by Gideon Marcus
I’ve been thundering against the new tack Editor Avram Davidson has taken The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for several months now, so much so that I didn’t even save what used to be my favorite magazine for last this month.
So imagine my pleasant surprise when, in synchronicity with the sun reaching its annual zenith, the July edition also returns to remembered heights. Of course, Davidson’s editorial prefaces are still lousy, being at once too obvious in describing the contents of the proceeding story, and at the same time, obtuse beyond enjoyment. If there’s anything on which I pin the exceeding quality of this issue, it’s the unusual abundance of woman authors. It’s been a long time, and their absence has been keenly marked (at least by me). For the most part, the fellas aren’t too bad either. Take a look:
Darfgarth, by Vance Aandahl
Hundreds of years from now, or perhaps thousands of years ago, a mesmeric bard named Darfgarth came to a little Colorado town. He exerted his influence like a God, but men aren’t Gods, and men who aspire to be Gods usually meet an unpleasant end. A nicely atmospheric story, though the seams showed through a bit too much. Three stars.
Two’s a Crowd, by Sasha Gilien
A pair of polar opposite souls struggle for ascendancy in the tabula rasa mind of a newborn. Gilien’s first published piece reads like one – uneven and with a hackneyed ending. Two stars. (Take heart – this is the only sub-par story in the book!)
Master Misery, by Truman Capote
When a thought-vampire steals all of your dreams, what is left to live for? I tend to look dimly upon reprints as a cheap way to fill space, but it’s hard to complain about the inclusion of this story, by a very young Capote, fresh off the success (and controversy) of his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. It’s a dreamy, metaphorical piece, both in theme and delivery, and it works. Four stars.
Stanley Toothbrush, by Carl Brandon
Newcomer Brandon has written a timeless yet incredibly now story about a tired young man, his fetching (but physically demanding) girlfriend, and the improbably named fellow who literally comes out of nowhere to threaten their relationship. It’s the youth’s owned damned fault, but he doesn’t know it. A very The Twilight Zone sort of piece that’s rising action all the way to the very pleasant end. Four stars.
Subcommittee, by Zenna Henderson
Henderson’s first non-The People story in a good long while is a tale of finding common ground between two seemingly implacable foes. In this case, the enemy is a fleet of alien exiles, the “good guys” the denizens of Planet Earth a few decades from now. The cynical side of me groans at the naivete of the piece. The romantic side of me kicks the cynical side a few times and reminds it that Henderson still spins a compelling yarn, and we can use a little hope in this harsh world. I only cringe slightly at the highly conventional gender roles of Subcommittee – but then, I expect Henderson is making more of a statement about today than a prediction about the future. Let’s hope HUAC doesn’t investigate her for being a commie peacenik. Four stars.
Brown Robert, by Terry Carr
A gritty time travel story with a twist, but the set-up doesn’t quite match the ending, and the thing falls apart on closer inspection. Good twist, though. Three stars.
Six Haiku, by Karen Anderson
Better known as the better half of prolific writer Poul Anderson, Karen seems to be embarking on an independent career; her first story came out just two months ago. Anyway, this handful of poetic trifles is worth the time you’ll spend on them, plus the customary 20% mark-up. Three stars.
My Dear Emily, by Joanna Russ
A fine take on Stoker from the victim’s point of view, but is the increasingly unshackled Emily really a victim? Russ doesn’t write often, but when she does, the result is always unique. Four stars.
Hot Stuff, by Isaac Asimov
The Good Doctor serves up an article on a subject near and dear to my astronomically-minded heart: the death of stars. You may find it abstruse, but careful reading will reward. Four stars.
Meanwhile, Alfred Bester continues to savage books he hasn’t actually read, to wit, his utterly missing the point of The Lani People. Moreover, he refuses to do more than describe the plot of Catseye, so affronted is Bester by the grief Andre Norton gave him for his review of Shadow Hawk. Ms. Norton was entirely in the right – I, too, was incensed when Bester proclaimed, “women just can’t write adventure.” Firstly, Norton does not represent all of womanhood. Secondly, Norton has proven countless times that she can. And lastly, when’s the last time you wrote anything, has-been Alfred?
It’s a good thing I don’t rate book review columns…
The Man Without a Planet, by Kate Wilhelm
A rendezvous on the way to Mars between the man punished for unlocking the heavens and the boy he inspired to reach them. A great idea if not a terrific story. Three stars.
Uncle Arly, by Ron Goulart
Yet another Max Kearney story. This time, the avocational exorcist takes on the spirit of a buttinsky ad-man who won’t stop haunting a young man’s TV until he agrees to marry the ghost’s niece. The prime requisite of a comedic story is that it be funny. I chuckled many-a-time; call this one a success. Four stars.
Throw in a conclusory Feghoot (the groan it elicits is a sign of its potency) and you’ve got an issue that comfortably meters in at 3.5 stars. Four woman authors marks a record for the digest – any s-f digest, in fact. Perhaps it is this quality issue that prompted “Satchmo’s” profuse praise, which now graces the back of the magazine: