Dipping my toes in

Two Tales and Eight Tomorrows
by Harry Harrison

Having noticed that my last two book club reads were a tad heavy on the religion front, Tim recommended that I read the Harry Harrison short story “The streets of Ashkelon” and dug it out for me. It happened to be the first story in this collection and I enjoyed it so much I carried on reading the rest of the book.

This was my first experience of Harry Harrison (I think) and I was impressed. Each story has a unique, often complex sci-fi setting but the tales told are very human, accessible and warm. The details of space transport or alien beings are given but not lingered over, except where they are a plot point.

I liked every story but I can see why the blurb on the back cover picks out two in particular. “The streets of Ashkelon” looks at a peaceful, literal-minded alien race who have no concept of gods or religion, until man intervenes. It is an awful and thought-provoking parable. “I always do what teddy says” is just as chilling as that title suggests. Every child has a teddy bear that is programmed by the government to teach children everything from manners to morals. Which is clever but terrifying and, of course, though the idea behind it is to create a better world, there is the potential for a frightening level of manipulation.

My other favourites were “Captain Bedlam” – in which the precise details of space travel are kept a closely guarded secret from the public and space pilot Captain Jonathon Bork feels a complete fraud but can never tell anyone why – and “Rescue operation”, in which an alien falls into the ocean near the coast of a very rural Yugoslav village and visiting astrophysicist Dr Kukovic must cope with narrow-minded fear and lack of provisions in his attempt to keep the alien alive.

There was a certain tendency toward military characters, but that is really my only qualm about these stories and I look forward to reading more from Tim’s vast Harry Harrison collection.

This anthology first published 1965 by Victor Gollancz.
A publication history of each story can be found on Harrison’s website.