Friday, 18 October 2013

The Draw by Jerome Bixby, 1954

This Friday, George Kelley takes over the reins of Forgotten Books from Patti Abbott. You can check out the links to many reviews of early and not so early fiction at his blog

Stories of the old West were filled with bad men who lived by the speed of their gun hand. Well, meet Buck Tarrant, who could outdraw them all. His secret: he didn't even have to reach for his weapon...

Illustrations by William Ashman
Buck Tarrant was a terrific shot, once he got his gun in his hand. Until then, he could only dream of taking Billy the Kid and “Wild Bill” Hickok and being the fastest gun from Mexico to Canada.

“He couldn't draw to save his life.”

And then one day something happens. Tarrant is practicing in front of a tree, pretending the tree is Billy the Kid, crouching, fumbling, drawing, shooting, when Joe Doolin, a local cowhand and narrator of the story, comes along on horseback. Mimicking the folks in the little town in Texas, Doolin pokes fun at Tarrant and nearly falls off his saddle when out of nowhere he sees the gun in the hands of the “bony runt of about eighteen.”

“I swear, I hadn't even seen his hand move, he'd drawn so fast! That gun just practically appeared in his hand!”

The story appeared in Amazing Stories,
March 1954
Suddenly, Doolin finds himself at the receiving end of Tarrant’s Peacemaker and his foul mouth. The terrified narrator knows he is a goner. But, the no-good kid with bulging eyes, a wide mouth, and buck teeth has other plans: he wants revenge against the townsfolk and he wants to prove he is the fastest gun alive. He orders the cowhand to run into town and tell Sheriff Ben Randolph that he, Tarrant, is coming for him.

The sheriff, who had collared the wayward boy on a few occasions, has two choices—he faces Tarrant or he gets out of town. Randolph decides to confront Tarrant. He is brave and quick on the draw but is he a match for the wild and reckless ‘gunman’?


That afternoon, Tarrant, looking ugly and fearsome, rides into the deserted town and goes into the Once Again Saloon for some free “likker” and a little fun at the expense of Menner, its owner, who had turned him out a couple of times. He uses the poor bartender’s ears for target practice.

“You know,” Buck said, grinning at how Menner's fear was crawling all over his face, “I can put a bullet right where I want to. Wanta see me do it?”

The twist in the tale comes in the form of Jacob Pratt, a professor of psychology who is passing through town on his way to San Francisco and, unlikely as it may seem, is at that moment sitting in the saloon nursing a drink. He finds out the reason behind Buck Tarrant’s newly-acquired speed with the gun: telekinesis. Tarrant thinks his gun into his hand and thinks it back into its holster.


“He just thinks his gun into his hand?”
“Exactly.”
“Faster than anyone could ever draw it?”
“Inconceivably faster. The time element is almost non-existent.”


If you want to know what happens to the gunfight between Buck Tarrant and Sheriff Ben Randolph, then you should read this very unusual 7,114-worded story. It’s fast-paced and entertaining all the way to the end.

Final word
Jerome Bixby has written a story with a time-tested theme, of a half-crazed cowboy who desperately wants to prove he is the deadliest gunman, and added a scientific element to it. The author’s work in science fiction may have inspired the tale. If Bixby meant to experiment, then he succeeds very well. He doesn’t tell us in which year or period the story is based. Given the setting, I'm assuming it is well before 1890, the year the term “telekinesis” was officially coined. In that sense, The Draw is before its time. Either way, the story is improbable but imaginative and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.


About the author
Jerome Bixby (1923-1998) was an American short story writer, editor and scriptwriter. However, he was best known as a science fiction writer. Below are five important things about Bixby.
 

Photo source: www.imdb.com
1. He wrote short stories, including sf and westerns, under his own name as well as pen names like D.B. Lewis, Harry Neal, Albert Russell, J. Russell, M. St. Vivant, Thornecliff Herrick, and Alger Rome.

2. He was the editor of Planet Stories and Two Complete Science Adventure Books.

3. He wrote the 1953 story It's a Good Life which became an episode of The Twilight Zone and was later included in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).

4. He wrote four episodes for the Star Trek series and co-wrote the story for Fantastic Voyage (1966), the classic sf movie based on a novel by Isaac Asimov.


5. He completed the screenplay of The Man From Earth in his final days. In 2007, it was made into a film, produced by his son Emerson Bixby and directed by Richard Schenkman.

You can read more about Drexel Jerome Lewis Bixby at Wikipedia, sfsite, and Weird Fiction Review. Todd Mason has often written about the writer at his blog Sweet Freedom.

24 comments:

  1. Prashant - how does it end? I think you need to spill the beans or at least give me a heads-up on where I can read this, otherwise you not playing fair!

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    1. Col, I'm not going to tell you how it ends but I can tell you where you can read it—Project Gutenberg or Archive.org—which is one and the same thing. I'm looking for some of Bixby's other western stories. He writes very well. There is also subtle humour in his writing.

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    2. Col, I'd be interested to know what you think.

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  2. "Alger Rome" was actually the collaborations between Algis Budrys and Jerome Bixby...the pseudonym was a reconstruction of "Al/Jerome"..."It's a Good Life," his most famous short story by some distance, has become so famous that hardly anyone remembers he wrote it (rather like another TZ adaptation, "To Serve Man," based on the short story by Damon Knight.

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  3. Oh, and Asimov's novel FANTASTIC VOYAGE is based on the script and the treatment Bixby wrote...it was a novelization of the film. Thanks for the pointer to my blog, btw!

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    1. Todd, you're welcome. I hope to read both Jerome Bixby's IT'S A GOOD LIFE and his other sf as well as Isaac Asimov's novel FANTASTIC VOYAGE.

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  4. Great post, Prashant. Jerome Bixby should definitely be remembered for authoring the brilliant screenplay for THE MAN FROM EARTH - one of my all time favorite sci/fi films. I'm glad you noted that on your post. I hadn't realized he'd written so many other things besides.

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    1. Yvette, thank you! I'm not very familiar with Jerome Bixby and his work though I have read about him on Todd's blog and some other blogs as well. I'll probably watch THE MAN FROM EARTH on the internet.

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  5. Bixby certainly qualified as a forgotten writer. Until recently there were only three books by Bixby: the collections SPACE BY THE TAIL (1964), which included this story, and DEVIL'S SCRAPBOOK (1964), which was reprinted ten years later as CALL FOR AN EXOCIST, and the Star Trek "Fotonovel" DAY OF THE DOVE (1978). In 2011, a print-on-demand collection of 18 stories became available, "ONE WAY STREET" AND OTHER STORIES. He was a good writer and a good editor.

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    1. Jerry, thank you very much for bringing all of those Jerome Bixby books to my notice. He has quite a following, especially among sf fans. His superior writing is evident in just this one story I read.

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  6. Very interesting post, Prashant. I am not familiar with Bixby and he sounds so versatile. Thanks for all this information.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy! In spite of reading about Bixby on the internet, he was a new find for me too. I'm keen to read some of his work in sf.

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  7. You know, I don't think I've read another western, aside from this hybrid (and AMAZING was an sf magazine, for the most part, of course) by Bixby, though I've enjoyed his collections SPACE BY THE TAIL and THE DEVIL'S SCRAPBOOK, and he left Love Romances Publishing (where he worked on, and vastly improved, PLANET STORIES and helped found 2 COMPLETE SCIENCE-ADVENTURE BOOKS...still my least favorite sf magazine title in terms of awkwardness...

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  8. but it published some interesting issues)...he left Love Romances and worked at STARTLING STORIES and THRILLING WONDER STORIES, writing among other things fanzine reviews, and then onto the GALAXY group, working (I think) on the Galaxy Novels and otherwise being one of the many short-term assistant editors to H. L. Gold...

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    1. Todd, I didn't think he wrote any other western either for I didn't find any. It looks to me as if he wrote down this story one lazy Sunday afternoon. I'll be looking out for TWO COMPLETE SCIENCE ADVENTURE BOOKS and whatever else I can find online.

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  9. I'll need to look for that third collection Jerry House mentions...and if I see the Bixby reviews online, Prashant, I'll point them out to you (I know a few are up here or there).

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    1. Todd, thank you for all the valuable inputs on Jerome Bixby and his work and the offer to pass on any reviews you might come across. I'll do the same.

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  10. What a fascinating story. I really want to know what happens. It's too bad that the writer didn't write more stories.

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    1. Clarissa, THE DRAW is a fascinating story. I liked the concept. I guess it's not easy to pull off a hybrid story (as Todd notes) that reads like your regular western and yet isn't.

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    1. Ron, thank you! Jerome Bixby has written the story very convincingly.

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  12. Thanks for this Prashant - it sounds quite similar to a classic Twilight Zone script by Rod Serling, "Mr. Denton on Doomsday", which you can watch here:
    http://vimeo.com/39788990

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    1. You're welcome, Sergio. Thanks for the link to the TWILIGHT ZONE classic. Bixby was, I think, indirectly involved with the series, one of his stories "It's A Good Life" becoming an episode and a movie. Todd has referred to the series in his comments above.

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