Tag Archives: Roger Zelazny

[January 22, 1963] Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (February 1963 Fantastic)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

January was full of ups and downs here in the United States.  Early in the month, the price of a first class stamp jumped from four cents to five cents.  That’s a twenty-five percent increase, and it’s only been five years since the last time the cost went up.


And postcards are now four cents.

At least we could forget about inflation for a while when Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece La Gioconda (more commonly known as Mona Lisa) was put on exhibition in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.  Thanks to the diplomatic charm of First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, the French agreed to let the most famous painting in the world travel across the Atlantic.


President Kennedy, Madame Malraux, French Minister of State for Cultural Affairs Malraux, Mrs. Kennedy, Vice-President Johnson.

Not even this great artistic event, however, could distract Americans from the most important social problem facing the nation.  Because I live about twenty miles from the state of Alabama, it hit me hard when I read the inauguration speech of George C. Wallace, newly elected Governor of the Cotton State.


Wallace delivering a speech written by Asa Carter, a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny and I say: segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

Given this fiery defiance, I am terrified of the possibility of my country facing a second Civil War over Civil Rights.

It’s understandable that, in these uncertain times, Americans turned to the soft crooning of Steve Lawrence’s syrupy tearjerker Go Away, Little Girl, which hit the top of the charts this month.

Appropriately, the latest issue of Fantastic is a mixture of the good and the bad.

Dr. Adams’ Garden of Evil, by Fritz Leiber

It seems likely that Lloyd Birmingham’s bizarre cover art provided the inspiration for this strange story of supernatural revenge.  The antihero is the publisher of a girlie magazine.  A woman holds him responsible for the coma that robbed her sister of her mind after she was the magazine’s Kitten-of-the-Month.  We quickly find out that this isn’t just paranoia on her part.  Through methods that combine Mad Science and Black Magic, the publisher grows miniature copies of women, which have harmful effects on the real ones.  He soon faces his just deserts.  Stylishly and elegantly written, with a great deal of imagination, this is a weird tale that always holds the reader’s attention.  Four stars.

The Titan in the Crypt, by J. G. Warner

The narrator enters a labyrinth of catacombs beneath the city of New Orleans, where he witnesses arcane rituals by cultists offering a disturbing sacrifice to a gigantic idol.  A horrible being chases after him as he makes his way back to the outside world.  This pastiche of H. P. Lovecraft doesn’t offer anything new.  The best thing about it is another outstanding, if grotesque, illustration by Lee Brown Coye.  Two stars.

Let ‘Em Eat Space, by William Grey Beyer

This issue’s reprint comes from the November 4, 1939 issue of Argosy.  Two insurance investigators travel to a distant solar system in order to find out why the metabolism of everyone on Earth is slowing down.  They find a planet inhabited by giant intelligent blobs, some of whom have mutated into evil creatures that prey on the others.  Our pair of wisecracking heroes manage to save humanity and the aliens.  This is a wild, tongue-in-cheek pulp adventure yarn with a lot of bad science.  Two stars.

Final Dining , by Roger Zelazny

An artist paints a portrait of Judas, using a strange pigment he found in a meteorite.  The painting has a life of its own, and tempts the painter into evil and self-destruction.  This is a compelling story by a prolific new writer.  It’s slightly overwritten in places, and the meteorite seems out of place in a tale of pure fantasy, but otherwise it’s very effective.  Four stars.

The Masters, by Ursula K. LeGuin

This is only the second genre story by another promising newcomer.  It takes place centuries after the fall of modern civilization.  Instead of returning to a completely pre-technological society, however, the people in this post-apocalyptic world are able to build steam engines and other moderately advanced devices.  The plot begins when a man undergoes a grueling initiation, allowing him to join the rigidly controlled guild of machinists.  A fellow engineer tempts him to violate the rules of their order through such forbidden activities as trying to measure the distance to the Sun and using Arabic numerals.  This pessimistic tale is much more original than most stories set after a worldwide disaster.  Four stars.

Black Cat Weather, by David R. Bunch

Editor Cele Goldsmith’s most controversial author offers a brief story set in a future where people have many of their body parts replaced with metal.  A little girl not yet old enough to require such procedures, assisted by a robot, brings something from a cemetery to her father.  Told in a dense style that requires close reading, this is a dark, disturbing tale.  Four stars.

Perfect Understanding, by Jack Egan

A man’s spaceship crashes on Mercury while racing away from hostile aliens.  The ethereal beings track him down, but he captures them and forces them to reveal their secrets in a way not revealed until the end of the story.  This space opera reads like something rejected by Analog.  It throws in a lot of implausible details, and the twist ending is predictable.  One star.

Like life in these modern times, this issue was a real rollercoaster ride.  Maybe it’s best to follow the advice of the old Johnny Mercer song and accentuate the positive.

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Check your mail for instructions…]




[December 22, 1962] The More Things Change . . . (January 1963 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
(The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.)
Jean-Baptiste Alphose Karr, Les Guêpes, January 1849

Those famous words of the noted French journalist of the previous century are worth pondering at this time, when we look forward to a new year.  Thanks to the peculiarities of the publishing industry, we can already see the prophetic words January 1963 on every newsstand, and if there’s one thing we can safely predict, it is that the breakneck pace of technological headlines will not slacken.

Earlier this month, the University of Manchester (United Kingdom) offered another glimpse into the future.  The Atlas computer, the most powerful in the world, began operating on December 7.  Said to be equivalent to four IBM 7094 devices, it operates at a speed approaching one million instructions per second.

The American spacecraft Mariner 2, so ably discussed by our host in a previous article, flew by Venus on December 14.  The data from the probe seem to indicate an atmospheric temperature of nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit.  So much for oceans and dinosaurs!

Just one day before this historic encounter, the Relay 1 satellite soared into orbit atop a Delta B rocket.  Designed to study the Earth’s radiation belts, it will also serve as a communications satellite, similar to Telstar 1.  If it, works, that is.  Due to a battery leak, the new spacecraft isn’t likely to change our knowledge of the universe…or that of goings-on in other continents.

Speaking of that renowned spacecraft, the instrumental number of the same name by the Tornados, already a smash hit in the United Kingdom, reached Number One in the USA today, much to my delight.  After suffering through five weeks of Big Girls Don’t Cry by the inexplicably popular Four Seasons at the top of the charts, this sprightly tribute to the Space Age is a refreshing change of pace.  Keeping in mind the wise words of Monsieur Karr, however, we can expect this charming import to be an anomaly, and not the sign of a British invasion of the American airwaves.

The latest issue of Fantastic also bears the hallmarks of change, breaking with tradition by including a nonfiction article and a book review.  Nevertheless, at its core, it remains the old magazine we know and love, continuing to provide entertainment for the reader of fantasy and science fiction.

The first item of note, before moving on to the contents proper, is that all five letters printed in the According to you . . . section of the magazine offer high praise for Fritz Leiber’s story The Unholy Grail, which appeared in the October 1962 issue.  Such universal acclamation is rare among fantasy fans, notorious for their contrary opinions.  (Just note the continuing debate over David R. Bunch in the same letter column.)

Neither Stairs Nor Door, by Robert F. Young

An author who often combines science fiction with romance makes use of a familiar legend in this simple but charming tale.  In medieval times, an unhappily married woman witnesses a handsome, beautifully dressed man emerge from a tower that appears from nowhere.  The reader already knows that he’s really an alien come to Earth in a shuttlecraft from the mothership.  You’ll probably predict which fairy tale this story parallels, but it’s enjoyable enough.  Three stars.

In the Days of King Arsgrat, by John Jakes

A boy who has lived alone in the wilderness since early childhood arrives at a village and is adopted by a childless couple.  At first, the setting seems to be a fantasy world.  We soon find out that the story takes place centuries after a disaster destroyed civilization.  The descendants of the survivors are awed by the few artifacts left behind by their remote ancestors, whom they think of as gods.  They go on raids to destroy the hated Green Crabs, and live in fear of the unseen King Arsgrat, to whom the most desirable of the young women in the village go when they come of age.  The hero, in love with a girl doomed to this fate, determines to confront King Arsgrat.  What he discovers changes his former skepticism about the gods.  This is a compelling, thoughtful adventure story with a subtle touch of satire.  The nature of the Green Crabs, and the true identity of King Arsgrat, are surprising, and make the reader think about the things our modern society considers important.  Four stars.

Ghost and Ghoul, by T. C. Lethbridge

This excerpt from the book of the same name is the first nonfiction article I’ve seen in Fantastic.  The author attempts to explain paranormal phenomenon by hypothesizing that the human brain filters out most information before it reaches the mind.  Only gifted psychics can perceive such things.  The author presents no evidence for his theory and is unlikely to convince any skeptics.  One star.

The Leech, by Jack Sharkey

An officer of the law goes to arrest a man for practicing medicine without a license.  The fellow only wants to help people, using a bizarre method to remove cancer from the patient’s body.  He makes a deal with the officer, with unexpected consequences.  This is a fairly effective horror story with a gruesome climax.  Three stars.

Three Tales for the Horrid at Heart, by Brad Steiger

As the title implies, this piece consists of a trio of very short stories with grim, ironic endings.  In the first, a man has his ESP tested under rigorous conditions.  In the second, a police detective tries to expose a spiritualist.  In the third, two persons await battle with the one who threatens their existence.  How much you enjoy them may depend on your fondness for bagatelles.  Two stars.

The Man Next Door, by Paul Ernst

This month’s Fantasy Classic first appeared in the March 4, 1939 issue of Argosy.  A mental patient who made a hobby of astronomy during his rational moments disappears from an insane asylum.  At the same time, a mysterious fellow purchases the empty house next to the narrator’s home.  A series of strange deaths is involved.  The solution to the mystery isn’t surprising, even if you don’t bother to read the introduction by SF historian Sam Moskowitz, who always reveals the plot gimmicks of these reprints.  The story comes to a very sudden, unsatisfactory end.  Two stars.

The Forelife Myth, by Albert Teichner

Ghosts debate the existence of people.  The author creates an imaginative setting, where the spirits of the dead have no idea why they suddenly appear, at any age from newborn to elderly, in what seems to them to be the only real world.  Although the plot is extremely simple, the background is constructed with great care.  Three stars.

3rd Sister, by Arthur Porges

As a young girl, the narrator faces the impending death of her mother.  In a desperate effort to save her life, she goes to a house inhabited by three elderly sisters rumored to be evil.  The plot involves a familiar myth, which the author uses with good effect.  Four stars.
(I might also mention that the above two stories are greatly enhanced by the chilling art of Lee Brown Coye.)

On the Road to Splenoba, by Roger Zelazny

I believe this is the longest work yet from a new writer who specializes in very short stories.  A Communist official traveling in a remote area behind the Iron Curtain has to stay the night at the castle of a Baron.  If you’ve ever seen an old horror movie on Shock Theater, you won’t be too surprised at what kind of being the Baron turns out to be.  Not as poetically written as the author’s miniature tales, this story does feature an interesting twist at the end.  Three stars.

Fantasy Books, by S. E. Cotts

To my knowledge, this is only the second time that the magazine has printed a book review.  The subject is Ray Bradbury’s new novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes.  I have read and enjoyed this nostalgic fantasy of an evil carnival and the effect it has on two young boys in a small town.  I recommend it to those who enjoy Bradbury, although you may want to wait until it comes out in paperback.  (The hardcover costs almost five dollars!) The reviewer is not so enthusiastic.  The main objection is that the book never comes together as a whole, and is more like a series of beautifully written sketches.  Whether or not you agree with this assessment, the review is thoughtful and persuasive.

With so many changes, both welcome and unwelcome, going on in the world these days, it’s good to know that some things, like the eternal movement of time through the years, or the fact that any issue of a fiction magazine is going to have both gems and dross, never change.  Have a good 1963!

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[November 12, 1962] HEADS ABOVE THE CLOUDS (the December 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Science fiction becomes science fact!  Well not quite, fortunately for us all.  It appears that we came to the brink of nuclear war last month but our leaders on both sides had sense enough to turn back from it.  These grave events reverberated even here, far from any population center or promising military target.  We were herded to a school assembly to be addressed by the principal, very briefly.  It went more or less like this:

“We, ah, don’t think . . . er, anything . . . is going to . . . ah, happen, but if, er, . . . something . . . ah, happens . . . classes will be dismissed and you will return to your homes” (these last clauses delivered with accelerating confidence, unlike the earlier ones).

Shortly thereafter, I was outside in gym class (physical education, as they call it here).  In a corner of the large outdoor area, the school’s paper trash was burning in a concrete enclosure.  (Isn’t there a better way of disposing of this stuff than burning it in the open air?  There ought to be a law.) The wind shifted, and fine bits of ash began drifting down on us.  “Fallout!” someone yelled.

So much for existential terror, at least in the so-called real world.  There’s a fair dose of it in the December Amazing, however, and this issue is noticeably wider awake than its recent predecessors.

Raymond F. Jones contributes the lead story Stay Off the Moon! Jones is an intermittently prolific 20-year veteran who has produced a lot of cut-to-specs product but sometimes comes up with clever oddball ideas, and here’s one of them.  Our guys at Mission Control succeed in putting a remote-controlled mobile laboratory device on the Moon to take soil (i.e. rock) samples, analyze them, and transmit the results.  Turns out the atomic weights and energy levels are different from the matter we know.  How can that be?  The Moon must have originated a long, long way away, in a place where the laws we thought are universal don’t quite work.  Well, what else is going on up there?  Finding the bizarre but logical (and terrifying) answer is the rest of the story.  This is the kind of thing only an SF geek can appreciate, but within those bounds it’s imaginative and well done.  Four stars.

Roger Zelazny’s Moonless in Byzantium—his second Amazing story, fourth published—might have a broader appeal.  It’s a surreal riff on one of the more familiar plots in the warehouse, the lone rebel face to face with an oppressive regime, in this case the Robotic Overseeing Unit.  In this dystopia, machines are in charge, people are mostly machines, and our protagonist is charged with writing Sailing to Byzantium on a washroom wall.  He is also charged with illegal possession of a name—William Butler Yeats, which he appended to Yeats’s poem.  This is the world of Cutgab, in which language itself is drastically restricted and simplified, and writing forbidden.  ROU accuses: “You write without purpose or utility, which is why writing itself has been abolished—men always lie when they write or speak.” The outcome is inevitable save for the accused’s final and futile defiance.  This is one that succeeds on sheer power of writing; in theme and style, it suggests Bradbury with sharper teeth.  Four stars for bravura execution of a stock idea.

This month’s Editorial indicates that some readers thought that this Roger Zelazny was himself a fictional character, and prints Zelazny’s reassurance that he exists; his Polish ancestors were armorers and the name comes from the Polish for “iron”; he’s 25, and possesses an M.A. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, military training as a guided missile launcher crewman, and his old copies of Captain Future.

The Zelazny is followed by Far Enough to Touch, by Stephen Bartholomew, who had a couple of stories in If and one in Astounding a few years ago.  A space mission is returning from the Moon, and suddenly one of the crew—the young one who seemed most entranced by space—has gone out the airlock in his spacesuit.  Rescued, he’s in an ecstatic delusional fugue, and stays that way.  And the point?  It escapes me, but the story is very smoothly written.  Two stars.

Stewart Pierce Brown contributes an equally well-turned but insubstantial story in Small Voice, Big Man, in which the voice of a washed-up singer suddenly is emanating from radios everywhere, to benign effect.  And the singer, Van Richie, is trying to make a comeback, but had a hard time singing loudly enough until the producer’s electrician rigged up an amplifier for him to wear.  OK, clear enough, but so what?  Two insipid stars—but this one is also smoothly written, not surprisingly from a writer who’s been in Bluebook, Collier’s, Playboy, and the Saturday Evening Post.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, who served up a dish of broken glass in the last issue, is back with something more soothing.  Measureless to Man takes place on yesterday’s Mars, where explorers travel on foot through the mountains with tents and sleeping bags, people get around by flagging down the mail jet, and the fauna include cute scaly sand mice and banshees, giant, stupid but dangerous flightless birds.  I suspect that this story was at least started a decade ago in hopes of a sale to the now-deceased pulps that Bradley admired.  Anyway, it concerns an expedition into the said mountains to the ancient city Xanadu, abandoned ages ago by the seemingly extinct Martians, from which no previous expedition has returned, and you can more or less guess what happens, in broad outline at least.  This used furniture is rearranged agreeably enough, with a slightly ironic, newer-style ending.  Three stars.

Sam Moskowitz’s “SF Profile” this issue is “Psycho”-logical Bloch, which is a little puzzling; Moskowitz readily concedes that Robert Bloch is a fairly inconsequential SF writer and that his main credentials are in horror and psychological suspense, at this point chiefly in film and TV.  Apparently Bloch is here in this series featuring the likes of Asimov and Heinlein because he’s popular among fandom.  But for a relatively pointless article, it’s perfectly readable and informative.  Three stars.

Finally, Frank Tinsley is back with The Mars Supply Fleet, doing his best to make space travel pedestrian again.  Two stars for making interesting information boring.

But still, cause for hope: two items in this issue poke their heads above the cloudbank of routine, in very different ways…




[September 22, 1962] Cat and Mouse Game (October 1962 Fantastic)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

One of the most notable events this month, at least to those of us who look to the stars, was a speech by President Kennedy at Rice University.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

Fittingly, the second team of NASA astronauts was announced this month, captured here in a lighter moment.


Clockwise from top right are Frank Borman, John Young, Tom Stafford, Pete Conrad, Jim McDivitt, Jim Lovell, Elliot See, Ed White and Neil Armstrong.

Will one of these men become the first human being (or at least the first American) on the moon?  We’ll have to wait some years to find out.

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, the airwaves are dominated by the smash hit, Sherry, by the Four Seasons.  Personally, lead singer Frankie Valli’s falsetto makes me want to leave the planet myself.

A more practical form of escape can be found in the pages of the October 1962 issue of Fantastic.

Another fine cover by the great Emsh captures the mood of a major new story by one of the masters of imaginative literature.

The Unholy Grail, by Fritz Leiber

The author has published a number of tales relating the adventures of the red-haired giant Fafhrd and his much smaller companion the Gray Mouser since 1939.  This story takes place before the two met (although there is one line which suggests that the Grey Mouser caught a glimpse of Fafhrd during an encounter with pirates.)

Not yet known by his famous nickname, the hero is simply called Mouse.  He is the apprentice of a benign practitioner of white magic.  The local Duke hates all magicians.  His daughter secretly takes lessons from Mouse’s master, and a gentle romance seems to be blooming between the two young persons.  The story begins with the Mouse returning from a long and difficult quest for the magician.  He finds his master dead and his home burned to the ground.  This is obviously the work of the Duke, and Mouse seeks revenge by turning to black magic.

The story vividly portrays the terrible price one must pay in order to make use of evil magic, and becomes at time a tale of horror.  There is a great deal of psychological depth to the characters.  The Duke is haunted by the memory of his dead wife, who was stronger and crueler than he is.  He tries to force his meek daughter to become like her. 

Leiber’s female characters are usually charming and beautiful, but this time he explores the mind of the daughter to a greater degree than usual.  She is bitterly unhappy because of the way her father torments her.  She suffers even more when the Mouse blames her for betraying the magician.  During the climactic scene, when she plays a vital role in the Mouse’s scheme of vengeance, she shows unexpected strength of character.
The way in which the naïve and nonviolent Mouse is transformed by tragedy into the cynical, sword-wielding Gray Mouser is sure to capture the imagination of the reader.  Five stars.

The Double-Timer, by Thomas M. Disch

A new author makes his debut with this tale of murder and time travel.  In the next century, special members of the police force are able to investigate crimes by projecting themselves into the recent past.  (The device works only back in time, and no more than eighteen hours.) The narrator is one such officer, who works out a plan to murder his wife and place the blame on the man whom he believes is her lover.  Things don’t work out as he expects.  The plot is cleverly thought out, although this story might seem more suited to the pages of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which sometimes publishes crime fiction with science fiction elements.  Perhaps the author will follow the lead of Donald Westlake and John D. MacDonald and turn to writing thrillers.  In any case, he shows promise and intelligence.  Four stars.

Any Questions?, by Leo P. Kelley

In this brief story, aliens come to Earth disguised as humans and offer various people devices which allow them to create anything they desire.  The result is not surprising, but the tale is told in an efficient manner.  Three stars.

Nor Iron Bars a Cage, by Ron Goulart

This is a farce about the warden of an automated prison.  A glitch in the program (created in a very silly manner) causes him to be mistaken for a prisoner on death row.  The robot guards refuse to believe his story.  With only a few days until his execution, he must find a way out.  The ending of the story is as silly as the beginning.  The robot clergyman provides some mild amusement.  Two stars.

Presence of Mind, by Martin Armstrong

The Fantasy Classic for this issue is from the pen of a prolific British author of fiction and poetry.  It is taken from a 1934 collection of his short stories.  The protagonist takes a shortcut through a private garden on his way to an appointment, hoping to avoid notice.  When confronted by a servant, he tries to escape by pretending to be looking for the home of a man with the ridiculously unlikely name of Z. Q. Muggleton Spoffin.  To his astonishment, this is the name of the man who lives there.  In an attempt to get out of this absurd situation, he makes up a story involving people with other outrageous names.  Incredibly, all the imaginary people he creates actually exist.  As the story goes on, he even makes up an imaginary brand of lawnmower.  This is an eccentric story, which plays games with the nature of reality.  The mood is generally one of light comedy, although there is a subtle tone of uneasiness.  It is definitely better than the old pulp stories the magazine usually reprints.  Three stars.

The Teachers Rode a Wheel of Fire , by Roger Zelazny

A young writer who has already appeared in the publications edited by Cele Goldsmith a couple of times offers another very short story.  In this one, a primitive human (or humanoid) witnesses the arrival of a spaceship bearing two technologically advanced humans (or humanoids.) They try to teach him how to use simple tools of wood and stone by enticing him with food.  He doesn’t seem to learn anything, but at the end of the story he gets an idea in an unexpected way.  It was never clear to me whether this was another planet, or Earth thousands of years ago being visited by aliens (or, possibly, time travelers.) Despite this vagueness, and the fact that we never learn why the advanced characters are trying to teach the primitive character, the story is of some interest.  I hope the author, who obviously has talent and imagination, goes on to write longer and more complex stories.  Three stars.

Autogeddon, by Geoffry Wagner

Here we have a fierce and violent satire of the modern automobile culture from a name new to me.  In the future, the United States is ruled by a dictatorship.  The entire nation has been paved over.  Cars zoom by at enormous rates of speed.  A license is required to be a pedestrian.  Even so, drivers have the freedom to run over any victims they find.  These murders are televised as entertainment.  The plot involves a college professor and one of his students who try to rebel against this bloody society.  This is a grim and powerful tale, which may make you think twice the next time you try to cross a busy street.  Four stars.

You may not be able to buy a ticket to the moon yet, but at least you can purchase a trip into the realms of wonder.




[July 12, 1962] ROUTINE EXCURSION (the August 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Summertime, and the living is . . . hot and sticky, here in the near-South.  Also fairly boring, if one is not much interested in such local rustic amusements as hayrides and frog-gigging (if you have to ask, you don’t want to know.) There’s no better time to find a comfortable hiding place and read science fiction magazines, except possibly for all the other times.  Of course the season—any season—doesn’t guarantee merit, and the August 1962 Amazing is the usual mixed bag.

The issue leads off with the cover story Gateway to Strangeness by Jack Vance, which contrary to its title goes out of its way to avoid strangeness.  It’s the one about the martinet skipper who treats his young trainee sailors with brutal sternness—not to mention sabotage to create life-threatening problems for them to solve—but it’s good for them and makes men out of them, except for the one who’s dead.  In this case it’s a solar sail ship and not a windjammer, but the premise is just as tired regardless of medium.  The most interesting aspect is the description of operating a spaceship propelled by the “wind” of light and particles emanating from the Sun.  For a Vance story, that’s a judgment of failure: his talents lie elsewhere than hardware (see The Moon Moth in last year’s Galaxy and The Miracle Workers a few years ago in Astounding), but he seems determined sometimes to play to his weaknesses.  Two stars.

The other novelet here is James H. Schmitz’s Rogue Psi, in which humanity (via the members of a secret psi research project) confronts a “hypnotizing telepath” who can control or impersonate anyone, and has been interfering with humanity, and in particular its efforts to get off-planet, for centuries.  The showdown is brought about via “diex energy,” which amplifies psi powers.  This is all moonshine, but Schmitz is an engaging writer and has a knack for physical and experiential description that make his account of psychic goings-on better grounded than others we could name—none of the familiar “he stiffened his mind shield as Zork lashed out” sort of thing.  The deus ex machina, or ex hat, resolution even goes down smoothly.  Three stars for capable, even lively, deployment of material that otherwise would border on cliche. 

In between is the short story Passion Play by Roger Zelazny—who?  New writer, I guess, and the story is a heavily satirical vignette of a sort common from new writers—that is, it’s only barely a story.  In the future, it appears, robots have inherited the Earth, and one of them tells his story (in the present tense, no less), which involves ceremonially reenacting a crash from a famous auto race of the past (this one at Le Mans).  The guy is a glib writer, though—“After the season of Lamentations come the sacred stations of the Passion, then the bright Festival of Resurrection, with its tinkle and clatter, its exhaust fumes, scorched rubber, clouds of dust, and its great promise of happiness”—so we may hear from him again, more substantially.  Two stars, basted with promise.


One hopes not to hear further from Beta McGavin, the probably pseudonymous author of Dear Nan Glanders, an advice column from the future, a silly space-filler of which the best that can be said is that it distracts from Benedict Breadfruit, whose exploits continue here as well.  One star.

That’s it for the fiction contents, except for the second installment of Keith Laumer’s A Trace of Memory, to be discussed when it is completed next month.  As for non-fiction, Sam Moskowitz contributes C.L. Moore: Catherine the Great, another in his “SF Profiles” series, with considerable interesting biographical detail and more attention than usual for Moskowitz to her more recent work (possibly because there is so little of it).  Four stars.

But overall, this magazine is getting a little exasperating.  The year began well with several excellent stories by J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, and Mark Clifton, but the streak did not continue.  For some months now the magazine’s high points have mostly been competent product like this month’s Schmitz story, nice tries like Purdom’s The Warriors, and trifles with promise like Zelazny’s story in this issue.  Enough promise; time for some more delivery.