Readers Union Group of Book Clubs, 1979, 174 p
I missed this book when it was published in the 1970s and picked it up recently in a charity book sale in St Andrews.
Wilhelm was one of the few women who had a relatively high profile in SF in the 1960s and 70s. She continues to be active as a writer.
The stories in this collection tend to straddle the boundary between SF and Fantasy but the emphasis is usually on the effects on the characters in the story of whatever strangeness is involved rather than on the speculative component itself.
Anæsthetist Janet Matthews (Wilhelm uses the word anesthesiologist) who works in New York has returned to her home town of Somerset for her summer break. Since a dam was built in her late childhood Somerset has become a backwater cul-de-sac and most of the people who live there are ageing. A group of dream researchers headed by the unsympathetic Dr Staunton wishes to use the locals to test a theory that city dreams and rural dreams are of a different character. The locals are suspicious and Janet acts as a link between the town and the researchers. As time goes by it becomes apparent that the dreams in Somerset are of an unusual nature.
A man has to stay overnight in a snowbound bus station with wonky heating as the snowdrifts get higher against the door. The woman who is also there brings back memories of his marriage and his time in the Korean War.
An exploratory party is scouting out a new planet, very Earth-like but with no dominant predator. Two of the group have committed suicide and the rest suffer a fear that appears to have no cause.
Mrs Bagley Goes to Mars
Mrs Bagley, taken for granted by her family, announces one day she is going to Mars. (She may be imagining things.) Mars is not entirely to her liking and she informs the locals they have been misinformed. She tells them that female earthmen don’t defecate. They, “go to the little girl’s room, or the powder room, or ladies’ room. They freshen up, or wash their hands, or fix their make-up, but they never shit.” She opts for Ganymede instead.
A girl grows up in Beacham, Indiana. Her mother dies when she is young and her best friend’s mother, Mrs McInally, takes her under her wing. The friendship fractures as Mrs McInally becomes ill.
Ladies and Gentlemen, This Is Your Crisis
Presciently (the story was first published in 1976) this features a compulsive survival game show – slogan This is Your Crisis! – which has people with various kinds of psychiatric need trekking through Alaska (the week before it might have been the Andes) to win one million dollars. The split screens it looks best on are huge and take fifteen years to pay off. Viewers Lottie and Butcher bicker all the way through the programme, which lasts a whole weekend, distracting them from their lives.
A woman whose husband has lost his job at the age of 49 and subsequently moved the family to the farm he buys finds herself the object of fascination of two mysterious dogs who will let no-one else near them.
State of Grace
The things in her tree are destroying the narrator’s marriage as her husband Howard knows there is something there but can’t actually see them. Nor can anyone else he hires to find them. And when he tries to cut it down with a chainsaw he hallucinates cutting his leg off.