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 hereI am encouraging readers to rate the stories and books they have read on the ISFdb.

ISFdb Rating:   9.11/10
My Rating:        10/10

The cover is by Mel Hunter, and was re-used for 
The Best from the Magazine of Fantasy and
Science Fiction
(Doubleday, 1955).
"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).


Todd Mason said...

I've always admired more than loved "Fondly Fahrenheit", as a technical achievement...and, indeed, the insane or nearly insane protagonist is almost a fixture in Bester's work. My own favorite, among Bester's many impressive short fictions (which I've preferred to his novels, including the one Charles Platt more or less reconstructed from memory, TENDER LOVING RAGE...though I still need to read THE RAT RACE, these two being non-sf), remains "5,271,009". If you haven't already, I think you'll dig it. STARLIGHT or any of the other fatter collections of Bester's short fiction will probably do you fine...

(Och, I know it's a lost cause, but I am one of the die-hards who still winces whenever anyone, particularly anyone well-intentioned, refers to sf as "sci-fi"...Forrest Ackerman thought it would be Cute to have it rhyme with "hi-fi" [now an essentially dead term], and outlanders have tended to say it even more with a sneer than they might "science fiction" ever since...)

TracyK said...

I like the premise of this story, androids always interest me. I am not the most experienced science fiction reader, I have been reading that genre since my twenties off and on, but mostly concentrating on mystery fiction. How do you find stories like this as you go through the Top Short Fiction list at ISFdb? Do you have a collection of old magazines or just find them in anthologies?

Casual Debris said...

Todd, I have not read that Bester story, nor many others. I read a fair amount of science fiction as a teen, mostly through older anthologies, but ignored the genre for many years. Only recently have I gotten back into reading sf. There are therefore a lot of gaps in my reading. As I am going through this list, I am concurrently reading Asimov's Hugo Winners anthologies. This way at least I'll have covered the major sf stories from ca. 1940 - 1975. Any story suggestions are therefore welcome.

Casual Debris said...

Excellent question Tracy. I own an embarrassing amount of anthologies of all genres (even mystery, which I occasionally read). Since these are the more popular SF stories, I find them in one anthology or another. Otherwise, many of these stories are available online at archive.org, where old magazine issues are preserved. So far I have only needed to use the library for the top two Lovecraft stories (but only because my Lovecraft paperbacks are old & well preserved, & I don't want to be leafing through them).

free counters

As of 24 December 2015