“Coming Attraction,” Fritz Leiber, 1950 – The protagonist is a British citizen named Wysten Turner who is in a post-nuclear New York to procure grain in exchange for electronic equipment that will probably be used to build an American military base on the moon, as it is engaged in WWIII with the Soviet Union. Early in the narrative, he saves a woman, Theda, from having her shirt ripped off by a car with fishhooks on its fender that is being driven by crazed American teens. He calls the police, who are disinterested, and then must bribe the policeman to leave him alone. The woman’s face is covered by a hijab-like mask–a new fad, related to a heightened taboo against female nudity as well as the recent but now obsolete need to wear masks after the nuclear attack–and he becomes caught up in her mystery. She explains that her boyfriend is a wrestler and that he beats her savagely if he loses a match; she begs Turner to help her leave the country. Emboldened by chivalry, Turner confronts the wrestler and easily defeats him. However, the woman becomes enraged, as she never intended to leave the boyfriend or his abuse. Turner rips off the mask and is repulsed by her unkempt appearance and hateful expression. Somewhat hateful himself, he asks: “Have you ever lifted a rock from damp soil? Have you ever watched the slimy white grubs?” The self-proclaimed “best man” in America quickly returns to England.
Comments: A satire of American culture (where televised wrestling–also masked and mixed-gender–is the preeminent pastime), with provocative commentary on its fashions, fetishes, neuroses, and gender relations (e.g., it’s suggested that sex with American women is best because the women wear masks). For another such satire, see “Poor Superman,” which, like this story, is also a satire of the genre’s more conventional “Campbellian hero,” a somewhat prudish man of reason and ability who triumphs over chaos. A story saturated by “performance” and media, with a backdrop of ominous international meddling and hostilities. See also Matthew Cheney’s review in Strange Horizons. Read in 18 Greatest SF Stories.
Author: Wikipedia: “Fritz Reuter Leiber, Jr. (December 24, 1910 – September 5, 1992) was an American writer (of German extraction) of fantasy, horror and science fiction. He was also a poet, actor in theatre and films, playwright, expert chess player and a champion fencer…With writers such as Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, Leiber can be regarded as one of the fathers of Sword and Sorcery fantasy. But he excelled in all fields of speculative fiction, writing award-winning work in horror, fantasy and science fiction…Leiber…was born December 24, 1910, in Chicago, Illinois, to the actors Fritz Leiber, Sr. and Virginia Leiber, and, for a time, he seemed inclined to follow in his parents’ footsteps (Theater and actors were prominently featured in his fiction). He spent 1928 touring with his parents’ Shakespeare company before studying philosophy at the University of Chicago, where he graduated with honors (1928–32).”