WHY THE VAN PELT CHRISTMAS TREE WAS BARE THIS YEAR
“Awright, who’s next on the list?”
“Uh…, Van Pelt Dale, Van Pelt, Van Pelt…ah. James Van Pelt---“
“Nuthin. He gets nuthin’!”
“You haven’t even looked at his file yet.”
"Imbecile! This is THE Van Pelt, for your information. Author of a superb story, "The Safety of the Herd," In the January 02 ASIMOV'S."
"I haven't read it yet."
"Well, you better sit down when you do. Marvelous stuff. Set in the near future, the story examines the consequences of an overpopulated---and hence overcrowded---civilization. You might think Harry Harrison exhausted this topic in his novel MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! But JVP tackles the situation in a completely different way, and considering that he uses about 5200 words, brings it off just as well as Harrison did. JVP's brevity does not sacrifice intensity of effect or conviction that yes, this is how it could happen. I won't say much about the plot except to tell you that it hinges on how different animal species react to crowding. I knew the facts JVP extrapolated from---and I didn't extrapolate from them. The "Of course!" response was very strong, another sign that JVP has written another winner. Maybe even a prizewinner. Finally I thought his portrait of the overcrowded world compared very favorably with the way the cyberpunks tried to portray their similar urban future. Gibson's method has many merits, but it's often felt like the proverbial kitchen sink (complete with Drano and plunger) flying at you, and you don't have time to get out of the way. The lack of stylistic pyrotechnics means JVP can't dazzle us, which makes his success all the more remarkable. Readers will remember for a long time.
"He gets nuthin'. NOT-A-DAM-THING. Right?"
"Not one thing!"
"Okay, who's next---"
The door crashed open, in the best cliched tradition. But it wasn't the sheriff or the villain of this piece. The red nose and the ten gallon stomach would have given the casting director fits. Santa Claus stormed forward and snatched the list out of Greg Koster's hand. "Gimme that," Claus bellowed. "Aha! Thought so! NOTHING for James Van Pelt? NOTHING AT ALL? 'NOT-A-DAM-THING?'" Greg Koster thought it remarkable how old Fat Boy could be so quiet on his feet. Even if he did have the conference room bugged, no one had heard Claus's feet as they raced toward the conference room door. The old boy WAS on top of things.
"I hired you because I thought your experience on the Book Selection Committee of the Fresno County Free Library would be valuable in helping me determine who HAS been naughty or nice. Instead I find you and your gang of blacklegs---" He glared at the anonymous committee members who knew who they were, even if the libel laws keep the rest of us from knowing. "---your gang of blacklegs CONTINUE to pursue a private vendetta. Most ineptly, I might add."
"Well how the hell are we supposed to sell stuff to ASIMOV'S or F&SF with the likes of JVP and his turbine powered writing machine working twenty two hours a day?" whined GK.
"It's simple. Write a good story." The sour looks this brought from the committee stirred Claus to bellows of laughter, which did not sound one bit like the jolly HoHoHos the media heard, but would have unplugged that drain that Gibson had heaved at them nine paragraphs back.
"Van Pelt goes back to his natural place---the A list--and as for the rest of you---" Claus's gaze sandblasted the shoeleather consciences of the committee. "--back to work!" The door crashed shut.
The committee members stared dolefully at each other, each waiting for someone to let them in out of the rain. Nobody messed with sort of edict. Not with Claus, baby. As usual, Greg Koster's talent for never knowing when to quit came up with the solution.
"Okay, his wife and kids DON'T get nuthin'. They'll devil and torment him, and give the rest of us a chance."
The committee cheered and promptly went to work: "Where's all those other authors?"
THE END (until JVP publishes another story I like) copyright 2001 by Gregory Koster
This article appeared originally as a posting on the "I Come to Praise Ceasar" topic of the Speculations Rumor Mill, November 25, 2001. Reprinted by the author's permission.
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