Review: Science Fiction Short Story: "McIlvaine's Star" by August Derleth
This is one of author August Derleth’s stories involving newspaperman Tex Harrigan. In this, Tex is relating an odd story about an old man he came across, Thaddeus McIlvaine, one of the “lost people or strayed, crackpots or warped geniuses.”
McIlvaine was an amateur astronomer who believed there was life out there and that is was possible to communicate with other beings. He tried to do so with machinery he'd rigged up. He was the butt of jokes among his three best friends, drinking buddies down at a watering hole called Bixby’s. When McIlvaine claimed to have discovered a new star, one of his cronies called the city editor and that’s how Harrigan came into the picture.
“I’ve done,” McIlvaine announced to his friends.
“Aye, and what?” asked Alexander.
“I’ve discovered a new star.”
“Oh, said Leopold. “A cinder in your eye.”
“It lies just off Arcturus.”
“Give it my love,” said Richardson.
Harrigan was ready to write him off as a nut, but he checked with Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin and found that he was right about the star.
Things don’t go as planned. McIlvaine had yearned for years to speak to an extra-terrestrial. Does his dream come true? If so, does it satisfy?
While there is plenty of humor in this short tale, there is an underlying sadness here that makes the reader understand why Harrigan would remember the story after years as a reporter and recount it years later, probably lubricated with a few drinks. I don’t know if the ending is satisfying, but it is complete, about humans rather than aliens.
Author August Derleth wrote horror and regional pieces of his native Wisconsin among other writing. (One of the best vampire tales I’ve ever read is his and is set in Wisconsin.) He is also best remembered for his association with H.P. Lovecraft.
Title: “McIlvaine’s Star” first published in If July 1952
Author: August Derleth (1909-1971)
©2015 Denise Longrie
An earlier version of this review appeared on another site. It has since been removed and is no longer visible there or anywhere else. It has been altered, expanded and updated for its inclusion in PP.
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