Tag Archives: science fiction

[December 12, 1962] UP THE SPOUT AGAIN (the January 1963 Amazing)


by John Boston

All right, Frogeyes,* dust off all the stars.  We’re finally going to need them for this January 1963 Amazing, specifically for Keith Laumer’s novelet It Could Be Anything.
*Those without a classical education may ignore this and similar allusions.

“Things are not what they seem” is a well worn SF device, employed by the likes of Heinlein, Sturgeon, and more recently Philip K. Dick.  But it’s not worn out, as Laumer demonstrates.  Young Brett is about to take the train out of the stereotypical small town of Casperton, heading for the unnamed big city, despite stereotypical remonstrances.  His Aunt Haicey says, “It was reading all them books that done it.  Thick books, with no pictures in them.  I knew it would make trouble.” The stationmaster offers, “If I talk to Mr. J.D., I think he can find a job for you at the plant.” His girlfriend Pretty-Lee doesn’t show, not after their big argument in Rexall’s over her preoccupation with a movie magazine.  But he boards anyway, and some time later finds himself on a deserted stopped train in the middle of a field where the tracks just stop, no clue as to why, but the city is visible on the horizon.  So he walks.  I won’t spoil the story’s revelations in detail, but Brett quickly learns that the people he encounters in the city, engaged in ordinary mundane activities like walking down the street and eating in restaurants, are not real—they are automatons acting out routines.  What’s going on?  The answer is pretty nasty, and the story quickly turns crude and violent.  At the end, Brett is heading home to Casperton, with the similarity between the automatons’ routines and the behavior of the home folks not lost on him.  The story is exceedingly well visualized, gaining power from Laumer’s attention to mundane sensual detail even in the midst of violent melodrama.  Its impact is also enhanced by what isn’t there—an explanation.  The story is told entirely from Brett’s limited viewpoint, ignorant of the larger picture even after his shattering experiences in the city, leaving the reader knowing very little about the comprehensive catastrophe that seems to have overtaken the world, but creating an unusually strong sense of a larger world outside the confines of the story about which one can only speculate.  Five stars.

The cover story, Cerebrum by Albert Teichner, makes a nice contrast to the Laumer story—“nice” in the original sense of precise or fine, not the current debased usage—since it takes a well worn plot device and fails to revitalize it.  In the future, everybody’s telepathic, and they’re all hooked up to the Central Synaptic Computation Receptor and Transmitter System, which routes thoughts like a telephone exchange, only better.  Otherwise, nobody could hear themselves think through everyone else’s mental noise.  But people who think negative thoughts about Central get Suspended, and now there’s a large and growing underclass of Suspendeds since Central seems to be making a lot of mistakes lately—but don’t think that or you’ll be Suspended too.  Protagonist and family get Suspended and have to learn to live as outcasts on the margins; they discover what passes for an underground; then Central falls apart entirely and the brewing problems between Suspendeds and paraNormals (sic) conveniently disappear.  So, it’s the early Galaxy routine of society distorted by an innovation, with The Machine Stops thrown into the mix, no more than routinely clever connect-the-dots stuff.  Two stars; ten years ago when this sort of thing was newer, it might have seemed better.  The cover, by Lloyd Birmingham, merits a comment as well: de Chirico repeats, this time as farce.

Jack Egan’s Cully, like his earlier World Edge from November, is a short tale told by (or for) a damaged consciousness, which any further explanation would spoil; this one is better written and less busy than its predecessor.  Maybe Egan is getting the hang of it.  Generously, three stars.

S. Dorman—presumably the Sonya Dorman who appeared in the October Ladies’ Home Journal—provides something else entirely in The Putnam Tradition, her first in the SF magazines: sort of like Zenna Henderson with sharper edges.  The Putnams are a matriarchal and rather change-resistant New England family, witches or psi-talented as you prefer, whose children (the healthy ones) are mostly daughters, and whose husbands “spent a lifetime with the long-lived Putnam wives, and died, leaving their strange signs: telephone wires, electric lights, water pumps, brass plumbing.” And now young Simone’s husband Sam has brought them an “invasion” of large and small appliances, and their daughter doesn’t seem to have inherited the family talents.  Is tradition dead?  Or is something else going on?  The story is told in sort of fairy-tale fashion, with the occasional startling image (“. . . power lines had been run in, and now on cold nights the telephone wires sounded like a concert of cellos, while inside with a sound like the breaking of beetles, the grandmother Cecily moved through the walls in the grooves of tradition.”).  Dorman’s writing seems a little amateurish in places but it conveys the sense of a real individual behind the typewriter and not (unlike, say, Teichner’s) some device grinding up and recycling the last 50 SF stories she read.  Four stars, and thanks for the fresh air.

Bringing up the rear, or letting it down, is the “Classic Reprint” from the January 1933 issue: Omega, the Man by Lowell Howard Morrow, about Omega, the last human alive (well, he starts out with his wife Thalma and briefly acquires a son—Alpha, of course) on a dying Earth, with a schematic plot and the sort of bombastic style that one could barely get away with even then, and nowadays reads like parody.  A bizarre Frankensteinian plot twist at the end comes much too late to redeem this fiasco.  Moskowitz’s praise of it is almost as risible.  One star.

Ben Bova soldiers on with another article, Progress Report: Life Forms in Meteorites, again beautifully but inaptly illustrated by Virgil Finlay.  Bova reviews findings on exactly what the title says, as usual assembling a fair amount of interesting information.  He does seem to have his thumb on the scales sometimes, though, as when he recounts several competing theories about the nature of seemingly organic particles found in some meteorites: are they fossilized life forms, or crystalline structures that are the “intermediate step” between DNA molecules and living cells, or inorganic materials that contain lots of iron, or fossils that have been partly replaced by iron through a petrifaction process?  “On balance, though,” Bova says, “it would appear that the particles are life forms, or at least, fossils of once-living cells.” But he doesn’t explain why he’s choosing one side or another in this technical debate.  Still, three stars for pulling this material together in more or less plain English.

So: one excellent story, another very good one, and only one complete pratfall.  Looks like progress.  Of course I said that early last year too.  Da capo.  If the magazine can retain good new contributors like Dorman, Zelazny, and Ballard, maybe it can keep it up this time.

[December 9, 1962] (January 1963, IF Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Ah, Winter.  That sleepy time of the year when the air gets chillier (such as it ever gets chilly in Southern California), work slows down a bit, and shopping for the holidays picks up.  The first night of Hannukah is the 21st, and then, of course, there’s the big mid-Hannukah holiday (named after Chris, the patron saint of presents). 

And it’s when I renew my subscriptions for science fiction magazines since they generally offer Christmas discounts!

December marks the new year, at least as far as periodicals go.  January-dated issues show up the month before, so I’ve already gotten a sneak preview into the next year.  First up is is the January 1963 IF, and if this be a harbinger, then next year will probably be a decent one:

The Five Hells of Orion, by Frederik Pohl

I have to wonder if Pohl gets paid the same rate as everyone else for stories he writes, given that he is the editor.  Of course, he should.  Pohl has been a writer for decades, and he produces good stuff.  Orion follows the tale of an young astrogator shanghaied across a thousand light years by aliens bent on forging an alliance with humanity.  The first half is very good.  The spaceman must navigate a set of intelligence tests and we gradually come to understand the intentions of the extraterrestrials.  The payoff is rushed, however; perhaps this would have made a better novel.  Three stars.

The Shipshape Miracle, by Clifford D. Simak

An atypical piece by Simak in which an incorrigible criminal crosses paths with the brother to The Ship Who Sang, to his ultimate dismay.  Well-written, like everything Simak does, but unexceptional.  Three stars for the story, but five stars for the excellent art!

This Way to the Egress, by Andrew Fetler

Fetler returns to IF with his second vignette, a subtle piece about the last hours of a social deviant.  I suspect Fetler has a day job given the paucity of work he’s published in our field.  Three stars.

Essay in Coherence, by Theodore Sturgeon

This piece on LASERs (single-wavelength light beams of incredible intensity) shows that Sturgeon may soon give Asimov a run for his money with science articles.  It’s witty and informative, and probably will be the genesis of countless short stories involving this brand-new technology.  Five stars.

Podkayne of Mars (Part 2 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

Part II of Heinlein’s new juvenile(?) about Miss Poddy Fries and her space jaunt from Mars is a bit more readable than the last one, but it’s still overwritten and gets bogged in detail.  This is the spiritual successor to The Menace from Earth I’d hoped to share with my daughter, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough.  Three stars for this installment.

Road Stop, by David Mason

A ghost story involving a haunted car…in a future when all cars are haunted by design.  The tale isn’t plausible, in and of itself, but the world it paints feels like a possible tomorrow.  Three stars.

Fortress Ship, by Fred Saberhagen

Now here’s an interesting one, by a newish author who’s already turned out some good stuff.  Fortress introduces the concept of the “Beserker,” giant automated robot ships created as doomsday weapons. They roam the galaxy, relics of a forgotten war, reducing populated planets into ashes.  It takes extraordinary courage and, more importantly, wit to defeat them.  But it is possible…  Four stars.

Captain of the Kali , by Gary Wright

The “IFirststory” competition netted a piece from freshly minted author Gary Wright.  A futuristic C.S. Forester is recruited to serve as guest admiral on an alien fleet of sail-driven warships.  A good first effort, though greater length and a few more sf trappings would have been nice.  Three stars.

When Whirlybirds Call, by Frank Banta

Last up is a satirical piece about a laconic big-game hunter and the coocoo-downdraft-peoplehawk-whirlybirds he is contracted to exterminate.  Cute while it lasts.  Three stars.

It’s rare that I go from beginning to end of a mag and find no lousy stories.  This month’s IF is solid (if not exceptional) entertainment, and as the cheapest of the digests (at 35 cents), it is definitely a bargain.




[December 2, 1962] They Came From the Mainstream (SF Books Not Published As SF)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

Science fiction is a marketing category.  Readers who enjoy this genre look for familiar names and for covers featuring rockets and robots.  Our esteemed host has done an excellent job reviewing nearly all the books published as science fiction this year.  But what about those which contain speculative content, but which are not marketed that way?

As the year draws to an end, let’s take a look at some of this camouflaged science fiction:

Two new collections of translated stories by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, Ficiones and Labyrinths, contain many tales which will appeal to SF fans.  In Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, for example, the author describes an alien world.  An entire universe, consisting of every possible book, is the setting for The Library of Babel.  These and other elegantly written stories appeal more to the intellect than the heart.

Prolific British author Anthony Burgess offered two very different visions of dystopian futures this year.  A Clockwork Orange is narrated in futuristic slang by a teenage criminal.

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening . . .

Disorienting at first, this Russian-influenced language of tomorrow becomes clear through context, and is brilliantly used by Burgess to take us into a frightening world of random violence and government mind control.

Overpopulation leads to repression of heterosexuality, pregnancy becoming a crime, war used as a form of population control, and cannibalism in The Wanting Seed.  The language of this novel is not as difficult as A Clockwork Orange, but it deals with many important themes which require careful reading.

Russian-born writer Vladimir Nabakov, best known for his controversial novel Lolita (toned down somewhat in this year’s film adaptation), creates a very unusual structure in his new book, Pale Fire.  It consists of a poem of 999 lines by an imaginary poet, followed by footnotes written by an equally fictional critic.  Read together, the poem and footnotes come together to form a plot of impersonation, exile, and murder.  What makes this a work of science fiction is the fact that it takes place in a world different from our own.  The story deals with the deposed king of the European nation of Zembla.  It takes place in an alternate version of the USA, which contains the states of Appalachia and Utana. 

Although all of these books were published as literary fiction, science fiction fans should not dismiss them, in Hamlet’s words, as “caviar to the general.”  They are all well worth reading, and produce the special sense of wonder that comes from our favorite genre. 




[November 30, 1962] New Worlds, Cold Weather (The View from the UK, December 1962)

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


by Mark Yon

Hello all, again.

Being a Brit, I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that I should start this month with talk of the weather. The cold weather I mentioned in October has continued into November. It generally feels really cold, colder than normal. I must admit that the chilly, dark mornings do not make leaving the house and going to work conducive to productive activities! I am hoping that it’ll return to normal Winter weather soon.

Thanks to the weather, journeys in my provincial city are taking a little longer, but in London the weather has heralded the return of the infamous London fogs that make travel near impossible.

Music-wise, things have taken an interesting turn. Since I last spoke to you, the BBC have banned Bobby Boris Pickett’s The Monster Mash, from UK radio on the grounds that the song was “too morbid.”

By contrast, currently at the top of the charts is Frank Ifield and Lovesick Blues. A cover of the Hank Williams classic show tune, it is not really to my personal taste, I’m afraid. Telstar, much more favourable to my ears, and the instrumental that dominated the charts over the Summer, is still in the Top 5, slowly declining (like the satellite itself).

On the television I’m still enjoying the antics of John Steed and Cathy Gale in The Avengers on ITV. Undoubtedly rather far-fetched, it is nevertheless entertainingly escapist.

Slightly more down to earth, we recently had a programme begin on the BBC that I think will run for a while. Called That Was the Week that Was, it is a satirical summary of topical political and cultural items of interest from the previous week before transmission. Presented by up-and-coming media star Mr David Frost, but also with a host of comedians to fill out the roster, it seems to have been popular ratings-wise, although admittedly less so with the politicians and the Establishment.

I have braved the Winter weather to go to the cinema since we last spoke – it is often warmer there! – and I must recommend How the West Was Won, which I saw a couple of weeks ago. Directed by Mr John Ford and with a great cast – Mr. John Wayne, Mr. Gregory Peck and one of my own favourites, Mr. James Stewart – it is a great epic, telling us of the early days of the Wild West. Visually spectacular in Cinerama and in stereophonic sound, this may be the standard that future movies must reach.

Hopefully as good, I am looking forward to going to see Mr. David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia before I speak to you next. The news is saying that it is a visual spectacle, if a little long at nearly four hours. As it is mainly set in the desert, though, it might just be what’s needed to keep the Winter chill out!

This month’s New Worlds (the 125th!) has a slightly less lurid cover (thank goodness!) and after the excitement and disappointment of last month’s issue edited by Arthur C Clarke, we are back to a more ‘business as usual’ edition this time around.

This month’s editor is a popular writer who, nevertheless, hasn’t been in New Worlds for a while. Mr. Lan Wright was last in the magazine in 1958-59 with his three-part story A Man Called Destiny (issues 78-80, December 1958, January & February 1959). This time, as guest editor, he seems to have created a rather mixed bag, but a better edition than the one previous. His writing absence is partly explained in the Profile given on the inside cover. Amongst other things he has been spending his leisure time as a radio commentator for Watford Football Club and the three associated Hospital Radio stations in the area.

This has left little time for writing, though he has managed an Editorial this month and has a new three-part serial starting next month. His Editorial reflects his clearly passionate views on s-f. In a determinedly anti-intellectual stance, Lan makes the point that the genre is better off when it is mindful of its origins and keeps things unprofessional. This is a counterview to that of John Baxter’s in September which argued that, in order to survive, s-f needs to push itself and reach out to the mainstream masses by presenting a more refined, more challenging and better written body of work.

So, it seems like the battle-lines are drawn. I suspect that this battle between the two views will continue for a while yet.

To the actual content. Two novellas this month!

Lambda One, by Mr Colin Kapp

Mr Kapp is a New Worlds regular (last seen October 1961) and this is one of the better novellas I have read recently. The story centres around a great concept – that future transport is made by travel via an inter-atomic method. By making a solid body resonate in such a way that its atoms can pass through the spaces in the atomic structure of other solid substances, goods, materiel and people travel quickly and freely. The story follows a spaceship lost in this other dimension as our two heroes, Brevis and Porter attempt to rescue them. To be honest, the plot isn’t great and the ending is resolved far too quickly, but the journey to reach the stranded vessel is what makes the story memorable. It is, in the end, terrific fun and quite imaginative. Four out of five.

Meaning, by Mr. David Rome

This one, which I liked nearly as much as Lambda One, comes from an author who has now appeared in three issues in a row. Meaning is perhaps his best of the three. It tells of Alan Ross on a journey to Mars that may or may not be what the traveller thinks it is. This one kept me guessing by mixing dreams with reality until the mystery of the plot was revealed. Three out of five.

Capsid, by Mr. Francis G. Rayer

I really liked this story, from an author who has had stories published in New Worlds since 1947. There isn’t much to the plot (another rescue story!), but the titular alien of the story is interesting and unusual enough to be memorable. Though nameless, the “capsid” is a creature that lives underground away from the harsh radiation of its planet. It burrows through the sand and absorbs anything unlucky enough to land on the planet’s surface. When Wallsey crashes onto the capsid’s planet, the difficulty is how to rescue him from a planet where nothing seems to survive. The alien is memorable, although the ending is rather predictable. Nevertheless, three out of five.

Operation Survival, by Mr. Paul Corey

Oh dear. I’m always very mindful that humour’s always a relative thing, and what some find amusing, others don’t. Even so, this one’s a major misstep. The ‘humour’ derives from the idea that if you put enough mentally ill people (here called ‘Feebs’) in a room full of buttons, then like the proverbial monkeys writing Shakespeare, they will press the right buttons to deliver nuclear missiles, essentially lunatics taking over the asylum. Distasteful, badly judged and really, really not funny. Zero points.

Transmitter Problem, by Mr. Joseph Green
Mr. Green returns to the setting previously read in last month’s issue (the planet named Refuge.) It’s another story about the breshwahr tree, a salient lifeform, and its effect upon the people of this frontier planet. I was rather dismissive of last month’s effort, saying that its purpose was clearly designed to shock with its matter-of-fact depiction of child rape and cannibalism. I enjoyed this one more, mainly because I felt it was trying less hard to make its point. It is a minor story about transmitting people but seems to set things up for other stories in the future quite nicely. Three out of five.

Mood Indigo, by Mr. Russ Markham

The second of our novellas this month, from another author we read in the last issue. Mr. Markham’s last effort was Who Went Where?, which I thought was ‘solid yet undemanding.’ This is longer, and better for it, I think. Here, engineers Don Channing, Harry Scanlon and their work colleagues create a forcefield bubble that is quickly sponsored by the military, but there are unexpected consequences of its use. It suggested what it must have been like with the development of the atomic bomb, and I rather suspect that that was the intention. It is a traditional tale, with lots of stereotypes – bold male scientist, good-looking girl, etc., although it comes out as passable s-f in the end. Three out of five.

Lastly, there’s the usual Book Review by Mr. Leslie Flood. Mr. John Christopher’s The World in Winter and Mr. Daniel F Galouye’s Dark Universe both get positive comments.

In summary, I enjoyed this issue more than last month. Whilst there are moments of workmanlike prose and a real misstep in one of the worst stories I’ve read in New Worlds, ever, there were enough original moments to make me feel that my two-and-sixpence was well spent this month.

Until next time, as I huddle under a few blankets, it just remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Have a great one, may you get everything you wish and I’ll speak to you again before the New Year.




[November 27, 1962] Turkeys and Gravy (December 1962 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Behold the picture of contentment.  I sit in my La-Z-Boy, feet crossed on an ottoman, a Julie London album on the phonograph, and my tummy stuffed to the utmost with stuffing, turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes… the whole megillah.  And at my side, the just-finished copy of the latest Analog, which just happens to be my last science fiction magazine of the year (yes, Mark Yon will follow me with the December ish of New Worlds, but that’s his problem!)

This last reading duty out of the way, I can finally start putting together my notes for this year’s Galactic Stars, and it certainly looks like there will be some bright ones.  Nevertheless, as fun as it is describing the sum of the parts, each component deserves full treatment – and the December 1962 Analog has much to recommend it.. as well as some prime examples of America’s bird:

Blind Man’s Lantern, by Allen Kim Lang

Beautifully depicted on the cover by Schoenherr, this one came recommended by fellow writer, John Boston.  Lantern features an Pennsylvania Dutch couple settling on an Earth-like world 80 light years from home.  The planet is already home to a thriving but technologically regressed colony of West Africans, and the hope of the Earth government is that the original inhabitants will adopt the advanced Amish farming techniques, to the benefit of all concerned. 

It’s a lovely story, more slice of life Laura Ingalls Wilder than nuts and bolts SF.  The relations between the Amish and the Africans are interesting and sensitively portrayed, the growing friendships and cultural clashes feeling natural.  Where the piece fails (a little bit) is the abrupt twist 4/5ths of the way through, and the fact that there is really no SF component to this tale at all.  The new planet is exactly like Earth in all details – Lang could easily have set his story in Senegal.  Four stars.

Subversive, by Mack Reynolds

At first, this story looks to be a “preach piece,” basically two people chatting to illustrate a philosophical point.  In this case, the topic of discussion is the economy, and how to cut the Gordian Knot of our overly complex, thoroughly middle-manned system.  But the author is Mack Reynolds, and he has something that is (dare I say) a bit more subversive in mind.  Lots of twists and you never know where it’s going to end.  Three stars. 

—And Devious the Line of Duty, by Tom Godwin

This one is basically, a low budget Retief story in which the key to determining on which side a powerful neutral planet aligns comes down to a well-orchestrated meet cute between its young Queen and a strapping Terran Space Navy lieutenant.  Much too long to justify its ending, which you’ll see a mile away.  Two stars.

Intelligent Noise, by Alfred Pfanstiehl

Here’s the real dog of the magazine.  Mr. Pfanstiehl attempts to educate us on the ingenious use of the electromagnetic spectrum to cram more information into an already crowded set of frequencies. The problem is that the article is completely unreadable.  Dig this, Dad – my first major was astrophysics and my favorite bits in these digests are the science articles; but I couldn’t make head nor tails of it.  I am no wiser now than I was going into the article, and I suspect you won’t be either.  One star.

Space Viking (Part 2 of 2), by H. Beam Piper

Finally, Piper continues his four part(!) tale of rapacious spacefarers picking on the bones of the fallen Terran Empire.  As a travelogue, it’s first rate.  Piper gives us great background on all of the visited planets, their societies and governments.  Names are dropped of worlds featured in other stories (for instance, Uller of Uller Uprising and Zarathustra of Little Fuzzy).  But as a story, Space Viking is rendered mostly in thumbnail.  The result is engaging, even memorable, but more carrier wave than message.  Three stars.

That wraps up this month’s American magazines.  F&SF is finally the best again, with Fantastic a close second (this latter having the best story, Laumer’s Cocoon).  Galaxy is tail-end Charlie, a bitter disappointment.  That puts Amazing and Analog in the middle.  Every magazine had some four-star content; only two (Galaxy and Amazing) had female authors, one apiece. 

Over to you, Mark!




[November 22, 1962] Return to Normalcy (December 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.

I’m a Kennedy liberal, so goodness knows I wouldn’t normally quote a Republican President, let alone one as ineffectual as Warren G. Harding.  I don’t agree with everything he said in his address to the Home Market Club of Boston on May 14, 1920, quoted above.  However, there’s something in his plea for a return to normalcy after the horrors of the Great War that strikes a familiar chord in these times.

The Cold War has returned to its normal condition, and avoided boiling over into a Hot War.

Meanwhile, the Sino-Indian War has ended, leaving two great nations in a state of peace, at least for now.

As we breathe a sigh of relief, it’s appropriate to turn to the pages of the December 1962 issue of Fantastic, where we will find stories about people who struggle to return to normalcy.

In the Holiday Spirit, by ?

Leading off the issue is an anonymous poem that mentions the names of several writers and artists working in the SF field.  It’s not great verse, but it’s a pleasant thought.  Unratable.

Heritage, by E. J. Derringer

Reprinted from the pages of the January 1935 issue of Top-Notch, this month’s fantasy classic was supposed to appear in Astounding.  The introduction by SF historian Sam Moskowitz speculates as to why this might have occurred.  My own theory is that the story is closer to fantasy than science fiction, as suggested by the uniquely macabre illustrations provided by Lee Brown Coye, an artist closely associated with Weird Tales.

The fantastic content of Derringer’s story does not appear until near the end.  The plot begins like a mystery.  Seven years before the story opens, the young wife of an older man vanished.  Fascinated by the disappearance, the young son of the husband’s lawyer begins his own investigation.  He soon finds out that the husband’s doctor helped the woman to disappear, for an incredible reason.

This story depends entirely on the revelation of the woman’s secret.  Otherwise, it’s competently, if not elegantly, written.  Three stars.

Cocoon, by Keith Laumer

Robert Adragna’s cover art is more symbolic than literal in its representation of this dark satire.  Sid and his oddly named wife Cluster live in a future world where everybody exists inside womblike containers.  All of their physical needs are supplied by the cocoon.  Entertainment, employment, and social contacts are all conducted through electronic channels.  When a crisis strikes this seemingly perfect society, Sid must struggle to survive and to learn the truth about his world.  I’m pleased to see Laumer put aside his lighthearted tales of Retief and pursue a more serious theme.  Four stars.

It’s Magic, You Dope! (Part 2 of 2), by Jack Sharkey

Last month the madcap adventures of our hero led him to a bizarre fantasy world, full of weird creatures, with his girlfriend in the form of a nymph and her brother as a faun.  In the conclusion, an illusory double of the nymph has been created by a witch (who happens to be her mother in the mundane world.) One of the two nymphs has been captured by evil creatures who want to cook and eat her.  Since nobody knows which of the two is real, the hero goes to rescue her.  The witch gives him a magic sword and a bag full of seemingly ordinary objects; a beer can, a train ticket, and so on.  Each one of these will prove useful during moments of danger.  The plot moves along at a breakneck pace, including encounters with werewolves, centaurs, and beings who only exist in the author’s imagination.  It’s never boring, although the story is really just one damned thing after another.  Three stars.

Imbalance, by Murray Leinster

An author who has been publishing science fiction since 1919 offers the reader a comic tale about chance.  Something goes wrong with the laws of nature, resulting in all sorts of strange happenings around the world.  An insurance agent downs on his luck puts his last few coins into slot machines in a desperate attempt to gain some cash.  A rival agent who hates gambling offers him an odd deal.  If he loses at games of luck, he has to sell the business of a prospective client to the rival at a discount.  If he wins, the rival gets thirty percent of the winnings.  More out of spite than anything else, he accepts the offer.  Because of the odd breakdown in natural law, he keeps winning, eventually breaking the bank.  Complications ensue with the intervention of the agent’s girlfriend and his prospective client, a crime boss.  This isn’t the most plausible or profound story in the world, but it should provide some modest amusement.  Three stars.

It’s almost reassuring, after the stressful days recently gone by, to return to an average, middle-of-the-road issue of the magazine.  Still, I wouldn’t say no to something tremendous.  Happy Thanksgiving.

[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…




[November 6, 1962] The road not taken… (Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle)

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


by Gideon Marcus

What if the good guys had lost World War 2?

Imagine a United States split in three pieces: the East Coast is a protectorate of the Reich.  The West has been colonized by the Japanese.  A rump free state sprawls across the Rockies and western Plains.  The Holocaust has extended to Africa, and the two fascist superpowers are locked in a Cold War with stakes as high, if not higher than in our real world.

Philip K. Dick has returned to us after a long hiatus with a novel, The Man in the High Castle.  It is an ambitious book, long for a science fiction novel.  Castle‘s setting is an alternate history, one in which the Axis powers managed to defeat the Allies…somehow (it is never explained).  Dick explores this universe through five disparate viewpoint protagonists, whose paths intertwine in complex, often surprising ways:

Major Rudolf Wegener: An agent of the Abwehr, the German foreign espionage service known for its subversive, anti-Nazi activities. Wegener is desperate to make contact with the Japanese government to inform them of a German plan to turn the Cold War hot – a conflict the Japanese cannot win.  His contact intermediary is…

Nobusuke Tagomi: Head of the Japanese trade mission in San Francisco, a deeply spiritual and traditional man who abhors violence.  Like many Japanese posted in the former United States, he has an outsized fancy for American antiques such as those provided by…

Robert Childan: A prissy antiques dealer, who accepts the superiority of the ancient civilizations of the Far East, having adopted the Japanese mindset almost entirely.  He is resolved to dismantle the cultural heritage of his nation one little treasure at a time – that is, until he discovers a new American culture growing like a flower in a footprint, a culture represented by the art whose creator is…

Frank Frink: Formerly a forger of American historical artifacts, he has turned his expertise to the creation of exquisite modern jewelry.  He is a Jew in a world where being a Jew is a capital crime.  He is married to but long-separated from…

Juliana Frink: A ravishing beauty and Judo expert living on her own in the Rocky Mountain States.  She links up with a mournful Italian truck driver who turns out to be an SD (Nazi secret police) assassin tasked with murdering the author of…

The Grasshopper lies heavy: A sort of sixth character that unites the protagonists.  It is a novel of alternate history in which Germany and Japan lost the Second World War.  Banned in the Reich and Reich-controlled countries, it is a best-seller elsewhere.  Its window on a world in which fascism did not triumph offers a scrap of hope, a vision of a world where sanity prevailed.  It is interesting to note that the timeline of Grasshopper is not that of our universe, but one in which the British and Americans are the post-war superpowers. 

There is a strong suggestion that what makes the world of Grasshopper so compelling is that it is, in fact, the real world.  This goes beyond wishful thinking.  At one point, Tagomi actually wills himself away from Castle’s timeline.  Castle’s author, Hawthorne Abendsen confesses that he did not so much write Grasshopper as simply draft it per the dicta of the I Ching, an ancient Chinese oracle book whose use is widespread in the Japanese-influenced regions, and which Abendsen consulted throughout the writing of his book.

Castle takes a good third of its length to really get started.  Ostensibly a thriller of an alternate Cold War, it is really a character study focused on the myriad minutiae of interaction.  How do conqueror and conquered interact?  How complete can cultural assimilation be?  What is the character of pride in a defeated race?  These are all good questions, and Dick does a decent job giving his take on their answers.

There are significant problems with Castle, however.  For one, it suffers from lazy worldbuilding.  The book is an opportunity for Dick to draw a wide cast of characters and depict their complex web of interactions.  But the underpinnings of the world they inhabit are implausible.  First and foremost, it would have been impossible, logistically, for the United States to have fallen to the Axis Powers.  For that matter, I have doubts that the Soviet Union was ever in existential danger.  Certainly the Reich never came close to making The Bomb – their racial theory-tinged science wouldn’t have allowed it.  It is sobering when you realize that the Allies managed to fight two world wars and develop the most expensive and powerful weapon ever known all at the same time.  An Axis victory in World War 2 resulting in the conquest of the United States is simply a nonstarter.

Setting that aside (since we’d have no book otherwise) the Nazi feats in Castle, accomplished in just 17 years and including the colonization of Mars, Venus, the moon; as well as the damming of the Mediterranean(!) are just silly.  In fact, a clever touch would have been to suggest that those feats were actually purely propaganda.  They might well have been, but Dick plays it straight in the book. 

Dick also seems to have not done much homework before writing Castle.  The politics and depictions of Nazi characters could have been (and likely were) derived from a cursory read of Shirer’s recent instant classic, Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, without much elaboration or extrapolation.  Fair enough.  Dick spends most of his time in the Japanese-occupied Pacific States of America, anyway, so he doesn’t need to develop the German side too much. 

There again, however, we have no depth.  The inner monologues of the Japanese (and the most Nippophile of subjects, Childan) are distinguished mostly by Dick’s eschewing of the definite article.  In other words, there is no “the” and precious few pronouns.  That is technically how the Japanese language works, but it’s not as if those concepts don’t exist – they’re simply implied.  Moreover, it doesn’t make sense that Childan would speak and think this way.  The execution is clumsy.  It makes the Japanese come off as pidgin-speakers, incapable of erudition in English.

The Japanese and Easternized Americans also exhibit a painful stiffness, and utterly spartan adherence to the ancient arts and ways.  It’s as if Dick had read Suzuki’s Zen and Japanese Culture (one of the recent wave of books the Japanese have released to rehabilitate the image Westerners have of them) and took it as representative of all Japanese culture.  I’ve been to Japan ten times.  I’ve studied Japanese for two decades.  I have a great many Japanese friends.  They are as varied as any other set of people, and this monodimensional portrayal does them no favors – nor does it interest particularly. 

Add to this the sterile, detached atmosphere of the book, as if the words were cloaked in gauze, and it makes for an often sloggish read.  I understand that the style underscores the bleak hopelessness of life in the new America, but there should have been some variation among the characters.  They all think similarly.  A sort of cynical weariness.  It’s even justifiable, but it’s oppressive and monotonous. 

The reason for Dick’s long absence from the science fiction genre (alternate history is not strictly science fiction; one of Dick’s characters even says as much in Castle, but let’s not split hairs) is that he, like Sturgeon and many others, tried to make it big with a mainstream book.  Like Sturgeon, he was not successful, so it appears he has tried to bridge the gap between SF and the mainstream by picking a particularly popular topic.  Shirer and Suzuki have certainly plowed the field for Dick, and early buzz around Castle is strong. 

But unlike Heinlein’s mainstream success, Stranger in a Strange Land or Sturgeon’s less successful (but better) Venus Plus X, I find it difficult to discern an overall message in Castle.  I find myself comparing Castle unfavorably with Orwell’s 1984, a book that was not only an excellent novel, but also a profound cautionary tale against Communism and the pursuit of power for power’s sake.  Castle doesn’t really say much other than “life under the Japanese would be pretty lousy, albeit better than under the Nazis.”  The interesting relationships between characters, and what Dick tries to convey through them, are subverted by the lack of plausibility of Dick’s alternate 1962 and by the flawed and flat portrayals of those who live in it. 

Of course, maybe these flaws are intentional.  The ending suggests that the world of Castle isn’t even real, just some sort of half-baked flight of fancy.  One might conclude that all of the stereotypes, all the shallow history, the mind-numbing sameness of the characters are just beams to support the structure of a colossal cosmic joke.  That Castle really is just a Dickian daydream set to paper, and that the styling of its components is designed to underscore the unreality of the story’s proceedings.  Seen in this light, Castle would be subtly brilliant.

However, I suspect that gives Dick too much credit.  I think Dick was really just throwing vague ideas out there and hoping we’d Rorschach them into something coherent.  Castle is a readable book, a well-timed book, and it knits a number of characters together somewhat entertainingly, at times profoundly.  But it’s also a sensational, shallow book.  An overwrought, affected book.  It’s not bad – Dick is never bad – but it is not the masterpiece I think many people feel it is destined to be. 

Three stars and a half stars.




[Oct. 25, 1962] The Cold War is all wet (Dean McLaughlin’s Dome World)

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


by Gideon Marcus

There is one singular difference between the Cold War and all conflicts that have preceded it: for the first time in history, both adversaries have the power to wipe each other out utterly.  Direct conflict is madness, and indeed, while we may rattle the sabers incessantly, it is this mutually assured destruction that may preserve the peace for longer than in any era before it.  Perhaps the Chinese and Indians, whose border is seeing the greatest conflict in the world since Korea, need their own atomic bombs.  On the other hand, the deployment of Russian nukes in Cuba, and the responsive blockade, may well turn our Cold War hot any day now, so the jury is still out on the deterrent value of the weapons.

As luck would have it, the Cold War has crept into my SF reading, too.  Dean McLaughlin describes a new variety of the conflict in his new (and first!) science fiction book, Dome World.  Deep sea dome cities have been set up by the world’s new superpowers — the United States of the Americas and the African Union.  Their tenuous peace is deteriorating fast as both powers escalate claims over the rich mineral deposits on the ocean floor.  The fragile domes are vulnerable to even the slightest attack.  As the warships start to circle overhead, what can anyone do to preserve the existence of the undersea communities?

Dome World is really two stories in one, the second half taking place some time after the first.  Part I was originally the March 1958 Astounding novelette, The Man on the Bottom — a piece of which I have no recollection whatsoever.  Set at the beginning of the above-described conflict, it is up to Mason, the manager of the American Wilmington dome to find a middle path between the nuclear Sympleglades on either side of the Atlantic.

Part II is entirely original to the novel.  Years after Mason’s solution, conflict is brewing again.  This time, it is between newly independent domes and those settled by Mainlanders.  Macklin, a producer of private bathyscapes with a bad heart, is tapped to negotiate a peaceful settlement to end the increasing Mainlander raids on seabottom dwellings.  Can he succeed before time runs out…for his community and himself?

Mclaughlin’s undersea world is beautifully detailed, a logical extrapolation of the Aquanaut exploration of the ocean floor that began just this year.  His protagonists are weary, guilt-soaked men thrust into positions of moment by history — or are they in those positions because they are great men to begin with?  Neither Mason and Macklin asked for the responsibility of saving their respective peoples, and neither relish their positions.  Yet, they feel compelled to act, nevertheless.  The Journey’s editor recently observed that leaders are those for whom the drive to act is greater than the fear that they might be taking the wrong action.  That fear acts much like an atomic barrier — an electron jumps levels only in extraordinary circumstances, and similarly, it takes an extraordinary person to jump out of her/his level to the next.

Dome World’s stories are really quite good.  Unfortunately, McLaughlin tends to get in his own way.  Perhaps because he didn’t have enough material to fill a novel, he frequently repeats himself.  His sentences are redundant.  He says the same thing in slightly different words.  Often.  At first, this feels like a deliberate attempt to convey the ponderous inexorability of the upcoming war and the bone-tiredness of Mason.  It’s constant throughout the book, however, and smacks of padding.  Also, as William Atheling, Jr. pointed out in the August issue of AXE, McLaughlin also has a perverse aversion for the word “said.”  I’m as much a fan of creative dialogue as anyone, but McLaughlin takes it to extremes.  Particularly bad are the questions that characters “wonder” to others rather than say.  Wondering is something I take to be internal, not spoken.

In any event, if you can tolerate these literary tics, Dome World actually moves pretty briskly, and the two mysteries that are Mason and Macklin’s solutions are worth waiting for.  Three and half stars.




[October 22, 1962] Hiding from the World (November 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

As I prepared this article, I listened to President Kennedy’s speech on Cuba, which was broadcast on radio and television throughout the nation.

Although many of you no doubt heard this address to the American people, I feel compelled to transcribe its shocking opening words:

This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.

As the speech continued, it became clear to me that the world is closer to the brink of nuclear war than ever before.  I was already in a state of anxiety, ever since China escalated a border conflict with India into open warfare two days ago by invading on two fronts.

As if international conflicts were not enough, the riot that exploded when James Meredith (shown here escorted by Chief U.S. Marshall James McShane and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Doar) enrolled in the University of Mississippi filled me with shame and fear for my country.  After two deaths, hundreds of injuries, and the necessity for Meredith to be guarded twenty-four hours a day by Federal troops, I have to wonder sometimes if the United States is heading for a second Civil War.

It seems likely that the threat of violence, which hangs over our heads in these troubled times, makes it necessary for us to make light of traditional terrors.  We laugh to keep from screaming.  As an example, on the same day that China invaded India, Bobby Picket’s novelty song, The Monster Mash, reached the top of the charts.

Appropriately, the latest issue of Fantastic features another comic version of old-fashioned horrors.

It’s Magic, You Dope! (Part 1 of 2), by Jack Sharkey
Lloyd Birmingham’s cover art, which reminds me of the macabre cartoons of Charles Addams, captures the spooky but laughable nature of this short novel by editor Cele Goldsmith’s resident comedian.
The narrator pays a visit to his girlfriend at the home of her parents.  He leaves after a lovers’ quarrel, but quickly turns back.  To his amazement, the house is gone.  Phone calls reveal that nobody remembers the home or its inhabitants.  It soon turns out that a sinister pair used a weird device to transport the family to another dimension, one full of monsters and magic.  Things become much more complicated when a wood nymph and a faun (who seem to be weird, alternate versions of the girlfriend and her little brother) show up.  The two evil men wind up in the other world, as does the narrator and his two new companions.  What follows is a wild struggle for survival in a place full of bizarre and deadly creatures, some from folklore and others that only exist in the mind of the author.  Although the plot seems to be little more than one strange, random event after another, it holds the reader’s interest.  Three stars.

Awareness Plan, by David R. Bunch

The magazine’s most controversial writer – a fact noted in the introduction to this story – returns with another eccentric, mysterious tale.  Two men discuss how to deal with a conquered people who do not show the proper respect for their masters.  What elevates this vignette above its minimal plot is the author’s unique style, use of strange words, and satiric edge.  It’s definitely not for all tastes.  Two stars.

Planetoid 127, by Edgar Wallace

This issue’s Fantasy Classic comes from the pen of an extremely prolific author whose works have been adapted into many movies in the United Kingdom and Germany.  He is best known in the United States for his work on the screenplay for King Kong.  This story, reprinted from 1924, deals with an astronomer who has an uncanny ability to foresee future events.  This allows him to acquire a vast fortune through investments, which attracts the attention of an unscrupulous businessman who will stop at nothing to acquire his secret.  This is a typical pulp crime story with a single science fiction element, not revealed until the end.  Unfortunately, the introduction by SF historian Sam Moskowitz spoils the story by describing the gimmick in detail.  Two stars.
(There’s one strange thing about the interior illustration that appears with this story.  It obviously depicts a scene that appears in the story Black and White by Marion Zimmer Bradley, published in this month’s Amazing.  Looking back at that issue, it’s clear that the illustration that accompanied Bradley’s story shows a scene from Wallace’s tale.  Somebody at the art department of Ziff-Davis is likely to get in trouble for mixing up the two.)

The Mozart Annuity, by Arthur Porges

Finishing the issue is the story of a conductor who worships the music of Mozart.  His biggest regret is that the composer died at an early age, before he could create even greater masterpieces.  His brother happens to be an inventor who has come up with a time machine of sorts.  It can only transport small, nonliving objects back in time.  The brothers come up with a plan to send silver back to the time of Mozart’s childhood, with a letter to a bank explaining that it is to be used to provide a steady income for the young musician, allowing him to avoid the poverty that led to his death.  The consequences are unexpected.  This is a clever story, if superficial.  Three stars.

Overall, a mediocre issue with no outstanding stories.  However, I recommend it as a way of keeping your mind off the much more frightening things in the real world.