Tag Archives: j.t. mcintosh

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

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


by Gideon Marcus

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

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


(from Fanac)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Songs, by Fritz Leiber

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

The Golden Flask, by Kendell Foster Crossen

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

Salmanazar, by Gordon R. Dickson

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

The Voyage Which Is Ended, by Dean McLaughlin

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

Mumbwe Jones, by Fred Benton

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

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

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

The Light Fantastic, by Isaac Asimov

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

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

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

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

Fruiting Body, by Rosel George Brown

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

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

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

Spatial Relationship, by Randall Garrett

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

The Stupid General, by J. T. McIntosh

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

What Price Wings?, by H. L. Gold

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

Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman, by Harlan Ellison

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

The Gumdrop King, by Will Stanton

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

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

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

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

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




[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 15, 1961] Double Trouble (Ace Double F-113)


by Gideon Marcus

God help me, I’ve found a new medium for my science fiction addiction.

Before 1950, I was strictly a toe-dipper in the scientifiction sea.  I’d read a few books, perused a pulp now and then.  Then Galaxy came out, and I quickly secured a regular subscription to the monthly magazine.  After I got turned onto the genre, I began picking up books at the stores, occasionally grabbing copies of F&SF, Imagination, Astounding, and Satellite, too.  By 1957, my dance card was pretty full.  I was reading up to seven magazines a month, and I’d already filled a small bookcase with novels.

Then I started this column.

Well, I couldn’t very well leave magazines or books unbought.  How then could I give an honest appraisal of the genre as a whole?  By 1960, I was up to two large bookcases – one for magazines, and one for books.  For me, the magazine bust of the late 50’s was something of a blessing: fewer digests to collect!

I might have been all right with this load, juggling work, family, books and magazines.  But then I discovered Ace Doubles.

Occupying that niche between single novels and story collections, Ace Doubles are two short novels bound back to back.  It’s a format that’s been around since 1952, but I generally ignored them.  I figured the material was either rehashes of magazine serials, or stuff too mediocre to warrant its own release. 

I wasn’t far off the mark, but at the same time, after plowing through a few of them, I determined that there was often solid entertainment to be had amongst the pages of these two-headed beasts.  And so I start on my third set of bookshelves…and my first review of an Ace Double: serial number F-113.

Let’s call Charles Fontenay’s Rebels of the Red Planet the headliner.  It is, after all, the longer of the two books.  The set-up is interesting: the spaceline Marscorp has a stranglehold on the Martian colonies, controlling all imports of food and other needed supplies.  The Terran government, in complicity with Marscorp, has forbidden any attempts to develop alternatives to Earth-supplied goods.  Nevertheless, two movements have continued in a clandestine fashion.  One seeks to cultivate humanity’s latent psychic powers to teleport supplies from Earth.  Another conducts ghastly genetic experiments on unwilling subjects, attempting to create a race of humans that can survive in Mars’ frigid, scarcely atmosphered environment.

Enter Maya Cara Nome, an Earth agent dispatched to infiltrate the Martian rebellion and spike their works.  She’s a most engaging heroine, clever and strong, and I am always thrilled to read a female protagonist – they are so rare, you see.  Rebels is the story of Nome’s attempts to assess the progress of the rebellion’s efforts.  Is her fiancee, the ambitious and intolerant Nuwell Eli, help or peril?  And just who is this mysterious Dark Kensington, a rebel scientist with startling powers and a 25-year hole in his memory?  Are the ugly Martian natives truly degenerate?  Or have they shunned their ancestors’ civilization for a reason?

You’ll have to read it to find out.  It’s quite competently done, a curious mix of pulp and modern styles, though the “science” rather strains the credulity.  I tend to be bored by Mars as a setting, but Fontenay brings the red planet vividly to life.

Three stars.

Now flip the book, and what do we have?  Definitely not a novel, clocking in at just 80 pages.  However, J.T. McIntosh’s 200 Years to Christmas is not a bad novella.  In fact, I’d even consider it as a contender for the 1961 Galactic Star (the competition is thin), but it was actually first published in a British magazine (Science Fantasy) back in 1959.  Perhaps Journey writer, Ashley Pollard can set me straight on this.

In any event, McIntosh is a pretty reliable writer of pretty decent stuff.  Christmas involves one of my favorite set-ups: it takes place on a slower-than-light colony ship whose trip time is several centuries.  I would expect that society on such a closed community would become stagnant and stultified in short order. 

McIntosh has a different take.  On the colony ship, culture cycles in wild shifts from repressive to liberal in intervals of considerably less than a generation.  Christmas opens up as a libertine era is just beginning to wane.  Orgies and hedonism slowly give way to religious puritanism.  At the peak of that conservative era, shipboard life resembles Salem Massachusetts in its severity.  It is only after things go too far that the pendulum shifts back toward personal freedom.  But will the events of that repressive period be remembered in ten years?

Christmas is a timely piece.  America has just gone though eight years of relative stability, an era of prosperous conservatism.  Now, the tides have shifted.  We have a hawkish, ambitious new President as well as a restive populace straining at the shackles imposed by precedent.  Will the 1960s be as tumultuous as the 1950s were calm?  Will they show that McIntosh’s fast tempo for societal change isn’t implausible? 

As for the actually quality of the novella, it is not a classic for the ages; but it is well-crafted and characterized.  It certainly garners three stars.

Thus, in sum, Ace Double F-133 provides 240+ pages of good entertainment.  These are stories at least as good as what I’m finding in my monthly magazine subscriptions, and in an attractive package to boot. 

And that means the amount of time before my house comprises nothing but floor-to-ceiling bookshelves has just been reduced yet again…

[July 3, 1961] Bigger is Better (August 1961 Galaxy)

Even months are my favorite. 

Most science fiction digests are monthlies, but the twins run by Fred Pohl, IF and Galaxy, come out in alternating months.  The latter is noteworthy for being the longest regularly published sf magazine, comprising a whopping 196 pages, so big that I need two articles to cover it.  Galaxy also happens to be a personal favorite; I’ve read every issue since the magazine debuted in October 1950 (when it was a smaller monthly).

How does the August 1961 issue fare?  Pretty good, so far!

The lead novella, The Gatekeepers, by J.T. McIntosh, portrays an interplanetary war between two worlds linked by a matter-transmission gateway.  The setting is interesting and the feel of the story almost Leinsterian.  There is an unpolished quality to the piece, though, which I’ve seen in McIntosh before, as if he dashes off pieces without a final edit when he’s writing for the poorer-paying mags (Galaxy dropped its rates in ’59; they may have recently gone back up).  Three stars.

The whimsical Margaret St. Clair brings us Lochinvar, featuring an adorable Martian pet with the ability to neutralize anger.  It’s a story that had me completely sold until the abrupt, expositional ending.  Did the editor (now Fred Pohl) lose the last few pages and have to reconstruct them?  Was the original piece too long?  Three stars.

You may remember Bill Doede from his promising first work, Jamieson, about a group of star-exiled teleports who derive their power from a surgically implanted device.  The God Next Door is a sequel of sorts, its protagonist one of the prior story’s teleports who flits to Alpha Centauri.  There, he finds a tribe of regressed primitives, their humanity underscored by the juxtaposition of another alien, the omnipotent, incorporeal whirlwind who claims the world for his own.  The plot is simple, and by all rights, it should be a mediocre story.  But Doede’s got a style I like, and I found myself marking four stars on my data sheet.

R.A. Lafferty’s Aloys, on the other hand, about a poverty-stricken but brilliant theoretician, is not as clever as it needs to be.  Lafferty’s stock-in-trade is his off-beat, whimsical style.  It often works, but this time, it grates rather than syncopates.  Two stars.

Now for a piece on a subject near and dear to my heart.  As any of my friends will tell you, I spend a lot of time lost in daydream.  I think that’s a trait common to many writers.  My particular habit is to project myself backward in time.  It’s an easy game to play since so many artifacts of the past endure in the present to serve as linchpins for such fantasies. 

But what if these harmless fugues aren’t just flights of fancy?  What if these overly real memories prove the existence of a past life…or constitute evidence of something more sinister?  James Harmon’s The Air of Castor Oil, is an exciting story on this topic with a good (if somewhat opaque) ending.  Four stars.

It seems that sci-fi poetry is becoming a fad, these days.  Galaxy has now joined the trend, offering Sheri S. Eberhart’s amusing Extraterrestrial Trilogue.  A satiric, almost Carrollian piece.  Four stars.

Henry Slesar is a busy young s-f writer who has been published (under one name or another) in most of the sf digests.  His latest piece, The Stuff, features a man dying too young and the drug that just might salvage him a life.  The twist won’t surprise you, but the story is nicely executed, and the title makes sense once you’ve finished reading.  Three stars. 

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans.  I’ll see you with Part II in just a few days.

[June 9, 1961] Common denominator (July 1961 IF)

Science fiction digests, those monthly magazines filled with s-f short stories, are often like little anthologies.  Editors will let their “slush pile” stack up, and when they have enough of a kind of piece, they publish them in a themed issue.

I don’t know whether the theme of the July 1961 IF science fiction was intentional or not, but it definitely focuses on the issues of over-population and over-mechanization.  That is, in the future, there will be too many of us, and we won’t have a whole lot to do. 

I’m not particularly concerned about the former.  We live on a big planet, and although our presence on it definitely has an impact, I don’t think living space is going to be an issue for a long time, if ever.  On the other hand, the latter topic holds a strong fascination for me. 

We’ve already seen a precipitous drop in the percentage of people employed in agriculture.  Industry looks like it will shed workers soon, too, as the use of robots increases.  That leaves the nebulous “service” sector, whose added value to our lives seems rather arbitrary.  Eventually, I foresee a world where no one has to grow or build anything…and then what will work mean to us?

It’s a worthy topic for discussion.  Sadly, the writing in the July 1961 IF fails to impress and often downright disappoints.  Here’s what we’ve got:

Jim Harmon is an often lackluster IF perennial.  His novelette The Planet with no Nightmare, involves an insomniac space explorer and the strange planetoid he and his two crewmates discover.  On said world, the animals play dead when startled, but when no one’s watching, they disappear.  It has a promising opening, but the end is no great shakes.  Three stars.

Then there’s William Stuart, who started with a bang and hasn’t quite recreated his initial spark.  The Real Hard Sell tells of a salesman in a world where selling is the only human profession remaining.  Like many of the stories in this issue, it is frightfully conventional except for its premise.  Still, as a satire of our current commercial practices, it’s not bad.  Three stars.

Now brace yourself – those were the good stories of the issue.

The Stainless Steel Knight is John Rackham’s attempt at humor featuring a hapless Terran agent, a faithful alien companion, and colonies that adhere to storybook milieus.  In this case, the planet the agent visits is modeled on England of the Middle Ages.  As to following the issue’s theme, the story is all about the agent’s mission to slay a “dragon”, a leftover automated tractor/combine that threatens to put the colonists’ serfs out of work.  Well, the Arthurian hijinx was better in Edward Eager’s Half Magic, the Middle English better in Anderson’s The High Crusade, and the medieval satire better in Pratt and De Camp’s The Incomplete Enchanter.  Two stars.

Once again, James T. McIntosh saves his dreck for IF.  He often can write so well, but Doormat World, about a returned colonist taking advantage of Earth’s spate of super-pacifism, is a poor, disgusting little piece.  One star.

A Taste of Tenure is a surprisingly clumsy piece by Gordon Dickson in which a businessman, promoted to the executive level, finds himself unable to discharge his predecessor’s secretary, protected as she is by the government’s strict “right to work” laws.  Again – interesting premise, but utterly conventional despite taking place two centuries from now, and the ending is a confused muddle.  Two stars.

Finally, we have The Junkmakers, by IF newcomer Albert Teichner.  It has a great concept: planned obsolescence taken to an absurd extreme: enormous communal potlaches are held at five year intervals and given an almost religious significance.  If there were any characters in this story, or much of a plot, it’d be a real winner.  As it is, it’s the outline of a piece for someone more skilled (Cordwainer Smith?) to develop into a masterpiece.  Two stars.

So there you have it.  A collection of stories by IF‘s reliable stable on an interesting theme that barely breaks the two-star barrier.  This is easily the worst issue of IF I’ve read.  Editor Fred Pohl better start enforcing some higher standards, or I predict this magazine will end up following the path trod smooth by Infinity, Venture, Imagination, and thirty other digests born in the 50s.

[April 8, 1961] Variety pack (May 1961 IF)

The nice thing about a science fiction magazine (or anthology) as opposed to a novel is if you don’t like one story, you might like the next.  Once you start a bad novel, your only options are to drag yourself through it or give it up unfinished.  And you can’t very well review an unfinished novel, can you?

Galaxy’s sister magazine, IF, is not as good, on the average, as the other members of the Big Four (including F&SF and Analog).  But because it is a digest, occasional stories surprise and delight.  There’s one gem in this month’s issue of IF, and a few other diverting tales.

Not the first one, though.  J.T. McIntosh tends to save his dreck for the lesser mags, and his That’s the Way it Goes is a thinly redressed pioneer story grafted onto a Malthusian future.  Science fiction has to be at least a little visionary if not progressive.  Way fails at both, though to its credit, it’s not unreadable; just unimpressive.  Two stars.

William Stuart’s Out of Mind has an interesting concept: a planet of telepaths who present to you the experience you most want to have.  As one might expect, it is a dangerous world, indeed, for those who ever want to return home.  It’s done in a droll satirical fashion that I didn’t care for, but you might.  Two stars.

I think Frank Banta must be new, as I haven’t encountered his name before.  The Connoisseur is a sad, humorous story about an off-course colony ship.  It doesn’t tread new ground, but it is pleasant and short.  Three stars.

Seven Doors to Education is the jewel of this issue.  It is the third story by newcomer Fred Saberhagen, and I think it’s my favorite thus far.  A young postal worker with no particular talents or prospects is abducted by unknown forces and presented with a series of increasingly difficult puzzles.  Why him?  And to what end?  A genuinely engaging story with a satisfying conclusion.  Four stars.

The Useless Bugbreeders may be James Stamers’ best story to date.  That’s not necessarily high praise given his track record of two and three star submissions, but this particular story, about an attorney attempting to spare a planet in the way of interstellar freeway construction, is silly fun.  Three stories.

Cinderella Story, the second story I’ve read by Allen Kim Lang, retains his breezy style.  It works in this tale, of a young woman federal agent who is sent to investigate a most peculiar bank.  It scores points for featuring a strong female lead, and for spotlighting the sexism women have to endure in the workplace (though I can’t be certain if Lang did so deliberately or unconsciously).  Three stars.

Ending with a whimper, the last story is Jack Sharkey’s The Flying Tuskies of K’niik K’naak — basically, about the comeuppance of an upper class big-game hunter by his mistreated servant.  Again, it’s a science fiction story with no science fiction.  I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s just not that good.  Two stars.

That puts us at 2.75 for the whole book, but if you start on page 50 and quit around page 124, you’re actually in for a fine read.  And that’s 75 more pages of good fiction than I’ve published this month!

[March 12, 1961] Mirror Images (April 1961 Galaxy, second half)

Last time, my theme was “more of the same,” pointing out that Galaxy is keeping its content as consistent as possible, at the expense of taking any great risks.  It is ironic that, as I pound the keys of my typewriter, my radio is playing a new version of “Apache.”  This bossanova version by a Danish cat, name of Jörgen Ingmann, is fair, but I like the British one better, the one compellingly performed by The Shadows

You are, of course, here to find out if the rest of the April 1961 Galaxy follows the trend set by the first half.  The answer is “yes.”  It’s a good issue, but not a great one.

Let’s start with the next story, I can do Anything by J.T. McIntosh.  I know I have readers who aren’t particularly fond of him, but I find he usually turns in a good show.  So it is with this story, about a man exiled to a miserable mining world for the crime of being a bit more than human.  His power is an unsettling one; I’m glad to see it employed solely for good.  A gritty piece with depth.  Four stars.

Homey Atmosphere is a cute tale about the virtues and difficulties inherent in employing sentient computers in one’s starships.  Daniel Galouye is another author on whom I often find opinion divided.  I generally fall on the side of liking him.  This story has an ending you might suspect before it occurs, but that doesn’t make it a bad one.  Four stars.

All the People is a strangely unwhimsical and straightforward piece by R.A. Lafferty about a man who knows everyone on Earth despite never having met most of them.  The story gets a quarter star for mentioning my (obscure) home town of El Centro, California, and it loses a quarter star for spoiling the ending a page early with a telling illustration.  Three stars.

I don’t know Roger Dee very well.  In fact, I’ve never reviewed any one his stories in this column, and though my notes suggest I’ve encountered him before, none of his creations stuck in my mind.  I suppose, then, it should come as no surprise that his The Feeling similarly failed to impress.  The notion that astronauts should feel an overwhelming sense of homesickness immediately upon leaving their home planet is not justified by any scientific research, and while, as the spacemen’s ship approaches Mars, the story careens near an exciting resolution, Dee adroitly manages to avoid it.  Two stars.

But then there’s Ted Sturgeon, who can write three-star stories in his sleep (and probably does, to pay the bills).  Tandy’s Story reads like a Serling preamble to an episode of The Twilight Zone and features two poignant themes.  The first is a Sturgeon perennial: the symbiotic merger of minds with a result decidedly greater than the sum of the parts involved.  The other is a human perennial: the unease at watching one’s children grow up far too fast… 

A very good story, but it doesn’t tread any new ground for Sturgeon or Galaxy.  Thus, just four stars.

On the plus side, we have a 3.5-star issue, and only one below-average entry in the bunch.  In the minus column (paradoxically) are the good stories, none of which are outstanding.  That said, I do like the fellows they’ve now got doing the art.  I say if you’re going to include pictures in your literary magazine, make them good ones.

Give me a couple of days for next entry—I’m making my way through James Blish’s Titan’s Daughter.  It’s not bad, so far, though it feels a little dated, which makes sense given that the first half of the novel was written as the novella, Beanstalk, nine years ago.

Stay tuned!

[Dec. 13, 1960] Ringing In a bit Early (January 1961 IF)

1961 began on November 10, 1960.

I see some of you are scratching your heads in confusion; others are nodding sagely.  It’s a long-held tradition in the publishing industry that the date printed on magazines is the date through which they are expected to be on the bookstands, not the date they are first displayed.  IF Science Fiction, a bi-monthly, comes out a full two months before it’s “expiration date.”  Thus, I picked up a copy with a January 1961 stamp well before Thanksgiving 1960!

Since IF was acquired by the folks who bring us Galaxy Science Fiction, it has been something of a weak sister to that elder magazine.  This month’s issue may turn all that around.

First, though, we have to get through the lead novella, Absolute Power, by the wildly inconsistent J.T. McIntosh.  I imagine he got top billing because he is the most famous of the crop appearing in this issue, but what a stinker.  Power features a smug man dispatched by a wealthy magnate to a backward planet in order to improve the consistency of production of a luxury foodstuff.  The aboriginal inhabitants never time their deliveries with the arrivals of the freighters, you see, and the stuff perishes quickly.  That part of the set-up is fine.  But said smug person is also tasked with making docile the magnate’s intolerable daughter, who is sent to the planet, too.

When I was a kid, I enjoyed The Taming of the Shrew, but as I’ve matured, I’ve found it increasingly offensive and decreasingly humorous.  McIntosh’s version is no improvement on the formula, and by the end, you’ll want to give that supercilious “hero” a sock in the jaw just to wipe the smile off his puss.  One star.

Now, observe the smile on my puss.  Once you get past that kidney stone of a story, it’s all good-to-amazing. 

Take Assassin by Bascom Jones, Jr., for instance.  A man is sent to wipe out the entire population of Earth, relying on subtlety and spycraft.  While not a brilliant story, Jones (who has only written one other story, for Galaxy) does an excellent job of dropping hints of the story’s context rather than dumping it on the reader in a heap of exposition.  Three stars.

The off-beat R.A.Lafferty is back with The Polite People of Pudibundia.  Why is it that the humanoid Pudibundians are so incredibly polite, to the point of shielding their eyes with tinted goggles so as never to affront each other with direct gaze?  And why has every Terran who ever visited Pudibundia died shortly thereafter?  You’ll have to read it to find out!  Three stars.

Then we have Vassi, by Art Lewis.  I’ve never heard of this fellow before, but if this novelette is any indication of what we can expect, good God, man, keep writing!  It is really the intersection of two tales, one of personal grief and tragedy, the other of exploration with a tinge of desperation.  Uniquely crafted and very poignant, the last pages are something of a difficult read, but I promise it’s worth it.  Five stars.

Jack Sharkey is an author whose work has increasingly attracted my admiration.  His The Contact Point is an interesting tale of the first meeting between alien races.  Can you guess the kicker?  Three stars.

On to a pair of woman-penned short stories.  The first is Gingerbread Boy, by Phyllis Gotlieb (who has, hitherto, stayed in Cele Goldsmith’s magazines), an excellent tale about the troubles faced by a race of androids, created as offspring substitutes, when they are superseded by “real” children.  Four stars. 

Number two is the fun The House in Bel Aire by the expert Margaret St. Clair.  Be careful whose house you break into—you may offend the Mistress of the Palace.  Reminiscent of the third Oz book (for Baum-o-philes).  Four stars.

Finally, Joseph Wesley (whom you may know by his pen-name, L.J. Stecher) has an engaging story, A Matter of Taste, wherein an invulnerable interstellar insurance adjuster is called in to avert imminent conquest and enslavement by a powerful race of mentalist aliens.  Nicely done, though the ending is a bit pat.  Three stars.

That leaves us with a book that scores a touch over three stars (and if you skip the opening novelette, a solid 3.5).  Moreover, there were none of the editing errors that have come to plague even the best of the scentificition digests these days.  Fred Pohl is definitely shaping IF into something to look forward to six times a year!

[Nov. 11, 1960] A Celebrated Veteran (December 1960 Galaxy)

Ten years ago, a World War Two vet named H. L. Gold decided to try his luck as editor of a science fiction digest.  His Galaxy was among the first of the new crop of magazines in the post-war science fiction boom, and it quickly set an industry standard. 

A decade later, Galaxy is down to a bimonthly schedule and has cut author rates in half.  This has, predictably, led to a dip in quality, though it is not as pronounced as I’d feared.  Moreover, the magazine is half-again as large as it used to be, and its sister publication, IF, might as well be a second Galaxy.  All told, the magazine is still a bargain at 50 cents the issue.

Particularly the December 1960 issue.  There’s a lot of good stuff herein (once you get past yet another senilic Gold editorial):

The reliable J.T. McIntosh leads off with The Wrong World, in which the Earth is conquered…accidentally.  There was some misunderstanding by our invaders as to the technological level of our world; for the more advanced planets, we’re supposed to get an invitation to interstellar society, not a savaging.  It’s kind of an oddball piece, but it kept my attention despite the late hour at which I began it.  Three stars.

Next up is brand-newcomer, Bill Doede with Jamieson, an interesting tale of teleporting humans whose talents are viewed as akin to witchcraft.  Not a perfect tale, but definitely a promising beginning to a writing career, and with a female protagonist.  Three stars.

For Your Information is interesting, if not riveting, stuff about a Polynesian feast involving thousands of mating sea worms.  I understand they’re a delicacy.  I’ll take their word for it…  Three stars.

Charles V. de Vet is back with Metamorphosis, a story about a symbiotic life form that makes one superpowered… but which also turns the host into a ticking time bomb.  You spend much of the story pretty certain that you know how to defuse the bomb, such that it strains the credulity that there should be anything to worry about.  The ending, however, addresses the issue nicely.  Three stars.

Finally (for today) we have Snuffles by the rather odd but compelling R.A. Lafferty.  He writes stories in a style that shouldn’t work but somehow does.  That’s either some innate talent or blind luck.  Given his track record, I’m betting on the former.  In any event, the novelette details the misadventures of a six-person planetary exploration crew (two women, life scientists–women are always cast as biologists for some reason) who are at first charmed and then menaced by a sexless Teddy Bear monster with delusions of Godhood.  A fascinating story.  Four stars.

Next time, we’ll have works by Ron Goulart, H.B. Fyfe, Jim Harmon, Patrick Fahy, and Daniel Galouye.  That’s a pretty good lineup!

[June 19, 1960] Half Measures (July 1960 IF Science Fiction)

I’m glad science fiction digests haven’t gone the way of the dodo.  There’s something pleasant about getting a myriad of possible futures in a little package every month.  You can read as much or as little as you like at a time.  The short story format allows the presentation of an idea without too much belaboring.

Every month, I get several magazines in the mail: Astounding and Fantasy and Science Fiction are monthlies; Galaxy and IF are bi-monthlies, but since they’re owned and edited by the same folks, they essentially comprise a single monthly.  I don’t have subscriptions to the other two digests of note, Amazing and Fantastic (again, both run by the same people); they just aren’t worth it, even if they occasionally publish worthy stuff.

This month, IF showed up last; hence, it is the last to be reviewed.  As usual, it consists mostly of moderately entertaining stories that weren’t quite good enough to make it into Galaxy.  Let’s take a look:

In a Body is the lead novella by J.T. McIntosh, and it’s frustrating as all get out.  I often like McIntosh, though others find him competently forgettable.  This particular story has all the makings of a great one: shape-changing alien is shipwrecked on Earth and must find a soulmate to survive.  She adopts human form and chooses a man afflicted with leukemia to be her husband–but he’s already betrothed to another.  In the hands of Theodore Sturgeon, this could have been a classic.  Even had McIntosh just given it a good rewrite, showing more and telling less, it would have easily garnered four of five stars.  As is, it is readable, even compelling, but it could have been much more.

Psycho writer Robert Bloch’s Talent, on the other hand, is perfect as is.  Featuring a boy with an extraordinary talent for mimicry, Talent is one of those stories that starts intriguingly and descends slowly into greater horror.  The style is nicely innovative, too.  This piece is easily the highlight of the issue.

It is followed by one of the lesser lights: Time Payment by Sylvia Jacobs, a rather incoherent tale about a device that allows one to time travel to the future.. sort of.  Really, one just lives one’s life normally, but with no lasting memory of living, until the destination time is reached.  Then, the recollections all flood in.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The prolific and not-untalented Jim Harmon offers us The Last Trespasser, a 3-star tale about the humanity’s encounter with a race of beneficial symbiotes and the one fellow who finds himself unable to take on an alien “Rider.”  It’s a little uneven, and the reveal doesn’t quite make sense, but I liked his creative prediction of future slang.

Usually reliable Fred Pohl has an uninspired entry called The Martian in the Attic, about a rather nebbishy would-be blackmailer who discovers that the inventor behind many of the wonders of the Modern Age actually had help from a pet alien.  It feels archaic. 

The Non-Electronic Bug, by newcomer E. Mittleman, is a bog-standard psi-endowed card sharking tale better suited to the pages of mid-1950’s Astounding than a modern magazine.  It is in English, however, and perhaps Mr. Mittleman will improve with time.

Capping off this issue is Hayden Howard’s Murder beneath the Polar Ice, a talky, technical thriller involving an American Navy frogman and the Soviet listening post he investigates in the Bering Strait.  Howard has been in hibernation as a writer for seven years after a short stint penning tales for the defunct Planet Stories, and Murder doesn’t herald an auspicious re-awakening. 

And that brings us to the end of our journey through July 1960’s magazines.  F&SF is the clear winner, at 3.5 stars to IF‘s and Astounding‘s 2.5s.  It’s hard to award a “best story”–it may well be Bloch’s Talent, but it might also be It is not My Fault from F&SF.  I think I’ll give the nod to the former.

Finally, out of the 20 stories that appeared in the Big Three, just three were penned by women.  Unless it turns out “Mr.” Mittleman is a woman.  That’s actually a number we haven’t seen since February.  Here’s hoping we break 15% in the months to come!