Tag Archives: george p. elliott

[Oct. 26, 1961] Fading Fancy (November 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Have you ever ordered your favorite dessert only to find it just doesn’t satisfy like it used to?  I’m a big fan of crème brûlée, and I used to get it every chance I could.  That crispy carmelized top and that warm custard bottom, paired with a steaming cup of coffee…mmm. 

These days, however, crème brûlée just hasn’t done it for me.  The portions are too small, or they serve the custard cold.  The flavor doesn’t seem as bold, the crust as crispy.  I’ve started giving dessert menus a serious peruse.  Maybe I want pie this time, or perhaps a slice of cake.

Among my subscription of monthly sf digests, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction used to be my dessert — saved for last and savored.  These days, its quality has declined some, and though tradition will keep it at the end of my review line-up, I don’t look forward to reading the mag as much as once I did.  This month’s, the November 1961 issue, is a typical example of the new normal for F&SF:

Keith Laumer is an exciting newish author whose work I often confuse with Harry Harrison’s — probably because Retief reminds me of “Slippery Jim” diGriz.  Laumer has a knack for creating interesting sentient non-humans.  He gave us intelligent robot tanks in Combat Unit, and this month, he gives us sentient, symbiotic trees in Hybrid.  It’s a story that teeters on the edge of greatness, but its brevity and rather unpleasant ending drag it from four to three stars.

The Other End of the Line is the first new story from Walter Tevis in three years.  Ever wonder what happens if you break a bootstrap paradox (i.e. one where your future self gives your present self a leg up)?  Well…it’s not a good idea.  Cute stuff.  Three stars.

Rick Rubin is back with his second story, the first being his excellent F&SF-published Final MusterThe Interplanetary Cat is a weird little fantasy involving an incorrigible feline with an insatiable appetite.  It’s almost Lafferty-esque, which means some will love it, and some will hate it.  I’m in the middle.  Three stars.

Faq’ is the latest by George P. Elliott, whose Among the Dangs was a minor masterpiece.  Elliott’s new story is in the same vein — a Westerner who finds a fictional yet plausible tribe of people, alien from any we currently know.  It’s got a nice, dreamy style to it, but it lacks the depth or the powerful conclusion of Dangs.  Three stars.

Doris Pitkin Buck is another F&SF new author.  Green Sunrise, like Buck’s last work (Birth of a Gardner), Sunrise features a lovers’ squabble between a scientist man and a non-scientist woman.  Once again, the language is evocative, but the plot is weak, the impression fleeting.  Two stars.

The Tunnel Ahead is an overpopulation dystopia-by-numbers tale by Alice Glaser.  Cramped living conditions?  Check.  Algae-based food products?  Check.  Drastic, random population reduction methods?  Check.  Two stars?  Check. 

Randy Garrett’s been skulking around F&SF lately, but I don’t know that it has been to the magazine’s benefit.  Mustang is essentially Kit Reed’s Piggy, but not as good.  Two stars.

Dethronement is Isaac Asimov’s latest article, a sort of screed written in response to a bad review of his Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science by biologist Barry Commoner.  The latter objected to the former’s obliteration of the line between non-living and living matter.  This, Commoner maintained, destroyed the field of biology entirely.  The Good Doctor explains that finding bridges between disciplines does not destroy the disciplines any more than bridging Manhattan with the other four burroughs of New York makes Manhattan no longer an island.  It’s a good piece.  Four stars.

Alfred Bester covers Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land in his books column.  He didn’t like it either. 

John Updike has a bit of doggerel about scandalous neutrinos called Cosmic Gall.  It is followed by Algis Budrys’ rather impenetrable article on science fiction, About Something Truly Wonderful.  Both rate two stars. 

Part 2 of Gordy Dickson’s Naked to the Stars rounds out the otherwise lackluster issue.  It deserves its own article, but you’re going to have to wait for it, since Rosemary Benton and Ashley Pollard will be covering some exciting scientific developments, first.  I’ll give you a hint — they involve the biggest rocket and the biggest boom.

My aching (egg)head (January 1959 F&SF, second half; 1-09-1959)

I tried.  I really tried.

When last we left off, I had saved Fritz Leiber’s The Silver Eggheads for last.  It comprises a good third of the January F&SF, and I thought it would be worth an article all to itself.  I suppose it does, at that, but not the way I had thought.

For some reason, when I started this project, I’d had the impression that I liked Fritz Leiber.  I think it was from reading The Big Time, which was pretty good.  Thus my puzzlement when I reviewed “Number of the Beast”, and again when I reviewed “Poor Little Miss MacBeth.”.

I am now coming to realize that I don’t like Fritz Leiber.  The Silver Eggheads was yet another of his over written yet frivolous stories.  I know Fritz has won the Hugo, and I haven’t published any fiction since I was 14 (so what do I know?), but his latest novella was execrable.

Here’s the plot.  I think.  In the future, fiction is turned out by sentient computers.  The fiction-bots are destroyed by disgruntled writers (in the future, human writers don’t actually compose; they just tend the machines), but then are unable to come up with their own stories.  The glib explanation is that people are insufficiently educated in the future to write.  This makes no sense–if the primary form of entertainment in the future is reading, how can it be impossible to know how to write, even if in a mediocre fashion? 

And there are these silver eggs that are apparently the brains of dead writers.  And there is a whole species of robots with their own culture and even genders (but who act just like people–a typical sin of contemporary writers).  And the whole thing is written in this baroque mess that is as much fun to read as stabbing forks into my eyes, with that same casual Playboy Magazine glib chauvinism that I’ve come to expect from Mssrs. Anderson and Garrett.

So, I tried.  I really tried.  But I could not get past the 16th page without skimming.  I have failed you.  I present myself prostrate and ask forgiveness.  Or vindication, whichever may be appropriate.

The rest of the issue fares little better.  John Collier’s Meeting of Relations is a slight, biblically-inspired piece.  It is also 16 years old; its reprinting suggests it was picked based on length rather than quality.

Invasion of the Planet of Love, by George P. Elliott, is another one of those strange pieces that leaves me wondering if it supposed to be satire or not.  I suspect it is, because the subject (rapacious Victorian-types looting and torturing Venus and its inhabitants only to be thwarted by the most peaceful of peoples) is implemented in so heavy-handed a fashion that it must have been meant as some kind of allegory.  It’s certainly not science fiction, at least no more than Burroughs’ work at the turn of the century. 

From <i data-recalc-dims=Exploring the Planets Copyright 1958″/>
From Exploring the Planets Copyright 1958

Incidentally, it is looking as though the “hot but tolerable” Venus is about to go by the wayside (along with all the science fiction stories that take place on it).  A presentation at the Paris Symposium on Radio Astronomy last summer revealed that radar studies done a few years ago show that Venus may be extremely hot–well above the boiling point of water.  I have a suspicion that most of our treasured science-fiction tropes may well be rendered obsolete in the next few years of space exploration.

Wrapping up the magazine is The R of A by Gordon Dickson.  It’s another in a long line of wish-granting genie stories and an interesting commentary on predestination.  Not great, but not bad.

That leaves the score for this magazine at one third 4-star, one third 2-star, and one third 1-star.  This leads to an average of 2.33.  And things started out so well.  On the other hand, the nice thing about digests is you can pick and choose.

Next article: 43,000 Years Later by Horace Coon.  Stay tuned!

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