Tag Archives: david ely

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


by John Boston

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

Verdict: promise partly kept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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].

[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.)