Tag Archives: jack sharkey

[November 22, 1962] Return to Normalcy (December 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.

I’m a Kennedy liberal, so goodness knows I wouldn’t normally quote a Republican President, let alone one as ineffectual as Warren G. Harding.  I don’t agree with everything he said in his address to the Home Market Club of Boston on May 14, 1920, quoted above.  However, there’s something in his plea for a return to normalcy after the horrors of the Great War that strikes a familiar chord in these times.

The Cold War has returned to its normal condition, and avoided boiling over into a Hot War.

Meanwhile, the Sino-Indian War has ended, leaving two great nations in a state of peace, at least for now.

As we breathe a sigh of relief, it’s appropriate to turn to the pages of the December 1962 issue of Fantastic, where we will find stories about people who struggle to return to normalcy.

In the Holiday Spirit, by ?

Leading off the issue is an anonymous poem that mentions the names of several writers and artists working in the SF field.  It’s not great verse, but it’s a pleasant thought.  Unratable.

Heritage, by E. J. Derringer

Reprinted from the pages of the January 1935 issue of Top-Notch, this month’s fantasy classic was supposed to appear in Astounding.  The introduction by SF historian Sam Moskowitz speculates as to why this might have occurred.  My own theory is that the story is closer to fantasy than science fiction, as suggested by the uniquely macabre illustrations provided by Lee Brown Coye, an artist closely associated with Weird Tales.

The fantastic content of Derringer’s story does not appear until near the end.  The plot begins like a mystery.  Seven years before the story opens, the young wife of an older man vanished.  Fascinated by the disappearance, the young son of the husband’s lawyer begins his own investigation.  He soon finds out that the husband’s doctor helped the woman to disappear, for an incredible reason.

This story depends entirely on the revelation of the woman’s secret.  Otherwise, it’s competently, if not elegantly, written.  Three stars.

Cocoon, by Keith Laumer

Robert Adragna’s cover art is more symbolic than literal in its representation of this dark satire.  Sid and his oddly named wife Cluster live in a future world where everybody exists inside womblike containers.  All of their physical needs are supplied by the cocoon.  Entertainment, employment, and social contacts are all conducted through electronic channels.  When a crisis strikes this seemingly perfect society, Sid must struggle to survive and to learn the truth about his world.  I’m pleased to see Laumer put aside his lighthearted tales of Retief and pursue a more serious theme.  Four stars.

It’s Magic, You Dope! (Part 2 of 2), by Jack Sharkey

Last month the madcap adventures of our hero led him to a bizarre fantasy world, full of weird creatures, with his girlfriend in the form of a nymph and her brother as a faun.  In the conclusion, an illusory double of the nymph has been created by a witch (who happens to be her mother in the mundane world.) One of the two nymphs has been captured by evil creatures who want to cook and eat her.  Since nobody knows which of the two is real, the hero goes to rescue her.  The witch gives him a magic sword and a bag full of seemingly ordinary objects; a beer can, a train ticket, and so on.  Each one of these will prove useful during moments of danger.  The plot moves along at a breakneck pace, including encounters with werewolves, centaurs, and beings who only exist in the author’s imagination.  It’s never boring, although the story is really just one damned thing after another.  Three stars.

Imbalance, by Murray Leinster

An author who has been publishing science fiction since 1919 offers the reader a comic tale about chance.  Something goes wrong with the laws of nature, resulting in all sorts of strange happenings around the world.  An insurance agent downs on his luck puts his last few coins into slot machines in a desperate attempt to gain some cash.  A rival agent who hates gambling offers him an odd deal.  If he loses at games of luck, he has to sell the business of a prospective client to the rival at a discount.  If he wins, the rival gets thirty percent of the winnings.  More out of spite than anything else, he accepts the offer.  Because of the odd breakdown in natural law, he keeps winning, eventually breaking the bank.  Complications ensue with the intervention of the agent’s girlfriend and his prospective client, a crime boss.  This isn’t the most plausible or profound story in the world, but it should provide some modest amusement.  Three stars.

It’s almost reassuring, after the stressful days recently gone by, to return to an average, middle-of-the-road issue of the magazine.  Still, I wouldn’t say no to something tremendous.  Happy Thanksgiving.

[October 22, 1962] Hiding from the World (November 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

As I prepared this article, I listened to President Kennedy’s speech on Cuba, which was broadcast on radio and television throughout the nation.

Although many of you no doubt heard this address to the American people, I feel compelled to transcribe its shocking opening words:

This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.

As the speech continued, it became clear to me that the world is closer to the brink of nuclear war than ever before.  I was already in a state of anxiety, ever since China escalated a border conflict with India into open warfare two days ago by invading on two fronts.

As if international conflicts were not enough, the riot that exploded when James Meredith (shown here escorted by Chief U.S. Marshall James McShane and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Doar) enrolled in the University of Mississippi filled me with shame and fear for my country.  After two deaths, hundreds of injuries, and the necessity for Meredith to be guarded twenty-four hours a day by Federal troops, I have to wonder sometimes if the United States is heading for a second Civil War.

It seems likely that the threat of violence, which hangs over our heads in these troubled times, makes it necessary for us to make light of traditional terrors.  We laugh to keep from screaming.  As an example, on the same day that China invaded India, Bobby Picket’s novelty song, The Monster Mash, reached the top of the charts.

Appropriately, the latest issue of Fantastic features another comic version of old-fashioned horrors.

It’s Magic, You Dope! (Part 1 of 2), by Jack Sharkey
Lloyd Birmingham’s cover art, which reminds me of the macabre cartoons of Charles Addams, captures the spooky but laughable nature of this short novel by editor Cele Goldsmith’s resident comedian.
The narrator pays a visit to his girlfriend at the home of her parents.  He leaves after a lovers’ quarrel, but quickly turns back.  To his amazement, the house is gone.  Phone calls reveal that nobody remembers the home or its inhabitants.  It soon turns out that a sinister pair used a weird device to transport the family to another dimension, one full of monsters and magic.  Things become much more complicated when a wood nymph and a faun (who seem to be weird, alternate versions of the girlfriend and her little brother) show up.  The two evil men wind up in the other world, as does the narrator and his two new companions.  What follows is a wild struggle for survival in a place full of bizarre and deadly creatures, some from folklore and others that only exist in the mind of the author.  Although the plot seems to be little more than one strange, random event after another, it holds the reader’s interest.  Three stars.

Awareness Plan, by David R. Bunch

The magazine’s most controversial writer – a fact noted in the introduction to this story – returns with another eccentric, mysterious tale.  Two men discuss how to deal with a conquered people who do not show the proper respect for their masters.  What elevates this vignette above its minimal plot is the author’s unique style, use of strange words, and satiric edge.  It’s definitely not for all tastes.  Two stars.

Planetoid 127, by Edgar Wallace

This issue’s Fantasy Classic comes from the pen of an extremely prolific author whose works have been adapted into many movies in the United Kingdom and Germany.  He is best known in the United States for his work on the screenplay for King Kong.  This story, reprinted from 1924, deals with an astronomer who has an uncanny ability to foresee future events.  This allows him to acquire a vast fortune through investments, which attracts the attention of an unscrupulous businessman who will stop at nothing to acquire his secret.  This is a typical pulp crime story with a single science fiction element, not revealed until the end.  Unfortunately, the introduction by SF historian Sam Moskowitz spoils the story by describing the gimmick in detail.  Two stars.
(There’s one strange thing about the interior illustration that appears with this story.  It obviously depicts a scene that appears in the story Black and White by Marion Zimmer Bradley, published in this month’s Amazing.  Looking back at that issue, it’s clear that the illustration that accompanied Bradley’s story shows a scene from Wallace’s tale.  Somebody at the art department of Ziff-Davis is likely to get in trouble for mixing up the two.)

The Mozart Annuity, by Arthur Porges

Finishing the issue is the story of a conductor who worships the music of Mozart.  His biggest regret is that the composer died at an early age, before he could create even greater masterpieces.  His brother happens to be an inventor who has come up with a time machine of sorts.  It can only transport small, nonliving objects back in time.  The brothers come up with a plan to send silver back to the time of Mozart’s childhood, with a letter to a bank explaining that it is to be used to provide a steady income for the young musician, allowing him to avoid the poverty that led to his death.  The consequences are unexpected.  This is a clever story, if superficial.  Three stars.

Overall, a mediocre issue with no outstanding stories.  However, I recommend it as a way of keeping your mind off the much more frightening things in the real world.

[July 26, 1962] The Long and Short of It (August 1962 Fantastic)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

July isn’t quite over yet, and already I feel overwhelmed by all that’s been going on in the world:

Two new nations, Rwanda and Burundi, have been created from the Belgian territory of Ruanda-Urundi.  Similarly, France has recognized the independence of its former colony Algeria.

Despite protests, the United States continues to test atomic weapons.  The USA also detonated a hydrogen bomb in outer space, hundreds of miles above a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.  The explosion created a spectacular light show visible from Hawaii, more than seven hundred miles away.  It also disrupted electronics in the island state.  An underground nuclear explosion created a gigantic crater in the Nevada desert and may have exposed millions of people to radioactive fallout.

AT&T launched Telstar, the first commercial communications satellite (which we’ll be covering in the next article!)

The world of literature suffered a major loss with the death of Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner.

In Los Angeles, young artist Andy Warhol exhibited a work consisting of thirty-two paintings of cans of Campbell’s Soup.

The Washington Post published an article revealing how Doctor Frances Oldham Kelsey, a medical officer for the Food and Drug Administration, kept thalidomide, a drug now known to cause severe birth defects, off the market in the United States.

Even popular music seems to be going through radical changes lately.  Early in the month the charts were dominated by David Rose’s raucous jazz instrumental The Stripper.  It would be difficult to think of a less similar work than Bobby Vinton’s sentimental ballad Roses are Red (My Love), which has replaced it as Number One.

It seems appropriate that the latest issue of Fantastic offers no less than nine stories, one long and eight short, to go along with these busy days:

Sword of Flowers by Larry M. Harris

Vernon Kramer’s cover art for the lead story captures something of the mysterious mood of this mythical tale.  The setting is a strange world where the climate is so gentle that the inhabitants have no need for shelter.  They also have the ability to create whatever they imagine.  However, because their lives are so simple and happy, they rarely use this power.  An exception is a man, twisted in mind and body, who comes up with the concepts of royalty and servitude, so that another man in love with a beautiful woman can become her slave.  It all leads to tragedy, and an ending directed at the reader.  It’s a compelling legend written in poetic language.  Five stars.

The Titan by P. Schuyler Miller

This issue’s Fantasy Classic has a complex history.  Serialized in part in the 1930’s, although never published in full until revised for the author’s 1952 collection, this is its first complete magazine appearance.  The story takes place on a dying planet where the decadent upper class takes blood from the healthy lower class.  The plebeian hero follows the patrician heroine above ground and falls in love.  They become involved in a plot to violently overthrow the rulers and confront a huge, dangerous creature known as a Star Beast.  Most readers will be able to figure out what planet is involved and the true nature of the Star Beast.  Although said to be daring for the 1930’s, it’s pretty tame for the 1960’s.  Unfortunately, this is the longest story in the issue.  Two stars.

Behind the Door by Jack Sharkey

A woman who seeks out dangerous experiences encounters a mysterious man whom she believes will provide the ultimate thrill.  He turns out to be something other than expected.  A fairly effective horror story.  Three stars.

The Mynah Matter by Lawrence Eisenberg

A man determined to purchase a talking bird deals with a pet store owner who refuses to sell any of his animals.  It seems that they are all reincarnations of famous people.  This is a slight, whimsical comedy, but somehow likable.  Three stars.

And a Tooth by Rosel George Brown

A woman whose husband and children die in an accident goes into a coma from the shock.  Experimental brain surgery restores her to consciousness, but gives her two separate minds.  The author does a good job of narrating from both points of view, and the effect is chilling.  Four stars.

A Devil of a Day by Arthur Porges

This is yet another variation on the old deal with Satan theme.  A man sells his soul for the chance to have absolute power over the city of Rome at a certain time during the Sixteenth Century.  Readers familiar with a specific historical event will be able to predict why this is a very bad bargain.  Two stars.

Continuity by Albert Teichner

A precocious student raises a peculiar question that haunts a physics teacher.  If our universe consists of matter that we can sense and forces that we cannot sense, could the reverse be true in another universe?  The result is unexpected.  This is an odd, philosophical story, intriguing but not always clear.  Three stars.

Horseman! by Roger Zelazny

A new writer, who also appears in this month’s issue of Amazing, offers a brief prose poem.  A mysterious rider appears in a village asking after others of his kind.  What happens when he finds them is surprising.  The story is beautifully written, and one hopes that the author will go on to produce longer works.  Four stars.

Victim of the Year by Robert F. Young

A man down on his luck receives a note from a woman at the unemployment office.  She claims to be an apprentice witch with the assignment to cast spells to make his life miserable.  She repents of her actions, and together they must face the wrath of her coven.  The story reads something like a less elegant version of a Fritz Leiber fantasy.  Three stars.

The best stories in this issue are short ones, proving once again that good things come in small packages.  Speaking of which, stay tuned for an article on the series of small packages circling the Earth that are making an outsized impact on their mother planet…

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




[July 9, 1962] To the New Frontier (August 1962 Galaxy Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Since humans have been a species, there has always been a frontier.  Whether it be Alaska for the first settlers of the Americas, or the New World (for Europeans), or the Wild West (for White Americans), there has always been an “over there” to explore.  Today, our frontiers are the frozen Arctics, the deep seas, and the vastness of orbital space.

Science fiction has always stayed one step ahead.  A hundred years ago, Jules Verne took us 20,000 leagues under the sea.  A generation later, Edgar Rice Burroughs took us to Darkest Africa, lost continents, and fancifully rendered nearby planets,.  Astounding and its ilk of the 30s and 40s gave us scientific jaunts through the solar system. 

These days, one is hard-pressed to find stories that take place on Mars or Venus.  Now that four men have circled the Earth and probes have flown millions of miles from our planet, tomorrow’s frontier lies among the stars.  Thus, science fiction has taken up residence in the spacious quarters of the Milky Way, light years away from home. 

As you’ll see if you pick up this month’s most worthy issue of Galaxy:

The Dragon Masters, by Jack Vance

An alien empire known as The Rule has smashed the human federation, reducing the free population of Terrans to a few scattered planets.  On one barren world, people are confined to two rocky valleys, their technology regressed to the Renaissance.  There is the ever-present threat of attack from the reptilian aliens whenever the nearby red sun, Coralyne, draws near. 

But the humans have an ace up their sleeve: generations ago, a raiding vessel was defeated and its complement of aliens impressed into slavery.  Since then, they have been bred and specialized into a myriad of soldier castes called “dragons,” from the fierce Termagant infantry to the enormous Juggers and Fiends. 

Will this baroque force be able to withstand the next inevitable attack of The Rule, who have created their own caricatures of people to be their shock troops and mounts?  And what is the role of the weird “sacerdotes,” nude ascetic humans who may possess a tremendous hidden technology?

Masters really is an impressive piece of world-building, a page turner that will keep you guessing until the end.  I particularly enjoyed the moral questions the novella raises, demonstrating the implicit repugnance in the breeding of sentients by mirroring our raising of “dragons” with the domestication of human animals by The Rule.  The only issue which knocks Masters from perfection is I found the combat scenes a bit overlong.  Great illustrations by GAUGHAN, though.  Four stars.

Handyman, by Frank Banta

Brief moody piece about a prisoner whose solitary confinement even a well-meaning Carpenter can’t assuage.  Three stars.

For Your Information: Rotating Luminous Wheels in the Sea, by Willy Ley

Our favorite German science popularizer returns with an update on those mysterious luminous pinwheels that have been spotted by mariners over the last half-century.  He last wrote about them in the December 1960 and June 1961 issues, and they just get more intriguing.  Are they bioluminescent creatures stimulated by propellers?  Billboards for Martians?  Mass hallucinations?  Read and find out.  Three stars.

A Matter of Protocol, by Jack Sharkey


Schelling

The adventures of Lieutenant Jerry Norcriss, the psychic xenobiologist who hops into the minds of alien animals as part of pre-colonial surveys, is easily Jack Sharkey’s best series to date.  In this installment, we see that even the slightest damaging of a symbiotic relationship can be fatal to an ecosystem.  Harsh stuff.  Three stars.

Three Portraits and a Prayer, by Frederik Pohl

Terminally ill Dr. Rhine Cooperstock is convinced to make one last contribution to science before dying, but when his plowshares are turned into swords, he must sacrifice his last moments to right things.  Beautifully told, but the plot strains credulity.  Three stars.

Always a Qurono, by Jim Harmon

Leave it to slave-to-routine aliens to break the routine of a set-in-his-ways marooned space captain.  Supposed to be a funny piece, but it fails the laugh test.  A disappointing turn from a reliable author.  Two stars.

The Luck of Magnitudes, by George O. Smith

A fluffy piece on how lucky we are to have been growed on a planet that’s not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold, but just right.  I’m sure the Martians and Venusians have their own versions.  Two stars.

One Race Show, by John Jakes

Art is wordless communication, and what could be more universal a subject than the dark recesses of the human soul?  But is humanity ready to see its ugliness laid bare and exhibited in art galleries?  An interesting topic robbed of its impact by shallowly sardonic delivery.  Two stars.

***

Thanks to the dip at the end, this issue wraps up at just 2.9 stars.  Nevertheless, this does little credit to Vance’s story which, if it’s not in quite the same class as Moon Moth, isn’t far below.  Think of the August 1962 Galaxy as an Ace Double with a superior front and a mediocre back.  And at the very least, one gets a peek at a startling number of rich vistas, wild frontiers lying just beyond the current ken of humanity…

(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!)

[April 12, 1962] Don’t Bug Me (May 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

April is the cruelest month — T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Maybe it’s because it’s almost time to mail in those tax forms to Uncle Sam, or maybe it’s because of the tension between President Kennedy and the steel companies, or maybe it’s because Jack Parr left his television series (which will now be known by the boring, generic title The Tonight Show), or maybe it’s because the constant radio play of the smash hit Johnny Angel by actress Shelley Fabares of The Donna Reed Show is driving me out of my mind, or maybe it’s because of George Schelling’s B movie cover art for the May 1962 issue of Fantastic; but for whatever reason your faithful correspondent approached the contents of the magazine with a leery eye.

I must admit that Murray Leinster’s lead novelette Planet of Dread did little to improve my mood.  The melodramatic title fits this old-fashioned adventure story.  Our hero has killed a man – for good reason, you will not be surprised to find out – and becomes a stowaway on a spaceship with a group of political revolutionaries.  Once discovered, his only choices are to be killed or stranded alone on a distant planet.  Unsurprisingly, he chooses the latter.  The ship arrives on a world where a badly botched effort at terraforming has resulted in – you guessed it – giant spiders and other creepy crawly critters. 

Thus we have the literary equivalent of Them!, Tarantula, The Black Scorpion, Beginning of the End, The Deadly Mantis, Earth vs the Spider, Monster from Green Hell, Cosmic Monsters, and all those other Big Bug movies of the past decade.  Under attack, the revolutionaries prove to be either Good Guys or Bad Guys.  There’s also one female aboard the ship, whose role is to be the Girl.  Leinster is an old pro at this sort of thing, but the corny nature of the plot forces me to dismiss the story with two stars.

Wildly different in style and content is The Survey Trip by controversial writer David R. Bunch.  It’s a bizarre, surreal tale in which the narrator, rolling along in a beach ball, encounters a man in a heart-shaped metal suit.  Together they visit places like Knockjonesbrainsout and meet people like Miss 9-to-5-No-Time-Off-For-Lunch.  It’s all very strange and probably symbolic.  Some people will hate it.  The story is short enough not to wear out its welcome, and the sheer weirdness of it held my interest, so I’ll give it three stars.

A few months ago Jesse Roarke appeared in the pages of Fantastic with an intriguing, if overwritten, allegory entitled Atonement.  The new story from this fledging author is similar.  Ripeness is All takes place in a future which at first seems idyllic.  All needs are taken care of by technology.  Androids act as one’s servants and lovers.  Yet the protagonist feels that something is missing.  He begins by seeking out a library to learn as much as he can from books.  Soon he leaves the utopian city and heads out into the wilderness, where he meets with farmers, warriors (who fight but never kill), artists, and philosophers.  After rejecting all of these, he discovers his own purpose in life.  Although some of the writing is a bit flowery, the story is an interesting fable, worthy of three stars.

“The Piebald Hippogriff” by Karen Anderson (married to Poul Anderson) is a light confection.  It’s a brief, charming account of a boy, the hippogriff he tames, and the land of flying islands in which they dwell.  Three stars for this tasty trifle.

English-born author A. Bertram Chandler (now living Down Under as an Australian citizen) appears under his pseudonym George Whitley with Change of Heart, reprinted from the British magazine New Worlds.  A castaway tells his rescuers of his encounters with dolphins and whales which led him to believe there is more to these animals than meets the eye.  The author’s experience as a merchant marine officer ensures that this tale of the mysteries of the sea is realistic and convincing.  Three stars.

Last and probably least is Double or Nothing by Jack Sharkey, resident comedian for editor Cele Goldsmith.  His latest farce involves two inventors whose gizmos always do something other than intended.  In this case a device intended to provide a way to escape the Earth’s gravity turns out to duplicate whatever it comes in contact with.  Shooting off into the sky, it soon manufactures copies of everything (including cornflakes) and the story becomes a variation on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  The biggest problem is that the author does not provide any kind of conclusion at all.  He simply presents the situation and leaves it unresolved.  Two weak stars.

***

Although the meaty middle of this literary sandwich provided me with some satisfaction, the bland slices of bread surrounding its interior left me still hungry.  How does it sate your appetite?

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


by Gideon Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

A Planet for Plundering, by Jack Williamson

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

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

Tail-Tied Kings, by Avram Davidson

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

Star-Crossed Lover, by William Stuart

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

For Your Information, by Willy Ley

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

The Long, Silvery Day, by Magnus Ludens

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

Big Baby, by Jack Sharkey

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

Gourmet, by Allen Kim Lang

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

Founding Father, by J.F. Bone

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

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

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

Moondog, by Arthur C. Clarke

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

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

[February 7, 1962] Funny Business (March 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

Dying is easy; comedy is hard.

These famous last words, ascribed to many a noted actor on his deathbed, are probably apocryphal.  Even if nobody ever really uttered them before taking his last breath, they do suggest the difficulty of provoking amusement in one’s audience.  This is at least as true of speculative fiction as of the stage.

A quick glance at the Hugo winners, for example, reveals that only one humorous piece has won the prize.  Eric Frank Russell’s 1955 Astounding short story Allamagoosa, a comic tale of bureaucratic foul-ups, stands alone among more serious works. 

This is not to say that there are not many talented writers as dedicated to Thalia as to Melpomene.  From the wit of Fritz Leiber to the satire of Robert Sheckley, from the whimsical musings of R. A. Lafferty to the tomfoolery of Ron Goulart, readers in search of smiles and belly laughs have many choices.  In less adept hands, unfortunately, humorous science fiction can degrade into childish slapstick and sophomoric puns.

The March issue of Fantastic is dominated by comedy, so let’s take a look at it with a light heart.

Lloyd Birmingham’s silly cover art seems to have been the inspiration for the lead novelette.  The introductory blurb for Robotum Delenda Est! by Jack Sharkey proudly announces that we are about to enjoy a farce, so I was expecting something closer to the Three Stooges than Oscar Wilde.

Written with tongue firmly in cheek, the opening sections of the story take the form of a report on an unusual incident.  A robot suddenly appears on Earth, seemingly from nowhere.  As it makes its way eastward across the United States, from Arizona to Washington, D.C., stopping now and then to steal electricity from power lines and guzzle gasoline from service stations, all attempts to communicate with it or stop it end in failure.  Its motivation remains a mystery until the end of the story, after much chaos ensues.

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this story.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author maintains a mock serious tone throughout, which highlights the absurd aspects of the plot.  The revelation of the robot’s intention was clever and surprising.  Three stars.

These robotic hijinks are followed by another humorous tale.  I was unsure whether to review the first half of Joyleg, a short novel by Ward Moore and Avram Davidson which is scheduled to conclude next issue.  After some thought, I decided to go ahead.  I’m glad I did, because the pleasure of reading it doesn’t come from its fairly simple plot, which would have left me in suspense for a month, but from its wry tone and spritely style.

During a routine meeting of the Congressional Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, a pair of representatives of opposite political parties, both from the state of Tennessee, discover that a man with the unlikely name of Isachar Z. Joyleg has been receiving a monthly pension of eleven dollars for some time.  The Democratic representative, a man, is outraged that he is being paid such a paltry sum.  The Republican representative, a woman, demands proof that he has served during wartime or was disabled in the line of duty, lest the government’s money be wasted. 

(In case any of my readers who do not happen to reside in the Volunteer State, as I do, think it unlikely that a member of Congress from Tennessee would be either a Republican or female, allow me to point out a couple of facts.  The First and Second Congressional Districts, located in the northeastern part of the state, have been firmly Republican since the 1880’s, unlike the rest of the state, which can be thought of as part of the Solid South.  As far as the possibility of a woman holding that position goes, the current representative from the First District is Louise G. Reece, who took that position upon the death of her husband, the previous officeholder.  The fictional Congresswoman in the story is said to be a widow, and the reader is apparently supposed to assume that her background is similar.)

Further research reveals that Joyleg has been receiving these payments at least as far back as the Civil War, beyond which there are no records.  The Republican sees this as a clear case of fraud, while the Democrat imagines the possibility of a veteran of the War Between the States more than a century old, barely surviving on a tiny pension.  Since the microscopic community in which he resides is on the border between their two districts, each one claiming that it belongs to the other, they both decide to pay a visit to investigate the situation.

The rest of this half of the novel is taken up with the difficult journey to Joyleg’s extraordinarily remote home, via train, automobile, mule, and foot.  Much of the story’s comedy comes from the culture shock between the politicians from Washington and the country folks in the deepest part of the backwoods.  Fortunately, the local inhabitants never become stereotypical hillbillies, and the authors seem to have a certain amount of respect for their traditional, no-nonsense ways.

Much of the pleasure of the novel comes from the collaborators’ evident delight in words for their own sake.  In addition to the unusual name of the title character, we have such things as railroad cars with designations like Monomotapa and Gondwanaland.  When we finally meet Joyleg, he speaks in archaic language.  Unlike much dialect in fiction, which is often tedious to read, Joyleg’s speeches are always lively and colorful.

I look forward to the second half, and I’d be willing to bet a reasonable amount of money – eleven dollars, perhaps? – that the two bickering representatives will wind up in each other’s arms.  Four stars.

Editor Cele Goldsmith offers us another first story in this issue, with Decision by Robert H. Rohrer, Jr.  This brief story begins with a politician making a speech which is interrupted by a shout from the crowd.  We quickly shift point of view to a group of characters in charge of departments like Audio and Visual who seem to be controlling the politician’s actions, and who face a crisis.  You’ll probably figure out who what’s going on, but the story’s idea is an interesting one.  Three stars.

This issue’s Fantasy Classic is The Darkness on Fifth Avenue by Murray Leinster, reprinted from the November 30, 1929 issue of Argosy.  It’s a crime story with a mad scientist who has invented a gizmo which creates total darkness, allowing criminals to terrorize New York City without being seen.  There’s plenty of action, but I found it tedious.  The story is also full of stereotypes.  We have the heroic cop, the wisecracking girl reporter, the heavily accented German scientist, and, most embarrassingly, the cowardly Negro elevator operator.  It may be of historical interest as a part of the early career of a major figure in science fiction, but it’s not enjoyable to read.  One star.

I was greatly enjoying this issue until I got to the last story, and I’m not trying to be funny.

[September 8, 1961] What makes a Happy?  (October 1961 Galaxy)


by Gideon Marcus

It doesn’t take much to make me happy: a balmy sunset on the beach, a walk along Highway 101 with my family, Kathy Young on the radio, the latest issue of Galaxy.  Why Galaxy?  Because it was my first science fiction digest; because it is the most consistent in quality; because it’s 50% bigger than other leading brands!

And the latest issue (October 1961) has been an absolute delight with a couple of the best stories I’ve seen in a long while.  Come take a look with me – I promise it’ll be worth your while.

First up is A Planet Named Shayol, by Cordwainer Smith.  Smith’s is a rare talent.  There are few writers who not only excel at their craft, but they somehow transcend it, creating something otherworldly in its beauty.  Ted Sturgeon can do it.  I’m having trouble thinking of others in this class.  Almost every Smith story has this slightly lilting, 10% off-plane sense to it. 

Shayol is set in the far future universe of the “Instrumentality,” a weird interstellar human domain with people on top, beast creatures as servants, and robots at the bottom of the social totem pole.  This particular novelette introduces us to the most peculiar and forbidding of Devil’s Islands, the planet Shayol.  Just maintaining one’s humanity in such a place of horrors is a triumph.  The story promises to be a hard read, yet Smith manages to skirt the line of discomfort to create a tale of hope with an upbeat ending.  Plus, Smith doesn’t shy from noble woman characters.  Five stars.

Robert Bloch comes and goes with little stories that are either cute, horrific, or both.  Crime Machine, about a 21st Century boy who takes a trip back to the exciting days of gangster Chicago, is one of the former variety.  Three stars.

Another short one is Amateur in Chancery by George O. Smith.  A sentimental vignette about a scientist’s frantic efforts to retrieve an explorer trapped on Venus by a freak teleportation mishap.  Slight but sweet.  Three stars.

I’m not quite sure I understood The Abominable Earthman, by Galaxy’s editor, Fred Pohl.  In it, Earth is conquered by seemingly invincible aliens, but one incorrigible human is the key to their defeat.  The setup is good, but the end seemed a bit rushed.  Maybe you’ll like it better than me.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s science article is about the reclaimed lowlands of Holland.  It’s a fascinating topic, almost science fiction, but somehow Ley’s treatment is unusually dull.  I feel as if he’s phoning in his articles these days.  Two stars.


Art by Dick Francis

Mating Call, by Frank Herbert, is another swing and miss.  An interesting premise, involving a race that reproduces parthenogenetically via musical stimulation, is ruined by a silly ending.  Two stars.

Jack Sharkey usually fails to impress, but his psychic first contact story, Arcturus times Three, is a decent read.  You’ll definitely thrill as the Contact Agent possesses the bodies of several alien animals in a kind of psionic planetary survey.  What keeps Arcturus out of exceptional territory is the somehow unimaginative way the exotic environs and species are portrayed.  Three stars.

If you are a devotee of the coffee house scene, or if you just dig Maynard G. Krebs on Dobie Gillis, then you’re well acquainted with the Beat scene.  Those crazy kooks with their instruments and their poetry, living a life decidedly rounder than square.  It’s definitely a groove I fall in, and I look forward to throwing away my suit and tie when I can afford to live the artistic life.  Fritz Leiber’s new story, The Beat Cluster is about a little slice of Beatnik heaven in orbit, a bunch of self-sufficient bubbles with a gaggle of space-bound misfits — if you can get past the smell, it sure sounds inviting.  I love the premise; the story doesn’t do much, though.  Three stars.

Last up is Donald Westlake, a fellow I normally associate with action thrillers.  His The Spy in the Elevator is kind of a minor masterpiece.  Not so much in concept (set in an overcrowded Earth where everyone lives in self-contained city buildings) but in execution.  It takes skill to weave exposition with brevity yet comprehensiveness into a story’s hook – and it does hook.  Westlake also keeps a consistent, believable viewpoint throughout the story, completely in keeping with the setting.  I find myself giving it five stars, for execution, if nothing else.

Add it all up and what do you get?  3.3 stars out of 5, and at least one story that could end up a contender for the 1961 Hugos (I really enjoyed the Westlake, but I feel it may not be avante garde enough for the gold rocket).  Now that’s something to smile about!

[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!

[July 27, 1960] Footloose and Fancy Free (Japan and the August 1960 Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Perhaps the primary perquisite of being a writer (certainly not the compensation, though Dr. Asimov is the happy exception) is the ability to take one’s work anywhere.  Thanks to ‘faxes and patient editors, all of this column’s readers can follow me around the world.  To wit, I am typing this article in the lounge of my hotel deep in the heart of Tokyo, the capital of the nation of Japan. 

Japan is virtually a second home for me and my family, and we make it a point to travel here as often as time and funds permit.  Now that the Boeing 707 has shrunk the world by almost 50%, I expect our travels to this amazing, burgeoning land will increase in frequency.

Tokyo, of course, is one of the world’s biggest cities, and the crowds at Shinjuku station attest to this.  And yet, there are still plenty of moments of almost eerie solitude–not just in the parks and temples, but in random alleyways.  There are always treasures to find provided one is willing to look up and down (literally–only a fraction of Tokyo’s shops is located on the ground floor!)

Gentle readers, I have not forgotten the main reason you read my column.  In fact, the timing of my trip was perfect, allowing me to take all of the September 1960 digests with me to the Orient.  But first, I need to wrap up last month’s batch of magazines.  To that end, without further ado, here is the August 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction!

Robert F. Young has the lead short story, Nikita Eisenhower Jones.  I’d liked his To Fell a Tree very much, so I was looking forward to this one, the story of a young Polynesian who finagles his way onto the first manned mission to Pluto only to find it a lonely, one-way trip.  Sadly, while the subject matter is excellent, the tale is written in a way that keeps the reader at arm’s length and thus fails to engage in what could have been an intensely powerful, personal story. 

The Final Ingredient is a different matter altogether.  Jack Sharkey had thus far failed to impress, so I was surprised to find him in F&SF, a higher caliber magazine, in my opinion.  But this tale, involving a young girl whose efforts at witchraft are frustrated until she abandons love entirely and embraces wickedness, is quite good indeed. 

John Suter’s The Seeds of Murder, a reprint from F&SF’s sister magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery, is about telling the future through regressive (or in this case progressive) hypnosis.  It’s cute, but something I’d expect to find in one of the lesser mags.  I suppose this should come as no surprise–this is Suter’s first and only science fiction/fantasy story, so far as I can tell.

Rosel George Brown is back with another dark tale: Just a Suggestion.  When aliens subtly introduce the idea that the way to win friends and influence people is to be less impressive than one’s peers, the result is economic downturn and, ultimately, planetary destruction.  Obviously satirical; rather nicely done.

This brings us to Robert Arthur’s novelette, Miracle on Main Street.  A boy wishes on a unicorn horn that all of the folks in his small town, good and bad, should get what they deserve.  There is no ironic twist, no horrifying consequences.  It’s a simple tale (suitable for children, really) that very straightforwardly details the results of the wish.  It should be a vapid story; Arthur goes out of his way to ensure there are no surprises.  Yet, I enjoyed it just the same.  I suppose a little unalloyed charm is nice every so often. 

The Revenant, by Raymond Banks, is a fascinating little story about human space travelers who explore a planet less fixed in sequence and probability than ours.  Their lives are far less dependable, but infinitely more varied and interesting.  The closest approximation would be if our dreams were our waking lives and vice versa (and perhaps this was the tale’s inspiration).  Good stuff.

Avram Davidson has a one-pager, Climacteric, about a man who goes hunting dragons in search of romance.  He finds both.  It is followed by G.C.Edmondson’s Latin-themed The Sign of the Goose, a strangely written story about an alien visitation that, frankly, made little sense to me.  It stars the same eccentrics as The Galactic Calabash.

Asimov has an article about the Moon as a vacation spot whose main attraction is the lovely view of Earth.  Catskills in the Sky, it is called, and it’s one of his weaker entries.

Finally, we have Stephen Barr’s Calahan and the Wheelies, about an inventor who creates a species of wheeled little robots with the ability to learn.  The concept is captivating, and the execution largely plausible.  Sadly, the story sort of degenerates into the standard sci-fi trope: the robots, of course, become sentient and rather malicious.  It’s played for laughs, but I can just imagine a more serious story involving similar machines being put to all sorts of amazing uses.  Imagine a semi-smart machine that rolled around your house vacuuming and mopping your floor.  Or a programmable dog-walker.  I like robots that don’t look like people or act like living things, but which are indispensible allies to humanity.  I want more stories featuring them.

All told, I think this issue clocks in about a shade over 3 stars.  A thoroughly typical F&SF, which is no bad thing.

See you in a few days with more from the Land of the Rising Sun!