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[Dec. 31, 1962] So it goes… (January 1963 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

It is said that “No news is good news,” but I imagine every publisher would disagree.  After the big-ticket headlines of October of November involving the Cuban and Chinese/Indian episodes things have quieted down on the domestic and world fronts.  The Cold War has thawed such that the only current evidence is a holey wall in Berlin and a small brushfire in Indochina.  The Katanga crisis in The Congo approaches resolution.  Even the latest manned space shot was a bore – six perfect orbits.  The biggest news is about something that hasn’t happened yet: Kennedy wants to lower taxes significantly to spur the economy.  Of course, Conservatives oppose the move as they don’t want to blow a hole in the deficit (a position I’m sure they will hold eternally).

This month’s Analog, the last sf digest of the month, complements the news situation.  It’s filled with pages and pages of pages, none of which will likely stick with you long after you set it down.  The stories in this month’s issue don’t even have the virtue of being terrible.  Just redolent in that smug mediocrity that so frequently characterizes this mag, once the flagship of science fiction.

“The Hard Way”, by Gordon R. Dickson

An alien interstellar scoutship stumbles across a human derelict ship, spurring its captain, Kator, member of a rapacious felinoid race, to dream of conquest of the Earth.  Kator is dispatched to the solar system to surveil our defenses, find a weakness, and return to his homeworld to take charge of the invasion fleet. 

Kator finds Earth to be a curiously undefended planet, weapons seemingly nonexistent.  The cat-man finds this state improbable given our warlike history and quickly deduces that we store our weapons underground.  Thus ensues his mission of subterranean espionage, fraught with an increasingly difficult set of physical and mental challenges.  Is it just a run of bad luck?  Or a complicated trap set-up by the humans to evaluate would-be competitors?

Well, I won’t leave you in suspense.  Campbell’s the editor of Analog, and all of his stories feature Terran supremacy if he can help it.  As well-drawn as the first half this story is (Dickson really is an excellent author when he’s not writing for Campbell), I just knew that it would end with a human waggling his superior finger at Kator, lecturing the felinoid that trying to subjugate Earth is a fool’s errand. 

Setting aside the utter implausibility of the story, which requires an omniscience even Campbell’s humans shouldn’t be capable of, this kind of fatuous tale sticks in my craw.  Two stars.

Philosopher’s Stone, by Christopher Anvil

Who will win the economic Cold War between the US and USSR?  It turns out it’s the UK, which brings nobility and social stratification back as rewards for effecting (but not inventing) technological advance.  Because, apparently, money just isn’t enough incentive. 

This paean to aristocracy, particularly the self-satisfied ending, isn’t worth your time.  Two stars.

The Common Man, by Guy McCord

Three biochemists in concert discover a serum of invisibility.  One wants to give the formula to the the government, another feels the secret too dangerous to communicate.  The third proposes an experiment: under controlled conditions, provide the serum to an average American and see what he does with it.

Well, as one might expect, the power of complete stealth proves too heady a temptation for mortals.  The ambitious guinea pig uses his abilities to amass great wealth, build a criminal network, and capture the scientist trio.  His plan is nothing less than global domination.  Only the ingenuity of the scientists and the carelessness of the test subject put an end to the frightening turn of events.

I feel that this story could have said so much more than it did.  What could have been a horrifying illustration of the corruption of absolute power, or an illustration of how science (so often perceived as the unalloyed agent of positive progress) is often the handmaiden to misery, is reduced to a pat “eggheads really are the smart ones” piece.  It’s a pity.  I’ve seen better from this author.  Well, not quite this author – “Guy McCord” is a new name to me, but given that “Mack” Reynolds’ full name is Dallas McCord Reynolds, I’m pretty sure The Common Man is by the Analog regular who gave us the (much better) Mercenary.  Three stars.

The Search for Our Ancestors, by Prof. G. M. McKinley

We have learned so much about the evolution of humans recently, thanks to the work of Leakey’s archaeology in Africa (and to some extent, Goodall’s work with chimpanzees, too).  McKinley’s article is a fascinating but sloppy summary of the current state of understanding in the field.  Three stars.

Space Viking (Part 3 of 4), by H. Beam Piper

Last up is the next segment in Piper’s answer to Asimov’s Foundation, in which the wreckage of the Old Federation is slowly knit back together by Prince Trask, Space Viking of planet Tanith.  This installment retains the same positives and negatives of the prior two: an interesting universe and plot marred by sketchy execution (almost an outline of a story) and a jarring paucity of female characters.  I’m still rankling at Piper’s killing of Trask’s bride, Elaine, in the first act of the novel to provide Trask with character motivation.  I will say concede, however, that the introduction of the young Crown Princess of Marduk in this episode is promising.  Three stars.

This being the last magazine for the month, we now can review the numbers for January 1963.  IF comes up the winner at 3.3 stars, while Amazing (3 stars) had the two best stories one of them being the only woman-penned story.  F&SF was the worst, at 2.3 stars.  Average for the entire month was a dreary 2.77 stars, but there are enough high-quality works to fill a good single digest.  Read those, and you’ll be satisfied!

Next up – a look at the fantasy and horror films of 1962!

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[December 28, 1962] Braving the Cold (January 1963 New Worlds)

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


by Mark Yon

I hope you’ve all had a good Christmas. Here in Britain it has been…. interesting. As fellow traveller Ashley has mentioned, the cold and foggy weather has now turned into a fully-fledged Winter of ice and snow. As I type this, snow has been falling all over the UK in great amounts for a couple of weeks, and is showing no sign of stopping. The result has been chaos. The news is filled of stories about villages being made inaccessible and even in the urban areas, such as the Northern provincial city I live in, travel has been treacherous. The Met Office is telling us that it is “The Big Freeze”, and may be the worst winter weather in decades. Even if it is not, it certainly feels like it!

Anyway, enough of the weather.

As I said I would, I have braved the Winter cold to go to the cinema since we last spoke, and I am pleased to say that I whole-heartedly recommend Mr. David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, despite its length. I saw the movie in two parts, with an intermission. At a run-time of just under four hours I was not bored for one moment. It is one of the best-looking movies I have ever seen, and I loved the majestic score by Mr. Maurice Jarre, so much so that I am now looking for a copy of the movie soundtrack to play on my record player. As it is mainly set in the desert, though, it might just be what’s needed to keep the Winter chill out!

This month’s New Worlds shows a cover that’s back to the lurid. This month, it is an unsubtle Day-Glo shade of Santa Claus red.  It heralds the return of a story by Mr Lan Wright after his stint as guest Editor last month. This is the first time that Mr. Wright has had an actual story in the magazine since February 1959. It is the first of three parts. More on this later.

I Like It Here, by Mr. David Rome

We begin with a short guest editorial from Mr. Rome – his fourth appearance in New Worlds in as many consecutive months, which suggests that he is a popular choice, by the editors, and (one hopes) the reading public. [David is also quite popular with the Journey, having recently engaged in written correspondence with us.  It is he who provided the picture above.  (Ed.)]

Mr Rome is a relative newcomer to s-f and as a result has a rather refreshing viewpoint upon professionalism in the genre here. It is the latest foray into the ongoing battle between the prevalent issue in British s-f – should it be populist entertainment but written by amateurs, or more specialist and challenging, with professional leanings? Mr. Rome’s take on it is that, as a relative newcomer, the s-f writer is motivated by a belief in the genre rather than by money. As a result, an acceptance of s-f by the mainstream, in his opinion, would lead to dissolution and a loss of the thing that makes s-f great. It’s an intriguing point of view, rather similar to that anti-professional stance given by Mr. Wright as editor last month.

Which leads us to:

Dawn’s Left Hand, by Mr Lan Wright.
The title’s a good one (a quote from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam) but despite such lofty ambitions, the actual story shows its amateur origins by being rather uneven in tone and pace. I must admit that I was rather disappointed by the story. The plot is admittedly fast-paced, in an old-fashioned pulp style, but like many of the old-style stories of the Golden Age, if you actually stop to think about it, the plot has no logic. It is entertaining, but really doesn’t hold much water. As expected, the story ends on a cliff-hanger, to be continued next issue. I hope that it improves. Two out of five.

Ecdysiac, by Mr. Robert Presslie
This story marks the return of another regular New Worlds writer. His last was Lucky Dog in the November 1962 issue, which I thought was disappointing. This was better, an espionage tale that adopts the use of psionics in ways that I imagine Mr. Poul Anderson and Mr. A. E. van Vogt would. The dour ending is typically British, though! Three out of five.

The Big Tin God, by Mr. Philip E. High
Another regular New Worlds writer, last read with The Method in the November 1962 issue, which I was not enormously impressed by. This one is, thankfully, better. It’s a story of city-states, and a secret war that leads to the creation of an artificial intelligence capable of independent thought. The short story held my attention, although the twist at the end was a little predictable and, if I dare say it, even arrogant in its presumption. Two out of five points.

Burden of Proof, by Mr. David Jay
Mr. Jay gives us a story of hate and murder, placed within a futuristic mystery and a possibly mistaken accusation. It’s nicely done but the denouement depends on a hook that’s not too convincing. Again, two out of five.

The Statue, by Mr. R. W. Mackelworth
After a number of well-known authors, it’s great to have a new one. Mr. Mackelworth’s The Statue is a worthy debut as a short story about a mysterious artefact and its effect on a group of explorers. There’s an interesting use of telepaths in the tale but it is let down by some standard (and rather predictable) stereotypes. Three out of five.

The Subliminal Man, by Mr. J. G. Ballard
Although Mr. Lan Wright has the biggest billing, here is the best story in the magazine, from another initialled author, the much-welcome Mr. J. G. Ballard. We don’t see enough of Mr. Ballard’s work these days in New Worlds, and it is noticeable how good it is when compared with the rest. It is also miles away from the traditional s-f that we expect. A dystopian tale of the future consequences of incessant advertising and relentless consumerism, its sense of paranoia is both chilling and effective. Four out of five.

Lastly, there’s the usual Book Review by Mr. Leslie Flood. There is only one recommendation this month albeit a wholehearted one and a collection you already have in the US – A Decade of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Mr. Robert P. Mills.

As recent issues of New Worlds go, this one feels stronger, even if the quality of the stories varies somewhat. The return of Mr. J.G. Ballard raises the bar a little and makes me feel a little more positive for the future of the magazine than I have been lately.

And with that hint of optimism, until next time, it just remains for me to wish you all the best for 1963.

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[December 24, 1962] The Year 2 A.D. (After Davidson – the January 1963 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Trends are tricky things.  They require multiple data points to become apparent, and even then, careful analysis may be required to draw a proper conclusion.

I think I can safely say, however, that one-plus year into Avram Davidson’s tenure as editor of F&SF, the magazine’s quality has trended sharply and consistently downward.  Stories tend toward the obtuse, the purple, the (and this surprises me) hackneyed.  It’s just not the sublime lyric beauty it used to be.

Why is this?  Let’s explore some possible explanations:

1) F&SF can’t get good writers anymore.

This clearly isn’t true.  The Table of Contents of any given issue reads like a who’s who of the genre.

2) Nobody is writing good sf anymore.

Demonstrably false.  Just look at the other mags.

3) The good writers save their best stuff for other magazines

This could be true, but given that F&SF pays some of the best rates (for science fiction anyway – three or four cents a word), I’d can’t image F&SF is a second-resort mag.

4) Davidson’s editorial preferences are driving the direction of F&SF.

A ha.  Davidson has been a writer of sf for many a year, and the trend in his writing has been toward the obscure and the prolix.  It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Davidson style creep into his magazine.  One trend I find particularly disturbing is the disappearance of women from F&SF’s pages.  This magazine used to be the stand-out leader in publishing of woman authors, and its pages were better for it.  Now, female writers been conspicuously absent for two issues, and there had been fewer than normal in the months prior.  Nor can one argue that women are leaving the genre — F&SF’s loss is the gain for the other digests.

The inevitable destination of this downward trend, the limit of quality as the time of Davidson’s tenure goes to infinity, as it were, appears to be zero stars.  Sure, there are still stand-out issues, but they come fewer and farther between.  And the January 1963 F&SF isn’t one of them…

The Golden Brick, P. M. Hubbard

The issue starts off well enough with this story of a Cornish ghost ship, imprisoned in which is a four hundred year old mad Alchemist with the Midas touch.  The tale is nicely crafted and atmospheric, but stories like this have been a dime a dozen in this mag.  Competent writing and imagery aren’t enough.  Three stars.

Zap! and La Difference, Randall Garrett

Ugh.  Go away, Randy.

Dragon Hunt, L. Sprague de Camp

De Camp’s life is the stuff of legends, as shows this essay on the globetrotting he undertook to familiarize himself with the locales of his recent historical fiction.  The piece contains tidbits of genuine interest, but the presentation is somehow lackluster.  Three stars.

Myths My Great-Granddaughter Taught Me, Fritz Leiber

In which the author’s precocious descendant notes the frightening parallels between the Cold War of the 1980s and Ragnarok of Norse Myth.  This is the best story of the magazine, but again, we’re treading familiar ground.  A minor piece from a major author.  Three stars.  (Happy 52nd birthday, by the way, Fritz.)

He’s Not My Type!, Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor’s non-fiction articles always get read first, but I was disappointed this time around.  Perhaps it’s because I felt Asimov explained blood types better in his recent book, The Living River, or maybe Davidson’s too-barbed introduction put me in a bad mood (I must stop reading those first).  In any event, it is readable, which is the worst Asimov ever gets.  Three stars.

Way-Station, Henry Slesar

Imagine Zenna Henderson wrote a The People story, but rather than have it end in poignance, instead wrote a stock “horror” ending that one could see a mile away.  That’s what scriptwriter Slesar offers up.  Where is Henderson, anyway?  Two stars.

Punch, Frederik Pohl

Pohl is a busy boy – not only does he edit two mags (three, come early next year), but he finds time to be published in all of them and Davidson’s.  In Punch, it turns out that the many technological gifts of the newly encountered galaxy-spanning aliens have a sinister motivation.  It would have made a decent, if typical, episode of The Twilight Zone.  Three stars.

Speakeasy, Mack Reynolds

Last up is a short novel from a fellow who is typically featured in AnalogSpeakeasy depicts a future in which society has been stultified by success, a meritocracy that has calcified thanks to nepotism and inertia.  Only a few revolutionaries remain to shock life into the decaying culture of the Technocracy. 

Reynolds can do very good political thriller, viz. Mercenary from last year’s Analog.  Unfortunately, Speakeasy is a rambling, naive mess that jumps the tracks about halfway through and runs headlong into a wall near the end.  I wonder if Analog’s editor Campbell rejected it.  If so, I wonder why Davidson accepted it.  It doesn’t really fit F&SF, either the current or past iterations of the magazine.  Two stars.

So there you have it, an issue that clocks in at a miserable 2.3 stars.  Even Davidson seems to agree that his stuff hasn’t been very good – check out the scathing letter at the end of the mag (which may or may not have come from Davidson’s pen, itself).  No more “purple cows,” indeed.

Ah well.  That’s enough kvetching for this season.  It’s Christmas Eve, as well as the fourth night of Hannukah.  Go light a candle, illuminate a tree, drink some eggnog.  Or as a recent fancard admonishes, let there be “Goodwill to mellow fen.”

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[December 22, 1962] The More Things Change . . . (January 1963 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
(The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.)
Jean-Baptiste Alphose Karr, Les Guêpes, January 1849

Those famous words of the noted French journalist of the previous century are worth pondering at this time, when we look forward to a new year.  Thanks to the peculiarities of the publishing industry, we can already see the prophetic words January 1963 on every newsstand, and if there’s one thing we can safely predict, it is that the breakneck pace of technological headlines will not slacken.

Earlier this month, the University of Manchester (United Kingdom) offered another glimpse into the future.  The Atlas computer, the most powerful in the world, began operating on December 7.  Said to be equivalent to four IBM 7094 devices, it operates at a speed approaching one million instructions per second.

The American spacecraft Mariner 2, so ably discussed by our host in a previous article, flew by Venus on December 14.  The data from the probe seem to indicate an atmospheric temperature of nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit.  So much for oceans and dinosaurs!

Just one day before this historic encounter, the Relay 1 satellite soared into orbit atop a Delta B rocket.  Designed to study the Earth’s radiation belts, it will also serve as a communications satellite, similar to Telstar 1.  If it, works, that is.  Due to a battery leak, the new spacecraft isn’t likely to change our knowledge of the universe…or that of goings-on in other continents.

Speaking of that renowned spacecraft, the instrumental number of the same name by the Tornados, already a smash hit in the United Kingdom, reached Number One in the USA today, much to my delight.  After suffering through five weeks of Big Girls Don’t Cry by the inexplicably popular Four Seasons at the top of the charts, this sprightly tribute to the Space Age is a refreshing change of pace.  Keeping in mind the wise words of Monsieur Karr, however, we can expect this charming import to be an anomaly, and not the sign of a British invasion of the American airwaves.

The latest issue of Fantastic also bears the hallmarks of change, breaking with tradition by including a nonfiction article and a book review.  Nevertheless, at its core, it remains the old magazine we know and love, continuing to provide entertainment for the reader of fantasy and science fiction.

The first item of note, before moving on to the contents proper, is that all five letters printed in the According to you . . . section of the magazine offer high praise for Fritz Leiber’s story The Unholy Grail, which appeared in the October 1962 issue.  Such universal acclamation is rare among fantasy fans, notorious for their contrary opinions.  (Just note the continuing debate over David R. Bunch in the same letter column.)

Neither Stairs Nor Door, by Robert F. Young

An author who often combines science fiction with romance makes use of a familiar legend in this simple but charming tale.  In medieval times, an unhappily married woman witnesses a handsome, beautifully dressed man emerge from a tower that appears from nowhere.  The reader already knows that he’s really an alien come to Earth in a shuttlecraft from the mothership.  You’ll probably predict which fairy tale this story parallels, but it’s enjoyable enough.  Three stars.

In the Days of King Arsgrat, by John Jakes

A boy who has lived alone in the wilderness since early childhood arrives at a village and is adopted by a childless couple.  At first, the setting seems to be a fantasy world.  We soon find out that the story takes place centuries after a disaster destroyed civilization.  The descendants of the survivors are awed by the few artifacts left behind by their remote ancestors, whom they think of as gods.  They go on raids to destroy the hated Green Crabs, and live in fear of the unseen King Arsgrat, to whom the most desirable of the young women in the village go when they come of age.  The hero, in love with a girl doomed to this fate, determines to confront King Arsgrat.  What he discovers changes his former skepticism about the gods.  This is a compelling, thoughtful adventure story with a subtle touch of satire.  The nature of the Green Crabs, and the true identity of King Arsgrat, are surprising, and make the reader think about the things our modern society considers important.  Four stars.

Ghost and Ghoul, by T. C. Lethbridge

This excerpt from the book of the same name is the first nonfiction article I’ve seen in Fantastic.  The author attempts to explain paranormal phenomenon by hypothesizing that the human brain filters out most information before it reaches the mind.  Only gifted psychics can perceive such things.  The author presents no evidence for his theory and is unlikely to convince any skeptics.  One star.

The Leech, by Jack Sharkey

An officer of the law goes to arrest a man for practicing medicine without a license.  The fellow only wants to help people, using a bizarre method to remove cancer from the patient’s body.  He makes a deal with the officer, with unexpected consequences.  This is a fairly effective horror story with a gruesome climax.  Three stars.

Three Tales for the Horrid at Heart, by Brad Steiger

As the title implies, this piece consists of a trio of very short stories with grim, ironic endings.  In the first, a man has his ESP tested under rigorous conditions.  In the second, a police detective tries to expose a spiritualist.  In the third, two persons await battle with the one who threatens their existence.  How much you enjoy them may depend on your fondness for bagatelles.  Two stars.

The Man Next Door, by Paul Ernst

This month’s Fantasy Classic first appeared in the March 4, 1939 issue of Argosy.  A mental patient who made a hobby of astronomy during his rational moments disappears from an insane asylum.  At the same time, a mysterious fellow purchases the empty house next to the narrator’s home.  A series of strange deaths is involved.  The solution to the mystery isn’t surprising, even if you don’t bother to read the introduction by SF historian Sam Moskowitz, who always reveals the plot gimmicks of these reprints.  The story comes to a very sudden, unsatisfactory end.  Two stars.

The Forelife Myth, by Albert Teichner

Ghosts debate the existence of people.  The author creates an imaginative setting, where the spirits of the dead have no idea why they suddenly appear, at any age from newborn to elderly, in what seems to them to be the only real world.  Although the plot is extremely simple, the background is constructed with great care.  Three stars.

3rd Sister, by Arthur Porges

As a young girl, the narrator faces the impending death of her mother.  In a desperate effort to save her life, she goes to a house inhabited by three elderly sisters rumored to be evil.  The plot involves a familiar myth, which the author uses with good effect.  Four stars.
(I might also mention that the above two stories are greatly enhanced by the chilling art of Lee Brown Coye.)

On the Road to Splenoba, by Roger Zelazny

I believe this is the longest work yet from a new writer who specializes in very short stories.  A Communist official traveling in a remote area behind the Iron Curtain has to stay the night at the castle of a Baron.  If you’ve ever seen an old horror movie on Shock Theater, you won’t be too surprised at what kind of being the Baron turns out to be.  Not as poetically written as the author’s miniature tales, this story does feature an interesting twist at the end.  Three stars.

Fantasy Books, by S. E. Cotts

To my knowledge, this is only the second time that the magazine has printed a book review.  The subject is Ray Bradbury’s new novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes.  I have read and enjoyed this nostalgic fantasy of an evil carnival and the effect it has on two young boys in a small town.  I recommend it to those who enjoy Bradbury, although you may want to wait until it comes out in paperback.  (The hardcover costs almost five dollars!) The reviewer is not so enthusiastic.  The main objection is that the book never comes together as a whole, and is more like a series of beautifully written sketches.  Whether or not you agree with this assessment, the review is thoughtful and persuasive.

With so many changes, both welcome and unwelcome, going on in the world these days, it’s good to know that some things, like the eternal movement of time through the years, or the fact that any issue of a fiction magazine is going to have both gems and dross, never change.  Have a good 1963!

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[December 12, 1962] UP THE SPOUT AGAIN (the January 1963 Amazing)


by John Boston

All right, Frogeyes,* dust off all the stars.  We’re finally going to need them for this January 1963 Amazing, specifically for Keith Laumer’s novelet It Could Be Anything.
*Those without a classical education may ignore this and similar allusions.

“Things are not what they seem” is a well worn SF device, employed by the likes of Heinlein, Sturgeon, and more recently Philip K. Dick.  But it’s not worn out, as Laumer demonstrates.  Young Brett is about to take the train out of the stereotypical small town of Casperton, heading for the unnamed big city, despite stereotypical remonstrances.  His Aunt Haicey says, “It was reading all them books that done it.  Thick books, with no pictures in them.  I knew it would make trouble.” The stationmaster offers, “If I talk to Mr. J.D., I think he can find a job for you at the plant.” His girlfriend Pretty-Lee doesn’t show, not after their big argument in Rexall’s over her preoccupation with a movie magazine.  But he boards anyway, and some time later finds himself on a deserted stopped train in the middle of a field where the tracks just stop, no clue as to why, but the city is visible on the horizon.  So he walks.  I won’t spoil the story’s revelations in detail, but Brett quickly learns that the people he encounters in the city, engaged in ordinary mundane activities like walking down the street and eating in restaurants, are not real—they are automatons acting out routines.  What’s going on?  The answer is pretty nasty, and the story quickly turns crude and violent.  At the end, Brett is heading home to Casperton, with the similarity between the automatons’ routines and the behavior of the home folks not lost on him.  The story is exceedingly well visualized, gaining power from Laumer’s attention to mundane sensual detail even in the midst of violent melodrama.  Its impact is also enhanced by what isn’t there—an explanation.  The story is told entirely from Brett’s limited viewpoint, ignorant of the larger picture even after his shattering experiences in the city, leaving the reader knowing very little about the comprehensive catastrophe that seems to have overtaken the world, but creating an unusually strong sense of a larger world outside the confines of the story about which one can only speculate.  Five stars.

The cover story, Cerebrum by Albert Teichner, makes a nice contrast to the Laumer story—“nice” in the original sense of precise or fine, not the current debased usage—since it takes a well worn plot device and fails to revitalize it.  In the future, everybody’s telepathic, and they’re all hooked up to the Central Synaptic Computation Receptor and Transmitter System, which routes thoughts like a telephone exchange, only better.  Otherwise, nobody could hear themselves think through everyone else’s mental noise.  But people who think negative thoughts about Central get Suspended, and now there’s a large and growing underclass of Suspendeds since Central seems to be making a lot of mistakes lately—but don’t think that or you’ll be Suspended too.  Protagonist and family get Suspended and have to learn to live as outcasts on the margins; they discover what passes for an underground; then Central falls apart entirely and the brewing problems between Suspendeds and paraNormals (sic) conveniently disappear.  So, it’s the early Galaxy routine of society distorted by an innovation, with The Machine Stops thrown into the mix, no more than routinely clever connect-the-dots stuff.  Two stars; ten years ago when this sort of thing was newer, it might have seemed better.  The cover, by Lloyd Birmingham, merits a comment as well: de Chirico repeats, this time as farce.

Jack Egan’s Cully, like his earlier World Edge from November, is a short tale told by (or for) a damaged consciousness, which any further explanation would spoil; this one is better written and less busy than its predecessor.  Maybe Egan is getting the hang of it.  Generously, three stars.

S. Dorman—presumably the Sonya Dorman who appeared in the October Ladies’ Home Journal—provides something else entirely in The Putnam Tradition, her first in the SF magazines: sort of like Zenna Henderson with sharper edges.  The Putnams are a matriarchal and rather change-resistant New England family, witches or psi-talented as you prefer, whose children (the healthy ones) are mostly daughters, and whose husbands “spent a lifetime with the long-lived Putnam wives, and died, leaving their strange signs: telephone wires, electric lights, water pumps, brass plumbing.” And now young Simone’s husband Sam has brought them an “invasion” of large and small appliances, and their daughter doesn’t seem to have inherited the family talents.  Is tradition dead?  Or is something else going on?  The story is told in sort of fairy-tale fashion, with the occasional startling image (“. . . power lines had been run in, and now on cold nights the telephone wires sounded like a concert of cellos, while inside with a sound like the breaking of beetles, the grandmother Cecily moved through the walls in the grooves of tradition.”).  Dorman’s writing seems a little amateurish in places but it conveys the sense of a real individual behind the typewriter and not (unlike, say, Teichner’s) some device grinding up and recycling the last 50 SF stories she read.  Four stars, and thanks for the fresh air.

Bringing up the rear, or letting it down, is the “Classic Reprint” from the January 1933 issue: Omega, the Man by Lowell Howard Morrow, about Omega, the last human alive (well, he starts out with his wife Thalma and briefly acquires a son—Alpha, of course) on a dying Earth, with a schematic plot and the sort of bombastic style that one could barely get away with even then, and nowadays reads like parody.  A bizarre Frankensteinian plot twist at the end comes much too late to redeem this fiasco.  Moskowitz’s praise of it is almost as risible.  One star.

Ben Bova soldiers on with another article, Progress Report: Life Forms in Meteorites, again beautifully but inaptly illustrated by Virgil Finlay.  Bova reviews findings on exactly what the title says, as usual assembling a fair amount of interesting information.  He does seem to have his thumb on the scales sometimes, though, as when he recounts several competing theories about the nature of seemingly organic particles found in some meteorites: are they fossilized life forms, or crystalline structures that are the “intermediate step” between DNA molecules and living cells, or inorganic materials that contain lots of iron, or fossils that have been partly replaced by iron through a petrifaction process?  “On balance, though,” Bova says, “it would appear that the particles are life forms, or at least, fossils of once-living cells.” But he doesn’t explain why he’s choosing one side or another in this technical debate.  Still, three stars for pulling this material together in more or less plain English.

So: one excellent story, another very good one, and only one complete pratfall.  Looks like progress.  Of course I said that early last year too.  Da capo.  If the magazine can retain good new contributors like Dorman, Zelazny, and Ballard, maybe it can keep it up this time.

[December 9, 1962] (January 1963, IF Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Ah, Winter.  That sleepy time of the year when the air gets chillier (such as it ever gets chilly in Southern California), work slows down a bit, and shopping for the holidays picks up.  The first night of Hannukah is the 21st, and then, of course, there’s the big mid-Hannukah holiday (named after Chris, the patron saint of presents). 

And it’s when I renew my subscriptions for science fiction magazines since they generally offer Christmas discounts!

December marks the new year, at least as far as periodicals go.  January-dated issues show up the month before, so I’ve already gotten a sneak preview into the next year.  First up is is the January 1963 IF, and if this be a harbinger, then next year will probably be a decent one:

The Five Hells of Orion, by Frederik Pohl

I have to wonder if Pohl gets paid the same rate as everyone else for stories he writes, given that he is the editor.  Of course, he should.  Pohl has been a writer for decades, and he produces good stuff.  Orion follows the tale of an young astrogator shanghaied across a thousand light years by aliens bent on forging an alliance with humanity.  The first half is very good.  The spaceman must navigate a set of intelligence tests and we gradually come to understand the intentions of the extraterrestrials.  The payoff is rushed, however; perhaps this would have made a better novel.  Three stars.

The Shipshape Miracle, by Clifford D. Simak

An atypical piece by Simak in which an incorrigible criminal crosses paths with the brother to The Ship Who Sang, to his ultimate dismay.  Well-written, like everything Simak does, but unexceptional.  Three stars for the story, but five stars for the excellent art!

This Way to the Egress, by Andrew Fetler

Fetler returns to IF with his second vignette, a subtle piece about the last hours of a social deviant.  I suspect Fetler has a day job given the paucity of work he’s published in our field.  Three stars.

Essay in Coherence, by Theodore Sturgeon

This piece on LASERs (single-wavelength light beams of incredible intensity) shows that Sturgeon may soon give Asimov a run for his money with science articles.  It’s witty and informative, and probably will be the genesis of countless short stories involving this brand-new technology.  Five stars.

Podkayne of Mars (Part 2 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

Part II of Heinlein’s new juvenile(?) about Miss Poddy Fries and her space jaunt from Mars is a bit more readable than the last one, but it’s still overwritten and gets bogged in detail.  This is the spiritual successor to The Menace from Earth I’d hoped to share with my daughter, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough.  Three stars for this installment.

Road Stop, by David Mason

A ghost story involving a haunted car…in a future when all cars are haunted by design.  The tale isn’t plausible, in and of itself, but the world it paints feels like a possible tomorrow.  Three stars.

Fortress Ship, by Fred Saberhagen

Now here’s an interesting one, by a newish author who’s already turned out some good stuff.  Fortress introduces the concept of the “Beserker,” giant automated robot ships created as doomsday weapons. They roam the galaxy, relics of a forgotten war, reducing populated planets into ashes.  It takes extraordinary courage and, more importantly, wit to defeat them.  But it is possible…  Four stars.

Captain of the Kali , by Gary Wright

The “IFirststory” competition netted a piece from freshly minted author Gary Wright.  A futuristic C.S. Forester is recruited to serve as guest admiral on an alien fleet of sail-driven warships.  A good first effort, though greater length and a few more sf trappings would have been nice.  Three stars.

When Whirlybirds Call, by Frank Banta

Last up is a satirical piece about a laconic big-game hunter and the coocoo-downdraft-peoplehawk-whirlybirds he is contracted to exterminate.  Cute while it lasts.  Three stars.

It’s rare that I go from beginning to end of a mag and find no lousy stories.  This month’s IF is solid (if not exceptional) entertainment, and as the cheapest of the digests (at 35 cents), it is definitely a bargain.




[November 30, 1962] New Worlds, Cold Weather (The View from the UK, December 1962)

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


by Mark Yon

Hello all, again.

Being a Brit, I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that I should start this month with talk of the weather. The cold weather I mentioned in October has continued into November. It generally feels really cold, colder than normal. I must admit that the chilly, dark mornings do not make leaving the house and going to work conducive to productive activities! I am hoping that it’ll return to normal Winter weather soon.

Thanks to the weather, journeys in my provincial city are taking a little longer, but in London the weather has heralded the return of the infamous London fogs that make travel near impossible.

Music-wise, things have taken an interesting turn. Since I last spoke to you, the BBC have banned Bobby Boris Pickett’s The Monster Mash, from UK radio on the grounds that the song was “too morbid.”

By contrast, currently at the top of the charts is Frank Ifield and Lovesick Blues. A cover of the Hank Williams classic show tune, it is not really to my personal taste, I’m afraid. Telstar, much more favourable to my ears, and the instrumental that dominated the charts over the Summer, is still in the Top 5, slowly declining (like the satellite itself).

On the television I’m still enjoying the antics of John Steed and Cathy Gale in The Avengers on ITV. Undoubtedly rather far-fetched, it is nevertheless entertainingly escapist.

Slightly more down to earth, we recently had a programme begin on the BBC that I think will run for a while. Called That Was the Week that Was, it is a satirical summary of topical political and cultural items of interest from the previous week before transmission. Presented by up-and-coming media star Mr David Frost, but also with a host of comedians to fill out the roster, it seems to have been popular ratings-wise, although admittedly less so with the politicians and the Establishment.

I have braved the Winter weather to go to the cinema since we last spoke – it is often warmer there! – and I must recommend How the West Was Won, which I saw a couple of weeks ago. Directed by Mr John Ford and with a great cast – Mr. John Wayne, Mr. Gregory Peck and one of my own favourites, Mr. James Stewart – it is a great epic, telling us of the early days of the Wild West. Visually spectacular in Cinerama and in stereophonic sound, this may be the standard that future movies must reach.

Hopefully as good, I am looking forward to going to see Mr. David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia before I speak to you next. The news is saying that it is a visual spectacle, if a little long at nearly four hours. As it is mainly set in the desert, though, it might just be what’s needed to keep the Winter chill out!

This month’s New Worlds (the 125th!) has a slightly less lurid cover (thank goodness!) and after the excitement and disappointment of last month’s issue edited by Arthur C Clarke, we are back to a more ‘business as usual’ edition this time around.

This month’s editor is a popular writer who, nevertheless, hasn’t been in New Worlds for a while. Mr. Lan Wright was last in the magazine in 1958-59 with his three-part story A Man Called Destiny (issues 78-80, December 1958, January & February 1959). This time, as guest editor, he seems to have created a rather mixed bag, but a better edition than the one previous. His writing absence is partly explained in the Profile given on the inside cover. Amongst other things he has been spending his leisure time as a radio commentator for Watford Football Club and the three associated Hospital Radio stations in the area.

This has left little time for writing, though he has managed an Editorial this month and has a new three-part serial starting next month. His Editorial reflects his clearly passionate views on s-f. In a determinedly anti-intellectual stance, Lan makes the point that the genre is better off when it is mindful of its origins and keeps things unprofessional. This is a counterview to that of John Baxter’s in September which argued that, in order to survive, s-f needs to push itself and reach out to the mainstream masses by presenting a more refined, more challenging and better written body of work.

So, it seems like the battle-lines are drawn. I suspect that this battle between the two views will continue for a while yet.

To the actual content. Two novellas this month!

Lambda One, by Mr Colin Kapp

Mr Kapp is a New Worlds regular (last seen October 1961) and this is one of the better novellas I have read recently. The story centres around a great concept – that future transport is made by travel via an inter-atomic method. By making a solid body resonate in such a way that its atoms can pass through the spaces in the atomic structure of other solid substances, goods, materiel and people travel quickly and freely. The story follows a spaceship lost in this other dimension as our two heroes, Brevis and Porter attempt to rescue them. To be honest, the plot isn’t great and the ending is resolved far too quickly, but the journey to reach the stranded vessel is what makes the story memorable. It is, in the end, terrific fun and quite imaginative. Four out of five.

Meaning, by Mr. David Rome

This one, which I liked nearly as much as Lambda One, comes from an author who has now appeared in three issues in a row. Meaning is perhaps his best of the three. It tells of Alan Ross on a journey to Mars that may or may not be what the traveller thinks it is. This one kept me guessing by mixing dreams with reality until the mystery of the plot was revealed. Three out of five.

Capsid, by Mr. Francis G. Rayer

I really liked this story, from an author who has had stories published in New Worlds since 1947. There isn’t much to the plot (another rescue story!), but the titular alien of the story is interesting and unusual enough to be memorable. Though nameless, the “capsid” is a creature that lives underground away from the harsh radiation of its planet. It burrows through the sand and absorbs anything unlucky enough to land on the planet’s surface. When Wallsey crashes onto the capsid’s planet, the difficulty is how to rescue him from a planet where nothing seems to survive. The alien is memorable, although the ending is rather predictable. Nevertheless, three out of five.

Operation Survival, by Mr. Paul Corey

Oh dear. I’m always very mindful that humour’s always a relative thing, and what some find amusing, others don’t. Even so, this one’s a major misstep. The ‘humour’ derives from the idea that if you put enough mentally ill people (here called ‘Feebs’) in a room full of buttons, then like the proverbial monkeys writing Shakespeare, they will press the right buttons to deliver nuclear missiles, essentially lunatics taking over the asylum. Distasteful, badly judged and really, really not funny. Zero points.

Transmitter Problem, by Mr. Joseph Green
Mr. Green returns to the setting previously read in last month’s issue (the planet named Refuge.) It’s another story about the breshwahr tree, a salient lifeform, and its effect upon the people of this frontier planet. I was rather dismissive of last month’s effort, saying that its purpose was clearly designed to shock with its matter-of-fact depiction of child rape and cannibalism. I enjoyed this one more, mainly because I felt it was trying less hard to make its point. It is a minor story about transmitting people but seems to set things up for other stories in the future quite nicely. Three out of five.

Mood Indigo, by Mr. Russ Markham

The second of our novellas this month, from another author we read in the last issue. Mr. Markham’s last effort was Who Went Where?, which I thought was ‘solid yet undemanding.’ This is longer, and better for it, I think. Here, engineers Don Channing, Harry Scanlon and their work colleagues create a forcefield bubble that is quickly sponsored by the military, but there are unexpected consequences of its use. It suggested what it must have been like with the development of the atomic bomb, and I rather suspect that that was the intention. It is a traditional tale, with lots of stereotypes – bold male scientist, good-looking girl, etc., although it comes out as passable s-f in the end. Three out of five.

Lastly, there’s the usual Book Review by Mr. Leslie Flood. Mr. John Christopher’s The World in Winter and Mr. Daniel F Galouye’s Dark Universe both get positive comments.

In summary, I enjoyed this issue more than last month. Whilst there are moments of workmanlike prose and a real misstep in one of the worst stories I’ve read in New Worlds, ever, there were enough original moments to make me feel that my two-and-sixpence was well spent this month.

Until next time, as I huddle under a few blankets, it just remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Have a great one, may you get everything you wish and I’ll speak to you again before the New Year.




[November 27, 1962] Turkeys and Gravy (December 1962 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Behold the picture of contentment.  I sit in my La-Z-Boy, feet crossed on an ottoman, a Julie London album on the phonograph, and my tummy stuffed to the utmost with stuffing, turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes… the whole megillah.  And at my side, the just-finished copy of the latest Analog, which just happens to be my last science fiction magazine of the year (yes, Mark Yon will follow me with the December ish of New Worlds, but that’s his problem!)

This last reading duty out of the way, I can finally start putting together my notes for this year’s Galactic Stars, and it certainly looks like there will be some bright ones.  Nevertheless, as fun as it is describing the sum of the parts, each component deserves full treatment – and the December 1962 Analog has much to recommend it.. as well as some prime examples of America’s bird:

Blind Man’s Lantern, by Allen Kim Lang

Beautifully depicted on the cover by Schoenherr, this one came recommended by fellow writer, John Boston.  Lantern features an Pennsylvania Dutch couple settling on an Earth-like world 80 light years from home.  The planet is already home to a thriving but technologically regressed colony of West Africans, and the hope of the Earth government is that the original inhabitants will adopt the advanced Amish farming techniques, to the benefit of all concerned. 

It’s a lovely story, more slice of life Laura Ingalls Wilder than nuts and bolts SF.  The relations between the Amish and the Africans are interesting and sensitively portrayed, the growing friendships and cultural clashes feeling natural.  Where the piece fails (a little bit) is the abrupt twist 4/5ths of the way through, and the fact that there is really no SF component to this tale at all.  The new planet is exactly like Earth in all details – Lang could easily have set his story in Senegal.  Four stars.

Subversive, by Mack Reynolds

At first, this story looks to be a “preach piece,” basically two people chatting to illustrate a philosophical point.  In this case, the topic of discussion is the economy, and how to cut the Gordian Knot of our overly complex, thoroughly middle-manned system.  But the author is Mack Reynolds, and he has something that is (dare I say) a bit more subversive in mind.  Lots of twists and you never know where it’s going to end.  Three stars. 

—And Devious the Line of Duty, by Tom Godwin

This one is a low budget Retief story in which the key to determining on which side a powerful neutral planet aligns comes down to a well-orchestrated meet cute between its young Queen and a strapping Terran Space Navy lieutenant.  Much too long to justify its ending, which you’ll see a mile away.  Two stars.

Intelligent Noise, by Alfred Pfanstiehl

Here’s the real dog of the magazine.  Mr. Pfanstiehl attempts to educate us on the ingenious use of the electromagnetic spectrum to cram more information into an already crowded set of frequencies. The problem is that the article is completely unreadable.  Dig this, Dad – my first major was astrophysics and my favorite bits in these digests are the science articles; but I couldn’t make head nor tails of it.  I am no wiser now than I was going into the article, and I suspect you won’t be either.  One star.

Space Viking (Part 2 of 4), by H. Beam Piper

Finally, Piper continues his four part(!) tale of rapacious spacefarers picking on the bones of the fallen Terran Empire.  As a travelogue, it’s first rate.  Piper gives us great background on all of the visited planets, their societies and governments.  Names are dropped of worlds featured in other stories (for instance, Uller of Uller Uprising and Zarathustra of Little Fuzzy).  But as a story, Space Viking is rendered mostly in thumbnail.  The result is engaging, even memorable, but more carrier wave than message.  Three stars.

That wraps up this month’s American magazines.  F&SF is finally the best again, with Fantastic a close second (this latter having the best story, Laumer’s Cocoon).  Galaxy is tail-end Charlie, a bitter disappointment.  That puts Amazing and Analog in the middle.  Every magazine had some four-star content; only two (Galaxy and Amazing) had female authors, one apiece. 

Over to you, Mark!




[November 22, 1962] Return to Normalcy (December 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.

I’m a Kennedy liberal, so goodness knows I wouldn’t normally quote a Republican President, let alone one as ineffectual as Warren G. Harding.  I don’t agree with everything he said in his address to the Home Market Club of Boston on May 14, 1920, quoted above.  However, there’s something in his plea for a return to normalcy after the horrors of the Great War that strikes a familiar chord in these times.

The Cold War has returned to its normal condition, and avoided boiling over into a Hot War.

Meanwhile, the Sino-Indian War has ended, leaving two great nations in a state of peace, at least for now.

As we breathe a sigh of relief, it’s appropriate to turn to the pages of the December 1962 issue of Fantastic, where we will find stories about people who struggle to return to normalcy.

In the Holiday Spirit, by ?

Leading off the issue is an anonymous poem that mentions the names of several writers and artists working in the SF field.  It’s not great verse, but it’s a pleasant thought.  Unratable.

Heritage, by E. J. Derringer

Reprinted from the pages of the January 1935 issue of Top-Notch, this month’s fantasy classic was supposed to appear in Astounding.  The introduction by SF historian Sam Moskowitz speculates as to why this might have occurred.  My own theory is that the story is closer to fantasy than science fiction, as suggested by the uniquely macabre illustrations provided by Lee Brown Coye, an artist closely associated with Weird Tales.

The fantastic content of Derringer’s story does not appear until near the end.  The plot begins like a mystery.  Seven years before the story opens, the young wife of an older man vanished.  Fascinated by the disappearance, the young son of the husband’s lawyer begins his own investigation.  He soon finds out that the husband’s doctor helped the woman to disappear, for an incredible reason.

This story depends entirely on the revelation of the woman’s secret.  Otherwise, it’s competently, if not elegantly, written.  Three stars.

Cocoon, by Keith Laumer

Robert Adragna’s cover art is more symbolic than literal in its representation of this dark satire.  Sid and his oddly named wife Cluster live in a future world where everybody exists inside womblike containers.  All of their physical needs are supplied by the cocoon.  Entertainment, employment, and social contacts are all conducted through electronic channels.  When a crisis strikes this seemingly perfect society, Sid must struggle to survive and to learn the truth about his world.  I’m pleased to see Laumer put aside his lighthearted tales of Retief and pursue a more serious theme.  Four stars.

It’s Magic, You Dope! (Part 2 of 2), by Jack Sharkey

Last month the madcap adventures of our hero led him to a bizarre fantasy world, full of weird creatures, with his girlfriend in the form of a nymph and her brother as a faun.  In the conclusion, an illusory double of the nymph has been created by a witch (who happens to be her mother in the mundane world.) One of the two nymphs has been captured by evil creatures who want to cook and eat her.  Since nobody knows which of the two is real, the hero goes to rescue her.  The witch gives him a magic sword and a bag full of seemingly ordinary objects; a beer can, a train ticket, and so on.  Each one of these will prove useful during moments of danger.  The plot moves along at a breakneck pace, including encounters with werewolves, centaurs, and beings who only exist in the author’s imagination.  It’s never boring, although the story is really just one damned thing after another.  Three stars.

Imbalance, by Murray Leinster

An author who has been publishing science fiction since 1919 offers the reader a comic tale about chance.  Something goes wrong with the laws of nature, resulting in all sorts of strange happenings around the world.  An insurance agent downs on his luck puts his last few coins into slot machines in a desperate attempt to gain some cash.  A rival agent who hates gambling offers him an odd deal.  If he loses at games of luck, he has to sell the business of a prospective client to the rival at a discount.  If he wins, the rival gets thirty percent of the winnings.  More out of spite than anything else, he accepts the offer.  Because of the odd breakdown in natural law, he keeps winning, eventually breaking the bank.  Complications ensue with the intervention of the agent’s girlfriend and his prospective client, a crime boss.  This isn’t the most plausible or profound story in the world, but it should provide some modest amusement.  Three stars.

It’s almost reassuring, after the stressful days recently gone by, to return to an average, middle-of-the-road issue of the magazine.  Still, I wouldn’t say no to something tremendous.  Happy Thanksgiving.

[November 19, 1962] Reverse Course (December 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

I’ve complained bitterly in this column on the meanderings of my favorite science fiction magazines.  Galaxy has gotten too tame.  Analog has gotten too staid.  F&SF has gotten too literary.  In fact, just last month, I was lamenting the streak of purple fluffiness that had corrupted that last mag.  Story after story of unreadable droll nothings, or at best, fantastic horrors without any hard sf.

The December 1962 issue did not promise to be any better.  It has the same line-up of authors, the same subject matter of stories.  There are even 11000…er.. 24 pages devoted to the concept of binary numbers.  Has F&SF lost its mind?!

So imagine my surprise to find that I actually enjoyed this month’s issue, entirely due to the well-written nature of its material.  These are not the kind of stories I prefer, but this experience just goes to show that high quality trumps subject matter.  See if you agree:

The Depths, by Jim Harmon

The fastest route between two points is a straight line, so what better way to navigate the globe than through it?  One hardly even needs a locomotive force since one can simply fall to a destination.  Of course, there is the minor issue of building the shaft, but such trivialities are hand-waved in this pleasant, deliberately archaic tale of a trans-Terranian vessel that gets stuck half-way down.  Three stars.

Behind the Stumps, by Russell Kirk

I didn’t much care for Kirk’s ghost story in the last issue, and this one is in the same vein.  It is so nicely drawn and tautly composed, however, that I found myself engrossed.  In brief: fussy, meticulous census worker heads to the backwoodsiest of Appalachian towns determined to count every farmer, even those whose tie to the Earth is limited at best.  Suitably horrific, vividly realized.  Four stars.

Senhor Zumbeira’s Leg, by Felix Marti-Ibanez

In a time when the depiction of sex in our genre ranges from prudish nonexistence to Garrett-esque chauvinism, it’s nice to get a happy-go-lucky romp filled with equally game and enabled men and women.  This spicy Latin adventure features the Zumbeira family, father and son, who are motivated by comfort and cross-gender relationships.  When the ne’er-do-well son embarks on a journey to find a new prosthesis for his one-legged father, aided by a sorceress’ magic charm guaranteed to bring luck, amusing hijinx ensue.  All’s well that ends well, and the journey is good, too.  Four stars.

One, Ten, Buckle My Shoe, by Isaac Asimov

Only Asimov can wax pedantic on a dull subject and make the experience enjoyable.  I mean, it’s a piece about a counting system in which there are only two digits!  But if we’re going to get along with computers, I suppose we’d best learn the drill now.  Four stars.

On Binary Digits and Human Habits, by Frederik Pohl

Galaxy, IF, and (soon) Worlds of Tomorrow editor makes an unusual appearance in a competitor magazine with this piece on how to easily convey binary numbers verbally.  What at first seems a pointless exercise turns out actually to be kind of interesting – the first time through, I had a strong desire to throw the magazine against the wall; and then I got it and re-read with some fascination.  Three stars this time, but don’t do it again, please.

Ad Infinitum, by Sasha Gilien

Freud put much stock in the symbolism of dreams.  Gilien takes things a few steps further, positing that there is an entire studio devoted to the production and innovation of said symbols.  A fantastic idea somewhat neutered by its gimmick ending.  Three stars.

Roofs of Silver, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can cultures devolve?  And if they can, what is the measuring stick?  Dickson sets up a universe where Terra’s colonies have a habit of reverting to savagery, replacing conscience with taboo, morality with hidebound custom.  Roofs spotlights one world on the verge of such a fall, and the lengths one of its inhabitants goes to thwart it.

There’s nothing wrong with the writing in this piece; when Dickson’s on his game (and he certainly is here), he is one of the genre’s more sensitive and interesting authors.  No, the only real failing of this piece is its utter predictability.  Four stars.

The Notary and the Conspiracy, by Henri Damonti (translation by Damon Knight)

Some people really live a double life – the problem comes when one chooses to live out that second span in a high-profile and highly dangerous historical position!  A fun piece, but it’s one of Knight’s more opaque translations.  Three stars.

In sum, this month’s issue scored a respectable 3.5 stars.  I am left with a sense of bemused puzzlement.  Did editor Davidson finally turn his ship around?  Did all of the insufferable frivolity get used up by Galaxy?  Or is this simply the bounce of a dead cat, and I can expect a return to form in the new year?

As my wife is wont to say, “Don’t borrow trouble.”  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!