Tag Archives: james h. schmitz

[July 12, 1962] ROUTINE EXCURSION (the August 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Summertime, and the living is . . . hot and sticky, here in the near-South.  Also fairly boring, if one is not much interested in such local rustic amusements as hayrides and frog-gigging (if you have to ask, you don’t want to know.) There’s no better time to find a comfortable hiding place and read science fiction magazines, except possibly for all the other times.  Of course the season—any season—doesn’t guarantee merit, and the August 1962 Amazing is the usual mixed bag.

The issue leads off with the cover story Gateway to Strangeness by Jack Vance, which contrary to its title goes out of its way to avoid strangeness.  It’s the one about the martinet skipper who treats his young trainee sailors with brutal sternness—not to mention sabotage to create life-threatening problems for them to solve—but it’s good for them and makes men out of them, except for the one who’s dead.  In this case it’s a solar sail ship and not a windjammer, but the premise is just as tired regardless of medium.  The most interesting aspect is the description of operating a spaceship propelled by the “wind” of light and particles emanating from the Sun.  For a Vance story, that’s a judgment of failure: his talents lie elsewhere than hardware (see The Moon Moth in last year’s Galaxy and The Miracle Workers a few years ago in Astounding), but he seems determined sometimes to play to his weaknesses.  Two stars.

The other novelet here is James H. Schmitz’s Rogue Psi, in which humanity (via the members of a secret psi research project) confronts a “hypnotizing telepath” who can control or impersonate anyone, and has been interfering with humanity, and in particular its efforts to get off-planet, for centuries.  The showdown is brought about via “diex energy,” which amplifies psi powers.  This is all moonshine, but Schmitz is an engaging writer and has a knack for physical and experiential description that make his account of psychic goings-on better grounded than others we could name—none of the familiar “he stiffened his mind shield as Zork lashed out” sort of thing.  The deus ex machina, or ex hat, resolution even goes down smoothly.  Three stars for capable, even lively, deployment of material that otherwise would border on cliche. 

In between is the short story Passion Play by Roger Zelazny—who?  New writer, I guess, and the story is a heavily satirical vignette of a sort common from new writers—that is, it’s only barely a story.  In the future, it appears, robots have inherited the Earth, and one of them tells his story (in the present tense, no less), which involves ceremonially reenacting a crash from a famous auto race of the past (this one at Le Mans).  The guy is a glib writer, though—“After the season of Lamentations come the sacred stations of the Passion, then the bright Festival of Resurrection, with its tinkle and clatter, its exhaust fumes, scorched rubber, clouds of dust, and its great promise of happiness”—so we may hear from him again, more substantially.  Two stars, basted with promise.


One hopes not to hear further from Beta McGavin, the probably pseudonymous author of Dear Nan Glanders, an advice column from the future, a silly space-filler of which the best that can be said is that it distracts from Benedict Breadfruit, whose exploits continue here as well.  One star.

That’s it for the fiction contents, except for the second installment of Keith Laumer’s A Trace of Memory, to be discussed when it is completed next month.  As for non-fiction, Sam Moskowitz contributes C.L. Moore: Catherine the Great, another in his “SF Profiles” series, with considerable interesting biographical detail and more attention than usual for Moskowitz to her more recent work (possibly because there is so little of it).  Four stars.

But overall, this magazine is getting a little exasperating.  The year began well with several excellent stories by J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, and Mark Clifton, but the streak did not continue.  For some months now the magazine’s high points have mostly been competent product like this month’s Schmitz story, nice tries like Purdom’s The Warriors, and trifles with promise like Zelazny’s story in this issue.  Enough promise; time for some more delivery.

[July 2, 1962] Getting to the Point (July 1962 Analog Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

There are many ways to measure the strength of a story.  Is the plot innovative?  Does it resonate emotionally?  Are the featured characters unusual?  Does it employ clever literary devices?

As a writer, I am always particularly impressed by efficiency: the ability of an author to develop his tale with a minimum of exposition, unfolding a plot teasingly so as to keep the reader turning those pages with increased anticipation, and then delivering a solid conclusion at the end – where it belongs.

The July 1962 Analog Science Fiction delivers a series of object lessons in how (and how not) to write efficiently.  In some cases, the execution can be admired even if the story isn’t great shakes.  And vice versa.  Read on!:

Listen! The Stars!, by John Brunner

Brunner is a new British author whose prolific writings have already enchanted one of the Journey’s writers.  Now it’s my turn.

Listen! takes place a few decades from now, just after the discovery of an esoteric electronic principle that allows one to literally eavesdrop on the stars.  Using a sort of acoustic telescope, the “stardropper,” one can tune in to the mental vibrations of extraterrestrials.  This isn’t telepathy, and even if it were, who could understand the minds of total aliens? 

Yet, listening to these emanations is compelling in the extreme.  There is the feeling that, if you could just wrap your head around them, the secrets of the universe might be yours.  Stardropper addiction runs rampant…and then the disappearances begin.  Users simply vanish, though very few cases are actually witnessed.  Concerned at the ramifications, the American government dispatches a special agent to investigate the vanishings. 

Listen! is perfectly constructed, fitting its novella length just right.  The plot is also novel, though there are shades of Clarke’s Childhood’s End.  The characterizations serve the tale rather than being tacked on.  A five star story.

Junior Achievement, by William M. Lee

This tale of a gaggle of precocious kids and their science project is neither engaging nor novel.  I think the idea is that fall-out from an atomic exchange has caused the kids to surpass the adults by leaps and bounds, but otherwise, I couldn’t see the point.  Two stars.

The Other Likeness, by James H. Schmitz

Alien agents in human form are inserted into a Terran Federation with the goal to destroy it from within.  A textbook example of how not to write: three quarters of this story is action without explanation, followed by the most expository of endings.  The result is that one wonders why one is reading until the finale and then feels let down for the effort expended.  Two stars.

Brain Waves and Thought Patterns, by John Eric Holmes, M.D.

I normally cringe at the prospect of reading non-fiction in Analog given Editor Campbell’s preference for crackpots pushing psychic malarkey, but July’s piece genuinely intrigues.  We are finally learning a bit about the black box of the mind that lies between stimulus and response.  The key has been to implant electrodes into the brain and measure the electrical output.  Cats are the subject of choice being the perfect combination of ubiquitous and medium-sized.

The result?  We now know a lot about the brainwaves of cats.  What this means for the future of humanity, brain research, Dr. Rhine, etc. remains to be seen.  Three stars.

Border, Breed Nor Birth (Part 1 of 2), by Mack Reynolds

El Hassan, the mythical would-be uniter of North Africa is back in Reynolds’ second tale set in the Mahgreb of the 1980s.  As in the first, it follows Homer Crawford and his band of Westernized Negroes as they promulgate the virtues of democracy and technology under a collective assumed identity. 

I’m a little warmer to the idea that Africa can use the help of its displaced children across the sea, and I do appreciate the attention to detail in the setting and the politics (no surprise – Reynolds spent a good deal of time in Morocco and Algeria).  However, the presentation is still too flip, and I suspect the endeavor is going to prove all too easy.  But perhaps the naive ambitions of Crawford et. al. will be thwarted in Part II.  Three stars so far, but I’m waiting for the thump of shoe #2.

The Rescuer, by Arthur Porges

Last up is the chronicle of the destruction of a machine, perhaps the most powerful and important machine in human history.  The pay-off is as hoary as your grandmother, but the unveiling is rather masterful.  Three stars.

Summed up, this month’s Analog is the least good of the Big Five magazines, scoring a still respectable 3.1 stars – and it has the month’s best story, in my opinion.  Given that no digest scored under the three stars this month, it has been an unusually fruitful July for science fiction lovers.

***

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

[June 16, 1962] Picking Up Charles Finney (The Circus of Dr. Lao)


by Victoria Lucas

I am so honored to be taking up space here!  The Traveler thought enough of my letters to the editor that he asked me to become a regular contributor.  In my letters I mentioned how I’ve just graduated from Stanford and am going back to my old job in the Drama Department at the University of Arizona, and my mother’s home, where I’m typing on an old portable Smith-Corona that has seen far too many papers, dissertations, theses, and so on as I’ve struggled to work my way through college. 

Last fall I tacked up on my bulletin board (unfortunately in the sun) a short column of news about somebody with whom I sometimes work in Tucson little theatre–Bob Hammond, a French professor at the University of Arizona who once won a Fulbright to Paris and never recovered.  He writes his plays in French and English and translates from each language into the other.  The blurb introduced Hammond as one of four playwrights who formed a producing group for their work.  One of the other playwrights was a fellow by the name of Charles Finney who was supposed to produce a play of his this year. 

The article reminded me that I may have met Finney as I house-managed and assistant-directed Bob’s plays.  Or I might have seen him in his workplace, the newspaper building downtown, where he has been editor of the Arizona Daily Star for 32 years (I spent my Saturdays at the Tucson Daily Citizen my senior year in high school helping to put out the “Teen Citizen,” a section of the paper.) So when I ran across The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories I picked it up.  It’s edited by Ray Bradbury and published by Bantam Books, first out 1956.

In the very first sentence of his introduction to this book of short and long stories, Bradbury asserts that the works in this book “are fantasies, not science-fiction.” He goes on to list some adjectives and statements that contrast science fiction and fantasy as genres (or at least his idea of the genres).  Then, in two short, strident paragraphs, like trochees in a poem, he argues:

“Science-fiction balances you on the cliff.

Fantasy shoves you off.”

This book of short stories (and one long one) conforms to that opinion.  At least the shoving-off-cliffs part.

Charles Finney’s novella The Circus of Dr. Lao is on the cover and first in the book.  Finney uses figures of mythical people and animals to produce what seems like an almost metaphorical story of Abalone, Arizona, which apparently is what Charles Finney calls Tucson.  He began the story while he was in the US Army in China in 1929, and it has seen numerous editions since it was first in print in 1935. 

Lao Tzu (or Laozi, or Lao Tse or …) is a mythical/historical figure who is said to be the author of the Tao Te Ching, a book of philosophy, and the founder of Taoism (Daoism), variously a religion and a philosophy.  The presence of this part man part myth as the owner of a circus is better understood when you see who and what the circus animals and people are: a medusa, a sea serpent, Apollonius of Tyana (15 to 100 AD, a Christ-like figure who incongruously wears and uses a cross), a satyr, a Roc chick, Sphinx, Chimera, and so on.  The real venerable philosopher (Dr.) Lao did not preach withdrawal from the world but discernment and enjoyment of what is in it, apparently here containing the inventions of the human imagination that might include himself (does that tangle your nervous system?)

These animals and humanlike entities do not mix well, and they look strange marching through the town of Abalone as circuses used to do.  They are so bizarre that the people of Abalone do not know what to make of them, and they argue incessantly about whether one of the circus figures is a bear, a “Russian,” or a man.  Finney doesn’t even settle the matter in his ending “Catalogue” of characters, questions, and other matters at the end.

I cannot recommend this story enough.  Although Bradbury calls it fantasy, it fits in no genre, has no particular moral, steps in no one else’s shoes.  I am only familiar with one other book of Finney’s, The Unholy City, which seems to me again to be without identifiable genre, one that calls out human foibles but does not condemn them.  Both books are funny but not laugh-out-loud funny.  Their humor emanates quietly from human (and mythic) limitations and self-aggrandizement.

What I find most amusing is the way the good (or not-so-good) doctor can change in an instant back and forth from a stereotype of an ignorant and hysterical “heathen Chinee,” misplaced letters “L” and all, to a calm, philosophical global traveller speaking perfect English. 

In one scene, he “came dashing up, ‘Whatsah mattah Glod damn college punks come this place?’ …’You no savvee nothing here.  Glet to hell out!  This my show, by Glod!'” Eventually he “glets” them out by shouting, “Hey, Lube!  (instead of the circus/carnival rallying cry, “Hey, Rube!”).

A little later he expounds on his Hound of the Hedges (supposedly a living dog made out of vegetable matter).  He begins with “Epitomizing the fragrance of grassplots, lawns, and hedgy, thickset places, this behemoth of hounds stands unique in the mysterious lexicon of life.”  Elsewhere he maintains his innocence of fraud by saying “You see: I no fool you.  This place no catchum fake.” 

(In my experience, some clever people conceived in foreign lands or looking still foreign in this one use this ability to believably imitate their stereotypes in order to maintain their privacy and ward off unwelcome demands.)

As the show goes on, there are casualties, mainly from the Medusa’s ability to turn people to stone, but Dr. Lao is almost killed himself.  He survives, though, and just as he came to town by no visible means (not by truck or train), he leaves with his menagerie the same way.

“I am a calm, intelligent girl.” Miss Agnes Birdsong reassures herself.  “I am a calm, intelligent girl, and I have not seen Pan on Main Street.” Circus of Dr. Lao

“When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu

The rest of the book consists of short stories of varying length.  The first, Nigel Kneale’s story The Pond, seems to me to have congealed around a particular idea the way the white of a boiled egg encircles the yolk.  Anything I say about it will probably spoil the ending of this extremely short story, so I will just state that it is of frogs and men.

The Hour of Letdown by E. B. White pits men against an artificial brain.  One that likes to get drunk after a hard job well done.

So far humans aren’t doing very well.  Let’s see how things go with Roald Dahl’s The Wish.  Hmmm.  Imagination 3, human beings 0. 

And “The Summer People”?  Well, I know Shirley Jackson’s work, and her imagination tends to the … let’s just say she’s well known for The Haunting of Hill House, a ghost story.  A couple lucky enough to have a summer home decide to stay there after Labor Day, something they’ve never done before.  Be prepared for unending suspense.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of the next story, is taught in school as one of America’s first, most celebrated authors.  He is probably best known for his book The Scarlet Letter (1850), about fictional events 200 years earlier in Puritan Boston, where an adulteress is forced to wear a red letter “A” on her dress.  This story, Earth’s Holocaust, dates from 1844 and is strongly reminiscent of Jonathan Swift, whose work Hawthorne probably would have read.  Its moral: beware of reforms, because evil will spring forth anew.

Loren Eiseley is an anthropologist, not a writer of fiction, but this story (essay?) was published in 1948 in Harper’s Magazine, when he was head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Pennsylvania.  “Bone hunters,” he writes, “are listeners.  They have to be.”  He hears about Buzby’s Petrified Woman (the story title) while hunting for fossils, and he has to find out if it’s “a bone.”  Because it’s in this collection I would think it’s fantasy.  Because it’s Eiseley I’m inclined to believe it’s a memory.  You judge.

Oliver La Farge is also an anthropologist, but he wrote recognized fiction.  This story, The Resting Place, also became part of his collection A Pause in the Desert (1957) (Oh, I wish they hadn’t misspelled “Chinle”–with an extra “e.”  It’s one of my favorite spots.) So I do understand “the old man’s” obsession with Navajo country.  Its beauty is formidable, its mystery eternal.  This story does not challenge that view.

Threshold is by Henry Kuttner – an author with more pseudonyms than anyone else I know.  His most frequent one was Lewis Padgett, a name he used when he wrote with his wife C. L. Moore, but apparently Kuttner attributed this story to himself.  Kuttner is notable for his correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft, the inventor of the world of Cthulu.  If you have read or read about Lovecraft’s work, you can guess the atmosphere and maybe one of the few characters in this story, which has been described elsewhere as “horror.”  Apparently the husband-and-wife team of Kuttner and Moore did not have two egotists on it, because Kuttner writes here, “egotists cannot live together.”  Beware: this is the second time a devil has appeared in this book.  Third time’s a charm.

In James H. Schmitz’s Greenface a barking dog begins to “churn up the night” as the owner of a fishing camp tries to decide how to deal with a green horror that has driven away his campers–and his girlfriend. 

The Limits of Walter Horton features this quote by author John Seymour Sharnik: “Even if one accepted Horton’s rare talent as the purest sort of inspiration, that didn’t explain what was happening.” 

What if, while you are woolgathering, you are really not all there?  What if part of you is truly in the place and time you are thinking about, and the you in the present has somehow diminished?  Maybe this story, The Man Who Vanished by Robert M. Coates, would be the result.

For me, the stories in this book are uneven in quality and interest, but however you can get it, I absolutely recommend The Circus of Dr. Lao.  If you like Galactic Journey, you’ll like Finney.