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[June 5, 1962] Into the Sunset (the End of The Twilight Zone, Season 3)


by Lorelei Marcus

You hear that? That’s the last school bell ringing, signifying the end of the school year. That means the beginning of summer break, and with it the end of another season of The Twilight Zone. However, unlike the previous seasons of The Twilight Zone, I hear this may be the last. I am both sad, and a bit relieved. I have very much enjoyed reviewing this series with my father, and I am very sad to see it go. However, I believe its also time for it to go. It had a very good first season, and progressively got worse over time as Serling strained for more ideas. It was obvious that by the end, Serling was out of inspiration. Still, rather than focus on all the many mediocre episodes, I’d like to go back and appreciate the really stand-out episodes of The Twilight Zone.

The first ones I would like to honor, of course, were the two recent five star rated episodes, Little Girl Lost and The Fugitive. Truly spectacular works that were the perfect balance of peculiar, creepy, and heartwarming. Next I would like to honor The Mirror in its complete awfulness. It was really terrible, in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. Finally, I would like to say something about Time Enough at Last and It’s a Good Life, because I know people are going to be asking about them. Time Enough had an interesting setup and conflict, however I didn’t like the ending at all. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for happy endings, but just having his glasses break seemed like a cheap cop-out rather than an actual twist. It’s a Good Life also had an interesting setup, however from there it just went downhill for me. There wasn’t really a message I got out of it other than “don’t spoil your kids,” which I assume was not the intended theme. At least I don’t have to babysit the kid. If you’d like to see full reviews of all the episodes I just mentioned, and more, just peruse past articles of Galactic Journey with The Twilight Zone in the title.

Alright, enough talk about episodes I’ve already reviewed; let’s talk about the last four episodes. Which just so happen to be the literal last four episodes of The Twilight Zone:

Young Man’s Fancy, by Richard Matheson

We start off with a more Season One style episode. A newlywed couple goes to the husband’s dead mother’s house to pack and get ready to sell it. It becomes clear fairly quickly that the husband is still clinging to the house and the memory of his mother. The wife, on the other hand, is the polar opposite, relieved she can finally have her husband all to herself. Throughout the episode, certain strange things keep happening around the wife, such as a broken clock starting to work again, and a modern vacuum magically changing into a much older one. It seems as if the ghost of the husband’s mother is malicious and trying to scare the wife off. The episode ends with a twist that neither me nor my father predicted for once, so that was a nice surprise. However I am still a little confused by the ending as well, and haven’t really been able to decide what it means. I’d love to hear some feedback of what you think. I give this 3 stars.

I sing the Body Electric, by Ray Bradbury

This second episode was a bit of a contrast to the first one. It was very touching and I found it very enjoyable to watch. It’s about a single father struggling to raise three unhappy children. Everyone misses the mother of the family very much. Luckily, they’re just so happens to be a company that makes robotic caretakers that are perfect for a lonely household! Of course the family heads over to check them out. From this point until near the end of the episode, I was convinced the twist would be that something terrible was going to happen. This idea was only reinforced by the infinitely creepy salesman and his “create your own person” type product. Still, the episode proved me wrong and ended very sweetly. I would highly recommend that you would watch this episode on a bad day, it has a very happy ending and theme, that I think will cheer you up. I give this episode a whopping 4.5 stars!

[Gwyn, our fashion columnist felt similarly (ED)]

Cavender is Coming, by Rod Serling

The third episode was about a clumsy but charming woman who couldn’t keep a job if her life depended on it, and her 24-hour guardian angel, who isn’t so great himself. The Angel tries to make the woman happy by giving her lots of money, but in the end, of course she wants to go back to her old, silly life. Hmmm, this plot sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? That’s probably because it’s the exact same plot as Mr. Bevis except done worse. I won’t bother to go into detail about my opinions on this episode, since it would be the same as my father’s review of Mr. Bevis. I give it 2.5 stars.

Changing of the Guard, by Rod Serling

Unfortunately, this final episode is not the big awesome finale I think some of us were hoping for. In fact, I was actually having trouble remembering the episode when sitting down to write this review! The entire plot can be summarized to about two sentences. Teacher gets fired and is depressed. Gets told he’s done a lot for the world, and becomes no longer depressed. Now imagine that, but drawn out into 22, very slow minutes. However, I did realize while writing this article, that this final episode had a deeper meaning. The teacher realizes at the end that, it is his time to retire and let a new teacher in. He has left a great mark on the world and will not be forgotten, however he is also done and it is his time to step out of the light. In a way, this is a metaphor for The Twilight Zone. It has had a long, good run, and I imagine it will not be forgotten anytime soon. However, it is time for it to end, as all things must do, and give room for new amazing shows to come. I will still only give this episode 2 stars, because it was incredibly boring, but it did give this for me to think about.

I have the final average of 3 stars. A nice middle to end on. Not particularly good, but at least not too bad either. I will miss you Twilight Zone, but I’m also glad it’s over. Besides, I need to make room for all the fantastic summer blockbusters yet to come. Until then,

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.


by Gideon Marcus

And here’s the Old Traveler..er..the Just Plain Traveler signing in.  My two-and-a-half cents:

Young Man’s Fancy was tedious, though the final twist was somewhat interesting.  Two stars.

I liked I sing the Body Electric less that my youthful counterpart.  It’s a fantasy, not science fiction, and perhaps would been better framed in that context.  But David White (the father) is quite an excellent actor, and young Veronica Cartwright (the eldest sibling) did a fine job.  Josephine Hutchinson, in the Mary Poppins role, somehow left me cold.  Three stars.

Cavender is Coming fell incredibly flat, some of the blame I must lay at Jesse White’s (Cavender) feet.  Two stars.

Changing of the Guard features an excellent performance by British actor, Donald Pleasence, but the soliloquies are all 20% too long, and the “twist” broadly telegraphed.  2.5 stars.

Thus, for me, The Twilight Zone ends with a whimper, and I suspect there is truth to the rumor that the show has failed to get a sponsor for next season.  Nevertheless, however spotty this final run has been, we must still give Serling his due for creating a revolutionary anthology show, one which will rightly be remembered (and hopefully imitated) for years to come.

[Apr. 7, 1962] Half and Half (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 25-28)

[Apr. 7, 1962] Half and Half (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 25-28)


by Gideon Marcus

I have criticized the show that Rod built over the course of this, the third season.  Serling has seemed tired, borrowing cliches from himself.  Thus, I was delightedly surprised to find some of the best quality of the series appearing more than half-way through this latest stretch.  Read all the way through because, in keeping with the show, there’s a bit of a twist around the mid-article mark.  You won’t want to miss it:

The Fugitive, by Charles Beaumont

A 12-year old girl with a bum leg has befriended a sweet old man with magical powers.  But he’s on the lam from another world.  Can the plucky child save him?

There’s a lot going on for this episode: genuinely likable characters, several plot twists, fast pacing.  It’s a charming piece with a strong young woman in the lead role.  We need more like this one.  Five stars.

Little Girl Lost, by Richard Matheson

Mom and Dad are wakened by the cries of their young daughter, but when they rush to her aid, she is nowhere to be seen.  Where could she be trapped such that she could be so close yet so far away?

This one packs a punch to any parent.  Richard Matheson has a knack for turning in compelling screenplays, and Lost was apparently inspired by a personal experience.  You’ll be on the edge of your seat all the way to the exciting resolution.  Five stars.

Person or Persons Unknown, by Charles Beaumont

Unfortunately, the winning streak doesn’t last.  With Persons, we’re back to vintage 3rd Season.  A fellow wakes up to find all evidence of his existence had disappeared.  His wife and co-workers don’t remember him.  His wallet is empty of identification.  He slowly goes mad, in typical Twilight Zone fashion and ends up in an institution.  There’s a twist at the end, but it’s not much of a surprise.

What kills this episode is that there is five minutes of content stretched out into a twenty-two minute show.  A far more interesting piece might have been made of him finding out that he was slipping across universes.  There would have been time to throw him into a few different situations and still leave space for an interesting resolution.  Instead, we get this dull story.  Two stars.

The Little People, by Rod Serling

Here’s an episode that starts poorly and doesn’t travel far from there.  Two humans crash land on an alien world (an “asteroid,” per Mr. Sterling’s preview last week…but clearly a planet, even though it’s only “millions of miles” away).  The junior of the crew has delusions of godhood, which are nicely fulfilled when he finds an entire city of tiny humanoids, over which he cruelly lords.  His fun is put to a quick end when another pair of spacemen, these hundreds of times larger, land and squash him like a bug.

It’s a dumb tale, and Serling has apparently never heard of surface tension or the square cube law.  I did, however, appreciate the implied critique of our religions.  After all, does not the Judaeo-Christian-Moslem tradition feature an almighty and oft-times menacing God?  One who would deluge a planet or decimate a people out of spite?  Maybe that’s the semi-precious stone at the heart of a drab pebble of a piece.  Two stars.

***

Now, where’s the Young Traveler, you ask?  Here she is, taking on the month’s episodes in reverse order, so that unlike the viewing audience, you can end on a positive note.

***

by Lorelei Marcus

“I’m hoping we’ll have a more reliable batch of good episodes in the future, but you never know. I’m counting on you Serling!” (me, last article)

Well, I think I can safely say that Serling did come through, for the first two episodes at least. This is a special day, because something that has never happened before, has happened. However I’m not going to tell you what it is until later. This review will be a little bit odd, in that I’m going to review the episodes in reverse order of how we actually watched them. My father reviewed them in the right order of their airing, so you shouldn’t get confused. So without further ado, I bring you “The Little People”

The Little People, by Rod Serling

The episode stays true to its title well, being about a whole city of microscopic alien people. Unfortunately, that’s all the episode is. Two spacemen crash onto a rocky planet (of course the planet has the same atmosphere and gravity as Earth) and are stranded until they can fix their ship. One of the two men happens to stumble on a tiny city, almost too small to see. The man becomes power hungry and stays on the planet, even after his fellow spaceman repairs the spaceship and flies away, so he can rule the tiny people as their “god.” It ends with two real giants coming and accidentally killing the spaceman, saving the tiny people.

I think my biggest peeve with this episode is the fact that the whole focus is on these tiny people and their town, and yet we only get about three shots of it. I understand these effects are difficult to create, but it felt so lazy having almost all the shots be composed of just one of the two men’s faces. I would have loved to have seen some small people or maybe even a model home or two rather than the boring cinematography we actually got. I give this episode 1.5 stars. The story was bland and predictable, the camera-work was boring, and the set was boring. The only thing I liked was the acting! Definitely not one of Serling’s best.

Person or Persons Unknown, by Charles Beaumont

Sadly, Serling did not come through for us in this next episode either. This episode can be summarized in one sentence: Man loses identity. It’s as interesting and ground breaking as it sounds. Normally I would summarize the episode here, but there is literally nothing else to summarize: that one sentence was the episode.

However, despite being the utter mediocre piece of work it was, it did give me something worth while. In the beginning of the episode a man – the one who loses his identity – wakes up next to his lovely wife. He is a total jerk to her as he gets up and changes, commanding her for breakfast. It was then that I realized how much I really wanted to see an episode about a husband and wife switching places.

Just imagine, there could be humor, for example, the man being unable to cook eggs, and the woman unable to tie a tie. However, there could be so many deeper messages in the episode too – who’s “in charge” of the house anymore? Who will actually go to work? Not only that, but I think it would be the perfect kind of confusing, interesting, thought-provoking episode that Serling wants to make.

Unfortunately we didn’t get that episode, we got this one, and I give it 2 stars. It really felt like a bad season one episode, being entirely mediocre and dragged out. Could there still be hope for The Twilight Zone at this rate?

Little Girl Lost, by Richard Matheson

The episode started with a mother and father waking up to their child crying. The way it was acted out felt very real to both my father and me, since we’d both experienced the event from opposite perspectives. Anyway, when the man goes to his daughter’s room he can hear her crying, but he can’t see her! He wakes his wife in a panic as their dog frantically barks outside. Now, I’m going to stop the summary right there, because I want to force you to watch the episode yourself. It’s just that good. Great special effects, superb acting, amazing story telling, and overall a perfect episode. 5 stars, in fact, the first 5 star rating I’ve given anything we’ve watched since my dad started this column!

The Fugitive, by Charles Beaumont

This last episode starts out with a group of kids playing with an old man. Out of these kids, one of them in particular stands out. A feisty little girl in boy’s clothes and a leg brace. She connects most with the man, and its clear that they are close in a cute, grandpa-grandchild sort of way. I’m sorry to do this to you again, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut the summary short again to avoid spoiling anything else about the episode.

This episode is my favorite episode of Twilight Zone, and really my favorite thing we’ve watched since the beginning of the Journey, by far. Now I can hear you confusedly saying to yourself, “wait wasn’t that last episode five stars?” I reply with yes, and so is this one. It would get more than the last, excellent episode, but the meter stops at 5. The only flaw with this story was there wasn’t enough of it. It has everything I like in The Twilight Zone and nothing I don’t. No people going crazy, no padding, no lackluster twists, nothing creepy – just a fantastic situation and characters you care about.  I want you to go watch it right now, well maybe after you finish reading this article, that is.

***

In sum, that truly was a legendary combo with two 5 star episodes in a row. I did the reviews in reverse so I could save the best for last. I hope you will go watch those two episodes and enjoy them as much as I did. And now, I think all that’s left to say is:

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[January 27, 1962] Bumps in Road (February 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s been a topsy turvy month: Snow is falling in coastal Los Angeles.  Castro’s Cuba has been kicked out of the Organization of American States.  Elvis is playing a Hawaiian beach bum.  So it’s in keeping that the latest issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction is, well, uneven.

Luckily, the February 1962 F&SF front-loaded the bad stuff (though it’s a bumpy ride clear to the end), so if you can make it through the beginning, you’re in for a treat – particularly at the end.  But first…

The Garden of Time is the latest from Englishman J. G. Ballard.  This tale of an enchanted chateau on the brink of ransack is long on imagery but short on substance (like many pieces in F&SF).  You may find it lovely; I found it superfluous.  Two stars.

The latest Ferdinand Feghoot (XLVIII) is slightly less worthy than the mean, for what that’s worth.  A pun that fails to elicit a groan, but merely a tired sigh, is hardly a pun at all.

Avram Davidson has completed his descent into impenetrability.  Once a reliable author, somber and profound, his work has been increasingly odd.  His latest (The Singular Events Which Occurred in the Hovel on the Alley Off Eye Street) is a parallel universe magical send-up of our present day.  I think.  He manages to pack more nonsense per square word than ever before, and even Street’s paltry 2000 or so words are too many.  One star.

One Into Two, by J. T. McIntosh, is something of an improvement: quick and pleasant reading.  However, if the best story you can make of a matter transmitter/duplicator is a “perfect crime” piece, you’re not thinking too hard.  Three stars.

I’d call Walter H. Kerr’s Gruesome Discovery at the 242nd St. Feeding Station the least kind of doggerel, but I happen to like canines.  I’ll just give it one star and leave it at that.

Pirate Island, by Czech Josef Nesvadba, is a reprint from behind the Iron Curtain.  I rather enjoyed this bitter tale of a frustrated privateer in the era of Morgan.  Something about its lyrical irony appealed.  Nothing at all of the stodginess I rather expected from the Eastern Bloc.  Four stars. 

Jesus Christ seems to be a popular topic this month, He having also made an appearance in Amazing’s …And it was Good.  In Richard Matheson’s The Traveller, a professor journeys back to Golgotha with the intention of simply taking notes, but becomes compelled to save the hapless martyr.  It grew on me in retrospect, as much Matheson does.  Four stars.

We take a bit of a plunge then, quality-wise.  Ward Moore is a long-time veteran of F&SF, and his last story, The Fellow who married the Maxill Girl was a poetic masterpiece.  Rebel, a twist on the newly minted “Generation Gap,” but with the roles reversed, isn’t.  Two stars.

Barry Stevens’ Window to the Whirled, like Ballard’s lead piece, is overwrought and underrealized.  It’s a hybrid of Clifton’s Star Bright (geniuses will themselves cross-wise across time and space) and Jones’ The Great Gray Plague (only by leaving boring ol’ science behind can one be free), and I really wanted to like it…but I didn’t.  Two stars.

Even Isaac Asimov’s science fact article, Superficially Speaking, about the comparative surface areas of the solar system’s celestial bodies, is lackluster this month.  Of course, even bland Asimov is pretty good reading.  Three stars.

Lewis Turco has a few poetic snippets ostensibly from the mouths of robots in Excerpts from the Latterday Chronicle.  They are in English; they are not long.  And this ends what I have to say about them.  Two stars.

Novice Matthew Grass offers up The Snake in the Closet, a story that presents exactly what’s on the tin, and yet is clearly a metaphor for…something, I’m sure.  Not a bad first effort, and some may find it poignantly relevant.  Three stars.

All of this is but frivolous preamble to the jewel of this issue.  Edgar Pangborn is a fellow who has been too long away from the sff digests, and his The Golden Horn is one of those perfect stories, at once gritty and beautiful.  Set in post-WW3 America. It is a tale of friendship and betrayal, love and lost innocence, lusterless life and sublime sonority.  It’s just that good, okay?  Five stars.

So went February 1962, and F&SF, with its final score of 2.8 stars, ends up tied with Fantastic and Galaxy (though it gets distinction for having the best story).  Analog, at 2.1 stars, was the worst.  Amazingly, Amazing was the best with 3.3 stars.  Some of you may disagree with this judgment (I know Pawn of the Black Fleet was not to everyone’s taste) but I stand by John Boston’s judgment, both because I must, and because our tastes have proven not to be too different.

Of 33 fiction pieces, just one was woman-penned.  A sad state that no doubt contributed to this month’s comparative dip on the star-o-meter.  However, it looks like Zenna Henderson and Mildred Clingerman will publish next month, so that’s something to look forward to. 

Stay tuned for the next Ace Double and January’s space race round-up!

[February 7, 1961] TV Addiction (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Episodes 13-16)

I’ve been watching a lot of television, lately.  It’s embarrassing.  I should be reading more books or doing more than cursorily scanning the front page of the newspaper.  Instead, after work I flip on the set and vegetate for an hour.  I hope this doesn’t become a habit!

It’s certainly not as if TV has gotten significantly better.  Mr. Ed, My Sister Eileen, the umpteenth season of the Jack Benny Show, none of these are going to win any awards.  On the other hand, The Twilight Zone has already won an award (an Emmy last year), and I’m hoping that my continued watching and review of that show excuses my overindulgence in the others.

What did we see last month?  First off, there was Back There.  Corrigian, a youngish historian, departs for home from his Gentleman’s Club after a rousing discussion on time travel.  One step outside the Club, and he finds himself in April 1865 on the eve of Lincoln’s shooting.  Of course, he tries to avert the tragedy, but only one fellow, a sympathetic policeman believes him.  Then Corrigan is waylaid by none other than the assassin, John Wilkes Booth.  The President is slain, despite the policeman’s herculean efforts to warn him, and the professor returns to a seemingly unchanged present.  Or is it?  The servant who saw Corrigan out is now a wealthy businessman.  It turns out he’s the great grandson of the policeman from the past, whose attempts to save Lincoln won him acclaim.  The lesson: the river of time doesn’t like to make drastic changes of course, but it can meander a little.  Not bad.  Not great.  Three stars.

Second up, we have yet another of the hard-to-watch videotape episodes, The Whole Truth.  The gimmick for this one was spoiled in the prior week’s preview and in the opening of the episode: a crook of a used car salesman buys a haunted Model A, the purchase of which compels the new owner to always tell the truth.  This proves fatal to the fellow’s business until he hatches a plan to sell the vehicle to none other than Nikita Khruschev.  It’s an episode that relies on the charisma (or convincing lack thereof) of the main character.  Jack Carson does a pretty good job.  Three stars.

I looked forward to Invaders; Richard Matheson did the screenplay, and it was billed as a masterpiece of lines-less drama.  Something must have happened between the writer’s pen and the screen because watching 22 turgid minutes of a farm woman menaced by a pair of miniature Michelin Men was excruciating.  My first instinct is to put a good portion of the blame on the actress, Agnes Morehead.  There was enough ham in her silent performance to poison a dozen shuls.  On the other hand, it might be the director’s fault.  I heard through the grapevine that Matheson was not happy with the final product—he’d written in twice the action, and the alien invaders (who turn out to be human astronauts in a world of giants) had their screen time kept to a minimum in his version.  That would have been nice; they did not bear being in full view very well.  My daughter spent much of the show groaning in agonized boredom, pounding the floor.  I’m lucky the cops didn’t come to take me away for bad parenting.  One star.

Thankfully, the follow-up show was a lot of fun.  Dick York plays a harried banker who gains the ability to read minds for a day.  He figures out what’s going on with refreshing haste and uses the gift to great advantage, preventing a potential robbery, halting a bad loan, and getting the girl (who was too shy to verbalize her interest).  The scene where he listens in on the thoughts of a vacant-eyed bank patron who turns out not to be thinking about anything is a nice touch.  Four stars.

Not a bad run, and good enough to keep us watching on Fridays.  Are you tuning in, too?

[Dec. 5, 1960] Improved Batch (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Eps: 5-8)

We are now deep into the second year of Rod Serling’s horror/fantasy anthology, The Twilight Zone.  I expressed my dissatisfaction with this sophomore season during my review of the first four episodes.  Has the show, justly nominated for a Hugo this year, gotten any better?

Well, you wouldn’t know it from the season’s fifth episode, The Howling Man.  My biggest beef with this show is the overused trope of a man’s slow descent into madness, usually punctuated by screaming in an episode’s padded second act.  This episode begins with a madman, an “American” with a strong foreign accent, who narrates the encounter he had decades before with a mysterious religious order.  It seems they had imprisoned the Devil.  Of course, the narrator was tricked into freeing him.  He then spent the next twenty years recapturing him…only to lose Beezelbub again when the narrator’s maid let him go.  It’s an overwrought, tilt-cameraed mess of an episode.  One star.

The next one, Eye of the Beholder, fares a little better.  A hospitalized woman, head completely bandaged, awaits the results of a treatment that will make her appearance “normal.” She is, reportedly, hideous.  The twist is given away within the first few minutes as the cinematographer takes ludicrous pains never to show the faces of any of the medical staff.  What saves this episode is the unsubtle yet still resonant commentary on modern prejudice and over-conformity.  Two stars.

Nick of Time is the first episode that approaches the standard set by the premiere season.  A honeymooning pair of newlyweds break down in a rural Ohio town and lunch in a cafe.  There, a Devil-headed fortune machine dispenses eerily accurate predictions.  William Shatner, a handsome young actor, really steals the show.  Moreover, there is flow and development to the story—you find yourself caring about this couple beyond the gimmick.  The ending is a nice kicker, too.  Four stars.

But then we’re back to form with episode four, The Lateness of the Hour, in which a young woman, shut in with her aging parents, rebels against the monotony of her life and the robotic, humanoid servants who enable it.  In the end, no surprise, it turns out she is a robot.  It stars Inger Stevens, who we saw last season in The Hitchhiker, and also in the great movie The World, The Flesh, and the Devil.  I like her, but this format was not kind to her.  The show has apparently switched to video-tape from film.  It may be cutting-edge and cheaper, but it looks tacky, and the whole thing runs like one-set dinner theater leaving no room for creative editing or cinematography.  Two stars.

This isn’t the first time a show has fallen short second year out.  Now that its leads are joining the Army, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is disappointing, too.  Well, what’s worse: a long-lived mediocre program, or a show that burns brightly for a short time before petering out?

[Sep. 18, 1960] Keeping things even (October 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

I’ve said before that there seems to be a conservation of quality in science fiction.  It ensures that, no matter how bad the reading might be in one of my magazines, the stories in another will make up for it.  Galaxy was pretty unimpressive this month, so it follows that Fantasy and Science Fiction would be excellent.  I am happy to say that the October 1960 F&SF truly is, as it says on the cover, an “all star issue.”


from here

“After-the-Bomb” stories always appeal to me.  I like stories about starting with a clean slate, rebuilding, and pushing onward.  Thus, James Blish’s The Oath, this month’s lead novelette, starts with an advantage that it, thankfully, never gives up.  In this story, an atomic apocalypse has decimated humanity, which has reverted to subsistence farming.  Specialization is virtually impossible, in part because most of the specialists were slaughtered early on by a resentful populace.  But everyone needs a doctor, and in one remote part of the former U.S.A., an erstwhile copywriter becomes an amateur pharmacologist.

In doing so, he attracts the attention of a real doctor, a recruiter for one of the few bastions of civilization left standing.  The resulting dialogue is a compelling one that gives the reader much to think about.  What is a doctor without the Hippocratic Oath?  Is it better to be a demigod among savages than an intern amongst professionals?  What is more important: fulfillment of personal dreams or serving a larger community?  Excellent stuff, if a bit speechy.  Four stars.

Something, in which an elderly antiquities curator comes face to face with an ancient evil presence, is brought to us by Allen Drury.  He won the Pulitzer this year for his novel, Advise and Consent.  Atmospheric, it’s a mood piece more than a story piece.  Three stars.

Arthur C. Clarke, the hybrid who stands precisely in the gap between scientist and fictioneer, brings us the rather archaic-seeming Inside the Comet.  The crew of the Challenger, dispatched to investigate a comet, become trapped in its coma when the ship’s computer breaks down.  Without the machine to compute orbital calculations, the ship might never get home.  Until, that is, a canny crewman teaches his shipmates to use abaci.  The description of the comet feels quite current, scientifically, and I like the idea of humans being able to rely on low technology solutions when the advanced options have failed.  It’s just a bit dated in its structure and with its gimmick ending.  Three stars.

The least of the issue’s stories is Poul Anderson’s Welcome, featuring a fellow who time travels from modern day to five centuries in the future.  He is received as an honored guest, which is why it takes him so long to realize the crushing poverty in which most of the world lives.  The kicker at the end is the reveal that the future’s elite literally dine on the poor.  Readable satire treading ground long since flattened by Swift and Wells.  Three stars (barely).

But then we have From Shadowed Places from that master, Richard Matheson.  The premise is simple: an adventurer in Africa offends a witch doctor and is hexed with a fatal curse.  Only the help of a woman anthropologist / part-time ju ju practitioner can save him.  It’s a perfect blend of horror, suspense, social commentary, and erotica–the kind that made Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man a book for the ages.  Extra praise is earned for having a strong Black woman as the focal (if not the viewpoint) character.  This story definitely pushes the envelope in many ways.  Five stars.

I’m happy, as always, to see Katherine MacLean in print.  Interbalance, her first tale in F&SF, is a meet cute set in Puerto Rico some twenty years after the Bomb has wiped out most of the world.  More is at stake than simple romance, however–it is a clash between the straightlaced mores of the old world and the liberated, survival-minded culture of the new.  Delightfully suspenseful.  Four stars.

A quick dip in quality accompanies Howard Fast’s tale, The Sight of Eden, in which Earth’s first interstellar travelers find themselves barred from a park-like pleasure planet.  It seems that humans are unbiquitous in the Galaxy, but only Earthlings are nasty and violent.  The planet’s caretaker offers no words of advice to cure the peculiar ailments of our species; he just sends the Terrans packing.  Fast tells the story well enough…I just don’t like what he has to say.  Three stars.

Asimov has a good article this month, Stepping Stones to the Stars, about the halo of icy objects in our solar system orbiting so far out that it takes a year for the light of the Sun to reach it!  Too dim to see, we only know about these little planets because, every so often, one gets nudged out of its orbit such that it careens into the inner solar system.  As it approaches the sun, its volatile contents sublime, creating a dramatic glowing tail.  And so, these inconspicuous bodies become comets.  If one thinks of this cloud of comets-to-be as the edge of our solar system, and if we presume that our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, hosts a similar cloud, then our systems are probably less than two light years from each other.  It’s a fascinating revelation, and it makes me feel similarly to when I discovered that the Soviet Union and the United States are just twenty miles apart…by way of Alaska.

By the way, both James Blish and the good Doctor have come to the conclusion that Pluto has no moon of significant size.  They thus urge people to save their good underworld-related names for the 10th and 11th planets, should they ever be discovered.

Back to fiction, writing duo Robert Wade and William Miller, writing as Wade Miller, offer up How Lucky We Met.  We’ve all heard of were-wolves, but what happens when the condition is more subtle and constant than the traditional malady?  Four stars.

Finally, Philip Jose Farmer once again has the concluding novella.  A Few Miles is the fourth in a series detailing the life of ex-con and current-monk, John Carmody.  Carmody and Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” have a lot in common.  They are both canny former criminals for whom the transition to law-abiding citizen is not 100% complete.  In this story, the good Brer John is given orders to sojourn to the planet “Wildenwoolly,” presumably to demonstrate his worthiness for ascension to the priesthood.  He does not even make it halfway through his hometown of Fourth of July, Arizona, thwarted by a series of increasingly difficult obstacles. 

I imagine Farmer will compile all of these stories into a book someday.  It will be a good one.  Four stars.

All told, this has been the best issue of F&SF of the year, with a needle quivering solidly above the 3.5 mark.  A good way to end this month’s digest reading.  Stay tuned for a review of Ted Sturgeon’s new book, Venus Plus X!

[July 2, 1960] Bottom of the Cup (Twilight Zone 1st Season wrap-up)


Gabrielle and Chelsea–dig that futuristic dress the latter has on!

Greetings from Westercon San Diego!

Now, with an opening like that, I expect you’re expecting a convention report.  Well, this is just day one of a four day extravaganza, so not quite yet.  Just know that I’m having a lovely time, and I’ve already swept up many fellow travelers.

No, instead I want to talk about the end of an era.  After a successful run of 36 episodes, The Twilight Zone has come to a finish.  Well, for this season, anyway.  I can’t imagine that it won’t be renewed in Fall 1960. 

This latest one will review just two for the simple reason that there ain’t no more:

First up is Rod Serling’s The Mighty Casey, possibly the least inspired of the season’s line-up.  Here’s the set-up: The Hoboken Zephyrs are deep in the cellar, easily the losingest team in the National League.  Along comes a applicant with the goofiest face imaginable.  He is accompanied by a elderly gentleman who makes no obfuscations about the fact that the rookie is, in fact, a robot.  Interestingly, this is the second Twilight Zone to star the quite talented Jack Warden, and both times, a robot co-stars.

Well, the young artificial man, 22 years old in appearance yet just three weeks in existence, proves to be an amazing pitcher, and the Zephyrs come to have a solid shot at the pennant.  Until, of course, it is learned that Casey isn’t human.  Now, this is where I expected an interesting debate over what qualifies a player as a “man,” and the fine line between natural and artificial sapience.  Instead, I got a dopey resolution where the stellar pitcher is given a heart (so as to gain human status) and then subsequently doesn’t have it in him to strike anyone out. 

“Mediocre,” was my daughter’s assessment. 

A World of his Own, by Richard Matheson, fares a bit better.  Keenan Wynn is a famous but somewhat nebbishy playwright with the uncanny ability to make characters come alive–literally.  In fact, as the episode opens, he is caught by his wife (Phyllis Kirk) in the arms of a mistress of his own creation (Mary La Roche).  Well, that’s what the wife sees through a window, but by the time she enters the writer’s study, the mistress has vanished.

Eager to save his marriage, the writer explains his talent, but his wife remains dubious, threatening to lock him up so that she can collect all of the community property after obtaining a divorce.  Ultimately (as telegraphed from the first minutes of the show), it turns out that Kirk is also one of Wynn’s creations, and Wynn is compelled to destroy her by tossing the dictation tape that contains her description into the fireplace.  He contemplates bringing her back with a fresh dictation, but instead, he resurrects the less shrewish Mary. 

Rod Serling then appears to deliver a rare on-screen coda… only to be disposed of by Wynn in the same fashion as all of the playwright’s other creations.  Cute.

There is a rushed, claustrophobic element to these two stories, as if the show had run out of budget, and the Serling/Houghton production team forced to make them on the cheap.  Here’s hoping CBS funds the show more lavishly in Season Two.

Still, there’s no cause for complaint.  We got more than 15 hours of some of the best television has to offer, and strong indications that we can look forward to many more in the years to come!

[March 16, 1960] Four More! (Twilight Zone Wrap-up)

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call … The Twilight Zone.

It’s a stirring intro, no doubt, and it never fails to put me in the mood for a half-hour of suspense and surreality.  Since its debut in October of last year, The Twilight Zone has consistently delivered a superior television experience (though even this fine show occasionally misfires: if I have any complaint, it is how frequently the protagonist degenerates into screaming madness about 15 minutes in.)

Continuing my tradition of recapitulating episodes in batches of four, here are episodes 20 through 24:

By far the weakest of the bunch, at least to me, is the first: Elegy.  A three man crew of a deep space mission crash land on an “asteroid” (you’ve got to love those entirely Earth-like asteroids on this show.) They appear to have traveled back in time some two centuries to mid-20th Century America—except that all of the inhabitants of the area seem to be frozen in time.  Rather than coming to the logical conclusion that the place is an exhibit in a museum, they instead become increasingly hysterical and spend much wasted time trying to get the dummies to respond to shouts.  It turns out that the asteroid is actually a cemetery with myriad themed plots for the wealthy deceased.  In the end, the crew are duped by the cemetery’s caretaker into becoming permanent residents.  It’s all rather silly.

Mirror Image, in which a sensible young woman discovers that there is another her attempting to take over her life, is better.  For one thing, it is one of the few episodes starring a woman.  For another, rather than going insane, she quite reasonably comes to the right conclusion as to what’s happening.  Also, the obligatory helpful young man is far less creepy than the one we saw in The Hitchhiker.  The only flaw comes in the second act, when our heroine spends several minutes retelling the events that the audience has just seen happen to her: Twilight Zone often suffers from passing in the second act.  Disregarding that, it’s an interesting premise, and the best stories are the ones that keep you pondering after they have finished.

There was a lot of buzz around the water cooler regarding the third episode, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.  After a strange meteor causes a local power outage, the inhabitants of a suburban neighborhood quickly become suspicious of each other and soon degenerate into violent anarchy.  It’s a pretty clear metaphor for The Red Scare.  I’d dismiss it as hackneyed, but McCarthyism is too recent a memory.  Mistrust is a cheap commodity, easily traded.

That brings us to last week’s episode, A World of Difference, which I quite liked.  A corporate businessman sits down to make a call to his wife.  When the phone doesn’t work, he hears a director call, “Cut!” and discovers that he’s really on a soundstage, and everyone believes him to be an actor.  He is then confronted by an angry ex-wife and a much put-upon agent, who corroborate his new identity.  There is a fine ending that leaves one questioning which is the true reality?  And in the end, what does reality even mean? 

Coming up next, the April 1960 Astounding!

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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[Feb. 16, 1960] 1 in 4 (February Twilight Zone round-up)

Unless you’re watching the rather dull Men Into Space, the putatively “realistic” tales of astronaut Colonel MacCauley and his lunar mission crew, there isn’t a lot of science fiction or fantasy on television.  Thank goodness we have Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone to tune into every Friday night.  This is a mature show for adults, and while the scripts have not been as cutting edge conceptually as the stories you can read in the digests, they evince a sophistication you won’t find much of…well, anywhere, on television.

It has been a month since the last Twilight Zone round-up, so here’s a summary of the last four episodes so you’re ready come rerun time:

I’d had high hopes for The Hitch-Hiker after seeing its star, Inger Stevens in The World, The Flesh, and the Devil.  Ms. Stevens drives cross-country with a spectral hitcher constantly on her tail.  The story is let down by a couple of points.  The story is largely told in narration—Ms. Stevens mostly tells rather than shows her plight.  This strikes me as lazy storytelling.  I also find the section where she picks up a sailor to keep her company (and maintain her sanity) particulary off-putting; the fellow who accompanies her is far creepier than any shabby hitching bum.  I can’t figure out if this was intentional or not.  I suspect not.

The Fever is more of a public service warning against the dangers of gambling in which a normally sober husband is seduced by a demonic slot machine who calls the man’s name with an eerie tinkling, silver dollar-laden voice.  It is highly overwrought, and the ending is ridiculous.  Moreover, one can’t help feeling glad that the domineering wretch gets his comeuppance; he really is inexcusably rude to his wife, and his initial sanctimony, rather than pointing up the tragedy, is just annoying.

That puts us at two for two episodes involving someone going raving mad by the second act!

But then you get The Last Flight, which makes up for a lot of prior sins.  Yet another Richard Matheson teleplay (and far better than Third from the Sun), it’s the story of a Royal Air Corps aviator who takes off from a French airfield in 1917 and lands at a French airfield in 1959.  There is some delightful paradox looping and a very pretty Nieuport plane, and it’s all a lot of fun.  My daughter, who is just old enough to appreciate such things, noted that the pilot’s British accent was “so cute!”

Finally, we have The Purple Testament, another war-themed episode, involving a young Lieutenant in the Pacific Theater who can see death in his soldiers’ faces several hours before their last breaths.  Unremarkable, unambitious, at every turn predictable. 

The show started so promisingly that it’s frustrating when one gets several mediocre turns in a batch.  Still, even the worst episodes generally have something to recommend them, there’s no slighting the production values, and the stand-outs keep my daughter and I watching every Friday night.

As you all know, my editor loves to publish reader commentary in this column, so please feel free to tell me your thoughts on this show.  Do you agree with my rather curmudgeonly appraisals?  Do you wish to set me straight?  Sharpen those quills!

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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[Jan. 12, 1960] Twilight of the 60’s (Twilight Zone monthly wrap-up

I was asked by a dear reader if I had stopped watching The Twilight Zone on Fridays, it having been a month since I last discussed that delightful science fiction/fantasy/horror anthology.  Well, fear not.  I just like to let four episodes get into the queue before describing them.

In fact, if anything the show has only gotten better.  It helps that creator Rod Serling has been joined by a myriad of other established writers, which broadens the themes and tones we get to see.

Four weeks ago, Episode 12, What You Need debuted.  A kindly old sidewalk peddler seems to know exactly what items a given person can use at any given moment to achieve success.  At first, one expects the episode to have a cynical sting in it—perhaps it’s a deal-with-the-Devil sort of thing.  But it’s not.  In fact, as my daughter and I guessed early on, it turns out that the salesman has a limited sense of precognition.. and a big heart.  But what happens when this fellow runs across an unscrupulous man whose heart is as dark as the peddler’s is light?  Has the criminal found a golden goose?  Or a tiger by the tail?

It’s really good stuff, though the salesman has a plot-summarizing line at the end that is wholly superfluous, I suppose to drive the point home for the slower folks at home.

The Four of Us are Dying, the following week’s episode, involves a man who can change his face to match that of any person he can see, in life or photo.  It just takes a little time to concentrate.  He hatches a scheme to win the heart of a beautiful woman and to bilk a criminal of ill-gotten gains.  But when he puts on the wrong face at the wrong time, he suffers the consequences.  A solid, surreal show that is very effective despite the complete lack of special effects.

I was a little disappointed with Richard Matheson’s Third from the Sun, in which two families attempt to flee impending Armageddon by departing their doomed planet in a spaceship.  The kicker, obvious from the title, is that the refugees aren’t going from, but rather fleeing to Earth.  It suffers from overlongitis in the middle act, as earlier episodes did, and the constantly crooked camera angles look more silly than atmospheric.

Just the other day, we saw I Shot an Arrow, about the first manned spaceflight.  The ship goes off course during take-off and crashes on a remarkable Earth-like “asteroid.”  The next twenty minutes involved the crew dealing with thirst, hopelessness, and most significantly, a selfish crewmember gone mad and murderous with the desire to survive.  Both my daughter and I knew how it would end almost from the beginning—in fact, the expedition had crashed on Earth, and the actions of the crazy crewman were wholly unecessary.

I suspected the ending since the “asteroid” had an terrestrial atmosphere, was the same distance from the Sun, and all the other incidentals (including gravity and geology) were identical.  Of course, this sticks in the craw a couple of ways.  On the one hand, to buy that the crew had landed on an “asteroid,” you have to believe that the writer has no idea what the surface of an asteroid would really be like.  After all, asteroids have so little mass, relative to a planet, that they have no atmosphere and virtually no gravitational pull.  Moreover, no asteroid routinely comes very close to the Moon.

On the other hand, since it was so manifestly obvious to the audience that the crew had actually crashed on Earth, one has to wonder how the crew was so thick-headed as to miss the fact.

My daughter noted that space stories have been a common topic on this show, which makes sense given the current mania for the Space Race.  I just wish The Twilight Zone had the budget to really pull off stories set off-planet.  I feel the show is more successful when it sticks to intimate, moody, Earth-bound stories.

P.S. 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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