Tag Archives: evelyn smith

[Aug. 17, 1962] The 90% rule (September 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

90% of science fiction is crap.  But then, 90% of everything is crap.

The author of that statement, which seems to be supported by overwhelming evidence, is Ted Sturgeon.  This is a fellow who has been writing since 1939, so he knows whereof he speaks.  Sturgeon has, in his dozens of published works, established a reputation for thoughtful excellence, marking the vanguard of our genre.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has devoted nearly half of its pages this month to a new Sturgeon work and several biographical articles.  This is fitting; Sturgeon’s style of literary sf would seem most at home in the most literary of sf mags (though he has, in fact, appeared multiple times in most of the good ones).  And given that much, if not 90%, of the latest issues of F&SF has not been very good, including a healthy dose of Sturgeon is a surefire way to being on the right side of Sturgeon’s Law.

Without further ado, the September 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction:

When You Care, When You Love, by Theodore Sturgeon

This fascinating tale involves the explication and intersection of a bloodline and the life of one of its adopted members.  The bloodline is that of the Gamaliel Wyke, an 18th Century “rum trader” who secured for himself and his progeny a vast, ever-increasing, and utterly secret fortune.  The individual is the cancer-stricken husband of Sylva Wyke: a woman who will stop at nothing to ensure the continuation of the essense, if not the life, of her love.

When you Care is gripping, emotional (though the science be suspect) and even bad Sturgeon is good reading.  This is not bad Sturgeon.  Four stars.

Theodore Sturgeon’s Macrocosm, by James Blish; Theodore Sturgeon, by Judith Merril; Fantasy and Science Fiction by Theodore Sturgeon, by Sam Moskowitz, Martian Mouse, by Robin Sturgeon

We are then treated to some biographical snippets, more personal but less holistic than, say, Moskowitz’s fine article in the February 1962 issue of Amazing.  Blish picks one emblematic story to dissect.  Merril discusses how Sturgeon nurtured her into the author she is today.  And Moskowitz provides a valuable, if unadorned, full bibliography of Sturgeon’s work.  According to Sam, Ted cut his teeth publishing many stories to the late great Unknown.  As luck would have it, I recently acquired a full set.  Looks like I have a lot of reading to do!

The Sturgeon-related portion of the mag is rounded out with a short piece by Sturgeon’s 10-year old son, which is about as good as a piece by someone of that age: cute but raw.

Four stars for the set.

They Also Serve, by Evelyn E. Smith

Two men of Earth’s interstellar navy are dispatched on a suicide assignment: to establish a trading post on an alien world whose inhabitants have slaughtered every prior attempt at colonization.  Both of the sailors were chosen because of an embarassing black mark on their record; Earth government has deemed that it would be no great loss if the two never returned.  If they survive long enough to collect valuable “prozius stones,” from the locals, so much the better.

Rather than plunge into parley with the aliens (which had always preceded the destruction of prior trade teams), the two decide to do nothing other than make a pleasant home on the otherwise idyllic world.  And, ultimately, it is this non-intrusive strategy that leads to positive relations with the aliens, who are compelled to open conversations with the humans on their own terms.

What is most fascinating about this story is that, although it is never explicitly stated, it is made very clear that the cause for the pair’s exile is that they are homosexuals — likely in a relationship even before they were dispatched to the alien planet.  Indeed, the fact that the men are gay is part of what bridges the cultural barrier.  The aliens also have two genders, and while the relationship between their males and females is unclear, it is firmly established that the males are always pair-bonded in some fashion. 

Now, although the subject matter of Serve is quite progressive for this day and age, the story is told in a light matter, a bit broadly for my tastes.  Nevertheless, it is the first science fiction piece I can recall that features homosexuality in a positive light — certainly in stark contrast to the denigration shown in Randy Garrett’s Spatial Relationship just last issue!)

If the recent non-negative documentary on homosexuality, The Rejected is any indication, cultural perceptions of homosexuality are changing.  Science fiction offers a lens on the future; I would not be surprised to see more stories featuring men and women in gay relationships.  Perhaps someday, there may even be no negative stigma attached to them at all.

Three stars for the actual story, but Serve has a value beyond its strict literary merit.

Myrrha, by Gary Jennings

Through union with her father, King of Cyprus, the mythological Myrrha was the mother of Adonis.  This legend seems to play little part in Jennings’ Myrrha, about a haughty woman of noble Greek extraction who seduces and destroys the family of a Mrs. Shirley Makepeace.  It is through Shirley’s diary that we learn of the reacquaintance of Myrrha and Shirley a decade after high school, how Myrrha and her herd of prize horses come to lodge as Shirley’s guests, how Myrrha ensares Shirley’s husband and daughter with an intoxicating resinous wine, how both come to tragic “accidental” ends, how after Myrrha departs, Shirley goes mad when her horse gives birth to a man-shaped creature.

A dreamy, humorless, unpleasant story.  I might have liked it more had I understood it.  Perhaps a reader brighter than me (most of you fit the bill…) can explain it.  Three stars

The Shape of Things, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor’s non-fiction article tells us how the Earth changed, in conception, from flat to spherical and from 15,000 miles in circumference to 25,000.  There’s nothing in there I didn’t already know, but the telling was pleasant, and you may find it informative.  Four stars.

The New You, by Kit Reed

You can always count on Kit, an F&SF regular, to give us an offbeat story.  This one is a cautionary tale: if you ever have the chance to become your ideal image of a person, make sure that 1) your spouse shares your vision, and 2) the new you gets rid of the old.

It reads like Sheckley, but with a barbed, feminine touch, and I enjoyed it a lot.  Four stars.

The Devil’s God-daughter, by Suzanne Malaval (translated by Damon Knight)

This atmospheric vignette features a French Persephone and her outwitting of Old Nick.  It’s a clever little piece, worth it for the two riddles, which you may find yourself employing at your next party.  Three stars.

These Are the Arts, by James H. Schmitz

Things end on a disappointing note.  Pulp-era relic..er..veteran, Schmitz, writes of a crusty misanthrope who completely seals himself off from humanity when his television starts broadcasting subliminal, mind-controlling messages.  The real problem with this story is the ending, which involves an utter betrayal of the protagonist’s well-established paranoic nature.  Simply put, the guy’s been skeptical to the extreme the entire story, yet he lets his guard down right when he learns that the world really is out to get him. 

A contrived conclusion, and written in a hoary fashion (though I did appreciate the “truth in advertising” laws, passed in 1990, which make it a crime to question the veracity of commercial claims!)

Two stars.

Thanks to the Sturgeon, the Reed, and Asimov, F&SF scores a respectable 3.3 stars.  If only Editor Davidson, still finding his feet, could keep the quality consistent.  And write better story openers.  Well, if wishes were horses…they’d give birth to Adonis, apparently.

See you in three days when Ashley Pollard reports from Britain!




[September 29, 1961] Slim Pickings (October 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Each month, I look forward to my dose of new science fiction stories delivered in the form of digest-sized magazines.  Over the decade that I’ve been subscribing, I’ve fallen into a habit.  I start with my first love, Galaxy (or its sister, IF, now that they are both bi-monthlies).  I then move on to Analog, formerly Astounding.  I save The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for last.  This is because it has been, until recently, the best of the digests– my dessert for the month, as it were. 

These days, the stories aren’t as good.  Moreover, this time around, the latter third of the magazine was taken up with half a new Gordy Dickson short novel, which I won’t review until it finishes next month.  As a result, the remaining tales were short and slight, ranging from good to mediocre.

In other words, not a great month for F&SF, especially when you consider that the novels they print seem to be hacked down for space (if the longer versions that inevitably are printed in book form are any indication).  Nevertheless, it is my duty to report what I found, so here it is, the October 1961 F&SF:

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who is not exactly a science fiction author but dabbles in the arena, leads with Harrison Bergeron.  It’s a deceptively juvenile satire against Conformity and Communism, and while it may not impress upon first reading, it stays with you.  Four stars.

One of my favorite new authors is Rosel George Brown, and I have to give her credit for being willing to take chances.  The Ultimate Sin, however, is a bit avante garde for me.  Something about a social misfit interstellar explorer who finds a planet where gravity depends on whim rather than mass, and where the entire ecology is a unit, its pieces constantly consuming each other and exchanging knowledge in the process.  I didn’t like it at first, but as with the first story, I found it engaging in retrospect.  Three stars.

Charles G. Finney’s The Captivity isn’t science fiction at all; it’s more an analysis of captivity on humans, particularly when they discover that they aren’t really captives at all.  What is there left to push against when external forces are removed?  Only each other, and themselves.  Three stars.

Robert E. Lee at Moscow is Evelyn E. Smith’s attempt at satire this issue.  She’s produced some real doozies, but this one, an extreme logical extension of turning our political ambassadors into cultural ambassadors, falls flat.  There is a laugh-inducing line on the last page, however.  Two stars.

The half-posthumous team of Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth bring us The World of Myrion Flowers, which tells the tale of a driven Black philanthropist whose attempts to raise a cadre of Negro executives end unhappily.  The moral: it’s best when a disdained class doesn’t have too clear an idea of what the favored class thinks of them.  I can only imagine what insanity I would derive from having telepathy while living in 1930s Germany.  Three stars.

Isaac Asimov hasn’t written much fiction lately, and when he does, it tends to be old fashioned.  So it is with The Machine That Won the War, a very slight computer-related piece that probably got accepted more out of respect for the author than for its quality.  Two stars.

Meanwhile, George Langelaan, the Paris-born Britisher who penned The Fly in ’57 brings us The Other Hand, a macabre story of digits that move as if possessed, compelling their owners to strange activities.  Rather overwrought and archaic.  Two stars.

If Asimov’s fiction fails to impress, his fact remains entertaining.  That’s About the Size of It is all about the comparative sizes of Earth’s animals, all done logarithmically for easy data manipulation.  It turns out that people are medium-biggish creatures, all things considered.  Four stars.

The Vat is Avram Davidson’s latest, featuring a bit of alchemy and misadventure.  Short but readable.  Three stars.

Grendel Briarton’s latest pun, Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIV, is as always, perhaps a bit more.

And that leaves us with Dickson’s Naked to the Stars (Part 1 of 2), which I’ll cover next week.  All in all, a 3-star issue that will not revulse but neither will it much impress.  Faint praise, indeed.

[June 28, 1961] The Second Sex in SFF, Part IV

Many years from now, scholars may debate furiously which decade women came to the forefront of science fiction and fantasy.  Some will (with justification) argue that it’s always been a woman’s genre – after all, was it not Mary Shelley who invented science fiction with Frankenstein’s monster?  (Regular contributor Ashley Pollard says “no.”) Others will assert that it was not until the 1950s, when women began to be regularly published, that the female sff writer came into her own. 

It’s certainly true that a wave of new woman writers has joined the club in just the last few years.  If this trend continues, I suspect we’ll see gender parity in the sf magazines by the end of this decade.  Right around the time we land on the Moon, if Kennedy’s recently expressed wishes come to fruition. 

Come meet six of these lady authors, four of whom are quite new, and two who are veterans in this, Part IV, of The Second Sex in SFF. 


Photo generously provided by the author

Kit Reed: Born in my hometown of San Diego, Ms. Reed happens to be the one person on these lists with whom I am friends.  Like me, Ms. Reed was previously a reporter.  She’s been a rising star in sff since her debut in 1958 of The Wait in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF).  Interestingly, she does not consider herself a “woman” author and thinks the distinction superfluous.  I’ve only read the four stories she’s published in F&SF, so I may not have a complete picture of her talents.  Nevertheless, I’ve liked each successive story I’ve encountered more than the last.  She’s going to be famous someday, I predict.

Jane Dixon Rice: I understand Mrs. Rice was a fairly prolific writer during the War, but so far as I can determine, she has written just three stories in recent past, all of which came out in F&SF, and all of which were pretty good.  The last was over a year ago.  I hope she hasn’t disappeared for another decade-and-a-half long hiatus.

Jane Roberts: Ms. Roberts popped on the scene in ’56, writing for F&SF, and she was a regular for the next several years.  The only woman invited for the first science-fiction writer’s conference in Milford, PA (also in 1956), her work is beautiful and haunting.  She hasn’t published anything in the genre since the ’59 piece Impasse, which is really too bad.  I hope she comes back soon.

Joanna Russ: An English graduate of the distinguished universities of Cornell and Yale, Ms. Russ has to date published just one story in the genre, the quirky Nor Custom Stale.  It’s something she squeezed in the cracks in between studying for her Masters’, and it shows great promise.  Now that she’s gotten her advanced degree, I’m hoping we’ll see more of her work!


From Fanac

Evelyn Smith: Ms. Smith has been writing in the genre since 1952, back when she was Mrs. Evelyn Gold (wife of Galaxy editor H.L. Gold).  In fact, much of her early work was featured in Gold’s magazine – editor Gold was always keen on publishing at least one woman author in every issue to garner female readership.  I understand that Gold’s increasing agoraphobia broke up their marriage, but they remain friends.  In any event, Smith is now a regular in both Galaxy and F&SF, and her stuff is always worth reading.  She is truly one of the pillars of the sf authorial family.

Margaret St. Clair.  Last, but certainly not least, is an author who has been around under one nom de plume or another since just after the War.  Her work bespeaks a broad-ranged talent.  If you know her as Ms. St. Clair, you’ve no doubt enjoyed her playful sense of humor.  If you are acquainted with her alter-ego, Idris Seabright, you’ve seen her more somber, fantastic side.  She regularly appears in Galaxy, IF, and F&SF, and she’s also turned out several novels (which I’ve unfortunately not yet had the pleasure to read.) I expect she’ll continue to be a household name for a long time to come.

Thus ends the last of the list I’d compiled as of the end of last year (1960).  Just in the course of creating this series, several new (to me) woman authors have made it into print.  Thus, this installment shall not be the last of the sequence

Stay tuned!

[March 30, 1961] F&SF + XX (the April 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

If you’ve been a fan in the scientificition/fantasy genre for any length of time, you’ve likely been exposed to rumors of its impending doom.  The pulps are gone.  The magazines are dying.  The best writers are defecting for the lucre of the “slicks.” 

And what is often pointed to as the cause of the greatest decline of an entity since Commodus decided he liked gladiating more than emperoring?  The visual media: science fiction films and television.  Why read when you can watch?  Of course, maybe the quality’s not up to the standards set by written fiction, but who cares?

All this hubbub is silly.  There are two reasons why printed sf/f isn’t going anywhere, at least for the next few decades.  The first is that the quality isn’t in the films or television shows.  Sure, there are some stand-outs, like the first season of The Twilight Zone, and the occasional movie that gets it right, but for the most part, it’s monsters in rubber suits and the worst “science” ever concocted. 

But the second reason, and this is the rub, is the sheer impermanence of the visual media.  If you miss a movie during its run, chances are you’ve missed out forever.  Ditto, television.  For instance, I recently learned that an episode of Angel (think I Love Lucy, but with a French accent) starred ex-Maverick, James Garner.  I’m out of luck if I ever want to see it unless it happens to make the summer re-runs. 

My magazines, however, reside on my shelves forever.  I can re-read them at will.  I can even loan them out to my friends (provided they pony up a $10 deposit).  They are permanent, or at least long-lived. 

And that’s why I’ll stick with my printed sf, thank-you-very-much.

Speaking of permanence, I think April 1961 will be a red-letter date remembered for all time.  It’s the first time, that I’m aware of, that women secured equal top-billing on a science fiction magazine cover.  To wit, this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction features six names, three of which belong to woman writers.  Exciting stuff, particularly given my observation that, while female writers make up only a ninth of the genre’s pool, they produce a fourth of its best stuff.

Case in point: Evelyn Smith’s Softly while you’re sleeping is a clever piece about a young woman from the old country who is wooed by a passionate vampire.  She ultimately resists his advances, unwilling to undergo the transformation that is the inevitable end of his draining attentions.  The story is older than Stoker, but the writing and the social commentary are entirely modern.  Four stars.

The Hills of Lodan, by the newish Harold Calin, on the other hand, is a comparatively clumsy piece.  Think The Red Badge of Courage, but with a different kind of enemy.  I appreciated the message, but the execution needs work.  Two stars.

The next story is something special.  Every so often, a story comes along that introduces something truly new.  The Ship Who Sang, by new author Anne McCaffrey, brings us the lovely concept of sound-minded but hideously crippled children given mechanical bodies and groomed to become the “brains” of interstellar ships.  These are two-person scout vessels, the other crew-member being the “mobile” element.  Inevitably, the relationship is a close one, and this bonding makes up much of the plot (and charm) of Ship.  In fact, if I have a complaint at all about this story, it is that it is too short; such an intriguing courtship should have more fully developed.  McCaffrey’s detached style feels a bit too impersonal for the piece, as well.  Still, Ship gets an unreserved four stars.

If Anne McCaffrey had gotten the space reserved for the succeeding piece, a reprinted Robert Graves story called Dead Man’s Bottles, I imagine the issue would have been much improved.  Bottles features a minor kleptomaniac (a matches and pencil thief), an unpleasant wine aficionado, and the mysterious haunting that succeeds the latter’s death.  It’s standard, low-grade F&SF filler.  Two stars.

The third woman-penned piece of the book is Kit Reed’s Judas Bomb, a sort of Post-Apocalyptic parable of the Cold War with gangs taking the role of nations.  It’s a quirky, layered piece, and I look forward to seeing more by this San Diegan turned Connecticutian.  Three stars.

My Built-in Doubter is Isaac Asimov’s article for this month, all about how science’s apparent rigidity to crackpot ideas is a virtue, not a liability.  Less information, more editorial, but a fun read, nevertheless.  Four stars.

Richard Banks’ Daddy’s People is a stream of consciousness wall of words about an overlong bedtime story and the weird folks one meets when crossing the planes.  It is difficult reading, and my first temptation was to give it a one-star review.  Something restrains me, however.  So I give it two stars.

Finally, Brian Aldiss is back with the sequel to the superb Hothouse: the superior, if not quite as excellent, Nomansland.  This novella is set in the same steambath Earth of the future, when the Sun has grown hot, and the tidally locked Earth is dominated by semi-intelligent plant life.  We get to learn what happened to Toy and the other human children after the departure of the adults into space.  It’s all a bit like Harrison’s Deathworld without the high technology.  Once again, Aldiss delivers the goods, although the third-person omniscient expositions, while informative, break the narrative a little.  Four stars.

The overall score for this magazine is just over 3 stars — less than Galaxy’s 3.5, and more than Analog’s 2.5.  Yet, despite the uneven quality of its contents, I feel it is in some ways the worthiest of this month’s magazines.  It takes risks; thus, its highs are higher.  As predicted, most of the highs were provided by the female authors — and to think the State of Alabama still won’t let women serve on juries…

As for this month’s best story, I think Aldiss gets the nod, but just barely.  I’d almost call it a tie between Nomansland and The Ship who Sang

What do you think?

[January 6, 1960] Watch your tongue?  (February 1961 Galaxy, Part 1)

The old saying goes, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  As you know, I am rarely reserved when I don’t like a piece of work.  Every once in a while, I get a gentle chiding.  One reader said he didn’t want to hear about stories I don’t like–just the ones I do.  Another opined that my fans might tire of my consistently negative reviews of a certain author. 

I don’t want to discount these criticisms as I think they are valid.  On the other hand, if I am unreserved in my scorn, I am similarly effusive about what I like.  My columns are rarely completely negative.  Moreover, I recognize that even the works I don’t like often appeal to others, and I love receiving letters from folks who disagree with my judgments. 

Besides, you good folk likely come here to see me as much as to get reading recommendations.  Alfred Bester said in F&SF last month that he prefers English non-fiction to American as English authors will intrude into the text.  There are only so many ways to package facts; the only distinguishing character is the personality of the packager.  Certainly, I read Asimov as much for the science lesson as for the fun anecdotes.

So, enjoy all of me, even the kvetching.  And if you don’t, feel free to tell me just how much you dislike me.  I may even agree with you…

On to the task at hand–reviewing the first half of the February 1961 Galaxy!

Evelyn Smith (formerly Gold, same name as the editor, natch) takes up most of it with Sentry in the Sky, a story about a malcontent in a futuristic caste system who is enlisted to become a long-term spy mole on a more primitive world.  It’s not bad, but it is awfully simplistic, and the point meanders.  Moreover, it relies on awfully human aliens.  Of course, it’s satire as much as anything else–the primitive world has a culture that is immediately familiar to 20th Century people.  Let me know what you think.  Three stars.

Doorstep is a cute short by Keith Laumer about an overachieving general and the UFO he tries to crack open.  Sort of a poor man’s Sheckley; something I’d expect from 1952.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s article is pretty interesting this month.  He covers the new science of “seeding” clouds to create rain in Let’s do Something about the Weather.  Three stars.

Finally, we have what may be the very first piece from a new writer, Volume Paa-Pyx by Fred Saberhagen.  It’s a fun twist on the future where those with specific aptitudes get placed in appropriate professions.  When is a police state not a police state?  Three stars.

It doesn’t take a slide rule to calculate this issue: Three stars across the board!  Nothing exceptional, nothing horrid.  Satisfying, but ummemorable.  Let me ask you–is it better to be delivered a dose of strong ups and downs or a steady, bland mean?

[August 9, 1960] Destructive Pages (the September 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

I’ve said before that I like my reading to be light and pleasant.  Not exclusively, mind you, but I find the current trend toward the depressing to be… well… depressing.  This month’s F&SF is the bleakest I’ve yet encountered, and under normal circumstances, it would not have been to my taste.  On the other hand, being near Hiroshima on August 6 and then near Nagasaki on August 9, fifteen years after they became testing grounds for a terrible new weapon, is enough to put even the cheeriest of persons into a somber mood, and my choice of reading material proved to be quite complementary.

As usual, I lack the rights to distribute F&SF stories, so you’ll just have to buy the mag if you want the full scoop, but I’ll do my best to describe the stories in detail.

Poul Anderson starts things off with the The Word to Space.  In this novelette, Project OZMA, humanity’s first concerted effort to scan the stars for communications broadcasts, bears almost immediate fruit, discovering a star with intelligent life just 25 light years away.  Unfortunately, the focus of these aliens is proselytizing their strange religion, and with dialogue between planets essentially impossible, a century goes by with Earth learning frustratingly little about its cosmic neighbor.  In the end, the alien theocracy is toppled when humanity requests clarification on some of the finer points of their creed; they just aren’t equipped to handle religious debate.  It’s too bad none of the aliens were Jewish–we love quibbling over religious details.

Then we have A Day in the Suburbs, a delightfully barbed tale by Evelyn Smith about what housewives really have to deal with when their husbands go to work.  The feuds between the “flat-roofs” and the “peaked-roofs” make the squabbles of the Jets and the Sharks seem like a square dance.  It’s a wonder any of them come out alive.

Burton Raffel’s Goodbye is the first of the truly dark stories, in which a young ad exec is waylaid, imprisoned, and tortured, all to prove the efficacy of a five-day identity-removal process.  The tale is disturbingly personal, and there is never any explanation as to why this is being done or why the protagonist was chosen (he is apparently not the first, and he surely won’t be the last).  Awful stuff… but then, it was meant to be.

Button, Button, by Gordon Dickson, seems almost out of place in this issue.  It’s a straightforward story about a crude-mouthed boss of a space freight union, and the beautiful, fiery opera singer he rescues halfway between Earth and Venus.  Enjoyable, but it won’t stay with you.

Reginald Bretnor offers up The Man on Top, about a stubborn mountaineer who, through sheer determination, makes it to the summit of one of the world’s tallest mountains… only to find that someone has beaten him to the punch.  Mysticism: 1; British pluck: 0.

Isaac Asimov has a sequel, of sorts, to his article on pi.  This one is on the impossibility of “squaring the circle,” which is the creation of a square with the same area of a given circle using only a straight-edge and a compass.  I’m glad the good doctor wrote this piece since it’s a topic about which I’ve always been interested. 

On to Damon Knight’s acerbic review of Walden Two.  It is, apparently, the last F&SF will see from Mr. Knight–per the editor, he will no longer be reviewing books for the magazine.  I hear, through the grapevine, that it is because Editor Robert Mills disapproved of Knight’s justifiably savage critique of Judy Merril’s latest book, The Tomorrow People.

Returning to fiction, we have George Elliot’s The NRACP (The National Relocation Authority: Colored Persons).  If you find Goodbye to be dark, NRACP is midnight coated in pitch.  It is the portrayal of the systematic extermination of a people, from the point of view of one who has an indirect role in its execution.  I was not surprised to find that this story was originally written in 1949, when the Holocaust was still a fresh wound on the human psyche, and the existence of Israel, a refuge for those who escaped the gas chambers, was still in doubt.  For anyone who wonders how such a tragedy could occur in a civilized country, I suggest giving this tale a read. 

That brings us to Kit Reed’s somehow unfinished-feeling Two in Homage, about an evil, human-sacrifice demanding God , upon whom the tables are ultimately turned.  I really should try to meet Ms. Reed someday.  We do live in the same town, after all.

Wrapping up the issue is Joseph Whitehill’s Doctor Royker’s Experiment.  How best to dissuade an idealist who feels science and scientists can do no wrong?  Why, make him the butt of a scientist’s prank, of course.  Resentment cools even the strongest ardor.

Editor Mills saves his column for last.  In it, he asks of if we readers prefer magazines to include stories all of a type or if we prefer a greater variegation of themes.  Regardless of what we think, I gather from reading between Mills’ lines that he prints what he gets, and the wave of unhappy tales is largely out of his (and our) control.  I was able to take it this time.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t become F&SF’s signature trait.

And for those following my travels, I am currently at Tokyo’s busy international airport awaiting my turn to board a sleek new Japan Air Lines DC-8 bound for home.  It’s been a great trip, but I’m ready to return to familiar surroundings.  I imagine I’ve a huge pile of mail from my fans accumulated (and by fans, I mean advertisers and bill-collectors).

Stay tuned!

[Feb. 6, 1960] Finding my way (February 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Science fiction is my escape.  When the drudgery of the real world becomes oppressive, or when I just need a glimpse of a brighter future to make the present more interesting, I turn to my growing collection of magazines and novels to buouy my spirits.

I like stories of interstellar adventure filled with interesting settings and characters.  I do not like the psychological horrors that have become popular of late.  Sadly, the February 1960 F&SF contains several such pieces.  But it does end well.

I wrote last time about the flaws in Howard Fast’s lead novella that kept me from fully enjoying it. 

Richard McKenna’s Mine Own Ways is particularly chilling.  It involves a rite of passage designed by interstellar anthropologists to winnow the intellectually mature of a race from the primitive by essentially torturing them; one passes the test by realizing that the torture is transitory and enduring it.

Apprentice, by Robert Tilley, isn’t so bad.  It involves an alien who can take over a person’s mind (without ill effect).  The would-be invader possesses a junior flunky on a military base and is revealed when he is able to fulfil tasks that should have been impossible (along the lines of catching snipe, procuring a bottle of headlight fluid or a jar of elbow grease). 

I suppose Jane Rice’s The White Pony, about unrequited love in a future of post-apocalyptic scarcity is decent, too, and well-drawn.  It even has a happy ending, after a fashion even if the world has that feeling of best-days-past shabbiness.

Battle-torn France is the setting for The Replacement, in which a Platoon Sergeant is convinced by a certain Private “Smith” that the war is all in his head, and that the world is nothing but solipsistic figments of his imagination.  It is only after Smith unsuccessfully tries the same trick on the company’s First Sergeant that we see the trick for what it is.  A creepy piece.

Evelyn Smith’s Send Her Victorious is a pun piece whose ending I should have seen coming.  All about a communal colony of aliens who take on the general form of a middle-aged female before time traveling to 19th Century England. 

Algis Budrys has a vignette called The Price about a centuries-old Rasputin(?) surviving an atomic holocaust only to find himself a captive of the few humans who are left.  Are they willing to become gnarled, deranged hunchbacks like him in exchange for eternal life?

Dr. Asimov’s piece, The Sight of Home, is a nice astronomical article about the greatest distance at which the sun might still be visible to the naked eye (answer: 20 parsecs.  Not very far, indeed). 

Then we’re back to the horror.  We are the Ceiling, by Will Worthington, depicts a fellow who books himself into a sanitarium when it appears his wife has begun consorting with troglodytes.  Of course, she turns out to be one, as does his doctor. 

That leaves us the subject of the cover art, The Fellow Who Married the Maxill Girl, by Ward Moore.  This is the kind of story I read F&SF for—gentle, poignant, starring a woman.  It’s a girl meets boy story set in the depths of the Depression; the boy happens to be an alien.  I shan’t spoil more, and I hope you like it as much as I did.

I’ll have a quick non-fiction stop press tomorrow, and then on to March’s batch of magazines!

Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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