Tag Archives: kit reed

[Aug. 17, 1962] The 90% rule (September 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

90% of science fiction is crap.  But then, 90% of everything is crap.

The author of that statement, which seems to be supported by overwhelming evidence, is Ted Sturgeon.  This is a fellow who has been writing since 1939, so he knows whereof he speaks.  Sturgeon has, in his dozens of published works, established a reputation for thoughtful excellence, marking the vanguard of our genre.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has devoted nearly half of its pages this month to a new Sturgeon work and several biographical articles.  This is fitting; Sturgeon’s style of literary sf would seem most at home in the most literary of sf mags (though he has, in fact, appeared multiple times in most of the good ones).  And given that much, if not 90%, of the latest issues of F&SF has not been very good, including a healthy dose of Sturgeon is a surefire way to being on the right side of Sturgeon’s Law.

Without further ado, the September 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction:

When You Care, When You Love, by Theodore Sturgeon

This fascinating tale involves the explication and intersection of a bloodline and the life of one of its adopted members.  The bloodline is that of the Gamaliel Wyke, an 18th Century “rum trader” who secured for himself and his progeny a vast, ever-increasing, and utterly secret fortune.  The individual is the cancer-stricken husband of Sylva Wyke: a woman who will stop at nothing to ensure the continuation of the essense, if not the life, of her love.

When you Care is gripping, emotional (though the science be suspect) and even bad Sturgeon is good reading.  This is not bad Sturgeon.  Four stars.

Theodore Sturgeon’s Macrocosm, by James Blish; Theodore Sturgeon, by Judith Merril; Fantasy and Science Fiction by Theodore Sturgeon, by Sam Moskowitz, Martian Mouse, by Robin Sturgeon

We are then treated to some biographical snippets, more personal but less holistic than, say, Moskowitz’s fine article in the February 1962 issue of Amazing.  Blish picks one emblematic story to dissect.  Merril discusses how Sturgeon nurtured her into the author she is today.  And Moskowitz provides a valuable, if unadorned, full bibliography of Sturgeon’s work.  According to Sam, Ted cut his teeth publishing many stories to the late great Unknown.  As luck would have it, I recently acquired a full set.  Looks like I have a lot of reading to do!

The Sturgeon-related portion of the mag is rounded out with a short piece by Sturgeon’s 10-year old son, which is about as good as a piece by someone of that age: cute but raw.

Four stars for the set.

They Also Serve, by Evelyn E. Smith

Two men of Earth’s interstellar navy are dispatched on a suicide assignment: to establish a trading post on an alien world whose inhabitants have slaughtered every prior attempt at colonization.  Both of the sailors were chosen because of an embarassing black mark on their record; Earth government has deemed that it would be no great loss if the two never returned.  If they survive long enough to collect valuable “prozius stones,” from the locals, so much the better.

Rather than plunge into parley with the aliens (which had always preceded the destruction of prior trade teams), the two decide to do nothing other than make a pleasant home on the otherwise idyllic world.  And, ultimately, it is this non-intrusive strategy that leads to positive relations with the aliens, who are compelled to open conversations with the humans on their own terms.

What is most fascinating about this story is that, although it is never explicitly stated, it is made very clear that the cause for the pair’s exile is that they are homosexuals — likely in a relationship even before they were dispatched to the alien planet.  Indeed, the fact that the men are gay is part of what bridges the cultural barrier.  The aliens also have two genders, and while the relationship between their males and females is unclear, it is firmly established that the males are always pair-bonded in some fashion. 

Now, although the subject matter of Serve is quite progressive for this day and age, the story is told in a light matter, a bit broadly for my tastes.  Nevertheless, it is the first science fiction piece I can recall that features homosexuality in a positive light — certainly in stark contrast to the denigration shown in Randy Garrett’s Spatial Relationship just last issue!)

If the recent non-negative documentary on homosexuality, The Rejected is any indication, cultural perceptions of homosexuality are changing.  Science fiction offers a lens on the future; I would not be surprised to see more stories featuring men and women in gay relationships.  Perhaps someday, there may even be no negative stigma attached to them at all.

Three stars for the actual story, but Serve has a value beyond its strict literary merit.

Myrrha, by Gary Jennings

Through union with her father, King of Cyprus, the mythological Myrrha was the mother of Adonis.  This legend seems to play little part in Jennings’ Myrrha, about a haughty woman of noble Greek extraction who seduces and destroys the family of a Mrs. Shirley Makepeace.  It is through Shirley’s diary that we learn of the reacquaintance of Myrrha and Shirley a decade after high school, how Myrrha and her herd of prize horses come to lodge as Shirley’s guests, how Myrrha ensares Shirley’s husband and daughter with an intoxicating resinous wine, how both come to tragic “accidental” ends, how after Myrrha departs, Shirley goes mad when her horse gives birth to a man-shaped creature.

A dreamy, humorless, unpleasant story.  I might have liked it more had I understood it.  Perhaps a reader brighter than me (most of you fit the bill…) can explain it.  Three stars

The Shape of Things, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor’s non-fiction article tells us how the Earth changed, in conception, from flat to spherical and from 15,000 miles in circumference to 25,000.  There’s nothing in there I didn’t already know, but the telling was pleasant, and you may find it informative.  Four stars.

The New You, by Kit Reed

You can always count on Kit, an F&SF regular, to give us an offbeat story.  This one is a cautionary tale: if you ever have the chance to become your ideal image of a person, make sure that 1) your spouse shares your vision, and 2) the new you gets rid of the old.

It reads like Sheckley, but with a barbed, feminine touch, and I enjoyed it a lot.  Four stars.

The Devil’s God-daughter, by Suzanne Malaval (translated by Damon Knight)

This atmospheric vignette features a French Persephone and her outwitting of Old Nick.  It’s a clever little piece, worth it for the two riddles, which you may find yourself employing at your next party.  Three stars.

These Are the Arts, by James H. Schmitz

Things end on a disappointing note.  Pulp-era relic..er..veteran, Schmitz, writes of a crusty misanthrope who completely seals himself off from humanity when his television starts broadcasting subliminal, mind-controlling messages.  The real problem with this story is the ending, which involves an utter betrayal of the protagonist’s well-established paranoic nature.  Simply put, the guy’s been skeptical to the extreme the entire story, yet he lets his guard down right when he learns that the world really is out to get him. 

A contrived conclusion, and written in a hoary fashion (though I did appreciate the “truth in advertising” laws, passed in 1990, which make it a crime to question the veracity of commercial claims!)

Two stars.

Thanks to the Sturgeon, the Reed, and Asimov, F&SF scores a respectable 3.3 stars.  If only Editor Davidson, still finding his feet, could keep the quality consistent.  And write better story openers.  Well, if wishes were horses…they’d give birth to Adonis, apparently.

See you in three days when Ashley Pollard reports from Britain!




[March 28, 1962] Paradise Lost (April 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I used to call The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction “dessert.”  Of all the monthly sf digests, it was the cleverest, the one most willing to take risks, and the most enjoyable reading.  Over the past two years, I’ve noticed a slow but decided trend into the realm of “literary quality.”  In other words, it’s not how good the stories are, or how fun the reading – they must be experimental and erudite to have any merit.  And if you don’t get the pieces, well, run off to Analog where the dumb people live.

A kind of punctuation mark has been added to this phenomenon.  Avram Davidson, that somber-writing intellectual with an encyclopedic knowledge and authorial credits that take up many sheets of paper, has taken over as editor of F&SF from Robert Mills.  Five years ago, I might have cheered.  But Davidson’s path has mirrored that of the magazine he now helms: a descent into literary impenetrability.  Even his editorial prefaces to the magazine’s stories are off-putting and contrived. 

I dunno.  You be the judge.

Gifts of the Gods, by Jay Williams

The premise of Gifts isn’t bad: aliens come from the stars to find Earth’s most advanced nation, and it turns out they’re the most primitive, technologically.  It’s three shades too heavy on the sermon, and it fails by its own rules (i.e. one can lambast states as a whole for not being perfectly self-actualized, but surely there are a thousand qualifying people within any given country that fulfill the ET’s requirements).  But then, these aliens seem to have shown up just to rub our noses in it.  Advanced indeed.  Two stars.

The Last Element, by Hugo Correa

Editor Davidson touts Sr. Correa as a brilliant find from Chile.  Sadly, this meandering piece involving (I guess) space soldiers who are undone in their attempts to mine a psychotropic mineral from a distant planet, feels incompletely translated from the Spanish.  It reads like an Italian sf film views.  Two stars.

The End of Evan Essant… ?, by Sylvia Edwards

A cute piece, more The Twilight Zone than anything else, about a fellow who is so determined to be a nebbish that he psychosomatically disappears.  It’s no great shakes, but at least it has a through line and is written in English.  Boy, my standards have dropped.  Three stars.

Shards, by Brian W. Aldiss

The editor advises that one give this story time to make sense lest you judge it prematurely.  He has a point.  This piece innovatively describes a traumatic out-of-body experience, and when you know the context, it’s not bad.  On the other hand, the context is laid out with surprising artlessness especially given the effort Aldiss puts into the first part (which is only readable in hindsight).  Three stars for effort, though your meter may hover at one star through most of the actual experience.

The Kit-Katt Club, by John Shepley

Something about a young, serious boy who abandons his starlet mother’s dissipated hotel life to frequent a bar with a literal menagerie of clientele.  I didn’t understand this story, nor did I much like it.  Maybe I’m just bitter at being made to look foolish.  Two stars.

To Lift a Ship, by Kit Reed

One of the few bright lights of this issue is Reed’s take on love, hope, greed, and despair involving two test co-pilots of a psionically driven aircraft.  I love how vividly we see through the eyes of the protagonist, and the subtlety (but not to the point of obtuseness!) with which the story unfolds.  Four stars.

Garvey’s Ghost, by Robert Arthur

I haven’t seen much from Arthur lately.  His stories have all been pleasant, fanciful fare and this one, about a most contrary ghost and the grandson he haunts, is more of the same.  Three stars.

Vintage Wine, by Doris Pitkin Buck

The English professor from Ohio is back, this time with a piece of ‘cat’terel (as opposed to the canine variety, which is not as good) that I actually quite enjoyed.  Four stars.

Moon Fishers, by Nathalie Henneberg

Charles Henneberg was a popular French fantasist who, sadly, passed away in 1959.  His wife, with whom he collaborated, has taken it upon herself to flesh out a number of remaining outlines for publication, Damon Knight providing the translations.  She has written well before, but her talents fail her this time.  This tale of time travel, Atlanteans, and ancient Egypt fails to engage at all.  One star.

The Weighting Game, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor takes on the subject of elements and how we determined their mass.  Just discovering that elements had mass was a critical step in understanding the nature of atoms.  Sadly, this article is really a highly abridged and much compromised version of his excellent book, The Search for the Elements, which came out two months ago.  I recommend you grab a copy and skip this article.  Still, substandard Asimov is still decent.  Three stars.

Test, by Theodore L. Thomas

A vignette about failing a driving test.  There’s the germ of a good story here, but the ending is too abrupt and affected to work.  Two stars.

Three for the Stars, by Joseph Dickinson

This piece is noteworthy for having one of the least intelligible Davidson prefaces.  Other than that, its a rather overwrought story about a chimp sent to Mars and back, and the scars he bears of the Martians he met.  Satire or something.  Two stars.

***

This issue ends up with a lousy 2.4 star score – by far, the worst magazine of the month, and possibly the worst F&SF I’ve read!  It’s a disappointing turn of events.  F&SF used to be the smart sf mag, and last month’s issue was a surprise stand-out.  With the arrival of Davidson, F&SF seems to be careening back toward smug self-indulgence.  I see that the back cover no longer has pictures of notables heaping praise on the book.  I wonder if they’re jumping ship… 

[July 27, 1961] Breaking a Winning Streak (August 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

Take a look at the back cover of this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.  There’s the usual array of highbrows with smug faces letting you know that they wouldn’t settle for a lesser sci-fi mag.  And next to them is the Hugo award that the magazine won last year at Pittsburgh’s WorldCon.  That’s the third Hugo in a row. 

It may well be their last.

I used to love this little yellow magazine.  Sure, it’s the shortest of the Big Three (including Analog and Galaxy), but in the past, it boasted the highest quality stories.  I voted it best magazine for 1959 and 1960

F&SF has seen a steady decline over the past year, however, and the last three issues have been particularly bad.  Take a look at what the August 1961 issue offers us:

Avaram Davidson and Morton Klass’s The Kappa Nu Nexus, about a milquetoast Freshman who joins a fraternity that hosts a kooky set of time travelers.  Davidson’s writing, formerly some of the most sublime, has gotten unreadably self-indulgent, and William Tenn’s brother (Klass) doesn’t make it any better.  One star.

Survival Planet, by Harry Harrison, features the remnant colony of the vanquished Great Slavocracy.  It’s not a bad story, but it’s mostly told rather than shown, the book-ends being highly expositional.  Three stars.

Vance Aandahl, as one of my readers once observed, desperately wants to be Ray Bradbury.  His Cogi Drove His Car Through Hell has the virtue of starring a non-traditional protagonist; that’s the only virtue of this mess.  One star.

Juliette, translated from the French by Damon Knight (it is originally by Claude-François Cheiniss), is a bright spot.  It’s a sort of cross between McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang and Young’s Romance in a Twenty-First Century Used Car Lot.  I found it effective, written in that Gallic light fashion.  Four stars.

For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you the point of E. William Blau’s first printed story, The Dispatch Executive.  Something about a bureaucratic dystopia, or perhaps it’s a special kind of hell for office clerks.  Hell is right, and here’s hoping we don’t see Blau in print again.  One star.

Then we have another comparatively bright spot: Kit Reed’s Piggy.  Per the author, it is “the story of Pegasus, although I don’t remember that his passengers spouted verse, and a mashup of first lines from Emily Dickinson, whom I admired, but never liked.”  There’s no question that it’s beautifully written, but there is not much movement as regards to plot.  Three stars.

A Meeting on a Northern Moor, Leah Bodine Drake’s poem on the decline of Norse mythology is evocative, though brief.  Murray Leinster’s The Case of the Homicidal Robots is a turgid mystery-adventure involving the spacenapping of dozens io interstellar vessels.  Three and two stars, respectively.

Winona McClintic is back with Four Days in the Corner, some kind of ghost story.  It’s worse than her last piece, and that’s nothing to be proud of.  Two stars.

Then we have Asimov’s science fact column, The Evens Have It, on the frequency of nuclear isotopes among the elements.  The Good Doctor’s articles are usually the high point of F&SF for me, but this one is the first I’d ever characterize as “dull.”  Three stars, but you’ll probably give it a two.

Rounding things up is Gordon Dickson’s The Haunted Village, about a traveler who vacations in a village whose inhabitants are hostile to outsiders.  The twist?  There is no outside world – only the delusion that such a thing exists.  Dickson is capable of a lot better.  Two stars.

I often say that I read bad fiction so you don’t have to.  This was especially true this month.  While Galaxy was quite good (3.4 stars), both Analog and F&SF clocked in at 2.2. 
For those of you new to the genre and wondering why they should bother (why I should bother), I promise – it’s not all like this.  Please don’t let it all be like this…

Coming up next: The sci-fi epic, Mysterious Island!

[June 28, 1961] The Second Sex in SFF, Part IV

Many years from now, scholars may debate furiously which decade women came to the forefront of science fiction and fantasy.  Some will (with justification) argue that it’s always been a woman’s genre – after all, was it not Mary Shelley who invented science fiction with Frankenstein’s monster?  (Regular contributor Ashley Pollard says “no.”) Others will assert that it was not until the 1950s, when women began to be regularly published, that the female sff writer came into her own. 

It’s certainly true that a wave of new woman writers has joined the club in just the last few years.  If this trend continues, I suspect we’ll see gender parity in the sf magazines by the end of this decade.  Right around the time we land on the Moon, if Kennedy’s recently expressed wishes come to fruition. 

Come meet six of these lady authors, four of whom are quite new, and two who are veterans in this, Part IV, of The Second Sex in SFF. 


Photo generously provided by the author

Kit Reed: Born in my hometown of San Diego, Ms. Reed happens to be the one person on these lists with whom I am friends.  Like me, Ms. Reed was previously a reporter.  She’s been a rising star in sff since her debut in 1958 of The Wait in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF).  Interestingly, she does not consider herself a “woman” author and thinks the distinction superfluous.  I’ve only read the four stories she’s published in F&SF, so I may not have a complete picture of her talents.  Nevertheless, I’ve liked each successive story I’ve encountered more than the last.  She’s going to be famous someday, I predict.

Jane Dixon Rice: I understand Mrs. Rice was a fairly prolific writer during the War, but so far as I can determine, she has written just three stories in recent past, all of which came out in F&SF, and all of which were pretty good.  The last was over a year ago.  I hope she hasn’t disappeared for another decade-and-a-half long hiatus.

Jane Roberts: Ms. Roberts popped on the scene in ’56, writing for F&SF, and she was a regular for the next several years.  The only woman invited for the first science-fiction writer’s conference in Milford, PA (also in 1956), her work is beautiful and haunting.  She hasn’t published anything in the genre since the ’59 piece Impasse, which is really too bad.  I hope she comes back soon.

Joanna Russ: An English graduate of the distinguished universities of Cornell and Yale, Ms. Russ has to date published just one story in the genre, the quirky Nor Custom Stale.  It’s something she squeezed in the cracks in between studying for her Masters’, and it shows great promise.  Now that she’s gotten her advanced degree, I’m hoping we’ll see more of her work!


From Fanac

Evelyn Smith: Ms. Smith has been writing in the genre since 1952, back when she was Mrs. Evelyn Gold (wife of Galaxy editor H.L. Gold).  In fact, much of her early work was featured in Gold’s magazine – editor Gold was always keen on publishing at least one woman author in every issue to garner female readership.  I understand that Gold’s increasing agoraphobia broke up their marriage, but they remain friends.  In any event, Smith is now a regular in both Galaxy and F&SF, and her stuff is always worth reading.  She is truly one of the pillars of the sf authorial family.

Margaret St. Clair.  Last, but certainly not least, is an author who has been around under one nom de plume or another since just after the War.  Her work bespeaks a broad-ranged talent.  If you know her as Ms. St. Clair, you’ve no doubt enjoyed her playful sense of humor.  If you are acquainted with her alter-ego, Idris Seabright, you’ve seen her more somber, fantastic side.  She regularly appears in Galaxy, IF, and F&SF, and she’s also turned out several novels (which I’ve unfortunately not yet had the pleasure to read.) I expect she’ll continue to be a household name for a long time to come.

Thus ends the last of the list I’d compiled as of the end of last year (1960).  Just in the course of creating this series, several new (to me) woman authors have made it into print.  Thus, this installment shall not be the last of the sequence

Stay tuned!

[March 30, 1961] F&SF + XX (the April 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

If you’ve been a fan in the scientificition/fantasy genre for any length of time, you’ve likely been exposed to rumors of its impending doom.  The pulps are gone.  The magazines are dying.  The best writers are defecting for the lucre of the “slicks.” 

And what is often pointed to as the cause of the greatest decline of an entity since Commodus decided he liked gladiating more than emperoring?  The visual media: science fiction films and television.  Why read when you can watch?  Of course, maybe the quality’s not up to the standards set by written fiction, but who cares?

All this hubbub is silly.  There are two reasons why printed sf/f isn’t going anywhere, at least for the next few decades.  The first is that the quality isn’t in the films or television shows.  Sure, there are some stand-outs, like the first season of The Twilight Zone, and the occasional movie that gets it right, but for the most part, it’s monsters in rubber suits and the worst “science” ever concocted. 

But the second reason, and this is the rub, is the sheer impermanence of the visual media.  If you miss a movie during its run, chances are you’ve missed out forever.  Ditto, television.  For instance, I recently learned that an episode of Angel (think I Love Lucy, but with a French accent) starred ex-Maverick, James Garner.  I’m out of luck if I ever want to see it unless it happens to make the summer re-runs. 

My magazines, however, reside on my shelves forever.  I can re-read them at will.  I can even loan them out to my friends (provided they pony up a $10 deposit).  They are permanent, or at least long-lived. 

And that’s why I’ll stick with my printed sf, thank-you-very-much.

Speaking of permanence, I think April 1961 will be a red-letter date remembered for all time.  It’s the first time, that I’m aware of, that women secured equal top-billing on a science fiction magazine cover.  To wit, this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction features six names, three of which belong to woman writers.  Exciting stuff, particularly given my observation that, while female writers make up only a ninth of the genre’s pool, they produce a fourth of its best stuff.

Case in point: Evelyn Smith’s Softly while you’re sleeping is a clever piece about a young woman from the old country who is wooed by a passionate vampire.  She ultimately resists his advances, unwilling to undergo the transformation that is the inevitable end of his draining attentions.  The story is older than Stoker, but the writing and the social commentary are entirely modern.  Four stars.

The Hills of Lodan, by the newish Harold Calin, on the other hand, is a comparatively clumsy piece.  Think The Red Badge of Courage, but with a different kind of enemy.  I appreciated the message, but the execution needs work.  Two stars.

The next story is something special.  Every so often, a story comes along that introduces something truly new.  The Ship Who Sang, by new author Anne McCaffrey, brings us the lovely concept of sound-minded but hideously crippled children given mechanical bodies and groomed to become the “brains” of interstellar ships.  These are two-person scout vessels, the other crew-member being the “mobile” element.  Inevitably, the relationship is a close one, and this bonding makes up much of the plot (and charm) of Ship.  In fact, if I have a complaint at all about this story, it is that it is too short; such an intriguing courtship should have more fully developed.  McCaffrey’s detached style feels a bit too impersonal for the piece, as well.  Still, Ship gets an unreserved four stars.

If Anne McCaffrey had gotten the space reserved for the succeeding piece, a reprinted Robert Graves story called Dead Man’s Bottles, I imagine the issue would have been much improved.  Bottles features a minor kleptomaniac (a matches and pencil thief), an unpleasant wine aficionado, and the mysterious haunting that succeeds the latter’s death.  It’s standard, low-grade F&SF filler.  Two stars.

The third woman-penned piece of the book is Kit Reed’s Judas Bomb, a sort of Post-Apocalyptic parable of the Cold War with gangs taking the role of nations.  It’s a quirky, layered piece, and I look forward to seeing more by this San Diegan turned Connecticutian.  Three stars.

My Built-in Doubter is Isaac Asimov’s article for this month, all about how science’s apparent rigidity to crackpot ideas is a virtue, not a liability.  Less information, more editorial, but a fun read, nevertheless.  Four stars.

Richard Banks’ Daddy’s People is a stream of consciousness wall of words about an overlong bedtime story and the weird folks one meets when crossing the planes.  It is difficult reading, and my first temptation was to give it a one-star review.  Something restrains me, however.  So I give it two stars.

Finally, Brian Aldiss is back with the sequel to the superb Hothouse: the superior, if not quite as excellent, Nomansland.  This novella is set in the same steambath Earth of the future, when the Sun has grown hot, and the tidally locked Earth is dominated by semi-intelligent plant life.  We get to learn what happened to Toy and the other human children after the departure of the adults into space.  It’s all a bit like Harrison’s Deathworld without the high technology.  Once again, Aldiss delivers the goods, although the third-person omniscient expositions, while informative, break the narrative a little.  Four stars.

The overall score for this magazine is just over 3 stars — less than Galaxy’s 3.5, and more than Analog’s 2.5.  Yet, despite the uneven quality of its contents, I feel it is in some ways the worthiest of this month’s magazines.  It takes risks; thus, its highs are higher.  As predicted, most of the highs were provided by the female authors — and to think the State of Alabama still won’t let women serve on juries…

As for this month’s best story, I think Aldiss gets the nod, but just barely.  I’d almost call it a tie between Nomansland and The Ship who Sang

What do you think?

[August 9, 1960] Destructive Pages (the September 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

I’ve said before that I like my reading to be light and pleasant.  Not exclusively, mind you, but I find the current trend toward the depressing to be… well… depressing.  This month’s F&SF is the bleakest I’ve yet encountered, and under normal circumstances, it would not have been to my taste.  On the other hand, being near Hiroshima on August 6 and then near Nagasaki on August 9, fifteen years after they became testing grounds for a terrible new weapon, is enough to put even the cheeriest of persons into a somber mood, and my choice of reading material proved to be quite complementary.

As usual, I lack the rights to distribute F&SF stories, so you’ll just have to buy the mag if you want the full scoop, but I’ll do my best to describe the stories in detail.

Poul Anderson starts things off with the The Word to Space.  In this novelette, Project OZMA, humanity’s first concerted effort to scan the stars for communications broadcasts, bears almost immediate fruit, discovering a star with intelligent life just 25 light years away.  Unfortunately, the focus of these aliens is proselytizing their strange religion, and with dialogue between planets essentially impossible, a century goes by with Earth learning frustratingly little about its cosmic neighbor.  In the end, the alien theocracy is toppled when humanity requests clarification on some of the finer points of their creed; they just aren’t equipped to handle religious debate.  It’s too bad none of the aliens were Jewish–we love quibbling over religious details.

Then we have A Day in the Suburbs, a delightfully barbed tale by Evelyn Smith about what housewives really have to deal with when their husbands go to work.  The feuds between the “flat-roofs” and the “peaked-roofs” make the squabbles of the Jets and the Sharks seem like a square dance.  It’s a wonder any of them come out alive.

Burton Raffel’s Goodbye is the first of the truly dark stories, in which a young ad exec is waylaid, imprisoned, and tortured, all to prove the efficacy of a five-day identity-removal process.  The tale is disturbingly personal, and there is never any explanation as to why this is being done or why the protagonist was chosen (he is apparently not the first, and he surely won’t be the last).  Awful stuff… but then, it was meant to be.

Button, Button, by Gordon Dickson, seems almost out of place in this issue.  It’s a straightforward story about a crude-mouthed boss of a space freight union, and the beautiful, fiery opera singer he rescues halfway between Earth and Venus.  Enjoyable, but it won’t stay with you.

Reginald Bretnor offers up The Man on Top, about a stubborn mountaineer who, through sheer determination, makes it to the summit of one of the world’s tallest mountains… only to find that someone has beaten him to the punch.  Mysticism: 1; British pluck: 0.

Isaac Asimov has a sequel, of sorts, to his article on pi.  This one is on the impossibility of “squaring the circle,” which is the creation of a square with the same area of a given circle using only a straight-edge and a compass.  I’m glad the good doctor wrote this piece since it’s a topic about which I’ve always been interested. 

On to Damon Knight’s acerbic review of Walden Two.  It is, apparently, the last F&SF will see from Mr. Knight–per the editor, he will no longer be reviewing books for the magazine.  I hear, through the grapevine, that it is because Editor Robert Mills disapproved of Knight’s justifiably savage critique of Judy Merril’s latest book, The Tomorrow People.

Returning to fiction, we have George Elliot’s The NRACP (The National Relocation Authority: Colored Persons).  If you find Goodbye to be dark, NRACP is midnight coated in pitch.  It is the portrayal of the systematic extermination of a people, from the point of view of one who has an indirect role in its execution.  I was not surprised to find that this story was originally written in 1949, when the Holocaust was still a fresh wound on the human psyche, and the existence of Israel, a refuge for those who escaped the gas chambers, was still in doubt.  For anyone who wonders how such a tragedy could occur in a civilized country, I suggest giving this tale a read. 

That brings us to Kit Reed’s somehow unfinished-feeling Two in Homage, about an evil, human-sacrifice demanding God , upon whom the tables are ultimately turned.  I really should try to meet Ms. Reed someday.  We do live in the same town, after all.

Wrapping up the issue is Joseph Whitehill’s Doctor Royker’s Experiment.  How best to dissuade an idealist who feels science and scientists can do no wrong?  Why, make him the butt of a scientist’s prank, of course.  Resentment cools even the strongest ardor.

Editor Mills saves his column for last.  In it, he asks of if we readers prefer magazines to include stories all of a type or if we prefer a greater variegation of themes.  Regardless of what we think, I gather from reading between Mills’ lines that he prints what he gets, and the wave of unhappy tales is largely out of his (and our) control.  I was able to take it this time.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t become F&SF’s signature trait.

And for those following my travels, I am currently at Tokyo’s busy international airport awaiting my turn to board a sleek new Japan Air Lines DC-8 bound for home.  It’s been a great trip, but I’m ready to return to familiar surroundings.  I imagine I’ve a huge pile of mail from my fans accumulated (and by fans, I mean advertisers and bill-collectors).

Stay tuned!

The Bomb, the Clock, and the Devil (August 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction; 7-02-1959)

In this month’s F&SF editorial, editor Doug Mills reports that he’s gotten a number of complaints regarding the oversaturation of stories in the post-apocalyptic, time travel, and deal-with-the-Devil genre.  Mr. Mills’ response was that any genre can be oversaturated, but quality will always be quality, and F&SF will publish quality stories in whatever genre it pleases.  In fact, there are stories dealing with all three of the “oversaturated” genres in this issue.

What do you think?  I have to agree with Mr. Mills.  Personally, I can never get enough of After the Bomb stories, time travel is often a hoot, and the Devil features in relatively few tales these days, in my experience.   But I’d like your opinion on the matter.
I had not realized that Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol story had taken up so much of the current issue; there isn’t much left to review.  There is some goodness, however:

Rosebud, by Ray Russell, is teleological nonsense in a single-pager.  Damon Knight’s book review column deals with horror, and is interesting, as usual.  I wish he were still helming IF (come to think of it, I just received this month’s copy… I wonder who’s in charge.)

Kit Reed’s Empty Nest is well nigh unreadable, but I think it’s a horror about being eaten by anthropoid birds.

Obituary, by Isaac Asimov, is actually quite good, and one of his few stories from the viewpoint of a woman.  It involves domestic abuse, a truly evil (yet in a plausible and everyday sort of way) villain, and a satisfactory, grisly come-uppance.  I hope the good doctor is not writing from experience in this one…

Finally, we’ve got Pact, by Poul Anderson (under his pseudonym, Winston P. Sanders).  This is the aforementioned Devilish Deal story, and it is my favorite story of the issue.  I hear you gasp–an Anderson story is my favorite?  Yes!  It’s clever all the way through, this story of a demon summoning a human in the hopes of consumating a contract.  Fine stuff.

My apologies for the shortness of this installment.  I’ll make it up next time.  Perhaps.

P.S. One of the reasons I enjoy science fiction so much is the clever gadgets.  In Asimov’s story, the villain uses a “desktop computer” with some sort of typewriter keys attached.  Boy, would that be a fine tool to have, and I’ve never seen the like in a story before.  Something to look forward to in a decade or two?



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