[September 22, 1962] Cat and Mouse Game (October 1962 Fantastic)

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

by Victoria Silverwolf

One of the most notable events this month, at least to those of us who look to the stars, was a speech by President Kennedy at Rice University.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

Fittingly, the second team of NASA astronauts was announced this month, captured here in a lighter moment.

Clockwise from top right are Frank Borman, John Young, Tom Stafford, Pete Conrad, Jim McDivitt, Jim Lovell, Elliot See, Ed White and Neil Armstrong.

Will one of these men become the first human being (or at least the first American) on the moon?  We’ll have to wait some years to find out.

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, the airwaves are dominated by the smash hit, Sherry, by the Four Seasons.  Personally, lead singer Frankie Valli’s falsetto makes me want to leave the planet myself.

A more practical form of escape can be found in the pages of the October 1962 issue of Fantastic.

Another fine cover by the great Emsh captures the mood of a major new story by one of the masters of imaginative literature.

The Unholy Grail, by Fritz Leiber

The author has published a number of tales relating the adventures of the red-haired giant Fafhrd and his much smaller companion the Gray Mouser since 1939.  This story takes place before the two met (although there is one line which suggests that the Grey Mouser caught a glimpse of Fafhrd during an encounter with pirates.)

Not yet known by his famous nickname, the hero is simply called Mouse.  He is the apprentice of a benign practitioner of white magic.  The local Duke hates all magicians.  His daughter secretly takes lessons from Mouse’s master, and a gentle romance seems to be blooming between the two young persons.  The story begins with the Mouse returning from a long and difficult quest for the magician.  He finds his master dead and his home burned to the ground.  This is obviously the work of the Duke, and Mouse seeks revenge by turning to black magic.

The story vividly portrays the terrible price one must pay in order to make use of evil magic, and becomes at time a tale of horror.  There is a great deal of psychological depth to the characters.  The Duke is haunted by the memory of his dead wife, who was stronger and crueler than he is.  He tries to force his meek daughter to become like her. 

Leiber’s female characters are usually charming and beautiful, but this time he explores the mind of the daughter to a greater degree than usual.  She is bitterly unhappy because of the way her father torments her.  She suffers even more when the Mouse blames her for betraying the magician.  During the climactic scene, when she plays a vital role in the Mouse’s scheme of vengeance, she shows unexpected strength of character.
The way in which the naïve and nonviolent Mouse is transformed by tragedy into the cynical, sword-wielding Gray Mouser is sure to capture the imagination of the reader.  Five stars.

The Double-Timer, by Thomas M. Disch

A new author makes his debut with this tale of murder and time travel.  In the next century, special members of the police force are able to investigate crimes by projecting themselves into the recent past.  (The device works only back in time, and no more than eighteen hours.) The narrator is one such officer, who works out a plan to murder his wife and place the blame on the man whom he believes is her lover.  Things don’t work out as he expects.  The plot is cleverly thought out, although this story might seem more suited to the pages of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which sometimes publishes crime fiction with science fiction elements.  Perhaps the author will follow the lead of Donald Westlake and John D. MacDonald and turn to writing thrillers.  In any case, he shows promise and intelligence.  Four stars.

Any Questions?, by Leo P. Kelley

In this brief story, aliens come to Earth disguised as humans and offer various people devices which allow them to create anything they desire.  The result is not surprising, but the tale is told in an efficient manner.  Three stars.

Nor Iron Bars a Cage, by Ron Goulart

This is a farce about the warden of an automated prison.  A glitch in the program (created in a very silly manner) causes him to be mistaken for a prisoner on death row.  The robot guards refuse to believe his story.  With only a few days until his execution, he must find a way out.  The ending of the story is as silly as the beginning.  The robot clergyman provides some mild amusement.  Two stars.

Presence of Mind, by Martin Armstrong

The Fantasy Classic for this issue is from the pen of a prolific British author of fiction and poetry.  It is taken from a 1934 collection of his short stories.  The protagonist takes a shortcut through a private garden on his way to an appointment, hoping to avoid notice.  When confronted by a servant, he tries to escape by pretending to be looking for the home of a man with the ridiculously unlikely name of Z. Q. Muggleton Spoffin.  To his astonishment, this is the name of the man who lives there.  In an attempt to get out of this absurd situation, he makes up a story involving people with other outrageous names.  Incredibly, all the imaginary people he creates actually exist.  As the story goes on, he even makes up an imaginary brand of lawnmower.  This is an eccentric story, which plays games with the nature of reality.  The mood is generally one of light comedy, although there is a subtle tone of uneasiness.  It is definitely better than the old pulp stories the magazine usually reprints.  Three stars.

The Teachers Rode a Wheel of Fire , by Roger Zelazny

A young writer who has already appeared in the publications edited by Cele Goldsmith a couple of times offers another very short story.  In this one, a primitive human (or humanoid) witnesses the arrival of a spaceship bearing two technologically advanced humans (or humanoids.) They try to teach him how to use simple tools of wood and stone by enticing him with food.  He doesn’t seem to learn anything, but at the end of the story he gets an idea in an unexpected way.  It was never clear to me whether this was another planet, or Earth thousands of years ago being visited by aliens (or, possibly, time travelers.) Despite this vagueness, and the fact that we never learn why the advanced characters are trying to teach the primitive character, the story is of some interest.  I hope the author, who obviously has talent and imagination, goes on to write longer and more complex stories.  Three stars.

Autogeddon, by Geoffry Wagner

Here we have a fierce and violent satire of the modern automobile culture from a name new to me.  In the future, the United States is ruled by a dictatorship.  The entire nation has been paved over.  Cars zoom by at enormous rates of speed.  A license is required to be a pedestrian.  Even so, drivers have the freedom to run over any victims they find.  These murders are televised as entertainment.  The plot involves a college professor and one of his students who try to rebel against this bloody society.  This is a grim and powerful tale, which may make you think twice the next time you try to cross a busy street.  Four stars.

You may not be able to buy a ticket to the moon yet, but at least you can purchase a trip into the realms of wonder.

10 thoughts on “[September 22, 1962] Cat and Mouse Game (October 1962 Fantastic)”

  1. An excellent issue. Now, if Miss Goldsmith could just get Amazing up to this level.

    The Leiber was just wonderful. I hope someday we get to see how Mouser refound the joi de vivre he exhibits in stories set after this one.

    The Disch was also very interesting. I was a little put off by the ambiguity of the ending. Is the narrator merely insane as he states or is he caught in a causality loop? I’m not a big fan of this “you decide” thing that seems to be becoming popular. Still, I look forward to more from Mr. Disch.

    I enjoyed “Any Questions?” when I read it, but had completely forgotten most of the details by the time this review appeared. It all came back when I went and looked at the ending, but the story didn’t really stick.

    I liked the Goulart rather better than Victoria did. We’ve seen this sort of humor from him before, and it tickles my funny bone, at least. It may read better if you read it as a silly story with serious elements than a serious story with silly elements.

    The reprint was actually fun to read, for once. It’s possible that older fantasy stories hold up better than science fiction, maybe even better if they’re humorous. If the name Joan Aiken is familiar to you, it may interest you to know that the author is her stepfather.

    The background of the Zelazny story may have been a bit vague, but I quite enjoyed it, possible more than the others we’ve seen from him so far. I look forward to more by him.

    I wasn’t much impressed by the final story. Fritz Leiber has written a couple of much better stories in this vein. This felt like covering old ground and not at all as well as its predecessors.

  2. I realize the space program’s successful launch rate has increased dramatically over the last year or so, but… the Moon?  You’re talking about at least a hundred launches, maybe a lot more, to build the station, assemble the Moon rockets, build and supply the station on the Moon, put the lander together, fuel it…

    That’s a lot of launches, considering the chances of survival aren’t *that* much better than playing Russian Roulette.

    I’ve seen some people talking about “improvements in rocket technology”, but they have no idea what they’re talking about.  A rocket motor is a pretty simple device, and both the Navy and Air Force have been funding their development at “cost no object” for a decade now, for their missile programs.  Nobody wants to talk about how many of those missiles are expected to blow up in their submarines or silos when someone presses the button, but I don’t see that NASA can look forward to any real improvements on the state of the art.

    We can go to the Moon with enough money; it’s within the limits of existing techology.  But it’s going to cost lives, and I wonder if succeeding administrations are going to be willing to keep paying that price.

    Even with the best of intentions, with the kind of funding Mr. Kennedy is talking about, the wolves from both parties will be circling, trying to carve chunks out for their own pet projects.  Even if this Congress gives him everything he asks for, there’s no guarantee successive ones will keep allocating funds to carry it through to completion.

    It’s a grand idea, but I just don’t see it happening in the real world.

    1. You haven’t been following the news, my contrarian friend.  Thanks to two recent developments, it will only take one rocket to go to the Moon.

      One is is the insanely tremendous Saturn C-5, whose engines our President watched being tested this month (hence, his confidence to make his speech). 

      The other is a spacecraft stack that doesn ‘t all land on the moon!  It involves some tricky maneuvering and rendezvousing in lunar orbit, and there’s an issue about which to hold some healthy skepticism, but perhaps we’ll get the techniques worked out when Gemini starts next year.

  3. The current issue, readable online here: https://archive.org/details/Fantastic_v11n10_1962-10

    online or in various downloadable image formats, pdf, epub, and fairly poor OCR text, though likely the best their software could do given the not-all-that-great printing quality of the original magazines.

    Archive.org’s search interface is… strange.  A lot of stuff doesn’t show up unless you’ve selected the proper “collection.”  And I don’t always seem to get the same results from the same search terms.  But they have fairly complete archives of some SF magazines I’d never even heard of. 

    The site admins seem to keep a close watch for copyright violations in audio and video media, so I’m assuming the magazine collections are either out of copyright or they have an arragement with whoever has control of the current copyrights.

    [Available only in selected 21st-century timelines.  Do not send cash.  Not for use with Direct Neural Interfaces.  Some settling may occur during shipment.  If you experience alopecia or hyperpilosity see your chirurgeon immediately.]

    1. Thank you.  The fan organization A.R.C.H.I.V.E. is distributing the same copy as me. 

      Now, if you can find me a copy of the November 1962 Amazing, I’ll give you a lifetime subscription to The Journey for free!

  4. Finally read (much of) this issue.  Autogeddon reads like Love in a 21st Century Car Lot as written by Robert Sheckley.  I liked it less than you.

    The Zelazny was good.  I liked the realistic depiction of mental processes.

    Double-timer was very good, but I didn’t like the very last bit.

    The Leiber, of course, is excellent.  It is fitting that this is my first Mouser story (I know, I know).  It’s not an easy read, but it deserves a high score.

    1. I believe you are referring to “Romance in a Twenty-First Century Used-Car Lot” by Robert F. Young, rather than by Sheckley.

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