[Dec. 5, 1961] IF I didn’t care… (January 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

There is an interesting rhythm to my science fiction reading schedule.  Every other month, I get to look forward to a bumper crop of magazines: Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, and the King-Sized Galaxy.  Every other month, I get F&SF, Analog, and IF (owned by the same fellow who owns Galaxy). 

IF is definitely the lesser mag.  Not only is it shorter, but it clearly gets second choice of submissions to it and its sister, Galaxy.  The stories tend to be by newer authors, or the lesser works of established ones.  This makes sense — Galaxy offers the standard rate of three cents an article while IF‘s pay is a bare one cent per word.

That isn’t to say IF isn’t worth reading.  Pohl’s a good editor, and he manages to make decent (if not extraordinary) issues every month.  The latest one, the January 1962 IF, is a good example. 

For instance, the lead novelette is another cute installment in Keith Laumer’s “Retief” series, The Yillian Way.  I’ve tended not to enjoy the stories of Retief, a member of the Terran Interstellar Diplomatic Corps.  Laumer writes him a bit too omnipotent, and omnipotent heroes are boring, as they have no obstacles to overcome.  The challenges presented in Way, however, both by the baffling alien Yills and Retief’s own consular mission, are all too plausible…and charmingly met.  I am also pleased to find that Retief is Black (or, perhaps, Indian).  Four stars.

There’s not much to James Schmitz’s An Incident on Route Twelve.  In fact, if not for the engaging manner in which it’s written, this rather archaic story of alien abduction would be completely skippable.  As presented, it reads like a fair episode of The Twilight Zone.  Three stars.

If there is a signature author for IF, it’s Jim Harmon.  This prolific author seems to be in every other issue of the mag (and quite a few Galaxy issues, too).  Harmon is to Pohl what Randy Garrett is to John Campbell at Analog: a reliable workhorse.  Thankfully for Pohl, Harmon is better than Garrett (not a high bar).  The Last Place on Earth is not the best thing Harmon has ever written.  In fact, the ending seems rushed, and the plot doesn’t quite make sense.  That said, this tale of a fellow being hounded by a malevolent alien presence, is powerfully told.  Another three-star piece.

Usually, alien possession a la Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters is portrayed in a negative light.  But what if the society taken over is an intolerant dictatorship, and the foreign entity promotes love and brotherhood?  The Talkative Tree by H.B. Fyfe won’t knock your socks off, but it is a pleasant little read.  Three stars.

Last of the short stories is 2BR02B (the zero pronounced “naught”) by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.  Like his latest in F&SF, Harrison Bergeron, it is a cautionary tale written at a grade-school level.  This time, the subject is the ever-popular crisis of overpopulation. With Vonnegut, I vacillate between admiring his simplistic prose and rolling my eyes at it.  Three stars.

That’s the last of the short stories.  Not too bad, right?  A solid couple of hours of reading pleasure there.  But then you run headlong into the second half of the serial, Masters of Space, and that’s where the wheels come off of this issue.  E.E. Evans was a prolific writer for the lesser mags between the late ’40s and his death in 1958.  I know of him, but I haven’t read a single thing by him.  There is another, more famous “E.E.”  That’s E.E. Smith, the leading light of pulpish space opera from the 20s and 30s.  He had largely stayed hidden under the radar for the past couple of decades, but he resurfaced not to long ago.

Some time between his passing and this year, “Doc” Smith got a hold of a half-finished Evans work and decided to complete it.  The result is a almost skeletal, decidedly old-fashioned novel, something about humans who once straddled the stars but were coddled to senescence by the android servants they created.  Millennia later, the descendants of the old Masters pushed out into the galaxy again, only to face the indescribably sinister Stretts.  Masters isn’t bad, exactly.  It’s just not very good.  Smith’s writing holds no appeal for me.  I recognize Smith’s importance to the field of science fiction, but time has not been kind to his work, nor have Doc’s skills improved much over the years.  I made it about 60% through this short novel, but ultimately, I simply have better things to do with my time.  Two stars (and I revised my opinion of the previous installment, too).

In many ways, IF is the anti-Analog.  That magazine usually has great serials and mediocre short stories.  Oh well.  At least they both have something to offer. 

Next up: the next installment in an ongoing series.  Don’t miss this Galactic Journey exclusive!

[December 3, 1961] Of Wives and Men (or First Ladies’ Fashion)

When I started this endeavor, I never expected to find so many fellow travelers.  Each has provided an unique insight into the worlds of science fiction, comics, science, fandom.  I have tried to balance staying true to my original vision (which is why I promise to keep writing at least a majority of the articles here) with showcasing all of these lovely perspectives. 

A few months ago, I met a remarkable young woman with a keen eye for fashion as well as an uncommon understanding of geopolitics.  The premise of Galactic Journey is that context matters.  This is why I leaven the fiction with nonfiction.  And it’s why the Journey now has…a fashion column.  Read on – I think you’ll agree that Ms. Conaway is a worthy addition to our constellation of authors…


by Gwyn Conaway

This is a time of change and uncertainty, but we are full to the brim with ambition. We hope for a future of technological mastery. An age of abundance and exploration. We see our society as a beacon of moral and economic high ground. The Reds do too.

You see, I observe the world in patterns of psychology, fear, and desire. I’m a costume designer, and I glean more from fashion trends and wardrobe choices than any newspaper. This shadow of nuclear war hanging over our heads is worrisome, but it seems to me, across the distance of ideology and oceans, that we still dream the same dreams.

“It seemed clear proof that an atom smasher is a poor match for an attractive young lady in a well-fitted blouse.”
The New York Times, Style Show – SRO Soviet Exhibition, NY NY – July 2, 1961

First Lady Jackie Kennedy recently met with Nina Khrushcheva, wife of Nikita Khrushchev, the current Premier of Soviet Russia. While many of my cohorts discussed the new president and the premier’s first encounter in Vienna, I was captured by the meeting of the wives.


Jackie Kennedy and Nina Khrushcheva meet in Vienna, 1961.

Jackie Kennedy wore an elegant black skirt suit, presumably by Coco Chanel. A signature style in her closet, the suit consists of a black silk blouse, a velvet pillbox hat, pencil skirt, and three-button jacket with a three-quarter-length sleeve and delicate lapel. Her pearls are classically understated. She is elegantly reserved, poised for what was sure to be a tense meeting.

What interests me most, however, is the ensemble of Nina Khrushcheva. Her frumpy floral ensemble, designed by Nina Gupalo, is considered a fashion failure around the world. However, what it lacks in style, it makes up for in context.

After World War II, New York quickly overcame Paris as the global leader of fashion. Of course, this means that Russia has spoken out vehemently against the industry. While Americans embrace glamour and beauty, Russian leaders publicly admonish such trends. Instead, they call for art and design that serves the people. In the USSR, utility and function supersede glamour and personal expression these days.

Although Nina Khrushcheva has been an advocate for the fashion industry, her personal style choices have always been dowdy and poorly-composed. Common natural fibres such as cotton and wool combined with boxy tailoring express her loyalty to communist ideals on the global stage.


Madame Khrushcheva invited Christian Dior to Moscow in 1959 for the first fashion show exhibiting Western designers. Here are Dior models in a street show, taken from my old copy of Life Magazine.

This is apparent in an iconic image of former First Lady Pat Nixon and Khrushcheva published on the cover of Life Magazine two years ago on August 10, 1959. Pat Nixon wore a vibrant floral ensemble while her Soviet hosts wore the more utilitarian styles accepted by the Ruskies. What is most compelling about this photograph is not that their respective fashion choices express the ideals of their two nations, but that Nixon’s Russian hostesses appear to be looking in longing at her bold dress and styling.

All three hostesses, Mmes Khrushcheva, Mikoyan, and Kozlov, wear plain-cloth house dresses and skirt suits without jewelry to frame their faces. Much like the communist uniforms of working women and students, their torsos are boxy and loose with minimal darting to shape the bust or waist. Unlike the sweeping pleats of Nixon’s dress, their skirts are straight and simple.


The cover of Life Magazine, August 10 1959

Through this single photograph, the demarcation of both powers’ post-World War ideals is very clear. While all nations limited their consumer goods for the war effort in the 1940s, America and Russia have obviously striven for very different Utopian futures. Pat Nixon’s joyous ensemble expresses America’s newfound abundance; a thriving capitalist economy powered by fast-paced, bold trends conveyed through its loud patterns and colors, the ample use of refined fabrics, and jewelry. Khrushcheva and her comrades, on the other hand, wear the dream of a future that works for the common man, a society of builders rather than consumers, so to speak. Khrushcheva’s fabric, a muted geometric textile, is an homage to this idyllic industrial Russian character.

Now, as I look at Jackie Kennedy and Nina Khrushcheva’s first meeting, I chuckle. Although Khrushchev has worn florals before, this particular ensemble means more. She is not only reaching out to American women through her words of peace and understanding, but also through this Gupalo design. Unlike Khrushcheva’s usual folkish patterns, this floral acts as a bridge across our two nations. By combining an industrial grey and cream palette with an abstract floral pattern, Khrushcheva has extended her hand in a show of unity between the Reds and the West.

Perhaps this is a sign of good things to come in the Kennedy Administration. After all, standing next to every great man is an equally great woman. The distance between ourselves and the Russkies is not insurmountable after all.

[November 30, 1961] Man vs. Machine (November 1961 Space Round-up)


by Gideon Marcus

November 1961 been an exciting month for space buffs with several sequels to exciting missions as well as one brand new satellite. 

For instance, the fourth Transit navigational satellite went up on November 15.  Not only did it carry a little nuclear reactor for power, but it also had a piggyback pal.  Called Transit Research and Attitude Control (TRAAC), it’s a little research probe designed to try a new method of stabilization.  You see, an object launched into orbit will have a tendency to tumble.  There are active methods to right a satellite, like engines or gyroscopes.  TRAAC uses a passive method, employing just its shape and the tidal force of the Earth.  It’s an exciting experiment.

The Air Force was two for three this month with their reconnaissance programs.  Discoverer 34, on November 5, and Discoverer 35, on November 15, were sent into space to spy on the Soviet Union.  Each had a little camera on board and a capsule for sending film back to Earth.  Both craft made it into orbit, and at least the latter mission’s payload was recovered in a daring (but now routine) mid-air catch by a plane.  Only the boys in blue know whether the targets were a Soviet base or skinny dippers on the Black Sea.  Samos 4, launched November 22, failed to orbit.

By the way, it’s going to get harder for me to give you the skinny on military missions.  While Eisenhower was rather cavalier about letting the Soviets know what we’re up to, probably to show off, President Kennedy has put a lid on spy flights.  Newspapers aren’t covering them much anymore, and the details we do get are sketchy.  Just be aware that, at any given time, there are robot shutterbugs in orbit, taking snapshots of Nikita.  And maybe of you.

On to the civilian world: the second Moon probe Ranger probe was a bust, just like the first.  It’s a shame because these two missions, comprising the first iteration of the probe known as “Block 1,” were designed to do some excellent sky science.  They weren’t aimed at our celestial neighbor.  Rather, they were to be flung into high orbits for engineering tests and cosmic investigation.  The next mission, a Block 2 lunar impactor, is planned for January 1962.

But the real NASA news this month involves a little primate named Enos.  Yesterday, for the second time, an Atlas booster roared into the orbit from Cape Canaveral with a Mercury capsule at its tip.  Unlike the last one, however, Mercury-Atlas #5 (the first three had been suborbital missions) carried a passenger.  The 37.5 pound chimpanzee circled the Earth twice before safely splashing down some 255 miles southeast of Bermuda.

Just as the launch of a chimp presaged Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight in May, so Enos’ jaunt paves the way for astronaut John Glenn to be the first American in orbit in just a few weeks (weather permitting).  Now, the flight was not entirely flawless.  A roll reaction jet failed, and one of the components of the electrical system overheated.  As a result, Enos’ capsule returned to Earth after just two of the planned three orbits.  But, had a human been on board, he could have compensated for these issues, easily. 

That’s the bigger story, to me.  I know some people wonder why we bother to send people up into space when electric implements have proven capable enough, and cheaper.  And there is certainly a segment of the flyboy population that snickers at the thought of test pilots relegated to following in the furry shoes of ape predecessors. 

Yet, in MA-5, we have the reason.  No monkey and, as yet, no machine can react with the speed and intellect of a human.  Moreover, no machine can think creatively, adapting to an evolving situation beyond a few set scenarios programmed into its core.  Imagine if an astronaut were flying the Discoverer missions.  He’d have the discretion of choosing the targets to photograph.  He’d be able to bring a film capsule home with him rather than relying on complicated automatic systems and aerial recovery planes. 

When John Glenn flies, he will return far more information about the universe than any experiment or animal could, not just scientific, but about the human condition.  For 270 minutes, he will be an outpost of the Free World in space.  What will it mean to him, to all of us, his three circuits of the globe? 

We can’t know until he gets there, but I’m betting it will be profound.

[Nov. 28, 1961] Friendly Competition (The Case for National Comics)

Erica Frank and I have both extolled the virtues of superhero comics; I pumped Marvel while she was a National fan.  Now, famed comics expert Jason Sacks weighs in, mostly to tell us that Erica’s taste is far better than mine.  He’s probably right…


by Jason Sacks

Several weeks ago, the Traveler posted a short, mostly complimentary review of the new Marvel Comic The Fantastic Four. He liked the comic’s heady mix of fact and science fiction, as well as its inclusion of a female character in its cast.

That review troubled me because it praises material I consider to be second rate. Marvel is, unfortunately, a schlock-house. Several years ago Marvel specialized in Twilight Zone-style twist-in-the-tail yarns (which the Traveler discussed in 1959). Recently, though, Marvel’s output has descended into juvie monster stories. The Fantastic Four #1 is not much more than a full-length version of those same moribund tales with the addition of derivative super-powers. The ugly art from Jack Kirby only makes things worse. He should go back to drawing love comics and leave heroes alone. I can confidently say Jack Kirby has no future in costumed-hero comics.

A look of the covers of any month’s releases from this second-rate publisher proves this point.  The enormous monster on the cover of The Fantastic Four#1 is similar to the titanic creature featured in nearly every other Marvel book released recently. The outrageous Monsteroso from the October Amazing Adventures #5, the Mohawked Brutto in the October Tales of Suspense #22, and the ridiculous green giant Fin Fang Foom in that same month’s Strange Tales #89 all fit the same general template.


the Marvel monster who wears shorts!

These Marvel creatures are all bites from the same rancid apple. They represent a juvenile collection of clichés and ridiculousness barely suited for even the most dilapidated drive-in.

Conversely, industry leader National Comics is delivering truly outstanding science fiction comics. In comics like The Flash, Green Lantern and the new Atom a team of talented creators deliver tales that combine fiction and fact in ways that should make people like John W. Campbell smile.

I beg a little indulgence as I tell you about the fascinating Mr. Julius Schwartz, the editor of those comics. Schwartz is one of the leading lights of older style science fiction fandom and pro-dom. In fact, he was a pioneering fan. With Forrest J. Ackerman and Mortimer Weisinger (himself an editor at National, on the Superman titles), Schwartz co-published one of the first “fanzines,” The Time Traveler, in 1932. That mimeographed masterpiece caught the eyes of fans and pros alike. In it, the writers and editors praised the writing of many of the greatest writers of the field while also presenting fiction by aspiring pros.

A rare copy of the fanzine that started the career of the brilliant Mr. Schwartz, Time Traveler. Note future National Comics editor Mortimer Weisinger is also listed on the masthead, as is the famous “pro-fan” Forrest J. Ackerman.

That ‘zine caused a small sensation among fans and professionals. It led to all three men moving into the field full time. Schwartz opened the Solar Sales Service agency, where he represented writers such as Howard Philips Lovecraft, Alfred Bester and Ray Bradbury. After a decade as an agent, the owners of All-American Comics tapped Schwartz to join their staff as an editor on their line of super-heroes including Green Lantern, Dr. Mid-Nite, Hawkman and The Flash. As he gained experience at All-American, and as AA merged with National Comics, Schwartz moved into science fiction comics. He established himself there as a notable editor on such brilliant sci-fi titles as Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. Those latter two series were perhaps the finest sci-fi comics published since the amazing E.C. Comics disappeared in 1954.

Schwartz brings his same passion for science fiction to his editing of super-hero comics. He also evokes fond memories for longtime fans. The great editor mines for creative gold in places that revive memories of the past while evoking the jet age in which we live. He has set to work reviving the names of some of the members of the much beloved Justice Society of America (moribund since 1951). As part of that effort, our man Schwartz has delivered to readers sleek new versions of such revered names as the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and (his latest revival) The Atom.

On “The Atom”, Schwartz collaborates with writer Gardner Fox (a veteran of such magazines as Amazing Stories and Weird Tales) and artist Gil Kane. The background of our new hero has a solid foundation in the same sorts of ideas you might discover each month in the pages of Worlds of If.

The Atom is scientist Ray Palmer (named after the editor of such notable publications as Amazing Stories, Imagination and Other Worlds). He is a researcher at Ivy University investigating matter compression as a means for fighting overpopulation. Palmer has a breakthrough and finds he is able to shrink matter. In typical style, when he sets aside his research to indulge in a little fun, Palmer finds himself in an emergency. To save himself and his girlfriend, Palmer uses the shrinking ability and discovers he has amazing abilities. I anxiously await the second part of Palmer’s saga next month in Showcase #35.

Ray Palmer represents the destiny of America as an outgrowth of scientific discovery. Green Lantern represents our aspirations in space. As President Kennedy reminds us, America will be going to the moon and beyond in the next century. If that is true, I want our astronauts to be like Hal Jordan. He is a test pilot who has no fear. Jordan is ready to battle whatever evil comes his way – even in the far future.

In his September/October issue number 8, Jordan travels into the 58th century. The residents of that long-away century draft Jordan to become the leader of their great society.


Green Lantern travels into the far future to fight these surprising beasts

In fact, Green Lantern is already a member of another great society. Hal discovered in Green Lantern #6 (May/June 1961) that he is the member of a kind of extraterrestrial police force led by a group calling themselves the Guardians of the Universe. That idea seems ripped right from the pages of many classic pulp magazines, but with a modern twist. With sleek art by Kane, this series has rocketed to the top of many fans’ reading lists.

While The Atom and Green Lantern present some of the smartest sci-fi action comics of all time, Schwartz’s crown jewel has to be The Flash.

This new Flash takes his cue from the much-beloved 1940s Flash. As with Green Lantern, however, this is a modern Flash tailored for Baby Boom readers. The new Flash is crewcut cop Barry Allen, who donned a sleek red suit to become the fastest man alive. Since moving into his own solo comic in 1959, The Flash has presented some delightful science-oriented tales. That has included clever descriptions of friction, atomic cohesion and even the theory of continental drift. Each of these adventures have been drawn by Carmine Infantino, a brilliant cartoonist uniquely equipped to deliver sleek, delightful line work.


The cover to the brilliant “Flash of Two Worlds”

The story par excellence, the chapter that shows Schwartz’s incomparable intelligence, is The Flash #123, the September 1961 issue. That month, the creative team pulled off an idea I never expected to witness: the chance to see Barry Allen and Jay Garrick racing alongside each other. Though Barry imagined the original Flash was just comic book star, he actually was able to meet his idol.

How did Barry manage that amazing trick?

Through one of the cleverest ideas I’ve ever come across: parallel worlds.


an explanation of parallel worlds

Parallel worlds! What a clever concept. This idea is a brilliant revelation for a reader such as me. Imagine a counterpart of yourself, the same but deeply different, existing in a dimension vibrating at a different frequency from ours. Imagine how their experiences would vary from yours, and how their world might contain subtle changes.

This clever, innovative idea struck me like a revelation. For us long-time readers of comics this seems a clear signal that the revival of the august Justice Society of America may be coming soon. That means we could witness Green Lantern and the Atom meet their counterparts. It also means the possible resurrections of classic heroes in new guises. If the Atom can be revived, how long will it be before we see Black Canary, Dr. Fate, even The Spectre?


Left to right, Mr. Schwartz, writer Otto Binder and editor Raymond Palmer.

Yes, my friend the Traveler can celebrate that badly drawn kid stuff over at tiny, decrepit Marvel. National Comics is the place to find brilliant science fiction in comic book form. Drop your dime for some of the comics edited by Julius Schwartz and tell me if you don’t agree.

[Nov. 26, 1961] End of the Line (December 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s the end of the year!  “What?” you exclaim, “but it’s only November!”  True that, but the date on my latest Fantasy and Science Fiction says December 1961, and that means it is the last science fiction digest of the calendar year that will go through my review grinder.

F&SF has been the best magazine, per my ratings, for the past several years.  Going into this final issue, however, it has lagged consistently behind Galaxy.  Would this final issue be enough to pull it back into 1st place?  Especially given the stellar 3.8 stars rating that Galaxy garnered last month?

Well, no.  I’m afraid the magazine that Bouchier built (and handed over to Mills) must needs merit 8 stars this month to accomplish that feat.  That said, it’s still quite a decent issue, especially given the rather lackluster ones of the recent past.  So, with the great fanfare appropriate to the holiday season, I present to you the final sf mag of 1961:

Damon Knight seems have gotten a gig as editor Mills’ favored French translator.  Perhaps the job was in compensation for Knight’s having been laid off as book editor for his scathing (unpublished) review of Judith Merril’s The Tomorrow People.  Claude Veillot’s The First Days of May is a grim story of a Parisian survivor after the devastating invasion of the bug people from outer space.  Beautifully told, but there are no happy endings here.  Four stars.

My friend, Herbert Gold, returns with The Mirror and Mr. Sneeves.  Well, I shouldn’t say returns given that this rather unremarkable story, about a frigid husband who swaps bodies with more vivacious men, was first published in 1953.  Notable mainly for its literary gimmicks and copious sexual teases, I was first inclined to give it just two stars.  However, I found myself remembering the story long after I’d finished it, and that’s usually a sign of quality.  Three stars.

You’ll definitely remember Anne Walker’s The Oversight of Dirty-Jets Ryan for its almost impenetrable future slang (which reads a lot like current slang with a few space-related words thrown in).  Well, it’s also a good story, this tale of a none-too-legal trading expedition from Callisto to an alien world.  I’d expect nothing less from the lady who brought us the high point of the August 1959 Astounding.  Three stars.

On the other hand, Will Stanton’s You Are with It! is pretty lousy.  Something about a game show in which persons become thoroughly absorbed in the role they play.  Two stars.

The Fiesta at Managuay is an excellent piece by John Anthony West, a metaphor for the destruction of native culture by more “civilized” societies.  If you find yourself in the tourists of Managuay, be justifiably concerned.  And if you do not, look harder.  Four stars.

Isaac Asimov’s science fact piece this month, The Trojan Hearse, is an interesting article on Lagrange Points, those points of relative gravitational stability one finds between a big world and an orbiting companion.  For instance, the Sun and Jupiter, or the Earth and the Moon.  The timing is fortunate given that I plan to write about Jupiter (and its “Trojan Points”) next month!  Four stars.

I can’t quite tell you why I loved Hal Draper’s Ms Fnd in a Lbry: or, the Day Civilization Collapsed so much.  Perhaps for its frightening, if satirical, plausibility.  Or maybe because I’m an archivist as well as someone who went through a graduate program where the professors were more interested in the cataloging of knowledge than knowledge itself.  Read it and tell me if it strikes you as it struck me.  Five stars.

Last up is the conclusion to Brian Aldiss’ “Hothouse” series (soon to be a fix-up book), Evergreen.  Sadly, what started out so imaginative and interesting has degenerated to near unreadability.  The more said about this future, sun-blasted Earth, the less plausible it gets, and the strained dialogue makes this apocalyptic travelogue a slog(ue).  Two stars. 

And so ends the year for F&SF, and with that, the magazines for all of 1961.  At last, I can dig out my graph paper and copious notes and start compiling data for this year’s Galactic Stars awards!  I hope you’ll look forward to them as much as I do!

[November 24, 1961] In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night (Alter Ego Fanzine #3; Fall 1961)

Here’s a treat!  Our Copy Editor, Erica Frank, is not only a demon at formatting manuscripts, but she is also an avid follower of our rich fan culture.  She now takes up the quill for her first article for The Journey – I think you will be as glad that she did so as I am…


by Erica Frank

For some reason, comic books often aren’t considered science fiction, even though they’re full of aliens, time travel, futuristic weapons, genetic mutations, and villains with the goals and technology to destroy the planet, who have to be thwarted by heroes with fantastic powers and specialized training. There is no Hugo award for comic books, and comic book authors and artists are not usually asked to be guests at science fiction conventions. Many people, however, consider comics a perfectly valid medium for fantastic stories that touch on universal themes.

Around every medium of science fiction/fantasy, you’ve got Fanzines.  Fanzines are amateur magazines published to discuss those stories and themes; they are generally available for the cost of postage and sometimes a small charge to cover printing. You’ve probably heard of or even read a few sf zines, but did you know that comics also have zines?  Now you do…and many of them are well worth keeping an eye on.

For instance, Alter Ego, a new comics-themed fanzine, got its start earlier this year; it’s now on its third issue. Jerry Bails, the main editor, noted in the first issue that publication was likely to be irregular. As is the case with many amateur publications, production may slow down after the initial rush of enthusiasm fades. Currently, it has a mimeographed print run of over 300, and is available for 50 cents in coins or stamps, with unfolded “collector” copies available for a few cents more to cover the cost of the special envelope.

Issue 3 focuses on Green Lantern, a superhero of National Comics fame, with a couple of side articles and the obligatory letters column. Like many classic characters, he had a heyday in the 1940s, disappeared, and returned to print recently.  Alter Ego #3 includes a retelling of Green Lantern’s origin story by George Paul and two related articles from different authors; they discuss the history of the original Green Lantern from the 40s and what’s similar and different in the modern version. The issue also includes a parody comic, Bestest League of America, and an overview of the mid-40’s cinematic adventures of Captain America, which I may cover in a later column.

The original Green Lantern’s power came from his ring, which was powered in turn by a lantern fashioned from a strange green metal, formed from the remains of a meteor which crashed to earth in China. Astute readers will recognize this a rather clichéd way of indicating “exotic, untraceable origin” – because it was expected that none of the comic’s readers would have any relatives in or from China, who might wonder exactly when and where such a meteor supposedly fell.

By means of many years of handwaved history, it eventually found its way into the hands of Alan Scott, a railroad engineer in the United States, who made a ring from part of the metal. Touching the ring to the lantern activated it for 24 hours, making him “immune to metal” (presumably, that means “from damage caused by,” rather than “unable to touch”) and able to fly at “the speed of light” and walk through walls. Alan then acquired a costume with a mask and cape, which is the sartorial trend of super-beings in comic books, and devoted his life to fighting crime and dispensing justice.

Green Lantern’s oath to his ring is perhaps as famous as his costume and history:

“In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight.  Let those who worship evil’s might Beware my power–Green Lantern’s light!”

The first article, And then there was light—the light of the Green Lantern, is by the editor of the fanzine, J.G. Bails. He points out that the 40s version of GL had a “magic lamp,” with many obvious similarities between him and the traditional Arabian story of Aladdin. Presumably, modern children are more interested in scientific terminology than fantasy themes, so the lantern is now a “power battery.” The original GL was more powerful, melting bullets in mid-flight, but was vulnerable to certain tricks based on metals. The new lantern, by comparison, has a sharp limitation: its powers do not work on anything yellow, a nonsensical feature that is sure to be exploited by many super-villains while being ignored in more mundane encounters.

Bails goes on to discuss GL’s first appearance in 1940 and charter membership in the Justice Society, and considers whether other, less-prominent heroes would’ve been just as popular if they had gotten the same front-page editorial support. M. C. Gaines, Sheldon Mayer, and Whitney Ellsworth of DC Comics all had a hand in making Green Lantern one of the most well-known comic book heroes, along with Martin Nodell’s art and Bill Finger’s writing. Bails gives a solid history of the character and the people who’ve helped bring him to life.

The next article, New Lamps for Old by Roy Thomas, goes into more detail about the differences between original and new Green Lantern. He speaks, or rather writes, with a bit more inflection. Some words underlined for emphasis, and his love for the character is obvious – along with his disappointment at many of the changes.

The character’s had a complete overhaul recently. He is no longer an engineer but a pilot, Hal Jordan, who was given the lantern by a dying alien. (China is apparently not distant enough anymore, with movies like this month’s Flower Drum Song making it clear that the “exotic east” is peopled by, well, people, not mystical sorcerers armed with prophecies and meteor metal.) Our GL is no longer the only fellow with a power ring; he’s now part of an interstellar “Green Lantern Corps,” many of whom are not remotely human-like. They function as a kind of “interplanetary United Nations” and patrol the galaxy with their don’t-call-it-magic green light powers.

The villains and sidekicks have also gotten an overhaul; many old favorites are gone. Thomas misses them but is intrigued by the newer Sinestro, a former Green Lantern (of the new variety) gone bad. He wraps up the article with an upbeat tone; he’s happy to await what the future will bring.

Alter Ego makes it clear that comic books, just like Astounding, Galaxy and the other mags, can contain rich storylines and complex characters. And just like any other science fiction literature, comics occasionally fall back on cheap gimmicks or stereotypes in the interest of telling an exciting story on a deadline. The critical analysis and review in comics fanzines can help mature readers spot the clichés while they share their enjoyment of the iconic characters and dramatic stories.

[November 21, 1961] Jules Verne on a Budget (Valley of the Dragons)


by Rosemary Benton

Very little deters me from seeking out science fiction films. Even if the venue is a little disreputable I will still venture in. Even when a film is being trashed by critics I’ll still give it a chance. But in the case of Valley of the Dragons I wish I had turned around at the entrance to the seedy theater I found it in. I wish I had heeded the warnings of fellow film reviewers. Valley of the Dragons is this month’s science fiction B-movie and 1961’s third Jules Verne inspired motion picture. It has everything including a story slower than my Greek tortoise, well known bit-role actors and of course copious use of stock footage. But is it still watchable? No.

Set in 1881 Algiers, the motion picture begins with two men facing off in a duel when a comet swipes past Earth, and pulls them to its surface and off into space. Suddenly finding themselves in a new and hostile world, the duelists must put aside their differences in order to outmaneuver a herd of mammoths, roaming giant lizards and bloodthirsty cavemen. Eventually they learn to adapt to their new home and are each adopted by a rival tribe of prehistoric humans. The second half of the film focuses on the emerging romances each man sparks with a cavewoman from his tribe. The script concludes with the tribes learning to come together to better fight for survival on the unforgiving comet. 

The poster for Valley of the Dragons touted several interesting aspects that I was hoping would be delivered. First and foremost, in bold red lettering the poster said that the film was photographed in “Monstascope.” Would this mean that the movie was in an aspect ratio other than 1.37:1? Yes, the film was definitely not 1.37:1, but neither was it CinemaScope with it’s glorious 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Herein lay the first let down of Valley of the Dragons. If I had to hazard a guess I would say it was closer to a 1.85:1 ratio.

Next, the poster advertises the involvement of director and writer Edward Bernds. Bernds is best known for Return of the Fly (1959) and World Without End (1956), although he has made his mark in exploitative films like High School Hellcats (1958) and even comedies like the Blondie Bumstead franchise. Being well versed in such a wide expanse of genres, I was interested to see what Bernds could cook up with subject material as potent as a Jules Verne novel. But despite my initial interest in the setting and the two protagonists, the plot quickly dissolves into painfully cliché storytelling with little in terms of originality. The former being especially true with the ridiculous amount of footage from other movies that Bernds stuffs in. Bernds relies so heavily on repurposed footage of monster fights and special effects that I felt like I was watching a fan-made reimagining of One Million B.C. rather than an original movie that happened to borrow some of its more memorable scenes.

But I can’t say that Valley of the Dragons is completely without charm. Hector Servadac, the only character retained from the original 1877 Verne novel Off On a Comet, fits well into the role of the more logical and methodical of the two protagonists. His monologue theorizing how they came to their current situation is also characteristically in keeping with Jules Verne’s fantastical science.

“There’s only one explanation that fits all the facts as we know them… A heavenly body, a small planet, or a comet perhaps, collided with the Earth and bore us into space carrying an envelope of the Earth’s atmosphere with us.”

It was also fun, as with almost all B-movies, to see how many different films they used stock footage from. At least I found it fun recognizing the various 40s and 50s films meshed together with original footage. But then again, I’ve seen too many movies. I was able to instantly recognize the alligator and monitor lizard fight, not to mention the woolly mammoths and giant iguana, from the 1940 film One Million B.C. It seems strange to me to use widely recognizable footage from a classic like One Million B.C., a movie that is played repeatedly on television, but not knowing the mind of Edward Bernds I can only assume he thought it looked interesting and would shave precious money from the production budget. In the last half hour of the film there is even some Rodan (1956) and Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) footage.

On the subject of saving money, Valley of the Dragons did include one prop that I was surprised and frankly impressed that Bernds employed. After our protagonists begin exploring the strange comet they find themselves on, they stumble into a cave to escape some roaming giant lizards. In this cave exist giant spiders. Very familiar giant spiders in fact. Since having them built for World Without End, Bernds has said that the mechanics nearly never worked and were a constant source of frustration for himself as well as the actors. Despite this, he has continued to employ these props in nearly every one of his science fiction films. It has become nearly a trademark to see these Labrador-sized furry spiders jumping on scientists, adventurers and heroines in an Edward Bernds movie. 

Ultimately Valley of the Dragons has not won me or the critics with either its Jules Verne appeal or its a giant spiders. This might a passable movie for anyone who has not seen a science fiction film over the last twenty years. Or anyone who doesn’t owns a television set and hasn’t seen over half of this movie via reruns of Rodan, One Million B.C. or Cat-Women of the Moon. But for those who are looking for a competent science fiction movie with fun special effects and originality, I would strongly advise looking elsewhere. Valley of the Dragons has its moments, but I can’t say it was worth the price of admission. Edward Bernds may be a competent enough director and writer, but Valley of the Dragons will not go down as a shining moment in his filmography.

[November 19, 1961] See Change (December 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Every successful endeavor goes through the cycle of growth, stability, decline, and renewal (or death, in which case, there’s no cycle).  Science fiction magazines are no exception.  A particularly far-sighted editor can plan for decline by setting up a successor.  For instance Galaxy‘s H.L. Gold has turned over the reigns to Fred Pohl with no apparent drop in the digest’s quality.  Anthony Bourchier transitioned to Robert Mills at F&SF, and I understand that Renaissance Man Avram Davidson is waiting in the wings to take over.  That event can’t happen too soon, as F&SF has been lackluster of late.

Analog has had the same master since the early 30s: John W. Campbell.  And while Campbell has effected several changes in an attempt to revive his flagging mag (including a name change, from Astounding; the addition of a 20-page “slick” section in the middle of issues; and a genuinely effective cover design change (see below)), we’ve still had the same guy at the stick for three decades.  Analog has gotten decidedly stale, consistently the worst of The Big Three (in my estimation).

You can judge for yourself.  Just take a gander at the December 1961 issue.  It does not do much, if anything, to pull the once-great magazine from its shallow dive:

As has been the case for a couple of years now, the serialized novel (in this case, the first part of Black Man’s Burden, by Mack Reynolds) is the best part of the book.  Burden is the story of modernization in near-future North Africa.  Reynolds is currently living in the Mahgreb, so his tale is laced with authentic cultural insight.  Reynolds’ Tuareg tribesmen read like the best-developed sf alien cultures…except they’re for real!  I’m looking forward to see where this goes; rating reserved until I’ve read the whole thing.

Next up is a cute little time travel story involving an historian who attempts to change the course of events for a little nascent country called Texas.  I’ve never heard of R. R. Fehrenbach, so I assume Remember the Alamo! is his first story.  As such it’s not bad, though I tend to prefer my viewpoint not wander from character to character at the convenience of the author.  Three stars.

Tom Godwin is a fellow whose works get published in the magazines I don’t follow, so The Helpful Hand of God is the first story of his I’ve read.  Rapacious Terran Empire is thwarted by a bevy of scantily clad conscientious objectors.  Readable, but not very good.  Two stars.

This issue’s cake-taker is the ridiculous “science fact” article by Randall Garrett: Engineer’s Art.  It’s on dowsing, fer chrissakes.  You know, that mystical art of finding water by holding a couple of steel rods in front of you?  Truly a new low for this magazine.  One star.


How Campbell finds his stories and articles

It’s followed by a short, uncredited piece on a Neptune Orbit Observatory, whose main purpose would be to derive accurate distances to the stars through trigonometry (we’d know the angles and the length of the base of the triangle made up of points Earth, Neptune, and target star; the longer the base can be, the more precise our ability to measure the other sides of the triangle).  It’s a cute idea, though I suspect our telescopes will be good enough for the task long before our interplanetary engines are developed sufficiently for exploration of the eighth planet.  Three stars.

Randall Garrett (as David Gordon) offers up some fiction in the form of The Foreign Hand-Tie, a story of telepathic Cold War espionage.  As such things go, it’s not bad.  Reynolds probably could have done it better, but he can’t write the entire issue, can he?  Three stars.

Finally, the disappointing Sleight of Wit, by Gordon Dickson, portraying a battle of brains between a human planetary scout and his alien competitor.  It is disappointing because it requires the alien to be so featherbrained, the course of events the human relies on so convoluted.  Gordy does better when he ignores this mag.  Two stars.

Analog has only topped a three-star overall rating thrice this year, and this wasn’t one of those times.  That’s pretty lousy.  F&SF has done it seven times, and Galaxy never earned less than three.  I’ll be very surprised if Analog gets nominated for the Hugo for 1961. 

It’s time for a change, methinks.

[November 16, 1961] Made in Japan (Mothra)

Now here’s a special treat.  Not long ago, the Junior Traveler began contributing as a co-author.  This time around, she has decided to take center stage.  My little girl is all growed up!  Excuse me.  I have something in my eye…


by Lorelei Marcus

Recently, me and my family thought we should take a break from time traveling (in fiction and movies) and do some real traveling!  We decided to go to Japan!  I was sad because we weren’t going to be able to watch any Twilight Zone or new movies.  Luckily, we were treated to a new Japanese movie called Mothra.  Me and my father had the luxury to see it in theaters, in Japan!  It was a very similar (but intriguingly different) experience to an American movie in various ways.

Mothra, similar to many of the American movies we’ve watched, is a monster movie – in this case, about a giant moth that attacks Tokyo.  I noticed monster movies often start out the same, something or someone dear to the monster is taken from them to a big city, and the monster comes back to rescue it, destroying said city in the process.  It happened in Gorgo; this movie did not break the mold.

We start out with a ship crashing on an island that is being used as a nuclear test site by the Japanese.  A helicopter finds four survivors who were miraculously free of any radiation poisoning or side affects!  A team of scientists, including their sponsor Nelson, explore this mysterious island.  It turns out there have been natives living on this island the whole time!  Among these completely, naturally brown-skinned natives, are two foot-tall Japanese girls who communicate through song.  Nelson steals these girls thinking he can make a profit.  Of course the girls and the natives are distressed, so they call to Mothra for help, who at this point is still an egg.

After a ceremony and dance number, Mothra hatches as a little larvae and starts making her way across the ocean to Japan, where it wreaks havoc.  There was an exciting scene involving a baby and a bridge that had me on the edge of my seat.  I will not tell you how it ends, but I’m a real sucker when it comes to animals and babies in distress.  Anyway, after destroying many buildings, and killing many people, Mothra cocoons herself onto Tokyo Tower!  By this point, Nelson has now escaped to New Kirk City, in his native country of “Roliska.”  There, he is relieved to hear that Mothra has been defeated by Roliskan-provided heat rays. 

Or has she?

The movie goes on for quite a bit longer, but to avoid spoiling you of the ending, I will stop my summary there.  Now for my opinions!  I actually enjoyed the movie a lot; however after seeing so many of this type of movie, it would be a lie to say I wasn’t very bored at some parts.  The special effects were outstanding; it was hard to tell real from fake at some parts.  Though, by the second half they weren’t nearly as good, it was understandable considering it was supposed to be a remake of America, which Japanese would not have much knowledge of its architecture.  The sets of Japan though, those were completely realistic.  Even the tanks — the tanks were so good I couldn’t believe they were fake at first!  There is no doubt the effects in this movie had a high budget.

However, the story and acting at times were lacking.  I think the largest cases of terrible acting were Nelson and the incidental Americans.  Through the entire movie, Nelson’s poor Japanese accent bugged us so much — it was just so annoying!  There were certainly American actors who couldn’t do a proper Japanese accent to save their lives, but Nelson’s halfway-servicable accent was somehow worse.  There’s almost no way to describe how terrible it was! 

In contrast, the American dialogue, particularly that of one of the scientists, was probably the best part of the movie.  The emphasis on certain words was completely unnatural, and the words themselves were completely out of place!  Still it made my dad and I laugh every time one of these odd lines were just thrown into the background, simply for the heck of it!  “I wonder…a blood-sucking plant!”  Still gets me every time.

As I said before, the plot was your typical monster movie story. Though there were certainly exciting moments, with outstanding effects to complement them, I still found myself bored at times.  The story isn’t bad, and certainly isn’t weak, but I still find it lacking in a way that you can’t simply add something to fix.  You would need to re-write the story rather than add something to it to make it better.  The movie is a very specific genre, and I’m starting to get bored of that genre, so adding a twist or different plot all together would likely really help make it interesting.  I knew what I was getting into from the start, and how it was going to end.  I think the movie would’ve been better if it was just a little less predictable at least.

Overall I’d say this movie was solid, if unsurprising.  Similar to Gorgo, it did exactly what it was trying to do: be a disaster monster movie.  Clever characters as well as hyper realistic special effects and an adorable giant moth managed to keep me watching, despite the mediocre story and bad acting that made me (for lack of a better word) cringe at times, really tied it all together.  With all of these factors in mind, I’d give this movie a solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Now rather than me signing off, I’ll I have my father do the footer for a change!  Here are his thoughts on Mothra:


by Gideon Marcus

I don’t have much to add to Lorelei’s excellent report.  A few things elevated this movie above Gorgo for me, despite having a similar plot.  Firstly, I appreciated that the movie’s protagonist, “Zen-Chan” the journalist, was atypical.  A chubby, comedic type, his performance might have simply been played for laughs.  Instead, we got a competent, plucky fellow to root for.  Similarly, his colleague, the photographer Michi Hanamura, was not a love interest or an appendage.  Rather, she was a strong character with agency. 

The production values were exceptional, easily the match of a high budget American production like Journey to the Center of the Earth.  In particular, the aerial scenes when the beautifully organic Mothra larvae wriggles across the Japanese countryside are just exquisite.  The scenes with the little Mothra maidens were well done and as convincing as the miniature scenes in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

So all in all, I think this was a better movie than Gorgo and thus deserves a higher score.  Three and a half stars from me.

[November 13, 1961] (un)Moving Pictures (December 1961 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

The last decade saw a boom in written science fiction as well as science fiction cinema, due in part to both the fear of atomic warfare and the promise of space exploration.  Both trends have tapered off recently, possibly due to the many stories and films of poor quality offered to a public grown tired of cheap thrills.  (No doubt such a fate awaits the countless Westerns currently dominating American television screens.)

In any case, the two media have had an influence on each other, not always to the advantage of either.  Although science fiction movies have sometimes made use of the talents of important writers within the genre, such as Robert A. Heinlein’s contribution to Destination Moon, too often they have turned to the most juvenile pulp magazines and comic books for inspiration.  In turn, some written science fiction has lost the sophistication it gained under editors such as John W. Campbell, H. L. Gold, and Anthony Boucher. 

These musings come to mind when one peruses the pages of the latest issue of Fantastic.  Of the two longest stories in the magazine, one is reminiscent of recent science fiction films, while the other deals directly with the movie business.

It seems likely that Daniel F. Galouye’s lead novelette Spawn of Doom (note the melodramatic title, which would not be out of place on a theater marquee) was inspired by Lloyd Birmingham’s cover painting.  The scene depicted by the artist is described in great detail within the story, down to the exact number of tentacle-like things coming out of the meteorite on display in a museum.
This tale of a dangerous alien life form brought to Earth on a chunk of rock from outer space inevitably reminds the reader of movies like The Blob.  However, the author brings imagination and intelligence to a familiar theme.

The story is told from three points of view.  First we meet the humanoid Lumarians, aliens who patrol the galaxy in search of deadly creatures known as EGMites.  These beings subsist on electro-gravito-magnetic energy, hence their name.  When they land on a world after traveling through empty space in an unconscious state for immense periods of time, they prepare for reproduction by tearing the planet apart and sending spores out in all directions.  Obviously this poses a threat to life everywhere in the cosmos.
Next we enter the newly awakened mind of an EGMite which has reached Earth.  Filled with the desire to reproduce, and to destroy anything which seeks to interfere, it soon begins wreaking havoc on its surroundings, starting on a small scale but quickly escalating to the point where it is demolishing entire buildings.

Providing the viewpoint of endangered humanity is the curator of the museum where the EGMite’s meteoric hiding place is being exhibited.  This rugged young hero is ably assisted by a capable and attractive archivist, who not only provides romantic interest, but is on hand to scream when the monster from space attacks.  One can’t help wondering if the author has his tongue firmly in his cheek while describing these characters.  However, the tale never degrades into farce, and the quick-moving plot builds the necessary amount of suspense.  The transitions between the three points of view are sometimes abrupt, and the story has nothing particularly profound to say, but it’s solid entertainment.  Three stars.

During the intermission between our two feature presentations, let’s take a look at something quite different.  David Ely’s unusual story, The Last Friday in August, offers much food for thought.  The protagonist dwells in a large city, and finds the crushing presence of the vast crowds nearly unbearable.  He only finds peace through long periods of meditation.  One day he finds that he has a strange power over others.  This leads to an unexpected climax, which will leave the reader pondering its meaning.  Well-written, subtle, and evocative, this tale is likely to haunt the reader for a long time.  Four stars.

Back to the movies.  Point, by John T. Phillifent (perhaps better known under his pen name John Rackham), deals with a group of filmmakers who travel to Venus to make their latest blockbuster.  The proposed feature involves beautiful female Venusians, and seems intended to provide a bit of satire of silly science fiction movies such as Queen of Outer Space.  Although the author’s description of Venus is a bit more realistic than that, it’s still not terribly plausible.  The Planet of Love is a very dangerous place, inhabited by all kinds of deadly creatures, but its atmosphere is breathable, and humans can walk around on its hot, steamy surface without spacesuits.  The plot deals with a pilot who agrees to take the film crew into the Venusian wilderness.  As you might expect, things quickly go very wrong, and the story turns into a violent account of survival in a hostile environment.  All in all it’s a fairly typical adventure yarn, competent but hardly noteworthy.  Two stars.

After the double feature of novelettes we have a pair of short stories, one new and one old, to round out the magazine.  Up first is The Voice Box, by Allan W. Eckert, a very brief tale about a man who hates and fears telephones.  Written in a rather baroque style, it leads to a grim conclusion.  Since I share the narrator’s loathing of that terribly intrusive instrument, I am forced to award three stars to what is admittedly a minor piece.

This issue’s “fantasy classic” is by Robert E. Howard, a prolific author of pulp fiction who committed suicide decades ago at the age of thirty.  Best known to readers of speculative fiction for his tales of Conan and other fantasy adventures and horror stories, Howard also produced numerous stories in other genres ranging from sports fiction to Westerns.  Published near the end of his life in the August 15, 1936 issue of Argosy, The Dead Remember is a tale of the supernatural set in Dodge City in 1877.  The first part of the story takes the form of a letter from a cowboy to his brother, in which he confesses to the killing of a man and his wife during a drunk argument over a game of dice.  Before she dies the woman places a curse on him.  The second part of the story consists of several formal statements of witnesses to the fate of the murderer. 

Although this is a typical story of revenge from beyond the grave, the unusual structure provides some novelty.  Of most interest, perhaps, are the racial implications.  The murdered man is a Negro, and his witch-like wife is a “high yellow” of mixed race.  Although at first the killer seems to treat the married couple no differently than whites, when tempers flare the racial insults come out.  The author seems to imply that a woman of mixed race would be closer to the supernatural than others.  For its historical value, I’ll give this story two and one-half stars.

Overall this issue comes very close to a three star rating.  It certainly provides a wide variety of reading material, and is almost certain to have something to please any reader of imaginative fiction.

See you at the movies! 

And as luck would have it, the next article will feature a movie – the latest monstrous spectacular straight from Japan.  Stay tuned! [the Traveler].