Tag Archives: david r. bunch

[October 9, 1962] Middlin’ middle sibling (November 1962 IF Science Fiction)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Another month, another load of science fiction digests delivered to my door.  Normally, they arrive staggered over several weeks (the various publishers know not to step on each other’s toes – the field is now pretty uncrowded, so there’s room for everyone to play), but since I was traveling the last week, I’d already accumulated a small pile upon my return.

Top of the month has been devoted to the magazines edited by famous author/agent Fred Pohl, e.g. Galaxy and IF — and starting next year, Worlds of Tomorrow!  The first two alternate every month, and odd months are IF‘s turn.  Thus, enjoy this review of the November 1962 IF Science Fiction, which was a bit of a slog leavened with bright spots:

Podkayne of Mars (Part 1 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

A few years ago, Robert Heinlein wrote A Menace from Earth.  Unlike virtually every other story to date, it starred (in 1st Person, no less) a precocious teen girl, and it was perhaps the first blend of science fiction and romance.  My 11 year-old (the Young Traveler) adored it and asked me if there was any more like it.  Sadly, there wasn’t. 

Until this month. 

Heinlein’s new novel, Podkayne of Mars, is another 1st Person piece from the viewpoint of a brilliant young woman.  Young Podkayne (Poddy) Fries dreams of becoming a spaceship captain, maybe the first to lead an expedition to the stars.  But to realize her dream, she has to get off of the Red Planet, a sort of futuristic Australia colonized by the best and worst of Terra’s children. 

I tore into Podkayne with a gusto that slowly but inevitably waned.  Have you ever engaged in conversation with a promising raconteur only to find, after a few minutes, that her/his increasingly meandering tale doesn’t and won’t have a point?  And now you’re stuck for the long haul.  That’s Podkayne.  Heinlein simply can’t divorce his rambly, screedy persona from his work.  The result is disturbing, as if there is a creepy old man lurking behind Podkayne’s bright young blue eyes. 

The story is interesting enough to keep me reading, and I appreciate the somewhat progressive treatment of women, but this is a tale that would be served best if written by someone else.  Zenna Henderson might make it too moody; I suspect Rosel George Brown would render it perfectly.  Two stars for this installment, with some improvement at the end.

The Real Thing, by Albert Teichner

Value is determined by scarcity.  When the authentic article is easy to be had, and it is the counterfeit that is rare, we can expect the latter to climb in value.  Someday, we may find plastic to be more desirable than the material it emulates; or we may deem robots to be more human than people.  Teichner’s story explores the latter idea as fully as a few pages will allow, and he pulls it off.  Three stars.

The Reluctant Immortals, by David R. Bunch

Bunch, on the other hand, writing of an overcrowded Earth that has become a driver’s nightmare, does a less convincing job.  There’s good artsy weird, and then there’s tedious artsy weird.  Guess which one this is?  Two stars.

The Desert and the Stars, by Keith Laumer

IF has published a tale of Retief, that interstellar ambassador/superagent, every two months for the last year.  I’m glad Laumer will soon take a break from the character.  I won’t say that this particular piece, in which Retief diplomatically foils an attempt by the Aga Kaga to poach the new farming colony of Flamme, is a story too far – but I think we’re getting there.  Retief’s exploits are getting a little too easy, almost self-parodying.  On the other hand, there are some genuinely funny moments in Desert, and the bit where the diplomat communicates solely in proverbs for several pages is a hoot.  Three stars.

The Man Who Flew, by Charles D. Cunningham, Jr.

A murder mystery in which a telepathic detective puzzles out the how and the who of the untimely demise of his client’s wife; an event with which the detective seems to be uncannily familiar.  This is Cunningham’s first work, and it shows.  It tries too hard at too worn a theme.  Two stars, but let’s see how his next one goes.

Too Many Eggs, by Kris Neville

If the fridge you buy is sold at an unexplained deep discount, you may be getting more than you bargained for – especially if the thing dispenses free food!  I don’t know why I liked this piece so much; it’s just well done and unforced.  Four stars.

The Critique of Impure Reason, by Poul Anderson

Few things can ruin a bright mind like the field of modern literature criticism, and when the mind corrupted belongs to a highly advanced robot on whom the future of space exploitation depends, the tragedy is compounded manyfold.  Only the resurrection of a literary genre seemingly impervious to serious analysis is the answer.  Three stars, though the trip down grad school memory lane was a bit painful.

The Dragon-Slayers, by Frank Banta

A tiny, cute vignette of a simple Venusian peasant family with a dragon problem, and the gift from the boss that proves far more valuable than intended.  Three stars.

In all, 2.6 stars.  Once again, IF leaves the impression that it might someday be a great magazine if it ever grows up.  Nevertheless, no issue yet has compelled me to cancel the subscription, and several have made me glad of it.  May Galaxy’s little sister flower into the beauty of the elder and set a good example for the new baby due next January…




[May 26, 1962] Home is the Sailor (June 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

In recent days the eyes of the world were focused on the most important event yet during the administration of President Kennedy. No, not Scott Carpenter’s successful, if suspenseful, orbiting of the Earth, so ably reported by our host. I’m talking about Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to the leader of the free world in a skintight beaded dress that drew at least as much attention as her little girl’s voice.

In other musical news, after three weeks at the top of the Billboard’s Hot 100 with their smash hit Soldier Boy, the Shirelles, pioneers of the girl group sound, have yielded the position to British clarinetist Mr. Acker Bilk with his performance of Stranger on the Shore.  (Bilk is only the second artist from across the pond to make it to Number One on the American pop charts. The first was just slightly less than a decade ago, when Vera Lynn reached that position with Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart. I suppose we’ll have to wait another ten years before the British invade the Yankee airwaves again.)

Bilk’s haunting, melancholy melody could easily serve as background music for the cover story in the June 1962 issue of Fantastic.

Another beautiful painting from young artist George Barr graces the latest offering from editor Cele Goldsmith.  It perfectly suits – and, I imagine, provided the inspiration for – Robert F. Young’s lead novelette The Star Fisherman.

The protagonist’s profession takes him deep into interstellar space, where he uses nets to capture small meteors which are used as jewels to be worn in women’s hair.  Already the reader can tell that this is a romantic and poetic tale with the mood of a legend.  I was reminded, to some extent, of the work of Cordwainer Smith.  The fisherman captures the body of an old man in a spacesuit and a photograph of a young woman in the severe clothing of a religious cult.  He instantly falls obsessively in love with her and uses the clue of her attire to track her down.

The author takes many risks here.  He deliberately offers us a science fiction story which has the mood of fantasy.  He walks a very thin line between heartfelt emotion and sentimentality.  He creates a character with whom one must empathize, but who sometimes does terrible things.  I believe that he succeeds, as well as constructing an intricately designed plot which leads to an inevitable conclusion.  For all these reasons I must award a full five stars.

I wish I could say the same about Ended by David R. Bunch, since I have generally been a defender of his unique style.  Unfortunately, this story begins in such an opaque manner that I had no idea what was happening.  Eventually it becomes clear that two very strange characters who were about to fight each other instead dig down to a region where they are offered the opportunity to pay for hedonistic pleasures.  Apparently the author intends a satire of the modern world ignoring the possibility of universal destruction and instead wasting time in pursuit of escapism.  With a character named Glob Gloul the Gloul and a place called the Hall of Hedo-and-a-Ho-ho, it’s hard to take the allegory seriously.  Two stars.

A step up is the first half of Poul Anderson’s short novel Shield.  It’s a fast-moving, action-packed adventure story set in a thoughtfully worked out future which is only revealed slowly as the plot progresses, much in the manner of Robert A. Heinlein.  The protagonist has just returned to Earth from one of several missions to Mars, which is inhabited by intelligent life.  (The author is wise enough to provide only a glimpse of these aliens, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination.) With the help of a Martian friend, he has invented a device which creates a force field around the wearer.  Anderson provides a plausible explanation for this technology, and describes its abilities and limitations in realistic detail. 

Although the hero is intelligent and capable, he is young and somewhat naïve about political realities.  Not realizing the full importance of his invention, he is soon pursued by American Military Security agents, who are the most powerful force in a world where the United States, after a nuclear war, has forced all other nations to disarm.  He is also the target of Chinese spies.  (The Soviet Union is not mentioned, and the reader may presume that it was the loser of the war.) As if that were not enough, he has to fight off low level crooks as well as a sinister crime lord and his beautiful assistant.  It all reads like a futuristic version of one of Ian Fleming’s bestselling spy novels.  The author writes in a vivid, clear style and draws the reader into the story right from the beginning.  Although the crime boss is a bit of a stereotype, his female aide is a complex, fully realized character.  Four stars.

This issue’s so-called Fantasy Classic is less than a decade old.  The Past Master by Robert Bloch is reprinted from the January 1955 issue of Bluebook.  Three different viewpoint characters are used to tell the tale of a mysterious man who arrives out of nowhere with immense amounts of money.  He attempts to purchase many great works of art.  When legitimate methods fail, he hires criminals to obtain them.  The man’s motive may not come as a great surprise to readers of science fiction, but the story is effectively told.  The author’s ability to write in a trio of distinct voices is a nice plus.  Three stars.

By coincidence, both Fantastic and this month’s issue of Analog offer stories about weather control.  “Rain, Rain, Go Away” by James A. Cox deals with the political effects of such technology as well as its unintended consequences.  It’s fairly predictable and not very engaging.  Two stars.

***

Robert F. Young’s tragic love story alone is worth paying a dime and a quarter for the magazine.  Whether Poul Anderson is able to maintain the suspense of his novel remains to be seen.

[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?

What IF (the bad news; 1-31-1959)

Wow!

I do declare, the February 1959 IF really is something else.  Not a stinker in the book, and some truly excellent stuff.  If if had always been like this, I think it would have dislodged Astounding and jostled its way into the top tier of science fiction digests.

Without further ado…

The other day, I read in the newspaper that Andrei Gromyko (the Soviet foreign minister) lauded the strength of the Communist Bloc, stating that the counterbalance of the two superpowers actually insured against an atomic apocalypse.  Be that as it may, I don’t see how we can live persistently at two minutes to midnight without snapping some taut nerves.  The Last Days of L.A., by George H. Smith, is a brutal second-person piece about cracking up under the omnipresent threat of nuclear war.  I’d be very interested to see statistics on this phenomenon, because I bet it is happening quite often. 

I advise you not to read this piece right before going to sleep. 

Have you heard of Rosel George Brown?  She’s an up-and-comer, and Virgin Ground is her third published story.  It is a spin on the “pioneer spouse” trope: in this case, it’s brides for Mars.  This is another dark story with an unhappy ending, but there’s no question but that it’s well-written. 

I found Discipline, by Katherine St. Clair, to be excellent.  It is a tale of archaeological rivalry, but with a setting in space.  One has to wonder how often it happens that scientific integrity is squandered to preserve an attractive thesis.  In this story, one man’s pride spells another’s doom, but the ending is pleasantly unexpected.

Another newcomer is David R. Bunch.  His In the Jag-Whiffing Service is good, funny stuff, but it is so short that to tell you anything about it would spoil the whole thing.  Take my word for it.  Better yet, read it yourself.

Star of Rebirth, by Bernard Wall (of whom I’ve never heard; perhaps he is an incognito Damon Knight), is one of the few rays of light in this rather dark set of stories.  Set far in the future after a devastating nuclear war, it is a convincing and touching piece following the leader of a tribe of primitive survivors.  I liked it a lot.

Finally, you’ve probably all heard of Cordwainer Smith.  His No, No, not Rogov! is a piece of present-day scientifiction (yes, that word is still in vogue) about a husband-and-wife science team working in the Soviet Union; their super-secret work into the field of electric clairvoyance yields unexpected results.  Of all of the stories in this magazine, I predict this one may go down in history as a classic. 

I think I can see a trend in Damon Knight’s editorial choice.  Most of these tales are bleak things, though they are of indubitably good quality.  However, there is just enough hope leavening the mix to make the book palatable.  In any event, it is clear that Mr. Knight was a solid choice to navigate IF out of the sales doldrums.

Except I did promise you bad news, didn’t I?

Just after I’d picked up this magazine, I learned that publisher James L. Quinn is throwing in the towel.  IF is for sale, and there’s no telling when (or if) the magazine will resume publication.  It’s really a shame.  Mr. Knight really hadn’t had a chance to bring the magazine back from the brink, and I’m sure that he could have.

On the other hand, I don’t think his stable of authors will quit writing.  Maybe Galaxy will get enough material to go back to a monthly format.  Fingers crossed!

Stay tuned day-after-tomorrow for…. I’m not sure yet.  I’m playing this one by ear!



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