[Dec. 30, 1961] Finishing Strong (January 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

At the end of a sub-par month, I can generally count on The Magazine and Science Fiction to end things on a positive note.  F&SF has been of slightly declining quality over the past few years, but rarely is an issue truly bad, and this one, for January 1962, has got some fine works inside.

Christmas Treason, by Ulsterian peacenik James White, starts things off with a literal bang as a gang of toddler espers attempt to save Christmas with the help of the world’s nuclear arsenal.  It’s nothing I haven’t seen Sturgeon do before, but it is charming and effective.  Four stars.

Kate Wilhelm has made a name for herself in the past several years, being a regular contributor to many science fiction magazines, Sadly, A Time to Keep, about a fellow with a pathological aversion to doorways, does not make much sense.  Not one of her better tales.  Two stars.

Every so often, some wag will write a “clever” piece on the need to send girls to service man astronauts on the long journeys to Mars.  Jay Williams’ Interplanetary Sex is the latest, and it’s as awful as the rest.  Casual reference to rape?  Check.  Stereotypical portrayal of married couples (henpecked husband and nagging shrew wife)?  Check.  It’s the sort of thing that will provide ample archaeological data on this era 55 years from now, but offers little else in value. 

HOWEVER, there are a few paragraphs near the end depicting a sentient cell’s mitosis written in florid romance novel style, and it’s genuinely funny.  You can skip to it…and skip the rest.  Two stars.

Maria Russell’s The Deer Park appears to be her first story, and it’s a fine freshman effort.  It effectively (albeit in an often difficult-to-parse manner) depicts a decadent future humanity entrapped in fantasy worlds of individual creation.  It’s hard to break out of a gilded cage, and the outside world is sometimes no improvement.  Three stars.

Ron Goulart’s occult detective, Max Kearney, is back in Please Stand By.  This time,the private dick has been enlisted by a hapless were-Elephant, the victim (or beneficiary?) of a magic spell.  It’s a charming story, and Goulart has an excellent talent for writing without exposition.  Four stars.

I didn’t much care for Asimov’s science column this month, The Modern Demonology.  The subject of Maxwell’s Demon, that metaphorical creature who can trade energetic for lazy atoms across two buckets such that one gets cold and one gets hot, is a good one.  However, the Good Doctor than meanders into philosophical territory, positing the existence of an evolutionary equivalent, a “Darwin’s Demon,” and it’s just sort of a muddy mess.  Three Stars.

Newcomer Nils T. Peterson is back with Prelude to a Long Walk, a somber short story about a static man in a growing world.  Not really science fiction, but memorable all the same.  Four stars.

Progress, by Poul Anderson, is a long-awaited sequel to The Sky People, both set in a post-apocalyptic future in which several nations of the world struggle toward modern civilization.  They are hampered both by a critical lack of resources, fossil fuels and metals, but also a fear of duplicating the catastrophe that threw them into a new Stone Age. 

Our heroes are once again representatives of the Polynesian Federation, if not the most technically advanced, probably the most progressive socially.  Ranu Makintairu and Alisabeta Kanukauai make charming protagonists, but Progress reads like a watered down vignette of Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.  It also has that smugly superior tone I associate with Analog.  Three stars.

The issue wraps up with a inconsequential poem, To the Stars by heretofore unknown James Spencer.  To discuss it further would take more words than Mr. Spencer wrote.  Two stars.

That wraps up magazines for this month, and boy is there a lot to compare!  F&SF was the clear winner, clocking in at 3.1 stars.  IF was number #2 at 2.9.  Cele Goldsmith’s mags, Fantastic and Amazing tied at 2.5 stars, and Analog finished at a dismal 2.3 stars.

Each of the mags, save for Amazing, had at least one 4-star story in it.  I give the nod for best piece to Piper’s Naudsonce, though Christmas Treason is close.  Out of 28 pieces of fiction, a scant two were written by women (and if we’re just including the Big Three, as I have in the past, then the ratio is still bad: two out of eighteen).  On the other hand, two of the five magazines were edited by a Ms. Goldsmith, so there’s something.

Next up, Ms. Benton reviews the latest Blish novel!

25 thoughts on “[Dec. 30, 1961] Finishing Strong (January 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)”

  1. At long last I have actually read a magazine you have reviewed, only to find my tuppence worth is irrelevant as I am almost in complete agreement with you.
    The only major difference is that I thought that the Goulart story read as if it was largely being made up as he typed.
    And, yes, that Williams piece is embarrassingly dire: I have no idea what the editors were thinking about.

  2. F&SF: Preface
    Having been born in 1940 I was too young to have read the ‘Golden Age’ of Campbell’s Astounding, tho I gorged on it’s stories by way of Groff Conklin’s anthologies.  I started reading SF in the fall of 1953 , mainly library books, those Conklin anthologies , and Heinlein (who dragged me under!). Didn’t even see magazine SF until I started trading paperbacks with a strange teenager who came by lunch time at the junior high I went to ( I don’t think he went to school there). First copy I got was the June 1954 issue of Galaxy which had the start of Gladiator-at-Law. I remember thinking ‘this is so different, and so good! , the Emsh covers and interiors were all future-fiction-on-a-chipped-plate, Fred Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth captured me! I round up every issue of Galaxy I could find, what a feast in those days. Bester’s Stars My Destination blew me totally away! Emsh illos again (Emsh should get a posthumous prize for that October 1956 cover!) I mark that I did read Astounding and F&SF in the 1950’s , tho, I like Heinlein and Asimov, many others, was becoming disenchanted with Campbell’s strange mental slide.
    As soon as H.L.Gold gave up I quit Galaxy even tho I dearly loved Fred Pohl. From 1960, on, the only magazine I consistently collected was F&SF. To my mind except for a flash now and then Astounding/Analog was eclipsed, to this day F&SF is the only ‘SF’ magazine I still subscribe to.

    1. Great letter, Al.  I read it aloud to my family at breakfast.

      You were born in 1940.  Lessee… that makes you a wise old man of 21 now.  I’m sorry you’ve given up on the non-F&SF mags.  There’s still time for them to pull it back together, however. 

      Just keep watching this space — if I run across enough 4 and 5-star stories, you might just be tempted to return to your old loves!

  3. I love the James White. Not wishing to denigrate Sturgeon, but I do prefer White’s children. Some readers may feel slight decompression sickness, but I think he copes with the swing from fluff to the threat of nuclear war and back again.

    As you say, the best of the Williams is the end. The #10 laws should be another classic list, and the last line’s fine.

    I don’t know why this particular arc of Anderson’s always fails for me. Perhaps the protagonists are too busy building the future to have a present. In real life, the present would end up having them. It is rather Soviet-ish.

    Always glad to have another Max Kearney.

    I have an idea Wilhelm got carried away with the fact she was writing well, which she certainly was, and wrote a story about ten times the length it should have been. I hope she fights her tendancy to be precious.

    Myself, I think the Peterson the gem of the collection!

  4. I personally don’t care for Ron Goulart’s comedies, so that’s the only major disagreement.

    I think the stories by the two newcomers were the most interesting.  Names to watch out for.

  5. As a high school student in 1961, I had a limited allowance and had to spend my money very carefully. I found too many duds in most of the SF mags, which seemed awfully expensive at the time. Instead, I started buying SF novels, mostly Ace Doubles (or Ace Double Barrels, as Beam Piper called them).

    One of the few 1961 purchases I still remember to this day was Harry Harrison’s “Deathworld,” a great SF adventure novel formerly serialized in “Astounding” — which I didn’t know at the time.  However, most of my reading was limited to the local Encinitas library, where all the librarians knew me by name. There weren’t too many teenagers at the time checking out 8 to 10 books a week….

    Before I graduated high school, I noticed that all my SF magazine purchases were clumped around several time periods. I did the math and realized that I usually purchased them two months before the end of the current grading period! (A good escape from the yelling and lectures I would receive when I brought my report card home to dad — yikes!) I was an indifferent student at the time, although bored to death by school would be more accurate of feelings at the time.

    Unfortunately, most of my Ace Doubles and “Astounding” magazines (along with a few “Venture SF” magazines and “Galaxy” issues) disappeared when my mom (without my knowledge) took it upon herself to “donate” all my old magazines, paperbacks and Disney Carl Barks comic books to our local church rummage sale. Something that still sticks in my craw till this day!!!

    1. To this day?  There’s still one day left to 1961.  Perhaps you can convince your mother to have mercy…

      But if she does throw your favorites away, you can still find them here!

      By the way, a new Piper is coming out next month: Little Fuzzy.  We’ll be sure to get a review out to you, though I imagine you’ll already have read it.

      1. I met H. Beam Piper in 1960 at that Worldcon in Pittsburgh .
        I got his autograph on a copy of an Astounding for which he had the cover, ASF, August 1950. He was a nice guy , he and Wiley Ley were the only authors I really had a conversation with then.  I remember what Ley and I talked about but not what Piper and I talked about. Funny thing I didn’t read a Little Fuzzy story for about 30 years after that. I gave that copy of ASF to
        Ardath Mayhar on one of my visits to Nacogdoches, Texas, which is just up the road from Houston where I live.  Ardath got to do the very first Little Fuzzy ‘extension’ story , as far as I know.

          1. I went to the costume ball at the worldcon in Pittsburgh in 1960, a smaller affair in those days.
            Willy Ley was sitting on the floor at the other end of the ball room. I had not met him yet, as I was wandering over his way he gestured for me to sit with him.  I mentioned I had traded a couple of letter with him when I was 15. We talked about space flight. Then he launched into a story he was writing, supposedly for the pages of Galaxy. He said he had just had a communication with a Russian friend about UFOs. There was a meeting in Moscow of UFO enthusiasts (people tend to forget the old Soviet Union had a flying saucer craze, still has one).  The Tunguska Even had gotten into Soviet UFO lore. Two soviet journalists covering the meeting got drunk and wrote a ‘fake news’ story that the Tunguska event was caused when a flying saucer captain got in trouble and ‘blew his reactor’ trying to land.
            I remembered this.  13 years when I had returned to graduate school at the University of Texas, I asked myself “what would happen if a micro black hole hit the earth?”.  Mike Ryan and I wrote this up and, to our amazement, Nature published it! The rest is history.

            Was the Tungus Event Due to a Black Hole? A. A. Jackson and M. Ryan, Nature, v245, 88, 1973

  6. I have a fairly complete collection of Poul Anderson’s novels, and most of his short stories in collections or magazine.  But looking back on them… a lot of them have a thread of hopelessness, or oncoming doom, or are just downbeat or depressing.

    Anderson can *write*, and craft entire civilizations and readable stories, but all to often I wish I could wash my brain out with soap after reading them.  Yeah, he did “Virgin Planet” and “Three Hearts and Three Lions”, but those are very much exceptions to his overall ouvre.

    I’m

    1. Poul Anderson has , as far as I am concerned, the very best many steps beyond ‘Star Trek/Star Wars’ space opera I know of. The whole Technic History is something no other SF writer has ever done . The Polesotechnic League , Dominic Flandry, the rest to Technic Civilization Saga would make dynamite visual narrative if carried of with Anderson’s sophistication. Especially Dominic Flandry!

      (Of course the greatest baroque SF space opera is still The Stars My Destination.)

  7. A couple of Anderson’s stories that appeared in F&SF a few years ago — “Journeys End” and “The Man Who Came Early” have a downbeat, tragic tone, and I think they are two of his best works.

    1. I am not a fan of sword and sorcery fantasy* , but make an exception for two works. One is Lord o f the Rings and the other is Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword. The Broken Sword is definitely more adult , and complex. Tho Anderson wrote more fantasy later in life, always thought The Broken Sword was his best.

      As fantasy goes I do like the brand that John W Campbell put forward in Unknown Magazine , 1930-1943, which had such an influence of Rod Serling. This kind of fantasy is still being written, tho usually in short story form.

      *I do like George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but that’s some kind of alternate universe middle ages that is sort of fantasy-lite. Probably other examples of of this but I don’t seek them out.

        1. Depends on the price, of course, but my initial reaction is YES!

          An excellent magazine which had to be sacrificed to keep Astounding going when the paper shortage during the war became severe.

          In 1942 and 1943, you’ll find familiar names like Heinlein and Van Vogt and Strugeon, a fine novella called “Hell is Forever” by Alfred Bester, and Fritz Leiber’s classic novel “Conjure Wife.”

        2. Do you mean all 11 with original covers? That’s got to be expensive! Some individual issues run 100’s of dollars.
          Stanley Schmidt’s anthology , 1988, Unknown, and Stanley Schmidt, Martin H. Greenberg’s, Unknown Worlds: Tales from Beyond (1989) are anthologies worth having.
          The later anthology’s contents are short stories by a stellar list of 20th century science fiction authors.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknown_Worlds:_Tales_from_Beyond

        3. Archive.org has many of them online, including runs of SF magazines I’d never heard of.  It looks like a lot of them came and went in the 1930-1940 and and 1945-1955 eras.  There was also a lot of author overlap between SF and “weird” or “horror” magazines.

  8. re “Progress, by Poul Anderson, is a long-awaited sequel to The Sky Pirates,” — the compulsive proofreader in me will not allow me to sleep tonight if I don’t point out your typo: it’s “The Sky People.”

    Ah, that’s better.

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