[Apr. 28, 1962] Changing of the Guard (May 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

I never thought the time would come that reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would be the most dreaded portion of my duties…and yet, here we are.  Two issues into new Editor Avram Davidson’s tenure, it appears that the mag’s transformation from a great bastion of literary (if slightly stuffy) scientifiction is nearly complete.  The title of the digest might well be The Magazine of Droll Trifles (with wry parenthetical asides).

One or two of these in an issue, if well done, can be fine.  But when 70% of the content is story after story with no science and, at best, stream-of-consciousness whimsy, it’s a slog.  And while one could argue that last issue’s line-up comprised works picked by the prior editor, it’s clear that this month’s selections were mostly Davidson’s. 

Moreover, Robert Mills (the outgone “Kindly Editor”) used to write excellent prefaces to his works, the only ones I would regularly read amongst all the digests.  Davidson’s are rambling and purple, though I do appreciate the biographical details on Burger and Aandahl this ish. 

I dunno.  Perhaps you’ll consider my judgment premature and unfair.  I certainly hope things get better…

Who Sups With the Devil, by Terry Carr

This is Carr’s first work, and one for which Davidson takes all the credit (blame) for publishing.  It sells itself as a “Deal with Diablo” story with a twist, but the let-down is that, in the end, there is no twist.  Two stars.

Who’s in Charge Here?, by James Blish

A vivid, if turgid, depiction of the wretched refuse that hawk wares on the hot streets of New York.  I’m not sure what the point is, and I expect better of Blish (and F&SF).  Two stars.

Hawk in the Dusk, by William Bankier

This tale, about a vicious old prune who has a change of heart in his last days, would not be out of place in an episode of Thriller or perhaps in the pages of the long-defunct Unknown.  In other words, nothing novel in concept.  Yet, and perhaps this is simply due to its juxtaposition to the surrounding dreck, I felt that it was extremely well done.  Five stars.

One of Those Days, by William F. Nolan

From zeniths to nadirs, this piece is just nonsense piled upon nonsense.  It’s the sort of thing I’d expect from a 13-year old…and mine (the Young Traveler) has consistently delivered better.  One star.

Napoleon’s Skullcap, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can a psionic kippah really tune you in to the minds of great figures of the past?  Dickson rarely turns in a bad piece, and this one isn’t horrible, but it takes obvious pains to be oblique so as to draw out the “gotcha” ending as far as possible.  Three stars, barely.

Noselrubb, the Tree, by Eric Frazee

Noselrubb, about an interstellar reconnaissance of Earth, is one of those kookie pieces with aliens standing in for people.  Neophyte Frazee might as well throw in the quill.  One star.

By Jove!, by Isaac Asimov

Again, I am feeling overcharitable.  It just so happens that I plan to write an essay on Uranus as part of my movie that took place on the seventh planet.  Asimov’s piece, about the internal make-up of the giant planets, is thus incredibly timely.  It’s also good.  Five stars (even though the Good Doctor may have snitched his title from me…).

The Einstein Brain, by Josef Nesvadba

F&SF‘s Czech contributor is back with another interesting peek behind the Iron Curtain.  Brain involves the creation of an artificial intelligence to solve the physical problems beyond the reach of the greatest human minds.  The moral ā€“ that it’s okay to stop and smell the flowers ā€“ is a reaction, perhaps, to the Soviet overwhelming emphasis on science in their culture.  We laud it, but perhaps they find it stifling.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: L, by Reginald Bretnor

Possibly the worst Feghoot…and there’s no small competition.

Miss Buttermouth, by Avram Davidson

The unkindly Editor lards out his issue with a vignette featuring a protagonist from the Five Roses, complete with authentic idiom, and his run-in with a soothsayer who might have a line on the ponies.  It’s as good as anything Davidson has come up with recently.  Two stars.

The Mermaid in the Swimming Pool, by Walter H. Kerr

Mr. Kerr is still learning how to write poetry.  Perhaps he’ll get there someday.  Two stars.

Love Child, by Otis Kidwell Burger

Through many commas and words of purplish hue, one can dimly discern a story of an offspring of some magical union.  Mrs. Burger reportedly transcribes her dreams and submits them as stories.  The wonder is that they get accepted and published.  Two stars.

Princess #22, by Ron Goulart

If Bob Sheckley had written this story, about an abducted princess and the android entertainer for whom she is a dead ringer, it probably would have been pretty decent.  Goulart makes a hash of it.  Two stars.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, by Vance Aandahl

Young Vance Aandahl made a big splash a couple of years ago and has turned in little of note since.  His latest, a post-apocalyptic tale of love, savagery, and religion, draws on many other sources.  They are less than expertly translated, but the result is not without some interest.  Three stars.


Generously evaluated, this issue garners 2.7 stars.  However, much of that is due to the standout pieces (which I suspect you will not feel as strongly about) and to a bit of scale-weighting for the three stars stories…that are only just. 

(by the way, is it just me, or does the cover girl bear a striking resemblance to the artist’s spouse, Ms. Carol Emshwiller?)

10 thoughts on “[Apr. 28, 1962] Changing of the Guard (May 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)”

  1. I am in general agreement with your opinion on this issue, and of the direction in which Davidson is taking it.  A bit of light whimsy is fine now and then, but when it makes up a majority of the magazine, it tends to be cloying.

    The story that had the strongest effect on me was the Blish.  I can’t disagree with your observation that it’s hard to see the exact point of it.  However, in this case, I think the author is walking a very thin line between being very subtle and being obscure, and is just slightly on the right side of it.  It reminds me, in a way, of the classic story “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts” by Shirley Jackson, also from F&SF.  I wouldn’t rate the Blish as highly as the Jackson, but it was my favorite story in the issue.

  2. Most of them read like a high school writing class. Not without some promise, but I can’t believe this Blish a pro (vivid and turgid is a very good description.) The Dickson is particularly disappointing, because it is very well written most of the way. The ending, petering out and overheavy simultaneously (that takes talent!) is the most disappointing.

    To me, the least failed is the Nolan. I think it meant to be just fun, and though it’s too heavy, doesn’t make a bad read.

  3. That Blish piece is indeed a stinkeroo! I really don’t see any comparison to Mrs. Jackson’s swell “…Peanuts” story.

    The Dickson one sure shows these guys get paid by the word, doesn’t it? So much about eating, drinking, driving around, fishing, the weather…

  4. Breaking the conceit of the site, the timing of this review could’ve been a bit better, inasmuch as Davidson’s eventual ex-wife and lifelong friend and collaborator would die on the date it was published.

    Davidson was my favorite editor of the magazine…I foresee not agreeing too much with the reviews as they arise.

  5. Any resemblance between the women and the men in Emshwiller paintings and Carol and also Ed Emshwiller is utterly unsurprising.  Note man in lower left corner and then EE’s photo.

  6. Late to the party here, but I’ve been busy and still haven’t finished the magazine yet (Goulart and Aandahl still to go). I was ready to say the magazine must still largely be showing Mills’ influence and argue for giving Davidson a bit more time. Alas, most of the real stinkers here showed a definite Davidson flair. I’m still willing to give him some time; maybe he’ll respond to the reaction of the public and tone it down somewhat.

    Terry Carr is a prominent fan writer and even won a Hugo a couple of years ago as a fan editor. The story was quite good until it suddenly wasn’t anymore. Philip Jose Farmer has made a career out of not knowing how to finish a story. Let’s hope that Carr doesn’t follow in his footsteps.

    The Blish was very pretty, but I’m not sure it had a point.

    The Bankier was also very pretty. It might make a fair to middling Twilight Zone episode.

    The Nolan merely puzzled me. Boggled my mind even. After Davidson emphasizing the shaggy dog at the end of the story, I was half expecting it to end in a tremendous pun. Alas, no such luck.

    The Dickson wasn’t bad, but it dragged in places. I think it stood out more because of all the dross around it.

    The Frazee… thing was even more mind-boggling than the Nolan. I think someone ought to “rubb” his “nosel” in it repeatedly until he promises not to do it again.

    The Czech piece was all right. C.P. Snow again (I think we had a story recently that reflected his Two Cultures) blended with Pygmalion.

    The Davidson story was decent. The Damon Runyon thing was a bit much. I, and you, might have liked it better if it wasn’t so similar to so much else in this issue.

    And the Burger was painfully obvious. I figured the whole thing out about two paragraphs after Binky showed up.

  7. Your rating of the poem was far too forgiving. I’d have given it one star at best, and that only because the author can use rhyme and meter correctly. This isn’t poetry, it’s doggerel — and the content and imagery stink on ice.

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