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[July 26, 1962] The Long and Short of It (August 1962 Fantastic)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

July isn’t quite over yet, and already I feel overwhelmed by all that’s been going on in the world:

Two new nations, Rwanda and Burundi, have been created from the Belgian territory of Ruanda-Urundi.  Similarly, France has recognized the independence of its former colony Algeria.

Despite protests, the United States continues to test atomic weapons.  The USA also detonated a hydrogen bomb in outer space, hundreds of miles above a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.  The explosion created a spectacular light show visible from Hawaii, more than seven hundred miles away.  It also disrupted electronics in the island state.  An underground nuclear explosion created a gigantic crater in the Nevada desert and may have exposed millions of people to radioactive fallout.

AT&T launched Telstar, the first commercial communications satellite (which we’ll be covering in the next article!)

The world of literature suffered a major loss with the death of Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner.

In Los Angeles, young artist Andy Warhol exhibited a work consisting of thirty-two paintings of cans of Campbell’s Soup.

The Washington Post published an article revealing how Doctor Frances Oldham Kelsey, a medical officer for the Food and Drug Administration, kept thalidomide, a drug now known to cause severe birth defects, off the market in the United States.

Even popular music seems to be going through radical changes lately.  Early in the month the charts were dominated by David Rose’s raucous jazz instrumental The Stripper.  It would be difficult to think of a less similar work than Bobby Vinton’s sentimental ballad Roses are Red (My Love), which has replaced it as Number One.

It seems appropriate that the latest issue of Fantastic offers no less than nine stories, one long and eight short, to go along with these busy days:

Sword of Flowers by Larry M. Harris

Vernon Kramer’s cover art for the lead story captures something of the mysterious mood of this mythical tale.  The setting is a strange world where the climate is so gentle that the inhabitants have no need for shelter.  They also have the ability to create whatever they imagine.  However, because their lives are so simple and happy, they rarely use this power.  An exception is a man, twisted in mind and body, who comes up with the concepts of royalty and servitude, so that another man in love with a beautiful woman can become her slave.  It all leads to tragedy, and an ending directed at the reader.  It’s a compelling legend written in poetic language.  Five stars.

The Titan by P. Schuyler Miller

This issue’s Fantasy Classic has a complex history.  Serialized in part in the 1930’s, although never published in full until revised for the author’s 1952 collection, this is its first complete magazine appearance.  The story takes place on a dying planet where the decadent upper class takes blood from the healthy lower class.  The plebeian hero follows the patrician heroine above ground and falls in love.  They become involved in a plot to violently overthrow the rulers and confront a huge, dangerous creature known as a Star Beast.  Most readers will be able to figure out what planet is involved and the true nature of the Star Beast.  Although said to be daring for the 1930’s, it’s pretty tame for the 1960’s.  Unfortunately, this is the longest story in the issue.  Two stars.

Behind the Door by Jack Sharkey

A woman who seeks out dangerous experiences encounters a mysterious man whom she believes will provide the ultimate thrill.  He turns out to be something other than expected.  A fairly effective horror story.  Three stars.

The Mynah Matter by Lawrence Eisenberg

A man determined to purchase a talking bird deals with a pet store owner who refuses to sell any of his animals.  It seems that they are all reincarnations of famous people.  This is a slight, whimsical comedy, but somehow likable.  Three stars.

And a Tooth by Rosel George Brown

A woman whose husband and children die in an accident goes into a coma from the shock.  Experimental brain surgery restores her to consciousness, but gives her two separate minds.  The author does a good job of narrating from both points of view, and the effect is chilling.  Four stars.

A Devil of a Day by Arthur Porges

This is yet another variation on the old deal with Satan theme.  A man sells his soul for the chance to have absolute power over the city of Rome at a certain time during the Sixteenth Century.  Readers familiar with a specific historical event will be able to predict why this is a very bad bargain.  Two stars.

Continuity by Albert Teichner

A precocious student raises a peculiar question that haunts a physics teacher.  If our universe consists of matter that we can sense and forces that we cannot sense, could the reverse be true in another universe?  The result is unexpected.  This is an odd, philosophical story, intriguing but not always clear.  Three stars.

Horseman! by Roger Zelazny

A new writer, who also appears in this month’s issue of Amazing, offers a brief prose poem.  A mysterious rider appears in a village asking after others of his kind.  What happens when he finds them is surprising.  The story is beautifully written, and one hopes that the author will go on to produce longer works.  Four stars.

Victim of the Year by Robert F. Young

A man down on his luck receives a note from a woman at the unemployment office.  She claims to be an apprentice witch with the assignment to cast spells to make his life miserable.  She repents of her actions, and together they must face the wrath of her coven.  The story reads something like a less elegant version of a Fritz Leiber fantasy.  Three stars.

The best stories in this issue are short ones, proving once again that good things come in small packages.  Speaking of which, stay tuned for an article on the series of small packages circling the Earth that are making an outsized impact on their mother planet…

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  A chance to discuss Soviet and American space shots…and maybe win a prize!)




[July 18, 1962] It Gets Better? (August 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

There’s a war going on in our nation, a war for our souls.

No, I’m not referring to the battle of Democracy versus Communism or Protestants against Catholics.  Not even the struggle between squares and beatniks.  This is a deeper strife than even these.


(from Fanac)

I refer, of course, to the schism that divides science fiction fans.  In particular, I mean the mainstream fans and the literary crowd.  The former far outnumber the latter, at least if the circulation numbers for Analog compared to that of Fantasy and Science Fiction are any indication. 

Devotees of editor Campbell’s Analog, though they occasionally chide the editor’s obsession with things psychic, appreciate the “hard” sf, the focus on adventure, and the magazine’s orthodox style it has maintained since the 1940s.  They have nothing but sneering disdain for the more literary F&SF, and they hate it when its fluffy “feminine” verbosity creeps into “their” magazines.

F&SF, on the other hand, has pretentions of respectability.  You can tell because the back page has a bunch of portraits of arty types singing the magazine’s praises.  Unfortunately for the golden mag (my nickname – cover art seems to favor the color yellow), many of the writers who’ve distinguished themselves have made the jump to the more profitable “slicks” (maintstream magazines) and novels market.  This means that editor Davidson’s mag tends to be both unbearably literate and not very good.

This is a shame because right up to last year, I’d sided with the eggheads.  F&SF was my favorite digest.  On the other hand, I’m not really at home with the hoi polloi Campbell crowd.  Luckily, there is the middle ground of Pohl’s magazines, Galaxy and IF

Nevertheless, there is still usually something to recommend F&SF, particularly Dr. Asimov’s non-fiction articles, and the frequency with which F&SF publishes women (“feminine” isn’t a derogatory epithet for me.)

And in fact, if you can get past the awful awful beginning, there’s good stuff in the August 1962 F&SF:

The Secret Songs, by Fritz Leiber

Leiber is an established figure in the genre, having written some truly great stuff going back to the old Unknown days of the 30s.  He even won the Hugo for The Big Time.  However, Secret Songs, a tale of a drug addled Jack Sprat and wife with countering addictions, won’t win any awards.  It’s not sf, nor is it very interesting.  I give it two stars for creative execution and nothing else.

The Golden Flask, by Kendell Foster Crossen

Boy, is this one a stinker.  Not only does Davidson ruin it with his prefatory comments (I’ve stopped reading them – they are too long by half, inevitably spoil the story, and are never fun to read), but the gotcha of this bloody tale is puerile.  One star.

Salmanazar, by Gordon R. Dickson

Some obtuse tale of the macabre involving magic, Orientalism, and a sinister cat.  Gordy Dickson is one of the better writers…when he wants to be.  He didn’t this time.  One star.

The Voyage Which Is Ended, by Dean McLaughlin

When the century-long trip of a colony ship is over, crew and passengers must struggle with the dramatic change in role and responsibilities.  This somber piece reads like the first chapter of a promising novel that we’ll never get to read.  I did appreciate the theme: a ship’s captain isn’t necessarily best suited to lead a polity beyond a vessel’s metal walls.  Three stars.

Mumbwe Jones, by Fred Benton

A vignette of undying friendship between a White trader and an African witch-doctor…and the vibrant world of sentient creatures, animate and otherwise, with which they interact.  An interesting piece of magic realism a little too insubstantial to garner more than three stars.

The Top, by George Sumner Albee (a reprint from 1953)

Career ad-man receives the promotion he’s always desired, allowing him at last to meet the President of the sprawling industrial combine of which the copywriter is just a valuable cog.  But does the Big Boss run the machine, or are they one and the same?  Another piece that isn’t science fiction, nor really worth your time.  Two stars.

The Light Fantastic, by Isaac Asimov

The good Doctor’s piece on electromagnetic radiation is worth your time.  He devotes a few inches to the brand new “LASERS,” artificially pure light beams that stick to a single wavelength and don’t degrade with distance.  I’ve already seen several articles on this wonder invention, and I suspect they will make them into a clutch of sf stories in the near future.

By the way, the cantankerous has-been Alfred Bester has finally turned in his shingle, resigning from the helm of the book review department.  In an ironic departing screed, he lamented the lack of quality of new sf (not that he’s contributed to that body of work in years), and states that people shouldn’t have been so sensitive to his criticisms.  To illustrate, he closes with the kind of chauvinism we’ve come to expect from Bester:

“A guy complained to a girl that the problem with women was the fact that they took everything that was said personally.  She answered, ‘Well, I sure don’t.'”

Good riddance, Alfred.  Don’t let the turnstile bruise your posterior.

Fruiting Body, by Rosel George Brown

I always look forward to Ms. Brown’s whimsical works, and this outing does not disappoint.  When mycology and the pursuit of women intersect, the result is at once ridiculous, a little chilling, and highly entertaining.  That’s all I’ll give you, save for a four-star rating.

The Roper, by Theodore R. Cogswell and John Jacob Niles

Some pointless doggerel whose meaning and significance escapes this boor of a reader.  One star.

Spatial Relationship, by Randall Garrett

Ugh.  How to keep two space pilots cramped in a little spaceship for years from killing each other?  Give them phantom lovers, of course.  I liked the story much better when it was called Hallucination Orbit (by J.T.McIntosh), and could well have done without the offensive, anti-queer ending.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Two stars.

The Stupid General, by J. T. McIntosh

Speaking of J.T.McIntosh…  The literature is filled with if-only stories where peace-loving aliens are provoked to violence by the hasty actions of a narrow-minded general.  But what if the fellow’s instincts are right?  A good, if not brilliant, story.  Three stars.

What Price Wings?, by H. L. Gold

This is the first I’ve heard from Galaxy’s former editor in a couple of years – I have to wonder if this is something that was pulled from an old drawer.  Anyway, a classic tale of virtue being its own punishment.  It ends predictably, but it gets there pleasantly.  Three stars.

Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman, by Harlan Ellison

Many years ago, on a lark, I translated the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice from an Old English rendition.  Now, in his first appearance in F&SF, Mr. Ellison presents a translation of the tale into hepcat jive.  It’s an effective piece, though heavier on atmosphere than consequence.  Three stars.

The Gumdrop King, by Will Stanton

The issue ends with a fizzle: a youth meets an alien, and incomprehensibility ensues.  I’m not sure that was the result Stanton was aiming for.  Two stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LIII, by Grendal Briarton

Oh, and the Feghoot pun this time is just dreadful.  Not in a good way.

Good grief.  Doing the calculations, we find this issue only got 2.4 stars.  It’s definitely a favorite for worst mag of the month, and indicative of momentum toward worst mag of the year.  Those philistines who subscribe to Analog are going to win after all…

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  You’ll have a chance to win a copy of F&SF – not this issue, I promise!)




[September 29, 1961] Slim Pickings (October 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Each month, I look forward to my dose of new science fiction stories delivered in the form of digest-sized magazines.  Over the decade that I’ve been subscribing, I’ve fallen into a habit.  I start with my first love, Galaxy (or its sister, IF, now that they are both bi-monthlies).  I then move on to Analog, formerly Astounding.  I save The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for last.  This is because it has been, until recently, the best of the digests– my dessert for the month, as it were. 

These days, the stories aren’t as good.  Moreover, this time around, the latter third of the magazine was taken up with half a new Gordy Dickson short novel, which I won’t review until it finishes next month.  As a result, the remaining tales were short and slight, ranging from good to mediocre.

In other words, not a great month for F&SF, especially when you consider that the novels they print seem to be hacked down for space (if the longer versions that inevitably are printed in book form are any indication).  Nevertheless, it is my duty to report what I found, so here it is, the October 1961 F&SF:

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who is not exactly a science fiction author but dabbles in the arena, leads with Harrison Bergeron.  It’s a deceptively juvenile satire against Conformity and Communism, and while it may not impress upon first reading, it stays with you.  Four stars.

One of my favorite new authors is Rosel George Brown, and I have to give her credit for being willing to take chances.  The Ultimate Sin, however, is a bit avante garde for me.  Something about a social misfit interstellar explorer who finds a planet where gravity depends on whim rather than mass, and where the entire ecology is a unit, its pieces constantly consuming each other and exchanging knowledge in the process.  I didn’t like it at first, but as with the first story, I found it engaging in retrospect.  Three stars.

Charles G. Finney’s The Captivity isn’t science fiction at all; it’s more an analysis of captivity on humans, particularly when they discover that they aren’t really captives at all.  What is there left to push against when external forces are removed?  Only each other, and themselves.  Three stars.

Robert E. Lee at Moscow is Evelyn E. Smith’s attempt at satire this issue.  She’s produced some real doozies, but this one, an extreme logical extension of turning our political ambassadors into cultural ambassadors, falls flat.  There is a laugh-inducing line on the last page, however.  Two stars.

The half-posthumous team of Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth bring us The World of Myrion Flowers, which tells the tale of a driven Black philanthropist whose attempts to raise a cadre of Negro executives end unhappily.  The moral: it’s best when a disdained class doesn’t have too clear an idea of what the favored class thinks of them.  I can only imagine what insanity I would derive from having telepathy while living in 1930s Germany.  Three stars.

Isaac Asimov hasn’t written much fiction lately, and when he does, it tends to be old fashioned.  So it is with The Machine That Won the War, a very slight computer-related piece that probably got accepted more out of respect for the author than for its quality.  Two stars.

Meanwhile, George Langelaan, the Paris-born Britisher who penned The Fly in ’57 brings us The Other Hand, a macabre story of digits that move as if possessed, compelling their owners to strange activities.  Rather overwrought and archaic.  Two stars.

If Asimov’s fiction fails to impress, his fact remains entertaining.  That’s About the Size of It is all about the comparative sizes of Earth’s animals, all done logarithmically for easy data manipulation.  It turns out that people are medium-biggish creatures, all things considered.  Four stars.

The Vat is Avram Davidson’s latest, featuring a bit of alchemy and misadventure.  Short but readable.  Three stars.

Grendel Briarton’s latest pun, Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIV, is as always, perhaps a bit more.

And that leaves us with Dickson’s Naked to the Stars (Part 1 of 2), which I’ll cover next week.  All in all, a 3-star issue that will not revulse but neither will it much impress.  Faint praise, indeed.

[March 24, 1961] The Second Sex in SF

1961.  The year that an Irishman named Kennedy assumed the highest office in the land.  The year in which some 17 African nations celebrated their first birthday.  The air smells of cigarette smoke, heads are covered with hats, and men run politics, industry, and much of popular culture.

In a field (and world) dominated by men, it is easy to assume that science fiction is as closed to women as the local Elks Lodge.  Who are the stars of the genre?  Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley; these are household names.  But if there is anything I have discovered in my 11 years as an avid science fiction fan (following another 20 of casual interest), it is that there is a slew of excellent woman authors who have produced a body of high quality work.  In fact, per my notes, women write just one ninth of the science fiction stories published, but a full fourth of the best works. 

For this reason, I’ve compiled a list of female science fiction writers active in this, the second year of the 1960s.  These authors are just the tip of the vanguard.  They are blazing a trail for women to one day share equally in the limelight…and the Hugos!

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Pauline Ashwell: This young British author is unusual in that her works are confined exclusively (so far as I can tell) to the usually rather stag Analog, the most conservative and widely distributed of the digests.  Her Unwillingly to School, and its recent sequel, The Lost Kafoozalum, were both Hugo-nominees.  Deservedly so, as they are both unique and a lot of fun.  They also feature a creature about as rare as the female author: the female protagonist!  Ashwell also wrote the off-the-wall alien/human friendship story, Big Sword, under the transparent pseudonym, Paul Ash.  More, please!

Leigh Brackett: A Californian, Brackett was a staple of the pulp era, writing a myriad of short stories and novels all the way through the middle of the last decade.  For some reason, she seems to have fallen off the genre radar in the last few years, but I understand she’s making a living at Hollywood and television screenwriting.  I am chagrined to report that I’ve not read a single one of her stories, and I worry that I’d find them dated.  I’d be happy to be wrong.  Recommendations?

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Young Bradley has been writing for at least a decade, but her works have tended to appear in the magazines to which I don’t have subscriptions, with the notable exception of The Wind People, which appeared in IF at the end of Damon Knight’s short-lived tenure as its editor.  She’s just come out with her first book, The Door through Space, which is sitting on my “To Read” shelf.  She’s a bit of an odd duck, having recently founded her own occult religion, the Aquarian Order of the Restoration, filled with trances, discovery of past lives, and clairvoyance.  I guess if L. Ron Hubbard can do it…

Rosel George Brown: I’m on firmer ground with Ms. Brown, an author whom I have watched with avid interest since she first appeared in Galaxy in 1958.  Her stories hinted at a great talent, and her stories had something to recommend them, even if they were not perfect successes.  Her talent flowered with the excellent Step IV, which appeared in Amazing, and her recent Of all possible worlds was even better.  An unabashedly feminine, inarguably terrific writer; I can’t wait to read what she pens next.

Miriam Allen Deford: One of the eldest (ahem…most seasoned!) of the woman authors, Ms. Deford has been writing since the 1920s, though she did not enter our genre in a big way until Fantasy and Science Fiction inaugurated in 1949.  Since then, she has turned out a steady stream of stories.  Their common elements are her slightly quaint style, her versatility (writing horror, mystery, and “straight” sf with equal facility), and her consistency.  She is solid, if not brilliant, and generally a welcome addition to any magazine’s table of contents.

Carol Emshwiller: Say the name “Emshwiller” and you probably first think of the illustrator, Ed Emshwiller, whose drawings have appeared in hundreds (if not thousands) of magazines.  But Carol Emshwiller, who married into that improbable surname, has also appeared frequently in scientifiction magazines.  I am once again embarrassed to confess that I’ve only read one of her stories thus far (this is what comes of only having time to read three digests a month; curse my need for a day job!) Perhaps one of my readers can tell me if A Day at the Beach was representative of her work; I recall enjoying it.  In fact, while I called it forgettable, I still remember it two years later, so I must have been wrong!

I’m going to pause at this point because the list is actually quite lengthy, and I think it merits presentation in multiple parts.  I apologize for the scantiness of my knowledge in places; until one invents a comprehensive Encyclopedia for science fiction works, whereby one can retrieve information about, and stories by, any given author, any one person’s viewpoint will be limited.  I do hope I’ve whetted your appetite, however, and that you will seek out these authors’ work.

See you in a couple of days!

[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!

[July 27, 1960] Footloose and Fancy Free (Japan and the August 1960 Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Perhaps the primary perquisite of being a writer (certainly not the compensation, though Dr. Asimov is the happy exception) is the ability to take one’s work anywhere.  Thanks to ‘faxes and patient editors, all of this column’s readers can follow me around the world.  To wit, I am typing this article in the lounge of my hotel deep in the heart of Tokyo, the capital of the nation of Japan. 

Japan is virtually a second home for me and my family, and we make it a point to travel here as often as time and funds permit.  Now that the Boeing 707 has shrunk the world by almost 50%, I expect our travels to this amazing, burgeoning land will increase in frequency.

Tokyo, of course, is one of the world’s biggest cities, and the crowds at Shinjuku station attest to this.  And yet, there are still plenty of moments of almost eerie solitude–not just in the parks and temples, but in random alleyways.  There are always treasures to find provided one is willing to look up and down (literally–only a fraction of Tokyo’s shops is located on the ground floor!)

Gentle readers, I have not forgotten the main reason you read my column.  In fact, the timing of my trip was perfect, allowing me to take all of the September 1960 digests with me to the Orient.  But first, I need to wrap up last month’s batch of magazines.  To that end, without further ado, here is the August 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction!

Robert F. Young has the lead short story, Nikita Eisenhower Jones.  I’d liked his To Fell a Tree very much, so I was looking forward to this one, the story of a young Polynesian who finagles his way onto the first manned mission to Pluto only to find it a lonely, one-way trip.  Sadly, while the subject matter is excellent, the tale is written in a way that keeps the reader at arm’s length and thus fails to engage in what could have been an intensely powerful, personal story. 

The Final Ingredient is a different matter altogether.  Jack Sharkey had thus far failed to impress, so I was surprised to find him in F&SF, a higher caliber magazine, in my opinion.  But this tale, involving a young girl whose efforts at witchraft are frustrated until she abandons love entirely and embraces wickedness, is quite good indeed. 

John Suter’s The Seeds of Murder, a reprint from F&SF’s sister magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery, is about telling the future through regressive (or in this case progressive) hypnosis.  It’s cute, but something I’d expect to find in one of the lesser mags.  I suppose this should come as no surprise–this is Suter’s first and only science fiction/fantasy story, so far as I can tell.

Rosel George Brown is back with another dark tale: Just a Suggestion.  When aliens subtly introduce the idea that the way to win friends and influence people is to be less impressive than one’s peers, the result is economic downturn and, ultimately, planetary destruction.  Obviously satirical; rather nicely done.

This brings us to Robert Arthur’s novelette, Miracle on Main Street.  A boy wishes on a unicorn horn that all of the folks in his small town, good and bad, should get what they deserve.  There is no ironic twist, no horrifying consequences.  It’s a simple tale (suitable for children, really) that very straightforwardly details the results of the wish.  It should be a vapid story; Arthur goes out of his way to ensure there are no surprises.  Yet, I enjoyed it just the same.  I suppose a little unalloyed charm is nice every so often. 

The Revenant, by Raymond Banks, is a fascinating little story about human space travelers who explore a planet less fixed in sequence and probability than ours.  Their lives are far less dependable, but infinitely more varied and interesting.  The closest approximation would be if our dreams were our waking lives and vice versa (and perhaps this was the tale’s inspiration).  Good stuff.

Avram Davidson has a one-pager, Climacteric, about a man who goes hunting dragons in search of romance.  He finds both.  It is followed by G.C.Edmondson’s Latin-themed The Sign of the Goose, a strangely written story about an alien visitation that, frankly, made little sense to me.  It stars the same eccentrics as The Galactic Calabash.

Asimov has an article about the Moon as a vacation spot whose main attraction is the lovely view of Earth.  Catskills in the Sky, it is called, and it’s one of his weaker entries.

Finally, we have Stephen Barr’s Calahan and the Wheelies, about an inventor who creates a species of wheeled little robots with the ability to learn.  The concept is captivating, and the execution largely plausible.  Sadly, the story sort of degenerates into the standard sci-fi trope: the robots, of course, become sentient and rather malicious.  It’s played for laughs, but I can just imagine a more serious story involving similar machines being put to all sorts of amazing uses.  Imagine a semi-smart machine that rolled around your house vacuuming and mopping your floor.  Or a programmable dog-walker.  I like robots that don’t look like people or act like living things, but which are indispensible allies to humanity.  I want more stories featuring them.

All told, I think this issue clocks in about a shade over 3 stars.  A thoroughly typical F&SF, which is no bad thing.

See you in a few days with more from the Land of the Rising Sun!

[May 5, 1960] The Next Step (Rosel George Brown in Amazing)

Has Rosel George Brown finally broken through?

For several years, I’ve kept an eye on this promising New Orleans native.  Apart from being a woman writer in a predominately male field, she has brought a refreshingly feminine viewpoint to her stories.  But they’ve never quite rung all of my bells.  Some, like Virgin Ground have a real bitter tone to them.  Others, like Car Pool and Flower Arrangement are overly domestic in feel.  I want my heroines to be lantern-jawed and stalwart! 

In any event, I’ve always felt that Ms. Brown was an extraordinary talent waiting to break free.  Leafing through a friend’s latest issue of Amazing (generally trailing the Big Three/Four in terms of quality), I saw that she had a story within, Step IV and I quickly devoured it.

It definitely falls in the “bitter” category, but it has a new depth I have not yet seen from Brown.  Moreover, it has that quality that marks the truly good (and, occasionally, the truly bad): it is memorable.

I welcome your thoughts.

[March 26, 1960] Among the Best (April 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction regularly beats out the other regular digests in terms of consistent quality.  This month’s, April 1960, is no exception.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in:

Daniel Keyes, who wrote the superb Flowers for Algernon, has returned with the issue’s lead novelette, Crazy Maro.  Our viewpoint character is an attorney who has been contracted by unseen agents from the future to secure psychically adept (and invariably disadvantaged) children for work in a later time.  The fellow meets his match, however, when he is asked to recruit the titular Maro, a young black man with an uncanny talent for reading the emotions of others.  Much of the novelette is a mystery story, with the lawyer trying to puzzle out the root of Maro’s power.  It’s a powerful piece, assuredly, though the very end is unnecessarily melodramatic.

Another serious piece is The Hairy Thunderer by “Levi Crow” (Manly Wade Wellman in disguise).  The writing is deceptively simplistic, describing the arrival of a hairy pale foreigner to the lands of an American Indian tribe.  The European commences to ensnare the tribe with his boom stick and, more effectively and terribly, his firewater.  A young man of the tribe, Lone Arrow, is able to resist him with the magical assistance of a certain eight-legged class of arthropods.

The moral of the story, that one should be kind to spiders for they are misunderstood but fundamentally good creatures, is one that resonates strongly.  I’m always hoping that, when I die, the Spider Gods will look favorably upon me for the compassion and mercy I have shown Their Kind.

G.C. Edmondson’s forgettable short story, Ringer features a fellow who is replaced by a robotic doppelganger.  The twist is that the viewpoint is always that character, whether in human or android form.

The incomparable Edgar Pangborn brings us The Wrens in Grampa’s Bears, in which “Grampa,” the narrator’s Great Grandfather, hosts a brood of beneficient angels within his long beard.  Their existence is only hinted at, and the story is mostly a mood piece capturing the sunset of an old man’s life in the Summer of ’58, a man whose memories encompass both Gettysburg and satellites.  Yet, the theme of the tale is not how much things have changed, but how they stay essentially the same. 

A Certain Room, a short by Ken Kusenberg, translated from German by Therese Pol, is a silly, archaic piece.  What happens when you fiddle with the objects in a room that have a causal connection to bigger, worldwide events?  Not much good.

George Elliott has the issue’s second novelette, the fantasy-less, science-fiction-less, but nevertheless compelling Among the Dangs.  It is a mock account of an anthropologist’s sojourn amongst the fictional Dang tribe of Ecuador.  Enlisted for his talent for mimicry and his dark skin, the protagonist spends years living with the Dang, learning their customs and even taking a wife, so that he can become one of their high prophets.  His initial motivation is to compose a thesis for an advanced degree.  But so complete is his indoctrination that it is only through a titanic force of will that he breaks free, and the experience forever marks him. 

The piece originally appeared a couple of years back in Esquire, and it is a strange story to find within the covers of F&SF.  On the other hand, while the content is neither science fictional nor fantastic, there is a certain flavor to it that allows it to fit nicely in the middle of this issue.  I’m not complaining for its inclusion.

I’m not sure what to do with Rosel George Brown.  I really want to like her, but she has this tendency toward first-person pieces featuring scatterbrained housewives.  Their situations are tediously conventional and exhaustingly frenetic.  I have to wonder if the stories aren’t semi-autobiographical.  A Little Human Contact continues in this vein, and while it’s not horrible, it is still not the masterpiece I know Brown is capable of.  Of course, I may be looking in the wrong place–Amazing and Fantastic are still around, and I understand she’s due to be published there soon. 

Isaac Asimov has an excellent non-fiction piece this month, It’s About Time, describing the evolution and fundamental incompatibility of our various calendar systems.  The conclusion: trust the astronomers and go with Julian dating.

I won’t spoil Joseph Whitehill’s In the House, Another since it’s a one-trick pony.  Cute, though.

Rounding out the issue is Gordy Dickson’s latest novelette, The Game of Five.  It is strangely reminiscent of his earlier The Man in the Mailbag, but it’s not as good.  Both stories involve a man infiltrating an alien culture to rescue a captured woman.  In both stories, it quickly turns out that the situations are more complex than they seem at first blush.  In both stories, the “captured” woman turns out to be an agent of some kind.

But though Five is competently written, the Hercule Poirot moment, that bit at the end where the hero explains the mystery, is not supported strongly enough by clues in the narrative.  The world is also not as interesting as the one depicted in Mailbag.  Unlike the former title, I don’t this one will get nominated for any Hugos.  Not that it’s bad, mind you—just not up to the bar Dickson has set for himself.

That’s it for April 1960.  I have a whole new crop of magazines and books to review for next month.  I also have far more time to devote to the column now that I am between day jobs.  Cry not for me—it was a decision long coming and well worth it. 

In the meantime, before we get onto things fictional, I have some scientific news with exciting science fiction ramifications…

…but you’ll just have to wait two days for it!




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[Nov. 6, 1959] In someone else’s skin for a while (December 1959 Galaxy)

Whenever I read the book review columns by Floyd Gold, Damon Knight, Groff Conklin, etc., or the science articles by Willy Ley and Isaac Asimov, I’m always as fascinated by the little personal details they disclose as the information and opinions they provide.  It’s a glimpse into their lives that humanizes their viewpoint.  Anecdotes make fun reading, too.

Since I assume all of my readers (bless the five of you!) feel similarly, otherwise why bother reading my column, I thought I’d share a little bit about how information gets into my brain prior to article composition.

My issues all come by mail subscription now as it is significantly cheaper than buying them on the newsstand and more consistent.  It means I’m no longer hunting the newsstands for other magazines, but now that there are so few active digests, this seems the best way to go. 

I have an evening ritual that I’ve preserved since my teen years, particularly in the Fall and Winter when the sun sets early.  After coming home from work, the rays of sunlight slanted sharply against my driveway, I pull out my portable radio and a beverage, rest my back against a tree or lamppost, and read until the sun dips below the horizon.  Here in Southern California, we get a nice mix of White, Negro, and Latin stations, so I can listen to all the latest Rock ‘n Roll and Rumba as well as the insipid croonings of Paul Anka and Pat Boone.  It makes for a delightful half hour of escape from the real world better than M, reefer, or any other drug you’d care to mention.

What have I been reading, you ask?  This bi-month’s issue of Galaxy, of course—December 1959 to be exact.  Galaxy is the most consistent of the four magazines to which I have subscriptions, generally falling in the upper middle of the pack.


EMSH

As always, I started with Willy Ley’s column.  I’m impressed that after ten years of writing, he still finds interesting topics to teach about.  In this one, he discusses the (probably) extinct Giant Sloth and the efforts naturalists have made over the centuries to learn more about the creature.  I love paleontology, so it was right up my alley.  By the way, for the overly curious, this piece I read while soaking in a nice hot bath over the weekend.

Leading the book is Robert Sheckley’s newest, Prospector’s Special.  The setting is Venus , where a handful of hardscrabble miners brave the blazing heat and sandwolves of the Venusian deserts in the hopes of finding a vein of Goldenstone.  It’s one of those stories where the protagonist runs into worse and worse luck and has to use wits to survive to the end, which has a suitably happy ending.  Bob is invariably good, particularly at this kind of story, and I polished this one off in the same aforementioned bath. 


DILLON

Rosel George Brown continues to be almost good, which is frustrating, indeed.  Her Flower Arrangement is the first-person narrated story of a rather dim housewife and how the bouquet she and her kindergartener made turned out to unlock the secrets of the universe.  It comes from a refreshing female perspective, but it’s just a bit too silly and affected to work well. 


DILLON

Con Blomberg’s only written one other story, and that one appeared in Galaxy two years ago.  His Sales Talk is interesting, about two salesmen who try to sell a recalcitrant unemployed fellow on the joys of living vicariously through the taped memories of others.  The would-be mark makes a compelling argument against the dangers of becoming a worthless consumer.  There is, of course, a twist, which I half-predicted before the end. 

There’s an interesting point to the story.  In the first place, it predicts a “post-scarcity” economy.  Let me explain: There are three sectors to the economy.  They are Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Service.  Until a few hundred years ago, Agricultural was far and away the dominant sector, with most people relying on subsistence farming.  Then the Industrial Revolution hit, and the peasants moved to the city to work on the assembly line, while farming became more and more mechanized, requiring fewer people.  As industry became more efficient, the Service sector grew—waiters, courtesans, attorneys, doctors, advertisers, artists, etc. 

But what happens when industry and agriculture become fully mechanized?  What if robots take over the Service sector?  What is left for humans to produce?  The world only has so much need for art, music, politics, and religion.  In a post-scarcity economy, most of us will become consumers, so the more pessimistic predictions go.  And all we’ll do all day is lie around living other people’s dreams, predicts Blomberg.


MORROW

Is the idea that plugging oneself into a memory-tape machine, experiencing all five senses and the feelings of the original senser, all that different from watching a film or reading a good story?  After all, both take you out of reality for a while, make you feel along with the protagonists.  When full “Electronic Living” becomes possible, will it really be a revolution or just evolution?  Food for thought.

That’s what I’ve got so far.  Stay tuned soon for further reviews of this extra-thick magazine.  You’ll next hear from me in sunny Orlando, Florida!


Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.
P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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IF Returns! (July 1959 IF; 7-07-1959)

There is a certain perverse joy to statistics.  Think of the folks who spend hours every week compiling baseball scores, hit averages, etc.  It’s a way to find a pattern to the universe, I suppose. 

To date, I’ve sort of off-handedly rated issues on a 1 to 5 star scale.  Last weekend, I went through my issues and compiled real statistics.  Here’s my methodology:
Each story/article gets rated 1 to 5 with these meanings.

5: Phenomenal; I would read again.
4: Good; I would recommend it to others.
3: Fair; I was entertained from beginning to end, but I would not read again or recommend.
2: Poor; I wasted my time but was not actively offended.
1: Abysmal; I want my money back!

I generally skip editorials and book reviews (in the ratings; I do read them… except for Campbell’s editorials).

I then average all the stories in the book.  I do another, weighted, average where I factor in the length of a story (i.e. if the long stories are great and the short ones are terrible, the latter do not bring down the score as much).  Generally, the two scores are close.

My preliminary analysis has confirmed what I’d already felt in my gut–Fantasy and Science Fiction is a consistently better magazine than Astounding.  F&SF runs a consistent 3 or 3.5 average.  That may not sound like a lot, but any score over 3 means there must be at least one good story inside.  I haven’t reviewed a magazine that scored a 4 yet.
Astounding, on the other hand, runs in the 2.5 to 3 range.  This is why I find the magazine a chore.

I haven’t don’t Galaxy yet, but I suspect it will fall in between the two above magazines.

Using my brand new rating system, let’s talk about the new IF Science Fiction.  I’m afraid it’s not quite up to Galaxy’s standards, nor even those set by Damon Knight’s outing as editor, but it’s not horrible, either.

The issue starts strongly enough with F. L. Wallace’s Growing Season, about a starship hydroponics engineer with a contract out on his life.  It’s a very plausible and advanced story whose only flaw is that it ends too quickly and in a pat manner.   4 stars.

The Ogre, on the other hand, is a disappointing turn-out from normally reliable Avram Davidson.  As one reader observed, it falls between two stools, being neither chilling nor funny.  It’s another story where an anthropologist would rather kill than revise a pet theory, in this case, the date of Neanderthal extinction.  2 stars.

Wynne Whiteford, of whom I had not heard before, though I understand he’s been around for a while, writes a rather hackneyed tale of immortality and body-snatching called Never in a Thousand Years.  If you don’t see the end coming from the beginning, you’re not looking very hard.  2 stars.

Sitting Duck, by Daniel Galouye, is one of those stories with a uncannily relevant but unnecessary parallel subplot.  In this case, aliens are hunting humans from artificial “blinds” in the shapes of homes, malls, and movie theater… just like the protagonist when he hunts ducks from blinds.  It really doesn’t work as a story, but it’s not execrable.  Just primitive.  2 stars.

I rather enjoyed Mutineer by Robert Shea, in which cities have reverted to city states (albeit high-technology ones), professions are regimented, and soldiers are both fearsome and feared.  There are interesting parallels to be drawn to Classical Greece, perhaps.  3 stars.

Paul Flehr’s A Life and a Half is inconsequential, a bitter reminiscence by an old-timer about a century from now, noting how much better things were “back then.”  It has a rather strong Yiddish tone throughout, however, so it’s not all bad.  2 stars.

Rosel George Brown continues to show potential that is never quite realized.  In Car Pool, a young mother struggles with mixing alien and human children in a pre-school setting; at the same time, she wrestles with her plainness and puritanical virtuosity.  I liked it, but it is not quite great.  3 stars.

Baker’s Dozens is about a series of clones who encounter life and death in a number of interesting ways in their interstellar journeys.  The story is mainly a vehicle for author, Jim Harmon’s, groan-worthy puns.  3 stars.

IF ends as it began, with a quite good story by Phillip K. Dick called Recall Mechanism.  It combines a post-apocalyptic world with investigations into psychiatry and precognition.  I’m torn between assigning it a 4 or a 5.  If only there were an integer between the two!

Averaged out, this issue clocks in at 3 stars.  You could definitely do worse, and the first and last stories are worth reading.

See you in two days, and thanks for reading!



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