East meets West (September 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction, second half; 8-04-1959)

A thousand pardons for my lateness.  It is partly to blame on mundane matters taking precedence, and partly to blame on my magazines showing up late this month.  Perhaps laziness is also a factor.  It’s languidly warm this Summer.

We left off half-way through this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Fifth in the line-up is Will Stanton’s Who will cut the Barber’s Hair? It is the very definition of a two-start story; I’ve had to go back several times to remember what it was even about.  In brief, a human from the far future, when creativity has disappeared, takes over a hayseed’s body to experience a bizarre cocktail party and feel the full gamut of human emotions.  Utterly forgettable.

On the other hand, newcomer Joanna Russ’ Nor Custom Stale stayed with me far longer than it ought to have given the silliness and simplicity of the premise.  A husband and wife shut themselves into a near-immortal house with the ability to generate Air and Food in limitless quantities.  They discover that adhering to an extremely regular schedule every day contributes to longevity.  In fact, the couple end up sleep-walking through thousands, if not millions, of years until the ultimate end of the Earth in a fashion recalling Leiber’s A Pail of Air.  I don’t know why I liked it so much, but I did, and I look forward to more by Ms. Russ.

Robert Graves’ Interview with a Dead Man is a cute reprint from 1950 about an embalmed fellow who still finds time to write.  It’s over almost as quickly as it begins, and it seems mortar for bricks, but I enjoyed it.

The Makers of Destiny, by Edward S. Aarons, is a direct sequel to his The Communicators, although it is so different in tone and content that I’d forgotten until recently, when I looked through my catalog of stories.  The world is rather fascinating–the Ten Day War erupts between East and West when an American bomber inadvertently bombs Moscow near the end of the century.  The United States and the Soviet Union are reduced to barbarism for decades, and the rest of the world shuns the erstwhile superpowers as pariahs.  Slowly, painfully, the United States reforms as a loose confederation with the aid of a group of psionically adept “Communicators.” 

In the instant story, Private Mugrath is a soldier of the Northern Union fighting in the last battles of the 15-year Civil War, which has waged since 2050.  But he is more than that–he is an esper under the control of the Communicators.  Their goal is to alter the course of history through the creation of squad of psychic superhumans–but there is resistance, and whether that resistance is some fundamental property of the universe or a traitor in the organization, is unknown.

I liked it a lot.  Evocative, dramatic.

Last up is Leslie Bonnett’s Game with a Goddess, a delightfully lusty (though oblique) tale of the ravishing of a comely acolyte by the Goddess of Love.  There aren’t many stories dealing with the mythology of the Orient, and this story does a great job of conjuring the setting and style. 

Apropos of nothing, have you read Robert van Gulik’s Chinese Detective novel, The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee?  It is excellent and lots of fun, a recreation of Ching dynasty mysteries set in the Tang dynasty. 

That’s that for this issue.  A unremarkable but not unpleasant 3-star issue.  See you in two days.  I’m sure I’ll have something for you!

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