A break from it all (June 1959 F&SF, first half; 5-09-1959)

by Erich Lessig

It’s been heavy reading following the papers these days what with the Communist siege of Berlin seemingly without end.  These potential flashpoints between East and West get more frightening every day, particularly as both sides perfect methods of delivering atomic weapons across the globe.

Thankfully, I can rely on my monthly installment of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (often the highlight of my literary science fiction experience).  Thankfully, it doesn’t look like F&SF is going the way of IF, Satellite, or even Galaxy.  And its quality remains high, if not stellar.

James Blish opens the issue with a bang, quite literally.  This Earth of Hours is a really good tale of first contact and interstellar war… one in which the Terrans are hopelessly outmatched.  A proud terrestrial fleet is completely destroyed save for two segments of its flagship that crash to the surface of an alien planet.  There, what’s left of the crew finds a race of sentient hive mind centipedes that communicate through telepathy.  Not only is are the aliens (collectively) smarter than us, but they span a federation of like-minded aliens that spans much of our galaxy.  In short, humanity doesn’t have a chance against them.  Beaten, the crew repair their ship and embark on a tortuously long journey back to Earth to dissuade humanity against further bellicose expeditions.

If there’s anything wrong with the story, it’s the fact that it’s too short.  It’s a brilliant opening couple of chapters to a bigger novel, but I don’t know if a novel is forthcoming. 

Asimov has an interesting article, Planet of the Double Sun, which examines the effect on ancient mythology of having an extra sun in our sky a la the situation that might exist around Alpha Centauri.  Of course, Isaac sort of misses the point–in a world where true darkness happens rather rarely (perhaps a quarter of the year), I should think evolution would have ended up quite a bit differently, not to mention the effects another star’s gravitational influence might have had on our planet’s formation.  Whatever ancient society might have developed in this hypothetical situation probably wouldn’t have been human in any sense of the word.

Lee Sutton hasn’t written a lot.  So far as I can tell, his only work prior to this issue of F&SF was the juvenile novel Venus Boy, about which I know nothing.  Soul Mate is his latest story, and it’s a rather chilling, decidedly unromantic story about what happens when a dominating middle-aged telepathic male crosses path with a naive, sexually liberal young telepathic woman.  There is a meeting of the minds, but it is anything but pleasant, and the end is truly horrifying.  Plausible, but icky.

About Venus, More or Less, by Punch writer, Claud Cockburn, is so slight a story, that I quite forgot it was even in the issue until I re-checked the table of contents. 

Josef Berger is another author unknown to me.  His Maybe we got something is about a band of fisherman who, in a post-apocalyptic era, trawl up the head of Lady Liberty, herself.  It’s nothing special.

The last story for today is the rather amusing The Hero Equation, by Robert Arthur (first printed in 1941 as Don’t be a Goose! When a milquetoast scientists transports himself into the past to inhabit the body of a hero, he is surprised that the heroic form he comes to possess is not human at all… 

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to secure permission to distribute these stories freely.  On the other hand, with the exception of the first one, they are diverting but unremarkable. 

But stay tuned!  There’s a second half to cover in a few days…

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