[December 4, 1962] Like Five Weeks in a Theater (Five Weeks in Balloon)

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


by Lorelei Marcus

“5 weeks in a balloon!” What an exciting phrase — so much potential for many interesting stories and ideas.  Thus, you can perhaps understand the excitement I felt in anticipation of the new Jules Verne spectacular based on the book of the same title. Going in without a hint of what the film might be about, I already had a bunch of wild adventures thought up. I was certain the movie would involve a group of explorers struggling to survive a month in the air. Maybe they would run low on food. Perhaps they’d get on each others’ nerves. A giant storm might throw them off course or prevent their landing. Seeing it on the big screen was going to be fantastic!

Or so I thought. To be frank, the movie that I actually got was disappointing, especially compared to the wondrous stories that I’d already imagined before the movie. Rather than a cool and creative survival movie of living in a balloon, we got a rather dull sight-seeing trip.


Get used to scenes like this.  There are a lot of them.

The movie stars a small cast of stereotypes: The witty professor, the kooky general, the teenage heartthrob (Fabian), the obnoxious American reporter (Red Buttons), the slave girl who knows just enough English to sound foreign (but is totally understandable), and the love interest.


I’m glad Fabian’s working again.  Dig that 19th Century hair!


“Which man do you want to end up with?”  “Anyone but Red Buttons, please.”

Oh, and I can’t forget their ape companion either, because every Jules Verne movie has to have an animal companion.


This seems thoroughly responsible.

Now if I told you that this movie was about this crew racing in a balloon across Africa to beat slave traders from staking a valuable claim, and getting caught in various misadventures along the way, you would probably say, “Well how could such an adventure be boring?” I’m not sure, especially considering the movie started off so well!

Everything before the balloon’s take off (the first 20 minutes or so) was funny, clever, and fast paced. The first scene, in which the professor and his inventor friend take reluctant investors on a demonstration flight, and then the next bit in which the professor prepares for the expedition and collects funds and crew, was quite fun to watch!


“Jane!  Stop this crazy thing!”


“This is Africa.”  “Oh!  Good to know!”

But once he’d picked up the American reporter, and the balloon took to the skies, the movie ground to a sudden halt. Unfortunately it never seemed to pick back up again either. The entire movie was: the balloon flies around, lands someplace; the crew gets out and gets into trouble, they run back to the balloon and fly away. There were no real conflicts, because they could always just retreat to the balloon and escape danger. Moreover, many of these scenes went on for ‘way too long. There was never any real tension through the whole movie, and without tight pacing of events, the movie felt like it was really dragging on for five weeks!

Now I will give the credit for its visual quality. It was in color like all the Jules Verne classics, and it had many exotic settings and beautiful sets. However, with the lack of a real plot, the movie really just felt like “Look at this pretty thing!” over and over again. I’m hoping this doesn’t become a common trend, the substitution of pretty special effects for a good story.

The acting was alright. In fact, the best part of the movie was the interaction between the singleminded professor and the prissy general sent by the Prime Minister to co-lead the expedition.  Their banter was genuinely funny.  But it was also very British, or I should say, what Americans think of as British.  That was a big problem with this movie: racial stereotyping. There were certainly quite a few racist portrayals of different cultures, to say the least. The journey took place over Africa, so there several scenes set in Muslim palaces. The problem was, rather than using this opportunity to show these cultures in an interesting and insightful way, we got very clearly not Muslim African actors in brown makeup spouting nonsense. And the Black Africans were hordes of dancing/yelling savages. It really just felt kind of insulting.


“I’m British, you know.”  “What a coincidence!  So am I!”





Sensitive portrayals of foreign cultures.

In the end though, the largest fault of this movie was not its own shortcomings, but the fact that we’ve already seen this plot done better. Master of the Air, another film inspired by a Jules Verne novel, lived up to the expectations set by its title. It has a tense and satisfying story, characters with lots of depth, an awesome set…and weeks spent in an airship! That movie is everything Five Weeks wants to be.


This explains a lot…

All in all, I would not say Five Weeks in a Balloon is a bad movie. I think the creators were trying to make an exciting adventure movie and mix it with comedy, and they ended up succeeding at neither. Still, the high budget did make it a fun tour through Africa. The movie wasn’t a waste of my time, but I was disappointed that it didn’t meet the standard previous Verne films (particularly Master), have set. Overall, I give this movie 2 stars. It was quite mediocre, and I would say if you’re looking to watch a great Verne spectacular, then you’re better off with one of his other films.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[I watched this movie, too, and I really have very little to add to this excellent review.  I might charitably give the film 2.5 stars as it is less bad than not good.

One interesting observation — we saw this in a double-feature with This is not a Test, and both flicks featured chicken abuse.  Is this a new cinematic trend? [Ed]]




[December 2, 1962] They Came From the Mainstream (SF Books Not Published As SF)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

Science fiction is a marketing category.  Readers who enjoy this genre look for familiar names and for covers featuring rockets and robots.  Our esteemed host has done an excellent job reviewing nearly all the books published as science fiction this year.  But what about those which contain speculative content, but which are not marketed that way?

As the year draws to an end, let’s take a look at some of this camouflaged science fiction:

Two new collections of translated stories by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, Ficiones and Labyrinths, contain many tales which will appeal to SF fans.  In Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, for example, the author describes an alien world.  An entire universe, consisting of every possible book, is the setting for The Library of Babel.  These and other elegantly written stories appeal more to the intellect than the heart.

Prolific British author Anthony Burgess offered two very different visions of dystopian futures this year.  A Clockwork Orange is narrated in futuristic slang by a teenage criminal.

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening . . .

Disorienting at first, this Russian-influenced language of tomorrow becomes clear through context, and is brilliantly used by Burgess to take us into a frightening world of random violence and government mind control.

Overpopulation leads to repression of heterosexuality, pregnancy becoming a crime, war used as a form of population control, and cannibalism in The Wanting Seed.  The language of this novel is not as difficult as A Clockwork Orange, but it deals with many important themes which require careful reading.

Russian-born writer Vladimir Nabakov, best known for his controversial novel Lolita (toned down somewhat in this year’s film adaptation), creates a very unusual structure in his new book, Pale Fire.  It consists of a poem of 999 lines by an imaginary poet, followed by footnotes written by an equally fictional critic.  Read together, the poem and footnotes come together to form a plot of impersonation, exile, and murder.  What makes this a work of science fiction is the fact that it takes place in a world different from our own.  The story deals with the deposed king of the European nation of Zembla.  It takes place in an alternate version of the USA, which contains the states of Appalachia and Utana. 

Although all of these books were published as literary fiction, science fiction fans should not dismiss them, in Hamlet’s words, as “caviar to the general.”  They are all well worth reading, and produce the special sense of wonder that comes from our favorite genre. 




[November 30, 1962] New Worlds, Cold Weather (The View from the UK, December 1962)

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


by Mark Yon

Hello all, again.

Being a Brit, I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that I should start this month with talk of the weather. The cold weather I mentioned in October has continued into November. It generally feels really cold, colder than normal. I must admit that the chilly, dark mornings do not make leaving the house and going to work conducive to productive activities! I am hoping that it’ll return to normal Winter weather soon.

Thanks to the weather, journeys in my provincial city are taking a little longer, but in London the weather has heralded the return of the infamous London fogs that make travel near impossible.

Music-wise, things have taken an interesting turn. Since I last spoke to you, the BBC have banned Bobby Boris Pickett’s The Monster Mash, from UK radio on the grounds that the song was “too morbid.”

By contrast, currently at the top of the charts is Frank Ifield and Lovesick Blues. A cover of the Hank Williams classic show tune, it is not really to my personal taste, I’m afraid. Telstar, much more favourable to my ears, and the instrumental that dominated the charts over the Summer, is still in the Top 5, slowly declining (like the satellite itself).

On the television I’m still enjoying the antics of John Steed and Cathy Gale in The Avengers on ITV. Undoubtedly rather far-fetched, it is nevertheless entertainingly escapist.

Slightly more down to earth, we recently had a programme begin on the BBC that I think will run for a while. Called That Was the Week that Was, it is a satirical summary of topical political and cultural items of interest from the previous week before transmission. Presented by up-and-coming media star Mr David Frost, but also with a host of comedians to fill out the roster, it seems to have been popular ratings-wise, although admittedly less so with the politicians and the Establishment.

I have braved the Winter weather to go to the cinema since we last spoke – it is often warmer there! – and I must recommend How the West Was Won, which I saw a couple of weeks ago. Directed by Mr John Ford and with a great cast – Mr. John Wayne, Mr. Gregory Peck and one of my own favourites, Mr. James Stewart – it is a great epic, telling us of the early days of the Wild West. Visually spectacular in Cinerama and in stereophonic sound, this may be the standard that future movies must reach.

Hopefully as good, I am looking forward to going to see Mr. David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia before I speak to you next. The news is saying that it is a visual spectacle, if a little long at nearly four hours. As it is mainly set in the desert, though, it might just be what’s needed to keep the Winter chill out!

This month’s New Worlds (the 125th!) has a slightly less lurid cover (thank goodness!) and after the excitement and disappointment of last month’s issue edited by Arthur C Clarke, we are back to a more ‘business as usual’ edition this time around.

This month’s editor is a popular writer who, nevertheless, hasn’t been in New Worlds for a while. Mr. Lan Wright was last in the magazine in 1958-59 with his three-part story A Man Called Destiny (issues 78-80, December 1958, January & February 1959). This time, as guest editor, he seems to have created a rather mixed bag, but a better edition than the one previous. His writing absence is partly explained in the Profile given on the inside cover. Amongst other things he has been spending his leisure time as a radio commentator for Watford Football Club and the three associated Hospital Radio stations in the area.

This has left little time for writing, though he has managed an Editorial this month and has a new three-part serial starting next month. His Editorial reflects his clearly passionate views on s-f. In a determinedly anti-intellectual stance, Lan makes the point that the genre is better off when it is mindful of its origins and keeps things unprofessional. This is a counterview to that of John Baxter’s in September which argued that, in order to survive, s-f needs to push itself and reach out to the mainstream masses by presenting a more refined, more challenging and better written body of work.

So, it seems like the battle-lines are drawn. I suspect that this battle between the two views will continue for a while yet.

To the actual content. Two novellas this month!

Lambda One, by Mr Colin Kapp

Mr Kapp is a New Worlds regular (last seen October 1961) and this is one of the better novellas I have read recently. The story centres around a great concept – that future transport is made by travel via an inter-atomic method. By making a solid body resonate in such a way that its atoms can pass through the spaces in the atomic structure of other solid substances, goods, materiel and people travel quickly and freely. The story follows a spaceship lost in this other dimension as our two heroes, Brevis and Porter attempt to rescue them. To be honest, the plot isn’t great and the ending is resolved far too quickly, but the journey to reach the stranded vessel is what makes the story memorable. It is, in the end, terrific fun and quite imaginative. Four out of five.

Meaning, by Mr. David Rome

This one, which I liked nearly as much as Lambda One, comes from an author who has now appeared in three issues in a row. Meaning is perhaps his best of the three. It tells of Alan Ross on a journey to Mars that may or may not be what the traveller thinks it is. This one kept me guessing by mixing dreams with reality until the mystery of the plot was revealed. Three out of five.

Capsid, by Mr. Francis G. Rayer

I really liked this story, from an author who has had stories published in New Worlds since 1947. There isn’t much to the plot (another rescue story!), but the titular alien of the story is interesting and unusual enough to be memorable. Though nameless, the “capsid” is a creature that lives underground away from the harsh radiation of its planet. It burrows through the sand and absorbs anything unlucky enough to land on the planet’s surface. When Wallsey crashes onto the capsid’s planet, the difficulty is how to rescue him from a planet where nothing seems to survive. The alien is memorable, although the ending is rather predictable. Nevertheless, three out of five.

Operation Survival, by Mr. Paul Corey

Oh dear. I’m always very mindful that humour’s always a relative thing, and what some find amusing, others don’t. Even so, this one’s a major misstep. The ‘humour’ derives from the idea that if you put enough mentally ill people (here called ‘Feebs’) in a room full of buttons, then like the proverbial monkeys writing Shakespeare, they will press the right buttons to deliver nuclear missiles, essentially lunatics taking over the asylum. Distasteful, badly judged and really, really not funny. Zero points.

Transmitter Problem, by Mr. Joseph Green
Mr. Green returns to the setting previously read in last month’s issue (the planet named Refuge.) It’s another story about the breshwahr tree, a salient lifeform, and its effect upon the people of this frontier planet. I was rather dismissive of last month’s effort, saying that its purpose was clearly designed to shock with its matter-of-fact depiction of child rape and cannibalism. I enjoyed this one more, mainly because I felt it was trying less hard to make its point. It is a minor story about transmitting people but seems to set things up for other stories in the future quite nicely. Three out of five.

Mood Indigo, by Mr. Russ Markham

The second of our novellas this month, from another author we read in the last issue. Mr. Markham’s last effort was Who Went Where?, which I thought was ‘solid yet undemanding.’ This is longer, and better for it, I think. Here, engineers Don Channing, Harry Scanlon and their work colleagues create a forcefield bubble that is quickly sponsored by the military, but there are unexpected consequences of its use. It suggested what it must have been like with the development of the atomic bomb, and I rather suspect that that was the intention. It is a traditional tale, with lots of stereotypes – bold male scientist, good-looking girl, etc., although it comes out as passable s-f in the end. Three out of five.

Lastly, there’s the usual Book Review by Mr. Leslie Flood. Mr. John Christopher’s The World in Winter and Mr. Daniel F Galouye’s Dark Universe both get positive comments.

In summary, I enjoyed this issue more than last month. Whilst there are moments of workmanlike prose and a real misstep in one of the worst stories I’ve read in New Worlds, ever, there were enough original moments to make me feel that my two-and-sixpence was well spent this month.

Until next time, as I huddle under a few blankets, it just remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Have a great one, may you get everything you wish and I’ll speak to you again before the New Year.




[November 27, 1962] Turkeys and Gravy (December 1962 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Behold the picture of contentment.  I sit in my La-Z-Boy, feet crossed on an ottoman, a Julie London album on the phonograph, and my tummy stuffed to the utmost with stuffing, turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes… the whole megillah.  And at my side, the just-finished copy of the latest Analog, which just happens to be my last science fiction magazine of the year (yes, Mark Yon will follow me with the December ish of New Worlds, but that’s his problem!)

This last reading duty out of the way, I can finally start putting together my notes for this year’s Galactic Stars, and it certainly looks like there will be some bright ones.  Nevertheless, as fun as it is describing the sum of the parts, each component deserves full treatment – and the December 1962 Analog has much to recommend it.. as well as some prime examples of America’s bird:

Blind Man’s Lantern, by Allen Kim Lang

Beautifully depicted on the cover by Schoenherr, this one came recommended by fellow writer, John Boston.  Lantern features an Pennsylvania Dutch couple settling on an Earth-like world 80 light years from home.  The planet is already home to a thriving but technologically regressed colony of West Africans, and the hope of the Earth government is that the original inhabitants will adopt the advanced Amish farming techniques, to the benefit of all concerned. 

It’s a lovely story, more slice of life Laura Ingalls Wilder than nuts and bolts SF.  The relations between the Amish and the Africans are interesting and sensitively portrayed, the growing friendships and cultural clashes feeling natural.  Where the piece fails (a little bit) is the abrupt twist 4/5ths of the way through, and the fact that there is really no SF component to this tale at all.  The new planet is exactly like Earth in all details – Lang could easily have set his story in Senegal.  Four stars.

Subversive, by Mack Reynolds

At first, this story looks to be a “preach piece,” basically two people chatting to illustrate a philosophical point.  In this case, the topic of discussion is the economy, and how to cut the Gordian Knot of our overly complex, thoroughly middle-manned system.  But the author is Mack Reynolds, and he has something that is (dare I say) a bit more subversive in mind.  Lots of twists and you never know where it’s going to end.  Three stars. 

—And Devious the Line of Duty, by Tom Godwin

This one is a low budget Retief story in which the key to determining on which side a powerful neutral planet aligns comes down to a well-orchestrated meet cute between its young Queen and a strapping Terran Space Navy lieutenant.  Much too long to justify its ending, which you’ll see a mile away.  Two stars.

Intelligent Noise, by Alfred Pfanstiehl

Here’s the real dog of the magazine.  Mr. Pfanstiehl attempts to educate us on the ingenious use of the electromagnetic spectrum to cram more information into an already crowded set of frequencies. The problem is that the article is completely unreadable.  Dig this, Dad – my first major was astrophysics and my favorite bits in these digests are the science articles; but I couldn’t make head nor tails of it.  I am no wiser now than I was going into the article, and I suspect you won’t be either.  One star.

Space Viking (Part 2 of 4), by H. Beam Piper

Finally, Piper continues his four part(!) tale of rapacious spacefarers picking on the bones of the fallen Terran Empire.  As a travelogue, it’s first rate.  Piper gives us great background on all of the visited planets, their societies and governments.  Names are dropped of worlds featured in other stories (for instance, Uller of Uller Uprising and Zarathustra of Little Fuzzy).  But as a story, Space Viking is rendered mostly in thumbnail.  The result is engaging, even memorable, but more carrier wave than message.  Three stars.

That wraps up this month’s American magazines.  F&SF is finally the best again, with Fantastic a close second (this latter having the best story, Laumer’s Cocoon).  Galaxy is tail-end Charlie, a bitter disappointment.  That puts Amazing and Analog in the middle.  Every magazine had some four-star content; only two (Galaxy and Amazing) had female authors, one apiece. 

Over to you, Mark!




[November 25, 1962] Great Balls of Fire!  (Gerry Anderson’s new series, Fireball XL5)

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


By Ashley R. Pollard

One part of me wants to ask where has the year gone?  The other part of me say, what a year this has been for British science fiction.  A mere five years ago the idea of spaceship orbiting our world was the stuff of SF.  Sputnik changed all that.  Then Yuri Gagarin went into space in Vostok.  And, from that moment, the world of SF manifested into the minds of all mankind.  Not as some improbable fantasy, from starry eyed dreamers, but as reality arisen from technology; born of war, but turned into something greater.

Phew — and what a ride the last five years have been for SF.

I’ve mentioned in a past article that Britain has Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future.  Now we also have Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol.  Not the hero of a comic strip, but rather of a children’s television show from Anderson Provis Films (APF), which you may all remember from when I talked about their production last year, Supercar.

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson are back with another Supermarionation series, Fireball XL5.  Supermarionation is their term to describe puppets that speak using electronic synchronization, and the Andersons have used it to great effect, creating a brand new medium for SF.

So far, I have managed to watch all four episodes of Fireball that have come out, while babysitting my friend’s six year-old, who sits entranced by the show.  And what a show it is.  Seeing my friend’s son swept up in the excitement of space has been an eye-opener for me.  I’m used to the idea that people don’t get SF, unless they’re fans.  But now I’m seeing the first of a new generation for whom space is the new frontier. This means all the excitement and expectations that go with it are just a normal part of their lives.

So, let me introduce you to the cast of characters.  Steve Zodiac I’ve already mentioned, and he leads a crew of three.  Doctor Venus is Fireball XL5’s resident space medic for when things go wrong.  Professor ‘Matt’ Mattic is the ship’s engineer and scientist.  And this being a show set in the future, the final member of the crew is Robert the Robot, invented/made by the aforementioned Professor Mattic.

As an aside, for those interested, Doctor Venus is voiced by Sylvia Anderson, and Robbie’s voice is artificially generated by Gerry Anderson using a ‘vibrator’ mechanism used for those unfortunates who have had throat cancer and have had their larynx removed.

In addition, Fireball XL5 acquires a pet/ship’s mascot in the form of Zoonie the Lazoon, who is mildly telepathic and can mimic human speech, which is played for comic relief.  Essentially an intelligent talking dog.  The young lad I watch over is totally immersed in the adventures that put the crew of Fireball XL5 into peril — a lesson that stories which provoke strong emotional reactions are engrossing.

In addition to the crew of Fireball XL5, there are two other regular supporting characters.  The first is Commander Wilbur Zero, Commander-in-Chief of the World Space Patrol, and Lieutenant Ninety, his assistant Space City controller.  That’s quite a cast of characters to remember, but my friend’s son seems to have their names down pat.

Of course intrepid heroes need villains.  The first ones we meet are the Subterrains introduced in the opening episode Planet 46, who have launched a ‘planetomic’ missile at Earth.  Boo, hiss.  And who we know are fiendish, because when they capture Doctor Venus they launch another missile with her aboard.  Fortunately, Zodiac, Robbie and the Professor save the day.

Episode two, The Doomed Planet, starts in media res with the crew avoiding a rogue planet that has been flung out of its orbit.  This planet is now on a collision course with another world, which the crew assumes is uninhabited.  It’s also the first time we see Zoonie, who is introduced as a pet Doctor Venus has had for three months, which I thought was a rather neat story telling trick.  No doubt that Zoonie will get more backstory later, as the series progresses.  The story continues with the reveal that a UFO, from said uninhabited planet, has followed them back to Earth.  After pursuing the UFO the crew of Fireball XL5 save the doomed planet by destroying the rogue one that we met at the beginning of the episode.  All very exciting.

The next episode, Space Immigrants, has a spaceship called the Mayflower III going to start a new colony that’s 236 light years away from Earth.  But the planet is occupied by the villainous Lillispatians, who consider humans beings savages, and who intend to enslave the colonists.  However, their name should be a clue to one part of the dénouement, which ends with Steve Zodiac using Zoonie to save the day, because to the Lillispatians, the cute Lazoon is a ferocious monster.

The most recent episode, Plant Man from Space, has Professor Matic’s old ‘friend’ Dr. Rootes attempt to take over the Earth with the eponymous plant man.  Which as you can imagine has a combination of excitement and comedy to entertain the younger viewer.

While one could criticize some of the dialogue and characterization of Fireball XL5 as, dare I say, wooden, there is a lot to commend about this show.  Steve Zodiac may be the hero with a robotic side-kick, but Doctor Venus, even though put upon by some of the supporting male characters, shows that she is a capable doctor and leader too.

There are more episodes to come, and the opening and closing music for Fireball XL5 is rather compelling.  The opening credit sequence has a rather nice dirty jazz saxophone, while the end theme song, Fireball sung by Don Spencer will (I have it on good authority) be released as a single.  Also, while talking about pop songs, or ‘pop-pickers’, I must draw your attention to a four piece beat combo called the Beatles, and their catchy new single Love me Do that I heard on the show Pick of the Pops presented by Alan Freeman.

And finally, to finish my piece this month, I would like to mention the introduction of the Ford Mark 1 Cortina, which is quite stunningly pretty.  Ford have managed to encapsulate the American penchant for futuristic looking fins into a car that suits British sensibilities.  If I had the need to buy a new vehicle, this would be on my list of cars to look at.

So, another exciting month has flown by, which leaves me with only one thing left to say, Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!




[November 22, 1962] Return to Normalcy (December 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.

I’m a Kennedy liberal, so goodness knows I wouldn’t normally quote a Republican President, let alone one as ineffectual as Warren G. Harding.  I don’t agree with everything he said in his address to the Home Market Club of Boston on May 14, 1920, quoted above.  However, there’s something in his plea for a return to normalcy after the horrors of the Great War that strikes a familiar chord in these times.

The Cold War has returned to its normal condition, and avoided boiling over into a Hot War.

Meanwhile, the Sino-Indian War has ended, leaving two great nations in a state of peace, at least for now.

As we breathe a sigh of relief, it’s appropriate to turn to the pages of the December 1962 issue of Fantastic, where we will find stories about people who struggle to return to normalcy.

In the Holiday Spirit, by ?

Leading off the issue is an anonymous poem that mentions the names of several writers and artists working in the SF field.  It’s not great verse, but it’s a pleasant thought.  Unratable.

Heritage, by E. J. Derringer

Reprinted from the pages of the January 1935 issue of Top-Notch, this month’s fantasy classic was supposed to appear in Astounding.  The introduction by SF historian Sam Moskowitz speculates as to why this might have occurred.  My own theory is that the story is closer to fantasy than science fiction, as suggested by the uniquely macabre illustrations provided by Lee Brown Coye, an artist closely associated with Weird Tales.

The fantastic content of Derringer’s story does not appear until near the end.  The plot begins like a mystery.  Seven years before the story opens, the young wife of an older man vanished.  Fascinated by the disappearance, the young son of the husband’s lawyer begins his own investigation.  He soon finds out that the husband’s doctor helped the woman to disappear, for an incredible reason.

This story depends entirely on the revelation of the woman’s secret.  Otherwise, it’s competently, if not elegantly, written.  Three stars.

Cocoon, by Keith Laumer

Robert Adragna’s cover art is more symbolic than literal in its representation of this dark satire.  Sid and his oddly named wife Cluster live in a future world where everybody exists inside womblike containers.  All of their physical needs are supplied by the cocoon.  Entertainment, employment, and social contacts are all conducted through electronic channels.  When a crisis strikes this seemingly perfect society, Sid must struggle to survive and to learn the truth about his world.  I’m pleased to see Laumer put aside his lighthearted tales of Retief and pursue a more serious theme.  Four stars.

It’s Magic, You Dope! (Part 2 of 2), by Jack Sharkey

Last month the madcap adventures of our hero led him to a bizarre fantasy world, full of weird creatures, with his girlfriend in the form of a nymph and her brother as a faun.  In the conclusion, an illusory double of the nymph has been created by a witch (who happens to be her mother in the mundane world.) One of the two nymphs has been captured by evil creatures who want to cook and eat her.  Since nobody knows which of the two is real, the hero goes to rescue her.  The witch gives him a magic sword and a bag full of seemingly ordinary objects; a beer can, a train ticket, and so on.  Each one of these will prove useful during moments of danger.  The plot moves along at a breakneck pace, including encounters with werewolves, centaurs, and beings who only exist in the author’s imagination.  It’s never boring, although the story is really just one damned thing after another.  Three stars.

Imbalance, by Murray Leinster

An author who has been publishing science fiction since 1919 offers the reader a comic tale about chance.  Something goes wrong with the laws of nature, resulting in all sorts of strange happenings around the world.  An insurance agent downs on his luck puts his last few coins into slot machines in a desperate attempt to gain some cash.  A rival agent who hates gambling offers him an odd deal.  If he loses at games of luck, he has to sell the business of a prospective client to the rival at a discount.  If he wins, the rival gets thirty percent of the winnings.  More out of spite than anything else, he accepts the offer.  Because of the odd breakdown in natural law, he keeps winning, eventually breaking the bank.  Complications ensue with the intervention of the agent’s girlfriend and his prospective client, a crime boss.  This isn’t the most plausible or profound story in the world, but it should provide some modest amusement.  Three stars.

It’s almost reassuring, after the stressful days recently gone by, to return to an average, middle-of-the-road issue of the magazine.  Still, I wouldn’t say no to something tremendous.  Happy Thanksgiving.

[November 19, 1962] Reverse Course (December 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

I’ve complained bitterly in this column on the meanderings of my favorite science fiction magazines.  Galaxy has gotten too tame.  Analog has gotten too staid.  F&SF has gotten too literary.  In fact, just last month, I was lamenting the streak of purple fluffiness that had corrupted that last mag.  Story after story of unreadable droll nothings, or at best, fantastic horrors without any hard sf.

The December 1962 issue did not promise to be any better.  It has the same line-up of authors, the same subject matter of stories.  There are even 11000…er.. 24 pages devoted to the concept of binary numbers.  Has F&SF lost its mind?!

So imagine my surprise to find that I actually enjoyed this month’s issue, entirely due to the well-written nature of its material.  These are not the kind of stories I prefer, but this experience just goes to show that high quality trumps subject matter.  See if you agree:

The Depths, by Jim Harmon

The fastest route between two points is a straight line, so what better way to navigate the globe than through it?  One hardly even needs a locomotive force since one can simply fall to a destination.  Of course, there is the minor issue of building the shaft, but such trivialities are hand-waved in this pleasant, deliberately archaic tale of a trans-Terranian vessel that gets stuck half-way down.  Three stars.

Behind the Stumps, by Russell Kirk

I didn’t much care for Kirk’s ghost story in the last issue, and this one is in the same vein.  It is so nicely drawn and tautly composed, however, that I found myself engrossed.  In brief: fussy, meticulous census worker heads to the backwoodsiest of Appalachian towns determined to count every farmer, even those whose tie to the Earth is limited at best.  Suitably horrific, vividly realized.  Four stars.

Senhor Zumbeira’s Leg, by Felix Marti-Ibanez

In a time when the depiction of sex in our genre ranges from prudish nonexistence to Garrett-esque chauvinism, it’s nice to get a happy-go-lucky romp filled with equally game and enabled men and women.  This spicy Latin adventure features the Zumbeira family, father and son, who are motivated by comfort and cross-gender relationships.  When the ne’er-do-well son embarks on a journey to find a new prosthesis for his one-legged father, aided by a sorceress’ magic charm guaranteed to bring luck, amusing hijinx ensue.  All’s well that ends well, and the journey is good, too.  Four stars.

One, Ten, Buckle My Shoe, by Isaac Asimov

Only Asimov can wax pedantic on a dull subject and make the experience enjoyable.  I mean, it’s a piece about a counting system in which there are only two digits!  But if we’re going to get along with computers, I suppose we’d best learn the drill now.  Four stars.

On Binary Digits and Human Habits, by Frederik Pohl

Galaxy, IF, and (soon) Worlds of Tomorrow editor makes an unusual appearance in a competitor magazine with this piece on how to easily convey binary numbers verbally.  What at first seems a pointless exercise turns out actually to be kind of interesting – the first time through, I had a strong desire to throw the magazine against the wall; and then I got it and re-read with some fascination.  Three stars this time, but don’t do it again, please.

Ad Infinitum, by Sasha Gilien

Freud put much stock in the symbolism of dreams.  Gilien takes things a few steps further, positing that there is an entire studio devoted to the production and innovation of said symbols.  A fantastic idea somewhat neutered by its gimmick ending.  Three stars.

Roofs of Silver, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can cultures devolve?  And if they can, what is the measuring stick?  Dickson sets up a universe where Terra’s colonies have a habit of reverting to savagery, replacing conscience with taboo, morality with hidebound custom.  Roofs spotlights one world on the verge of such a fall, and the lengths one of its inhabitants goes to thwart it.

There’s nothing wrong with the writing in this piece; when Dickson’s on his game (and he certainly is here), he is one of the genre’s more sensitive and interesting authors.  No, the only real failing of this piece is its utter predictability.  Four stars.

The Notary and the Conspiracy, by Henri Damonti (translation by Damon Knight)

Some people really live a double life – the problem comes when one chooses to live out that second span in a high-profile and highly dangerous historical position!  A fun piece, but it’s one of Knight’s more opaque translations.  Three stars.

In sum, this month’s issue scored a respectable 3.5 stars.  I am left with a sense of bemused puzzlement.  Did editor Davidson finally turn his ship around?  Did all of the insufferable frivolity get used up by Galaxy?  Or is this simply the bounce of a dead cat, and I can expect a return to form in the new year?

As my wife is wont to say, “Don’t borrow trouble.”  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!




[November 17, 1962] In Vogue (a look at Fashion, Fall 1962)


by Gwyn Conaway

It seems to me there is a silent war going on in Vogue New York this month, perhaps a reflection in fashion of the recently heightened conflict between East and West. Read on with me — do you see it too?


Vogue; New York; Nov 1, 1962; Vol. 140 (8)

I turned the pages of November’s first issue over the weekend. The usual suspects filled the pages: Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman Co., Master Furriers Guild, Miss Clairol, among others. The Shop Hound features were more of the same from late summer: long-stemmed wine flutes, latticed jewelry, needlepoint purses, and silverware inspired by Futurism. But as I lazily perused the corselette and perfume advertisements, my boredom gave way to an intriguing discovery.

It seems fashion has split itself into two distinct personalities this season.

On the one hand, luxury brands are pushing women into futuristic, slim mod designs. We have seen this trend over the past several months. Both Christian Dior and Cisa have adopted the trend in knitwear and woolens.


“The world’s finest knitted fashions for the world’s smartest women.” Cisa.

Vogue goes so far as to feature an article called “All Day Any Day: The Plucky Little Wools.” This article not only promotes a modern aesthetic; the descriptions constantly return to the versatility of the garments in shape, style, and color. White, blue, red, beige, and lime-green are mentioned as an extremely flexible palette, suitable for day, night, and the country. Lacking collars and adornment in general, these fashions transform “ease” into a hallmark of luxury.


Smooth silhouettes and solid textiles are the hallmark of our season with an unshakable Mondrian-esque quality.

Naturally, this extreme departure from the past decade has left a longing for the exact opposite in its wake. Juxtaposed with the modern, I find a stroke of romanticism for the past in the issue. A piece on Mainbocher, the American couturier, identifies his timeless aesthetic. His grand, sweeping gestures with fabric harken back to previous eras of pique feminine beauty. In the face of our fast-paced world, women such as Miss Anita Loos and Mrs. Murray Vanderbilt return to these garments time and again.


Mainbocher’s drape and style take us back in time to the French Rococo.

Hoods and nightdresses are also being designed to portray mystic beauty. Seen below, a floral peignoir hides the intentions of the wearer in a delicate pool of florals around the face. Opposite, a sheer nightdress, pleated and inspired by the Greek muses. Perhaps even more interesting about this spread is the title of the article: “New Ideas for Clothes that Never Go Anywhere,” which suggests that mystic beauty is found in the private lives of modern women rather than in our public personas.


Warner-Laros; Bergdorf Goodman

Vogue’s pages suggest that while our public selves are geometric, structured, and convenient, our private selves long for delicacy and grace. Is this the magazine’s intention? I see this split personality all across its advertisements and articles: women dressed in contrasting colors and patterns, paired like twins. Are we truly this dichotomous?

I found the final puzzle piece to this intrigue on page 110. The East India Company’s jewels create the perfect complement to the modern wools and knits of Christian Dior, Cisa, and others. India’s spectacularly detailed, opulent jewelry culture balances the modern aesthetic in a fresh and fulfilling way.


The New Season’s Throbs in Clothes and Beauty

And so the conflict runs full course and resolves itself. Perhaps we’re not splitting ourselves in two, but simply trying to find the perfect balance of extremes, in clothing and in the world. Only time will tell…




[Nov. 15, 1962] Panic in Year One (the movie, This is not a Test)

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


by Gideon Marcus

With nuclear bombers parked just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, and last month having seen the United States go to its highest military alert level since we were fighting the Japanese, its no wonder that The Bomb remains a popular cinematic topic.  In the last decade, most of the films that featured Our Enemy, the Atom starred horribly mutated monsters.  More recently, there has been a slew of films portraying a post-apocalyptic world, starting with On the Beach, including the excellent The World, The Flesh, and the Devil, and also the less than excellent The Last Woman on Earth.


This is a test… of your patience.

The most recent entry in this radioactive field is the Z-Movie This is not a Test.  Its “star” is Seamon Glass as Deputy Sheriff Colton, a lawman dispatched to establish a roadblock on a rural road at 4AM.  As the cars and trucks are detained, we learn that Colton is after a young murderer.  The manhunt is interrupted by a bulletin: A Yellow Alert; the nation is under attack, and missile impact is imminent.


Todd Stiles and Buzz Murdock as truck drivers…

After the first few minutes, the flood of vehicles abruptly stops, and we are left with our cast of characters.  There’s the estranged middle aged couple with a dog (the Young Traveler quickly dubbed it “Gertrude“).  There’s grandpa and his pretty, pious daughter.  There’s the rakish truck driver, in whose rig the murderer had been hitchhiking.  There’s the hip couple, just back from Vegas after having made it big.  Wrapping up the ensemble is the late-arriving young scooter driver with an intellectual mien and an amazing capacity for remembering all of his lines (and little else).


“Drink this, honey — it’ll help the movie go down.”

And so begins a sort of atomic 12 Angry Men, a one-set piece in which the interactions of the characters, such as they are, takes center stage.  Civilization breaks down in the sixty minutes prior to the Bomb’s fall.  The rake seduces the wife.  The milquetoast husband shoots himself rather than interfere.  The hipsters drink themselves silly.  The fugitive, clearly mentally challenged, makes a few languid ominous moves at the daughter…but mostly just wants his suitcase back.  The grandfather suddenly remembers the existence of an abandoned mineshaft and dispatches his daughter and the intellectual to it.


Our Kooky Kast.

The most interesting character is Colton, who is a moron and yet, by virtue of his position, in charge.  He orders the roadblocked travelers to give him their car keys, he smashes the liquour in the back of the truck (so as to keep people from drinking), and then directs the stranded civilians to empty the vehicle so that it can be used as a bomb shelter — though what good thin, above-ground metal walls will do is an open question.  Later, while panting in the hot bed of the truck, the Deputy decides to kill the puppy to conserve oxygen (yes, Gertrude dies in this film, too!)


This is the enemy.

At the film’s conclusion, looters show up and abscond with the wife.  The rest of the travelers close up the truck just before the bomb hits, leaving the criminal and the deputy out in the open.  Cue a bright flash and… The End.


And thus the movie ends as it began… with a whimper.

By any measure, This is not a Test is terrible, made on a shoestring, indifferently written, counterproductively acted.  Still, as bad as this movie clearly is, it does work.  Sort of.  It’s obvious within the first ten minutes that the only drama is that provided by the characters under increasing stress.  It’s strangely compelling and somehow keeps your interest from beginning to end.

Two stars.

And now for a view from the perspective of a teen: Young Traveler, take it away!


by Lorelei Marcus

You know what there aren’t enough of right now? Movies with people talking about what to do when a nuclear bomb hits! At least, that’s what the writers of This is Not a Test thought before writing this sorry excuse of a movie. That’s right, we’re back with another movie review, and this time the movie is really bad. Let’s start from the beginning.

This is Not a Test is about a group of people who get stranded on a mountain close to ‘ground zero’ just before the missiles hit. The entire movie is their discussion of how they will survive the blast. That’s it. Now this movie was made on a shoestring, so I can let some cheapness slide but the storytelling was just lazy! There was practically no plot! Sure there were a few conflicts here and there, but nothing I really cared about. “Oh no, that one guy’s wife is cheating on him. Oh no, that other girl’s dog died.” You’d think a movie about a nuclear bomb would manage to be a little bit thrilling, or even interesting, but I guess not.


“You think we’ll see the bomb?  Hear it?”  “Not on this budget…”

I think this movie is also made so much worse because we have an example of a really fantastic movie on this topic, also made on a low budget. Panic in Year Zero was an excellent film, made with little more than This is not a Test. It had a fascinating story, compelling characters, and thrilling conflicts. In fact, its as if someone saw Panic and said, “I want to make that… but worse!” It’s a bit uncanny how the events in Panic line up with the topics of discussion in Test so flawlessly. Hmm..


“Calling all cars.  Watch out for traffic jams and people pushing cars off roads.  We won’t show you, but you’ll hear about it.”

The plot wasn’t the worst part of the movie though. The entire movie had one set: an empty road on the side of some barren mountain. I’ve seen some very bad movies, but at least they gave me something to look at! For example, the movie Konga was one of the worst films I’ve seen, but at least it was awesome seeing the city getting destroyed by a giant ape! Instead, Test gives us a couple shots of a dirt hillside and some cars to look at for an hour and ten minutes.


“Kids, I just remembered that there’s an old mine nearby.  You might have to fight Ray Milland for it, though.”


A band of looters!  This isn’t anything like Panic in Year Zero

The acting was extremely dry, the story was unoriginal and terrible, and it was boring to look at too! The title might as well be This is Not a Film! I was thoroughly bored from beginning to end, and it was frankly a waste of (more than) an hour of my life. I give this movie 1 and a half stars.

This is The Young Traveler, signing off.




[November 12, 1962] HEADS ABOVE THE CLOUDS (the December 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Science fiction becomes science fact!  Well not quite, fortunately for us all.  It appears that we came to the brink of nuclear war last month but our leaders on both sides had sense enough to turn back from it.  These grave events reverberated even here, far from any population center or promising military target.  We were herded to a school assembly to be addressed by the principal, very briefly.  It went more or less like this:

“We, ah, don’t think . . . er, anything . . . is going to . . . ah, happen, but if, er, . . . something . . . ah, happens . . . classes will be dismissed and you will return to your homes” (these last clauses delivered with accelerating confidence, unlike the earlier ones).

Shortly thereafter, I was outside in gym class (physical education, as they call it here).  In a corner of the large outdoor area, the school’s paper trash was burning in a concrete enclosure.  (Isn’t there a better way of disposing of this stuff than burning it in the open air?  There ought to be a law.) The wind shifted, and fine bits of ash began drifting down on us.  “Fallout!” someone yelled.

So much for existential terror, at least in the so-called real world.  There’s a fair dose of it in the December Amazing, however, and this issue is noticeably wider awake than its recent predecessors.

Raymond F. Jones contributes the lead story Stay Off the Moon! Jones is an intermittently prolific 20-year veteran who has produced a lot of cut-to-specs product but sometimes comes up with clever oddball ideas, and here’s one of them.  Our guys at Mission Control succeed in putting a remote-controlled mobile laboratory device on the Moon to take soil (i.e. rock) samples, analyze them, and transmit the results.  Turns out the atomic weights and energy levels are different from the matter we know.  How can that be?  The Moon must have originated a long, long way away, in a place where the laws we thought are universal don’t quite work.  Well, what else is going on up there?  Finding the bizarre but logical (and terrifying) answer is the rest of the story.  This is the kind of thing only an SF geek can appreciate, but within those bounds it’s imaginative and well done.  Four stars.

Roger Zelazny’s Moonless in Byzantium—his second Amazing story, fourth published—might have a broader appeal.  It’s a surreal riff on one of the more familiar plots in the warehouse, the lone rebel face to face with an oppressive regime, in this case the Robotic Overseeing Unit.  In this dystopia, machines are in charge, people are mostly machines, and our protagonist is charged with writing Sailing to Byzantium on a washroom wall.  He is also charged with illegal possession of a name—William Butler Yeats, which he appended to Yeats’s poem.  This is the world of Cutgab, in which language itself is drastically restricted and simplified, and writing forbidden.  ROU accuses: “You write without purpose or utility, which is why writing itself has been abolished—men always lie when they write or speak.” The outcome is inevitable save for the accused’s final and futile defiance.  This is one that succeeds on sheer power of writing; in theme and style, it suggests Bradbury with sharper teeth.  Four stars for bravura execution of a stock idea.

This month’s Editorial indicates that some readers thought that this Roger Zelazny was himself a fictional character, and prints Zelazny’s reassurance that he exists; his Polish ancestors were armorers and the name comes from the Polish for “iron”; he’s 25, and possesses an M.A. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, military training as a guided missile launcher crewman, and his old copies of Captain Future.

The Zelazny is followed by Far Enough to Touch, by Stephen Bartholomew, who had a couple of stories in If and one in Astounding a few years ago.  A space mission is returning from the Moon, and suddenly one of the crew—the young one who seemed most entranced by space—has gone out the airlock in his spacesuit.  Rescued, he’s in an ecstatic delusional fugue, and stays that way.  And the point?  It escapes me, but the story is very smoothly written.  Two stars.

Stewart Pierce Brown contributes an equally well-turned but insubstantial story in Small Voice, Big Man, in which the voice of a washed-up singer suddenly is emanating from radios everywhere, to benign effect.  And the singer, Van Richie, is trying to make a comeback, but had a hard time singing loudly enough until the producer’s electrician rigged up an amplifier for him to wear.  OK, clear enough, but so what?  Two insipid stars—but this one is also smoothly written, not surprisingly from a writer who’s been in Bluebook, Collier’s, Playboy, and the Saturday Evening Post.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, who served up a dish of broken glass in the last issue, is back with something more soothing.  Measureless to Man takes place on yesterday’s Mars, where explorers travel on foot through the mountains with tents and sleeping bags, people get around by flagging down the mail jet, and the fauna include cute scaly sand mice and banshees, giant, stupid but dangerous flightless birds.  I suspect that this story was at least started a decade ago in hopes of a sale to the now-deceased pulps that Bradley admired.  Anyway, it concerns an expedition into the said mountains to the ancient city Xanadu, abandoned ages ago by the seemingly extinct Martians, from which no previous expedition has returned, and you can more or less guess what happens, in broad outline at least.  This used furniture is rearranged agreeably enough, with a slightly ironic, newer-style ending.  Three stars.

Sam Moskowitz’s “SF Profile” this issue is “Psycho”-logical Bloch, which is a little puzzling; Moskowitz readily concedes that Robert Bloch is a fairly inconsequential SF writer and that his main credentials are in horror and psychological suspense, at this point chiefly in film and TV.  Apparently Bloch is here in this series featuring the likes of Asimov and Heinlein because he’s popular among fandom.  But for a relatively pointless article, it’s perfectly readable and informative.  Three stars.

Finally, Frank Tinsley is back with The Mars Supply Fleet, doing his best to make space travel pedestrian again.  Two stars for making interesting information boring.

But still, cause for hope: two items in this issue poke their heads above the cloudbank of routine, in very different ways…