Tag Archives: j.f. bone

[Apr. 25, 1962] And Justice for All… (J.F. Bone’s The Lani People)


by Gideon Marcus

There’s a change a comin’.  I’m sure you’ve seen heralds of its passage.  Last summer, hundreds of Whites and Blacks took to the buses and rode into the South, flouting the segregated busing laws.  Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are rallying their brethren to fight centuries of oppression.  For the first time, the Democrats look to be out-Civil Rightsing the Republicans (who would have predicted that in 1948?) Yes, the country is heading toward a long overdue shift, a final resolution of the crisis born in the original Constitution and only half-fought in the bloodiest war of American history. 

It’s no surprise, then, that we’re seeing this war play out in science fiction as well as reality.  Speculative literature constitutes our thought experiments, letting us see worlds like ours, but with allegorical players or, perhaps, a great time shift.  Some authors approach the topic tangentially, for instance depicting Blacks as fully integrated in a future setting.  Others, approach the subject head-on.

SF author J.F. Bone is a bit of a cipher.  I have almost no biographical information about him.  I do know that he started writing a few years ago, and his works have a certain thoughtfulness that elevates it above the run of the mill.  His recent Founding Father was a fascinating look into the mindset of a slavemaster, made particularly chilling by its light tone.

Bone’s latest work is a novel called The Lani People.  It is a more straightforward investigation of prejudice and discrimination, set 5000 years in the future.  It is the tale of Kennon, a veterinarian contracted to provide medical services for the herds of planet Kardon.  To the animal doctor’s surprise, one of the herded species is the Lani, a breed of biped virtually indistinguishable from human beings save for their tails.  Yet, despite their obvious intelligence and clear resemblance to people, they are legally animals thanks to a centuries-old judgment on their status.

The result is as horrible as you would expect, with the Lani subjugated, regulated, and degraded creatures, the cruelty of their plight accentuated by the indifference with which it is perpetrated.  It is obvious to the reader that no sapient should be treated this way, and certainly no human.  And yet, the blinkered Galactic society cannot tolerate as equals even the slightly different.

The situation is made even more complicated for the conflicted Kennon – he falls in love with the brilliant Lani named Copper (and she with him).  Yet he cannot even think to express his feelings.  It is only when he begins to substantiate his hunch that the Lani really are human that he can open his heart to her.  But then, of course, that just opens the bigger can of worms: how do you right such a horrible injustice?

What I find interesting about Kennon is that he can’t initially make the jump to appreciate all sentient life as equals.  He can’t love Copper for who she is, regardless of race.  Rather, he must instead prove that Copper is a human being before he allows himself to love her.  Nevertheless, by the end of the book, he recognizes the small-mindedness of that specist view:

“Our minds are still the minds of barbarians—blood brothers against the enemy, and everything not of us is enemy. Savages—hiding under a thin veneer of superficial culture. Savages with spaceships and the atom.”

One can’t help draw parallels with our current race relations environment.  This nation still has a long way to go toward realizing “the proposition that all men are created equal.”  There is still a sizable portion of our population that maintains that dark skin is somehow a mark of inferiority, even though it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that human blood is human blood regardless of the color of its package.  That deeply ingrained bias won’t disappear immediately just because it isn’t supported by evidence.  In this regard, The Lani People is ultimately over-optimistic, even naive, in its resolution. 

Laudable subject matter aside, you probably want to know how the book reads.  Well, it’s good.  Bone’s never turned out anything poorly done, to my knowledge.  I think I would have enjoyed more of the veterinary aspects of the story in the first half (Bone is a Dr. of Veterinary science up in Oregon); it’s a kind of science one doesn’t often see portrayed.  There are some bits of the romance when both Copper and Kennon wrestle with their inability to express affection that feel almost Burroughsian (read the end of any Edgar Rice Burroughs novel and you’ll understand).  The characterization is somewhat expository.  The theme of the story is subtly conveyed in the first half, more heavy-handedly delivered in the latter.

Nevertheless, it’s a solid work, and it may make people think.  Kennon’s journey is one we all should and must take if we ever want there to be harmony on Earth.  And harmony on Earth surely must be a prerequisite for harmony with whomever we find amongst the stars.

3.5 stars.

[March 10, 1962] Mail Call! (The April 1962 Galaxy)


by Gideon Marcus

If there is any true measure of fame, it might well be the amount of fan mail you get.  Many stars employ services to plow through their truckloads and give each missive personal response.  Jack Benny came out on his TV stage last night holding a giant sack of fan mail – of course, it was really filled with trash and old cans… 

Galactic Journey’s popularity lies somewhere inbetween; we do get our fair share of postcards, but I haven’t needed to hire help to read them…yet.  Truth be told, it was for these correspondences that I started this column.  I love meeting you folk – you start the most interesting conversations! 

Science fiction magazines get letters, too.  Many of these digests feature letter columns: Analog, IF, Amazing, and Fantastic.  The two notable hold-outs are Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy.  I suspect the main reason for F&SF is lack of space, it being the shortest of the monthly mags.

Galaxy‘s reasoning is more complex.  In fact, its editors (first H.L. Gold, now Fred Pohl) have polled readers to see if they wanted a lettercol.  In the last 12 years’ of the magazine’s existence, the answer has always been no.  Ironically, as much as I love talking to fellow fans, I think I’m in agreement (though I do like letters in comic books).  More room for stories!

Speaking of which…have a look at the stories that came out in this month’s quite good Galaxy, dated April 1962:

A Planet for Plundering, by Jack Williamson

Things start a bit slowly with our lead novella.  Wain Scarlet is an anachronism – an atavistic maladjust in an interstellar society of humans.  Where his countrymen are universally beautiful in form and thought, Scarlet is ugly and venal.  Dispatched to the remote star system of Sol to determine whether or not to melt the Earth to use as a galactic stoplight, his sole concern is which of the parties involved can bribe him the most.  Even the revelation that the third planet of the system may well be the ancestral home of humanity means little to him.

Jack Williamson has been around a long time, and his pulpish instincts often creep to the fore in this tale of first contact.  Planet has moments of engagement, and the protagonist is delightfully anti-heroic, but the rough patches bog it down.  Two stars.

Tail-Tied Kings, by Avram Davidson

Davidson, now editor for F&SF, continues his slide into mediocre self-indulgence.  If you recall Miram Allen Deford’s Oh Rats! from issue before last, you’ve got the plot of this one – superrats escape from captivity, poised to take over the world from their bipedal erstwhile masters.  Not unreadable (like some of Davidson’s other recent stuff), but why bother rehashing the same story?  And so soon?  Two stars.

Star-Crossed Lover, by William Stuart

Ah, but then we have William Stuart, who rarely disappoints and usually delights.  This Galaxy veteran offers up a fun, tongue-in-cheek tale of romance between a loveable schlub and an eager-to-please, highly wanton ET.  What could go wrong when you’ve got the literal woman of your dreams?  You’ll have to read and find out.  Four stars.

For Your Information, by Willy Ley

Everyone’s favorite German returns this bi-month with a piece on shaped charges.  These are explosive shells whose effectiveness is multiplied by how the powder inside is molded.  Pretty fascinating stuff, actually, but the letter Q&A portion afterward is lackluster.  Three stars.

The Long, Silvery Day, by Magnus Ludens

You ever have one of those perfect days?  When everything goes just perfectly?  Ever wonder if someone was behind it?  The impressively named Magnus Ludens is a brand new author, and he hits a triple his first time at bat.  Four stars for this charming story.

Big Baby, by Jack Sharkey

If Stuart is a name that raises expectations, Sharkey’s is one that lowers them.  Big Baby is the next in his series starring Jerry Norciss, a telepathic member of the Contact service.  His job is to jump into the minds of beasts on various planets to learn more about the local ecology.  It’s not a purely scientific mission – there’s always a colony in trouble.  The tidbits about the lonely, junkie-esque life of the esper are compelling, but Baby‘s menace isn’t as interesting as the ones in his last story, there’s far too much exposition, and the solution is clumsily rendered.  Two stars.

Gourmet, by Allen Kim Lang

I’ve no particular reason to like Gourmet, about a spacer who can do wonders with algae rations – but I do.  Perhaps it’s because I fancy myself a gourmand, or because Lang is pretty good with the typewriter.  Either way, it’s a swell story.  Four stars.

Founding Father, by J.F. Bone

Did the slaveowners think they were righteous?  Do the Whites who lynch Blacks feel good about what they do?  Founding Father puts us in the minds of a pair of reptilian aliens who investigate modern-day Earth.  Their ship has insufficient fuel for the return trip, so they place mental taps into a married couple and compel them to collect some. 

What ensues is a difficult read, particularly if mental coercion is your weak point.  There is no happy ending, and the enslaved’s resistance is slowly, methodically destroyed.  Yet the slavemasters are not uncivilized.  Their actions are justified, at least to themselves.  And it’s all rendered with a somewhat insouciant touch, appropriate given whose viewpoint we see through.  Chilling.

This is an awfully hard piece to be objective about.  It’s a cruel story, all the more shocking for its lightness of tone.  But I think it’s deliberate.  I’ve read enough of J.F. Bone to be assured that he knows what he’s doing.  If you finish Father without having addressed your feelings about slavery, racism, and the indignity of nonconsensual control, then you’re either not getting the point, or you may have no soul.  Tough stuff, but worthy.  Four stars.

Moondog, by Arthur C. Clarke

About an astronaut and the dog who saves him, even over a distance spanning hundreds of thousands of miles, several years, and the veil of life.  This is a rather pedestrian tale from perhaps the most preeminent of British sf authors, but to be fair, I’m more of a cat lover.  Three stars.

So there you go – a jumbo-sized issue of Galaxy that finished on the good side of decent.  Something to write home about?  I leave that to you to decide…

[January 19, 1962] Killing the Messenger (February 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

I said in a recent article that science fiction runs the gamut from the hard-nosed to the fantastic, and that the former can be found most consistently inside the pages of Analog magazine.

Well, the February 1962 issue has proved me a liar.

The problem is Analog’s editor, Mr. John W. Campbell.  Once a luminary in the field, really hatching an entire genre back in the late 30’s, Campbell has degenerated into the crankiest of cranks.  And since he offers 3 cents a word for folks to stroke his ego, he necessarily gets a steady stream of bespoke stories guaranteed to be published.

Want to know the secret to getting printed in Analog?  Just include psi powers and a healthy dose of anti-establishment pseudo-scientific contrarianism, and you’re in like Flynn.

Case in point: this issue’s lead story, The Great Gray Plague, by Raymond F. Jones.  Never have I seen such a cast of straw men this side of a cornfield.  The setup is that the snooty head of a government agency that oversees science grants refuses to consider the bucolic Clearwater College as a candidate because they rank so low on the “Index.”  Said “Index” comprises a set of qualifications, some reasonable like the ratio of doctorates to students and published papers per year, to the ridiculous like ratio of tuxedoes to sport coats owned by the faculty and the genetic pedigree of the staff.  Thus, the “Index” serves as a sort of Poll Tax for institutions, making sure only the right kind remain moneyed.  The Dean of Clearwater makes an impassioned argument to the government employee that such a narrow protocol means thousands of worthy scientists and their inventions get snubbed every year in favor of established science.

So far, so good, I guess.  But then, as if on cue, a pair of “crackpot” farmers submit a request for review of a telepathic crystal they’ve developed.  Of course, the government man dismisses the request out of hand.  Of course, the progressive Dean investigates.  Of course the thing works.  And, of course, one of the crackpots is really an alien testing humanity’s ability to assimilate science that doesn’t gibe with current theory (and if you didn’t figure that twist out immediately, you’re reading the wrong stuff).

Now, there is merit to the idea that science is not a gradual evolution towards perfection.  In fact, Historian of Science Dr. Thomas Kuhn recently advanced the notion that science works within “paradigms” that are only overthrown with some violence and replaced with other paradigms.  For instance, there was no gentle, step-by-step transition from Ptolemy to Copernicus – the Sun went around the Earth, and the data was squeezed into that model (however ill-fitting) until suddenly the Earth was determined to orbit the Sun and everything fit into place.  Another example is phlogiston theory, which almost did a good job of explaining why substances gained weight when they burned…said theory being turned on its ear when the true nature of oxidation was discovered.

However, Plague isn’t really making Kuhn’s point.  It’s making Campbell’s, which is, in short, “If all these highfalutin ‘scientists’ would actually give a chance to people pushing psi, reactionless drives, and perpetual motion machines, then they’d quickly see the merit to these ‘crackpot’ ideas.”

Sorry, John.  Whatever bad things one might say about inertia in the scientific establishment, the fact is that it exists for a reason.  Science must, necessarily, be incredulous.  It must seek out and process data according to the scientific method.  And let’s be honest, John – science has given the Dean Drive and the Heironymous Machine and Dr. Rhine a fair shot.  They’ve been found wanting.  Give it up and stop kneeling at the altar of charlatans like L. Ron Hubbard. 

Or turn over Analog’s reins to someone else.  There’s a paradigm shift I’d love to see.

Having used up so much space with the above rant, I shall endeavor to be brief with the rest.  Pandemic, by the consistent J. F. Bone, is a gripping, grim tale of planetary disaster…with a rather silly resolution.  If anything, however, the first three quarters of the story give ample evidence that Bone can write – does he have any novels in print I don’t know about?  Three stars.

This month’s science fact article, Power Supplies for Space Vehicles (Part 1 of 2) by J. B. Friedenberg is a refreshing departure from Analog’s usual offerings, featuring as it does actual science.  Friendeberg’s piece discusses photovoltaic, thermoelectric, and thermionic power supplies in a comprehensive (if unentertaining) fashion.  About as much fun as reading the encyclopedia, which I generally enjoy, but you may not.  Two stars.

Neil Goble is a brand new author from Okie whose cute Master of None hints at a fair talent to come.  The story’s moral: pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a worthy endeavor.  I heartily agree.  Three stars.

That leaves Hail to the Chief by “Sam and Janet Argo.”  It’s a meandering piece about the lengths to which a politician goes to get a non-politician elected President of the United States.  It’s not particularly plausible, nor is it remotely science fiction, seemingly more a platform for a series of puns on the candidate’s name (“Cannon”).  This is a story with Randy Garrett’s fingerprints all over it.  Two stars.

Thus ends the worst issue of Analog since the magazine took on the new moniker.  The proof is in the pudding, and Chef John’s fare is poor stuff indeed.  I hope we get a new cook soon.

(By the way, it certainly seems that this month’s cover was influenced by the new tower planned for Los Angeles airport – you decide…)

[October 13, 1961] The Music of the Spheres (November 1961 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

The power of music to portray emotions and to evoke images in the listener’s mind seems to be universal to all cultures.  It seems inevitable that it will be used in the future to convey feelings and experiences as yet unknown.  As human beings explore the unimaginably vast silence of outer space, they will take music with them to fill the void.

Such is the theme of the novella which forms the anchor of this month’s issue of Fantastic.  Before we indulge in this sonic feast, however, let’s whet our appetites with an offering from the creative genius of Fritz Leiber.

Cover art by Lloyd Birmingham (making his debut here) accurately portrays the bizarre event at the heart of Hatchery of Dreams.  This tale of magic begins like a modern suspense story, as a man awakes one morning to discover that his much younger wife has disappeared, leaving behind a note that she has deserted him.  In desperation, he enters her private “perfume distillery,” which he had previously left unexplored.  He finds a gigantic egg on a heated, cloth-lined incubator.  This is only the beginning of his strange adventures, as he tracks down one by one the three other young women who make up his wife’s “bridge club.” Each one seems to be suffering from some kind of illness.  Even odder is the fact that each one seems unnaturally attached to a toy animal.  Nothing is what it seems to be, of course, and many more revelations will be made during the hunt for his lost bride.

Making use of themes from the author’s classic 1943 novel Conjure Wife, this is a richly imaginative story.  As one expects from Leiber, the “girls” he interviews during his search are alluring and mysterious creatures.  Somehow the author is always able to bring these archetypical females to life, and his obvious genuine affection for women renders them fully realized characters.  Four stars.

After this delightful aperitif, we turn to the main course for the evening.  J. F. Bone’s novella Special Effect is set in the twenty-second century, when humanity has settled all parts of the Solar System.  From civilized, bird-like Martian humanoids to utterly alien organisms inhabiting the moons of the outer planets, extraterrestrial life is found almost everywhere.  The author offers the reader a guided tour of this setting as he tells his tale.

A great composer has died just after completing his masterpiece, the “Nine Worlds Symphony.” It is as yet unperformed, as the score requires recordings of authentic sounds from throughout the Solar System, from the crash of falling ice towers on Pluto to the bubbling of lava on the border between Mercury’s hot and cold sides.  Many of these sounds involve alien life forms: the ringing of a Martian temple bell, the roar of dangerous Venusian animals, and more.  A producer who owns the rights to the symphony, and thus stands to make a large profit when it is performed, hires the narrator, a veteran of space travel, to transport his workers and equipment on an odyssey among the planets to collect the sounds. 

Recording each sound offers a new challenge, often deadly.  Scenes of violent adventure alternate with scenes of encounters with enigmatic extraterrestrial lifeforms.  Although the portrait of the Solar System is a little old-fashioned, with its inhabited Mars and its swampy Venus, and the story is inherently episodic, the descriptions are vivid and always interesting.  Three stars.

If the reader is not yet sated, there are three short tales for dessert.  To Heaven Standing Up by Paul Ernst is this issue’s reprint.  Originally published in the pages of Argosy in April of 1941, this is an account of a man who attempts to build a flying machine operated by muscle power.  The materials and methods he uses seem plausible; so much so, in fact, that this story might not even be considered speculative fiction by many readers.  In any case, it’s a well-written character study.  (In his introduction, science fiction historian Sam Moskowitz reveals that Argosy was a stepping stone between the pulps and the slicks, which explains the story’s mainstream style.) Three stars.

The Living End by Henry Slesar offers an intriguing premise.  A meek fellow winds up with an old book of prophecies, much like those of Nostradamus.  The predictions are uncannily accurate, foretelling events such as the Declaration of Independence to the very day.  When he discovers that the last prophecy in the book announces that the world will come to an end in ten days, he throws away his conformist lifestyle and goes on a wild spree.  Of course, there’s a twist ending.  Unfortunately, I found it both illogical and anticlimactic, so I can only award the promising story two stars.

Rog Phillips offers an entry in his “Lefty Baker” series in . . . But Who Knows Huer, or Huen? This is a madcap farce about very human aliens who enlist the narrator’s aid in combating another group of very human aliens who intend to wipe out all other forms of life.  It’s the kind of silly comedy which is not my cup of tea.  Add to that the fact that the story seems to imply that mental illness is funny, and I have to give it one star.  I’ve haven’t read any of the other stories about Lefty Baker, and I won’t seek them out.

Although the quality of the issue slowly decreases from front to back, overall it earns a rating of just slightly over two and one-half stars.  Without the final story, it would have earned a solid three stars.  Fantastic continues to be a promising, greatly improved magazine, well worth reading.  Of interest is the fact that the letter column contains more than one complaint about the stories of David R. Bunch, one of the innovative authors brought to the magazine by editor Cele Goldsmith.  Since I am highly impressed by the daring and controversial work of Bunch, I look forward to discovering what other new talents she will bring to a publication that has not always lived up to its name.

[March 18, 1961] Bad Luck of the Non-Irish (April 1961 Analog)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  It’s a banner year for Irishmen, particularly with one having reached the top spot in the country, if not the world.  And did you know that the phrase, “Luck of the Irish,” actually referred to the knack of Irish immigrants and Americans of Irish descent for becoming wealthy in the Silver and Gold Rushes of the last century?  Though the term was often used derisively by folks who thought the fortune was ill-earned.

My luck with Analog, deserved or not, ran out this month.  With the exception of the opening serial installment, The Fisherman, by Cliff Simak (which I have not yet read but look forward to), the April 1961 Analog has been singularly unimpressive.

One wonders if John Campbell deliberately alternates good issues with bad ones—I’d think he’d be better served by ensuring each magazine had at least one worthy tale!  Perhaps he plum ran out.

Take J.F. Bone’s brief A Prize for Edie, for example.  A trio of teeth-gnashing members of the Nobel Prize committee agonize over giving the honor to a computer.  Disappointingly silly, and, as seems to be a theme this issue, it misses the opportunity to make a deeper point.  Two stars.

Lloyd Biggle, Jr’s Still, Small Voice had some promise: A Cultural Service agent is sent to an alien world to succeed where the Interplanetary Relations Bureau had failed, namely, to convert a centuries-old absolute monarchy into a democracy.  In particular, I appreciated how the aliens were depicted as an artistic race, and that music was the key to progress.  But the thing is sloppily written with a number of duplicated phrases, the alien race is utterly human, and the story a bit too condescending in tone.  The first betrays too light an editorial touch, and the others spotlight a lack of editorial discrimination.  Two stars.

Interestingly enough, John Campbell’s nonfiction piece is the most engaging part of the issue.  Normally, the stuff he writes himself is dreadful; he often shills for one kind of junk science or another.  This time, he’s back to his hobby of photography, but on an interesting tangent.  He showcases a new kind of light source, an electroluminescent panel that looks for all the world like a thick sheet of paper.  Pretty neat stuff—I could see it becoming a feature of future science fiction stories.  Three stars.

Back to the dreary stories, Pandora’s Planet, by Chris Anvil (whose best work always appears outside of Analog), is another “Earthmen are just plain better at everything than everyone else” story.  In this case, some fuzzy humanoids can’t seem to win a war to subjugate a planet’s native race without the help of some plucky, original Terrans.  The point of the piece seems to be that unorthodox war is just as valid as “real” war, and stuffy rigidity will only lead to failure.  That’s fine so far as it goes, but the canny Terran tactics aren’t that innovative, and the stodginess of the fuzzies is insufficiently explored.  Two stars.

That leaves us with Next Door, Next World by lesser magazine perennial, Robert Donald Locke (often writing under the pseudonym, Roger Arcot).  The premise is great: A hyperdrive makes travel to the stars a matter of weeks rather than millennia, but with the side effect that one never returns to quite the same time track one left.  The execution is lousy, however, with plenty of insipid dialogue, stupid characters, and lots of padding.  Again, the impression I got was that Campbell was in a hurry and took what he could get without requesting revision.  And it’s yet another piece with a beginning along the lines of, “Clint Hugearms stood near his trusty spaceship, tanned and sturdy features marking him as the protagonist of the story.”  I’m starting to think Campbell inserts these openings into all of his submissions.  Two stars.

I apologize to my readers who want only to hear about the good stuff; however, by jingo, if I have to read the drek, you have to read about it!  Perhaps the Simak will yet knock my socks off.  It is not uncommon that a given Astounding’s stories are bad, but its serial is good (e.g. The High Crusade and Deathworld, for instance).

I’ve a surprise for my readers—guest columnist Rosemary Benton will be writing the next article, and she’s graciously agreed to contribute one piece per month!  Like you, I will eagerly look forward to what she has to offer.

[August 22, 1960] If every day were a convention (September 1960 IF)

It’s been a topsy turvy month!  Not only have I been to Japan, but I’ve just gone to yet another new science fiction convention taking place virtually next door (pictures appended below).  Yet, despite all the bustle, I’ve managed to find time for my #1 pasttime: my monthly pile of science fiction/fantasy digests.  And here, at long last, is my review of the September 1960 IF Science Fiction.

As Galaxy‘s lesser sister, its overall quality tends to be a little lower.  There are a couple of stand-outs in this issue that made it a worthy purchase, however.  Moreover, I’m noticing a trend toward the experimental.  H. Gold (and his right-hand, Fred Pohl) seem more willing to take chances with this mag.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

I don’t want to spoil the stories for you, so I’ll keep the synopses brief:

Daniel Galouye has the opening number, a longish novelette called Kangaroo Court.  It’s an interesting murder mystery in a world where telepathy has made crime obsolete.  An extra twist is the development of memory copying–a technology that lets one create a full simulacrum of a person’s personality up to the date of storage.  I’m given to understand that a writer should only present one revolutionary technology per story, but I think Galouye pulls it off.  Three stars.

Margaret St. Clair is also back with her short story, Parallel Beans, a cute little piece about the dangers of bartering across alternate time streams.  Three stars.

Wedge, by H.B. Fyfe, is about a human prisoner who is the subject of an alien intelligence test.  Is he the testee or the tester?  The first weak piece of the issue: Two stars.

But it is followed up by To Choke an Ocean by the reliable J.F.Bone.  I like stories without antagonists, and they get bonus points if they involve interesting alien civilizations.  Four stars.

That brings us to Arthur Porges, who turned 45 yesterday (Happy Birthday!) His Words and Music, about a man who can tell a person’s future in a decidedly off-beat (or perhaps “on-beat” is more appropriate) fashion, would make a fantastic episode of The Twilight Zone.  Another four star tale.

There is a brief interlude during which Fred Pohl contributes a longish book-review column.  It includes praise for the rather awful The Tomorrow People, by Judy Merril.  It is followed by Robert Shea’s unusually written, but rather pointless, Star Performer, involving a Martian aborigine and his effect on the decadent, overripe population of Earth.  Two stars.

Finally, R.A. Lafferty offers up Six Fingers of Time, about a fellow who discovers a talent for living life at an accelerated rate.  The writing is odd, and the subject matter uninspired, and yet…it has a certain charm.  Three stars.

That puts us at exactly three stars for the issue no matter how you slice it, which ranks it above Astounding and below F&SF this month.  No surprises there.  F&SF also wins the prize for best story: George Elliott’s The NRACP, though to be fair, it’s a reprint.  I might give the nod for best original story to Bone.  Your mileage will almost assuredly vary. 

Finally, of the 22 stories, serial portions, and non-fiction articles appearing in the three magazines, exactly two of them were written by women.  I’ll leave this datum here without further observation or opinion.

This weekend, I’m off to the movies to watch Dinosaurus, the new flick from the team that brought us The Blob and 4D-Man.  Sadly, neither of the members of my immediate family will go with me.  Perhaps I’ll run into one of you, my beloved fans.

And for those who came here to see the pretty pictures, here are the costumes from our local science fiction convention:

And some attendees, not in costume:

Yes, that’s the Traveller, himself (on the left).

That’s all for today, and if you’re one of the gracious attendees who allowed me to take her/his picture, do drop me a line!

[June 11, 1960] Fool me once… (July 1960 Amazing)

If there is any innovation that defined the resurgent science fiction field in the 1950s, it is the science fiction digest.  Before the last decade, science fiction was almost entirely the province of the “pulps,” large-format publications on poor-quality paper.  The science fiction pulps shared space with the detective pulps, the western pulps, the adventure pulps.  Like their brethren, the sci-fi pulps had lurid and brightly colored covers, often with a significant cheesecake component.

Astounding (soon to be Analog) was one of the first magazines to make the switch to the new, smaller digest format.  Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, and a host of other new magazines never knew another format.  By the mid-’50s, there were a score of individual science fiction digests, some excellent, some unremarkable.  It was an undisputed heyday.  But even by 1954, there were signs of decline.  By the end of the decade, only a handful of digests remained.  The “Big Three” were and are Astounding, F&SF, and Galaxy (now a bi-monthly alternating production with a revamped version of IF).  Also straggling along are Fantastic Stories and Amazing, the latter being the oldest one in continuous production.

My faithful readers know I don’t generally bother with the last two titles.  Although some of my favorite authors sometimes appear in them, the overall magazine quality is spotty, and my time (not to mention budget!) is limited.  Nevertheless, Rosel George Brown had a good story in Fantastic last month, and this month’s Amazing had a compelling cover that promised I would find works by Blish, Bone, Clarke, and Knight inside. 

I bit.  This article is the result.

Last time I covered Amazing, I noted that the magazine was a throwback both in writing style and plots.  Things haven’t changed much.  Though there are a couple of decent stories in here, I wouldn’t buy a subscription based on what I read. 

In brief:

J.F. Bone has written some fine stuff.  Noble Redman, about a psionically endowed, red-hued Earthman who teams up with a Martian lowlife (both of them humans), is not one of his best tales, but it’s inoffensive 3-star fare.

A good portion of the book is taken up with William F. Temple’s novella, “L” is for Lash.  This is pure early ’50s stuff: a retired cop named Fred (I don’t think we ever learn his last name) is haunted by the criminal he put away decades before, and who was interned for life on Venus.  The convict somehow managed to escape, go on a robbing spree, and attain eternal youth and invulnerability to boot.  The protagonist’s solution is not only implausible, it’s actually inconsistent. 

I’ll spoil things for you: Lash, the criminal, has perfect telekinetic control of everything around him.  Missiles, A- Bombs, guns, all are ineffective against him.  We are told later in the story that the first of Lash’s murders had been designed to look like an accident.  He had angered a fellow to the point of firing on Lash, but Lash had gimmicked the assailant’s gun to fire backward, thus killing its owner.  At the end of Lash, the hero visits the Scotland Yard crime museum (is there such a place?) to view this unique weapon.  He then uses his powers of prestidigitation to swap his current gun for the gimmicked gun.  When Lash inevitably shows up to force Fred to kill himself, the gun shoots backwards and hits Lash. 

Perhaps Lash was taken by surprise.  I can forgive that.  But there is sloppy writing here.  Before the swap, Fred rewires his standard gun to stun rather than kill its targets.  After the swap, he wires the gun back for killing.  Except the trick gun had never been set to stun.  An author and her/his editor really should proofread a work before it is printed.  I understand that Temple wanted to keep the reveal a secret until the end, but this was just sloppy.

If you liked David Bunch’s A Little Girl’s Xmas in Modernia, set a world where, as people mature, they swap out their fleshly components for robotics, then you might enjoy Penance Day in Moderan.  This one involves an annual meeting of generals; they wage war on each other in a casually enjoyable way the other 364 days of the year.  Bunch’s suite of satirical stories has largely been published in Fantastic and Amazing, so I’ve missed them.  If you like them, seek them out!

Murray Yaco, who helped contribute to the poor quality of the October 1959 Astounding is back with the mediocre Membership Drive, about the first contact between an all-too humanoid alien and modern humanity.  The ending particularly bothered me for its callous treatment of the one female character; you may feel differently.

One of the reasons I’d purchased the magazine was the non-fiction article by the renowned Arthur C. Clarke.  A New Look at Space is not really a factual article in the style of Ley or Asimov.  Rather it’s just a four-page puff piece explaining how great Space is and how soon we’ll get there.  I’m not sure what occasioned him to write this space-filler.  Disappointing.

It turns out that the Blish story, …And all the Stars a Stage, is actually the fourth part of a four-part serial.  The description didn’t grab me–male hero leads a rebellion against a stifling matriarchy, so I won’t seek out the other three parts.

Finally, the Knight (Damon, that is).  Time Enough, or Enough Time, depending on whether you believe the Table of Contents or the story’s title page, is a decent coda to the issue.  In the near future, a psychiatrist invents a kind of time machine.  Whether it actually allows one to go back in time or simply return to an episode in one’s personal history is left vague.  The story focuses on an individual who attempts to rewrite an humiliating episode from his middle-school days, one that the patient feels is responsible for his problems in adulthood.  He is unsuccessful in his mission.  His doctor gently reminds his patient that the failures of the past are sometimes best left forgotten, and efforts better spent on improving the present person.  Nevertheless, the patient resolves to keep trying until he succeeds.  “There’s always tomorrow,” the patient states, the irony being that the patient is using his tomorrows to adjust the past rather than to forge a new future. 

It almost goes without mentioning that women are virtually nonexistent, and there are no female writers.  Amazing is still the most conservative of the digests, even more so than Astounding.  I’ve predicted its demise for some time, yet it manages to defy my expectations.  Maybe there are few enough digests now that Amazing‘s share of the market is big enough to sustain it.  Or perhaps its 35 cent price tag, the lowest of the digests, is the secret to its survival.

[Jan. 08, 1960] Between Peaks (January 1960 If)

I’ve finally finished the January 1960 IF and can report fully on its contents.  January has been a decidedly uninspiring month for digests.  They’re all in the 3-star range (though for Astounding, that’s actually a good month!) with no knockouts in the bunch.  Perhaps this is the calm before the storm.

The reliable if stolid Mack Reynolds (writing as Mark Mallory) kicks off this issue with The Good Seed.  Can a man trapped on a tiny island by a swelling tide escape before he is drowned?  Perhaps with the help of a sentient, telepathic plant.  It’s actually quite a touching story.

James Stamers seems to be a newcomer, and it shows in his unpolished writing.  Despite this, his The Divers, about psionic neutrals (essentially anti-telepaths) with the ability to astrally project, has some fascinating ideas and some genuinely evocative scenes.  Had Stamers given the tale to Sturgeon to work over for a final edit, I think it could have been an epic.  As it is, the story suggests that its author is a diamond in the rough waiting to be polished.

Two Ulsterians, Bob Shaw and Walt Willis, wrote the short Dissolute Diplomat, about an unsavory space traveler who crashes on an alien world, bullies the jelly-ish inhabitants into fixing his ship, and then gets what he deserves in a groan-worthy fashion that is truly pun-ishing.

The Little Red Bag, by Jerry Sohl, is a good piece of thrilling writing, at least until the somewhat callous and abrupt end.  A fellow on a plane has the power of tactile clairvoyance—and he discovers a ticking time bomb in the luggage compartment.  Can he save the passengers before it goes off?  Having flown the route that the plane takes many times (Southerly down California into Los Angeles), the setting is quite familiar, which is always fun.

Daniel Galouye (how do you pronounce his name?) is up next with the interesting teleportation yarn, The Last Leap.  Three military subjects have gone AWOL after artificially gaining the ability to materialize anywhere.  Surely they were not killed–after all, even the vacuum of space poses no danger, for the ‘porters reflexively snap back to a safe spot; moreover, they instinctively avoid teleporting into solid objects.  What could have happened?  You find out in the end…

To Each His Own, by Jack Sharkey, stars a team of Venusians who explore the Earth after a recent holocaust.  The nature of said disaster is never made explicit until the very end, though it is alluded to subtly.  I confess that I should have figured out the gimmick ending, but I didn’t.  I suppose that constitutes a point in the author’s favor.

Margaret St. Clair has a fun story (The Autumn after Next) about a magical missionary whose job is to convert magic-less cultures into adepts at the Arts.  He meets his match, and his end, attempting to introduce the most reluctant of tribes to the supernatural.  Better than The Scarlet Hexapod, not as good as Discipline, both IF stories.

Finally, we have Cultural Exchange by J.F. Bone wherein a crew of space explorers meets a sophisticated alien race with both superior and inferior technologies.  It is a first contact story of Cat and Mouse with both sides attempting to be the predator.  Not stellar, but satisfying.

That’s that!  It’s an unremarkable issue, slightly under the standards of its older sibling, Galaxy, I’d say.  Worth a read, but you won’t remember it next month (unless, of course, you review my column).

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

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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February 1959 Galaxy Wrap-up (12-16-1958)

At long last, the February 1959 Galaxy is done, and I can give my assessment of the new bi-monthly format.  It is likely that this issue was composed of material the editor, Mr. Gold, had accumulated before the decision to reduce the number of annual issues.  Therefore, the real proof of the pudding will happen when the next issue comes out in the first week of February next year. 

Two stories remained to be read when last you saw me.  One is by newcomer, Ned Lang, whose short story, Forever is about the peril one faces when one has developed the world’s first immortality serum.  Or, at least, when one thinks he/she is the first.  It’s not a bad story, and it has a cute ending, but the writing has a certain clunkiness to it.  I suppose allowances have to be made for neophytes, especially ones working for a penny-and-a-half a word.

The other story, a novella by J.F. Bone called Insidekick, is quite good.  This is, in part, because it turns a genre on its head.  Thanks to people like Bob Heinlein, the “Body Snatcher” trope is well-known: Evil, amorphous alien insinuates itself into its host human and turns it into a hollow shell.  In particularly gory instances, the parasite eats its host like the larvae of the Digger Wasp.  I have a friend who is relatively immune to the most nauseating of phenomena, but show him a movie about bodysnatching beasts, especially when they enter through cranial orifices, and he fairly faints.

In Insidekick, however, the symbiont is charitable rather than menacing.  The Zark, as it is known, only wishes to help its host survive as best it can, for in doing so, the chances of success for both host and symbiont is maximized.  The host, in this case, is a government agent by the name of Johnson, who is investigating a corrupt interstellar corporation under suspicion of growing tobacco illegally for profit on the planet Antar.  Johnson is quickly fingered, and he certainly would not have lasted long were it not for the happy accident of his meeting with the Zark, a native to Antar.  As the union of the two creatures occurs while Johnson is unconscious, he is unaware of the relationship.

The results, however, quickly become obvious.  In Bone’s story, all humans have a certain degree of psionic potential.  Practitioners of psi, on the other hand, are universally psychotic and, thus, only marginally useful.  The Zark unlocks Johnson’s psionic potential without precipitating any nasty psychological effects.  Johnson gradually realizes he has become a telepath and has the ability to teleport.  Telekinetic and precognitive ability follow soon after.  With his newfound skills, he is able to evade death and take down the criminal organization.

What makes the story so fun is how nice the Zark is.  Who wouldn’t want a benevolent guardian angel living inside him/her, and thus enjoy a panoply of superpowers?  Better yet, there is no sting in the story’s tail.  Johnson isn’t doomed to die prematurely; it doesn’t turn out the Zark is really planning on eating Johnson; the Zark isn’t part of an alien invasion.  The story simply is what it is—the happy tale of a man and his symbiont.  The only weakness is the two-page coda, which feels tacked on. 

If I did not know that Bone is a real flesh-and-blood person, I’d think he was a cover for Bob Sheckley (who also appeared in this issue, finishing up Timekiller).  Insidekick has that same light, pleasant touch.

To wrap things up, let’s give the new giant-sized Galaxy a final score.  Timekiller was decent, Installment Plan was flawed and disturbing in its politics, but the rest of the magazine ranged from good to quite good.  Let’s call it three out of five stars. 

And good news!  I managed to secure a copy of F&SF.  Stay tuned!

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December 1958: Astounding (1st half) 11-08-1958

With December’s Galaxy and F&SF done and reviewed, I now turn to the last of the Big Three: Astounding.  The elephant in this magazine is, of course, the second half of Poul Anderson’s dreary short novel, “Bicycle Built for Brew.” It lurks at the end of the magazine like an oncoming train at the end of a tunnel.  Thus, I abandoned my usual haphazard reading habits and began at the beginning, like normal people.

Good thing, too.  The first three stories, comprising 65 pages, are good and somewhat of a theme.  I have to congratulate myself for making it through a full three quarters of Campbell’s blatherous editorial before skipping to story #1.

“Ministry of Disturbance” is a fun story of a week in the life of the august ruler of a 1300-planet galactic imperium, one that has persisted virtually unchanged for centuries.  At first it seems that it will be a sort of light farce, but the story takes several turns before arriving at an unexpected conclusion.  It’s a little bewildering: there are a lot of moving parts including a large cast of characters and several concurrent event threads.  Ultimately, there is something of a happy ending.  My favorite line from the story is, “If you have a few problems, you have trouble, but if you have a whole lot of problems, they start solving each other.”

Did I mention it’s by H. Beam Piper?  That should be enough to recommend it.  He did that lovely tale, Omnilingual (from which story the lady in my masthead derives), which you can find in the February 1957 Astounding.

Next up is “Triggerman” by a fellow I’d never heard of before, an “R.T. Bone.” Rather than a tale of the far future, it is highly contemporary.  We’ve all heard of the metaphorical “button” on which the collective finger of the President and his generals rests, the pressing of which initiates atomic armageddon.  In Bone’s story, the button is real, and one man has his finger on it.  It’s a silly concept, but it is thankfully just the set up for a interesting short tale of an overwhelmingly destructive attack on the United States.  As with the last story, there is a surprise, and the subject matter is not apolitical.

The third in the initial trio is “Pieces of the Game” by Mack Reynolds.  Mack has been around for a while, bouncing from digest to digest, but I believe this is his first appearance in Astounding.  Like “Triggerman,” it is set in the Cold War, but a few years in the future, in a recently Communist Austria.  There is mention of a war, but it is clear that both sides are still active, as this story is a tale of espionage by an unlikely-looking agent.  It’s a pretty standard thriller; I hesitate to even call it science fiction.  But it is entertaining, and it fits in well with the theme of the first two stories.

That makes a solid 4 out of 5 stars for the first half of December’s Astounding!  Lord knows where that score will finish, however…

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