Tag Archives: carol emshwiller

[April 26, 1961] Dessert for last (May 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Del Shannon’s on the radio, but I’ve got Benny Goodman on my hi-fi.  Say…that’s a catchy lyric!  Well, here we are at the end of April, and that means I finally get to eat dessert.  That is, I finally get to crack into The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  While it is not the best selling science fiction digest (that honor goes to Analog by a wide margin), it is my favorite, and it has won the Best Magazine Hugo three years running.

So what kind of treat was the May 1961 F&SF?  Let’s find out!

Carol Emshwiller returns with the lead story of the issue, the sublime Adapted.  It can be hard to resist the incessant mold of conformity, even when blending in means losing oneself.  Emshwiller’s protagonist loses the battle, but, perhaps, not all hope.  Four stars.

The somber Avram Davidson teams up with unknown Sidney Klein (perhaps the idea man?) with The Teeth of Despair.  It’s a cute but forgettable story involving a cabal of underpaid professors, a loser with a metal dental plate, a quiz show, and something that isn’t quite telepathy.  Ever wonder how Van Doren did it?  Three stars.

All the Tea in China is offered up by Reginald Bretnor, the real name behind the Ferdinand Feghoot puns (q.v.).  Watch as despicable Jonas Hackett, a mean cuss who wouldn’t commit a kind act for the entirety of the Orient’s signature beverage, is given what for by Old Nick.  Nicely told.  Three stars.

Somebody to Play With, by Jay Williams, is a compelling story with a brutal sting in the tail.  It may make sense for the adults of a tiny colony on an alien world to be overly cautious, but does the desire for security warrant genocide?  Telling from a child’s point of view, Williams skillfully conveys the claustrophobia of the outpost, the wonder of the strange world, the thrill of making an extraterrestrial friend, and the heartbreak of betrayal by one’s closest kin.  Four stars.

I know nothing about C.D. Heriot save that I imagine he is British.  He writes Poltergeist in an affected manner that almost, but not quite, dulls the impact of this story of a neglected pre-adolescent who conjures up her own malicious playmate.  In the hands of Davidson, it’d rate four or five stars; in this case, just three.

Stephen Barr’s Mr. Medley’s Time Pill is By His Bootstraps all over again, and it commits the same sin: telling both sides of a time loop story.  We already know what will happen after reading the first half; what is the point of conveying it twice?  Two stars.

Country Boy is the latest in G.C.Edmondson’s Mexican-themed tales, a direct sequel to Misfit.  As is often the case with Edmondson, the story is clever, but the banter isn’t, though he tries.  Too hard, really.  Three stars.

Heaven on Earth is The Good Doctor Asimov’s science contribution for this issue, on the measurement of the celestial sphere and its resident stars.  It’s all about degrees, base-60 number systems, and an Earth-sized planetarium.  I love his mathematical articles; I feel he often does his best work with what could be the most sterile of subjects.  Four stars.

The Flower is 11-year old Mildred Possert’s submission.  Editor Mills thinks she shows promise, and I don’t disagree.

Henry Slesar gives us The Self-improvement of Salvatore Ross, involving a fellow who can bargain for anything – including physical traits.  He swaps a broken leg for pneumonia, his hair for cash, and so on.  The twist ending is a bit out of nowhere, but it’s a good story nonetheless, the sort of thing that might get adapted for The Twilight Zone.  Three stars.

The appropriately named Final Muster is, indeed, the last story in the book (and the inspiration for the issue’s cover).  I believe this is Rick Rubin’s first effort, and he hits a triple right out of the box.  The premise: by next century, war is such a specialized, abhorred profession that soldiers are frozen in stasis and thawed only when needed.  This is a volunteer corps whose ranks are filled with combatants who cannot find joy in peaceful civilian life.  But what happens when war ends entirely?  A thoughtful story whose only fault is that it perhaps doesn’t go quite far enough in its projections.  Four stars.

With dessert finished, we can now run the numbers.  This issue came out at 3.3, edging out this month’s Analog (3), and IF (2.75).  Analog had the best story of the month (Death and the Senator).  There was one (count them) woman writer out of 21 stories, an abysmal score. 

A lot of space news coming up soon what with Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, or John Glenn scheduled to be the first American in space on May 4th.  Stay tuned!

[March 24, 1961] The Second Sex in SF

1961.  The year that an Irishman named Kennedy assumed the highest office in the land.  The year in which some 17 African nations celebrated their first birthday.  The air smells of cigarette smoke, heads are covered with hats, and men run politics, industry, and much of popular culture.

In a field (and world) dominated by men, it is easy to assume that science fiction is as closed to women as the local Elks Lodge.  Who are the stars of the genre?  Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley; these are household names.  But if there is anything I have discovered in my 11 years as an avid science fiction fan (following another 20 of casual interest), it is that there is a slew of excellent woman authors who have produced a body of high quality work.  In fact, per my notes, women write just one ninth of the science fiction stories published, but a full fourth of the best works. 

For this reason, I’ve compiled a list of female science fiction writers active in this, the second year of the 1960s.  These authors are just the tip of the vanguard.  They are blazing a trail for women to one day share equally in the limelight…and the Hugos!

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Pauline Ashwell: This young British author is unusual in that her works are confined exclusively (so far as I can tell) to the usually rather stag Analog, the most conservative and widely distributed of the digests.  Her Unwillingly to School, and its recent sequel, The Lost Kafoozalum, were both Hugo-nominees.  Deservedly so, as they are both unique and a lot of fun.  They also feature a creature about as rare as the female author: the female protagonist!  Ashwell also wrote the off-the-wall alien/human friendship story, Big Sword, under the transparent pseudonym, Paul Ash.  More, please!

Leigh Brackett: A Californian, Brackett was a staple of the pulp era, writing a myriad of short stories and novels all the way through the middle of the last decade.  For some reason, she seems to have fallen off the genre radar in the last few years, but I understand she’s making a living at Hollywood and television screenwriting.  I am chagrined to report that I’ve not read a single one of her stories, and I worry that I’d find them dated.  I’d be happy to be wrong.  Recommendations?

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Young Bradley has been writing for at least a decade, but her works have tended to appear in the magazines to which I don’t have subscriptions, with the notable exception of The Wind People, which appeared in IF at the end of Damon Knight’s short-lived tenure as its editor.  She’s just come out with her first book, The Door through Space, which is sitting on my “To Read” shelf.  She’s a bit of an odd duck, having recently founded her own occult religion, the Aquarian Order of the Restoration, filled with trances, discovery of past lives, and clairvoyance.  I guess if L. Ron Hubbard can do it…

Rosel George Brown: I’m on firmer ground with Ms. Brown, an author whom I have watched with avid interest since she first appeared in Galaxy in 1958.  Her stories hinted at a great talent, and her stories had something to recommend them, even if they were not perfect successes.  Her talent flowered with the excellent Step IV, which appeared in Amazing, and her recent Of all possible worlds was even better.  An unabashedly feminine, inarguably terrific writer; I can’t wait to read what she pens next.

Miriam Allen Deford: One of the eldest (ahem…most seasoned!) of the woman authors, Ms. Deford has been writing since the 1920s, though she did not enter our genre in a big way until Fantasy and Science Fiction inaugurated in 1949.  Since then, she has turned out a steady stream of stories.  Their common elements are her slightly quaint style, her versatility (writing horror, mystery, and “straight” sf with equal facility), and her consistency.  She is solid, if not brilliant, and generally a welcome addition to any magazine’s table of contents.

Carol Emshwiller: Say the name “Emshwiller” and you probably first think of the illustrator, Ed Emshwiller, whose drawings have appeared in hundreds (if not thousands) of magazines.  But Carol Emshwiller, who married into that improbable surname, has also appeared frequently in scientifiction magazines.  I am once again embarrassed to confess that I’ve only read one of her stories thus far (this is what comes of only having time to read three digests a month; curse my need for a day job!) Perhaps one of my readers can tell me if A Day at the Beach was representative of her work; I recall enjoying it.  In fact, while I called it forgettable, I still remember it two years later, so I must have been wrong!

I’m going to pause at this point because the list is actually quite lengthy, and I think it merits presentation in multiple parts.  I apologize for the scantiness of my knowledge in places; until one invents a comprehensive Encyclopedia for science fiction works, whereby one can retrieve information about, and stories by, any given author, any one person’s viewpoint will be limited.  I do hope I’ve whetted your appetite, however, and that you will seek out these authors’ work.

See you in a couple of days!

I am Cyrus, King of the World (August 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1st half; 6-30-1959)

For most people, the beginning of the month coincides with the 1st (or, as my late father might say, the “oneth”—i.e., May the “oneth” followed by May the “tooth”).  For me, and doubtless for most of my science fiction loving sistren and brethren, the month starts around the 26th, which is when the science fiction magazines hit the newsstands.

Of course, those who get their issues via mail-order get them at varying times, but in general, the last week of the month preceding the month preceding the cover date  (I did not stutter; the duplication is intentional) is when the goodies arrive.  For me, that’s The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (generally good), Astounding Science Fiction (often bad, but sometimes good), and on a bi-monthly and alternating basis, Galaxy (generally decent), and IF (quality as yet undetermined).  When these run out, I pray for interesting space news and/or interesting new novels.  Exhausting these, I turn to my collection of older books, preferably ones I have been given the right to distribute freely.

I am currently at the giddy start of a new month, and I’ve decided to eat my dessert first, tearing through the August 1959 F&SF.  Take my hand, and away we go!

Jay Williams generally sticks to juveniles, co-writing the Danny Dunn series, which are pretty fun if you’re the right age to enjoy them (pre-teen).  His Operation LadyBird opens up this month’s issue, and it’s a lighthearted romp on a Venus that a United Nations force has recently cleaned of a loathsome alien menace.  Turns out that we were actually called in (unwittingly) by Venusians (who look just like Hopi Indians) to act as exterminators.  I liked the story better when it was called Cat and Mouse, but the story is not without its charms, and it does feature a strong female character, a resourceful Soviet major.

Asimov’s column is good this month.  The Ultimate Split of the Second begins as a primer on measuring really big and small things.  The Doctor recommends using the time it takes light to travel certain small distances as really small units of time (i.e. a light meter, a light kilometer, etc.).  This the flip side to using light years, minutes, hours, for distance measuring.

Then he gives us a survey of the latest discoveries of subatomic particles, exciting new things that are the very bleeding edge of modern physics.  Their halflives are exceedingly small, so the nomenclature described above comes in handy to describe them. 

The prolific Carol Emshwiller (whose husband’s art graces the pages of many digests under the byline “EMSH”) has an interesting post-apocalyptic mood piece called Day at the Beach.  There’s not much to it; it is largely the depiction of a family in a ruined, but not extinguished, United States.  Gasoline is exorbitantly expensive, most citizens have lost all of their hair, mutations are legion, and there is not much law and order.  Diverting, forgettable.

Fantasist Marcel Aymé’s The Walker-Through-Walls is cute, though it is a reprint from 1943.  Our straight-laced protagonist discovers that, in mid-life, he has the ability to traverse walls as if they did not exist.  He resists exploiting this power, but little by little, he succumbs to temptation.  First, he terrifies his tyrannical boss, then he becomes a dashing, popular thief.  Ultimately, he becomes involved in a torrid affair that proves to be his undoing.  Well-written, somewhat fluffy.

Finally, for today, we have Poul Anderson’s latest Time Patrol story.  As you know, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the good Swede, but this one is pretty good.  For those who don’t know, the Time Patrol is an organization based in the far future that recruits constables from across time to police for alterations in the timeline.  It’s a tough task, but it is made easier by the laws of the universe which have the time stream move along in a way not unlike a river—it takes a lot to get a substantial altering of course.
 Patrolman Manse Everard, nominally stationed in the late ‘50s, is approached by Cynthia, wife of his best friend, and object of Manse’s unrequited affections, to find her husband, who has disappeared without a trace some 2500 years in the past.  Unable to say no, Manse takes an unauthorized trip to the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great to find his friend, who turns out to be none other than the King of Kings himself!  It’s an exciting but somewhat ironic and bittersweet story, and it gets extra stars for being about a rather unsung but personal favorite era of mine.

All told, the first half (and a little extra) of this issue has had no clunkers, but also no home runs, to mix my metaphors.  Call it 3.5?
See you in two days!



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