Department header
Bewildering Stories

The Critics’ Corner

Venuses Red and Dark

A Bewildering Stories discussion

The Review Board’s discussions are lively and almost always to the point; and that can be a lot of fun in itself. But occasionally they can take a truly bewildering turn. Such is the case with Antonio Bellomi’s “The Red Venus,” in this issue.

Prof. Miguel Gutiérrez, a geologist — or, perhaps more appropriately, anthropologist — exploring the surface of Mars discovers what he believes to be a statuette resembling the famous Venus de Milo, or Aphrodite of Milos. Perhaps Professor Gutiérrez’ name for the artifact is prompted by a memory of the fertility talismans — as they’re presumed to be — of Stone Age Europe, which are also called “Venuses.”

Whatever the case, Professor Gutiérrez is convinced he’s being pursued by a superior alien intelligence he calls the “Hyksos,” which is also the name of a warrior tribe that conquered ancient Egypt at one point. Accordingly, the professor flees in terror and resolves to bury the Venus statuette where the “Hyksos” can’t find it but his fellow Earthlings can — if they decipher his clue properly.

Not to give anything away or anything, but he hides the “Red Venus” in a crater named for Christopher Columbus. But more than one crater is named for the explorer. In which one shall the professor’s fellow scientists look for the treasure? Let’s see: “Christopher Columbus” is the English form of the name. The explorer himself was Italian. Professor Gutiérrez would have known him by his name in Castilian. Voilà, problem solved.

At this point, readers are likely to exclaim: “That’s all? That’s it?! An Indiana Jones mystery is solved by a simple problem of procedure in translation? You have got to be kidding.”

Indeed, we suspect that our good friend Antonio Bellomi is pulling our collective leg or, as the French would say, putting us aboard a boat — and, by implication, taking us for a ride.

One of our eagle-eyed Review Editors underscored the curious appearance of an essentially irrelevant character, Doctor Joska:

At this point, the French writer Stendhal might think, “Aha, a lesson from my own novel The Red and the Black. As you will recall, the hero, Julien Sorel, never has so much fun as when he dons the black robe of the clergy.”

Now, many medieval monks, especially in the Dark Ages, struggled manfully — if that’s the right word — against their God-given instinct to procreate. Professor Gutiérrez may have been a latter-day incarnation of that monastic tendency; we can only speculate. At least one can reproach him only for sublimating his desires by fixating on the statuette.

The true climax of the story, if one may call it that, comes not with the revelation of the riddle’s solution but with the scientists’ reaction to it:

“Doctor Gutiérrez was right. It strongly resembles the Venus de Milo.” Doctor Joska’s eyes were shining, as were the other people’s behind her.

What do you suppose the scientists’ eyes were shining at, behind? Some crummy rock? Doctor Joska is standing in the way, for heaven’s sake! They’re ogling the raven-haired beauty with shapely legs. Poor, deluded Professor Gutiérrez; he really missed a bet.

On the surface, “The Red Venus” is a joke, and the mystery is a language riddle such as Isaac Asimov enjoyed on occasion in his Wendell Urth short stories. But under the red sands of Mars may lie a reminder that a real Venus may walk in the door at any moment. Be prepared!

Copyright © 2011 by Bewildering Stories

Home Page