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[August 12, 1962] FEH (the September 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

This September Amazing continues the magazine’s slide into mediocrity after the promise of the year’s earlier issues. 

Keith Laumer’s serial A Trace of Memory concludes, and it’s quite disappointing, in part because it compares so poorly to last year’s Worlds of the Imperium, in part because it seemed to start so well.  The protagonist, who is down and out after a sequence of ridiculously bad luck, is pulled out of the gutter (well, out of a police station) by a strange rich guy called Foster who seems to have lived for centuries, has an indestructible old journal to prove it, but doesn’t remember who he is or how he got here.  Also, it turns out, he is being stalked by even stranger, and dangerous, globular creatures, who catch up to him as the protagonist joins him, leading to a chase across country, and ultimately across the ocean, to escape them and track his origins. 

That first half was quite fast-paced and well-written if a bit over the top.  However, the second half takes the protagonist to Vallon, Foster’s home planet (not a spoiler; it’s telegraphed from the beginning), which has degenerated to a sort of cartoony gangster feudalism, against which backdrop the protagonist performs ever more preposterous feats of physical and mental prowess, dissipating the momentum of the earlier parts and quickly becoming tedious.  Also: upon seeing the July cover illustration of Stonehenge, I joked at the time that I feared winding up in Atlantis.  That doesn’t happen, but Laumer reveals another legendary motif which is just about as silly. 

Speaking of legends, early on, the protagonist introduces himself: “ ‘My name’s Legion,’ I said.” OK, stop right there.  As everybody in this Bible Belt town knows, even me, when Jesus was confronted by a man possessed by an “unclean spirit” and asked his name, the guy said, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” (Mark 5:1-5:9) So Laumer’s protagonist is in effect claiming to be a horde of demons.  I’m thinking of Chekhov’s dictum that if there’s a gun on the wall in Act One, it should be fired in the next act.  Those demons never do get fired.  Two stars (and if it had gone on longer it would have worked its way down to one).

The cover story is Edmond Hamilton’s short story Sunfire!, which continues Hamilton’s transition from Space Opera to Mope Opera.  Space explorer Kellard has slunk home to Earth and moved back, alone, into his ancestral house, refusing all contacts with his colleagues at Survey, because something happened on Mercury and two of his fellows died, and it’s so terrible he can never talk about it.  So Survey comes after him, having not accepted his resignation, and packs him off back to Mercury even though—or maybe because—he still won’t say a word about what happened there. 

It’s actually not much of a secret to anyone who has looked at the cover and seen the fiery aliens, looking like crude but imaginative Hallowe’en costumes.  They’re telepathic, too, and Kellard got a full dose of how free and playful they are, traversing the universe and frolicking among and in the stars.  “No, the ecstacy was one that men would never know except at secondhand through this brief contact!  The glorious rush together of the star-children through the vast abysses, drinking up the energy of the radiation about them.” Etc. It makes being human and tramping around on cold and too, too solid planets seem pointless, and Kellard is never going to burden anyone else with this awful knowledge. 

Sorry, I don’t buy it, and neither does the head of Survey, who gets Kellard’s point once he too meets the aliens, but doesn’t think just having the planets of the universe is such a bad deal.  Like any sensible person he’s ready to tell the world about this rather interesting discovery.  Despite the artificiality of its problem, the story is well turned and, with this and Requiem from the April issue, Hamilton is clearly working hard at making the transition to a less obsolete kind of SF than the space opera he is better known for.  Splitting the difference between good intentions and lack of plausibility, three stars.  If you can believe in Kellard’s reaction, you’ll like it better than I did.

Edward Wellen’s Apocryphal Fragment is a mildly clever vignette (so labelled on the contents page) in which Doubting Thomas encounters a jinni in the Negev.  Something this slight should be rated in asteroids rather than stars, but if I must . . . two stars.

The other short story is Whistler, by David Rome (reputedly a pseudonym for one David Boutland); it’s the first US appearance of an author who has published nine stories in little more than a year in New Worlds and its companions in the UK.  Unfortunately it is an insipid though well-meaning message story about the evils of bigotry in the space lanes, almost as short as Wellen’s.  One star.

That leaves the Classic Reprint, The Ice Man by William Withers Douglas, from the February 1930 Amazing.  The narrator is an ancient Roman citizen brought to the New York of 1928 through a classical version of suspended animation.  He expects this account to be transmitted to his countrymen back home, in hopes that someone will rescue him from the insane asylum where he has ended up.  It recounts his initial captivity by a rather annoying if not quite mad scientist, and his observations of modern times—fire engines, women’s fashion, etc. etc.—once he has made his escape.  It’s reasonably well written, and any two or three pages of it are quite amusing.  Unfortunately there are 34.  Two stars.

Ben Bova has another installment of his series on extraterrestrial life, The Inevitability of Life, which reviews what’s known (or believed to be known) about the origins of life in chemical evolution and physical processes.  There’s a good case that the chemical and physical components of life arise inevitably through natural processes, though Bova is a little hazy on how the deal is closed and organic chemicals become living matter.  Nonetheless, three stars for lucid exposition of interesting material, particularly welcome in an issue where there’s not much else of interest.

Benedict Breadfruit abideth.

[July 12, 1962] ROUTINE EXCURSION (the August 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Summertime, and the living is . . . hot and sticky, here in the near-South.  Also fairly boring, if one is not much interested in such local rustic amusements as hayrides and frog-gigging (if you have to ask, you don’t want to know.) There’s no better time to find a comfortable hiding place and read science fiction magazines, except possibly for all the other times.  Of course the season—any season—doesn’t guarantee merit, and the August 1962 Amazing is the usual mixed bag.

The issue leads off with the cover story Gateway to Strangeness by Jack Vance, which contrary to its title goes out of its way to avoid strangeness.  It’s the one about the martinet skipper who treats his young trainee sailors with brutal sternness—not to mention sabotage to create life-threatening problems for them to solve—but it’s good for them and makes men out of them, except for the one who’s dead.  In this case it’s a solar sail ship and not a windjammer, but the premise is just as tired regardless of medium.  The most interesting aspect is the description of operating a spaceship propelled by the “wind” of light and particles emanating from the Sun.  For a Vance story, that’s a judgment of failure: his talents lie elsewhere than hardware (see The Moon Moth in last year’s Galaxy and The Miracle Workers a few years ago in Astounding), but he seems determined sometimes to play to his weaknesses.  Two stars.

The other novelet here is James H. Schmitz’s Rogue Psi, in which humanity (via the members of a secret psi research project) confronts a “hypnotizing telepath” who can control or impersonate anyone, and has been interfering with humanity, and in particular its efforts to get off-planet, for centuries.  The showdown is brought about via “diex energy,” which amplifies psi powers.  This is all moonshine, but Schmitz is an engaging writer and has a knack for physical and experiential description that make his account of psychic goings-on better grounded than others we could name—none of the familiar “he stiffened his mind shield as Zork lashed out” sort of thing.  The deus ex machina, or ex hat, resolution even goes down smoothly.  Three stars for capable, even lively, deployment of material that otherwise would border on cliche. 

In between is the short story Passion Play by Roger Zelazny—who?  New writer, I guess, and the story is a heavily satirical vignette of a sort common from new writers—that is, it’s only barely a story.  In the future, it appears, robots have inherited the Earth, and one of them tells his story (in the present tense, no less), which involves ceremonially reenacting a crash from a famous auto race of the past (this one at Le Mans).  The guy is a glib writer, though—“After the season of Lamentations come the sacred stations of the Passion, then the bright Festival of Resurrection, with its tinkle and clatter, its exhaust fumes, scorched rubber, clouds of dust, and its great promise of happiness”—so we may hear from him again, more substantially.  Two stars, basted with promise.


One hopes not to hear further from Beta McGavin, the probably pseudonymous author of Dear Nan Glanders, an advice column from the future, a silly space-filler of which the best that can be said is that it distracts from Benedict Breadfruit, whose exploits continue here as well.  One star.

That’s it for the fiction contents, except for the second installment of Keith Laumer’s A Trace of Memory, to be discussed when it is completed next month.  As for non-fiction, Sam Moskowitz contributes C.L. Moore: Catherine the Great, another in his “SF Profiles” series, with considerable interesting biographical detail and more attention than usual for Moskowitz to her more recent work (possibly because there is so little of it).  Four stars.

But overall, this magazine is getting a little exasperating.  The year began well with several excellent stories by J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, and Mark Clifton, but the streak did not continue.  For some months now the magazine’s high points have mostly been competent product like this month’s Schmitz story, nice tries like Purdom’s The Warriors, and trifles with promise like Zelazny’s story in this issue.  Enough promise; time for some more delivery.

[June 13, 1962] THE SINCEREST FORM? (the July 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

The July Amazing starts off ambiguously, with Stonehenge on the cover—often a bad sign, you could find yourself in Atlantis if you’re not careful.  But it illustrates A Trace of Memory, a new serial by the reasonably hardheaded Keith Laumer, so we may be spared any deep wooliness.  I’ll defer reading and comment until it’s complete.

So what else is there?  Excepting the “Classic Reprint,” this is the Literary Pastiche issue of Amazing.  The first of three short stories is The Blonde from Barsoom by Robert F. Young, featuring an aspiring fantasy writer whose work is virtually plagiarized from Edgar Rice Burroughs, as we are shown entirely too clearly.  It is vivid, because he has a knack for projecting himself into Burroughs’s world, and it soon enough occurs to him that maybe he could project himself into a more pleasant and less strenuous world.  Two stars for this slick but annoying trifle.

Then there is Richard Banks’s The Last Class, a Zola pastiche, which we know because it is subtitled (With Apologies to Emile Zola), and the blurb-writer helpfully adds that Zola wrote a similar story of the same title set just after the Franco-Prussian War.  This version is set in a regimented future world where people seem to live underground and get around via matter transmitter, and features a schoolteacher who tells her students about the Twentieth Century, when people were free, and gets caught at it.  It’s pretty well done, except that the teacher is referred to throughout as Miss Hippiness because she has big hips.  Would anyone refer to a sympathetic male central character as Mr. Beergutty or Mr. Hairybackish?  It’s an annoying distraction from an otherwise reasonably commendable story, holding it at three stars. 

This Banks—not to be confused with the more established and prolific Raymond E. Banks—has published one prior story in F&SF and one that sounds pretty SFnal (Roboticide Squad) in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

In between these two is William W. Stuart’s A Prison Make, in which a guy wakes up in a disgusting institutional setting which proves to be a jail, charged with something that he doesn’t remember—but in this world, law enforcement can rummage around in your mind, and they can damage your memory doing it.  He’s got a lawyer—a robot on wheels in very poor repair who doesn’t hold out much hope.  The story is about his adjustment to his absurd and outrageous situation, and if it sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it’s a downmarket SF rendition of Kafka’s The Trial.  As with the other stories, you don’t have to figure it out on your own, since the blurb-writer refers to it as a “Kafkaesque tale.” Well, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best, or at least the most interesting.  This one too is well done if a little heavyhanded in places, but without any stupid missteps like Mr. Banks’s character-naming gaffe.  Four stars.

So maybe it’s not such a bad idea to have SF writers emulating great mainstream writers of the past.  Who’s next?  I hear James Joyce is kind of interesting.  Just—please—no more Hemingway.  (See Hemingway in Space by Kingsley Amis from last year’s Judith Merril “best of the year” anthology.)

Interestingly, there is no editorial comment other than in the blurbs on the fact that three of the five fiction items here are overtly derived from the work of other authors.

The “Classic Reprint” this month, G. Peyton Wertenbaker’s The Chamber of Life from the October 1929 Amazing, is actually pretty good.  Once more we have the nearly omnipresent plot device of this old SF: ordinary guy is invited by scientific genius to check out his invention, and trouble follows.  But Wertenbaker could write: he had a plain and understated style which compares well to the clumsier and more stilted diction of some of his contemporaries, and he avoids the tiresome digressions of the recent Buck Rogers epic.  Here the invention is the ultimate motion picture: all senses are engaged and the viewer is precipitated into an encompassing hallucinatory world, in this case, a regimented utopian society of the future.  This guy was ahead of his time; too bad he hung it up in 1931, after only half a dozen stories.  Four stars.

Ben Bova contributes another science article (the second of four, we are told), The Three Requirements of Life in the Solar System, which is better organized and more to the point than the one in the previous issue.  The three requirements are a “building block atom” for construction of large molecules, a solvent medium in which large molecules can be built, and an energy exchange reaction.  On Earth, these are of course carbon, water, and hydrogen-oxygen respectively.  Bova then runs down the possibilities for life on each of the planets (for Mars, “almost certainly”; for Venus, “quite possibly”; Jupiter “might”; and the rest, “probably not” or worse).  That “almost certainly” is a surprise; but Bova asserts, “Even the most conservative astronomers will now grudgingly admit that some form of plant life no doubt exists in the greenish areas of the Red Planet.” That’s certainly news to me.  Three stars.

Bova’s articles, by the way, are illustrated by Virgil Finlay (unlike Frank Tinsley’s, which had at most diagrams or badly printed photos)—an interesting conjunction.  Finlay illustrates this month’s sober rendition with something like a fanged lobster with tentacles (“Artist’s rendition of author’s conception of Jovian sea-creature”), and last month he presented a pageant of DNA, the animal kingdom from trilobite to H. Sapiens overlaid with the double helix, its meticulous detail badly betrayed by Amazing’s mediocre printing.

***

One other item of interest appears in Or So You Say, the letter column: one Julian Reid of Canada takes Mark Clifton to task at great length for the misanthropy of his recent stories in Amazing, and compares them knowledgeably and unfavorably with Clifton’s earlier work.  Clifton replies at almost the same length, asserting variously that he was just kidding, he venerates humanity and that’s why he bothers to needle it, and his mail is running fifty to one favorably about those stories. 

***

And, looming inescapably, in inexorable pursuit . . . B_______ B_________.

(Don’t miss your chance to see the Traveler LIVE via visi-phone, June 17 at 11 AM!  A virtual panel, with Q&A, show and tell, and prizes!)

[May 15, 1962] RUMBLING (the June 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Oh groan.  The lead story in the June 1962 Amazing is Thunder in Space by Lester del Rey.  He’s been at this for 25 years and well knows that in space, no one can hear—oh, never mind.  I know, it’s a metaphor—but’s it’s dumb in context and cliched regardless of context.  Quickly turning the page, I’m slightly mollified, seeing that the story is about Cold War politics.  My favorite! 

Only a few weeks ago, one of my teachers assigned us all to write essays about current affairs, to be read to the rest of the class.  Mine suggested that the government of China is no more to be found on Taiwan than the government of the United States is in London, and it might be wise to drop the current pretense keeping Taiwan in China’s United Nations seat, along with the fantasy of invading mainland China and reinstating Chiang Kai-shek to the power he couldn’t hold on to.  After I had read this, one of the other students turned to me and said, “John . . . are you a communist?” I assured him I am not, but in hindsight, I should have said, “That’s right, Jimmy.  I get my orders straight from Albania.”

Compared to this black and white comic-strip world-view, Thunder in Space is a masterpiece of sophistication—it’s at least on the level of the Sunday funnies, which are in color.  (A few colors, anyway.) There are two nuclear-armed space stations, the US Goddard and the Russian Tsiolkovsky.  An apparent accident destroys the Soviet space fleet, and the American government refuses to help out by resupplying their station unless they unilaterally disarm it. 

But our boys in space are having none of it, and our and their space crews realize they have more in common with each other than with their governments, so there’ll be some changes made.  This feel-good fable for SF fans and other technophiles is not especially plausible—the response of governments to insurrection on military bases in low orbit would likely be speedy and definitive—but the story is reasonably readable and conventionally well-assembled, and refreshing in the acknowledgment that our leadership may be as brutal and ruthless as theirs.  On the other hand, del Rey can’t let the title go, and there are annoying attempts to justify it, such as one character’s declaration that “Most of the thunder down there is caused by the chained lightning we’re carrying up here.” Three grudging stars.

Near-future political problems also preoccupy Tom Purdom in The Warriors, in which a foreign mercenary force is struggling to get to the airport despite the resistance of the local forces.  But violence has been abolished!  So the contending mercenary armies maneuver respectively to evade and to block each other, since touching in combat is now a crime, and the result is a taut narrative of bobbing and weaving.  This all seemed silly and annoying at first, but maybe that’s the point: we’ve got to do something to abolish warfare as we know it, and if not this, what?  Got a better idea? 

So it’s at least thought-provoking: but there’s something else to think about here too.  The casus belli is the USA’s attempt to spirit away the African country Belderkan’s resident genius, Doctor Warren, whose inventions have helped make Belderkan prosperous; the locals are trying to get to him to persuade him to change his mind. 

Right now, we’re in the age of decolonization.  Almost 20 countries have become independent in the last couple of years; Algeria will vote on independence in July, after years of bloody warfare.  But will their independence be real, or just another guise for the exploitation of their resources by more powerful countries?  Consider the former Belgian Congo, which elected someone a little too independent for some tastes, who was quickly deposed and murdered in a rebellion sponsored by the ex-colonial power (and, it is rumored, by others, maybe including us).  I’m not sure Purdom meant to evoke all these concerns, or if he just needed a plot motor, but either way, the result is to his credit and mitigates the story’s weakness as fiction.  Three stars.

But enough of politics; let’s have something gaudy and irresponsible.  The most well-turned piece of fiction here is from J.G. Ballard, though Passport to Eternity is not among his best.  It’s a trifle about an affluent, bored future couple trying to decide where to go on vacation.  Each option is more ridiculous than the last, and then the options show up uninvited at their house with their sales pitches.  It ends badly. 

This hectic lampoon is mostly a satire on the profligate and disjointed invention of much grade-B SF.  Ballard refers to clothing made of “bioplastic materials,” then: “Upstairs in her wardrobes the gowns and dresses purred on their hangers like the drowsing inmates of some exquisite arboreal zoo.” Or: “She was a Canopan slave, hot-housed out of imported germ, a slender green-skinned beauty with moth-like fluttering gills.” So: amusing, but in an hour you’ll be hungry again.  The story’s first line, “It was half past love on New Day in Zenith and the clocks were striking heaven,” recalls the famous first line of Orwell’s 1984.  Is Ballard comparing the tyranny of excessive consumer choice to the tyranny of Big Brother?  Beats me.  Three stars, plus for style and minus for content.

(Note that in this one-dimensional rating system, the middle rating covers a multitude of sins and virtues in various combinations.) [One dimensional indeed! (ED)]

This month’s Classic Reprint is a cut above the usual: ridiculous, but amusingly so, rather than stupidly or offensively.  The Council of Drones by the mysterious W.K. Sonneman, from the October 1936 issue, follows a standard plot of the times: ordinary guy, Fred, living on his father’s farm, is invited by his friend the brilliant scientist to see his invention; things go wrong; perilous adventures ensue.  This time it’s “Cross-Rays, with Lifex Modulation”: swapping of human consciousness with other organisms.  Fred’s father keeps bees, so obviously Fred’s consciousness should be swapped with a queen bee’s.  But the promised five minutes turns into hours and days.  Fred is in despair.  But then his father comes, smoking the hive and stealing the honey, and Fred, enraged, goes bee, as it were. 

He persuades the other bees to go along with his schemes, first of self-defense and then of . . . why not . . . world domination, much assisted by the fact that bees from the eggs the queen lays after the insertion of human intelligence are themselves pretty intelligent.  This is all done straight, or at least straight-faced, with a number of apiaristic footnotes along the way.  Sam Moskowitz’s introduction praises the author’s “intimate knowledge of the bee society,” plausibly speculates that he was a beekeeper himself, and touts the value of “scientifically informative science fiction.” (Come back Lamarck, all is forgiven!) Three charmingly archaic stars.

Ben Bova is back, this time with a science article, Extra-Terrestrial Life: An Astronomer’s Theory.  It is a somewhat rambling and disorganized article touching on how life arose on Earth and what it might look like elsewhere, by way of much biochemistry, emphasizing this DNA stuff we are starting to hear a lot about.  But Bova is an engaging writer and there’s a lot of interesting information here.  Three stars. 

Bova is also featured in the editorial, complete with low-resolution photo, making me wonder whether he is about to replace the unfortunately dull Frank Tinsley as the regular science-monger.  Incidentally, the astronomer of the title is Bova, employed as a “technical communications executive,” but also described as “an ardent amateur astronomer.”

Sam Moskowitz contributes another “SF Profile,” this one The Saintly Heresy of Clifford D. Simak.” It’s reasonably perceptive and informative, but—like his profile of Theodore Sturgeon—it neglects Simak’s excellent recent stories while dwelling in detail on his apprentice work of the 1930s, with no mention, for example, of his well-received novels Ring Around the Sun (1953) and last year’s Time Is the Simplest Thing.  And Moskowitz’s clumsy and often outright ungrammatical writing is even more noticeable than usual.  Three stars.

And finally . . . to break the three-star monotony . . .

Bndct Brdfrt.

[April 15, 1962] REGRESSION TO THE MEAN (the May 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Last month, I asked: can they keep it up?  Amazing’s marked increase in quality, that is.  Well, no, not this month anyway.

The May 1962 Amazing labors under a large handicap: half of it is given over to The Airlords of Han by Philip Francis Nowlan, the second Buck Rogers novella, reprinted from the March 1929 issue.  It starts with a synopsis by Anthony (the Buck has not yet passed) of his emergence from 500 years of suspended animation to discover an America dominated by “the Airlords of Han, fierce Mongolians, who . . . had in their blood a taint not of this earth.”  But now, the Americans hiding in the woods have mostly retaken the continent while the Han remain huddled in their cities; “the positions of the Yellow and the White Races in America had been reversed.” So it’s Yellow Peril time again!

The good news: Nowlan is quite a facile writer for his time, his style livelier and less stilted than in many of these alleged Classic Reprints.  But the substance often gets tedious fast, consisting in good part of catalogues of military tactics, weapons, and the uniforms of the various Gangs (led by Bosses) of rusticated Americans.  Here Anthony describes a weapon he designed:

It was a long-gun which I had adapted for bayonet tactics such as American troops used in the First World War, in the Twentieth Century.  It was about the length of the ancient rifle, and was fitted with a short knife bayonet.  The stock, however, was replaced by a narrow ax-blade and a spike.  It had two hand-guards also.  It was fired from the waist position.

“In hand-to-hand work one lunged with the bayonet in a vicious, swinging up-thrust, following through with an up-thrust of the ax-blade as one rushed in on one’s opponent, and then a down-thrust of the butt-spike, developing into a down-slice of the bayonet, and a final upward jerk of the bayonet at the throat and chin with a shortened grip on the barrel, which had been allowed to slide through the hands at the completion of the down-slice.”

One wonders if Nowlan might better have been employed writing technical manuals.  There are similarly detailed, and much longer, discussions of the opposing forces’ technology—chapter IV is titled “Han Electrono-Science” and V is “American Ultronic Science,” three to four pages each.  Even when something actually begins to happen (as Anthony puts it beginning chapter VI, “But to return to my narrative. . .”), Nowlan quickly reverts to verbose digression.  When Anthony is captured by the Han, Nowlan spends nearly a page on their physical appearance and their uniforms and gear.  He also sociologizes for many pages describing the decadent Han society, which is ultimately dominated by the repairmen, who control the machines on which everyone depends—and no one wants to tangle with their “Yun-Yun.” Later, there is considerably more action, but it too becomes tedious—pages of slaughter and destruction abetted by escalating super-science.

Admittedly, Nowlan is more progressive concerning the role of women than most writers of his era.  While his precis of Han society contains a rather misogynistic description of women’s place, among the Americans, “men and girls” (as the author puts it) seem more or less equal, both participating in combat.  The girls appear to relish their roles, as witness Wilma, Anthony’s wife:

“Like a shriek of the Valkyrie, Wilma’s battle cry rang in my ear as she, too, shot herself like a rocket at a red-coated figure. . . . [Digression while Anthony kills a Han]
“And from the corner of my eye I saw Wilma bury her bayonet in her opponents, screaming in ecstatic joy.”

Despite the racist theme, with passing references to “evil yellow faces” and the “morally degraded race,” plus a disquisition on how the Han lack souls, Nowlan ultimately tries to have it both ways.  After the genocide of the Hans, Anthony travels the world and finds everybody pretty nice—“the noble brown-skinned Caucasians of India, the sturdy Balkanites of Southern Europe, [and] the simple, spiritual Blacks of Africa, today one of the leading races of the world, although in the Twentieth Century we regarded them as inferior.” It was just those damn Hans, who weren’t really human but sprang up when extraterrestrials raped the Tibetans.

Sorry, it doesn’t wash.  It’s as if D.W. Griffith had ended Birth of a Nation, his famous movie glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, with a placard saying “Just kidding, folks.”

In this time of the Freedom Riders and the sit-ins—but also the time when I hear vile racial slurs virtually daily in this near-Southern small town—who needs this crap?  I know, it’s historically important.  But so is, say, James Buchanan, and I don’t hear anyone clamoring to bring him back.

One star, and a big “Bah, humbug.”

The lead story is Edmond Hamilton’s longish novelet The Stars, My Brothers, which could have been titled Across the Galaxy in a Bad Mood.  Scientist Reed Kieran is killed in a space accident, but finds himself a century later waking up in a starship en route to Altair .  He is surprisingly un-delighted at receiving a new life in a new age, and it doesn’t help that his resurrectors are not very nice and don’t want to tell him much.  Eventually he learns that they are from the Humanity Party, which believes that “humans should not be ruled by non-humans,” and they have illicitly revived him to be a symbol in a campaign against the planet Sako, where a more intelligent and civilized reptilian species dominates a human population that is “very low in the scale of civilization.” Shaking with rage, Kieran declares, “I have no more use for the idea of the innate sacred superiority of one species over another than I had for that of one kind of man over another.” Now that’s a nice thought, especially after The Airlords of Han

They land on Sako and are promptly attacked by the primitive humans.  Treks and chases ensue and eventually we meet the reptilians, who it turns out are managing the local humans reasonably humanely, like we (sometimes) manage animal populations.  The whole thing is as unconvincing as it is didactic, and Kieran’s noble sentiments can’t redeem it.  There’s a romantic subtheme that is as sour and implausible as the rest of it.  There’s also a conspicuous failure of craft at the beginning: though the actual story doesn’t start until Kieran’s resurrection, there are four and a half pages of mostly irrelevant backstory—a tenth of the total length—about Kieran’s previous life and how he came to be left dead in his spacesuit, including such data as his street address in Midland Springs, Ohio.  One may wonder whether this story was cut down—but not enough or not carefully—from a novel-length piece Hamilton started for one of his now-defunct ‘50s markets.  Anyway, two stars mitigated by the author’s good intentions.

John Jakes’s The Protector is a purposefully heavy-handed short story about a guy who after the nuclear war serves as the “protector” for a small town of survivors, or so it seems, and to say anything more would give the whole thing away.  It’s effectively oppressive but there’s not much story left when the style and attitude dissipate.  Two stars. 

Frank Tinsley is back with a science article, Cosmic Caravel, concerning spaceships which may be constructed in orbit and propelled by gigantic sails to catch the “Solar Wind” or “Photon Breeze.” Interesting idea, but the usual dull rendering from Tinsley.  Two stars.

Benedict Breadfruit.  That is all.

[Yikes!  Months like this make me feel like a harsh taskmaster.  Let’s hear a round of applause for poor young Boston, who suffered so.  I am grateful, in particular, for his taking on the Buck Rogers tale.  Better luck next time, Master John! (Ed.)]

[March 3, 1962] Getting Somewhere (the April 1962 Amazing)

[The precocious Mr. Boston continues to take time from his busy high school schedule to provide coverage of Cele Goldsmith’s marquee digest: Amazing, the longest lived of the sff mags.  I am deeply grateful to John for his eloquent reviews.  I understand that he lives in particularly dull and uninspired part of the country, so I shouldn’t wonder that he has time to escape to lands of fantasy…]


by John Boston

The April Amazing opens with a bang: the cover is a startling departure from the usual humdrum machinery.  There’s a spacesuit in the foreground, but badly used, missing a glove and a boot, stuffed with straw, and held upright on a pole like a scarecrow, against a surreal background of reddish and yellow desert, a vast cloud of violet smoke, and a washed-out greenish sky.  Strikingly imaginative symbolic work by artist Lloyd Birmingham?  No, mostly illustrative: this tableau is from the first paragraph of Mark Clifton’s lead short story Hang Head, Vandal! But it is unusual and eye-catching, and Birmingham does get credit (if that’s the word) for the garish color scheme.

Clifton’s story is as relentlessly misanthropic as the recently-serialized Pawn of the Black Fleet, but a sixth as long, with no words wasted.  We need to test a new atomic reaction that we’re not sure we can stop; why not do it on Mars, which is empty?  Turns out it’s not as empty as we thought, and sure enough, we can’t stop the reaction and the attendant genocide.  It’s taste of ashes time—but they’re really high-quality ashes.  Clifton has long been preoccupied with the unsatisfactory nature of humankind, and what might be done to redeem it; see They’d Rather Be Right, featuring a machine that will make us immortal if we will let go of our prejudices.  At this point, though, Clifton seems to have given up on redemption.  Four stars for compressed eloquence.

J.G. Ballard is back with his best yet in the US magazines.  Thirteen to Centaurus opens in the Station, an isolated habitat containing four families, and 16-year-old Abel is figuring out too much.  Dr. Francis, who functions as teacher and a sort of psychological supervisor, brings him in for a talk, and reveals the truth: the Station is a spaceship en route to the nearest star, though Abel won’t live to see it; they are 50 years into the multi-generation journey.  Then Dr. Francis climbs out the secret exit and we see the real truth: the spaceship is a mock-up sitting on Earth, its residents experimental subjects.  And the people in charge, who have gotten a little uncomfortable that those who consented to this treatment are long dead, have decided to shut it down, albeit gradually. 

When Dr. Francis hears this, he flees back into the station, telling his superiors that the people inside are now going to need him even more—but exactly who’s needy isn’t so clear.  There is also a power shift going on during Dr. Francis’s mentorship of Abel; it’s no longer so clear who’s in charge.  And there is a final revelation which I won’t mention.  The bottom line is that Ballard is less impressed than most of his SF colleagues with Man the Rational Problem-Solver; here, he proposes that humans may sometimes be driven to—and be happier—adhering to and living lives based on world-views that they know to be false.

The story is far from perfect; it depends on the vague notion of “conditioning,” which allows Ballard to control what and how much his characters are able to perceive—otherwise the deception could never have lasted. But once you get past this handwaving implausibility, it’s a sharply original angle on some familiar ideas, smoothly and precisely written, with a kind of psychological insight that is rare in the SF mags.  I am near-sighted, and every couple of years I need a new pair of glasses.  (I’m told this will get better as I get older.) Reading Ballard after reading his competitors reminds me of getting new glasses: suddenly everything is just a little sharper and clearer.  Four stars—especially lustrous ones.

Edmond Hamilton, long nicknamed “World-Wrecker,” and perpetrator of the determinedly juvenile Captain Future, has his first appearance in the SF magazines since 1958, when the pulpy digests he frequented—Imagination, Imaginative Tales, and its successor Space Travel—died.  In Requiem, Hamilton’s characters are not wrecking any worlds; the Earth, long evacuated, is being wrecked by natural causes.  Captain Kellon, under orders, has brought a spaceship full of superficial and bickering media personalities to Earth to document its destruction, though he doesn’t see the point of it. 

But he starts taking long walks and finds an old ruined house (“Ross and Jennie—Their House” is written in the half-buried cement of the terrace).  He hangs out there, reflecting on the lives of Ross and Jennie and all their fellows and ancestors and civilization, whose traces are shortly to be destroyed.  And when it’s time to leave, he makes one last gesture of respect.  This fundamentally sentimental story could easily have become intolerable but is told with a quiet restraint that is surprising from the author of Crashing Suns, Battle for the Stars, etc.  Three stars, with a hat-tip for adroit precipice-walking.

Edward Wellen has had a scattering of stories in the SF magazines since 1952, and more recently, several in crime fiction magazines; if he’s much known at all, it’s probably for his ”non-fact articles” in Galaxy like Origins of Galactic Slang.  His novelette Flashback is an SF crime story: child shoots child in a schoolyard; a “forensic biophysics” inspector shows up to investigate; it’s his son who is dead; investigation shows that the gun materialized out of nowhere and belonged to someone 150 years dead.  From there it’s the old Ourobourosian time paradox plot, utterly implausible but perfectly readable, if sometimes annoying because of ostentatious displays of cleverness and little fragments of futuristic decoration mixed in like raisins in a pudding.  Some of these are amusing, though: “He had helped [dead child] Jimmy with semantics problems: ‘True or false.  Eye is to gag as egg is to moo.’ ” Vector sum: three stars, delivered with a grimace.

In Robert Hoskins’s Second Chance, the protagonist has invented psychic time travel and hopes to get a rich guy to pay to go back and straighten out his life.  Trouble is, when he gets back, he no longer remembers the things that, now, never happened.  Hoskins, whose resume consists of three mediocre stories in the UK magazines, adds no value to this familiar gimmick.  Two pretty dull stars.

The Classic Reprint is Spawn of the Ray by Maurice Duclos, from Amazing in 1938; he had several other stories in Amazing’s companion Fantastic Adventures.  The feckless protagonist irradiates microscopic flagellata (sic) with a cathode ray tube, they get big and get away, et cetera ad tedium.  One star.

Sam Moskowitz has another “SF Profile,” Isaac Asimov: Genius in the Candy Store, a reasonably capable and informative account of Asimov’s SF career to date.  As with Moskowitz’s previous articles, one could wish for greater detail and more attention to some of Asimov’s lesser known work, but, realistically, not within the space limits of a 146-page fiction magazine.  Four stars, even if partly by default — no one else is doing anything like this.

Benedict Breadfruit is present, and commendably brief.

Amazing has shown a sharp improvement in its last two issues.  The obvious question is whether they can keep it up.

[February 4, 1962] Promised Land in Sight? (the March 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

A couple of months ago I described Amazing, as “promising.” Now here’s the March 1962 issue, with two up-and-comers on the cover and a third on the contents page.

Verdict: promise partly kept.

Maybe “up-and-comer” isn’t quite le mot juste for Frank Herbert; “what have you done for me lately?” might fit better.  Herbert’s reputation was made by the very well-received Under Pressure, a/k/a The Dragon in the Sea and . . . [gag] . . . 21st Century Sub.  But there’s been no new novel, and the short fiction, though much of it is very solid, has not delivered on expectations.  Mindfield!, the lead novelette, doesn’t advance things.  After a cataclysmic war, a religious tyranny suppresses the old technology, but young rebels want knowledge and progress!  This unoriginal premise is decorated with some original details, e.g., everyone is conditioned against violence, and the priests must regularly undergo “Ultimate Conditioning” in some sort of ego-dissolving regeneration tank. 

The story is pretty murky, so I’ll leave it at this detail: The rebels have found an ancient skeleton and have put that into their stolen regeneration tank, and the simulacrum that emerges remembers its name (barely), and later, how to pilot a helicopter.  No disrespect to bones—where would we be without them?—but how do you get memory and complex skills out of them?  The answer: mumble mumble handwave, and not much of that.  This reads like an exercise in sauve qui peut, to salvage something from a larger project that didn’t pan out.  Two stars.

Mindfield! is illustrated on the cover, sort of: it portrays a missile launch that is about to happen at the end.  It’s consistent with Amazing’s habit of featuring machinery on the cover, but this is rather wimpy machinery: the artist Lloyd Birmingham seems to have used some medium like chalk or colored pencil rather than good old forceful oils or the new acrylics.  Lackluster!

Briton Brian W. Aldiss is definitely up and coming, now prolific in the US as well as the UK, and known for pushing the envelope and/or kicking the shins of standard SF practice.  So Tyrants’ Territory, featuring planetary exploration and a science puzzle, played very straight, is a surprise.  Askanza VI has huge mineral-filled oceans and littoral fauna that look like giant turtles, who build rudimentary structures and throw crockery full of acid when threatened.  Their heads are literally empty.  What’s going on?  The heads of the turtles, or more properly pseudo-chelonia (Aldiss has a footnote about that term), are radio receivers; they are guided by radio waves from the ocean, which by virtue of its composition, is a low-power transmitter.  Who’s transmitting, or whether there is some sort of collective mind, is not clear—but once human colonists arrive, they will quickly figure out how to control the pseudo-chelonia, and the worst elements among them will do so—hence the title. 

But why allow human colonists at all where there already is intelligent life? Uncharacteristically for Aldiss, there’s no real questioning of the colonial imperative beyond the protagonist’s bad mood. The only discordant note is the name of this venture—the Planetary Ecological Survey Team, or PEST—but that’s it for moral witness.  Nonetheless, the story is so well conceived, written, and assembled as to merit four stars.

J.G. Ballard is back with The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista , another in his series about Vermilion Sands — a colony of artists and other creative types, not to mention layabouts and poseurs.  It introduces psychotropic houses, which reflect the emotional states and physical reactions of their occupants—including their previous occupants.  This idea is good for gags early on, e.g.: “Rapidly we went through a mock Assyrian ziggurat (the last owner had suffered from St. Vitus’s Dance, and the whole structure still jittered like a galvanized Tower of Pisa).”

Protagonist Talbot and wife buy the house once belonging to Gloria Tremayne, a movie star who shot and killed her husband in the house but was acquitted of murder—with Talbot assisting her defense.  He’s never gotten over his fascination.  The relationship between Talbot and his wife and the house’s memory of Tremayne and her husband reinforce each other until the house tries first to kill Talbot’s wife and then to kill Talbot when he comes home drunk and aggressive, not unlike Tremayne’s husband.  Talbot has, as he later puts it, “reconstructed the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material.”

This superficially jokey story is extremely well done.  Apart from the cleverness of the idea and its development, Ballard (like Aldiss) is a vastly better writer at the word-and-sentence level than the genre standard, with a knack for striking phrases and images (“Starting to walk down to the lounge, I realized that the house was watching me like a wounded animal.”).  The portrayal of Talbot as a narcissistic jerk through his first-person narration is a little tour de force of “show, don’t tell.” Four stars.

Newish writer David Ely is here with The The Wizard of Light, in which multiple copies of artistic masterpieces appear, utterly indistinguishable from the originals—like hundreds of Mona Lisas left outside the Louvre.  The art market is destroyed.  Turns out old Dr. Browl, brilliant inventor of optical devices, has invented a molecular scanner, complete with “cybernetic reactor” to copy whatever was scanned.  And why is he doing this?  To destroy art, which “falsifies nature in general, and light values in particular.” Clever idea, but spun out for too long, and the story is told in a faux-19th Century verbose style; whether as pastiche or just reinventing the square wheel, it talks itself down to three stars.

The Classic Reprint this issue is Euthanasia Limited by David H. Keller, M.D., a power in his time (the 1920s and ‘30s).  It features detective Taine of San Francisco.  Sam Moskowitz’s introduction says Keller “performed a feat of characterization [with Taine] so extraordinary that it should be studied by every student of writing technique.” Whatever.  It begins: “A little white-haired woman was working in her laboratory.” Not bad for 1929!  Anna Van Why (honest) is making a battery—out of apple halves.  She studies death and has learned that all life has electrical potential, and death is its reduction to zero, as she explains for not quite four pages.  Her sociopathic brother is eager to learn more, and a year later a police official comes to discuss with her a series of unusual deaths and arrange a visit from Taine.  Taine arrives and cracks the by now obvious case through tedious chicanery.  To hell with this, bring back Anna Van Why!  Two stars.

Frank Tinsley contributes Cosmic Butterfly, a short article about a spaceship design that uses solar power to ionize a propellant.  Tinsley is a fairly boring writer and this is pitched at a level more elementary than most SF readers are likely to need.  Two stars.

In 1956, F&SF began running a series of vignettes titled Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot, by one Grendel Briarton (hint: think anagram), consisting of elaborate set-ups for terrible puns, usually on cliched sayings.  Now Amazing has commenced Through Time and Space with Benedict Breadfruit, by one Grandall Barretton (not even quite an anagram), consisting of elaborate set-ups for terrible puns on the names of SF authors.  This has been a public service announcement.

[Speaking of which, if you registered for WorldCon by January 31, you should have received your ballot.  Don’t forget to nominate Galactic Journey for “Best Fanzine!”]

[January 4, 1962] Over the top…Barely (February 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Life is full of happy surprises!  At long last Amazing has crossed a line: nothing in the the February 1962 issue is worse than three stars, and the average is a little higher.  Read on; I think you’ll agree that there is much to enjoy in this, the first magazine of the month:

Mark Clifton’s serial Pawn of the Black Fleet concludes in this issue.  It continues Clifton’s series about Ralph Kennedy, a corporate personnel director (as was Clifton) who appeared in four stories from 1953 to 1957 dealing with various psi manifestations.  Back then, Clifton appeared so often in Astounding that some called it the Clifton House Organ, though most of his recent work has appeared elsewhere.

Here, Kennedy is mistakenly dragooned into a job as Extraterrestrial Psychologist for the Space Navy, where he quickly learns the game of bureaucratic aggrandizement.  There are no extraterrestrials to psychologize at first, but soon enough a flight of black disks (the titular “Black Fleet”) appears, striking terror and sowing confusion until radiant globes show up and spectacularly dispatch them in what only Kennedy realizes is a complete put-on.  The aliens from the globes then manifest as five regular guys with heavy Texas accents, communicating frankly only with Kennedy.  After a brief interlude at Blair House, they go sightseeing around the Earth, irrigating deserts, making paths through jungles, and making Siberia and similar places livable as they go.  Then they depart, letting everything revert to its prior condition, telling the world that now you know what needs to be done and how to do it, and we’ll catch you later when you develop star travel and come visit us.  A subplot involves the machinations of Harvey Strickland, a media mogul resembling a cartoon of William Randolph Hearst on stilts, a comically evil figure, and obese to boot (confirming his awfulness, apparently).

This novella’s worth of plot is larded with extensive and heavy-handed satirical screeds about federal bureaucracy and its status obsessions, the military, the gullibility and prejudices of humanity at large, and similar subjects, some voiced or enacted by the characters (especially Strickland), but most in the authorial voice.  One rant about the military mind consumes more than a page of text.  (Now we know why this did not appear in Analog: nobody but the editor gets to rant at that length.) Clifton has apparently given up on “Show, don’t tell.” Some of these bloated lampoons are quite well written and therefore amusing, but collectively they become tedious, though their effect cannot be conveyed without quoting more than is manageable in the cramped quarters of this long-haul vessel.  Satire of bureaucracy is nothing new in Clifton’s work (see the previous Ralph Kennedy stories), but this one is less like being pricked with a needle and more like being beaten over the head with a sandbag.  Satire has yielded to self-indulgent and over-the-top misanthropy.  See for yourself when, as the magazine promises, a version appears next month from Doubleday as When They Come from Space.  Three stars.

The lead story is Poul Anderson’s Third Stage, a near-space and near-time opera featuring two astronauts who get stuck in orbit in the Van Allen belt.  Someone has to go outside the vehicle and clear the blocked valve, taking a fatal radiation dose.  Which one?  How to decide?  (The General bucks it to the President.) Also featured is an obnoxious TV guy who is harassing the astronauts’ families for human interest shots.  Capably and tensely done, but mechanical.  Three stars.

Third Stage is illustrated by another hardware-intensive hyper-literal cover, this one with a fillip: the space capsule is presented in cutaway, like something in Popular Mechanics.  Conceivably, artist Alex Schomburg is being subtler than he seems: the TV guy at one point displays a cutaway of the capsule on the air, described similarly to the cover.  So maybe it is meant to present an image of an image—appropriate to the media-centric aspect of the story.

Amazing’s “Classic Reprint” series is selected from the magazine’s early days and introduced by Sam Moskowitz, the leading (virtually the only) historian of the genre.  This issue’s Classic is Missionaries from the Sky by Stanton A. Coblentz, prolific in the 1920s and ‘30s, and known as a satirist.  And, based on my reading of several novels, a right old bore.  At short length, however, Coblentz’s verbose and antiquated style is more tolerable. 

Rand the electronic scientist has a new invention, which he shows to his assistant Denison:

“ ‘You behold here a Micro-Crystalline Televisor,’ explained Rand, surveying his invention proudly.  ‘The first of its kind ever created.’ ”

“ ‘Micro-Crystalline what?’ I gasped.”

Rand has managed to contact Mars, learning and teaching the respective languages, and the Martians are horrified to learn that Earth still has nations and wars, not to mention inequality and starvation.  They have offered to pop over and set us right, if Rand will just give them the go-ahead and direct them to a flat place to land.  He agonizes about the boons of peace and equality versus the loss of freedom until he finally flips, melodramatically smashing his equipment and burning his notes, a now-mad scientist in a better cause than usual.  Three stars for this reasonably pleasant and charming relic.

The remaining fiction items read as if they had wandered over from Amazing’s companion Fantastic.  A. Earley, apparently a new writer, contributes And It Was Good, a religious allegory in which somebody who seems to be Jesus returns to a post-apocalyptic war-ridden world and lightens the burdens of a few hopeless deserters from different countries’ armies until he gets blown up by a grenade.  Usually I have no patience with this kind of thing, but it is so well written and visualized, and light-handed despite its overtness (parse that if you dare), and so different in flavor from the rest of the magazine, I’m giving it four stars. 

John Jakes, by contrast, is a veteran of Amazing since 1950, with 50+ low-impact stories in the SF magazines and several dozen more elsewhere.  He perpetrates the cheerfully grotesque Recidivism Preferred, in which dashing thief Mellors (no relation, I’m sure) has been reduced after apprehension to a dull and withdrawn clerk in Lumpkin’s Emporium.  But he is visited by three surreally cartoonish characters who prove determined to break the conditioning that has rendered him both law-abiding and vacuous.  This is comedy so black as to be Stygian, and would rate higher were it not for the silly and deflating revelation of the rescuers’ motives.  Too bad.  Maybe someday a more ambitious writer can make something of the tradeoff between therapeutic rehabilitation and mental and moral freedom.  Three stars.

Sam Moskowitz has another in his series of “SF Profiles,” this one titled Theodore Sturgeon: No More Than Human.  Remarkably, the latest Sturgeon work mentioned is More Than Human, published in 1953; there is no reference to any of his numerous subsequent short stories and novelettes, or to his recent novels The Cosmic Rape (1958) or Some of Your Blood (1961), except for a general acknowledgment of his “steady literary production…with a continuous striving for higher achievement.” Nonetheless, it’s an interesting account of Sturgeon’s life and earlier career, with speculation about why he’s been doing so well recently, and there’s nothing else like these articles.  Four stars, as much for ground-breaking as anything else.

So ends an above-water issue, and just in time to return to my less exciting (for once) school-related reading.  Until next month!

[December 19, 1961] AMAZING . . . NOT YET (the January 1962 Amazing)

[Several months ago, I put out the call for someone to help me review the two science fiction digests I didn’t have time to read: Fantastic and Amazing, both edited by young Cele Goldsmith.  I’ve generally considered them the least of the sff magazines, but given how few of them are left these days, I reasoned that they could not be entirely worthless.  Moreover, I want Galactic Journey to provide as complete a picture of the genre as I can, covering virtually every story produced in this country (and many in the UK as well!) Hence, my delight when super-fan Victoria Silverwolf took up the pen and started reviewing Fantastic

Now, a second long-time Journeyer, precocious John Boston, has also responded.  As 1962 begins, we now have all of the big periodicals presented.  Read on and see what’s you’ve missed…]


by John Boston

As a a maladjusted high school freshman in a reactionary and pious small town, I’m always glad of the opportunity to get away, if only for a little while.  Mostly, that means a flight of fancy facilitated by a trip to the library stacks or, if I’ve got a couple of bits, the newsstands.  And now, the Journey affords me a chance to reach all of you, the fellow travelers who follow this column. 

What I have for you today is the January 1962 Amazing Stories, subtitled Fact and Science Fiction.  For some years, this magazine has been slowly digging itself out of a hole of purposeful mediocrity, with much improvement — but it’s not quite at ground level yet.

The headliner in this issue is Mark Clifton’s serial Pawn of the Black Fleet, to be discussed when it concludes next month.  The issue actually leads off with a novelette, The Towers of Titan by relatively new author Ben Bova.  On Titan, humans have found a number of towers full of extraterrestrial machinery, still running after a million years, operation and purpose incomprehensible.  There’s a scientific puzzle, solved scientifically (at least enough to fool me).  Of course, there is a bit of serendipity, and there’s no question the solving process is beneficial to protagonist Dr. Lee’s romance with Elaine the resident archaeologist.  This is a clever and well constructed piece of hard-science SF, written in a determinedly plain style with considerable facility, which is both good news and bad.  It’s good when Bova is describing scientists discussing their findings and research methods, which otherwise could get pretty boring, but bad when he wallows in handy cliches. 

Visiting the towers:

“He could feel it again—the alienness, the lurking presence of an intelligence that scorned the intruders from Earth.”

After telling Elaine that his wife has left him:

“Do you still love her?”  Elaine asked. 

“I don’t know.  I don’t think I know what love is, anymore.  All I know is, on that long trip out to Vega, when I had nothing to do but sit and think, it wasn’t Ruth I was thinking about.  It was you.”

“Oh . . .”

And of course in the next paragraph, “she was his, at least for a while.”

Actually, it all fits.  This is only Bova’s second SF magazine appearance, but he has published the Winston juvenile The Star Conquerors, the flap copy of which reveals that he’s been a technical editor for Project Vanguard.  He is also now a screenwriter for a scientific educational outfit.  So he’s experienced at word-slinging with a premium on clarity as well as appealing to the least common denominator.  He may have a bright future in hard-science SF if he can lose some of the schmaltz.  Weighing cleverness and obvious enthusiasm against cliches, three stars.

These Towers are depicted on the cover, by Ed Emshwiller, which typifies the current look of Amazing: colorful, sharp-edged, cartoony, and emphasizing hardware — in this case the characters’ space suits and helmets (Elaine’s spacesuit being rather tight-fitting).  The previous year’s covers almost all prominently feature spaceship, space station, or launch facility.  They are all a trifle crude, garish, and frankly unimaginative compared to most of their current competition.  Compare, especially, this Emsh cover to his subtler, better-rendered and generally more interesting work for F&SF (say, his last three covers for 1961). 

The most interesting fiction here is J.G. Ballard’s The Insane Ones.  Ballard has been prolific and well received in the British SF magazines, but this is his first appearance in an American magazine; he is known here only via the Judith Merril annual anthologies and the short-lived US reprint of New Worlds.  His work displays a preoccupation with psychological themes, and this is no exception: an ultraconservative world government has outlawed mental health treatment.  Everybody has the right to be insane, but remains criminally responsible for conduct.  The result: “psychotics loitering like stray dogs in the up-town parks, wise enough not to shop-lift or cause trouble, but a petty nuisance on the cafe terraces, knocking on hotel-rooms at all hours of the night.”

Dr. Gregory, just released from prison for continuing to practice psychiatry, encounters a troubled young woman who kills herself when she can’t get any help from him.  Then he finds a disturbed young man, Christian, rifling his suitcase for barbiturates to keep himself from trying to kill the leader of the government.  Gregory yields and renders covert and cursory treatment—and Christian then sets off to kill the world leader, saying he is completely rational and someone has to do it.  He drives off, with Gregory chasing after him, yelling “Christian, you’re insane!”  This is not one of Ballard’s best: the idea is interesting but underdeveloped at this short length.  But even in this minor and facile (that word again) story Ballard’s style is vivid and incisive and one hopes that he will now appear regularly in the US.  Three and a half stars.

Miriam Allen de Ford’s SF career comprises some three dozen stories over the past decade or so, and yet is almost an afterthought.  Her 50-year-plus career has emphasized mystery fiction and true crime, with a detour through Big Little Books, authoring such titles as Astronomy for Beginners and What Great Frenchwomen Learned About Love.  In her spare time, she was an early disseminator of birth control information (when you could go to jail for it), and did some field work for Charles Fort.

If only de Ford’s writing were as fascinating as her life must have been.  The Akkra Case is blurbed as “a criminologist’s lecture-report” and it reads like one.  A young woman is found murdered in the rarely-entered Central Park in “Newyork I” in a diluted Brave New World-ish future: murder is nearly unknown, no one works until age 25 and then they can retire at 45, and a “healthy system of sexual experimentation” has replaced all the old hang-ups.  But the murder victim was a virgin, and that’s the clue: she and family were involved with the Naturists, a subversive cult opposed to all modern practices including sexual freedom. 

Yeah, but who killed her?  Her younger sister cracks the case, and the solution turns out to be as uninteresting as the lead-up.  En passant, the Naturists were rounded up, locked up, and then lobotomized, and it’s a measure of how detached the presentation is that one can’t really tell what de Ford thinks about that, or anything else in the story.  Two stars, being generous.

We are not done with de Ford.  The Editorial consists mostly of the text of a speech by de Ford on SF criminology, in which she describes three of her other stories, which sound no more interesting than this one. 

[ED: I have not read these stories, but I’ve generally found DeFord’s work more engaging than Mr. Boston does.  Perhaps these are bad examples…or perhaps I’ve encountered the good ones]

The Mars Snooper by Frank Tinsley, is a rather basic description of the engineering problems involved in getting a spaceship to Mars and back.  It’s a piece of straight exposition and nothing more.  Three stars.

Interestingly, this Tinsley, who has contributed several such pieces to Amazing, started out as an artist, providing cover and interior illustrations for pulp magazines, then art and text for a comic strip, then text and illustrations for articles in Mechanix Illustrated, and now in Amazing with text and a single illustration.

The remaining story is Inconstancy by Roger Dee (Roger D. Aycock), whose 50 stories in the SF mags since 1949 have had little discernible impact.  This one certainly has none.  Mars and Earth, their populations having common ancestry, exchange ambassadors, who are going to have to remain away from home for a couple of years.  The Martian ambassador, selected to look Earth-ish, is introduced to a nice young woman, and the Earth ambassador, selected to look Martian, hits it off with the Mars ambassador’s wife.  Problems solved!  One star to this piece of filler.

So: the fiction here, exclusive of the serial, yields an overall rating of a little under two and a half stars.  The best one can say of this issue is that it shows promise: promise of more Ballard and better Bova. 

[I’ll take promise.  It’s more than Analog delivers much of the time!]

[June 11, 1960] Fool me once… (July 1960 Amazing)

If there is any innovation that defined the resurgent science fiction field in the 1950s, it is the science fiction digest.  Before the last decade, science fiction was almost entirely the province of the “pulps,” large-format publications on poor-quality paper.  The science fiction pulps shared space with the detective pulps, the western pulps, the adventure pulps.  Like their brethren, the sci-fi pulps had lurid and brightly colored covers, often with a significant cheesecake component.

Astounding (soon to be Analog) was one of the first magazines to make the switch to the new, smaller digest format.  Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, and a host of other new magazines never knew another format.  By the mid-’50s, there were a score of individual science fiction digests, some excellent, some unremarkable.  It was an undisputed heyday.  But even by 1954, there were signs of decline.  By the end of the decade, only a handful of digests remained.  The “Big Three” were and are Astounding, F&SF, and Galaxy (now a bi-monthly alternating production with a revamped version of IF).  Also straggling along are Fantastic Stories and Amazing, the latter being the oldest one in continuous production.

My faithful readers know I don’t generally bother with the last two titles.  Although some of my favorite authors sometimes appear in them, the overall magazine quality is spotty, and my time (not to mention budget!) is limited.  Nevertheless, Rosel George Brown had a good story in Fantastic last month, and this month’s Amazing had a compelling cover that promised I would find works by Blish, Bone, Clarke, and Knight inside. 

I bit.  This article is the result.

Last time I covered Amazing, I noted that the magazine was a throwback both in writing style and plots.  Things haven’t changed much.  Though there are a couple of decent stories in here, I wouldn’t buy a subscription based on what I read. 

In brief:

J.F. Bone has written some fine stuff.  Noble Redman, about a psionically endowed, red-hued Earthman who teams up with a Martian lowlife (both of them humans), is not one of his best tales, but it’s inoffensive 3-star fare.

A good portion of the book is taken up with William F. Temple’s novella, “L” is for Lash.  This is pure early ’50s stuff: a retired cop named Fred (I don’t think we ever learn his last name) is haunted by the criminal he put away decades before, and who was interned for life on Venus.  The convict somehow managed to escape, go on a robbing spree, and attain eternal youth and invulnerability to boot.  The protagonist’s solution is not only implausible, it’s actually inconsistent. 

I’ll spoil things for you: Lash, the criminal, has perfect telekinetic control of everything around him.  Missiles, A- Bombs, guns, all are ineffective against him.  We are told later in the story that the first of Lash’s murders had been designed to look like an accident.  He had angered a fellow to the point of firing on Lash, but Lash had gimmicked the assailant’s gun to fire backward, thus killing its owner.  At the end of Lash, the hero visits the Scotland Yard crime museum (is there such a place?) to view this unique weapon.  He then uses his powers of prestidigitation to swap his current gun for the gimmicked gun.  When Lash inevitably shows up to force Fred to kill himself, the gun shoots backwards and hits Lash. 

Perhaps Lash was taken by surprise.  I can forgive that.  But there is sloppy writing here.  Before the swap, Fred rewires his standard gun to stun rather than kill its targets.  After the swap, he wires the gun back for killing.  Except the trick gun had never been set to stun.  An author and her/his editor really should proofread a work before it is printed.  I understand that Temple wanted to keep the reveal a secret until the end, but this was just sloppy.

If you liked David Bunch’s A Little Girl’s Xmas in Modernia, set a world where, as people mature, they swap out their fleshly components for robotics, then you might enjoy Penance Day in Moderan.  This one involves an annual meeting of generals; they wage war on each other in a casually enjoyable way the other 364 days of the year.  Bunch’s suite of satirical stories has largely been published in Fantastic and Amazing, so I’ve missed them.  If you like them, seek them out!

Murray Yaco, who helped contribute to the poor quality of the October 1959 Astounding is back with the mediocre Membership Drive, about the first contact between an all-too humanoid alien and modern humanity.  The ending particularly bothered me for its callous treatment of the one female character; you may feel differently.

One of the reasons I’d purchased the magazine was the non-fiction article by the renowned Arthur C. Clarke.  A New Look at Space is not really a factual article in the style of Ley or Asimov.  Rather it’s just a four-page puff piece explaining how great Space is and how soon we’ll get there.  I’m not sure what occasioned him to write this space-filler.  Disappointing.

It turns out that the Blish story, …And all the Stars a Stage, is actually the fourth part of a four-part serial.  The description didn’t grab me–male hero leads a rebellion against a stifling matriarchy, so I won’t seek out the other three parts.

Finally, the Knight (Damon, that is).  Time Enough, or Enough Time, depending on whether you believe the Table of Contents or the story’s title page, is a decent coda to the issue.  In the near future, a psychiatrist invents a kind of time machine.  Whether it actually allows one to go back in time or simply return to an episode in one’s personal history is left vague.  The story focuses on an individual who attempts to rewrite an humiliating episode from his middle-school days, one that the patient feels is responsible for his problems in adulthood.  He is unsuccessful in his mission.  His doctor gently reminds his patient that the failures of the past are sometimes best left forgotten, and efforts better spent on improving the present person.  Nevertheless, the patient resolves to keep trying until he succeeds.  “There’s always tomorrow,” the patient states, the irony being that the patient is using his tomorrows to adjust the past rather than to forge a new future. 

It almost goes without mentioning that women are virtually nonexistent, and there are no female writers.  Amazing is still the most conservative of the digests, even more so than Astounding.  I’ve predicted its demise for some time, yet it manages to defy my expectations.  Maybe there are few enough digests now that Amazing‘s share of the market is big enough to sustain it.  Or perhaps its 35 cent price tag, the lowest of the digests, is the secret to its survival.