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October/November 2000
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

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Editorial - October/November 2000
by Gordon Van Gelder

This month's stories---especially those by Kate Wilhelm, Lewis Shiner, and Alex Irvine---got me thinking again about one of the questions that has been nagging me for the past year or so:

What ever happened to the mythical omnicompetent man?

I'm sure you remember the guy: he was a good square fellow, an affable everyman who usually held down a fairly unremarkable job. He wasn't any sort of a superhero, had no magical powers, but he was always prepared and always knew the right answer, never took a sick day for health reasons, was always familiar with the latest technology and could still quote obscure lines of sixteenth-century poetry while operating heavy machinery. He was very common in science fiction in the 1940s and '50s---Robert Heinlein wrote about him often. I'd say the early James Bond (before he became infallible) also tapped into this myth (or archetype, if you will).

Where is he now?

One theory is that the women's rights movement in the late 1960s made him see the error of his ways, he discovered that he wasn't actually god's gift to females, and he's now a happy house-husband looking after two kids while his wife shatters glass ceilings.

I think it's more likely, however, that he went into retirement after the Cold War ended. Because to a large extent, the omnicompetent man's greatest attribute wasn't that he could do everything, but that he was ready for anything. Lew Shiner's protagonist in "Primes" and the narrator of Alex Irvine's "Intimations of Immortality" never actually encounter anything they can't do . . . but they're thrown into situations for which they're not prepared. Were he the hero of either story, Mr. Omni would, I think, have had a plan immediately and he would have proceeded without the self-doubts.

Leaders and visionaries tend to come to the fore during times of crisis and turmoil; more prosperous times see more introspective and more ironic figures. Captain Kirk strode across the small screen in the mid-to-late 1960s; today we have Tim Allen's spoof of him in GalaxyQuest. Is it a reflection of today that so many of this month's stories seem to have characters who are powerless or are able only to react to their circumstances?

I don't know. Keep an eye on this month's characters, see what powers they have and what they're able do against nature. I think there's some trend here just past the edge of my vision, something that amounts to more than just this editor's predilection towards certain types of stories.

If you can set me straight, send a letter---we're now publishing a regular letter column on our Website at Meanwhile, I hope you find this month's stories good reading.


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