Thursday, October 11, 2018

"Lord Randy, My Son" (1967)

Joe L. Hensley was proud of this story in 1967, saying in his share of the introduction and also in his afterword that it's the best he ever wrote. It's icy, clinical, and brutal. But I was also distracted by the similarity it bears to Jerome Bixby's famous 1953 story "It's a Good Life." Both are about mutant children with mysterious powers and both rely for a lot of their terrifying effect on how brutal and animal-like human beings are under the age of 5. In both cases the kid's massive powers are beyond his own development. There's more sympathy for the kid here—Randall, never Randy except in the title—but still it goes down much the same path. Randall is considered developmentally disabled by most. It's not clear how aware Randall's father Sam is of Randall's powers. The mother has already committed suicide at the time of the story, which is suggestive, though her reasons if she gave any are not told. One line makes it sound as if Randall is 11 now, but at the mental age of 3 (or at least that's what people think). He uses creative ways to slaughter people who have done wrong ("fallen into a well no one had even known existed in the corner lot"), which has its brief satisfactions. But mostly this story struck me as pointless beyond the premise. "It's a Good Life" works all the elements better. Hensley has a fierce imagination—Harlan Ellison's introduction paints him as a kind of Hunter S. Thompson type before we really knew Thompson—and he's got a handful of set pieces for this story that work pretty well. They just have nowhere to go. Randall gets a recurring line that's respectably haunting ("I am young"), but the resolution is more or less a protracted sense of ominous clouds on the horizon. Hensley could imagine how this apocalypse started but not how it ended. He leaves that to us, which can be a good device. No one can imagine the worst like a reader left to fill in the blanks. Except that here there is too much left blank and not enough for the imagination to work with.

Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison

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