Barbara Hambly is the executrix of the George Alec Effinger estate. She has been a fixture in the science fiction and mystery scenes for many years. Her newest vampire novel Blood Maidens (Severn House) has just appeared in the UK, and her most recent historical whodunnit, Ran Away, continues the well-reviewed Benjamin January series. She also writes historical mysteries as Barbara Hamilton (The Ninth Daughter, and its sequels). In addition–when time permits–Barbara writes short fiction about the further adventures of characters from her fantasy novels of the ’80s and ’90s, which can be purchased via download from her website: barbarahambly.com.
George Alec Effinger’s story “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything”–along with “White Hats”–is probably the quintessential George Alec Effinger short story: What if aliens did come in peace, with the intention–how faithfully carried through!–of helping humankind, but they were so frakking annoying that in the end humankind would rather blunder through on their own than accept that help? George was essentially a miniaturist, a genius at picking out the small traits of human nature that can be most tragic, most heroic, most human…and most crazy-making. Even when he wasn’t 100% on his game–and he produced some cosmic misfires in his time–that quality of observation stands out, like nuggets of gold.
It also gave George a chance to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes: the analysis of strange pop-cultural minutiae. This was a man who studied different types of pinball machines, who analyzed where you needed to put extra wax on the floor of a bowling alley, who insisted on trying every tiny sample of all the different Coca-Cola products from around the world at the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta. This was a man who collected Depression Glass–making him generally the youngish male at the New Orleans Depression Glass Club meetings, and God only knows what all those little, blue-haired old Southern ladies made of him–and he could go on for hours on the differences between “Patrician” and “Doric” patterns; who would go on a quest, not for the Holy Grail, but for a monax “American Sweetheart” sugar-bowl lid. At one point–as the result, I think, of writing a story which involved the Barbie Tarot Deck–he began collecting Barbie dolls as well: I think I gave away eight trash bags full of them, when I cleaned out his office after his death.
George’s descriptions had that quality of lucid precision, which made for good writing, like Ian Fleming’s emphasis (through character James Bond) on Gordon’s gin, served in a deep champagne goblet, and what does it tell you about a character if he belongs to Boodles instead of to Blades?
And in a sense, this is what “Aliens…Everything” is about.
(It’s the way I try to write also, building a character or a setting from a mosaic of tiny detail. George was a master at it.)
Later George brought this quality to novels, as one of the founding writers of Cyberpunk with When Gravity Fails; a sense of immediacy and humanness that comes from that sharp detail. But I think George always considered his short stories–the Early Funny Stuff, as Woody Allen put it–closest to the person that he actually was.
So, at the risk of being like the aliens in this story and telling you what’s best, I will say: “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” is George, probably at his best.