[January 27, 1962] Bumps in Road (February 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

It’s been a topsy turvy month: Snow is falling in coastal Los Angeles.  Castro’s Cuba has been kicked out of the Organization of American States.  Elvis is playing a Hawaiian beach bum.  So it’s in keeping that the latest issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction is, well, uneven.

Luckily, the February 1962 F&SF front-loaded the bad stuff (though it’s a bumpy ride clear to the end), so if you can make it through the beginning, you’re in for a treat – particularly at the end.  But first…

The Garden of Time is the latest from Englishman J. G. Ballard.  This tale of an enchanted chateau on the brink of ransack is long on imagery but short on substance (like many pieces in F&SF).  You may find it lovely; I found it superfluous.  Two stars.

The latest Ferdinand Feghoot (XLVIII) is slightly less worthy than the mean, for what that’s worth.  A pun that fails to elicit a groan, but merely a tired sigh, is hardly a pun at all.

Avram Davidson has completed his descent into impenetrability.  Once a reliable author, somber and profound, his work has been increasingly odd.  His latest (The Singular Events Which Occurred in the Hovel on the Alley Off Eye Street) is a parallel universe magical send-up of our present day.  I think.  He manages to pack more nonsense per square word than ever before, and even Street’s paltry 2000 or so words are too many.  One star.

One Into Two, by J. T. McIntosh, is something of an improvement: quick and pleasant reading.  However, if the best story you can make of a matter transmitter/duplicator is a “perfect crime” piece, you’re not thinking too hard.  Three stars.

I’d call Walter H. Kerr’s Gruesome Discovery at the 242nd St. Feeding Station the least kind of doggerel, but I happen to like canines.  I’ll just give it one star and leave it at that.

Pirate Island, by Czech Josef Nesvadba, is a reprint from behind the Iron Curtain.  I rather enjoyed this bitter tale of a frustrated privateer in the era of Morgan.  Something about its lyrical irony appealed.  Nothing at all of the stodginess I rather expected from the Eastern Bloc.  Four stars. 

Jesus Christ seems to be a popular topic this month, He having also made an appearance in Amazing’s …And it was Good.  In Richard Matheson’s The Traveller, a professor journeys back to Golgotha with the intention of simply taking notes, but becomes compelled to save the hapless martyr.  It grew on me in retrospect, as much Matheson does.  Four stars.

We take a bit of a plunge then, quality-wise.  Ward Moore is a long-time veteran of F&SF, and his last story, The Fellow who married the Maxill Girl was a poetic masterpiece.  Rebel, a twist on the newly minted “Generation Gap,” but with the roles reversed, isn’t.  Two stars.

Barry Stevens’ Window to the Whirled, like Ballard’s lead piece, is overwrought and underrealized.  It’s a hybrid of Clifton’s Star Bright (geniuses will themselves cross-wise across time and space) and Jones’ The Great Gray Plague (only by leaving boring ol’ science behind can one be free), and I really wanted to like it…but I didn’t.  Two stars.

Even Isaac Asimov’s science fact article, Superficially Speaking, about the comparative surface areas of the solar system’s celestial bodies, is lackluster this month.  Of course, even bland Asimov is pretty good reading.  Three stars.

Lewis Turco has a few poetic snippets ostensibly from the mouths of robots in Excerpts from the Latterday Chronicle.  They are in English; they are not long.  And this ends what I have to say about them.  Two stars.

Novice Matthew Grass offers up The Snake in the Closet, a story that presents exactly what’s on the tin, and yet is clearly a metaphor for…something, I’m sure.  Not a bad first effort, and some may find it poignantly relevant.  Three stars.

All of this is but frivolous preamble to the jewel of this issue.  Edgar Pangborn is a fellow who has been too long away from the sff digests, and his The Golden Horn is one of those perfect stories, at once gritty and beautiful.  Set in post-WW3 America. It is a tale of friendship and betrayal, love and lost innocence, lusterless life and sublime sonority.  It’s just that good, okay?  Five stars.

So went February 1962, and F&SF, with its final score of 2.8 stars, ends up tied with Fantastic and Galaxy (though it gets distinction for having the best story).  Analog, at 2.1 stars, was the worst.  Amazingly, Amazing was the best with 3.3 stars.  Some of you may disagree with this judgment (I know Pawn of the Black Fleet was not to everyone’s taste) but I stand by John Boston’s judgment, both because I must, and because our tastes have proven not to be too different.

Of 33 fiction pieces, just one was woman-penned.  A sad state that no doubt contributed to this month’s comparative dip on the star-o-meter.  However, it looks like Zenna Henderson and Mildred Clingerman will publish next month, so that’s something to look forward to. 

Stay tuned for the next Ace Double and January’s space race round-up!

18 thoughts on “[January 27, 1962] Bumps in Road (February 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)”

  1. A real winner of an issue! Thanks for sharing it. Lots of orginal stuff. Myself, I did go for the romanticism of the Ballard, and the fun of the Davidson, too. The Matheson was very strong!

    You’ve expressed very well my feelings about One Into Two; and Rebel is worth publishing and reading, I think, though certainly not as good as some.

    Like you, I can’t like the Stevens. No solid people or setting; and the writing skimped, too. And, in sf, Grass’ protagonist really needs some explanation. His tale belongs more in the lit magazines.

    The Turco snippets I think fun, with its last is a good punch.

      1. Masterful writing. With an excellent setting, though I *think* the religion doesn’t fit so broad and decentralised a society.  Still, I admit my heart sank when I realised it was another poor-outcast-mutant story.

  2. I broadly agree with your ratings (give or take a point) with a few exceptions. I seem to have more tolerance for densely or obliquely written stories than you (Davidson and Stevens this issue, Henneberg last) This surprises me as I thought I was more likely than most to bounce off this type of fiction.
    I loved the Pangborn story for so many different reasons, but mostly for its humanity. It also seems fairly timeless and I can imagine it being as fresh fifty years from now. As for Matheson’s contribution, I wondered if Michael Moorcock read it before writing ‘Behold the Man’ and, if he did, whether it influenced him.
    The McIntosh and the Moore were awful.
    I’m looking forward to next month’s All-Star issue.

  3. It would be nice if our magazines would help dispel the winter blahs. This one certainly didn’t. We’re largely in agreement, though I actually liked the Davidson. It was light and perhaps a bit pointless, but was at least amusing.

    The Feghoot just left me wondering why God is wasting his time watching expansion baseball.

    I just can’t warm up to Ballard. He writes very well, but I find him too self-consciously literary. His stuff just doesn’t hold my attention long enough for him to tell me a story.

    Matheson is always enjoyable, whether he’s on the page or TV.

    The Pangborn was very good. I’m not sure I’d go all the way to 5 stars, but truly excellent nevertheless.

    1. I have a pretty simple test for fives and ones.

      If it’s late at night, and I’m exhausted, yet I simply cannot put the story down?  It must be a five.

      If I’m well rested and can’t be bothered to finish a story?  It must be a one.

  4. You might have noted that Matheson’s “The Traveller” is a reprint — it originally appeared as one of the two original stories in his otherwise-all-reprint 1954 debut collection, BORN OF MAN AND WOMAN.

    I share your admiration for the Pangborn and your general indifference to Ballard’s work, but I disagree as regards Avram Davidson: with his fiction, the stranger/loonier/wordier the better as far I’m concerned; even if/when he doesn’t make logical sense, I can’t help feeling “too bad for logic then.”

    1. I noted it in my notes, but I failed to mention it in the article.  F&SF does love its reprints.

      As for Davidson, I don’t know what to tell you.  I feel a little bad as I am friends with his girlfriend, Grania Davis (who left California last year to get away from the rather chauvinist Beat crowd), so I hate speaking ill of her beau.

      On the other hand, one of my readers just can’t tolerate Daniel Galouye, and I consistently like him.  It takes all kinds, even a me!

  5. I am mostly in agreement, with one exception which I will get to later.

    No doubt at all that the Matheson and Pangborn are excellent.  Proof that you don’t have to have the most original theme in the world as long as you can write powerfully and appeal to the reader’s emotions.

    I also thought that the Ballard was superb, and it actually got my vote as the best story in the issue.  Maybe I’m just pretentious enough for it to appeal to me, but I thought it was a beautiful allegory.

    I hope we can agree that the cover art by Emsh for this story is outstanding.  It may be the finest cover art on any issue of the magazine so far.

    1. I hope we can agree, too!  After all, we work in the same office…

      I figured that the Ballard was one people would love or not love.  I fell on the latter side.  This is appropriate.  It has been noted that you and I have almost identical tastes and styles, only you’re a touch more lyrical than I am.

  6. Cover by Emsh reminds me that about 1960 Frank Kelly Freas dialed back his SF magazine work appearing more in MAD and some other publications. So Ed Emshwiller was no longer finishing in 2nd place for the Hugo. In the 1950s seemed that Freas matured more quickly than Emsh in cover illustrations. However, technically when it came to interior illos Freas and Emsh both were equal grand masters of science fiction art. This cover shows Emsh’s range, it is a delicate sophisticated illo, is it a water color? Emsh was always a good artist, but certain assignments grabbed him , one thinks of the cover and all the black and white interiors for Galaxy Magazine’s version of The Stars My Destination.

  7. I’ve always been aware that cover art has its fans, but I wonder how much it costs the magazines in sales.

    The book store doesn’t carry magazines; like the proprietoress said, “We’re a book store, not a magazine stall.”  I do my occasional buying off the rack at Piggly Wiggly or TG&Y. 

    Now that I’m old (pushing 30!) and married I return the checkout girls’ eye-rolls with a flat stare, but when I was a teenager I sometimes passed on purchases rather than run the checkout counter gauntlet.

    Sometimes I wish there was a “plain brown wrapper” option at the magazine rack…

  8. My impression , here in 1962, is that Brass Bras and BEMs have been , pretty much, been driven into oblivion. MAD magazine has made fun of Astounding/Analog for too much domesticated verisimilitude on it’s covers!
    The paper back covers for Mickey Spillane’s novels and True Detective magazine , however, need brown wrappers!

    1. Thank you, and welcome to the Journey!  In retrospect, I may have been too harsh on the Ballard.  I remember it, eight months later, and that’s usually the sign of quality.  I’d probably bump it up to 3 stars now.

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