Tag Archives: g.c. edmondson

[April 26, 1961] Dessert for last (May 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Del Shannon’s on the radio, but I’ve got Benny Goodman on my hi-fi.  Say…that’s a catchy lyric!  Well, here we are at the end of April, and that means I finally get to eat dessert.  That is, I finally get to crack into The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  While it is not the best selling science fiction digest (that honor goes to Analog by a wide margin), it is my favorite, and it has won the Best Magazine Hugo three years running.

So what kind of treat was the May 1961 F&SF?  Let’s find out!

Carol Emshwiller returns with the lead story of the issue, the sublime Adapted.  It can be hard to resist the incessant mold of conformity, even when blending in means losing oneself.  Emshwiller’s protagonist loses the battle, but, perhaps, not all hope.  Four stars.

The somber Avram Davidson teams up with unknown Sidney Klein (perhaps the idea man?) with The Teeth of Despair.  It’s a cute but forgettable story involving a cabal of underpaid professors, a loser with a metal dental plate, a quiz show, and something that isn’t quite telepathy.  Ever wonder how Van Doren did it?  Three stars.

All the Tea in China is offered up by Reginald Bretnor, the real name behind the Ferdinand Feghoot puns (q.v.).  Watch as despicable Jonas Hackett, a mean cuss who wouldn’t commit a kind act for the entirety of the Orient’s signature beverage, is given what for by Old Nick.  Nicely told.  Three stars.

Somebody to Play With, by Jay Williams, is a compelling story with a brutal sting in the tail.  It may make sense for the adults of a tiny colony on an alien world to be overly cautious, but does the desire for security warrant genocide?  Telling from a child’s point of view, Williams skillfully conveys the claustrophobia of the outpost, the wonder of the strange world, the thrill of making an extraterrestrial friend, and the heartbreak of betrayal by one’s closest kin.  Four stars.

I know nothing about C.D. Heriot save that I imagine he is British.  He writes Poltergeist in an affected manner that almost, but not quite, dulls the impact of this story of a neglected pre-adolescent who conjures up her own malicious playmate.  In the hands of Davidson, it’d rate four or five stars; in this case, just three.

Stephen Barr’s Mr. Medley’s Time Pill is By His Bootstraps all over again, and it commits the same sin: telling both sides of a time loop story.  We already know what will happen after reading the first half; what is the point of conveying it twice?  Two stars.

Country Boy is the latest in G.C.Edmondson’s Mexican-themed tales, a direct sequel to Misfit.  As is often the case with Edmondson, the story is clever, but the banter isn’t, though he tries.  Too hard, really.  Three stars.

Heaven on Earth is The Good Doctor Asimov’s science contribution for this issue, on the measurement of the celestial sphere and its resident stars.  It’s all about degrees, base-60 number systems, and an Earth-sized planetarium.  I love his mathematical articles; I feel he often does his best work with what could be the most sterile of subjects.  Four stars.

The Flower is 11-year old Mildred Possert’s submission.  Editor Mills thinks she shows promise, and I don’t disagree.

Henry Slesar gives us The Self-improvement of Salvatore Ross, involving a fellow who can bargain for anything – including physical traits.  He swaps a broken leg for pneumonia, his hair for cash, and so on.  The twist ending is a bit out of nowhere, but it’s a good story nonetheless, the sort of thing that might get adapted for The Twilight Zone.  Three stars.

The appropriately named Final Muster is, indeed, the last story in the book (and the inspiration for the issue’s cover).  I believe this is Rick Rubin’s first effort, and he hits a triple right out of the box.  The premise: by next century, war is such a specialized, abhorred profession that soldiers are frozen in stasis and thawed only when needed.  This is a volunteer corps whose ranks are filled with combatants who cannot find joy in peaceful civilian life.  But what happens when war ends entirely?  A thoughtful story whose only fault is that it perhaps doesn’t go quite far enough in its projections.  Four stars.

With dessert finished, we can now run the numbers.  This issue came out at 3.3, edging out this month’s Analog (3), and IF (2.75).  Analog had the best story of the month (Death and the Senator).  There was one (count them) woman writer out of 21 stories, an abysmal score. 

A lot of space news coming up soon what with Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, or John Glenn scheduled to be the first American in space on May 4th.  Stay tuned!

[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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[Jan. 2, 1960] Happy New Year! (January 1960 F&SF)

Good Lord, is it already 1960?

When I started this endeavor in 1958, I had only a vague notion what it would look like and how long it would last.  Over the past year 14 months, Galactic Journey has settled into what I hope is a consistent, yet varied, mature column.  Moreover, I have suspicion that this column will last just about as long as I do, as I see no reason to ever stop.

It is hard to imagine Galactic Journey with bylines dated with futuristic years like 1965 or 1972 or 1988, but why not?  Perhaps one day, instead of San Diego, Seattle, or Sapporo, the dateline will read Sinus Rorus, Syrtis Major, or Saturn.

Returning to the present, it must be 1960, for that is the date on the current Fantasy and Science Fiction, January to be exact.  Actually, the February issue has already arrived, but that’s a topic for a future week.  In the meantime, let’s see what the first F&SF of 1960 has to offer:

Poul Anderson is back with another Time Patrol story, The Only Game in Town.  This time, Everard and his faithful Indian companion (I kid; Salgado is quite a well-developed and co-equal character) are dispatched to the American Southwest in the 13th century to stop, get this, a Mongol invasion.

It’s not so silly as it sounds.  In fact, it sounds downright plausible that the Mongols could, after conquering China, send a scouting expedition to the New World.  It didn’t take many horsemen to conquer the Aztecs, and the Mongols were a formidable race, to be sure.  What makes this story interesting, aside from the fine writing and evocative setting, is Everard’s dawning realization that the Time Patrol’s mission may not be as pure as once thought.  The Time Cops are told they are to preserve the original timeline, but in this story, they appear to be meddling for meddling’s sake rather than fixing damage caused by others.

I look forward to learning more about the secret agenda of Everard’s future employers.

Then we have A Divvil with the Women, apparently a resubmission of an earlier story once published in a lesser magazine.  It’s by Eric Frank Russell (slumming as “Niall Wilde”), and it involves an unpleasant fellow who makes a deal with the devil—with disastrous results, of course.  My, but these stories are popular these days!  It’s no longer than it needs to be to deliver the punchline, which is a blessing (pun intended).

Damon Knight has translated a piece from F&SF’s French edition: The Blind Pilot by Charles Henneberg.  Sadly, the thing is only half-translated or something; it’s well nigh unreadable, and I didn’t make it past the first few pages.  Oh well.

Reginald Bretnor, who writes the execrable Ferdinand Feghoot puns in F&SF under a pseudonym, has a very silly short-short (“Bug-Getter”) that, you guessed it, ends in a pun.  I must confess that I did laugh, so it couldn’t have been all bad.

For once, Asimov has a decidedly unremarkable article.  It’s called Those Crazy Ideas, and it segues from a discussion of Asimov’s personal creativity to observations on how scientific creativity can be maximized.  Fluffy.

Cliff Simak’s Final Gentleman just barely misses the mark.  Quite a long tale for F&SF, it is one of those excitingly creepy tales with a prosaic payoff.  In this case, a respected author retires after 30 years only to find that the trappings and details of his life are largely imaginary, sort of a psychic cloak that surrounds him, altering his surroundings and himself to seem more refined and engaging than they actually are.  I found this notion compelling.  After all, I often swathe myself in a fantasy, pretending to be decades in the past.  I complete the illusion by listening to old music, using obsolete slang, wearing out-of-date clothing.  It is a conceit in which I engage to better understand a bygone era for historical purposes, and simply to have a fun invisible refuge from the real world.  Hey—it’s cheaper than heroin.

But in Simak’s story, the psychic hoodwink is perpetrated solely to influence the course of history through an implausible Rube Goldberg chain of interactions.  I was disappointed, but you may feel differently.

A Little Girl’s Christmas in Modernia, by Ralph Bunch, is next.  In this future, we gradually trade in our flesh parts for metal as we grow older.  Bunch’s tale features a fully human moppet and her mostly-converted parents in the kind of inconsequential story I’d expect to find in a slick.  I suppose they needed a Holiday-themed story to fill out this issue.

What do you do when an alien weather probe crashes into your backyard?  You bake it, of course, and thus unintentionally forestall an extraterrestrial invasion.  G.C. Edmondson’s The Galactic Calabash is fun, though it took me several sessions to get through the short story, largely because I always picked it up at bedtime.

Rounding out the magazine is the quite good Double Double, Toil and Trouble by Holley Cantine.  An anarchist turned recluse decides to take up magic, eventually learning the secret to doubling anything.  It starts out well enough, but the ending provides a cautionary tale against dabbling in the Dark Arts.  Holley Cantine, I understand, is a bit of a political theorist, and Double has a deeper message wrapped in a gentle fiction coating. 

And so the January 1960 F&SF ends as it began with a four-star story.  In-between, there lies a muddle of uncharacteristic unevenness such that the whole issue clocks in at a mere three stars, the same as this month’s Astounding.

That just leaves us with the January IF, whose reading is in progress.  In the meantime, I’ll soon have a report on my latest excursion to the drive-in with my daughter.  It don’t all gotta be highbrow, after all.

Happy New Year!

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most.  I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. 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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[Oct. 10, 1959] Middle Ground (Nov. 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

It’s going to be a dreary month, if October’s selection of digests is any indication.

Of course, my mood isn’t buoyed by the fact that I must compose this article in long-hand.  I hate writing (as opposed to typing; and typing on an electric is sheer bliss).  On the other hand, I’m the one who chose to occupy much of the next few days in travel, and fellow airplane passengers don’t appreciate the bang bang of fingers hitting keys.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?  As I write, I am enjoying my annual plane trip to Seattle for the purpose of visiting my wife’s sister, myriad local friends, and to attend a small but lively science fiction convention.  This one is singular in that its attendees are primarily female, and its focus is woman creators.  People like Katherine MacLean, Judith Merril, Pauline Ashwell, Anne McCaffrey, etc. 

Once again, I get to ride in the speedy marvel that is the jet-powered Boeing 707.  San Diego to Seattle in just a few hours is a luxury to which I hope I never become jaded.  Although I will concede that the roar of jets is less pleasant a sound than the thrum of propellers. 

I made several attempts to read this month’s Astounding, but I could find nothing in it I enjoyed.  I’ll summarize that effort later.  In the meantime, I have just finished the November 1959 F&SF, and if you can read my chicken-scratch (I hope my editor cleans it up before publication), I’ll tell you all about it.

F&SF often features brilliant stories.  Last month, the magazine had an unheard-of quality of 4.5 stars, just under the theoretical maximum of five.  This month, we’re at the nadir end of quality.  It’s readable but fluffy, forgettable stuff.

Story #1, The Martian Store by Howard Fast, recounts the opening of three international stores, ostensibly offering a limited set of Martian goods.  They are only open for a week, but during that time, they attract thousands of would-be customers as well as the attention of terrestrial authorities.  After the Martian language is cracked, it is determined that the Martians intend to conquer the Earth.  The result is world unity and a sharp advance in technological development.  Shortly thereafter, an American company begins production and sale of one of the Martian products, having successfully reverse engineered the design.

Except, of course, in a move that was well-telegraphed, it turns out the whole thing was a super-secret hoax by that company in order to create a demand for those putatively Martian products.  World peace was a by-product.  Thoroughly 3-star material.

G.C. Edmondson’s From Caribou to Carry Nation is a gaudily overwritten short piece about transubstantiation featuring an old man who is reborn as his favorite vegetable… and is promptly eaten by his grandson.  Two stars, and good riddance.

Plenitude, by newcomer Will Worthington, is almost good.  It has that surviving-after-the-apocalypse motif I enjoy.  In this story, the End of the World is an apparent plague of pleasure-addiction, with most of the human population retreating into self-contained sacks with their brains hooked into direct-stimulation machines.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the quality is such that I anticipate we’ll see ultimately see some good stuff from Worthington.  The editor says there are three more of his stories in the bag, so stay tuned.

There is a rather pointless Jules Verne translation, Frritt-Flacc, in which a miserly, mercenary old doctor is given a lordly sum to treat a patient only to discover that the dying man he came to see is himself.  Two stars.

Then there is I know a Good Hand Trick, by Wade Miller, about the magical seduction of an amorous housewife.  It’s the kind of thing that might make it into Hugh Heffner’s magazine.  Not bad.  Not stellar.  Three stars.

I’ll skip over the second half of Starship Soldier, which I discussed last time.  That takes us to Damon Knight’s column, in which he laments the death of the technical science fiction story.  I think Starship Soldier makes an argument to the contrary. 

Then we’ve got Asimov’s quite good non-fiction article, C for Celerity, explaining the famous equation, E=MC^2.  I particularly enjoyed the etymology lesson given by the good doctor regarding all of the various scientific terms in common physical parlance.  I’ve been around for four decades, and my first college major was astrophysics, yet I never knew that the abbreviation for the speed of light is derived from the Latin word for speed (viz. accelerate).

James Blish has a rather good short-short, The Masks, about the futuristic use for easily applied nail polish sheets.  It’s a dark story, but worthy.  Four stars.

Ending the book is John Collier’s After the Ball, in which a particularly low-level demon spends the tale attempting to corrupt a seemingly incorruptible fellow in order to steal his body for use as a football.  Another over-embroidered tale that lands in the 2-3 star range.

That puts us at three stars for this issue, which is pretty awful for F&SF.  Given that Astounding looks like it might hit an all-time low of two stars, here’s hoping this month’s IF is worthwhile reading.  Thankfully, I’ve also picked up the novelization of Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, and it’s excellent so far.

Back in a few days with a convention report and a book review!

P.S. 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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