I recently finished reading More Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov. I’ve been a fan of Asimov’s novels and short stories since I was a teenager, and a recent Twitter conversation with Dr. Harrison Solow about science fiction writers made me remember this. Asimov was one of the first science fiction writers I read, along with Robert Heinlein. My favorite stories by Asimov included the Dr. Susan Calvin robot stories, and Dr. Solow mentioned that the Black Widower stories were her favorites. I vaguely recalled reading some in my teen years, but clearly it was time for a re-acquaintance.
I checked out three collections from the library, including the above-mentioned volume. It should be noted, these are not science fiction tales. The Black Widower stories are mysteries, loosely based around a supper club to which Asimov belonged called the Trap Door Spiders. In the stories, a group of friends gathers for a monthly banquet and invites one guest who enjoys a meal and in exchange submits to a grilling by the group. A mystery is brought forth, and the group discusses it until it is finally, always, solved by Henry, the waiter.
These stories are charming and clever and so enjoyable. He shows what can be done when the author makes the most of character and dialogue. Next up for my reading pleasure is Casebook of the Black Widowers.
There’s another thing that these stories illustrate. At the end of each one, Asimov included an afterword in which he described the circumstances under which he wrote the story and some details of its publication. For example, in the afterword to the story “Friday the Thirteenth” he included this:
Again, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine felt this to be too complicated a situation, and I passed it on to F & SF, which took it. It appeared in the January 1976 issue.
That’s right, even Isaac Asimov got rejected. And what did he do? He took the story and sent it someplace else.
If this doesn’t encourage, I don’t know what will.