[August 30, 1962] Flawed set (September 1962 Analog)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

In the Soviet Union, they have an interesting grocery practice.  Food production is, of course, nationalized.  Thus, there are quotas that manufacturers are supposed to reach.  Provided you have enough klass (social clout in the “classless society”), you can order a great many desirable foods for your office, your restaurant, your institute.  Sausage, chocolates, and so on.  However, you generally can’t order these items individually.  Rather, you request a set of items. 

For instance, one might want coffee, but the set also includes chocolate, sugar, and cookies — whether you need them or not.  The cookies might be several years old, the chocolate might be stale, or there might not even be any coffee.  Or you could get lucky. 

Maybe you want a kilo of fresh beef, but you can only get it with two cans of pressed meat, a kilo of hamburger meat, and a kilo of frozen vegetables.  Well, why not?  But when it arrives, the vegetables are freezer burned and the hamburger is green on the inside.  At least you got the beef and the SPAM, right?

The science fiction digest, Analog, is much the same.  For the past few years, the general pattern has been for the magazine to include a serial of high quality, and the rest of the space larded out with substandard shorts and ridiculous “science” articles on crackpot topics. 

So enjoy your September 1962 Analog — it’s what you ordered…and a lot more that you didn’t:

A Life for the Stars (Part 1 of 2), by James Blish

This is the jewel of the issue, a fantastic piece about the twilight of the Earth.  After centuries of resource depletion and oppressive rule, humanity is spreading itself amongst the stars.  Whole cities are departing the Earth, powered by “spindizzy” anti-gravity drives.  Each is a small principality unto itself, trading with other settlements, space-borne and planet-bound. 

Our viewpoint is Crispin DeFord, a scrap-metal scrounger on the outskirts of Scranton just before the tired town plans to fly off to the heavens.  The tale is a little bit Heinlein (Citizen of the Galaxy in particular) and a bit more bucolic Simak.  The first half will grip you tight, and the second part will hold your interest, if not as strongly.  I am very keen to see where this goes.  Four stars.

The Winds of Time, by James H. Schmitz

This relic of the dawn of the Digest Era continues to write stuff in an aged vein.  This particular tale involves a little cargo ship, crew of one, hijacked by one of the two passengers.  He is a Villainous Time Traveler from the Future.  The Pilot must use his strength and cunning to rescue himself and the other passenger, a Girl, before the Villain’s alien sidekick secures the ship permanently in the higher levels of hyperspace.

Actually, Winds wouldn’t be such a bad story except that it reads more like an outline than a finished piece.  The sort of summary blurb that might accompany the latter portions of a serial rather than a stand-alone short.  Thus, it is tedious and disappointing.  Two stars.

The First Science, by Joseph F. Goodavage

Now this is vintage Analog, a full thirty pages devoted to a defense of astrology, of all things.  The argument goes something like this: many of our brightest lights in natural philosophy — Galileo, Kepler, Brahe, Newton — were all astrologers, and some of their predictions came true!  If those smart people believed in the stuff, aren’t we fools not to?  I’m certain there was no cherrypicking of evidence on the part of Mr. Goodavage; after all, when I’ve looked for confirmation bias, I’ve always found it.

Why does this laughable thing get two stars instead of one?  There is some good biographical data in here, despite the ludicrous conclusion.  And there is a grim fascination as one reads, wondering if the shoe is really going to drop on the side of the most pseudo of pseudo-sciences.

Good Indian, by Mack Reynolds

A hundred years from now, the United States has so integrated that there is no such thing as a minority anymore — until three full-blooded Seminoles march into the Bureau for Indian Affairs and demand reparations for the Trail of Tears.  Played for laughs, and with a truly offensive ending, this is the sort of story I expect from Analog, but not from Reynolds.  One star.

The Professional Approach, by Leonard Lockhard

The legally adept Lockhard (really Theodore L. Thomas) provides another insight into the world of technical patents, this one involving a miracle invention and the attorney who falls a little too much in love with it.  As the Japanese say, “With love, even pockmarks become dimples,” and so Approach’s protagonist fails to find the fatal flaw in his client’s creation…before too late.

Competent and fun, as always.  Three stars.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Christopher Anvil

Communism in Cuba is upended by little radio transmitters placed in the teeth by activist dentists.  These transmissions create an intense desire to work, independent of ideology or compensation.  Of course, one must never confuse motion for action, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue in this piece.  I think it’s supposed to be a satire on the undesirability of the moocherism of Communism and the cold ,ercantile nature of Capitalism… but I found it talky, implausible, and just plain dumb.  Par for the course for the material Anvil produces for Analog‘s editor, Campbell.  One star. 

Beyond Pandora, by Robert S. Martin

Finally, a short short gotcha piece where we find that the origin of the longevity serum is none other than… well, you can read it and find out, but you won’t be surprised.  Two stars.

At 2.3 stars, Analog is not quite the worst magazine of the month (that award goes to Amazing with 2.2 stars), but it’s awfully close.  And yet, the Blish is so good that you might find it worth 50 cents for that story alone.  Or you might wait for it to end and then buy the novel.

Thank goodness we live in the West and you have that option!




[August 27, 1962] Bound for Lucifer (the flight of Mariner 2)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

If familiarity breeds contempt, then enigma must breed fascination.  So it has been with the planet Venus.  “Earth’s twin” in size and density, the second planet out from the sun is, in fact, the closest planet to us.  Yet, thanks to its shroud of clouds, very little can be determined of its nature.  At least, such was the state when I wrote my first article on the planet just three years ago.

Things are changing.

Opened eyes improve vision of Venus

Until recently, humanity was limited to examining the universe in the narrow band of light frequencies discernible to the eye.  That’s actually a tiny portion of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, which ranges from super-high frequency gamma rays, down through X-Rays, microwaves, and ultraviolet light, passes quickly through the visual light spectrum, and then to the lower-frequency infrared and radio waves.

In the last decade, we have developed ways of probing many of these EM bands from the Earth’s surface, and they have begun to reveal Venus’ true nature.  For instance, measuring microwave emissions from the planet, we find that the dark side simmers at a whopping 650 degrees Kelvin (710 degrees Fahrenheit).  Radio wave measurements seem to confirm this figure. 

The atmospheric pressure at “sea level” is some 50 times greater than on Earth.  It is not certain what components make up the Venusian atmosphere, but likely gases are Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen, and water, in order of amount.  This combination is what causes the planet to swelter so – the air creates a greenhouse effect, trapping heat like a blanket.  The surface of Venus is probably like an oven, extremely dry (despite the potential for water vapor in high clouds), dimly lit by a blurry yellow sun, largely windless, and extremely inhospitable.  So much for the jungle-covered Amtor of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Using radar, scientists have learned that Venus is more reflective than the moon (presumably the surface, or whatever the waves are bouncing off of, is smoother).  It has also been determined that Venus, if it rotates at all, does so extremely slowly.  A Venusian day may well be as long as its year: 225 days.  Scientists have used radar observations to confirm the greenhouse atmospheric model over others that had been advanced in the absence of data.  Radar also has given us a better idea exactly how far away the planet is from us, a critical piece of information for plotting the course of investigating spacecraft.  Which brings us to…

Let the onslaught begin

Every 19 months, the Earth and Venus are as favorably aligned in their orbits as they can get; that is the opportunity to send the heaviest spacecraft (i.e. with the most experiments) to investigate.  The first chance of the Space Age to send a probe to Venus took place in summer of 1959 – too soon for either superpower to loft a probe.  The United States did send up Pioneer 5 to the orbit of Venus in March 1960 to test long distance communications, however. 

The next alignment took place in February 1961.  No American probe was ready, but the Soviet http://galacticjourney.org/tag/venera-1/Venera 1 almost made it to Venus before mysteriously going silent. 

19 months have elapsed again, and this time, both major participants in the Space Race are ready.  Just a few days ago, the Soviets launched another Venera.  It failed to depart Earth’s orbit and will likely decay in a few days, but I can’t imagine it will be their only attempt.  Last month, America’s first try, Mariner 1, veered off course and had to be destroyed after only five minutes in flight.

Of course, I wouldn’t be talking about this if I didn’t have good news.  This morning, a new Mariner rose to the heavens atop an Atlas Agena rocket, and this one is safely on a course for the Planet of Love.

It’s a little probe, really a close cousin to the Ranger probes that have had such ill luck with the moon.  NASA had hoped to send a larger spacecraft, but the new Centaur second stage booster isn’t ready yet.  So the Agena-propelled Mariner carries just 40 pounds of equipment.  There’s no camera onboard, for Mariner lacks the cargo to carry a strong enough transmitter to send pictures. 

But there are several experiments that will be just as valuable.  For instance, there is a pair of radiometers that will tell us, once and for all, just how warm Venus really is.  There are a series of particle counters that will measure radiation both on the way to and in the vicinity of the planet.  This kind of exploration of interplanetary space has only been done once before, and it tells us volumes about the sun and how it affects us.  We will also learn about the fields of electrical force surrounding Venus.

To that end, Mariner 2 also carries a magnetometer, designed to tell us the strength and disposition of Venus’ magnetic field.  I’ve got a personal stake in this little experiment as two good friends, Chuck Sonett and Paul Coleman, are vital members of the team that built it.  These fine fellows worked in the private sector on Pioneer 5, and now NASA has seduced them onto the government payroll.  A win for the United States, I’d say!

So stay tuned.  Mariner will reach Venus in December, and if the probe still be active come then, you can bet there will be a bonanza of scientific results – and you’ll be able to read all about it at Galactic Journey!




[August 25, 1962] Two Gallons of Adventure, Extra Pulp (Andre Norton’s Eye of the Monster and Sea Siege)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Science fiction is often profound.  It provides cautionary tales; it explores thorny social issues that are difficult to discuss without metaphor; it glimpses the future.

But much of the time, science fiction is just an escape, a genre ripe for stories of adventure.  The vast frontiers of space or under the sea or the frozen arctic wastes have been the setting for countless such tales since the dawn of the Pulp Era.

The prolific Andre Norton had made this type of story her stock in trade.  Whether set in a fantasy world, an historical setting, or in a far-flung galactic tableau, her works typically feature a young man gallivanting in a rough-and-tumble environment, surviving by virtue of wit and physical exertion.

American publishing house, Ace Books, also makes this fare its bread and butter.  They are perhaps best known for their “Ace Doubles:” For 45 cents, you get not one, but two short science fiction novels.  These are often novelized serials from sf magazines.  Occasionally, they are purpose-written pieces.  Some are subjected to unfortunate edits to cram them into the 250-page format.  In short, Ace is something of a bargain-basement venue — the pulps of the book world, if you will.

Ace and Norton are, therefore, something of a match made in heaven.  The recent Ace Double, F-147, features two Norton pieces back to back, one reprint novel and one new novella.  While it’s nothing to write home about, it will keep you entertained on a long round-trip car, boat, or plane ride.

Eye of the Monster

The novella half of F-147 is strongly influenced by the recent decolonization in Africa.  Monster stars Rees Naper, a teenager whose world is turned upside down when the reptilian inhabitans of Ishkur revolt against the Terran inhabitants upon the withdrawal of colonial police protection from the planet.  Towns are razed, laboratories smashed, religious missions demolished.  Naper must make a perilous trek across a treacherous jungle landscape in an armored transport.  His goal is simple: to save his own life as well as those of a colonist boy and two female Salarkans (one mature, one a child), feline traders from another star.  Can he make it to the better-protected starport before the Ishkurians find him?

Two factors, one positive and one negative, make this exciting but rather ordinary piece of adventure stand out. 

On the plus side, I greatly appreciated the character of Ishbi.  The resourceful Salarkan is as important to the story as Rees, tough and competent.  Moreover, there isn’t a shade of romance; just two resilient refugees overcoming obstacles.  I suspect that Norton made Ishbi an alien explicitly for the purpose of ensuring that there could be a male/female relationship on a platonic, equal basis.

The natives of Ishkur don’t make out so well.  Replace Ishkurians with Africans and you’ve got a dead ringer for a tale of noble White settlers and savage Blacks in the Dark Continent.  What a far cry from Reynold’s nuanced Mahgreb series, recently published in Analog.  It would not have taken much to add dimension to the story; instead, it comes off as insensitive.

Nevertheless, it is a good read, and though the Ishkurians get a shallow, bigoted (by analogy) portrayal, the character of Ishbi is a bright light in a genre dominated by men.  Three stars.

Sea Siege

This novel was originally published five years ago, and it feels older.  The exotic locale for Monster was an Africa analog; for Sea Siege, it is the tiny sun-baked West Indies isle of Santa Isadore.  Our hero this time is a young man improbably named “Griff Gunston,” son of a famed icthyologist.  As a frequent diver, he notices an increasing number of queer events: patches of “Red Plague,” a radioactive and toxic algae, are spreading across the sea; octopi are displaying greater intelligence and menacing behaviors; ships are disappearing, rumored to have been sunk by sea serpents!

Amidst all this, Cold War tensions are ratcheting up.  A detachment of American “Seabees” arrives to construct an atomic-powered supply base.  The island’s natives, disconcerted by recent events and resentful of the disturbances they blame on the outsiders, become restive.  Just as the frequency of lost divers and vessels reaches a fevered pace, nuclear war breaks out between the superpowers.  Continents are torn asunder, new volcanoes are spawned, and Santa Isadore is wracked with geological spasms.

End Part One.

The second half of the novel is a tale of survival in a world gone mad.  The weather is freakish as caustic winds lash the island, culminating in a ravaging storm.  Worse, whether spurred by radiation-induced mutation or the atomic rupture of the deeps, the ocean has turned against the land-dwellers: octopi-sapiens and their sea serpent thralls make the waters uninhabitable, capsizing ships and snatching people from the beaches.  But the ingenuity of humanity, enabled by both the advanced atomic-fueled science of the navy personnel and the native lore of the islanders, wins the day.  At least temporarily.

Part Two ends with a number of untied threads: Will the increasingly hostile Santa Isadoreans continue to abide the American soldiers?  Can there be a meeting of the minds between people and the cephalopod terrors?  Are there any centers of population left in the rest of the world? 

Sadly, there is no Part Three.  If you want to know what happens, you’ll have to make it up.

This is part of what makes Sea Siege a strange book.  It takes rather long to get started, a good deal of time spent on Griff’s undersea adventures.  Things don’t really move until the mid-point; Part 2 is briskly paced.  Because of the plodding set-up and all the unresolved questions, one can’t help but think that Norton meant to write a third part, but just never got around to it.

Norton’s novel is also unusual when viewed side-by-side with the other post-apocalyptic books of the time, e.g. On the Beach and Alas, Babylon.  One starts Sea Siege with the impression that, like those books, it is going to be a gritty, realistic story.  The departure into scientific fantasy, while not inexpertedly handled, feels odd. 

Par for the course with Norton, there is an interesting and diverse cast of characters.  The islanders are depicted with dignity; in fact, there is a strong suggestion that their unique technologies and reactionary mindset are a necessary yin to the yang of the headstrong and arrogant foreigners, whose hubris ultimately led to the Earth’s near destruction.  And it is clear that Norton has done her homework: her depiction of the Caribbean is evocative, highly sensual, and at times reads like a lightly fictionalized transcription of LIFE’s recent picture-book, The Sea.

All in all, it is a pleasant if slightly unsatisfying read, particularly if you enjoy it as I did — accompanied by Harry Belafonte’s hit record, Calypso.  Three stars.




[August 22, 1962] State of Confusion (September 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

The world was shocked and mystified this month by the death of Marilyn Monroe, an apparent suicide at the age of thirty-six.  The paradox of a young woman who was revered as a star but who led a troubled personal life may bewilder those of us who have never experienced the intense pressure of celebrity.  Perhaps it is best to offer quiet sympathy to her friends and family and allow them to mourn in privacy.

The police are baffled, to use a cliché, by the robbery of a mail truck containing one and one-half million dollars in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  This is the largest cash heist in history.  The daring holdup men, dressed as police officers, stopped the vehicle while it was on route from Cape Cod to Boston.

Even listening to the radio can be a puzzling experience.  The airwaves are dominated by Neil Sedaka’s smash hit Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.  At first, this seems to be a simple, upbeat, happy little tune, particularly considering the repetitive, nonsensical chant of down dooby doo down down comma comma down dooby doo down down.  Listening to the lyrics, however, one realizes that this is really a sad song about the end of a love affair.

With all of this confusion going on, it’s appropriate that the latest issue of Fantastic features characters who are perplexed, authors who seem a little mixed up, and stories which may leave the reader scratching her head.

Plane Jane, by Robert F. Young

Lloyd Birmingham’s surreal cover art provides the inspiration for a strange story about a man who goes to a psychiatrist because he thinks other people are unreal.  The headshrinker, who is more than she seems to be, leads him on a bizarre odyssey to the places he worked, served in the military, and went to school.  The weird thing is that all these locations seem to have sprung up out of nowhere only recently, although he has memories of them.  This is a unique and intriguing tale with a resourceful heroine to guide the disoriented protagonist.  My one complaint is that the author explains too much about what’s going on in the opening prologue.  I would suggest skipping this section and starting with the first chapter to get the full effect.  Four stars.

Open with Care, by Boyd Correll

A new writer offers an opaque account of a brilliant scientist, recently forced to retire, who is using isotopes for a secretive project of his own.  (For purposes of the plot, he might as well be using witchcraft.) His long-suffering wife wonders about the packages he keeps bringing home, and about the fact that he seems to be transparent.  There appears to be a reference in the story to a famous thought experiment in physics.  It all leads up to a shocking ending.  Frankly, I didn’t understand this story, although it’s not entirely without interest.  Two stars.

April in Paris, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Another fledging author (although I believe she had a mainstream story published in a literary journal last year) appears for the first time in Fantastic, this time with great promise for a fine career.  A professor of French literature sits in an old garret in Paris working on his research.  Four centuries in the past, an alchemist living in the same building uses black magic to bring the scholar back to his own time, more or less by accident.  After much confusion on the part of both, they become close friends.  Everything seems fine until they feel the need for feminine companionship.  Spells are used to fetch women from other times, and complications ensue.  This is a delightful romantic fantasy with an unexpected touch of science fiction.  All of the characters are likable, and it’s refreshing to have a story with such a sunny mood.  Five stars.

New Worlds, by Erle Stanley Gardner

This issue’s fantasy classic comes from the creator of the popular Perry Mason mysteries.  It begins with a gigantic storm destroying the city of New York.  It seems that the Earth’s poles have shifted, leading to worldwide flooding.  The Hero, the Girl, and the Scientist escape in a vessel which, through incredible good luck, they find in the showroom of a motorboat company.  They eventually wind up on a tropical island.  The Villain rules the place as a tyrant, using his guns to murder the inhabitants at will.  At this point the story abandons its apocalyptic premise and becomes a more mundane adventure yarn, as if the author wasn’t sure what kind of tale he was spinning.  The Good Guy could just have easily wound up on the Bad Guy’s island in some other way.  Two stars.

Junior Partner, by Ron Goulart

An author better known for light comedy shows his more serious side, although the story is not without some dark humor.  The narrator is the son of a man who runs his company with ruthless efficiency.  All of his employees perform perfectly, keeping to a rigid schedule.  Anticipating his impending demise from a bad heart, he reveals the secret of his control over his workers.  The son doesn’t understand at first, but eventually figures out what his father is showing him.  Unfortunately, the young man has a failing that leads to unpleasant consequences.  This is a moderately engaging tale.  Three stars.

I hope this modest article, the product of an addled brain, hasn’t confused my Gentle Readers excessively.  Fantastic continues to be the worthier of Cele Goldsmith’s two magazines, and in these confusing times, it is good to have something one can depend on…




[August 20, 1962] A Galaxy of Choices (British TV: The Andromeda Breakthrough)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Science fiction on British television used to be one of those once-in-a-blue-moon events.  When it happened, what we got could often be very good.  Certainly Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass series was compelling viewing, which drew in a large audience from the general population with millions tuning in each week to find out the fate of the infected astronauts.

The impact of Quatermass cannot be over stated, the name having taken root in the British public’s imagination.  And, now we have a sequel to A for Andromeda, which I reported on last year, to carry the torch for science fiction on British TV, which also looks like it will enter public’s lexicon.  With the additional transmission of the anthology show, Out of this World, we seem to be entering a golden age of science fiction on television.

For those unfamiliar with A for Andromeda, let me do a recap.  The first series, a story set in the future circa 1972, was about a group of scientists building a super computer for the military made from plans decoded from a signal sent from the Andromeda galaxy.  This signal is a Trojan horse designed to take over our planet by creating an artificial human called Andromeda that the computer can control.  It’s all very clever how this is revealed, and when the hero, Dr. Fleming, discovers that Andromeda is a slave of the computer he saves her by destroying the computer with an axe.  Andromeda then burns the plans for the computer, and together they try to make their escape.  Unfortunately, she falls into a pool and apparently dies, while Dr. Fleming is captured by Army personnel.

The Andromeda Breakthrough therefore has to square the circle of how to carry on the story without undermining the climax of the first series.

It should be noted that Andromeda was played by Julie Christie in the first series.  This was a breakout role for her, and as a result she was cast in the film Billy Liar, and was too busy to reprise her role.  So the role was recast, with Susan Hampshire playing Andromeda for the sequel, who is generally referred to as Andre during the story.

The opening episode, Cold Front, starts with a shot of Dr. Fleming being unceremoniously brought back to the base in the back of a British Army Land Rover.  From there we are given a précis of what happened before.  The reveal that Andromeda had not drowned in the pool comes after the Army reports that they dragged the pool and didn’t find a body.  This is quite an effective way of introducing Susan Hampshire playing a traumatized Andromeda.  From there the plot proceeds apace as Fleming absconds with Andromeda to a remote Scottish isle.  But, after some dramatic shenanigans with lots of to-ing and fro-ing, they are captured by the British government.

The second episode, Gale Warning, ramps up the tension with the shadowy Intel Consortium, a multi-national corporation with lots of fingers in many pots.  It is revealed they have copies of everything that our heroes assumed they destroyed, and their own version of the computer.  They now want Fleming and Andromeda to complete their package.

Amongst all the action, the main plot is revealed: the weather of the world is changing, and not for the better, with storms increasing in both number and intensity.  Skullduggery proceeds as the agents of the Intel Consortium, led by Mr. Kauffman from Dusseldorf, eliminates loose ends and brings Fleming and Andromeda to Intel’s facility based in the newly independent middle-eastern country of Azaran.

Episode three, Azaran Forecast, now has Andromeda talking to the new computer, and the plot thickens as Fleming and her are reunited with Dr. Madeleine Dawnay, the biochemist who helped create Andromeda.  The Intel Consortium want the three of them to work for them as part of a plan to feed the world. The strangeness of what is happening to the world’s weather comes to the fore, and we discover that Andromeda’s health is failing.  Fleming and Dawney race to develop a formula to restore Andromeda, who is deciphering the signals from the computer, to health — but can the Earth be saved from what is happening?

The fourth episode, Storm Centres, has the Intel Consortium backing a military coup in Azaran because they are evil, which we know because only an evil corporation would murder people to further its agenda.  We are also shown the world being ravaged by storms, as the weather creates chaos through starvation and droughts.  Conflicts over food become wars as governments try maintain order

Episode five, Hurricane, piles on the effects of the changing weather, and the destruction of the world as we know it.  The scientists realize that an alien enzyme released by accident, flushed down the sink by Fleming in the first series, is behind the Earth’s atmosphere becoming thinner, which is what is driving the climate change.  Intel use this to get our heroes to develop a solution, which can be marketed to make the consortium money.  However, these plans are hanging in the balance as a counter-revolution occurs that overthrows the Intel Consortium.

The final episode is called Roman Peace.  The episode title is a reference to the peace that comes after war.  The series denouement is that mankind must be free to make its own mistakes, if it wants to save itself, and not rely on the hidden message within the message from Andromeda, which turns out to be a cunning alien plan to socially engineer mankind’s survival.  I have to say that I was swept along by the story, and having to wait each week for the next episode kept me fully engaged with the plot.  However, on reflection, mostly from writing this piece in fact, I have to say it all feels a bit melodramatic.  But, still a lot of fun to watch.

Nevertheless, mustn’t grumble because there are still five more episodes of Out of this World to come, and I can say that so far, the standalone stories have been well worth viewing.  Next month I will write up my thoughts for you all to read.  Until then, keep watching the skies.




[Aug. 17, 1962] The 90% rule (September 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

90% of science fiction is crap.  But then, 90% of everything is crap.

The author of that statement, which seems to be supported by overwhelming evidence, is Ted Sturgeon.  This is a fellow who has been writing since 1939, so he knows whereof he speaks.  Sturgeon has, in his dozens of published works, established a reputation for thoughtful excellence, marking the vanguard of our genre.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has devoted nearly half of its pages this month to a new Sturgeon work and several biographical articles.  This is fitting; Sturgeon’s style of literary sf would seem most at home in the most literary of sf mags (though he has, in fact, appeared multiple times in most of the good ones).  And given that much, if not 90%, of the latest issues of F&SF has not been very good, including a healthy dose of Sturgeon is a surefire way to being on the right side of Sturgeon’s Law.

Without further ado, the September 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction:

When You Care, When You Love, by Theodore Sturgeon

This fascinating tale involves the explication and intersection of a bloodline and the life of one of its adopted members.  The bloodline is that of the Gamaliel Wyke, an 18th Century “rum trader” who secured for himself and his progeny a vast, ever-increasing, and utterly secret fortune.  The individual is the cancer-stricken husband of Sylva Wyke: a woman who will stop at nothing to ensure the continuation of the essense, if not the life, of her love.

When you Care is gripping, emotional (though the science be suspect) and even bad Sturgeon is good reading.  This is not bad Sturgeon.  Four stars.

Theodore Sturgeon’s Macrocosm, by James Blish; Theodore Sturgeon, by Judith Merril; Fantasy and Science Fiction by Theodore Sturgeon, by Sam Moskowitz, Martian Mouse, by Robin Sturgeon

We are then treated to some biographical snippets, more personal but less holistic than, say, Moskowitz’s fine article in the February 1962 issue of Amazing.  Blish picks one emblematic story to dissect.  Merril discusses how Sturgeon nurtured her into the author she is today.  And Moskowitz provides a valuable, if unadorned, full bibliography of Sturgeon’s work.  According to Sam, Ted cut his teeth publishing many stories to the late great Unknown.  As luck would have it, I recently acquired a full set.  Looks like I have a lot of reading to do!

The Sturgeon-related portion of the mag is rounded out with a short piece by Sturgeon’s 10-year old son, which is about as good as a piece by someone of that age: cute but raw.

Four stars for the set.

They Also Serve, by Evelyn E. Smith

Two men of Earth’s interstellar navy are dispatched on a suicide assignment: to establish a trading post on an alien world whose inhabitants have slaughtered every prior attempt at colonization.  Both of the sailors were chosen because of an embarassing black mark on their record; Earth government has deemed that it would be no great loss if the two never returned.  If they survive long enough to collect valuable “prozius stones,” from the locals, so much the better.

Rather than plunge into parley with the aliens (which had always preceded the destruction of prior trade teams), the two decide to do nothing other than make a pleasant home on the otherwise idyllic world.  And, ultimately, it is this non-intrusive strategy that leads to positive relations with the aliens, who are compelled to open conversations with the humans on their own terms.

What is most fascinating about this story is that, although it is never explicitly stated, it is made very clear that the cause for the pair’s exile is that they are homosexuals — likely in a relationship even before they were dispatched to the alien planet.  Indeed, the fact that the men are gay is part of what bridges the cultural barrier.  The aliens also have two genders, and while the relationship between their males and females is unclear, it is firmly established that the males are always pair-bonded in some fashion. 

Now, although the subject matter of Serve is quite progressive for this day and age, the story is told in a light matter, a bit broadly for my tastes.  Nevertheless, it is the first science fiction piece I can recall that features homosexuality in a positive light — certainly in stark contrast to the denigration shown in Randy Garrett’s Spatial Relationship just last issue!)

If the recent non-negative documentary on homosexuality, The Rejected is any indication, cultural perceptions of homosexuality are changing.  Science fiction offers a lens on the future; I would not be surprised to see more stories featuring men and women in gay relationships.  Perhaps someday, there may even be no negative stigma attached to them at all.

Three stars for the actual story, but Serve has a value beyond its strict literary merit.

Myrrha, by Gary Jennings

Through union with her father, King of Cyprus, the mythological Myrrha was the mother of Adonis.  This legend seems to play little part in Jennings’ Myrrha, about a haughty woman of noble Greek extraction who seduces and destroys the family of a Mrs. Shirley Makepeace.  It is through Shirley’s diary that we learn of the reacquaintance of Myrrha and Shirley a decade after high school, how Myrrha and her herd of prize horses come to lodge as Shirley’s guests, how Myrrha ensares Shirley’s husband and daughter with an intoxicating resinous wine, how both come to tragic “accidental” ends, how after Myrrha departs, Shirley goes mad when her horse gives birth to a man-shaped creature.

A dreamy, humorless, unpleasant story.  I might have liked it more had I understood it.  Perhaps a reader brighter than me (most of you fit the bill…) can explain it.  Three stars

The Shape of Things, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor’s non-fiction article tells us how the Earth changed, in conception, from flat to spherical and from 15,000 miles in circumference to 25,000.  There’s nothing in there I didn’t already know, but the telling was pleasant, and you may find it informative.  Four stars.

The New You, by Kit Reed

You can always count on Kit, an F&SF regular, to give us an offbeat story.  This one is a cautionary tale: if you ever have the chance to become your ideal image of a person, make sure that 1) your spouse shares your vision, and 2) the new you gets rid of the old.

It reads like Sheckley, but with a barbed, feminine touch, and I enjoyed it a lot.  Four stars.

The Devil’s God-daughter, by Suzanne Malaval (translated by Damon Knight)

This atmospheric vignette features a French Persephone and her outwitting of Old Nick.  It’s a clever little piece, worth it for the two riddles, which you may find yourself employing at your next party.  Three stars.

These Are the Arts, by James H. Schmitz

Things end on a disappointing note.  Pulp-era relic..er..veteran, Schmitz, writes of a crusty misanthrope who completely seals himself off from humanity when his television starts broadcasting subliminal, mind-controlling messages.  The real problem with this story is the ending, which involves an utter betrayal of the protagonist’s well-established paranoic nature.  Simply put, the guy’s been skeptical to the extreme the entire story, yet he lets his guard down right when he learns that the world really is out to get him. 

A contrived conclusion, and written in a hoary fashion (though I did appreciate the “truth in advertising” laws, passed in 1990, which make it a crime to question the veracity of commercial claims!)

Two stars.

Thanks to the Sturgeon, the Reed, and Asimov, F&SF scores a respectable 3.3 stars.  If only Editor Davidson, still finding his feet, could keep the quality consistent.  And write better story openers.  Well, if wishes were horses…they’d give birth to Adonis, apparently.

See you in three days when Ashley Pollard reports from Britain!




[August 15, 1962] Four Feet Over (the dual flight of Vostok 3 and Vostok 4)

[if you’re new to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

America just can’t seem to catch a break in the Space Race.  Late last night, the latest Soviet spectacular came to a stunning conclusion: two Cosmonauts had circled the Earth for several days, at one point flying within just 75 miles of each other. 

Major Andrian Nikolaev, 33 and a Chuvash Russian, kicked off the mission the early morning (our time) of August 11.  His Vostok 3 (“Falcon”) was in space for a full day before his spaecebound comrade, 32-year old Ukrainian Lt. Col. Pavel Popovich blasted off in Vostok 4 (“Golden Eagle”), morning of August 12.  TV broadcasts of the two came frequently via Moscow; we saw the cosmonauts floating freely in their small cabins, chatting with each other over the radio, even singing songs.  Breathless news reporters informed that the two craft had “rendezvoused” early on in the flight.  The cosmonauts landed near midnight (our time) within just a few minutes of each other, both of them making the full journey in their ships (as opposed to Titov, who for some reason baled out of Vostok 2 before it reached the ground).

The flight of Vostoks 3 and 4 is a Big Deal.  For four days, there were Russians in space doing impressive things.  It made our prior three-orbit flights look pathetic in comparison.  But the big question is this: Did the two craft actually rendezvous and dock under their own power, a feat that would demonstrate not only a tremendous Communist lead on our program, but an ability to intercept and destroy our own satellites? 

Many government officials are being cagey in their responses, but the answer is “probably not.”  Falcon and Eagle flew closest together in their first few orbits, quickly drifting apart over subsequent ones.  There wasn’t time to link up.  And if the Russians had actually docked, “They would have announced it,” deputy NASA administrator Dr. Hugh L. Dryden said.

This makes sense.  Neither of the prior Vostoks displayed any ability to modify their orbits, and it would suggest a great advancement in Soviet technology if the new ones did.  Rather, the “rendezvous” was merely a demonstration of skilled orbital trajectory calculations and an admittedly impressive ability to launch multiple missions in rapid succession.

Those are the particulars.  Where does this leave us in the big picture? 

Five years ago, the Soviets beat us to the orbital punch, lofting the first two Sputniks.  Though we followed with our own Explorer just three months later, it was with a lighter, less capable rocket.  In 1958-60, we made nearly ten unsuccessful attempts to launch a moon probe.  In the same time frame, the Russians had at least two successes, including the dramatic Luna 3, which took the first pictures of the Far Side of the moon.

Last year, the USSR put the first man in orbit, and it was almost a year until we could match the feat (and not before the put a fellow up in space for a full day – we’ve barely managed less than five hours).  And now this dual Vostok flight.

Some outlets are going ape with dire predictions.  The Communists are several years ahead, they say, on track to land on the moon by 1965!  At a shallow glance, it certainly seems like the Reds are way ahead of us.

But let’s look at things soberly.  I suspect that the booster the Soviets used for Vostok is largely the same one they used for Sputnik.  It’s the equivalent of our Atlas.  It was just available to them several years earlier.  Thus, Vostok doesn’t reflect any major advancement in Russian launch capability – just a fuller utilization of it.  Now that we’ve got the Atlas working for us, we’re on a much more level playing field.  Also, the American Mercury space capsule will ultimately be capable of day-long flights, too.  We just like to take things a bit slower than our reckless Communist adversaries.

And let’s not forget that while the Soviets have launched about 20 flights since 1957 (that they’ve divulged), we’ve launched 100.  The Explorer series is already up to 12, Discoverer almost to 50.  Not to mention the parallel and impressive X-15 rocketplane program, whose successor, the X-20, will be a fully orbital and reusable spaceplane.  Finally, Mariner 2, our Venus probe, is set for launch next month.  We can assume the Soviets will have their counterpart, but it won’t beat us to the planet of love; it will merely escort it.

So don’t panic yet.  Until the Soviets display a true rendezvous in space, or present us with an entirely new spacecraft, they are not that far ahead of us in the Space Race and, I submit, are in some ways behind us.  Ask me again come December…




[August 12, 1962] FEH (the September 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

This September Amazing continues the magazine’s slide into mediocrity after the promise of the year’s earlier issues. 

Keith Laumer’s serial A Trace of Memory concludes, and it’s quite disappointing, in part because it compares so poorly to last year’s Worlds of the Imperium, in part because it seemed to start so well.  The protagonist, who is down and out after a sequence of ridiculously bad luck, is pulled out of the gutter (well, out of a police station) by a strange rich guy called Foster who seems to have lived for centuries, has an indestructible old journal to prove it, but doesn’t remember who he is or how he got here.  Also, it turns out, he is being stalked by even stranger, and dangerous, globular creatures, who catch up to him as the protagonist joins him, leading to a chase across country, and ultimately across the ocean, to escape them and track his origins. 

That first half was quite fast-paced and well-written if a bit over the top.  However, the second half takes the protagonist to Vallon, Foster’s home planet (not a spoiler; it’s telegraphed from the beginning), which has degenerated to a sort of cartoony gangster feudalism, against which backdrop the protagonist performs ever more preposterous feats of physical and mental prowess, dissipating the momentum of the earlier parts and quickly becoming tedious.  Also: upon seeing the July cover illustration of Stonehenge, I joked at the time that I feared winding up in Atlantis.  That doesn’t happen, but Laumer reveals another legendary motif which is just about as silly. 

Speaking of legends, early on, the protagonist introduces himself: “ ‘My name’s Legion,’ I said.” OK, stop right there.  As everybody in this Bible Belt town knows, even me, when Jesus was confronted by a man possessed by an “unclean spirit” and asked his name, the guy said, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” (Mark 5:1-5:9) So Laumer’s protagonist is in effect claiming to be a horde of demons.  I’m thinking of Chekhov’s dictum that if there’s a gun on the wall in Act One, it should be fired in the next act.  Those demons never do get fired.  Two stars (and if it had gone on longer it would have worked its way down to one).

The cover story is Edmond Hamilton’s short story Sunfire!, which continues Hamilton’s transition from Space Opera to Mope Opera.  Space explorer Kellard has slunk home to Earth and moved back, alone, into his ancestral house, refusing all contacts with his colleagues at Survey, because something happened on Mercury and two of his fellows died, and it’s so terrible he can never talk about it.  So Survey comes after him, having not accepted his resignation, and packs him off back to Mercury even though—or maybe because—he still won’t say a word about what happened there. 

It’s actually not much of a secret to anyone who has looked at the cover and seen the fiery aliens, looking like crude but imaginative Hallowe’en costumes.  They’re telepathic, too, and Kellard got a full dose of how free and playful they are, traversing the universe and frolicking among and in the stars.  “No, the ecstacy was one that men would never know except at secondhand through this brief contact!  The glorious rush together of the star-children through the vast abysses, drinking up the energy of the radiation about them.” Etc. It makes being human and tramping around on cold and too, too solid planets seem pointless, and Kellard is never going to burden anyone else with this awful knowledge. 

Sorry, I don’t buy it, and neither does the head of Survey, who gets Kellard’s point once he too meets the aliens, but doesn’t think just having the planets of the universe is such a bad deal.  Like any sensible person he’s ready to tell the world about this rather interesting discovery.  Despite the artificiality of its problem, the story is well turned and, with this and Requiem from the April issue, Hamilton is clearly working hard at making the transition to a less obsolete kind of SF than the space opera he is better known for.  Splitting the difference between good intentions and lack of plausibility, three stars.  If you can believe in Kellard’s reaction, you’ll like it better than I did.

Edward Wellen’s Apocryphal Fragment is a mildly clever vignette (so labelled on the contents page) in which Doubting Thomas encounters a jinni in the Negev.  Something this slight should be rated in asteroids rather than stars, but if I must . . . two stars.

The other short story is Whistler, by David Rome (reputedly a pseudonym for one David Boutland); it’s the first US appearance of an author who has published nine stories in little more than a year in New Worlds and its companions in the UK.  Unfortunately it is an insipid though well-meaning message story about the evils of bigotry in the space lanes, almost as short as Wellen’s.  One star.

That leaves the Classic Reprint, The Ice Man by William Withers Douglas, from the February 1930 Amazing.  The narrator is an ancient Roman citizen brought to the New York of 1928 through a classical version of suspended animation.  He expects this account to be transmitted to his countrymen back home, in hopes that someone will rescue him from the insane asylum where he has ended up.  It recounts his initial captivity by a rather annoying if not quite mad scientist, and his observations of modern times—fire engines, women’s fashion, etc. etc.—once he has made his escape.  It’s reasonably well written, and any two or three pages of it are quite amusing.  Unfortunately there are 34.  Two stars.

Ben Bova has another installment of his series on extraterrestrial life, The Inevitability of Life, which reviews what’s known (or believed to be known) about the origins of life in chemical evolution and physical processes.  There’s a good case that the chemical and physical components of life arise inevitably through natural processes, though Bova is a little hazy on how the deal is closed and organic chemicals become living matter.  Nonetheless, three stars for lucid exposition of interesting material, particularly welcome in an issue where there’s not much else of interest.

Benedict Breadfruit abideth.

[August 10, 1962] Eyes on Oedipus (Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex)

[I am pleased to present an unusual piece from our fan-turned-columnist, Vicki Lucas. It covers one of the oldest fantasies, as presented by one of the newest musical artists. As we all have had a Classical education (do you remember your Latin declensions?) this review of a modern interpretation of Oedipus should be right up your alley…]


by Victoria Lucas

“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Frederick Douglass 8/3/1857

Those of you who have read my previous columns may remember that I have strange tastes in music (hallucinating music as a tactile object when I heard a totally new form) and that I have a somewhat political slant on some things (my participation in a lie-in and my feminist musings last time).  The above remark of the former slave Frederick Douglass is relevant to some music I’ve been listening to—and its composer.

Last year I was surprised and delighted to hear relatively modern music on television and see Igor Stravinsky’s 1927 oratorio Oedipus Rex. So when I returned from Stanford, I checked out of the library the 1952 record of Stravinsky conducting, with Jean Cocteau as narrator. I’ve been listening to it over and over. Stravinsky is best known for Rite of Spring, a ballet with a throbbing beat that caused a riot at its premiere in 1913, but this music is very different.

And then I heard about Stravinsky’s return this year to Russia for the first time since 1914. On this same trip he conducted concerts in South Africa. I found out that Stravinsky appears also to have politics. He will not drink Russian vodka but asks for Polish, saying that Russia did terrible things to the Poles (a slant on Stalin, perhaps?). In South Africa in May he did not know that he had been scheduled to appear before whites only, and when asked if he would like to appear before a mixed audience he replied, “I would like to appear before human beings, that’s all.” He asked to give a free concert to those the South Africans call Bantu (blacks), and was allowed to do so.

So I started thinking about politics in Oedipus Rex. Not just by Stravinsky. The literary original was a play by Sophocles first performed about 430 BC. There was also a play by another ancient Greek playwright, Euripides (best known for Medea), but the script did not survive; there are fragments. Also, Stravinsky asked Jean Cocteau (best known for his film Beauty and the Beast) to write the libretto. That took three tries that may not survive, but which may have been reworked into Cocteau’s 1928 play. And there was the Catholic cardinal Jean Daniélou, a seminarian at the time, who translated Cocteau’s libretto (with Stravinsky’s corrections) into Latin, Stravinsky’s chosen language.

Everyone knows about Oedipus: Freud’s Oedipus Complex presented as Everyman’s desire to kill his father and marry his mother.  However, the real story is ancient. Sophocles’ original Greek title of his play was “Oedipus Tyrannos,” but it is commonly known by its Latin title. The word “tyrant” is more accurate when it comes to Oedipus — an unconstitutional monarch accepted by popular acclamation.

You also probably know the story, but briefly it is this: Oedipus was born to a king and his wife but under a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The royal couple gave the baby away to kill it, but it was given to and adopted by another couple. When Oedipus is old enough, he consults the oracle, who tells him the same prophecy, whereupon he leaves his adoptive home, unwittingly encounters his father and kills him. On his way he finds the Sphinx, whose riddle he solves, thereby saving a city from starvation. He is acclaimed king and by custom marries the old king’s widow. The dramatic works start at the point where a new crisis forces Oedipus to consider his past, revealing that the prophecy was true and making it necessary for him to leave his throne.

Stravinsky’s piece was written as a short opera.  The library recording is an oratorio–music with minimal staging and costumes.  As in the premiere in Paris, the narration on this recording is in French and the libretto in Latin.

The idea of using Latin was something that captured Stravinsky’s imagination because, in 1925, his native “Russian, the exiled language of my heart, had become musically impracticable, and French, German, and Italian were temperamentally alien.” Stravinsky felt uprooted (“déraciné”) from his native Russia because war and revolution had made his return impossible by destroying his family home and fortune. Thinking about Latin, he realized he could probably use its “monumental character” to create the “still life” he wanted. He also found it compatible in “scansion” (rhythm) with his music.

So he wrote to Jean Cocteau, whose remake of the Sophocles play Antigone he admired. But when Stravinsky finally felt he could use the third draft he also entrusted the Latin translation to Cocteau, who knew a 20-year-old seminarian. So someone my age translated Cocteau’s work into “Ciceronian Latin” (not medieval in pronunciation). And he apparently did it with the original Greek in hand or in mind, because the Latin approximates Sophocles rather well, at least where I could see the Greek compared with English.

What are the differences between Stravinsky’s oratorio, Cocteau’s play, Sophocles’ play, and fragments of a play by Euripides? Stravinsky’s and Cocteau’s work is based on Sophocles’ play, so there are more subtle differences among those three. Euripides is another matter entirely.

For one thing, in Euripides’ play there is no plague. In Sophocles’, Thebes is under siege by a plague. As it happens, there was a plague in Athens (Sophocles’ home theater) at the time Sophocles wrote. Was this the first time that a play was set somewhere else to avoid accusations of political criticism? If so, it certainly wasn’t the last. (Shakespeare used the device a number of times in the sensitive Elizabethan political climate in which one could easily find oneself beheaded.) Apart from the plague, Athens was under siege by Sparta in this second year of the Peloponnesian War.

The plague and the siege by the Sphinx (rather than Sparta) figure largely in both Sophocles and Stravinsky. The current (430 BC) head of Athens was also a tyrant, Cleon. He was described by contemporaries as a “demagogue,” and three years later (427 BC) his opinion of what should happen to a city in the Athenian empire whose people had revolted and were put down was to kill all the men and enslave all the women and children. Fortunately, at the last moment someone rescinded that order.

The fictional plague of Thebes figures large in Stravinsky’s work as motivation. Early on the chorus repeats “serva nos” (save us), three notes forming a tritone, which, along with descending and ascending thirds, create a repeating musical theme of threes in the oratorio. It was at a particular type of crossroads that Sophocles has Oedipus kill his father King Laius–a trivium (three roads coming together). Stravinsky was taken with the concept of the trivium and won’t let us forget it while those thirds and tritones are played.

Stravinsky’s Oedipus is less affected by the pleas of the chorus than Sophocles’ tyrant. Instead of telling the chorus he feels their pain (as in Sophocles), he says, “I, the brightest Oedipus, will save you.” He promises to search for the killer of Laius after his brother-in-law Creon brings news that an oracle has decreed that the plague will not leave the city until the death of Laius is “avenged.” He tells Creon that it is unlikely they will find the perpetrator of such an old crime and, once again calling himself “the brightest,” boasts of solving the riddle of the Sphinx and says he will solve this too. The Latin for what he promises to do is “eruam,” which has three syllables and is an uncommon word for “search,” but it matches the Greek word Sophocles used, which is more like “root out,” and Stravinsky repeats those three syllables.

Cocteau’s introduction to his own play states: “It is not a piece of theater that you are going to see. It is a torture, a famous cause, a trial.” This is particularly true of Cocteau’s version of the tale, in which Oedipus is on trial but doesn’t see it that way.

Oedipus’ behavior is consistent in the three scripts:

  • Oedipus won’t take advice and sabotages every effort to spare him the fate he pursues and finally faces. If he had followed Jocasta or Creon inside and had private conversations, perhaps that would have led to his leaving the city and never being exposed. Perhaps this would have placated the gods, given that leaving office and living as a pauper would have been punishment, maybe even punishment enough given his sense of entitlement. But it wouldn’t have satisfied his sense of drama.
  • He attacks Tiresias when that prophet is trying to save him. Oedipus threatens Tiresias instead of taking his advice, unnecessarily provoking him into a public disclosure.
  • He attacks his brother-in-law when that worthy tries to calm him down, accusing him of being in a plot with Tiresias.
  • He even dismisses Jocasta’s increasingly desperate efforts to get him to shut up and go inside. When he learns that he was picked up by a shepherd who delivered him to a childless couple who raised him, he chooses to believe that he might be the son of mythical creatures or gods. When Jocasta gives up and “flees” (Cocteau’s version), he opines that she is ashamed of the possibility that he was the son of a slave.
  • Finally he interviews the shepherd who took him to his adoptive father. He says (Cocteau) “I order you to tell me everything. If you are stubborn, I will have you tortured.” When the shepherd pleads with him, Oedipus calls out, “Bind him!”

At every turn, Oedipus refuses to see the truth. Then he blinds himself when he does see it, still not wanting to see what is plainly before him—that he has been the ruin of his wife and children as well as himself. (At least this is true in the three scripts we have; Euripides has Jocasta accompany him to exile, and in that version he does not blind himself. Sophocles and then Stravinsky are harder on him, and Cocteau hardest of all.)

Why did Oedipus attack his father and his father’s retinue in the first place? This is never settled in the Stravinsky script. In both Sophocles’ and Cocteau’s version it happens because: (Sophocles) “They ordered me out of the way”; (Sophocles and Cocteau, Cocteau’s words translated by me) “They jostled me, I hit … I killed!” What a temper this man has! He threatens everyone around him but his wife, and even her he accuses of being haughty and unmotherly.

The chorus’ reaction to Oedipus’ downfall is interesting: they see him off, no longer pleading with him to save them, but telling him they loved him (a Latin past tense that indicates the action went on for a time but is now over). They have no regrets for making him their tyrant, but of course now he has to go. This is all matter of fact, lacking Oedipus’ flair for drama.

So what did Sophocles mean to say about the politics of Athens in the time of plague and the tyrant Cleon? We may never know unless we unearth more documents from that time, but were there those who believed that a solution to Athens’ plague might lie in a change of leadership? Or were there those who thought that the government was as bad as the plague that had killed its last lawful leader? I look forward to more archeological findings, but in the meantime we can speculate about whether Stravinsky (and perhaps Cocteau) was saying something about Stalin and other dictators of their youth, and further about the similarities between Sophocles’ demagogue and living men today.

[August 8, 1962] Abysmal (The Underwater City)

[if you’re new to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

The Sea.  An endless, mysterious expanse.  A potential source for bountiful harvests of food.  An untapped mine of vast mineral wealth.  A battleground to be populated with underwater naval bases. 

An inspiration for far too many lousy movies.

Frontiers are always ripe arenas for adventure stories.  From Outer Space to the frigid poles to the watery depths, they lure us with the promise of riches and resources; they reward us with hardship and death.  Man vs. Nature is one of the classic conflicts, and expertly handled, can be a thrill.

The makers of the latest summer sci-fi film, The Underwater City, were not experts.


(stills are in color, but the film was released in black and white for no explainable reason)

The plot in brief: Contractor is tasked with creating the first ocean-bottom settlement.  He settles on a cluster of independent metal cels, and then joins the first small group of colonists.  Some of the builders die during construction, victims of various undersea perils — from seaquakes to manta rays (?!) One of the settlers rummages around an old wreck to find bottles of scotch.  A giant octopus and a giant moray eel fight at one point for some reason.  And, at the very end, the crust gives way and the colony is lost.


The only reason to build models of an undersea city is…


…to give it the Atlantis treatment.

Our cast:


“Hmmm….says here we’re the main characters so we have to fall in love.”


“Pleased to meet you!  Since we’re men and you’re the woman, you’ll be doing our cooking.”


We’re newlyweds!  Now stay in this room until the end of the movie, please.  You’re pregnant.


You might need some scotch to get through the movie, too.

Certainly, a movie about the first settlement at the bottom of the sea, particularly one with the decent production values of City, could be very interesting, indeed.  This one was flubbed at every turn.  More of an advertisement for undersea living, the kind that might be shown at the World Expo going on right now in Seattle, City is a conglomeration of scenes that serve no narrative. 

I watched this on opening night with The Young Traveler, and I think she encapsulates what was wrong (and inadvertently right) with the film better than I ever could:


by Lorelei Marcus

I read recently that you can tell exactly what a movie is about, just by its opening shot. Unfortunately, the only thing the opening shot of The Underwater City told us was that it was going to be a bad movie. That said, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a quite enjoyable experience. Taking advantage of the empty theater, my father and I commentated throughout the entire film, making it a bearable watch. This form of viewing can make anything entertaining, but this movie was something special.

The first interesting trait of this movie is…it wasn’t one. Walking out of the theater, my father and I kept repeating how what we just watched wasn’t a movie! There were scenes, and things that happened, sort of. Still, there was no coherent plot to speak of! Not to mention there was no conflict either. Any potential conflict was quickly resolved a few seconds later by either a character dying or being saved. There was no time to feel anything at all! (And yet the underwater scenes still seemed to drag on forever.) Even the final conflict was resolved within 10 minutes!


“Just wanted to let you know, I found the plot.”  “It’s about time!”


“Oh no!  We’re trapped because of the quake!  We’ll never… oh look.  A rescue submarine.”

There isn’t much to say about the sets and acting. The acting was mediocre and really didn’t add anything to the story. The two main sets of the ‘movie’ were the underwater city rooms and the underwater set. The underwater city was honestly very bland, and surprisingly roomy. After recently touring an aircraft carrier myself, the underwater modules looked absurdly spacious, especially for so few people living in them.


“The bowling alley is down the hall, gentlemen…”

The underwater scenes were actually fairly convincing.  The rocks and coral were nice, and the filter on the camera added that extra level. My dad was actually fooled for most of the ‘movie,’ until he realized the ‘air bubbles’ coming out of their breathing modules were actually soap bubbles.


Never sneeze in SCUBA gear

I’d say my favorite part of the ‘movie’ was all the stock footage of adorable sea creatures! The appearances such as the deadly shark, giant eel, giant manta ray, and giant octopus, really brought an extra layer of entertainment to the movie. The science of how the city became self sustaining underwater would’ve been interesting to me too. Unfortunately, the ‘movie’ didn’t show any of that — we just heard the characters telling us that the city was self sustaining.


“Why are we fighting again?”  “Shut up!  This is for Hollywood!”

In fact, the entire movie reversed the old adage, deciding that the best stories come from telling, not showing! They stuck so hard to this rule that they had a narrator describe everything that was happening on screen for the first half of the entire movie. I actually wondered if my father had gotten a version for the visually impaired! Apparently not, however, as said narrator disappeared halfway through the film, never to return.


Best not to show…just tell.

I would recommend you only watch this movie for fun and not for any cinematographic value. The dry and clunky story telling, the absurd science, and the nonexistent plot really make this movie, well, not a movie. I give it 1 star as a serious watch, but an honorary score of -3 for its unintended goodness. This movie is best enjoyed with friends, being made fun of.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.