Tag Archives: Roger Zelazny

[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.