Tag Archives: james stamers

[Feb. 10, 1962] Here is the News (March 1962 IF)


by Gideon Marcus

If “no news is good news,” then this has been a very good week, indeed!  The Studebaker UAW strike ended on the 7th.  The Congo is no more restive than usual.  Laos seems to be holding a tenuous peace in its three-cornered civil war.  The coup is over in the Dominican Republic, the former government back in power.  John Glenn hasn’t gone up yet, but then, neither have any Russians. 

And while this month’s IF science fiction magazine contains nothing of earth-shattering quality, there’s not a clunker in the mix – and quite a bit to enjoy!  Get a load of these headlines:

SURE THING

Poul Anderson’s Kings who Die leads the issue.  Anderson has been writing a blue streak over the past decade, and I don’t think I’ve disliked any of his work since this decade started.  One of my readers has noted Anderson’s tendency toward the somber (A Bicycle Built for Brew and The High Crusade not withstanding), but I like a bit of gravitas in my stories. 

Kings who Die tells the moving tale of a shipwrecked astro-soldier picked up by The Enemy in the depths of space.  The captive is induced to join his foes, who have developed a super-weapon.  But in the end, it turns out that the prisoner has a weapon of his own, one hidden deep inside of him.

Told by most others, this would be a throwaway gimmick piece.  Anderson puts flesh on the bones of this story, despite it being rather short.  Four stars.

NO SUPRISES

I don’t think Jim Harmon has missed an issue of IF in good long time.  This is generally to the reader’s favor as Harmon oscillates between fair and superior (if never great or awful).  Dangerous Quarry has a cute title, but this tale of a town and its bad-luck mine of luxury granite feeles dashed off, metering in at around sin of π (or three stars).

AUTHOR KICKS SELF

I usually don’t review Ted Sturgeon’s nonfiction pieces, but this month’s was long enough, and about an interesting-enough topic (Murray Leinster’s myriad of nifty scientific inventions – real, not literary), that I felt it worth a rating: Three stars.

LOST CAT

I normally associate Stephen Barr’s surreal stylings with Fantasy and Science Fiction, in whose pages I usually find him.  His latest story, Tybalt, thus, is an odd (but not unwelcome) addition to this month’s IFTybalt has the distinction of being the first story I’ve read to feature time travel by aid of chemicals (as opposed to using a machine), and its feline-tinged middle section is excellent.  Too bad about the rather rough ending, though.  Three stars, though I am reasonably certain this will be a favorite of some of my readers.


by Burns

TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE

Frank Banta is back again with The Happy Homicide, a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on circumstantial evidence, particularly when the jury is sympathetic to the circumstances.  Never rely on a computer, at least so long as Perry Mason is around!  Three stars.

IT DOESN’T MATTER

James Stamers continues his upward trend with E Being.  The premise is fantastic: a pilot on the first Faster Than Light flight is converted into energy, fundamentally changing his nature but not his soul.  Upon this transformation, he finds himself in a community of radiation-eating, incorporeal creatures with a rather unique perspective on life (or perhaps it is we, the comparatively rare beings made up of…stuff…that are the oddballs).

I would have liked a serious exploration of these concepts, something philosophical and profound (e.g. The Star Dwellers, by James Blish).  Instead, Stamers plays the story for horror and laughs (an odd combination, but it works) and E Being ends up a fun tale, if a lost opportunity.  Three stars.

RETIEF STRIKES AGAIN!

The best-known interstellar diplomat is back, this time attempting to solve the mystery of the misplaced heavy cruiser.  Laumer’s The Madman from Earth plays Retief a bit straighter than I’m used to, which I think is to the story’s ultimate benefit.  However, Laumer commits the whodunnit writer’s cardinal sin: he never explains just how Retief gains the critical piece of information on which his success hinges.  Three stars.

NOW YOU SEE IT…

Wrapping things up is a charming piece of whimsy by R.A. Lafferty (who else?) called Seven-Day Terror, which involves a thieving brat, who absconds with necessary items, and the precocious little girl who sets things to rights.  Four stars, making this issue a worthy palindrome. 

Read all about it!


by Emsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[March 8, 1961] Bland for Adventure (April 1961 Galaxy, 1st half)

As we speak, my nephew, David, is on the S.S. Israel bound for Haifa, Israel.  It’s the last leg of a long trip that began with a plane ride from Los Angeles to New York, continued with a six-day sea cruise across the Atlantic to Gibraltar, and which currently sees the youth making a brief landing in the Greek port of Piraeus.  He’s about to begin a year (or two) in Israel on a kibbutz.  An exciting adventure, to be sure, though I will miss our discussions on current science fiction, even if his tastes were, understandably, a little less refined than mine. 

So I hope, dear readers, that you will make up for his absence by sending me even more of your lovely comments!

Of course, you can hardly prepare your posts until I’ve reviewed this month’s set of magazines.  First on the pile, as usual, is the double-large issue of Galaxy, the biggest of the science fiction magazines with 196 pages packed with some of the biggest names in the field. 

But is bigger always better?  Not necessarily.  In fact, Galaxy seems to be where editor H.L. Gold stuffs his “safe” stories, the ones by famous folks that tend not to offend, but also won’t knock your socks off.

So it is with the April 1961 Galaxy, starting with the novella, Planeteer, the latest from newcomer Fred Saberhagen.  It starts brilliantly, featuring an interstellar contact team from Earth attempting to establish relations with an aboriginal alien race.  Two points impressed me within the first few pages: the belt-pouch sized computer (how handy would that be?) and the breakfast described as, “synthetic ham, and a scrambled substance not preceded or followed by chickens.”

The race, however, is disappointingly human; the tale is a fairly typical conundrum/solution story.  On the other hand, the alien king does show some refreshing intelligence—no easy White God tactics for the Planeteers!  Three stars.

Fritz Leiber offers up Kreativity for Kats, an adorable tale of a feline with the blood of an artiste.  Now, any story that features cats is sure to be a cute one (with the notable, creepy exception of The Mind Thing…) It’s not science fiction at all, not even fantasy, but I read it with a grin on my face.  Four stars.

Galaxy’s science fact column, For Your Information, by German rocket scientist Willy Ley, continues to be entertaining.  This bi-month’s article is on the Gegenschein, that mysterious counterpoint to the Zodiacal Light.  There’s also a fun aside about the annexation of Patagonia by a bewildered German professor as well as silly bit on Seven League Boots.  Three stars.

Last up for the first half of the book is James Stamer’s Scent Makes a Difference, which answers the question on everyone’s mind: What if you could meet all the alternate yous—the ones who took different paths in life?  Would you learn from all of your possible mistakes?  Or would you merely commit the biggest blunder of all?  I didn’t quite understand the ending (or perhaps I overthought it).  Three stars.

That’s that for now.  Read up, drop me a line, and I’ll have the second half in a few days!

[August 29, 1960] One shoe down (October 1960 Galaxy, 1st half)

There is an old saw: “Just when I got my mule to work without being fed, she up and died on me!”

At the end of 1958, Galaxy editor H. Gold announced that his magazine was going to a bi-monthly publication schedule.  He did not mention that he was also slashing writer pay rates in half.

Last issue, Gold crowed about his stable of fresh new authors who would carry the torch of science fiction creation.  And, of course, there is plenty of room for the new authors now that the old names have departed for greener pastures.

Is this how a great magazine dies?  Not with a bang, but with a whimper?  You may disagree with me, but the October 1960 issue of Galaxy feels like a throwback.  A lesser mag from the mid ’50s.  Let me show you the first half of the issue, and you’ll see what I mean.

Allen Kim Lang opens things up with his novella, World in a Bottle.  The premise is an interesting one: take a group of people with no resistance to diseases (such people exist today).  Put them together in a sort of commune.  What are the sociological and practical implications?  What kind of life can they expect to have?

Some of the story rings true, particularly the feeling of imprisonment and the lack of attraction for one’s fellow commune residents.  This isn’t science fiction–this is what’s happening right now on the kibbutzim in Israel.  What kills the story, for me, is the breezy style and the overly neat finish at the end.  It’s a pity–Lang has been good enough to get printed in F&SF.  I’m sure he could turn out better.

The Hills of Home, by Alfred Coppel, originally came out in Future Science Fiction back in 1956.  It reads like an inferior version of Sturgeon’s sublime The Man who lost the Sea, but I guess Coppel’s came first, so perhaps Sturgeon’s is a polish-up.  In any event, it’s a clunky piece, but not horrible.  It does show that Galaxy is now resorting to reprints to fill its pages.  That’s probably not a good sign. 

Marshall King is, as far as I can tell, a complete newcomer to science fiction.  His Beach Scene, about a cute little alien who can stop time, is rather engaging.  The creature’s encounter with a band of rapacious human colonizers is bittersweet.  Mostly bitter.

Willy Ley seems to be coasting these days.  His latest article, The Air on the Moon, is not a stand-out.

Then we’ve got James Stamers’ The Imitiation of Earth, positing a sort of planetary sentience that deliberately fosters the evolution of life.  This is Stamers’ fourth published story, and Gold has bought every one of them.  I’ve noted in my reviews of his last three that his work tends to be forgettable stuff with occasional interesting ideas mixed in.  He continues this trend with his newest story, which starts out in a quite compelling manner, but ends prosaically. 

That brings us to newcomer Andrew Fetler’s Cry Snooker, a satiric tale about the havoc wreaked on a suburban town by an experimental little flying machine.  It reads like a lesser Rosel George Brown story.  Heavy on the domestic banter, crude with the lampooning.

Now, things could turn around quite suddenly in the second half of this month’s issue, but thus far, we’re looking at a 2.5 star issue.  It would be a crying shame if Galaxy, once my favorite science fiction digest, ended up below Astounding!

In happier news, I met a lot of wonderful folks at the local science fiction convention last week.  One of them was dressed up as the new member of the family from Krypton, Supergirl.  Well, it turns out she is a local, and she sent me a photo to share with my fans.  Meet Janel, everyone!

[March 9, 1960] First shoe of the month (April 1960 Galaxy, 1st half)

Good old Galaxy magazine.  Dependable, occasionally brilliant, very thick.

So thick, that I traditionally break down my review of each bi-month’s issue into two articles, and who am I to buck tradition?  Without further ado, the April 1960 Galaxy.

First up is Earl Goodale’s Success Story, a surprisingly entertaining satire on an interstellar soldier’s life and career.  It’s sort of a cynical answer to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.  I don’t know much about Mr. Goodale—this is only his second story, as far as I can tell.

Clifford Simak must have a number of expensive bills to pay, for he’s published quite a number of stories this year already.  His latest, Condition of Employment, about a down-on-his luck engineer who is desperate to make one last flight home to Mars, is not as good as All the Traps of Earth, but better than The Gleaners, both of which came out last month (in F&SF and IF, respectively).  I particularly liked the disdain which the story’s protagonist felt for the ominpresent, oppressive greenery of Earth.  I feel some empathy—I grew up in the desert, and I find an unbridled environment of foliage (and its attendant insect populations) unsettling rather than attractive.

The Nuse Man is back, compliments of author Margaret St. Clair.  The Airy Servitor, about a thought-activated invisible butler much akin to Aladdin’s genie, is a lot of fun.  My favorite line: “Bert and Franny wore expressions suitable to persons who have just seen a dining room explode.”  Beware itinerant salesmen from the future bearing gifts they don’t understand.

When I saw Cordwainer Smith’s name on the cover, I became quite excited.  After all, his No, no, not Rogov was a tour de force.  The Lady Who Sailed the Soul has the trappings of a good story, it has the subject of a good story, but somehow it fails to be a good story.  This tale of the first and only relativistic interstellar spaceship pilot is overwrought and somehow anti-feminist despite having feminist protagonists.  Perhaps because they are such caricatures.  I also dislike stories where women are motivated solely by love for their man.


by DILLON

Finally, we have James Stamers’ Solid State, a dull tale of crystalline teleportation (as in using enlarged crystal lattices as vessels for instant transit) that I barely remembered even just after reading.  They can’t all be winners, I suppose.

That’s it for this batch.  See you when the other shoe drops!

Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Jan. 14, 1960] Twin Stars (February 1960 Galaxy)

Galaxy editor Horace Gold is hard up for writers these days now that he’s cut payment rates.  In this month’s (February 1960) editorial, he notes that he’s getting all kinds of low-quality stuff, and would these would-be authors please try reading a scientific journal or two to get better ideas!

Be that as it may, thus far, this double-sized issue of Galaxy is quite enjoyable.  I’m splitting the book into two columns so as not to overwhelm you and give you a chance to follow along at home.

Bob Sheckley has a new story out: Meeting of the Minds.  I think I’ve mentioned in an earlier column how one of my best friends has a profound aversion to stories involving a take-over of the body a la Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters.  He’d have to give Meeting a miss, because that’s its central theme: the bug-like Quedak, psychic coordinator for the extinct hive-mind species of Mars, hitches a ride back to Earth where he intends to conduct a similar conquest. 


Dick Francis

While Bob tends to write in a flip sort of way, he also is capable of some downright creepy prose.  I particularly like how the Quedak is portrayed in glances through other characters’ eyes.  The use of limited viewpoints is quite effective.  Moreover, it would be interesting to viscerally feel what a bird or pig or other human feels, were the cost not losing one’s individuality to a hive-mind.

Unsettling, but good.

Margaret St. Clair has been a busy bee, with stories appearing both here and in IF this monthThe Nuse Man is a shaggy dog story about a brick salesman from the future, and how he ran afoul of political intrigue in ancient Mesopotamia. You won’t remember it long after you read it, but you will enjoy it.


Wallace Wood

Newcomer James Stamers is another author who is filling the pages of two Golden magazines in one month. Dumbwaiter is cute, but eminently forgettable (clearly, as I had to rack my brain for several minutes to remember what it was about!) It opens, excitingly enough, with a master smuggler attempting to secret an extraterrestrial animal through customs.  That half of the story is a pleasant cat and mouser.  The remainder, wherein the animal turns out to be a sort of eager-to-please teleport, who charms the smuggler’s fiancée by bringing her numerous treasures, is not as engaging.


Dillion

Finally, in The Day the Icicle Works Closed, we have a solid extraterrestrial whodunit by Fred Pohl featuring body-swapping, kidnapping, politics, and a reasonably compelling detective.  It starts out rather prosaic, but the pace accelerates as the pieces fit together, and the end is worth waiting for.  I shan’t spoil any more in the event you want to take a crack at some armchair sleuthing.


Dillon

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll discuss Willy Ley, Zenna Henderson (two women in one Galaxy!) and more.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Jan. 08, 1960] Between Peaks (January 1960 If)

I’ve finally finished the January 1960 IF and can report fully on its contents.  January has been a decidedly uninspiring month for digests.  They’re all in the 3-star range (though for Astounding, that’s actually a good month!) with no knockouts in the bunch.  Perhaps this is the calm before the storm.

The reliable if stolid Mack Reynolds (writing as Mark Mallory) kicks off this issue with The Good Seed.  Can a man trapped on a tiny island by a swelling tide escape before he is drowned?  Perhaps with the help of a sentient, telepathic plant.  It’s actually quite a touching story.

James Stamers seems to be a newcomer, and it shows in his unpolished writing.  Despite this, his The Divers, about psionic neutrals (essentially anti-telepaths) with the ability to astrally project, has some fascinating ideas and some genuinely evocative scenes.  Had Stamers given the tale to Sturgeon to work over for a final edit, I think it could have been an epic.  As it is, the story suggests that its author is a diamond in the rough waiting to be polished.

Two Ulsterians, Bob Shaw and Walt Willis, wrote the short Dissolute Diplomat, about an unsavory space traveler who crashes on an alien world, bullies the jelly-ish inhabitants into fixing his ship, and then gets what he deserves in a groan-worthy fashion that is truly pun-ishing.

The Little Red Bag, by Jerry Sohl, is a good piece of thrilling writing, at least until the somewhat callous and abrupt end.  A fellow on a plane has the power of tactile clairvoyance—and he discovers a ticking time bomb in the luggage compartment.  Can he save the passengers before it goes off?  Having flown the route that the plane takes many times (Southerly down California into Los Angeles), the setting is quite familiar, which is always fun.

Daniel Galouye (how do you pronounce his name?) is up next with the interesting teleportation yarn, The Last Leap.  Three military subjects have gone AWOL after artificially gaining the ability to materialize anywhere.  Surely they were not killed–after all, even the vacuum of space poses no danger, for the ‘porters reflexively snap back to a safe spot; moreover, they instinctively avoid teleporting into solid objects.  What could have happened?  You find out in the end…

To Each His Own, by Jack Sharkey, stars a team of Venusians who explore the Earth after a recent holocaust.  The nature of said disaster is never made explicit until the very end, though it is alluded to subtly.  I confess that I should have figured out the gimmick ending, but I didn’t.  I suppose that constitutes a point in the author’s favor.

Margaret St. Clair has a fun story (The Autumn after Next) about a magical missionary whose job is to convert magic-less cultures into adepts at the Arts.  He meets his match, and his end, attempting to introduce the most reluctant of tribes to the supernatural.  Better than The Scarlet Hexapod, not as good as Discipline, both IF stories.

Finally, we have Cultural Exchange by J.F. Bone wherein a crew of space explorers meets a sophisticated alien race with both superior and inferior technologies.  It is a first contact story of Cat and Mouse with both sides attempting to be the predator.  Not stellar, but satisfying.

That’s that!  It’s an unremarkable issue, slightly under the standards of its older sibling, Galaxy, I’d say.  Worth a read, but you won’t remember it next month (unless, of course, you review my column).

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most.  I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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