[January 17, 1963] Things of Beauty (February 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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

by Gideon Marcus

The beautiful and talented Betty White turned 41 today.  Of what is this apropos?  Nothing in particular.  Just a piece of pleasant news amidst all the Asian war talk and tax cut squabbling and racial disharmony one must contend with in the paper and on the TV.  Ms. White is always so charming and cheerful, but in an intelligent (not vapid) way.  She reminds me, in her own way, of Mrs. Traveler, this column’s esteemed editor.  Though she, like Jack Benny, stopped aging at 39…

One entity that has not stopped aging, and whose aging I have whinged upon quite frequently, is Fantasy and Science Fiction, a magazine now in its 14th year and third editor.  Editor Avram Davidson has given me a decent issue this time around, for which I am grateful.  See if you enjoy the February 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction as much as I did…

The Riddle Song, by Vance Aandahl

Young Mr. Aandahl continues to, after an auspicious beginning, produce stuff that disappoints.  I’m not sure of the point of this tale, about an old besotted bum with poems for anecdotes.  Perhaps you’ll get the reference — I didn’t.  Two stars.

Counter Security, by James White

Ah, now this is what I read sf for.  This largely autobiographical piece features a young, underemployed night watchman in a British department store who must solve the mystery of (what appears to be) a spiteful, peppermint chewing, floor-spitting, Black-hating skulker before the staff quit en masse from worry and fear.  I finished this novelette in one sitting on the beach at Waimea as the sun rose, and I’m not sure a more perfect half hour was ever spent.  Five stars.

Punk’s Progress, by Robert Wallsten

A take on The Rake’s Progress with a decidedly modern tone.  Nothing new, but the journey is fun.  Three stars.

Gladys’s Gregory, by John Anthony West

A Modest Proposal meets marriage in suburbia.  A wicked piece, but kind of fun.  Three stars.

The Nature of the Place, by Robert Silverberg

Ever wonder where you go when you die?  What if your own personal hell is more of the same?  Of course, being a cup is half full sort of guy, that sounds more like the other place to me.  But I understand Silverbob is the melancholy type.  Three stars.

The Jazz Machine, by Richard Matheson

Don’t let the poetic layout fool you — this is pure prose, but Matheson turns it into a song.  A harsh Blues song tinged with the pain of the oppressed.  Four stars.

The Lost Generation, by Isaac Asimov

In which the Good Doctor sidesteps his lack of knowledge of “Information Retrieval” to discuss the importance of networking — and recognizing opportunity when it bites you in the hinder.  It’s about this history of the Theory of Evolution, by the way.  Four stars.

The Pleiades, by Otis Kidwell Burger

When immortality and beauty are universal, it takes a most unusual girlie show to make an impact.  This is the first story by Ms. Burger I really liked.  Four stars.

Satan Mekatrig, by Israel Zangwill

…and then the magazine slides downhill.  The bulk of the last quarter is taken up with this reprint from 1899, in which a hunchbacked Lucifer tempts the pious Moshe from his orthodoxy.  It’s not bad, but it is dated and doesn’t really belong in this magazine (though I can see why it appeals to Davidson).  Two stars.

Peggy and Peter Go to the Moon, by Don White

A trifle, written like a children’s story but barbed like a cactus.  Fine for what it is, but not my thing.  Two stars.

3.1 stars!  It doesn’t sound like much, but given F&SF‘s recent slump, this is a breath of fresh air.  Plus, five-star stories are quite rare.  Do check it out.

And, if you get the chance, come out this weekend for ConDor, a San Diego SFF convention at which yours truly will be presenting both Saturday and Sunday (the latter is the Galactic Journey panel). 

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Check your mail for instructions…]

9 thoughts on “[January 17, 1963] Things of Beauty (February 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction)”

  1. James White’s story is so good…I could certainly do with more stories of this world.

    Perhaps because it’s not to my taste, I think Burger’s, though certainly well written, is too long. I hope he’s wrong about real lions, and right about metaphorical ones.

  2. General agreement.

    Aandahl always shows wild imagination and a style that pulls the reader in, but my reaction is often “Huh?”

    James White reliably provides good, solid science fiction.  This story’s sly reference to the genre gives it a little extra something.

    The Wallsten does what it sets out to do, but I doubt it will stick in memory. 

    The West, on the other hand, is a memorable piece of very dark comedy.

    Silverberg’s tiny story has a clever twist.  I hope to see more substantial work from this prolific author.

    Burger is effectively haunting.

    The Zangwell was historically interesting.

    Don White (not James!) provides a nasty little story, which seems to be the intention.  Not a bedtime story for the kiddies.

    Which leaves me with Richard Matheson’s “The Jazz Machine,” which knocked my socks off.  The author manages to pull off the extremely difficult feat of writing in the voice of his chosen character, and doing it in the form of free verse narration.  This could have easily failed badly, with a prose writer stumbling over the poetry, or a well-meaning but naive white liberal coming across as patronizing.  Instead it works, and this was the gem of the issue in my opinion.

  3. Once again only halfway through, but most of it has been decent so far.

    Vance Aandahl is the exception. I’m not sure I’d have any idea what he was attempting if Davidson hadn’t explained it all in the introduction. Aandahl is trying very hard to be Ray Bradbury, but he’s falling short every time. He’s not a bad writer, but he’d do better to find his own voice.

    The James White was excellent. According to the intro, White is in sales, rather than security, but he obviously knows the ins and outs of a big department store. It’s odd. I don’t think of Northern Ireland having enough Blacks living in it for a store to carry enough black dolls for the events of the story to occur (unless it’s those awful golligwog dolls that I hear are so popular over there), but it doesn’t seem like something White made up.

    I wasn’t all that thrilled with “The Punk’s Progress”. I wouldn’t downgrade it to two stars, but it didn’t feel like it deserved three, either. It didn’t seem to belong in the magazine until the very end. Perhaps a bit of negative influence from the Twilight Zone.

    “Gladys’s Gregory” is odd and disturbing. West certainly seems to have a bad view of marriage (based on this and his last tale).

    So far, White has made the magazine worth it all on his own, with a little help from some of the others. We’ll see how the rest turns out, but Davidson does seem to be improving as editor.

    1. All right, I’ve finished.

      The Silverberg was well done, though he telegraphed the ending just a bit. I’m with Victoria on hoping to see more from him. He’s developing nicely as an author.

      I think “The Jazz Machine” may be the best piece in the whole magazine. Absolutely stunning. I’d give it five stars.

      I understand those who liked the Burger, but I had problems with it. For one thing, she consistently got two names wrong (Alycyone instead of Alcyone and Celaneo instead of Celaeno), which took me out of the story every time one of them was mentioned. I also felt like she didn’t really capture the carnie voice very well. Otherwise very good, but there was enough there to hamper my enjoyment.

      I rather enjoyed “Satan Mekatrig”. Rather than dated, I found the language culturally appropriate. There are still Orthodox Jewish communities that haven’t changed much from the one in the story. Does it belong here? My only complaint would be giving so much space to a reprint. The supernatural elements give it enough to justify it otherwise. One could almost ask the same question of “Gladys’s Gregory”, which isn’t really fantasy or science fiction.

      “Peggy and Peter” was a vicious little piece. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. It might have been better in different hands, but as it is, I probably won’t remember it at all in a few days.

      So all in all, a decent issue. It gives me hope that Davidson is indeed getting better at the editor thing.

      1. I noticed the misspellings, too.  I figured it was editing, but you may be right.

        Satan wasn’t bad, you’re right.  I just found it a little too tedious to earn three stars.  And I’m a meanie and don’t do half stars for shorts.  It ruins my ratings!

  4. I picked up this issue and dipped into a few stories along with my fellow travelers.

    I’m not sure why you all like the James White story so well. It was amusing and full of “write what you know.” But really, space slugs?

    I will retain my largest critique for Asimov. Great essay about evolution; he’s obviously done his biology homework.  However, I suggest that if an association is going to ask one to speak about “information retrieval,” they ask a librarian instead of a science fiction author.

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