Tag Archives: J.G. Ballard

[July 4, 1962] Happy submersion (The Drowned World, by J.G. Ballard)


by Rosemary Benton

At last, the levity that I so desperately needed has been provided. Prior to reading The Drowned World I was only aware of J. G. Ballard as a name. He was well published, I knew, but ultimately a background figure to my science fiction library. That all changed on June 30th, however, when I went to the town bookstore and purchased The Drowned World. The bookseller said that it would take me no time at all to read. I found this to be true, although the time it took me to process the book was far longer than than I had expected.

J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World is a post-apocalyptic ballad performed by a select cast, and encased in a small slice of Ballard’s much larger story of the evolution of Earth. The location of the story takes place in an entirely fictional future vision of Earth. Due to a sun which has become unstable, the Earth is rapidly heating. The remaining 5 million humans have fled to the Antarctic circle where the temperature is a tolerable 85 degrees. The Earth’s equator, by comparison, is close to 200 degrees on any given day. Bombarded by solar radiation and spurred on by the intolerable heat, flora and fauna have begun to mutate to prehistoric shapes and sizes. Enormous iguanas, crocodiles and snakes are now a common site in Berlin and London, whose streets and buildings are now submerged by upwards of 50 feet of water. Large bat-sized mosquitoes bash themselves relentlessly against the wire meshes and cages encircling the last human bastions in London, while dog-sized bats feast upon the oversized insects. The evolution of disease has kept pace with the changing environment; malaria becomes the most common affliction hitting the human population.

Much of Europe has been reduced to lagoons nestled between vast expanses of jungle and silt dunes. In one such lagoon, floating over the decaying architecture of London, sits the stage and players of the story. Central to the book are the biologists Dr. Robert Kerans and Dr. Bodkin, the emotionally distant heiress Beatrice Dahl and the villainous looter, Strangman. Surrounding them are the rest of the research team sent to monitor the changing landscape, and Strangman’s crew of tribalistic-minded followers.

On a small scale Ballard includes the traditional elements of science fiction and action-adventure. There is a hero, a villain, a love interest who is desired by both the villain and the hero, a climax to the tension between the battle of the hero and the goals of the villain, tied off nicely with a sacrificial confidant and companion to the hero. On a much larger scale The Drowned World offers a character study of a villain and a hero, both of whom are morally ambiguous, as they navigate a truly alien environment with totally different sets of rules for survival.

To best dissect The Drowned World I think it is necessary to take a look at the three major players to Ballard’s drama: Ms. Dahl, Strangman and finally Dr. Kerans. Ms. Dahl is perhaps one of the more developed characters of the story, and yet her journey is largely symbolic. A key element of Ballard’s world is that not only is the physical world around humanity devolving, but so is the unconscious mind of humanity. Plagued by memories of survival urges now unlocked after centuries of culture and socialization, humans by and large are subjected to nighttime visions of hot, fiery landscapes and looming reptilian danger. Ms. Dahl is one of the first characters who we see suffering from these apparitions.

We read about her trying to deal with them through alcohol and cool detachment. Her acceptance of the end of the human world is made all the more evident by her refusal early on in the book to leave the lagoon for the more tolerable temperature of the northern settlements. Despite the coming rains, the rise of the water, and the abandonment of the post by the well equipped scientific team, she shows little interest in leaving behind her home. Yet in the shifting pools of green, warm water with its surface disturbed by the movement of reptiles swimming in and out of the lower levels of the ruined buildings, she has managed to find an equilibrium in which she can live out her days, even as the prophetic nightmares of flooding rain and dense jungle encroachment press ever closer. She has given up fighting against nature and the universe’s larger plans for the planet, and instead finds her small pleasures in dining on the dwindling reserves of fine food, sunbathing, and keeping up a cultured outward physique.

Ms. Dahl’s personal journey is taking her along the same path as Dr. Kerans’. She is dreaming of an ancestral life and living it as best she can in the present. When confronted with a challenge to this backwards slide she recoils and withdraws within herself. She longs for the return to the encroachment of the water and reviles in the exposure of the land.  She is unable to deal with change that could draw her on a different path from the envelopment of Earth by the sea, and ultimately it destroys her relationship with her companions Dr. Kerans and Dr. Bodkin.

Enter Strangman on his ridiculous riverboat piled high with looted objet d’art, liquor and jewelry. Like Ms. Dahl, Strangman enters the story as someone who has given in to the changing world, although he has done so in a drastically different fashion. In keeping with salvage laws and the overall objective of land reclamation, Strangman drains the lagoon in order to gain favor with the loosely upheld government. At the same time he is able to continue with his passion of surrounding himself with items of beauty from the old world. Unlike our protagonists, Strangman is not regressing backwards to a state of piteous apathy, nor is he embracing the larger time scale that Ms. Dahl and Dr. Kerans have via their million year old primitive dreams. Even though he is aware of them via conversation with Dr. Kerans, and presumably experiences them himself, he is written as an opportunist. He takes risks in sending his crew, which he provides for and never once abuses, down into the sunken city. He takes chances by draining the lagoon in order to reclaim the land and thereby more easily take its sunken riches. He is progress in a backwards way because ultimately nothing he does will have any lasting impact, but he at least fights against the insignificance of his actions and his existence.

Along this line he is also upholding the pre-drowned world, and while he revels in the finer luxuries it provided, he doesn’t do so in the same way as Dr. Kerans or Ms. Dahl. While they are content with living out the lifespan of their delicious foods and luxury accommodations before the sea reclaims them, Strangman wants to make them last as long as possible. Even unnaturally so. He rejects the inevitable in favor of the possible when he drains the lagoon and likely plans to drain others in the area. He is even commended for his actions by Dr. Kerans’ team when they return to the area at the end of the book and see what he has accomplished.

At last we must examine Dr. Kerans. This man, who we meet standing on his balcony of the Ritz complete with air conditioning, fine clothes and even finer furnishings, is not shaken by the thought of nearly anything involving his future. Absorbed in the visceral feel of his present environment, Dr. Kerans is a man who lives entirely in the now with little thought to the future or concern for the past. Only later does he even begin to experience the dreams that have led most of the cast to a delayed madness. At the end of the book he even embraces a futile journey south and consequently a slow, painful suicide. Put concisely he is against everything that we, as modern humans and Americans, are taught to embrace as progress – the continuous struggle against nature, the need to suffer for progress, and the need to forge your own fate. In any other story he would be the villain trying to prevent the human race from fighting back against its aggressor. Interestingly, in this story he is the hero. But why is he the hero? Ultimately I believe this can be answered by Ballard’s writing style.

J. G. Ballard’s writing is like a good red wine. It has body, heft, and layered flavors that reveal themselves based on how you indulge in them. I read The Drowned World over the course of several days, taking my time to sink into the atmospheric environment that Ballard creates. In short sips the book takes the reader a long way. So many descriptive analogies, metaphors and adjectives are crammed into each page that one would think Ballard had gone overboard. Yet despite his verbose world building, nothing felt repetitive and frankly, I couldn’t get enough.

I lived for days on how Ballard would express his characters’ wonder at the world surrounding them, and how each as an individual would contribute to the progress of the story. It is this individual experience that I believe made Dr. Kerans the hero, Strangman the villain, and Ms. Dahl the figurative totem. When one reads Ballard’s dialogue it is abundantly secondary to the individual brazen actions taken by each character. This isolation, when a character acts of their own volition outside of what their companions would want or desire, is what Ballard revels in. The individual, whether walking forward or backwards in human evolution, is a lynchpin. What they see, how the environment congeals around them, and how their actions later influence others is paramount to Ballard’s The Drowned World.

Thus, Dr. Kerans was the hero because he was willing to press forward into that isolation of standing behind his scientific team, and in the end, the isolation of the journey south toward the epicenter of the heat. Strangman, on the other hand, was nothing without his crew, his treasures or his need to change the world for the benefit of the many. As such he was the villain. It is an interesting reversal, and one which I believe took a cunning mind to pen. I look forward to exploring more of Ballard’s works and retroactively swimming through his vast sea of published works. This book deserves a well-earned five out of five stars. 

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  If you can’t make it to Worldcon/Chicon III, this is YOUR chance to Vote for the 1962 Hugos!)

[June 23, 1962] Only the Lonely (July 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

In this age of Cold War tensions, it’s a little disconcerting to discover that the United States made two failed attempts this month to detonate a nuclear warhead in space.  The project, whimsically known as Operation Fishbowl, launched Thor missiles from Johnston Island, a tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean under the command of the US Air Force.  The missiles launched on June 2 (Bluegill) and June 19 (Starfish) had to be destroyed in flight due to technical problems.  (Radar lost track of Bluegill, and the Starfish rocket engine stopped prematurely.) Some of the debris from Starfish landed on Johnston Island, potentially contaminating persons stationed on the atoll with radioactive material.

If that weren’t scary enough, the three inmates who escaped from Alcatraz a couple of weeks ago are still at large.  It’s probable that they drowned in San Francisco Bay, but I’d advise those of you who live in the area to keep your doors locked.

Raising the alarm in these troubling times are two newly published documents drawing attention to the problems we face.  The left-wing organization Students for a Democratic Society released a manifesto entitled The Port Huron Statement a week ago, promoting universal disarmament and other social and political reforms through non-violent civil disobedience. 

(It’s interesting to note the cover price is the same as that of the magazine I’ll eventually get around to reviewing.)

At the same time, The New Yorker (which costs ten cents less than Fantastic or The Port Huron Statement) published an excerpt from Silent Spring, an upcoming book from marine biologist Rachel Carson which discusses the danger posed to the environment by chemical pesticides.

With all of this depressing news, it’s not surprising that a melancholy ballad of loneliness and lost love has been at the top of the charts for the entire month.  Ray Charles isn’t the first musician to have a hit with Don Gibson’s 1958 country song I Can’t Stop Loving You — besides Gibson himself, Kitty Wells released a popular version the same year, as did Roy Orbison in 1961 — but his version is by far the most successful.  It seems likely that this unique combination of rhythm and blues with country-western will have a powerful impact on popular music.

In keeping with this mood, it’s appropriate that many of the stories in the current issue of Fantastic feature characters haunted by loneliness, isolation, and lost love.

The great Emsh provides the cover art for The Singing Statues by British author J. G. Ballard.  It takes place in the futuristic resort community of Vermillion Sands, which has already appeared in a handful of Ballard’s stories.  The narrator is an artist who creates sculptures that produce sound in response to those who view them.  (There are also indications that these works of art are somehow grown in the surreal landscape of Vermillion Sands, with its copper beaches and dry sea beds.) A beautiful, wealthy, and reclusive young woman purchases one of his works, believing that it sings to her in a way which perfectly reflects her soul.  Unbeknownst to her, however, the artist has actually placed an electronically distorted recording of his own voice inside it.  When the recording runs out, he goes to her luxurious home under the pretext of making repairs to the statue, actually placing new recordings within it.  His deception leads to unexpected revelations.  Ballard writes with a fine sense for imagery.  His tales of the decadent inhabitants of Vermillion Sands may not be for all tastes, but they are skillfully rendered works of art.  Four stars.

This month’s Fantasy Classic is The Dragon of Iskander by Nat Schachner, from the pages of the April, 1934 issue of Top-Notch, a magazine which published adventure fiction from 1910 to 1937. 

Things start with a bang, as an archeological expedition in a mountainous region of Chinese Turkestan is attacked by a flying, fire-breathing dragon.  Our two-fisted American hero, along with his loyal servant and a couple of suspicious characters, makes his way into the mountains, where he discovers a lost kingdom founded by Alexander the Great.  Daring escapes and violent action results, and it’s no surprise that a beautiful young woman shows up to stand by the hero’s side.  This story is typical of old-fashioned pulp action yarns, and certainly moves at the speed of lightning.  It’s marred by some casual racism (the Chinese character is often called “yellow,” and non-Americans are generally cowardly and treacherous) and the fact that the true nature of the dragon isn’t terribly convincing.  Two stars.

After this tale of an isolated nation, we turn to a story about a lonely individual.  A Drink of Darkness by Robert F. Young deals with a man who has destroyed his marriage and ruined his life through alcohol.  At the end of his rope, he meets a gaunt man who takes him to a strange land where a journey across a dark plain leads him to a towering mountain.  The alcoholic assumes that the gaunt man is Death.  During their trek he opens mysterious doors which lead to various times in his past life.  He relives the loss of his happiness to the bottle.  This is a bleak story, but it offers a glimmer of hope.  The true identity of the gaunt man is concealed until the end, although an astute reader may pick up a clue earlier.  Whether or not you believe the twist ending is appropriate, you are likely to respond to the story’s emotional power.  Four stars.

The second half of Poul Anderson’s short novel Shield continues the adventures of the fellow who has invented a force field.  Held captive by a crime boss, sought by both the Americans and Chinese for the secret of his invention, he receives help from an unexpected source.  An extended chase follows at a fast and furious pace.  Not quite as interesting as the first half, this section still provides plenty of action and a complex, fully developed character in the aide/mistress of the crime boss, who proves to be another example of the persons suffering from emotional loss in this issue.  Three stars.

The people in The Thinking Disease by Albert Teichner have become isolated from each other by their own technology.  Robots designed to self-destruct when there is any possibility of harming human beings (with a nod to Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics) somehow change from loyal servants to berserk killers at unpredictable times.  Their masters live in fear of leaving their homes.  The protagonist discovers a way to project his consciousness outside his body, enabling him to fight off the rebel machines.  The explanation for how the robots could hurt people, and the manner in which they can be controlled, is rather disappointing.  Two stars.

One Long Ribbon is, I believe, the first published story from Florence Engel Randall.  The protagonist is a recently widowed mother with a young son.  Her husband was a pilot, stationed at one air base after another, who was never able to give her a stable home.  Years before his death, he made arrangements to purchase a house for her in case of his demise.  When she moves in, she discovers that the other people living on her street act as if they can’t see her.  Her son claims that he can’t see the children that she sees playing outside.  This is a Twilight Zone kind of story with an unexpected explanation for its strange events.  Four stars.

Overall, this is a pretty good issue, although I wouldn’t recommend reading it alone.

[May 15, 1962] RUMBLING (the June 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Oh groan.  The lead story in the June 1962 Amazing is Thunder in Space by Lester del Rey.  He’s been at this for 25 years and well knows that in space, no one can hear—oh, never mind.  I know, it’s a metaphor—but’s it’s dumb in context and cliched regardless of context.  Quickly turning the page, I’m slightly mollified, seeing that the story is about Cold War politics.  My favorite! 

Only a few weeks ago, one of my teachers assigned us all to write essays about current affairs, to be read to the rest of the class.  Mine suggested that the government of China is no more to be found on Taiwan than the government of the United States is in London, and it might be wise to drop the current pretense keeping Taiwan in China’s United Nations seat, along with the fantasy of invading mainland China and reinstating Chiang Kai-shek to the power he couldn’t hold on to.  After I had read this, one of the other students turned to me and said, “John . . . are you a communist?” I assured him I am not, but in hindsight, I should have said, “That’s right, Jimmy.  I get my orders straight from Albania.”

Compared to this black and white comic-strip world-view, Thunder in Space is a masterpiece of sophistication—it’s at least on the level of the Sunday funnies, which are in color.  (A few colors, anyway.) There are two nuclear-armed space stations, the US Goddard and the Russian Tsiolkovsky.  An apparent accident destroys the Soviet space fleet, and the American government refuses to help out by resupplying their station unless they unilaterally disarm it. 

But our boys in space are having none of it, and our and their space crews realize they have more in common with each other than with their governments, so there’ll be some changes made.  This feel-good fable for SF fans and other technophiles is not especially plausible—the response of governments to insurrection on military bases in low orbit would likely be speedy and definitive—but the story is reasonably readable and conventionally well-assembled, and refreshing in the acknowledgment that our leadership may be as brutal and ruthless as theirs.  On the other hand, del Rey can’t let the title go, and there are annoying attempts to justify it, such as one character’s declaration that “Most of the thunder down there is caused by the chained lightning we’re carrying up here.” Three grudging stars.

Near-future political problems also preoccupy Tom Purdom in The Warriors, in which a foreign mercenary force is struggling to get to the airport despite the resistance of the local forces.  But violence has been abolished!  So the contending mercenary armies maneuver respectively to evade and to block each other, since touching in combat is now a crime, and the result is a taut narrative of bobbing and weaving.  This all seemed silly and annoying at first, but maybe that’s the point: we’ve got to do something to abolish warfare as we know it, and if not this, what?  Got a better idea? 

So it’s at least thought-provoking: but there’s something else to think about here too.  The casus belli is the USA’s attempt to spirit away the African country Belderkan’s resident genius, Doctor Warren, whose inventions have helped make Belderkan prosperous; the locals are trying to get to him to persuade him to change his mind. 

Right now, we’re in the age of decolonization.  Almost 20 countries have become independent in the last couple of years; Algeria will vote on independence in July, after years of bloody warfare.  But will their independence be real, or just another guise for the exploitation of their resources by more powerful countries?  Consider the former Belgian Congo, which elected someone a little too independent for some tastes, who was quickly deposed and murdered in a rebellion sponsored by the ex-colonial power (and, it is rumored, by others, maybe including us).  I’m not sure Purdom meant to evoke all these concerns, or if he just needed a plot motor, but either way, the result is to his credit and mitigates the story’s weakness as fiction.  Three stars.

But enough of politics; let’s have something gaudy and irresponsible.  The most well-turned piece of fiction here is from J.G. Ballard, though Passport to Eternity is not among his best.  It’s a trifle about an affluent, bored future couple trying to decide where to go on vacation.  Each option is more ridiculous than the last, and then the options show up uninvited at their house with their sales pitches.  It ends badly. 

This hectic lampoon is mostly a satire on the profligate and disjointed invention of much grade-B SF.  Ballard refers to clothing made of “bioplastic materials,” then: “Upstairs in her wardrobes the gowns and dresses purred on their hangers like the drowsing inmates of some exquisite arboreal zoo.” Or: “She was a Canopan slave, hot-housed out of imported germ, a slender green-skinned beauty with moth-like fluttering gills.” So: amusing, but in an hour you’ll be hungry again.  The story’s first line, “It was half past love on New Day in Zenith and the clocks were striking heaven,” recalls the famous first line of Orwell’s 1984.  Is Ballard comparing the tyranny of excessive consumer choice to the tyranny of Big Brother?  Beats me.  Three stars, plus for style and minus for content.

(Note that in this one-dimensional rating system, the middle rating covers a multitude of sins and virtues in various combinations.) [One dimensional indeed! (ED)]

This month’s Classic Reprint is a cut above the usual: ridiculous, but amusingly so, rather than stupidly or offensively.  The Council of Drones by the mysterious W.K. Sonneman, from the October 1936 issue, follows a standard plot of the times: ordinary guy, Fred, living on his father’s farm, is invited by his friend the brilliant scientist to see his invention; things go wrong; perilous adventures ensue.  This time it’s “Cross-Rays, with Lifex Modulation”: swapping of human consciousness with other organisms.  Fred’s father keeps bees, so obviously Fred’s consciousness should be swapped with a queen bee’s.  But the promised five minutes turns into hours and days.  Fred is in despair.  But then his father comes, smoking the hive and stealing the honey, and Fred, enraged, goes bee, as it were. 

He persuades the other bees to go along with his schemes, first of self-defense and then of . . . why not . . . world domination, much assisted by the fact that bees from the eggs the queen lays after the insertion of human intelligence are themselves pretty intelligent.  This is all done straight, or at least straight-faced, with a number of apiaristic footnotes along the way.  Sam Moskowitz’s introduction praises the author’s “intimate knowledge of the bee society,” plausibly speculates that he was a beekeeper himself, and touts the value of “scientifically informative science fiction.” (Come back Lamarck, all is forgiven!) Three charmingly archaic stars.

Ben Bova is back, this time with a science article, Extra-Terrestrial Life: An Astronomer’s Theory.  It is a somewhat rambling and disorganized article touching on how life arose on Earth and what it might look like elsewhere, by way of much biochemistry, emphasizing this DNA stuff we are starting to hear a lot about.  But Bova is an engaging writer and there’s a lot of interesting information here.  Three stars. 

Bova is also featured in the editorial, complete with low-resolution photo, making me wonder whether he is about to replace the unfortunately dull Frank Tinsley as the regular science-monger.  Incidentally, the astronomer of the title is Bova, employed as a “technical communications executive,” but also described as “an ardent amateur astronomer.”

Sam Moskowitz contributes another “SF Profile,” this one The Saintly Heresy of Clifford D. Simak.” It’s reasonably perceptive and informative, but—like his profile of Theodore Sturgeon—it neglects Simak’s excellent recent stories while dwelling in detail on his apprentice work of the 1930s, with no mention, for example, of his well-received novels Ring Around the Sun (1953) and last year’s Time Is the Simplest Thing.  And Moskowitz’s clumsy and often outright ungrammatical writing is even more noticeable than usual.  Three stars.

And finally . . . to break the three-star monotony . . .

Bndct Brdfrt.

[March 3, 1962] Getting Somewhere (the April 1962 Amazing)

[The precocious Mr. Boston continues to take time from his busy high school schedule to provide coverage of Cele Goldsmith’s marquee digest: Amazing, the longest lived of the sff mags.  I am deeply grateful to John for his eloquent reviews.  I understand that he lives in particularly dull and uninspired part of the country, so I shouldn’t wonder that he has time to escape to lands of fantasy…]


by John Boston

The April Amazing opens with a bang: the cover is a startling departure from the usual humdrum machinery.  There’s a spacesuit in the foreground, but badly used, missing a glove and a boot, stuffed with straw, and held upright on a pole like a scarecrow, against a surreal background of reddish and yellow desert, a vast cloud of violet smoke, and a washed-out greenish sky.  Strikingly imaginative symbolic work by artist Lloyd Birmingham?  No, mostly illustrative: this tableau is from the first paragraph of Mark Clifton’s lead short story Hang Head, Vandal! But it is unusual and eye-catching, and Birmingham does get credit (if that’s the word) for the garish color scheme.

Clifton’s story is as relentlessly misanthropic as the recently-serialized Pawn of the Black Fleet, but a sixth as long, with no words wasted.  We need to test a new atomic reaction that we’re not sure we can stop; why not do it on Mars, which is empty?  Turns out it’s not as empty as we thought, and sure enough, we can’t stop the reaction and the attendant genocide.  It’s taste of ashes time—but they’re really high-quality ashes.  Clifton has long been preoccupied with the unsatisfactory nature of humankind, and what might be done to redeem it; see They’d Rather Be Right, featuring a machine that will make us immortal if we will let go of our prejudices.  At this point, though, Clifton seems to have given up on redemption.  Four stars for compressed eloquence.

J.G. Ballard is back with his best yet in the US magazines.  Thirteen to Centaurus opens in the Station, an isolated habitat containing four families, and 16-year-old Abel is figuring out too much.  Dr. Francis, who functions as teacher and a sort of psychological supervisor, brings him in for a talk, and reveals the truth: the Station is a spaceship en route to the nearest star, though Abel won’t live to see it; they are 50 years into the multi-generation journey.  Then Dr. Francis climbs out the secret exit and we see the real truth: the spaceship is a mock-up sitting on Earth, its residents experimental subjects.  And the people in charge, who have gotten a little uncomfortable that those who consented to this treatment are long dead, have decided to shut it down, albeit gradually. 

When Dr. Francis hears this, he flees back into the station, telling his superiors that the people inside are now going to need him even more—but exactly who’s needy isn’t so clear.  There is also a power shift going on during Dr. Francis’s mentorship of Abel; it’s no longer so clear who’s in charge.  And there is a final revelation which I won’t mention.  The bottom line is that Ballard is less impressed than most of his SF colleagues with Man the Rational Problem-Solver; here, he proposes that humans may sometimes be driven to—and be happier—adhering to and living lives based on world-views that they know to be false.

The story is far from perfect; it depends on the vague notion of “conditioning,” which allows Ballard to control what and how much his characters are able to perceive—otherwise the deception could never have lasted. But once you get past this handwaving implausibility, it’s a sharply original angle on some familiar ideas, smoothly and precisely written, with a kind of psychological insight that is rare in the SF mags.  I am near-sighted, and every couple of years I need a new pair of glasses.  (I’m told this will get better as I get older.) Reading Ballard after reading his competitors reminds me of getting new glasses: suddenly everything is just a little sharper and clearer.  Four stars—especially lustrous ones.

Edmond Hamilton, long nicknamed “World-Wrecker,” and perpetrator of the determinedly juvenile Captain Future, has his first appearance in the SF magazines since 1958, when the pulpy digests he frequented—Imagination, Imaginative Tales, and its successor Space Travel—died.  In Requiem, Hamilton’s characters are not wrecking any worlds; the Earth, long evacuated, is being wrecked by natural causes.  Captain Kellon, under orders, has brought a spaceship full of superficial and bickering media personalities to Earth to document its destruction, though he doesn’t see the point of it. 

But he starts taking long walks and finds an old ruined house (“Ross and Jennie—Their House” is written in the half-buried cement of the terrace).  He hangs out there, reflecting on the lives of Ross and Jennie and all their fellows and ancestors and civilization, whose traces are shortly to be destroyed.  And when it’s time to leave, he makes one last gesture of respect.  This fundamentally sentimental story could easily have become intolerable but is told with a quiet restraint that is surprising from the author of Crashing Suns, Battle for the Stars, etc.  Three stars, with a hat-tip for adroit precipice-walking.

Edward Wellen has had a scattering of stories in the SF magazines since 1952, and more recently, several in crime fiction magazines; if he’s much known at all, it’s probably for his ”non-fact articles” in Galaxy like Origins of Galactic Slang.  His novelette Flashback is an SF crime story: child shoots child in a schoolyard; a “forensic biophysics” inspector shows up to investigate; it’s his son who is dead; investigation shows that the gun materialized out of nowhere and belonged to someone 150 years dead.  From there it’s the old Ourobourosian time paradox plot, utterly implausible but perfectly readable, if sometimes annoying because of ostentatious displays of cleverness and little fragments of futuristic decoration mixed in like raisins in a pudding.  Some of these are amusing, though: “He had helped [dead child] Jimmy with semantics problems: ‘True or false.  Eye is to gag as egg is to moo.’ ” Vector sum: three stars, delivered with a grimace.

In Robert Hoskins’s Second Chance, the protagonist has invented psychic time travel and hopes to get a rich guy to pay to go back and straighten out his life.  Trouble is, when he gets back, he no longer remembers the things that, now, never happened.  Hoskins, whose resume consists of three mediocre stories in the UK magazines, adds no value to this familiar gimmick.  Two pretty dull stars.

The Classic Reprint is Spawn of the Ray by Maurice Duclos, from Amazing in 1938; he had several other stories in Amazing’s companion Fantastic Adventures.  The feckless protagonist irradiates microscopic flagellata (sic) with a cathode ray tube, they get big and get away, et cetera ad tedium.  One star.

Sam Moskowitz has another “SF Profile,” Isaac Asimov: Genius in the Candy Store, a reasonably capable and informative account of Asimov’s SF career to date.  As with Moskowitz’s previous articles, one could wish for greater detail and more attention to some of Asimov’s lesser known work, but, realistically, not within the space limits of a 146-page fiction magazine.  Four stars, even if partly by default — no one else is doing anything like this.

Benedict Breadfruit is present, and commendably brief.

Amazing has shown a sharp improvement in its last two issues.  The obvious question is whether they can keep it up.

[February 4, 1962] Promised Land in Sight? (the March 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

A couple of months ago I described Amazing, as “promising.” Now here’s the March 1962 issue, with two up-and-comers on the cover and a third on the contents page.

Verdict: promise partly kept.

Maybe “up-and-comer” isn’t quite le mot juste for Frank Herbert; “what have you done for me lately?” might fit better.  Herbert’s reputation was made by the very well-received Under Pressure, a/k/a The Dragon in the Sea and . . . [gag] . . . 21st Century Sub.  But there’s been no new novel, and the short fiction, though much of it is very solid, has not delivered on expectations.  Mindfield!, the lead novelette, doesn’t advance things.  After a cataclysmic war, a religious tyranny suppresses the old technology, but young rebels want knowledge and progress!  This unoriginal premise is decorated with some original details, e.g., everyone is conditioned against violence, and the priests must regularly undergo “Ultimate Conditioning” in some sort of ego-dissolving regeneration tank. 

The story is pretty murky, so I’ll leave it at this detail: The rebels have found an ancient skeleton and have put that into their stolen regeneration tank, and the simulacrum that emerges remembers its name (barely), and later, how to pilot a helicopter.  No disrespect to bones—where would we be without them?—but how do you get memory and complex skills out of them?  The answer: mumble mumble handwave, and not much of that.  This reads like an exercise in sauve qui peut, to salvage something from a larger project that didn’t pan out.  Two stars.

Mindfield! is illustrated on the cover, sort of: it portrays a missile launch that is about to happen at the end.  It’s consistent with Amazing’s habit of featuring machinery on the cover, but this is rather wimpy machinery: the artist Lloyd Birmingham seems to have used some medium like chalk or colored pencil rather than good old forceful oils or the new acrylics.  Lackluster!

Briton Brian W. Aldiss is definitely up and coming, now prolific in the US as well as the UK, and known for pushing the envelope and/or kicking the shins of standard SF practice.  So Tyrants’ Territory, featuring planetary exploration and a science puzzle, played very straight, is a surprise.  Askanza VI has huge mineral-filled oceans and littoral fauna that look like giant turtles, who build rudimentary structures and throw crockery full of acid when threatened.  Their heads are literally empty.  What’s going on?  The heads of the turtles, or more properly pseudo-chelonia (Aldiss has a footnote about that term), are radio receivers; they are guided by radio waves from the ocean, which by virtue of its composition, is a low-power transmitter.  Who’s transmitting, or whether there is some sort of collective mind, is not clear—but once human colonists arrive, they will quickly figure out how to control the pseudo-chelonia, and the worst elements among them will do so—hence the title. 

But why allow human colonists at all where there already is intelligent life? Uncharacteristically for Aldiss, there’s no real questioning of the colonial imperative beyond the protagonist’s bad mood. The only discordant note is the name of this venture—the Planetary Ecological Survey Team, or PEST—but that’s it for moral witness.  Nonetheless, the story is so well conceived, written, and assembled as to merit four stars.

J.G. Ballard is back with The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista , another in his series about Vermilion Sands — a colony of artists and other creative types, not to mention layabouts and poseurs.  It introduces psychotropic houses, which reflect the emotional states and physical reactions of their occupants—including their previous occupants.  This idea is good for gags early on, e.g.: “Rapidly we went through a mock Assyrian ziggurat (the last owner had suffered from St. Vitus’s Dance, and the whole structure still jittered like a galvanized Tower of Pisa).”

Protagonist Talbot and wife buy the house once belonging to Gloria Tremayne, a movie star who shot and killed her husband in the house but was acquitted of murder—with Talbot assisting her defense.  He’s never gotten over his fascination.  The relationship between Talbot and his wife and the house’s memory of Tremayne and her husband reinforce each other until the house tries first to kill Talbot’s wife and then to kill Talbot when he comes home drunk and aggressive, not unlike Tremayne’s husband.  Talbot has, as he later puts it, “reconstructed the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material.”

This superficially jokey story is extremely well done.  Apart from the cleverness of the idea and its development, Ballard (like Aldiss) is a vastly better writer at the word-and-sentence level than the genre standard, with a knack for striking phrases and images (“Starting to walk down to the lounge, I realized that the house was watching me like a wounded animal.”).  The portrayal of Talbot as a narcissistic jerk through his first-person narration is a little tour de force of “show, don’t tell.” Four stars.

Newish writer David Ely is here with The The Wizard of Light, in which multiple copies of artistic masterpieces appear, utterly indistinguishable from the originals—like hundreds of Mona Lisas left outside the Louvre.  The art market is destroyed.  Turns out old Dr. Browl, brilliant inventor of optical devices, has invented a molecular scanner, complete with “cybernetic reactor” to copy whatever was scanned.  And why is he doing this?  To destroy art, which “falsifies nature in general, and light values in particular.” Clever idea, but spun out for too long, and the story is told in a faux-19th Century verbose style; whether as pastiche or just reinventing the square wheel, it talks itself down to three stars.

The Classic Reprint this issue is Euthanasia Limited by David H. Keller, M.D., a power in his time (the 1920s and ‘30s).  It features detective Taine of San Francisco.  Sam Moskowitz’s introduction says Keller “performed a feat of characterization [with Taine] so extraordinary that it should be studied by every student of writing technique.” Whatever.  It begins: “A little white-haired woman was working in her laboratory.” Not bad for 1929!  Anna Van Why (honest) is making a battery—out of apple halves.  She studies death and has learned that all life has electrical potential, and death is its reduction to zero, as she explains for not quite four pages.  Her sociopathic brother is eager to learn more, and a year later a police official comes to discuss with her a series of unusual deaths and arrange a visit from Taine.  Taine arrives and cracks the by now obvious case through tedious chicanery.  To hell with this, bring back Anna Van Why!  Two stars.

Frank Tinsley contributes Cosmic Butterfly, a short article about a spaceship design that uses solar power to ionize a propellant.  Tinsley is a fairly boring writer and this is pitched at a level more elementary than most SF readers are likely to need.  Two stars.

In 1956, F&SF began running a series of vignettes titled Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot, by one Grendel Briarton (hint: think anagram), consisting of elaborate set-ups for terrible puns, usually on cliched sayings.  Now Amazing has commenced Through Time and Space with Benedict Breadfruit, by one Grandall Barretton (not even quite an anagram), consisting of elaborate set-ups for terrible puns on the names of SF authors.  This has been a public service announcement.

[Speaking of which, if you registered for WorldCon by January 31, you should have received your ballot.  Don’t forget to nominate Galactic Journey for “Best Fanzine!”]

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


by Gideon Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[December 19, 1961] AMAZING . . . NOT YET (the January 1962 Amazing)

[Several months ago, I put out the call for someone to help me review the two science fiction digests I didn’t have time to read: Fantastic and Amazing, both edited by young Cele Goldsmith.  I’ve generally considered them the least of the sff magazines, but given how few of them are left these days, I reasoned that they could not be entirely worthless.  Moreover, I want Galactic Journey to provide as complete a picture of the genre as I can, covering virtually every story produced in this country (and many in the UK as well!) Hence, my delight when super-fan Victoria Silverwolf took up the pen and started reviewing Fantastic

Now, a second long-time Journeyer, precocious John Boston, has also responded.  As 1962 begins, we now have all of the big periodicals presented.  Read on and see what’s you’ve missed…]


by John Boston

As a a maladjusted high school freshman in a reactionary and pious small town, I’m always glad of the opportunity to get away, if only for a little while.  Mostly, that means a flight of fancy facilitated by a trip to the library stacks or, if I’ve got a couple of bits, the newsstands.  And now, the Journey affords me a chance to reach all of you, the fellow travelers who follow this column. 

What I have for you today is the January 1962 Amazing Stories, subtitled Fact and Science Fiction.  For some years, this magazine has been slowly digging itself out of a hole of purposeful mediocrity, with much improvement — but it’s not quite at ground level yet.

The headliner in this issue is Mark Clifton’s serial Pawn of the Black Fleet, to be discussed when it concludes next month.  The issue actually leads off with a novelette, The Towers of Titan by relatively new author Ben Bova.  On Titan, humans have found a number of towers full of extraterrestrial machinery, still running after a million years, operation and purpose incomprehensible.  There’s a scientific puzzle, solved scientifically (at least enough to fool me).  Of course, there is a bit of serendipity, and there’s no question the solving process is beneficial to protagonist Dr. Lee’s romance with Elaine the resident archaeologist.  This is a clever and well constructed piece of hard-science SF, written in a determinedly plain style with considerable facility, which is both good news and bad.  It’s good when Bova is describing scientists discussing their findings and research methods, which otherwise could get pretty boring, but bad when he wallows in handy cliches. 

Visiting the towers:

“He could feel it again—the alienness, the lurking presence of an intelligence that scorned the intruders from Earth.”

After telling Elaine that his wife has left him:

“Do you still love her?”  Elaine asked. 

“I don’t know.  I don’t think I know what love is, anymore.  All I know is, on that long trip out to Vega, when I had nothing to do but sit and think, it wasn’t Ruth I was thinking about.  It was you.”

“Oh . . .”

And of course in the next paragraph, “she was his, at least for a while.”

Actually, it all fits.  This is only Bova’s second SF magazine appearance, but he has published the Winston juvenile The Star Conquerors, the flap copy of which reveals that he’s been a technical editor for Project Vanguard.  He is also now a screenwriter for a scientific educational outfit.  So he’s experienced at word-slinging with a premium on clarity as well as appealing to the least common denominator.  He may have a bright future in hard-science SF if he can lose some of the schmaltz.  Weighing cleverness and obvious enthusiasm against cliches, three stars.

These Towers are depicted on the cover, by Ed Emshwiller, which typifies the current look of Amazing: colorful, sharp-edged, cartoony, and emphasizing hardware — in this case the characters’ space suits and helmets (Elaine’s spacesuit being rather tight-fitting).  The previous year’s covers almost all prominently feature spaceship, space station, or launch facility.  They are all a trifle crude, garish, and frankly unimaginative compared to most of their current competition.  Compare, especially, this Emsh cover to his subtler, better-rendered and generally more interesting work for F&SF (say, his last three covers for 1961). 

The most interesting fiction here is J.G. Ballard’s The Insane Ones.  Ballard has been prolific and well received in the British SF magazines, but this is his first appearance in an American magazine; he is known here only via the Judith Merril annual anthologies and the short-lived US reprint of New Worlds.  His work displays a preoccupation with psychological themes, and this is no exception: an ultraconservative world government has outlawed mental health treatment.  Everybody has the right to be insane, but remains criminally responsible for conduct.  The result: “psychotics loitering like stray dogs in the up-town parks, wise enough not to shop-lift or cause trouble, but a petty nuisance on the cafe terraces, knocking on hotel-rooms at all hours of the night.”

Dr. Gregory, just released from prison for continuing to practice psychiatry, encounters a troubled young woman who kills herself when she can’t get any help from him.  Then he finds a disturbed young man, Christian, rifling his suitcase for barbiturates to keep himself from trying to kill the leader of the government.  Gregory yields and renders covert and cursory treatment—and Christian then sets off to kill the world leader, saying he is completely rational and someone has to do it.  He drives off, with Gregory chasing after him, yelling “Christian, you’re insane!”  This is not one of Ballard’s best: the idea is interesting but underdeveloped at this short length.  But even in this minor and facile (that word again) story Ballard’s style is vivid and incisive and one hopes that he will now appear regularly in the US.  Three and a half stars.

Miriam Allen de Ford’s SF career comprises some three dozen stories over the past decade or so, and yet is almost an afterthought.  Her 50-year-plus career has emphasized mystery fiction and true crime, with a detour through Big Little Books, authoring such titles as Astronomy for Beginners and What Great Frenchwomen Learned About Love.  In her spare time, she was an early disseminator of birth control information (when you could go to jail for it), and did some field work for Charles Fort.

If only de Ford’s writing were as fascinating as her life must have been.  The Akkra Case is blurbed as “a criminologist’s lecture-report” and it reads like one.  A young woman is found murdered in the rarely-entered Central Park in “Newyork I” in a diluted Brave New World-ish future: murder is nearly unknown, no one works until age 25 and then they can retire at 45, and a “healthy system of sexual experimentation” has replaced all the old hang-ups.  But the murder victim was a virgin, and that’s the clue: she and family were involved with the Naturists, a subversive cult opposed to all modern practices including sexual freedom. 

Yeah, but who killed her?  Her younger sister cracks the case, and the solution turns out to be as uninteresting as the lead-up.  En passant, the Naturists were rounded up, locked up, and then lobotomized, and it’s a measure of how detached the presentation is that one can’t really tell what de Ford thinks about that, or anything else in the story.  Two stars, being generous.

We are not done with de Ford.  The Editorial consists mostly of the text of a speech by de Ford on SF criminology, in which she describes three of her other stories, which sound no more interesting than this one. 

[ED: I have not read these stories, but I’ve generally found DeFord’s work more engaging than Mr. Boston does.  Perhaps these are bad examples…or perhaps I’ve encountered the good ones]

The Mars Snooper by Frank Tinsley, is a rather basic description of the engineering problems involved in getting a spaceship to Mars and back.  It’s a piece of straight exposition and nothing more.  Three stars.

Interestingly, this Tinsley, who has contributed several such pieces to Amazing, started out as an artist, providing cover and interior illustrations for pulp magazines, then art and text for a comic strip, then text and illustrations for articles in Mechanix Illustrated, and now in Amazing with text and a single illustration.

The remaining story is Inconstancy by Roger Dee (Roger D. Aycock), whose 50 stories in the SF mags since 1949 have had little discernible impact.  This one certainly has none.  Mars and Earth, their populations having common ancestry, exchange ambassadors, who are going to have to remain away from home for a couple of years.  The Martian ambassador, selected to look Earth-ish, is introduced to a nice young woman, and the Earth ambassador, selected to look Martian, hits it off with the Mars ambassador’s wife.  Problems solved!  One star to this piece of filler.

So: the fiction here, exclusive of the serial, yields an overall rating of a little under two and a half stars.  The best one can say of this issue is that it shows promise: promise of more Ballard and better Bova. 

[I’ll take promise.  It’s more than Analog delivers much of the time!]