Tag Archives: Erle Stanley Gardner

[August 22, 1962] State of Confusion (September 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

The world was shocked and mystified this month by the death of Marilyn Monroe, an apparent suicide at the age of thirty-six.  The paradox of a young woman who was revered as a star but who led a troubled personal life may bewilder those of us who have never experienced the intense pressure of celebrity.  Perhaps it is best to offer quiet sympathy to her friends and family and allow them to mourn in privacy.

The police are baffled, to use a cliché, by the robbery of a mail truck containing one and one-half million dollars in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  This is the largest cash heist in history.  The daring holdup men, dressed as police officers, stopped the vehicle while it was on route from Cape Cod to Boston.

Even listening to the radio can be a puzzling experience.  The airwaves are dominated by Neil Sedaka’s smash hit Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.  At first, this seems to be a simple, upbeat, happy little tune, particularly considering the repetitive, nonsensical chant of down dooby doo down down comma comma down dooby doo down down.  Listening to the lyrics, however, one realizes that this is really a sad song about the end of a love affair.

With all of this confusion going on, it’s appropriate that the latest issue of Fantastic features characters who are perplexed, authors who seem a little mixed up, and stories which may leave the reader scratching her head.

Plane Jane, by Robert F. Young

Lloyd Birmingham’s surreal cover art provides the inspiration for a strange story about a man who goes to a psychiatrist because he thinks other people are unreal.  The headshrinker, who is more than she seems to be, leads him on a bizarre odyssey to the places he worked, served in the military, and went to school.  The weird thing is that all these locations seem to have sprung up out of nowhere only recently, although he has memories of them.  This is a unique and intriguing tale with a resourceful heroine to guide the disoriented protagonist.  My one complaint is that the author explains too much about what’s going on in the opening prologue.  I would suggest skipping this section and starting with the first chapter to get the full effect.  Four stars.

Open with Care, by Boyd Correll

A new writer offers an opaque account of a brilliant scientist, recently forced to retire, who is using isotopes for a secretive project of his own.  (For purposes of the plot, he might as well be using witchcraft.) His long-suffering wife wonders about the packages he keeps bringing home, and about the fact that he seems to be transparent.  There appears to be a reference in the story to a famous thought experiment in physics.  It all leads up to a shocking ending.  Frankly, I didn’t understand this story, although it’s not entirely without interest.  Two stars.

April in Paris, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Another fledging author (although I believe she had a mainstream story published in a literary journal last year) appears for the first time in Fantastic, this time with great promise for a fine career.  A professor of French literature sits in an old garret in Paris working on his research.  Four centuries in the past, an alchemist living in the same building uses black magic to bring the scholar back to his own time, more or less by accident.  After much confusion on the part of both, they become close friends.  Everything seems fine until they feel the need for feminine companionship.  Spells are used to fetch women from other times, and complications ensue.  This is a delightful romantic fantasy with an unexpected touch of science fiction.  All of the characters are likable, and it’s refreshing to have a story with such a sunny mood.  Five stars.

New Worlds, by Erle Stanley Gardner

This issue’s fantasy classic comes from the creator of the popular Perry Mason mysteries.  It begins with a gigantic storm destroying the city of New York.  It seems that the Earth’s poles have shifted, leading to worldwide flooding.  The Hero, the Girl, and the Scientist escape in a vessel which, through incredible good luck, they find in the showroom of a motorboat company.  They eventually wind up on a tropical island.  The Villain rules the place as a tyrant, using his guns to murder the inhabitants at will.  At this point the story abandons its apocalyptic premise and becomes a more mundane adventure yarn, as if the author wasn’t sure what kind of tale he was spinning.  The Good Guy could just have easily wound up on the Bad Guy’s island in some other way.  Two stars.

Junior Partner, by Ron Goulart

An author better known for light comedy shows his more serious side, although the story is not without some dark humor.  The narrator is the son of a man who runs his company with ruthless efficiency.  All of his employees perform perfectly, keeping to a rigid schedule.  Anticipating his impending demise from a bad heart, he reveals the secret of his control over his workers.  The son doesn’t understand at first, but eventually figures out what his father is showing him.  Unfortunately, the young man has a failing that leads to unpleasant consequences.  This is a moderately engaging tale.  Three stars.

I hope this modest article, the product of an addled brain, hasn’t confused my Gentle Readers excessively.  Fantastic continues to be the worthier of Cele Goldsmith’s two magazines, and in these confusing times, it is good to have something one can depend on…




[December 13, 1961] FAMILIAR FACES AND NEW NAMES (JANUARY 1962 FANTASTIC)


by Victoria Silverwolf

To be successful, a fiction magazine often needs to strike a balance between established authors and new blood.  Experienced writers can generally be counted on to provide work of professional quality, while fledging storytellers may keep the magazine from seeming stale and predictable. 

Such a strategy can be seen in the latest issue of Fantastic.  Two famous names, one well known to readers of science fiction and the other familiar to almost anybody with a television set, appear on the cover.  No doubt this will increase the sales of the magazine on the newsstand.  Once the purchase is made, the reader might find the offerings from unknown authors more interesting.

Leading off the issue is Randall Garrett, whose fiction can be found in a large number of publications under a variety of names.  Hardly an issue of Astounding — excuse me, I mean Analog — goes by, it seems, without at least one of his stories within its pages.  As with many prolific writers, the quality of his work is variable.

Most likely inspired by Lloyd Birmingham’s silly cover illustration, Hepcats of Venus brings us Garrett in his comic mode.  The title is misleading, as the scene of aliens in a hip coffeehouse playing instruments made up of parts of their bodies is only a small portion of the story.

It seems that Earth has been monitored for thousands of years by a Galactic Observer and his assistant.  When we first meet these characters, they take the form of a stereotypical British Lord and Lady.  Later they transform themselves into equally clichéd beatniks.  Without going into detail, the plot involves shapeshifting aliens sneaking to Earth in order to expose the world’s leaders to a substance which will render them hypnotized slaves.  It’s inoffensive, but not particularly intriguing or amusing.  Two stars.

The success of Perry Mason on the small screen, as well as novels, motion pictures, and radio, makes Erle Stanley Gardner one of the most popular writers of crime fiction of all time.  This issue’s “Fantasy Classic” brings us another side of this bestselling author.  First published in Argosy in 1931, The Human Zero is an action-adventure yarn with a hardboiled detective, a spunky girl reporter, and a mad scientist.  Even for an old-fashioned pulp story, it’s poorly written and unoriginal.  The science fiction content – a substance which cools human beings to absolute zero, causing them to vanish, leaving only empty clothes behind – is unconvincing, to say the least.  I had to struggle through it, so only one star.

The rest of the issue features one author who has published a handful of stories, and three who are making their debuts.  Paul Dellinger’s first publication is Rat Race, a tale narrated by a physician confined to a wheelchair who confronts an alien intelligence which has possessed the body of a rat.  It’s a fairly typical science fiction horror story, with a minor twist at the end.  Two stars.

Much more substantial is This is Your Death by Albert Teichner, who published the interesting story Sweet Their Blood and Sticky a couple of months ago in the pages of If, as regular followers of this column will recall.  If that story reminded me of a moodier Lafferty, this one seems like a darker version of Sheckley.  It’s a grim satire of the entertainment industry.  The title, of course, alludes to a popular, if controversial, television program, which has sometimes been accused of invading the privacy of those it profiles.  Teichner raises the ante by imagining a program which films the deaths of patients suffering from terminal diseases.  The cutthroat maneuvers of executives behind the scenes remind me of Rod Serling’s television drama and feature film Patterns.  It’s a disturbing story, one which many readers will find unpleasant, but in my opinion it deserves four stars.

Atonement is the first story from Jesse Roarke, and it’s an unusual one.  Written in an affected, archaic style, the setting would at first seem to be the mythical ancient world of sword and sorcery.  We soon find out, however, that we are in the future, after a devastating war has left a planet with few survivors.  The protagonist undergoes a ritual which is meant to atone for humanity’s destruction of itself.  The final scene of this brief tale is surprising, and may be confusing.  I found the story haunting, even if I didn’t fully understand it.  Three stars.

Our final new author is Gordon Browne, whose initial creation is The Empathic Man. The title character is a gentle, kindhearted fellow whose compassion for the suffering of others is so extreme that he takes on the physical characteristics of those he pities.  Despite an ending which is predictable, it’s a powerful story which leads one to consider the pain endured by our fellow creatures.  Three stars.

I’m pleased that editor Cele Goldsmith has continued to publish new authors, despite the controversy raging in the letter column about David R. Bunch and his tales of Moderan.  I am also happy to see that she has not turned her back on more experienced writers, particularly the way in which she has revitalized the career of the great Fritz Leiber.  As we approach the new year, it’s appropriate to remember that January was named for the Roman god Janus, who was wise enough to look at both the past and the future.