Tag Archives: robert wicks

[Oct. 2, 1960] Second-rate fun (November 1960 IF Science Fiction)

Galaxy’s little sister, IF Science Fiction has settled into a predictable format.  Filled with a number of “B” authors, mostly neophytes, it generally leads with a decent novelette, and the rest of the stories are two and three-star affairs.  I don’t think the blame can be put on IF‘s shadow editor, Fred Pohl (Horace Gold is all but retired these days, I understand).  Rather, this is about the best quality one can expect for a penny a word. 

That said, the stories in IF are rarely offensively bad, and perhaps some day, one of these novices learning the ropes of writing in the minor leagues will surprise us with a masterpiece.

Preamble out of the way, let’s take a look at the November 1960 issue:

Jim Harmon is actually quite the veteran, and he has a knack for interesting, off-beat writing.  His novelette, Mindsnake, depicts a future where interstellar teleportation is possible, but fraught with risk.  Only the Companions, colloquially known (and disparaged) as Witches, can keep a traveller’s mind intact over the long journey.  Good stuff, and original.  Four stars.

Then we have the short Superjoemulloy by unknown Scott F. Grenville.  How can the most powerful man challenge himself?  By creating a superior version of himself, of course.  Three stars.

Now, I was a bit dismayed to find Daniel Keyes in the Table of Contents.  Whenever I see a “big name” in IF (and there is no question that Keyes is a big name: he won the Hugo this year for Flowers for Algernon), the story is usually a second-rater.  Sure enough, The Quality of Mercy, which clunkily mixes sentient computers with organ transplants and mandated euthanasia, is a bit of a talky mess.  Two stars.

R.A. Lafferty is a fellow who may surprise us some day.  He seems to be enjoying an upward trajectory with his stories, not just in quality but in venue.  McGonigal’s Worm, in which every animal on Earth loses the ability to breed, is sort of a poor man’s Brain Wave.  Read it, and you’ll see what I mean.  Three stars.

Esidarap ot Pirt Dnuor is an engaging little tale of tourism in a rather backward place, brought to us by Lloyd Biggle, Jr, who spends much of his time appearing in Fantastic.  I liked it, but I’m afraid I didn’t get the final joke–an Un-Prize to anyone who can explain it to me.  Three stars.

I was gratified to find that, per his book review column, Fred Pohl liked much the same stories in Aldiss’ Galaxies like Grains of Sand as I did.  On the other hand, he liked Dickson’s Dorsai! far more than me.  Perhaps the novelization (titled The Genetic General) is better than the serial.

William Stuart is back with another well-written story that doesn’t quite hit the mark.  Don’t think about it is a low-grade F&SF-style tale that takes too long to get to its kicker, and whose kicker lacks kick.  Three stars.

That brings us to Frank Herbert’s Egg and Ashes, told from the point of view of a charming if horrifying little symbiote (parasite?) I felt like the beginning was better than the ending, but I do like the way Herbert turns a phrase.  Three stars.

The issue ends with The Impersonator, the third story ever published by Robert Wicks.  In the midling future, the Earth is threatened by an impending Ice Age thanks to humanity’s rapacious exploitation of the planet’s resources.  A host of outrageous plans are developed to fix the problem: from salting ice fields with carbon dust, to altering the axial tilt of the planet, to tapping the heat from the Earth’s core.  It’s not a great story, but I liked Wicks’ satirical presentation of “doubling down” in an attempt to thwart catastrophe.  Three stars.

As you can see, this isn’t the best crop of stories.  On the other hand, minor league games draw crowds, too.  And the tickets are cheaper….

Earthbound Satellite (April 1959 Satellite; 3-29-1959)


by Ray Pioch

And now for something a bit different.

Back in ’56, famed pulp editor, Leo Margulies, launched Satellite, a bi-monthly science fiction digest with the gimmick that it contained a full-length short novel as well as a few short stories.  I always had a soft spot for that mag.  One of my favorite novels was Planet for Plunder by Hal Clement and Sam Merwin; it came out in the February ’57 ish, and I read it on the beach during one of trips to Kaua’i.  It’s an excellent tale of first contact mostly from a truly alien viewpoint.  Highly recommended.

Late last year, Satellite went out on hiatus.  Then, at the beginning of this year, Satellite returned with Cylvia Kleiman at the editorial helm.  The magazine sported a full-sized format, presumably to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the slicks.  No longer featuring novels, it dubbed itself “The Best in Science Fiction.”

Who could resist a pitch like that?  So the other day, I picked up this month’s (May) and last month’s (April) issues.  What did I find inside?

I suppose one could argue that some of the writers are among science fiction’s best, but these are definitely their second-rate stories.  This is not the Satellite I used to know and love.  Let’s have a look, shall we?

The lead story is by the reliable J.T. McIntosh; The Solomon Plan is easily the best fictional piece in the magazine.  In Plan, a terran spy tries to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed before: solving the mystery of the backward planet of Bynald.  Where the other planets of the 26th century terran federation enjoy a correspondingly advanced quality of life, the hyper-patriotic Bynald seems to be stuck in the 20th century.  Moreover, their population is unaccountably low given the length of time it has been settled. 


by Leo Morey

McIntosh creates a nice group of characters, including a couple of reasonably developed females.  The solution to the mystery is rather implausible, and the ending rather pat, but the story does not fail to entertain.  I would have been more impressed had Plan not been a reprint–originally appearing in the February 1956 New Worlds Science Fiction.

A regular feature of Satellite is a biographical piece on one of the antediluvian forefathers of science fiction.  In this case, it is a somewhat hagiographic piece by Sam Moskowitz on the justifiably famous A. Merritt.  I’m a sucker for history, so it was worth picking up this ish for the piece. 

The rest of the magazine is mediocre at best.  Fritz Leiber’s Psychosis from Space was, reportedly, an old story that he thought so little of that he forgot of its existence until Satellite asked him for a contribution.  An astronaut goes out on humanity’s first faster than light mission and returns able only to stumble about aimlessly and babble meaninglessly.  Turns out his brain is running backwards.  There is also some intrigue surrounding the astronaut’s doctor and his attempts to coerce information about the trip from his patient.  At least the (female) nurse character is competent and resourceful.


by Leo Morey

The duel of the insecure man, by newcomer Tom Purdom, is rather strange.  In the far future (1988), it has become popular to engage in duels of cutting questions, the goal being to lay bare the soul of one’s opponent and leave them a humiliated wreck.  I am given to understand that this story was heavily hacked in editorial, so I won’t dignify the resulting kluge with further verbiage.

I did enjoy Ellery Lanier’s rather star-eyed account of the American Rocket Society meeting.  In particular, I was excited to see his report on the Mouse in Able project.  For those who don’t know, prior to the Air Force’s Pioneer missions, the Thor-Able rocket was used in suborbital shots to test re-entry nose cones.  Since scientists abhor unused space as much as nature does, a mouse was included as part of the payload.

What makes this story particularly interesting is that the project was the brainchild of one of the very few woman scientists working in the space program: Laurel ‘Frankie’ Van der Wal, an amazon of a lady both in stature and fiery spirit.  At some point, I’ll give you all the inside story on that project; it is both enlightening and humorous.

Algis Budrys’ The Last Legend is fair but not up to his usual standard.  It’s a traditional gotcha story of an older generation of science fiction: an astronaut makes humanity’s first trip to another star, the journey having been previously unsurvivable by living things.  After returning as a hero, it turns out that he’s just a robot.

Robert Wicks’ Patient 926, in which all children are inoculated against imagination, and Henry Slesar’s Job Offer (“Dig this!  The post-nuclear mutant is a normal human!”) are both unremarkable in the extreme.

In sum, Satellite is definitely bargain-bin science fiction, though it is not without its charms.  I have trouble seeing it surviving much longer, especially out on the news stands next to Life and Time.

Next up, the other half of the double-feature that included The Blob!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


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