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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

A Holiday to Matheran

As we left our holiday cottage, to return home in the city, my wife said, "Look over your shoulder before you leave so that we come back again." Read about our recent trip to Matheran, the forest on the head, and the smallest hill station in India, at B+ve.

February 14, 2014

The Father-Thing by Philip K. Dick, 1954, and Rain, Rain, Go Away by Isaac Asimov, 1959

It’s Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase. Hop over and read the many other reviews there.

Last week I read two short stories by Shirley Jackson that revolved around families and the turmoil within. This week I read two more stories, under sf, that also centered on families and the disparities within. The two sets of stories have a common theme—there is more (to the families) than meets the eye, or as the forward to The Father-Thing by Philip K. Dick notes, “People are not what they seem to be,” giving rise to a sense of foreboding, perhaps even fear. I just happened to read them that way.

“The other one,” Charles was muttering under his breath. “The other one came in.”

In The Father-Thing, young Charlie Walton discovers, to his horror, that his father is not really his father and is, in fact, an alien who looks and behaves just like him, as normal as Ted Walton in every way. With his mother June merely perplexed over his strange behaviour at the dinner table and no one and no place he can really go to, the boy’s mental anguish is at once felt by the reader. Charlie musters up courage and gets two boys from the neighbourhood, one of whom is a local bully, to help him trap the impostor who has invaded his home, killed his father, and destroyed his family. It is touching to see the boy lose his innocence overnight and come to terms with the disintegration of his family and the people he loves.


What happens to Charlie can be seen as a metaphor for both the strange and familiar things that happen to families, like divorces and estrangements that tear children apart and bring their innocent world crashing down, and the unpredictability of domestic life.

The premise of the story, which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Vol.7, No.6, December 1954, has been compared to (Invasion of) The Body Snatchers (1955) by Jack Finney that spawned at least two namesake films in 1956 and 1978 and probably some others too. I read that it was a popular concept at the time.

“She’s always looking at the sky; I've seen her do it a hundred times and she’s never been out when it’s the least bit cloudy.”

In contrast to the above story, Rain, Rain, Go Away is a fun tale about two neighbouring families, the Wrights and the Sakkaros, one seemingly normal and the other seemingly abnormal. Lillian Wright is curious about her new neighbours (in typical fashion, she peeps at them from behind her Venetian blinds) and wants to get to know them better. However, she notices something strange in their behaviour. For instance, she wonders why Mrs. Sakkaro keeps looking at the sky or why the family never steps out even when it’s least cloudy. On the other hand, her husband George is indifferent and would rather sit in front of the television with a king-size coke and watch the ball game. Live and let live is his motto.

But Lillian perseveres and makes friends with Mrs. Sakkaro, if you can call it that. The two families, with sons Tommie Wright and the Sakkaro boy, decide to go out together. The outing has a semblance of authenticity as the Wrights find that their neighbours are cautious and somewhat ill at ease. And then, unexpectedly, a storm comes and it begins to drizzle, the Sakkaros are filled with terror, and the Wrights have no clue what is happening, or what is about to unfold in front of their eyes.

Again, the premise of this story, which appeared in the September 1959 issue of Fantastic Universe, is the same as The Father-Thing—alien invasion being the common thread running through both the short stories that I enjoyed quite a bit. The alien invasion need not necessarily be alien, you know. That's how I saw it. Both the stories are well-written and very readable too.

24 comments:

  1. Love the kind of art on that top magazine cover. That's what I grew up with. So evocative.

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    1. Charles, I have never seen these magazines in physical form but nonetheless I like the covers of most of the sf magazines of yore. The artworks are top-notch.

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  2. A whole lot of Philip K. Dick's work at least verges on horror fiction, Prashant, while some of it (including my favorite of his short stories, "Upon the Dull Earth") is no bones about it horror. As frequently, the scraps one can find online will lead you to finding feasts when you can obtain the collections and anthologies that will give you a more systematic understanding of the literature...

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    1. Todd, I realise I'm in for a rich feast of sf, especially from writers like Philip K. Dick, much of which is available online. I'll make it a point to read Dick's "Upon the Dull Earth" next as I'm in the process of reading many short stories every month.

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  3. And, of course, FANTASTIC UNIVERSE was a magazine that always strived to be F&SF, only with a lower budget. It pretty much felt that way, as a result, with some good stories and a whole lot of notional, readable ones...many of which probably had been submitted to and rejected by F&SF...

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    1. Frankly, in terms of content, I wouldn't know the difference between FANTASTIC UNIVERSE and F&SF though, I guess, the difference would lie in the authors and stories the two magazines published. The contents pages look tempting enough to want to read all the stories.

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  4. So far, there have been four "admitted" film versions of Finney's THE BODY SNATCHERS...and any number which have taken some cues from the novel or the films.

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    1. Todd, I remember seeing the 1978 version of THE BODY SNATCHERS though I wouldn't be able to mention any specifics. I'm interested in reading Finney's novel and find out what he is actually trying to say.

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  5. Asimov made a deal with editors of the smaller-budget magazines...if they could pay him the same rate as the wealthier magazines, usually 3c/word, he'd sell them a story. If they wanted to, they could also reject the story, let him take to the wealthier magazines, and if they didn't buy it, he would resubmit it to FANTASTIC UNIVERSE or SCIENCE FICTION STORIES and take the (usually 1c/word) pay rate they would usually pay contributors. But Asimov's name, as well as his fiction, was apparently always valuable enough to the smaller magazines that he was accepted on the first offer to the less-well-off markets...so a number of his better and more important stories first appeared in relatively poorly-circulated magazines.

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    1. Todd, thanks for narrating that interesting bit of information about Asimov. I scarcely know sf authors and their work. Hopefully, 2014 will be better than the previous years as far as reading of sf is concerned. I may continue to focus on short stories.

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  6. Prashant, you chose two very special stories. Whenever I bought a SF magazine with Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov on the cover, I dropped everything and read their stories. They are two very different writers, but both knew how to tell a story. Todd's right about the economics of selling to those lower-tier magazines during those times.

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    1. George, thank you. Todd has added great value to this post and I'm grateful to him. I noticed the different writing styles of Issac Asimov and Philip K. Dick, both of whom wrote these stories in a simple and lucid style. I was happy I could understand them.

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  7. For many, many years I thought "The Father Thing" was the scariest story I'd ever read. I sure scared the hell out of me when I read it the first time, as a kid. The whole thing just felt dark, molasses thick and frightening.

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    1. Richard, it would probably have scared me too had I read it as a kid. SF opens up all kinds of possibilities, as I'm still discovering to my delight.

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  8. I've always learned something about the writing life or the human condition from Philip K. Dick. Or appreciated the angle at which he approached a particular subject.

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    1. David, I'll have to be more discerning when reading sf and fantasy. To me, so far they're just stories, to be read and enjoyed.

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  9. "The Father Thing" sounds good and creepy. I'll have to dip into some of the Dick collections now that I'm getting more interested in short stories.

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    1. Kelly, "The Father-Thing" is creepy, I agree. To put a stamp of realism on the story, it's like a young boy who one day discovers that his father is a criminal, perhaps a murderer, and not the hero he knew him to be.

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  10. Prashant, I haven't read any Philip K. Dick (or at least I don't remember anything by him) and I would like to try a novel or some stories. Asimov I have read, and want to read more of. These stories sound interesting...

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    1. Tracy, I hadn't read Philip K. Dick before and only have a vague recollection of Isaac Asimov. One of the nice things about sf stories is that length-wise many of them are shorter than a lot of stories in other genres. I'm hoping to read sf novels too.

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  11. Fascinating double bill Prashant (and I love the covers too) - I remember liking both of these, way back when from the mists of time ...

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    1. Sergio, thank you very much. I ought to have read these stories way back too but, as they say, it's never too late and I'm discovering new sf treasures almost every day.

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  12. Glad you enjoyed them Prashant, but I won't be seeking them out.....maybe your next spolighters?

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    1. Col, thank you. I'm fairly new to sf and there is much I have to read.

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