Tag Archives: isaac asimov

[February 20, 1963] A merry chase (March 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

[While you’re reading this article, why not tune in to KGJ, Radio Galactic Journey, playing all the current hits: pop, rock, soul, folk, jazz, country — it’s real now, man…]


by Gideon Marcus

If you’ve been reading the papers this week, you’ve no doubt been avidly following the improbable trip of the Anzoategui.  This Venezuelan freighter was hijacked by Communist dissidents who wanted to embarrass Venezuelan prime minister Betancourt such that he wouldn’t visit the United States.  Several navies chased the purloined vessel as it steamed ’round the eastern hump of South America, ultimately finding sanctuary in Brazil.

The editorial helm of F&SF was recently taken over by Avram Davidson, and like the poor freighter, the magazine has been a captive to its new master and his whims.  Quality has declined steeply, and were it not for Asimov’s article and the excellent tale at the end, this issue would barely be fit to warm a stove.

But, those two pieces are the saving grace of the March 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction

Seven Day’s Wonder, by Edward Wellen

This un-shocking tale of an electric New Testament missionary will fail to galvanize you, either with its ponderous pace or its puny puns.  Honestly, this is the sort of thing Avram Davidson (now F&SF‘s editor) used to make work.  Sadly neither Wellen nor Davidson are Davidson anymore.  two stars.

The Day After Saturation, by D. K. Findlay

If overpopulation compel us to settle the seas, is de-evolution toward our aquatic ancestry the next inevitable phase?  Probably not, and this, Findlay’s first work, is overwrought.  Two stars.

The Sky of Space, by Karen Anderson

Not a bad poem on the changing understanding but unchanging characteristics of outer space.  Three stars.

The Question, by Donald E. Westlake and Laurence M. Janifer

Hot enough for you?  Be careful what you take for granted.  It might just disappear.  Three stars.

The Importance of Being Important, by Calvin Demmon

Second in a matched pair on solipsism (also from a new author), it explores the perfect life of a fellow whose existence is merely another’s convenience.  Pointless.  Two stars.

The Journey of Ten Thousand Miles, by Will Mohler

It’s the end of the world, and Tyson St. J Tyson III desperately wants to leave his tomb of a house and go on a sea cruise — only the sea isn’t there anymore.  Three pages of a story inflated five-fold to no one’s profit.  One star.

Captain Honario Harpplayer, R.N., by Harry Harrison

Overblown, unfunny pastiche of C. S. Foreseter’s work.  I’ve often said that I have trouble distinguishing Harrison and Laumer, but Laumer is funnier when he tries.  1 star.

Game for Motel Room, by Fritz Leiber

When a three-brained, too-silky centenarian beauty with a homicidal husband comes a flirtin’, best you send her packing sooner rather than later.  Decently written, but disturbing and kind of dumb.  Two stars.

You, Too, Can Speak Gaelic, by Isaac Asimov

I love pieces on etymology, and the Good Doctor does a fine job of explaining the (not) Celtic roots of para-dimethylaminobenzaldehyde.  Four stars.

Zack With His Scar, by Sydney Van Scyoc

When the world of the future is perfect, the only imperfect thing…is you.  And the only therapy is being saddled with someone worse.  I don’t know that I liked this story, but I found it interesting.  Three stars.

Hunter, Come Home, by Richard McKenna

I put off reading the final novelette for days, given how lackluster the rest of the issue had been.  But this story makes up for them all.  It’s sort of a cross between Deathworld and Hothouse — a planet with a single, planet-spanning and omnivariate lifeform is under attack by a group of rapacious colonists bent on scouring the native biome and replacing it with terrestrial plants and animals.  The rationale of the invaders is plausible (if distasteful), the depiction of the native life is profound, and the characterization is superb.  Five stars.

And there you have it.  Mediocrity and downright lousiness followed by a burst of talent.  Let’s hope Asimov and McKenna don’t disembark at Brazil, never to be seen again…

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Your ballot should have arrived by now…]




[January 17, 1963] Things of Beauty (February 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

The beautiful and talented Betty White turned 41 today.  Of what is this apropos?  Nothing in particular.  Just a piece of pleasant news amidst all the Asian war talk and tax cut squabbling and racial disharmony one must contend with in the paper and on the TV.  Ms. White is always so charming and cheerful, but in an intelligent (not vapid) way.  She reminds me, in her own way, of Mrs. Traveler, this column’s esteemed editor.  Though she, like Jack Benny, stopped aging at 39…

One entity that has not stopped aging, and whose aging I have whinged upon quite frequently, is Fantasy and Science Fiction, a magazine now in its 14th year and third editor.  Editor Avram Davidson has given me a decent issue this time around, for which I am grateful.  See if you enjoy the February 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction as much as I did…

The Riddle Song, by Vance Aandahl

Young Mr. Aandahl continues to, after an auspicious beginning, produce stuff that disappoints.  I’m not sure of the point of this tale, about an old besotted bum with poems for anecdotes.  Perhaps you’ll get the reference — I didn’t.  Two stars.

Counter Security, by James White

Ah, now this is what I read sf for.  This largely autobiographical piece features a young, underemployed night watchman in a British department store who must solve the mystery of (what appears to be) a spiteful, peppermint chewing, floor-spitting, Black-hating skulker before the staff quit en masse from worry and fear.  I finished this novelette in one sitting on the beach at Waimea as the sun rose, and I’m not sure a more perfect half hour was ever spent.  Five stars.

Punk’s Progress, by Robert Wallsten

A take on The Rake’s Progress with a decidedly modern tone.  Nothing new, but the journey is fun.  Three stars.

Gladys’s Gregory, by John Anthony West

A Modest Proposal meets marriage in suburbia.  A wicked piece, but kind of fun.  Three stars.

The Nature of the Place, by Robert Silverberg

Ever wonder where you go when you die?  What if your own personal hell is more of the same?  Of course, being a cup is half full sort of guy, that sounds more like the other place to me.  But I understand Silverbob is the melancholy type.  Three stars.

The Jazz Machine, by Richard Matheson

Don’t let the poetic layout fool you — this is pure prose, but Matheson turns it into a song.  A harsh Blues song tinged with the pain of the oppressed.  Four stars.

The Lost Generation, by Isaac Asimov

In which the Good Doctor sidesteps his lack of knowledge of “Information Retrieval” to discuss the importance of networking — and recognizing opportunity when it bites you in the hinder.  It’s about this history of the Theory of Evolution, by the way.  Four stars.

The Pleiades, by Otis Kidwell Burger

When immortality and beauty are universal, it takes a most unusual girlie show to make an impact.  This is the first story by Ms. Burger I really liked.  Four stars.

Satan Mekatrig, by Israel Zangwill

…and then the magazine slides downhill.  The bulk of the last quarter is taken up with this reprint from 1899, in which a hunchbacked Lucifer tempts the pious Moshe from his orthodoxy.  It’s not bad, but it is dated and doesn’t really belong in this magazine (though I can see why it appeals to Davidson).  Two stars.

Peggy and Peter Go to the Moon, by Don White

A trifle, written like a children’s story but barbed like a cactus.  Fine for what it is, but not my thing.  Two stars.

3.1 stars!  It doesn’t sound like much, but given F&SF‘s recent slump, this is a breath of fresh air.  Plus, five-star stories are quite rare.  Do check it out.

And, if you get the chance, come out this weekend for ConDor, a San Diego SFF convention at which yours truly will be presenting both Saturday and Sunday (the latter is the Galactic Journey panel). 

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Check your mail for instructions…]




[December 24, 1962] The Year 2 A.D. (After Davidson – the January 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Trends are tricky things.  They require multiple data points to become apparent, and even then, careful analysis may be required to draw a proper conclusion.

I think I can safely say, however, that one-plus year into Avram Davidson’s tenure as editor of F&SF, the magazine’s quality has trended sharply and consistently downward.  Stories tend toward the obtuse, the purple, the (and this surprises me) hackneyed.  It’s just not the sublime lyric beauty it used to be.

Why is this?  Let’s explore some possible explanations:

1) F&SF can’t get good writers anymore.

This clearly isn’t true.  The Table of Contents of any given issue reads like a who’s who of the genre.

2) Nobody is writing good sf anymore.

Demonstrably false.  Just look at the other mags.

3) The good writers save their best stuff for other magazines

This could be true, but given that F&SF pays some of the best rates (for science fiction anyway – three or four cents a word), I’d can’t image F&SF is a second-resort mag.

4) Davidson’s editorial preferences are driving the direction of F&SF.

A ha.  Davidson has been a writer of sf for many a year, and the trend in his writing has been toward the obscure and the prolix.  It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Davidson style creep into his magazine.  One trend I find particularly disturbing is the disappearance of women from F&SF’s pages.  This magazine used to be the stand-out leader in publishing of woman authors, and its pages were better for it.  Now, female writers been conspicuously absent for two issues, and there had been fewer than normal in the months prior.  Nor can one argue that women are leaving the genre — F&SF’s loss is the gain for the other digests.

The inevitable destination of this downward trend, the limit of quality as the time of Davidson’s tenure goes to infinity, as it were, appears to be zero stars.  Sure, there are still stand-out issues, but they come fewer and farther between.  And the January 1963 F&SF isn’t one of them…

The Golden Brick, P. M. Hubbard

The issue starts off well enough with this story of a Cornish ghost ship, imprisoned in which is a four hundred year old mad Alchemist with the Midas touch.  The tale is nicely crafted and atmospheric, but stories like this have been a dime a dozen in this mag.  Competent writing and imagery aren’t enough.  Three stars.

Zap! and La Difference, Randall Garrett

Ugh.  Go away, Randy.

Dragon Hunt, L. Sprague de Camp

De Camp’s life is the stuff of legends, as shows this essay on the globetrotting he undertook to familiarize himself with the locales of his recent historical fiction.  The piece contains tidbits of genuine interest, but the presentation is somehow lackluster.  Three stars.

Myths My Great-Granddaughter Taught Me, Fritz Leiber

In which the author’s precocious descendant notes the frightening parallels between the Cold War of the 1980s and Ragnarok of Norse Myth.  This is the best story of the magazine, but again, we’re treading familiar ground.  A minor piece from a major author.  Three stars.  (Happy 52nd birthday, by the way, Fritz.)

He’s Not My Type!, Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor’s non-fiction articles always get read first, but I was disappointed this time around.  Perhaps it’s because I felt Asimov explained blood types better in his recent book, The Living River, or maybe Davidson’s too-barbed introduction put me in a bad mood (I must stop reading those first).  In any event, it is readable, which is the worst Asimov ever gets.  Three stars.

Way-Station, Henry Slesar

Imagine Zenna Henderson wrote a The People story, but rather than have it end in poignance, instead wrote a stock “horror” ending that one could see a mile away.  That’s what scriptwriter Slesar offers up.  Where is Henderson, anyway?  Two stars.

Punch, Frederik Pohl

Pohl is a busy boy – not only does he edit two mags (three, come early next year), but he finds time to be published in all of them and Davidson’s.  In Punch, it turns out that the many technological gifts of the newly encountered galaxy-spanning aliens have a sinister motivation.  It would have made a decent, if typical, episode of The Twilight Zone.  Three stars.

Speakeasy, Mack Reynolds

Last up is a short novel from a fellow who is typically featured in AnalogSpeakeasy depicts a future in which society has been stultified by success, a meritocracy that has calcified thanks to nepotism and inertia.  Only a few revolutionaries remain to shock life into the decaying culture of the Technocracy. 

Reynolds can do very good political thriller, viz. Mercenary from last year’s Analog.  Unfortunately, Speakeasy is a rambling, naive mess that jumps the tracks about halfway through and runs headlong into a wall near the end.  I wonder if Analog’s editor Campbell rejected it.  If so, I wonder why Davidson accepted it.  It doesn’t really fit F&SF, either the current or past iterations of the magazine.  Two stars.

So there you have it, an issue that clocks in at a miserable 2.3 stars.  Even Davidson seems to agree that his stuff hasn’t been very good – check out the scathing letter at the end of the mag (which may or may not have come from Davidson’s pen, itself).  No more “purple cows,” indeed.

Ah well.  That’s enough kvetching for this season.  It’s Christmas Eve, as well as the fourth night of Hannukah.  Go light a candle, illuminate a tree, drink some eggnog.  Or as a recent fancard admonishes, let there be “Goodwill to mellow fen.”

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[November 19, 1962] Reverse Course (December 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

I’ve complained bitterly in this column on the meanderings of my favorite science fiction magazines.  Galaxy has gotten too tame.  Analog has gotten too staid.  F&SF has gotten too literary.  In fact, just last month, I was lamenting the streak of purple fluffiness that had corrupted that last mag.  Story after story of unreadable droll nothings, or at best, fantastic horrors without any hard sf.

The December 1962 issue did not promise to be any better.  It has the same line-up of authors, the same subject matter of stories.  There are even 11000…er.. 24 pages devoted to the concept of binary numbers.  Has F&SF lost its mind?!

So imagine my surprise to find that I actually enjoyed this month’s issue, entirely due to the well-written nature of its material.  These are not the kind of stories I prefer, but this experience just goes to show that high quality trumps subject matter.  See if you agree:

The Depths, by Jim Harmon

The fastest route between two points is a straight line, so what better way to navigate the globe than through it?  One hardly even needs a locomotive force since one can simply fall to a destination.  Of course, there is the minor issue of building the shaft, but such trivialities are hand-waved in this pleasant, deliberately archaic tale of a trans-Terranian vessel that gets stuck half-way down.  Three stars.

Behind the Stumps, by Russell Kirk

I didn’t much care for Kirk’s ghost story in the last issue, and this one is in the same vein.  It is so nicely drawn and tautly composed, however, that I found myself engrossed.  In brief: fussy, meticulous census worker heads to the backwoodsiest of Appalachian towns determined to count every farmer, even those whose tie to the Earth is limited at best.  Suitably horrific, vividly realized.  Four stars.

Senhor Zumbeira’s Leg, by Felix Marti-Ibanez

In a time when the depiction of sex in our genre ranges from prudish nonexistence to Garrett-esque chauvinism, it’s nice to get a happy-go-lucky romp filled with equally game and enabled men and women.  This spicy Latin adventure features the Zumbeira family, father and son, who are motivated by comfort and cross-gender relationships.  When the ne’er-do-well son embarks on a journey to find a new prosthesis for his one-legged father, aided by a sorceress’ magic charm guaranteed to bring luck, amusing hijinx ensue.  All’s well that ends well, and the journey is good, too.  Four stars.

One, Ten, Buckle My Shoe, by Isaac Asimov

Only Asimov can wax pedantic on a dull subject and make the experience enjoyable.  I mean, it’s a piece about a counting system in which there are only two digits!  But if we’re going to get along with computers, I suppose we’d best learn the drill now.  Four stars.

On Binary Digits and Human Habits, by Frederik Pohl

Galaxy, IF, and (soon) Worlds of Tomorrow editor makes an unusual appearance in a competitor magazine with this piece on how to easily convey binary numbers verbally.  What at first seems a pointless exercise turns out actually to be kind of interesting – the first time through, I had a strong desire to throw the magazine against the wall; and then I got it and re-read with some fascination.  Three stars this time, but don’t do it again, please.

Ad Infinitum, by Sasha Gilien

Freud put much stock in the symbolism of dreams.  Gilien takes things a few steps further, positing that there is an entire studio devoted to the production and innovation of said symbols.  A fantastic idea somewhat neutered by its gimmick ending.  Three stars.

Roofs of Silver, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can cultures devolve?  And if they can, what is the measuring stick?  Dickson sets up a universe where Terra’s colonies have a habit of reverting to savagery, replacing conscience with taboo, morality with hidebound custom.  Roofs spotlights one world on the verge of such a fall, and the lengths one of its inhabitants goes to thwart it.

There’s nothing wrong with the writing in this piece; when Dickson’s on his game (and he certainly is here), he is one of the genre’s more sensitive and interesting authors.  No, the only real failing of this piece is its utter predictability.  Four stars.

The Notary and the Conspiracy, by Henri Damonti (translation by Damon Knight)

Some people really live a double life – the problem comes when one chooses to live out that second span in a high-profile and highly dangerous historical position!  A fun piece, but it’s one of Knight’s more opaque translations.  Three stars.

In sum, this month’s issue scored a respectable 3.5 stars.  I am left with a sense of bemused puzzlement.  Did editor Davidson finally turn his ship around?  Did all of the insufferable frivolity get used up by Galaxy?  Or is this simply the bounce of a dead cat, and I can expect a return to form in the new year?

As my wife is wont to say, “Don’t borrow trouble.”  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!




[Oct. 17, 1962] It’s Always Darkest… (The November 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Ah F&SF.  What happened to one of my very favorite mags?  That’s a rhetorical question; Avram Davidson happened.  The new editor has doubled down on the magazine’s predilection for whimsical fantasy with disastrous (to me) results.  Not only that, but it’s even featuring fewer woman authors now than Amazing, of all mags.  I am shaking my head, wishing this was all some Halloween-inspired nightmare.  But no.  Here it is in black and white with a forty cent price tag.  Come check out this month’s issue…but don’t say I didn’t warn you:

The Secret Flight of the Friendship Eleven, by Alfred Connable

We all know astronauts are lantern-jawed, steely eyed, terse test-pilots.  Great for getting the job done, not so great for poetic inspiration.  Eleven is the tale of a corps of artistic types selected specifically so as to describe their journeys in more approachable terms.  But space has the last laugh.

Every so often, a brand new author knocks one out of the park on the first at bat.  This is not one of those cases.  For satire to work, it has to be clever, and this is just mundanely droll.  One star.

Sorworth Place, by Russell Kirk

It’s October, so ghost stories are thoroughly appropriate.  This one, however, set in a battered Scottish castle, is neither original nor particularly engaging.  Two stars.

Card Sharp, by Walter H. Kerr

I really have no idea what Kerr’s poem is about.  Even Davidson’s explanation is no help.  One star.

Hop-Friend, by Terry Carr

Thus begins about twenty pages of relative quality, an island of the old F&SF in a sea of lousiness.  Newish author Carr finds his feet with this sensitive and striking tale of first contact between Human and Martian.  Introverts can never fathom extroverts, and similarly, xenophobes find xenophiles, well, alien!  But extroverted xenophiles, even from different species, are birds of a feather.  Four stars (even if Carr’s Mars conforms more to older theories of the Red Planet’s atmosphere).

Pre-Fixing it Up, by Isaac Asimov

How many rods in a furlong?  How many grains in a pennyweight?  I have no idea…and with the metric system, it doesn’t matter.  The Good Doctor explains the ins, outs, and many merits of the new standard that lets you measure everything from an atom to a universe with a series of easily manipulated units.  Four stars.

Landscape With Sphinxes, by Karen Anderson

Back into the sea with a Sphinx-themed riddle: What earns four stars at its prime, two stars when it doesn’t try, and three stars most of the time?  The Anderson family of writers.  No matter how good an author one is, it takes more than a promising beginning to make a story.  Two stars for this third of a vignette.

Protect Me from My Friends, by John Brunner

There is a fine line between innovation and illegibility.  I read Brunner’s first person account of an overwhelmed telepath twice (it’s short), and I still don’t like it.  Two stars.

You Have to Know the Tune, by Reginald Bretnor

Another half tale from the fellow we know better as Grendel Briarton (of Feghoot “fame” — and that entry is truly bad this month).  Industrialist on the way to Africa hears a tale of the pied bassoonist of the veldt only to find it’s likely no legend.  Trivial.  Two stars.

The Journey of Joenes (Part 2 of 2), by Robert Sheckley

As any of my readers knows, no greater fan of Robert Sheckley walks the Earth.  His short stories are funny, thought-provoking, chilling, clever — by turns or all at once.  In the last decade, he wrote enough to fill six excellent collections, none of which will ever leave my library.

Where he falters is novels.  Somehow, Sheckley can’t keep the pace for 150 consecutive pages, and the result is, while never bad, never terrific.  Cases in point: Time Killer and The Status Civilization.  Bob seems to be cognizant of this weakness.  In his latest book, The Journey of Joenes he attempts to overcome it by writing a novel composed of short, somewhat independent narratives.  The result is something that is, to my mind, no more successful than his previous book-length works.  You may, of course, disagree.

Joenes is a pure satire, putatively written in a post-apocalyptic 30th Century Polynesian.  It details the life of Joenes, an American-born Tahitian power engineer, who is one of the few to survive the worldwide cataclysm.  The tale is told by others: Polynesian historians; excerpts from the memoirs of Joenes’ beatnik companion, Lum; edifying tales recorded anonymously. 

There is a plot — Joenes comes to the United States, winds up before a Court on the charge of sedition, is sentenced to a mental hospital for the Criminally Insane, flees to become a professor of Polynesian Cultural Studies, goes into government, and ultimately escapes nuclear anhilation.  This, however, isn’t the point.  Rather, we see our own modern culture through a mirror darkly, distorted not just as a satire of our society, but of legend in general.  The history of the United States is mixed liberally with that of Ancient Greece.  Historical and mythical personages are referenced with equal frequency.  It’s effectively done, essentially doing for 20th Century America what Homer did for 12th Century B.C. Greece.

Joenes is clearly an attempt by the author to make the philosophical treatise for the 1960s, the equivalent of Stranger in a Strange Land or Venus Plus X.  The satire is approachable, even for the layman, and there is some sex in it.  Whether it succeeds wildly like Heinlein’s piece or fizzles like Sturgeon’s, only time will tell. 

I can only speak for myself.  While Sheckley is always readable, I felt that the joke went on too long, particularly in the latter portions.  Perhaps I’m just too close to the subject matter he was aping.  In any event, I give Joenes three stars.  If this kind of thing is your bag, I suspect you’ll rate it more highly.

And that’s that for this month.  More disappointment in 130 pages than I’ve seen in a long time, if ever.  When I do the Galactic Stars next month, I’m certain F&SF won’t be on the list, and that saddens me.  Nevertheless, I hope against hope that this is just a phase, and the once proud digest will someday return to its former glory.  Time will tell…




[September 18, 1962] On the Precipice (October 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Are the times changing?

Summer threatens to change to Fall, and the kids are going off to high school and college.  Is this just another turn of the wheel, or are we on the verge of something different, what Historian of Science Thomas Kuhn might call a new “paradigm?”

I had this feeling once before.  In ’53, right after Korea, and after Stalin died, America seemed poised on the edge of an unprecedented era of stability.  Well, really stagnation.  The pendulum had swung heavily in the direction of conservatism.  Black soldiers had come home from the war and were being treated worse than ever.  Ditto women, who had for a while gotten to enjoy some of the rights of men while they were off to war.  The swing music from the prior two decades had gotten overripe and shmaltzy, only somewhat mitigated by the western, blues, and latin music I was able to tune into on nights with clear reception.  The one truly bright spot was science fiction, which had been booming since the late ’40s.

Then rock and roll hit, and boy was it a breath of fresh air.  Sure, you couldn’t hear Black songs on White stations, but there’s no color bar on the airwaves.  Fragile 78 records gave way to durable 45s.  The vacuum tube started to step aside for the transistor.  We were building the missiles that would soon blast us to orbit.  At the same time, sf started to wane.  We went from forty magazines to six over the course of the decade. 

This, then, has been the recent paradigm.  Here we are nine years later, but Elvis and the Everley Brothers still dominate the airwaves.  A new President has asked us what we could do for our country, not what it could do for us; tasking us to go to the Moon before the decade is out, but Black men must still fight even for the right to go to school or ride a bus in much of the nation.  There are now ten thousand Russian troops in Cuba and ten thousand American soldiers in South Vietnam, but are these transitory brush fires or the tip of a belligerent iceberg?

Are the 1960s going to be a continuation of the 1950s?  Or are we overdue for a new epoch?  You tell me.  I’m no soothsayer. 

I suppose in one way, the shift has already happened.  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has become quite different since new editor Avram Davidson took over earlier this year.  It’s not bad, exactly, but it has meandered even further into the literary zone.  This has rendered one of my favorite mags almost unreadable on occasion.  The October 1962 issue does not have this problem, for the most part, but it’s not great.

Enough dilly-dallying.  Here’s the review:

A Kind of Artistry, by Brian W. Aldiss

The son of a baroque and decadent far future Terra journeys across the galaxy to make contact with a most unusual alien intelligence.  Upon his glorious return, he must decide if he has the strength to break the stultifying conditioning of his inbred upringing.

Aldiss wishes he were Cordwainer Smith, and he just isn’t.  Nevertheless, despite some rough patches, there are some good ideas here.  The extraterrestrial has a wildly implausible biochemistry, but the meeting of species is genuinely gripping.  Three stars.

There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, by Robert F. Young

Overpopulation continues to be the theme of many of our current science fiction stories.  A common concept is the idea that excess population can be shipped to the stars, but as any student of history knows, neither England, Spain, France, Portugal, nor any other country ever became empty as a result of colonization.  We can’t expect spaceships to change that equation. 

Neither does Young.  His story is cute, if one-note, holding our interest for as long as the idea can be stretched.  Three stars.

Twenty-Four Hours in a Princess’s Life, With Frogs, by Don White

What if all the fairy-tale princesses were pals, all living together in Hans Christian Andersonville with intersecting storybook plotlines?  Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel… the whole neurotic gang of them.  Don White explores that possiblity in a clever, funny piece that makes me hope that Disney never tries to combine its franchises.  What a mess that would be!  Four stars.

Inquest in Kansas (A Modern American Ballad) by Hyacinth Hill

The unknown Ms. Hill (I understand she may be Virginia Anderson) has a poetic piece about a woman seduced from her home and family by a unicorn.  Whether you find it horrifying or liberating depends on how you infer her life history.  Two stars, as it didn’t grab me.

Measure My Love, by Mildred Clingerman

What a fascinating, almost excellent, but ultimately disappointing piece this was.  Dodie is a youngish spinster whose actress cousin, Althea, has a penchant for melodramatic love affairs.  When Althea’s irresistible romantic nature meets the immovable, unwinnable affections of a married man, Dodie takes her cousin to the local witch, Maude, to cure her of her of broken heart.  Turns out the “witch” is more than meets the eye, but it’s an open question whether or not her panoply of equipment can remedy Althea’s condition. 

Clingerman is one of the most seasoned veterans our field, and her work has a pleasantly old-fashioned tone to it — appropriate both for the era (just post-war) and the protagonist portrayed.  The story moves you along the plot, slowly unfolding things to maintain your interest.  What hurt Measure for me was that, near the end, Maude mentions that she might also be able to cure Dodie’s “little problem,” hitherto undiscussed but strongly hinted at.  But then the problem turns out to be something completely different from what I expected (given the close relationship of the cousins, and Dodie’s unending patience where things Althea-related are concerned). 

I wonder if I guessed wrong, or if the ending was changed at the editor’s insistence for being a bit too…unconventional.  Either way, it turned a four-star story into a three-star one.  I’m probably being unfair, but unsatisfying endings sit poorly with me.

Slow Burn, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor touches on one of my favorite scientific topics — the theory of Phlogiston and how its research eventually led to the discovery of oxygen.  It’s one of those fascinating models that almost but not quite got things right, like impetus theory in the 13th Century ultimately led to the concept of momentum.  I mentioned Kuhn’s “paradigms” earlier, and Phlogiston is a perfect example of the concept.  Four stars.

The Unfortunate Mr. Morky, by Vance Aandahl

One of my readers once said that Mr. Aandahl really wants to be Ray Bradbury.  Surely, there must be loftier goals.  In any event, this incomprehensible piece about the connection between time travel and the profusion of milquetoast personalities isn’t worth your time.  On the other hand, it’s only a few pages, so you might as well see why I gave it only one star (and perhaps you’ll disagree with me).

The Journey of Joenes (Part 1 of 2), by Robert Sheckley

At long last, Bob Sheckley has come back to us.  It’s my understanding that he’s been writing mainstream mysteries and such, which probably pays better than sf.  His latest work, which Editor Davidson says is a hacked up version of the novelized form due out later this year, follows the adventures of Joenes, an American ex-power engineer raised in Polynesia.  His pilgrimage to the Mainland to find his destiny is a series of satirical vignettes told from a foreign and futuristic perspective that turns the story into a kind of dark Canterbury Tales.

It’s a fun read, though I hope there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  Sheckley is better at short stories than novels, so the format plays to his strengths.  I do have to wonder why F&SF prints chopped up novels to fill up half of two consecutive magazines.  I expect that of Ace Doubles, not a high-end digest.  Three stars so far.  We’ll see what happens.

And so we find ourselves on the other side of another issue.  On the face of things, it seems to reinforce the trend that F&SF is in a new and duller era.  Will we soon have enough data points to know if the larger world has changed, too?




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

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


by Gideon Marcus

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

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

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

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

When You Care, When You Love, by Theodore Sturgeon

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

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

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

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

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

Four stars for the set.

They Also Serve, by Evelyn E. Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myrrha, by Gary Jennings

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

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

The Shape of Things, by Isaac Asimov

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

The New You, by Kit Reed

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

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

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

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

These Are the Arts, by James H. Schmitz

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

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

Two stars.

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

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




[July 24, 1962] Comrade Future (More Soviet Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

We hear a lot about the Soviet Union these days, but usually in the form of an unflattering cartoon of Premier Khruschev or photos of people trying to defect from Communism.  Occasionally a hopeful reprinting last year’s meeting between Jack and Niki in Vienna or a scornful reprinting of Khruschev banging his shoe on the United Nations podium.

If we think about the Soviet people, head-scarfed Babushkas, gray-suited apparatchiks, uniformed goose-stepping soldiers, and accordion-playing dancers come to mind.  We just don’t get many glimpses from behind the Iron Curtain.  So when we do get a peek, it’s an exciting opportunity.  For instance, Time-Life just released a new picture-book on Russia, which sheds a little light on a hidden section of the world.

Another surprise is a new collection of Soviet science fiction called (appropriately enough) More Soviet Science Fiction

This book, along with the anthology’s predecessor and the occasional Josef Svebada reprint in Fantasy and Science Fiction, comprises all of the Eastern Bloc sf literature available in English.  As such, it’s difficult to determine if these stories are representative of Soviet sf as a whole, or rather cherry-picked for their intended audience.  There are some commonalities that are suggestive either of a Soviet style, or at least what the editor thinks would appeal to foreigners.  Certainly, there is a kind of mild clunkyness one comes to expect from a less than expert translation, though it never detracts seriously from the reading.  Rather, it just accentuates the foreign nature of the material.

Another universal aspect is the emphasis on explaining the science.  Fully a page or two of each story gets extremely technical; the Soviets eschew more integrated scientific exposition.  It’s almost as if laying out their case in full is a requirement of publication. 

Finally, all of the stories have an edifying component.  They are all parables – whatever entertainment value they may provide, you are supposed to learn from them.  The lessons they teach tell you a lot about the teacher culture.

There are five stories, the first comprising more than half of the book:

The Heart of the Serpent, by Ivan Yefremov

Seven hundred years in the future, humanity’s first faster-than-light ship embarks on a mission to explore Cor Serpentis, a giant orange star 74 light years from Earth.  The time dilation consequences of the ship’s hyperdrive mean that hundreds of years will pass back home before the crew returns.  Yet, the demographically balanced team of enlightened Communists are stoically resigned to doing their duty in service to their species’ destiny.

On the way to their destination, they chance upon an alien vessel.  As extraterrestrials had been theoretical until that point, this promises to be the most significant discovery in the history of space travel.  The crew discuss at length what they expect to find.  One camp believes that two different planets couldn’t possibly produce similar beings.  Another feels that the human form is the natural end-point of evolution, much as Communism is the inevitable destination for all societies.

I’ll let you guess which guess is right…

I do appreciate the overwhelming positivity of the encounter, in contrast to other stories (Yefremov specifically calls out Murray Leinster’s classic, First Contact).  And there is a stately beauty to the piece.  The spaceship and its mission are depicted with a spare elegance that feels futuristic.

Siema, by Anatoly Dnieprov

The most old-fashioned of the pieces is a bit of Pygmalion gone wrong.  An engineer constructs a brilliant robot whose computing power is such that she (it takes on the female gender) becomes a sentient being.  A rather obsessed creature with an unquenchable desire for knowledge untempered by any tinge of morality.  But if this electric Pinocchio can just get a conscience, all will be well.

It is a cute tale that will make you smile, but the lesson is heavy-handed and the plot is out of the 1940s.

The Trial of Tantalus, by Victor Saparin

By the 21st Century, a world led by Soviet science has eradicated every disease.  The few remaining pathogens are kept in a highly secured vault for study.  In Tantalus, one escapes back into the wild, causing a myriad of positive and negative effects that must be gauged to determine their net value.  The moral of this story is that all life has purpose, even the nasty bits.  And Communism will be the key to evaluating that purpose.

Despite the adventure-story trappings of Tantalus, I found this piece the least engaging.  Sort of a creaky Astounding tale from the early 1950s.

Stone from the Stars, by Valentina Zhuravleva

Here is the one woman-penned piece in the book.  I don’t know if Valya’s 20% contribution is representative of gender demographics in Soviet science fiction, but I’m glad the Reds didn’t neglect half of their “equal partners” in Communism.  It is worth noting, however, that even worlds dominated by egalitarian Communism, virtually none of the characters in these stories are women…

Stone is another first-contact tale.  This time, the envoy is a two-meter cylinder encased in a meteorite.  Once again, there is the debate over the potential form of the creature, but the revelation is not nearly as clear-cut as in The Heart of the Serpent.  An interesting, bittersweet piece.

Six Matches, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The last piece involves neutrino-induced psionics.  Yes, the premise is so much handwavium, but that’s not the point.  Rather, it is that its inventor put himself at great personal risk to advance science.  This foolhardy courage of Soviet science is lambasted with words, but praised in subtext.  Perhaps they’ll trot this story out when the first cosmonaut dies.

I did not rate the stories individually because they really hang together as a gestalt.  I can’t say that More Soviet Science Fiction is a great book, but it is an interesting one, and one I dispatched in short order.  And if you’re a fan of Isaac Asimov, also a product of the Soviet Union, you’ll appreciate his introduction.  Call it three stars – more if you’ve got a case (as I do) of xenophilia.

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  A chance to discuss Soviet and American science fiction…and maybe win a prize!)




[July 18, 1962] It Gets Better? (August 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

There’s a war going on in our nation, a war for our souls.

No, I’m not referring to the battle of Democracy versus Communism or Protestants against Catholics.  Not even the struggle between squares and beatniks.  This is a deeper strife than even these.


(from Fanac)

I refer, of course, to the schism that divides science fiction fans.  In particular, I mean the mainstream fans and the literary crowd.  The former far outnumber the latter, at least if the circulation numbers for Analog compared to that of Fantasy and Science Fiction are any indication. 

Devotees of editor Campbell’s Analog, though they occasionally chide the editor’s obsession with things psychic, appreciate the “hard” sf, the focus on adventure, and the magazine’s orthodox style it has maintained since the 1940s.  They have nothing but sneering disdain for the more literary F&SF, and they hate it when its fluffy “feminine” verbosity creeps into “their” magazines.

F&SF, on the other hand, has pretentions of respectability.  You can tell because the back page has a bunch of portraits of arty types singing the magazine’s praises.  Unfortunately for the golden mag (my nickname – cover art seems to favor the color yellow), many of the writers who’ve distinguished themselves have made the jump to the more profitable “slicks” (maintstream magazines) and novels market.  This means that editor Davidson’s mag tends to be both unbearably literate and not very good.

This is a shame because right up to last year, I’d sided with the eggheads.  F&SF was my favorite digest.  On the other hand, I’m not really at home with the hoi polloi Campbell crowd.  Luckily, there is the middle ground of Pohl’s magazines, Galaxy and IF

Nevertheless, there is still usually something to recommend F&SF, particularly Dr. Asimov’s non-fiction articles, and the frequency with which F&SF publishes women (“feminine” isn’t a derogatory epithet for me.)

And in fact, if you can get past the awful awful beginning, there’s good stuff in the August 1962 F&SF:

The Secret Songs, by Fritz Leiber

Leiber is an established figure in the genre, having written some truly great stuff going back to the old Unknown days of the 30s.  He even won the Hugo for The Big Time.  However, Secret Songs, a tale of a drug addled Jack Sprat and wife with countering addictions, won’t win any awards.  It’s not sf, nor is it very interesting.  I give it two stars for creative execution and nothing else.

The Golden Flask, by Kendell Foster Crossen

Boy, is this one a stinker.  Not only does Davidson ruin it with his prefatory comments (I’ve stopped reading them – they are too long by half, inevitably spoil the story, and are never fun to read), but the gotcha of this bloody tale is puerile.  One star.

Salmanazar, by Gordon R. Dickson

Some obtuse tale of the macabre involving magic, Orientalism, and a sinister cat.  Gordy Dickson is one of the better writers…when he wants to be.  He didn’t this time.  One star.

The Voyage Which Is Ended, by Dean McLaughlin

When the century-long trip of a colony ship is over, crew and passengers must struggle with the dramatic change in role and responsibilities.  This somber piece reads like the first chapter of a promising novel that we’ll never get to read.  I did appreciate the theme: a ship’s captain isn’t necessarily best suited to lead a polity beyond a vessel’s metal walls.  Three stars.

Mumbwe Jones, by Fred Benton

A vignette of undying friendship between a White trader and an African witch-doctor…and the vibrant world of sentient creatures, animate and otherwise, with which they interact.  An interesting piece of magic realism a little too insubstantial to garner more than three stars.

The Top, by George Sumner Albee (a reprint from 1953)

Career ad-man receives the promotion he’s always desired, allowing him at last to meet the President of the sprawling industrial combine of which the copywriter is just a valuable cog.  But does the Big Boss run the machine, or are they one and the same?  Another piece that isn’t science fiction, nor really worth your time.  Two stars.

The Light Fantastic, by Isaac Asimov

The good Doctor’s piece on electromagnetic radiation is worth your time.  He devotes a few inches to the brand new “LASERS,” artificially pure light beams that stick to a single wavelength and don’t degrade with distance.  I’ve already seen several articles on this wonder invention, and I suspect they will make them into a clutch of sf stories in the near future.

By the way, the cantankerous has-been Alfred Bester has finally turned in his shingle, resigning from the helm of the book review department.  In an ironic departing screed, he lamented the lack of quality of new sf (not that he’s contributed to that body of work in years), and states that people shouldn’t have been so sensitive to his criticisms.  To illustrate, he closes with the kind of chauvinism we’ve come to expect from Bester:

“A guy complained to a girl that the problem with women was the fact that they took everything that was said personally.  She answered, ‘Well, I sure don’t.'”

Good riddance, Alfred.  Don’t let the turnstile bruise your posterior.

Fruiting Body, by Rosel George Brown

I always look forward to Ms. Brown’s whimsical works, and this outing does not disappoint.  When mycology and the pursuit of women intersect, the result is at once ridiculous, a little chilling, and highly entertaining.  That’s all I’ll give you, save for a four-star rating.

The Roper, by Theodore R. Cogswell and John Jacob Niles

Some pointless doggerel whose meaning and significance escapes this boor of a reader.  One star.

Spatial Relationship, by Randall Garrett

Ugh.  How to keep two space pilots cramped in a little spaceship for years from killing each other?  Give them phantom lovers, of course.  I liked the story much better when it was called Hallucination Orbit (by J.T.McIntosh), and could well have done without the offensive, anti-queer ending.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Two stars.

The Stupid General, by J. T. McIntosh

Speaking of J.T.McIntosh…  The literature is filled with if-only stories where peace-loving aliens are provoked to violence by the hasty actions of a narrow-minded general.  But what if the fellow’s instincts are right?  A good, if not brilliant, story.  Three stars.

What Price Wings?, by H. L. Gold

This is the first I’ve heard from Galaxy’s former editor in a couple of years – I have to wonder if this is something that was pulled from an old drawer.  Anyway, a classic tale of virtue being its own punishment.  It ends predictably, but it gets there pleasantly.  Three stars.

Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman, by Harlan Ellison

Many years ago, on a lark, I translated the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice from an Old English rendition.  Now, in his first appearance in F&SF, Mr. Ellison presents a translation of the tale into hepcat jive.  It’s an effective piece, though heavier on atmosphere than consequence.  Three stars.

The Gumdrop King, by Will Stanton

The issue ends with a fizzle: a youth meets an alien, and incomprehensibility ensues.  I’m not sure that was the result Stanton was aiming for.  Two stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LIII, by Grendal Briarton

Oh, and the Feghoot pun this time is just dreadful.  Not in a good way.

Good grief.  Doing the calculations, we find this issue only got 2.4 stars.  It’s definitely a favorite for worst mag of the month, and indicative of momentum toward worst mag of the year.  Those philistines who subscribe to Analog are going to win after all…

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  You’ll have a chance to win a copy of F&SF – not this issue, I promise!)




[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: