Tag Archives: hothouse

[Nov. 26, 1961] End of the Line (December 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s the end of the year!  “What?” you exclaim, “but it’s only November!”  True that, but the date on my latest Fantasy and Science Fiction says December 1961, and that means it is the last science fiction digest of the calendar year that will go through my review grinder.

F&SF has been the best magazine, per my ratings, for the past several years.  Going into this final issue, however, it has lagged consistently behind Galaxy.  Would this final issue be enough to pull it back into 1st place?  Especially given the stellar 3.8 stars rating that Galaxy garnered last month?

Well, no.  I’m afraid the magazine that Bouchier built (and handed over to Mills) must needs merit 8 stars this month to accomplish that feat.  That said, it’s still quite a decent issue, especially given the rather lackluster ones of the recent past.  So, with the great fanfare appropriate to the holiday season, I present to you the final sf mag of 1961:

Damon Knight seems have gotten a gig as editor Mills’ favored French translator.  Perhaps the job was in compensation for Knight’s having been laid off as book editor for his scathing (unpublished) review of Judith Merril’s The Tomorrow People.  Claude Veillot’s The First Days of May is a grim story of a Parisian survivor after the devastating invasion of the bug people from outer space.  Beautifully told, but there are no happy endings here.  Four stars.

My friend, Herbert Gold, returns with The Mirror and Mr. Sneeves.  Well, I shouldn’t say returns given that this rather unremarkable story, about a frigid husband who swaps bodies with more vivacious men, was first published in 1953.  Notable mainly for its literary gimmicks and copious sexual teases, I was first inclined to give it just two stars.  However, I found myself remembering the story long after I’d finished it, and that’s usually a sign of quality.  Three stars.

You’ll definitely remember Anne Walker’s The Oversight of Dirty-Jets Ryan for its almost impenetrable future slang (which reads a lot like current slang with a few space-related words thrown in).  Well, it’s also a good story, this tale of a none-too-legal trading expedition from Callisto to an alien world.  I’d expect nothing less from the lady who brought us the high point of the August 1959 Astounding.  Three stars.

On the other hand, Will Stanton’s You Are with It! is pretty lousy.  Something about a game show in which persons become thoroughly absorbed in the role they play.  Two stars.

The Fiesta at Managuay is an excellent piece by John Anthony West, a metaphor for the destruction of native culture by more “civilized” societies.  If you find yourself in the tourists of Managuay, be justifiably concerned.  And if you do not, look harder.  Four stars.

Isaac Asimov’s science fact piece this month, The Trojan Hearse, is an interesting article on Lagrange Points, those points of relative gravitational stability one finds between a big world and an orbiting companion.  For instance, the Sun and Jupiter, or the Earth and the Moon.  The timing is fortunate given that I plan to write about Jupiter (and its “Trojan Points”) next month!  Four stars.

I can’t quite tell you why I loved Hal Draper’s Ms Fnd in a Lbry: or, the Day Civilization Collapsed so much.  Perhaps for its frightening, if satirical, plausibility.  Or maybe because I’m an archivist as well as someone who went through a graduate program where the professors were more interested in the cataloging of knowledge than knowledge itself.  Read it and tell me if it strikes you as it struck me.  Five stars.

Last up is the conclusion to Brian Aldiss’ “Hothouse” series (soon to be a fix-up book), Evergreen.  Sadly, what started out so imaginative and interesting has degenerated to near unreadability.  The more said about this future, sun-blasted Earth, the less plausible it gets, and the strained dialogue makes this apocalyptic travelogue a slog(ue).  Two stars. 

And so ends the year for F&SF, and with that, the magazines for all of 1961.  At last, I can dig out my graph paper and copious notes and start compiling data for this year’s Galactic Stars awards!  I hope you’ll look forward to them as much as I do!

[August 26, 1961] Introduce Yourself!  (September 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Just what is the Galactic Journey?  Who is this mysterious “Traveler”?

Every so often, it’s good idea to remind my readers who I am and why I do what I do.  This weekend, I am presenting at a local science fiction gathering, so it makes sense that the first article they see makes sense of all of this.

My twin passions are science fiction and outer space.  I live with my wife and daughter in San Diego, the fairest city in the Golden State of California.  From 9 to 5, I run a mid-sized electronics company.  In my off time, I maintain this column, writing about current books, magazines, movies, and science news (as well as other miscellany).

Oh yes.  I live in 1961.

Normally, I wouldn’t have cause to mention this fact.  For the longest time, I was the under the impression that we all lived in the same time.  Some of the mail I’ve been getting, however, suggests that a few of you come from the future — 55 years, to be exact. 

It’s quite exciting to have a fan-base from the far-flung time of 2016.  They report on all sorts of far out advances, some of which have been conceived in science fiction, others of which are beyond our wildest dreams. 

Happily, they report that global overpopulation has not been realized.  On the other hand, global warming has.  They say that Pluto is not a planet; well, that’s nothing new.

I suspect, of course, that this is all a fannish game.  No one really can know the future.  The best we can do is write down our speculations and hope we’re right (or in the case of scary visions, wrong!)

And that leads nicely into the subject of this article, the September 1961 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  For those of you who don’t know, F&SF is one of several monthly science fiction digests, each containing a slew of stories.  The story length ranges from single-page vignettes through serialized novels that run over several issues.  Digests used to be the way science fiction was delivered to the public.  They’ve been on the decline since their peak in 1953, however, and the science fiction novel appears to have taken its place. 

There is still plenty of good stuff to be found in the magazines, however.  Here’s what I found in this issue:

Gérard Klein is an author for F&SF‘s French edition, and his The Monster in the Park was deemed good enough to be translated into English (thank you, Virginia Kidd!) It is a worthy piece, this tale of an alien’s landing in a Parisian park.  The pacing is excellent, with the largely expositional setup interpreted through the lens of a worried Frenchwoman’s grief over the possibility that her husband has been abducted.  The story builds the tension quite nicely, and the resolution works, though it is a bit abrupt.  Four stars.

Moving on, we have Herbert Gold’s satirical The Day They Got Boston, about the diplomatic tit-for-tat that might ensue should the Soviets ever accidentally blow up one of our cities.  His name may be unfamiliar to you if you’re the kind who never leaves our particular genre.  In fact, Gold writes a lot, but most of his stuff ends up in the “slicks” — high-paying outlets like Playboy.  Hefner politely declined the offer to print Boston, but his loss is our gain. 


Herbert Gold

Gold, a friend of mine, told me he wrote this genuinely funny little yarn as a reaction to all the panic about The Bomb, which he doesn’t personally buy into.  Boston is not really science fiction, but then Gold isn’t a science fiction writer.  As he puts it, “the world is bizarre enough without inventing a fantasy science fiction alternative.”  A fair assessment from a man who writes with a stylus dipped in his own blood stored in a skull of Goethe he keeps on his desk (or so he claims!) Four stars.

The Timekeeper is Michael Young’s first story, an odd vignette about a fellow who escapes mortality by shuffling into the timeless place of waking dreams.  Strangely enjoyable.  3 stars.

Floyd Wallace used to write a lot more, but if saving his strength means we get more stories like Privates All, then I don’t begrudge him his rest.  Imagine a stultifying world of scarcity where production is in the hands of a myriad of monopolies: General Housing, General Apparel, General Entertainment, General Food, etc.  A person can work for any of them, but only one at a time.  Within each unit, goods can be secured with relative ease, but without, they cost dearly.  How does one get ahead in a world where wealth in one economic field means poverty in all others? 

Wallace writes powerfully, evocatively, and I’m a sucker for stories set in caste-based societies.  I imagine, rather like Orwell’s 1984, that Privates is less a prediction of a future time than a depiction of an existing place — namely, the Soviet Union.  Good stuff.  Four stars.

Pecking Order is a tale of witchcraft, humility, and pride from a virtually unpublished author, Nils Peterson.  Macabre in its mood, wicked in its finale, it is a quintessentially F&SF-ish story.  Three stars.

Hamlin is by another unknown: Rosemary Harris.  She has the sad distinction of being the only female author appearing in the digests I read this month.  Hamlin is the re-telling of an old fable, gussied up in scientifiction trappings.  It’s my least favorite story in the issue, but that’s more due to the quality of its competition, than any lack on its part.  Three stars.

Now, all of the Big Three digests (F&SF, Analog, and Galaxy) include a science fact column.  F&SF‘s is the best as they managed to secure the works of a certain Isaac Asimov, a fellow with a broader breadth of knowledge than Da Vinci. 

I like science fiction, but I love articles that can inspire science fiction stories.  Not As We Know It describes elements and solvents that could be alternatives to our boring old carbon/oxygen/water mix as the basis for alien life.  It is a treasure trove of ideas.  Five stars.

Rosser Reeves, a writer/businessman like me, has made a name for himself with his poetry.  He returns with two more pieces: the mournful Effigy and the inconsequential
E=MC².  Not as good as his last outing, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more.  Three stars.

Finally, we have Brian Aldiss’ Timberline.  This is the next installment in his “Hothouse” series of novellas, which form a continuous sequence set on an Earth of the far future.  The sun has swelled with age, and our planet has frozen into tidal lock with one face always presented to its parent star.  The Earth’s surface has been conquered by vegetable beings, and only a few animals remain — including a diminutive race descendant of once mighty humanity.

Aldiss’ is an imaginative world, but this outing in particular felt more travelogue than complete tale.  It might be all right as part of a book (I imagine there will be a compilation when the last novella is completed), but by itself, it feels shallow.  Three stars.

Last month, I lamented that the quality of my favorite digest was declining.  This issue seems to reverse that trend: It scored 3.6 of 5 on the Star-o-meter (TM), easily beating out IF‘s 2.9 and Analog’s 2.6.  It also had the best story (Privates All), the most women (a whopping one), and the best non-fiction.  Pretty good for a magazine with such a large number of authorial first outings!

By next article will be a photologue of my trip to the convention.  If I meet you this weekend, do drop me a line.  I love making new friends!

[June 25, 1961] The Twilight Years (July 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Some 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs vanished from the Earth.  There are many hypotheses as to why these great reptiles no longer walk among us.  One current of thinking goes thusly: dinosaurs were masters of the Earth for so long that they became complacent.  Because their reign was indisputed, they evolved in ways that were not optimized for survival.  Thus, the strange crests of the Hadrosaurs.  The weird dome head of the Pachycephalosaurs.  The giant frills of the Ceratopsians.  Like Victorian ladies’ hats, the dinosaurs became increasingly baroque until they were too ungainly to survive.

I worry that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is heading in that direction.  I’m all for literary quality in my sf mags, but F&SF has been tilting so far in the purple direction that it is often all but unreadable.  I present Exhibit A: the July 1961 “All-Star” issue.

Kingsley Amis is perhaps better known as a fan than a writer, his recent New Maps of Hell being a lauded survey of the current sci-fi field.  Something Strange isn’t a bad story, but the fluffy writing can’t relieve or distract from the threadbare plot (a retread of The Twilight Zone’s first episode): Two married couples are stuck on what they believe is a remote interstellar outpost.  A series of increasingly strange things materialize, first outside and, later, inside the station.  Ultimately, the scouts are given a final message from Earth – they have been abandoned for want of funding to retrieve them!  Of course, the keen reader has already figured out that the base is really just a long-term isolation chamber on Earth, the whole thing being an experiment.  Despite the hackneyed plot, it’s still readable.  Three stars, barely.

Package Deal is the latest by Will Worthington, an author given to writing dark pieces.  This one, about a n’er-do-well spoiled rich kid who discovers his latent powers of telepathy, is overly cute and underly memorable.  Two stars.

The new writer, Nicholas Breckenridge, advises ailurophiles to skip the feline ghost story, Cat Lover.  It’s a good suggestion; Lover is a tired retread of familiar ground.  Two stars.

Grendel Briarton has a new Ferdinand Feghoot pun story.  I include it in the interests of completeness; do not mistake presentation for endorsement.

The Zookeeper is the first published story by Otis Kidwell Burger, and also the one piece by a woman (despite the unlikely name) to appear in any of the Big Three magazines this month.  It’s a tale of the far future, a sort of meet cute featuring a woman secured from present day as a sort of pet, and the all-too-human alien, also a pet, who comes to love her.  Another overly oblique piece, but kind of charming nonetheless.  Three stars.

Kris Neville’s Closing Time is more Socratic dialogue than story, a rather insipid piece about disproving the existence of intelligent aliens.  Two stars.

Night Piece, by the usually (these days) excellent Poul Anderson, is even more disappointing.  Something about a scientist becoming aware of dimensions beyond his own, grappling to retain his sanity amid an onslaught to his senses.  It’s all very ponderous and overwrought.  One star.

I enjoyed Isaac Asimov’s non-fiction article, Recipe for a Planet, all about the elements that make up the Earth and their proportion to each other.  I especially enjoyed the article’s wrap-up, describing our planet’s composition in cook-book style.

Comprising a good third of the book is its final piece, Brian Aldiss’ novella, Undergrowth.  It is a direct sequel to his previous stories, Hothouse and Nomansland, all set on Earth a billion years from now.  The sun has grown hot, and the planet is a jungle.  Humans have long-since stopped being Earth’s master and are now diminutive, barely sentient creatures.  In this story, we learn of the event that caused our race to topple from power, thanks to the racial-memory tapping talents of the fungoid symbiotes, the morel. 

As usual, Aldiss paints a vivid picture, and a unique one, but somehow the further adventures of Gren and Poyly and their bonded morel have gotten a bit tedious.  It feels more and more like one of Burroughs’ Pellucidar novels – enjoyable, but shallow.  I’m looking forward to learning what happened to the lunar explorers from the first novella, and I expect Aldiss has already got that story plotted out.  Three stars.

Measured on the Star-o-Meter(tm), this “All-Star” issue only earns 2.5 stars.  In fact, not a single magazine broke the 3-star barrier this month!  Moreover, just one woman made it to print.  The two facts may not be unrelated…

In any event, if F&SF wants to win the Hugo this year, it’ll have to do better than this.  Otherwise, Analog or Galaxy are likely to take the prize just by failing to decline as steeply.

[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 29, 1961] Take a little off the bottom (February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Greetings from sunny Kaua’i!  It seems like only yesterday I was reporting from this island’s idyllic shores.  Much has changed, of course–Hawai’i is now a state!  50 is a nice round number, so perhaps we won’t see any new entries into the Union for a while.

Accompanying me on this trip is the last science fiction digest of the month, the February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction.  On a lark, I decided to read from the end, first.  In retrospect, I’m glad I did, but it certainly made the magazine a challenge.  You see, the stories at the end are just wretched.  But if you skip them (or survive them, as I did), the rest of the magazine is quite excellent.

Let’s get the drek over with straight-away, shall we?

Some unknown named C. Brian Kelly offers up the disgusting and sadistic The Tunnel, three pages about a vengeful cockroach that you need never read. 1 star.

Meanwhile, the normally excellent Robert F. Young offers the strangely prudish Storm over Sodom, which somehow rubbed me the wrong way all the way through.  2 stars.

Whew.  Now let’s go to the beginning and pretend the last 20 pages never happened. 

Brian Aldiss, who wrote the variable fix-up Galaxies like grains of sand is back with what I hope is the first in a series of tales about life on Earth in the very distant future.  Hothouse portrays a hot, steamy world dominated by vegetable life.  Indeed, a single banyan tree has become a global forest, and within it reside a myriad of mobile plant creatures that comprise almost all of the planet’s species.  Humanity is a savage race, clearly on the decline.  Their only hope, perhaps, will come from the outer space they once called their own domain. 

It’s a beautifully crafted world, the characters are vivid, and if the science stretches credulity, it does not entirely break it.  Five stars

Time was is a pleasant piece by Ron Goulart involving a homesick young woman, the trap that tries to lure her back to the 1939 of her childhood, and the dilettante detective of occult matters who tries to save her.  Four stars.

I’ve said before that Rosel George Brown is a rising star, and Of all possible worlds is my favorite story of hers yet.  A beautiful tale of an interstellar explorer and the almost-humans he meets on a placid, emerald-sand beach.  They seem to be primitives, but sometimes the end result of scientific progress is a pleasant, contemplative rest.  Anthropology, biology, love, and loss.  Five stars.

Marcel Ayme is back with his The Ubiquitous Wife, about a young woman who can multiply herself infinitely and thus live a thousand lives at once.  Like his other stories, it is droll and engaging.  The translator did a good job of conveying Ayme’s clever turns of phrase.  Three stars.

Theodore L. Thomas provides The Intruder, a subtle time travel story featuring a backpacker fishing trilobites at the dawn of the Devonian era.  In a nice touch, it turns out he is not the intruder; rather it is the little blot of algae that threatens to inevitably populate the fisher’s pristine, lifeless world.  Four stars.

Finally, we have Isaac Asimov’s non-fiction article, Order, Order!, on the subject of entropy (the amount of energy unavailable for work; or the amount of disorder in the universe). It’s a topic that everyone knows something about, but few have a real handle on.  The Good Doctor does an excellent job of explaining this esoteric matter.  Four stars.

What a pity–if not for the two lodestones at the end of the issue, this would be a rate 4-star magazine.  Still, even with them, the score is a comfortable 3.5 stars, which makes F&SF the best digest of the month.  It also has the best story of the month: Hothouse.  Finally, it features fully 50% of the month’s woman authors; sadly, there are just two. 

See you on February Oneth–if NASA’s hopes are fulfilled, I will have an exciting Mercury Redstone mission to talk about!