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[June 25, 1962] XX marks the spot (July 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I’ve been thundering against the new tack Editor Avram Davidson has taken The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for several months now, so much so that I didn’t even save what used to be my favorite magazine for last this month.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when, in synchronicity with the sun reaching its annual zenith, the July edition also returns to remembered heights.  Of course, Davidson’s editorial prefaces are still lousy, being at once too obvious in describing the contents of the proceeding story, and at the same time, obtuse beyond enjoyment.  If there’s anything on which I pin the exceeding quality of this issue, it’s the unusual abundance of woman authors.  It’s been a long time, and their absence has been keenly marked (at least by me).  For the most part, the fellas aren’t too bad either.  Take a look:

Darfgarth, by Vance Aandahl

Hundreds of years from now, or perhaps thousands of years ago, a mesmeric bard named Darfgarth came to a little Colorado town.  He exerted his influence like a God, but men aren’t Gods, and men who aspire to be Gods usually meet an unpleasant end.  A nicely atmospheric story, though the seams showed through a bit too much.  Three stars.

Two’s a Crowd, by Sasha Gilien

A pair of polar opposite souls struggle for ascendancy in the tabula rasa mind of a newborn.  Gilien’s first published piece reads like one – uneven and with a hackneyed ending.  Two stars.  (Take heart – this is the only sub-par story in the book!)

Master Misery, by Truman Capote

When a thought-vampire steals all of your dreams, what is left to live for?  I tend to look dimly upon reprints as a cheap way to fill space, but it’s hard to complain about the inclusion of this story, by a very young Capote, fresh off the success (and controversy) of his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms.  It’s a dreamy, metaphorical piece, both in theme and delivery, and it works.  Four stars.

Stanley Toothbrush, by Carl Brandon

Newcomer Brandon has written a timeless yet incredibly now story about a tired young man, his fetching (but physically demanding) girlfriend, and the improbably named fellow who literally comes out of nowhere to threaten their relationship.  It’s the youth’s owned damned fault, but he doesn’t know it.  A very The Twilight Zone sort of piece that’s rising action all the way to the very pleasant end.  Four stars.

Subcommittee, by Zenna Henderson

Henderson’s first non-The People story in a good long while is a tale of finding common ground between two seemingly implacable foes.  In this case, the enemy is a fleet of alien exiles, the “good guys” the denizens of Planet Earth a few decades from now.  The cynical side of me groans at the naivete of the piece.  The romantic side of me kicks the cynical side a few times and reminds it that Henderson still spins a compelling yarn, and we can use a little hope in this harsh world.  I only cringe slightly at the highly conventional gender roles of Subcommittee – but then, I expect Henderson is making more of a statement about today than a prediction about the future.  Let’s hope HUAC doesn’t investigate her for being a commie peacenik.  Four stars.

Brown Robert, by Terry Carr

A gritty time travel story with a twist, but the set-up doesn’t quite match the ending, and the thing falls apart on closer inspection.  Good twist, though.  Three stars.

Six Haiku, by Karen Anderson

Better known as the better half of prolific writer Poul Anderson, Karen seems to be embarking on an independent career; her first story came out just two months ago.  Anyway, this handful of poetic trifles is worth the time you’ll spend on them, plus the customary 20% mark-up.  Three stars.

My Dear Emily, by Joanna Russ

A fine take on Stoker from the victim’s point of view, but is the increasingly unshackled Emily really a victim?  Russ doesn’t write often, but when she does, the result is always unique.  Four stars.

Hot Stuff, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor serves up an article on a subject near and dear to my astronomically-minded heart: the death of stars.  You may find it abstruse, but careful reading will reward.  Four stars.

Meanwhile, Alfred Bester continues to savage books he hasn’t actually read, to wit, his utterly missing the point of The Lani People.  Moreover, he refuses to do more than describe the plot of Catseye, so affronted is Bester by the grief Andre Norton gave him for his review of Shadow Hawk.  Ms. Norton was entirely in the right – I, too, was incensed when Bester proclaimed, “women just can’t write adventure.”  Firstly, Norton does not represent all of womanhood.  Secondly, Norton has proven countless times that she can.  And lastly, when’s the last time you wrote anything, has-been Alfred? 

It’s a good thing I don’t rate book review columns…

The Man Without a Planet, by Kate Wilhelm

A rendezvous on the way to Mars between the man punished for unlocking the heavens and the boy he inspired to reach them.  A great idea if not a terrific story.  Three stars.

Uncle Arly, by Ron Goulart

Yet another Max Kearney story.  This time, the avocational exorcist takes on the spirit of a buttinsky ad-man who won’t stop haunting a young man’s TV until he agrees to marry the ghost’s niece.  The prime requisite of a comedic story is that it be funny.  I chuckled many-a-time; call this one a success.  Four stars.

Throw in a conclusory Feghoot (the groan it elicits is a sign of its potency) and you’ve got an issue that comfortably meters in at 3.5 stars.  Four woman authors marks a record for the digest – any s-f digest, in fact.  Perhaps it is this quality issue that prompted “Satchmo’s” profuse praise, which now graces the back of the magazine:

[May 31, 1962] Rounding Out (June 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Ah, and at last we come to the end of the month.  That time that used to be much awaited before Avram Davidson took over F&SF, but which is now just an opportunity to finish compiling my statistics for the best magazines and stories for the month.  Between F&SF‘s gentle decline and the inclusion of Amazing and Fantastic in the regular review schedule, you’re in for some surprises.

But first, let’s peruse the June 1962 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and see if, despite the new editor’s best efforts, we get some winners this month (oh, perhaps I’m being too harsh – Editor is a hard job, and one is limited to the pieces one gets.)

Such Stuff, by John Brunner

Thanks to recent experiments, we now know what people cannot survive long when deprived of the ability to dream.  But what about that bedeviled fellow who enjoys an escape from nightmares?  And what if your mind becomes the vessel for his repressed fantasies?  A promising premise, but this Serling-esque piece takes a bit too much time to get to its point.  Three stars.

Daughter of Eve, by Djinn Faine

After an interstellar diaspora, there are but two remaining groups of humans on a colony world.  One is a large population of radiation-sterilized people; the other comprises just one man and his young daughter, the mother having died upon planetfall.  From the title of the story, you can likely guess the quandary the sole fertile man is faced with.  The childlike language of the viewpoint character (the daughter) is a bit tedious, but this first story by Virginia Faine (nee Dickson – yes, that Dickson) isn’t bad.  It stayed with me, and that’s something.  Three stars.

The Scarecrow of Tomorrow, by Will Stanton

Reading more like a George C. Edmondson tale than anything else, this pleasantly oblique tale describes the encounter between two farmers and a murder of crows…with a partiality for things Martian.  I reread the ending a half-dozen times, but I’m still not quite sure what it all means.  Nicely put together, though.  Three stars.

The Xeenemuende Half-Wit, by Josef Nesvadba

During the War, a prominent German rocket scientist is stumped by a thorny guidance problem.  Can his savant son help him out?  And is it worth the price?  Another moody, readable piece from Nesvadba.  I’m sure there’s a point, but I’m not quite sure what it is.  Three stars.

The Transit of Venus, by Miriam Allen deFord

I don’t usually go for expositional stories, but deFord makes this one work, particularly with the story’s short length.  In a world of regimentedly liberal mores, one prude dares to turn society on its ear with a scandalous go at winning the Miss Solar System beauty pageant.  A fun piece from a reliable veteran.  Three stars.

Power in the Blood, by Kris Neville

I didn’t much like this story when it was It’s a Good Life on The Twilight Zone, and I like it less here.  Some addled old woman with the power to destroy slowly deteriorates the world until there’s naught left but wreckage.  Disjointed, unpleasant, and just not good.  One star.

The Troubled Makers, by Charles Foster

About the reality-challenged psychic who bends reality to his will, and the Watusi Chief who helps him around.  You’ve seen versions of this story a dozen times or more in this magazine over the years, but it’s not a bad variation on the theme.  An assiduous copy of the mold from a brand new writer.  Three stars.

The Egg and Wee, by Isaac Asimov

I normally enjoy the Good Doctor’s essays, and this one, comparing the ovae of various creatures and then segueing to a discussion of the smallest of biological creatures, isn’t bad.  But it misses the sublimity that his work can sometimes achieve.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LI, by Grendel Briarton

Mr. Bretnor’s latest is much worse than normal, perhaps in Garrett territory.  But, I’ve never included these puns in my ratings, so I shan’t now.  Lucky for F&SF.

The Fifteenth Wind of March, by Frederick Bland

Penultimately, we’ve got the jewel of the issue.  As magical winds scour the Earth with increasing frequency and intensity, one thoroughly ordinary British family attempts to find shelter before it’s too late.  Both extraordinary and humdrum at once (no mean feat), it’s a poignant slice of unnatural life.  Four stars.

The Diadem, by Ethan Ayer

Mr. Ayer’s first printed story involves two women and the goddess that connects them.  It tries hard to be literary, but is just unnecessarily hard to read.  Two stars.

It should be clear to one with any facility with math (and who read every article this month) that the June 1962 F&SF was not the prize-winner this month.  In fact, the Goldsmith mags took surprising first and second place slots with 3.4 and 3 stars for Fantastic and Amazing, respectively.  Galaxy and Analog tied at 2.7 stars.  F&SF rated a middlin’ 2.8, but it may have had the best story, though some will argue that Fantastic’s The Star Fisherman earned that accolade.  It also had the laudable achievement of featuring the most woman authors…though two is hardly an Earth-shattering number. 

Speaking of women, the next article will feature women in the army.  And on that progressive note…ta ta for now!

[Apr. 28, 1962] Changing of the Guard (May 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I never thought the time would come that reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would be the most dreaded portion of my duties…and yet, here we are.  Two issues into new Editor Avram Davidson’s tenure, it appears that the mag’s transformation from a great bastion of literary (if slightly stuffy) scientifiction is nearly complete.  The title of the digest might well be The Magazine of Droll Trifles (with wry parenthetical asides).

One or two of these in an issue, if well done, can be fine.  But when 70% of the content is story after story with no science and, at best, stream-of-consciousness whimsy, it’s a slog.  And while one could argue that last issue’s line-up comprised works picked by the prior editor, it’s clear that this month’s selections were mostly Davidson’s. 

Moreover, Robert Mills (the outgone “Kindly Editor”) used to write excellent prefaces to his works, the only ones I would regularly read amongst all the digests.  Davidson’s are rambling and purple, though I do appreciate the biographical details on Burger and Aandahl this ish. 

I dunno.  Perhaps you’ll consider my judgment premature and unfair.  I certainly hope things get better…

Who Sups With the Devil, by Terry Carr

This is Carr’s first work, and one for which Davidson takes all the credit (blame) for publishing.  It sells itself as a “Deal with Diablo” story with a twist, but the let-down is that, in the end, there is no twist.  Two stars.

Who’s in Charge Here?, by James Blish

A vivid, if turgid, depiction of the wretched refuse that hawk wares on the hot streets of New York.  I’m not sure what the point is, and I expect better of Blish (and F&SF).  Two stars.

Hawk in the Dusk, by William Bankier

This tale, about a vicious old prune who has a change of heart in his last days, would not be out of place in an episode of Thriller or perhaps in the pages of the long-defunct Unknown.  In other words, nothing novel in concept.  Yet, and perhaps this is simply due to its juxtaposition to the surrounding dreck, I felt that it was extremely well done.  Five stars.

One of Those Days, by William F. Nolan

From zeniths to nadirs, this piece is just nonsense piled upon nonsense.  It’s the sort of thing I’d expect from a 13-year old…and mine (the Young Traveler) has consistently delivered better.  One star.

Napoleon’s Skullcap, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can a psionic kippah really tune you in to the minds of great figures of the past?  Dickson rarely turns in a bad piece, and this one isn’t horrible, but it takes obvious pains to be oblique so as to draw out the “gotcha” ending as far as possible.  Three stars, barely.

Noselrubb, the Tree, by Eric Frazee

Noselrubb, about an interstellar reconnaissance of Earth, is one of those kookie pieces with aliens standing in for people.  Neophyte Frazee might as well throw in the quill.  One star.

By Jove!, by Isaac Asimov

Again, I am feeling overcharitable.  It just so happens that I plan to write an essay on Uranus as part of my movie that took place on the seventh planet.  Asimov’s piece, about the internal make-up of the giant planets, is thus incredibly timely.  It’s also good.  Five stars (even though the Good Doctor may have snitched his title from me…).

The Einstein Brain, by Josef Nesvadba

F&SF‘s Czech contributor is back with another interesting peek behind the Iron Curtain.  Brain involves the creation of an artificial intelligence to solve the physical problems beyond the reach of the greatest human minds.  The moral – that it’s okay to stop and smell the flowers – is a reaction, perhaps, to the Soviet overwhelming emphasis on science in their culture.  We laud it, but perhaps they find it stifling.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: L, by Reginald Bretnor

Possibly the worst Feghoot…and there’s no small competition.

Miss Buttermouth, by Avram Davidson

The unkindly Editor lards out his issue with a vignette featuring a protagonist from the Five Roses, complete with authentic idiom, and his run-in with a soothsayer who might have a line on the ponies.  It’s as good as anything Davidson has come up with recently.  Two stars.

The Mermaid in the Swimming Pool, by Walter H. Kerr

Mr. Kerr is still learning how to write poetry.  Perhaps he’ll get there someday.  Two stars.

Love Child, by Otis Kidwell Burger

Through many commas and words of purplish hue, one can dimly discern a story of an offspring of some magical union.  Mrs. Burger reportedly transcribes her dreams and submits them as stories.  The wonder is that they get accepted and published.  Two stars.

Princess #22, by Ron Goulart

If Bob Sheckley had written this story, about an abducted princess and the android entertainer for whom she is a dead ringer, it probably would have been pretty decent.  Goulart makes a hash of it.  Two stars.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, by Vance Aandahl

Young Vance Aandahl made a big splash a couple of years ago and has turned in little of note since.  His latest, a post-apocalyptic tale of love, savagery, and religion, draws on many other sources.  They are less than expertly translated, but the result is not without some interest.  Three stars.

***

Generously evaluated, this issue garners 2.7 stars.  However, much of that is due to the standout pieces (which I suspect you will not feel as strongly about) and to a bit of scale-weighting for the three stars stories…that are only just. 

(by the way, is it just me, or does the cover girl bear a striking resemblance to the artist’s spouse, Ms. Carol Emshwiller?)

[March 28, 1962] Paradise Lost (April 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I used to call The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction “dessert.”  Of all the monthly sf digests, it was the cleverest, the one most willing to take risks, and the most enjoyable reading.  Over the past two years, I’ve noticed a slow but decided trend into the realm of “literary quality.”  In other words, it’s not how good the stories are, or how fun the reading – they must be experimental and erudite to have any merit.  And if you don’t get the pieces, well, run off to Analog where the dumb people live.

A kind of punctuation mark has been added to this phenomenon.  Avram Davidson, that somber-writing intellectual with an encyclopedic knowledge and authorial credits that take up many sheets of paper, has taken over as editor of F&SF from Robert Mills.  Five years ago, I might have cheered.  But Davidson’s path has mirrored that of the magazine he now helms: a descent into literary impenetrability.  Even his editorial prefaces to the magazine’s stories are off-putting and contrived. 

I dunno.  You be the judge.

Gifts of the Gods, by Jay Williams

The premise of Gifts isn’t bad: aliens come from the stars to find Earth’s most advanced nation, and it turns out they’re the most primitive, technologically.  It’s three shades too heavy on the sermon, and it fails by its own rules (i.e. one can lambast states as a whole for not being perfectly self-actualized, but surely there are a thousand qualifying people within any given country that fulfill the ET’s requirements).  But then, these aliens seem to have shown up just to rub our noses in it.  Advanced indeed.  Two stars.

The Last Element, by Hugo Correa

Editor Davidson touts Sr. Correa as a brilliant find from Chile.  Sadly, this meandering piece involving (I guess) space soldiers who are undone in their attempts to mine a psychotropic mineral from a distant planet, feels incompletely translated from the Spanish.  It reads like an Italian sf film views.  Two stars.

The End of Evan Essant… ?, by Sylvia Edwards

A cute piece, more The Twilight Zone than anything else, about a fellow who is so determined to be a nebbish that he psychosomatically disappears.  It’s no great shakes, but at least it has a through line and is written in English.  Boy, my standards have dropped.  Three stars.

Shards, by Brian W. Aldiss

The editor advises that one give this story time to make sense lest you judge it prematurely.  He has a point.  This piece innovatively describes a traumatic out-of-body experience, and when you know the context, it’s not bad.  On the other hand, the context is laid out with surprising artlessness especially given the effort Aldiss puts into the first part (which is only readable in hindsight).  Three stars for effort, though your meter may hover at one star through most of the actual experience.

The Kit-Katt Club, by John Shepley

Something about a young, serious boy who abandons his starlet mother’s dissipated hotel life to frequent a bar with a literal menagerie of clientele.  I didn’t understand this story, nor did I much like it.  Maybe I’m just bitter at being made to look foolish.  Two stars.

To Lift a Ship, by Kit Reed

One of the few bright lights of this issue is Reed’s take on love, hope, greed, and despair involving two test co-pilots of a psionically driven aircraft.  I love how vividly we see through the eyes of the protagonist, and the subtlety (but not to the point of obtuseness!) with which the story unfolds.  Four stars.

Garvey’s Ghost, by Robert Arthur

I haven’t seen much from Arthur lately.  His stories have all been pleasant, fanciful fare and this one, about a most contrary ghost and the grandson he haunts, is more of the same.  Three stars.

Vintage Wine, by Doris Pitkin Buck

The English professor from Ohio is back, this time with a piece of ‘cat’terel (as opposed to the canine variety, which is not as good) that I actually quite enjoyed.  Four stars.

Moon Fishers, by Nathalie Henneberg

Charles Henneberg was a popular French fantasist who, sadly, passed away in 1959.  His wife, with whom he collaborated, has taken it upon herself to flesh out a number of remaining outlines for publication, Damon Knight providing the translations.  She has written well before, but her talents fail her this time.  This tale of time travel, Atlanteans, and ancient Egypt fails to engage at all.  One star.

The Weighting Game, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor takes on the subject of elements and how we determined their mass.  Just discovering that elements had mass was a critical step in understanding the nature of atoms.  Sadly, this article is really a highly abridged and much compromised version of his excellent book, The Search for the Elements, which came out two months ago.  I recommend you grab a copy and skip this article.  Still, substandard Asimov is still decent.  Three stars.

Test, by Theodore L. Thomas

A vignette about failing a driving test.  There’s the germ of a good story here, but the ending is too abrupt and affected to work.  Two stars.

Three for the Stars, by Joseph Dickinson

This piece is noteworthy for having one of the least intelligible Davidson prefaces.  Other than that, its a rather overwrought story about a chimp sent to Mars and back, and the scars he bears of the Martians he met.  Satire or something.  Two stars.

***

This issue ends up with a lousy 2.4 star score – by far, the worst magazine of the month, and possibly the worst F&SF I’ve read!  It’s a disappointing turn of events.  F&SF used to be the smart sf mag, and last month’s issue was a surprise stand-out.  With the arrival of Davidson, F&SF seems to be careening back toward smug self-indulgence.  I see that the back cover no longer has pictures of notables heaping praise on the book.  I wonder if they’re jumping ship… 

[February 23, 1962] Material Reading (March 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

The coverage for John Glenn’s orbital flight was virtually non-stop on the 20th.  My daughter and I (as many likely did) played hooky to watch it.  During the long countdown, the Young Traveler worried that the astronaut might get bored during his wait and commented that NASA might have been kind enough to install a small television on the Mercury control panel.

But, from our previous experience, we were pretty sure what the result of that would have been:

CAPCOM: “T MINUS 30 seconds and counting…”

Glenn: “Al, Mr. Ed just came on.  Can we delay the count a little bit?”

30 minutes later…

CAPCOM: “You are on internal power and the Atlas is Go.  Do you copy, Friendship 7

Glenn: “Al, Supercar‘s on now.  Just a little more.”

30 minutes later…

CAPCOM: “The recovery fleet is standing by and will have to refuel if we don’t launch soon…John, what’s with the whistling?”

Glenn: “But Al, Andy Griffith just came on!”

So, TV is probably out.  But a good book, well…that couldn’t hurt anything, right?  And this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction was a quite good book, indeed.  Witness:

Jonathan and the Space Whale, by Robert F. Young

Two years ago, Mr. Young began an issue of F&SF with a bang.  He does it again with Whale.  Young is a master of writing compelling relationships between two utterly alien beings – in this case, that between a restless, aimless young man of many talents, and the space whale that swallows him whole.  Great stuff.  Five stars.

Wonder as I Wander: Some Footprints on John’s Trail Through Magic Mountains, Manly Wade Wellman

It is hard to pack a lot of wallop into a half-page vignette, but I must say that Wellman has pulled it off here – repeatedly.  Footprints is a set of short-short shorts designed to be interstitials for a collection (due to be published later this year) of stories about John the balladeer, a Korea veteran with a silver-stringed guitar and a facility with white magic.  Some are truly effective, and all are worthy.  Five stars.

The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity, by Fritz Leiber

Friends is a readable story with a stingless tail.  I suspect Leiber is past his prime, riding on his name rather than putting much effort into things.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIX, by “Grendel Briarton”

One of the more contrived and less funny of Reginald Bretnor’s punnish efforts. 

A War of No Consequence, by Edgar Pangborn

This, then, is the jewel of the issue.  Pangborn’s last tale of a young redheaded runaway from the Eastern seaboard of a bombed-out America, was sublime.  This one is just about as good, only being inferior for its shorter length.  A great story of the futility of war, and the bonds it can forge among ostensible enemies.  Five stars.

The 63rd St. Station, by Avram Davidson

I’m not quite sure what to make of this one, about a staid, devoted brother who contemplates leaving his shut-in sister for a new love at the age of 45.  The ending is rendered extremely obliquely, and I suspect it makes more sense to a New Yorker familiar with subway trains and such.  Not bad, but a little too opaque.  Three stars.

(Per the editor’s blurb at the front of the issue, Bob Mills is stepping down as editor and turning over the reins to Mr. Davidson.  Given the latter’s penchant for the weird and the abstruse, recently to the detriment of his stories (in my humble opinion), I have to wonder if this will take the magazine in a direction less to my taste.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see.)

Communication by Walter H. Kerr

There is not much to say about this rather purple, but still pleasant, poem about a certain race’s limitations and strengths in the realm of communication.  Three stars.

That’s Life!, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor (will the friendly banter between Asimov and his “Kindly Editor” continue under the new regime?) has turned out an entertaining and informative piece this month, in which he attempts to present an accurate definition of life.  It’s a fine lesson in biology with some neat bits on viruses.  Four stars.

The Stone Woman by Doris Pitkin Buck

I really want to like Mrs. Buck, an esteemed English professor from Ohio, who has seen several science fiction luminaries in her class.  This latest piece, a poem, reinforces my opinion that her stuff, while articulate, is not for me.  Two stars.

Shadow on the Moon by Zenna Henderson

Henderson’s The People stories have always been personal favorites, and the last one, Jordan, was sublime.  Shadow, on the other hand, falls unexpectedly flat.  It follows the tale of two siblings who enlist themselves in an endeavor to take themselves and kin back into space – to the Moon, particularly.  All the elements of a People piece are there: the esper-empowered, alien-born humans; a well-drawn female protagonist; the sere beauty of Arizona; the light, almost ethereal language.  Somehow, the bolts show on this one, however, and there isn’t the emotional connection I’ve enjoyed in previous Henderson stories.  Three stars.

Doing my monthly mathematics, I determine that the March F&SF garnered an impressive 3.8 stars.  Astronaut Glenn certainly could have whiled away the long pre-launch hours (not to mention all the previous scrubbed launches) with a lot worse reading material.

Next up…what’s likely to be worse reading material (but who knows?): the March 1962 Analog!

[January 27, 1962] Bumps in Road (February 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s been a topsy turvy month: Snow is falling in coastal Los Angeles.  Castro’s Cuba has been kicked out of the Organization of American States.  Elvis is playing a Hawaiian beach bum.  So it’s in keeping that the latest issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction is, well, uneven.

Luckily, the February 1962 F&SF front-loaded the bad stuff (though it’s a bumpy ride clear to the end), so if you can make it through the beginning, you’re in for a treat – particularly at the end.  But first…

The Garden of Time is the latest from Englishman J. G. Ballard.  This tale of an enchanted chateau on the brink of ransack is long on imagery but short on substance (like many pieces in F&SF).  You may find it lovely; I found it superfluous.  Two stars.

The latest Ferdinand Feghoot (XLVIII) is slightly less worthy than the mean, for what that’s worth.  A pun that fails to elicit a groan, but merely a tired sigh, is hardly a pun at all.

Avram Davidson has completed his descent into impenetrability.  Once a reliable author, somber and profound, his work has been increasingly odd.  His latest (The Singular Events Which Occurred in the Hovel on the Alley Off Eye Street) is a parallel universe magical send-up of our present day.  I think.  He manages to pack more nonsense per square word than ever before, and even Street’s paltry 2000 or so words are too many.  One star.

One Into Two, by J. T. McIntosh, is something of an improvement: quick and pleasant reading.  However, if the best story you can make of a matter transmitter/duplicator is a “perfect crime” piece, you’re not thinking too hard.  Three stars.

I’d call Walter H. Kerr’s Gruesome Discovery at the 242nd St. Feeding Station the least kind of doggerel, but I happen to like canines.  I’ll just give it one star and leave it at that.

Pirate Island, by Czech Josef Nesvadba, is a reprint from behind the Iron Curtain.  I rather enjoyed this bitter tale of a frustrated privateer in the era of Morgan.  Something about its lyrical irony appealed.  Nothing at all of the stodginess I rather expected from the Eastern Bloc.  Four stars. 

Jesus Christ seems to be a popular topic this month, He having also made an appearance in Amazing’s …And it was Good.  In Richard Matheson’s The Traveller, a professor journeys back to Golgotha with the intention of simply taking notes, but becomes compelled to save the hapless martyr.  It grew on me in retrospect, as much Matheson does.  Four stars.

We take a bit of a plunge then, quality-wise.  Ward Moore is a long-time veteran of F&SF, and his last story, The Fellow who married the Maxill Girl was a poetic masterpiece.  Rebel, a twist on the newly minted “Generation Gap,” but with the roles reversed, isn’t.  Two stars.

Barry Stevens’ Window to the Whirled, like Ballard’s lead piece, is overwrought and underrealized.  It’s a hybrid of Clifton’s Star Bright (geniuses will themselves cross-wise across time and space) and Jones’ The Great Gray Plague (only by leaving boring ol’ science behind can one be free), and I really wanted to like it…but I didn’t.  Two stars.

Even Isaac Asimov’s science fact article, Superficially Speaking, about the comparative surface areas of the solar system’s celestial bodies, is lackluster this month.  Of course, even bland Asimov is pretty good reading.  Three stars.

Lewis Turco has a few poetic snippets ostensibly from the mouths of robots in Excerpts from the Latterday Chronicle.  They are in English; they are not long.  And this ends what I have to say about them.  Two stars.

Novice Matthew Grass offers up The Snake in the Closet, a story that presents exactly what’s on the tin, and yet is clearly a metaphor for…something, I’m sure.  Not a bad first effort, and some may find it poignantly relevant.  Three stars.

All of this is but frivolous preamble to the jewel of this issue.  Edgar Pangborn is a fellow who has been too long away from the sff digests, and his The Golden Horn is one of those perfect stories, at once gritty and beautiful.  Set in post-WW3 America. It is a tale of friendship and betrayal, love and lost innocence, lusterless life and sublime sonority.  It’s just that good, okay?  Five stars.

So went February 1962, and F&SF, with its final score of 2.8 stars, ends up tied with Fantastic and Galaxy (though it gets distinction for having the best story).  Analog, at 2.1 stars, was the worst.  Amazingly, Amazing was the best with 3.3 stars.  Some of you may disagree with this judgment (I know Pawn of the Black Fleet was not to everyone’s taste) but I stand by John Boston’s judgment, both because I must, and because our tastes have proven not to be too different.

Of 33 fiction pieces, just one was woman-penned.  A sad state that no doubt contributed to this month’s comparative dip on the star-o-meter.  However, it looks like Zenna Henderson and Mildred Clingerman will publish next month, so that’s something to look forward to. 

Stay tuned for the next Ace Double and January’s space race round-up!

[Dec. 30, 1961] Finishing Strong (January 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

At the end of a sub-par month, I can generally count on The Magazine and Science Fiction to end things on a positive note.  F&SF has been of slightly declining quality over the past few years, but rarely is an issue truly bad, and this one, for January 1962, has got some fine works inside.

Christmas Treason, by Ulsterian peacenik James White, starts things off with a literal bang as a gang of toddler espers attempt to save Christmas with the help of the world’s nuclear arsenal.  It’s nothing I haven’t seen Sturgeon do before, but it is charming and effective.  Four stars.

Kate Wilhelm has made a name for herself in the past several years, being a regular contributor to many science fiction magazines, Sadly, A Time to Keep, about a fellow with a pathological aversion to doorways, does not make much sense.  Not one of her better tales.  Two stars.

Every so often, some wag will write a “clever” piece on the need to send girls to service man astronauts on the long journeys to Mars.  Jay Williams’ Interplanetary Sex is the latest, and it’s as awful as the rest.  Casual reference to rape?  Check.  Stereotypical portrayal of married couples (henpecked husband and nagging shrew wife)?  Check.  It’s the sort of thing that will provide ample archaeological data on this era 55 years from now, but offers little else in value. 

HOWEVER, there are a few paragraphs near the end depicting a sentient cell’s mitosis written in florid romance novel style, and it’s genuinely funny.  You can skip to it…and skip the rest.  Two stars.

Maria Russell’s The Deer Park appears to be her first story, and it’s a fine freshman effort.  It effectively (albeit in an often difficult-to-parse manner) depicts a decadent future humanity entrapped in fantasy worlds of individual creation.  It’s hard to break out of a gilded cage, and the outside world is sometimes no improvement.  Three stars.

Ron Goulart’s occult detective, Max Kearney, is back in Please Stand By.  This time,the private dick has been enlisted by a hapless were-Elephant, the victim (or beneficiary?) of a magic spell.  It’s a charming story, and Goulart has an excellent talent for writing without exposition.  Four stars.

I didn’t much care for Asimov’s science column this month, The Modern Demonology.  The subject of Maxwell’s Demon, that metaphorical creature who can trade energetic for lazy atoms across two buckets such that one gets cold and one gets hot, is a good one.  However, the Good Doctor than meanders into philosophical territory, positing the existence of an evolutionary equivalent, a “Darwin’s Demon,” and it’s just sort of a muddy mess.  Three Stars.

Newcomer Nils T. Peterson is back with Prelude to a Long Walk, a somber short story about a static man in a growing world.  Not really science fiction, but memorable all the same.  Four stars.

Progress, by Poul Anderson, is a long-awaited sequel to The Sky People, both set in a post-apocalyptic future in which several nations of the world struggle toward modern civilization.  They are hampered both by a critical lack of resources, fossil fuels and metals, but also a fear of duplicating the catastrophe that threw them into a new Stone Age. 

Our heroes are once again representatives of the Polynesian Federation, if not the most technically advanced, probably the most progressive socially.  Ranu Makintairu and Alisabeta Kanukauai make charming protagonists, but Progress reads like a watered down vignette of Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.  It also has that smugly superior tone I associate with Analog.  Three stars.

The issue wraps up with a inconsequential poem, To the Stars by heretofore unknown James Spencer.  To discuss it further would take more words than Mr. Spencer wrote.  Two stars.

That wraps up magazines for this month, and boy is there a lot to compare!  F&SF was the clear winner, clocking in at 3.1 stars.  IF was number #2 at 2.9.  Cele Goldsmith’s mags, Fantastic and Amazing tied at 2.5 stars, and Analog finished at a dismal 2.3 stars.

Each of the mags, save for Amazing, had at least one 4-star story in it.  I give the nod for best piece to Piper’s Naudsonce, though Christmas Treason is close.  Out of 28 pieces of fiction, a scant two were written by women (and if we’re just including the Big Three, as I have in the past, then the ratio is still bad: two out of eighteen).  On the other hand, two of the five magazines were edited by a Ms. Goldsmith, so there’s something.

Next up, Ms. Benton reviews the latest Blish novel!

[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!

[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.

[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.