Anthologies come and go so fast that it’s easy to miss them. They’re fiendishly difficult to find unless they were very popular, and the weird ones are a delight when they do pop up. So when I saw “The Science Fiction Weight Loss Book” at a library cull sale, I had to have it.
It was edited in 1983 by Isaac Asimov (his name is real big on the cover), some guy named George R. R. Martin (name in smaller type, less famous in ’83), and Martin H. Greenberg (late anthologist). I came across it around 2012, when my husband was working at the Hemet Public Library. He would often tell me when interesting things got culled, and he was right about this one.
I have a particular interest in science fiction stories about fat people. Too much to ask that a book from 1983 would be in any way fat-positive, but there are some surprises in here. Ok, so Asimov’s introduction (title: “FAT!”) is not a surprise. It’s… well, it’s Asimov. Everything is about fucking and how he definitely fucks a lot. He is generous enough to say his fellow editors fuck, too.
And fucking is what it’s all about, right? In about half of these stories, yes. “Glady’s Gregory” by John Anthony West is a bizarre tale of husbands fucked into a stupor and fattened for a competition. “The Stretch” by Sam Merwin Jr. is about a magical girdle shared by a man, his wife, and his mistress and fought over for the perfect fit. “Fat Farm” by Orson Scott Card is your typical story wherein fatness is one of many venal sins that are obvious upon the body of the sinner. Ho hum.
There are also stories where thinness is itself a dimension of horror. Robert Silverberg’s “The Iron Chancellor” is about a household chef robot run amok, damaged beyond repair and starving an entire family to death. “The Artist of Hunger” by Scott Sanders makes hunger and fullness two dimensions of torture in a futuristic type of warfare. Stephen King’s classic “Quitters, Inc.” plays with the dimensions of hunger; primarily a story about kicking the habit of smoking, it examines the way we trade one physical need for another, the tendency of former smokers to lose weight, and the way we try to expiate sin through bodily pain— and not even always our own.
The interesting ones are the ones that posit something different about fatness. Of particular interest is “The Malted Milk Monster” by William Tenn. It’s one of those stories where a terrifying child has too much power, but it’s a young fat girl in this case rather than a boy with a steely gaze. The hellish awkwardness of girlhood and burgeoning sexuality make this child’s psychic captivity and manipulation of others truly unforgettable: think PEN15 x Twilight Zone. This one is chilling, even if it makes a horror of fatness in the end.
My favorite story in this collection is “Abercrombie Station” by Jack Vance. I tried not to be biased in looking back over this book, but Googling each of the authors in turn, it seems that Vance is the fattest person in this TOC. You don’t have to be fat to represent fat people in fiction (believe me, I am not starting THAT fight again this week), but there is a certain authenticity in this one that drew me in at once. “Abercrombie Station” is about humans living in space and coming to value a very different body type because the body is acted upon by gravity in such a way that roundness becomes the norm. There is a strange but loving way that Vance describes the roundest girl who ever lived; the way he constructs a society that values her spherical perfection and the obscenity of forcing her to diet when she was just right as she was. It’s a fascinating, unusual story, and it’s the one I think of when I call this collection to mind. It’s marvelous and savory and as satisfying as any fatty cut of meat.
I took this book with me to NorWesCon in 2014. I met George R. R. Martin there; he was guest of honor and I was up for the Philip K. Dick Award so we had a little time scheduled together. His handlers reminded us not to ask annoying questions about Game of Thrones and we didn’t. My fellow nominee, Jennifer Marie Brisset, brought Martin a VHS of one of her favorite episodes of the Beauty and the Beast TV show that he had been a writer on. He beamed with pleasure at the sight, and they had a lovely exchange.
When I got my moment, I showed him this book. He laughed and said that Asimov was right in the intro: when he edited this book he was thin. He guessed that the book itself might be cursed.
I laughed, like I always laugh when people indirectly say that being like me is the worst thing that could happen to them. I wished Martin loved himself better. And I took my fat little book (and the Dick award) home with me.
Incidentally, I’ve got my own book of stories on fatness (mostly, but there’s some other stuff too) coming out in May. You can read about a girl who wakes up 250 feet tall, and a miracle pill that cures fatness, and my angriest essay on weight loss surgery in this book.