Here’s a math problem for you, kids! If more than half of your magazine is taken up by a 2-star short novel, how likely is it that you’ll still end up with a good issue?
Answer: not very.
I’m used to Fantasy & Science Fiction having a long table of contents page. This one (the December 1960 issue) comprises just ten entries, and all save the Asimov article are vignettes. I wonder if we’ll be seeing a slew of larger stories now that Editor Mills has depleted his stock of tiny ones.
Anyway, it’s quality, not quantity that counts. So how was the quality?
Winona McClintic is a sporadic contributor to the magazine, and she offers up The Way Out of Town, in which an infestation of snakes blocks all of the vehicular arteries in and out of every city in the (unidentified) state. They cause havoc, widespread and personal, as one might expect.
That’s about it; the story is over almost as it starts. Mills says in the prologue, “Readers who like only those stories with beginnings and middles and ends, in which everything is clearly explained,may not be fully satisfied with the following.” He’s right! Two stars.
Up next is Rope’s End, by Miriam Allen deFord. The premise is excellent: a Terran accidentally kills an alien on the extraterrestrial’s world. His sentence is to wear a rope around his neck for twenty years–one that is constricted every year. I like everything about it but the ending; and it’s not even the ending that bothers me so much as the protagonist’s inability to suspect how things would turn out given how much time he devoted to the problem. Three stars.
Avram Davidson has a two-pager about sexually frustrated teens whose unfulfilled desires channel into a powerful psychokinetic talent. Called Yo-ho, and Up, it is silly and rather difficult to read. Two stars.
Speaking of digging, The Beatnik Werewolf is (I believe) the first effort by Dan Lindsay. What’s a shaggy vegetarian hepcat…er…dog to do when he falls in love after two hundred years as a lone wolf? Cute, if inconsequential. Three stars.
Dr. Asimov’s article is on dolphins and echo-location this month. A could-be fascinating topic, particularly the bits about the ability to produce sound being used for navigation long before its purposing for communication. But the good doctor seems rather scattered this time around. Three stars.
The last piece is a reprint from a literary mag New World Writing #16 called The Listener by John Berry. It’s not really science fiction or fantasy, but I enjoyed it a lot, this tale of the meeting between an itinerant fiddler and an old, old lighthouser. Four stars.
Using my trusty slide rule, this all adds up to about 2.5 stars. A less than auspicious end of the year for what is normally my favorite science fiction magazine. It’s a good thing the competition was in excellent form this month.
See you at the end of the month for a review of November, a preview of December, and a space-based peeping tom whose presence we can all be thankful for.