Damon Knight


Joe Wehrle, Jr. at Clarion

Where is Janice Gantry?

Excerpt from “The Creative Works of Joe Wehrle, Jr.” from The Digest Enthusiast No. 8, June 2018. His story, “Kromaflies,” appears in The Digest Enthusiast No. 10, June 2019. (Quotes gleaned from Joe’s interviews or correspondence.)

In 1968, Robin Scott Wilson organized the first Clarion Writers’ Workshop for fantasy and science fiction at the Clarion State College in Pennsylvania. The staff of visiting lecturers during its first year included Judith Merril, Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Kate Wilhelm, and Damon Knight. Joe Wehrle, Jr. was one of several students lucky enough to attend.

“When I attended the workshop in 1968 (with Karen and five-month-old Jill outside on a blanket among the trees),” Joe said, “Harlan Ellison told us, ‘I know we’re talking science fiction writing here, but if you want to study a really good modern writing style, you guys should be reading John D. MacDonald.’ Two I particularly remember enjoying are Dead Low Tide and Where is Janice Gantry, and his dozen or so Travis McGee stories are all very good too. The last one, The Lonely Silver Rain, is compelling, because, along with the mystery, Travis discovers and gets to know a daughter he had no idea existed.”

While at the workshop, Joe told me in 2010: “I wrote a story called ‘Kromaflies,’ which Robin Scott Wilson liked, Fritz Leiber felt showed that I had put a lot of thought into the development of the society I wrote about, and Harlan Ellison pretty much hated, although he did agree I was a ‘plotter,’ which was high praise from Harlan, who had no patience with anyone who wrote off the top of their head with no object in mind.”

Joe’s bibliography appears on the Larque Press website.


Juliette Raabe’s Cyclical Housewife

ISF No. 2 page 44From International Science Fiction No. 2 (June 1968):

From France, “Notes From a Cyclical Housewife’s Diary” by Juliette Raabe, is translated by Damon Knight. Told entirely in diary entries, only backwards, in an opposite universe.

We’re going to sit down at the table. I lay out the dirty plates and silverware that were piled in the sink. Roger brings in the full garbage can.

A clever, sometimes confusing story, that remains curious and entertaining because the author, rightly, kept it short—to five pages. She obviously had fun writing it. One entry reads: “I like fish better than a cat; I don’t know why, cats give me willies.” Oppositely, Juliette Raabe (b. 1929) created a massive anthology celebrating the little beasties: The Illustrated Library of the Cat, in 1977. Prior to that she wrote two books, Brain Teasers (1967) and The Game of the Awélé (1972).

ISF1: Uranus

International Science Fiction No. 1, page 47From International Science Fiction No. 1, from France, Damon Knight translates Michel Ehrwein’s story, “Uranus” from Fiction #88 (March 1961), which also happened to include Knight’s own “The Enemy” (“L’Ennemi” in French).

Michel Ehrwein (b. 1934) wrote numerous stories for the publications Satellite and Fiction from 1958 to 1964, and after reading “Uranus” I wish more of his work had been translated for digests across the pond. It’s a terrific story, told primarily in narrative, perhaps to grant readers some distance from its characters’ heart-breaking story.

A pair of deep space astronauts are orbiting Uranus from the safety of an hermetically sealed station. They lose themselves in their work and countless hours of tuning the radio for scraps of transmissions from other research stations around Saturn and Jupiter, Mars, and on occasion even Earth, Venus and Mercury.

Then came a long series of personal messages. Belzard wanted to hear from Fairbanks. Oths was trying to get in touch again with Mercanson, on Io. Su-Chang’s mother had just died. Weeks, taken ill, had had to be brought to Mars from Delmos on a special flight; then he had died on the trip.

The loneliness and isolation of the furthest outpost is made cold and clear. Then, catastrophe strikes.

The sun had entered a phase of intense activity. The Mercury observatory, which specialized in solar research, had tried to measure it, to encompass it in numbers. At the end of two days, their apparatus lost its usefulness. It was not calibrated high enough. Other observatories hastily took an interest
in the phenomenon, equipped themselves, installed new instruments. All the observatories led to the same conclusion: a gigantic solar flare, on a scale previously unknown, with monstrous prominences.

Radiation sweeps out across the system, devastating all civilization in its path. Rial and Greff hear the fall and wonder if its reach will extend nineteen times farther from the sun than Earth.