Tag Archives: edgar pangborn

[February 23, 1962] Material Reading (March 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

The coverage for John Glenn’s orbital flight was virtually non-stop on the 20th.  My daughter and I (as many likely did) played hooky to watch it.  During the long countdown, the Young Traveler worried that the astronaut might get bored during his wait and commented that NASA might have been kind enough to install a small television on the Mercury control panel.

But, from our previous experience, we were pretty sure what the result of that would have been:

CAPCOM: “T MINUS 30 seconds and counting…”

Glenn: “Al, Mr. Ed just came on.  Can we delay the count a little bit?”

30 minutes later…

CAPCOM: “You are on internal power and the Atlas is Go.  Do you copy, Friendship 7

Glenn: “Al, Supercar‘s on now.  Just a little more.”

30 minutes later…

CAPCOM: “The recovery fleet is standing by and will have to refuel if we don’t launch soon…John, what’s with the whistling?”

Glenn: “But Al, Andy Griffith just came on!”

So, TV is probably out.  But a good book, well…that couldn’t hurt anything, right?  And this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction was a quite good book, indeed.  Witness:

Jonathan and the Space Whale, by Robert F. Young

Two years ago, Mr. Young began an issue of F&SF with a bang.  He does it again with Whale.  Young is a master of writing compelling relationships between two utterly alien beings – in this case, that between a restless, aimless young man of many talents, and the space whale that swallows him whole.  Great stuff.  Five stars.

Wonder as I Wander: Some Footprints on John’s Trail Through Magic Mountains, Manly Wade Wellman

It is hard to pack a lot of wallop into a half-page vignette, but I must say that Wellman has pulled it off here – repeatedly.  Footprints is a set of short-short shorts designed to be interstitials for a collection (due to be published later this year) of stories about John the balladeer, a Korea veteran with a silver-stringed guitar and a facility with white magic.  Some are truly effective, and all are worthy.  Five stars.

The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity, by Fritz Leiber

Friends is a readable story with a stingless tail.  I suspect Leiber is past his prime, riding on his name rather than putting much effort into things.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIX, by “Grendel Briarton”

One of the more contrived and less funny of Reginald Bretnor’s punnish efforts. 

A War of No Consequence, by Edgar Pangborn

This, then, is the jewel of the issue.  Pangborn’s last tale of a young redheaded runaway from the Eastern seaboard of a bombed-out America, was sublime.  This one is just about as good, only being inferior for its shorter length.  A great story of the futility of war, and the bonds it can forge among ostensible enemies.  Five stars.

The 63rd St. Station, by Avram Davidson

I’m not quite sure what to make of this one, about a staid, devoted brother who contemplates leaving his shut-in sister for a new love at the age of 45.  The ending is rendered extremely obliquely, and I suspect it makes more sense to a New Yorker familiar with subway trains and such.  Not bad, but a little too opaque.  Three stars.

(Per the editor’s blurb at the front of the issue, Bob Mills is stepping down as editor and turning over the reins to Mr. Davidson.  Given the latter’s penchant for the weird and the abstruse, recently to the detriment of his stories (in my humble opinion), I have to wonder if this will take the magazine in a direction less to my taste.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see.)

Communication by Walter H. Kerr

There is not much to say about this rather purple, but still pleasant, poem about a certain race’s limitations and strengths in the realm of communication.  Three stars.

That’s Life!, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor (will the friendly banter between Asimov and his “Kindly Editor” continue under the new regime?) has turned out an entertaining and informative piece this month, in which he attempts to present an accurate definition of life.  It’s a fine lesson in biology with some neat bits on viruses.  Four stars.

The Stone Woman by Doris Pitkin Buck

I really want to like Mrs. Buck, an esteemed English professor from Ohio, who has seen several science fiction luminaries in her class.  This latest piece, a poem, reinforces my opinion that her stuff, while articulate, is not for me.  Two stars.

Shadow on the Moon by Zenna Henderson

Henderson’s The People stories have always been personal favorites, and the last one, Jordan, was sublime.  Shadow, on the other hand, falls unexpectedly flat.  It follows the tale of two siblings who enlist themselves in an endeavor to take themselves and kin back into space – to the Moon, particularly.  All the elements of a People piece are there: the esper-empowered, alien-born humans; a well-drawn female protagonist; the sere beauty of Arizona; the light, almost ethereal language.  Somehow, the bolts show on this one, however, and there isn’t the emotional connection I’ve enjoyed in previous Henderson stories.  Three stars.

Doing my monthly mathematics, I determine that the March F&SF garnered an impressive 3.8 stars.  Astronaut Glenn certainly could have whiled away the long pre-launch hours (not to mention all the previous scrubbed launches) with a lot worse reading material.

Next up…what’s likely to be worse reading material (but who knows?): the March 1962 Analog!

[January 27, 1962] Bumps in Road (February 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s been a topsy turvy month: Snow is falling in coastal Los Angeles.  Castro’s Cuba has been kicked out of the Organization of American States.  Elvis is playing a Hawaiian beach bum.  So it’s in keeping that the latest issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction is, well, uneven.

Luckily, the February 1962 F&SF front-loaded the bad stuff (though it’s a bumpy ride clear to the end), so if you can make it through the beginning, you’re in for a treat – particularly at the end.  But first…

The Garden of Time is the latest from Englishman J. G. Ballard.  This tale of an enchanted chateau on the brink of ransack is long on imagery but short on substance (like many pieces in F&SF).  You may find it lovely; I found it superfluous.  Two stars.

The latest Ferdinand Feghoot (XLVIII) is slightly less worthy than the mean, for what that’s worth.  A pun that fails to elicit a groan, but merely a tired sigh, is hardly a pun at all.

Avram Davidson has completed his descent into impenetrability.  Once a reliable author, somber and profound, his work has been increasingly odd.  His latest (The Singular Events Which Occurred in the Hovel on the Alley Off Eye Street) is a parallel universe magical send-up of our present day.  I think.  He manages to pack more nonsense per square word than ever before, and even Street’s paltry 2000 or so words are too many.  One star.

One Into Two, by J. T. McIntosh, is something of an improvement: quick and pleasant reading.  However, if the best story you can make of a matter transmitter/duplicator is a “perfect crime” piece, you’re not thinking too hard.  Three stars.

I’d call Walter H. Kerr’s Gruesome Discovery at the 242nd St. Feeding Station the least kind of doggerel, but I happen to like canines.  I’ll just give it one star and leave it at that.

Pirate Island, by Czech Josef Nesvadba, is a reprint from behind the Iron Curtain.  I rather enjoyed this bitter tale of a frustrated privateer in the era of Morgan.  Something about its lyrical irony appealed.  Nothing at all of the stodginess I rather expected from the Eastern Bloc.  Four stars. 

Jesus Christ seems to be a popular topic this month, He having also made an appearance in Amazing’s …And it was Good.  In Richard Matheson’s The Traveller, a professor journeys back to Golgotha with the intention of simply taking notes, but becomes compelled to save the hapless martyr.  It grew on me in retrospect, as much Matheson does.  Four stars.

We take a bit of a plunge then, quality-wise.  Ward Moore is a long-time veteran of F&SF, and his last story, The Fellow who married the Maxill Girl was a poetic masterpiece.  Rebel, a twist on the newly minted “Generation Gap,” but with the roles reversed, isn’t.  Two stars.

Barry Stevens’ Window to the Whirled, like Ballard’s lead piece, is overwrought and underrealized.  It’s a hybrid of Clifton’s Star Bright (geniuses will themselves cross-wise across time and space) and Jones’ The Great Gray Plague (only by leaving boring ol’ science behind can one be free), and I really wanted to like it…but I didn’t.  Two stars.

Even Isaac Asimov’s science fact article, Superficially Speaking, about the comparative surface areas of the solar system’s celestial bodies, is lackluster this month.  Of course, even bland Asimov is pretty good reading.  Three stars.

Lewis Turco has a few poetic snippets ostensibly from the mouths of robots in Excerpts from the Latterday Chronicle.  They are in English; they are not long.  And this ends what I have to say about them.  Two stars.

Novice Matthew Grass offers up The Snake in the Closet, a story that presents exactly what’s on the tin, and yet is clearly a metaphor for…something, I’m sure.  Not a bad first effort, and some may find it poignantly relevant.  Three stars.

All of this is but frivolous preamble to the jewel of this issue.  Edgar Pangborn is a fellow who has been too long away from the sff digests, and his The Golden Horn is one of those perfect stories, at once gritty and beautiful.  Set in post-WW3 America. It is a tale of friendship and betrayal, love and lost innocence, lusterless life and sublime sonority.  It’s just that good, okay?  Five stars.

So went February 1962, and F&SF, with its final score of 2.8 stars, ends up tied with Fantastic and Galaxy (though it gets distinction for having the best story).  Analog, at 2.1 stars, was the worst.  Amazingly, Amazing was the best with 3.3 stars.  Some of you may disagree with this judgment (I know Pawn of the Black Fleet was not to everyone’s taste) but I stand by John Boston’s judgment, both because I must, and because our tastes have proven not to be too different.

Of 33 fiction pieces, just one was woman-penned.  A sad state that no doubt contributed to this month’s comparative dip on the star-o-meter.  However, it looks like Zenna Henderson and Mildred Clingerman will publish next month, so that’s something to look forward to. 

Stay tuned for the next Ace Double and January’s space race round-up!

[April 27, 1960] Galactic on Galaxy (June 1960 Galaxy)

It’s that happy time of year when the sun is up late and the weather is perfect.  Of course, the weather is usually perfect here in the nicest unincorporated part of northern San Diego County (though there are rumors that our little farming community is going to vote on incorporation soon).

One of my favorite Spring-time activities is to lounge on the veranda (well, my daughter’s tree house) with a portable radio, a cup of coffee, and good book.  Today’s entree is the newest issue of Galaxy.  It’s a double-sized issue, so I’ll be breaking it out over two articles.  A body needs time to digest, after all. 

Fred Pohl has written a new serial evocatively titled Drunkard’s Walk I won’t go into too much detail as it’s only half published, but thus far, I’m enjoying it.  In an overpopulated Earth (12 billions, 6 of them in “The Chinas”), university education is the province of the elite.  One young mathematics professor appears to be the target for assassination.  He’s attempted to kill himself numerous times, always in that twilight between sleep and waking, as if in a trance. 

There are some neat technologies featured.  In particular, I liked Pohl’s depiction of education by television, broadcast via satellite and graded by computer.  As someone who has generally found the classroom stifling, I marvel at how nice it would be to get a college degree in the comfort of my own home.

Next on tap is L.J. Stecher’s Upstarts.  How can Earthers hope to parlay on a level playing field with a race that dominates the entire Galaxy?  By developing its own secret, starhopping technologies, of course.  The fascinating idea here is that though there are some 17 starfaring alien species, only two of them (one being humanity) clawed their way to sentience by natural evolutionary processes.  All of the rest were raised to sapience (“Uplifted,” to coin a phrase) by the slavering Vegans, who now find themselves a minority group in the new galactic order and want to enlist the assistance of the Terrans to get back on top.


by Dillon

Good stuff, and with a haunting ending.

The Good Neighbors is a fun, short Edgar Pangborn piece about the sudden appearance of an enormous winged beast that terrorizes the American skies for many days before the pitiful creature is harangued to death by a swarm of jet fighters.  Pangborn writes with a pleasant sense of whimsy that I appreciate.


by Wallace Wood

Rounding out the first half, Willy Ley has an interesting piece on rocket fuels and the comparative advantages of liquid vs. solid propellants.  He also answers some of his readers’ questions.  They must have been a better crop than usual as VeeLee seems pleasantly less peeved than he has been of late.

See you in two days with the other half.  Get yourself a copy and send me your thoughts!

[March 26, 1960] Among the Best (April 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction regularly beats out the other regular digests in terms of consistent quality.  This month’s, April 1960, is no exception.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in:

Daniel Keyes, who wrote the superb Flowers for Algernon, has returned with the issue’s lead novelette, Crazy Maro.  Our viewpoint character is an attorney who has been contracted by unseen agents from the future to secure psychically adept (and invariably disadvantaged) children for work in a later time.  The fellow meets his match, however, when he is asked to recruit the titular Maro, a young black man with an uncanny talent for reading the emotions of others.  Much of the novelette is a mystery story, with the lawyer trying to puzzle out the root of Maro’s power.  It’s a powerful piece, assuredly, though the very end is unnecessarily melodramatic.

Another serious piece is The Hairy Thunderer by “Levi Crow” (Manly Wade Wellman in disguise).  The writing is deceptively simplistic, describing the arrival of a hairy pale foreigner to the lands of an American Indian tribe.  The European commences to ensnare the tribe with his boom stick and, more effectively and terribly, his firewater.  A young man of the tribe, Lone Arrow, is able to resist him with the magical assistance of a certain eight-legged class of arthropods.

The moral of the story, that one should be kind to spiders for they are misunderstood but fundamentally good creatures, is one that resonates strongly.  I’m always hoping that, when I die, the Spider Gods will look favorably upon me for the compassion and mercy I have shown Their Kind.

G.C. Edmondson’s forgettable short story, Ringer features a fellow who is replaced by a robotic doppelganger.  The twist is that the viewpoint is always that character, whether in human or android form.

The incomparable Edgar Pangborn brings us The Wrens in Grampa’s Bears, in which “Grampa,” the narrator’s Great Grandfather, hosts a brood of beneficient angels within his long beard.  Their existence is only hinted at, and the story is mostly a mood piece capturing the sunset of an old man’s life in the Summer of ’58, a man whose memories encompass both Gettysburg and satellites.  Yet, the theme of the tale is not how much things have changed, but how they stay essentially the same. 

A Certain Room, a short by Ken Kusenberg, translated from German by Therese Pol, is a silly, archaic piece.  What happens when you fiddle with the objects in a room that have a causal connection to bigger, worldwide events?  Not much good.

George Elliott has the issue’s second novelette, the fantasy-less, science-fiction-less, but nevertheless compelling Among the Dangs.  It is a mock account of an anthropologist’s sojourn amongst the fictional Dang tribe of Ecuador.  Enlisted for his talent for mimicry and his dark skin, the protagonist spends years living with the Dang, learning their customs and even taking a wife, so that he can become one of their high prophets.  His initial motivation is to compose a thesis for an advanced degree.  But so complete is his indoctrination that it is only through a titanic force of will that he breaks free, and the experience forever marks him. 

The piece originally appeared a couple of years back in Esquire, and it is a strange story to find within the covers of F&SF.  On the other hand, while the content is neither science fictional nor fantastic, there is a certain flavor to it that allows it to fit nicely in the middle of this issue.  I’m not complaining for its inclusion.

I’m not sure what to do with Rosel George Brown.  I really want to like her, but she has this tendency toward first-person pieces featuring scatterbrained housewives.  Their situations are tediously conventional and exhaustingly frenetic.  I have to wonder if the stories aren’t semi-autobiographical.  A Little Human Contact continues in this vein, and while it’s not horrible, it is still not the masterpiece I know Brown is capable of.  Of course, I may be looking in the wrong place–Amazing and Fantastic are still around, and I understand she’s due to be published there soon. 

Isaac Asimov has an excellent non-fiction piece this month, It’s About Time, describing the evolution and fundamental incompatibility of our various calendar systems.  The conclusion: trust the astronomers and go with Julian dating.

I won’t spoil Joseph Whitehill’s In the House, Another since it’s a one-trick pony.  Cute, though.

Rounding out the issue is Gordy Dickson’s latest novelette, The Game of Five.  It is strangely reminiscent of his earlier The Man in the Mailbag, but it’s not as good.  Both stories involve a man infiltrating an alien culture to rescue a captured woman.  In both stories, it quickly turns out that the situations are more complex than they seem at first blush.  In both stories, the “captured” woman turns out to be an agent of some kind.

But though Five is competently written, the Hercule Poirot moment, that bit at the end where the hero explains the mystery, is not supported strongly enough by clues in the narrative.  The world is also not as interesting as the one depicted in Mailbag.  Unlike the former title, I don’t this one will get nominated for any Hugos.  Not that it’s bad, mind you—just not up to the bar Dickson has set for himself.

That’s it for April 1960.  I have a whole new crop of magazines and books to review for next month.  I also have far more time to devote to the column now that I am between day jobs.  Cry not for me—it was a decision long coming and well worth it. 

In the meantime, before we get onto things fictional, I have some scientific news with exciting science fiction ramifications…

…but you’ll just have to wait two days for it!




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Dreams of Summer (September 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction, first half; 7-28-1959)

Hello, all.  I’d meant to report on the newest issue of IF, but the fershlugginer thing hasn’t arrived yet.  My Fantasy and Science Fiction is in my hot little hands, however, and it is off to a strong start.  Fasten your seatbelts!

The cover is quite lovely, and in fact, it is available for purchase if you are so inclined.  It features the next-generation upper stage being designed as we speak to turn the Thor and Atlas missiles into powerful orbital boosters.  The rocket is called “Vega.” I have heard rumblings, however, that the thing may not actually make it to fruition as the Air Force has a very similar booster in the works, and what’s the point of inventing the wheel twice, simultaneously?

Heading the issue is Edgar Pangborn’s The Red Hills of Summer.  Mr. Pangborn has not written very much—looking through my records, I see he did a whimsical story for Galaxy called Angel’s Egg way back in 1951.  Summer is almost excellent, the story of a generation ship arriving at an inhabitable planet after a 15-year journey.  The stakes are high—Earth has become bombed-out and nigh unlivable.  Four members of the crew, evenly divided by gender, must conduct a preliminary survey to ensure that the destination, called Demeter, will support the 300 colonists.

The ecology is a little too undeveloped to be plausible, and also a bit too terrestrial.  But the writing is sound, the situations tense and interesting.  It doesn’t quite hit 5 stars as it trails off more than ends.  Perhaps Pangborn will turn this into the opening section of a novel, which would be quite readable.

Asimov’s article is on infinity, and the many different types of infinite counting.  Engaging, but dry.

The next piece is called Quintet and is a bit of an experiment.  There are five pieces, two poetry and three prose, one of which was penned by a pre-teen, and the rest by four distinguished authors.  We’re supposed to guess who wrote what.  All of the prose pieces have substantial spelling and grammatical errors of a patently unbelievable nature.  This is, I suppose, an attempt to portray the writings of a juvenile.  They go too far, though, to be fair, correspondence written by my current employer look quite similar.  The conceit makes the pieces well-nigh unreadable.  I’m going to guess that the youngster penned one of the pieces of poetry (I’m guessing it’s the first of two).  We’ll see if I’m right next month.

Finally, for today, we have The Devil’s Garden, a “Murchison Morks” story by Robert Arthur, the same fellow who brought us Don’t be a Goose (and of similar vintage).  It is a light-hearted but creepy story of telepathic transference of pain as a form of punishment.  The resolution is satisfying and a little (but not very) surprising.  I enjoyed it.

In two days, I’ll have the rest for you.  Thus far, we’re in 3-star territory.

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