[December 12, 1962] UP THE SPOUT AGAIN (the January 1963 Amazing)


by John Boston

All right, Frogeyes,* dust off all the stars.  We’re finally going to need them for this January 1963 Amazing, specifically for Keith Laumer’s novelet It Could Be Anything.
*Those without a classical education may ignore this and similar allusions.

“Things are not what they seem” is a well worn SF device, employed by the likes of Heinlein, Sturgeon, and more recently Philip K. Dick.  But it’s not worn out, as Laumer demonstrates.  Young Brett is about to take the train out of the stereotypical small town of Casperton, heading for the unnamed big city, despite stereotypical remonstrances.  His Aunt Haicey says, “It was reading all them books that done it.  Thick books, with no pictures in them.  I knew it would make trouble.” The stationmaster offers, “If I talk to Mr. J.D., I think he can find a job for you at the plant.” His girlfriend Pretty-Lee doesn’t show, not after their big argument in Rexall’s over her preoccupation with a movie magazine.  But he boards anyway, and some time later finds himself on a deserted stopped train in the middle of a field where the tracks just stop, no clue as to why, but the city is visible on the horizon.  So he walks.  I won’t spoil the story’s revelations in detail, but Brett quickly learns that the people he encounters in the city, engaged in ordinary mundane activities like walking down the street and eating in restaurants, are not real—they are automatons acting out routines.  What’s going on?  The answer is pretty nasty, and the story quickly turns crude and violent.  At the end, Brett is heading home to Casperton, with the similarity between the automatons’ routines and the behavior of the home folks not lost on him.  The story is exceedingly well visualized, gaining power from Laumer’s attention to mundane sensual detail even in the midst of violent melodrama.  Its impact is also enhanced by what isn’t there—an explanation.  The story is told entirely from Brett’s limited viewpoint, ignorant of the larger picture even after his shattering experiences in the city, leaving the reader knowing very little about the comprehensive catastrophe that seems to have overtaken the world, but creating an unusually strong sense of a larger world outside the confines of the story about which one can only speculate.  Five stars.

The cover story, Cerebrum by Albert Teichner, makes a nice contrast to the Laumer story—“nice” in the original sense of precise or fine, not the current debased usage—since it takes a well worn plot device and fails to revitalize it.  In the future, everybody’s telepathic, and they’re all hooked up to the Central Synaptic Computation Receptor and Transmitter System, which routes thoughts like a telephone exchange, only better.  Otherwise, nobody could hear themselves think through everyone else’s mental noise.  But people who think negative thoughts about Central get Suspended, and now there’s a large and growing underclass of Suspendeds since Central seems to be making a lot of mistakes lately—but don’t think that or you’ll be Suspended too.  Protagonist and family get Suspended and have to learn to live as outcasts on the margins; they discover what passes for an underground; then Central falls apart entirely and the brewing problems between Suspendeds and paraNormals (sic) conveniently disappear.  So, it’s the early Galaxy routine of society distorted by an innovation, with The Machine Stops thrown into the mix, no more than routinely clever connect-the-dots stuff.  Two stars; ten years ago when this sort of thing was newer, it might have seemed better.  The cover, by Lloyd Birmingham, merits a comment as well: de Chirico repeats, this time as farce.

Jack Egan’s Cully, like his earlier World Edge from November, is a short tale told by (or for) a damaged consciousness, which any further explanation would spoil; this one is better written and less busy than its predecessor.  Maybe Egan is getting the hang of it.  Generously, three stars.

S. Dorman—presumably the Sonya Dorman who appeared in the October Ladies’ Home Journal—provides something else entirely in The Putnam Tradition, her first in the SF magazines: sort of like Zenna Henderson with sharper edges.  The Putnams are a matriarchal and rather change-resistant New England family, witches or psi-talented as you prefer, whose children (the healthy ones) are mostly daughters, and whose husbands “spent a lifetime with the long-lived Putnam wives, and died, leaving their strange signs: telephone wires, electric lights, water pumps, brass plumbing.” And now young Simone’s husband Sam has brought them an “invasion” of large and small appliances, and their daughter doesn’t seem to have inherited the family talents.  Is tradition dead?  Or is something else going on?  The story is told in sort of fairy-tale fashion, with the occasional startling image (“. . . power lines had been run in, and now on cold nights the telephone wires sounded like a concert of cellos, while inside with a sound like the breaking of beetles, the grandmother Cecily moved through the walls in the grooves of tradition.”).  Dorman’s writing seems a little amateurish in places but it conveys the sense of a real individual behind the typewriter and not (unlike, say, Teichner’s) some device grinding up and recycling the last 50 SF stories she read.  Four stars, and thanks for the fresh air.

Bringing up the rear, or letting it down, is the “Classic Reprint” from the January 1933 issue: Omega, the Man by Lowell Howard Morrow, about Omega, the last human alive (well, he starts out with his wife Thalma and briefly acquires a son—Alpha, of course) on a dying Earth, with a schematic plot and the sort of bombastic style that one could barely get away with even then, and nowadays reads like parody.  A bizarre Frankensteinian plot twist at the end comes much too late to redeem this fiasco.  Moskowitz’s praise of it is almost as risible.  One star.

Ben Bova soldiers on with another article, Progress Report: Life Forms in Meteorites, again beautifully but inaptly illustrated by Virgil Finlay.  Bova reviews findings on exactly what the title says, as usual assembling a fair amount of interesting information.  He does seem to have his thumb on the scales sometimes, though, as when he recounts several competing theories about the nature of seemingly organic particles found in some meteorites: are they fossilized life forms, or crystalline structures that are the “intermediate step” between DNA molecules and living cells, or inorganic materials that contain lots of iron, or fossils that have been partly replaced by iron through a petrifaction process?  “On balance, though,” Bova says, “it would appear that the particles are life forms, or at least, fossils of once-living cells.” But he doesn’t explain why he’s choosing one side or another in this technical debate.  Still, three stars for pulling this material together in more or less plain English.

So: one excellent story, another very good one, and only one complete pratfall.  Looks like progress.  Of course I said that early last year too.  Da capo.  If the magazine can retain good new contributors like Dorman, Zelazny, and Ballard, maybe it can keep it up this time.

[December 9, 1962] (January 1963, IF Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Ah, Winter.  That sleepy time of the year when the air gets chillier (such as it ever gets chilly in Southern California), work slows down a bit, and shopping for the holidays picks up.  The first night of Hannukah is the 21st, and then, of course, there’s the big mid-Hannukah holiday (named after Chris, the patron saint of presents). 

And it’s when I renew my subscriptions for science fiction magazines since they generally offer Christmas discounts!

December marks the new year, at least as far as periodicals go.  January-dated issues show up the month before, so I’ve already gotten a sneak preview into the next year.  First up is is the January 1963 IF, and if this be a harbinger, then next year will probably be a decent one:

The Five Hells of Orion, by Frederik Pohl

I have to wonder if Pohl gets paid the same rate as everyone else for stories he writes, given that he is the editor.  Of course, he should.  Pohl has been a writer for decades, and he produces good stuff.  Orion follows the tale of an young astrogator shanghaied across a thousand light years by aliens bent on forging an alliance with humanity.  The first half is very good.  The spaceman must navigate a set of intelligence tests and we gradually come to understand the intentions of the extraterrestrials.  The payoff is rushed, however; perhaps this would have made a better novel.  Three stars.

The Shipshape Miracle, by Clifford D. Simak

An atypical piece by Simak in which an incorrigible criminal crosses paths with the brother to The Ship Who Sang, to his ultimate dismay.  Well-written, like everything Simak does, but unexceptional.  Three stars for the story, but five stars for the excellent art!

This Way to the Egress, by Andrew Fetler

Fetler returns to IF with his second vignette, a subtle piece about the last hours of a social deviant.  I suspect Fetler has a day job given the paucity of work he’s published in our field.  Three stars.

Essay in Coherence, by Theodore Sturgeon

This piece on LASERs (single-wavelength light beams of incredible intensity) shows that Sturgeon may soon give Asimov a run for his money with science articles.  It’s witty and informative, and probably will be the genesis of countless short stories involving this brand-new technology.  Five stars.

Podkayne of Mars (Part 2 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

Part II of Heinlein’s new juvenile(?) about Miss Poddy Fries and her space jaunt from Mars is a bit more readable than the last one, but it’s still overwritten and gets bogged in detail.  This is the spiritual successor to The Menace from Earth I’d hoped to share with my daughter, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough.  Three stars for this installment.

Road Stop, by David Mason

A ghost story involving a haunted car…in a future when all cars are haunted by design.  The tale isn’t plausible, in and of itself, but the world it paints feels like a possible tomorrow.  Three stars.

Fortress Ship, by Fred Saberhagen

Now here’s an interesting one, by a newish author who’s already turned out some good stuff.  Fortress introduces the concept of the “Beserker,” giant automated robot ships created as doomsday weapons. They roam the galaxy, relics of a forgotten war, reducing populated planets into ashes.  It takes extraordinary courage and, more importantly, wit to defeat them.  But it is possible…  Four stars.

Captain of the Kali , by Gary Wright

The “IFirststory” competition netted a piece from freshly minted author Gary Wright.  A futuristic C.S. Forester is recruited to serve as guest admiral on an alien fleet of sail-driven warships.  A good first effort, though greater length and a few more sf trappings would have been nice.  Three stars.

When Whirlybirds Call, by Frank Banta

Last up is a satirical piece about a laconic big-game hunter and the coocoo-downdraft-peoplehawk-whirlybirds he is contracted to exterminate.  Cute while it lasts.  Three stars.

It’s rare that I go from beginning to end of a mag and find no lousy stories.  This month’s IF is solid (if not exceptional) entertainment, and as the cheapest of the digests (at 35 cents), it is definitely a bargain.




[December 6, 1962] How to Kill Friends and Influence People (The game, Diplomacy)

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


by Gideon Marcus

“…but she took off the great lid of the box with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men.”

So goes Hesiod’s account of Pandora, the first woman, and how woe was delivered unto mankind.  Until last month, I’d come to believe that the box was strictly allegorical.  And then I found it.

More accurately, I bought it.  I was visiting the local toy store.  You know, where they sell big bouncy balls, Airfix model kits, Erector Sets.  And social, wholesome boardgames like Clue and Scrabble.  Mixed among these innocuous pleasures was something new, a creation of the “Games Research” company.  Its title was brief and opaque: Diplomacy.  Intrigued, I purchased it and took it home.

Inside the maroon box is a map of Europe delineated with the pre-WWI national boundaries, a variety of wooden pieces, and a set of rules.  “‘Diplomacy’ is a game of skill and cunning negotiations,” they proclaim.  Diplomacy appears to be the latest in the new category of diversions known as “wargames.”  The goal is to take the role of one of the seven Great Powers and take over the rest of Europe. 

What makes Diplomacy unique from other wargames is its multi-player aspect; all the other wargames I’ve played to date have been two-player affairs.  Also, as the rules go on to say, “Chance plays no part.”  This is true – no dice are included with or employed by the game. 

Though the rules booklet runs several pages, the gist of the game is incredibly simple.  The map is divided into two types of provinces: ones with “supply centers” and ones without.  All player nations start out with three supply centers (except Russia, which gets four).  No nation may have more pieces than supply centers; thus, each player starts with three (or four) pieces.  These pieces may be armies, which move on land, and fleets, which may move in sea spaces or land spaces that border sea spaces. 

Each turn, a player dispatches orders to each of her/his pieces privately in writing.  Units are directed to move, either individually or with the support of adjacent friendly pieces.  Orders are resolved simultaneously – in the event that two units are sent to the same province, the one with more support wins, and the other must retreat.  Every other turn, control of supply centers is tallied – they belong to whomever was last in them on a tallying turn.  And so the fortune of nations rises and falls.  When one has control of no supply centers, that player is eliminated from the game.

Easy, no?  Ah, but here’s the tricky bit.  Turns are divided into two segments.  The latter is the one just described, where players write their marching orders.  The former is a 15-minute diplomacy segment.  This is the period in which players discuss their plans, try to hatch alliances, attempt to deceive about intentions.  It is virtually impossible to win the game without help on the way up; it is completely impossible to win without eventually turning on your allies.  Backstabbery is common, even necessary.  Honesty is a vice.

Diplomacy is, thus, not a nice game.  In fact, I suspect this game will strike rifts between even the best chums.  So why play at all?  Why suffer 4-12 hours of agony, especially when you might well be eliminated within the first few turns, left to watch the rest of your companions pick over your bones?

Well, it’s kind of fun.

I’ll give you an example.  Last weekend, I was fortunate to have over exactly the seven people needed to play.  We drew our countries randomly – I picked Russia, my daughter got the neighboring country of Turkey.  Right away, we had to establish our relationship.  Would we forge a treaty, enabling us to strike west into central Europe?  Or would we be adversaries, soliciting the aid of another power (say, Austria-Hungary) in a bloody war for domination of the Black Sea?

As it turned out, the question was not neatly answered.  As my forces fenced with the British Royal Navy for control of Scandinavia, and Italy plunged into the south of France, the Hapsburg Emperor proved a stubborn foe.  After several turns of thwarting Turkey’s Balkan ambitions, she convinced Lorelei to launch a surprise attack against my rear, the Sultan’s forces heading straight for Sevastopol.

Only two things kept the Czar on the throne: Firstly, I’d penned a secret alliance with the Kaiser to join in a three-way alliance to devour the Dual Monarchy.  Secondly, and more luckily, Lorelei had botched her orders, and her attack stalled. 

I held absolutely no grudge against the kid.  Instead, I merely pulled her aside during the next diplomacy session and explained that she could work with me and finally break out of Asia Minor…or she could not cooperate, and both our chances of winning would be slim.  She bit, and next turn, Austria-Hungary ceased to be.  We went on to tie for first place, both of us having a full eight supply centers when we called it a day after five hours of play.  But I’ve no doubt that, had we decided to continue, my dear daughter, apple of my eye, would not have hesitated to drive the knife deep into my spine. 

Such is the nature of Diplomacy.  It’s an unique pleasure, to be sure, one that will test your cunning, your generalship, and your charisma.  And your friendships.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you…




[December 4, 1962] Like Five Weeks in a Theater (Five Weeks in Balloon)

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


by Lorelei Marcus

“5 weeks in a balloon!” What an exciting phrase — so much potential for many interesting stories and ideas.  Thus, you can perhaps understand the excitement I felt in anticipation of the new Jules Verne spectacular based on the book of the same title. Going in without a hint of what the film might be about, I already had a bunch of wild adventures thought up. I was certain the movie would involve a group of explorers struggling to survive a month in the air. Maybe they would run low on food. Perhaps they’d get on each others’ nerves. A giant storm might throw them off course or prevent their landing. Seeing it on the big screen was going to be fantastic!

Or so I thought. To be frank, the movie that I actually got was disappointing, especially compared to the wondrous stories that I’d already imagined before the movie. Rather than a cool and creative survival movie of living in a balloon, we got a rather dull sight-seeing trip.


Get used to scenes like this.  There are a lot of them.

The movie stars a small cast of stereotypes: The witty professor, the kooky general, the teenage heartthrob (Fabian), the obnoxious American reporter (Red Buttons), the slave girl who knows just enough English to sound foreign (but is totally understandable), and the love interest.


I’m glad Fabian’s working again.  Dig that 19th Century hair!


“Which man do you want to end up with?”  “Anyone but Red Buttons, please.”

Oh, and I can’t forget their ape companion either, because every Jules Verne movie has to have an animal companion.


This seems thoroughly responsible.

Now if I told you that this movie was about this crew racing in a balloon across Africa to beat slave traders from staking a valuable claim, and getting caught in various misadventures along the way, you would probably say, “Well how could such an adventure be boring?” I’m not sure, especially considering the movie started off so well!

Everything before the balloon’s take off (the first 20 minutes or so) was funny, clever, and fast paced. The first scene, in which the professor and his inventor friend take reluctant investors on a demonstration flight, and then the next bit in which the professor prepares for the expedition and collects funds and crew, was quite fun to watch!


“Jane!  Stop this crazy thing!”


“This is Africa.”  “Oh!  Good to know!”

But once he’d picked up the American reporter, and the balloon took to the skies, the movie ground to a sudden halt. Unfortunately it never seemed to pick back up again either. The entire movie was: the balloon flies around, lands someplace; the crew gets out and gets into trouble, they run back to the balloon and fly away. There were no real conflicts, because they could always just retreat to the balloon and escape danger. Moreover, many of these scenes went on for ‘way too long. There was never any real tension through the whole movie, and without tight pacing of events, the movie felt like it was really dragging on for five weeks!

Now I will give the credit for its visual quality. It was in color like all the Jules Verne classics, and it had many exotic settings and beautiful sets. However, with the lack of a real plot, the movie really just felt like “Look at this pretty thing!” over and over again. I’m hoping this doesn’t become a common trend, the substitution of pretty special effects for a good story.

The acting was alright. In fact, the best part of the movie was the interaction between the singleminded professor and the prissy general sent by the Prime Minister to co-lead the expedition.  Their banter was genuinely funny.  But it was also very British, or I should say, what Americans think of as British.  That was a big problem with this movie: racial stereotyping. There were certainly quite a few racist portrayals of different cultures, to say the least. The journey took place over Africa, so there several scenes set in Muslim palaces. The problem was, rather than using this opportunity to show these cultures in an interesting and insightful way, we got very clearly not Muslim African actors in brown makeup spouting nonsense. And the Black Africans were hordes of dancing/yelling savages. It really just felt kind of insulting.


“I’m British, you know.”  “What a coincidence!  So am I!”





Sensitive portrayals of foreign cultures.

In the end though, the largest fault of this movie was not its own shortcomings, but the fact that we’ve already seen this plot done better. Master of the Air, another film inspired by a Jules Verne novel, lived up to the expectations set by its title. It has a tense and satisfying story, characters with lots of depth, an awesome set…and weeks spent in an airship! That movie is everything Five Weeks wants to be.


This explains a lot…

All in all, I would not say Five Weeks in a Balloon is a bad movie. I think the creators were trying to make an exciting adventure movie and mix it with comedy, and they ended up succeeding at neither. Still, the high budget did make it a fun tour through Africa. The movie wasn’t a waste of my time, but I was disappointed that it didn’t meet the standard previous Verne films (particularly Master), have set. Overall, I give this movie 2 stars. It was quite mediocre, and I would say if you’re looking to watch a great Verne spectacular, then you’re better off with one of his other films.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[I watched this movie, too, and I really have very little to add to this excellent review.  I might charitably give the film 2.5 stars as it is less bad than not good.

One interesting observation — we saw this in a double-feature with This is not a Test, and both flicks featured chicken abuse.  Is this a new cinematic trend? [Ed]]




[December 2, 1962] They Came From the Mainstream (SF Books Not Published As SF)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

Science fiction is a marketing category.  Readers who enjoy this genre look for familiar names and for covers featuring rockets and robots.  Our esteemed host has done an excellent job reviewing nearly all the books published as science fiction this year.  But what about those which contain speculative content, but which are not marketed that way?

As the year draws to an end, let’s take a look at some of this camouflaged science fiction:

Two new collections of translated stories by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, Ficiones and Labyrinths, contain many tales which will appeal to SF fans.  In Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, for example, the author describes an alien world.  An entire universe, consisting of every possible book, is the setting for The Library of Babel.  These and other elegantly written stories appeal more to the intellect than the heart.

Prolific British author Anthony Burgess offered two very different visions of dystopian futures this year.  A Clockwork Orange is narrated in futuristic slang by a teenage criminal.

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening . . .

Disorienting at first, this Russian-influenced language of tomorrow becomes clear through context, and is brilliantly used by Burgess to take us into a frightening world of random violence and government mind control.

Overpopulation leads to repression of heterosexuality, pregnancy becoming a crime, war used as a form of population control, and cannibalism in The Wanting Seed.  The language of this novel is not as difficult as A Clockwork Orange, but it deals with many important themes which require careful reading.

Russian-born writer Vladimir Nabakov, best known for his controversial novel Lolita (toned down somewhat in this year’s film adaptation), creates a very unusual structure in his new book, Pale Fire.  It consists of a poem of 999 lines by an imaginary poet, followed by footnotes written by an equally fictional critic.  Read together, the poem and footnotes come together to form a plot of impersonation, exile, and murder.  What makes this a work of science fiction is the fact that it takes place in a world different from our own.  The story deals with the deposed king of the European nation of Zembla.  It takes place in an alternate version of the USA, which contains the states of Appalachia and Utana. 

Although all of these books were published as literary fiction, science fiction fans should not dismiss them, in Hamlet’s words, as “caviar to the general.”  They are all well worth reading, and produce the special sense of wonder that comes from our favorite genre.