Off Center – Damon Knight (1965)
‘The room was quiet; the man in front of the mirror was the only living thing there, and he was too horrified to utter a sound. In the mirror, five faces stared back at him: one young and ruddy, which was his own, and four that did not belong in that place at all, for they were wrinkled, malevolent, small as crabapples and blue as smoke. So begins Damon Knight’s ‘Be My Guest’, a story of the human race possessed by things that were – well, not exactly demons . . . but not exactly not demons, either. It’s just one of the unpredictably imaginative tales in this fascinating collection by a modern master of science fiction.’
Blurb from the M-113 1965 Ace Doubles paperback edition
Damon Knight is best known as an editor, critic and anthologist. As a novelist he never really made an impact, but it has to be said that his short stories were some of the finest in the genre. Here, there is one excellent piece while the others are of variable quality.
What Rough Beast
The Second-Class Citizen
Be My Guest
Catch That Martian
What Rough Beast (Off Center, 1965)
‘What Rough Beast’ is the first person narrative of a young Eastern-European immigrant in New York. His talent is that he can alter realities, choosing an alternate timeline in which circumstances are more favourable.
Knight uses a convincing pattern of speech to tell the story of a character who is not only the victim of a fair amount of bullying and racism, but also exploitation. His reaction to this ultimately sets in motion an inevitable sequence of events which leads to tragedy.
It’s a wonderful gem of a story. Quite marvellous.
The Second-Class Citizen (If, November 1963)
A fairly short tale of a man who is teaching dolphins to live in the human world, but when nuclear armageddon strikes, the tables are turned.
Be My Guest (Fantastic Universe – Sep 1958)
The longest piece in ‘Off Center’ is a hybrid SF/Fantasy creation in which a young scientist is unwittingly given a mixture which changes his perception and allows him to see and hear the four disembodied souls possessing his body. It’s original and unusual.
God’s Nose (Rogue, March 1964)
An odd surrealist piece exploring the concept of the size of God’s nose.
Catch That Martian (Galaxy, March 1952)
A humorous but well-written piece about a cop’s relentless quest to track down a Martian who is spiriting humans into a dimension where they can still be seen here as transparent phantoms.