Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, June 22, 2018


Weeping May Tarry by Raymond F. Jones and Lester del Rey (1978)

Let's talk a little about Lester del Rey (1915-1993), the feisty and opinionated talented writer/editor who was named a Grand Master by The Science Fiction Writers of America in 1990, the eleventh to hold that title.

Much of what del Rey claimed about his past was pure fabrication.  He claimed his full name was Ramon Filipe San Juan Mario Silvio Enrico Smith Heathcote-Brace Sierra y Alverez-del Rey y Los Uerdes, that he was partially of Spanish extraction, the son of a poor sharecropper whose parents, brother, and sister were killed in an automobile accident in 1935.  Actually, his name was Leonard Knapp and it was his first wife who was killed in the 1935 accident and not his birth family.  If memory serves, he claimed he wrote his first story as a teenager when challenged to do so by a girlfriend.  His first story was published in 1938.  (He also claimed that, since he was fifteen, he had not gone without sex with a woman for more than five consecutive days.)  He served as the model for "Emmanuel Rubin" in Isaac Asimov's long-running series about the Black Widowers dining club, having been a member (with Asimov) of the real-life Trap Door Spiders banqueting club.

Del Rey was a gifted writer and editor.  Many of his early stories became classics -- "Helen O'Loy," "Nerves," "the Coppersmith," "The Luck of Ignatz," and others.  He showed that he could write with amazing sensitivity or with brutal realism.  Many of his books were well-regard juveniles, often in the Winston "Adventures in Science Fiction" series.  (Reportedly, many of the plots used in that series were devised by del Rey and Milton lesser while they were working for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.)  As editor, he helmed five SF magazines in the early Fifties; he put out five Best of the Year science fiction anthologies for Dutton (1972-76); selected the 45 volumes of the Garland Library of Science Fiction in 1975; he joined his fourth wife Judy-Lynn del Rey to edit fantasy books for her del Rey science fiction line for Ballantine Books in 1977 (yes, he was the one who inflicted Terry Brooks' Shannara upon an innocent populace)  and also edited the science fiction books for that line after his wife's death until he retired in 1991.

Del Rey's writing, while still effective, diminished in quality during the later part of his career.  Six novels published as by del Rey were ghost-written by Paul W. Fairman from extensive outlines by del Rey.

Which brings us to Raymond F. Jones (1915-1994), who published a slew of capable science fiction stories in the Forties and Fifties, including the well-regarded Renaissance and This Island Earth.  In his 1950 story "Tools of the Trade," Jones became the first to posit 3-D printing, calling it "molecular spray."  His writing and enthusiasm seemed to dry up in the Sixties.  He published three novels in Roger Elwood's ill-fated Laser Book series from Harlequin in the Seventies, as well a ten undistinguished short stories.  Weeping May Tarry appears to be one of the last science fiction stories that Jones wrote.  (He had at least one additional story published after Weeping May Tarry, "Death Eternal" in the October 1978 issue of Fantastic.)

In 1954, del Rey published a controversial novella, "For I Am a Jealous People!," in which God basically throws His hands up with humanity and selects another "chosen people," an alien race which then comes to Earth to destroy mankind...but god may have underestimated man.

Weeping May Tarry is a thematic -- though not direct -- sequel to del Rey's novella.  I have no idea what or how much input del Rey had on this novel -- whether del Rey physically wrote part of the book, or provided an outline for the novel, or just provided the theme through his earlier story.  The writing in Weeping May Tarry is journeyman-like but uninspired.  Basically it is a swan song from two talented writers.

A millennia ago, the planet Alcor avoided a self-destructive war that had destroyed many other civilizations on various worlds and at various times throughout the galaxy.  At that time the religion of the Keelong was formed and its wide-spread practice saved Alcor.  Alcor became ruled by a theocracy, with control given to the Supreme Hierarchy, the only group that was privy to many of the religion's secrets.  Alcorans did not know if the Keelong itself was a divine entity or an incorporate something; what was known was that the planet and its people survive because of daily, rigorous obeisance.  The high priests (and enforcers) of this religion were the Amas.  Any undertakings had to be approved by an assigned Ama, such as Toreg, a hard-liner assigned to the spaceship Prohorus -- one of many ships sent throughout space to promulgate the Keelong and to investigate any planets that were destroyed by inner warfare.

After visiting the ruined planet Zenk 12, Prohorus's astrogators stumbled on a nearby and unknown planet that was just off from the ship's scheduled flight.  While entering that planet's atmosphere, an accident happened that left the ship and crew abandoned on the unknown planet with no way to contact Alcor or any ship.  The planet, we soon learn, is Earth -- once home of ten billion people and now an unpopulated orb in space.  The ship's commander, Cromar, and its captain, Mohre, determine to make the best of their abandonment.  The crew would begin to make a permanent home on the planet and -- just in case they were to be rescued -- their original assignment would be carried out.

Among the ruins of a city, they come across a large building obviously constructed for an important purpose.  Hanging on a wall was a horrendous statue of a tortured man, bloody and nailed to a cross.  The Alcorans cannot understand this display of brutality.  They assume the building must be a "War Building" and the statue must represent one of the horror committed by their enemies.  They also found a book, intact, with a symbol of a cross on its cover.

Ama Toreg struggles with life on their new planet and with the fading beliefs in the Keelong by the ship's crew.  Strangely, it is Toreg who provides the clue that allows the book to be slowly translated by the ship's highly sophisticated computer.  Each day a few more lines are translated and read to the crew.  For its part, the crew seems more interested in (and more impressed by) what is in the book than in the Keelong.  Somehow Toreg must suppress the book and the statue if he is to save the Keelong from the rapidly disbelieving crew.

What happens then?  Hint:  the ending is about what you would expect.

Oh.  And there is subplot (actually just a few offhand references) about a supposed revolution against the Keelong.

The Keelong religion and Alcor's stratified society are as well-developed as possible without going into great detail.  The Alcorans, as a race, however, raise many questions for the reader.  They appear to be a reptilian race, but appear to be warm-blooded.  Alcor is much warmer than Earth and has never had snow.  The approach of winter and its blizzards leave the Alcorans fearful and mystified, although they are able to survive in this strange white substance that has covered the ground.  Their reactions, their motives, and their feelings are all too strangely human, as are their family relationships.  It is as if the authors could not be bothered to create an alien race beyond a few scales, rudimentary tails, and strangely colored eyes.  In short, the Alcorans are basically pulp fiction cardboard cutouts with some religious mania added.

Neither this nor the plot's sappy premise should deter you.  It is not a bad read and might have become a classic had it been published in the Thirties or Forties, rather than in the somewhat more sophisticated Seventies.


  1. For what it's worth, "Death Eternal" was the first Raymond Jones story I read, in that same issue of FANTASTIC that has Wallace West's last story. Both of them struck me at the time as Not Bad, the West story perhaps a scrap better...but I don't think I could cite a single incident from either. Probably the worst story by some distance Grania Davis ever published was the cover story of that issue, I can closely paraphrase from that...and the best stories in that issue were those by Janet Fox and by Bill Pronzini and Barry Malzberg, so there is that...

    The Paul Fairman ghost jobs, or at least THE RUNAWAY ROBOT, the only one I tried (several times) to read more than the opening passage of, were indeed dire. Happily, I had already read some good Del Rey around that time, and so was ready for "Nerves" (never have read the novel-expansion) and "Day is Done"...a real pity he apparently could never find his lost Just-So story he mentions in THE EARLY DEL REY.

    Thanks for the pointer here!

  2. I'm a big fan of the Ballantine edition of THE BEST OF LESTER DEL REY that was published in 1978. Del Rey was an underrated writer.