Our Fair City
by Robert A. Heinlein
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Weird Tales, January 1949

collected in —
The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag
  (sometimes titled 6 X H)

The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein May 2010

  
The whirl of public affairs

"We have a right, indeed we have a duty to our fair city, to announce broadcast the facts ..."
Sinclair Lewis
Babbitt  (1922)

  
"Our Fair City" is a little charmer of a story. a short fantasy by Robert Heinlein revolving (if we may say so) around a girlishly playful whirlwind in the big city:

Pete Perkins turned into the All-Nite parking lot and called out, "Hi, Pappy!"

The old parking lot attendant looked up and answered, "Be with you in a moment, Pete." He was tearing a Sunday comic sheet in narrow strips. A little whirlwind waltzed near him, picking up pieces of old newspaper and bits of dirt and flinging them in the faces of passing pedestrians. The old man held out to it a long streamer of the brightly colored funny-paper. "Here, Kitten," he coaxed. "Come, Kitten —"

The whirlwind hesitated, then drew itself up until it was quite tall, jumped two parked cars, and landed sur le point near him.

It seemed to sniff at the offering.
  

Our Fair City - Robert Henlein - Boris Dolgov, WT Jan 1949 "Our Fair City" is urban fantasy, a sub-genre particularly difficult to do right. The story has the flavor of Heinlein's 1939-1942 stories, before he volunteered for war-related work for World War II. It's his only story for Weird Tales, and would have fit better among the generally lighter and much more matter-of-fact fantasies in Campbell's Unknown (later Unknown Worlds).

Patterson's biography of Heinlein relates how "Our Fair City" sprang from an off-hand remark by L. Ron Hubbard — like Heinlein, an Unknown contributor — during the "science-fiction think tank" war-work period at Heinlein's Philadelphia apartment in 1944. Campbell's unique fantasy magazine had folded the previous year because of wartime paper shortages — or Heinlein, or Hubbard, or perhaps even both, might have sold a little whirlwind story to Unknown Worlds.

In a way, this story is a kid sister to Heinlein's 1940 novella for Unknown (as the magazine was first titled), "Magic, Inc." ("The Devil Makes the Law"). Both stories are built upon a plainly solid foundation of an unnamed but typical American city, including good, regular citizens with their everyday streets and businesses. Kitten the city whirlwind is not of the same order as the working magicians in the novella, but both sets of good guys have to deal with some notable corruption.

That may make "Our Fair City" sound heavier than it is, but it's really a light-hearted romp with some thoughtfully neat touches: a little favorite for many years, and quite deservingly so. You will remember Kitten.

  

© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
Weird Tales January 1949 illustration
by Boris Dolgov

R. W. Franson's review of
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century
  Volume 1, 1907-1948: Learning Curve

by William H. Patterson, Jr.
  

  
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