The Many Worlds of Barry Malzberg (Popular Library, 1975)

in 1975, Barry Malzberg published two collections, this 160 page little book and the massive, SF classic, The Best of Barry Malzberg (Pocket Books). By 1975, however, Malzberg had pretty much stopped writing SF novels and was collaborating on mysteries with Bill Pronzini and writing the Lone Wolff series as Mike Berry. But he was still chrurning out stories; his trademark was the 1500 word quickie tale of strange virtual reality or time travel schizoanalysis.

This one opens with a preface from Roger Elwood, the prolific editor who published many Malzberg stories in his dozens of theme anthologies and commissioning novels for various paperback houses, like Tactics of Conquest for Pyramid, that Malzberg wrote in four days and broke some ground in SF with an explicit gay rape scene. (The story, “Closed Sicilian,” that the novel expands is also in this collection — a short of SF take on Nabokov.)

Malzberg broke many taboos and crossed many lines in SF, including incest and matricide in his work.

Many Worlds collects several much reprinted works, like the novella “Final War,” a Nebula nominated work that I have always been convinced was ripped off by Oliver Stone for Platoon, since it’s about solidiers who turn against and kill a sadistic officer. Malzberg wrote “:Final War” in the late 60s as a Vietnam cautionary tale but was unable to sell it to literary markets, so revised the first page to make it SF and immediately placed it with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Two other widely reprinted stories are also included: “In the Cup” and “Death to the Keeper.”

“Here they are, what Nabokov calls the sins of youth,” Mazlberg starts the introduction, and notes that he is now thirty and feels old. Ha! I bet he looks back on that statement now and guffaws — the folly of youth! For instance, why did Malzberg include the sub-par story, “Initiation,” as the first story? It’s a weird tale about the narrator and his “Pop” kidnapping a 19 year old girl, and telling her they wish to form a cult of worshippers to usher in a speedy Armageddon event, for they are Satan and the Anti-Christ and demand that she bow down to their power, only in the end she has more power in a twist in semantics. Sounds cool but it falls flat.

Malzberg was writing about the ill effects of virtual realities used for simulations and therapy in the 70s, long before anyone else. One such tale is “The Union Forever,” that starts off with a presidential aide plotting to assassinate the President, and the the President desires to kill the aide, or they kill each other — we find out it is all computer simulations working on a variety of scenarios, and then the President and his aide, mere analogue computer tape constructs, turning against the computer and destroying what gives them reality.

But is Malzberg ever acknowledged for this pioneering vision?

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