Tag Archives: science fiction

[May 11, 1962] Unfixed in the Heavens (The Seed of Earth, by Robert Silverberg)


by Gideon Marcus

A hundred and fifty years from now, the stars are finally attainable.  With the invention of a reliable and quick interstellar drive, the galaxy is now ripe for colonization.  But humanity is too fat and happy to leave the nest; the world government is forced to conscript candidates to become unwilling pioneers.  Six thousand men and women are sent on sixty starships every day toward some farflung world.  The goal: to ensure that the human race can be spread as widely as possible.

This is the premise of Robert Silverberg’s newest piece, a short novel published in the :June 1962 Galaxy called The Seed of Earth.  It’s really two novellas in one, the first half dealing with the lives of four conscriptees as they are selected and prepared for departure, and the second half about what happens to them once they reach their destination. 

Seed has an interesting, complicated history.  The second part originally appeared in the May 1957 issue of Venture as The Winds of Siros.  In this story, two newlywed colonist couples are abducted from their settlement by voyeuristic aliens who lock them in a cave and watch the emotional drama ensue.  After the four escape, the women determine that they were with the wrong men and change partners.  It’s all supposed to be rather daring and progressive.

Venture was a short-lived companion to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, designed to be a “more adult” alternative to F&SF.  What this really meant was more stories about sex, and since the stories were almost exclusively written by men (and modern society being what it is), there were a lot of demeaning, disturbing pieces in Venture

The example that turned me off of the magazine was, in fact, also by Robert Silverberg.  Called Eve and the Twenty-three Adams (March 1958), it featured an all-stag starship crew and the lone woman included on the roster to “service” them.  When she expressed reluctance at her role, she was drugged into submission for the duration of the flight.  It was all very light-hearted, just a rollicking tale.  Like Garrett’s Queen Bee.

Silverberg’s difficulty with the concept of feminine agency was also evident in Siros (and thus, in Seed).  The male colonists get to choose whom they want to marry from among the female colonists, and while the women have the right of refusal for the first few rounds, all of them must end up with someone, ultimately.  Now, as Siros plays out, we see that the system is not particularly rigid and, in the end, the woman colonists do have some choice in the matter.  But it’s informal, and it’s at the sufferance of the men.  Hardly an equal situation.

In fact, there is a strong streak of puritanical prudishness in Seed.  At one point, a woman’s pregnancy is described as “a lapse in virtue.”  I recognize that Silverberg’s intent was to show that our current (late 50’s/early 60’s) morality is antiquated and needs to be shaken up.  Hence, the laudable plot elements of wife-swapping and polyamory that form the core of Siros/Seed Part 2.  But it just doesn’t seem plausible that Earth of 2117 would be exactly as, if not more, conservative as modern day, and that only by unleashing humans on a raw world can they undo the straitjacket. 

Seed’s first part was added to Siros to make the piece long enough for publication as a stand-alone novel.  Ballantine and Doubleday, the “respectable” s-f publishers, rejected it.  H.L. Gold, Galaxy’s editor, accepted Seed for its paperback series (I reviewed one of them: the excellent The City in the Sea), but the series was discontinued before Seed saw print.  Ultimately, it ended up in the magazine proper.

Part One of Seed isn’t bad: a quartet of reasonably interesting character portraits with a bonus view through the eyes of the fellow tasked with finalizing the crew selections.  The characterization is better in this half, which makes sense – the Silverberg writing Part One was older than the one who wrote Part Two.  The problem here isn’t so much the writing or the flow.  It’s the flaws in the fundamental premise.  In Seed, forced emigration has gone on for a generation.  Are there really hundreds of thousands of habitable planets within 30 light years of Earth ripe for colonization without any need for protective technology or planetary engineering?  Are there even that many planets?  Does it make sense to invest just one hundred strangers in a colony rather than shipping more than one load to a promising destination? 

And how is it plausible that a draft for colonization is even required?  To all accounts, Silverberg’s world is no utopia – in fact, it seems hardly different from our current one, societally and technologically.  Surely there would be 2,190,000 immigrant candidates out of billions every year.  Contrast Seed with Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky – there, one was lucky if one could leave Earth. 

The Seed of Earth is ultimately a rather unsuccessful “fix-up” story.  The beginning doesn’t flow well into the end, and neither portion rings very true.  I’d charitably give three stars to the first part and two to the second, for an aggregate of 2.5 stars.  That’s probably overgenerous, but I can give Silverberg credit for the effort, at least.

[May 4, 1962] Cleft in Twain (June 1962 Galaxy, Part 1)


by Gideon Marcus

A few years ago, Galaxy Science Fiction changed its format, becoming half again as thick but published half as often.  196 pages can be a lot to digest in one sitting, so I used to review the magazine in two articles.  Over time, I simply bit the bullet and crammed all those stories into one piece – it was cleaner for reference.

But not this time.

You see, the June 1962 issue of Galaxy has got one extra-jumbo novella in the back of it, the kind of thing they used to build issues of Satellite Science Fiction around.  So it just makes sense to split things up this time around.

I’ve said before that Galaxy is a stable magazine – rarely too outstanding, rarely terrible.  Its editor, Fred Pohl, tends to keep the more daring stuff in Galaxy’s sister mag, IF, which has gotten pretty interesting lately.  So I enjoyed this month’s issue, but not overmuch.  Have a look:

The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass, by Frederik Pohl

Instead of an editor’s essay, Pohl has written a cute vignette on overpopulation without remediation.  Old Man Malthus in a three-page nightmare.  Apparently, good old Phineas didn’t think to pack Enovid when he brought perfect health back in time to the Roman Empire.  Anyway, I liked it.  Four stars.

For Love, by Algis Budrys

Budrys strikes a nice balance between satirical and macabre in this post-alien-invasion epic.  The last remnants of Homo Sapiens, driven underground after a tremendous ET tetrahedron crashes into the base of the Rockies, launch a pair of daring attacks against the invaders.  But at what cost to their humanity?  Four stars.

The Lamps of the Angels, by Richard Sabia

I viciously panned Sabia’s first work, I was a Teen-Age Superweapon; his latest is an improvement.  A thousand years from now, the human race is on the verge of reaching out for the stars, and one Mexico City-born pilot is selected for the honor of scouting Alpha Centauri.  But if humanity was meant to explore beyond the sun, surely God would have given us hyperdrives at birth.  A bit clunky in that “translated foreign languages way” (and I can be guilty of the same charge), but also compelling.  Three stars.

For Your Information: Names in the Sky, by Willy Ley

Every now and then, Ley returns to his former greatness and gives us a really good article.  This one, on the origins of the names of planets and stars is filled with good information pleasantly dispensed.  Of course, I’m always more kindly disposed towards articles that deal with etymology and/or astronomy… Four stars.

On the Wall of the Lodge, by James Blish and Virginia Blish

The latter portion of the magazine takes a sad turn for the worse.  Lodge is an avante garde piece about (I believe) a fellow whose life takes place in a television show.  It tries too hard and doesn’t make a lot of sense.  More significantly, it lost my interest ten pages in.  Thus, I must give it the lowest of scores: one star.

Dawningsburgh, by Wallace West

A cute piece about a callow tourist on Mars, who resents the other callow tourists of Mars, and the attempts to revive departed Martian culture with robots, to make a few bucks for the callow tourist industry.  Three stars.

Origins of Galactic Philosophy, by Edward Wellen

Wellen’s Origins series has deteriorated badly.  This latest entry, involving a space entrepreneur and the robot society he finds, is utterly unreadable.  One star.

Dreamworld, by R. A. Lafferty

Last up is a whimsical piece on a literal nightmare world with an telegraphed ending made tolerable by Lafferty’s unique touch.  Worth two or three stars, depending on your mood (and on which side of the bed one woke).

***

I’ll save The Seed of Earth, by Robert Silverberg, for next time.  Here’s hoping it is in keeping with the first third rather than the second third of the magazine.  In the meantime, stay tuned…and try not to get drafted.

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


by Gideon Marcus

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

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

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

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

Who Sups With the Devil, by Terry Carr

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

Who’s in Charge Here?, by James Blish

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

Hawk in the Dusk, by William Bankier

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

One of Those Days, by William F. Nolan

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

Napoleon’s Skullcap, by Gordon R. Dickson

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

Noselrubb, the Tree, by Eric Frazee

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

By Jove!, by Isaac Asimov

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

The Einstein Brain, by Josef Nesvadba

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

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

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

Miss Buttermouth, by Avram Davidson

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

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

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

Love Child, by Otis Kidwell Burger

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

Princess #22, by Ron Goulart

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

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, by Vance Aandahl

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

***

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

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

[Apr. 25, 1962] And Justice for All… (J.F. Bone’s The Lani People)


by Gideon Marcus

There’s a change a comin’.  I’m sure you’ve seen heralds of its passage.  Last summer, hundreds of Whites and Blacks took to the buses and rode into the South, flouting the segregated busing laws.  Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are rallying their brethren to fight centuries of oppression.  For the first time, the Democrats look to be out-Civil Rightsing the Republicans (who would have predicted that in 1948?) Yes, the country is heading toward a long overdue shift, a final resolution of the crisis born in the original Constitution and only half-fought in the bloodiest war of American history. 

It’s no surprise, then, that we’re seeing this war play out in science fiction as well as reality.  Speculative literature constitutes our thought experiments, letting us see worlds like ours, but with allegorical players or, perhaps, a great time shift.  Some authors approach the topic tangentially, for instance depicting Blacks as fully integrated in a future setting.  Others, approach the subject head-on.

SF author J.F. Bone is a bit of a cipher.  I have almost no biographical information about him.  I do know that he started writing a few years ago, and his works have a certain thoughtfulness that elevates it above the run of the mill.  His recent Founding Father was a fascinating look into the mindset of a slavemaster, made particularly chilling by its light tone.

Bone’s latest work is a novel called The Lani People.  It is a more straightforward investigation of prejudice and discrimination, set 5000 years in the future.  It is the tale of Kennon, a veterinarian contracted to provide medical services for the herds of planet Kardon.  To the animal doctor’s surprise, one of the herded species is the Lani, a breed of biped virtually indistinguishable from human beings save for their tails.  Yet, despite their obvious intelligence and clear resemblance to people, they are legally animals thanks to a centuries-old judgment on their status.

The result is as horrible as you would expect, with the Lani subjugated, regulated, and degraded creatures, the cruelty of their plight accentuated by the indifference with which it is perpetrated.  It is obvious to the reader that no sapient should be treated this way, and certainly no human.  And yet, the blinkered Galactic society cannot tolerate as equals even the slightly different.

The situation is made even more complicated for the conflicted Kennon – he falls in love with the brilliant Lani named Copper (and she with him).  Yet he cannot even think to express his feelings.  It is only when he begins to substantiate his hunch that the Lani really are human that he can open his heart to her.  But then, of course, that just opens the bigger can of worms: how do you right such a horrible injustice?

What I find interesting about Kennon is that he can’t initially make the jump to appreciate all sentient life as equals.  He can’t love Copper for who she is, regardless of race.  Rather, he must instead prove that Copper is a human being before he allows himself to love her.  Nevertheless, by the end of the book, he recognizes the small-mindedness of that specist view:

“Our minds are still the minds of barbarians—blood brothers against the enemy, and everything not of us is enemy. Savages—hiding under a thin veneer of superficial culture. Savages with spaceships and the atom.”

One can’t help draw parallels with our current race relations environment.  This nation still has a long way to go toward realizing “the proposition that all men are created equal.”  There is still a sizable portion of our population that maintains that dark skin is somehow a mark of inferiority, even though it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that human blood is human blood regardless of the color of its package.  That deeply ingrained bias won’t disappear immediately just because it isn’t supported by evidence.  In this regard, The Lani People is ultimately over-optimistic, even naive, in its resolution. 

Laudable subject matter aside, you probably want to know how the book reads.  Well, it’s good.  Bone’s never turned out anything poorly done, to my knowledge.  I think I would have enjoyed more of the veterinary aspects of the story in the first half (Bone is a Dr. of Veterinary science up in Oregon); it’s a kind of science one doesn’t often see portrayed.  There are some bits of the romance when both Copper and Kennon wrestle with their inability to express affection that feel almost Burroughsian (read the end of any Edgar Rice Burroughs novel and you’ll understand).  The characterization is somewhat expository.  The theme of the story is subtly conveyed in the first half, more heavy-handedly delivered in the latter.

Nevertheless, it’s a solid work, and it may make people think.  Kennon’s journey is one we all should and must take if we ever want there to be harmony on Earth.  And harmony on Earth surely must be a prerequisite for harmony with whomever we find amongst the stars.

3.5 stars.

[April 20, 1962] Boot Camp (May 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Science fiction magazines are not created equal.

Every editor brings her/his own slant to their magazine’s theme.  For instance, Cele Goldsmith strikes an old-fashioned chord, reviving classics from the Pulp Era in Amazing and Fantastic.  Fred Pohl keeps things reliable (if not exceptional) in Galaxy, but showcases new and innovative works in IF.  Before it went under, Fantastic Universe devoted much ink to flying saucer stories and articles.

And as you will soon see, Analog is preoccupied with psychic powers and pseudo-scientific quackery (a redundant phrase?).  Viz, the May 1962 issue:

Anything You Can Do! (Part 1 of 2), by Darrell T. Langart

As you might have guessed, Mr. “Langart”‘s name is really an anagram for Analog perennial, Randall Garrett (this is another way magazines are differentiated – they each have a stable of regular authors).  Generally, when Garrett uses a pseudonym, it means he’s got another piece in the magazine; more on that later.

Anything is a surprisingly (for Garrett) capable story about a single alien invader, and the man who is recruited and intensively trained to stop the extraterrestrial’s acts of violence and theft.  It’s the second time one of his stories has featured gifted identical twins, one of whom has a disability which turns out to be an asset (see The Foreign Hand-Tie.  It is also a story that very well could take place in the same universe as the recent “Ship Named MacGuire” series.  So far, it’s shaping up to be a good short novel.  Four stars.

The Next Logical Step, by Ben Bova

Recent author Ben Bova (who prefers to describe a genius as “a regular Galileo” rather than “a regular Einstein”) hasn’t turned in anything particularly impressive to date.  Step is about a military wargaming computer that delivers a full-sensory experience, one that almost inevitably depicts even small brushfire wars ending in global conflagration.  Simulated Mutually Assured Destruction.  Nice concept, but heavy handed and perfunctorily executed.  Two stars.

Nor Iron Bars a Cage…, by Johnathan Blake MacKenzie

I’m not sure that this piece of crime fiction, in which an American and British team of detectives track down a child molester, really belongs here.  It starts promisingly enough, but then just sort of degenerates into mediocrity, particularly the eight pages of psychological exposition at the end.  I also did not appreciate the lumping of child rapists and gay people – according to the recent eye-opening television special on homosexuals, The Rejected, perhaps as much as 40% of the population is queer to some degree, and all of them are human beings with a normal distribution of traits (negative and positive).  Two stars.

By the way, I’m pretty sure Mr. “MacKenzie” is Randall Garrett in disguise.  The story has his fingerprints on it, and he’s already appeared pseudonymously earlier in the issue.

The Fourth Law of Motion, by Dr. William O. Davis

Editor Campbell is always trying to prove that the “Dean Drive,” a purportedly reactionless engine that would overturn the laws of physics as we know them, is a legitimate invention.  To that end, he’s enlisted the aid of a Dr. Davis, the head of a Connecticut paper company.  At first, I dismissed the article as hot air, but I think it does make some interesting points (even if they probably don’t support the efficacy of Dean’s Drive).

Davis suggests that Newton’s famous equation, F=ma, needs to be modified to reflect that, when an object is accelerated, it doesn’t do so all at once.  The force pushes on the object’s nearest components first, and the impact then ripples along the object in a wave until the whole thing is in motion.  Basically, physical bodies can respond to forces “out of phase” with each other.  This is not a revolutionary concept – there’s even a name for it: “starting transient.” 

That this jerk or change in acceleration could have other effects is interesting, and I’d like to know more about them.  But my college training was in physics.  For the rest of you, I suspect this dry explication on the third derivative of position will be must-skip material.  Two stars.

Sight Gag, by Larry M. Harris

Mr. Harris is really Laurence M. Janifer, who is not only a regular at Analog, but frequently writes in collaboration with Mr. Garrett.  I’ve liked some of his stuff very much, but this gimmick story about a vengeful fellow who goes after a psionic G-Man reads like something out of the early 50s.  Three stars, since it’s decently told.  No more, because of the hoary format.

Look Before You Leap, by Donald E. Westlake

This one opens so well, with a terrified Air Force boot teleporting from a particularly harrowing episode of Basic Training and then, in equal fright, zapping right back.  He is the latest result (victim) of a controlled stress test conducted by a certain Colonel.  The officer’s goal is to sieve out the psionically gifted by monitoring the most difficult situation a human can face this side of the battlefield.

Sadly, by about halfway through, the story ends up twice as padded as it needs to be, and the compounding of indignity and torture upon the recruit in an attempt to make him duplicate his initial feat is both unpleasant and unrealistically shrugged off at the story’s end.  Two stars.

***

2.6 stars and a grinding slog.  I feel like I’ve just spent a week in Basic.  Well, there’s always next month…

[April 17, 1962] No Butts! (The film, Journey to the Seventh Planet)


by Gideon Marcus

Those of you deeply in the know are aware that Sid Pink made the Scandinavian answer to Godzilla last year, Reptilicus, and Ib Melchior brought it to the states (where it has had a limited release).  It was, to all accounts, pretty awful. 

The unlikely Danish-American team of Sid Pink and Ib Melchior is back, gracing our drive-ins with the latest American International Pictures extravaganza, Journey to the Seventh Planet.  It is a space exploration flick, as one might guess, and (praising damned faintly) it’s not as bad as it could have been.

The year is 2001, and peace has settled upon our troubled planet.  The United Nations Space Force has dispatched missions as far out as the planet Saturn.  Thus, it is now the turn of Uranus to be probed.  An “international” team of five Northern Europeans is sent out in Explorer Ship #12 with a mission to land on the frozen world.

Once in orbit (and they do a nice job of suggesting that the ship accelerates to the half-way point and decelerates the rest of the way – like a ship should), the crew are put into stasis by a malevolent intelligence based on the planet below.  When they are released, weeks have passed.  The crew, however, are relatively unfazed and proceed with the landing.

The surface of Uranus, at least in the vicinity of the landed vessel, is not at all what they expected.  It is a temperate place with Earth-like forests and a breathable atmosphere.  Very soon, it becomes clear that this is a manufactured setting.  In fact, as the crew think of things they would like to see, they are created out of thin air.  The village the Commander grew up in, complete with his childhood crush, appears before their eyes.


Don’t trust her!


Don’t trust them!

But this paradise is a limited affair – it is encircled by a force field beyond which lies the frozen waste they expected to find.  Exploring this forbidding terrain, the alien projects frightful images of monsters to ward them off.  More than just hallucinations, these projections are as real-seeming as the lovely ladies the crew encountered in the simulated village.


Going eyond the barrier…


Quicksnow!


Razor-sharp ice crystals.


Uranian vermin

Ultimately, Journey to the Seventh Planet is about fighting fear and temptation to vanquish an implacable foe, one that fights you with your own desires and phobias. 


Don’t trust her!


I told you…

They manage to succeed, but not without casualties of varying kinds.  The film ends on a triumphant though wistful note that I appreciated – it could well have wrapped up with the common “THE END?” scenario.


The monster is made of tripe…

So, what’s right about Journey to the Seventh Planet?  The science is not bad, surprising given it’s a B-movie of AIP provenance.  The producers neatly sidestep the “YOU-ra-nus” vs. “u-RAIN-us” pronunciation conundrum by inventing a new way of describing the planet: “YOU-rah-nus.”  The special effects accompanying the brain-creature’s psychic manifestations, and particularly the stop-motion monster at the film’s midpoint, were nicely done. 

The concept behind the film is a good one.  I found myself genuinely interested in the outcome, and it was nice to see the characters find the strength to overcome obstacles of their own creation.

Well then, what’s wrong with the movie?  It’s about 30% slower-paced than one would hope, for one.  This is not helped by the wooden acting (the dubbers of the Danish actors, who spoke their lines phonetically, were not particularly inspired).  Thus, what could have been a cracking episode of The Twilight Zone ends up being rather dull.

Still, having had a few days to reflect, I can safely say that I enjoyed the flick (not to mention, the popcorn they served at the concession stand was excellent).  2.5 stars.


by Lorelei Marcus

Going to conventions is always a fun experience for a traveler; however it does have its draw backs. Specifically, the many germs that are passed around in the tight space of the dealer halls. These germs can sometimes lead to sickness, and I have contracted a vicious, voice stealing, cold. However, you came to read a review and not hear about my troubles, so I will get on with it. Just expect one somewhat shorter than I usually write.

I pretty much agree with everything my father said about the movie, itself. The acting was very dull, the sets were somewhat interesting, and the effects weren’t half bad. The story itself was much too long, and the ways they decided to fill time were incredibly uncreative. For example, we have many scenes of the spacemen walking around for 5 minutes. However, to draw these scenes out, the men aren’t just walking around, they’re shuffling around slower than a snail! I have certainly seen better science fiction movies.

However, there was one part that I liked very very much. Towards the middle of the movie, the spacemen go out of their terrestrial clearing and encounter the being that is creating the Earth-like habitat that they were living in. They shoot at it, and in defense it creates a rat-like one eyed monster. They did this with shots of claymation that could compete with Harryhausen’s!

I’m giving this movie 2 stars. Not bad, but I’m not going to remember it in a week. Anyway, I’m going to leave now and get some needed rest. I hope you enjoyed this review.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[April 15, 1962] REGRESSION TO THE MEAN (the May 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Last month, I asked: can they keep it up?  Amazing’s marked increase in quality, that is.  Well, no, not this month anyway.

The May 1962 Amazing labors under a large handicap: half of it is given over to The Airlords of Han by Philip Francis Nowlan, the second Buck Rogers novella, reprinted from the March 1929 issue.  It starts with a synopsis by Anthony (the Buck has not yet passed) of his emergence from 500 years of suspended animation to discover an America dominated by “the Airlords of Han, fierce Mongolians, who . . . had in their blood a taint not of this earth.”  But now, the Americans hiding in the woods have mostly retaken the continent while the Han remain huddled in their cities; “the positions of the Yellow and the White Races in America had been reversed.” So it’s Yellow Peril time again!

The good news: Nowlan is quite a facile writer for his time, his style livelier and less stilted than in many of these alleged Classic Reprints.  But the substance often gets tedious fast, consisting in good part of catalogues of military tactics, weapons, and the uniforms of the various Gangs (led by Bosses) of rusticated Americans.  Here Anthony describes a weapon he designed:

It was a long-gun which I had adapted for bayonet tactics such as American troops used in the First World War, in the Twentieth Century.  It was about the length of the ancient rifle, and was fitted with a short knife bayonet.  The stock, however, was replaced by a narrow ax-blade and a spike.  It had two hand-guards also.  It was fired from the waist position.

“In hand-to-hand work one lunged with the bayonet in a vicious, swinging up-thrust, following through with an up-thrust of the ax-blade as one rushed in on one’s opponent, and then a down-thrust of the butt-spike, developing into a down-slice of the bayonet, and a final upward jerk of the bayonet at the throat and chin with a shortened grip on the barrel, which had been allowed to slide through the hands at the completion of the down-slice.”

One wonders if Nowlan might better have been employed writing technical manuals.  There are similarly detailed, and much longer, discussions of the opposing forces’ technology—chapter IV is titled “Han Electrono-Science” and V is “American Ultronic Science,” three to four pages each.  Even when something actually begins to happen (as Anthony puts it beginning chapter VI, “But to return to my narrative. . .”), Nowlan quickly reverts to verbose digression.  When Anthony is captured by the Han, Nowlan spends nearly a page on their physical appearance and their uniforms and gear.  He also sociologizes for many pages describing the decadent Han society, which is ultimately dominated by the repairmen, who control the machines on which everyone depends—and no one wants to tangle with their “Yun-Yun.” Later, there is considerably more action, but it too becomes tedious—pages of slaughter and destruction abetted by escalating super-science.

Admittedly, Nowlan is more progressive concerning the role of women than most writers of his era.  While his precis of Han society contains a rather misogynistic description of women’s place, among the Americans, “men and girls” (as the author puts it) seem more or less equal, both participating in combat.  The girls appear to relish their roles, as witness Wilma, Anthony’s wife:

“Like a shriek of the Valkyrie, Wilma’s battle cry rang in my ear as she, too, shot herself like a rocket at a red-coated figure. . . . [Digression while Anthony kills a Han]
“And from the corner of my eye I saw Wilma bury her bayonet in her opponents, screaming in ecstatic joy.”

Despite the racist theme, with passing references to “evil yellow faces” and the “morally degraded race,” plus a disquisition on how the Han lack souls, Nowlan ultimately tries to have it both ways.  After the genocide of the Hans, Anthony travels the world and finds everybody pretty nice—“the noble brown-skinned Caucasians of India, the sturdy Balkanites of Southern Europe, [and] the simple, spiritual Blacks of Africa, today one of the leading races of the world, although in the Twentieth Century we regarded them as inferior.” It was just those damn Hans, who weren’t really human but sprang up when extraterrestrials raped the Tibetans.

Sorry, it doesn’t wash.  It’s as if D.W. Griffith had ended Birth of a Nation, his famous movie glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, with a placard saying “Just kidding, folks.”

In this time of the Freedom Riders and the sit-ins—but also the time when I hear vile racial slurs virtually daily in this near-Southern small town—who needs this crap?  I know, it’s historically important.  But so is, say, James Buchanan, and I don’t hear anyone clamoring to bring him back.

One star, and a big “Bah, humbug.”

The lead story is Edmond Hamilton’s longish novelet The Stars, My Brothers, which could have been titled Across the Galaxy in a Bad Mood.  Scientist Reed Kieran is killed in a space accident, but finds himself a century later waking up in a starship en route to Altair .  He is surprisingly un-delighted at receiving a new life in a new age, and it doesn’t help that his resurrectors are not very nice and don’t want to tell him much.  Eventually he learns that they are from the Humanity Party, which believes that “humans should not be ruled by non-humans,” and they have illicitly revived him to be a symbol in a campaign against the planet Sako, where a more intelligent and civilized reptilian species dominates a human population that is “very low in the scale of civilization.” Shaking with rage, Kieran declares, “I have no more use for the idea of the innate sacred superiority of one species over another than I had for that of one kind of man over another.” Now that’s a nice thought, especially after The Airlords of Han

They land on Sako and are promptly attacked by the primitive humans.  Treks and chases ensue and eventually we meet the reptilians, who it turns out are managing the local humans reasonably humanely, like we (sometimes) manage animal populations.  The whole thing is as unconvincing as it is didactic, and Kieran’s noble sentiments can’t redeem it.  There’s a romantic subtheme that is as sour and implausible as the rest of it.  There’s also a conspicuous failure of craft at the beginning: though the actual story doesn’t start until Kieran’s resurrection, there are four and a half pages of mostly irrelevant backstory—a tenth of the total length—about Kieran’s previous life and how he came to be left dead in his spacesuit, including such data as his street address in Midland Springs, Ohio.  One may wonder whether this story was cut down—but not enough or not carefully—from a novel-length piece Hamilton started for one of his now-defunct ‘50s markets.  Anyway, two stars mitigated by the author’s good intentions.

John Jakes’s The Protector is a purposefully heavy-handed short story about a guy who after the nuclear war serves as the “protector” for a small town of survivors, or so it seems, and to say anything more would give the whole thing away.  It’s effectively oppressive but there’s not much story left when the style and attitude dissipate.  Two stars. 

Frank Tinsley is back with a science article, Cosmic Caravel, concerning spaceships which may be constructed in orbit and propelled by gigantic sails to catch the “Solar Wind” or “Photon Breeze.” Interesting idea, but the usual dull rendering from Tinsley.  Two stars.

Benedict Breadfruit.  That is all.

[Yikes!  Months like this make me feel like a harsh taskmaster.  Let’s hear a round of applause for poor young Boston, who suffered so.  I am grateful, in particular, for his taking on the Buck Rogers tale.  Better luck next time, Master John! (Ed.)]

[April 12, 1962] Don’t Bug Me (May 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

April is the cruelest month — T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Maybe it’s because it’s almost time to mail in those tax forms to Uncle Sam, or maybe it’s because of the tension between President Kennedy and the steel companies, or maybe it’s because Jack Parr left his television series (which will now be known by the boring, generic title The Tonight Show), or maybe it’s because the constant radio play of the smash hit Johnny Angel by actress Shelley Fabares of The Donna Reed Show is driving me out of my mind, or maybe it’s because of George Schelling’s B movie cover art for the May 1962 issue of Fantastic; but for whatever reason your faithful correspondent approached the contents of the magazine with a leery eye.

I must admit that Murray Leinster’s lead novelette Planet of Dread did little to improve my mood.  The melodramatic title fits this old-fashioned adventure story.  Our hero has killed a man – for good reason, you will not be surprised to find out – and becomes a stowaway on a spaceship with a group of political revolutionaries.  Once discovered, his only choices are to be killed or stranded alone on a distant planet.  Unsurprisingly, he chooses the latter.  The ship arrives on a world where a badly botched effort at terraforming has resulted in – you guessed it – giant spiders and other creepy crawly critters. 

Thus we have the literary equivalent of Them!, Tarantula, The Black Scorpion, Beginning of the End, The Deadly Mantis, Earth vs the Spider, Monster from Green Hell, Cosmic Monsters, and all those other Big Bug movies of the past decade.  Under attack, the revolutionaries prove to be either Good Guys or Bad Guys.  There’s also one female aboard the ship, whose role is to be the Girl.  Leinster is an old pro at this sort of thing, but the corny nature of the plot forces me to dismiss the story with two stars.

Wildly different in style and content is The Survey Trip by controversial writer David R. Bunch.  It’s a bizarre, surreal tale in which the narrator, rolling along in a beach ball, encounters a man in a heart-shaped metal suit.  Together they visit places like Knockjonesbrainsout and meet people like Miss 9-to-5-No-Time-Off-For-Lunch.  It’s all very strange and probably symbolic.  Some people will hate it.  The story is short enough not to wear out its welcome, and the sheer weirdness of it held my interest, so I’ll give it three stars.

A few months ago Jesse Roarke appeared in the pages of Fantastic with an intriguing, if overwritten, allegory entitled Atonement.  The new story from this fledging author is similar.  Ripeness is All takes place in a future which at first seems idyllic.  All needs are taken care of by technology.  Androids act as one’s servants and lovers.  Yet the protagonist feels that something is missing.  He begins by seeking out a library to learn as much as he can from books.  Soon he leaves the utopian city and heads out into the wilderness, where he meets with farmers, warriors (who fight but never kill), artists, and philosophers.  After rejecting all of these, he discovers his own purpose in life.  Although some of the writing is a bit flowery, the story is an interesting fable, worthy of three stars.

“The Piebald Hippogriff” by Karen Anderson (married to Poul Anderson) is a light confection.  It’s a brief, charming account of a boy, the hippogriff he tames, and the land of flying islands in which they dwell.  Three stars for this tasty trifle.

English-born author A. Bertram Chandler (now living Down Under as an Australian citizen) appears under his pseudonym George Whitley with Change of Heart, reprinted from the British magazine New Worlds.  A castaway tells his rescuers of his encounters with dolphins and whales which led him to believe there is more to these animals than meets the eye.  The author’s experience as a merchant marine officer ensures that this tale of the mysteries of the sea is realistic and convincing.  Three stars.

Last and probably least is Double or Nothing by Jack Sharkey, resident comedian for editor Cele Goldsmith.  His latest farce involves two inventors whose gizmos always do something other than intended.  In this case a device intended to provide a way to escape the Earth’s gravity turns out to duplicate whatever it comes in contact with.  Shooting off into the sky, it soon manufactures copies of everything (including cornflakes) and the story becomes a variation on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  The biggest problem is that the author does not provide any kind of conclusion at all.  He simply presents the situation and leaves it unresolved.  Two weak stars.

***

Although the meaty middle of this literary sandwich provided me with some satisfaction, the bland slices of bread surrounding its interior left me still hungry.  How does it sate your appetite?

[April 10, 1962] All the Difference (May 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

The measure of a story’s quality, good or bad, is how well it sticks in your memory.  The sublime and the stinkers are told and retold, the mediocre just fades away.  If you ever wonder how I rate the science fiction I read, memorability is a big component. 

This month’s IF has some real winners, and even the three-star stories have something to recommend them.  For the first time, I see a glimpse of the greatness that almost was under Damon Knight’s tenure back in 1959.  Read on, and perhaps you’ll agree.

Retief of the Red-Tape Mountain, by Keith Laumer

Laumer continues to improve in his tales of the omni-capable diplomat hamstrung by the flounderings of a sub-capable bureaucracy.  In this story, Retief is dispatched to make peace between the settlers of a new colony, and a band of aliens that has recently popped onto the scene.  Comedy is hard to write, and it’s harder (but more rewarding) to anchor humor to a serious backbone.  There are some genuinely funny moments in Mountain, and it’s also a good story.  Four stars.

The Spy, by Theodore L. Thomas

An extraterrestrial (but human) reincarnation of Nathan Hale is captured by musket-bearing folk and tried for espionage.  I enjoyed it well-enough at the time, but the ending sat poorly.  There’s just not enough to this piece.  Two stars.

Death and Taxes, by H. A. Hartzell

I really enjoyed this fanciful tale of a beneficent sea-captain’s ghost, the impoverished artist he comes to haunt (or perhaps, “with whom he cohabitates” is more appropriate, and the lady who is the object of the artist’s affections.  It’s Lafferty-esque, a little bit disjointed but a lot of fun.  I’ve never heard of Hartzell before, so s/he is either a promising novice or a slumming veteran.  Four stars.


by DYAS

Misrule, by Robert Scott

Politics is a chaotic game.  Strikes, protests, riots – these can really throw a wrench into the workings of government.  What if you could do away with all that?  Subvert all the anti-government feelings into one quadrennial orgy of rapine and destruction, a blowing off a steam that keeps things quiet for another four years?  Scott’s tale isn’t particularly plausible, but it is vivid.  Three stars.

Deadly Game, by Edward Wellen

This is a weird Isle of Dr. Moreau-type tale about a park ranger who engineers his charges to be vicious guerrillas, making the animals sentient masters of their own fate.  Another well-told story that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Three stars.

The Hoplite, by Richard Sheridan

In the far future, flesh is not enough to withstand the rigors of war.  One solution is to surround the warriors in an exo-skeleton of metal, the other…well, you’ll have to read to find out what can resist a steel humanoid goliath.  Evocative but somehow hollow.  Three stars.

The 64-Square Madhouse, by Fritz Leiber

Some science fiction stories are so imaginative yet so plausible that you can be convinced that you are seeing the future.  Leiber’s tale depicts a chess tournament that takes place on the eve of the time when computers become good enough at the game to beat the best Grandmasters.  This is not some staid Robot vs. Man tale, but a cunning extrapolation of the current state of the art in cybernetic chess to a few decades into the future.  Add to it a cast of well-drawn characters and a multi-peak story arc, and you’ve got a story that will likely be referenced by name the day fiction becomes reality.  Five stars, and bravo.


by BURNS

Gramp, by Charles. V. DeVet

The gift of telepathy is a double-edged sword, as one boy soon discovers.  DeVet does a good job of capturing a youth’s voice, and he’s no stranger to sensitive stories.  Would make a decent The Twilight Zone episode, perhaps.  Three stars.

The Other IF, by Theodore Sturgeon

Ted Sturgeon’s non-fiction piece is about an IF magazine that never was.  Apparently, Sturgeon has wanted to have his own magazine since the War Years.  The digest he conceived, which he planned to call IF, would have exclusively published “If this goes on” stories: short-term predictions turned into plausible stories.  He concludes his non-fiction account of the IF that never was with a few guesses of his own – since he wrote the article in December, their accuracy is already a matter of record.  He then invites you, the reader, to make your own and send them in. 

Do you have any hunches on what’s in store for this Summer?

(Three stars)

The Expendables, by Jim Harmon

Harmon can always be counted on to provide readable fiction.  In this case, we have a droll story about the man who invents the perfect garbage disposal…but can the Laws of Thermodynamics be so easily beaten?  Or the Mafia?  The FBI?  My favorite line, “My opinion as to the type of person who followed the pages of science-fiction magazines with fluttering lips and tracing finger were upheld.”  Three stars.

***

Added up, that puts us at 3.4 for the month, a respectable score for what used to be one of the lesser mags, and it was worth it just for the Leiber.  A host of interesting, implausible stories, and one humdinger of a plausible one.  I guess I’ll just have to renew my subscription to this promising digest.  Good on you, Editor Fred Pohl!

[March 28, 1962] Paradise Lost (April 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I used to call The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction “dessert.”  Of all the monthly sf digests, it was the cleverest, the one most willing to take risks, and the most enjoyable reading.  Over the past two years, I’ve noticed a slow but decided trend into the realm of “literary quality.”  In other words, it’s not how good the stories are, or how fun the reading – they must be experimental and erudite to have any merit.  And if you don’t get the pieces, well, run off to Analog where the dumb people live.

A kind of punctuation mark has been added to this phenomenon.  Avram Davidson, that somber-writing intellectual with an encyclopedic knowledge and authorial credits that take up many sheets of paper, has taken over as editor of F&SF from Robert Mills.  Five years ago, I might have cheered.  But Davidson’s path has mirrored that of the magazine he now helms: a descent into literary impenetrability.  Even his editorial prefaces to the magazine’s stories are off-putting and contrived. 

I dunno.  You be the judge.

Gifts of the Gods, by Jay Williams

The premise of Gifts isn’t bad: aliens come from the stars to find Earth’s most advanced nation, and it turns out they’re the most primitive, technologically.  It’s three shades too heavy on the sermon, and it fails by its own rules (i.e. one can lambast states as a whole for not being perfectly self-actualized, but surely there are a thousand qualifying people within any given country that fulfill the ET’s requirements).  But then, these aliens seem to have shown up just to rub our noses in it.  Advanced indeed.  Two stars.

The Last Element, by Hugo Correa

Editor Davidson touts Sr. Correa as a brilliant find from Chile.  Sadly, this meandering piece involving (I guess) space soldiers who are undone in their attempts to mine a psychotropic mineral from a distant planet, feels incompletely translated from the Spanish.  It reads like an Italian sf film views.  Two stars.

The End of Evan Essant… ?, by Sylvia Edwards

A cute piece, more The Twilight Zone than anything else, about a fellow who is so determined to be a nebbish that he psychosomatically disappears.  It’s no great shakes, but at least it has a through line and is written in English.  Boy, my standards have dropped.  Three stars.

Shards, by Brian W. Aldiss

The editor advises that one give this story time to make sense lest you judge it prematurely.  He has a point.  This piece innovatively describes a traumatic out-of-body experience, and when you know the context, it’s not bad.  On the other hand, the context is laid out with surprising artlessness especially given the effort Aldiss puts into the first part (which is only readable in hindsight).  Three stars for effort, though your meter may hover at one star through most of the actual experience.

The Kit-Katt Club, by John Shepley

Something about a young, serious boy who abandons his starlet mother’s dissipated hotel life to frequent a bar with a literal menagerie of clientele.  I didn’t understand this story, nor did I much like it.  Maybe I’m just bitter at being made to look foolish.  Two stars.

To Lift a Ship, by Kit Reed

One of the few bright lights of this issue is Reed’s take on love, hope, greed, and despair involving two test co-pilots of a psionically driven aircraft.  I love how vividly we see through the eyes of the protagonist, and the subtlety (but not to the point of obtuseness!) with which the story unfolds.  Four stars.

Garvey’s Ghost, by Robert Arthur

I haven’t seen much from Arthur lately.  His stories have all been pleasant, fanciful fare and this one, about a most contrary ghost and the grandson he haunts, is more of the same.  Three stars.

Vintage Wine, by Doris Pitkin Buck

The English professor from Ohio is back, this time with a piece of ‘cat’terel (as opposed to the canine variety, which is not as good) that I actually quite enjoyed.  Four stars.

Moon Fishers, by Nathalie Henneberg

Charles Henneberg was a popular French fantasist who, sadly, passed away in 1959.  His wife, with whom he collaborated, has taken it upon herself to flesh out a number of remaining outlines for publication, Damon Knight providing the translations.  She has written well before, but her talents fail her this time.  This tale of time travel, Atlanteans, and ancient Egypt fails to engage at all.  One star.

The Weighting Game, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor takes on the subject of elements and how we determined their mass.  Just discovering that elements had mass was a critical step in understanding the nature of atoms.  Sadly, this article is really a highly abridged and much compromised version of his excellent book, The Search for the Elements, which came out two months ago.  I recommend you grab a copy and skip this article.  Still, substandard Asimov is still decent.  Three stars.

Test, by Theodore L. Thomas

A vignette about failing a driving test.  There’s the germ of a good story here, but the ending is too abrupt and affected to work.  Two stars.

Three for the Stars, by Joseph Dickinson

This piece is noteworthy for having one of the least intelligible Davidson prefaces.  Other than that, its a rather overwrought story about a chimp sent to Mars and back, and the scars he bears of the Martians he met.  Satire or something.  Two stars.

***

This issue ends up with a lousy 2.4 star score – by far, the worst magazine of the month, and possibly the worst F&SF I’ve read!  It’s a disappointing turn of events.  F&SF used to be the smart sf mag, and last month’s issue was a surprise stand-out.  With the arrival of Davidson, F&SF seems to be careening back toward smug self-indulgence.  I see that the back cover no longer has pictures of notables heaping praise on the book.  I wonder if they’re jumping ship…