Tag Archives: raymond banks

[July 27, 1960] Footloose and Fancy Free (Japan and the August 1960 Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Perhaps the primary perquisite of being a writer (certainly not the compensation, though Dr. Asimov is the happy exception) is the ability to take one’s work anywhere.  Thanks to ‘faxes and patient editors, all of this column’s readers can follow me around the world.  To wit, I am typing this article in the lounge of my hotel deep in the heart of Tokyo, the capital of the nation of Japan. 

Japan is virtually a second home for me and my family, and we make it a point to travel here as often as time and funds permit.  Now that the Boeing 707 has shrunk the world by almost 50%, I expect our travels to this amazing, burgeoning land will increase in frequency.

Tokyo, of course, is one of the world’s biggest cities, and the crowds at Shinjuku station attest to this.  And yet, there are still plenty of moments of almost eerie solitude–not just in the parks and temples, but in random alleyways.  There are always treasures to find provided one is willing to look up and down (literally–only a fraction of Tokyo’s shops is located on the ground floor!)

Gentle readers, I have not forgotten the main reason you read my column.  In fact, the timing of my trip was perfect, allowing me to take all of the September 1960 digests with me to the Orient.  But first, I need to wrap up last month’s batch of magazines.  To that end, without further ado, here is the August 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction!

Robert F. Young has the lead short story, Nikita Eisenhower Jones.  I’d liked his To Fell a Tree very much, so I was looking forward to this one, the story of a young Polynesian who finagles his way onto the first manned mission to Pluto only to find it a lonely, one-way trip.  Sadly, while the subject matter is excellent, the tale is written in a way that keeps the reader at arm’s length and thus fails to engage in what could have been an intensely powerful, personal story. 

The Final Ingredient is a different matter altogether.  Jack Sharkey had thus far failed to impress, so I was surprised to find him in F&SF, a higher caliber magazine, in my opinion.  But this tale, involving a young girl whose efforts at witchraft are frustrated until she abandons love entirely and embraces wickedness, is quite good indeed. 

John Suter’s The Seeds of Murder, a reprint from F&SF’s sister magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery, is about telling the future through regressive (or in this case progressive) hypnosis.  It’s cute, but something I’d expect to find in one of the lesser mags.  I suppose this should come as no surprise–this is Suter’s first and only science fiction/fantasy story, so far as I can tell.

Rosel George Brown is back with another dark tale: Just a Suggestion.  When aliens subtly introduce the idea that the way to win friends and influence people is to be less impressive than one’s peers, the result is economic downturn and, ultimately, planetary destruction.  Obviously satirical; rather nicely done.

This brings us to Robert Arthur’s novelette, Miracle on Main Street.  A boy wishes on a unicorn horn that all of the folks in his small town, good and bad, should get what they deserve.  There is no ironic twist, no horrifying consequences.  It’s a simple tale (suitable for children, really) that very straightforwardly details the results of the wish.  It should be a vapid story; Arthur goes out of his way to ensure there are no surprises.  Yet, I enjoyed it just the same.  I suppose a little unalloyed charm is nice every so often. 

The Revenant, by Raymond Banks, is a fascinating little story about human space travelers who explore a planet less fixed in sequence and probability than ours.  Their lives are far less dependable, but infinitely more varied and interesting.  The closest approximation would be if our dreams were our waking lives and vice versa (and perhaps this was the tale’s inspiration).  Good stuff.

Avram Davidson has a one-pager, Climacteric, about a man who goes hunting dragons in search of romance.  He finds both.  It is followed by G.C.Edmondson’s Latin-themed The Sign of the Goose, a strangely written story about an alien visitation that, frankly, made little sense to me.  It stars the same eccentrics as The Galactic Calabash.

Asimov has an article about the Moon as a vacation spot whose main attraction is the lovely view of Earth.  Catskills in the Sky, it is called, and it’s one of his weaker entries.

Finally, we have Stephen Barr’s Calahan and the Wheelies, about an inventor who creates a species of wheeled little robots with the ability to learn.  The concept is captivating, and the execution largely plausible.  Sadly, the story sort of degenerates into the standard sci-fi trope: the robots, of course, become sentient and rather malicious.  It’s played for laughs, but I can just imagine a more serious story involving similar machines being put to all sorts of amazing uses.  Imagine a semi-smart machine that rolled around your house vacuuming and mopping your floor.  Or a programmable dog-walker.  I like robots that don’t look like people or act like living things, but which are indispensible allies to humanity.  I want more stories featuring them.

All told, I think this issue clocks in about a shade over 3 stars.  A thoroughly typical F&SF, which is no bad thing.

See you in a few days with more from the Land of the Rising Sun!

[Apr. 29, 1960] A Banks Shot (June 1960 Galaxy, Part 2)

Without preamble, let’s get to the second half of this month’s Galaxy, the June 1960 issue.  I hope you’ve all been reading along with me because there will be a quiz next period.


by Wood

Jack Sharkey is a prolific newcomer who started out in the lesser mags.  His The Dope on Mars, the first-hand account of a journalist sent to the Red Planet, is fair.  The title actually is a clever (if intentional) pun, as it suggests both the true story about Mars and the moron sent to cover it.  And that’s ultimately what I found frustrating—the reporter really comes off as a putz.  On the other hand, recalling my competition back in my reporting days, perhaps the depiction isn’t that far off the mark.

Transstar is a dense novelette, and is the first thing by Raymond Banks that I’ve really enjoyed.  In fact, were it not for the slightly disappointing ending, it would have earned the coveted 5-star award.  In the far future, humanity has spread across a thousand star systems.  Protecting it is the extra-governmental agency, Transstar, with millions of ships at its disposal.  This overwhelming force comes with a hefty price tag, however, and partial mobilization does not appear to be an option.  This sounds implausible on its face, but recall that the French mobilization of the last war had similar problems, which was one of the reasons there was no armed resistance to the German taking of the Rhineland in ’36. 

Despite the massive scope of the backdrop, Transstar is a very personal story, that of one agent stationed at a small colony that happens to be next in line for conquest by the sadistic Eaber, who also have a thousand systems under their control.  The story is by turns poignant and horrifying, written in an excellent, understated fashion.  My only issues are with the ending, which was both too glib and somewhat inconsistent.  But I’ll save the rest of my commentary for the letter column.


by Dillon

I remember Charles de Vet largely from his propping up the rather dismal January 1959 AstoundingMonkey on his Back, de Vet’s contribution to this month’s Galaxy is an interesting adventure story.  Imagine if Harrison’s Slippery Jim diGriz suddenly got amnesia and went to a shrink for help. 

Frederic Brown’s Beware Earthmen Bearing Gifts is over almost before it starts.  Taken at face value, it’s a silly premise, but there are two valid themes conveyed: the principle that nothing can be observed without affecting it, and, our methods of exploration may be more destructive than necessary. 


by Dillon

Idea Man, by British neophyte John Rackham (who wrote the lead story for the November 1959 issue of IF) has a fun piece on what it’s like to have a great concept but limited vision for its application. 


by Dillon

Finally, we have Inside John Barth, by the brand new William W. Stuart (I’m seeing a trend; ever since lowering his rates, editor Gold is having trouble getting old pros to work for him).  It’s a rather fascinating tale about a fellow who becomes a colony (in the 17th century sense of the word) for a clan of aliens.  Their relation is symbiotic, for the most part, though the “host” increasingly resents the salutary restrictions placed on his activities to ensure the benevolence of his internal environment.  A good first effort, for sure.

So there you have it: a solid 3-star issue (sadly, with nary a female writer nor much of a female character presence).  Let me know what you think, and I’ll see y’all in a few days!

[March 1, 1960] The Slow Sibling (March 1960 IF)

It is March Oneth, as my father would say, and it’s time to review the last of the March 1960 science fiction digests.

Last on my plate was IF Science Fiction, which in 1959 had proven a slightly erratic but worthy sibling to Galaxy Science Fiction, also edited by Horace Gold.  Sadly, this current issue reminds me more of the inferior issues of Imagination or Amazing.  It’s not all bad, just rather weak.

It has been said of Clifford Simak that when he’s good, he’s very good, and when he’s not, he’s forgettable.  It appears he used up all of his energy on his masterpiece appearing in this month’s F&SF, because his lead novella for IF, The Gleaners, is mediocre.  It’s a story about a fellow who coordinates a for-profit time travel agency that sends agents back in time to observe, but not to meddle.  It’s a tough job: the agent defection rate is high, and there is much pressure to verify the historical assertions of the various world faiths.  It sounds like it would be a great read, but it doesn’t do much interesting development.  Perhaps Cliff should start over and try making a novel on the concept.

Raymond Banks has a short story called to be continued about colonists marooned on a tiny island hundreds of light years from Earth for centuries.  The beginning and ending are a bit slipshod, but the meat of the story is pretty good, and I particularly like that the story features a starship crewed by a pair of women. 

In The Upside-Down Captain, by Jim Harmon, an ethnologist joins the crew of a starship to seek out truly unusual planets.  The ship is aided in its endeavor with the help of a cybernetic brain—but is the robot really being much help?  It’s oddly paced and written, weakening what might have been a strong story.

There are a couple of very short vignettes that I shan’t spoil other than to give their titles and authors since any description would give away most of their game.  They seem to be written by unknowns, either amateur auteurs or pseudonymic regulars.  They are Old Shag, by Bob Farnham, and Monument, by R.W. Major; neither are good, but nor are they long.

Ray Russell has something of a career writing for PlayboyHis Father’s House is an story about an heir forced to inhabit his deceased father’s home, bullied by ghostly holograms of his abusive parent, for five years in order to collect an inheritance.  The protagonist seemingly has two choices—be a penniless but satisfied writer and husband or endure a lonely, unfulfilling life in the hopes of inheriting a fortune.  In the end, he comes up with a third path with no down sides.

Ignatz, by Ron Goulart, is a cute story about a fellow who leads a one-man crusade against the fad of “Applied Lycanthropy,” whereby the citizens of his sleepy town transform into cats for fun and relaxation.  The fellow hates cats, you see; they make him feel “crawly.”  It’s cute, though I can’t imagine what anyone could have against felines, of whom I am far more fond than dogs.

The magazine ends rather strongly with Daniel Galouye’s satirical Gravy Train, in which a retired couple on a remote planetoid gets mistaken for an important Third-World state and finds itself the recipient of a torrent of aid from both the Capitalist and Communist intergalactic empires. 

All in all, it’s not so much a bad issue as a merely weak one.  Most of the stories end rather abruptly with a decidedly last-decade sci-fi slammer, and the writing has a slapdash feeling about it.  Perhaps it’s just a temporary lull. 

In any event, I’ve got a whole new crop of magazines for this month that I’m looking forward to sharing with you.  See you soon!

Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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Starting strong (July 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction;6-13-1959)

It’s those haunting, evocatively written F&SF stories that keep me a regular subscriber.  July’s issue opens with Robert F. Young’s To Fell a Tree, about the murder (mercy killing?) of the tallest tree imaginable, and the dryad that lived within.  It’ll stay with you long after you turn the last page, this sad, but not entirely desolate, tale.  So far, it’s the best I’ve seen by Young.

Asimov’s column, this month, is a screed against the snobbery of the champions of liberal arts and humanities to the practitioners of science.  I’m told that the rivalry is largely good-natured, but Dr. Asimov seems to have been personally slighted, and his article is full of invective. 

Avram Davidson’s Author, Author is next: venerable British mystery writer is ensnared by the very butlers and baronets who were the subjects of his novels.  I found most interesting the interchange between the author and his publisher, in which the latter fairly disowns the former for sticking to a stodgy old format, the country-house murder, rather than filling pages with sex and scandal.  I found this particularly ironic as my wife is a mysteries fan who appreciates whodunnits of an older vintage, from Conan Doyle to Sayers.  She has, of late, become disenchanted with the latest, more cynical crop of mysteries.  I suspect she would have words for the publisher in Davidson’s story.

For Sale, Reasonable is a short space-filler by Elizabeth Mann Borgese about a fellow soliciting work in a world where automation has made human labor obsolete.  Damon Knight’s following book review column is devoted to The Science Fiction Novel, Imagination and Social Criticism, a book of essays written by some of the field’s foremost authors.  It sounds like a worthy read.

Jane Roberts’ Impasse hits close to home–a young lady loses her last living relative, her grandfather.  So great is her grief that, by an act of will, she returns him to life, though the old man is not too happy about it.  The story struck a chord with me as I lost my family when I was quite young, and I can certainly identify with the poor girl’s plight.

The Harley Helix is another fill-in-the-space short short by Lou Tabakow, the moral of which is There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (i.e. the First Law of Thermodynamics).  Success Story, which I reviewed last time, is next.

Raymond E. Banks has the penultimate tale, with Rabbits to the Moon, a thoroughly nonsensical tale about the teleportation of creatures (including humans). Its only flaw, that the transported arrive without a skeleton, is made into a selling point.

Last up is The Cold, Cold Box by Howard Fast.  The richest man in the world becomes afflicted with terminal cancer and has himself frozen in 1959 so that the future can cure him.  But the members of his company’s board of directors have a different agenda, particularly after they become the world’s de facto controlling oligarchy. 

It’s good reading all the way through, but it’s the lead novella that really sells it.  3.5 stars, I’d say.

I’m off to the movies tonight, so expect a film review soon!

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F&SF–for the Right kind of people (February 1959 wrap-up; 1-27-1959)

Do you know who reads The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction?

Clifton Fadiman, writer, editor, judge of the Book-of-the-Month Club does.  It supplies him his “special escape-reading…the finest the field has to offer in the way of short fiction.”

Spring Byington, famous star of the Broadway Stage does.  It improves the imagination, she says.

Basil Davinport, another writer and editor for the Book-of-the-Month Club does.  “F&SF gives us some of the best writing in the field, and the field is one of great importance.”

Orville Prescott, Book Review Editor for the New York Times does.  He says, “People who think that their literary I.Q. is too high for them to enjoy [F&SF] don’t know what they’re missing.”

In other words, snobs read F&SF–and you can be a snob, too.  Unlike those other lowbrow sci-fi mags, F&SF is the real stuff.  Just stay away from Astounding, and for God’s sake, avoid Amazing!

I know H.L.Gold was a bit nose-in-the-air when he contrasted Galaxy with Space Westerns, but F&SF is positively the caviar set by comparison.  I’m for the promotion of science fiction’s respectability, but I don’t think F&SF has the sole claim on quality.  In fact, I think F&SF’s editorial policy leans a bit overmuch toward the superfluously florid.

On the other hand, they are the favored home of more female authors than any other science fiction magazine.  And I’ve never read a Garrett or Silverberg story between its pages, though I did read a horrible Poul Anderson story in F&SF’s, thankfully defunct sister magazine, Venture.

Good-natured ribbing aside, while many issues of F&SF may suffer from overwriting-itis, the February 1959 issue is good stuff all the way though (even if the rest of the magazine is not as amazing as its lead story). 

Continuing where we left off, Misfit by G.C. Edmondson (the only Mexican science fiction author I know of, and a San Diego native!) is a good yarn about the perils of time travel–to the timeline if not the traveler.

Last month’s issue had the first of George Elliot’s Venusian stories, Invasion of the Planet of Love.  Its sequel, Nothing but Love depicts the Venusian counter-attack.  It is less satirical, less impactful, and less interesting.  On the other hand, I don’t know that I liked the first one very much either.  It’s not bad, exactly.  It’s just odd.

I did enjoy Charles Fontenay’s Ghost Planet, in which a presumably failed Martian colony is found to have survived through an unexpected and happy circumstance.  Apparently, Martian sage grass traps oxygen, so as long as one stays crouched within the grass, there is air and warmth. 

Now here’s where I need help: I have the strangest feeling that I’ve seen this gimmick before in another story.  Does this sound familiar?  I’m hoping one of my many (Webster defines “many” as “more than three”) readers will solve this mystery for me.  Drop me a line and let me know.  If you don’t know the answer, please share this article with someone who might.

Raymond Banks wrote the next story, Natural Frequency, about what happens when someone’s voice naturally hits the resonant frequency of… well.. everything.  People, glasses, bridges…  It’s a silly story, reminiscent of that scene from the Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs, impersonating the great conductor, Leopold, makes an opera singer sing a high note until his pants fall off and his tuxedo rolls up like a Venetian blind.  Filler.

Jane Rice’s The Willow Tree is the last piece of the magazine.  Per the editorial preface, Ms. Rice wrote for Unknown back in the late ’30s, and I have it on good authority that she wrote for a solid ten years after that for various magazines.  This story marks the end of a subsequent ten-year hiatus.  Your mileage may vary, but I liked it, this tale of two children sent to the past after losing their parents.  It is written like a fairly conventional children’s fantasy, much like something Edward Eager would write, but with a much more sinister undertone and ending. 

And thusly, we have come to the end.  I’d say 4 stars out of 5.  The lead story is fantastic, and the rest are decent to quite good.

Normally, one might expect (this being the 27th) that I have the new Astounding and/or F&SF in hand for the next review.  However, I am still out in the Territory of Hawai’i, and deliveries are understandably delayed.  Forward thinker that I am, I will still have something to discuss on the 29th. 

But you’ll just have to wait until then to find out what it is.



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