|The cover is by Mel Hunter, and was re-used for |
The Best from the Magazine of Fantasy and
Science Fiction (Doubleday, 1955).
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Casual Shorts & the ISFdb Top Short Fiction #18: Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester
Bester, Alfred. "Fondly Fahrenheit." The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1954.
This article is part of my attempt to read all the 155 stories currently (as of 1 November 2022) on the ISFdb's Top Short Fiction list. Please see the introduction and list of stories here. I am encouraging readers to rate the stories and books they have read on the ISFdb.
ISFdb Rating: 9.11/10
My Rating: 10/10
"He doesn't know which one of us I am these days, but they know one truth."
James Vandaleur, the playboy son of a wealthy man who recently died ruined, inherited only an advanced android from his father's estate. Now they are both on the run since the android has evidently committed something which an android is, theoretically, unable to commit: murder. They flee from planet to planet, as the android continues to exhibit violent tendencies, despite Vandaleur's attempts to settle, and yet he must bring the android with him, as he is unprepared for work and the android is his only means of income.
An extraordinary story on many levels, and among my favourite sci-fi and sci-fi/horror stories. Like other popular works by Bester, this story is driven by an unstable, unlikable protagonist. It flows quickly through a solid sequence of events, and the disturbing psychological inclination of Vandaleur is the driving force behind the horror, and not necessarily the homicidal android. The two are intertwined, and as in the opening sentence quoted above, their consciousness is inseparable, and Bester toys with pronouns as consciousness moves swiftly between the two fugitives. In addition, for a short novelette, there is quite a bit of interstellar world building, as the pair spend the story repeatedly attempting to make a life on a different planet. The psychology is the important component of the story, for if we replace the planets with cities and the android with a human or animal companion, the piece would be just as compelling. And of course there is that great title.
This android is not from Asimov's world of robotic laws and reason, nor is it a simple unthinking piece of machinery. The droid is an augmented personification of its owner, and therefore nearly human. It comes with all the foibles and emotional reactions of a human, with its quick mood shifts and heightened sensitivity, yet it lacks a moral core, and acts accordingly.
The story was selected by the Science Fiction Writers of America to be included among the thirty best science fiction stories published before 1965, and as a result was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One (Doubleday, 1970).