Tag Archives: Jack Egan

[January 22, 1963] Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (February 1963 Fantastic)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

January was full of ups and downs here in the United States.  Early in the month, the price of a first class stamp jumped from four cents to five cents.  That’s a twenty-five percent increase, and it’s only been five years since the last time the cost went up.


And postcards are now four cents.

At least we could forget about inflation for a while when Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece La Gioconda (more commonly known as Mona Lisa) was put on exhibition in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.  Thanks to the diplomatic charm of First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, the French agreed to let the most famous painting in the world travel across the Atlantic.


President Kennedy, Madame Malraux, French Minister of State for Cultural Affairs Malraux, Mrs. Kennedy, Vice-President Johnson.

Not even this great artistic event, however, could distract Americans from the most important social problem facing the nation.  Because I live about twenty miles from the state of Alabama, it hit me hard when I read the inauguration speech of George C. Wallace, newly elected Governor of the Cotton State.


Wallace delivering a speech written by Asa Carter, a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny and I say: segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

Given this fiery defiance, I am terrified of the possibility of my country facing a second Civil War over Civil Rights.

It’s understandable that, in these uncertain times, Americans turned to the soft crooning of Steve Lawrence’s syrupy tearjerker Go Away, Little Girl, which hit the top of the charts this month.

Appropriately, the latest issue of Fantastic is a mixture of the good and the bad.

Dr. Adams’ Garden of Evil, by Fritz Leiber

It seems likely that Lloyd Birmingham’s bizarre cover art provided the inspiration for this strange story of supernatural revenge.  The antihero is the publisher of a girlie magazine.  A woman holds him responsible for the coma that robbed her sister of her mind after she was the magazine’s Kitten-of-the-Month.  We quickly find out that this isn’t just paranoia on her part.  Through methods that combine Mad Science and Black Magic, the publisher grows miniature copies of women, which have harmful effects on the real ones.  He soon faces his just deserts.  Stylishly and elegantly written, with a great deal of imagination, this is a weird tale that always holds the reader’s attention.  Four stars.

The Titan in the Crypt, by J. G. Warner

The narrator enters a labyrinth of catacombs beneath the city of New Orleans, where he witnesses arcane rituals by cultists offering a disturbing sacrifice to a gigantic idol.  A horrible being chases after him as he makes his way back to the outside world.  This pastiche of H. P. Lovecraft doesn’t offer anything new.  The best thing about it is another outstanding, if grotesque, illustration by Lee Brown Coye.  Two stars.

Let ‘Em Eat Space, by William Grey Beyer

This issue’s reprint comes from the November 4, 1939 issue of Argosy.  Two insurance investigators travel to a distant solar system in order to find out why the metabolism of everyone on Earth is slowing down.  They find a planet inhabited by giant intelligent blobs, some of whom have mutated into evil creatures that prey on the others.  Our pair of wisecracking heroes manage to save humanity and the aliens.  This is a wild, tongue-in-cheek pulp adventure yarn with a lot of bad science.  Two stars.

Final Dining , by Roger Zelazny

An artist paints a portrait of Judas, using a strange pigment he found in a meteorite.  The painting has a life of its own, and tempts the painter into evil and self-destruction.  This is a compelling story by a prolific new writer.  It’s slightly overwritten in places, and the meteorite seems out of place in a tale of pure fantasy, but otherwise it’s very effective.  Four stars.

The Masters, by Ursula K. LeGuin

This is only the second genre story by another promising newcomer.  It takes place centuries after the fall of modern civilization.  Instead of returning to a completely pre-technological society, however, the people in this post-apocalyptic world are able to build steam engines and other moderately advanced devices.  The plot begins when a man undergoes a grueling initiation, allowing him to join the rigidly controlled guild of machinists.  A fellow engineer tempts him to violate the rules of their order through such forbidden activities as trying to measure the distance to the Sun and using Arabic numerals.  This pessimistic tale is much more original than most stories set after a worldwide disaster.  Four stars.

Black Cat Weather, by David R. Bunch

Editor Cele Goldsmith’s most controversial author offers a brief story set in a future where people have many of their body parts replaced with metal.  A little girl not yet old enough to require such procedures, assisted by a robot, brings something from a cemetery to her father.  Told in a dense style that requires close reading, this is a dark, disturbing tale.  Four stars.

Perfect Understanding, by Jack Egan

A man’s spaceship crashes on Mercury while racing away from hostile aliens.  The ethereal beings track him down, but he captures them and forces them to reveal their secrets in a way not revealed until the end of the story.  This space opera reads like something rejected by Analog.  It throws in a lot of implausible details, and the twist ending is predictable.  One star.

Like life in these modern times, this issue was a real rollercoaster ride.  Maybe it’s best to follow the advice of the old Johnny Mercer song and accentuate the positive.

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




[December 12, 1962] UP THE SPOUT AGAIN (the January 1963 Amazing)


by John Boston

All right, Frogeyes,* dust off all the stars.  We’re finally going to need them for this January 1963 Amazing, specifically for Keith Laumer’s novelet It Could Be Anything.
*Those without a classical education may ignore this and similar allusions.

“Things are not what they seem” is a well worn SF device, employed by the likes of Heinlein, Sturgeon, and more recently Philip K. Dick.  But it’s not worn out, as Laumer demonstrates.  Young Brett is about to take the train out of the stereotypical small town of Casperton, heading for the unnamed big city, despite stereotypical remonstrances.  His Aunt Haicey says, “It was reading all them books that done it.  Thick books, with no pictures in them.  I knew it would make trouble.” The stationmaster offers, “If I talk to Mr. J.D., I think he can find a job for you at the plant.” His girlfriend Pretty-Lee doesn’t show, not after their big argument in Rexall’s over her preoccupation with a movie magazine.  But he boards anyway, and some time later finds himself on a deserted stopped train in the middle of a field where the tracks just stop, no clue as to why, but the city is visible on the horizon.  So he walks.  I won’t spoil the story’s revelations in detail, but Brett quickly learns that the people he encounters in the city, engaged in ordinary mundane activities like walking down the street and eating in restaurants, are not real—they are automatons acting out routines.  What’s going on?  The answer is pretty nasty, and the story quickly turns crude and violent.  At the end, Brett is heading home to Casperton, with the similarity between the automatons’ routines and the behavior of the home folks not lost on him.  The story is exceedingly well visualized, gaining power from Laumer’s attention to mundane sensual detail even in the midst of violent melodrama.  Its impact is also enhanced by what isn’t there—an explanation.  The story is told entirely from Brett’s limited viewpoint, ignorant of the larger picture even after his shattering experiences in the city, leaving the reader knowing very little about the comprehensive catastrophe that seems to have overtaken the world, but creating an unusually strong sense of a larger world outside the confines of the story about which one can only speculate.  Five stars.

The cover story, Cerebrum by Albert Teichner, makes a nice contrast to the Laumer story—“nice” in the original sense of precise or fine, not the current debased usage—since it takes a well worn plot device and fails to revitalize it.  In the future, everybody’s telepathic, and they’re all hooked up to the Central Synaptic Computation Receptor and Transmitter System, which routes thoughts like a telephone exchange, only better.  Otherwise, nobody could hear themselves think through everyone else’s mental noise.  But people who think negative thoughts about Central get Suspended, and now there’s a large and growing underclass of Suspendeds since Central seems to be making a lot of mistakes lately—but don’t think that or you’ll be Suspended too.  Protagonist and family get Suspended and have to learn to live as outcasts on the margins; they discover what passes for an underground; then Central falls apart entirely and the brewing problems between Suspendeds and paraNormals (sic) conveniently disappear.  So, it’s the early Galaxy routine of society distorted by an innovation, with The Machine Stops thrown into the mix, no more than routinely clever connect-the-dots stuff.  Two stars; ten years ago when this sort of thing was newer, it might have seemed better.  The cover, by Lloyd Birmingham, merits a comment as well: de Chirico repeats, this time as farce.

Jack Egan’s Cully, like his earlier World Edge from November, is a short tale told by (or for) a damaged consciousness, which any further explanation would spoil; this one is better written and less busy than its predecessor.  Maybe Egan is getting the hang of it.  Generously, three stars.

S. Dorman—presumably the Sonya Dorman who appeared in the October Ladies’ Home Journal—provides something else entirely in The Putnam Tradition, her first in the SF magazines: sort of like Zenna Henderson with sharper edges.  The Putnams are a matriarchal and rather change-resistant New England family, witches or psi-talented as you prefer, whose children (the healthy ones) are mostly daughters, and whose husbands “spent a lifetime with the long-lived Putnam wives, and died, leaving their strange signs: telephone wires, electric lights, water pumps, brass plumbing.” And now young Simone’s husband Sam has brought them an “invasion” of large and small appliances, and their daughter doesn’t seem to have inherited the family talents.  Is tradition dead?  Or is something else going on?  The story is told in sort of fairy-tale fashion, with the occasional startling image (“. . . power lines had been run in, and now on cold nights the telephone wires sounded like a concert of cellos, while inside with a sound like the breaking of beetles, the grandmother Cecily moved through the walls in the grooves of tradition.”).  Dorman’s writing seems a little amateurish in places but it conveys the sense of a real individual behind the typewriter and not (unlike, say, Teichner’s) some device grinding up and recycling the last 50 SF stories she read.  Four stars, and thanks for the fresh air.

Bringing up the rear, or letting it down, is the “Classic Reprint” from the January 1933 issue: Omega, the Man by Lowell Howard Morrow, about Omega, the last human alive (well, he starts out with his wife Thalma and briefly acquires a son—Alpha, of course) on a dying Earth, with a schematic plot and the sort of bombastic style that one could barely get away with even then, and nowadays reads like parody.  A bizarre Frankensteinian plot twist at the end comes much too late to redeem this fiasco.  Moskowitz’s praise of it is almost as risible.  One star.

Ben Bova soldiers on with another article, Progress Report: Life Forms in Meteorites, again beautifully but inaptly illustrated by Virgil Finlay.  Bova reviews findings on exactly what the title says, as usual assembling a fair amount of interesting information.  He does seem to have his thumb on the scales sometimes, though, as when he recounts several competing theories about the nature of seemingly organic particles found in some meteorites: are they fossilized life forms, or crystalline structures that are the “intermediate step” between DNA molecules and living cells, or inorganic materials that contain lots of iron, or fossils that have been partly replaced by iron through a petrifaction process?  “On balance, though,” Bova says, “it would appear that the particles are life forms, or at least, fossils of once-living cells.” But he doesn’t explain why he’s choosing one side or another in this technical debate.  Still, three stars for pulling this material together in more or less plain English.

So: one excellent story, another very good one, and only one complete pratfall.  Looks like progress.  Of course I said that early last year too.  Da capo.  If the magazine can retain good new contributors like Dorman, Zelazny, and Ballard, maybe it can keep it up this time.

[October 14, 2017] A SIGN OF LIFE? (the November 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Once more, the question: must the middle of the road be the ceiling?  Will this November Amazing present us anything more interesting than the competently readable fare featured in recent issues?  Well, yeah, a little, but it takes a while to get there. 

Left Hand, Right Hand

James H. Schmitz’s lead novelet Left Hand, Right Hand recalls my comment on his last story: “capable, even lively, deployment of material that otherwise would border on cliche.” It’s essentially a POW escape story: nasty aliens have captured the interstellar explorers from Earth, upon which they seem to have designs.  The protagonist is plotting to get away and warn Earth in a drone ship he has been surreptitiously converting under the aliens’ noses, while the people in charge of the Earth expedition seem to be collaborating with their captors.  As the title suggests, there’s actually more than that going on, and the plot is actually pretty clever; the aliens are well developed and the resolution turns on what’s been learned about them.  But ultimately Schmitz is just capably rearranging the usual SF furniture.  Three stars.

Schmitz gives the impression of a formerly part-time writer who has quit his day job and turned full-time.  From 1949 through 1961, he published zero to three stories a year in the SF magazines.  In 1962, he has published eight stories in the SF magazines plus one in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, plus the novel A Tale of Two Clocks.  Maybe the demands of high production have something to do with the routine character of these recent stories.

The Planet of the Double Sun

The other novelet is the “Classic Reprint,” Neil R. Jones’s The Planet of the Double Sun (from the February 1932 issue), the second in the series about Professor Jamieson.  The Prof had himself put into orbit when he died, and was resurrected eons later when the exploring Zoromes—brains in robotic metal bodies—installed him in his own metal body and took him with them.  Now, on a planet with one blue sun and one orange one, they quickly encounter a sinister mystery about the apparent extinction of anything larger than birds, and almost as quickly are threatened with extinction themselves from a menace having everything to do with the suns.  In fact the end of the story seems to be the end for everyone, except that Sam Moskowitz’s introduction says the series extended to 21 stories.  This one is told in a peculiar naive style, plain and simple (except for the occasional long word) to the point where it sometimes reads as if written for those just graduated from See Spot Run, or new immigrants striving to learn English.  It has a certain archaic charm.  Three charitable stars.

World Edge

World Edge by Jack Egan—apparently his first story—is set in a world which seems hallucinatory and soon enough is shown to be just that.  Unfortunately it’s about the least interesting hallucination I’ve encountered, reminiscent of something you might see on the Saturday morning cartoon shows, and the “explanation” is no more interesting.  Two stars, again being charitable.

The Last Days of the Captain

Unusually, this issue has two stories by women.  Kate Wilhelm contributes The Last Days of the Captain, in which a colony planet has to be evacuated because the terrible aliens are coming, but Marilyn Roget has to wait for her husband and son to return from a hunting trip.  The rigid and dutiful Captain Winters stays behind the main party to wait with her as long as possible, then leaves with her on an arduous futuristic-car trip through the wilderness, leaving a vehicle so husband and son can follow if they ever show up.  Various psychological tensions are acted out along the way, but it never adds up to much for me, and the Captain is still standing at the end despite the title.  Three stars, barely, for good writing.

Black and White

Black and White by Marion Zimmer Bradley is something else entirely.  Nuclear war has ended the world as we know it, leaving only two survivors, who live in a New York bar that has miraculously survived—though the bottles didn’t, so they can’t get drunk, and they can’t go barefoot for all the broken glass embedded in the floor.  Problem: he’s a Negro and she is white.  They have agreed that their racial animosity precludes any attempt to continue the species, and in any case he’s hiding a terrible secret: he’s a Catholic priest.  They row over to New Jersey to hunt rabbits, and there they discover that they aren’t the only survivors after all—there’s a white guy, and nothing good comes of it.  The story quickly turns nasty and powerful, most likely fuelled by the revulsion prompted by certain recent events like the attacks on the Freedom Riders.  In any case, it is intense, and it cuts sharply through the haze of the routine that otherwise attends this magazine.  Four stars.

Life Among the Stars, Part IV

Ben Bova has Life Among the Stars, the fourth in what was billed as a four-article series on extraterrestrial life.  It mainly concerns stars, how little we know about whether they have planets, and how hard it is to find out.  He concludes with the declaration that we’ve gotta have faith that there is life and intelligence elsewhere than Earth.  Further: “Those of us who have the faith—scientists and science fictioneers, dreamers and technicians—realize full well that this is the only adventure worthy of a civilized man.” (Emphasis in original.) The only one?  How about making peace, promoting civil rights, curing diseases, and alleviating poverty, for starters?  I think you’ve gotten a little carried away, Mr. Bova.  Nonetheless, three stars for interesting material well presented.

And—what’s that sound?  Oh, it’s the silence left by the departure of Benedict Breadfruit.  Requiescat in pacem, no revenants please.