Tag Archives: marion zimmer bradley

[June 20, 1962] Half a loaf… (Ace Double F-153 – a Marion Zimmer Bradley twosome)


by Gideon Marcus

Marion Zimmer Bradley is an odd duck.

As a writer for a niche genre (science fiction), as a woman in a male-dominated field, as an occultist mystic in a stolidly Judeo-Christian world (she founded the Aquarian Order of the Restoration), and as someone who pines for the days when the genre was more fantastic, Bradley is many times over a breed apart.

That dislocation from the mainstream of society, even the mainstreams of rarefied slivers of society, has acted as a sort of crucible on her imagination.  At the risk of engaging in unlicensed psychoanalysis, it seems that all this pent up desire to escape the real world has turned into a torrent she’s focused at her writing.  In the past several years, I’ve marked a focus of her work toward the psychic and the pulpy.  It’s hardly hidden – she said as much in the introduction to her first book:

While I was still collecting rejection slips for my early efforts, the fashion changed. Adventures on faraway worlds and strange dimensions went out of fashion, and the new look in science-fiction — emphasis on the science — came in…I think, there is a place, a wish, a need and hunger for the wonder and color of the world way out. The world beyond the stars. The world we won’t live to see.

Except her far futures don’t have many futuristic trappings.  Her settings are invariably medieval in flavor, with swashbuckling sword-wielders, hot-blooded heroes and beautiful damsels.  It’s pretty clear that this is the world she wants to live in, one of duels and kin-loyalty, where women, while they may be strong, also yield to a man’s will. 

We saw it in A Door Through Space, and we see it in the new Ace Double, #F-153.  It’s two Bradleys for the price of one (40 cents), and it, beginning to end, has Bradley’s stamp upon it.

The Planet Savers

Really a long novella, The Planet Savers fleshes out the planet of Darkover, briefly mentioned in Bradley’s first novel.  In an effeminate, decadent Terran Empire, red-sunned Darkover is the one hold-out of rugged virtue.  The Earthers have just one on-world trade enclave; the rest of the planet is ruled by a series of clans, descendants of colonists from a long-distant past.  They possess the secret of psychic technology using the mysterious Matrices, devices whose use is only briefly described. 

The Darkovans share their world with the Trailmen, aboriginal humanoids who live in the shadowed arboreal span of giant trees.  Their branches form a network that spans a good portion of the planet.  Whether they are a divergent group of humans or the result of convergent evolution is an open question.  Their society is an interesting mix of savage and refined, and I found them more interesting than the mundanely feudal Darkovans (who actually do not feature prominently in this book).

In fact, the star of the book is Jason Allison, a Terran who was raised by Trailmen after a boyhood crash that left him lost and parentless.  As such, he is the only one on the planet who can negotiate with the natives to obtain pints of their blood to make serum to fight the “Trailmen’s Plague,” a sort of Darkovan chickenpox that is deadly to non-Trailmen. 

There’s only one problem, and this is the genuinely interesting crux of the short book: Jason doesn’t exist. 

When Allison fell into the hands of the Trailmen, he was adopted and raised as one of the aboriginals until his maturity, at which point, they felt they needed to let the young man be with his own kind.  Allison could not reconcile the alien ways of the Trailmen with the codes of the Terrans; he thus repressed most of his childhood and a great deal of his personality, becoming the priggish Dr. Jay Allison.  This resulting persona, while respected for his competence, is a brittle and unlikable soul.  He also doesn’t speak the Trailmen language.

This is why the Terrans resort to psychic techniques to tease out the younger Jason persona, carving out a new being, essentially.  During the mission, the two personas exchange positions at the fore, in a Hyde and Jekyll fashion.  This is represented to great effect by having the Jason portions in first person but the Jay portions in third.

I was surprised to discover that The Planet Savers is a story I glided over in my damning review of the November 1958 Amazing.  I suspect I never made it to the novella (which is unchanged from its original publication) after getting turned off by the earlier stories in that issue. 

In any event, I enjoyed The Planet Savers, though the relationship between Jason and the fiercely independent yet pliable Darkovan woman sherpa felt tacked on and downright Burroughsian.  Three and a half stars.

The Sword of Aldones

Sadly, I cannot say as much for the flip-side novel, a much longer piece.  Also set on Darkover, presumably around the same era, it is told from the viewpoint of Lew Aldon, a half-Terran scion of the Aldon clan – a powerful psionic family.  He is returning home after years off-planet after an exile caused by political turmoil.  He returns to face the Comyn (the council of Darkovan families…I think) to deal with the disposition of a powerful matrix called the Sharra, which he’s smuggled back to Darkover in a decorative sword.

I could not finish The Sword of Aldones, throwing in the towel around page 70.  Part of it was the inexpert storytelling, with Lew consistently referring to his fraught past and then explicitly refusing to discuss it.  Part of it was the general tone of violence always simmering just under the surface (Bradley must have anger issues – it is a problem I see with all of her work).  But mostly, it was its hackneyed, humorless style.  The Sword of Aldones might appeal to the sword and spaceship crowd, but it didn’t work at all for me.  One star.

And because of that, I’d recommend picking up the old copy of Amazing if you can – it’ll be cheaper.

[January 30, 1962] Heads or Tails? (Ace Double F-127)


by Gideon Marcus

What if the South had won at Antietam?  Or the Mongols had not been so savaged by the Hungarians at Mohi?  If Hitler had grown up an artist?  Time travel has been a staple of science fiction since the genre was formalized.  One of the newer flavors of the time travel oeuvre is the “sideways-in-time” story, where the “what-if” has become reality.  Sometimes the tale is told in isolation, the characters unaware of any other history.  Oftimes, the alternate timeline is just one of many.

Keith Laumer published one of the latter type in the pages of last year’s Fantastic, an engaging yarn called Worlds of the Imperium.  In this serial, Brion Bayard, a minor diplomat dispatched to Stockholm, is abducted by agents from another Earth.  The world he is brought to is under the benign domination of an Anglo-German empire, one whose technology and culture are somewhat mired in the Victorian age, but with one critical difference: The Imperium has perfected the Maxoni-Cocini engine that facilitates cross-timeline travel.

The M-C drive is a finicky thing.  One slight error in construction results not only in the destruction of the vehicle, but the entire planet.  In fact, the Imperium’s timeline is surrounded to a vast distance by blighted worlds where development of the M-C drive resulted in catastrophe.  Only two exceptions exist – our Earth (“Blight Insular Three”), and a closely related world (“Blight Insular Two”) that avoided M-C destruction but fell prey to atomic apocalypse.  This latter world has begun to raid the Imperium timeline with increasing effectiveness; it is only a matter of time until they succeed in its conquest.  Bayard is the key to the Imperium’s survival.

I won’t tell you how he is the key, nor anything else about the plot of this fun book, just published as one half of Ace Double F-127.  It reads a bit like one of Laumer’s Retief novels without the comedy.  I like any story that features a hero who is my age (42), and it is one of the few books that accurately portrays the debilitating aftereffects of being truly worked over in a fight.  On the negative side of the ledger, Imperium is a bit too short and a touch too glib; while the adventure is exciting and the histories intriguing, somehow, the work fails to leave a much impact.  Also, the female lead, the intrepid Swede Barbro, is as undeveloped as a pencil sketch, which makes the ensuing romance between her and Bayard feel tacked on. 

Still, I do love alternate history, and Imperium is decent (if not stellar) Laumer.  Three and a half stars.

Now, flip over F-127, and what do we have?  Seven from the Stars, the brand new second novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley (she gave us The Door through Space last year.)

In Stars, a handful of alien colonists survive a spaceship malfunction on the edge of known (to them) space.  Refugees from a telepathic society (the Dvaneth), three of them are psi-endowed. The planet on which the seven have crashed is not immediately identified, but it becomes quickly apparent that the world is Earth. 

This is something of a mixed blessing: Earth is hospitable to the Dvaneth, who are human in every way (this extreme coincidence is never explained.) Moreover, the telempathic castaway called Mathis is able to learn and convey the languages of the Texan natives to the refugees.  Since the colonists look Hispanic, fitting in does not prove difficult.  There is even a Dvaneth citizen already installed on Earth, a Watcher who reports on planetary affairs from behind the shield of a terran cover identity.  If the colonists can find him, they are halfway to safety.

There is a downside, however.  The incorporeal parasite beings, the Rhu-inn, the bane of Dvaneth existence, are endemic to Earth’s sector of space.  Having no bodies of their own, they inhabit those of hapless humans, forcing them to to their bidding.  Until a planetary shield can be erected against the Rhu-inn, Earth cannot be visited by Dvaneth vessels, and the castaways have no chance of rescue.  Worse still, it quickly becomes apparent that a Rhu-inn has already infested at least one human, and planetary conquest is imminent.  Can the invader be stopped in time?

All in all, not a bad set up, if a bit hoary.  Where the book falls down is execution.  Bradley is a new writer, and it shows, with all emotions and dialogue dripping with melodrama – the book equivalent of the comic strips’ inability to use any punctuation but the exclamation mark.  As in Imperium, the romance subplots are perfunctory and hackneyed. 

Most disturbing is the constant undercurrent of violence.  I’m not certain if this was a stylistic choice on Bradley’s part, a way of distinguishing the Dvaneth culture, but if people aren’t striking each other, or contemplating striking each other, they are shouting.  Bradley’s castaways are constantly at the edge of a rage, their knuckles white in clenched fists.  Only the albino empath, Dionie, seems to rise above base emotions – and Bradley makes her the victim of a near rape!  I suppose this kind of roughness is tolerable (expected?) in a Howard-esque fantasy (a la Door across Space) but in Stars, I found it off-putting.  Two stars.

Should you pick up F-127?  While it is the least of the Ace Doubles I’ve yet picked up, I think the Laumer makes it a worthy purchase, particularly at just 40 cents.  And you may like Stats better than I did.

Coming up…January’s exciting Space Race developments!

[By the way, I have been advised that Galactic Journey qualifies for “Best Fanzine” rather than “Best Related Work.”  If you were planning on nominating the Journey for a Hugo, we would greatly appreciate your changing your vote accordingly.  Thank you!]

[April 10, 1961] In the style of… (Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Door Through Space)

In my last piece, I discussed how magazines can be better experiences than books because the variety mitigates uneven quality.  A good book lasts longer than a magazine, but a bad book lasts longer than eternity.

I try to read a new book every month.  With the decline of the science fiction digest, the novel seems to be taking its place as the medium of choice for new material.  March’s book was The Door Through Space, by new(ish) author, Marion Zimmer Bradley.

I try not to let personal factors sway me when assessing the value of fiction, but I’m only human.  On the positive side, I was pleased to find a book by a woman author; on the other hand, Bradley is a weird occultist a la L. Ron Hubbard.  Let’s just call the two factors mutually balancing, and I’ll review the book on its merits.

In the book’s preamble, the author writes:

I’ve always wanted to write. But not until I discovered the old pulp science-fantasy magazines, at the age of sixteen, did this general desire become a specific urge to write science-fantasy adventures.

I took a lot of detours on the way. I discovered s-f in its golden age: the age of Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Ed Hamilton and Jack Vance. But while I was still collecting rejection slips for my early efforts, the fashion changed. Adventures on faraway worlds and strange dimensions went out of fashion, and the new look in science-fiction — emphasis on the science — came in.

So my first stories were straight science-fiction, and I’m not trying to put down that kind of story. It has its place. By and large, the kind of science-fiction which makes tomorrow’s headlines as near as this morning’s coffee, has enlarged popular awareness of the modern, miraculous world of science we live in. It has helped generations of young people feel at ease with a rapidly changing world.

But fashions change, old loves return, and now that Sputniks clutter up the sky with new and unfamiliar moons, the readers of science-fiction are willing to wait for tomorrow to read tomorrow’s headlines. Once again, I think, there is a place, a wish, a need and hunger for the wonder and color of the world way out. The world beyond the stars. The world we won’t live to see. That is why I wrote THE DOOR THROUGH SPACE.

That explains the book, which is not really science fiction at all, but more of a throwback to the pulp era.  The setting is the untamed planet of Wolf, whose human presence is limited to a couple of small Trade Cities.  Race Cargill is an agent of the Terran Empire involved in a blood feud with his former compatriot, Rakhal.  The latter is a villain of the mustache-twirling kind, though we learn this mostly by inference, as his presence in the book is nearly entirely off-screen.  Rakhal had married Juli, Race’s sister six years before, and then disappeared into the wilds of Wolf with her.  The story begins with Juli’s return, having left Rakhal for his cruelty and irrational behavior.

This incites Race to find Rakhal and end the feud, once and for all.  In the course of his travels, Bradley shows us a Howardian world of degenerate humans, subhumans, violence, torture and cults.  It’s a savage affair, with lots of lusty prose, lurid descriptions, and bloody combat.  Rough men and enslaved women.  A hint of incest.  I would almost take it for satire, but it seems awfully earnest. 

In short, it feels like a kinescope of a television show – recognizably a copy of something, but lacking in dimension.  A not-too-picky person might enjoy the book as an adventure story with only the thinnest veneer of s-f (the “Door Through Space” hardly figures at all), but said reader will be hard pressed to recall much from the experience save for, perhaps, a mild, inexplicable sense of revulsion.

Two stars.

[March 24, 1961] The Second Sex in SF

1961.  The year that an Irishman named Kennedy assumed the highest office in the land.  The year in which some 17 African nations celebrated their first birthday.  The air smells of cigarette smoke, heads are covered with hats, and men run politics, industry, and much of popular culture.

In a field (and world) dominated by men, it is easy to assume that science fiction is as closed to women as the local Elks Lodge.  Who are the stars of the genre?  Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley; these are household names.  But if there is anything I have discovered in my 11 years as an avid science fiction fan (following another 20 of casual interest), it is that there is a slew of excellent woman authors who have produced a body of high quality work.  In fact, per my notes, women write just one ninth of the science fiction stories published, but a full fourth of the best works. 

For this reason, I’ve compiled a list of female science fiction writers active in this, the second year of the 1960s.  These authors are just the tip of the vanguard.  They are blazing a trail for women to one day share equally in the limelight…and the Hugos!

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Pauline Ashwell: This young British author is unusual in that her works are confined exclusively (so far as I can tell) to the usually rather stag Analog, the most conservative and widely distributed of the digests.  Her Unwillingly to School, and its recent sequel, The Lost Kafoozalum, were both Hugo-nominees.  Deservedly so, as they are both unique and a lot of fun.  They also feature a creature about as rare as the female author: the female protagonist!  Ashwell also wrote the off-the-wall alien/human friendship story, Big Sword, under the transparent pseudonym, Paul Ash.  More, please!

Leigh Brackett: A Californian, Brackett was a staple of the pulp era, writing a myriad of short stories and novels all the way through the middle of the last decade.  For some reason, she seems to have fallen off the genre radar in the last few years, but I understand she’s making a living at Hollywood and television screenwriting.  I am chagrined to report that I’ve not read a single one of her stories, and I worry that I’d find them dated.  I’d be happy to be wrong.  Recommendations?

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Young Bradley has been writing for at least a decade, but her works have tended to appear in the magazines to which I don’t have subscriptions, with the notable exception of The Wind People, which appeared in IF at the end of Damon Knight’s short-lived tenure as its editor.  She’s just come out with her first book, The Door through Space, which is sitting on my “To Read” shelf.  She’s a bit of an odd duck, having recently founded her own occult religion, the Aquarian Order of the Restoration, filled with trances, discovery of past lives, and clairvoyance.  I guess if L. Ron Hubbard can do it…

Rosel George Brown: I’m on firmer ground with Ms. Brown, an author whom I have watched with avid interest since she first appeared in Galaxy in 1958.  Her stories hinted at a great talent, and her stories had something to recommend them, even if they were not perfect successes.  Her talent flowered with the excellent Step IV, which appeared in Amazing, and her recent Of all possible worlds was even better.  An unabashedly feminine, inarguably terrific writer; I can’t wait to read what she pens next.

Miriam Allen Deford: One of the eldest (ahem…most seasoned!) of the woman authors, Ms. Deford has been writing since the 1920s, though she did not enter our genre in a big way until Fantasy and Science Fiction inaugurated in 1949.  Since then, she has turned out a steady stream of stories.  Their common elements are her slightly quaint style, her versatility (writing horror, mystery, and “straight” sf with equal facility), and her consistency.  She is solid, if not brilliant, and generally a welcome addition to any magazine’s table of contents.

Carol Emshwiller: Say the name “Emshwiller” and you probably first think of the illustrator, Ed Emshwiller, whose drawings have appeared in hundreds (if not thousands) of magazines.  But Carol Emshwiller, who married into that improbable surname, has also appeared frequently in scientifiction magazines.  I am once again embarrassed to confess that I’ve only read one of her stories thus far (this is what comes of only having time to read three digests a month; curse my need for a day job!) Perhaps one of my readers can tell me if A Day at the Beach was representative of her work; I recall enjoying it.  In fact, while I called it forgettable, I still remember it two years later, so I must have been wrong!

I’m going to pause at this point because the list is actually quite lengthy, and I think it merits presentation in multiple parts.  I apologize for the scantiness of my knowledge in places; until one invents a comprehensive Encyclopedia for science fiction works, whereby one can retrieve information about, and stories by, any given author, any one person’s viewpoint will be limited.  I do hope I’ve whetted your appetite, however, and that you will seek out these authors’ work.

See you in a couple of days!

IF only… The Good News (1-29-1959)

Wrapping up my tour of Kaua’i, here are some pictures I took on the south shore estate of Robert Allerton, whose hospitality is as tremendous as his philanthropy (science fiction-related stuff to follow).

For this installment, I’ve got something a little different.  It’s also the good news half of a good/bad news combination. 

If is a science fiction magazine that has been around since 1952.  Amongst the several dozen that have existed throughout the decade, it is perhaps (outside of The Big Three) the best.  I haven’t followed it very closely, and that’s why I missed the big news.

Two issues ago, Damon Knight (acerbic critic and often brilliant writer) was tapped for the job of editor.  I didn’t find out until a couple of weeks ago, by which time, I’d missed the opportunity to buy the October and December 1958 issues.  February 1959 was still on the stands, however, and I took it with me to Kaua’i. 

Perhaps it’s just the rosy glow imparted from having read mostly on the lovely Kalapaki beach, but it’s really good.  I’ve gotten through the first five stories, and they shall be the topic of today’s discussion.

It is, of course, with trepidation that I read the opening piece, Pipe Dream by Fritz Leiber.  As I’ve explained before, I used to like Fritz a lot (who can forget the brilliant A Pail of Air, which appeared in Galaxy many years ago).  His stuff of late, however, has been pretty lousy.  To be fair, it all appeared in F&SF, so that may have something to do with it.  Anyway, Pipe Dream, about the creation of artificial life, is slickly written and atmospheric, but it’s also disturbing and unpleasant, and perhaps not in the way Fritz intended.  I didn’t like it, though I imagine many would.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Wind People is almost a winner.  It is a haunting tale of a ship’s medical officer who elects to remain on a presumably uninhabited planet rather than expose her newborn child to the risks of hyperdrive travel.  Bradley writes powerfully, and the mystery presented as the protagonist and her son make tentative and increasing contact with the furtive natives of the planet is exciting and engaging.  The ending, however, is a let-down.  One had to wonder if Bradley intended for the story to go in a different direction, one in which the editor was afraid to go.  You’ll have to read it and see.  At least it’s by a woman, stars a woman, and takes place in a universe where women make up half of a starship crew.  Progress!

I’ll skip story #3 until the end, as I’ve got a lot to say about that one.  Number four is The Man who tasted Ashes by Algis Budrys.  This is only the third story of his that I’ve read, and the second really good one; I’m going to look forward to more from him (and perhaps pick up earlier ones I’ve missed).  If ever there was an anti-hero, it is the viewpoint character for this story: a petty political intriguer-for-hire who is contracted by an extraterrestrial concern to facilitate World War III.  Good stuff.

Next up: Love and Moondogs by Richard McKenna (a career Navy man who got a writing degree on the G.I.Bill—now there’s the American Way!) This is a silly story about the lengths some might go in the pursuit of their cause, however frivolous, and the hypocrisy often inherent therein.  In this case, the object of outrage is a Soviet moon-muttnik.  Gentle, pleasant satire.

Now back to story #3: The Good Work by relative newcomer Theodore L. Thomas.  Remember when I talked about overpopulation in stories and the laughably small numbers most authors bandy about as too much for our planet?  Well, Thomas doesn’t play around—there are 350 billion souls inhabiting his Earth, and their life is accordingly regimented and drab.  It’s a satirical anti-utopia (a dystopia?).  The core of the story is the search for meaningful work in an age when everyone has just enough, and everything is automated.  The story has one hell of a barbed punchline.

I think this story is particularly relevant given that we are, I believe, on the cusp of a dramatic change in our economy.  Before the industrial revolution, virtually everyone in the United States was employed in the agricultural sector.  By the early 1800s, the industrial and service sectors began to rise as machines created jobs and allowed for the distribution of wealth; this was balanced by a drop of employment on the farm.  Around 1900, employment in the agricultural sector had dropped to 35%, tied with the service sector and only slightly above the industrial sector.  Industrial sector employment rose to a peak of 37% around 1950, and it has begun a gradual but steady decline since.  Agricultural employment was at just over 10% in 1950, and it is plummeting fast.  Service sector employment makes up the rest.

Projecting out another 50 years, agricultural employment will decline logarithmically, with a limit of zero as time goes to infinity.  Industrial employment may take longer, but with mechanization and (ultimately) roboticization, that sector will also see declining employment.  That leaves the service sector, which means that in the end, our economy will consist of nobody making anything, and everyone doing something for each other.  Except, in the future, I imagine machines will also be my servants.  So what will anyone purchase in 50 years to drive the economy?  How will anyone work?  Perhaps we’ll all be scientists and artists in 2009.  More likely, we’ll develop artificial needs for useless products.  Radio advertising has already been honed to a fine art, and the ad execs are figuring out the television advertising game pretty quickly. 

Maybe we’ll all be employed making advertisements.  That sounds fulfilling.

Anyway, I promised good news, so in summation, If with Damon Knight at the helm promises to be a fine magazine. 

The other shoe will drop on the last day of this month…



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