[July 18, 1962] It Gets Better? (August 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

There’s a war going on in our nation, a war for our souls.

No, I’m not referring to the battle of Democracy versus Communism or Protestants against Catholics.  Not even the struggle between squares and beatniks.  This is a deeper strife than even these.


(from Fanac)

I refer, of course, to the schism that divides science fiction fans.  In particular, I mean the mainstream fans and the literary crowd.  The former far outnumber the latter, at least if the circulation numbers for Analog compared to that of Fantasy and Science Fiction are any indication. 

Devotees of editor Campbell’s Analog, though they occasionally chide the editor’s obsession with things psychic, appreciate the “hard” sf, the focus on adventure, and the magazine’s orthodox style it has maintained since the 1940s.  They have nothing but sneering disdain for the more literary F&SF, and they hate it when its fluffy “feminine” verbosity creeps into “their” magazines.

F&SF, on the other hand, has pretentions of respectability.  You can tell because the back page has a bunch of portraits of arty types singing the magazine’s praises.  Unfortunately for the golden mag (my nickname – cover art seems to favor the color yellow), many of the writers who’ve distinguished themselves have made the jump to the more profitable “slicks” (maintstream magazines) and novels market.  This means that editor Davidson’s mag tends to be both unbearably literate and not very good.

This is a shame because right up to last year, I’d sided with the eggheads.  F&SF was my favorite digest.  On the other hand, I’m not really at home with the hoi polloi Campbell crowd.  Luckily, there is the middle ground of Pohl’s magazines, Galaxy and IF

Nevertheless, there is still usually something to recommend F&SF, particularly Dr. Asimov’s non-fiction articles, and the frequency with which F&SF publishes women (“feminine” isn’t a derogatory epithet for me.)

And in fact, if you can get past the awful awful beginning, there’s good stuff in the August 1962 F&SF:

The Secret Songs, by Fritz Leiber

Leiber is an established figure in the genre, having written some truly great stuff going back to the old Unknown days of the 30s.  He even won the Hugo for The Big Time.  However, Secret Songs, a tale of a drug addled Jack Sprat and wife with countering addictions, won’t win any awards.  It’s not sf, nor is it very interesting.  I give it two stars for creative execution and nothing else.

The Golden Flask, by Kendell Foster Crossen

Boy, is this one a stinker.  Not only does Davidson ruin it with his prefatory comments (I’ve stopped reading them – they are too long by half, inevitably spoil the story, and are never fun to read), but the gotcha of this bloody tale is puerile.  One star.

Salmanazar, by Gordon R. Dickson

Some obtuse tale of the macabre involving magic, Orientalism, and a sinister cat.  Gordy Dickson is one of the better writers…when he wants to be.  He didn’t this time.  One star.

The Voyage Which Is Ended, by Dean McLaughlin

When the century-long trip of a colony ship is over, crew and passengers must struggle with the dramatic change in role and responsibilities.  This somber piece reads like the first chapter of a promising novel that we’ll never get to read.  I did appreciate the theme: a ship’s captain isn’t necessarily best suited to lead a polity beyond a vessel’s metal walls.  Three stars.

Mumbwe Jones, by Fred Benton

A vignette of undying friendship between a White trader and an African witch-doctor…and the vibrant world of sentient creatures, animate and otherwise, with which they interact.  An interesting piece of magic realism a little too insubstantial to garner more than three stars.

The Top, by George Sumner Albee (a reprint from 1953)

Career ad-man receives the promotion he’s always desired, allowing him at last to meet the President of the sprawling industrial combine of which the copywriter is just a valuable cog.  But does the Big Boss run the machine, or are they one and the same?  Another piece that isn’t science fiction, nor really worth your time.  Two stars.

The Light Fantastic, by Isaac Asimov

The good Doctor’s piece on electromagnetic radiation is worth your time.  He devotes a few inches to the brand new “LASERS,” artificially pure light beams that stick to a single wavelength and don’t degrade with distance.  I’ve already seen several articles on this wonder invention, and I suspect they will make them into a clutch of sf stories in the near future.

By the way, the cantankerous has-been Alfred Bester has finally turned in his shingle, resigning from the helm of the book review department.  In an ironic departing screed, he lamented the lack of quality of new sf (not that he’s contributed to that body of work in years), and states that people shouldn’t have been so sensitive to his criticisms.  To illustrate, he closes with the kind of chauvinism we’ve come to expect from Bester:

“A guy complained to a girl that the problem with women was the fact that they took everything that was said personally.  She answered, ‘Well, I sure don’t.'”

Good riddance, Alfred.  Don’t let the turnstile bruise your posterior.

Fruiting Body, by Rosel George Brown

I always look forward to Ms. Brown’s whimsical works, and this outing does not disappoint.  When mycology and the pursuit of women intersect, the result is at once ridiculous, a little chilling, and highly entertaining.  That’s all I’ll give you, save for a four-star rating.

The Roper, by Theodore R. Cogswell and John Jacob Niles

Some pointless doggerel whose meaning and significance escapes this boor of a reader.  One star.

Spatial Relationship, by Randall Garrett

Ugh.  How to keep two space pilots cramped in a little spaceship for years from killing each other?  Give them phantom lovers, of course.  I liked the story much better when it was called Hallucination Orbit (by J.T.McIntosh), and could well have done without the offensive, anti-queer ending.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Two stars.

The Stupid General, by J. T. McIntosh

Speaking of J.T.McIntosh…  The literature is filled with if-only stories where peace-loving aliens are provoked to violence by the hasty actions of a narrow-minded general.  But what if the fellow’s instincts are right?  A good, if not brilliant, story.  Three stars.

What Price Wings?, by H. L. Gold

This is the first I’ve heard from Galaxy’s former editor in a couple of years – I have to wonder if this is something that was pulled from an old drawer.  Anyway, a classic tale of virtue being its own punishment.  It ends predictably, but it gets there pleasantly.  Three stars.

Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman, by Harlan Ellison

Many years ago, on a lark, I translated the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice from an Old English rendition.  Now, in his first appearance in F&SF, Mr. Ellison presents a translation of the tale into hepcat jive.  It’s an effective piece, though heavier on atmosphere than consequence.  Three stars.

The Gumdrop King, by Will Stanton

The issue ends with a fizzle: a youth meets an alien, and incomprehensibility ensues.  I’m not sure that was the result Stanton was aiming for.  Two stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LIII, by Grendal Briarton

Oh, and the Feghoot pun this time is just dreadful.  Not in a good way.

Good grief.  Doing the calculations, we find this issue only got 2.4 stars.  It’s definitely a favorite for worst mag of the month, and indicative of momentum toward worst mag of the year.  Those philistines who subscribe to Analog are going to win after all…

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  You’ll have a chance to win a copy of F&SF – not this issue, I promise!)




17 thoughts on “[July 18, 1962] It Gets Better? (August 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)”

  1. Well, at least we have another beautiful cover from Emsh.

    I enjoyed “The Secret Songs” because I can’t get enough of Leiber’s imagery.  I’ll admit that this one is a triumph of style over content.

    “The Voyage Which is Ended” was a rare piece of real science fiction in this magazine, and a good one.

    “The Top” was actually my favorite story in the issue.  I’m a sucker for Kafkaesque nightmares.  It’s a little troubling, however, that my favorites in this issue and the last one were both reprints from “literary” sources.

    “What Price Wings?” does seem old-fashioned, like something from “Unknown. ” In fact, it reminds me a lot of “The Misguided Halo” by Henry Kuttner from way back in 1939.

    Coming a very close second for me was “Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman.”  Up to now Ellison’s mainstream stories (such as those that appeared in last year’s collection “Gentleman Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation”) have been much better than his science fiction and fantasy (such as those collected in the new collection “Ellison Wonderland.”) But I really liked this one.  Even from the title we know exactly what’s going to happen, but Ellison’s strong writing and his daring decision to describe what happens before and after the miraculous event, but not the event itself, made it work for me.

    Not much to say about the other stories.  Sorry, but I tend to have a blind spot for McIntosh and Brown.

    I guess it puts me way over on the “literary” side, although I would prefer something more substantial than Davidson’s version of it.

  2. Though they’re darker than my taste, I greatly admire both the Brown and the Dickson. Two strong contenders for conventions’ medals in one issue.

    My own favourite is the Benton. A touch of Jorkens, a touch of Gray…I expect the dark basic theme will be worn smooth in both fantasy and sf, but seldom with such bright details and setting.

  3. Another excellent post.

    My attitude toward F&SF was that it was perfectly likely to publish a great story from time to time, I just never connected with the magazine’s overall zeitgeist.  Don’t know what that says about me — I always felt the editors of the other major prozines reached me, and not just the top of the heap, but Amazing and Fantastic, too.

    1. Thank you, Mike.  When it was Boucher and, later, Mills’ mag, it was right up my alley.  Davidson’s tipped it just a notch too far for me.  It will be interesting to see if my nephew continues his subscription when he gets back from Israel.

      By the way, Mills was excellent at his prefatory teases (and, as I recall, Boucher too).  His were the only ones I read, the bits in other mags being fairly worthless.  Davidson’s are terrible.

  4. I respectfully suggest that you blew it on “The Secret Songs.”  Quite correct, it’s not SF, or fantasy either.  It’s a story about fantasy, and the role it can play in people’s lives today, and to my taste it’s a pretty acerbic piece of social commentary: these folks are immersing themselves in fantasy by using illegal drugs, or using drugs illegally, since otherwise they would be immersed in worse fantasies and institutionalized for it; and the fantasies they construct to get through their lives build on and interact with the perfectly well accepted fantasies of TV programming and popular magazines.  So where’s the reality there?  And is there any use to ask that question?  A lot of Leiber’s work is a sort of running commentary about what he sees around him and where it seems to be going, and it seems pretty incisive to me.  So I’d rate this one a lot higher than you did.

    1. Oh, there’s no doubt but that it’s well-crafted.  I just didn’t care for the product.

      I’m very glad you did, however!  And I’m glad the Journey is big enough to host divergent opinions.  It gives the reader multiple viewpoints on which to judge whether a story be worth her/his time.

  5. Like everything else this month, I haven’t had time to dip into this issue (but at least I’ve reached the point where I can tell that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an on-coming train). Alas, it seems that Davidson’s time at the helm is doomed to be ill-fated. There seem to be some stories with potential here, but he doesn’t seem to be the one to bring them to fruition.

    But if you’ll allow me to get a bit Hegelian here, I think the Campbellian and literary factions need to form a synthesis to make science fiction better than it was. I love idea stories, but they certainly have room for character, description and, yes, emotion. And literary stories are all too often without plot, structure or conflict. Mystery fiction is climbing out of its pulpy past (admittedly, it’s always had a bit of the literary in its genes and so has less far to go) and it’s time for science fiction to do the same.

  6. “The former far outnumber the latter, at least if the circulation numbers for Analog compared to that of Fantasy and Science Fiction are any indication. ” For the most part, they aren’t. ANALOG had been published by the powerful Street & Smith for decades, before being bought by the even more powerful Conde Nast; F&SF the product of the far more modest Mercury Publications. Might as well congratulate VOGUE for outselling Marion Zimmer Bradley’s magazine THE LADDER. Given the relative strength of the two publishers, the circ figures put them on par.

    The Fritz Leiber story turns out to be a bit of brilliant autobiographical fiction, in a play for voices form. I’m glad we can agree rather well on the Brown and Crossen stories, but Davidson remains a brilliant writer and an excellent editor by my lights. And the notion that Bester is a has-been is a very strange one indeed.

    1. I just look at the numbers, Todd!  Analog dwarfs the rest, and that’s why it (undeservedly) may win the Hugo this year. 

      Re: The Leiber, for execution, I give it a five of five.  The material just didn’t connect with me.

      As for Davidson, he, like F&SF, used to be one of my very favorites.  Then he turned that dial one notch too far.  Plus, his prefaces are wretched.

      As for Bester, what’s he produced lately?  Other than bad book reviews (in some cases, it’s obvious he didn’t read the material — q.v. Dark Universe) and chauvinist comments?  While I recognize we don’t live in the most enlightened times, Bester (and folks like Garrett) are still at the more unsavory end of the Bell Curve.

    1. Don’t leave us in suspense, Bill!  If you reviewed this issue, we’d love to know where to get your ‘zine!

      (I know some folks are touchy about promoting their own works in other ‘zines, but I encourage it.  We’re all a family.)

  7. As a math physics type I always liked Astounding , but , for magazine fiction I was captured by Galaxy. Now in university majoring in math-physics I have come to love F&SF as well. Well gee, I have been reading F&SF since 1955.
    So I guess I am odd man out.

    As a faan when I first heard of Earl Kemp’s Who Killed Science Fiction I thought it was about the ASF-F&SF feud-ers. Really about the fade of SF magazines. To me it was more survival of the better, as wet behind the ears as I was , I didn’t care for bad pulp.  I was fine with having just three BIG pubs (yeah I know there are still a few other good ones left).

    1. Thanks, Al.  Really, how many mags can one read in a month?  I was subscribing to seven back in 1957, and it was too much.

      People have said that sf is dying since 1954.  Tony Boucher said so as recently as this Summer’s Westercon.

      Yet, here we still are…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.