Tag Archives: kris neville

[August 6, 1962] Bookkends (September 1962 IF Worlds of Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

It’s a hot, doldrumy summer.  My wife and I are hard at work.  Our daughter has headed to the North for a vacation.  There’s hardly anything in the news but sordid details of the Sol Estes case (if you’ve been living under a rock this whole year, he’s the Texas financier fraudster with dubious dealings with the US Department of Agriculture, not to mention Vice President Johnson). 

About the only item of interest is that the island of Jamaica is finally achieving independence.  I visited the place before the War.  I don’t remember much but lush beauty and friendly people.  The music coming out of the Caribbean is pretty interesting to my ear, too – some post-Calypso stuff including innovative steel drum work and a fledgling new genre that as yet has no name (q.v. Lord Creator and Robert Marley).

So in this languorous time, about the only consistent pasttime I can enjoy, aside from my records, is the ever-growing pile of stf (scientifiction, natch) magazines.  One of the ones I look forward to is IF, which, if it is not always stellar, usually has a few items of interest.  This month, the September 1962 issue has a lot of lousy stories, and editor Pohl cunningly placed the best one in front so as to dull the impact of the sub-par stuff that follows.  But the last tale is a fine reprise of the first, quality-wise.  See if you agree:

The Snowbank Orbit, by Fritz Leiber

A famous author and actor, Leiber’s works often approach sublimity.  This is one of them, combining both beautiful prose and cutting edge science fiction.  Plot in brief: a Mercurian mining vessel, one of Earth’s last remaining spaceworthy ships, is fleeing from an alien armada.  Its only hope for survival is to thrust at maximum acceleration toward the seventh planet, Uranus, and then use the giant planet’s gravity and atmosphere to slow it down and send it back in the direction of Earth.

There are so many interesting components in this tale: a demographically diverse and well-characterized crew, some truly bizarre aliens, a gripping set-up.  The scientific concepts, from the “International Meteor Guard” to the communication via visual light lasers, are both plausible and fresh.  Leiber’s use of color and texture makes for a literary experience yet does not get too self-indulgent.

Orbit is an almost great story.  I’m not sure what keeps it from hitting five stars save for its reminding me a little too much of Heinlein’s Sky Lift.  Nevertheless, it is vivid, it packs a lot into a small space, and the hero is a refreshing departure from the ordinary.  Four stars, and you may rate it higher.

One Million Four Hundred Ninety Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty Three Marlon Brandos, by Vance Aandahl

Aandahl has accomplished the fannish dream, to be published in one’s teen years.  His work runs to the literary side.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his first published piece, not of his stories break the three-star mark – including this one, about a bored teen girl whose desire to be wooed by the great mumbler momentarily subverts the will of a town’s menfolk.  It’s one of those “cute but doesn’t go anywhere” pieces.  Two stories.

The Winning of the Moon, by Kris Neville

Neville was a brief shining star at the turn of the last decade, right as stf was undergoing its post-War boom.  But the field proved too limiting for the young author’s vision, and now Kris mostly makes a living doing technical writing.  He still dabbles, though.  Moon is a Murphy’s Law tinged tale of lunar colonization, a satire that is grounded just enough in reality to be effective.  Three stars.

And Then There Was Peace, by Gordon R. Dickson

No matter how mechanized war gets, the burden of fighting will always rest on the shoulders of the beleaguered infantryman.  Peace explores the sad fate of a futuristic soldier after the conclusion of hostilities.  Dickson’s explored pacifistic themes before, particularly in his latest novel, Naked to the StarsPeace is mostly a gimmick story though, and if you can’t guess the wallop, then you’re very new to this business.  Two stars.

The Big Headache, by Jim Harmon

I never know what to expect from Jim; he wobbles in quality like a Cepheid Variable…but without the regularity.  In Headache, a pair of scientists develop an anti-migraine drug only to have it turn out to have lobotomizing side effects.  It’s played for laughs, but I only opened my mouth to grimace.  What might have been an effective horror story or cautionary tale Headache is, instead, neither fish nor fowl, and only succeeds in delivering what’s on the tin.  Two stars.

Transient, by William Harris

This is a ghost story, except the haunter is an alien, and the place of haunting is a computer.  It’s a frivolous piece one might expect as one of the lesser entries in any given issue of F&SF, but you may like it more than me.  Two stars.

Once Around Arcturus, by Joseph Green

A futuristic retelling of the Greek myth of Atalanta, the woman who would only be wooed by the suitor who could beat her in competition.  Green, a brand-new writer and employee at NASA, pens a pretty clunky tale.  He almost manages to make it work in the end, though…but then he flubs it.  I suppose if you took out the last paragraph and gave the piece a downer ending, it might be a whole lot better.  Instead, Green cops out with a literary Picardy Third.  Two stars.

World in a Mirror, by Albert Teichner

The universe is full of dangerous symmetry: anti-matter will violently destroy matter with which it comes in contact; a southpaw fencer or pitcher often makes mincemeat of her/his opponent.  And what will our stomachs make of left-handed DNA?  Teichner expects the worst. 

It’s a worthy topic to explore (and, in fact, I’ve speculated on the subject in one of my recent works), but the set-up in World is heavy-handed and doesn’t serve Teichner’s intent.  Two stars.

Just Westing, by Theodore Sturgeon

Writing science articles for the general public, even for an intelligent subsection thereof, is hard.  You have to distill complicated subjects in a way that folks can I understand, and then you have to explain to the readers why they should be interested in what you’re telling them.  Asimov does it effortlessly; Ley did and often still does.  I like to think I’ve gotten consistently good at it.

Sturgeon, brilliant author that he might be, has not.  His summary of the recent Westinghouse catalog of advancements is neither interesting nor particularly comprehensible.  Two stars.

Cultural Exchange, by Keith Laumer

Retief, the much aggrieved Jack of All Trades diplomat/secret agent must thwart a war between Imperial worlds covered up in a cloak of harmless-seeming personnel and equipment transfers.  Retief stories run from the overly broad to the gritty.  This one strikes a nice balance and delightfully plays up the interplay of bureaucracies, something with which Laumer has more than a passing acquaintance.  Four stars, and thank goodness after the string of mediocrity that precedes it.

Taken as a whole, this is a pretty lousy issue – just 2.4 stars.  Plus it’s yet another “stag” mag: no woman authors, virtually no woman characters.  But, if you take just the 35 pages comprising the first and last stories, you’ve got some excellent reading.  Whether that’s worth a penny a page…well, it’s your wallet.

Next up: The Travelers hit the drive-in for The Underwater City!




[May 31, 1962] Rounding Out (June 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Ah, and at last we come to the end of the month.  That time that used to be much awaited before Avram Davidson took over F&SF, but which is now just an opportunity to finish compiling my statistics for the best magazines and stories for the month.  Between F&SF‘s gentle decline and the inclusion of Amazing and Fantastic in the regular review schedule, you’re in for some surprises.

But first, let’s peruse the June 1962 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and see if, despite the new editor’s best efforts, we get some winners this month (oh, perhaps I’m being too harsh – Editor is a hard job, and one is limited to the pieces one gets.)

Such Stuff, by John Brunner

Thanks to recent experiments, we now know what people cannot survive long when deprived of the ability to dream.  But what about that bedeviled fellow who enjoys an escape from nightmares?  And what if your mind becomes the vessel for his repressed fantasies?  A promising premise, but this Serling-esque piece takes a bit too much time to get to its point.  Three stars.

Daughter of Eve, by Djinn Faine

After an interstellar diaspora, there are but two remaining groups of humans on a colony world.  One is a large population of radiation-sterilized people; the other comprises just one man and his young daughter, the mother having died upon planetfall.  From the title of the story, you can likely guess the quandary the sole fertile man is faced with.  The childlike language of the viewpoint character (the daughter) is a bit tedious, but this first story by Virginia Faine (nee Dickson – yes, that Dickson) isn’t bad.  It stayed with me, and that’s something.  Three stars.

The Scarecrow of Tomorrow, by Will Stanton

Reading more like a George C. Edmondson tale than anything else, this pleasantly oblique tale describes the encounter between two farmers and a murder of crows…with a partiality for things Martian.  I reread the ending a half-dozen times, but I’m still not quite sure what it all means.  Nicely put together, though.  Three stars.

The Xeenemuende Half-Wit, by Josef Nesvadba

During the War, a prominent German rocket scientist is stumped by a thorny guidance problem.  Can his savant son help him out?  And is it worth the price?  Another moody, readable piece from Nesvadba.  I’m sure there’s a point, but I’m not quite sure what it is.  Three stars.

The Transit of Venus, by Miriam Allen deFord

I don’t usually go for expositional stories, but deFord makes this one work, particularly with the story’s short length.  In a world of regimentedly liberal mores, one prude dares to turn society on its ear with a scandalous go at winning the Miss Solar System beauty pageant.  A fun piece from a reliable veteran.  Three stars.

Power in the Blood, by Kris Neville

I didn’t much like this story when it was It’s a Good Life on The Twilight Zone, and I like it less here.  Some addled old woman with the power to destroy slowly deteriorates the world until there’s naught left but wreckage.  Disjointed, unpleasant, and just not good.  One star.

The Troubled Makers, by Charles Foster

About the reality-challenged psychic who bends reality to his will, and the Watusi Chief who helps him around.  You’ve seen versions of this story a dozen times or more in this magazine over the years, but it’s not a bad variation on the theme.  An assiduous copy of the mold from a brand new writer.  Three stars.

The Egg and Wee, by Isaac Asimov

I normally enjoy the Good Doctor’s essays, and this one, comparing the ovae of various creatures and then segueing to a discussion of the smallest of biological creatures, isn’t bad.  But it misses the sublimity that his work can sometimes achieve.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LI, by Grendel Briarton

Mr. Bretnor’s latest is much worse than normal, perhaps in Garrett territory.  But, I’ve never included these puns in my ratings, so I shan’t now.  Lucky for F&SF.

The Fifteenth Wind of March, by Frederick Bland

Penultimately, we’ve got the jewel of the issue.  As magical winds scour the Earth with increasing frequency and intensity, one thoroughly ordinary British family attempts to find shelter before it’s too late.  Both extraordinary and humdrum at once (no mean feat), it’s a poignant slice of unnatural life.  Four stars.

The Diadem, by Ethan Ayer

Mr. Ayer’s first printed story involves two women and the goddess that connects them.  It tries hard to be literary, but is just unnecessarily hard to read.  Two stars.

It should be clear to one with any facility with math (and who read every article this month) that the June 1962 F&SF was not the prize-winner this month.  In fact, the Goldsmith mags took surprising first and second place slots with 3.4 and 3 stars for Fantastic and Amazing, respectively.  Galaxy and Analog tied at 2.7 stars.  F&SF rated a middlin’ 2.8, but it may have had the best story, though some will argue that Fantastic’s The Star Fisherman earned that accolade.  It also had the laudable achievement of featuring the most woman authors…though two is hardly an Earth-shattering number. 

Speaking of women, the next article will feature women in the army.  And on that progressive note…ta ta for now!

[June 25, 1961] The Twilight Years (July 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Some 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs vanished from the Earth.  There are many hypotheses as to why these great reptiles no longer walk among us.  One current of thinking goes thusly: dinosaurs were masters of the Earth for so long that they became complacent.  Because their reign was indisputed, they evolved in ways that were not optimized for survival.  Thus, the strange crests of the Hadrosaurs.  The weird dome head of the Pachycephalosaurs.  The giant frills of the Ceratopsians.  Like Victorian ladies’ hats, the dinosaurs became increasingly baroque until they were too ungainly to survive.

I worry that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is heading in that direction.  I’m all for literary quality in my sf mags, but F&SF has been tilting so far in the purple direction that it is often all but unreadable.  I present Exhibit A: the July 1961 “All-Star” issue.

Kingsley Amis is perhaps better known as a fan than a writer, his recent New Maps of Hell being a lauded survey of the current sci-fi field.  Something Strange isn’t a bad story, but the fluffy writing can’t relieve or distract from the threadbare plot (a retread of The Twilight Zone’s first episode): Two married couples are stuck on what they believe is a remote interstellar outpost.  A series of increasingly strange things materialize, first outside and, later, inside the station.  Ultimately, the scouts are given a final message from Earth – they have been abandoned for want of funding to retrieve them!  Of course, the keen reader has already figured out that the base is really just a long-term isolation chamber on Earth, the whole thing being an experiment.  Despite the hackneyed plot, it’s still readable.  Three stars, barely.

Package Deal is the latest by Will Worthington, an author given to writing dark pieces.  This one, about a n’er-do-well spoiled rich kid who discovers his latent powers of telepathy, is overly cute and underly memorable.  Two stars.

The new writer, Nicholas Breckenridge, advises ailurophiles to skip the feline ghost story, Cat Lover.  It’s a good suggestion; Lover is a tired retread of familiar ground.  Two stars.

Grendel Briarton has a new Ferdinand Feghoot pun story.  I include it in the interests of completeness; do not mistake presentation for endorsement.

The Zookeeper is the first published story by Otis Kidwell Burger, and also the one piece by a woman (despite the unlikely name) to appear in any of the Big Three magazines this month.  It’s a tale of the far future, a sort of meet cute featuring a woman secured from present day as a sort of pet, and the all-too-human alien, also a pet, who comes to love her.  Another overly oblique piece, but kind of charming nonetheless.  Three stars.

Kris Neville’s Closing Time is more Socratic dialogue than story, a rather insipid piece about disproving the existence of intelligent aliens.  Two stars.

Night Piece, by the usually (these days) excellent Poul Anderson, is even more disappointing.  Something about a scientist becoming aware of dimensions beyond his own, grappling to retain his sanity amid an onslaught to his senses.  It’s all very ponderous and overwrought.  One star.

I enjoyed Isaac Asimov’s non-fiction article, Recipe for a Planet, all about the elements that make up the Earth and their proportion to each other.  I especially enjoyed the article’s wrap-up, describing our planet’s composition in cook-book style.

Comprising a good third of the book is its final piece, Brian Aldiss’ novella, Undergrowth.  It is a direct sequel to his previous stories, Hothouse and Nomansland, all set on Earth a billion years from now.  The sun has grown hot, and the planet is a jungle.  Humans have long-since stopped being Earth’s master and are now diminutive, barely sentient creatures.  In this story, we learn of the event that caused our race to topple from power, thanks to the racial-memory tapping talents of the fungoid symbiotes, the morel. 

As usual, Aldiss paints a vivid picture, and a unique one, but somehow the further adventures of Gren and Poyly and their bonded morel have gotten a bit tedious.  It feels more and more like one of Burroughs’ Pellucidar novels – enjoyable, but shallow.  I’m looking forward to learning what happened to the lunar explorers from the first novella, and I expect Aldiss has already got that story plotted out.  Three stars.

Measured on the Star-o-Meter(tm), this “All-Star” issue only earns 2.5 stars.  In fact, not a single magazine broke the 3-star barrier this month!  Moreover, just one woman made it to print.  The two facts may not be unrelated…

In any event, if F&SF wants to win the Hugo this year, it’ll have to do better than this.  Otherwise, Analog or Galaxy are likely to take the prize just by failing to decline as steeply.