“On the Inside Track” by Karl Michael Armer is story #7 of 52 from the anthology The World Treasury of Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell (1989) that my short story club is group reading. Stories are discussed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. “On the Inside Track” was first published in the original anthology, Tales From the Planet Earth in 1986, edited by Frederik Pohl and Elizabeth Anne Hull. As far as I can tell from ISFDB.org, those are its only publications.

“On the Inside Track” is by a German writer, Karl Michael Armer, and it’s set in Europe, but it seems like a typical American science fiction story. It’s also a good story, one that I’ll want to reread in the future. Actually, I might want to read all the stories in Tales From the Planet Earth after reading the review it got in The New York Times.

One reason I liked “On the Inside Track” is its protagonist, Robert Förster is 70 years old, and I’m 71. Förster is well-to-do and unhappy. I’m happy but not well-to-do, but we both share quite a lot of observations and reactions about being old. Förster’s life is interrupted when an alien, Sassacan, moves into Förster’s mind. In this story, aliens conduct interstellar travel by mind projection. Sassacan visits Earth to conduct business negotiations with other aliens who are occupying other human bodies.

Förster doesn’t mind being used because it’s a diversion from being bored and lonely. In fact, he gets to like the company. This story reminds me of Sheckley’s novel, Mindswap but without the humor. “On the Inside Track” is pleasant, but slightly predictable. I guessed two of its surprises, but that didn’t mar the reading experience.

However, I’ve got to ask a question: Is World SF really any different than American science fiction? World SF is set in other countries, and sometimes it even references cultural differences or tries to exploit local myths and beliefs, but mostly science fiction is science fiction. “On the Inside Track” makes a decent addition to the anthology but I didn’t think about Germany while I was reading it. Förster’s desire to be commanding is alien to me, but I don’t think that as a German trait, but as an alpha male trait of a person wanting to be successful.

I guess I need to wait and see if Hartwell finds a story from another country that feels truly alien to me. Alien in the sense that it’s completely foreign, and not space alien.

James Wallace Harris, 5/20/23

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