“Ah! The guavacado. Good choice, sir.”

It was in an oddly shaped container so transparent as to be almost invisible. The green paste it held tasted just fine on a corn chip.

“I have a talking refrigerator,” Roy Tabak said. He gulped beer. “Do you know what that proves? It proves that the world is one hell of a lot more complicated than I thought.”

“Indeed, sir.”

Roy scooped up more guavacado dip. “Are you a Kelvinator?”

“No, sir.”

“Mmmm.” He munched a chip. “Whirlpool?”

“No, sir.”

“KitchenAid?”

“No, sir. I am your refrigerator, sir. It might be best to leave it at that.”

“Sure.”

“I am here to help you.” Roy Tabak’s new refrigerator sounded soothing, almost motherly.

He sipped more beer and swallowed. “You’re from the government, right?”

“No, sir. The WSPC, sir.”

“Not the government.”

“No, sir. We are a tax-exempt foundation, sir. In law, I mean.”

“A foundation of refrigerators?” Roy Tabak scooped guavacado dip onto a fresh corn chip.

“No, sir. A foundation of persons. I say we because I am a possession of the Society. Need I explain further?”

Chewing, Roy Tabak nodded.

“Very well. You are familiar with dogs, I hope.”

“I don’t own one,” Roy Tabak told his refrigerator, “but my folks adopted a greyhound named Chester when I was a kid. They said he was too old to race, but he was faster than a million-dollar microwave.”

“Clearly you observed him, sir. Because you did, you must have observed that this Chester employed the pronoun to which you objected when referring to your family and himself. He might have said we are going to the beach, for example.”

“You can’t take dogs to the beach,” Roy Tabak told his new refrigerator. “They’re not allowed.”

The telephone rang.

“Excuse me.” He rose and went into his living room. “Hello.”

“Roy, you dog! Who’s the fat broad?” It was Jerry Pitt from Gourmet Foods.

Roy Tabak tried to remember. That girl he had talked to in the Home Office, had she been fat? Not very, but his Aunt Irene’s daughters were all fat. “Probably a cousin,” he said.

“Sure. Just staying with you until she can get a job. I’ve got it.”

“Wait a minute.” Roy Tabak thought frantically. “I’ve got this new service, see. A—whatchacallum. An answering service. It’s better than an answering machine because mine keeps breaking. You phoned, right? And this girl answered. You probably tried to date her.”

“Roy, Roy, Roy! Come off it. Let’s get real.”

Yeah, Roy Tabak thought, wouldn’t I love to!

“I came over to your building, see?” Jerry sounded impatient. “And I rang the bell downstairs and somebody buzzed me in. So I went up to your place. Do I have to keep telling you?”

“Go ahead,” Roy Tabak said. “I’m listening.”

“I knocked and she answered the door. You probably told her not to, but she did it anyway. I said, ‘Where’s Roy?’ And she said you hadn’t come home yet and did I want to come in and wait for you? She said she’d get me a beer or some ice cream. I said, ‘No thanks and have a nice day,’ and I beat it.”

“Listen, Jerry, this is serious.”

“She’s married, huh?”

“There was really a woman in my apartment? You’re not shitting me?”

“Hell, no. You mean you don’t know about her? She was a burglar or something?”

“No, but it’s complicated. What did she look like?”

“Well … fat, like I said. Big and really heavy. She wouldn’t be bad looking if she lost a hundred and fifty pounds. Hell, she’s not all that bad now. Blond, blue eyes, sort of a square face, only fat cheeks, you know?”

“Yeah, I know. What else?”

“A white dress and a white apron. Sort of a gag necklace. One of those novelty necklaces. Little bottles, all different colors, strung together. Beer and Pepsi. I remember those.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Roy Tabak said.

“One was champagne—that was the big bottle in the middle. There was a red bottle, too. I think it must’ve been Tabasco sauce.”

Roy felt impatient, but tried not to sound like it. “How old would you say she was?”

“Twenty-five, maybe. She could have been younger, though. Great big chicks look older, you know?”

“Sure. Go on.”

“No rings. I looked for them, you know how you do.”

“Only she wanted you to come in for a beer, and you wouldn’t do it.”

“I got Deedee, you know? Besides, I’d never do a thing like that to you.”

Roy Tabak took a deep breath. “You said, ‘Hi, I’m Jerry Pitt and I’m a friend of Roy’s.’ Something like that?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“But she didn’t tell you her name?”

“Nope.”

“She told you something. What was it?”

“Nothing. She didn’t tell me anything.”

“Jerry, listen to me and listen real good. Are you listening, dumbfuck?”

“Hey, you don’t have to get rough.”

“I’d rather not, Jerry. But I work in Appliances and you work in Gourmet Foods. I’m lifting heavy stuff all day while you’re pushing cookies. What was her name?”

“I’ll tell you, Roy. Honest.”

“You’d better. What was it?”

“She never said her name, only she was wearing one of those little name pins like waitresses have on sometimes.”

“Keep talking, Jerry.”

“Well, I read what was on it. It said Frostfree. All one word. I used to know a guy named Frost once. Was it Ed? Wait a minute…”

“Don’t matter. Listen, I’ll call you back.”

“Earl! That was it. Earl Frost.”

“I’ll call you back,” Roy repeated, and hung up.

Returning to the kitchen, he straddled a chrome-and-plastic chair and sat, resting his arms on the back. “Do you still talk?”

“Yes, sir,” replied his new refrigerator.

“Good.” Thoughtfully, Roy Tabak loaded a last corn chip. “You’ve got a little plate on your freezer door. It says ‘Frostfree.’”

“Yes, sir. It indicates, correctly, that I need never be defrosted—this even though my freezer remains frigid at all times.”

“I know what it means. Jerry Pitt came over and rang the bell. You buzzed him in.” Roy tapped a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket, lit it, and inhaled. His new refrigerator remained silent. At last he said, “Why did you do that?”

“I hoped your caller might be a young woman, sir.”

“Did you now?”

“Yes, sir. I did.”

“You wanted some female company?” Roy blew smoke through his nose.

“For you, sir. It is my mission.”

“You want to fix me up.”

“Yes, sir. Precisely.”

More smoke. “That’s a whole lot to take on, for a refrigerator.”

“I’m acutely conscious of it, sir. May I explain? The WSPC has taken an interest in your case.”

Roy ground out his cigarette in the ashtray on the kitchen table. “I’m a case.”

“Yes, sir. That’s it exactly.”

“A mental case.”

“Oh, no, sir!”

“Let’s get back to Jerry. When he came to the door, a girl opened it. That girl was wearing the little plate from your door. She was wearing it, or one just like it. Was she from that outfit you mentioned?”

“The WSPC, sir? Yes, sir, she was—that is to say, I am. I belong to the foundation, sir. It is my owner.”

“That was you? You were the one who answered the door?”

“Yes, sir. Would you like another beer, sir?”

“Yeah.” Roy Tabak opened his new refrigerator and took out a longneck; its label read SUPER-URB. “If I drink enough of these, you may start to make sense.”

“I’m a very sensible machine, sir, well designed, solidly built, and useful. I will provide many years of service.”

“What about when you’re a girl? Are you still a sensible girl then?”

“Yes, sir. I am sensible in both forms.”

“You can change shape?”

“Transform, sir. Yes, sir, I can and do. May I explain?”

Roy Tabak nodded.

“I began, sir, as an effort of the appliance industry. You are familiar with the appliance industry.”

Roy nodded again. “Very.”

“It was desired, sir, to create a single appliance which would serve as both a refrigerator and a dishwasher.”

“That’s crazy!”

“No, sir. Only difficult. It was soon realized that my dishwashing mechanism could not be interior, sir. My interior must be kept cold at all times in order to preserve the just-harvested freshness of vegetables, for example.”

“I say that. I say ‘just-harvested freshness’ when I’m talking to customers. You’ve been listening to me.”

“Only a very little bit, sir. Hardly at all.” Roy’s new refrigerator spoke rapidly, apparently to prevent his protesting the change of subject. “Since the dishwashing function could not be internal, it would have to be external. Utilizing the transformer principle made external dishwashing possible and, indeed, successful. It was then suggested that we might serve as programmable stoves as well. That was found to be impractical, since an oven would have to be internal. However—”

“Wait up!” Roy Tabak sat straight. “You said you were a dishwasher, right? You’re a dishwasher, too?”

“I am, sir. It is my glory.”

“Well, my sink’s full of dirty dishes. Let’s see you wash them.”

“Although I hesitate to correct you, sir, your sink is no longer filled with dirty dishes. I washed them in your absence, sir.”

Roy rose and looked into his sink. It was empty and spotless.

“Your dishes are in that cabinet, sir. There was an abundance of shelf space, and I felt—”

“Sure.” Roy opened a cabinet door. “You reached up there and put them in?”

“I did, sir. It was the only way—or so it appeared to me. May I continue, sir?”

He nodded.

“The oven requirement decided the matter. We could not function as programmable stoves. We could, however, apply our programmability to stove functions, by this means rendering a pr...

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