Tag Archives: albert teichner

[June 23, 1962] Only the Lonely (July 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

In this age of Cold War tensions, it’s a little disconcerting to discover that the United States made two failed attempts this month to detonate a nuclear warhead in space.  The project, whimsically known as Operation Fishbowl, launched Thor missiles from Johnston Island, a tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean under the command of the US Air Force.  The missiles launched on June 2 (Bluegill) and June 19 (Starfish) had to be destroyed in flight due to technical problems.  (Radar lost track of Bluegill, and the Starfish rocket engine stopped prematurely.) Some of the debris from Starfish landed on Johnston Island, potentially contaminating persons stationed on the atoll with radioactive material.

If that weren’t scary enough, the three inmates who escaped from Alcatraz a couple of weeks ago are still at large.  It’s probable that they drowned in San Francisco Bay, but I’d advise those of you who live in the area to keep your doors locked.

Raising the alarm in these troubling times are two newly published documents drawing attention to the problems we face.  The left-wing organization Students for a Democratic Society released a manifesto entitled The Port Huron Statement a week ago, promoting universal disarmament and other social and political reforms through non-violent civil disobedience. 

(It’s interesting to note the cover price is the same as that of the magazine I’ll eventually get around to reviewing.)

At the same time, The New Yorker (which costs ten cents less than Fantastic or The Port Huron Statement) published an excerpt from Silent Spring, an upcoming book from marine biologist Rachel Carson which discusses the danger posed to the environment by chemical pesticides.

With all of this depressing news, it’s not surprising that a melancholy ballad of loneliness and lost love has been at the top of the charts for the entire month.  Ray Charles isn’t the first musician to have a hit with Don Gibson’s 1958 country song I Can’t Stop Loving You — besides Gibson himself, Kitty Wells released a popular version the same year, as did Roy Orbison in 1961 — but his version is by far the most successful.  It seems likely that this unique combination of rhythm and blues with country-western will have a powerful impact on popular music.

In keeping with this mood, it’s appropriate that many of the stories in the current issue of Fantastic feature characters haunted by loneliness, isolation, and lost love.

The great Emsh provides the cover art for The Singing Statues by British author J. G. Ballard.  It takes place in the futuristic resort community of Vermillion Sands, which has already appeared in a handful of Ballard’s stories.  The narrator is an artist who creates sculptures that produce sound in response to those who view them.  (There are also indications that these works of art are somehow grown in the surreal landscape of Vermillion Sands, with its copper beaches and dry sea beds.) A beautiful, wealthy, and reclusive young woman purchases one of his works, believing that it sings to her in a way which perfectly reflects her soul.  Unbeknownst to her, however, the artist has actually placed an electronically distorted recording of his own voice inside it.  When the recording runs out, he goes to her luxurious home under the pretext of making repairs to the statue, actually placing new recordings within it.  His deception leads to unexpected revelations.  Ballard writes with a fine sense for imagery.  His tales of the decadent inhabitants of Vermillion Sands may not be for all tastes, but they are skillfully rendered works of art.  Four stars.

This month’s Fantasy Classic is The Dragon of Iskander by Nat Schachner, from the pages of the April, 1934 issue of Top-Notch, a magazine which published adventure fiction from 1910 to 1937. 

Things start with a bang, as an archeological expedition in a mountainous region of Chinese Turkestan is attacked by a flying, fire-breathing dragon.  Our two-fisted American hero, along with his loyal servant and a couple of suspicious characters, makes his way into the mountains, where he discovers a lost kingdom founded by Alexander the Great.  Daring escapes and violent action results, and it’s no surprise that a beautiful young woman shows up to stand by the hero’s side.  This story is typical of old-fashioned pulp action yarns, and certainly moves at the speed of lightning.  It’s marred by some casual racism (the Chinese character is often called “yellow,” and non-Americans are generally cowardly and treacherous) and the fact that the true nature of the dragon isn’t terribly convincing.  Two stars.

After this tale of an isolated nation, we turn to a story about a lonely individual.  A Drink of Darkness by Robert F. Young deals with a man who has destroyed his marriage and ruined his life through alcohol.  At the end of his rope, he meets a gaunt man who takes him to a strange land where a journey across a dark plain leads him to a towering mountain.  The alcoholic assumes that the gaunt man is Death.  During their trek he opens mysterious doors which lead to various times in his past life.  He relives the loss of his happiness to the bottle.  This is a bleak story, but it offers a glimmer of hope.  The true identity of the gaunt man is concealed until the end, although an astute reader may pick up a clue earlier.  Whether or not you believe the twist ending is appropriate, you are likely to respond to the story’s emotional power.  Four stars.

The second half of Poul Anderson’s short novel Shield continues the adventures of the fellow who has invented a force field.  Held captive by a crime boss, sought by both the Americans and Chinese for the secret of his invention, he receives help from an unexpected source.  An extended chase follows at a fast and furious pace.  Not quite as interesting as the first half, this section still provides plenty of action and a complex, fully developed character in the aide/mistress of the crime boss, who proves to be another example of the persons suffering from emotional loss in this issue.  Three stars.

The people in The Thinking Disease by Albert Teichner have become isolated from each other by their own technology.  Robots designed to self-destruct when there is any possibility of harming human beings (with a nod to Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics) somehow change from loyal servants to berserk killers at unpredictable times.  Their masters live in fear of leaving their homes.  The protagonist discovers a way to project his consciousness outside his body, enabling him to fight off the rebel machines.  The explanation for how the robots could hurt people, and the manner in which they can be controlled, is rather disappointing.  Two stars.

One Long Ribbon is, I believe, the first published story from Florence Engel Randall.  The protagonist is a recently widowed mother with a young son.  Her husband was a pilot, stationed at one air base after another, who was never able to give her a stable home.  Years before his death, he made arrangements to purchase a house for her in case of his demise.  When she moves in, she discovers that the other people living on her street act as if they can’t see her.  Her son claims that he can’t see the children that she sees playing outside.  This is a Twilight Zone kind of story with an unexpected explanation for its strange events.  Four stars.

Overall, this is a pretty good issue, although I wouldn’t recommend reading it alone.

[December 13, 1961] FAMILIAR FACES AND NEW NAMES (JANUARY 1962 FANTASTIC)


by Victoria Silverwolf

To be successful, a fiction magazine often needs to strike a balance between established authors and new blood.  Experienced writers can generally be counted on to provide work of professional quality, while fledging storytellers may keep the magazine from seeming stale and predictable. 

Such a strategy can be seen in the latest issue of Fantastic.  Two famous names, one well known to readers of science fiction and the other familiar to almost anybody with a television set, appear on the cover.  No doubt this will increase the sales of the magazine on the newsstand.  Once the purchase is made, the reader might find the offerings from unknown authors more interesting.

Leading off the issue is Randall Garrett, whose fiction can be found in a large number of publications under a variety of names.  Hardly an issue of Astounding — excuse me, I mean Analog — goes by, it seems, without at least one of his stories within its pages.  As with many prolific writers, the quality of his work is variable.

Most likely inspired by Lloyd Birmingham’s silly cover illustration, Hepcats of Venus brings us Garrett in his comic mode.  The title is misleading, as the scene of aliens in a hip coffeehouse playing instruments made up of parts of their bodies is only a small portion of the story.

It seems that Earth has been monitored for thousands of years by a Galactic Observer and his assistant.  When we first meet these characters, they take the form of a stereotypical British Lord and Lady.  Later they transform themselves into equally clichéd beatniks.  Without going into detail, the plot involves shapeshifting aliens sneaking to Earth in order to expose the world’s leaders to a substance which will render them hypnotized slaves.  It’s inoffensive, but not particularly intriguing or amusing.  Two stars.

The success of Perry Mason on the small screen, as well as novels, motion pictures, and radio, makes Erle Stanley Gardner one of the most popular writers of crime fiction of all time.  This issue’s “Fantasy Classic” brings us another side of this bestselling author.  First published in Argosy in 1931, The Human Zero is an action-adventure yarn with a hardboiled detective, a spunky girl reporter, and a mad scientist.  Even for an old-fashioned pulp story, it’s poorly written and unoriginal.  The science fiction content – a substance which cools human beings to absolute zero, causing them to vanish, leaving only empty clothes behind – is unconvincing, to say the least.  I had to struggle through it, so only one star.

The rest of the issue features one author who has published a handful of stories, and three who are making their debuts.  Paul Dellinger’s first publication is Rat Race, a tale narrated by a physician confined to a wheelchair who confronts an alien intelligence which has possessed the body of a rat.  It’s a fairly typical science fiction horror story, with a minor twist at the end.  Two stars.

Much more substantial is This is Your Death by Albert Teichner, who published the interesting story Sweet Their Blood and Sticky a couple of months ago in the pages of If, as regular followers of this column will recall.  If that story reminded me of a moodier Lafferty, this one seems like a darker version of Sheckley.  It’s a grim satire of the entertainment industry.  The title, of course, alludes to a popular, if controversial, television program, which has sometimes been accused of invading the privacy of those it profiles.  Teichner raises the ante by imagining a program which films the deaths of patients suffering from terminal diseases.  The cutthroat maneuvers of executives behind the scenes remind me of Rod Serling’s television drama and feature film Patterns.  It’s a disturbing story, one which many readers will find unpleasant, but in my opinion it deserves four stars.

Atonement is the first story from Jesse Roarke, and it’s an unusual one.  Written in an affected, archaic style, the setting would at first seem to be the mythical ancient world of sword and sorcery.  We soon find out, however, that we are in the future, after a devastating war has left a planet with few survivors.  The protagonist undergoes a ritual which is meant to atone for humanity’s destruction of itself.  The final scene of this brief tale is surprising, and may be confusing.  I found the story haunting, even if I didn’t fully understand it.  Three stars.

Our final new author is Gordon Browne, whose initial creation is The Empathic Man. The title character is a gentle, kindhearted fellow whose compassion for the suffering of others is so extreme that he takes on the physical characteristics of those he pities.  Despite an ending which is predictable, it’s a powerful story which leads one to consider the pain endured by our fellow creatures.  Three stars.

I’m pleased that editor Cele Goldsmith has continued to publish new authors, despite the controversy raging in the letter column about David R. Bunch and his tales of Moderan.  I am also happy to see that she has not turned her back on more experienced writers, particularly the way in which she has revitalized the career of the great Fritz Leiber.  As we approach the new year, it’s appropriate to remember that January was named for the Roman god Janus, who was wise enough to look at both the past and the future.

[Oct. 5, 1961] Half Full (November 1961 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

A long time ago, back in the hoary old days of the 1950s, there was a science fiction magazine called Satellite.  It was unusual in that contained full short novels, and maybe a vignette or two.  Satellite was a fine magazine, and I was sorry to see it die at the end of the last decade. 

Novels still come out in magazines, but they do so in a serialized format.  This can be awkward as they generally extend across three or four magazines.  Several magazines have started publishing stories in two parts, a compromise between Satellite and the usual digests.  Fantasy and Science Fiction does that, but it also hacks the novels to bits, and they suffer for it. 

IF, which is Galaxy’s sister magazine, had not flirted with this format until this month’s, the November 1961 issue.  This means a novella-sized chunk of a story and a handful of shorter ones.  That makes for a briefer article than normal this time around, but I think you’ll still find it worth your time.  Let’s take a look!

Masters of Space, the aforementioned two-part novel, is an interesting throwback, stylistically.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise given its provenance: E.E. “Doc” Smith, possibly the brightest light in space opera of the 20s and 30s, is one of its two authors; the other is E. E. Evans, another old hand who passed away in 1958.  Masters stars a crew of Terran colonist/scientists that encounters a race of androids, immortal servants of a prior offshoot of humanity that had once conquered the stars.  The novel is told in a flippant sort of shorthand, a bunch of banter reminiscent of 1940s film dialogue.  The colonists are evenly divided by sex, and much of the book is devoted to their romantic escapades.  It’s weird and anachronistic writing, which I enjoyed for the first forty pages, but which is increasingly wearing thin.  Two stars.

Albert Teichner brings us Sweet Their Blood and Sticky, a subtle mood piece about an atomically razed Earth and its one remaining monument to humanity: an automated taffy-making machine.  It’s just long enough to make its point, and it’s a good sophomore effort for this new writer.  Three stars.

At The End of the Orbit is the latest by Hugo-winning Arthur C. Clarke, who has been writing quite a lot lately.  Orbit starts out like an episode of Michener’s TV show, Adventures in Paradise, featuring a South Seas pearl diver.  Things go in a decidedly dark direction when said aquanaut discovers a Soviet capsule at the bottom of the ocean.  Four stars, but it’s not a happy piece.


by Gaughan

Patrick Fahy, like Teichner, turns in his second story (at least to my knowledge), The Mightiest Man.  Alien race conquers humanity and, as in Wells’ classic, is laid low by microbes.  But not before empowering one traitorous man with immortality and the ability to control minds.  His fate, and that of those he encounters, comprise another unpleasant (but not unworthy) tale.  Three stars.

Fortunately, for those who like happy stories, like me, the next story is Keith Laumer’s Gambler’s World.  It’s another installment in the adventures of Retief, the Galaxy’s most irreverent and capable diplomat/super spy.  Can Retief foil a coup attempt on a provincial planet?  Can he best the most fiendish games of chance ever devised?  Can he make you laugh with his antics?  I think you can guess the answer.  This is my favorite Retief story to date.  Four stars.

The issue wraps up on a lame note with Kevin Scott’s brief Quiet, Please which I, frankly, did understand or particularly enjoy.  Two stars.

All told, that’s 3.11 on the Star-o-meter, which is pretty good for IF these days.  Pretty good for anyone, really, and good enough to remain among my subscriptions.

Stay tuned for an unusual super-powered article in just a couple of days…