Just as Gardner Dozois's anthology Modern Classics of Science Fiction (SMP, 1992) has helped new generations of readers and old fans discover the genre's finest short stories, so too shall this volume allow readers to find in one volume more than two dozen masterworks of fantasy.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||1.48(w) x 5.00(h) x 8.00(d)|
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Modern Classics of Fantasy
By Gardner Dozois
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1997 Gardner Dozois
All rights reserved.
Horace L. Gold
Trouble with Water
Although the late Horace L. Gold published seven million words of fiction in every field but sports and air war, he was perhaps best known as the founder and first editor of Galaxy magazine. He edited the magazine throughout its "Golden Age" in the 1950s, publishing dozens of classic stories by Alfred Bester, Damon Knight, Theodore Sturgeon, William Tenn, C. M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, and many others — in fact, Gold was one of the most influential editors in the history of science fiction, rating right up there with editors such as John W. Campbell Jr. and Anthony Boucher. His books include eleven Galaxy anthologies, The Old Die Rich and Other Stories, What Will They Think of Last?, and Ultima Zero. Gold died in 1995.
Long before he assumed the editorial chair at Galaxy, however, Gold had secured his reputation within the field on the basis of the classic story that follows, one of the best stories ever published in the renowned fantasy magazine Unknown, and, in fact, one of the most famous modern fantasies ever written, as bittersweet and funny today as it was in 1939. In it, Gold shows us the wisdom of a simple rule: Never pick a fight until you know exactly who it is you're fighting with ...
Greenberg did not deserve his surroundings. He was the first fisherman of the season, which guaranteed him a fine catch; he sat in a dry boat — one without a single leak — far out on a lake that was ruffled only enough to agitate his artificial fly. The sun was warm, the air was cool; he sat comfortably on a cushion; he had brought a hearty lunch; and two bottles of beer hung over the stern in the cold water.
Any other man would have been soaked with joy to be fishing on such a splendid day. Normally, Greenberg himself would have been ecstatic, but instead of relaxing and waiting for a nibble, he was plagued by worries.
This short, slightly gross, definitely bald, eminently respectable businessman lived a gypsy life. During the summer, he lived in a hotel with kitchen privileges in Rockaway; winters he lived in a hotel with kitchen privileges in Florida; and in both places he operated concessions. For years now, rain had fallen on schedule every week end, and there had been storms and floods on Decoration Day, July 4th and Labor Day. He did not love his life, but it was a way of making a living.
He closed his eyes and groaned. If he had only had a son instead of his Rosie! Then things would have been mighty different —
For one thing, a son could run the hot dog and hamburger griddle, Esther could draw beer, and he would make soft drinks. There would be small difference in the profits, Greenberg admitted to himself; but at least those profits could be put aside for old age, instead of toward a dowry for his miserably ugly, dumpy, pitifully eager Rosie.
"All right — so what do I care if she don't get married?" he had cried to his wife a thousand times. "I'll support her. Other men can set up boys in candy stores with soda fountains that have only two spigots. Why should I have to give a boy a regular International Casino?"
"May your tongue rot in your head, you no-good piker!" she would scream. "It ain't right for a girl to be an old maid. If we have to die in the poorhouse, I'll get my poor Rosie a husband. Every penny we don't need for living goes to her dowry!"
Greenberg did not hate his daughter, nor did he blame her for his misfortunes; yet, because of her, he was fishing with a broken rod that he had to tape together.
That morning, his wife opened her eyes and saw him packing his equipment. She instantly came awake. "Go ahead!" she shrilled — speaking in a conversational tone was not one of her accomplishments — "Go fishing, you loafer! Leave me here alone. I can connect the beer pipes and the gas for soda water. I can buy ice cream, frankfurters, rolls, syrup, and watch the gas and electric men at the same time. Go ahead — go fishing!"
"I ordered everything," he mumbled soothingly. "The gas and electric won't be turned on today. I only wanted to go fishing — it's my last chance. Tomorrow we open the concession. Tell the truth, Esther, can I go fishing after we open?"
"I don't care about that. Am I your wife or ain't I, that you should go ordering everything without asking me —"
He defended his actions. It was a tactical mistake. While she was still in bed, he should have picked up his equipment and left. By the time the argument got around to Rosie's dowry, she stood facing him.
"For myself I don't care," she yelled. "What kind of a monster are you that you can go fishing while your daughter eats her heart out? And on a day like this yet! You should only have to make supper and dress Rosie up. A lot you care that a nice boy is coming to supper tonight and maybe take Rosie out, you no-good father, you!"
From that point it was only one hot protest and a shrill curse to find himself clutching half a broken rod, with the other half being flung at his head.
Now he sat in his beautifully dry boat on an excellent game lake far out on Long Island, desperately aware that any average fish might collapse his taped rod.
What else could he expect? He had missed his train; he had had to wait for the boathouse proprietor; his favorite dry fly was missing; and, since morning, not a fish struck at the bait. Not a single fish!
And it was getting late. He had no more patience. He ripped the cap off a bottle of beer and drank it, in order to gain courage to change his fly for a less sporting bloodworm. It hurt him, but he wanted a fish.
The hook and the squirming worm sank. Before it came to rest, he felt a nibble. He sucked in his breath exultantly and snapped the hook deep into the fish's mouth. Sometimes, he thought philosophically, they just won't take artificial bait. He reeled in slowly.
"Oh, Lord," he prayed, "a dollar for charity — just don't let the rod bend in half where I taped it!"
It was sagging dangerously. He looked at it unhappily and raised his ante to five dollars; even at that price it looked impossible. He dipped his rod into the water, parallel with the line, to remove the strain. He was glad no one could see him do it. The line reeled in without a fight.
"Have I — God forbid! — got an eel or something not kosher?" he mumbled. "A plague on you — why don't you fight?"
He did not really care what it was — even an eel — anything at all.
He pulled in a long, pointed, brimless green hat.
For a moment he glared at it. His mouth hardened. Then, viciously, he yanked the hat off the hook, threw it on the floor and trampled on it. He rubbed his hands together in anguish.
"All day I fish," he wailed, "two dollars for train fare, a dollar for a boat, a quarter for bait, a new rod I got to buy — and a five-dollar mortgage charity has got on me. For what? For you, you hat, you!"
Out in the water an extremely civil voice asked politely: "May I have my hat, please?"
Greenberg glowered up. He saw a little man come swimming vigorously through the water toward him: small arms crossed with enormous dignity, vast ears on a pointed face propelling him quite rapidly and efficiently. With serious determination he drove through the water, and, at the starboard rail, his amazing ears kept him stationary while he looked gravely at Greenberg.
"You are stamping on my hat," he pointed out without anger.
To Greenberg this was highly unimportant. "With the ears you're swimming," he grinned in a superior way. "Do you look funny!"
"How else could I swim?" the little man asked politely.
"With the arms and legs, like a regular human being, of course."
"But I am not a human being. I am a water gnome, a relative of the more common mining gnome. I cannot swim with my arms, because they must be crossed to give an appearance of dignity suitable to a water gnome; and my feet are used for writing and holding things. On the other hand, my ears are perfectly adapted for propulsion in water.
Consequently, I employ them for that purpose. But please, my hat — there are several matters requiring my immediate attention, and I must not waste time."
Greenberg's unpleasant attitude toward the remarkably civil gnome is easily understandable. He had found someone he could feel superior to, and, by insulting him, his depressed ego could expand. The water gnome certainly looked inoffensive enough, being only two feet tall.
"What you got that's so important to do, Big Ears?" he asked nastily.
Greenberg hoped the gnome would be offended. He was not, since his ears, to him, were perfectly normal, just as you would not be insulted if a member of a race of atrophied beings were to call you "Big Muscles." You might even feel flattered.
"I really must hurry," the gnome said, almost anxiously. "But if I have to answer your questions in order to get back my hat — we are engaged in restocking the Eastern waters with fish. Last year there was quite a drain. The bureau of fisheries is coöperating with us to some extent, but, of course, we cannot depend too much on them. Until the population rises to normal, every fish has instructions not to nibble."
Greenberg allowed himself a smile, an annoyingly skeptical smile.
"My main work," the gnome went on resignedly, "is control of the rainfall over the Eastern seaboard. Our fact-finding committee, which is scientifically situated in the meteorological center of the continent, coördinates the rainfall needs of the entire continent; and when they determine the amount of rain needed in particular spots of the East, I make it rain to that extent. Now may I have my hat, please?"
Greenberg laughed coarsely. "The first lie was big enough — about telling the fish not to bite. You make it rain like I'm President of the United States!" He bent toward the gnome slyly. "How's about proof?"
"Certainly, if you insist." The gnome raised his patient, triangular face toward a particularly clear blue spot in the sky, a trifle to one side of Greenberg. "Watch that bit of the sky."
Greenberg looked up humorously. Even when a small dark cloud rapidly formed in the previously clear spot, his grin remained broad. It could have been coincidental. But then large drops of undeniable rain fell over a twenty-foot circle; and Greenberg's mocking grin shrank and grew sour.
He glared hatred at the gnome, finally convinced. "So you're the dirty crook who makes it rain on week ends!"
"Usually on week ends during the summer," the gnome admitted. "Ninety-two percent of water consumption is on weekdays. Obviously we must replace that water. The week ends, of course, are the logical time."
"But, you thief!" Greenberg cried hysterically, "you murderer! What do you care what you do to my concession with your rain? It ain't bad enough business would be rotten even without rain, you got to make floods!"
"I'm sorry," the gnome replied, untouched by Greenberg's rhetoric.
"We do not create rainfall for the benefit of men. We are here to protect the fish.
"Now please give me my hat. I have wasted enough time, when I should be preparing the extremely heavy rain needed for this coming week end."
Greenberg jumped to his feet in the unsteady boat. "Rain this week end — when I can maybe make a profit for a change! A lot you care if you ruin business. May you and your fish die a horrible, lingering death."
And he furiously ripped the green hat to pieces and hurled them at the gnome.
"I'm really sorry you did that," the little fellow said calmly, his huge ears treading water without the slightest increase of pace to indicate his anger. "We Little Folk have no tempers to lose. Nevertheless, occasionally we find it necessary to discipline certain of your people, in order to retain our dignity. I am not malignant; but, since you hate water and those who live in it, water and those who live in it will keep away from you."
With his arms still folded in great dignity, the tiny water gnome flipped his vast ears and disappeared in a neat surface dive.
Greenberg glowered at the spreading circles of waves. He did not grasp the gnome's final restraining order; he did not even attempt to interpret it. Instead he glared angrily out of the corner of his eye at the phenomenal circle of rain that fell from a perfectly clear sky. The gnome must have remembered it at length, for a moment later the rain stopped. Like shutting off a faucet, Greenberg unwillingly thought.
"Good-by, week end business," he growled. "If Esther finds out I got into an argument with the guy who makes it rain —"
He made an underhand cast, hoping for just one fish. The line flew out over the water; then the hook arched upward and came to rest several inches above the surface, hanging quite steadily and without support in the air.
"Well, go down in the water, damn you!" Greenberg said viciously, and he swished his rod back and forth to pull the hook down from its ridiculous levitation. It refused.
Muttering something incoherent about being hanged before he'd give in, Greenberg hurled his useless rod at the water. By this time he was not surprised when it hovered in the air above the lake. He merely glanced red-eyed at it, tossed out the remains of the gnome's hat, and snatched up the oars.
When he pulled back on them to row to land, they did not touch the water — naturally. Instead they flashed unimpeded through the air, and Greenberg tumbled into the bow.
"A-ha!" he grated. "Here's where the trouble begins." He bent over the side. As he had suspected, the keel floated a remarkable distance above the lake.
By rowing against the air, he moved with maddening slowness toward shore, like a medieval conception of a flying machine. His main concern was that no one should see him in his humiliating position.
At the hotel, he tried to sneak past the kitchen to the bathroom. He knew that Esther waited to curse him for fishing the day before opening, but more especially on the very day that a nice boy was coming to see her Rosie. If he could dress in a hurry, she might have less to say —
"Oh, there you are, you good-for-nothing!"
He froze to a halt.
"Look at you!" she screamed shrilly. "Filthy — you stink from fish!"
"I didn't catch anything, darling," he protested timidly.
"You stink anyhow. Go take a bath, may you drown in it! Get dressed in two minutes or less, and entertain the boy when he gets here. Hurry!" He locked himself in, happy to escape her voice, started the water in the tub, and stripped from the waist up. A hot bath, he hoped, would rid him of his depressed feeling.
First, no fish; now, rain on week ends! What would Esther say — if she knew, of course. And, of course, he would not tell her.
"Let myself in for a lifetime of curses!" he sneered. "Ha!"
He clamped a new blade into his razor, opened the tube of shaving cream, and stared objectively at the mirror. The dominant feature of the soft, chubby face that stared back was its ugly black stubble; but he set his stubborn chin and glowered. He really looked quite fierce and indomitable. Unfortunately, Esther never saw his face in that uncharacteristic pose, otherwise she would speak more softly.
"Herman Greenberg never gives in!" he whispered between savagely hardened lips. "Rain on week ends, no fish — anything he wants; a lot I care! Believe me, he'll come crawling to me before I go to him."
He gradually became aware that his shaving brush was not getting wet. When he looked down and saw the water dividing into streams that flowed around it, his determined face slipped and grew desperately anxious. He tried to trap the water — by catching it in his cupped hands, by creeping up on it from behind, as if it were some shy animal, and shoving his brush at it — but it broke and ran away from his touch. Then he jammed his palm against the faucet. Defeated, he heard it gurgle back down the pipe, probably as far as the main.
"What do I do now?" he groaned. "Will Esther give it to me if I don't take a shave! But how! ... I can't shave without water."
Glumly, he shut off the bath, undressed, and stepped into the tub. He lay down to soak. It took a moment of horrified stupor to realize that he was completely dry and that he lay in a waterless bathtub. The water, in one surge of revulsion, had swept out onto the floor.
"Herman, stop splashing!" his wife yelled. "I just washed that floor. If I find one little puddle I'll murder you!"
Greenberg surveyed the instep-deep pool over the bathroom floor. "Yes, my love," he croaked unhappily.
With an inadequate washrag he chased the elusive water, hoping to mop it all up before it could seep through to the apartment below. His washrag remained dry, however, and he knew that the ceiling underneath was dripping. The water was still on the floor.
In despair, he sat on the edge of the bathtub. For some time he sat in silence. Then his wife banged on the door, urging him to come out. He started and dressed moodily.
When he sneaked out and shut the bathroom door tightly on the floor inside, he was extremely dirty and his face was raw where he had experimentally attempted to shave with a dry razor.
Excerpted from Modern Classics of Fantasy by Gardner Dozois. Copyright © 1997 Gardner Dozois. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
|Trouble with Water||1|
|The Gnarly Man||18|
|Walk Like a Mountain||44|
|Space-Time for Springers||69|
|The Manor of Roses||182|
|Death and the Executioner||232|
|The Configuration of the North Shore||266|
|The Tale of Hauk||291|
|Manatee Gal Ain't You Coming Out Tonight||309|
|The Sleep of Trees||349|
|The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule||377|
|A Cabin on the Coast||401|
|Flowers of Edo||451|
|Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight||472|
|A Gift of the People||497|
|Bears Discover Fire||522|
|Death and the Lady||540|
|The Changeling's Tale||569|
|Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros||584|
|Beauty and the Opera or the Phantom Beast||602|