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I read this in the 90’s in a collection but it might be much older, I don’t remember what the book looked like. Not a novel, but not a short-short either, novella or novelette, or technically a longish “short story”

Strangely, I have rather precise memories of the beginning, but then it becomes very fuzzy.

It begins in an isolated farm-building, in Minnesota, I believe. In any case, a midwestern US state, or Canada province, where it snows a lot in winter : there is a door on the second floor (counting US style, ground floor counts as “first floor”, second floor just above) in case there is so much snow that one cannot exit by the first floor. But on that day there is no snow. And maybe the land around it is not used as farm, it is just a place to live for someone having a different job, I don’t remember that clearly.

The person who lives there sees through his window a tramp foraging in his trash can. But doing it in a very neat way, putting each object aside, what he wants to take on a side, what he will return in the trash on another. Impressed by the tramp’s nice behavior, he invites him to “help him finish a few leftovers”. But since he is “freshly out of leftovers” he cooks him a “casserole”.

The two guys get quite friendly, and the tramp offers to give him “interesting photographs” to thank him. He asks if his host has a camera (no digital ones at that time, only “silver”). He puts his fingers in a circle around the camera lens and makes a few pictures. Either it was an “instant camera”, Polaroid type, or the guy in the farm building had a laboratory to treat his own photos, but very soon they have the prints and these show the future, the farm building during a winter with a lot of snow, and things like that. The “tramp” explains that he comes from a family of “sorcerers” and that he has always had this special power.

Then my memory becomes fuzzy. They strike a friendship and as time goes on the tramp sometimes sends pictures of the future to the man in the farm building. Somehow knowing the future helps him a lot (well, just having a picture of a newspaper with the winning numbers at a lottery can be very useful !) but what exactly comes out of that I cannot remember at all.

I could not find a tag for "precognition" or "prediction of the future" so I used the tags "magic" and "extrasensory perception" but they are not exactly what I meant. If anyone can replace them by a better tag.. I am not yet familiar with all the tags...

Edit : I actually dreamt about this building this night ! Of course there was a ladder coming down the door of the second floor, in case the snow is too deep to open the ground floor door but does not quite reach the second one. Alas, the person whom I asked where I was did not give me a usable answer (and if he had, it need not have been the right one).

I just remembered another phrase ; when the guy in the farm invites the tramp, he is out of leftovers so he bakes a casserole which is "not as bland as it sounds".

Now I just Googled this phrase and found a book by John Varley with exactly the same phrase. But the context is completely wrong, no tramp, no absence of leftovers. But maybe Varley used the same phrase in a different book ?

Further edit : I finally found out that the phrase "not as bland as it sounds" was in the collection Blue Champagne but not in the story of that name. In fact it is in the story "Press enter (black square)" which I most definitely remember reading, while the other stories in collection Blue Champagne do not sound familiar. I am not good at finding all the collections (not necessarily containing only stories by John Varley) where a story has been published. Can anyone help me find them ? It is possible that my story was in the same collection as "Press enter (black square)" and that I mixed them up.

  • We don't have separate tags for "novelette" and "novella" (which wouldn't be of much use because people's memories aren't that accurate), the short story tag is used for all works of short fiction. You can say more about the length of the work in the body of the question, as you have done. – user14111 Nov 18 '19 at 1:30
  • Ugh, I've read this, but I don't remember who by. I might be able to dig it up. – Organic Marble Nov 18 '19 at 2:31
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    The ISFDB makes it quite easy to find where a given story has been published: isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?41040 – user14111 Nov 19 '19 at 17:06
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    @user14111 Is it OK to you if I self-answer my question with "The Picture Man" which I found by checking one after the other the collections on the link you gave me? Besides I now have a more detailed answer to your question, in your comment, about horse races and football games, but it is rather a spoiler, I don't know if I should write it. – Alfred Nov 20 '19 at 10:44
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    It sounds like an interesting story, I'm going to read it. If I don't have it in my collection, I'll read it at the Internet Archive: archive.org/stream/Fantasy_Science_Fiction_v067n02_1984-08#page/… – user14111 Nov 20 '19 at 11:29
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The story is "The Picture Man" by John Dalmas. https://archive.org/stream/Fantasy_Science_Fiction_v067n02_1984-08#page/n91/mode/1up

I am convinced that I read it in The 1985 Annual World's Best SF

http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?205017

at the same time as "Press Enter (black quare)", in the same collection. The two stories have almost nothing in common but the fact that one characters cooks a simple meal for another. But while in the latter case the meal is indeed "not as bland as it sounds" in "The Picture Man" it really is bland. But now I understand my confusion.

I had other false memories. For instance, the house with the door on the second floor is not where the action takes place. But it does appear on one photo (and it is in Michigan).

  • Great answer! I too have the 1985 Annual which is where I was remembering it from. Thanks. – Organic Marble Nov 20 '19 at 16:58

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