by Victoria Silverwolf
March has roared in like a lion here in Eastern Tennessee, with high temperatures below fifty and a bit of snow falling in Chattanooga. Can it be possible that spring is right around the corner? Perhaps it would be best to turn our thoughts away from the tempests of winter and concentrate on sunnier matters.
After his triumphant orbiting of the Earth, Colonel John Glenn is scheduled to be treated today to what is predicted to be the largest ticker tape parade in history, filling the streets of New York City with tons of shredded paper. Not great news for the street sweepers of the Big Apple, but the rest of us can celebrate.
For those of us stuck indoors due to the weather, we can tune our radios to just about any station playing the Top Forty and enjoy the sound of Gene Chandler’s smash hit Duke of Earl, which has been at the top of the charts for a couple of weeks. It may not have the most profound lyrics in the world, but this catchy little number is sure to be heard in the background of many a teenage courtship as a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.
Appropriately, The April 1962 issue of Fantastic is full of romance, along with the sense of wonder demanded by readers of speculative fiction.
Before we get to the mushy stuff, however, Judith Merril offers us a mysterious look at The Shrine of Temptation. George Barr’s beautiful cover art appears to have inspired this ambiguous tale of good, evil, and strange rituals. Barr’s work has appeared in a handful of fanzines for a few years, but I believe this is his first professional publication. Based on the quality of this painting, I believe the young artist has a fine career ahead of him.
Merril’s story takes place on an island where the native population is being studied by a group of anthropologists. I was never quite sure whether this was supposed to be taking place on Earth or on another planet. Although the inhabitants of the island are fully human, there are hints that their year is not the same as ours. In any case, a young native, nicknamed Lucky by the anthropologists for his intelligence and cheerful nature, quickly learns English and befriends the strangers. He introduces them to his culture, but the secret of the shrine is unknown even to him, since it is only opened once in a very great while. The trouble begins when a group from a rival nation arrives on the island. (Whether their ship travels by sea or through space is not entirely clear.) Eventually the shrine is opened, and what happens is truly unexpected. This is an intriguing story, if somewhat opaque, and rewards careful reading. Four stars.
We turn to what we might delicately call the physical aspects of love in R. Bretnor’s comedy Dr. Birdmouse. A pianist whose act is extremely popular with women winds up on a planet with an unusual form of reproduction. All the animals are as intelligent as humans, and any animal can mate with any other animal, resulting in all sorts of bizarre hybrids. The title character, for example, combines the characteristics of the creatures found in his name. (When he learns English from the pianist, he also speaks and acts in an outrageously fey manner. Combined with the pianist’s enthusiastic female audience, I had to wonder if these two characters were intended as a parody of the flamboyant entertainer Liberace.) Despite the loyalty of his feminine fans, the pianist is not a success when it comes to romance, particularly when compared to his untalented but very masculine brother. He plans to bring some of the inhabitants of the planet back to Earth as an exhibit, in hopes that this will win him a harem of mistresses. However, Dr. Birdmouse and the others have plans of their own. This is a moderately amusing trifle, worthy of three stars.
As I predicted last month, the two bickering members of Congress wind up in each other’s arms in the concluding half of the short novel Joyleg by Ward Moore and Avram Davidson. This part of the story takes place almost entirely in the home of the seemingly ageless Revolutionary War veteran Isachar Z. Joyleg, and could easily be adapted for the stage as a romantic comedy. The secret of his longevity is revealed, drawing the world’s attention. For political reasons, a hostile bureaucrat attempts to accuse Joyleg of desertion, multiple seductions, and even piracy. To add to the confusion, a document signed by John Paul Jones while that famous naval commander was in the service of Catherine the Great grants Joyleg possession of a large tract of land in Siberia. A Soviet diplomat arrives in this remote corner of Tennessee, hoping to convince Joyleg to turn his back on an ungrateful USA and instead become a respected citizen of the USSR. It’s all very amusing and charming. Four stars.
Love also blooms at the conclusion of this month’s fantasy classic. Nonstop to Mars by Jack Williamson is reprinted from the February 25, 1939 issue of Argosy. A pilot known for making long nonstop flights in his one-man plane is forced to land on a remote island after a weird storm disables his craft. Alone on the island is a beautiful young scientist, who is studying the phenomenon. It turns out that aliens from another solar system have landed on Mars, and are using super-advanced technology to teleport Earth’s atmosphere to the red planet. Humanity seems doomed, but our hero bravely enters the storm and literally flies to Mars. This is an old-fashioned adventure story with a wild premise. It certainly holds the reader’s attention, and is more vividly written than most pulp yarns from its time. Three stars.
There is a lot to enjoy in Fantastic this month. You may not fall deeply in love with this issue…but you may be infatuated with it.