Tag Archives: avram davidson

[Apr. 28, 1962] Changing of the Guard (May 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I never thought the time would come that reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would be the most dreaded portion of my duties…and yet, here we are.  Two issues into new Editor Avram Davidson’s tenure, it appears that the mag’s transformation from a great bastion of literary (if slightly stuffy) scientifiction is nearly complete.  The title of the digest might well be The Magazine of Droll Trifles (with wry parenthetical asides).

One or two of these in an issue, if well done, can be fine.  But when 70% of the content is story after story with no science and, at best, stream-of-consciousness whimsy, it’s a slog.  And while one could argue that last issue’s line-up comprised works picked by the prior editor, it’s clear that this month’s selections were mostly Davidson’s. 

Moreover, Robert Mills (the outgone “Kindly Editor”) used to write excellent prefaces to his works, the only ones I would regularly read amongst all the digests.  Davidson’s are rambling and purple, though I do appreciate the biographical details on Burger and Aandahl this ish. 

I dunno.  Perhaps you’ll consider my judgment premature and unfair.  I certainly hope things get better…

Who Sups With the Devil, by Terry Carr

This is Carr’s first work, and one for which Davidson takes all the credit (blame) for publishing.  It sells itself as a “Deal with Diablo” story with a twist, but the let-down is that, in the end, there is no twist.  Two stars.

Who’s in Charge Here?, by James Blish

A vivid, if turgid, depiction of the wretched refuse that hawk wares on the hot streets of New York.  I’m not sure what the point is, and I expect better of Blish (and F&SF).  Two stars.

Hawk in the Dusk, by William Bankier

This tale, about a vicious old prune who has a change of heart in his last days, would not be out of place in an episode of Thriller or perhaps in the pages of the long-defunct Unknown.  In other words, nothing novel in concept.  Yet, and perhaps this is simply due to its juxtaposition to the surrounding dreck, I felt that it was extremely well done.  Five stars.

One of Those Days, by William F. Nolan

From zeniths to nadirs, this piece is just nonsense piled upon nonsense.  It’s the sort of thing I’d expect from a 13-year old…and mine (the Young Traveler) has consistently delivered better.  One star.

Napoleon’s Skullcap, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can a psionic kippah really tune you in to the minds of great figures of the past?  Dickson rarely turns in a bad piece, and this one isn’t horrible, but it takes obvious pains to be oblique so as to draw out the “gotcha” ending as far as possible.  Three stars, barely.

Noselrubb, the Tree, by Eric Frazee

Noselrubb, about an interstellar reconnaissance of Earth, is one of those kookie pieces with aliens standing in for people.  Neophyte Frazee might as well throw in the quill.  One star.

By Jove!, by Isaac Asimov

Again, I am feeling overcharitable.  It just so happens that I plan to write an essay on Uranus as part of my movie that took place on the seventh planet.  Asimov’s piece, about the internal make-up of the giant planets, is thus incredibly timely.  It’s also good.  Five stars (even though the Good Doctor may have snitched his title from me…).

The Einstein Brain, by Josef Nesvadba

F&SF‘s Czech contributor is back with another interesting peek behind the Iron Curtain.  Brain involves the creation of an artificial intelligence to solve the physical problems beyond the reach of the greatest human minds.  The moral – that it’s okay to stop and smell the flowers – is a reaction, perhaps, to the Soviet overwhelming emphasis on science in their culture.  We laud it, but perhaps they find it stifling.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: L, by Reginald Bretnor

Possibly the worst Feghoot…and there’s no small competition.

Miss Buttermouth, by Avram Davidson

The unkindly Editor lards out his issue with a vignette featuring a protagonist from the Five Roses, complete with authentic idiom, and his run-in with a soothsayer who might have a line on the ponies.  It’s as good as anything Davidson has come up with recently.  Two stars.

The Mermaid in the Swimming Pool, by Walter H. Kerr

Mr. Kerr is still learning how to write poetry.  Perhaps he’ll get there someday.  Two stars.

Love Child, by Otis Kidwell Burger

Through many commas and words of purplish hue, one can dimly discern a story of an offspring of some magical union.  Mrs. Burger reportedly transcribes her dreams and submits them as stories.  The wonder is that they get accepted and published.  Two stars.

Princess #22, by Ron Goulart

If Bob Sheckley had written this story, about an abducted princess and the android entertainer for whom she is a dead ringer, it probably would have been pretty decent.  Goulart makes a hash of it.  Two stars.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, by Vance Aandahl

Young Vance Aandahl made a big splash a couple of years ago and has turned in little of note since.  His latest, a post-apocalyptic tale of love, savagery, and religion, draws on many other sources.  They are less than expertly translated, but the result is not without some interest.  Three stars.

***

Generously evaluated, this issue garners 2.7 stars.  However, much of that is due to the standout pieces (which I suspect you will not feel as strongly about) and to a bit of scale-weighting for the three stars stories…that are only just. 

(by the way, is it just me, or does the cover girl bear a striking resemblance to the artist’s spouse, Ms. Carol Emshwiller?)

[March 10, 1962] Mail Call! (The April 1962 Galaxy)


by Gideon Marcus

If there is any true measure of fame, it might well be the amount of fan mail you get.  Many stars employ services to plow through their truckloads and give each missive personal response.  Jack Benny came out on his TV stage last night holding a giant sack of fan mail – of course, it was really filled with trash and old cans… 

Galactic Journey’s popularity lies somewhere inbetween; we do get our fair share of postcards, but I haven’t needed to hire help to read them…yet.  Truth be told, it was for these correspondences that I started this column.  I love meeting you folk – you start the most interesting conversations! 

Science fiction magazines get letters, too.  Many of these digests feature letter columns: Analog, IF, Amazing, and Fantastic.  The two notable hold-outs are Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy.  I suspect the main reason for F&SF is lack of space, it being the shortest of the monthly mags.

Galaxy‘s reasoning is more complex.  In fact, its editors (first H.L. Gold, now Fred Pohl) have polled readers to see if they wanted a lettercol.  In the last 12 years’ of the magazine’s existence, the answer has always been no.  Ironically, as much as I love talking to fellow fans, I think I’m in agreement (though I do like letters in comic books).  More room for stories!

Speaking of which…have a look at the stories that came out in this month’s quite good Galaxy, dated April 1962:

A Planet for Plundering, by Jack Williamson

Things start a bit slowly with our lead novella.  Wain Scarlet is an anachronism – an atavistic maladjust in an interstellar society of humans.  Where his countrymen are universally beautiful in form and thought, Scarlet is ugly and venal.  Dispatched to the remote star system of Sol to determine whether or not to melt the Earth to use as a galactic stoplight, his sole concern is which of the parties involved can bribe him the most.  Even the revelation that the third planet of the system may well be the ancestral home of humanity means little to him.

Jack Williamson has been around a long time, and his pulpish instincts often creep to the fore in this tale of first contact.  Planet has moments of engagement, and the protagonist is delightfully anti-heroic, but the rough patches bog it down.  Two stars.

Tail-Tied Kings, by Avram Davidson

Davidson, now editor for F&SF, continues his slide into mediocre self-indulgence.  If you recall Miram Allen Deford’s Oh Rats! from issue before last, you’ve got the plot of this one – superrats escape from captivity, poised to take over the world from their bipedal erstwhile masters.  Not unreadable (like some of Davidson’s other recent stuff), but why bother rehashing the same story?  And so soon?  Two stars.

Star-Crossed Lover, by William Stuart

Ah, but then we have William Stuart, who rarely disappoints and usually delights.  This Galaxy veteran offers up a fun, tongue-in-cheek tale of romance between a loveable schlub and an eager-to-please, highly wanton ET.  What could go wrong when you’ve got the literal woman of your dreams?  You’ll have to read and find out.  Four stars.

For Your Information, by Willy Ley

Everyone’s favorite German returns this bi-month with a piece on shaped charges.  These are explosive shells whose effectiveness is multiplied by how the powder inside is molded.  Pretty fascinating stuff, actually, but the letter Q&A portion afterward is lackluster.  Three stars.

The Long, Silvery Day, by Magnus Ludens

You ever have one of those perfect days?  When everything goes just perfectly?  Ever wonder if someone was behind it?  The impressively named Magnus Ludens is a brand new author, and he hits a triple his first time at bat.  Four stars for this charming story.

Big Baby, by Jack Sharkey

If Stuart is a name that raises expectations, Sharkey’s is one that lowers them.  Big Baby is the next in his series starring Jerry Norciss, a telepathic member of the Contact service.  His job is to jump into the minds of beasts on various planets to learn more about the local ecology.  It’s not a purely scientific mission – there’s always a colony in trouble.  The tidbits about the lonely, junkie-esque life of the esper are compelling, but Baby‘s menace isn’t as interesting as the ones in his last story, there’s far too much exposition, and the solution is clumsily rendered.  Two stars.

Gourmet, by Allen Kim Lang

I’ve no particular reason to like Gourmet, about a spacer who can do wonders with algae rations – but I do.  Perhaps it’s because I fancy myself a gourmand, or because Lang is pretty good with the typewriter.  Either way, it’s a swell story.  Four stars.

Founding Father, by J.F. Bone

Did the slaveowners think they were righteous?  Do the Whites who lynch Blacks feel good about what they do?  Founding Father puts us in the minds of a pair of reptilian aliens who investigate modern-day Earth.  Their ship has insufficient fuel for the return trip, so they place mental taps into a married couple and compel them to collect some. 

What ensues is a difficult read, particularly if mental coercion is your weak point.  There is no happy ending, and the enslaved’s resistance is slowly, methodically destroyed.  Yet the slavemasters are not uncivilized.  Their actions are justified, at least to themselves.  And it’s all rendered with a somewhat insouciant touch, appropriate given whose viewpoint we see through.  Chilling.

This is an awfully hard piece to be objective about.  It’s a cruel story, all the more shocking for its lightness of tone.  But I think it’s deliberate.  I’ve read enough of J.F. Bone to be assured that he knows what he’s doing.  If you finish Father without having addressed your feelings about slavery, racism, and the indignity of nonconsensual control, then you’re either not getting the point, or you may have no soul.  Tough stuff, but worthy.  Four stars.

Moondog, by Arthur C. Clarke

About an astronaut and the dog who saves him, even over a distance spanning hundreds of thousands of miles, several years, and the veil of life.  This is a rather pedestrian tale from perhaps the most preeminent of British sf authors, but to be fair, I’m more of a cat lover.  Three stars.

So there you go – a jumbo-sized issue of Galaxy that finished on the good side of decent.  Something to write home about?  I leave that to you to decide…

[March 1, 1962] Hearts and Flowers (April 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

March has roared in like a lion here in Eastern Tennessee, with high temperatures below fifty and a bit of snow falling in Chattanooga.  Can it be possible that spring is right around the corner?  Perhaps it would be best to turn our thoughts away from the tempests of winter and concentrate on sunnier matters.

After his triumphant orbiting of the Earth, Colonel John Glenn is scheduled to be treated today to what is predicted to be the largest ticker tape parade in history, filling the streets of New York City with tons of shredded paper. Not great news for the street sweepers of the Big Apple, but the rest of us can celebrate.

For those of us stuck indoors due to the weather, we can tune our radios to just about any station playing the Top Forty and enjoy the sound of Gene Chandler’s smash hit Duke of Earl, which has been at the top of the charts for a couple of weeks. It may not have the most profound lyrics in the world, but this catchy little number is sure to be heard in the background of many a teenage courtship as a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

Appropriately, The April 1962 issue of Fantastic is full of romance, along with the sense of wonder demanded by readers of speculative fiction.

Before we get to the mushy stuff, however, Judith Merril offers us a mysterious look at The Shrine of Temptation.  George Barr’s beautiful cover art appears to have inspired this ambiguous tale of good, evil, and strange rituals.  Barr’s work has appeared in a handful of fanzines for a few years, but I believe this is his first professional publication.  Based on the quality of this painting, I believe the young artist has a fine career ahead of him.

Merril’s story takes place on an island where the native population is being studied by a group of anthropologists.  I was never quite sure whether this was supposed to be taking place on Earth or on another planet.  Although the inhabitants of the island are fully human, there are hints that their year is not the same as ours.  In any case, a young native, nicknamed Lucky by the anthropologists for his intelligence and cheerful nature, quickly learns English and befriends the strangers.  He introduces them to his culture, but the secret of the shrine is unknown even to him, since it is only opened once in a very great while.  The trouble begins when a group from a rival nation arrives on the island.  (Whether their ship travels by sea or through space is not entirely clear.) Eventually the shrine is opened, and what happens is truly unexpected.  This is an intriguing story, if somewhat opaque, and rewards careful reading.  Four stars.

We turn to what we might delicately call the physical aspects of love in R. Bretnor’s comedy Dr. Birdmouse.  A pianist whose act is extremely popular with women winds up on a planet with an unusual form of reproduction.  All the animals are as intelligent as humans, and any animal can mate with any other animal, resulting in all sorts of bizarre hybrids.  The title character, for example, combines the characteristics of the creatures found in his name.  (When he learns English from the pianist, he also speaks and acts in an outrageously fey manner.  Combined with the pianist’s enthusiastic female audience, I had to wonder if these two characters were intended as a parody of the flamboyant entertainer Liberace.) Despite the loyalty of his feminine fans, the pianist is not a success when it comes to romance, particularly when compared to his untalented but very masculine brother.  He plans to bring some of the inhabitants of the planet back to Earth as an exhibit, in hopes that this will win him a harem of mistresses.  However, Dr. Birdmouse and the others have plans of their own.  This is a moderately amusing trifle, worthy of three stars.

As I predicted last month, the two bickering members of Congress wind up in each other’s arms in the concluding half of the short novel Joyleg by Ward Moore and Avram Davidson.  This part of the story takes place almost entirely in the home of the seemingly ageless Revolutionary War veteran Isachar Z. Joyleg, and could easily be adapted for the stage as a romantic comedy.  The secret of his longevity is revealed, drawing the world’s attention.  For political reasons, a hostile bureaucrat attempts to accuse Joyleg of desertion, multiple seductions, and even piracy.  To add to the confusion, a document signed by John Paul Jones while that famous naval commander was in the service of Catherine the Great grants Joyleg possession of a large tract of land in Siberia.  A Soviet diplomat arrives in this remote corner of Tennessee, hoping to convince Joyleg to turn his back on an ungrateful USA and instead become a respected citizen of the USSR.  It’s all very amusing and charming.  Four stars.

Love also blooms at the conclusion of this month’s fantasy classic.  Nonstop to Mars by Jack Williamson is reprinted from the February 25, 1939 issue of Argosy.  A pilot known for making long nonstop flights in his one-man plane is forced to land on a remote island after a weird storm disables his craft.  Alone on the island is a beautiful young scientist, who is studying the phenomenon.  It turns out that aliens from another solar system have landed on Mars, and are using super-advanced technology to teleport Earth’s atmosphere to the red planet.  Humanity seems doomed, but our hero bravely enters the storm and literally flies to Mars.  This is an old-fashioned adventure story with a wild premise.  It certainly holds the reader’s attention, and is more vividly written than most pulp yarns from its time.  Three stars.

There is a lot to enjoy in Fantastic this month.  You may not fall deeply in love with this issue…but you may be infatuated with it.

[February 23, 1962] Material Reading (March 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

The coverage for John Glenn’s orbital flight was virtually non-stop on the 20th.  My daughter and I (as many likely did) played hooky to watch it.  During the long countdown, the Young Traveler worried that the astronaut might get bored during his wait and commented that NASA might have been kind enough to install a small television on the Mercury control panel.

But, from our previous experience, we were pretty sure what the result of that would have been:

CAPCOM: “T MINUS 30 seconds and counting…”

Glenn: “Al, Mr. Ed just came on.  Can we delay the count a little bit?”

30 minutes later…

CAPCOM: “You are on internal power and the Atlas is Go.  Do you copy, Friendship 7

Glenn: “Al, Supercar‘s on now.  Just a little more.”

30 minutes later…

CAPCOM: “The recovery fleet is standing by and will have to refuel if we don’t launch soon…John, what’s with the whistling?”

Glenn: “But Al, Andy Griffith just came on!”

So, TV is probably out.  But a good book, well…that couldn’t hurt anything, right?  And this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction was a quite good book, indeed.  Witness:

Jonathan and the Space Whale, by Robert F. Young

Two years ago, Mr. Young began an issue of F&SF with a bang.  He does it again with Whale.  Young is a master of writing compelling relationships between two utterly alien beings – in this case, that between a restless, aimless young man of many talents, and the space whale that swallows him whole.  Great stuff.  Five stars.

Wonder as I Wander: Some Footprints on John’s Trail Through Magic Mountains, Manly Wade Wellman

It is hard to pack a lot of wallop into a half-page vignette, but I must say that Wellman has pulled it off here – repeatedly.  Footprints is a set of short-short shorts designed to be interstitials for a collection (due to be published later this year) of stories about John the balladeer, a Korea veteran with a silver-stringed guitar and a facility with white magic.  Some are truly effective, and all are worthy.  Five stars.

The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity, by Fritz Leiber

Friends is a readable story with a stingless tail.  I suspect Leiber is past his prime, riding on his name rather than putting much effort into things.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIX, by “Grendel Briarton”

One of the more contrived and less funny of Reginald Bretnor’s punnish efforts. 

A War of No Consequence, by Edgar Pangborn

This, then, is the jewel of the issue.  Pangborn’s last tale of a young redheaded runaway from the Eastern seaboard of a bombed-out America, was sublime.  This one is just about as good, only being inferior for its shorter length.  A great story of the futility of war, and the bonds it can forge among ostensible enemies.  Five stars.

The 63rd St. Station, by Avram Davidson

I’m not quite sure what to make of this one, about a staid, devoted brother who contemplates leaving his shut-in sister for a new love at the age of 45.  The ending is rendered extremely obliquely, and I suspect it makes more sense to a New Yorker familiar with subway trains and such.  Not bad, but a little too opaque.  Three stars.

(Per the editor’s blurb at the front of the issue, Bob Mills is stepping down as editor and turning over the reins to Mr. Davidson.  Given the latter’s penchant for the weird and the abstruse, recently to the detriment of his stories (in my humble opinion), I have to wonder if this will take the magazine in a direction less to my taste.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see.)

Communication by Walter H. Kerr

There is not much to say about this rather purple, but still pleasant, poem about a certain race’s limitations and strengths in the realm of communication.  Three stars.

That’s Life!, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor (will the friendly banter between Asimov and his “Kindly Editor” continue under the new regime?) has turned out an entertaining and informative piece this month, in which he attempts to present an accurate definition of life.  It’s a fine lesson in biology with some neat bits on viruses.  Four stars.

The Stone Woman by Doris Pitkin Buck

I really want to like Mrs. Buck, an esteemed English professor from Ohio, who has seen several science fiction luminaries in her class.  This latest piece, a poem, reinforces my opinion that her stuff, while articulate, is not for me.  Two stars.

Shadow on the Moon by Zenna Henderson

Henderson’s The People stories have always been personal favorites, and the last one, Jordan, was sublime.  Shadow, on the other hand, falls unexpectedly flat.  It follows the tale of two siblings who enlist themselves in an endeavor to take themselves and kin back into space – to the Moon, particularly.  All the elements of a People piece are there: the esper-empowered, alien-born humans; a well-drawn female protagonist; the sere beauty of Arizona; the light, almost ethereal language.  Somehow, the bolts show on this one, however, and there isn’t the emotional connection I’ve enjoyed in previous Henderson stories.  Three stars.

Doing my monthly mathematics, I determine that the March F&SF garnered an impressive 3.8 stars.  Astronaut Glenn certainly could have whiled away the long pre-launch hours (not to mention all the previous scrubbed launches) with a lot worse reading material.

Next up…what’s likely to be worse reading material (but who knows?): the March 1962 Analog!

[February 7, 1962] Funny Business (March 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

Dying is easy; comedy is hard.

These famous last words, ascribed to many a noted actor on his deathbed, are probably apocryphal.  Even if nobody ever really uttered them before taking his last breath, they do suggest the difficulty of provoking amusement in one’s audience.  This is at least as true of speculative fiction as of the stage.

A quick glance at the Hugo winners, for example, reveals that only one humorous piece has won the prize.  Eric Frank Russell’s 1955 Astounding short story Allamagoosa, a comic tale of bureaucratic foul-ups, stands alone among more serious works. 

This is not to say that there are not many talented writers as dedicated to Thalia as to Melpomene.  From the wit of Fritz Leiber to the satire of Robert Sheckley, from the whimsical musings of R. A. Lafferty to the tomfoolery of Ron Goulart, readers in search of smiles and belly laughs have many choices.  In less adept hands, unfortunately, humorous science fiction can degrade into childish slapstick and sophomoric puns.

The March issue of Fantastic is dominated by comedy, so let’s take a look at it with a light heart.

Lloyd Birmingham’s silly cover art seems to have been the inspiration for the lead novelette.  The introductory blurb for Robotum Delenda Est! by Jack Sharkey proudly announces that we are about to enjoy a farce, so I was expecting something closer to the Three Stooges than Oscar Wilde.

Written with tongue firmly in cheek, the opening sections of the story take the form of a report on an unusual incident.  A robot suddenly appears on Earth, seemingly from nowhere.  As it makes its way eastward across the United States, from Arizona to Washington, D.C., stopping now and then to steal electricity from power lines and guzzle gasoline from service stations, all attempts to communicate with it or stop it end in failure.  Its motivation remains a mystery until the end of the story, after much chaos ensues.

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this story.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author maintains a mock serious tone throughout, which highlights the absurd aspects of the plot.  The revelation of the robot’s intention was clever and surprising.  Three stars.

These robotic hijinks are followed by another humorous tale.  I was unsure whether to review the first half of Joyleg, a short novel by Ward Moore and Avram Davidson which is scheduled to conclude next issue.  After some thought, I decided to go ahead.  I’m glad I did, because the pleasure of reading it doesn’t come from its fairly simple plot, which would have left me in suspense for a month, but from its wry tone and spritely style.

During a routine meeting of the Congressional Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, a pair of representatives of opposite political parties, both from the state of Tennessee, discover that a man with the unlikely name of Isachar Z. Joyleg has been receiving a monthly pension of eleven dollars for some time.  The Democratic representative, a man, is outraged that he is being paid such a paltry sum.  The Republican representative, a woman, demands proof that he has served during wartime or was disabled in the line of duty, lest the government’s money be wasted. 

(In case any of my readers who do not happen to reside in the Volunteer State, as I do, think it unlikely that a member of Congress from Tennessee would be either a Republican or female, allow me to point out a couple of facts.  The First and Second Congressional Districts, located in the northeastern part of the state, have been firmly Republican since the 1880’s, unlike the rest of the state, which can be thought of as part of the Solid South.  As far as the possibility of a woman holding that position goes, the current representative from the First District is Louise G. Reece, who took that position upon the death of her husband, the previous officeholder.  The fictional Congresswoman in the story is said to be a widow, and the reader is apparently supposed to assume that her background is similar.)

Further research reveals that Joyleg has been receiving these payments at least as far back as the Civil War, beyond which there are no records.  The Republican sees this as a clear case of fraud, while the Democrat imagines the possibility of a veteran of the War Between the States more than a century old, barely surviving on a tiny pension.  Since the microscopic community in which he resides is on the border between their two districts, each one claiming that it belongs to the other, they both decide to pay a visit to investigate the situation.

The rest of this half of the novel is taken up with the difficult journey to Joyleg’s extraordinarily remote home, via train, automobile, mule, and foot.  Much of the story’s comedy comes from the culture shock between the politicians from Washington and the country folks in the deepest part of the backwoods.  Fortunately, the local inhabitants never become stereotypical hillbillies, and the authors seem to have a certain amount of respect for their traditional, no-nonsense ways.

Much of the pleasure of the novel comes from the collaborators’ evident delight in words for their own sake.  In addition to the unusual name of the title character, we have such things as railroad cars with designations like Monomotapa and Gondwanaland.  When we finally meet Joyleg, he speaks in archaic language.  Unlike much dialect in fiction, which is often tedious to read, Joyleg’s speeches are always lively and colorful.

I look forward to the second half, and I’d be willing to bet a reasonable amount of money – eleven dollars, perhaps? – that the two bickering representatives will wind up in each other’s arms.  Four stars.

Editor Cele Goldsmith offers us another first story in this issue, with Decision by Robert H. Rohrer, Jr.  This brief story begins with a politician making a speech which is interrupted by a shout from the crowd.  We quickly shift point of view to a group of characters in charge of departments like Audio and Visual who seem to be controlling the politician’s actions, and who face a crisis.  You’ll probably figure out who what’s going on, but the story’s idea is an interesting one.  Three stars.

This issue’s Fantasy Classic is The Darkness on Fifth Avenue by Murray Leinster, reprinted from the November 30, 1929 issue of Argosy.  It’s a crime story with a mad scientist who has invented a gizmo which creates total darkness, allowing criminals to terrorize New York City without being seen.  There’s plenty of action, but I found it tedious.  The story is also full of stereotypes.  We have the heroic cop, the wisecracking girl reporter, the heavily accented German scientist, and, most embarrassingly, the cowardly Negro elevator operator.  It may be of historical interest as a part of the early career of a major figure in science fiction, but it’s not enjoyable to read.  One star.

I was greatly enjoying this issue until I got to the last story, and I’m not trying to be funny.

[January 27, 1962] Bumps in Road (February 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s been a topsy turvy month: Snow is falling in coastal Los Angeles.  Castro’s Cuba has been kicked out of the Organization of American States.  Elvis is playing a Hawaiian beach bum.  So it’s in keeping that the latest issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction is, well, uneven.

Luckily, the February 1962 F&SF front-loaded the bad stuff (though it’s a bumpy ride clear to the end), so if you can make it through the beginning, you’re in for a treat – particularly at the end.  But first…

The Garden of Time is the latest from Englishman J. G. Ballard.  This tale of an enchanted chateau on the brink of ransack is long on imagery but short on substance (like many pieces in F&SF).  You may find it lovely; I found it superfluous.  Two stars.

The latest Ferdinand Feghoot (XLVIII) is slightly less worthy than the mean, for what that’s worth.  A pun that fails to elicit a groan, but merely a tired sigh, is hardly a pun at all.

Avram Davidson has completed his descent into impenetrability.  Once a reliable author, somber and profound, his work has been increasingly odd.  His latest (The Singular Events Which Occurred in the Hovel on the Alley Off Eye Street) is a parallel universe magical send-up of our present day.  I think.  He manages to pack more nonsense per square word than ever before, and even Street’s paltry 2000 or so words are too many.  One star.

One Into Two, by J. T. McIntosh, is something of an improvement: quick and pleasant reading.  However, if the best story you can make of a matter transmitter/duplicator is a “perfect crime” piece, you’re not thinking too hard.  Three stars.

I’d call Walter H. Kerr’s Gruesome Discovery at the 242nd St. Feeding Station the least kind of doggerel, but I happen to like canines.  I’ll just give it one star and leave it at that.

Pirate Island, by Czech Josef Nesvadba, is a reprint from behind the Iron Curtain.  I rather enjoyed this bitter tale of a frustrated privateer in the era of Morgan.  Something about its lyrical irony appealed.  Nothing at all of the stodginess I rather expected from the Eastern Bloc.  Four stars. 

Jesus Christ seems to be a popular topic this month, He having also made an appearance in Amazing’s …And it was Good.  In Richard Matheson’s The Traveller, a professor journeys back to Golgotha with the intention of simply taking notes, but becomes compelled to save the hapless martyr.  It grew on me in retrospect, as much Matheson does.  Four stars.

We take a bit of a plunge then, quality-wise.  Ward Moore is a long-time veteran of F&SF, and his last story, The Fellow who married the Maxill Girl was a poetic masterpiece.  Rebel, a twist on the newly minted “Generation Gap,” but with the roles reversed, isn’t.  Two stars.

Barry Stevens’ Window to the Whirled, like Ballard’s lead piece, is overwrought and underrealized.  It’s a hybrid of Clifton’s Star Bright (geniuses will themselves cross-wise across time and space) and Jones’ The Great Gray Plague (only by leaving boring ol’ science behind can one be free), and I really wanted to like it…but I didn’t.  Two stars.

Even Isaac Asimov’s science fact article, Superficially Speaking, about the comparative surface areas of the solar system’s celestial bodies, is lackluster this month.  Of course, even bland Asimov is pretty good reading.  Three stars.

Lewis Turco has a few poetic snippets ostensibly from the mouths of robots in Excerpts from the Latterday Chronicle.  They are in English; they are not long.  And this ends what I have to say about them.  Two stars.

Novice Matthew Grass offers up The Snake in the Closet, a story that presents exactly what’s on the tin, and yet is clearly a metaphor for…something, I’m sure.  Not a bad first effort, and some may find it poignantly relevant.  Three stars.

All of this is but frivolous preamble to the jewel of this issue.  Edgar Pangborn is a fellow who has been too long away from the sff digests, and his The Golden Horn is one of those perfect stories, at once gritty and beautiful.  Set in post-WW3 America. It is a tale of friendship and betrayal, love and lost innocence, lusterless life and sublime sonority.  It’s just that good, okay?  Five stars.

So went February 1962, and F&SF, with its final score of 2.8 stars, ends up tied with Fantastic and Galaxy (though it gets distinction for having the best story).  Analog, at 2.1 stars, was the worst.  Amazingly, Amazing was the best with 3.3 stars.  Some of you may disagree with this judgment (I know Pawn of the Black Fleet was not to everyone’s taste) but I stand by John Boston’s judgment, both because I must, and because our tastes have proven not to be too different.

Of 33 fiction pieces, just one was woman-penned.  A sad state that no doubt contributed to this month’s comparative dip on the star-o-meter.  However, it looks like Zenna Henderson and Mildred Clingerman will publish next month, so that’s something to look forward to. 

Stay tuned for the next Ace Double and January’s space race round-up!

[September 29, 1961] Slim Pickings (October 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Each month, I look forward to my dose of new science fiction stories delivered in the form of digest-sized magazines.  Over the decade that I’ve been subscribing, I’ve fallen into a habit.  I start with my first love, Galaxy (or its sister, IF, now that they are both bi-monthlies).  I then move on to Analog, formerly Astounding.  I save The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for last.  This is because it has been, until recently, the best of the digests– my dessert for the month, as it were. 

These days, the stories aren’t as good.  Moreover, this time around, the latter third of the magazine was taken up with half a new Gordy Dickson short novel, which I won’t review until it finishes next month.  As a result, the remaining tales were short and slight, ranging from good to mediocre.

In other words, not a great month for F&SF, especially when you consider that the novels they print seem to be hacked down for space (if the longer versions that inevitably are printed in book form are any indication).  Nevertheless, it is my duty to report what I found, so here it is, the October 1961 F&SF:

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who is not exactly a science fiction author but dabbles in the arena, leads with Harrison Bergeron.  It’s a deceptively juvenile satire against Conformity and Communism, and while it may not impress upon first reading, it stays with you.  Four stars.

One of my favorite new authors is Rosel George Brown, and I have to give her credit for being willing to take chances.  The Ultimate Sin, however, is a bit avante garde for me.  Something about a social misfit interstellar explorer who finds a planet where gravity depends on whim rather than mass, and where the entire ecology is a unit, its pieces constantly consuming each other and exchanging knowledge in the process.  I didn’t like it at first, but as with the first story, I found it engaging in retrospect.  Three stars.

Charles G. Finney’s The Captivity isn’t science fiction at all; it’s more an analysis of captivity on humans, particularly when they discover that they aren’t really captives at all.  What is there left to push against when external forces are removed?  Only each other, and themselves.  Three stars.

Robert E. Lee at Moscow is Evelyn E. Smith’s attempt at satire this issue.  She’s produced some real doozies, but this one, an extreme logical extension of turning our political ambassadors into cultural ambassadors, falls flat.  There is a laugh-inducing line on the last page, however.  Two stars.

The half-posthumous team of Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth bring us The World of Myrion Flowers, which tells the tale of a driven Black philanthropist whose attempts to raise a cadre of Negro executives end unhappily.  The moral: it’s best when a disdained class doesn’t have too clear an idea of what the favored class thinks of them.  I can only imagine what insanity I would derive from having telepathy while living in 1930s Germany.  Three stars.

Isaac Asimov hasn’t written much fiction lately, and when he does, it tends to be old fashioned.  So it is with The Machine That Won the War, a very slight computer-related piece that probably got accepted more out of respect for the author than for its quality.  Two stars.

Meanwhile, George Langelaan, the Paris-born Britisher who penned The Fly in ’57 brings us The Other Hand, a macabre story of digits that move as if possessed, compelling their owners to strange activities.  Rather overwrought and archaic.  Two stars.

If Asimov’s fiction fails to impress, his fact remains entertaining.  That’s About the Size of It is all about the comparative sizes of Earth’s animals, all done logarithmically for easy data manipulation.  It turns out that people are medium-biggish creatures, all things considered.  Four stars.

The Vat is Avram Davidson’s latest, featuring a bit of alchemy and misadventure.  Short but readable.  Three stars.

Grendel Briarton’s latest pun, Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIV, is as always, perhaps a bit more.

And that leaves us with Dickson’s Naked to the Stars (Part 1 of 2), which I’ll cover next week.  All in all, a 3-star issue that will not revulse but neither will it much impress.  Faint praise, indeed.

[August 13, 1961] Predicting the Future (September 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Everyone who writes has got an agenda, but Science fiction writers may be the most opinionated of authors.  That’s because their pigeon involves prediction, which in turn, is a personal interpretation of current trends.  They can’t help but express their own biases in their work.  And so we have Robert Heinlein and his penchant for plugging love of cats, libertarianism, and nudism (not necessarily in that order!).  Dr. Asimov denounces anti-scientific themes in his works.  It is no secret that I advocate for the equal representation of women and minorities.

John W. Campbell, editor of the monthly science fiction digest, Analog, is a big fan of psi – the ability of the human mind to alter matter.

Psi is one of those “pseudo-sciences.”  To date, I don’t think there has been a scrap of compelling research as to the existence of ESP or telepathy or precognition, save in the parlors of the less reputable carnivals.  Yet it can make for interesting storytelling, a sort of modern magic.  I don’t mind it so much in my stories, any more than I mind Faster than Light space travel, which is just as baseless.

That said, Campbell, who has more power projection than a single writer, is a psi fanatic.  It’s rare that an issue of Analog appears without at least one psi-related story, and most have several.

Like this month’s, the September 1961 issue:

I’ll skip over part 1 of Harry Harrison’s serial, Sense of Obligation, saving its review for after its completion.  That brings us to Donald Westlake’s short They Also Serve.  If you read Asimov’s The Gentle Vultures, about a bunch of pacifist aliens patiently waiting for humanity to blow itself up so that they could take up residence on our planet, then you’ve essentially read Westlake’s story.  It’s exactly the same plot.  Convergent evolution or recycling?  One star.

Up next is a novella by an unlikely duo: The Blaze of Noon by Randall Garrett and Avram Davidson.  My disdain for the former is well documented, but I have also noted that, when he writes with a buddy, the results are often pretty good.  Set in the far future, after an intragalactic civil war has left Earth’s outer colonies unvisited for three centuries, Blaze chronicles the attempts of a fellow named Tad to build a teleportation grid on the backward world of Hogarth.  Said planet was a metal-poor pleasure planet 300 years ago, and it has since regressed to rough feudalism.  The reasoning behind making Hogarth the first world to bring back into the fold is that, if reconnection can be accomplished under the least favorable of conditions, it can be done anywhere.

Teleportation grids require metal.  As all of Hogarth’s warlords jealously guard their own meager hoards, Tad must resort to refining magnesium and sodium from seawater, a tedious process that takes the better part of a year.  During the grid’s construction, pressure builds up between the area’s political factions, each wanting control of the build site and its increasing trove of precious metal.  On the eve of the grid’s completion, a struggle breaks out, and lusty warriors cleave into the grid’s magnesium-clad sodium beams with stone implements, attempting to steal pieces.  During a rainstorm.  The result is a chemical inferno that devours the grid and its assailants.

A decidedly downbeat ending is averted when the head of the local Barons, who foresaw the grid’s greed-fueled destruction, celebrates the fiery death of the most avaricious nobles.  Now, he believes, the stage is set for the more level-headed nobles to give up their stores of iron for the building a proper grid, one that can help everyone.

It’s a good story.  I particularly liked that Tad is unable to maintain his smug disdain for the provincial Hogarthians (which might have been the case in other stories appearing in Analog; Campbell likes his smug).  One aspect of Blaze I found puzzling, however.  Throughout the story, there is absolutely no mention of any women.  Not a single one.  To write forty pages of prose, involving a cast of thousands, and not portray a single female requires serious dedication.  Perhaps this is not misogyny but an actual prediction – in the future, humans will reproduce via a masculine form of parthenogenesis?  Four stars.

(Sadly, this is the one story in this issue on which I have been unable to secure reprinting rights.  I am in contact with the author, and I will notify you if and when this change.  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for its anthologizing, though there is no guarantee you will live to see it…

Captain H.C. Dudley is back with a science fact article, Scientific Break-throughs.  Unlike Dudley’s last one, which was rather crack-pot, his latest is a genuinely interesting piece on the myriad sub-atomic particles that have been discovered in the last decade.  Beyond electronics, neutrons, and protons, there are even smaller neutrinos and mesons and who knows what else.  There may well be no end to the layers of atomic structure, at least until we get to the turtles.  Three stars.

I promised psi, and the last third of the magazine delivers.  Walter Bupp returns with Modus Vivendi, a continuation of his previous stories set in a future where a neutron bomb blast has caused the birth of hundreds of “Stigmatized” or psi-endowed people.  I like Bupp’s take on the societal factors that stem from having a sub-race of different, superior humans; I appreciate the parallels he draws with our current inequality issues; I’ve enjoyed Bupp’s stories in the past.  However, something about the writing on this one, a bit too consciously colloquial, made Modus tough sledding.  Two stars.

Finally, there is Darell T. Langart (Randy Garrett, again) and his Fifty Per Cent Prophet.  This is also a sequel, featuring The Society for Mystical and Metaphysical Research: an agency of psi enthusiast kooks with a secret, truly psionic society within.  Prophet is about a parlor prognosticator who turns out to have a true touch of second sight.  The story’s first few pages, told from the point of view of the not-quite-sham, suggest we might be treated to a nuanced character study.  Sadly, Garrett abandons the clairvoyant for his more typical omniscient and (Campbell’s favorite) smug style. 

I wonder if Davidson wrote Prophet’s beginning.  Two stars.

I’m not a psychic, but I’m willing to make a prediction about the October 1961 Analog: It’ll be another middlin’ quality issue, and it will feature at least one story about psionics.  Anyone want to take that bet?

[July 27, 1961] Breaking a Winning Streak (August 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

Take a look at the back cover of this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.  There’s the usual array of highbrows with smug faces letting you know that they wouldn’t settle for a lesser sci-fi mag.  And next to them is the Hugo award that the magazine won last year at Pittsburgh’s WorldCon.  That’s the third Hugo in a row. 

It may well be their last.

I used to love this little yellow magazine.  Sure, it’s the shortest of the Big Three (including Analog and Galaxy), but in the past, it boasted the highest quality stories.  I voted it best magazine for 1959 and 1960

F&SF has seen a steady decline over the past year, however, and the last three issues have been particularly bad.  Take a look at what the August 1961 issue offers us:

Avaram Davidson and Morton Klass’s The Kappa Nu Nexus, about a milquetoast Freshman who joins a fraternity that hosts a kooky set of time travelers.  Davidson’s writing, formerly some of the most sublime, has gotten unreadably self-indulgent, and William Tenn’s brother (Klass) doesn’t make it any better.  One star.

Survival Planet, by Harry Harrison, features the remnant colony of the vanquished Great Slavocracy.  It’s not a bad story, but it’s mostly told rather than shown, the book-ends being highly expositional.  Three stars.

Vance Aandahl, as one of my readers once observed, desperately wants to be Ray Bradbury.  His Cogi Drove His Car Through Hell has the virtue of starring a non-traditional protagonist; that’s the only virtue of this mess.  One star.

Juliette, translated from the French by Damon Knight (it is originally by Claude-François Cheiniss), is a bright spot.  It’s a sort of cross between McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang and Young’s Romance in a Twenty-First Century Used Car Lot.  I found it effective, written in that Gallic light fashion.  Four stars.

For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you the point of E. William Blau’s first printed story, The Dispatch Executive.  Something about a bureaucratic dystopia, or perhaps it’s a special kind of hell for office clerks.  Hell is right, and here’s hoping we don’t see Blau in print again.  One star.

Then we have another comparatively bright spot: Kit Reed’s Piggy.  Per the author, it is “the story of Pegasus, although I don’t remember that his passengers spouted verse, and a mashup of first lines from Emily Dickinson, whom I admired, but never liked.”  There’s no question that it’s beautifully written, but there is not much movement as regards to plot.  Three stars.

A Meeting on a Northern Moor, Leah Bodine Drake’s poem on the decline of Norse mythology is evocative, though brief.  Murray Leinster’s The Case of the Homicidal Robots is a turgid mystery-adventure involving the spacenapping of dozens io interstellar vessels.  Three and two stars, respectively.

Winona McClintic is back with Four Days in the Corner, some kind of ghost story.  It’s worse than her last piece, and that’s nothing to be proud of.  Two stars.

Then we have Asimov’s science fact column, The Evens Have It, on the frequency of nuclear isotopes among the elements.  The Good Doctor’s articles are usually the high point of F&SF for me, but this one is the first I’d ever characterize as “dull.”  Three stars, but you’ll probably give it a two.

Rounding things up is Gordon Dickson’s The Haunted Village, about a traveler who vacations in a village whose inhabitants are hostile to outsiders.  The twist?  There is no outside world – only the delusion that such a thing exists.  Dickson is capable of a lot better.  Two stars.

I often say that I read bad fiction so you don’t have to.  This was especially true this month.  While Galaxy was quite good (3.4 stars), both Analog and F&SF clocked in at 2.2. 
For those of you new to the genre and wondering why they should bother (why I should bother), I promise – it’s not all like this.  Please don’t let it all be like this…

Coming up next: The sci-fi epic, Mysterious Island!

[May 21, 1961] Pineapple Upside-down Month (June 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Have you ever heard/seen Karl Orrf’s Carmina Burana?  It’s an opera of sorts, the performance of a set of medieval poems to music.  It is likely that you’re at least familiar with its opening number, the catchy Oh Fortuna!.  Well, having seen Carmina, I can tell you that even Orff knew there wasn’t much to the rest of the piece – as evidenced by the fact that Oh Fortuna! gets performed twice, once at the beginning and once at the end.  You can snooze through the rest.

This month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction is like Carmina: a tremendous beginning followed by a largely snoozeworthy remainder.  I suppose that, if you want to complete the analogy, you can simply read the opening piece again after finishing the book.  You probably will.

For Cordwainer Smith’s Alpha Ralpha Boulevard is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time.  Most tales of the future are either frustratingly conventional or completely opaque.  Not so in Boulevard, which features a world dominated by “Instrumentality”, an omniscient computer dedicated to the happiness of humanity.  16,000 years from now, after a placid, highly regulated existence, people are, at last, offered the luxury of uncertainty (or at least the illusion thereof). 

With just a few subtle strokes of his pen, Smith presents the trappings of an alien yet utterly believable world: the trio of reborn humans, programmed to think themselves French; the compelling homunculi, servant animals bred into a mockery of the human shape; the servile androids; the contrived movie-set surroundings; the ancient, decayed ruins of the old technology.  Moreover, Boulevard has a great story, the quest for meaning in a predestined world.  It’s a masterpiece – evocative and brilliant.  Five stars.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Crime on Mars is an adequate (but not exceptional) little art heist mystery.  I find it interesting that he publishes these very straight sf stories here rather than other, perhaps more suited, mags.  Perhaps there wasn’t room in the other digests (or perhaps F&SF pays the best rates!) Three stars.

George, on the other hand, by John Anthony West, is a dreadful slog: a henpecked husband slowly succumbs to a creeping paralysis over the course of an evening; the story is told mostly in shrill exchanges between the afflicted and his spouse.  One Star. 

Doris Pitkin Buck’s Birth of a Gardener is another domestic dispute piece with some vague nonsense about anti-matter.  Although Gardener makes good use of Buck’s personal expertise in horticulture, her knowledge of science is less complete.  Two stories.

Mark Twain’s reprinted A Curious Pleasure Excursion, an advertisement for a comet ride in the style of the great ocean cruises of the last century, is clever and funny — an all-too-brief island of quality in an sea of dreck (to continue the sailing metaphor).  Four stars.

Go for Baroque is the second woman-penned piece in the magazine, by mystery writer Jody Scott.  I think it’s about a crazy time traveler who cures the sane of our world with his chaotic, exuberant madness.  Maybe.  It’s hard to tell.  It is written in this “modern” style that I see more and more in more literary places, half stream-of-consciousness, half nonsense.  I really don’t like it.  Two stars.

By popular demand, I include this month’s pun-ishment, the latest tale of Ferdinand Feghoot.  Read at your personal peril.

Older writers are interesting.  They tend to stick to old techniques and tropes even as they adapt them to current themes.  Miriam Allen Deford’s, The Cage, reads like a Lovecraft tale, complete with a mad scientist regaling a young reporter of his horrifying plan.  In this case, it is the breeding of a race of super-insects to supplant humanity in the event of a nuclear war.  But the author somehow elevates the story to something more than the sum of its parts, steering it subtly to a thoughtful conclusion.  Three stars.

What do you get when you combine the carefree misogyny of Randall Garrett with the increasingly impenetrable prose of (the once masterful) Avram Davidson?  Why, Something Rich and Strange, about a connoisseur of seafood and women who sails off to find a mermaid to love, a task at which he is ultimately successful.  With many pages devoted to lurid descriptions of pescatory cuisine, I had a strong suspicion that the tale would end with the protagonist eating his fishy sweetheart.  Rather, it turns out that the siren is an old hag with, nevertheless, admirable culinary talents.  The punchline is thus, “She’s not much to look at, but she sure can cook!”  One star.

So perhaps I may end up owing my friend, Mike, a beer or two after all, since he may be right that 1961 will not be F&SF’s year to win the Best Magazine Hugo.  Normally my favorite of the Big Three SFF digests, F&SF came in at the bottom of the heap this month at just 2.75 stars.  Compare this to Analog’s 3 stars, and Galaxy’s stellar 3.5 stars. 

On the plus side, this month saw the most stories by women: four out of twenty-two.  I won’t call it a trend until I see this proportion again, of course.  Interestingly, the top contenders for Best Story were both written by Cordwainer Smith.  Maybe the fellow should start his own magazine…