Tag Archives: Edward Wellen

[April 10, 1962] All the Difference (May 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

The measure of a story’s quality, good or bad, is how well it sticks in your memory.  The sublime and the stinkers are told and retold, the mediocre just fades away.  If you ever wonder how I rate the science fiction I read, memorability is a big component. 

This month’s IF has some real winners, and even the three-star stories have something to recommend them.  For the first time, I see a glimpse of the greatness that almost was under Damon Knight’s tenure back in 1959.  Read on, and perhaps you’ll agree.

Retief of the Red-Tape Mountain, by Keith Laumer

Laumer continues to improve in his tales of the omni-capable diplomat hamstrung by the flounderings of a sub-capable bureaucracy.  In this story, Retief is dispatched to make peace between the settlers of a new colony, and a band of aliens that has recently popped onto the scene.  Comedy is hard to write, and it’s harder (but more rewarding) to anchor humor to a serious backbone.  There are some genuinely funny moments in Mountain, and it’s also a good story.  Four stars.

The Spy, by Theodore L. Thomas

An extraterrestrial (but human) reincarnation of Nathan Hale is captured by musket-bearing folk and tried for espionage.  I enjoyed it well-enough at the time, but the ending sat poorly.  There’s just not enough to this piece.  Two stars.

Death and Taxes, by H. A. Hartzell

I really enjoyed this fanciful tale of a beneficent sea-captain’s ghost, the impoverished artist he comes to haunt (or perhaps, “with whom he cohabitates” is more appropriate, and the lady who is the object of the artist’s affections.  It’s Lafferty-esque, a little bit disjointed but a lot of fun.  I’ve never heard of Hartzell before, so s/he is either a promising novice or a slumming veteran.  Four stars.


by DYAS

Misrule, by Robert Scott

Politics is a chaotic game.  Strikes, protests, riots – these can really throw a wrench into the workings of government.  What if you could do away with all that?  Subvert all the anti-government feelings into one quadrennial orgy of rapine and destruction, a blowing off a steam that keeps things quiet for another four years?  Scott’s tale isn’t particularly plausible, but it is vivid.  Three stars.

Deadly Game, by Edward Wellen

This is a weird Isle of Dr. Moreau-type tale about a park ranger who engineers his charges to be vicious guerrillas, making the animals sentient masters of their own fate.  Another well-told story that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Three stars.

The Hoplite, by Richard Sheridan

In the far future, flesh is not enough to withstand the rigors of war.  One solution is to surround the warriors in an exo-skeleton of metal, the other…well, you’ll have to read to find out what can resist a steel humanoid goliath.  Evocative but somehow hollow.  Three stars.

The 64-Square Madhouse, by Fritz Leiber

Some science fiction stories are so imaginative yet so plausible that you can be convinced that you are seeing the future.  Leiber’s tale depicts a chess tournament that takes place on the eve of the time when computers become good enough at the game to beat the best Grandmasters.  This is not some staid Robot vs. Man tale, but a cunning extrapolation of the current state of the art in cybernetic chess to a few decades into the future.  Add to it a cast of well-drawn characters and a multi-peak story arc, and you’ve got a story that will likely be referenced by name the day fiction becomes reality.  Five stars, and bravo.


by BURNS

Gramp, by Charles. V. DeVet

The gift of telepathy is a double-edged sword, as one boy soon discovers.  DeVet does a good job of capturing a youth’s voice, and he’s no stranger to sensitive stories.  Would make a decent The Twilight Zone episode, perhaps.  Three stars.

The Other IF, by Theodore Sturgeon

Ted Sturgeon’s non-fiction piece is about an IF magazine that never was.  Apparently, Sturgeon has wanted to have his own magazine since the War Years.  The digest he conceived, which he planned to call IF, would have exclusively published “If this goes on” stories: short-term predictions turned into plausible stories.  He concludes his non-fiction account of the IF that never was with a few guesses of his own – since he wrote the article in December, their accuracy is already a matter of record.  He then invites you, the reader, to make your own and send them in. 

Do you have any hunches on what’s in store for this Summer?

(Three stars)

The Expendables, by Jim Harmon

Harmon can always be counted on to provide readable fiction.  In this case, we have a droll story about the man who invents the perfect garbage disposal…but can the Laws of Thermodynamics be so easily beaten?  Or the Mafia?  The FBI?  My favorite line, “My opinion as to the type of person who followed the pages of science-fiction magazines with fluttering lips and tracing finger were upheld.”  Three stars.

***

Added up, that puts us at 3.4 for the month, a respectable score for what used to be one of the lesser mags, and it was worth it just for the Leiber.  A host of interesting, implausible stories, and one humdinger of a plausible one.  I guess I’ll just have to renew my subscription to this promising digest.  Good on you, Editor Fred Pohl!

[March 3, 1962] Getting Somewhere (the April 1962 Amazing)

[The precocious Mr. Boston continues to take time from his busy high school schedule to provide coverage of Cele Goldsmith’s marquee digest: Amazing, the longest lived of the sff mags.  I am deeply grateful to John for his eloquent reviews.  I understand that he lives in particularly dull and uninspired part of the country, so I shouldn’t wonder that he has time to escape to lands of fantasy…]


by John Boston

The April Amazing opens with a bang: the cover is a startling departure from the usual humdrum machinery.  There’s a spacesuit in the foreground, but badly used, missing a glove and a boot, stuffed with straw, and held upright on a pole like a scarecrow, against a surreal background of reddish and yellow desert, a vast cloud of violet smoke, and a washed-out greenish sky.  Strikingly imaginative symbolic work by artist Lloyd Birmingham?  No, mostly illustrative: this tableau is from the first paragraph of Mark Clifton’s lead short story Hang Head, Vandal! But it is unusual and eye-catching, and Birmingham does get credit (if that’s the word) for the garish color scheme.

Clifton’s story is as relentlessly misanthropic as the recently-serialized Pawn of the Black Fleet, but a sixth as long, with no words wasted.  We need to test a new atomic reaction that we’re not sure we can stop; why not do it on Mars, which is empty?  Turns out it’s not as empty as we thought, and sure enough, we can’t stop the reaction and the attendant genocide.  It’s taste of ashes time—but they’re really high-quality ashes.  Clifton has long been preoccupied with the unsatisfactory nature of humankind, and what might be done to redeem it; see They’d Rather Be Right, featuring a machine that will make us immortal if we will let go of our prejudices.  At this point, though, Clifton seems to have given up on redemption.  Four stars for compressed eloquence.

J.G. Ballard is back with his best yet in the US magazines.  Thirteen to Centaurus opens in the Station, an isolated habitat containing four families, and 16-year-old Abel is figuring out too much.  Dr. Francis, who functions as teacher and a sort of psychological supervisor, brings him in for a talk, and reveals the truth: the Station is a spaceship en route to the nearest star, though Abel won’t live to see it; they are 50 years into the multi-generation journey.  Then Dr. Francis climbs out the secret exit and we see the real truth: the spaceship is a mock-up sitting on Earth, its residents experimental subjects.  And the people in charge, who have gotten a little uncomfortable that those who consented to this treatment are long dead, have decided to shut it down, albeit gradually. 

When Dr. Francis hears this, he flees back into the station, telling his superiors that the people inside are now going to need him even more—but exactly who’s needy isn’t so clear.  There is also a power shift going on during Dr. Francis’s mentorship of Abel; it’s no longer so clear who’s in charge.  And there is a final revelation which I won’t mention.  The bottom line is that Ballard is less impressed than most of his SF colleagues with Man the Rational Problem-Solver; here, he proposes that humans may sometimes be driven to—and be happier—adhering to and living lives based on world-views that they know to be false.

The story is far from perfect; it depends on the vague notion of “conditioning,” which allows Ballard to control what and how much his characters are able to perceive—otherwise the deception could never have lasted. But once you get past this handwaving implausibility, it’s a sharply original angle on some familiar ideas, smoothly and precisely written, with a kind of psychological insight that is rare in the SF mags.  I am near-sighted, and every couple of years I need a new pair of glasses.  (I’m told this will get better as I get older.) Reading Ballard after reading his competitors reminds me of getting new glasses: suddenly everything is just a little sharper and clearer.  Four stars—especially lustrous ones.

Edmond Hamilton, long nicknamed “World-Wrecker,” and perpetrator of the determinedly juvenile Captain Future, has his first appearance in the SF magazines since 1958, when the pulpy digests he frequented—Imagination, Imaginative Tales, and its successor Space Travel—died.  In Requiem, Hamilton’s characters are not wrecking any worlds; the Earth, long evacuated, is being wrecked by natural causes.  Captain Kellon, under orders, has brought a spaceship full of superficial and bickering media personalities to Earth to document its destruction, though he doesn’t see the point of it. 

But he starts taking long walks and finds an old ruined house (“Ross and Jennie—Their House” is written in the half-buried cement of the terrace).  He hangs out there, reflecting on the lives of Ross and Jennie and all their fellows and ancestors and civilization, whose traces are shortly to be destroyed.  And when it’s time to leave, he makes one last gesture of respect.  This fundamentally sentimental story could easily have become intolerable but is told with a quiet restraint that is surprising from the author of Crashing Suns, Battle for the Stars, etc.  Three stars, with a hat-tip for adroit precipice-walking.

Edward Wellen has had a scattering of stories in the SF magazines since 1952, and more recently, several in crime fiction magazines; if he’s much known at all, it’s probably for his ”non-fact articles” in Galaxy like Origins of Galactic Slang.  His novelette Flashback is an SF crime story: child shoots child in a schoolyard; a “forensic biophysics” inspector shows up to investigate; it’s his son who is dead; investigation shows that the gun materialized out of nowhere and belonged to someone 150 years dead.  From there it’s the old Ourobourosian time paradox plot, utterly implausible but perfectly readable, if sometimes annoying because of ostentatious displays of cleverness and little fragments of futuristic decoration mixed in like raisins in a pudding.  Some of these are amusing, though: “He had helped [dead child] Jimmy with semantics problems: ‘True or false.  Eye is to gag as egg is to moo.’ ” Vector sum: three stars, delivered with a grimace.

In Robert Hoskins’s Second Chance, the protagonist has invented psychic time travel and hopes to get a rich guy to pay to go back and straighten out his life.  Trouble is, when he gets back, he no longer remembers the things that, now, never happened.  Hoskins, whose resume consists of three mediocre stories in the UK magazines, adds no value to this familiar gimmick.  Two pretty dull stars.

The Classic Reprint is Spawn of the Ray by Maurice Duclos, from Amazing in 1938; he had several other stories in Amazing’s companion Fantastic Adventures.  The feckless protagonist irradiates microscopic flagellata (sic) with a cathode ray tube, they get big and get away, et cetera ad tedium.  One star.

Sam Moskowitz has another “SF Profile,” Isaac Asimov: Genius in the Candy Store, a reasonably capable and informative account of Asimov’s SF career to date.  As with Moskowitz’s previous articles, one could wish for greater detail and more attention to some of Asimov’s lesser known work, but, realistically, not within the space limits of a 146-page fiction magazine.  Four stars, even if partly by default — no one else is doing anything like this.

Benedict Breadfruit is present, and commendably brief.

Amazing has shown a sharp improvement in its last two issues.  The obvious question is whether they can keep it up.

[March 2, 1961] Presenting… and Concluding (ConDor and March 1961 IF)


At ConDor, a local gathering of science fiction fans, my wife and I led a panel on the state of the genre, particularly how our s-f digests are doing.  Their boom began in 1949 and peaked in 1953, when there were nearly 40 in publication.  That number is down to less than 10, and many are (as usual) predicting the end of the fun. 

While it is true that the volume of production is down, I argued that the quality is up…or at least evolving.  I used Galaxy’s sister magazine IF as an example.  IF pays its writers less than Galaxy, and it is a sort of training ground for new blood.  Fred Pohl, the magazine’s shadow editor, also prints more unusual stories there.  As a result, the magazine’s quality is highly variable, but the peaks tend to be interesting.

Sadly, this month’s IF is chock full of valleys.  You win some, you lose some.  Still, for the sake of completeness, here’s my review; as always, your mileage may vary!

IF has a tradition of leading the magazine with its best stories, but IOU, by Edward Wellen, is an exception.  The premise is promising: it’s about a future in which people can buy custom experiences, to be lived out upon dying to simulate the appearance of going to Heaven.  It’s dull as dirt, however, and I ended up skimming the last 10 pages or so.  That automatically makes it a one-star story.  Perhaps you can tell me what I’m missing.

Then there’s Jim Harmon’s February Strawberries.  When a man brings his wife (most of the way) back to life, is it a technological horror or a paranoid delusion?  Macabre and second-rate, it reads like an inferior episode of The Twilight Zone.  Two stars.

Minotaur, by Gordy Dickson, is pretty effective.  A one-man scout ship happens upon a ghost cruiser in the vastness of space.  Its crew is missing, as is its cargo of zoological specimens.  I liked the spooky atmosphere, and I’m a sucker for spaceship stories, but the end is a little pat.  Three stars.

Sylvia Jacobs is back, but her second IF effort isn’t much better than her first.  Strike that.  Young Man from Elsewhen, about a crippled, bitter old man, and the deal he makes with a time traveling dandy, is very well written; it’s just that there are no twists or turns from Point A to Point B.  Two stars.

The first tale from Julian F. Grow, The Fastest Gun Dead, is a good one.  Westerns are still popular on the airwaves, and this story, featuring a sawbones, an unsavory shopkeeper, and an alien supergun, shows that the milieu has legs in our genre, too.  Gun is also marred by a too-cute ending, but I think Grow has a real shot at growing into a fine author.  Three stars.

Max Williams’ The Seeder, is almost too short, and certainly too hackneyed to describe.  R.A. Lafferty’s pleasantly whimsical In the Garden, about a starship crew that stumbles upon the second Garden of Eden, almost garnered four stars…until the last line.  Le sigh.

The issue closes with The Well of the Deep Wish by Lloyd Biggle Jr.  It is the best of the bunch, a thoughtful piece showing us the world of television production in a post-apocalyptic, subterranean future.  Three stars.

Thus, the March 1961 IF meters in at a disappointing 2.25 stars.  This explains why it took me so long to get through it!

Crunching the numbers on the Star-o-Meter 2000, we have a surprising winner for March 1961: Analog!  F&SF was just a sliver behind, however, and both were head and shoulders over IF.  All told, there were 21 stories, two of which were written by women, one of those being my favorite of the month: Zenna Henderson’s Return

Stay tuned for a new batch of magazines, a new Frederic Brown novel, and a whole lot more…and a hearty wave to a few new fan friends that I met over the weekend: David Gerrold, John and Bjo Trimble, and Dorothy Fontana.

[September 1, 1960] Looking up (October 1960 Galaxy, second half)

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting like caught fish (with baited breath), so I shan’t keep you in the dark any longer regarding the October 1960 Galaxy.  The second half of the magazine is better than the first, but it is not without its troubles.

Neal Barrett is back with his sophomore effort, The Stentorii Luggage.  This engaging little tale highlights the dangers involved in running a hotel for dozens of disparate (and mutually incompatible) alien races.  It also justifies the “no pets” policy common to most places of lodging. 

A Fall of Glass gets my nomination for the best story of the issue.  This is also a second effort, by Stanley R. Lee, in this case.  Breezy, light touch tales are hard to pull off, but I think Lee has managed in this one, a romance set inside a climate-controlled, post-apocalyptic dome.  Superficially similar to World in a Bottle in subject matter, but far better in execution.

That brings us to Edward Wellen’s “non-fact” article, Origins of the Galactic Short-Snorter.  It’s an unwieldy title, to be sure, and these droll attempts at humor generally fall flat.  But this one, about a museum of obsolete currency, isn’t bad.

The one familiar name in the issue is Gordon Dickson.  He can usually be counted on to turn in a decent story; his The Hours are Good is rather masterful.  It’s not the vaguely futuristic setting or the details of the plot that stand out.  What distinguishes this thriller is the measured, deliberate way Dickson reveals what’s going on in, culminating in a nice kicker.  I like stories that show rather than tell, and it’s all show in this one.

Sadly, the issue doesn’t stop there.  It’s final tale, David Duncan’s The Immortals, is a loser.  In brief: the inventor of immortality wants to know the effects his efforts will have on civilization.  He enlists the aid of a computer simulations expert.  When the projection shows that everlasting life leads to cultural torpor, the pair insert themselves into the simulation to learn more.

Duncan’s story is B-Movie fare.  The idea that a computer could predict the future with perfect accuracy, so long as it is fed sufficient data, is silly on its face.  Anyone with a background in mathematics knows that even single equations often have several answers; many have an infinite number.  Add to that implausibility the idea that one could wander around this virtual reality and interact with its denizens using computers of current vintage…well, let’s just say I’ll need a splint for my strained credulity.

It’s really too bad.  The societal impacts of everlasting life are worth exploring.  So is the notion of creating “life” within the memory banks of a computer.  Either would merit a novel of development.  Both get short shrift in this clunky novelette.

In more positive news, my family enjoyed a lovely, sunset stroll down Grand Avenue in nearby Escondido a few days ago.  I picked up copies of my reading material for this month, so you can expect reviews of Sheckley and Sturgeon in short order.