(CLASSIC: first published in The Second Astounding Science Fiction Anthology selected by John W Campbell Jr, Grayson & Grayson)
I’ve never read anything else by Dolton Edwards, but this short-short story does what all really good science fiction should do, which is to act as a mind-altering substance. He takes the simplest of ideas, in this case George Bernard Shaw’s campaign for a simplified alphabet, and in just three pages has you learning and reading a new language. Here’s the last line: “Even Mr Yaw, wi beliv, wud have been hapi in ce noleg cat his drims fainali keim tru.”
(MODERN: from Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Brian Aldiss, Penguin)
The 1950s for me was the golden age of science fiction. Almost every weekend I’d pick up second-hand copies of Galaxy, Analog and Astounding Science Fiction from Rochdale indoor market for ninepence each (that’s nine old pennies) and enjoy a feast of reading. Every issue had a star name or maybe two or three: Philip K Dick, Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Poul Anderson, Clifford Simak – including some top-calibre British writers too, such as John Wyndham, Brian Aldiss, John Brunner, and one of my particular favourites, E C Tubb. Robert Sheckley was in that exalted company, and while I’ve forgotten the plots of most of the stories I read in those days, his “The Store of the Worlds” has stayed with me, vividly, its fiendish cleverness (in a good sense) and dramatic impact undiminished after fifty years. (Incidentally, to show how abundantly blessed we were from all quarters in that decade, it appeared originally in Playboy under the title “World of Heart’s Desire”. So, centre-spread in full colour and brilliant SF! What more could a growing boy want?). Without giving away the story’s central conceit, it’s difficult to go into much detail – except to say it’s set in a post-apocalyptic landscape – and as I don’t want to spoil it for you, I won’t. But I’m pretty certain I can guarantee (no, make that dead certain) that the minute you come to the end you’ll go back to the beginning and read it again to see how the devil Sheckley pulled off such a neat trick of fictional magic, and marvel at the seemingly effortless skill it took to do it.
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