[September 29, 1961] Slim Pickings (October 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

Each month, I look forward to my dose of new science fiction stories delivered in the form of digest-sized magazines.  Over the decade that I’ve been subscribing, I’ve fallen into a habit.  I start with my first love, Galaxy (or its sister, IF, now that they are both bi-monthlies).  I then move on to Analog, formerly Astounding.  I save The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for last.  This is because it has been, until recently, the best of the digests– my dessert for the month, as it were. 

These days, the stories aren’t as good.  Moreover, this time around, the latter third of the magazine was taken up with half a new Gordy Dickson short novel, which I won’t review until it finishes next month.  As a result, the remaining tales were short and slight, ranging from good to mediocre.

In other words, not a great month for F&SF, especially when you consider that the novels they print seem to be hacked down for space (if the longer versions that inevitably are printed in book form are any indication).  Nevertheless, it is my duty to report what I found, so here it is, the October 1961 F&SF:

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who is not exactly a science fiction author but dabbles in the arena, leads with Harrison Bergeron.  It’s a deceptively juvenile satire against Conformity and Communism, and while it may not impress upon first reading, it stays with you.  Four stars.

One of my favorite new authors is Rosel George Brown, and I have to give her credit for being willing to take chances.  The Ultimate Sin, however, is a bit avante garde for me.  Something about a social misfit interstellar explorer who finds a planet where gravity depends on whim rather than mass, and where the entire ecology is a unit, its pieces constantly consuming each other and exchanging knowledge in the process.  I didn’t like it at first, but as with the first story, I found it engaging in retrospect.  Three stars.

Charles G. Finney’s The Captivity isn’t science fiction at all; it’s more an analysis of captivity on humans, particularly when they discover that they aren’t really captives at all.  What is there left to push against when external forces are removed?  Only each other, and themselves.  Three stars.

Robert E. Lee at Moscow is Evelyn E. Smith’s attempt at satire this issue.  She’s produced some real doozies, but this one, an extreme logical extension of turning our political ambassadors into cultural ambassadors, falls flat.  There is a laugh-inducing line on the last page, however.  Two stars.

The half-posthumous team of Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth bring us The World of Myrion Flowers, which tells the tale of a driven Black philanthropist whose attempts to raise a cadre of Negro executives end unhappily.  The moral: it’s best when a disdained class doesn’t have too clear an idea of what the favored class thinks of them.  I can only imagine what insanity I would derive from having telepathy while living in 1930s Germany.  Three stars.

Isaac Asimov hasn’t written much fiction lately, and when he does, it tends to be old fashioned.  So it is with The Machine That Won the War, a very slight computer-related piece that probably got accepted more out of respect for the author than for its quality.  Two stars.

Meanwhile, George Langelaan, the Paris-born Britisher who penned The Fly in ’57 brings us The Other Hand, a macabre story of digits that move as if possessed, compelling their owners to strange activities.  Rather overwrought and archaic.  Two stars.

If Asimov’s fiction fails to impress, his fact remains entertaining.  That’s About the Size of It is all about the comparative sizes of Earth’s animals, all done logarithmically for easy data manipulation.  It turns out that people are medium-biggish creatures, all things considered.  Four stars.

The Vat is Avram Davidson’s latest, featuring a bit of alchemy and misadventure.  Short but readable.  Three stars.

Grendel Briarton’s latest pun, Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIV, is as always, perhaps a bit more.

And that leaves us with Dickson’s Naked to the Stars (Part 1 of 2), which I’ll cover next week.  All in all, a 3-star issue that will not revulse but neither will it much impress.  Faint praise, indeed.

[Sept. 26, 1961] Sense of Adventure (Andre Norton’s Catseye)

by Rosemary Benton

Catseye is the short, but very well written, science fiction novel from the pen of the legendary Andre Norton.  I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t experienced much of Norton’s writing myself, although her fans sing her praise joyfully and have repeatedly recommended her titles to me.  Reading the back cover of Catseye while in my town’s book store, I had to berate myself for not looking into her before.  If half of what her book promised was true, then here was an author that I could fully invest in.  I was not disappointed.

In this new installment of Norton’s ever growing bibliography we meet Troy Horan, a young man who, like many of his generation, was displaced from his homeworld because of The War of the Two Sectors.  Bitterly fought until a stalemate was realized, the War rewrote galactic geography and national boundaries, forcing many to live in semi permanent statelessness.  On the planet Korwar, people like Troy live in slums called the Dipple.  Norton ascribes a bleak and uncertain future to those of the Dipple.  They can contract to be shipped off-world to some unknown fate, acquire a work permit that will allow them to find short term meager employment in northern Tikil, or they can buy their way into the booming underground Thieves Guild organization.  Luckily for Troy, his legacy as a former colonist of Norden allows him to snatch a temp position at a pet shop that caters to the upper echelons of the planet. 

Being from the well known herding society of Norden, Troy has an uncanny affinity to animals.  The levels of his skill with beasts surprises even himself after he learns that he can communicate telepathically with a select few of the animals at his employer’s establishment.  The small menagerie of highly intelligent animals, including the foxes Sargon and Sheba, the cats Sahiba and Simba, and Shang the kinkajou, draw Troy into a maelstrom of conspiracies and death.  Troy must decide whether to do what is right or what will best help him survive. 

Catseye is most impressive in three ways.  First and foremost, the quality of the narrative can not be overlooked.  In perfect harmony with the otherworldly environment, Norton peppers original sayings, phrases and honorifics into her writing.  The end result is a narrative that makes the reader feel like they are experiencing events within the actual mind of our protagonist. 

This is not an easy task for writers.  I can’t impress how often I’ve read science fiction and fantasy only to see this common issue of inconsistency with language.  For example, in Catseye a “flitter” is a ship and “patroller” refers to the police.  This unique dialect creates a flow in the story that makes the reader feel like they are really experiencing a story from another time and place.  Take this paragraph from chapter 2:

“There were pedestrians, a crowd of them, gathering.  But until they knew that this was not some private challenge-fight, none would call a patroller.  By drawing his belt-knife instead of trying for a stunner, Zul had labeled this a meeting-of-honor, unorthodox as its setting may be”.

With only the barest of context Norton has created a scene that is understandable, yet distinctly foreign.  It’s a truly gifted writer who can fabricate dialects and weave them so well into their narrative.

The second way in which Norton goes above and beyond is in her tight story structure.  Again, writing a good novel is an art, and being able to sufficiently sum up important plot points without becoming side tracked is an essential element of good craftsmanship.  In the first chapter Norton establishes the history of the world she has created, introduces our protagonist and sets him on the path to his new employer.  The first half of the book is a steady build toward the chase, capture and escape of Troy and the animals back into the wilds.  The book concludes with room for a sequel or at least tie in novels.  Personally, I hope to see Norton build the world of Catseye into something more.  With her succinct ability to set up environments, plot and characters I would love to learn more about the events that led to and occurred during The War of the Two Sectors, clearly modeled after the events of The Great War. 

Third, and most importantly, the deeply resonating themes of Catseye make it a must read work of science fiction.  This is a book that not only questions the ethics of moral rightness versus survival, but the lives of displaced people.  Last month when I reviewed Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land I bemoaned the fact that Heinlein did not try out his proposed social and moral constructs outside of largely intellectual conversations between characters.  Norton, on the other hand, accompanies words with actions.  While her prose are not as poetic as Zenna Henderson, she has a knack for incorporating astute observations at just the right moments.  Take this instance in chapter 4:

“He had early learned in the hard school of the Dipple that knowledge could be both a weapon and a defense, and something as nebulous and beyond reason as his odd mental meeting with two different species of Terran life he preferred to keep to himself”.

In chapter 6 the world building continues with Norton’s point about the necessity of keeping the ugly business surrounding the psychic animals away from the pleasurable aspects of high and comfortable society:

“As long as we can keep Korwar as a pleasant haven for the overlords of other worlds, some of them the greed-wrecked ones, we can hold this one inviolate.  One does not want such desolation in one’s own back yard.  So far those of the villas have the power, the wealth, to retain Korwar as their unspoiled play place.”

For a first introduction to Andre Norton’s works, Catseye is an exceptional read.  It has heart, it has style, and it has philosophy backing it up at just the right moments.  I really hope that I can find more from Norton regarding Troy and his journey as a new, free man.  The concept is fresh, and let’s face it — as kids and even adults, wouldn’t we love to have Troy’s power and know what’s going on in the minds of our pets?

[September 23, 1961] Seeing the Light (Daniel Galouye’s Dark Universe)

The human experience is a visual one.  While each of the five senses has its function and importance, we rely primarily on our eyes to navigate the world.  Sighted people take this fact for granted – even the verb “to see” means “to understand.”  Inability to see is considered (by the sighted) to be a devastating plight, the resulting world of darkness unbearable.

But is it?  In his latest book, Dark Universe, Daniel Galouye takes the horror out of blindness, putting us in the viewpoint (or more accurately, the “hearpoint”) of a post-apocalyptic civilization of humans that has lived for generations underground without any sources of light.  While their eyes may technically still work, they are useless.  Hearing and smell have become the operative senses for interpreting the world.  Over the generations, even the memory of sight has become forgotten, and many inhabitants of this subterranean world spend their lives with their eyes tightly shut, their hair grown long over their face.  Yet they live, even thrive, in a beauty that goes beyond the visual.

It is a fascinating set-up, and it’s rendered beautifully by Galouye.  The universe of caves, the communities of the blind, the strange animals and plants that surround them, they are doubly weird, portrayed as they are vividly and effectively without a single visual cue.  But these are just backdrop to the real story, that of the young man, Jared, who is groping for the truth of his world.

For in the land of eternal night, Light and Darkness have lost their physical meaning.  They are now abstract religious concepts.  As Jared explores the full compass of the underground, he starts to wonder if light, and its dark counterpart, might be something real.  The evidence mounts in the form of unanswered questions: How does another underground tribe, the Zivvers, seem to sense with a keenness beyond hearing, detecting the very heat of objects?  What does it mean when the gnarled old priest stimulates another’s eyes in the ritual of Excitation of the Optic Nerve, causing double rings of soundless noise to appear in one’s conception?  And just what are these Monsters that have begun to raid the caves, kidnapping members of the tribes, waving wands that project cones of dazzling silent sense?

Dark Universe is a detective story, but not in the usual sense.  The reader already knows the answer to the mystery; the unknown element is how Jared will deduce the truth about his world, the invaders, and his situation.  Galouye has profound things to say about the nature of religion, which in this book is a literal search for enlightenment.  The questions are all familiar to us: Where do we go when we die?  Is there Truth behind holy writ and sacred artifacts?  When is it safe to abandon superstition? 

Then there are the even more fundamental questions.  Is it a handicap to be blind?  Is vision even a desirable ability for one raised in, even deft in, blindness?  What does one give up when one loses one’s “disability”?  Galouye presents and attempts to answer these questions without being didactic, for he does it all in metaphor, couched in the trappings of a science fiction novel.

And it’s a crackingly exciting novel, at that.  Beyond the book’s philosophical underpinnings, Dark Universe is a gripping adventure, with all the derring-do, narrow scrapes, and romance of a Burroughsian Pellucidar tale.  As a result, Galouye delivers his philosophy in a far sweeter pill than, say, Heinlein in his latest book.  Galouye’s first motivation is to entertain, and he succeeds at this task admirably.  Four and a half stars.

[September 20, 1961] Theme and Variations (October 1961 Fantastic)

As promised, a surprise article from a surprising source.  Victoria Silverwolf has been an asset to this column for three years, providing commentary that might as well have been an article in and of itself (not to mention being 95% in alignment with my views).  Imagine my joy when Ms. Silverwolf offered to contribute an article every month.  Since to date I have only been able to cover four of the six major science fiction digests, we decided that Vic’s greatest contribution would be in the coverage of another.  And so, for your viewing pleasure, a review of the October 1961 Fantastic from our newest Mistress of the Weird…

by Victoria Silverwolf

Greetings from the night side. Our esteemed host has invited me to step out of the shadows and offer some thoughts about the literature of the uncanny, of the unnatural, of the unimaginable.  Shall we proceed? Take my hand, and don’t be afraid of the dark.

Fantastic magazine – or, to use its complete title, Fantastic Stories of Imagination, not to be confused with Fantastic Adventures or Fantastic Universe — has had a checkered career during its nine-year lifetime.  Started as a publication dedicated to literate fantasy fiction, much like The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, it soon had to attract readers from its older sister, Amazing Stories, by printing more science fiction.  Unfortunately, low payment rates, the glut of science fiction magazines during the 1950’s, and indifference from management resulted in contents of poor quality. 

This situation showed signs of improvement a little less than three years ago when Cele Goldsmith, originally hired as a secretary and general assistant, rose to the position of editor for both magazines.  She has improved the quality of the publications by introducing readers to talented new authors such as Keith Laumer, Ben Bova, and David R. Bunch, as well as bringing Fritz Leiber out of retirement with a special issue of Fantastic featuring no fewer than five new stories from that master of speculative fiction.  It remains to be seen whether Goldsmith’s editorship will lift the magazines’ sales out of the doldrums.  One sign of hope is the fact that, for the first time since the Hugo Awards were initiated, Amazing Stories was nominated for Best Professional Magazine in 1960 and 1961.

With an optimistic mood, therefore, let’s take a look at the latest issue of the younger sibling.  By coincidence, it neatly divides into two halves, each dealing with a particular theme.

The first part of this issue involves the survival of humanity in the face of overwhelming disaster.  The cover art by Alex Schomburg (a Goldsmith favorite) for Robert F. Young’s novelette Deluge II might lead one to expect a simple retelling of the legend of Noah.  Fortunately, the story is much more complex than that. 

In a future world where most people have fled to the stars in the face of radiation storms, those who remain are of mixed race, except for a few stubborn whites who refuse to integrate.  Known as “apartheids,” these people barely survive like cavepeople, while the rest of the humanity lives in decadent luxury in Old York (formerly New York, now that there is another New York on a distant planet), the only city of any size left on Earth.  The radiation has left these people sterile, but with greatly extended lifetimes.

It should be noted here that all this background information is only revealed bit by bit over the course of the story, avoiding clumsy lumps of exposition.  Other speculative concepts, such as instantaneous teleportation anywhere on Earth, and “time windows” that allow one to view any event in the past, are introduced as the story progresses, and all prove to be relevant.

The plot begins with the protagonist, a man of mixed race who predicts that a gigantic flood is going to destroy all remaining life on Earth, coming across a female apartheid in the hunting preserve he owns.  Since trespassing on the preserve (and killing one of the animals for food) is punishable by death, he convinces her to become his mistress instead.  (In this society, this doesn’t necessarily imply anything sexual.  Wives and mistresses are both status symbols in a world which is even more patriarchal than out own.) In one of the story’s many ironies, the “pure white” woman has much darker skin than the mulatto protagonist, even though she addresses him with the harshest of all racial insults.

Much more happens in this darkly satiric tale, which rewards careful reading.  Three stars.

Humanity faces another crisis in The Mother, a reprint from 1938 by pioneer science fiction author David H. Keller, M.D.  (He always seemed to use his medical degree in his byline.) Appearing originally in a fanzine of very small circulation, this story is likely to be new to almost all readers.

Due to its age, I expected this to be a primitive example of “scientifiction” from the pre-Campbell era.  As predicted, it begins with the characters discussing their situation in an old-fashioned method of exposition.  The population of the Earth has been greatly decreased by an illness known only as the Mysterious Disease.  A man and woman of superior mental and physical health have been selected to produce dozens of offspring, as part of an effort to repopulate the planet with the best possible children.  The ending of this brief story is unexpectedly gentle and touching, raising it to two and one-half stars.

Since this issue contains the second half of Manly Banister’s novella Magnanthropus, I decided to play fair with the author and seek out a copy of the previous issue in order to read the entire story.  It turns out that the very detailed synopsis of the first half included in the new issue would have been sufficient. 

In the late twentieth century, a future of atomic cars and enforced leisure, a vast cataclysm brings Earth in collision with a planet from another dimension.  The protagonist, along with a young boy and a twenty-five-year old “girl,” makes his way across this bizarre new land in search of a mysterious man whom he is pursuing for reasons not even he understands.  All kinds of strange encounters result, from fairy-like butterfly people to an enclave of telepathic superhumans.  Some readers will enjoy the breakneck pace of this wild adventure.  It never bored me, but I found the plot too chaotic for my taste.  Two stars.

The second half of the issue deals with the familiar theme “crime does not pay.” In the oddly titled tale A Cabbage Named Sam, John Jakes offers us another decadent future, where there is no need to steal for wealth, so thieves practice their trade just for the glory of getting away with it.  A lower class man and an upper class woman set out to steal rare art from a luxurious mansion, which happens to be located at the gigantic, fully automated cabbage factory of its owner.  It isn’t long before the man winds up among the cabbages being processed into coleslaw.  If the intent is comedy, it’s very dark indeed.  Two stars.

“The Last Druid” by Joseph E. Kelleam provides proof that Fantastic hasn’t completely lost its roots in fantasy.  Set in the kind of magic-filled world that never existed except in the pages of Weird Tales, this is the story of two thieves who foolishly enter the domain of a druid to steal a giant ruby, as well as to ravish the beautiful white-skinned woman said to dwell there.  As you might expect, they pay for their nefarious intent.  This kind of tale depends on the author’s style to create an exotic and eerie mood.  Although not as elegant and witty as Leiber’s accounts of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, this journey into a supernatural setting is effective enough for its brief length.  Two and one-half stars.

We turn to another classic kind of fantasy, the horror story, in David Ely’s Court of Judgment.  Yet another warning against theft, this tale deals with a fellow who cheats another out of a valuable painting, which is said to carry a curse.  You won’t be surprised by anything that happens, but it’s quite well written.  Three stars.

Overall, this issue earns a respectable, if not outstanding, two and one-half stars.  There are no masterpieces to be found, but no worthless stories either.  The way in which the authors tackle similar themes in very different ways provides ample evidence that there is no limit to fantastic stories of imagination.

(I suspect Victoria’s 2.5 is a 3 for me.  After consultation with the author, I shall revise the Star score, if necessary.)

[September 18, 1961] Balancing Act (October 1961 Analog)

Science fiction digests are a balancing act.  An editor has to fill a set number of pages every month relying solely on the stories s/he’s got at her/his disposal.  Not to mention the restrictions imposed if one wants to publish an “all-star” or otherwise themed issue. 

Analog has got the problem worst of all of the Big Three mags.  Galaxy is a larger digest, so it has more room to play with.  F&SF tends to publish shorter stories, which are more modular.  But Analog usually includes a serialized novel and several standard columns leaving only 100 pages or so in which to fit a few bigger stories.  If the motto of The New York Times is “All the news that’s fit to print,” then Analog’s could well be, “All the stories that fit, we print.”

How else to explain the unevenness of the October 1961 Analog?  The lead novella, Lion Loose, by James Schmitz, is 60 pages of unreadability.  It’s a shame since Schmitz has written some fine work before, but I simply unable to finish this tale of space piracy and teleporting animals.  Your mileage may vary.  One star.

Gordie Dickson’s Love Me True fares better, though it is a bit Twilight Zone-esque.  Space explorer risks all to bring a cute fuzzy-wuzzy back from Alpha Centauri as a pet.  In the end, it turns out the bonds of domestication run the other way.  Nicely written, but the idea is two decades behind the times.  Three stars.

The Asses of Balaam is Randall Garrett’s contribution, under the pseudonym “David Gordon” used by many Analog writers.  It’s the best piece in the book (didn’t expect that from Garrett!), a first contact story told from the point of view of some all-too human aliens.  I particularly appreciated the imaginative setting, the priority placed on ecological conservation, and the cute (if not unpredictable) twist at the end.  I must say – Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics have become axiomatic to all science fiction.  Four stars. 

by Schoenherr

Now, the science fact column of Analog is the worst of those included in the Big Three mags, usually filled with the crankiest of crank hypotheses.  I have to give credit to editor Campbell’s printing of Report on the Electric Field Rocket, by model rocketeer, G. Harry Stine.  This report is, in fact, an experimental refutation of H.C. Dudley’s dubious proposal to use the Earth’s electric field to help launch rockets.  Actual science!  Three stars.

Harry Harrison’s Sense of Obligation continues, to be completed next issue.  It’s reminiscent of Harrison’s excellent Deathworld in that it features a man made superhero by virtue of having grown up on a hostile planet.  Sense is not as good as Deathworld, though.  Full rating when it finishes.

That leaves The Man Who Played to Lose, another disappointing outing from a normally good author, in this case, Laurence Janifer (writing as “Larry M. Harris).  Interstellar Super Spy is sent to a planet in the throes of civil war.  His job is to stop the insurrection – by making it too successful!  A smug, implausible story, with far too much preaching at its tail.  Two stars.

This all adds up to a sub-par score of 2.6 stars out of 5.  This is not the worst Analog has gotten, but it’s not all that unusual, either.  This is why it usually takes me the longest to get through an issue of Campbell’s magazine.

Next up… a special article from a surprising source!

[September 15, 1961] DISASTER ON THE MOON (Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust)

By Ashley R. Pollard

August may have started with cool weather but it ended with a bit of heat wave for the August Bank Holiday weekend.  So I did get to sit on the beach eating ice-cream and reading a good book, and in this case having the pleasure of reading Arthur C. Clarke’s latest A Fall of Moondust, of which John Wyndham has said, “The best book that Arthur C. Clarke has written.” A high praise indeed.

I have been a fan of Arthur’s work after reading his novella, which first appeared in Startling Stories, called Against the Fall of Night.  I’ve also been fortunate to have had the pleasure of meeting him.  For those of you who follow my writing here I can also recommend, if you want a taste of the man’s humour, his short story collection Tales from the White Hart.  The title of which is play on the name of the original pub that The London Circle used to frequent.

Arthur C. Clarke’s latest book probably cements his reputation as one of the key science fiction authors of our age; the others being Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.  His breakout novel, if you will indulge me in describing it as such, was arguably Childhood’s End, which was released in 1953.  It describes the arrival of the Overlords on Earth to guide humanity and ends with the transcendence of mankind into something more than human.  This was followed by my favourite novel of his The Deep Range in 1957, which tells how a former astronaut becomes an aquanaut, and describes the adventures arising from farming the sea.

So the question is, does A Fall of Moondust live up to John Wyndham’s effusive praise?

The story starts with Captain Pat Harris describing the passengers boarding the Moon’s first cruise ship.  It is the Selene, run by The Lunar Tourist Commission, which sails the Sea of Thirst: a sea made of superfine dust that a vessel can float on.  Clarke manages to effectively evoke the other-worldliness of the moon, while at the same time setting a scene that could be have taken place on any cruise ship on Earth, with a largely mundane set of tourists.  The setting roots the fantastical elements into something familiar, making the adventure that follows extremely plausible, of when a holiday of a lifetime turns into a disaster.

Clarke intertwines the unfolding of the voyage with snippets of the world that the people come from and the development of his future society’s technology, including fusion and solar power.  Overall, the world of Moondust is optimistic about the future of mankind, almost cosy — up to the point when disaster strikes.

The catastrophe is a moon quake.  It creates a whirlpool that envelopes the Selene beneath 15 metres of dust.  But this is no story of hysteria, rather it is one of courage in the face of adversity, driven by the underlying belief that problems can be solved.

The story is effectively told from various viewpoints.  The story opens describing the voyage of the crew and passengers of the Selene.  After the disaster we are then taken to the viewpoint of the people searching for the lost ship, who have to come up with a way of getting everyone off safely.  Clarke masterfully describes the problems on both sides, and the various solutions that are undertaken as the clock counts down toward eventual doom — when everyone aboard the Selene will die from lack of oxygen.

Everything is cooly set-up, but then Clarke defies the readers’ expectations, piling problem on top of problem.  The experience is intense, as one wonders what will happen next.  But Clarke manages to keep racking up the tension, teasing the reader with solution only to reveal that there is more going wrong from unintended side-effects.  For example, leaking water from the Selene’s water tanks seeps into the dust and unbalances the ship, which further hinders the rescue operations.

Technology may well enable fantastic things like cruises across the dust seas of the Moon, but it is not omnipotent; you cannot defy the laws of physics, and the exploration of this distinction is where the novel excels.  The characters agency is constrained by what is possible, and in this way the story reminds me of The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, except that Moondust is no maudlin tale of the consequence of stupidity, but rather a paean to reason and engineering.

So is this the best story that Arthur C. Clarke has written?  My answer is probably not, but there again Childhood’s End and Deep Range are hard acts to follow.  Moondust is a tour de force he delivers here, an excellent SF suspense-thriller.  The story drew me in and I sat and read it in a single day.  I imagine you will, too, some fine late summer day.

[September 13, 1961] Dry Run (Mercury-Atlas 4)

by Gideon Marcus

It’s is a red-letter day for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and for America as a whole.  For today, we finally got a Mercury space capsule into orbit!  The flight, dubbed “Mercury-Atlas 4,” began this morning in a blast of fire on a Florida launchpad and lasted one hour and fifty minutes.  At its conclusion, the Mercury capsule deorbited and parachuted safely into the Atlantic ocean.  By all standards, it was a picture-perfect mission.

Except that there wasn’t anyone in the capsule…

All flippancy aside, it really is a big deal.  The reason the Soviets are ahead of us, such that they’ve gotten two fellows into orbit while our two astronauts have been limited to 15-minute suborbital jaunts, is because they started out with the better rocket.

In 1957, the Russians announced that their first ICBM, a missile that can cross the world, was ready for business.  It is no coincidence that their first space probe, Sputnik, was launched soon after.  That’s because an ICBM can be used to carry payloads into orbit about as easily as they can carry atomic weapons to farflung countries. 

The United States had no ICBM in 1957.  We were later to that party.  Instead, we had a stable of shorter-ranged IRBMs, sufficient only to launch small payloads into space.  Our first ICBM, the Atlas, wasn’t operational until 1960.

It takes an ICBM to launch something as heavy as a manned spaceship, and it’s not enough that the missile be able to deliver a nuclear payload.  Since the stakes are higher with a human passenger, it is important to qualify an ICBM as a space booster very carefully, something the Soviets have had more time to do.  The Russian qualification flights, Sputniks 4, 6, and 9, all took place before last March.  Our balky Atlas has now been tested with the Mercury capsule four times.  Only two of those flights were successful – the second, a suborbital jaunt, and this latest, orbital, flight

I imagine NASA is still not out of the woods.  They’ll want to see the Mercury Atlas combination work together at least once more before trusting a man to it.  (I use the word “man” in its specific sense.  The team of 13 woman astronaut candidates was disbanded this week, more’s the pity)

Based on the results of this flight, it is just possible there might be a manned orbital Mercury flight before the year is out.  Or at least before the next few Soviet men (and women?) fly overhead…

[September 11, 1961] Newest Child of The Bomb (The Flight that Disappeared)

by Gideon Marcus

The Bomb.  Since its creation and use in 1945, it has overshadowed our world.  For the first time since we descended from the trees a million years ago, humanity had the means to destroy itself in one blow.  It can’t help but influence our culture, our politics, our nightmares.  It is no surprise that atomic holocaust has figured prominently in our visual and printed media.

Last weekend, at a pre-premiere in Los Angeles, my daughter and I watched The Flight that Disappeared, the latest film to draw inspiration from the universal fear that is nuclear annihilation. 

In brief: Trans-Coastal Flight 60, an elderly prop-driven DC-6, takes off from Los Angeles Airport heading for Washington D.C.  Onboard are three pivotal characters summoned to the nation’s capitol for a top secret meeting.  One is Dr. Carl Morris, who has developed the next inevitable phase in nuclear weaponry — a device that singly can destroy an entire country.  His colleague, mathematician Marcia Paxton, is also on the flight.  Completing the trio is Tom Endicott, a rocket propulsions engineer with a design for a super-ICBM.

Hours out from LAX, after the sun has set, the plane begins an inexorable climb.  The controls do not respond, and soon, Flight 60 is ten miles up.  Its passengers collapse one-by-one from oxygen starvation, the propellers stop turning, yet still the plane rises.  It disappears from ground radar, all radio contact cut.  A massive search uncovers no trace of the missing aircraft.

Endicott awakens to find the plane in daylight, the engines silent.  All of the passengers are in a state of suspended animation save for Paxton and Dr. Morris.  Their watches have stopped…as have their hearts.  As they ponder this new situation, wondering if they are dead, a mysterious figure beckons them out of the plane.  He represents the foreman of a jury, a jury of people who do not yet exist.  They inhabit the intersection of the present and the future made possible by the vast importance of the meeting of the three key passengers.

It is presented that the marriage of Morris and Paxton’s creations will inevitably lead to a life-ending catastrophe, leaving Earth a shattered, barren land.  It matters not that the weapon is yet undeveloped or that the scientist trio will not directly build it.  Once it is conceived, it will someday be built, and our race must die.  The jury determine that the scientists are all guilty of genocide, and that they must remain in their weird timeless void forever so that the future might be saved.

Reprieve comes in the form of one of the jurors’ dissent.  It is no one’s place, he argues, to render such a judgment, even with the stakes so high.  The accused must be allowed to return, even if the consequences be destruction in the ultimate. 

We next see Endicott waking up once more.  It is night again, and the plane is not only running, but on schedule.  None of the passengers nor the flight crew remember anything out of the ordinary.  Only the trio remember.  Upon landing, they learn that their plane was missing for 24 hours beyond the anticipated flight time.  Convinced of the sincerity of the message delivered by the unborn future, Dr. Morris tears up his notes.

Little more than an overlong episode of The Twilight Zone, I can’t imagine Flight will be a big hit.  While the story is reasonably sound, if utterly predictable from the beginning, it is padded to the point of being ponderous, even for a short movie.  Had this been an hour-long TV special (with commercials), it probably would have been more effective.

That said, I did find the movie somehow compelling.  The idea that certain junctures of history are so crucial that they weaken the fabric of space-time is an interesting one.  And while the jury sequence is a bit histrionic, there is merit to pondering whether humanity should be allowed to stumble along blindly when the risk be great, like a child lighting a match in a gunpowder factory (the simile cited in the movie).  Wouldn’t it be nice if a guardian angel could tell us which line constituted a step too far in the march toward extinction. 

So I didn’t dislike Flight, nor was I particularly bored.  Perhaps a more skilled writer might recycle this premise into something truly memorable.  As is, it’s a two-star movie. 

Which is still better than a lot of the films we watch!

by Lorelei Marcus

This week we watched The Flight That Disappeared, and, unlike Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, it was exactly what it promised.  The movie wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t anything special.  The acting was good, but nothing outstanding, the set was pretty much just an airplane the whole movie, and the plot was predictable from the start.

Something interesting about the movie itself however, was that it was in black and white.  It kept fading into what could’ve been a commercial break, which leads me to believe it was made to be aired on TV.  I have to give the film credit, it did well despite being on a small budget, though you can tell they really liked using the fog machine (to simulate being in the air, I guess).

Though the acting was nothing stupendous,there was one actor that stood out to me.  One of the three main characters, Endicott, reminded me a great deal of William Shatner, whom I saw in a previous episode of The Twilight Zone.

Anyway, that’s all I really have to say about it.  Me and my father predicted the entire movie pretty much from the start, so it was really just a matter of waiting it out.  I would give this movie a 2 out of 5. You may see it if you wish, but I highly recommend watching The Twilight Zone instead.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[September 8, 1961] What makes a Happy?  (October 1961 Galaxy)

by Gideon Marcus

It doesn’t take much to make me happy: a balmy sunset on the beach, a walk along Highway 101 with my family, Kathy Young on the radio, the latest issue of Galaxy.  Why Galaxy?  Because it was my first science fiction digest; because it is the most consistent in quality; because it’s 50% bigger than other leading brands!

And the latest issue (October 1961) has been an absolute delight with a couple of the best stories I’ve seen in a long while.  Come take a look with me – I promise it’ll be worth your while.

First up is A Planet Named Shayol, by Cordwainer Smith.  Smith’s is a rare talent.  There are few writers who not only excel at their craft, but they somehow transcend it, creating something otherworldly in its beauty.  Ted Sturgeon can do it.  I’m having trouble thinking of others in this class.  Almost every Smith story has this slightly lilting, 10% off-plane sense to it. 

Shayol is set in the far future universe of the “Instrumentality,” a weird interstellar human domain with people on top, beast creatures as servants, and robots at the bottom of the social totem pole.  This particular novelette introduces us to the most peculiar and forbidding of Devil’s Islands, the planet Shayol.  Just maintaining one’s humanity in such a place of horrors is a triumph.  The story promises to be a hard read, yet Smith manages to skirt the line of discomfort to create a tale of hope with an upbeat ending.  Plus, Smith doesn’t shy from noble woman characters.  Five stars.

Robert Bloch comes and goes with little stories that are either cute, horrific, or both.  Crime Machine, about a 21st Century boy who takes a trip back to the exciting days of gangster Chicago, is one of the former variety.  Three stars.

Another short one is Amateur in Chancery by George O. Smith.  A sentimental vignette about a scientist’s frantic efforts to retrieve an explorer trapped on Venus by a freak teleportation mishap.  Slight but sweet.  Three stars.

I’m not quite sure I understood The Abominable Earthman, by Galaxy’s editor, Fred Pohl.  In it, Earth is conquered by seemingly invincible aliens, but one incorrigible human is the key to their defeat.  The setup is good, but the end seemed a bit rushed.  Maybe you’ll like it better than me.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s science article is about the reclaimed lowlands of Holland.  It’s a fascinating topic, almost science fiction, but somehow Ley’s treatment is unusually dull.  I feel as if he’s phoning in his articles these days.  Two stars.

Art by Dick Francis

Mating Call, by Frank Herbert, is another swing and miss.  An interesting premise, involving a race that reproduces parthenogenetically via musical stimulation, is ruined by a silly ending.  Two stars.

Jack Sharkey usually fails to impress, but his psychic first contact story, Arcturus times Three, is a decent read.  You’ll definitely thrill as the Contact Agent possesses the bodies of several alien animals in a kind of psionic planetary survey.  What keeps Arcturus out of exceptional territory is the somehow unimaginative way the exotic environs and species are portrayed.  Three stars.

If you are a devotee of the coffee house scene, or if you just dig Maynard G. Krebs on Dobie Gillis, then you’re well acquainted with the Beat scene.  Those crazy kooks with their instruments and their poetry, living a life decidedly rounder than square.  It’s definitely a groove I fall in, and I look forward to throwing away my suit and tie when I can afford to live the artistic life.  Fritz Leiber’s new story, The Beat Cluster is about a little slice of Beatnik heaven in orbit, a bunch of self-sufficient bubbles with a gaggle of space-bound misfits — if you can get past the smell, it sure sounds inviting.  I love the premise; the story doesn’t do much, though.  Three stars.

Last up is Donald Westlake, a fellow I normally associate with action thrillers.  His The Spy in the Elevator is kind of a minor masterpiece.  Not so much in concept (set in an overcrowded Earth where everyone lives in self-contained city buildings) but in execution.  It takes skill to weave exposition with brevity yet comprehensiveness into a story’s hook – and it does hook.  Westlake also keeps a consistent, believable viewpoint throughout the story, completely in keeping with the setting.  I find myself giving it five stars, for execution, if nothing else.

Add it all up and what do you get?  3.3 stars out of 5, and at least one story that could end up a contender for the 1961 Hugos (I really enjoyed the Westlake, but I feel it may not be avante garde enough for the gold rocket).  Now that’s something to smile about!

[September 6, 1961] The 1961 Hugos!

by Gideon Marcus

It’s that time of the year, again, when hundreds of sf fans (or ‘fen’) converge from around the world.  Their goal is not just to converse upon matters science and fictiony, but to determine the genre’s brightest stars.  Yes, it’s Hugo time!

This year, some three hundred fen gathered in Seattle Hyatt House Hotel for the 19th Annual WorldCon (appropriately dubbed “SeaCon” this year) over Labor Day weekend.  Wally Weber organized the shindig, and the silver/acid-tongued Harlan Ellison served as Toastmaster.  It’s a convention I should have, by all rights, been able to have attended given my frequent travels to that jewel city of the Northwest.  A family wedding got in the way, however, so details of this, the year’s most important sf fan event, had to be gotten second-hand.  Luckily, I got them via phone and some photos via ‘fax for you all to enjoy!

Sam Moskowitz on the far left, Alan Nourse’s back to us, then Poul Anderson; I can make out Robert Heinlein and Doc Smith in the back in profile; the fellow with the striped shirt is fan Ed Wood (not the director)

The guest of honor was the great Robert Heinlein, who gave a doom n’ gloom speech about how he thought a good third of the population would soon be dead from wars and survivalist raids (or perhaps from boredom trying to get through his latest book). 

all pictures from fanac

As usual, there was a Masquerade Ball, with attendees sporting outlandish, sf-themed costumes:

Stu Hoffman and Sylvia Dees

Joni Cornell, Superfan Forrest Ackerman, and a fan I don’t recognize

Ellie Turner and Karen Anderson

Bill Warren as The Invisible Man

There was a Dealer’s Hall where hucksters, amateur and professional, sold their wares.  There was also an art show with some lovely pieces on display.

But most importantly, for the purposes of this article, at least, the attendees of SeaCon exercised their solemn right to choose the best genre titles for the year 1960.  Let’s look at what they decided and how their choices compare to the ones I gave at the end of last year.

Best Novel

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller [J. B. Lippincott, 1959]


The High Crusade by Poul Anderson [Astounding Jul,Aug,Sep 1960]

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys [F&SF Dec 1960]

Deathworld by Harry Harrison [Astounding Jan,Feb,Mar 1960]

Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon [Pyramid, 1960]

My three favorites made the list, as well as Sturgeon’s book (which, if not amazing, was certainly innovative) and Budrys’ short novel, first published in F&SF.  Apparently, a number of fans felt it should have won the prize.  I, personally, found it to be the one entry that didn’t deserve to be here.

Short Fiction

The Longest Voyage by Poul Anderson [Analog Dec 1960]


The Lost Kafoozalum by Pauline Ashwell [Analog Oct 1960]

Open to Me, My Sister by Philip José Farmer [F&SF May 1960]

Need by Theodore Sturgeon [Beyond, 1960]

Poul Anderson and his Hugo

Of course, my presentation is a bit different – I break down my short fiction into smaller categories.  Anderson’s story wasn’t a finalist in my novella category, but I did give it four stars.  I’m very glad to see that the Ashwell (which was a finalist for a Galactic Star) was in close contention for the Hugo.  I hated the Farmer (though, I suppose, that’s a matter of taste), and I never read the Sturgeon.  I wasn’t aware that Beyond was back in print; it died back in 1955.

Best Dramatic Presentation

The Twilight Zone (TV series) by Rod Serling [CBS]


Village of the Damned [MGM] Directed by Wolf Rilla; Written by Stirling Silliphant and Wolf Rilla and Ronald Kinnoch

The Time Machine [Galaxy Films/MGM] Directed by George Pal; Screenplay by David Duncan; based on the novel by H. G. Wells

Once again, The Twilight Zone gets the prize.  I would have given it to George Pal’s film, though to be fair, I haven’t seen Village.

Best Professional Magazine

Astounding Science Fiction ed. by John W. Campbell, Jr.


Amazing Science Fiction Stories ed. by Cele Goldsmith

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction ed. by Robert P. Mills

I suppose this isn’t too surprising.  While I feel F&SF was better than Analog last year, the difference was not tremendous.  As for Amazing, well, I’m not qualified to judge.  It’s not currently among my subscriptions.

Best Professional Artist

Ed Emshwiller


Virgil Finlay

Frank Kelly Freas

Mel Hunter

(This is virtually the same list as last year!)

Best Fanzine

Who Killed Science Fiction? a one shot edited by Earl Kemp got the Hugo this year.  The rules were promptly changed so that, in the future, one-shots won’t be eligible.


Discord ed. by Redd Boggs

Fanac ed. by Terry Carr and Ron Ellik

Yandro ed. by Robert Coulson and Juanita Coulson

Habakkuk ed. by Bill Donaho

Shangri L’Affaires ed. by Bjo Trimble and John Trimble

As usual, I don’t read the ‘zines (who has time), but I do tip my hat to the Trimbles, whom I met at a convention earlier this year, and who are the nicest people. 

Of course, I’m always hopeful that my ‘zine will someday win a Hugo.  Perhaps next year, with your help, it shall!