Tag Archives: charles v. de vet

[January 2, 1961] Closing out the month (the January 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

If you are in the accounting profession, you are familiar with the concept of “closing the books,” wherein you complete all your reconciliations and regard a month as finished.  Here at the Journey, Month’s End does not occur until the last science fiction digest is reviewed.  Thus, though the bells have already rung for the new year of 1961, December 1960 will not officially end until I get a chance to tell you about the latest issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction!

It’s an uneven batch of stories, but definitely worth wading through the chaff for the wheat.  Avram Davidson’s The Sources of the Nile combines both in roughly equal proportions.  The story begins with an encounter between the narrator, a down-on-his-luck writer, and a haggard old fellow who once was able to predict the whims of fashion with uncanny accuracy.  Is it precognition?  Time travel?  Excellent taste?  No–as the protagonist learns, the source of his success is a modest family in a modest apartment that just seems to know.  Next year’s popular books, next year’s clothing fads.  Well, the narrator is denied certain fortune when, after a glimpse of this locus of prescience, he loses contact with the family.  He is thus doomed, like the guy who tipped him off, to search the world for this holy grail.

Davidson has adopted an avante garde style these days.  At first, I was much impressed.  After a dozen pages of over-cute overexertion, I was tired of it.  I applaud innovation, but not at the expense of readability.  Three stars.

Then we have Vance Aandahl’s The Man on the Beach, sort of a poor man’s The Man Who Lost the Sea.  Aandahl is not Ted Sturgeon, and his short tale, of an astronaut who lost his ship to murderous aborigines, somehow misses the mark.  Two stars.

But then there’s the ever-reliable Cliff Simak with Shotgun Cure, in which an ostensibly benevolent alien visits a country doctor (how Cliff loves those rural settings!) and offers him a cure for every illness in the world.  There’s just one catch: it also lowers the intelligence of the cured.  What price health!  A fair idea told in excellent Simak style.  Four stars.

Charles De Vet’s The Return Journey is also worthy: What recourse exists when a colony of Terrans expands beyond the boundaries set by treaty with the native aliens?  Sometimes the winning move is never to have played.  Four stars.

Rehabilitated, by Gordon Dickson, is a cross between Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon and Sturgeon’s More than Human.  A fellow seems ill-suited for work in the modern (read: near future) era.  He is rescued from a life of crime by a do-gooder outfit that rigorously trains him for a new profession: planetary colonist.  But it turns out that he is wholly unqualified for the job, having an IQ of just 92.  What was the point, then?  The organization is actually a network of telepathic misfits, all suffering from some degree of mental illness, from instability to retardation.  Working together, they maintain a balance such that each member’s strengths compensate for another’s weaknesses.  The training for colonization was just a a sort of dry run.  I have “Three stars” listed in my notes, but upon reflection, I think I’ll bump it up to Four. 

This trio of excellence is followed by a twosome of mediocrity.  William Eastlake’s What Nice Hands Held is a story of romance, infidelity, poverty, status, and magical realism in an heterogeneous Indian lodge.  Again with the trying too hard.  The other is Robert Young’s silly Hopsoil, about Martians visiting a post-apocalyptic Earth and raising a most unusual crop in our oddly fertile soils.  Two stars for both.

Asimov’s article this month, Here it Comes, There it Goes, is a bit of a disappointment.  It’s a summary of one of the current fads in cosmology, the idea that matter is created and disintegrated continuously, and that’s how the Universe is, always has been, and always will be.  The Good Doctor’s arguments (which are, to be fair, not his) are not particularly compelling.  Three stars.

F&SF is trying out poetry again.  Lewis Turco’s A Great Grey Fantasy didn’t strike my fancy.  Perhaps it will strike yours.  Two stars.

Rounding out the issue is a tour de force from an author who has been on fire these days, Poul Anderson.  Time Lag is a gripping novelette of the attempted conquest of one Terran colony by another.  It is told from the point of view of Elva, a married mother from the peaceful, apparently pastoral planet of Vaynamo.  Her husband is killed and her village savaged by an advance party of Chertkonians lead by the ruthless Captain Bors.  Elva is forced into the position of Bors’ mistress, and while Bors is not particularly cruel about it, we are never made to forget that Elva is an unwilling partner. 

Interstellar travel is a relativistic affair in this story.  The journeys between Vaynamo and Chertkoi take fifteen years of objective time even though they take only weeks of subjective time.  Thus, Time Lag is told in a punctuated series.  Through Elva’s eyes, we get a glimpse of the overcrowded and polluted Chertkoi, stiflingly authoritarian and caste-conscious.  Elva is taken along for the second assault on Vaynamo, in which the capital is atomized from orbit.  She bravely confers with a captured general under the guise of extracting intelligence and learns that the Vaynamonians, possessed of a highly advanced science themselves (as one would expect; they did come from star-travelling stock), are not quite so helpless as the Cherkonians have surmised.  Elva uses her position as consort to the increasingly prestigious Bors to obtain a degree of succor for the Vaynamonian captives, though her efforts are never entirely successful. 

The third assault from Chertkoi is the last.  Thousands of ships, the fruits of the labor of billions of oppressed souls, are unleashed against Vaynamo, a planet with a population of just ten million.  Bors, now a Fleet Admiral, is certain of his victory.  But is it really assured?

What elevates this story above a simple good-versus-evil story is the parallel drawn between the planetary and personal conflicts.  Elva has been enslaved, but she has not been defeated.  Her strengths go far beyond the blatantly visible.  Bors never breaks her; in fact, Elva quickly becomes his master, though he is never aware of the fact.  Similarly, Vaynamo does not need to win by matching the vulgar rapacity of Cherkoi; rather, the world relies on compassion, deliberateness, and immense inner strength.

Time Lag is a refreshingly feminine story from a feminine viewpoint, something which Anderson has been getting pretty good at.  I appreciated that there was no suggestion of taint upon Elva for her plight.  Like Vaynamo, she endured violations and pain, but she emerged an unbroken heroine. 

Five stars.

That comes out to an aggregate of 3.25 stars making F&SF the winning digest for the month (IF was just behind at 3.2, and Analog trailed far behind at 2.5).  I think IF wins the best story prize, however, with Vassi, and IF certainly wins the “most woman authors” award, with two (the only ones to appear in all three magazines).

And now 1961 can truly begin!

[Apr. 29, 1960] A Banks Shot (June 1960 Galaxy, Part 2)

Without preamble, let’s get to the second half of this month’s Galaxy, the June 1960 issue.  I hope you’ve all been reading along with me because there will be a quiz next period.


by Wood

Jack Sharkey is a prolific newcomer who started out in the lesser mags.  His The Dope on Mars, the first-hand account of a journalist sent to the Red Planet, is fair.  The title actually is a clever (if intentional) pun, as it suggests both the true story about Mars and the moron sent to cover it.  And that’s ultimately what I found frustrating—the reporter really comes off as a putz.  On the other hand, recalling my competition back in my reporting days, perhaps the depiction isn’t that far off the mark.

Transstar is a dense novelette, and is the first thing by Raymond Banks that I’ve really enjoyed.  In fact, were it not for the slightly disappointing ending, it would have earned the coveted 5-star award.  In the far future, humanity has spread across a thousand star systems.  Protecting it is the extra-governmental agency, Transstar, with millions of ships at its disposal.  This overwhelming force comes with a hefty price tag, however, and partial mobilization does not appear to be an option.  This sounds implausible on its face, but recall that the French mobilization of the last war had similar problems, which was one of the reasons there was no armed resistance to the German taking of the Rhineland in ’36. 

Despite the massive scope of the backdrop, Transstar is a very personal story, that of one agent stationed at a small colony that happens to be next in line for conquest by the sadistic Eaber, who also have a thousand systems under their control.  The story is by turns poignant and horrifying, written in an excellent, understated fashion.  My only issues are with the ending, which was both too glib and somewhat inconsistent.  But I’ll save the rest of my commentary for the letter column.


by Dillon

I remember Charles de Vet largely from his propping up the rather dismal January 1959 AstoundingMonkey on his Back, de Vet’s contribution to this month’s Galaxy is an interesting adventure story.  Imagine if Harrison’s Slippery Jim diGriz suddenly got amnesia and went to a shrink for help. 

Frederic Brown’s Beware Earthmen Bearing Gifts is over almost before it starts.  Taken at face value, it’s a silly premise, but there are two valid themes conveyed: the principle that nothing can be observed without affecting it, and, our methods of exploration may be more destructive than necessary. 


by Dillon

Idea Man, by British neophyte John Rackham (who wrote the lead story for the November 1959 issue of IF) has a fun piece on what it’s like to have a great concept but limited vision for its application. 


by Dillon

Finally, we have Inside John Barth, by the brand new William W. Stuart (I’m seeing a trend; ever since lowering his rates, editor Gold is having trouble getting old pros to work for him).  It’s a rather fascinating tale about a fellow who becomes a colony (in the 17th century sense of the word) for a clan of aliens.  Their relation is symbiotic, for the most part, though the “host” increasingly resents the salutary restrictions placed on his activities to ensure the benevolence of his internal environment.  A good first effort, for sure.

So there you have it: a solid 3-star issue (sadly, with nary a female writer nor much of a female character presence).  Let me know what you think, and I’ll see y’all in a few days!

January 1959 Astounding (2nd of 3 parts; 11-28-58)

Happy (day after) Thanksgiving from sunny San Diego!  Sorry for the delay, but the travails of travel put a crimp in my bi-daily update schedule.  I am now happily back at the typewriter and ready to tell you all about….

The January 1959 Astounding was particularly lackluster.  Filled with turgid tales of men running world governments with smug omnipotence, it was quite the slog.  Some details:

“To Run the Rim,” was the stand-out exception, as described earlier this week.  Sadly, it simply set the bar higher for the subsequent stories, which did not even try to clear the hurdle.

Gordy Dickson’s “By New House Fires,” wasn’t bad so much as inconsequential.  In this story, humanity has made the planet unlivable for any but humans, animals being found solely in preserves.  I’ve seen this concept before, and I never buy it.  I have no trouble believing that humans will run pretty roughshod over planet Earth, and many thousands if not millions of species will be the casualties.  We may pollute the world into a stinking mess and/or incinerate the surface in atomic hellfire, but we’ll never reduce its inhabitants to people and food-yeast.  Of course, Dickson’s set-up is necessary for the tale, the story of the world’s last dog, and the master he adopts.

Oh look!  The next story is a Poul Anderson, surprise, surprise.  In premise, “Robin Hood’s Barn,” is not unlike Piper’s story in the last Astounding following the leader of a decadent Empire.  In this case, the Empire is solely terrestrial, only one inhabitable extrasolar world having yet been discovered.  This is the story that predicated my recent rant on the dearth of women in science fiction.  Though it takes place far in the future, all government is run by men, and worse still, it is one of those smug stories where the person in charge has perfect Machiavellian control of the various competing factions beneath him. 

I suppose I must sound hypocritical.  After all, I gave Piper’s story a pass (and even a favorable grade).  I think the difference is two-fold: Piper’s story was meant to be somewhat fanciful.  Moreover, I’ve seen Piper write strong women.  Anderson’s never tried (except that isn’t quite true—he managed five years ago in Brainwave, his one excellent book).  Maybe Piper is just as bad, but Anderson was the straw that broke my back.

“Seedling,” by Charles V. de Vet (he worked with Katherine MacClean in Astounding earlier this year) is a pleasant, albeit brief, interlude about the drastic steps one might take to establish relations with an alien race.  The twist is nice, too.

All too soon, we’re plunged back into another top-level womanless depiction of world government: “Deadlock,” by Robert and Barbara Silverberg.  This is one of those old-fashioned stories in which a problem is introduced and the solution comes as a gotcha at the last second.  What’s particularly frustrating is the Silverbergs spend 40 pages on what should have been a 10-page tale. 

Here’s the set-up: It is a hundred years from now, and humanity is on the eve of settling Mars.  The Americans want to terraform the planet; the Chinese want to biologically engineer humans to settle the planet as is.  One intrepid U.N. representative is tasked with finding a suitable compromise.  This set-up is described over and over again in several slightly varying ways (newspaper clippings, interviews with officials on both sides) until the inevitable and unclever solution is presented.  It would be fine as backdrop to characterization, or as bookends to a novel, but it just can’t bear the weight of a novella.

One has to wonder if John Campbell simply needed to fill space and asked the Silverbergs to pad their submission out.  Since authors are paid by the word, I can imagine there was little resistance to the idea.

Now, I do have some praise for the story.  I am impressed with anyone willing to throw her or his hat over the fence and make a timeline of future history, especially when it makes assumptions that few others do.  For instance, in this world, the Soviet Union collapses in the early 21st century not from American success in a Third World War, but from economic inadequacy.  An economically revitalized (but probably still Communist) China takes its place as a superpower.  The U.N.’s power is enhanced after an abortive and politically fraught Space Race.  While this makes for a more peaceful Earth, preventing large-scale conflicts, it also means that any plan to settle other planets requires a consensus of most of the Earth’s countries.  Hence, the presented dilemma.  It’s a plausible set-up, they just don’t do much with it.

I am also impressed with how far science fiction (and science) have come.  Just 16 years ago, Heinlein was writing about transforming humanity at glacial speed through selective breeding a la Mendel.  Genetic engineering reduces the process time to a single generation.  I look forward to seeing more stories with this development as a component.

There’s more, but I find myself in danger of over-writing this column, so I’ll save it for next time.

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