Tag Archives: science fiction

[August 12, 1962] FEH (the September 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

This September Amazing continues the magazine’s slide into mediocrity after the promise of the year’s earlier issues. 

Keith Laumer’s serial A Trace of Memory concludes, and it’s quite disappointing, in part because it compares so poorly to last year’s Worlds of the Imperium, in part because it seemed to start so well.  The protagonist, who is down and out after a sequence of ridiculously bad luck, is pulled out of the gutter (well, out of a police station) by a strange rich guy called Foster who seems to have lived for centuries, has an indestructible old journal to prove it, but doesn’t remember who he is or how he got here.  Also, it turns out, he is being stalked by even stranger, and dangerous, globular creatures, who catch up to him as the protagonist joins him, leading to a chase across country, and ultimately across the ocean, to escape them and track his origins. 

That first half was quite fast-paced and well-written if a bit over the top.  However, the second half takes the protagonist to Vallon, Foster’s home planet (not a spoiler; it’s telegraphed from the beginning), which has degenerated to a sort of cartoony gangster feudalism, against which backdrop the protagonist performs ever more preposterous feats of physical and mental prowess, dissipating the momentum of the earlier parts and quickly becoming tedious.  Also: upon seeing the July cover illustration of Stonehenge, I joked at the time that I feared winding up in Atlantis.  That doesn’t happen, but Laumer reveals another legendary motif which is just about as silly. 

Speaking of legends, early on, the protagonist introduces himself: “ ‘My name’s Legion,’ I said.” OK, stop right there.  As everybody in this Bible Belt town knows, even me, when Jesus was confronted by a man possessed by an “unclean spirit” and asked his name, the guy said, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” (Mark 5:1-5:9) So Laumer’s protagonist is in effect claiming to be a horde of demons.  I’m thinking of Chekhov’s dictum that if there’s a gun on the wall in Act One, it should be fired in the next act.  Those demons never do get fired.  Two stars (and if it had gone on longer it would have worked its way down to one).

The cover story is Edmond Hamilton’s short story Sunfire!, which continues Hamilton’s transition from Space Opera to Mope Opera.  Space explorer Kellard has slunk home to Earth and moved back, alone, into his ancestral house, refusing all contacts with his colleagues at Survey, because something happened on Mercury and two of his fellows died, and it’s so terrible he can never talk about it.  So Survey comes after him, having not accepted his resignation, and packs him off back to Mercury even though—or maybe because—he still won’t say a word about what happened there. 

It’s actually not much of a secret to anyone who has looked at the cover and seen the fiery aliens, looking like crude but imaginative Hallowe’en costumes.  They’re telepathic, too, and Kellard got a full dose of how free and playful they are, traversing the universe and frolicking among and in the stars.  “No, the ecstacy was one that men would never know except at secondhand through this brief contact!  The glorious rush together of the star-children through the vast abysses, drinking up the energy of the radiation about them.” Etc. It makes being human and tramping around on cold and too, too solid planets seem pointless, and Kellard is never going to burden anyone else with this awful knowledge. 

Sorry, I don’t buy it, and neither does the head of Survey, who gets Kellard’s point once he too meets the aliens, but doesn’t think just having the planets of the universe is such a bad deal.  Like any sensible person he’s ready to tell the world about this rather interesting discovery.  Despite the artificiality of its problem, the story is well turned and, with this and Requiem from the April issue, Hamilton is clearly working hard at making the transition to a less obsolete kind of SF than the space opera he is better known for.  Splitting the difference between good intentions and lack of plausibility, three stars.  If you can believe in Kellard’s reaction, you’ll like it better than I did.

Edward Wellen’s Apocryphal Fragment is a mildly clever vignette (so labelled on the contents page) in which Doubting Thomas encounters a jinni in the Negev.  Something this slight should be rated in asteroids rather than stars, but if I must . . . two stars.

The other short story is Whistler, by David Rome (reputedly a pseudonym for one David Boutland); it’s the first US appearance of an author who has published nine stories in little more than a year in New Worlds and its companions in the UK.  Unfortunately it is an insipid though well-meaning message story about the evils of bigotry in the space lanes, almost as short as Wellen’s.  One star.

That leaves the Classic Reprint, The Ice Man by William Withers Douglas, from the February 1930 Amazing.  The narrator is an ancient Roman citizen brought to the New York of 1928 through a classical version of suspended animation.  He expects this account to be transmitted to his countrymen back home, in hopes that someone will rescue him from the insane asylum where he has ended up.  It recounts his initial captivity by a rather annoying if not quite mad scientist, and his observations of modern times—fire engines, women’s fashion, etc. etc.—once he has made his escape.  It’s reasonably well written, and any two or three pages of it are quite amusing.  Unfortunately there are 34.  Two stars.

Ben Bova has another installment of his series on extraterrestrial life, The Inevitability of Life, which reviews what’s known (or believed to be known) about the origins of life in chemical evolution and physical processes.  There’s a good case that the chemical and physical components of life arise inevitably through natural processes, though Bova is a little hazy on how the deal is closed and organic chemicals become living matter.  Nonetheless, three stars for lucid exposition of interesting material, particularly welcome in an issue where there’s not much else of interest.

Benedict Breadfruit abideth.

[August 6, 1962] Bookkends (September 1962 IF Worlds of Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

It’s a hot, doldrumy summer.  My wife and I are hard at work.  Our daughter has headed to the North for a vacation.  There’s hardly anything in the news but sordid details of the Sol Estes case (if you’ve been living under a rock this whole year, he’s the Texas financier fraudster with dubious dealings with the US Department of Agriculture, not to mention Vice President Johnson). 

About the only item of interest is that the island of Jamaica is finally achieving independence.  I visited the place before the War.  I don’t remember much but lush beauty and friendly people.  The music coming out of the Caribbean is pretty interesting to my ear, too – some post-Calypso stuff including innovative steel drum work and a fledgling new genre that as yet has no name (q.v. Lord Creator and Robert Marley).

So in this languorous time, about the only consistent pasttime I can enjoy, aside from my records, is the ever-growing pile of stf (scientifiction, natch) magazines.  One of the ones I look forward to is IF, which, if it is not always stellar, usually has a few items of interest.  This month, the September 1962 issue has a lot of lousy stories, and editor Pohl cunningly placed the best one in front so as to dull the impact of the sub-par stuff that follows.  But the last tale is a fine reprise of the first, quality-wise.  See if you agree:

The Snowbank Orbit, by Fritz Leiber

A famous author and actor, Leiber’s works often approach sublimity.  This is one of them, combining both beautiful prose and cutting edge science fiction.  Plot in brief: a Mercurian mining vessel, one of Earth’s last remaining spaceworthy ships, is fleeing from an alien armada.  Its only hope for survival is to thrust at maximum acceleration toward the seventh planet, Uranus, and then use the giant planet’s gravity and atmosphere to slow it down and send it back in the direction of Earth.

There are so many interesting components in this tale: a demographically diverse and well-characterized crew, some truly bizarre aliens, a gripping set-up.  The scientific concepts, from the “International Meteor Guard” to the communication via visual light lasers, are both plausible and fresh.  Leiber’s use of color and texture makes for a literary experience yet does not get too self-indulgent.

Orbit is an almost great story.  I’m not sure what keeps it from hitting five stars save for its reminding me a little too much of Heinlein’s Sky Lift.  Nevertheless, it is vivid, it packs a lot into a small space, and the hero is a refreshing departure from the ordinary.  Four stars, and you may rate it higher.

One Million Four Hundred Ninety Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty Three Marlon Brandos, by Vance Aandahl

Aandahl has accomplished the fannish dream, to be published in one’s teen years.  His work runs to the literary side.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his first published piece, not of his stories break the three-star mark – including this one, about a bored teen girl whose desire to be wooed by the great mumbler momentarily subverts the will of a town’s menfolk.  It’s one of those “cute but doesn’t go anywhere” pieces.  Two stories.

The Winning of the Moon, by Kris Neville

Neville was a brief shining star at the turn of the last decade, right as stf was undergoing its post-War boom.  But the field proved too limiting for the young author’s vision, and now Kris mostly makes a living doing technical writing.  He still dabbles, though.  Moon is a Murphy’s Law tinged tale of lunar colonization, a satire that is grounded just enough in reality to be effective.  Three stars.

And Then There Was Peace, by Gordon R. Dickson

No matter how mechanized war gets, the burden of fighting will always rest on the shoulders of the beleaguered infantryman.  Peace explores the sad fate of a futuristic soldier after the conclusion of hostilities.  Dickson’s explored pacifistic themes before, particularly in his latest novel, Naked to the StarsPeace is mostly a gimmick story though, and if you can’t guess the wallop, then you’re very new to this business.  Two stars.

The Big Headache, by Jim Harmon

I never know what to expect from Jim; he wobbles in quality like a Cepheid Variable…but without the regularity.  In Headache, a pair of scientists develop an anti-migraine drug only to have it turn out to have lobotomizing side effects.  It’s played for laughs, but I only opened my mouth to grimace.  What might have been an effective horror story or cautionary tale Headache is, instead, neither fish nor fowl, and only succeeds in delivering what’s on the tin.  Two stars.

Transient, by William Harris

This is a ghost story, except the haunter is an alien, and the place of haunting is a computer.  It’s a frivolous piece one might expect as one of the lesser entries in any given issue of F&SF, but you may like it more than me.  Two stars.

Once Around Arcturus, by Joseph Green

A futuristic retelling of the Greek myth of Atalanta, the woman who would only be wooed by the suitor who could beat her in competition.  Green, a brand-new writer and employee at NASA, pens a pretty clunky tale.  He almost manages to make it work in the end, though…but then he flubs it.  I suppose if you took out the last paragraph and gave the piece a downer ending, it might be a whole lot better.  Instead, Green cops out with a literary Picardy Third.  Two stars.

World in a Mirror, by Albert Teichner

The universe is full of dangerous symmetry: anti-matter will violently destroy matter with which it comes in contact; a southpaw fencer or pitcher often makes mincemeat of her/his opponent.  And what will our stomachs make of left-handed DNA?  Teichner expects the worst. 

It’s a worthy topic to explore (and, in fact, I’ve speculated on the subject in one of my recent works), but the set-up in World is heavy-handed and doesn’t serve Teichner’s intent.  Two stars.

Just Westing, by Theodore Sturgeon

Writing science articles for the general public, even for an intelligent subsection thereof, is hard.  You have to distill complicated subjects in a way that folks can I understand, and then you have to explain to the readers why they should be interested in what you’re telling them.  Asimov does it effortlessly; Ley did and often still does.  I like to think I’ve gotten consistently good at it.

Sturgeon, brilliant author that he might be, has not.  His summary of the recent Westinghouse catalog of advancements is neither interesting nor particularly comprehensible.  Two stars.

Cultural Exchange, by Keith Laumer

Retief, the much aggrieved Jack of All Trades diplomat/secret agent must thwart a war between Imperial worlds covered up in a cloak of harmless-seeming personnel and equipment transfers.  Retief stories run from the overly broad to the gritty.  This one strikes a nice balance and delightfully plays up the interplay of bureaucracies, something with which Laumer has more than a passing acquaintance.  Four stars, and thank goodness after the string of mediocrity that precedes it.

Taken as a whole, this is a pretty lousy issue – just 2.4 stars.  Plus it’s yet another “stag” mag: no woman authors, virtually no woman characters.  But, if you take just the 35 pages comprising the first and last stories, you’ve got some excellent reading.  Whether that’s worth a penny a page…well, it’s your wallet.

Next up: The Travelers hit the drive-in for The Underwater City!




[August 3, 1962] New Worlds to Conquer (a view from Britain: September 1962 New Worlds)

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


by Mark Yon

Hello to all Travellers – greetings from Europe.

I’ve been asked by our Traveller to tell you of the British magazine situation as it appears here in England. There are some differences between the British & the American markets, as you may know. Generally US magazines are quite difficult to get here, due to the cost of transportation and the fact that there import restrictions to this fair isle. One of the consequences of this is that although we do get UK editions of your main magazines such as Analog, Fantasy & SF and Galaxy here, they are often different to the American editions you see. What this has meant in actuality is that the British editions often have less content than their American equivalents, with editorials, stories and serials removed altogether. To add to the confusion even more, different stories from different American editions are often mixed together in one British issue. This can mean that my view of what you are reading in America is slightly different, or at least a few months behind, yours.

Nevertheless, we do have some interest in new science fiction in England. Our co-traveller Ashley Pollard has mentioned much of this already in her articles here. Our most popular ‘home-grown’ SF magazine is New Worlds, which Ashley has already given a wonderful summary of already. The intention of New Worlds’s editor, Mr. John (Ted) Carnell seems to be to not only produce a magazine that shows British talent off but to also push the boundaries of science fiction (s-f).

It seems to be a time of change for s-f here in England. Generally the situation at the moment seems to be one of decline for British magazines. The actual number of publications available is much smaller than it was five years ago, though there are some that seem to survive. There are four by Nova Publications, of which, and currently in its 16th year of publication, New Worlds is the most popular British magazine at the moment. I do like Nova Publications’s Science Fiction Adventures and Science Fantasy as well, but I think that my purpose here is to discuss New Worlds with you.

I can see that, even with New Worlds, there have been some drastic changes in the last few months. The glorious colour covers of the last few years by artists such as Bob Clothier, Gerard Quinn, Sidney Jordan and Brian Lewis have since the June issue (that’s number 119) been replaced by covers with black & white photographs on a coloured background. Whatever reason editor John Carnell has had for the change – I’m assuming to reduce printing costs, but of course, it could be a number of things – to my mind it makes the magazine less attractive as a science fiction magazine (One rumour is that it is meant to be a radically different cover style to try and attract a wider, less specifically science-fiction readership). Colour pictures on the front cover would have made this new look so much more attractive. I do hope that this is nothing to worry about from our leading British magazine.

The magazine contents are as variable as ever, though. New Worlds has a reputation of being the publishing place of many of our British authors such as Mr’s Brian W. Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, James White, and John Brunner, names you may recognise. Some of the work of other lesser known authors can vary in terms of quality and consistency, though I must say that there’s something worth reading in each issue. As well as the fiction, the magazine occasionally covers book, film and television reviews, usually by Mr Leslie Flood.

With all of that out of the way, what about the latest issue, #122?

Well, the cover reflects the current startling colour scheme. Behind the bright pink cover we begin this issue with a Profile of the Guest Editor, 22-year-old Mr John Baxter from Australia. Australia does buy a lot of these magazines from Britain as well. There have been a number of Guest Editorials recently, but this is the first by a science-fiction fan, as Mr. Carnell says in his introduction “to represent a reader’s viewpoint”.

Mr. Baxter pulls no punches with his Editorial. This is clearly not an essay that panders to sycophancy. Instead, whilst welcoming the addition of Guest Editors, he decries their lack of criticism: “…. all of them have been, in my opinion, short-sighted, illogical and inconclusive…. As literary essays, the Guest Editorials were fine; as constructive criticism, a dead loss.”

I was impressed that Mr. Carnell has been brave enough to take on and publish such a forthright and provocative opinion. Mr. Baxter writes with enthusiasm and creates an effective call-to-arms for modern s-f readers and writers – that if science fiction is to be accepted by the masses then writers need to take up the challenge of writing stories that are intelligent and scientifically precise that also manage to stand up to professional criticism. This is a view also taken by many in the intermittent letters section, Postmortem, at the back of the magazine. Presumably to ally with the Guest Editor’s perspective, many of the letters there this month also examine the importance and usefulness of previous Guest Editorials, the need for scientific accuracy in stories and the need for s-f that is Literature, with a capital-L. I’ll be interested to see what response we get in future issues from other readers.

Of the actual fiction, first of all there is the start of a new two-part serial. This one is by Mr. Keith Woodcott, an author unknown to me, although I suspect that because there is no picture of the author on the lurid front cover, it may actually be written by someone better known as another name. The rather dramatic title, The Crack of Doom, is a psi-story that according to its introduction “introduces a slan-like atmosphere into what has become a highly controversial theme.” It’s a story that deals with racial segregation and cultural isolation as Van Vogt’s classic, Slan, did, with the psinull Starfolk, in a fit of evolutionary superiority, persecuting the psychic minority Psions. There are similarities between our world, at a time of a racial conflict, and Mr. Woodcott’s one, I feel. The plot basically hinges on the revelation that an anguished psionic scream is heard by all Psions coming from ancient Old Race ruins on the Starfolk-governed Regnier’s Planet. This may have consequences for our hero Philip Garcon, intrepid graduate in cosmoarchaeology, who, as a psinull rarity, is given the task of uncovering the source of the scream on Reignier’s at the end of this first part.

It’s a satisfactory tale. Rather old-fashioned in some ways – after all, Slan is over fifteen years old! – it also refreshes those ideas fairly well. I’m not a huge fan of these ESP type tales, personally, but I’ve always liked the idea of archaeology in space, (here called cosmoarchaeology) and ancient cultures. The Crack of Doom is a bit run-of-the-mill, but done well enough to keep me reading. I look forward to the next part, though I think I can see where this story is going. 3 out of 5.

There are five short stories in this issue. The first is by a well-known author who you may know in the US – Mr. Harry Harrison. In line with the editor’s current mission to push the envelope of British s-f, it may be a controversial one. The Streets of Ashkalon is one which tackles the idea of religion head-on. It is the story of John Gath, an atheist trader on the planet of Ashkalon, who greets the arrival of Father Mark, a Christian missionary, with extreme reluctance. Father Mark is determined to bring the word of God to the alien Wesker species living there on Ashkalon, though to Gath they are pure and innocent and cannot understand the difference between facts and beliefs. Whilst Gath is eventually impressed by the zealot’s single-mindedness, there are consequences to Father Mark’s actions. The story is shocking and memorable, and by far the best thing in this issue. I wonder what Mr. James Blish, whose 1958 novel A Case of Conscience also dealt with religion, would think of it? 5 out of 5.

The second story is Pandora’s Box by Mr. Steve Hall, a fairly new writer to me. It’s a typical space-frontier tale, set on the Moon, that I think Mr. Arthur C Clarke would appreciate. It was OK for me, not too surprising, but I liked it. The story does much to set up a scenario of a mysterious box being found on the Moon whilst a new Matter Transmitter is being built there, but then uses a rather obvious solution and has an ending that concludes the tale rather too abruptly for my tastes. I suspect that in the end it’ll not be that memorable, but Mr. Hall may be an author to watch for in the future. 2 out of 5.

Next is a short story by another new name to me, Mr. Morris Nagle, named Serpent in Paradise. It’s the story of an adventurous millionaire, Archibald Downes, a castaway who seems reluctant to be rescued. When an exploratory team find him they not only have to persuade him to leave but also deal with the local flora and fauna. This one is typical adventure story stuff, with an unsurprising twist at the end. It was OK but not really outstanding for me. 2 out of 5.

The next story, The Craving of Blackness by Mr. Robert Ray, was a tale of about a young man’s coming-of-age, and the consequential loss of innocence. Fourteen-year-old Joey wishes to be a Space-Medic but on taking his IQ test finds that things in the future may not be what he hopes for. It’s OK but is a little heavy-handed for my tastes personally. 3 out of 5.

Lastly we have Moonbeam, by an author not unknown to me or other regular New Worlds readers, Mr. David Rome. Since his first story in the May 1961 New Worlds, Mr. Rome has become an increasingly popular writer. Moonbeam is a story of the effects of the first faster-than-light transmission of a person far away to Alpha Centauri. Earth to Alpha Centauri in five hours is something we can only dream of today, and here it is suggested that there are problems in being one of the first people brave enough to try it. The ‘test pilot’, as it were, Bianchi, finds that there are unanticipated consequences of such travel. There’s issues of identity involved, as Bianchi appears to be a subject created in a factory and an increasing sense of dislocation as the story tells its plot. It is capped by a nice twist in the ending to this one, which stays in the mind just long enough to make you think before moving on. 3 out of 5.

So: was New Worlds worth my 2/6 (that’s two shillings and sixpence to you non-Brits) this month? On balance, yes. I would give it a score of 3 out of 5. It’s a solid issue overall, with some parts very memorable and others being OK, without any real rotters. I suspect that The Streets of Ashkalon will become one of Mr Harrison’s better-known works in the future, and not just for its determination to tackle sacred issues.

This time around, New Worlds seems to have made its mission explicit – to be different, to not be content with mundanity and clichés but push s-f into new and exciting ideas and themes. It is therefore perhaps as good a place as any to start my journey with you, fellow travellers. It’ll be interesting to see where this takes us.




[July 31, 1962] The Brass Mean (August 1962 Analog Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

“I don’t like science fiction.”

How often have you heard this?  Loved ones, co-workers, indignant acquaintances with noses reared up to the sky will happily give you their opinion of our degenerate genre.  And it’s a dumb opinion.

Why?  Because science fiction isn’t a magazine or a story or an author.  It’s a wide genre.  Saying “I don’t like science fiction” is like saying “I don’t like red books” or “I don’t like movies that have dogs in them.”  Sure, there’s plenty of bad science fiction, in print and (especially) in film, but there’s also, per Ted Sturgeon, about 10% gold – as in any genre.

Science fiction runs in quality from the humdrum, technical gotcha stories of the last two decades to the absolute peaks of sublimity (q.v. Cordwainer Smith, Zenna Henderson, etc.) Moreover, such ranges can generally be found even in individual sources; i.e. you can find both excellent and lousy stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, or any other digest.

Of course, if anyone is going to be turned off of sf as a genre, it probably will be the humdrum, workmanlike stories that do it.  Not bad enough to be noteworthy, not good enough to be recommended — just dull, mediocre stuff.

And that’s what we have a lot of in the August 1962 Analog, a magazine that will only contribute to the notion that science fiction just ain’t that good. 

The Toughest Opponent, by Christopher Anvil

The Terran “Special Effects” corps is back with their herd of psychically controlled animals: gorillas, lions, yellow-jackets, even a giant (artificial) snake.  Last time, they quelled a civil war.  This time around, they are helping a beleaguered base defeat a Malthusian nightmare of humanoid bezerkers on an uncivilized, overpopulated planet. 

There is some nice characterization in this one, or at least, the characters are recognizable through their characteristics.  But it drags somehow, and the payoff isn’t worth it.  The first of several stories in this book I’d give 2.5 stars to if I allowed half-stars in story reviews.  Instead, I’ll be uncharitable and say “two stars.”

The Bramble Bush, by Randall Garrett

A moonbase nuclear reactor goes critical, and it’s up to one plucky fellow to keep its twin from exploding until help can arrive.  Garrett goes through a lot of trouble to set up the chemistry of the reactor technology (which does not conform to current theory) such that the solution seems less clever than arbitrary.  I did appreciate the portrayal of the hero’s indecisive crewmate — not everyone is a man-of-action.  Less appreciated is Garrett’s need to pun at every opportunity.  Another 2.5 downgraded to two stars story. 

Watch the Sky, by James H. Schmitz

German cum Californian James Schmitz is an interesting writer, never quite hitting it out of the park, but rarely turning in junk, either.  Watch the Sky, about a backwoods colony that tries to manufacture an alien threat to secure funding for a bigger military base, starts promisingly but ends weak.  Forgettable, but not offensive.  Two stars.

The Big Job of Moving Little Things and The Color of Space, by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Amazingly, perhaps my favorite part of the issue includes Campbell’s “slick” nonfiction sections.  The first is a photo parade illustrating a new synchrotron that accelerates and smashes particles; scientists can then sift through the debris for exotic subatomic particles.  Not much substance to the piece, but the pictures are pretty.

The second, shorter piece references the cover and notes how we can get color photographs of deep space objects.  Mind you, these are not colors that any human observer would ever see — the light levels are too dim for us to discern anything but black and white.  Nevertheless, the colors do exist, and they can be extracted using clever techniques. 

Three stars in amalgam.

Border, Breed Nor Birth (Part 2 of 2) , by Mack Reynolds

Last up is Part 2 of Reynolds’ continuing saga of North Africa.  El Hassan (formerly Homer Crawford of the Unites States of the Americas) becomes increasingly aloof and dictatorial has his band of idealists attempts to unify the Mahgreb.  It’s readable, and the attention to cultural detail is excellent.  Also, a story that features naught but Black characters is refreshing.  However, the piece feels passionless, as if Reynolds was rushing through its production for the paycheck.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  Three stars.

Where does that leave us for the month?  F&SF is at the bottom of the pack with a dismal 2.4 stars.  Analog is just above at 2.5 (and a different kind of bad — where the former was wildly inconsistent, the latter was unremarkable).  Amazing does slightly better at 2.6, with similar issues as AnalogGalaxy had the highly entertaining The Dragonmasters, which means it has the best story, even though it only garnered 2.9 stars.  And Fantastic was the surprise winner with 3.1 stars — it was good enough that I took the time to read through the choicer bits.

Disappointingly, there was just one woman author this month, Rosel George Brown, making appearances in two magazines. 

Next month, we have a pleasant surprise: in addition to the five American digests, we have a guest correspondent covering the September 1962 issue of New Worlds!  Be sure to budget a good amount of time for reading…




[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 24, 1962] Comrade Future (More Soviet Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

We hear a lot about the Soviet Union these days, but usually in the form of an unflattering cartoon of Premier Khruschev or photos of people trying to defect from Communism.  Occasionally a hopeful reprinting last year’s meeting between Jack and Niki in Vienna or a scornful reprinting of Khruschev banging his shoe on the United Nations podium.

If we think about the Soviet people, head-scarfed Babushkas, gray-suited apparatchiks, uniformed goose-stepping soldiers, and accordion-playing dancers come to mind.  We just don’t get many glimpses from behind the Iron Curtain.  So when we do get a peek, it’s an exciting opportunity.  For instance, Time-Life just released a new picture-book on Russia, which sheds a little light on a hidden section of the world.

Another surprise is a new collection of Soviet science fiction called (appropriately enough) More Soviet Science Fiction

This book, along with the anthology’s predecessor and the occasional Josef Svebada reprint in Fantasy and Science Fiction, comprises all of the Eastern Bloc sf literature available in English.  As such, it’s difficult to determine if these stories are representative of Soviet sf as a whole, or rather cherry-picked for their intended audience.  There are some commonalities that are suggestive either of a Soviet style, or at least what the editor thinks would appeal to foreigners.  Certainly, there is a kind of mild clunkyness one comes to expect from a less than expert translation, though it never detracts seriously from the reading.  Rather, it just accentuates the foreign nature of the material.

Another universal aspect is the emphasis on explaining the science.  Fully a page or two of each story gets extremely technical; the Soviets eschew more integrated scientific exposition.  It’s almost as if laying out their case in full is a requirement of publication. 

Finally, all of the stories have an edifying component.  They are all parables – whatever entertainment value they may provide, you are supposed to learn from them.  The lessons they teach tell you a lot about the teacher culture.

There are five stories, the first comprising more than half of the book:

The Heart of the Serpent, by Ivan Yefremov

Seven hundred years in the future, humanity’s first faster-than-light ship embarks on a mission to explore Cor Serpentis, a giant orange star 74 light years from Earth.  The time dilation consequences of the ship’s hyperdrive mean that hundreds of years will pass back home before the crew returns.  Yet, the demographically balanced team of enlightened Communists are stoically resigned to doing their duty in service to their species’ destiny.

On the way to their destination, they chance upon an alien vessel.  As extraterrestrials had been theoretical until that point, this promises to be the most significant discovery in the history of space travel.  The crew discuss at length what they expect to find.  One camp believes that two different planets couldn’t possibly produce similar beings.  Another feels that the human form is the natural end-point of evolution, much as Communism is the inevitable destination for all societies.

I’ll let you guess which guess is right…

I do appreciate the overwhelming positivity of the encounter, in contrast to other stories (Yefremov specifically calls out Murray Leinster’s classic, First Contact).  And there is a stately beauty to the piece.  The spaceship and its mission are depicted with a spare elegance that feels futuristic.

Siema, by Anatoly Dnieprov

The most old-fashioned of the pieces is a bit of Pygmalion gone wrong.  An engineer constructs a brilliant robot whose computing power is such that she (it takes on the female gender) becomes a sentient being.  A rather obsessed creature with an unquenchable desire for knowledge untempered by any tinge of morality.  But if this electric Pinocchio can just get a conscience, all will be well.

It is a cute tale that will make you smile, but the lesson is heavy-handed and the plot is out of the 1940s.

The Trial of Tantalus, by Victor Saparin

By the 21st Century, a world led by Soviet science has eradicated every disease.  The few remaining pathogens are kept in a highly secured vault for study.  In Tantalus, one escapes back into the wild, causing a myriad of positive and negative effects that must be gauged to determine their net value.  The moral of this story is that all life has purpose, even the nasty bits.  And Communism will be the key to evaluating that purpose.

Despite the adventure-story trappings of Tantalus, I found this piece the least engaging.  Sort of a creaky Astounding tale from the early 1950s.

Stone from the Stars, by Valentina Zhuravleva

Here is the one woman-penned piece in the book.  I don’t know if Valya’s 20% contribution is representative of gender demographics in Soviet science fiction, but I’m glad the Reds didn’t neglect half of their “equal partners” in Communism.  It is worth noting, however, that even worlds dominated by egalitarian Communism, virtually none of the characters in these stories are women…

Stone is another first-contact tale.  This time, the envoy is a two-meter cylinder encased in a meteorite.  Once again, there is the debate over the potential form of the creature, but the revelation is not nearly as clear-cut as in The Heart of the Serpent.  An interesting, bittersweet piece.

Six Matches, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The last piece involves neutrino-induced psionics.  Yes, the premise is so much handwavium, but that’s not the point.  Rather, it is that its inventor put himself at great personal risk to advance science.  This foolhardy courage of Soviet science is lambasted with words, but praised in subtext.  Perhaps they’ll trot this story out when the first cosmonaut dies.

I did not rate the stories individually because they really hang together as a gestalt.  I can’t say that More Soviet Science Fiction is a great book, but it is an interesting one, and one I dispatched in short order.  And if you’re a fan of Isaac Asimov, also a product of the Soviet Union, you’ll appreciate his introduction.  Call it three stars – more if you’ve got a case (as I do) of xenophilia.

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




[July 21, 1962] The Human Soul In A Robot’s Hand (Movie Review: The Creation of the Humanoids)

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


by Rosemary Benton

The complex range of anger, fear, acceptance and love that characterize the relationship humans have with robotic life is hardly new ground for science fiction. You have stories that explore societies controlled by artificial intelligence like in Jack Williamson’s With Folded Hands, stories in which robotic life works in service to their human superiors in accordance with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and stories that span every possible combination.

The newest addition to the science fiction sub-genre dealing with the evolution of humanity and its integration with robots came out this month in the form of the movie The Creation of the Humanoids. Following its premier in Los Angeles on July 3rd, this intriguing film made its way into theaters across America, including the theater in my city. It suffers from several weaknesses, but more than makes up for them with solid dialogue, interesting characters and a plot that makes the audience think.

I first and foremost have to congratulate the screenplay writer, Jay Simms. The story he told was both philosophically intense and well paced with each scene effectively written to expand upon the post nuclear war world in which the film takes place. In the first series of short scenes the audience is made aware of the progression of robot technology, the concern some humans have with human-looking robots, as well as a robot led movement to advance artificial life to the point of near complete human replication. In short order we are told of a fellow by the name of Dr. Raven, a brilliant scientist who is responsible for the technology being used to replicate robotic versions of deceased humans and implanting them with the personality and memories of said humans. When his lab is discovered Dr. Raven orders the synthetic human he was working on to kill him, thus instigating the first instance of a robot murdering a human and showing that their prime directive can be overwritten.

From this point the story closely follows the work of Captain Kenneth Cragis, a high ranking member of the quasi-racist anti synthetic human organization: The Order of Flesh and Blood. We see him conversing with an assembly of the Order as they discuss the discovery of Dr. Raven’s highly advanced humanoid model, whereupon we learn that, when confronted with the fact that he is not physically human any longer, the model shut itself down. After the assembly Cragis pays a visit to his sister who serves as a representation of how accepting, or complacent in Cragis’ opinion, the human race has become living side by side or even in love with humanoids. He is then introduced to her friend Maxine who works at a news agency. Despite a rather awkward and fast romance the two of them fall in love that evening. They want to start a relationship, but Cragis expresses concern that he won’t be able to give Maxine any viable offspring due to the radiation left over from the war. Despite his concern Maxine persists, and we see that Cragis is beginning to consider it.

The final act of the film contains some of the best dialogue, but also suffers from the most issues. Two low level humanoids approach Maxine and Cragis as they are walking through the streets discussing their future together, and then suddenly the scene shifts to the city’s main recharge building for the humanoids, or “temple” as they call it. Maxine and Cragis are standing stock still in clear plastic tubes as they mechanically answer questions posed to them by the three humanoid we see at the beginning of the film. The change is so sudden and without explanation that it takes a while to understand what is happening. Maxine and Cragis, as it turns out, are relaying information that they have gathered in their other lives amongst the general population. Unbeknownst to them, they are deceased humans who have been brought back to life in advanced humanoid bodies curtesy of Dr. Raven.

Deciding that their usefulness as double agents has been used up, the humanoids tell Maxine and Cragis about their true origins – that Cragis died of a brain aneurism one night in his lab, and that Maxine was accidentally killed by a bomb which, ironically, Cragis and the Order planted at her work place to harm the humanoids working in the mail room. Dr. Raven, now inhabiting an advanced humanoid body himself, explains that their souls are as much a part of their new bodies as they were in their originals. Everything that made them themselves – their memories, experiences, motivations and emotions – are still present, but in a new vessel. With a few further modifications they will even be able to reproduce. Maxine and Cragis come to accept their situation and approve of the technology being spread to the rest of the dwindling human population. Annoyingly, the movie ends with Dr. Raven turning to the camera and breaking the fourth wall by saying, “Of course, the operation was a success…or you wouldn’t be here.”

The production of The Creation of the Humanoids is impressive given what most movies of this nature are given to work with. Beautiful matte paintings and well placed sleek yet simplistic furnishings really drove home the aesthetic of the world. The color of the film is bright and crisp and frankly a welcome change from the more common black and white color scheme. Seasoned makeup artist Jack Pierce, who perhaps most famously created Boris Karloff’s iconic monster design in the 1931 movie Frankenstein, did an incredible job on the application of the grease paint and bald masks worn by the actors playing low level humanoids. The metallic scleral contact lenses that he crafted for the humanoids are especially effective and creepy.

Another well known Hollywood name that I was surprised, yet delighted, to see on the credits was Academy Award winning cinematographer Hal Mohr. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe his work on The Creation of the Humanoids to be one of his more memorable projects, but you can pick out his characteristic style of framing especially in the first encounter the story has with Dr. Raven. I have no doubt that without Mohr’s contribution to the project The Creation of the Humanoids would have been a far more static movie, especially since so much of the script is dedicated to people sitting or standing around talking.

Aside from some issues with transitions between scenes, and a weak conclusion to what would otherwise have been a powerful message on the means to the end of human mortality, The Creation of the Humanoids was a very fun movie that managed to be engaging and enthralling. The characters are written to be multilayered and well informed on their individual philosophies, the world in which they walk was distinct and believable, and the moral conundrums that they faced were not handled in a ham fisted manner. I would highly recommend this movie, even if the execution was lacking at times. Happily I give it four stars for creativity. 

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  We’ll be talking Summer Blockbusters and you’ll have a chance to 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!)




[July 16, 1962] Vegetating at the Movies (Day of the Triffids)


By Ashley R. Pollard

I’m just back from watching the film adaptation of the Day of the Triffids, which brings John Wyndham’s popular novel to the big screen.  You may remember I wrote about Wyndham’s work for the Galactic Journey last year, now I get the chance to discuss the film adaptation too.  As I said in my previous article, Wyndham is widely known over here because of the success of his novel The Day of the Triffids, which was first published in 1951.

But first let me mention that this is not the first time his story has been adapted for another medium.  While I missed the broadcast, it completely escaped me for reasons outside of my control, the British Broadcasting Corporation transmitted in 1957 a six-part radio dramatization of Wyndham’s story, presented by the BBC’s Light programme.  I was able to find out that it had Patrick Barr voicing the roll of Bill Masen, and I really wish I had been able to listen to the production.

Also, while I was compiling my notes for this article, I discovered that in 1953 the BBC Home Service transmitted Frank Duncan reading the novel that was serialized in fifteen parts, each episode being fifteen minutes long.  I mention this in part to emphasize both the importance of the story, and the impact it has had on the British public’s imagination.  It cannot be stressed too highly that Wyndham’s standing is on par with H. G. Wells.

A brief reminder that the story centres on how people survive in a world where most have been blinded and who now have to deal with triffids, which were originally bred to produce oil using genetically modified seeds that may have come from space.  These plants can move, and have stingers to attack prey.  Yes, they’re alien vegetables from space that eat meat.  From this premise Wyndham weaves a very British disaster story set in our green and pleasant land that grips one from beginning to end.

So how does this latest film adaptation fare?

The film is 93 minutes long, and as such the story is both compressed and changed, which is ironic because I was told that the film ran short and they had to add extra scenes to pad out the length of the film.  While the overall outline of people blinded and marauding carnivorous plants remains, liberties are taken.

First, the main protagonist Bill Masen is changed from being a biologist in the book into an American seaman for the film.  The journey from London to the Sussex Downs becomes instead a journey to Gibraltar, which if you read my previous article is a bit of a switch because at its core The Day of the Triffids is a very British catastrophe.  Arguably one could make the case that the film has to appeal to a wider audience, and setting it Europe opens the story, and of course provides nice shots of exotic scenery.

I can all well imagine a sequel being set in America to make it appeal more to an American audience, but I think would do a disservice to both the original novel and Americans.

Also, the backstory for the triffids changes their genesis to plants mutated by the light of the comet.  Colour me unimpressed.  There is also the deletion of the character Josella Playton, who Masen rescues in the book from a blind man who is using her to find food.

Nicole Maurey, a French actress, is cast in a role as Miss Durrant who becomes a Frenchwoman, which is understandable, but would it not have been easier to make Josella French rather than write a new character?  I’m also perplexed at the changes made to the character of Wilfred Coker, who in transposing the story as a journey from England to Gibraltar, has become a tourist caught up the catastrophe, which undermines his whole story arc.

What is even less understandable was the need to add a sub-plot set in a lighthouse.  These scenes were shot because after the film was finished being shot it was found to be too short.  This is really a poor show on the part of the person who wrote the screenplay, because there was clearly enough original source material to work from had they hewn closer to the story in the book.

The worst part is the denouement where the world is saved when it’s discovered that salt water dissolves triffids, and the religious overtones are in my mind a little at odds with Wyndham’s story. 

However, all that said, viewed on its own terms as an SF monster movie, this film is quite entertaining for what it is: 93 minutes of being chased by man-eating plants.

[July 14, 1962] Cause for Alarm (Panic in Year Zero – a surprise summer hit film!)

[if you’re new to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

The specter of atomic destruction has been with us for more than a decade, ever since the Soviets detonated their first A-bomb in 1949.  Both the US and USSR have developed vast bomber squadrons and now missile and submarine fleets rendering every place on Earth vulnerable.  Not surprisingly, a new genre of fiction has been spawned – the post-apocalyptic story. Books like Alas, Babylon and movies such as On the Beach (originally a novel). 

The latest example is a tiny-budgeted film by schlockhouse American Independent Pictures, Panic in Year Zero.  The Young Traveler and I saw Panic at opening night, July 5.  There was a big promotional event headlined by Frankie Avalon, and I understand the picture made back its budget in just the evening L.A. showings!  The film has already generated some positive buzz, and I suspect it’ll be the surprise hit of the summer.

Produced by the master of the independents, Roger Corman, Panic opens with a literal bang: a typical Angelino family out on a drive toward a camping vacation sees a bright flash as their home town of Los Angeles is wiped out by Soviet bombs.  It soon becomes clear that the attack is widespread and civilization is about to deteriorate.  Our viewpoint family must brave its way to safety, securing adequate supplies and a defensible shelter, before the walls of society collapse.

The father, to all appearances a moral and decent man, has his principles rocked to the core.  After all, at what juncture is it right to abandon civilization and fight solely for your family?  When is that point of inflection where it is okay to abandon the sinking ship, at the same time hastening its capsize?  There are several points in the film where Milland undertakes actions that, while they ensure his survival, likely cause the death of countless others.  Compared to modern-day folk, his acts are evil.  But contrasted to the depravity they meet, they are the “good guys.”  It’s fascinating and effective.

Panic stars a pair of actors in the Autumn of their career: Ray Milland (who also directs) and Jean Hagen as the parents.  Teen idol Frankie Avalon is the son, while Joan Freeman, of whom I’d never heard, is the daughter.  Despite the utter lack of funds, or perhaps because of it, the acting, writing, and pacing are all tight and surprisingly realistic and gritty.  Les Baxter contributes an original score that consists largely of snappy jazz music.  It is at once appropriate and jarring.  All in all, it’s a solid movie, well worth your time – particularly if this genre is your bag.

Four stars.

[And now for the Young Traveler’s take…]


by Lorelei Marcus

Death is a scary topic for pretty much everyone. I think what’s scary about it is it’s so unexpected. You don’t know when you’re going to die. You could die tomorrow! Our chances of death seem to have increased since the Cold War began as well. All it takes is one push of a button and you and everything you love is obliterated in seconds. That’s a truly terrifying thought. However, what if you survived? What would living through the aftermath be like? Luckily, the new movie, Panic in Year Zero! has the answer!

Panic in Year Zero! is the latest summer blockbuster, taking the U.S. by storm. It goes into the life of a traditional suburban family trying to survive the aftermath of a mass bombing. All the major cities, as well as our allies have been nuked. The family, specifically the father and son, have to face harsh moral decisions centered around their family’s survival. It portrays beautifully the panic and breakdown of society, and how this family deals with that. When law and order falls, do you try and restore society, or survive?

I believe the acting was very good. The emotions felt real. The story was also fantastic. It managed to tackle very dark issues while also being entertaining and hopeful. The pacing was great as well; everything in the movie played in real-time in a convincing way. The events all felt very natural and beautifully laid out. This movie did a superb job considering its tiny budget, especially when it came to the special effects. It is thought-provoking, very well done, and a very good watch.

I give this movie 4.5 stars. I highly recommend you see this movie.

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  We’ll be talking Panic and other films!)