Tag Archives: 1962

[January 3, 1963] The Enchanted Theater (Fantasy and Horror Films of 1962)


by Victoria Silverwolf

Our esteemed host has already provided many detailed analyses of 1962’s science fiction films, as well as others tangentially related to SF (including one which also features the pretty actress pictured above, Ms. Barbara Eden.) But missing from the Traveler’s roster of reviews has been a focus on the related genres, the fantastic and the horrorful.  With that in mind, I ‘d like to fill this gap with brief reviews of last year’s pictures with more supernatural themes, as well as a few others which may not technically be fantasy, but which have the same feeling.

(Perhaps I am in a retrospective and nostalgic mood because of the heavy storm that struck part of the United States on New Year’s Eve.  Even in my neck of the woods, in the southeastern corner of Tennessee, an appreciable amount of snow fell, swaddling us in a cozy quiet blanket.  Shown here are playful students at the University of the South, not far from where I live.)

So enjoy a mug of steaming hot chocolate and sit near the fire as we talk about the magical movies of last year. 

Fantasy Films of 1962

Though nothing released last year captured the sheer wonder of 1959’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, nevertheless, that excellent movie did inspire a handful of similar films, albeit without the special touch of Ray Harryhausen’s stunning visual effects.  Before I consider these pale imitations, allow me to dismiss a pair of silly comedies.

The title of Moon Pilot (based on Robert Buckner’s novel Starfire, discussed here a while ago) suggests a serious tale of the near future, but the plot of this lighthearted farce is pure space fantasy.  An astronaut (Tom Tryon, seen in the surprisingly good SF movie I Married a Monster from Outer Space) is scheduled to leave Earth on a secret flight to the Moon.  He meets a mysterious woman (French actress Dany Saval) who warns him not to go into space.  She’s actually an alien from the planet (sic!) Beta Lyrae.  Hijinks and romance ensue.  Although the leads are attractive, the comedy is very broad.  Kids may get a kick out of the antics of the movie’s chimpanzee co-star.  Two stars.


Our two star-crossed lovers bursting into song.

***

Equally goofy is Zotz!, based on a novel of the same name by Walter Karig.  Tom Poston stars as professor who obtains an ancient amulet with mystical powers, leading to slapstick complications.  Surprisingly, the screenplay is by Ray Russell, who wrote the brilliant Gothic chiller Sardonicus, published in Playboy in 1961 and quickly adapted into the pretty good horror movie Mr. Sardonicus, directed by William Castle, who also gave us the far inferior Zotz!.  We’ll meet again with Mister Russell a little later in this essay, with something more appropriate.  Two stars.


The enchanted amulet that leads to so much mischief.

***

Turning from wacky antics to swashbuckling adventures, we have a trio of movies, ranging from expensive spectacles to low budget quickies.  The degree of entertainment supplied is not necessarily proportional to the amount of money spent.

Filmed in Cinerama, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm uses the talents of George Pal, which made The Time Machine such a delight, to bring three fairy tales collected by the pioneering folklorists to life. 

In The Dancing Princess, a humble woodsman (Russ Tamblyn) discovers that a beautiful princess (Yvette Mimieux, also of The Time Machine) secretly goes out at night to dance wildly with gypsies.


Looks more exciting than sitting around the palace.

The Cobbler and the Elves features puppets in the familiar story of the shoemaker’s helpers.


George Pal displaying his experience with Puppetoons.

The most elaborate special effects are reserved for The Singing Bone, which includes a battle with a dragon, as well as a rather grim (pun intended) tale of murder and a message from beyond the grave.


Impressive cave, goofy dragon.

Unfortunately, these enjoyable sequences alternate with dull sequences set in the real world.  Barbara Eden plays the love interest of one of the Grimms (hence her appearance at the start of this article.) Two stars.

***

More modestly funded was Jack the Giant Killer, clearly intended to remind audiences of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.  Both films star Kerwin Mathews as the hero and Torin Thatcher as the villain.  They even have the same director, Nathan Juran.  Too bad they couldn’t get Ray Harryhausen for the special effects.  His replacements do a decent job, but they can’t quite capture the same magic.  Still, the movie is reasonably entertaining. 


Pretty cool two-headed giant, not-so-cool sea monster.

No reason to go into details about the plot.  The Good Guy battles the Bad Guy’s monsters, winning the hand of the Princess.  Three stars.

***

An even lower budget brought moviegoers The Magic Sword.  Bert I. Gordon, who created abysmal science fiction movies of the Big Bug variety, including Beginning of the End and The Spider, adds a sense of humor to the story.  Our hero is George, the adopted son of an elderly sorceress.  With the help of the title weapon and six knights brought out of suspended animation, he rescues yet another beautiful princess from yet another evil wizard (the great Basil Rathbone.)


Don’t hurt yourself with that thing.

The special effects are shoddy, but the sorceress and her two-headed servant are amusing.  Three stars.


Too many heads spoil the broth.

Horror Films of 1962

Movies dealing with the darker side of the fantastic ranged from abysmal to excellent.  Let’s look at the ridiculous before we talk about the sublime.

You’re more likely to scream with laughter than fear while watching Eegah, an absurd tale of a giant caveman vaguely terrorizing some young folks.  Arch Hall (senior) directs Arch Hall (junior) as the hero, making this more of a home movie than a feature film.  One star.



The monster and hero; can you tell who is who?

***


Equally inept, but a lot less innocent, is the gruesome shocker The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.  A mad scientist keeps the head of his girlfriend alive after she is decapitated in a car accident.  He then hangs around figure models, searching for the perfect body to transplant onto what’s left of her.  There’s also a monster locked up in his laboratory, which is responsible for a particularly bloody scene near the end.  One star.


I hope her nose doesn’t itch.

***

On a more professional level, two studios released movies that were mediocre variations on what had come before.

In the United States, Roger Corman offered his third Poe adaptation, The Premature Burial.  Loosely adapted by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell, the story features a man with a morbid fear of being buried alive.  He builds an elaborate system of devices in his mausoleum, in order to make his escape if this happens.  Things don’t go well.  Ray Milland replaces Vincent Price, so memorable in House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum, in the lead role.  It’s a fairly dull affair, although nicely filmed and with an unexpected twist ending.  Two stars.


Part of Milland’s tool kit.


Meanwhile, the British studio Hammer, which had so much success bringing Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Jekyll and Hyde, the Mummy, and a Werewolf back to the silver screen, revived another classic movie monster with The Phantom of the Opera.  This remake can’t compare to the 1925 original with the great Lon Chaney.  Two stars.


Any requests?

***

Slightly more original (although clearly influenced by the frequently filmed story The Hands of Orlac) was Hands of a Stranger.  A concert pianist’s hands are destroyed in an accident.  In desperation, a surgeon transplants the hands of a recent murdered criminal onto the musician’s wrists.  Surprisingly, the pianist does not become possessed by the dead man.  The horrible events that happen after the procedure result from the musician’s rage at his inability to play.  This was a modest but interesting movie, with some striking visuals and a great deal of unusual dialogue.  Three stars.


That little boy is going to be very sorry he made fun of the way that man plays.

***

A most unusual double feature appeared in movie houses in 1962. 

The unwieldy title The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus is the disguise worn by the French film Les yeux sans visage (The Eyes Without a Face), dubbed and edited for American audiences.  A physician kidnaps women in order to surgically remove their faces and transplant them onto his daughter, whose own face was ruined in an accident.  The replacements do not last long, so he must repeat his crimes many times.  Despite this disturbing plot, the film is surprisingly beautiful and darkly poetic.  Four stars, and I can only hope that a subtitled, unedited version will be available some day.

***


The daughter, hidden under the mask she wears between transplants.

The Manster is an American production filmed in Japan, with a mostly Japanese cast and crew.  An American reporter interviews a Japanese scientist, who secretly injects him with an experimental formula.  An extra eyeball appears on his shoulder, eventually growing into a second head.  This movie is even more bizarre than I’ve made it sound.  I can’t say it’s a good film, but the sheer weirdness of it holds the viewer’s attention.  Two stars.


Not what you want to see in the mirror.

***

Made on a tiny budget by a director of documentary short subjects, Carnival of Souls overcame its limitations to become a haunting tale of life after death.  A woman survives a car accident.  Later she is haunted by ghoulish figures.  The story is simple enough for an episode of Twilight Zone, but the film creates a genuinely eerie mood.  Four stars.


The haunting begins.

***

The best horror film of 1962 was probably the British production Night of the Eagle (released in the USA as Burn Witch Burn.) The script is skillfully adapted from Fritz Leiber’s classic 1943 novel Conjure Wife by talented fantasy writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, as well as British screenwriter George Baxt, who wrote another excellent chiller a couple of years ago, The City of the Dead (known in American as Horror Hotel.) As in the novel, a skeptical college professor is married to a woman who secretly uses conjuring spells to protect her husband.  When he discovers her magical objects, he forces her to destroy them.  Things go rapidly downhill from there, as the professor discovers to his horror that witchcraft is very real, and that someone is using black magic to destroy his career, his marriage, and his life.  The movie is exquisitely filmed, with fine acting and a dramatic climax.  Five stars.


The professor at work.


Confronting his wife about her use of magic.


Up to no good.

***

Although it contains no supernatural elements, I would like to end this discussion with the psychological thriller Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.  Like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho of a few years ago, it explores the darkest places within the human mind.  Legendary actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford play sisters with a history of bad blood between them.  Crawford is confined to a wheelchair, and Davis is as mad as a hatter.  She was a child star many years ago, and she still dresses like a little girl, her aging face covered with grotesquely heavy layers of makeup.  As Baby Jane’s mind continues to deteriorate, the rivalry between the sisters (a reflection of the dislike the two stars had for each other, according to Hollywood gossip) leads to horrible consequences.  Davis gives a bravura performance.  Four stars.

***

And… there were other kinds of film released in 1962, I suppose.  But they are beyond the scope of this article.  Until the next sf, fantasy, or horror flick hits the cinema, see you at the movies!

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Check your mail for instructions…]




[Dec. 31, 1962] So it goes… (January 1963 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

It is said that “No news is good news,” but I imagine every publisher would disagree.  After the big-ticket headlines of October of November involving the Cuban and Chinese/Indian episodes things have quieted down on the domestic and world fronts.  The Cold War has thawed such that the only current evidence is a holey wall in Berlin and a small brushfire in Indochina.  The Katanga crisis in The Congo approaches resolution.  Even the latest manned space shot was a bore – six perfect orbits.  The biggest news is about something that hasn’t happened yet: Kennedy wants to lower taxes significantly to spur the economy.  Of course, Conservatives oppose the move as they don’t want to blow a hole in the deficit (a position I’m sure they will hold eternally).

This month’s Analog, the last sf digest of the month, complements the news situation.  It’s filled with pages and pages of pages, none of which will likely stick with you long after you set it down.  The stories in this month’s issue don’t even have the virtue of being terrible.  Just redolent in that smug mediocrity that so frequently characterizes this mag, once the flagship of science fiction.

“The Hard Way”, by Gordon R. Dickson

An alien interstellar scoutship stumbles across a human derelict ship, spurring its captain, Kator, member of a rapacious felinoid race, to dream of conquest of the Earth.  Kator is dispatched to the solar system to surveil our defenses, find a weakness, and return to his homeworld to take charge of the invasion fleet. 

Kator finds Earth to be a curiously undefended planet, weapons seemingly nonexistent.  The cat-man finds this state improbable given our warlike history and quickly deduces that we store our weapons underground.  Thus ensues his mission of subterranean espionage, fraught with an increasingly difficult set of physical and mental challenges.  Is it just a run of bad luck?  Or a complicated trap set-up by the humans to evaluate would-be competitors?

Well, I won’t leave you in suspense.  Campbell’s the editor of Analog, and all of his stories feature Terran supremacy if he can help it.  As well-drawn as the first half this story is (Dickson really is an excellent author when he’s not writing for Campbell), I just knew that it would end with a human waggling his superior finger at Kator, lecturing the felinoid that trying to subjugate Earth is a fool’s errand. 

Setting aside the utter implausibility of the story, which requires an omniscience even Campbell’s humans shouldn’t be capable of, this kind of fatuous tale sticks in my craw.  Two stars.

Philosopher’s Stone, by Christopher Anvil

Who will win the economic Cold War between the US and USSR?  It turns out it’s the UK, which brings nobility and social stratification back as rewards for effecting (but not inventing) technological advance.  Because, apparently, money just isn’t enough incentive. 

This paean to aristocracy, particularly the self-satisfied ending, isn’t worth your time.  Two stars.

The Common Man, by Guy McCord

Three biochemists in concert discover a serum of invisibility.  One wants to give the formula to the the government, another feels the secret too dangerous to communicate.  The third proposes an experiment: under controlled conditions, provide the serum to an average American and see what he does with it.

Well, as one might expect, the power of complete stealth proves too heady a temptation for mortals.  The ambitious guinea pig uses his abilities to amass great wealth, build a criminal network, and capture the scientist trio.  His plan is nothing less than global domination.  Only the ingenuity of the scientists and the carelessness of the test subject put an end to the frightening turn of events.

I feel that this story could have said so much more than it did.  What could have been a horrifying illustration of the corruption of absolute power, or an illustration of how science (so often perceived as the unalloyed agent of positive progress) is often the handmaiden to misery, is reduced to a pat “eggheads really are the smart ones” piece.  It’s a pity.  I’ve seen better from this author.  Well, not quite this author – “Guy McCord” is a new name to me, but given that “Mack” Reynolds’ full name is Dallas McCord Reynolds, I’m pretty sure The Common Man is by the Analog regular who gave us the (much better) Mercenary.  Three stars.

The Search for Our Ancestors, by Prof. G. M. McKinley

We have learned so much about the evolution of humans recently, thanks to the work of Leakey’s archaeology in Africa (and to some extent, Goodall’s work with chimpanzees, too).  McKinley’s article is a fascinating but sloppy summary of the current state of understanding in the field.  Three stars.

Space Viking (Part 3 of 4), by H. Beam Piper

Last up is the next segment in Piper’s answer to Asimov’s Foundation, in which the wreckage of the Old Federation is slowly knit back together by Prince Trask, Space Viking of planet Tanith.  This installment retains the same positives and negatives of the prior two: an interesting universe and plot marred by sketchy execution (almost an outline of a story) and a jarring paucity of female characters.  I’m still rankling at Piper’s killing of Trask’s bride, Elaine, in the first act of the novel to provide Trask with character motivation.  I will say concede, however, that the introduction of the young Crown Princess of Marduk in this episode is promising.  Three stars.

This being the last magazine for the month, we now can review the numbers for January 1963.  IF comes up the winner at 3.3 stars, while Amazing (3 stars) had the two best stories one of them being the only woman-penned story.  F&SF was the worst, at 2.3 stars.  Average for the entire month was a dreary 2.77 stars, but there are enough high-quality works to fill a good single digest.  Read those, and you’ll be satisfied!

Next up – a look at the fantasy and horror films of 1962!

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[December 28, 1962] Braving the Cold (January 1963 New Worlds)

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


by Mark Yon

I hope you’ve all had a good Christmas. Here in Britain it has been…. interesting. As fellow traveller Ashley has mentioned, the cold and foggy weather has now turned into a fully-fledged Winter of ice and snow. As I type this, snow has been falling all over the UK in great amounts for a couple of weeks, and is showing no sign of stopping. The result has been chaos. The news is filled of stories about villages being made inaccessible and even in the urban areas, such as the Northern provincial city I live in, travel has been treacherous. The Met Office is telling us that it is “The Big Freeze”, and may be the worst winter weather in decades. Even if it is not, it certainly feels like it!

Anyway, enough of the weather.

As I said I would, I have braved the Winter cold to go to the cinema since we last spoke, and I am pleased to say that I whole-heartedly recommend Mr. David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, despite its length. I saw the movie in two parts, with an intermission. At a run-time of just under four hours I was not bored for one moment. It is one of the best-looking movies I have ever seen, and I loved the majestic score by Mr. Maurice Jarre, so much so that I am now looking for a copy of the movie soundtrack to play on my record player. 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 shows a cover that’s back to the lurid. This month, it is an unsubtle Day-Glo shade of Santa Claus red.  It heralds the return of a story by Mr Lan Wright after his stint as guest Editor last month. This is the first time that Mr. Wright has had an actual story in the magazine since February 1959. It is the first of three parts. More on this later.

I Like It Here, by Mr. David Rome

We begin with a short guest editorial from Mr. Rome – his fourth appearance in New Worlds in as many consecutive months, which suggests that he is a popular choice, by the editors, and (one hopes) the reading public. [David is also quite popular with the Journey, having recently engaged in written correspondence with us.  It is he who provided the picture above.  (Ed.)]

Mr Rome is a relative newcomer to s-f and as a result has a rather refreshing viewpoint upon professionalism in the genre here. It is the latest foray into the ongoing battle between the prevalent issue in British s-f – should it be populist entertainment but written by amateurs, or more specialist and challenging, with professional leanings? Mr. Rome’s take on it is that, as a relative newcomer, the s-f writer is motivated by a belief in the genre rather than by money. As a result, an acceptance of s-f by the mainstream, in his opinion, would lead to dissolution and a loss of the thing that makes s-f great. It’s an intriguing point of view, rather similar to that anti-professional stance given by Mr. Wright as editor last month.

Which leads us to:

Dawn’s Left Hand, by Mr Lan Wright.
The title’s a good one (a quote from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam) but despite such lofty ambitions, the actual story shows its amateur origins by being rather uneven in tone and pace. I must admit that I was rather disappointed by the story. The plot is admittedly fast-paced, in an old-fashioned pulp style, but like many of the old-style stories of the Golden Age, if you actually stop to think about it, the plot has no logic. It is entertaining, but really doesn’t hold much water. As expected, the story ends on a cliff-hanger, to be continued next issue. I hope that it improves. Two out of five.

Ecdysiac, by Mr. Robert Presslie
This story marks the return of another regular New Worlds writer. His last was Lucky Dog in the November 1962 issue, which I thought was disappointing. This was better, an espionage tale that adopts the use of psionics in ways that I imagine Mr. Poul Anderson and Mr. A. E. van Vogt would. The dour ending is typically British, though! Three out of five.

The Big Tin God, by Mr. Philip E. High
Another regular New Worlds writer, last read with The Method in the November 1962 issue, which I was not enormously impressed by. This one is, thankfully, better. It’s a story of city-states, and a secret war that leads to the creation of an artificial intelligence capable of independent thought. The short story held my attention, although the twist at the end was a little predictable and, if I dare say it, even arrogant in its presumption. Two out of five points.

Burden of Proof, by Mr. David Jay
Mr. Jay gives us a story of hate and murder, placed within a futuristic mystery and a possibly mistaken accusation. It’s nicely done but the denouement depends on a hook that’s not too convincing. Again, two out of five.

The Statue, by Mr. R. W. Mackelworth
After a number of well-known authors, it’s great to have a new one. Mr. Mackelworth’s The Statue is a worthy debut as a short story about a mysterious artefact and its effect on a group of explorers. There’s an interesting use of telepaths in the tale but it is let down by some standard (and rather predictable) stereotypes. Three out of five.

The Subliminal Man, by Mr. J. G. Ballard
Although Mr. Lan Wright has the biggest billing, here is the best story in the magazine, from another initialled author, the much-welcome Mr. J. G. Ballard. We don’t see enough of Mr. Ballard’s work these days in New Worlds, and it is noticeable how good it is when compared with the rest. It is also miles away from the traditional s-f that we expect. A dystopian tale of the future consequences of incessant advertising and relentless consumerism, its sense of paranoia is both chilling and effective. Four out of five.

Lastly, there’s the usual Book Review by Mr. Leslie Flood. There is only one recommendation this month albeit a wholehearted one and a collection you already have in the US – A Decade of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Mr. Robert P. Mills.

As recent issues of New Worlds go, this one feels stronger, even if the quality of the stories varies somewhat. The return of Mr. J.G. Ballard raises the bar a little and makes me feel a little more positive for the future of the magazine than I have been lately.

And with that hint of optimism, until next time, it just remains for me to wish you all the best for 1963.

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[December 26, 1962] Diversions. (Ace Double F-161: Brunner’s Times without Number, Grinnell’s Destiny’s Orbit)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Ace Doubles are like an insurance policy for scientifiction readers.  Hungry for a decent yarn after a couple of lousy mags?  Want something more filling than a short story but that requires less commitment than a novel?  Did you miss a serial when it debuted across several issues of an sf digest?  Ace Doubles are what the doctor ordered: back-to-back dual publications, attractive in their lurid colors and never too intellectually demanding.

One of 1962’s latest, F-161, is a particularly representative example.  Highly recommended by fellow Journeyer, John Boston, it kept me smiling throughout December…though not always for the reasons the authors intended…

Times without Number, by John Brunner
(or Worlds of the Imperium, the unauthorized sequel)

Sideways-in-Time stories have become very popular of late.  Just in the last few years, we’ve seen Andre Norton’s Crossroads of Time, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, and Keith Laumer’s Worlds of the Imperium.  Joining them now is the latest from a new British author who has stormed out of the gate with some excellent work.

Times without Number, a fix-up compilation of three stories, looks as if its inception was strongly influenced by Imperium.  If you’ll recall, the premise of Laumer’s work was that an infinity of parallel timetracks existed and could be traversed with Maxoni-Cocini cross-time vehicles.  The Earth of our timeline is something of an isolate, the neighboring universes having almost all been blighted by runaway vehicle reactions.  In fact, one has to go about 400 years back in time to find a stable point of divergence that doesn’t result in catastrophe.

And in fact, the milestone of difference in Times is a successful Spanish invasion of England in 1588 (just about four centuries ago).  The resulting present sees an ascendant Hapsburg Empire, a powerful China, an antagonistic Turkish Sultanate, and a series of petty states from the Vistula to the Gobi.  Technologically backward in many ways, the denizens of this world possess the secret of time travel.  In the Spanish lands, this power is protected by the Licentiates of the Order of Time, a brotherhood that acts something like Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol, ensuring the sanctity of history.

Don Miguel Navarro, one of the Licentiates, fulfills the role that Bayard did in Imperium, engaging in a series of increasingly high-stakes adventures to preserve his timeline in a kind of temporal Cold War, to the point of (as in Laumer’s book) treating with treasonous members of his time-traveling fellowship.  Brunner even goes so far as to provide for Don Miguel a strong-willed Scandinavian partner/girlfriend named Princess Kristina (an analog of the noble Swede, Barbro, from Imperium). 

Nevertheless, despite the superficial similarities in setting and style, Brunner’s story breaks new ground, particularly at the end.  In fact, Brunner’s commentary on the ultimate fate of a universe that allows time travel is, alone, worth the price of admission.

3.5 stars, especially if this kind of thing is your bag.

Destiny’s Orbit, by David Grinnell

Ajax Calkins, spoiled young scion of the Calkans industrial empire, weeps for having no more worlds to conquer.  The Earth has been thoroughly explored and settled, from Antarctica to the ocean depths.  Mars is also crowded, there by an harmonious consortium of benevolent aliens.  Venus is a hellish wasteland, and the asteroids are under the firm grip of the Earth Mars Space Agency (EMSA).  Beyond Jupiter, the outer reaches of the solar system lie under the domination of the nefarious and inhuman Saturnians.  Only the fifth planet and the worlds of its orbit remain up for grabs, a sort of neutral zone between the two space powers.

And so, when Calkins is approached by asteroid miner, Anton Smallways, with dreams of colonizing a Trojan asteroid (named Ajax, no less!), he is more than happy to lend his vast resources and the use of his space yacht to the cause.  But is Smallways really just a meek servant?  Can Ajax the First and Last of the Kingdom of Ajax maintain a third-way between EMSA and the Saturnians?  And what of the meddling of the plucky EMSA agent, Emily Hackenschmidt, who is single-mindedly determined to end Calkins’ schemes? 

Let’s be clear — Destiny’s Orbit is as subtle as a brick, a brick that was thrown out of the Society of Bricks for lack of subtlety.  It is juvenile space opera with as much moment as a two-inch crowbar.  It raids from the same larder as Leinster’s The Wailing Asteroid and The Alien, by Raymond F. Jones, not to mention Burroughs and Doc Smith, etc.  It makes sense – “Grinnell” is really former Futurian Donald Wolheim, a pulp era editor and writer whose sensibilities were baked during the Golden Age [and, as John Boston informs me, this story was originally printed in the early 1940s!]

That said, Destiny’s Orbit makes for easy reading as it is thoughtfully broken up into bite-sized chapters, and the content is pleasantly undemanding.  Moreover, the real star of the piece is the resourceful Emily, who is always fun (heroines paradoxically were given more to do “back then;” what I would have given for her to have been the viewpoint character!) So while I may scoff at the content and literary level of Wolheim’s work, I did enjoy it. 

2.5 stars, objectively, but in my heart, it’s a three-star work.

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[December 24, 1962] The Year 2 A.D. (After Davidson – the January 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Trends are tricky things.  They require multiple data points to become apparent, and even then, careful analysis may be required to draw a proper conclusion.

I think I can safely say, however, that one-plus year into Avram Davidson’s tenure as editor of F&SF, the magazine’s quality has trended sharply and consistently downward.  Stories tend toward the obtuse, the purple, the (and this surprises me) hackneyed.  It’s just not the sublime lyric beauty it used to be.

Why is this?  Let’s explore some possible explanations:

1) F&SF can’t get good writers anymore.

This clearly isn’t true.  The Table of Contents of any given issue reads like a who’s who of the genre.

2) Nobody is writing good sf anymore.

Demonstrably false.  Just look at the other mags.

3) The good writers save their best stuff for other magazines

This could be true, but given that F&SF pays some of the best rates (for science fiction anyway – three or four cents a word), I’d can’t image F&SF is a second-resort mag.

4) Davidson’s editorial preferences are driving the direction of F&SF.

A ha.  Davidson has been a writer of sf for many a year, and the trend in his writing has been toward the obscure and the prolix.  It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Davidson style creep into his magazine.  One trend I find particularly disturbing is the disappearance of women from F&SF’s pages.  This magazine used to be the stand-out leader in publishing of woman authors, and its pages were better for it.  Now, female writers been conspicuously absent for two issues, and there had been fewer than normal in the months prior.  Nor can one argue that women are leaving the genre — F&SF’s loss is the gain for the other digests.

The inevitable destination of this downward trend, the limit of quality as the time of Davidson’s tenure goes to infinity, as it were, appears to be zero stars.  Sure, there are still stand-out issues, but they come fewer and farther between.  And the January 1963 F&SF isn’t one of them…

The Golden Brick, P. M. Hubbard

The issue starts off well enough with this story of a Cornish ghost ship, imprisoned in which is a four hundred year old mad Alchemist with the Midas touch.  The tale is nicely crafted and atmospheric, but stories like this have been a dime a dozen in this mag.  Competent writing and imagery aren’t enough.  Three stars.

Zap! and La Difference, Randall Garrett

Ugh.  Go away, Randy.

Dragon Hunt, L. Sprague de Camp

De Camp’s life is the stuff of legends, as shows this essay on the globetrotting he undertook to familiarize himself with the locales of his recent historical fiction.  The piece contains tidbits of genuine interest, but the presentation is somehow lackluster.  Three stars.

Myths My Great-Granddaughter Taught Me, Fritz Leiber

In which the author’s precocious descendant notes the frightening parallels between the Cold War of the 1980s and Ragnarok of Norse Myth.  This is the best story of the magazine, but again, we’re treading familiar ground.  A minor piece from a major author.  Three stars.  (Happy 52nd birthday, by the way, Fritz.)

He’s Not My Type!, Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor’s non-fiction articles always get read first, but I was disappointed this time around.  Perhaps it’s because I felt Asimov explained blood types better in his recent book, The Living River, or maybe Davidson’s too-barbed introduction put me in a bad mood (I must stop reading those first).  In any event, it is readable, which is the worst Asimov ever gets.  Three stars.

Way-Station, Henry Slesar

Imagine Zenna Henderson wrote a The People story, but rather than have it end in poignance, instead wrote a stock “horror” ending that one could see a mile away.  That’s what scriptwriter Slesar offers up.  Where is Henderson, anyway?  Two stars.

Punch, Frederik Pohl

Pohl is a busy boy – not only does he edit two mags (three, come early next year), but he finds time to be published in all of them and Davidson’s.  In Punch, it turns out that the many technological gifts of the newly encountered galaxy-spanning aliens have a sinister motivation.  It would have made a decent, if typical, episode of The Twilight Zone.  Three stars.

Speakeasy, Mack Reynolds

Last up is a short novel from a fellow who is typically featured in AnalogSpeakeasy depicts a future in which society has been stultified by success, a meritocracy that has calcified thanks to nepotism and inertia.  Only a few revolutionaries remain to shock life into the decaying culture of the Technocracy. 

Reynolds can do very good political thriller, viz. Mercenary from last year’s Analog.  Unfortunately, Speakeasy is a rambling, naive mess that jumps the tracks about halfway through and runs headlong into a wall near the end.  I wonder if Analog’s editor Campbell rejected it.  If so, I wonder why Davidson accepted it.  It doesn’t really fit F&SF, either the current or past iterations of the magazine.  Two stars.

So there you have it, an issue that clocks in at a miserable 2.3 stars.  Even Davidson seems to agree that his stuff hasn’t been very good – check out the scathing letter at the end of the mag (which may or may not have come from Davidson’s pen, itself).  No more “purple cows,” indeed.

Ah well.  That’s enough kvetching for this season.  It’s Christmas Eve, as well as the fourth night of Hannukah.  Go light a candle, illuminate a tree, drink some eggnog.  Or as a recent fancard admonishes, let there be “Goodwill to mellow fen.”

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[December 19, 1962] That Was the Month that Was (Christmas Cheer from a UK fan)

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


By Ashley R. Pollard

And another year draws to a close with what promises to be a White Christmas after a foggy start to the month.  December has been a bad month for people with breathing problems living in London as the smog has been terrible.  So bad that it has been mentioned as a topic not only on the BBC news, where you’d expect it to be, but mocked in their new satirical weekly news show, That Was The Week That Was. But, before I delve into that show, allow me a few lines to remind people how serious this problem is.

The smog of 1952, called the Great Smog of London (which should be a clue to how bad it was) killed an estimated 4000 people, and caused respiratory complaints in another 100,000 more.  At its worst one could only see a few yards ahead, and it shut down the London Ambulance Service, which forced people to make their own way to hospital.  This pea-souper, a euphemism for thick fog, was so serious it led directly to the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1956.

This year’s smog has not been, on any scale, as bad, but 90 people have died.  As someone who has suffered from bronchial problems, this has been personally worrying.  However, a few days ago the weather changed, and we had snow.  We’ve also been told to expect more very cold winds arriving from the East — a present from Siberia that quite frankly I could do without, but there again, anything is better than more smog.

And, looking on the bright side, it means this year there’s a good chance of London having a White Christmas.

Anyway, enough of the doom & gloom; there’s more entertaining things to talk about.  As I alluded to above, a new TV show aired at the end of November that, while not science fictional, I think will amuse and entertain SF fans on both sides of the Atlantic.  It’s called, That Was The Week That Was, fronted by David Frost.  It certainly seems to appeal to my acquaintances in London fandom.

The show is fearless, being outrageously funny, poking fun at the British establishment, satirising current political events and other relevant issues.  This is helped by having a very good cast.  I use the word “cast” advisedly.  While David Frost is a presenter, and Bernard Levine a journalist, and William Rushton a cartoonist, this is a news show that also features singers and actors, for example, Millicent Martin sings the opening theme tune, and David Kernan deliver witty musical interludes between the news.  The commentary on the news is also counterpointed through comedy sketches that send up British mores and social conventions using British actors like Lance Percival, Roy Kinnear, and Robert Lang.  I also recognized the American actor, Al Mancini, when he appeared, too.

I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that this show is ground breaking. 

Not only because it uses ironical humour to ridicule the stupidities and vices of the political establishment, but also because of the way format of the show and presentation is used to make the viewer feel part of the audience.  For example, the cameras are seen during the transmission of the programme, and are part of the presentation of the show.  It’s what might be called breaking the fourth wall, speaking directly to the viewer while still being framed within the context of a light entertainment show.

Psychologically it’s fascinating to see That Was The Week That Was breaking traditional TV conventions — this even extends to its running time, whose only constant seems to be that it runs to the length required to deliver show.  It must drive the people in charge of scheduling crazy. 

So, take a look at That Was The Week That Was if you get the chance.  It should be funny to folks on both sides of the Pond.  Certainly, some of the things it covers may go over American viewers’ heads, but if you want to understand Britain and our humour, it’s well worth catching this if you can.

Besides watching too much television recently (my only excuse being the weather as mentioned) I did manage to go and see David Lean’s new film, Lawrence of Arabia, on its opening night at the Odeon, Leicester Square.  I’ve been reliably informed it will be shown on American screens around the twentieth of this month.  There’s a lot of excitement over the film and the performance of Peter O’Toole as Lawrence. Many believe the film will be a strong contester in the next Oscar nominations.

Before I finish this month’s piece, because science is at the heart of science fiction, I want to congratulate the winners of two Nobel Prize science awards.

First, the British molecular biologists Dr. Francis Crick and Dr. Maurice Wilkins, who along with an American scientist Dr. James D. Watson, have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the molecular structure of nucleic acids, and the significant role the unique double helix structure plays in the transfer of genetic information in living organisms.

Second, the British biochemists Dr. Max Perutz and Dr. John Cowdery Kendrew who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in investigating the structure of haem-containing proteins.  Well done to both teams.

So, another exciting month has flown by, which leaves me with only one thing left to say, Merry Christmas from me to all of you reading this.




[December 16, 1962] See!  The Stars…


by Gideon Marcus

What a tumultuous year this has been.  War scares, pitched congressional fights, escalating civil rights conflicts, celebrity deaths…yes, I definitely can’t wait to see the back-side of 1962.  It is easy to get caught up in the unceasing drone of bad news.  That’s why, at times like these, it’s helpful to look back on the bright points of the year.  For instance, segregation was dealt several blows in the South with schools across Dixie admitting their first Black students.  The balloon did not go up over Laos, Berlin, or Cuba, thanks in part to the expert manuevering of our President.  John Glenn showed that the pioneering spirit of America still soars high, and it is likely that humanity will have touched another world before the decade is out.

Science fiction, too, had some setbacks.  Some of my favorite magazines suffered a distinct drop in quality this year.  If you are a regular reader, you’ve experienced what must seem an unmitigated litany of complaint — after all, there were a lot of one and two-star stories.

But looking back on the last twelve months and cataloging just the good stuff, it is reassuring just how much of it there truly was.  And so, I end 1962 on a bright note with the Galactic Stars — a summary of the very best this year had to offer scientifiction fans:


Best Poetry

Vintage Wine, Doris Pitkin Buck (F&SF)

Buck’s vampiric poem was a shoo-in.  There just wasn’t a lot of competition in this category this year.  Perhaps fanzines are a better place to mine for material.


Best Vignette (1-9 pages):

Sword of Flowers, by Laurence P. Janifer (Fantastic)

This time, the serpent in the garden is a man.

Wonder as I Wander, Manly Wade Wellman (F&SF)

A set of tiny-tinies featuring the magical John the Balladeer.

Honorable Mention:

Prelude to a Long Walk, Nils Peterson (F&SF)

And it was Good, A. Earley (Amazing)

The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass, Fred Pohl (Galaxy)

The Long Silvery Day, Magnus Ludens (Galaxy)


Best Short Story (10-19 pages):

April in Paris, Ursula K. Le Guin (Fantastic)

A story of time travel, love, and friendship.

Hawk in the Dusk, William Bankier (F&SF)

Karmic horror reaches…and redeems a bitter old man.

Honorable Mention:

Snowbank Orbit, Fritz Leiber (IF)

Science and sacrifice ’round the Seventh Planet.

A City near Centaurus, Bill Doede (Galaxy)

A teleport to the nearest star leads to philosophical conflict between species.

To Lift a Ship, Kit Reed (F&SF)

A lovely piece on confinement and freedom.

The Garden of Time, J.G. Ballard (F&SF)

Victoria Silverwolf’s choice.


Best Novelette (20-45 pages)

The Ballad of Lost C’Mell, Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy)

The second time an Instrumentality tale has gotten a Star… and this one is better.

The 64-Square Madhouse, Fritz Leiber (IF)

One of the most plausible futures I’ve ever read — a must for chess-lovers… and everyone else.

Unholy Grail, Fritz Leiber (Fantastic)

The origin of the Grey Mouser, and a fantastic fantasy in Fantastic.

I note with interest that Fritz Leiber wrote some of my most and least favorite fiction of this year.  But, to be fair, his misses may have been with me — others liked them.

The Golden Horn and A War of no Consequence, Edgar Pangborn (F&SF)

Two closely related stories of a post-apocalyptic future.

Honorable Mention:

Jonathan and the Space Whale, Robert F. Young (F&SF)

The Star Fisherman, Robert F. Young (Fantastic) [Victoria Silverwolf’s choice]

Plane Jane, Robert F. Young (Fantastic)

Note the common element?


Best Novella (46+ pages)

This category is normally populated by second-rate pieces, but this year, competition was stiff!

Listen!  The Stars…, John Brunner (Analog)

Really excellent stuff.  I understand Ace may novelize it; I’m interested to see what gets added.

The Dragon Masters, Jack Vance (Galaxy)

A close second, with some excellent art by Gaughan. 

Honorable Mention:

Mercenary, Mack Reynolds (Analog)

An interesting vision of a caste-based future where fighting is the only way to get ahead.


Best Novel/Serial

This one was tough.  There were a lot of good books, but none that all of us agreed were the best.  So, I will let several writers each submit favorites.

The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard: (Berkeley)

The twilight of humanity and the world after the sun heats up.  Rose, Mark, and John all gave it highest marks.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus & Giroux )

Lorelei’s favorite.

A life for the Stars, James Blish (Analog)

Honorable Mention:

Secret Agent of Terra, John Brunner (Ace Books)

The Star Dwellers, James Blish (Analog)

A Plague of Pythons, Fred Pohl (Galaxy)


Science Fact

By Jove, Isaac Asimov (F&SF)

Honorable Mention:

Theodore Sturgeon, Judith Merril (F&SF)


Best Magazine

IF (3.03 stars; best story of the month, 0 times)

Fantastic (2.99 stars; best story of the month, twice)

Fantasy and Science Fiction (2.92 stars; best story of the month, four times)

Galaxy (2.85 stars; best story of the month, thrice)

Analog (2.73 stars; best story of the month, once (not counting serials))

Amazing (2.68 stars; best story of the month, once)

There was a general drop in quality for the magazines in 1962, though there was still plenty of stories worth reading.  F&SF had the most woman authors, but since October, women have tended to be more represented elsewhere.  This reflects both a drop in numbers in F&SF and an increase in other mags. 


Best author(s)

Fritz Leiber

Leiber is hit and miss.  But when he hits (and he hit twice this year), wow!

John Brunner

A prolific new author from Great Britain, Brunner has definitely already made his mark.


Best Artist

Ed Emshwiller

Virgil Finlay


Best Dramatic Presentation

This wasn’t a great year for sf on screen.  Even including the fantasy films, some of which we covered, some of which will be rounded up next month by Victoria Silverwolf, it was slim pickings.  Still, there was some worthy stuff:

Panic in Year Zero

Excellence where one might have expected schlock.

The Creation of the Humanoids

A surprisingly effective super-low budget movie.

The Twilight Zone

This lackluster third season nevertheless had two of our favorite episodes.


Best Fanzine

Aside from Galactic Journey (which was a nominee-runner up last year!) my favorite amateur mags were:

Science Fiction Times

Axe

Fanac

Kudos go to Al haLevy for (briefly) restarting Rhodomagnetic Digest.  Sadly, it is unlikely that the revival will continue.

And that’s that!  What a wonderful trip down memory lane.  1962 may have been a slog at times, but when you compile all the worthy works, all of a sudden, it don’t look so bad.  Why not enjoy some of these lovelies as an early holiday gift?

[December 14, 1962] Hot Stuff (Stop Press report on Mariner 2)

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


by Gideon Marcus

The Space Race has given us a lot of firsts to report on in the last five years.  Today marks perhaps the most significant: for the first time, a spacecraft is reporting back to Earth on another world.  Mariner 2, launched on August 27, has traveled 182 million miles to fly by the second planet out from the sun, Venus.

It has been a perilous trip the entire way — even before the spacecraft ever left the ground!  Firstly, the mission almost didn’t leave the drawing board.  The original Mariner probe was a robust and heavy craft with a huge panoply of experiments.  But the beefy Atlas-Centaur booster wasn’t going to be ready in time for the next favorable orbital alignment of Earth and Venus, such occurring every 19 months.  Unless NASA wanted to wait until 1964…and risk being beat by the Russians, an alternative had to be found.

Luckily, the Ranger series of moon probes, half the size of the original Mariner and designed to fit on the smaller Atlas-Agena, was available.  Two new Rangers were adapted into “Mariner Rs” posthaste to meet the Summer 1962 deadline.  By July, Mariner 1 was on the launchpad.  This is where the second hurdle was met.

On July 22, Mariner 1’s Atlas soared into the sky.  93 seconds into the flight, the guidance antenna on board the rocket stopped hearing commands from ground control.  This was not immediately fatal; after all, the Atlas has its own computer with a program designed to keep the booster on course even without external direction.  Unfortunately, something was wrong with the program, too — probably a misprogrammed equation led the Atlas to make increasingly jerky maneuvers on its yaw axis.  Five minutes into the mission, ground control had to send a destruct order, blowing the rocket up in midflight.

A tense month went by.  Would the Russians beat us to the punch?  We’d gotten a reprieve the year before, when the Soviet probe Venera 1 sailed silently past the Planet of Love, its systems having died in flight.  On August 25, there were reports of a Soviet launch but no subsequent announcement of a new Venus mission.  Was it just a false alarm?  Or had our adversaries had troubles of their own?

Then Mariner 2 successfully launched, on August 27.  It made it through a mid-course correction on September 4 that put it on a course with destiny.  Now it just had to survive the journey, longer than any that had been managed before.  Given the track record of the Rangers (0 for 5), the odds weren’t good.

In fact, Mariner almost didn’t make it.  On Halloween, one of Mariner’s solar panels shorted out.  It came back on a week later only to short out for good on November 15.  Still, the crippled ship soldiered on closer to the sun, its remaining panel absorbing sufficient energy to power all instruments.  Mariner 2 set a record en route, continuing to send data past the point that Pioneer 5’s transmission faded away two years ago.  As the craft approached Venus, the temperature inside was close to boiling.

Nevertheless, little Mariner pulled through!  Passing just over 20,000 miles over the surface of Venus, Mariner 2 is sending back information, all experiments functioning.  As we speak, JPL engineers are poring through the data.  In just a few short weeks, we will finally have answers to some big questions: Is Venus really a roiling inferno?  How long is a Venusian day?  What is the nature of Venus’ magnetic field? 

Humanity has waited 100,000 years to learn the answers.  By January, we should have them.




[December 9, 1962] (January 1963, IF Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Ah, Winter.  That sleepy time of the year when the air gets chillier (such as it ever gets chilly in Southern California), work slows down a bit, and shopping for the holidays picks up.  The first night of Hannukah is the 21st, and then, of course, there’s the big mid-Hannukah holiday (named after Chris, the patron saint of presents). 

And it’s when I renew my subscriptions for science fiction magazines since they generally offer Christmas discounts!

December marks the new year, at least as far as periodicals go.  January-dated issues show up the month before, so I’ve already gotten a sneak preview into the next year.  First up is is the January 1963 IF, and if this be a harbinger, then next year will probably be a decent one:

The Five Hells of Orion, by Frederik Pohl

I have to wonder if Pohl gets paid the same rate as everyone else for stories he writes, given that he is the editor.  Of course, he should.  Pohl has been a writer for decades, and he produces good stuff.  Orion follows the tale of an young astrogator shanghaied across a thousand light years by aliens bent on forging an alliance with humanity.  The first half is very good.  The spaceman must navigate a set of intelligence tests and we gradually come to understand the intentions of the extraterrestrials.  The payoff is rushed, however; perhaps this would have made a better novel.  Three stars.

The Shipshape Miracle, by Clifford D. Simak

An atypical piece by Simak in which an incorrigible criminal crosses paths with the brother to The Ship Who Sang, to his ultimate dismay.  Well-written, like everything Simak does, but unexceptional.  Three stars for the story, but five stars for the excellent art!

This Way to the Egress, by Andrew Fetler

Fetler returns to IF with his second vignette, a subtle piece about the last hours of a social deviant.  I suspect Fetler has a day job given the paucity of work he’s published in our field.  Three stars.

Essay in Coherence, by Theodore Sturgeon

This piece on LASERs (single-wavelength light beams of incredible intensity) shows that Sturgeon may soon give Asimov a run for his money with science articles.  It’s witty and informative, and probably will be the genesis of countless short stories involving this brand-new technology.  Five stars.

Podkayne of Mars (Part 2 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

Part II of Heinlein’s new juvenile(?) about Miss Poddy Fries and her space jaunt from Mars is a bit more readable than the last one, but it’s still overwritten and gets bogged in detail.  This is the spiritual successor to The Menace from Earth I’d hoped to share with my daughter, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough.  Three stars for this installment.

Road Stop, by David Mason

A ghost story involving a haunted car…in a future when all cars are haunted by design.  The tale isn’t plausible, in and of itself, but the world it paints feels like a possible tomorrow.  Three stars.

Fortress Ship, by Fred Saberhagen

Now here’s an interesting one, by a newish author who’s already turned out some good stuff.  Fortress introduces the concept of the “Beserker,” giant automated robot ships created as doomsday weapons. They roam the galaxy, relics of a forgotten war, reducing populated planets into ashes.  It takes extraordinary courage and, more importantly, wit to defeat them.  But it is possible…  Four stars.

Captain of the Kali , by Gary Wright

The “IFirststory” competition netted a piece from freshly minted author Gary Wright.  A futuristic C.S. Forester is recruited to serve as guest admiral on an alien fleet of sail-driven warships.  A good first effort, though greater length and a few more sf trappings would have been nice.  Three stars.

When Whirlybirds Call, by Frank Banta

Last up is a satirical piece about a laconic big-game hunter and the coocoo-downdraft-peoplehawk-whirlybirds he is contracted to exterminate.  Cute while it lasts.  Three stars.

It’s rare that I go from beginning to end of a mag and find no lousy stories.  This month’s IF is solid (if not exceptional) entertainment, and as the cheapest of the digests (at 35 cents), it is definitely a bargain.




[December 6, 1962] How to Kill Friends and Influence People (The game, Diplomacy)

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


by Gideon Marcus

“…but she took off the great lid of the box with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men.”

So goes Hesiod’s account of Pandora, the first woman, and how woe was delivered unto mankind.  Until last month, I’d come to believe that the box was strictly allegorical.  And then I found it.

More accurately, I bought it.  I was visiting the local toy store.  You know, where they sell big bouncy balls, Airfix model kits, Erector Sets.  And social, wholesome boardgames like Clue and Scrabble.  Mixed among these innocuous pleasures was something new, a creation of the “Games Research” company.  Its title was brief and opaque: Diplomacy.  Intrigued, I purchased it and took it home.

Inside the maroon box is a map of Europe delineated with the pre-WWI national boundaries, a variety of wooden pieces, and a set of rules.  “‘Diplomacy’ is a game of skill and cunning negotiations,” they proclaim.  Diplomacy appears to be the latest in the new category of diversions known as “wargames.”  The goal is to take the role of one of the seven Great Powers and take over the rest of Europe. 

What makes Diplomacy unique from other wargames is its multi-player aspect; all the other wargames I’ve played to date have been two-player affairs.  Also, as the rules go on to say, “Chance plays no part.”  This is true – no dice are included with or employed by the game. 

Though the rules booklet runs several pages, the gist of the game is incredibly simple.  The map is divided into two types of provinces: ones with “supply centers” and ones without.  All player nations start out with three supply centers (except Russia, which gets four).  No nation may have more pieces than supply centers; thus, each player starts with three (or four) pieces.  These pieces may be armies, which move on land, and fleets, which may move in sea spaces or land spaces that border sea spaces. 

Each turn, a player dispatches orders to each of her/his pieces privately in writing.  Units are directed to move, either individually or with the support of adjacent friendly pieces.  Orders are resolved simultaneously – in the event that two units are sent to the same province, the one with more support wins, and the other must retreat.  Every other turn, control of supply centers is tallied – they belong to whomever was last in them on a tallying turn.  And so the fortune of nations rises and falls.  When one has control of no supply centers, that player is eliminated from the game.

Easy, no?  Ah, but here’s the tricky bit.  Turns are divided into two segments.  The latter is the one just described, where players write their marching orders.  The former is a 15-minute diplomacy segment.  This is the period in which players discuss their plans, try to hatch alliances, attempt to deceive about intentions.  It is virtually impossible to win the game without help on the way up; it is completely impossible to win without eventually turning on your allies.  Backstabbery is common, even necessary.  Honesty is a vice.

Diplomacy is, thus, not a nice game.  In fact, I suspect this game will strike rifts between even the best chums.  So why play at all?  Why suffer 4-12 hours of agony, especially when you might well be eliminated within the first few turns, left to watch the rest of your companions pick over your bones?

Well, it’s kind of fun.

I’ll give you an example.  Last weekend, I was fortunate to have over exactly the seven people needed to play.  We drew our countries randomly – I picked Russia, my daughter got the neighboring country of Turkey.  Right away, we had to establish our relationship.  Would we forge a treaty, enabling us to strike west into central Europe?  Or would we be adversaries, soliciting the aid of another power (say, Austria-Hungary) in a bloody war for domination of the Black Sea?

As it turned out, the question was not neatly answered.  As my forces fenced with the British Royal Navy for control of Scandinavia, and Italy plunged into the south of France, the Hapsburg Emperor proved a stubborn foe.  After several turns of thwarting Turkey’s Balkan ambitions, she convinced Lorelei to launch a surprise attack against my rear, the Sultan’s forces heading straight for Sevastopol.

Only two things kept the Czar on the throne: Firstly, I’d penned a secret alliance with the Kaiser to join in a three-way alliance to devour the Dual Monarchy.  Secondly, and more luckily, Lorelei had botched her orders, and her attack stalled. 

I held absolutely no grudge against the kid.  Instead, I merely pulled her aside during the next diplomacy session and explained that she could work with me and finally break out of Asia Minor…or she could not cooperate, and both our chances of winning would be slim.  She bit, and next turn, Austria-Hungary ceased to be.  We went on to tie for first place, both of us having a full eight supply centers when we called it a day after five hours of play.  But I’ve no doubt that, had we decided to continue, my dear daughter, apple of my eye, would not have hesitated to drive the knife deep into my spine. 

Such is the nature of Diplomacy.  It’s an unique pleasure, to be sure, one that will test your cunning, your generalship, and your charisma.  And your friendships.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you…