Tag Archives: john t. phillifent

[Sep. 25, 1962] Peaks and Valleys (October 1962 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

There are two poles when it comes to how science fiction magazines like to fill their pages.  The Fantasy and Science Fiction approach involves lots of short stories — it makes for an impressive Table of Contents and a lot of bite-sized pieces.  Analog tends toward the other extreme: its stories tend to be novellas and serials, and you only get 4-5 piece of fiction each issue.  As a result, the average quality of any given issue relies on a very few pieces.  With Analog, if you don’t like several of the authors, you’re pretty much out of luck (and 50 cents). 

The October 1962 Analog is, fortunately, not that bad, but a wide swath of it is taken up with a pretty lousy novella.  If I’d started with it, I don’t know if I’d have made it to the rest of the magazine.  It’s a good thing I read from the back first…

Ethical Quotient, by John T. Phillifent

You’ve probably run into the British author, Mr. Phillifent, under his more common pseudonym, “John Rackham.”  Quotient takes up the most real estate of any piece in the issue, and it’s a shame.  The set-up is pure Campbell, with a Terran science-historian winning a trip aboard Earth’s first starship to meet the superior, psionically endowed humanoids of the Galactic Federation.  To ensure his safety, the historian is surgically equipped with a psychic transmitter that mimics the native powers of the aliens. 

In short order, the Earther is beset by murderers, whom he dispatches with his uncommon athletic ability.  A beautiful princess, daughter of the noble whose cabin was hastily vacated to give the historian passage on the starship, also gets involved. 

As to what happens next?  Well…I can’t tell you.  You see, I made several attempts to finish this story, and I found myself continually foundering on the shoals of page 20 (of 55!) Somehow, I kept finding the newspaper, or The Andy Griffith Show, or this month’s excellent issue of Fantastic more worthy of my attention.

I give up.  One star.  Let me know what I missed.

… After a Few Words …, by Seaton McKettrig

I’ve never head of McKettrig.  He’s either new or (more likely with Analog) someone writing pseudonymously.  The title of this piece gives the gimmick away of this short tale of the First Crusade, but it’s not bad, and the idea of the “televicarion” is an interesting one.  Three stars.

Gadget vs. Trend, by Christopher Anvil

Sometimes the transformative effects of a technology on society are subtle and slow; other times, they are dramatic and quick.  For instance, the creation of linen-based “rag” paper provided a welcome improvement over parchment, but it was the development of Gutenberg’s printing press (which used the fine paper) that caused a revolution.

Anvil’s Gadget explores the latter kind of invention, a “quasi-electron” barrier developed in the 1970s that leads to complete societal chaos.  Short, punchy, and pleasantly satirical, it’s one of the better stories Anvil has produced for Analog.  Three stars.

Hypergolicity, by Edward C. Walterscheid

I generally anticipate Analog’s science fact articles with a sense of dread.  They are often not worth the slick paper they are printed on (in an attempt to add respectability to his magazine, editor Campbell has included about 20 pages of magazine-quality paper for a couple of years now.) Walterscheid takes on a genuinely interesting and current topic: the use of spontaneously igniting fuel and oxidizer mixes for rockets.  These combinations are frightfully dangerous, but also convenient, for no spark or fuse is required to set them off, and rockets that employ hypergolics can stop and restart their engines.

It’s technical and not as adeptly written as Asimov’s or Ley’s stuff, but I found it highly informative.  Three stars.

A Life for the Stars (Part 2 of 2), by James Blish

Since my report on the first half of Blish’s newest novel, I have learned that the “Oakie” setting, featuring nomadic Earth cities powered by faster-than-light “spindizzy” drives, has been around at least since 1950, when Bindlestiff was published.  If the other entries in this universe are as good as A Life for the Stars, then I have some catching up to do.

When we last left our hero, Crispin deFord, an impressed resident of the spacefaring city of Scranton, he had been exchanged for food to the much larger community of New York.  As a promising citizen-candidate, guaranteed immortality should he be granted the franchise, Chris is force-fed a torrent of computer-inscribed education so that his true calling might be made evident by his 18th birthday.

But space is a dangerous place, and the potential for planetside treachery, shipboard revolution, or even inter-city conflict is high.  Suffice it to say that Chris has several adventures in store for him before he can become a full-fledged New Yorker…and that outcome is far from certain.

The pacing, writing, and characterization are all excellent, and if it occasionally feels as though history and society have stood still for the Oakie universe since 1960, it can be forgiven for all the novel inventions Blish presents.  Aside from the flying communities, there are also the “City Fathers,” benevolent computers that guide, but don’t run, the cities; beamed power that wirelessly runs the electronics; the powered military armor reminiscent of, but presumably predating, Heinelin’s Starship Troopers; and more.  Five stars, and I’m betting it’ll be on 1963’s Hugo shortlist. 

Buy this issue for, if nothing else, the Blish. 




[November 13, 1961] (un)Moving Pictures (December 1961 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

The last decade saw a boom in written science fiction as well as science fiction cinema, due in part to both the fear of atomic warfare and the promise of space exploration.  Both trends have tapered off recently, possibly due to the many stories and films of poor quality offered to a public grown tired of cheap thrills.  (No doubt such a fate awaits the countless Westerns currently dominating American television screens.)

In any case, the two media have had an influence on each other, not always to the advantage of either.  Although science fiction movies have sometimes made use of the talents of important writers within the genre, such as Robert A. Heinlein’s contribution to Destination Moon, too often they have turned to the most juvenile pulp magazines and comic books for inspiration.  In turn, some written science fiction has lost the sophistication it gained under editors such as John W. Campbell, H. L. Gold, and Anthony Boucher. 

These musings come to mind when one peruses the pages of the latest issue of Fantastic.  Of the two longest stories in the magazine, one is reminiscent of recent science fiction films, while the other deals directly with the movie business.

It seems likely that Daniel F. Galouye’s lead novelette Spawn of Doom (note the melodramatic title, which would not be out of place on a theater marquee) was inspired by Lloyd Birmingham’s cover painting.  The scene depicted by the artist is described in great detail within the story, down to the exact number of tentacle-like things coming out of the meteorite on display in a museum.
This tale of a dangerous alien life form brought to Earth on a chunk of rock from outer space inevitably reminds the reader of movies like The Blob.  However, the author brings imagination and intelligence to a familiar theme.

The story is told from three points of view.  First we meet the humanoid Lumarians, aliens who patrol the galaxy in search of deadly creatures known as EGMites.  These beings subsist on electro-gravito-magnetic energy, hence their name.  When they land on a world after traveling through empty space in an unconscious state for immense periods of time, they prepare for reproduction by tearing the planet apart and sending spores out in all directions.  Obviously this poses a threat to life everywhere in the cosmos.
Next we enter the newly awakened mind of an EGMite which has reached Earth.  Filled with the desire to reproduce, and to destroy anything which seeks to interfere, it soon begins wreaking havoc on its surroundings, starting on a small scale but quickly escalating to the point where it is demolishing entire buildings.

Providing the viewpoint of endangered humanity is the curator of the museum where the EGMite’s meteoric hiding place is being exhibited.  This rugged young hero is ably assisted by a capable and attractive archivist, who not only provides romantic interest, but is on hand to scream when the monster from space attacks.  One can’t help wondering if the author has his tongue firmly in his cheek while describing these characters.  However, the tale never degrades into farce, and the quick-moving plot builds the necessary amount of suspense.  The transitions between the three points of view are sometimes abrupt, and the story has nothing particularly profound to say, but it’s solid entertainment.  Three stars.

During the intermission between our two feature presentations, let’s take a look at something quite different.  David Ely’s unusual story, The Last Friday in August, offers much food for thought.  The protagonist dwells in a large city, and finds the crushing presence of the vast crowds nearly unbearable.  He only finds peace through long periods of meditation.  One day he finds that he has a strange power over others.  This leads to an unexpected climax, which will leave the reader pondering its meaning.  Well-written, subtle, and evocative, this tale is likely to haunt the reader for a long time.  Four stars.

Back to the movies.  Point, by John T. Phillifent (perhaps better known under his pen name John Rackham), deals with a group of filmmakers who travel to Venus to make their latest blockbuster.  The proposed feature involves beautiful female Venusians, and seems intended to provide a bit of satire of silly science fiction movies such as Queen of Outer Space.  Although the author’s description of Venus is a bit more realistic than that, it’s still not terribly plausible.  The Planet of Love is a very dangerous place, inhabited by all kinds of deadly creatures, but its atmosphere is breathable, and humans can walk around on its hot, steamy surface without spacesuits.  The plot deals with a pilot who agrees to take the film crew into the Venusian wilderness.  As you might expect, things quickly go very wrong, and the story turns into a violent account of survival in a hostile environment.  All in all it’s a fairly typical adventure yarn, competent but hardly noteworthy.  Two stars.

After the double feature of novelettes we have a pair of short stories, one new and one old, to round out the magazine.  Up first is The Voice Box, by Allan W. Eckert, a very brief tale about a man who hates and fears telephones.  Written in a rather baroque style, it leads to a grim conclusion.  Since I share the narrator’s loathing of that terribly intrusive instrument, I am forced to award three stars to what is admittedly a minor piece.

This issue’s “fantasy classic” is by Robert E. Howard, a prolific author of pulp fiction who committed suicide decades ago at the age of thirty.  Best known to readers of speculative fiction for his tales of Conan and other fantasy adventures and horror stories, Howard also produced numerous stories in other genres ranging from sports fiction to Westerns.  Published near the end of his life in the August 15, 1936 issue of Argosy, The Dead Remember is a tale of the supernatural set in Dodge City in 1877.  The first part of the story takes the form of a letter from a cowboy to his brother, in which he confesses to the killing of a man and his wife during a drunk argument over a game of dice.  Before she dies the woman places a curse on him.  The second part of the story consists of several formal statements of witnesses to the fate of the murderer. 

Although this is a typical story of revenge from beyond the grave, the unusual structure provides some novelty.  Of most interest, perhaps, are the racial implications.  The murdered man is a Negro, and his witch-like wife is a “high yellow” of mixed race.  Although at first the killer seems to treat the married couple no differently than whites, when tempers flare the racial insults come out.  The author seems to imply that a woman of mixed race would be closer to the supernatural than others.  For its historical value, I’ll give this story two and one-half stars.

Overall this issue comes very close to a three star rating.  It certainly provides a wide variety of reading material, and is almost certain to have something to please any reader of imaginative fiction.

See you at the movies! 

And as luck would have it, the next article will feature a movie – the latest monstrous spectacular straight from Japan.  Stay tuned! [the Traveler].