27 November 2005

Persistence vs chance

A couple of decades ago I read an SF/horror short story that scared the hell out of me. So much so that the memory of the story stayed with me, nagged at me. Recently I decided I wanted to track it down again and re-read it, to see if it really was as good as I remembered.

That’s when the trouble started. I knew the plot—which to avoid spoiling the delights of the story, I won’t discuss further—but I didn’t know the author, or the title. Clearly it was going to be a tough task.

I remembered that the title was a single word, and meant something like ‘gate’, ‘portal’, or ‘window’. I hoped that I’d be able to search on keywords relevant to the plot that people might have discussed, and then narrow down the possibilities based on whether the title was approximately right.

Fat chance. I spent a few fruitless hours searching, including browsing through databases of SF short story synopses. No luck. Eventually I gave up.

Tonight, by chance, I watched an episode of Dangerous Visions that the TiVo had picked up. The first story was remarkably similar to the plot I remembered, so I went back and watched the opening credits again and picked out the author name: Robert Leman.

More searching, more nothing. Then, a revelation and success: the TV show changed the title of the story, and the name of the author—they called him Robert, but he writes under the name Bob. A minute or two later I had the full details of the story I remembered.

It’s “Window” by Bob Leman, written in 1980. It was a Nebula Award finalist, but didn’t win. It has been published in at least two anthologies: The 1981 Annual World’s Best SF edited by Donald A. Wollheim, and The Best Horror Stories From The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume I (1989). I read it in the first of those, and there are copies going on Amazon dirt cheap.

So, my recommendation to anyone who likes SF and/or horror: pick up a copy of World’s Best SF 1981, even if only for that one story. Don’t look up a synopsis of the story or anything, just spend $1 on a copy on the off chance. If it has stuck in my mind for 20 years and almost won a Nebula, it must be worth $1.

There’s also a Bob Leman anthology, Feesters in the Lake, but it’s about $36, which is a bit much.

The story was retitled “A View Through The Window”, if you want to track down the Night Visions TV version. I recommend against doing so, though.

© mathew 2017