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[April 12, 1962] Don’t Bug Me (May 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

April is the cruelest month — T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Maybe it’s because it’s almost time to mail in those tax forms to Uncle Sam, or maybe it’s because of the tension between President Kennedy and the steel companies, or maybe it’s because Jack Parr left his television series (which will now be known by the boring, generic title The Tonight Show), or maybe it’s because the constant radio play of the smash hit Johnny Angel by actress Shelley Fabares of The Donna Reed Show is driving me out of my mind, or maybe it’s because of George Schelling’s B movie cover art for the May 1962 issue of Fantastic; but for whatever reason your faithful correspondent approached the contents of the magazine with a leery eye.

I must admit that Murray Leinster’s lead novelette Planet of Dread did little to improve my mood.  The melodramatic title fits this old-fashioned adventure story.  Our hero has killed a man – for good reason, you will not be surprised to find out – and becomes a stowaway on a spaceship with a group of political revolutionaries.  Once discovered, his only choices are to be killed or stranded alone on a distant planet.  Unsurprisingly, he chooses the latter.  The ship arrives on a world where a badly botched effort at terraforming has resulted in – you guessed it – giant spiders and other creepy crawly critters. 

Thus we have the literary equivalent of Them!, Tarantula, The Black Scorpion, Beginning of the End, The Deadly Mantis, Earth vs the Spider, Monster from Green Hell, Cosmic Monsters, and all those other Big Bug movies of the past decade.  Under attack, the revolutionaries prove to be either Good Guys or Bad Guys.  There’s also one female aboard the ship, whose role is to be the Girl.  Leinster is an old pro at this sort of thing, but the corny nature of the plot forces me to dismiss the story with two stars.

Wildly different in style and content is The Survey Trip by controversial writer David R. Bunch.  It’s a bizarre, surreal tale in which the narrator, rolling along in a beach ball, encounters a man in a heart-shaped metal suit.  Together they visit places like Knockjonesbrainsout and meet people like Miss 9-to-5-No-Time-Off-For-Lunch.  It’s all very strange and probably symbolic.  Some people will hate it.  The story is short enough not to wear out its welcome, and the sheer weirdness of it held my interest, so I’ll give it three stars.

A few months ago Jesse Roarke appeared in the pages of Fantastic with an intriguing, if overwritten, allegory entitled Atonement.  The new story from this fledging author is similar.  Ripeness is All takes place in a future which at first seems idyllic.  All needs are taken care of by technology.  Androids act as one’s servants and lovers.  Yet the protagonist feels that something is missing.  He begins by seeking out a library to learn as much as he can from books.  Soon he leaves the utopian city and heads out into the wilderness, where he meets with farmers, warriors (who fight but never kill), artists, and philosophers.  After rejecting all of these, he discovers his own purpose in life.  Although some of the writing is a bit flowery, the story is an interesting fable, worthy of three stars.

“The Piebald Hippogriff” by Karen Anderson (married to Poul Anderson) is a light confection.  It’s a brief, charming account of a boy, the hippogriff he tames, and the land of flying islands in which they dwell.  Three stars for this tasty trifle.

English-born author A. Bertram Chandler (now living Down Under as an Australian citizen) appears under his pseudonym George Whitley with Change of Heart, reprinted from the British magazine New Worlds.  A castaway tells his rescuers of his encounters with dolphins and whales which led him to believe there is more to these animals than meets the eye.  The author’s experience as a merchant marine officer ensures that this tale of the mysteries of the sea is realistic and convincing.  Three stars.

Last and probably least is Double or Nothing by Jack Sharkey, resident comedian for editor Cele Goldsmith.  His latest farce involves two inventors whose gizmos always do something other than intended.  In this case a device intended to provide a way to escape the Earth’s gravity turns out to duplicate whatever it comes in contact with.  Shooting off into the sky, it soon manufactures copies of everything (including cornflakes) and the story becomes a variation on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  The biggest problem is that the author does not provide any kind of conclusion at all.  He simply presents the situation and leaves it unresolved.  Two weak stars.

***

Although the meaty middle of this literary sandwich provided me with some satisfaction, the bland slices of bread surrounding its interior left me still hungry.  How does it sate your appetite?

[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 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 14, 1962] Horrors! (February 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

Since the demise nearly a decade ago of the fondly remembered magazine Weird Tales, there has been a dearth of markets for horror stories.  Occasionally a tale of terror will appear in the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but otherwise there are few places where fiction dealing with the deepest, most irrational fears of humanity can be found.  Perhaps this is due to the burgeoning popularity of science fiction as an expression of modern anxieties in this age of space exploration and atomic energy. 

Even at the local movie theater one is more likely to find radioactive mutants and creatures from outer space than vampires, werewolves, and mummies, though the recent revival of these Gothic monsters by the British film production company Hammer hints that the tide may be changing, as does the popularity of classic horror movies on television programs such as Shock Theater.  The new publication Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by well-known science fiction fan Forrest J. Ackerman, also proves that there are many readers still interested in the dark side of fantasy.

A striking exception to above trend is Fantastic, which often features supernatural horror stories along with the kind of science fiction found in its sister publication Amazing.  In particular, the February issue of the magazine contains at least as much of the former as the latter.

The surrealistic cover art by Leo Summers aptly conveys the mood of Fritz Leiber’s lead novelette “A Bit of the Dark World.” The story is set in modern Southern California.  (Leiber has been a pioneer in bringing the supernatural into the Twentieth Century ever since his story The Automatic Pistol appeared in Weird Tales in 1940.) Four passengers are driving through steep hills near Los Angeles.  In the back seat are the narrator and his lover, who are in the movie business.  (In a sly nod to his roots, the author gives these characters the surnames Seabury and Quinn, Seabury Quinn having been a prolific writer of horror fiction, with hundreds of stories to his credit, many in Weird Tales.)

In the front passenger seat is their host, who is bringing them to his small but luxurious home for the night.  At the wheel is a neighbor.  On the way they share a strange vision at a peculiar rock formation.  The driver sees nothing, and this character soon vanishes from the story.  He seems intended to represent those who have no ability to sense anything beyond the physical world, and thus he is completely safe from it.

The other three are not so fortunate.  As the night progresses they experience unnerving sensations; a burning smell, a metallic flavor, the feeling of cobwebs, the sound of falling gravel.  Most of all they perceive vague shapes, shining black against an equally black night sky.  Leiber creates an effective sense of inexplicable menace which leads to a dramatic conclusion.  Four stars.

Before returning to tales of terror, Daniel F. Galouye (a likely Hugo contender for his recent novel Dark Universe) offers us a taste of his skill at creating imaginative science fiction in A Silence of Wings. Set in the far future, when humanity has made contact with many different alien species throughout the galaxy, the story takes place on a planet inhabited by flying telepaths.  Although friendly to the visiting humans, they have no interest in learning about Earth technology and are to content to remain gliding from place to place in their treetop homes.  The Terrans are not entirely altruistic in offering to bring advanced science to the flyers; a prime motivation is to enlist them in exploiting the planet’s resources.  In a foolish attempt to force the aliens to adopt machinery, one of the humans uses logic to “prove” that their wings are far too frail to allow them to fly.  Since this ability is the only thing which prevents them from being destroyed by ravenous ground-dwelling predators, a crisis ensues.

The story reads in some ways like a typical Analog story reflected in a funhouse mirror.  The self-confident humans smugly think themselves superior to the local natives.  The author is careful to avoid depicting them as one-dimensional villains, however, resulting in a believable set of characters.  Three stars.

Although also set in a future of space travel, this time confined to the limits of the Solar System, Joseph E. Kelleam’s story The Red Flowers of Tulp is really an old-fashioned horror story decked out with science fiction trappings.  It deals with three vicious space criminals who encounter the title plants at a carnival on Mars, just after reaping the benefits of their latest felony.  The flowers not only talk, but predict their futures (they really serve only as a plot gimmick, and could easily be replaced by a Gypsy fortuneteller.) They state that one of the men will die by cold, one by fire, and that one will never die.  The reader is not terribly surprised to discover that these predictions all come true.  It’s a moderately effective tale of just desserts, worthy of two stars (three if you’re more generous than I am).

Appropriately, this month’s reprint is credited, in part, to the late H. P. Lovecraft, another veteran of Weird Tales whose name is associated with stories of terror.  I suspect that “The Shadow Out of Space” is primarily the work of co-author August W. Derleth.  Derleth, along with Donald Wandrei, founded the Arkham House publishing company with the goal of preserving the work of Lovecraft in hardcover.  Derleth and other authors have expanded on Lovecraft’s concept of ancient, god-like beings far beyond human comprehension into the so-called “Cthulhu Mythos.”

Taking its title from Lovecraft’s 1936 story The Shadow Out of Time, this variation on the same theme was first published in The Survivor and Others, a 1957 Arkham House collection of Derleth’s elaborations on notes and outlines left by the deceased author.  The story is told from the point of view of a psychiatrist examining a patient who suffers from terrifying dreams.  These involve inhabiting the body of an inhuman creature in a vast library located on a distant planet.  It is eventually revealed that these aliens are able to send their minds into the bodies of others, including human beings, over vast distances of space and time.  Derleth weaves together many themes from Lovecraft in an apparent attempt to make a coherent whole.  Fans of H. P. Lovecraft will appreciate the effort, but the story itself is rather dry, and the author forgets the important rule to show and not tell.  Two stars.

We turn from cosmic terror to more mundane fears in our final story.  William W. Stuart’s What If? has something of the flavor of an introspective The Twilight Zone episode.  The protagonist is a fellow who has been so dominated by a willful mother and a bureaucratic job with the IRS that he is unable to make the simplest decisions on his own.  When he is asked to make a trivial selection between a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich, he foresees the tragic consequences of each choice.  Unwilling to hurt anyone because of his actions, he goes into a catatonic state.  Years later, in a psychiatric institute, he emerges from his trance and decides to act only in his own self-interest, disregarding how his decisions will harm others.  Although his strange ability to predict the exact consequences of all his actions allows him to become rich and powerful very quickly, the outcome is not entirely pleasant.  Three stars.

Overall, this issue provides solid entertainment, even if it may not be the best choice to read all alone in the dark…

[Then again, who reads in the dark?  Best to, at least, bring a flashlight!  Ed.]

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[November 13, 1961] (un)Moving Pictures (December 1961 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

The last decade saw a boom in written science fiction as well as science fiction cinema, due in part to both the fear of atomic warfare and the promise of space exploration.  Both trends have tapered off recently, possibly due to the many stories and films of poor quality offered to a public grown tired of cheap thrills.  (No doubt such a fate awaits the countless Westerns currently dominating American television screens.)

In any case, the two media have had an influence on each other, not always to the advantage of either.  Although science fiction movies have sometimes made use of the talents of important writers within the genre, such as Robert A. Heinlein’s contribution to Destination Moon, too often they have turned to the most juvenile pulp magazines and comic books for inspiration.  In turn, some written science fiction has lost the sophistication it gained under editors such as John W. Campbell, H. L. Gold, and Anthony Boucher. 

These musings come to mind when one peruses the pages of the latest issue of Fantastic.  Of the two longest stories in the magazine, one is reminiscent of recent science fiction films, while the other deals directly with the movie business.

It seems likely that Daniel F. Galouye’s lead novelette Spawn of Doom (note the melodramatic title, which would not be out of place on a theater marquee) was inspired by Lloyd Birmingham’s cover painting.  The scene depicted by the artist is described in great detail within the story, down to the exact number of tentacle-like things coming out of the meteorite on display in a museum.
This tale of a dangerous alien life form brought to Earth on a chunk of rock from outer space inevitably reminds the reader of movies like The Blob.  However, the author brings imagination and intelligence to a familiar theme.

The story is told from three points of view.  First we meet the humanoid Lumarians, aliens who patrol the galaxy in search of deadly creatures known as EGMites.  These beings subsist on electro-gravito-magnetic energy, hence their name.  When they land on a world after traveling through empty space in an unconscious state for immense periods of time, they prepare for reproduction by tearing the planet apart and sending spores out in all directions.  Obviously this poses a threat to life everywhere in the cosmos.
Next we enter the newly awakened mind of an EGMite which has reached Earth.  Filled with the desire to reproduce, and to destroy anything which seeks to interfere, it soon begins wreaking havoc on its surroundings, starting on a small scale but quickly escalating to the point where it is demolishing entire buildings.

Providing the viewpoint of endangered humanity is the curator of the museum where the EGMite’s meteoric hiding place is being exhibited.  This rugged young hero is ably assisted by a capable and attractive archivist, who not only provides romantic interest, but is on hand to scream when the monster from space attacks.  One can’t help wondering if the author has his tongue firmly in his cheek while describing these characters.  However, the tale never degrades into farce, and the quick-moving plot builds the necessary amount of suspense.  The transitions between the three points of view are sometimes abrupt, and the story has nothing particularly profound to say, but it’s solid entertainment.  Three stars.

During the intermission between our two feature presentations, let’s take a look at something quite different.  David Ely’s unusual story, The Last Friday in August, offers much food for thought.  The protagonist dwells in a large city, and finds the crushing presence of the vast crowds nearly unbearable.  He only finds peace through long periods of meditation.  One day he finds that he has a strange power over others.  This leads to an unexpected climax, which will leave the reader pondering its meaning.  Well-written, subtle, and evocative, this tale is likely to haunt the reader for a long time.  Four stars.

Back to the movies.  Point, by John T. Phillifent (perhaps better known under his pen name John Rackham), deals with a group of filmmakers who travel to Venus to make their latest blockbuster.  The proposed feature involves beautiful female Venusians, and seems intended to provide a bit of satire of silly science fiction movies such as Queen of Outer Space.  Although the author’s description of Venus is a bit more realistic than that, it’s still not terribly plausible.  The Planet of Love is a very dangerous place, inhabited by all kinds of deadly creatures, but its atmosphere is breathable, and humans can walk around on its hot, steamy surface without spacesuits.  The plot deals with a pilot who agrees to take the film crew into the Venusian wilderness.  As you might expect, things quickly go very wrong, and the story turns into a violent account of survival in a hostile environment.  All in all it’s a fairly typical adventure yarn, competent but hardly noteworthy.  Two stars.

After the double feature of novelettes we have a pair of short stories, one new and one old, to round out the magazine.  Up first is The Voice Box, by Allan W. Eckert, a very brief tale about a man who hates and fears telephones.  Written in a rather baroque style, it leads to a grim conclusion.  Since I share the narrator’s loathing of that terribly intrusive instrument, I am forced to award three stars to what is admittedly a minor piece.

This issue’s “fantasy classic” is by Robert E. Howard, a prolific author of pulp fiction who committed suicide decades ago at the age of thirty.  Best known to readers of speculative fiction for his tales of Conan and other fantasy adventures and horror stories, Howard also produced numerous stories in other genres ranging from sports fiction to Westerns.  Published near the end of his life in the August 15, 1936 issue of Argosy, The Dead Remember is a tale of the supernatural set in Dodge City in 1877.  The first part of the story takes the form of a letter from a cowboy to his brother, in which he confesses to the killing of a man and his wife during a drunk argument over a game of dice.  Before she dies the woman places a curse on him.  The second part of the story consists of several formal statements of witnesses to the fate of the murderer. 

Although this is a typical story of revenge from beyond the grave, the unusual structure provides some novelty.  Of most interest, perhaps, are the racial implications.  The murdered man is a Negro, and his witch-like wife is a “high yellow” of mixed race.  Although at first the killer seems to treat the married couple no differently than whites, when tempers flare the racial insults come out.  The author seems to imply that a woman of mixed race would be closer to the supernatural than others.  For its historical value, I’ll give this story two and one-half stars.

Overall this issue comes very close to a three star rating.  It certainly provides a wide variety of reading material, and is almost certain to have something to please any reader of imaginative fiction.

See you at the movies! 

And as luck would have it, the next article will feature a movie – the latest monstrous spectacular straight from Japan.  Stay tuned! [the Traveler].

[October 13, 1961] The Music of the Spheres (November 1961 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

The power of music to portray emotions and to evoke images in the listener’s mind seems to be universal to all cultures.  It seems inevitable that it will be used in the future to convey feelings and experiences as yet unknown.  As human beings explore the unimaginably vast silence of outer space, they will take music with them to fill the void.

Such is the theme of the novella which forms the anchor of this month’s issue of Fantastic.  Before we indulge in this sonic feast, however, let’s whet our appetites with an offering from the creative genius of Fritz Leiber.

Cover art by Lloyd Birmingham (making his debut here) accurately portrays the bizarre event at the heart of Hatchery of Dreams.  This tale of magic begins like a modern suspense story, as a man awakes one morning to discover that his much younger wife has disappeared, leaving behind a note that she has deserted him.  In desperation, he enters her private “perfume distillery,” which he had previously left unexplored.  He finds a gigantic egg on a heated, cloth-lined incubator.  This is only the beginning of his strange adventures, as he tracks down one by one the three other young women who make up his wife’s “bridge club.” Each one seems to be suffering from some kind of illness.  Even odder is the fact that each one seems unnaturally attached to a toy animal.  Nothing is what it seems to be, of course, and many more revelations will be made during the hunt for his lost bride.

Making use of themes from the author’s classic 1943 novel Conjure Wife, this is a richly imaginative story.  As one expects from Leiber, the “girls” he interviews during his search are alluring and mysterious creatures.  Somehow the author is always able to bring these archetypical females to life, and his obvious genuine affection for women renders them fully realized characters.  Four stars.

After this delightful aperitif, we turn to the main course for the evening.  J. F. Bone’s novella Special Effect is set in the twenty-second century, when humanity has settled all parts of the Solar System.  From civilized, bird-like Martian humanoids to utterly alien organisms inhabiting the moons of the outer planets, extraterrestrial life is found almost everywhere.  The author offers the reader a guided tour of this setting as he tells his tale.

A great composer has died just after completing his masterpiece, the “Nine Worlds Symphony.” It is as yet unperformed, as the score requires recordings of authentic sounds from throughout the Solar System, from the crash of falling ice towers on Pluto to the bubbling of lava on the border between Mercury’s hot and cold sides.  Many of these sounds involve alien life forms: the ringing of a Martian temple bell, the roar of dangerous Venusian animals, and more.  A producer who owns the rights to the symphony, and thus stands to make a large profit when it is performed, hires the narrator, a veteran of space travel, to transport his workers and equipment on an odyssey among the planets to collect the sounds. 

Recording each sound offers a new challenge, often deadly.  Scenes of violent adventure alternate with scenes of encounters with enigmatic extraterrestrial lifeforms.  Although the portrait of the Solar System is a little old-fashioned, with its inhabited Mars and its swampy Venus, and the story is inherently episodic, the descriptions are vivid and always interesting.  Three stars.

If the reader is not yet sated, there are three short tales for dessert.  To Heaven Standing Up by Paul Ernst is this issue’s reprint.  Originally published in the pages of Argosy in April of 1941, this is an account of a man who attempts to build a flying machine operated by muscle power.  The materials and methods he uses seem plausible; so much so, in fact, that this story might not even be considered speculative fiction by many readers.  In any case, it’s a well-written character study.  (In his introduction, science fiction historian Sam Moskowitz reveals that Argosy was a stepping stone between the pulps and the slicks, which explains the story’s mainstream style.) Three stars.

The Living End by Henry Slesar offers an intriguing premise.  A meek fellow winds up with an old book of prophecies, much like those of Nostradamus.  The predictions are uncannily accurate, foretelling events such as the Declaration of Independence to the very day.  When he discovers that the last prophecy in the book announces that the world will come to an end in ten days, he throws away his conformist lifestyle and goes on a wild spree.  Of course, there’s a twist ending.  Unfortunately, I found it both illogical and anticlimactic, so I can only award the promising story two stars.

Rog Phillips offers an entry in his “Lefty Baker” series in . . . But Who Knows Huer, or Huen? This is a madcap farce about very human aliens who enlist the narrator’s aid in combating another group of very human aliens who intend to wipe out all other forms of life.  It’s the kind of silly comedy which is not my cup of tea.  Add to that the fact that the story seems to imply that mental illness is funny, and I have to give it one star.  I’ve haven’t read any of the other stories about Lefty Baker, and I won’t seek them out.

Although the quality of the issue slowly decreases from front to back, overall it earns a rating of just slightly over two and one-half stars.  Without the final story, it would have earned a solid three stars.  Fantastic continues to be a promising, greatly improved magazine, well worth reading.  Of interest is the fact that the letter column contains more than one complaint about the stories of David R. Bunch, one of the innovative authors brought to the magazine by editor Cele Goldsmith.  Since I am highly impressed by the daring and controversial work of Bunch, I look forward to discovering what other new talents she will bring to a publication that has not always lived up to its name.

[September 20, 1961] Theme and Variations (October 1961 Fantastic)

As promised, a surprise article from a surprising source.  Victoria Silverwolf has been an asset to this column for three years, providing commentary that might as well have been an article in and of itself (not to mention being 95% in alignment with my views).  Imagine my joy when Ms. Silverwolf offered to contribute an article every month.  Since to date I have only been able to cover four of the six major science fiction digests, we decided that Vic’s greatest contribution would be in the coverage of another.  And so, for your viewing pleasure, a review of the October 1961 Fantastic from our newest Mistress of the Weird…


by Victoria Silverwolf

Greetings from the night side. Our esteemed host has invited me to step out of the shadows and offer some thoughts about the literature of the uncanny, of the unnatural, of the unimaginable.  Shall we proceed? Take my hand, and don’t be afraid of the dark.

Fantastic magazine – or, to use its complete title, Fantastic Stories of Imagination, not to be confused with Fantastic Adventures or Fantastic Universe — has had a checkered career during its nine-year lifetime.  Started as a publication dedicated to literate fantasy fiction, much like The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, it soon had to attract readers from its older sister, Amazing Stories, by printing more science fiction.  Unfortunately, low payment rates, the glut of science fiction magazines during the 1950’s, and indifference from management resulted in contents of poor quality. 

This situation showed signs of improvement a little less than three years ago when Cele Goldsmith, originally hired as a secretary and general assistant, rose to the position of editor for both magazines.  She has improved the quality of the publications by introducing readers to talented new authors such as Keith Laumer, Ben Bova, and David R. Bunch, as well as bringing Fritz Leiber out of retirement with a special issue of Fantastic featuring no fewer than five new stories from that master of speculative fiction.  It remains to be seen whether Goldsmith’s editorship will lift the magazines’ sales out of the doldrums.  One sign of hope is the fact that, for the first time since the Hugo Awards were initiated, Amazing Stories was nominated for Best Professional Magazine in 1960 and 1961.

With an optimistic mood, therefore, let’s take a look at the latest issue of the younger sibling.  By coincidence, it neatly divides into two halves, each dealing with a particular theme.

The first part of this issue involves the survival of humanity in the face of overwhelming disaster.  The cover art by Alex Schomburg (a Goldsmith favorite) for Robert F. Young’s novelette Deluge II might lead one to expect a simple retelling of the legend of Noah.  Fortunately, the story is much more complex than that. 

In a future world where most people have fled to the stars in the face of radiation storms, those who remain are of mixed race, except for a few stubborn whites who refuse to integrate.  Known as “apartheids,” these people barely survive like cavepeople, while the rest of the humanity lives in decadent luxury in Old York (formerly New York, now that there is another New York on a distant planet), the only city of any size left on Earth.  The radiation has left these people sterile, but with greatly extended lifetimes.

It should be noted here that all this background information is only revealed bit by bit over the course of the story, avoiding clumsy lumps of exposition.  Other speculative concepts, such as instantaneous teleportation anywhere on Earth, and “time windows” that allow one to view any event in the past, are introduced as the story progresses, and all prove to be relevant.

The plot begins with the protagonist, a man of mixed race who predicts that a gigantic flood is going to destroy all remaining life on Earth, coming across a female apartheid in the hunting preserve he owns.  Since trespassing on the preserve (and killing one of the animals for food) is punishable by death, he convinces her to become his mistress instead.  (In this society, this doesn’t necessarily imply anything sexual.  Wives and mistresses are both status symbols in a world which is even more patriarchal than out own.) In one of the story’s many ironies, the “pure white” woman has much darker skin than the mulatto protagonist, even though she addresses him with the harshest of all racial insults.

Much more happens in this darkly satiric tale, which rewards careful reading.  Three stars.

Humanity faces another crisis in The Mother, a reprint from 1938 by pioneer science fiction author David H. Keller, M.D.  (He always seemed to use his medical degree in his byline.) Appearing originally in a fanzine of very small circulation, this story is likely to be new to almost all readers.

Due to its age, I expected this to be a primitive example of “scientifiction” from the pre-Campbell era.  As predicted, it begins with the characters discussing their situation in an old-fashioned method of exposition.  The population of the Earth has been greatly decreased by an illness known only as the Mysterious Disease.  A man and woman of superior mental and physical health have been selected to produce dozens of offspring, as part of an effort to repopulate the planet with the best possible children.  The ending of this brief story is unexpectedly gentle and touching, raising it to two and one-half stars.

Since this issue contains the second half of Manly Banister’s novella Magnanthropus, I decided to play fair with the author and seek out a copy of the previous issue in order to read the entire story.  It turns out that the very detailed synopsis of the first half included in the new issue would have been sufficient. 

In the late twentieth century, a future of atomic cars and enforced leisure, a vast cataclysm brings Earth in collision with a planet from another dimension.  The protagonist, along with a young boy and a twenty-five-year old “girl,” makes his way across this bizarre new land in search of a mysterious man whom he is pursuing for reasons not even he understands.  All kinds of strange encounters result, from fairy-like butterfly people to an enclave of telepathic superhumans.  Some readers will enjoy the breakneck pace of this wild adventure.  It never bored me, but I found the plot too chaotic for my taste.  Two stars.

The second half of the issue deals with the familiar theme “crime does not pay.” In the oddly titled tale A Cabbage Named Sam, John Jakes offers us another decadent future, where there is no need to steal for wealth, so thieves practice their trade just for the glory of getting away with it.  A lower class man and an upper class woman set out to steal rare art from a luxurious mansion, which happens to be located at the gigantic, fully automated cabbage factory of its owner.  It isn’t long before the man winds up among the cabbages being processed into coleslaw.  If the intent is comedy, it’s very dark indeed.  Two stars.

“The Last Druid” by Joseph E. Kelleam provides proof that Fantastic hasn’t completely lost its roots in fantasy.  Set in the kind of magic-filled world that never existed except in the pages of Weird Tales, this is the story of two thieves who foolishly enter the domain of a druid to steal a giant ruby, as well as to ravish the beautiful white-skinned woman said to dwell there.  As you might expect, they pay for their nefarious intent.  This kind of tale depends on the author’s style to create an exotic and eerie mood.  Although not as elegant and witty as Leiber’s accounts of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, this journey into a supernatural setting is effective enough for its brief length.  Two and one-half stars.

We turn to another classic kind of fantasy, the horror story, in David Ely’s Court of Judgment.  Yet another warning against theft, this tale deals with a fellow who cheats another out of a valuable painting, which is said to carry a curse.  You won’t be surprised by anything that happens, but it’s quite well written.  Three stars.

Overall, this issue earns a respectable, if not outstanding, two and one-half stars.  There are no masterpieces to be found, but no worthless stories either.  The way in which the authors tackle similar themes in very different ways provides ample evidence that there is no limit to fantastic stories of imagination.

(I suspect Victoria’s 2.5 is a 3 for me.  After consultation with the author, I shall revise the Star score, if necessary.)