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[August 22, 1962] State of Confusion (September 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

The world was shocked and mystified this month by the death of Marilyn Monroe, an apparent suicide at the age of thirty-six.  The paradox of a young woman who was revered as a star but who led a troubled personal life may bewilder those of us who have never experienced the intense pressure of celebrity.  Perhaps it is best to offer quiet sympathy to her friends and family and allow them to mourn in privacy.

The police are baffled, to use a cliché, by the robbery of a mail truck containing one and one-half million dollars in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  This is the largest cash heist in history.  The daring holdup men, dressed as police officers, stopped the vehicle while it was on route from Cape Cod to Boston.

Even listening to the radio can be a puzzling experience.  The airwaves are dominated by Neil Sedaka’s smash hit Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.  At first, this seems to be a simple, upbeat, happy little tune, particularly considering the repetitive, nonsensical chant of down dooby doo down down comma comma down dooby doo down down.  Listening to the lyrics, however, one realizes that this is really a sad song about the end of a love affair.

With all of this confusion going on, it’s appropriate that the latest issue of Fantastic features characters who are perplexed, authors who seem a little mixed up, and stories which may leave the reader scratching her head.

Plane Jane, by Robert F. Young

Lloyd Birmingham’s surreal cover art provides the inspiration for a strange story about a man who goes to a psychiatrist because he thinks other people are unreal.  The headshrinker, who is more than she seems to be, leads him on a bizarre odyssey to the places he worked, served in the military, and went to school.  The weird thing is that all these locations seem to have sprung up out of nowhere only recently, although he has memories of them.  This is a unique and intriguing tale with a resourceful heroine to guide the disoriented protagonist.  My one complaint is that the author explains too much about what’s going on in the opening prologue.  I would suggest skipping this section and starting with the first chapter to get the full effect.  Four stars.

Open with Care, by Boyd Correll

A new writer offers an opaque account of a brilliant scientist, recently forced to retire, who is using isotopes for a secretive project of his own.  (For purposes of the plot, he might as well be using witchcraft.) His long-suffering wife wonders about the packages he keeps bringing home, and about the fact that he seems to be transparent.  There appears to be a reference in the story to a famous thought experiment in physics.  It all leads up to a shocking ending.  Frankly, I didn’t understand this story, although it’s not entirely without interest.  Two stars.

April in Paris, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Another fledging author (although I believe she had a mainstream story published in a literary journal last year) appears for the first time in Fantastic, this time with great promise for a fine career.  A professor of French literature sits in an old garret in Paris working on his research.  Four centuries in the past, an alchemist living in the same building uses black magic to bring the scholar back to his own time, more or less by accident.  After much confusion on the part of both, they become close friends.  Everything seems fine until they feel the need for feminine companionship.  Spells are used to fetch women from other times, and complications ensue.  This is a delightful romantic fantasy with an unexpected touch of science fiction.  All of the characters are likable, and it’s refreshing to have a story with such a sunny mood.  Five stars.

New Worlds, by Erle Stanley Gardner

This issue’s fantasy classic comes from the creator of the popular Perry Mason mysteries.  It begins with a gigantic storm destroying the city of New York.  It seems that the Earth’s poles have shifted, leading to worldwide flooding.  The Hero, the Girl, and the Scientist escape in a vessel which, through incredible good luck, they find in the showroom of a motorboat company.  They eventually wind up on a tropical island.  The Villain rules the place as a tyrant, using his guns to murder the inhabitants at will.  At this point the story abandons its apocalyptic premise and becomes a more mundane adventure yarn, as if the author wasn’t sure what kind of tale he was spinning.  The Good Guy could just have easily wound up on the Bad Guy’s island in some other way.  Two stars.

Junior Partner, by Ron Goulart

An author better known for light comedy shows his more serious side, although the story is not without some dark humor.  The narrator is the son of a man who runs his company with ruthless efficiency.  All of his employees perform perfectly, keeping to a rigid schedule.  Anticipating his impending demise from a bad heart, he reveals the secret of his control over his workers.  The son doesn’t understand at first, but eventually figures out what his father is showing him.  Unfortunately, the young man has a failing that leads to unpleasant consequences.  This is a moderately engaging tale.  Three stars.

I hope this modest article, the product of an addled brain, hasn’t confused my Gentle Readers excessively.  Fantastic continues to be the worthier of Cele Goldsmith’s two magazines, and in these confusing times, it is good to have something one can depend on…




[June 25, 1962] XX marks the spot (July 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I’ve been thundering against the new tack Editor Avram Davidson has taken The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for several months now, so much so that I didn’t even save what used to be my favorite magazine for last this month.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when, in synchronicity with the sun reaching its annual zenith, the July edition also returns to remembered heights.  Of course, Davidson’s editorial prefaces are still lousy, being at once too obvious in describing the contents of the proceeding story, and at the same time, obtuse beyond enjoyment.  If there’s anything on which I pin the exceeding quality of this issue, it’s the unusual abundance of woman authors.  It’s been a long time, and their absence has been keenly marked (at least by me).  For the most part, the fellas aren’t too bad either.  Take a look:

Darfgarth, by Vance Aandahl

Hundreds of years from now, or perhaps thousands of years ago, a mesmeric bard named Darfgarth came to a little Colorado town.  He exerted his influence like a God, but men aren’t Gods, and men who aspire to be Gods usually meet an unpleasant end.  A nicely atmospheric story, though the seams showed through a bit too much.  Three stars.

Two’s a Crowd, by Sasha Gilien

A pair of polar opposite souls struggle for ascendancy in the tabula rasa mind of a newborn.  Gilien’s first published piece reads like one – uneven and with a hackneyed ending.  Two stars.  (Take heart – this is the only sub-par story in the book!)

Master Misery, by Truman Capote

When a thought-vampire steals all of your dreams, what is left to live for?  I tend to look dimly upon reprints as a cheap way to fill space, but it’s hard to complain about the inclusion of this story, by a very young Capote, fresh off the success (and controversy) of his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms.  It’s a dreamy, metaphorical piece, both in theme and delivery, and it works.  Four stars.

Stanley Toothbrush, by Carl Brandon

Newcomer Brandon has written a timeless yet incredibly now story about a tired young man, his fetching (but physically demanding) girlfriend, and the improbably named fellow who literally comes out of nowhere to threaten their relationship.  It’s the youth’s owned damned fault, but he doesn’t know it.  A very The Twilight Zone sort of piece that’s rising action all the way to the very pleasant end.  Four stars.

Subcommittee, by Zenna Henderson

Henderson’s first non-The People story in a good long while is a tale of finding common ground between two seemingly implacable foes.  In this case, the enemy is a fleet of alien exiles, the “good guys” the denizens of Planet Earth a few decades from now.  The cynical side of me groans at the naivete of the piece.  The romantic side of me kicks the cynical side a few times and reminds it that Henderson still spins a compelling yarn, and we can use a little hope in this harsh world.  I only cringe slightly at the highly conventional gender roles of Subcommittee – but then, I expect Henderson is making more of a statement about today than a prediction about the future.  Let’s hope HUAC doesn’t investigate her for being a commie peacenik.  Four stars.

Brown Robert, by Terry Carr

A gritty time travel story with a twist, but the set-up doesn’t quite match the ending, and the thing falls apart on closer inspection.  Good twist, though.  Three stars.

Six Haiku, by Karen Anderson

Better known as the better half of prolific writer Poul Anderson, Karen seems to be embarking on an independent career; her first story came out just two months ago.  Anyway, this handful of poetic trifles is worth the time you’ll spend on them, plus the customary 20% mark-up.  Three stars.

My Dear Emily, by Joanna Russ

A fine take on Stoker from the victim’s point of view, but is the increasingly unshackled Emily really a victim?  Russ doesn’t write often, but when she does, the result is always unique.  Four stars.

Hot Stuff, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor serves up an article on a subject near and dear to my astronomically-minded heart: the death of stars.  You may find it abstruse, but careful reading will reward.  Four stars.

Meanwhile, Alfred Bester continues to savage books he hasn’t actually read, to wit, his utterly missing the point of The Lani People.  Moreover, he refuses to do more than describe the plot of Catseye, so affronted is Bester by the grief Andre Norton gave him for his review of Shadow Hawk.  Ms. Norton was entirely in the right – I, too, was incensed when Bester proclaimed, “women just can’t write adventure.”  Firstly, Norton does not represent all of womanhood.  Secondly, Norton has proven countless times that she can.  And lastly, when’s the last time you wrote anything, has-been Alfred? 

It’s a good thing I don’t rate book review columns…

The Man Without a Planet, by Kate Wilhelm

A rendezvous on the way to Mars between the man punished for unlocking the heavens and the boy he inspired to reach them.  A great idea if not a terrific story.  Three stars.

Uncle Arly, by Ron Goulart

Yet another Max Kearney story.  This time, the avocational exorcist takes on the spirit of a buttinsky ad-man who won’t stop haunting a young man’s TV until he agrees to marry the ghost’s niece.  The prime requisite of a comedic story is that it be funny.  I chuckled many-a-time; call this one a success.  Four stars.

Throw in a conclusory Feghoot (the groan it elicits is a sign of its potency) and you’ve got an issue that comfortably meters in at 3.5 stars.  Four woman authors marks a record for the digest – any s-f digest, in fact.  Perhaps it is this quality issue that prompted “Satchmo’s” profuse praise, which now graces the back of the magazine:

[Apr. 28, 1962] Changing of the Guard (May 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I never thought the time would come that reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would be the most dreaded portion of my duties…and yet, here we are.  Two issues into new Editor Avram Davidson’s tenure, it appears that the mag’s transformation from a great bastion of literary (if slightly stuffy) scientifiction is nearly complete.  The title of the digest might well be The Magazine of Droll Trifles (with wry parenthetical asides).

One or two of these in an issue, if well done, can be fine.  But when 70% of the content is story after story with no science and, at best, stream-of-consciousness whimsy, it’s a slog.  And while one could argue that last issue’s line-up comprised works picked by the prior editor, it’s clear that this month’s selections were mostly Davidson’s. 

Moreover, Robert Mills (the outgone “Kindly Editor”) used to write excellent prefaces to his works, the only ones I would regularly read amongst all the digests.  Davidson’s are rambling and purple, though I do appreciate the biographical details on Burger and Aandahl this ish. 

I dunno.  Perhaps you’ll consider my judgment premature and unfair.  I certainly hope things get better…

Who Sups With the Devil, by Terry Carr

This is Carr’s first work, and one for which Davidson takes all the credit (blame) for publishing.  It sells itself as a “Deal with Diablo” story with a twist, but the let-down is that, in the end, there is no twist.  Two stars.

Who’s in Charge Here?, by James Blish

A vivid, if turgid, depiction of the wretched refuse that hawk wares on the hot streets of New York.  I’m not sure what the point is, and I expect better of Blish (and F&SF).  Two stars.

Hawk in the Dusk, by William Bankier

This tale, about a vicious old prune who has a change of heart in his last days, would not be out of place in an episode of Thriller or perhaps in the pages of the long-defunct Unknown.  In other words, nothing novel in concept.  Yet, and perhaps this is simply due to its juxtaposition to the surrounding dreck, I felt that it was extremely well done.  Five stars.

One of Those Days, by William F. Nolan

From zeniths to nadirs, this piece is just nonsense piled upon nonsense.  It’s the sort of thing I’d expect from a 13-year old…and mine (the Young Traveler) has consistently delivered better.  One star.

Napoleon’s Skullcap, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can a psionic kippah really tune you in to the minds of great figures of the past?  Dickson rarely turns in a bad piece, and this one isn’t horrible, but it takes obvious pains to be oblique so as to draw out the “gotcha” ending as far as possible.  Three stars, barely.

Noselrubb, the Tree, by Eric Frazee

Noselrubb, about an interstellar reconnaissance of Earth, is one of those kookie pieces with aliens standing in for people.  Neophyte Frazee might as well throw in the quill.  One star.

By Jove!, by Isaac Asimov

Again, I am feeling overcharitable.  It just so happens that I plan to write an essay on Uranus as part of my movie that took place on the seventh planet.  Asimov’s piece, about the internal make-up of the giant planets, is thus incredibly timely.  It’s also good.  Five stars (even though the Good Doctor may have snitched his title from me…).

The Einstein Brain, by Josef Nesvadba

F&SF‘s Czech contributor is back with another interesting peek behind the Iron Curtain.  Brain involves the creation of an artificial intelligence to solve the physical problems beyond the reach of the greatest human minds.  The moral – that it’s okay to stop and smell the flowers – is a reaction, perhaps, to the Soviet overwhelming emphasis on science in their culture.  We laud it, but perhaps they find it stifling.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: L, by Reginald Bretnor

Possibly the worst Feghoot…and there’s no small competition.

Miss Buttermouth, by Avram Davidson

The unkindly Editor lards out his issue with a vignette featuring a protagonist from the Five Roses, complete with authentic idiom, and his run-in with a soothsayer who might have a line on the ponies.  It’s as good as anything Davidson has come up with recently.  Two stars.

The Mermaid in the Swimming Pool, by Walter H. Kerr

Mr. Kerr is still learning how to write poetry.  Perhaps he’ll get there someday.  Two stars.

Love Child, by Otis Kidwell Burger

Through many commas and words of purplish hue, one can dimly discern a story of an offspring of some magical union.  Mrs. Burger reportedly transcribes her dreams and submits them as stories.  The wonder is that they get accepted and published.  Two stars.

Princess #22, by Ron Goulart

If Bob Sheckley had written this story, about an abducted princess and the android entertainer for whom she is a dead ringer, it probably would have been pretty decent.  Goulart makes a hash of it.  Two stars.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, by Vance Aandahl

Young Vance Aandahl made a big splash a couple of years ago and has turned in little of note since.  His latest, a post-apocalyptic tale of love, savagery, and religion, draws on many other sources.  They are less than expertly translated, but the result is not without some interest.  Three stars.

***

Generously evaluated, this issue garners 2.7 stars.  However, much of that is due to the standout pieces (which I suspect you will not feel as strongly about) and to a bit of scale-weighting for the three stars stories…that are only just. 

(by the way, is it just me, or does the cover girl bear a striking resemblance to the artist’s spouse, Ms. Carol Emshwiller?)

[Dec. 30, 1961] Finishing Strong (January 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

At the end of a sub-par month, I can generally count on The Magazine and Science Fiction to end things on a positive note.  F&SF has been of slightly declining quality over the past few years, but rarely is an issue truly bad, and this one, for January 1962, has got some fine works inside.

Christmas Treason, by Ulsterian peacenik James White, starts things off with a literal bang as a gang of toddler espers attempt to save Christmas with the help of the world’s nuclear arsenal.  It’s nothing I haven’t seen Sturgeon do before, but it is charming and effective.  Four stars.

Kate Wilhelm has made a name for herself in the past several years, being a regular contributor to many science fiction magazines, Sadly, A Time to Keep, about a fellow with a pathological aversion to doorways, does not make much sense.  Not one of her better tales.  Two stars.

Every so often, some wag will write a “clever” piece on the need to send girls to service man astronauts on the long journeys to Mars.  Jay Williams’ Interplanetary Sex is the latest, and it’s as awful as the rest.  Casual reference to rape?  Check.  Stereotypical portrayal of married couples (henpecked husband and nagging shrew wife)?  Check.  It’s the sort of thing that will provide ample archaeological data on this era 55 years from now, but offers little else in value. 

HOWEVER, there are a few paragraphs near the end depicting a sentient cell’s mitosis written in florid romance novel style, and it’s genuinely funny.  You can skip to it…and skip the rest.  Two stars.

Maria Russell’s The Deer Park appears to be her first story, and it’s a fine freshman effort.  It effectively (albeit in an often difficult-to-parse manner) depicts a decadent future humanity entrapped in fantasy worlds of individual creation.  It’s hard to break out of a gilded cage, and the outside world is sometimes no improvement.  Three stars.

Ron Goulart’s occult detective, Max Kearney, is back in Please Stand By.  This time,the private dick has been enlisted by a hapless were-Elephant, the victim (or beneficiary?) of a magic spell.  It’s a charming story, and Goulart has an excellent talent for writing without exposition.  Four stars.

I didn’t much care for Asimov’s science column this month, The Modern Demonology.  The subject of Maxwell’s Demon, that metaphorical creature who can trade energetic for lazy atoms across two buckets such that one gets cold and one gets hot, is a good one.  However, the Good Doctor than meanders into philosophical territory, positing the existence of an evolutionary equivalent, a “Darwin’s Demon,” and it’s just sort of a muddy mess.  Three Stars.

Newcomer Nils T. Peterson is back with Prelude to a Long Walk, a somber short story about a static man in a growing world.  Not really science fiction, but memorable all the same.  Four stars.

Progress, by Poul Anderson, is a long-awaited sequel to The Sky People, both set in a post-apocalyptic future in which several nations of the world struggle toward modern civilization.  They are hampered both by a critical lack of resources, fossil fuels and metals, but also a fear of duplicating the catastrophe that threw them into a new Stone Age. 

Our heroes are once again representatives of the Polynesian Federation, if not the most technically advanced, probably the most progressive socially.  Ranu Makintairu and Alisabeta Kanukauai make charming protagonists, but Progress reads like a watered down vignette of Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.  It also has that smugly superior tone I associate with Analog.  Three stars.

The issue wraps up with a inconsequential poem, To the Stars by heretofore unknown James Spencer.  To discuss it further would take more words than Mr. Spencer wrote.  Two stars.

That wraps up magazines for this month, and boy is there a lot to compare!  F&SF was the clear winner, clocking in at 3.1 stars.  IF was number #2 at 2.9.  Cele Goldsmith’s mags, Fantastic and Amazing tied at 2.5 stars, and Analog finished at a dismal 2.3 stars.

Each of the mags, save for Amazing, had at least one 4-star story in it.  I give the nod for best piece to Piper’s Naudsonce, though Christmas Treason is close.  Out of 28 pieces of fiction, a scant two were written by women (and if we’re just including the Big Three, as I have in the past, then the ratio is still bad: two out of eighteen).  On the other hand, two of the five magazines were edited by a Ms. Goldsmith, so there’s something.

Next up, Ms. Benton reviews the latest Blish novel!

[January 29, 1961] Take a little off the bottom (February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Greetings from sunny Kaua’i!  It seems like only yesterday I was reporting from this island’s idyllic shores.  Much has changed, of course–Hawai’i is now a state!  50 is a nice round number, so perhaps we won’t see any new entries into the Union for a while.

Accompanying me on this trip is the last science fiction digest of the month, the February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction.  On a lark, I decided to read from the end, first.  In retrospect, I’m glad I did, but it certainly made the magazine a challenge.  You see, the stories at the end are just wretched.  But if you skip them (or survive them, as I did), the rest of the magazine is quite excellent.

Let’s get the drek over with straight-away, shall we?

Some unknown named C. Brian Kelly offers up the disgusting and sadistic The Tunnel, three pages about a vengeful cockroach that you need never read. 1 star.

Meanwhile, the normally excellent Robert F. Young offers the strangely prudish Storm over Sodom, which somehow rubbed me the wrong way all the way through.  2 stars.

Whew.  Now let’s go to the beginning and pretend the last 20 pages never happened. 

Brian Aldiss, who wrote the variable fix-up Galaxies like grains of sand is back with what I hope is the first in a series of tales about life on Earth in the very distant future.  Hothouse portrays a hot, steamy world dominated by vegetable life.  Indeed, a single banyan tree has become a global forest, and within it reside a myriad of mobile plant creatures that comprise almost all of the planet’s species.  Humanity is a savage race, clearly on the decline.  Their only hope, perhaps, will come from the outer space they once called their own domain. 

It’s a beautifully crafted world, the characters are vivid, and if the science stretches credulity, it does not entirely break it.  Five stars

Time was is a pleasant piece by Ron Goulart involving a homesick young woman, the trap that tries to lure her back to the 1939 of her childhood, and the dilettante detective of occult matters who tries to save her.  Four stars.

I’ve said before that Rosel George Brown is a rising star, and Of all possible worlds is my favorite story of hers yet.  A beautiful tale of an interstellar explorer and the almost-humans he meets on a placid, emerald-sand beach.  They seem to be primitives, but sometimes the end result of scientific progress is a pleasant, contemplative rest.  Anthropology, biology, love, and loss.  Five stars.

Marcel Ayme is back with his The Ubiquitous Wife, about a young woman who can multiply herself infinitely and thus live a thousand lives at once.  Like his other stories, it is droll and engaging.  The translator did a good job of conveying Ayme’s clever turns of phrase.  Three stars.

Theodore L. Thomas provides The Intruder, a subtle time travel story featuring a backpacker fishing trilobites at the dawn of the Devonian era.  In a nice touch, it turns out he is not the intruder; rather it is the little blot of algae that threatens to inevitably populate the fisher’s pristine, lifeless world.  Four stars.

Finally, we have Isaac Asimov’s non-fiction article, Order, Order!, on the subject of entropy (the amount of energy unavailable for work; or the amount of disorder in the universe). It’s a topic that everyone knows something about, but few have a real handle on.  The Good Doctor does an excellent job of explaining this esoteric matter.  Four stars.

What a pity–if not for the two lodestones at the end of the issue, this would be a rate 4-star magazine.  Still, even with them, the score is a comfortable 3.5 stars, which makes F&SF the best digest of the month.  It also has the best story of the month: Hothouse.  Finally, it features fully 50% of the month’s woman authors; sadly, there are just two. 

See you on February Oneth–if NASA’s hopes are fulfilled, I will have an exciting Mercury Redstone mission to talk about!

[November 13, 1960] Evening out (December 1960 Galaxy, second half)

It’s hard to keep the quality up in a long-format magazine like Galaxy, especially when your lower tier stuff gets absorbed by a sister magazine (IF).  Thus, it is rare to find a full issue of Galaxy without some duds that bring the average down.  Editor Gold has saved this month’s weak entries for the second half.

Not that you could tell at first, given the fascinating Subject to Change, by Ron Goulart.  A creepy story about a woman, her gift for transformation, her struggle with kleptomania, and her increasing estrangement from her fiancee.  Four stars.

H.B. Fyfe’s Round-and-Round Trip is a hoot.  If you’re an inveterate traveler like me, you’ll especially appreciate this tale of a fellow who seems to be trapped on the interstellar version of the M.T.A., endlessly shuttling from planet to planet, never reaching his destination.  But does he actually have one?  Or is the journey the thing?  I’m torn between three and four stars.

But then we have Blueblood, by Jim Harmon.  Human explorers find a planet of blue humanoids racially divided based on the depth of the skin’s hue.  The darker ones are seemingly dumber than the lighter ones.  I held my breath for some kind of satire or allegory regarding our present prejudicial woes in this country, but the story took a left turn somewhere and just left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  If it’s allegory, the message to be gleaned is disturbing, and if it is not, then it’s just a weak tale.  It’s too bad–Harmon is fairly consistently good.  Two stars this time.

Patrick Fahy is another complete novice, and Bad Memory, illustrated by Mad Magazine’s Don Martin, is unimpressive.  A space horticulturalist sacrifices all to turn his planet into a Jovian swamp.  On the upside, he falls in love.  On the downside…well, I didn’t like the downside.  Two stars (you might like it more than me).

The issue is wrapped up by Daniel Galouye’s Fighting Spirit, about a space force clerk who shennanigans his way into real combat only to find that war isn’t quite the rifle and stiff upper lip type.  More the garlic, cross, and mirror type…  Three stars.

All told, we end up with an issue that just barely crests the three-star line on the Journey-meter.  Still, that’s pretty good for an issue in “decline,” and there are some definite gems, albeit more amethyst than emerald.

By the way, speaking of Don Martin, the newest Mad Magazine has hit the stands.  As you can see, they successfully predicted the outcome of the race:

But they also hedged their bet–this was the outside cover:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Diverting fare (May 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction; 4-03-1959)

There are months when The Magazine of Fantasy AND Science Fiction is filled with sublime stuff.  Then there are months when F&SF is just mildly diverting.  This is looking to be one of those months.  Things could be worse, of course.

Editor Robert Mills opens things up by asking if we’d like longer short stories (novelets), which apparently are in a bumper crop this year.  Robert, if you’re reading, I think that’s a fine idea.  I like a good 20 pages to feel the start, middle, and end of a story.  Shorter pieces tend to rely on gimmick endings or be mood pieces.  Not that those don’t have their place, but everybody has her or his preferences, and that one is mine.

What do y’all think?

First out of the gate is J.T. McIntosh’s Tenth Time Around, which takes place in a nearish future where travel back in time is possible, but expensive, and only into your younger self.  Our protagonist uses his multiple lives trying to successfully woo a lost love.  The result is not unpredictable, but McIntosh writes a fine yarn.

I much liked Asimov’s non-fiction column in this issue, detailing the fiendish difficulty involved in both escaping Earth’s gravity and ensuring subsequent capture by the moon.  It is a subject of which I never had a real intuitive grasp, despite having followed all of the Pioneer and Mechta shots avidly (I’ve even published a few non-fiction articles on the subject, myself).

Satirist Ron Goulart’s Ralph Wollstonecraft Hedge: A Memoir is a genuinely humorous account of a fictitious writer from the tarnished side of pulp’s Golden Age.  I caught the Lovecraft references, having read virtually everything H.P. ever published, but I’m afraid I’ve missed the other jokes.  Perhaps someone can help me with this one.

Then there’s The One that Got Away by Chad Oliver, who writes both science fiction and westerns.  He combines the two to good effect here.  Well, I’m not sure it actually takes place in “the west,” but the setting is a bucolic valley and involves by turns pyromania, a rustic lodge, good fishing, and aliens.  Fun and fluffy.

Finally, for today, is Robert Graves’ The Shout, which Robert Mills found good enough to reprint, the story having first appeared in the magazine seven years ago (before I was a regular reader).  Or perhaps F&SF is simply hard up for material.  Or Mr. Graves is hard up for cash.  Somehow I doubt the latter, the great classicist having penned such eternal works as I, Claudius

In any event, Shout is a moody piece, told in a lunatic asylum, one inmate to another, involving a soul-shattering scream taught the narrator by Australian aboriginals.  I found the tale a little too disjointed to be entirely comprehensible, but I did enjoy the idea that all of the souls of the world are actually small stones on a sandy hill between a town and beach in southern England. 

I mean, they have to be somewhere, don’t they?

So there you go.  Nothing stand-out, nothing offensive.  Pleasant fire-side or shady tree fare.  In two or three days, Part II (unless some space spectacular compels me to issue a stop-press…)

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December 1958 F&SF, 2nd half (11-05-1958)

Boy, am I glad I read from front to back this time!

As my faithful readers (should that be plural?) know, the first half of this month’s Fantasy & Science Fiction was pretty lackluster stuff.  It turns out I was mistaken about Tony Boucher’s story–it was not a new one, but some old thing from 1945 under the name “William A. P. White.” At least I know one of Boucher’s pseudonyms now.

The second half, thankfully, was far superior.  Story #1 was “Honeysuckle Cottage” by P.  G. Wodehouse.  I have not read much by this famous ex-patriate English humorist.  I think all of the stories I have encountered by him were published in F&SF.  This particular tale came out in 1928.  One wonders if Wodehouse is desperate for cash since being, perhaps unfairly, chased out of his home country for alleged collaboration with the Nazis.  Or perhaps Boucher could only afford an old reprint.  Either way, it’s a fun little story about a mystery writer being cursed with the haunting of his romance-writing aunt.  I liked it.

“Wish upon a star,” by famed anthologist Judy Merril, is an excellent story about coming of age on a generation ship.  For those not in the know, a generation ship is a starship, generally traveling slower than the speed of light, designed to colonize a planet after a journey of many tens or even hundreds of years.  Because the mission takes so long, it is anticipated that several generations will be born before the ship reaches its destination.  Unusually, though quite plausibly, in this story, most of the crew and all of the officers of the ship are women.  The only thing wrong with the story is its length–I would love to see a novella or full-length novel on the topic–by Ms. Merril, preferably.

Though Boucher no longer edits F&SF, he still does the book-review column.  He spends most of it praising Theodore Sturgeon but expressing his dissatisfaction with “The Cosmic Rape.” This, Sturgeon’s third novel, is an expansion on the novelette, “To Marry Medusa,” which appeared in Galaxy a few months ago.  Alternatively, the Galaxy story may be a pared-down version of the novel.  I recall the story, which was about an interstellar hive-mind’s attempts to incorporate humanity, had said all that was needed to be said.  I have to wonder what purpose the extra verbiage served.

Next up is “Dream Girl,” a slight head-trip penned by Ron Goulart, who had an interesting story back in July called “The Katy Dialogues.” The following story, “Somebody’s Clothes, Somebody’s Life,” by mystery-writer Cornell Woolrich, is written like a play and could easily be an episode of F&SF’s counterpart to X Minus One.  It’s sheer fantasy involving a Countess with a gambling problem, a young woman with bigger problems, and the Russian clairvoyant who crosses their paths.  Good affecting stuff.  Finally, there is a cute three-page story by Walter S. Tevis, which I shan’t spoil for you, but it’s worth reading. 

So that’s that.  2.5 stars out of 5 for this week’s F&SF, but that’s only because the first half is a 1.5 and the latter is a 4.5.

You should all know that I am flying out to Japan this Friday with my family.  This should not stem the tide of articles, however.  I am bringing along this month’s Astounding, two unread Heinlein novels, and I expect to catch up on my giant monster movies.  It’s my understanding that Godzilla has a sequel, and other movies by that studio have also recently come out.  Here’s hoping these films uphold the fine standard set by the first of them.

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