Tag Archives: poul anderson

[October 9, 1962] Middlin’ middle sibling (November 1962 IF Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Another month, another load of science fiction digests delivered to my door.  Normally, they arrive staggered over several weeks (the various publishers know not to step on each other’s toes – the field is now pretty uncrowded, so there’s room for everyone to play), but since I was traveling the last week, I’d already accumulated a small pile upon my return.

Top of the month has been devoted to the magazines edited by famous author/agent Fred Pohl, e.g. Galaxy and IF — and starting next year, Worlds of Tomorrow!  The first two alternate every month, and odd months are IF‘s turn.  Thus, enjoy this review of the November 1962 IF Science Fiction, which was a bit of a slog leavened with bright spots:

Podkayne of Mars (Part 1 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

A few years ago, Robert Heinlein wrote A Menace from Earth.  Unlike virtually every other story to date, it starred (in 1st Person, no less) a precocious teen girl, and it was perhaps the first blend of science fiction and romance.  My 11 year-old (the Young Traveler) adored it and asked me if there was any more like it.  Sadly, there wasn’t. 

Until this month. 

Heinlein’s new novel, Podkayne of Mars, is another 1st Person piece from the viewpoint of a brilliant young woman.  Young Podkayne (Poddy) Fries dreams of becoming a spaceship captain, maybe the first to lead an expedition to the stars.  But to realize her dream, she has to get off of the Red Planet, a sort of futuristic Australia colonized by the best and worst of Terra’s children. 

I tore into Podkayne with a gusto that slowly but inevitably waned.  Have you ever engaged in conversation with a promising raconteur only to find, after a few minutes, that her/his increasingly meandering tale doesn’t and won’t have a point?  And now you’re stuck for the long haul.  That’s Podkayne.  Heinlein simply can’t divorce his rambly, screedy persona from his work.  The result is disturbing, as if there is a creepy old man lurking behind Podkayne’s bright young blue eyes. 

The story is interesting enough to keep me reading, and I appreciate the somewhat progressive treatment of women, but this is a tale that would be served best if written by someone else.  Zenna Henderson might make it too moody; I suspect Rosel George Brown would render it perfectly.  Two stars for this installment, with some improvement at the end.

The Real Thing, by Albert Teichner

Value is determined by scarcity.  When the authentic article is easy to be had, and it is the counterfeit that is rare, we can expect the latter to climb in value.  Someday, we may find plastic to be more desirable than the material it emulates; or we may deem robots to be more human than people.  Teichner’s story explores the latter idea as fully as a few pages will allow, and he pulls it off.  Three stars.

The Reluctant Immortals, by David R. Bunch

Bunch, on the other hand, writing of an overcrowded Earth that has become a driver’s nightmare, does a less convincing job.  There’s good artsy weird, and then there’s tedious artsy weird.  Guess which one this is?  Two stars.

The Desert and the Stars, by Keith Laumer

IF has published a tale of Retief, that interstellar ambassador/superagent, every two months for the last year.  I’m glad Laumer will soon take a break from the character.  I won’t say that this particular piece, in which Retief diplomatically foils an attempt by the Aga Kaga to poach the new farming colony of Flamme, is a story too far – but I think we’re getting there.  Retief’s exploits are getting a little too easy, almost self-parodying.  On the other hand, there are some genuinely funny moments in Desert, and the bit where the diplomat communicates solely in proverbs for several pages is a hoot.  Three stars.

The Man Who Flew, by Charles D. Cunningham, Jr.

A murder mystery in which a telepathic detective puzzles out the how and the who of the untimely demise of his client’s wife; an event with which the detective seems to be uncannily familiar.  This is Cunningham’s first work, and it shows.  It tries too hard at too worn a theme.  Two stars, but let’s see how his next one goes.

Too Many Eggs, by Kris Neville

If the fridge you buy is sold at an unexplained deep discount, you may be getting more than you bargained for – especially if the thing dispenses free food!  I don’t know why I liked this piece so much; it’s just well done and unforced.  Four stars.

The Critique of Impure Reason, by Poul Anderson

Few things can ruin a bright mind like the field of modern literature criticism, and when the mind corrupted belongs to a highly advanced robot on whom the future of space exploitation depends, the tragedy is compounded manyfold.  Only the resurrection of a literary genre seemingly impervious to serious analysis is the answer.  Three stars, though the trip down grad school memory lane was a bit painful.

The Dragon-Slayers, by Frank Banta

A tiny, cute vignette of a simple Venusian peasant family with a dragon problem, and the gift from the boss that proves far more valuable than intended.  Three stars.

In all, 2.6 stars.  Once again, IF leaves the impression that it might someday be a great magazine if it ever grows up.  Nevertheless, no issue yet has compelled me to cancel the subscription, and several have made me glad of it.  May Galaxy’s little sister flower into the beauty of the elder and set a good example for the new baby due next January…




[September 13, 2017] GRAZING THE BAR (the October 1962 Amazing)

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


by John Boston

Space!  Mankind’s dream!  Well, some people’s dream.  A lot of us seem to be more concerned with making a living, taking care of families, trying to keep a straight face at school, and other highly terrestrial activities.  But even in this small town in the boondocks, people mostly seem to take pride in the first human ventures off the planet, though you do hear the occasional grumble that all that money could be better spent right here on Earth.

I wasn’t so confident a couple of years ago, when I witnessed the second most remarkable thing I have seen here.  (First place is claimed by the man I saw walking a raccoon on a leash.  Raccoons do tend to have their own agendas.) I was downtown on a Saturday morning, which is when the farmers come into town to take care of their business.  The banks are open then, which I am told is not the case in larger cities.  The farmers come in their cars, their pickup trucks, and in some cases their horse-drawn wagons, all parked around the courthouse square.  On this Saturday, a man was preaching from the back of one of the wagons . . . against the evils of space travel.  “If Man reaches out to touch the face of God’s Moon,” he thundered, “God will BLAST HIM FROM THE EARTH!” But no one paid any attention, and I’ve heard nothing further about his prophecy.

I was reminded of this episode by the cover story of the October Amazing, Poul Anderson’s Escape from Orbit.  It’s another near-space epic like Third Stage from the February issue, also, like that one, illustrated by a Popular Mechanics-style cutaway depiction of guys in a space vehicle.  The situation: meteor destroys spacecraft, crew escapes in lifecraft without propulsion, now they’re stuck in Moon orbit with no one close enough to rescue them, and a solar flare due in 48 hours.  The only bright spot is that the ship’s big, heavy main air tank is nearby and retrievable, giving them enough to breathe until they get killed by the flare.  The air tank—that’s it!  In a paroxysm of arithmetic (work shown only at the end), the protagonist, second banana at Orbital Command on Earth, sees the solution. 

This five or six pages’ worth of story is stretched to 20 by extensive detail about our hero’s home and inner life, including his unsatisfactory wife, the woman he wishes he had married, his physical deterioration (he’s 34) and how he feels about it, his career anxieties, etc.  It takes five paragraphs to get from the early morning ringing phone to actually answering it, and several pages to get him out the door and on the road to Base.  Maybe somebody told Anderson he needed more human interest in his stories, or maybe he hoped to sell this one to Cosmopolitan (well, no, not with the complaints about the wife) or the Saturday Evening Post.  Whatever.  The whole thing is forced and clumsy.  Two stars.

This month’s “Classic Reprint” is The Young Old Man by Earl L. Bell, from the magazine’s September 1929 issue, which serves mainly to show how boring a story can be even if short.  Campers in the Ozarks encounter a storekeeper who looks about 45 but he’s obviously ancient, just look at his eyes.  The revelation is that immortality, which he received via thaumaturgist in the 11th Century, isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  How fortunate we are that most SF writers these days at least try to develop their ideas, rather than just laying them out like a dead fish on ice.  One star.

Things look up a bit after that one.  Ben Bova has taken a break from his article series and contributed a short story, Answer, Please Answer , about a couple of guys wintering in Antarctica (draftees in a war with the Soviets), who by coincidence are both astronomers.  So in their considerable spare time, they look for extraterrestrial signals from variable stars, and boy do they find them and are they sobering.  This is as much a one-gimmick story as Anderson’s, but it’s much better done by this guy with a decade’s less experience writing fiction.  It builds up smoothly, dropping in just enough background on the characters to make them characters, comes to its revelation, then stops.  Three stars for unpretentious cleverness and competence.

Jeff Sutton’s After Ixmal is readable but silly: a super-computer develops consciousness, albeit the consciousness of a petulant child, tricks humanity into destroying itself, lords it over the dead Earth for eons until it discovers a rival consciousness, and goes to war with it, just because.  As SF it’s barely thought through at all, and as fable or myth or whatever it lacks the necessary sonority, gravitas, etc.  Two stars.

The versatile Robert F. Young, who knows so many ways of being entirely too cute, is back with Boy Meets Dyevitza.  Captain Andrews of the United States Space Force, who thinks he is the first Earth-person on Venus, encounters Major Mikhailovna of the USSR, who is washing her stockings in a stream, having beaten him there the previous day.  As for conditions on Venus, hey, this is science fiction, so: “The data supplied by the Venus probes during the early 60’s, while inconclusive with regard to her cloud-cover, had conclusively disproved former theories to the effect that she lacked a breathable atmosphere and possessed a surface temperature of more than 100 degrees Centigrade, and had prepared him for what he found—an atmosphere richer in oxygen content than Earth’s, a comfortable climate [etc.].” See?  Science!  Extrapolation!  [And complete bollocks — Young should know better.]

Then the human indigenes show up, wearing brass collars; shocked by the Earthfolks’ naked necks, they later kidnap them and put brass collars on them, which can’t be removed by human tools and prevent them from getting very far from each other.  They are married, Venusian style.  But they discover they don’t really mind, and (to summarize brutally) the folks back home say “Awwww,” and—never mind.  Two stars for Young’s usual professional execution, heavily discounted for cloy.

The fiction contents are rounded out by Pattern, the second story in the SF magazines by the very youthful Robert H. Rohrer, Jr. (b. 1946), less slick but more interesting than Young’s polished artifact: a life form consisting of organized electricity tries to take over and consume the energy flows of human spaceship pilot Captain Brenner.  This is not exactly an original plot—see, or remember, van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle—but it’s much better worked out than, say, After Ixmal, with a nasty twist at the end.  Three stars and good if not great expectations for this new writer.

Sam Moskowitz’s SF Profile is The Secret Lives of Henry Kuttner—not one of his best.  Per his custom, he describes Kuttner’s early pulp stories in detail and gives very short shrift to his later and better work, emphasizing his pseudonyms and what Moskowitz thinks is his work’s derivative aspects (sometimes rightly and sometimes decidedly not), and summarizing his career: “Lured by opportunism, suffering from an acute sense of inadequacy, he refused to stand alone, but leaned for support upon a parade of greats: H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Stanley G. Weinbaum, A. Merritt, John Collier, A.E. van Vogt, and, of course, C.L. Moore.” This about the man who by the early ‘40s had become one of the most capable writers in the field, who produced a disproportionate number of the best-remembered stories of the ‘40s and early ‘50s, and whose work was pored over by the likes of Sturgeon and Bradbury.  Terrible analysis, terrible judgment.  Two stars, being generous.

Frank Tinsley, it turns out, isn’t gone.  He’s here with The Nuclear Putt-Putt, an article about Project Orion, a proposed gigantic spaceship to be powered by a succession of nuclear bombs.  Small ones, to be sure, but still.  Especially since this insane behemoth is apparently supposed to launch from Earth.  Can we say radiation?  Fallout?  Not a word about how these are to be contained.  Two stars for overlooking a rather obvious problem.

And Benedict Breadfruit . . . is gone as of this issue.  His last bow is actually reasonably clever . . . unlike most of its predecessors.

So the magazine bumbles along.  The wearying thing is not how bad its worst stories are, but that the top of its range is still readable competence and little more.




[June 23, 1962] Only the Lonely (July 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

In this age of Cold War tensions, it’s a little disconcerting to discover that the United States made two failed attempts this month to detonate a nuclear warhead in space.  The project, whimsically known as Operation Fishbowl, launched Thor missiles from Johnston Island, a tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean under the command of the US Air Force.  The missiles launched on June 2 (Bluegill) and June 19 (Starfish) had to be destroyed in flight due to technical problems.  (Radar lost track of Bluegill, and the Starfish rocket engine stopped prematurely.) Some of the debris from Starfish landed on Johnston Island, potentially contaminating persons stationed on the atoll with radioactive material.

If that weren’t scary enough, the three inmates who escaped from Alcatraz a couple of weeks ago are still at large.  It’s probable that they drowned in San Francisco Bay, but I’d advise those of you who live in the area to keep your doors locked.

Raising the alarm in these troubling times are two newly published documents drawing attention to the problems we face.  The left-wing organization Students for a Democratic Society released a manifesto entitled The Port Huron Statement a week ago, promoting universal disarmament and other social and political reforms through non-violent civil disobedience. 

(It’s interesting to note the cover price is the same as that of the magazine I’ll eventually get around to reviewing.)

At the same time, The New Yorker (which costs ten cents less than Fantastic or The Port Huron Statement) published an excerpt from Silent Spring, an upcoming book from marine biologist Rachel Carson which discusses the danger posed to the environment by chemical pesticides.

With all of this depressing news, it’s not surprising that a melancholy ballad of loneliness and lost love has been at the top of the charts for the entire month.  Ray Charles isn’t the first musician to have a hit with Don Gibson’s 1958 country song I Can’t Stop Loving You — besides Gibson himself, Kitty Wells released a popular version the same year, as did Roy Orbison in 1961 — but his version is by far the most successful.  It seems likely that this unique combination of rhythm and blues with country-western will have a powerful impact on popular music.

In keeping with this mood, it’s appropriate that many of the stories in the current issue of Fantastic feature characters haunted by loneliness, isolation, and lost love.

The great Emsh provides the cover art for The Singing Statues by British author J. G. Ballard.  It takes place in the futuristic resort community of Vermillion Sands, which has already appeared in a handful of Ballard’s stories.  The narrator is an artist who creates sculptures that produce sound in response to those who view them.  (There are also indications that these works of art are somehow grown in the surreal landscape of Vermillion Sands, with its copper beaches and dry sea beds.) A beautiful, wealthy, and reclusive young woman purchases one of his works, believing that it sings to her in a way which perfectly reflects her soul.  Unbeknownst to her, however, the artist has actually placed an electronically distorted recording of his own voice inside it.  When the recording runs out, he goes to her luxurious home under the pretext of making repairs to the statue, actually placing new recordings within it.  His deception leads to unexpected revelations.  Ballard writes with a fine sense for imagery.  His tales of the decadent inhabitants of Vermillion Sands may not be for all tastes, but they are skillfully rendered works of art.  Four stars.

This month’s Fantasy Classic is The Dragon of Iskander by Nat Schachner, from the pages of the April, 1934 issue of Top-Notch, a magazine which published adventure fiction from 1910 to 1937. 

Things start with a bang, as an archeological expedition in a mountainous region of Chinese Turkestan is attacked by a flying, fire-breathing dragon.  Our two-fisted American hero, along with his loyal servant and a couple of suspicious characters, makes his way into the mountains, where he discovers a lost kingdom founded by Alexander the Great.  Daring escapes and violent action results, and it’s no surprise that a beautiful young woman shows up to stand by the hero’s side.  This story is typical of old-fashioned pulp action yarns, and certainly moves at the speed of lightning.  It’s marred by some casual racism (the Chinese character is often called “yellow,” and non-Americans are generally cowardly and treacherous) and the fact that the true nature of the dragon isn’t terribly convincing.  Two stars.

After this tale of an isolated nation, we turn to a story about a lonely individual.  A Drink of Darkness by Robert F. Young deals with a man who has destroyed his marriage and ruined his life through alcohol.  At the end of his rope, he meets a gaunt man who takes him to a strange land where a journey across a dark plain leads him to a towering mountain.  The alcoholic assumes that the gaunt man is Death.  During their trek he opens mysterious doors which lead to various times in his past life.  He relives the loss of his happiness to the bottle.  This is a bleak story, but it offers a glimmer of hope.  The true identity of the gaunt man is concealed until the end, although an astute reader may pick up a clue earlier.  Whether or not you believe the twist ending is appropriate, you are likely to respond to the story’s emotional power.  Four stars.

The second half of Poul Anderson’s short novel Shield continues the adventures of the fellow who has invented a force field.  Held captive by a crime boss, sought by both the Americans and Chinese for the secret of his invention, he receives help from an unexpected source.  An extended chase follows at a fast and furious pace.  Not quite as interesting as the first half, this section still provides plenty of action and a complex, fully developed character in the aide/mistress of the crime boss, who proves to be another example of the persons suffering from emotional loss in this issue.  Three stars.

The people in The Thinking Disease by Albert Teichner have become isolated from each other by their own technology.  Robots designed to self-destruct when there is any possibility of harming human beings (with a nod to Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics) somehow change from loyal servants to berserk killers at unpredictable times.  Their masters live in fear of leaving their homes.  The protagonist discovers a way to project his consciousness outside his body, enabling him to fight off the rebel machines.  The explanation for how the robots could hurt people, and the manner in which they can be controlled, is rather disappointing.  Two stars.

One Long Ribbon is, I believe, the first published story from Florence Engel Randall.  The protagonist is a recently widowed mother with a young son.  Her husband was a pilot, stationed at one air base after another, who was never able to give her a stable home.  Years before his death, he made arrangements to purchase a house for her in case of his demise.  When she moves in, she discovers that the other people living on her street act as if they can’t see her.  Her son claims that he can’t see the children that she sees playing outside.  This is a Twilight Zone kind of story with an unexpected explanation for its strange events.  Four stars.

Overall, this is a pretty good issue, although I wouldn’t recommend reading it alone.

[May 26, 1962] Home is the Sailor (June 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

In recent days the eyes of the world were focused on the most important event yet during the administration of President Kennedy. No, not Scott Carpenter’s successful, if suspenseful, orbiting of the Earth, so ably reported by our host. I’m talking about Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to the leader of the free world in a skintight beaded dress that drew at least as much attention as her little girl’s voice.

In other musical news, after three weeks at the top of the Billboard’s Hot 100 with their smash hit Soldier Boy, the Shirelles, pioneers of the girl group sound, have yielded the position to British clarinetist Mr. Acker Bilk with his performance of Stranger on the Shore.  (Bilk is only the second artist from across the pond to make it to Number One on the American pop charts. The first was just slightly less than a decade ago, when Vera Lynn reached that position with Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart. I suppose we’ll have to wait another ten years before the British invade the Yankee airwaves again.)

Bilk’s haunting, melancholy melody could easily serve as background music for the cover story in the June 1962 issue of Fantastic.

Another beautiful painting from young artist George Barr graces the latest offering from editor Cele Goldsmith.  It perfectly suits – and, I imagine, provided the inspiration for – Robert F. Young’s lead novelette The Star Fisherman.

The protagonist’s profession takes him deep into interstellar space, where he uses nets to capture small meteors which are used as jewels to be worn in women’s hair.  Already the reader can tell that this is a romantic and poetic tale with the mood of a legend.  I was reminded, to some extent, of the work of Cordwainer Smith.  The fisherman captures the body of an old man in a spacesuit and a photograph of a young woman in the severe clothing of a religious cult.  He instantly falls obsessively in love with her and uses the clue of her attire to track her down.

The author takes many risks here.  He deliberately offers us a science fiction story which has the mood of fantasy.  He walks a very thin line between heartfelt emotion and sentimentality.  He creates a character with whom one must empathize, but who sometimes does terrible things.  I believe that he succeeds, as well as constructing an intricately designed plot which leads to an inevitable conclusion.  For all these reasons I must award a full five stars.

I wish I could say the same about Ended by David R. Bunch, since I have generally been a defender of his unique style.  Unfortunately, this story begins in such an opaque manner that I had no idea what was happening.  Eventually it becomes clear that two very strange characters who were about to fight each other instead dig down to a region where they are offered the opportunity to pay for hedonistic pleasures.  Apparently the author intends a satire of the modern world ignoring the possibility of universal destruction and instead wasting time in pursuit of escapism.  With a character named Glob Gloul the Gloul and a place called the Hall of Hedo-and-a-Ho-ho, it’s hard to take the allegory seriously.  Two stars.

A step up is the first half of Poul Anderson’s short novel Shield.  It’s a fast-moving, action-packed adventure story set in a thoughtfully worked out future which is only revealed slowly as the plot progresses, much in the manner of Robert A. Heinlein.  The protagonist has just returned to Earth from one of several missions to Mars, which is inhabited by intelligent life.  (The author is wise enough to provide only a glimpse of these aliens, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination.) With the help of a Martian friend, he has invented a device which creates a force field around the wearer.  Anderson provides a plausible explanation for this technology, and describes its abilities and limitations in realistic detail. 

Although the hero is intelligent and capable, he is young and somewhat naïve about political realities.  Not realizing the full importance of his invention, he is soon pursued by American Military Security agents, who are the most powerful force in a world where the United States, after a nuclear war, has forced all other nations to disarm.  He is also the target of Chinese spies.  (The Soviet Union is not mentioned, and the reader may presume that it was the loser of the war.) As if that were not enough, he has to fight off low level crooks as well as a sinister crime lord and his beautiful assistant.  It all reads like a futuristic version of one of Ian Fleming’s bestselling spy novels.  The author writes in a vivid, clear style and draws the reader into the story right from the beginning.  Although the crime boss is a bit of a stereotype, his female aide is a complex, fully realized character.  Four stars.

This issue’s so-called Fantasy Classic is less than a decade old.  The Past Master by Robert Bloch is reprinted from the January 1955 issue of Bluebook.  Three different viewpoint characters are used to tell the tale of a mysterious man who arrives out of nowhere with immense amounts of money.  He attempts to purchase many great works of art.  When legitimate methods fail, he hires criminals to obtain them.  The man’s motive may not come as a great surprise to readers of science fiction, but the story is effectively told.  The author’s ability to write in a trio of distinct voices is a nice plus.  Three stars.

By coincidence, both Fantastic and this month’s issue of Analog offer stories about weather control.  “Rain, Rain, Go Away” by James A. Cox deals with the political effects of such technology as well as its unintended consequences.  It’s fairly predictable and not very engaging.  Two stars.

***

Robert F. Young’s tragic love story alone is worth paying a dime and a quarter for the magazine.  Whether Poul Anderson is able to maintain the suspense of his novel remains to be seen.

[February 26, 1962] Record Beating (March 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

You’ve almost assuredly heard of Radio Corporation of America (RCA).  They make radios (naturally), but also record players, televisions, computers.  They have produced the foundations of modern consumer electronics, including the color television standard and the 45 rpm record.  And now, they’ve really outdone themselves: they’ve created cassettes for tape recording.

Until now, if you wanted to listen to music or a radio show, you had to either buy it as a pre-recorded album or record it yourself.  The only good medium for this was the Reel to Reel tape recorder – great quality, but rather a bother.  I’ve never gotten good at threading those reels, and storing them can be a hassle (tape gets crinkled, the reels unspool easily, etc.).  With these new cassettes, recording becomes a snap.  If the price goes down, I’ll have to get me one.

What brought up this technological tidbit?  Read on about the March 1962 Analog, and the motivation for this introduction will be immediately apparent.

His Master’s Voice, by Randall Garrett

The RCA-themed title for Garrett’s latest is most appropriate.  Voice is the next in the exploits of the ship called McGuire.  As we learned in the first story, McGuire is a sentient spacecraft that has imprinted on a specific person – an interplanetary double-agent working for the United Nations.  Like the last story, Voice is a whodunnit, and a bit better handled one than before, as well.  Garrett’s slowly improving, it seems.  Three stars.

Uncalculated Risk, by Christopher Anvil

Every silver lining has a cloud, and every scientific advance is a double-edged sword.  Anvil likes his scientific misadventure satires.  This one, about a soil additive that proves potentially subtractive to the world’s arable land, is preachy but fun.  Three stars.

Rough Beast, by Roger Dee

The most fearsome carnivore in the known universe breaks free from an interstellar zoo and runs amok on one of the Floria Keys.  Can a group of scientists, a host of pacifist aliens, one cranky moonshiner, and a nervous tomcat stop the creature in time?  A shaky, over-adjectived beginning, but the rest is a lot of fun (and I guessed the ending moments before it was revealed).  Four stars.

The Iron Jackass, by John Brunner

Brunner is a prolific author whose work I’ve rarely encountered, perhaps because he’s based across the pond; Rosemary Benton plans to review his newest book next month.  Jackass is a fun tale involving an off-world steel mill, the Central European miners who work it and shun automation, and the robots that threaten to put the miners out of business.  I saw shades, in Jackass, of the recent Route 66 episode, First-Class Mouliak, which took place in a Polish steel community in Pennsylvania.  Three stars. 

Power Supplies for Space Vehicles (Part 2 of 2), by J. B. Friedenberg

Mr. Friedenberg has returned to tell us more about motors of the space age.  This time, it’s all about solar-heated turbines, and it’s just about as exciting as last time.  I give credit to Friedenberg for his comprehensiveness, if not his ability to entertain.  Two stars.

Epilogue, by Poul Anderson

Anderson is going through a phase, digging on somber, after-the-end stories (witness After Doomsday).  His latest novella takes place fully three billion years in the future, after humanity has destroyed itself and self-repairing and replicating machines have taken over.  Sparks fly between silicon and carbon-based life when a crew of time-lost humans returns to its mother planet for one last farewell. 

An excellent idea, and Anderson’s typically deft characterizations, are somewhat mitigated by robots that are a bit too conventional in their culture (no matter how radical their physiology), and by the fact that, in the end, Epilogue becomes a straight technical puzzle story.  Four stars.

The Numbers

This all adds up to a 3.2-star issue, respectable for any magazine and downright shocking for Analog.  This makes it the #2 digest for March 1962 (behind F&SF at 3.8, and ahead of IF (3.2), Amazing (2.8), and Fantastic (2.5).  Women once again wrote just two of this month’s pieces, one of which was a tiny poem.  The best stories came out in F&SF, the best of which is hard to determine – the Pangborn, the Young, or the Wellman?

Stay tuned for Fantastic to start the exciting month of March!

[Feb. 10, 1962] Here is the News (March 1962 IF)


by Gideon Marcus

If “no news is good news,” then this has been a very good week, indeed!  The Studebaker UAW strike ended on the 7th.  The Congo is no more restive than usual.  Laos seems to be holding a tenuous peace in its three-cornered civil war.  The coup is over in the Dominican Republic, the former government back in power.  John Glenn hasn’t gone up yet, but then, neither have any Russians. 

And while this month’s IF science fiction magazine contains nothing of earth-shattering quality, there’s not a clunker in the mix – and quite a bit to enjoy!  Get a load of these headlines:

SURE THING

Poul Anderson’s Kings who Die leads the issue.  Anderson has been writing a blue streak over the past decade, and I don’t think I’ve disliked any of his work since this decade started.  One of my readers has noted Anderson’s tendency toward the somber (A Bicycle Built for Brew and The High Crusade not withstanding), but I like a bit of gravitas in my stories. 

Kings who Die tells the moving tale of a shipwrecked astro-soldier picked up by The Enemy in the depths of space.  The captive is induced to join his foes, who have developed a super-weapon.  But in the end, it turns out that the prisoner has a weapon of his own, one hidden deep inside of him.

Told by most others, this would be a throwaway gimmick piece.  Anderson puts flesh on the bones of this story, despite it being rather short.  Four stars.

NO SUPRISES

I don’t think Jim Harmon has missed an issue of IF in good long time.  This is generally to the reader’s favor as Harmon oscillates between fair and superior (if never great or awful).  Dangerous Quarry has a cute title, but this tale of a town and its bad-luck mine of luxury granite feeles dashed off, metering in at around sin of π (or three stars).

AUTHOR KICKS SELF

I usually don’t review Ted Sturgeon’s nonfiction pieces, but this month’s was long enough, and about an interesting-enough topic (Murray Leinster’s myriad of nifty scientific inventions – real, not literary), that I felt it worth a rating: Three stars.

LOST CAT

I normally associate Stephen Barr’s surreal stylings with Fantasy and Science Fiction, in whose pages I usually find him.  His latest story, Tybalt, thus, is an odd (but not unwelcome) addition to this month’s IFTybalt has the distinction of being the first story I’ve read to feature time travel by aid of chemicals (as opposed to using a machine), and its feline-tinged middle section is excellent.  Too bad about the rather rough ending, though.  Three stars, though I am reasonably certain this will be a favorite of some of my readers.


by Burns

TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE

Frank Banta is back again with The Happy Homicide, a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on circumstantial evidence, particularly when the jury is sympathetic to the circumstances.  Never rely on a computer, at least so long as Perry Mason is around!  Three stars.

IT DOESN’T MATTER

James Stamers continues his upward trend with E Being.  The premise is fantastic: a pilot on the first Faster Than Light flight is converted into energy, fundamentally changing his nature but not his soul.  Upon this transformation, he finds himself in a community of radiation-eating, incorporeal creatures with a rather unique perspective on life (or perhaps it is we, the comparatively rare beings made up of…stuff…that are the oddballs).

I would have liked a serious exploration of these concepts, something philosophical and profound (e.g. The Star Dwellers, by James Blish).  Instead, Stamers plays the story for horror and laughs (an odd combination, but it works) and E Being ends up a fun tale, if a lost opportunity.  Three stars.

RETIEF STRIKES AGAIN!

The best-known interstellar diplomat is back, this time attempting to solve the mystery of the misplaced heavy cruiser.  Laumer’s The Madman from Earth plays Retief a bit straighter than I’m used to, which I think is to the story’s ultimate benefit.  However, Laumer commits the whodunnit writer’s cardinal sin: he never explains just how Retief gains the critical piece of information on which his success hinges.  Three stars.

NOW YOU SEE IT…

Wrapping things up is a charming piece of whimsy by R.A. Lafferty (who else?) called Seven-Day Terror, which involves a thieving brat, who absconds with necessary items, and the precocious little girl who sets things to rights.  Four stars, making this issue a worthy palindrome. 

Read all about it!


by Emsh

[January 9, 1962] Unfortunate Tale (Anderson’s Day After Doomsday)


by Gideon Marcus

The Earth is dead, its verdant continents and azure oceans replaced with a roiling hell.  The crew of the Benjamin Franklin, humanity’s first interstellar ship, gaze on the holocaust in horror.  Are they only humans left?  Do any of Terra’s other ships (particularly the all woman-crewed Europa) still survive?  And most of all, who is responsible for this, the greatest of crimes?

This is the setup for Poul Anderson’s newest book, Day after Doomsday, serialized in the last two issues of Galaxy.  Like his previous The High Crusade, Doomsday features a tiny splinter of humanity thrust on the galactic stage in a fight for its very existence.  Unlike that earlier book, however, Doomsday‘s tone is somber.  It’s a mood Anderson does expertly, his lugubrious Scandinavian nature suffusing much of his work.

There is much to enjoy about the first three fifths of this book.  The setting is excellent.  Our galaxy is divided into innumerable clusters of societies, true unification precluded by the relative slowness of interstellar travel.  Several of our neighboring races discover the Earth somewhere around the 1970s, and a productive trade ensues.  But shortly after Earthers begin leaving their homeworld, an alien faction destroys Sol’s best planet.  Suspects are legion – could it be the artistic avian Monwaingi?  The individualistic noble Vorlakka?  The nomadic and ruthless Kandimirians?  Or was it a kind of grisly racial suicide?  You don’t find out until the end.

I appreciated the near-equal time Anderson devoted to the all-female crew, who are as resourceful and strong as one would hope (Anderson does not have trouble writing strong woman characters).  In fact, all of the players are well-drawn.  From catatonia to mania, the response to the destruction of Earth, both immediate and long after, is plausible and far-ranging. 

But somewhere around page 80, the book starts to fall apart.  What had been a string of exciting vignettes articulating two parallel story arcs deftly mixing despair and hope suddenly becomes a fragmented chunk of exposition that tries to tie together the free-hanging threads.  It feels as if a good 60 pages were cut out of the story leaving an unsatisfactory skeleton. 

Was this an artifact of the medium?  Will the novelized version (as I imagine will inevitably appear) be more rewarding?  I guess we’ll have to wait.  As is, it’s a mediocre effort – readable but disappointing.

Three stars.

[January 4, 1962] Over the top…Barely (February 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Life is full of happy surprises!  At long last Amazing has crossed a line: nothing in the the February 1962 issue is worse than three stars, and the average is a little higher.  Read on; I think you’ll agree that there is much to enjoy in this, the first magazine of the month:

Mark Clifton’s serial Pawn of the Black Fleet concludes in this issue.  It continues Clifton’s series about Ralph Kennedy, a corporate personnel director (as was Clifton) who appeared in four stories from 1953 to 1957 dealing with various psi manifestations.  Back then, Clifton appeared so often in Astounding that some called it the Clifton House Organ, though most of his recent work has appeared elsewhere.

Here, Kennedy is mistakenly dragooned into a job as Extraterrestrial Psychologist for the Space Navy, where he quickly learns the game of bureaucratic aggrandizement.  There are no extraterrestrials to psychologize at first, but soon enough a flight of black disks (the titular “Black Fleet”) appears, striking terror and sowing confusion until radiant globes show up and spectacularly dispatch them in what only Kennedy realizes is a complete put-on.  The aliens from the globes then manifest as five regular guys with heavy Texas accents, communicating frankly only with Kennedy.  After a brief interlude at Blair House, they go sightseeing around the Earth, irrigating deserts, making paths through jungles, and making Siberia and similar places livable as they go.  Then they depart, letting everything revert to its prior condition, telling the world that now you know what needs to be done and how to do it, and we’ll catch you later when you develop star travel and come visit us.  A subplot involves the machinations of Harvey Strickland, a media mogul resembling a cartoon of William Randolph Hearst on stilts, a comically evil figure, and obese to boot (confirming his awfulness, apparently).

This novella’s worth of plot is larded with extensive and heavy-handed satirical screeds about federal bureaucracy and its status obsessions, the military, the gullibility and prejudices of humanity at large, and similar subjects, some voiced or enacted by the characters (especially Strickland), but most in the authorial voice.  One rant about the military mind consumes more than a page of text.  (Now we know why this did not appear in Analog: nobody but the editor gets to rant at that length.) Clifton has apparently given up on “Show, don’t tell.” Some of these bloated lampoons are quite well written and therefore amusing, but collectively they become tedious, though their effect cannot be conveyed without quoting more than is manageable in the cramped quarters of this long-haul vessel.  Satire of bureaucracy is nothing new in Clifton’s work (see the previous Ralph Kennedy stories), but this one is less like being pricked with a needle and more like being beaten over the head with a sandbag.  Satire has yielded to self-indulgent and over-the-top misanthropy.  See for yourself when, as the magazine promises, a version appears next month from Doubleday as When They Come from Space.  Three stars.

The lead story is Poul Anderson’s Third Stage, a near-space and near-time opera featuring two astronauts who get stuck in orbit in the Van Allen belt.  Someone has to go outside the vehicle and clear the blocked valve, taking a fatal radiation dose.  Which one?  How to decide?  (The General bucks it to the President.) Also featured is an obnoxious TV guy who is harassing the astronauts’ families for human interest shots.  Capably and tensely done, but mechanical.  Three stars.

Third Stage is illustrated by another hardware-intensive hyper-literal cover, this one with a fillip: the space capsule is presented in cutaway, like something in Popular Mechanics.  Conceivably, artist Alex Schomburg is being subtler than he seems: the TV guy at one point displays a cutaway of the capsule on the air, described similarly to the cover.  So maybe it is meant to present an image of an image—appropriate to the media-centric aspect of the story.

Amazing’s “Classic Reprint” series is selected from the magazine’s early days and introduced by Sam Moskowitz, the leading (virtually the only) historian of the genre.  This issue’s Classic is Missionaries from the Sky by Stanton A. Coblentz, prolific in the 1920s and ‘30s, and known as a satirist.  And, based on my reading of several novels, a right old bore.  At short length, however, Coblentz’s verbose and antiquated style is more tolerable. 

Rand the electronic scientist has a new invention, which he shows to his assistant Denison:

“ ‘You behold here a Micro-Crystalline Televisor,’ explained Rand, surveying his invention proudly.  ‘The first of its kind ever created.’ ”

“ ‘Micro-Crystalline what?’ I gasped.”

Rand has managed to contact Mars, learning and teaching the respective languages, and the Martians are horrified to learn that Earth still has nations and wars, not to mention inequality and starvation.  They have offered to pop over and set us right, if Rand will just give them the go-ahead and direct them to a flat place to land.  He agonizes about the boons of peace and equality versus the loss of freedom until he finally flips, melodramatically smashing his equipment and burning his notes, a now-mad scientist in a better cause than usual.  Three stars for this reasonably pleasant and charming relic.

The remaining fiction items read as if they had wandered over from Amazing’s companion Fantastic.  A. Earley, apparently a new writer, contributes And It Was Good, a religious allegory in which somebody who seems to be Jesus returns to a post-apocalyptic war-ridden world and lightens the burdens of a few hopeless deserters from different countries’ armies until he gets blown up by a grenade.  Usually I have no patience with this kind of thing, but it is so well written and visualized, and light-handed despite its overtness (parse that if you dare), and so different in flavor from the rest of the magazine, I’m giving it four stars. 

John Jakes, by contrast, is a veteran of Amazing since 1950, with 50+ low-impact stories in the SF magazines and several dozen more elsewhere.  He perpetrates the cheerfully grotesque Recidivism Preferred, in which dashing thief Mellors (no relation, I’m sure) has been reduced after apprehension to a dull and withdrawn clerk in Lumpkin’s Emporium.  But he is visited by three surreally cartoonish characters who prove determined to break the conditioning that has rendered him both law-abiding and vacuous.  This is comedy so black as to be Stygian, and would rate higher were it not for the silly and deflating revelation of the rescuers’ motives.  Too bad.  Maybe someday a more ambitious writer can make something of the tradeoff between therapeutic rehabilitation and mental and moral freedom.  Three stars.

Sam Moskowitz has another in his series of “SF Profiles,” this one titled Theodore Sturgeon: No More Than Human.  Remarkably, the latest Sturgeon work mentioned is More Than Human, published in 1953; there is no reference to any of his numerous subsequent short stories and novelettes, or to his recent novels The Cosmic Rape (1958) or Some of Your Blood (1961), except for a general acknowledgment of his “steady literary production…with a continuous striving for higher achievement.” Nonetheless, it’s an interesting account of Sturgeon’s life and earlier career, with speculation about why he’s been doing so well recently, and there’s nothing else like these articles.  Four stars, as much for ground-breaking as anything else.

So ends an above-water issue, and just in time to return to my less exciting (for once) school-related reading.  Until next month!

[Dec. 30, 1961] Finishing Strong (January 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

At the end of a sub-par month, I can generally count on The Magazine and Science Fiction to end things on a positive note.  F&SF has been of slightly declining quality over the past few years, but rarely is an issue truly bad, and this one, for January 1962, has got some fine works inside.

Christmas Treason, by Ulsterian peacenik James White, starts things off with a literal bang as a gang of toddler espers attempt to save Christmas with the help of the world’s nuclear arsenal.  It’s nothing I haven’t seen Sturgeon do before, but it is charming and effective.  Four stars.

Kate Wilhelm has made a name for herself in the past several years, being a regular contributor to many science fiction magazines, Sadly, A Time to Keep, about a fellow with a pathological aversion to doorways, does not make much sense.  Not one of her better tales.  Two stars.

Every so often, some wag will write a “clever” piece on the need to send girls to service man astronauts on the long journeys to Mars.  Jay Williams’ Interplanetary Sex is the latest, and it’s as awful as the rest.  Casual reference to rape?  Check.  Stereotypical portrayal of married couples (henpecked husband and nagging shrew wife)?  Check.  It’s the sort of thing that will provide ample archaeological data on this era 55 years from now, but offers little else in value. 

HOWEVER, there are a few paragraphs near the end depicting a sentient cell’s mitosis written in florid romance novel style, and it’s genuinely funny.  You can skip to it…and skip the rest.  Two stars.

Maria Russell’s The Deer Park appears to be her first story, and it’s a fine freshman effort.  It effectively (albeit in an often difficult-to-parse manner) depicts a decadent future humanity entrapped in fantasy worlds of individual creation.  It’s hard to break out of a gilded cage, and the outside world is sometimes no improvement.  Three stars.

Ron Goulart’s occult detective, Max Kearney, is back in Please Stand By.  This time,the private dick has been enlisted by a hapless were-Elephant, the victim (or beneficiary?) of a magic spell.  It’s a charming story, and Goulart has an excellent talent for writing without exposition.  Four stars.

I didn’t much care for Asimov’s science column this month, The Modern Demonology.  The subject of Maxwell’s Demon, that metaphorical creature who can trade energetic for lazy atoms across two buckets such that one gets cold and one gets hot, is a good one.  However, the Good Doctor than meanders into philosophical territory, positing the existence of an evolutionary equivalent, a “Darwin’s Demon,” and it’s just sort of a muddy mess.  Three Stars.

Newcomer Nils T. Peterson is back with Prelude to a Long Walk, a somber short story about a static man in a growing world.  Not really science fiction, but memorable all the same.  Four stars.

Progress, by Poul Anderson, is a long-awaited sequel to The Sky People, both set in a post-apocalyptic future in which several nations of the world struggle toward modern civilization.  They are hampered both by a critical lack of resources, fossil fuels and metals, but also a fear of duplicating the catastrophe that threw them into a new Stone Age. 

Our heroes are once again representatives of the Polynesian Federation, if not the most technically advanced, probably the most progressive socially.  Ranu Makintairu and Alisabeta Kanukauai make charming protagonists, but Progress reads like a watered down vignette of Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.  It also has that smugly superior tone I associate with Analog.  Three stars.

The issue wraps up with a inconsequential poem, To the Stars by heretofore unknown James Spencer.  To discuss it further would take more words than Mr. Spencer wrote.  Two stars.

That wraps up magazines for this month, and boy is there a lot to compare!  F&SF was the clear winner, clocking in at 3.1 stars.  IF was number #2 at 2.9.  Cele Goldsmith’s mags, Fantastic and Amazing tied at 2.5 stars, and Analog finished at a dismal 2.3 stars.

Each of the mags, save for Amazing, had at least one 4-star story in it.  I give the nod for best piece to Piper’s Naudsonce, though Christmas Treason is close.  Out of 28 pieces of fiction, a scant two were written by women (and if we’re just including the Big Three, as I have in the past, then the ratio is still bad: two out of eighteen).  On the other hand, two of the five magazines were edited by a Ms. Goldsmith, so there’s something.

Next up, Ms. Benton reviews the latest Blish novel!

[August 2, 1961] Between Two Worlds (Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions)


Gideon Marcus

Have you ever wanted to throw yourself into a fantasy world?  Tour through Middle Earth?  Plan a trip in Narnia?  Who hasn’t imagined themselves rubbing elbows with Robin Hood or Jason’s Argonauts?

Some folks have gone so far as to write their own cross-world adventures, much to the delight of their readers.  L. Frank Baum made it a common practice to feature immigrants from the “real world” to Oz.  L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, in their Incomplete Enchanter, detailed the travels of Earth-dweller Harold Shea through Norse Mythology and The Faerie Queen.

And now, the esteemed Poul Anderson has taken a stab at the genre with Three Hearts and Three Lions.  Our protagonist is Holger Carlsen, a broad-shouldered but bashful engineer from Denmark who joins the resistance when his country is invaded in World War 2 by Germany.  At the peak of a pitched battle with Nazis, Holger is explosively propelled into another world. 

At first blush, it is a world remarkably like our own, though in an earlier time.  How else to explain the identical constellations, the existence of France, Spain, Saracens, and the Holy Roman Empire?  But then, what business do real witches have in medieval Europe?  Or, for that matter, trolls, dwarves, Morgan le Fay, and a swan-may named Alianora? 

Holger, it seems, has taken on the role (if not the memories) of The Defender, this world’s greatest hero.  As on Earth, a war is brewing between the forces of Law and Chaos, and Holger is somehow the key to both conflicts.  Through a series of adventures, the inadvertent (but capable!) Sir Holger must wend his way through the lands of Faerie and humanity on a quest to save the day.

Anderson demonstrated his knack for archaic language in his recent The High Crusade.  He uses it to good effect in Hearts, though the thick Scottish accents, rendered faithfully, can be a bit confusing at first.  The setting he paints and the characters we meet are portrayed as vividly as ere we saw them in The Song of Roland or The Death of Arthur.  Many of the chapters are almost stand-alone stories, by turns hilarious and gripping.  I usually find scenes of battle to be tiresome, but Anderson knows how to make them exciting.

A fun thread that runs through Hearts is its scientific consistency.  While fantastic, magical things indisputably exist in Holger’s new world, most rules of science still hold, which the engineer-protagonist uses to good advantage.  For instance, who knew that faeries’ aversion to sunlight was a simple UV-allergy?

I won’t spoil another inch of Hearts.  Suffice it to say that it only gets better as it goes along, and Anderson has done a splendid job of translating traditional medieval fantasy for a modern audience. 

Four stars.