[June 9, 1960] To Pluto and the Future (July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

I was recently told that my reviews are too negative, and that I should focus on telling the world about the good stuff; for that hopeful fan, I present my assessment of the July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction.  There’s not a clunker in the bunch, and if none of the stories is a perfect gem, several are fine stones nevertheless.

My receipt of this month’s issue was accompanied by no small measure of eagerness.  The cover promised me two stories by female authors (Zenna Henderson and Miriam Allen deFord) as well as a novella by Wilson Tucker, who wrote the excellent The City in the Sea.  Here’s what I found inside:

Stephen Barr is no stranger to Fantasy and Science Fiction, having appeared in the book twice before.  His lead short story, Oh I’ll take the High Road is softer stuff than his usual science fictiony fare, but I enjoyed it.  It features a poet scientist, who invents a thought-propelled space drive, and the eternal love he shares with a professor’s daughter.  Where he ends up, and how that love endures, makes for a pleasant (if not particularly remarkable) story.

I’d never head of Hollis Alpert before.  His newness may explain the unusual nature of his premiere science fiction piece, a mock academic presentation called The Simian Problem, in which a professor discusses the relatively recent (fictional) phenomenon that involves women giving birth to degenerate ape children.  The occurrence of such “monsters” is on the exponential increase, it seems, and an effective treatment remains elusive.  The format meanders jarringly from first person expository to dialogue, but the sting in the story’s tail is worth waiting for.

Moving on, we have the delightful Theodore Cogswell with The Burning, a portrayal of a dystopic future from the point of view of a most unusual teen gangster.  Those involved in a certain ubiquitous youth organization may get more out of it than I did.

Zenna Henderson is always good, of course.  Her Things is the story of a first encounter between an alien aboriginal race, told from the point of view of its female spiritual leader, and humanity.  The Terrans bring all manner of technological gifts, but are they worth the physical and philosophical price?  Should one sacrifice one’s very cultural identity for the chance to “progress” scientifically?  Tough questions, and Henderson pulls no punches.

I wasn’t quite sure how to react to A.H.Z.Carr’s It is not my fault, though upon reflection (and the measure of a good story is how much it makes you reflect), I think it’s quite good.  In brief: when a down-on-his-luck fellow collapses and dies in broad daylight near a busy thoroughfare, a momentarily attentive God dispatches an angel to determine who was at fault for the miserable death and dispense punishment.  Sometimes justice isn’t so easy as all that.

Then we have Miriam Allen deFord’s All in Good Time, another first person exposition story.  In this case, the setting is a first year law classroom a century from now, but this is largely incidental to the plot, which involves a cross-time bigamist.  It’s cute, and the presentation is more expertly handled than in the above-described Alpert story.  I particularly appreciated that, in the future, female lawyers seem to be as common as male ones.

Ever wonder what to give the fellow who’s had everything?  What is Heaven to someone who enjoyed life to its fullest?  Gordy Dickson asks those questions in his excellent The Last Dream.  Of course, for many, just being close to the Almighty is reward enough, but most like to think of Heaven (if it exist) providing physical benefits, too.  I bet the doughnuts are fantastic, for instance.  And non-fattening.

Dr. Asimov has a good, timely article on Pluto and what lies beyond this month.  It was one of my motivations for writing my own piece on the subject.  He spends a good bit of space on the interesting Titius-Bode Law that seems to govern orbital spacing in our system, at least out to Uranus.  I’m still not convinced that the “Law” isn’t a statistical fluke–I look forward to being able to resolve systems outside ours so we can have a data set larger than one.

Fair Trade, by Avram Davidson, reads like a Clifford Simak piece.  A pair of aliens make a forced landing in a backwoods town and party the natives before being rescued by another alien-crewed ship.  Before departing, they swap their super-knives for a local manufactured good.  Its identity is not disclosed until the end.  One of the few non-somber pieces from the author.

Finally, we have Wilson Tucker’s To the Tombaugh Station, a very good, novella-sized mystery involving a man, an asteroid miner by trade, suspected of murder, a tough woman bounty hunter sent to investigate him, and the long long trip across the solar system they spend together.  Wilson Tucker has a penchant for writing strong female characters, and he does an excellent job here.  The whodunnit aspect is nicely done, too. 

I note that there is a Planet X beyond Pluto in this story, Tombaugh Station having been established solely for the purpose of investigating it.  Tucker, at least in the instant tale, subscribes to the popular theory that Pluto was once a moon of Neptune. 

Tallying up the numbers, we have a strong 3.5-star issue, well worth your time and 40 cents.  See you soon with something Amazing!

8 thoughts on “[June 9, 1960] To Pluto and the Future (July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)”

  1. I certainly have no problem with negative reviews, so you are free to tear into a stinker as much as you like, as far as I am concerned.

    General agreement with your opinions on the stories in this issue, with an exception I’ll get to in a moment.  For me, the outstanding piece was “It Is Not My Fault.”  One might call it more of a philosophical treatise than a story, but I thought it was daring and powerful.

    Now to the exception.  I couldn’t get into “To the Tombaugh Station” very much at all.  It just seemed too pulpish for my taste.

    To each her own.

    1. I am glad you liked It is not my fault–it makes it worth the effort of distributing!

      As for Tucker, ah well.  I recognize the aged quality of the writing, but a woman protagonist and a jaunt across the system overcome that for me. 

      Thanks for your appraisal!

  2. What an interesting mix of authors. Several of them aren’t really science fiction authors at all, yet they’ve managed to write some decent stuff according to you (I still need to actually read the stuff, but wanted to get off my first impressions).

    Alpert is now mostly known as a film and book critic, but he wrote a lot of stuff during the war as a combat historian. I here he has a mainstream novel coming out this year, but the only genre related thing I know of that he’s written was an essay coauthored with Charles Beaumont in *cough* Playboy *cough* last year.

    Carr writes about politics a lot and he was an adviser to President Truman.

    Miriam deFord is a fascinating woman. She was a suffragette, fought hard for getting women information on birth control, worked as a reporter. She writes a lot of mysteries as well as SF. Actually it was Boucher who brought her over from mystery writing when he started up F&SF, since he had a lot of contacts in that field. Alas, she is also a Fortean, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

    Now off to read some stories.

  3. I found Carr unreadable. His angel was the schmuckiest of Campbellian aliens, and while I didn’t get very far, I’d think there was more than enough guilt to go round.

    I loved the deFord. I was a little surprised the teacher insulted Titanians, the chances are someone in a large new class would feel obliged to respond, but I guess he just didn’t like Titanians. Otherwise the pretext and setting of the case was delightful.

    The Alpert was mostly good. I gather it was meant to be a transferral of stewardship fic, due to and by means of humanity’s chemical and atomic harm. The apparently universal callousness towards children who are, after all, very nearly human, is a bit hard to take, but I suppose is meant to underline it. And the testers are callous in real life towards the children.

    The very end, which is meant to be the punch line, is sloppy, though.  Colonies of apes ‘have been formed’? What does that mean? And the sudden introduction of gibbons in Africa…

  4. Well, I can’t say I much cared for the Barr. It took me a couple of tries to even get started and I got bored about halfway through and just skimmed the rest. It was like something from the old pulps, just without the whizbang superscience.

    Alpert’s piece was so-so. I think a different (started to say better, but the man certainly has the credentials) writer might have handled it better. The narrative shift in the middle was distracting and the sting at the end could have been delivered a little better.

    I could see where the Carr was going from a mile off. That’s one of the problems when outsiders try their hand at genre: they think they’ve got something clever, but we’ve all seen it before.

    I loved the deFord, though. Entertainingly told, a nice little sting at the end, and I didn’t spot the resolution to the case. I thought it was because his second wife was dead when he married his first.

    But you didn’t mention that there’s a Feghoot in this issue (admittedly one of Briarton’s weaker efforts) and you didn’t say anything about the Davidson story.

    1. Re: the Carr, agreed.

      Re: Feghoot, I never review the Feghoots.  Just know that they are in every issue.

      Finally, re: the Davidson, thank you for that.  I have remedied my error.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s usually a 3-star story that left little impression on my brain.

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