Tag Archives: science fiction

[October 14, 2017] A SIGN OF LIFE? (the November 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Once more, the question: must the middle of the road be the ceiling?  Will this November Amazing present us anything more interesting than the competently readable fare featured in recent issues?  Well, yeah, a little, but it takes a while to get there. 

Left Hand, Right Hand

James H. Schmitz’s lead novelet Left Hand, Right Hand recalls my comment on his last story: “capable, even lively, deployment of material that otherwise would border on cliche.” It’s essentially a POW escape story: nasty aliens have captured the interstellar explorers from Earth, upon which they seem to have designs.  The protagonist is plotting to get away and warn Earth in a drone ship he has been surreptitiously converting under the aliens’ noses, while the people in charge of the Earth expedition seem to be collaborating with their captors.  As the title suggests, there’s actually more than that going on, and the plot is actually pretty clever; the aliens are well developed and the resolution turns on what’s been learned about them.  But ultimately Schmitz is just capably rearranging the usual SF furniture.  Three stars.

Schmitz gives the impression of a formerly part-time writer who has quit his day job and turned full-time.  From 1949 through 1961, he published zero to three stories a year in the SF magazines.  In 1962, he has published eight stories in the SF magazines plus one in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, plus the novel A Tale of Two Clocks.  Maybe the demands of high production have something to do with the routine character of these recent stories.

The Planet of the Double Sun

The other novelet is the “Classic Reprint,” Neil R. Jones’s The Planet of the Double Sun (from the February 1932 issue), the second in the series about Professor Jamieson.  The Prof had himself put into orbit when he died, and was resurrected eons later when the exploring Zoromes—brains in robotic metal bodies—installed him in his own metal body and took him with them.  Now, on a planet with one blue sun and one orange one, they quickly encounter a sinister mystery about the apparent extinction of anything larger than birds, and almost as quickly are threatened with extinction themselves from a menace having everything to do with the suns.  In fact the end of the story seems to be the end for everyone, except that Sam Moskowitz’s introduction says the series extended to 21 stories.  This one is told in a peculiar naive style, plain and simple (except for the occasional long word) to the point where it sometimes reads as if written for those just graduated from See Spot Run, or new immigrants striving to learn English.  It has a certain archaic charm.  Three charitable stars.

World Edge

World Edge by Jack Egan—apparently his first story—is set in a world which seems hallucinatory and soon enough is shown to be just that.  Unfortunately it’s about the least interesting hallucination I’ve encountered, reminiscent of something you might see on the Saturday morning cartoon shows, and the “explanation” is no more interesting.  Two stars, again being charitable.

The Last Days of the Captain

Unusually, this issue has two stories by women.  Kate Wilhelm contributes The Last Days of the Captain, in which a colony planet has to be evacuated because the terrible aliens are coming, but Marilyn Roget has to wait for her husband and son to return from a hunting trip.  The rigid and dutiful Captain Winters stays behind the main party to wait with her as long as possible, then leaves with her on an arduous futuristic-car trip through the wilderness, leaving a vehicle so husband and son can follow if they ever show up.  Various psychological tensions are acted out along the way, but it never adds up to much for me, and the Captain is still standing at the end despite the title.  Three stars, barely, for good writing.

Black and White

Black and White by Marion Zimmer Bradley is something else entirely.  Nuclear war has ended the world as we know it, leaving only two survivors, who live in a New York bar that has miraculously survived—though the bottles didn’t, so they can’t get drunk, and they can’t go barefoot for all the broken glass embedded in the floor.  Problem: he’s a Negro and she is white.  They have agreed that their racial animosity precludes any attempt to continue the species, and in any case he’s hiding a terrible secret: he’s a Catholic priest.  They row over to New Jersey to hunt rabbits, and there they discover that they aren’t the only survivors after all—there’s a white guy, and nothing good comes of it.  The story quickly turns nasty and powerful, most likely fuelled by the revulsion prompted by certain recent events like the attacks on the Freedom Riders.  In any case, it is intense, and it cuts sharply through the haze of the routine that otherwise attends this magazine.  Four stars.

Life Among the Stars, Part IV

Ben Bova has Life Among the Stars, the fourth in what was billed as a four-article series on extraterrestrial life.  It mainly concerns stars, how little we know about whether they have planets, and how hard it is to find out.  He concludes with the declaration that we’ve gotta have faith that there is life and intelligence elsewhere than Earth.  Further: “Those of us who have the faith—scientists and science fictioneers, dreamers and technicians—realize full well that this is the only adventure worthy of a civilized man.” (Emphasis in original.) The only one?  How about making peace, promoting civil rights, curing diseases, and alleviating poverty, for starters?  I think you’ve gotten a little carried away, Mr. Bova.  Nonetheless, three stars for interesting material well presented.

And—what’s that sound?  Oh, it’s the silence left by the departure of Benedict Breadfruit.  Requiescat in pacem, no revenants please.




[October 12, 1962] What beats hate… (Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time)

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


by Lorelei Marcus

It’s a scary time to be alive. The Russians are sending “equipment” to Cuba — equipment such as soldiers and missiles. The Berlin Wall is forcing many Germans to remain trapped under Communism. On a larger scale, overpopulation is slowly overtaking the Earth. In 100 years our world may be nothing more than a depleted husk filled with hungry people, or maybe an empty rock polluted with radiation. If only someone could step in and say ‘time out’, and just make everyone get along.

But, when you think about it, is that really such a good idea?

A new book came out recently, called A Wrinkle in Time. It’s written by Madeleine L’Engle, a new writer on the young adult fiction scene. Wrinkle is about a young misfit teenager named Meg Murray and her adventures across time and space. With the help of three aliens (disguised as a trio of witches), she travels to unimaginable worlds to rescue her father, who has disappeared after experimenting with hyperdimensional travel. One world is a beautiful garden planet populated by flying centaurs. Another is a misty place inhabited by blind, sensitive creatures. And the third, where Meg’s father is imprisoned, is the regimented world of Camazotz ruled by IT, a domineering mind that keeps the population of humanoids running like evil clockwork.  Everywhere, planets are shrouded in the Black Thing, causing strife and hardship, edging them toward the machine-like conformity of Camazotz.  Even Earth is under a dark shadow.

Relying on her innate talents and those of her companions, precocious little brother Charles Wallace and the bright and alluring schoolmate, Calvin, Meg must defeat IT to win back her father.  In the end, it is because of Meg’s stubborn nonconformity, and because of the love she and her companions share for each other, that they are able to rescue Dr. Murray and vanquish, if only in a small battle, the darkness of IT.

Wrinkle dives into the dark problems of conformity, shows the hardships of being a genius, and most of all, highlights the true power of love. The world is a very dark and scary place with lots of problems. Problems that could be fixed easily by getting everyone to do things a certain way. However, Wrinkle‘s message is that it shouldn’t be so simple. Human beings are complex, and we all have differing opinions. These opinions define who we are, our personalities; take that away and we are no more than husks, performing duties like machines.

It is true that differing opinions are also the source of conflict and war, but that is not their only purpose. If our existence is to simply fulfill a task like we’re told, like a computer, then what’s the point to existing at all? Without opinions there is no desire, no discovery, no love. We live to please ourselves and others, and without that there is no point to living.

Seeing the world in this way makes it a little less terrifying. These challenges aren’t supposed to be easy. We’re not supposed to simply conform and give up. There are problems in the world and they come from the choices we have made, but the point is: We can make choices, and we need to value that ability, because it means we are alive. I have hope that we’ll make the right choices. Wrinkle’s author clearly does, too.

Now you didn’t just come here to read an analysis, so here are my personal thoughts on A Wrinkle in Time. I did not read the story conventionally — my father actually read the book to me and my mother in chapters at bedtime. Between his reading and the immersive story, it was truly an amazing experience for me. It was almost as if I was in the story with the characters! I believe this was partly because the main character, Meg, is so relatable in that she is super smart. Most stories for kids and teens right now are action comics, slice of life stories, or simple fantasy novels. Though A Wrinkle in Time could arguably fit into all three of these genres, it’s also something we’ve never seen before. All of the characters are very intelligent, including the children. After seeing so many stories with ‘strong boys’ or ‘beautiful girls’, it is so relieving to see intelligent characters with such depth in a novel aimed at teenagers.

I really love this novel. I love the story, I love the message, I love the settings, I love the characters, and I love the writing! I think my main nitpick would be the fact that Calvin is way too mature for a 14 year old boy. That aside, this novel incorporates many of my values and philosophies. Intelligence, and using one’s intelligence, is an important aspect of the story, mature themes about the world and its problems are displayed in an optimistic light, and love conquers hate in the end. These themes throughout the story are what make it so dear to my heart.

Overall, this is an amazing book that I highly recommend you read. Even if you’ve already read it, reread it again! I think it would be especially good to read when you’re feeling hopeless. In the end, there’s no way to make the world’s problems disappear, but that’s a good thing. The challenges we face every day to better ours and others’ lives are what make life worth living. I give this story a record 5 stars! I believe there is nothing in it that should bring it to anything less than a perfect score. I would love to hear what you all think of A Wrinkle in Time and what you believe the message is too! Feel free to drop a line about your thoughts on it, and as always,

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.




[October 7, 1962] …like a Man.  (the surprising true identity of sf author Lee Chaytor)

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


by Victoria Lucas

OK, that’s neat.  Mostly when I look at the covers of science-fiction magazines, I see silly bug-eyed monsters and rocket ships that look like they’re out of early movies, and I don’t know who those men or boys are who wrote those stories or why, but I suspect the stories are for other men or boys.

But now I see “Lee Chaytor’s” name on an sf magazine cover and I feel like giggling — for Lee is no he!  A friend going to San Diego State College sent me word that she’s a lecturer in English, name of Elizabeth Chater, and she is writing science fiction (and advocating that it be taught as literature, of all things!) while she works on her Master’s degree there.

Chater/Chaytor has a story in the May 1958 Fantastic Universe Science Fiction magazine that I happened to see when I was in that dusty bookstore I mentioned last time.  On this visit the cat got down from the desk near the door and accompanied me as I fumbled around, trying to remember where I’d seen it.  Ah, there, with bug-eyed monsters, a flying saucer, and a rocket ship, with an eagle harassing an alien.  And “featuring their BAIT FOR THE TIGER A New Novel by Lee Chaytor.” So I gathered my pennies and, after considering leaving them with the cat since the owner was elsewhere, I found him, showed him the magazine, gave him my handful of change, and walked out reading it.

Wow!  She doesn’t stint on the monsters, but these sound close to human in their description.  Lots of suspense after the story opens with men locked into a corner of a lower floor of the Pentagon, secret government workers affiliated with the FBI.  There is a flying ball of green light, a master race (the aliens) and a subservient one (the aliens again), and what’s left of a town cringing in fear as the aliens take over a piece of Oregon.

Oh, and of course there has to be a buxom blonde (is she blond?), Valentine, 6 feet tall, an exotic dancer with a “magnificent body” who uses a robot snake in her performances, and who is described in florid terms.  The wife of a missing agent, she falls in with a scheme to try to find out if the aliens have her husband.  Other characters include a sad and terse bodyguard for the telepath running the operation, an argumentative type who tries to keep an eye on the telepath; and a domestic agent who makes breakfast and does the dishes, the most sympathetic of the men to me.  The telepath is a little man who knows all and is predictably headstrong and obnoxious.  The men spout British poetry.

Complications enter the plot in the form of a dying agent who heard a human consorting with the aliens, said to be golden and godlike (as well as conceited), nothing like the green monsters on the cover of the magazine.

I don’t know if I like the piece.  It’s a fast-moving story; you want to find out what happens!  But at this pace in a magazine novella, there is no time for character development.  There are no other women in the narrative, and I can’t identify with the one introduced so far, with those full lips and young, lissome beauty one expects to see in a science fiction tale (at least from looking at other covers).  I guess it’s always been the covers that have alienated me and often deterred me out of science fiction books and magazines.  Scantily clad women, bug-eyed monsters, weird-looking space ships and flying saucers: what’s for me to like?  Adventure?  I consider music and poetry and history and art and architecture to be adventure.  I guess that just sounds pompous, but those media constitute my adventurousness.

Oh, well, back to “Lee Chaytor.” Valentine is up to the task.  The suspense continues.  We hear how nasty the aliens are, how ruthless.  Will she survive?  The team of three men and a telepath stays as close to her as possible as she pursues her mission, but they cannot get too close.  Not yet.  At this point, I had the suspicion that Valentine, “Val,” now referred to as a “girl,” would still be a “girl” at the end of the narrative, and might never become a “woman,” even though much of the narrative is through her eyes.

The ending could be considered to be a happy one, less so inside the circle of characters we know.  I won’t tell you what happens because you have a right to see for yourself.  I’ll just say this: Valentine lives and is unhurt, but, as so often happens with women, her interests come last and are hardly considered.  We have instead clichés about male bonding and jealousy. 

I haven’t learned much from this tale about aliens and secret US government departments, but I did learn this: that a woman can write like a man when she chooses — take that as compliment or damn.  But it does make me wonder: how many other woman authors (and English Professors!) lurk behind androgynous pseudonyms?




[Sep. 28, 1962] Seduction of the Innocent (special sci-fi fanzine edition)

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


by Gideon Marcus

My father used to say that the road to drug abuse didn’t start with pot, or smoking, or even alcohol.

“It all begins with milk,” he’d say.

The funnel that leads to a life of science fiction fanaticism is not quite so broad, but there sure are a lot of entry points.  For instance, one can’t read the newspaper without some update on the Space Race or a new drug.  Sci-fi movies, while often terrible, are ubiquitous.  Science fiction novels are starting to take off just as the monthly digests are at their nadir.  Marvel Comics has launched several new sf-related titles.  Conventions are increasing in number.  Yes, the tentacles of fandom are many, indeed.

My introduction was the October 1950 debut of Galaxy magazine.  Sure, I’d read and watched some science fiction before then, but it hadn’t grabbed me consistently.  Galaxy was pure quality in every issue, and I soon bought an addiction…er…subscription.  Well, there were so many other magazines on the shelf next to Galaxy, surely some of them must be good, too, I reasoned.  By 1954, I was regularly also reading Fantasy and Science Fiction, Astounding, Imagination, Fantastic Universe, Satellite, and Beyond.  Let me tell you — keeping up was a chore!  I was almost glad to have the field winnow a bit toward the end of the decade.

In 1958, I began writing this column, and my reading became more disciplined, more with an eye toward providing content to my readers (who numbered about three at the time; thank you, Stephanie, Janice, and Vic).  The trick then was to ensure I had enough material to fill 10-15 articles a month.  Three magazines and the odd space shot weren’t enough to do the trick.  So I started reading the science fiction novels as they hit the newsstands.  Not all of them, mind you, but the ones that looked interesting.  I began going to the cinema with the Young Traveler for all of the sf flicks, good, indifferent, and (too often) bad.  The Twilight Zone debuted in 1959, and that became a regular viewing experience.

There’s nothing a fan likes more than meeting other fans, so of course, attending conventions became a must.  And then I wasn’t just going to conventions; I became a panelist, a sought out guest.  There began to be rumblings that Galactic Journey might be on the ballot for a Best Fanzine Hugo sometime soon, so I broadened my reading material to include other fanzines.

This, then, is my current state…buried under a pile of reading material faced with a daunting publication schedule.  Thank goodness many of the Journey’s readers have become associates, bringing their unique (dare I say, superior) talents to this ever-burgeoning endeavor.

So this month, I’ve got a couple of special treats, which I shall provide largely without comment.  The first is a fanzine revival by Uberfan Al haLevy.  Rhodomagnetic Digest was a stand-out ‘zine for several issues in the early ’50s.  Al revived it this year, and I recently got my hands on the second issue.  Highlights include the converage of the Labor Day “Nonvention,” a sizeable California gathering for the folks who couldn’t make Chicon III; and a comprehensive encyclopedia of Tolkein’s hobbits.  The latter looks to be first in a series, and I’m certain Middle Earth fans will find it useful. 

Present #2 is a science fiction movie magazine, Spacemen .  I hadn’t even been aware of its existence, but a friend left his copy of Issue 5 here last weekend, and I found it interesting enough to share.  It’s a retrospective issue, full of lore going back several decades, the most compelling of which (to me) was the interview with Buster Crabbe about his work portraying Buck Rogers, which he did after his stint as Flash Gordon.  Lots of good pictures and some fascinating advertisements in the magazine’s aft section.

I hope you enjoy these off-the-beaten-path pieces of sf fandom goodness.  And if these be the items that tip you from FIJAGDH (Fandom is Just a G-D Hobby) to FIAWOL (Fandom is a Way of Life)…

…welcome aboard!




[Sep. 25, 1962] Peaks and Valleys (October 1962 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

There are two poles when it comes to how science fiction magazines like to fill their pages.  The Fantasy and Science Fiction approach involves lots of short stories — it makes for an impressive Table of Contents and a lot of bite-sized pieces.  Analog tends toward the other extreme: its stories tend to be novellas and serials, and you only get 4-5 piece of fiction each issue.  As a result, the average quality of any given issue relies on a very few pieces.  With Analog, if you don’t like several of the authors, you’re pretty much out of luck (and 50 cents). 

The October 1962 Analog is, fortunately, not that bad, but a wide swath of it is taken up with a pretty lousy novella.  If I’d started with it, I don’t know if I’d have made it to the rest of the magazine.  It’s a good thing I read from the back first…

Ethical Quotient, by John T. Phillifent

You’ve probably run into the British author, Mr. Phillifent, under his more common pseudonym, “John Rackham.”  Quotient takes up the most real estate of any piece in the issue, and it’s a shame.  The set-up is pure Campbell, with a Terran science-historian winning a trip aboard Earth’s first starship to meet the superior, psionically endowed humanoids of the Galactic Federation.  To ensure his safety, the historian is surgically equipped with a psychic transmitter that mimics the native powers of the aliens. 

In short order, the Earther is beset by murderers, whom he dispatches with his uncommon athletic ability.  A beautiful princess, daughter of the noble whose cabin was hastily vacated to give the historian passage on the starship, also gets involved. 

As to what happens next?  Well…I can’t tell you.  You see, I made several attempts to finish this story, and I found myself continually foundering on the shoals of page 20 (of 55!) Somehow, I kept finding the newspaper, or The Andy Griffith Show, or this month’s excellent issue of Fantastic more worthy of my attention.

I give up.  One star.  Let me know what I missed.

… After a Few Words …, by Seaton McKettrig

I’ve never head of McKettrig.  He’s either new or (more likely with Analog) someone writing pseudonymously.  The title of this piece gives the gimmick away of this short tale of the First Crusade, but it’s not bad, and the idea of the “televicarion” is an interesting one.  Three stars.

Gadget vs. Trend, by Christopher Anvil

Sometimes the transformative effects of a technology on society are subtle and slow; other times, they are dramatic and quick.  For instance, the creation of linen-based “rag” paper provided a welcome improvement over parchment, but it was the development of Gutenberg’s printing press (which used the fine paper) that caused a revolution.

Anvil’s Gadget explores the latter kind of invention, a “quasi-electron” barrier developed in the 1970s that leads to complete societal chaos.  Short, punchy, and pleasantly satirical, it’s one of the better stories Anvil has produced for Analog.  Three stars.

Hypergolicity, by Edward C. Walterscheid

I generally anticipate Analog’s science fact articles with a sense of dread.  They are often not worth the slick paper they are printed on (in an attempt to add respectability to his magazine, editor Campbell has included about 20 pages of magazine-quality paper for a couple of years now.) Walterscheid takes on a genuinely interesting and current topic: the use of spontaneously igniting fuel and oxidizer mixes for rockets.  These combinations are frightfully dangerous, but also convenient, for no spark or fuse is required to set them off, and rockets that employ hypergolics can stop and restart their engines.

It’s technical and not as adeptly written as Asimov’s or Ley’s stuff, but I found it highly informative.  Three stars.

A Life for the Stars (Part 2 of 2), by James Blish

Since my report on the first half of Blish’s newest novel, I have learned that the “Oakie” setting, featuring nomadic Earth cities powered by faster-than-light “spindizzy” drives, has been around at least since 1950, when Bindlestiff was published.  If the other entries in this universe are as good as A Life for the Stars, then I have some catching up to do.

When we last left our hero, Crispin deFord, an impressed resident of the spacefaring city of Scranton, he had been exchanged for food to the much larger community of New York.  As a promising citizen-candidate, guaranteed immortality should he be granted the franchise, Chris is force-fed a torrent of computer-inscribed education so that his true calling might be made evident by his 18th birthday.

But space is a dangerous place, and the potential for planetside treachery, shipboard revolution, or even inter-city conflict is high.  Suffice it to say that Chris has several adventures in store for him before he can become a full-fledged New Yorker…and that outcome is far from certain.

The pacing, writing, and characterization are all excellent, and if it occasionally feels as though history and society have stood still for the Oakie universe since 1960, it can be forgiven for all the novel inventions Blish presents.  Aside from the flying communities, there are also the “City Fathers,” benevolent computers that guide, but don’t run, the cities; beamed power that wirelessly runs the electronics; the powered military armor reminiscent of, but presumably predating, Heinelin’s Starship Troopers; and more.  Five stars, and I’m betting it’ll be on 1963’s Hugo shortlist. 

Buy this issue for, if nothing else, the Blish. 




[September 22, 1962] Cat and Mouse Game (October 1962 Fantastic)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

One of the most notable events this month, at least to those of us who look to the stars, was a speech by President Kennedy at Rice University.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

Fittingly, the second team of NASA astronauts was announced this month, captured here in a lighter moment.


Clockwise from top right are Frank Borman, John Young, Tom Stafford, Pete Conrad, Jim McDivitt, Jim Lovell, Elliot See, Ed White and Neil Armstrong.

Will one of these men become the first human being (or at least the first American) on the moon?  We’ll have to wait some years to find out.

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, the airwaves are dominated by the smash hit, Sherry, by the Four Seasons.  Personally, lead singer Frankie Valli’s falsetto makes me want to leave the planet myself.

A more practical form of escape can be found in the pages of the October 1962 issue of Fantastic.

Another fine cover by the great Emsh captures the mood of a major new story by one of the masters of imaginative literature.

The Unholy Grail, by Fritz Leiber

The author has published a number of tales relating the adventures of the red-haired giant Fafhrd and his much smaller companion the Gray Mouser since 1939.  This story takes place before the two met (although there is one line which suggests that the Grey Mouser caught a glimpse of Fafhrd during an encounter with pirates.)

Not yet known by his famous nickname, the hero is simply called Mouse.  He is the apprentice of a benign practitioner of white magic.  The local Duke hates all magicians.  His daughter secretly takes lessons from Mouse’s master, and a gentle romance seems to be blooming between the two young persons.  The story begins with the Mouse returning from a long and difficult quest for the magician.  He finds his master dead and his home burned to the ground.  This is obviously the work of the Duke, and Mouse seeks revenge by turning to black magic.

The story vividly portrays the terrible price one must pay in order to make use of evil magic, and becomes at time a tale of horror.  There is a great deal of psychological depth to the characters.  The Duke is haunted by the memory of his dead wife, who was stronger and crueler than he is.  He tries to force his meek daughter to become like her. 

Leiber’s female characters are usually charming and beautiful, but this time he explores the mind of the daughter to a greater degree than usual.  She is bitterly unhappy because of the way her father torments her.  She suffers even more when the Mouse blames her for betraying the magician.  During the climactic scene, when she plays a vital role in the Mouse’s scheme of vengeance, she shows unexpected strength of character.
The way in which the naïve and nonviolent Mouse is transformed by tragedy into the cynical, sword-wielding Gray Mouser is sure to capture the imagination of the reader.  Five stars.

The Double-Timer, by Thomas M. Disch

A new author makes his debut with this tale of murder and time travel.  In the next century, special members of the police force are able to investigate crimes by projecting themselves into the recent past.  (The device works only back in time, and no more than eighteen hours.) The narrator is one such officer, who works out a plan to murder his wife and place the blame on the man whom he believes is her lover.  Things don’t work out as he expects.  The plot is cleverly thought out, although this story might seem more suited to the pages of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which sometimes publishes crime fiction with science fiction elements.  Perhaps the author will follow the lead of Donald Westlake and John D. MacDonald and turn to writing thrillers.  In any case, he shows promise and intelligence.  Four stars.

Any Questions?, by Leo P. Kelley

In this brief story, aliens come to Earth disguised as humans and offer various people devices which allow them to create anything they desire.  The result is not surprising, but the tale is told in an efficient manner.  Three stars.

Nor Iron Bars a Cage, by Ron Goulart

This is a farce about the warden of an automated prison.  A glitch in the program (created in a very silly manner) causes him to be mistaken for a prisoner on death row.  The robot guards refuse to believe his story.  With only a few days until his execution, he must find a way out.  The ending of the story is as silly as the beginning.  The robot clergyman provides some mild amusement.  Two stars.

Presence of Mind, by Martin Armstrong

The Fantasy Classic for this issue is from the pen of a prolific British author of fiction and poetry.  It is taken from a 1934 collection of his short stories.  The protagonist takes a shortcut through a private garden on his way to an appointment, hoping to avoid notice.  When confronted by a servant, he tries to escape by pretending to be looking for the home of a man with the ridiculously unlikely name of Z. Q. Muggleton Spoffin.  To his astonishment, this is the name of the man who lives there.  In an attempt to get out of this absurd situation, he makes up a story involving people with other outrageous names.  Incredibly, all the imaginary people he creates actually exist.  As the story goes on, he even makes up an imaginary brand of lawnmower.  This is an eccentric story, which plays games with the nature of reality.  The mood is generally one of light comedy, although there is a subtle tone of uneasiness.  It is definitely better than the old pulp stories the magazine usually reprints.  Three stars.

The Teachers Rode a Wheel of Fire , by Roger Zelazny

A young writer who has already appeared in the publications edited by Cele Goldsmith a couple of times offers another very short story.  In this one, a primitive human (or humanoid) witnesses the arrival of a spaceship bearing two technologically advanced humans (or humanoids.) They try to teach him how to use simple tools of wood and stone by enticing him with food.  He doesn’t seem to learn anything, but at the end of the story he gets an idea in an unexpected way.  It was never clear to me whether this was another planet, or Earth thousands of years ago being visited by aliens (or, possibly, time travelers.) Despite this vagueness, and the fact that we never learn why the advanced characters are trying to teach the primitive character, the story is of some interest.  I hope the author, who obviously has talent and imagination, goes on to write longer and more complex stories.  Three stars.

Autogeddon, by Geoffry Wagner

Here we have a fierce and violent satire of the modern automobile culture from a name new to me.  In the future, the United States is ruled by a dictatorship.  The entire nation has been paved over.  Cars zoom by at enormous rates of speed.  A license is required to be a pedestrian.  Even so, drivers have the freedom to run over any victims they find.  These murders are televised as entertainment.  The plot involves a college professor and one of his students who try to rebel against this bloody society.  This is a grim and powerful tale, which may make you think twice the next time you try to cross a busy street.  Four stars.

You may not be able to buy a ticket to the moon yet, but at least you can purchase a trip into the realms of wonder.




[September 18, 1962] On the Precipice (October 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Are the times changing?

Summer threatens to change to Fall, and the kids are going off to high school and college.  Is this just another turn of the wheel, or are we on the verge of something different, what Historian of Science Thomas Kuhn might call a new “paradigm?”

I had this feeling once before.  In ’53, right after Korea, and after Stalin died, America seemed poised on the edge of an unprecedented era of stability.  Well, really stagnation.  The pendulum had swung heavily in the direction of conservatism.  Black soldiers had come home from the war and were being treated worse than ever.  Ditto women, who had for a while gotten to enjoy some of the rights of men while they were off to war.  The swing music from the prior two decades had gotten overripe and shmaltzy, only somewhat mitigated by the western, blues, and latin music I was able to tune into on nights with clear reception.  The one truly bright spot was science fiction, which had been booming since the late ’40s.

Then rock and roll hit, and boy was it a breath of fresh air.  Sure, you couldn’t hear Black songs on White stations, but there’s no color bar on the airwaves.  Fragile 78 records gave way to durable 45s.  The vacuum tube started to step aside for the transistor.  We were building the missiles that would soon blast us to orbit.  At the same time, sf started to wane.  We went from forty magazines to six over the course of the decade. 

This, then, has been the recent paradigm.  Here we are nine years later, but Elvis and the Everley Brothers still dominate the airwaves.  A new President has asked us what we could do for our country, not what it could do for us; tasking us to go to the Moon before the decade is out, but Black men must still fight even for the right to go to school or ride a bus in much of the nation.  There are now ten thousand Russian troops in Cuba and ten thousand American soldiers in South Vietnam, but are these transitory brush fires or the tip of a belligerent iceberg?

Are the 1960s going to be a continuation of the 1950s?  Or are we overdue for a new epoch?  You tell me.  I’m no soothsayer. 

I suppose in one way, the shift has already happened.  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has become quite different since new editor Avram Davidson took over earlier this year.  It’s not bad, exactly, but it has meandered even further into the literary zone.  This has rendered one of my favorite mags almost unreadable on occasion.  The October 1962 issue does not have this problem, for the most part, but it’s not great.

Enough dilly-dallying.  Here’s the review:

A Kind of Artistry, by Brian W. Aldiss

The son of a baroque and decadent far future Terra journeys across the galaxy to make contact with a most unusual alien intelligence.  Upon his glorious return, he must decide if he has the strength to break the stultifying conditioning of his inbred upringing.

Aldiss wishes he were Cordwainer Smith, and he just isn’t.  Nevertheless, despite some rough patches, there are some good ideas here.  The extraterrestrial has a wildly implausible biochemistry, but the meeting of species is genuinely gripping.  Three stars.

There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, by Robert F. Young

Overpopulation continues to be the theme of many of our current science fiction stories.  A common concept is the idea that excess population can be shipped to the stars, but as any student of history knows, neither England, Spain, France, Portugal, nor any other country ever became empty as a result of colonization.  We can’t expect spaceships to change that equation. 

Neither does Young.  His story is cute, if one-note, holding our interest for as long as the idea can be stretched.  Three stars.

Twenty-Four Hours in a Princess’s Life, With Frogs, by Don White

What if all the fairy-tale princesses were pals, all living together in Hans Christian Andersonville with intersecting storybook plotlines?  Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel… the whole neurotic gang of them.  Don White explores that possiblity in a clever, funny piece that makes me hope that Disney never tries to combine its franchises.  What a mess that would be!  Four stars.

Inquest in Kansas (A Modern American Ballad) by Hyacinth Hill

The unknown Ms. Hill (I understand she may be Virginia Anderson) has a poetic piece about a woman seduced from her home and family by a unicorn.  Whether you find it horrifying or liberating depends on how you infer her life history.  Two stars, as it didn’t grab me.

Measure My Love, by Mildred Clingerman

What a fascinating, almost excellent, but ultimately disappointing piece this was.  Dodie is a youngish spinster whose actress cousin, Althea, has a penchant for melodramatic love affairs.  When Althea’s irresistible romantic nature meets the immovable, unwinnable affections of a married man, Dodie takes her cousin to the local witch, Maude, to cure her of her of broken heart.  Turns out the “witch” is more than meets the eye, but it’s an open question whether or not her panoply of equipment can remedy Althea’s condition. 

Clingerman is one of the most seasoned veterans our field, and her work has a pleasantly old-fashioned tone to it — appropriate both for the era (just post-war) and the protagonist portrayed.  The story moves you along the plot, slowly unfolding things to maintain your interest.  What hurt Measure for me was that, near the end, Maude mentions that she might also be able to cure Dodie’s “little problem,” hitherto undiscussed but strongly hinted at.  But then the problem turns out to be something completely different from what I expected (given the close relationship of the cousins, and Dodie’s unending patience where things Althea-related are concerned). 

I wonder if I guessed wrong, or if the ending was changed at the editor’s insistence for being a bit too…unconventional.  Either way, it turned a four-star story into a three-star one.  I’m probably being unfair, but unsatisfying endings sit poorly with me.

Slow Burn, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor touches on one of my favorite scientific topics — the theory of Phlogiston and how its research eventually led to the discovery of oxygen.  It’s one of those fascinating models that almost but not quite got things right, like impetus theory in the 13th Century ultimately led to the concept of momentum.  I mentioned Kuhn’s “paradigms” earlier, and Phlogiston is a perfect example of the concept.  Four stars.

The Unfortunate Mr. Morky, by Vance Aandahl

One of my readers once said that Mr. Aandahl really wants to be Ray Bradbury.  Surely, there must be loftier goals.  In any event, this incomprehensible piece about the connection between time travel and the profusion of milquetoast personalities isn’t worth your time.  On the other hand, it’s only a few pages, so you might as well see why I gave it only one star (and perhaps you’ll disagree with me).

The Journey of Joenes (Part 1 of 2), by Robert Sheckley

At long last, Bob Sheckley has come back to us.  It’s my understanding that he’s been writing mainstream mysteries and such, which probably pays better than sf.  His latest work, which Editor Davidson says is a hacked up version of the novelized form due out later this year, follows the adventures of Joenes, an American ex-power engineer raised in Polynesia.  His pilgrimage to the Mainland to find his destiny is a series of satirical vignettes told from a foreign and futuristic perspective that turns the story into a kind of dark Canterbury Tales.

It’s a fun read, though I hope there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  Sheckley is better at short stories than novels, so the format plays to his strengths.  I do have to wonder why F&SF prints chopped up novels to fill up half of two consecutive magazines.  I expect that of Ace Doubles, not a high-end digest.  Three stars so far.  We’ll see what happens.

And so we find ourselves on the other side of another issue.  On the face of things, it seems to reinforce the trend that F&SF is in a new and duller era.  Will we soon have enough data points to know if the larger world has changed, too?




[September 13, 2017] GRAZING THE BAR (the October 1962 Amazing)

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


by John Boston

Space!  Mankind’s dream!  Well, some people’s dream.  A lot of us seem to be more concerned with making a living, taking care of families, trying to keep a straight face at school, and other highly terrestrial activities.  But even in this small town in the boondocks, people mostly seem to take pride in the first human ventures off the planet, though you do hear the occasional grumble that all that money could be better spent right here on Earth.

I wasn’t so confident a couple of years ago, when I witnessed the second most remarkable thing I have seen here.  (First place is claimed by the man I saw walking a raccoon on a leash.  Raccoons do tend to have their own agendas.) I was downtown on a Saturday morning, which is when the farmers come into town to take care of their business.  The banks are open then, which I am told is not the case in larger cities.  The farmers come in their cars, their pickup trucks, and in some cases their horse-drawn wagons, all parked around the courthouse square.  On this Saturday, a man was preaching from the back of one of the wagons . . . against the evils of space travel.  “If Man reaches out to touch the face of God’s Moon,” he thundered, “God will BLAST HIM FROM THE EARTH!” But no one paid any attention, and I’ve heard nothing further about his prophecy.

I was reminded of this episode by the cover story of the October Amazing, Poul Anderson’s Escape from Orbit.  It’s another near-space epic like Third Stage from the February issue, also, like that one, illustrated by a Popular Mechanics-style cutaway depiction of guys in a space vehicle.  The situation: meteor destroys spacecraft, crew escapes in lifecraft without propulsion, now they’re stuck in Moon orbit with no one close enough to rescue them, and a solar flare due in 48 hours.  The only bright spot is that the ship’s big, heavy main air tank is nearby and retrievable, giving them enough to breathe until they get killed by the flare.  The air tank—that’s it!  In a paroxysm of arithmetic (work shown only at the end), the protagonist, second banana at Orbital Command on Earth, sees the solution. 

This five or six pages’ worth of story is stretched to 20 by extensive detail about our hero’s home and inner life, including his unsatisfactory wife, the woman he wishes he had married, his physical deterioration (he’s 34) and how he feels about it, his career anxieties, etc.  It takes five paragraphs to get from the early morning ringing phone to actually answering it, and several pages to get him out the door and on the road to Base.  Maybe somebody told Anderson he needed more human interest in his stories, or maybe he hoped to sell this one to Cosmopolitan (well, no, not with the complaints about the wife) or the Saturday Evening Post.  Whatever.  The whole thing is forced and clumsy.  Two stars.

This month’s “Classic Reprint” is The Young Old Man by Earl L. Bell, from the magazine’s September 1929 issue, which serves mainly to show how boring a story can be even if short.  Campers in the Ozarks encounter a storekeeper who looks about 45 but he’s obviously ancient, just look at his eyes.  The revelation is that immortality, which he received via thaumaturgist in the 11th Century, isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  How fortunate we are that most SF writers these days at least try to develop their ideas, rather than just laying them out like a dead fish on ice.  One star.

Things look up a bit after that one.  Ben Bova has taken a break from his article series and contributed a short story, Answer, Please Answer , about a couple of guys wintering in Antarctica (draftees in a war with the Soviets), who by coincidence are both astronomers.  So in their considerable spare time, they look for extraterrestrial signals from variable stars, and boy do they find them and are they sobering.  This is as much a one-gimmick story as Anderson’s, but it’s much better done by this guy with a decade’s less experience writing fiction.  It builds up smoothly, dropping in just enough background on the characters to make them characters, comes to its revelation, then stops.  Three stars for unpretentious cleverness and competence.

Jeff Sutton’s After Ixmal is readable but silly: a super-computer develops consciousness, albeit the consciousness of a petulant child, tricks humanity into destroying itself, lords it over the dead Earth for eons until it discovers a rival consciousness, and goes to war with it, just because.  As SF it’s barely thought through at all, and as fable or myth or whatever it lacks the necessary sonority, gravitas, etc.  Two stars.

The versatile Robert F. Young, who knows so many ways of being entirely too cute, is back with Boy Meets Dyevitza.  Captain Andrews of the United States Space Force, who thinks he is the first Earth-person on Venus, encounters Major Mikhailovna of the USSR, who is washing her stockings in a stream, having beaten him there the previous day.  As for conditions on Venus, hey, this is science fiction, so: “The data supplied by the Venus probes during the early 60’s, while inconclusive with regard to her cloud-cover, had conclusively disproved former theories to the effect that she lacked a breathable atmosphere and possessed a surface temperature of more than 100 degrees Centigrade, and had prepared him for what he found—an atmosphere richer in oxygen content than Earth’s, a comfortable climate [etc.].” See?  Science!  Extrapolation!  [And complete bollocks — Young should know better.]

Then the human indigenes show up, wearing brass collars; shocked by the Earthfolks’ naked necks, they later kidnap them and put brass collars on them, which can’t be removed by human tools and prevent them from getting very far from each other.  They are married, Venusian style.  But they discover they don’t really mind, and (to summarize brutally) the folks back home say “Awwww,” and—never mind.  Two stars for Young’s usual professional execution, heavily discounted for cloy.

The fiction contents are rounded out by Pattern, the second story in the SF magazines by the very youthful Robert H. Rohrer, Jr. (b. 1946), less slick but more interesting than Young’s polished artifact: a life form consisting of organized electricity tries to take over and consume the energy flows of human spaceship pilot Captain Brenner.  This is not exactly an original plot—see, or remember, van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle—but it’s much better worked out than, say, After Ixmal, with a nasty twist at the end.  Three stars and good if not great expectations for this new writer.

Sam Moskowitz’s SF Profile is The Secret Lives of Henry Kuttner—not one of his best.  Per his custom, he describes Kuttner’s early pulp stories in detail and gives very short shrift to his later and better work, emphasizing his pseudonyms and what Moskowitz thinks is his work’s derivative aspects (sometimes rightly and sometimes decidedly not), and summarizing his career: “Lured by opportunism, suffering from an acute sense of inadequacy, he refused to stand alone, but leaned for support upon a parade of greats: H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Stanley G. Weinbaum, A. Merritt, John Collier, A.E. van Vogt, and, of course, C.L. Moore.” This about the man who by the early ‘40s had become one of the most capable writers in the field, who produced a disproportionate number of the best-remembered stories of the ‘40s and early ‘50s, and whose work was pored over by the likes of Sturgeon and Bradbury.  Terrible analysis, terrible judgment.  Two stars, being generous.

Frank Tinsley, it turns out, isn’t gone.  He’s here with The Nuclear Putt-Putt, an article about Project Orion, a proposed gigantic spaceship to be powered by a succession of nuclear bombs.  Small ones, to be sure, but still.  Especially since this insane behemoth is apparently supposed to launch from Earth.  Can we say radiation?  Fallout?  Not a word about how these are to be contained.  Two stars for overlooking a rather obvious problem.

And Benedict Breadfruit . . . is gone as of this issue.  His last bow is actually reasonably clever . . . unlike most of its predecessors.

So the magazine bumbles along.  The wearying thing is not how bad its worst stories are, but that the top of its range is still readable competence and little more.




[Sep. 10, 1962] Leading by Example (the terrific October 1962 Galaxy)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Thirteen years ago this month, amidst the post-war boom of science fiction digests, Galaxy Science Fiction was born.  Its editor, H.L. Gold, intended his brainchild to stand above and apart from the dozens of lesser mags (remember those days of abundance?) with progressive and smart strictly SF stories.  He succeeded — Galaxy has showcased some of the best the genre has to offer, as well as a fine science fact column penned by Willy Ley.  The consistency of quality has been remarkable.

Two years ago, Fred Pohl, a bright authorial light already, took the helm from the ailing Gold.  If anything, he has improved on excellence, continuing to coax fine works from established authors and interesting pieces from new ones.  It helps that he, himself, can fill the pages with good material and often does….though I have to wonder if he gets paid when he does that.

If you were to pick any single issue to turn someone on to Galaxy (or to science fiction in general), you could hardly do better than to give them the latest issue (October 1962) of Galaxy.  Not only isn’t there a clunker in the mix, not only does it feature a new Instrumentality story by the great Cordwainer Smith, but it includes part one of an incredible new novel by the editor.

Wow.  I think I threw in more superlatives in the last three paragraphs than I have in the last three months.  I guess it’s time to show you what all the hubbub’s about:

The Ballad of Lost C’mell, by Cordwainer Smith

Many authors write in a consistent world.  Some are developed following an individual through her/his life in a series of stories.  Others might take place in a common setting but feature different protagonists.  Smith has introduced his Instrumentality universe through oblique flashes.  Each piece involves wildly different places and characters, each with a limited view of things.  Only after reading several of them does one get an idea of the nature of Smith’s creation.

Thousands of years from now, Earth has seen global empires rise and fall.  The current ruling entity is the Instrumentality, a council of pure-humans ruling over the people-citizens and genetically altered animal-subcitizens.  Technology caters to virtually every need; the world enjoys a purely service-based economy with the Underhumans providing the services.  For humans, Earth is a beautiful, magical place filled with strange wonders.  For the animal-people, enslaved to the pure humans, life is a struggle and punishments harsh.  We are beyond the familiar subtext of racism/chauvinism that suffuses Western stories – the relationship between the races hearkens to the rigid castes of Asia.  The animal-men may be cast in human mold, but their treatment is peremptory, inhumane.  And the humans are blithely unaware that their creations have the capacity to rebel…

C’mell is the most straight-forward of Smith’s Instrumentality stories, and it gives the sharpest insight, to date, of the world he’s created (though it by no means reveals all of its secrets).  As always, it displays Smith’s mastery of the craft, mixing showing and telling, romance and austerity, far-future and relatability.  Smith is an author who doesn’t put pen to paper unless it’s for a four or five-star story, and C’mell is no exception.  Five stars.

Come Into My Cellar, by Ray Bradbury

We’ve seen the plot where intelligent fungus take over humanity through forced symbiosis in Aldiss’ Hothouse stories.  Bradbury gives us a much more conventional setup, where the evil mushrooms send spores of themselves via mail-order catalog to be grown and ingested.  A nicely written but dumb story, and it has the same ending as All Summer in a Day, which is to say, Ray doesn’t bother to end it.  Three stars – about as good as Bradbury (not really an SF author) ever gets.

The Earthman’s Burden, by Donald E. Westlake

A competent if somewhat forgettable story of an arrogant, resurgent Terran star empire and the lost colony that promises to be more trouble than it’s worth to conquer.  There’s pleasant satire here, particularly of the buffoonish Imperials, but nothing we haven’t seen before.  In fact, I rather expected to find this piece in Analog (you’ll see why).  Three stars.

For Your Information: End of the Jet Age, by Willy Ley

A generation ago, propeller planes were the way to travel.  Now that they’ve been eclipsed by the jets, one has to wonder just how long our 707s and DC-8s will last before they are, in turn, replaced by the next mode of transportation.  Ley gives us an excellent preview of rocketplane travel in the 1980s as well as a spotlight on a living fossil and answers to readers’ questions.  Four stars.

A City Near Centaurus, by Bill Doede

Speaking of series, Doede has a third story in his tale of teleporting humans , who have exiled themselves from Earth using subcutaneous matter transmitters that work at the speed of thought.  This latest piece involves a dilettante archaeologist who’ll brave offending the Gods and even risk death to dig an ancient, abandoned site on Alpha Centauri II.  Another piece that shouldn’t work (why does the native speak perfect English?), but Doede always pulls it off.  Four stars.

How to Make Friends, by Jim Harmon

Resigned to an 18-year hitch, the solo operator of a Martian atmosphere seeder resorts to building his own companions to preserve his sanity.  It’s a little bit McIntosh’s Hallucination Orbit (one wonders if the events of the story are really happening) tinged with Sheckley-esque satire and robotics.  But Harmon is not quite as skilled as either of these authors, and so the story ends up like most of Harmon’s work, never quite hitting the mark.  Three stars.

Plague of Pythons (Part 1 of 2), by Frederik Pohl

How fragile our interconnected, technological world is.  How easy it would be for a few malicious demons, selectively possessing our bodies at propitious times, to utterly disintegrate our society.  Fast forward two years, after the world has reverted to feudal savagery.  Communities larger than the village are impossible.  Religion has revived in a last-ditch attempt to protect humanity from bodily appropriation.  One ex-engineer, name of Chandler, is on trial for a heinous assault he most assuredly committed, but which wasn’t his doing.  What justice can he find in a world where the dispensers of justice can, at any time, cease being themselves?

Pythons is a brutal, uncomfortable story, crushingly bleak.  It’s not the sort of thing I would normally go for, and I definitely caution against it if mind control pushes unpleasant buttons.  Yet Pohl executes the thing deftly, and he holds out the barest sliver of hope to keep you going.  I have no idea how Pythons will conclude, but if the latter half is as good as the first, we’ll have a minor masterpiece on our hands.  Four stars (for now…)

Roberta, by Margaret St. Clair

Roberta explores the lengths one might go to erase the wrongness they feel exists in themselves – and the possibility that it is impossible to escape that wrongness.  It is the first story I’ve read that explores the concept of transsexualism, and while it is not a positive story, it is an interesting one.  Three stars.

Bimmie Says, by Sydney J. Van Scyoc

While we’re on the subject of changing physical form, is it possible to be transCarnivorous?  In other words, what if cats and dogs can be made mutually intermalleable?  And if pets can be transformed, why not people?  Van Scyoc’s story is clearly inspired by Keyes’ hit, Flowers for Algernon, whose excellence it does not quite reach.  Still, it’s not bad, and I’m glad to see Sydney’s continuing her promising career.  Three stars.

Who Dares a Bulbur Eat?, by Gordon R. Dickson

Last up is the second in the adventures of the interstellar ambassadorial couple, Tom and Lucy Reasoner — a sort of Hammett’s Nick and Nora meets Laumer’s Retief.  In this installment, the Reasoners are tasked with attending a diplomatic banquet to find the weakness in the newly discovered Jacktal empire, a rapacious regime more powerful than the Terran Federation. 

It’s a bit of a muddle, and the title fairly spoils the piece, but the conclusion is great fun and worth the price of admission.  Three stars.

All told, this comes out to a 3.5 star issue, none of it tiresome, much of it amazing.  I am also happy to see that F&SF will not have the monopoly on woman writers this month.  It’s issues like this that buoy me through the lousy patches (like last month’s Analog).  I mean, suffering for art is all well and good, but sometimes it’s nice to have nice things to say!

Next up, let’s see how the October 1962 Amazing stacks up.  See you then!




[Sep. 4, 1962] Differences of opinion (the 1962 Hugo Awards!)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Once again, the best and the brightest of the fans (and many of the rest of them) congregated for the biggest SFnal shindig of the year: WorldCon.  This year, Chicago won the bid to hold this prestigious event.  The Pick-Congress Hotel saw more than 500 fen gather for a Labor Day weekend of carousing, shopping, costuming, and voting.

You see, every year these fans select the worthiest science fiction stories and outlets of the prior year to be recipients of the Hugo, a golden rocketship trophy.  It’s the closest thing one can get to a curated list of the best SF has to offer.  Winning is a tremendous honor; even getting on the nominees ballot is a laudable achievement.  In fact, we have been informed that Galactic Journey was the Nominee-Runner Up this year in the Best Fanzine category — thanks to all of you who got us to one rank below the ballot.  Perhaps next year will be the breakthrough!


The Chicon III fanquet, where the award ceremony was held

So let’s see what the fans decided was 1961’s best, and in particular, let’s compare it to my list of favorites, the ones I gave at the end of last year.

Best Novel

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein [Putnam, 1961]

Nominees

Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye [Bantam, 1961]
Sense of Obligation (alt: Planet of the Damned) by Harry Harrison [Analog Sep,Oct,Nov 1961]
The Fisherman (alt: Time Is the Simplest Thing) by Clifford D. Simak [Analog Apr,May,Jun,Jul 1961]
Second Ending by James White [Fantastic Jun,Jul 1961]


Robert Heinlein holding court

This line-up shouldn’t shock me, given the pre-convention buzz, and yet it does.  Stranger has gotten a lot of attention, particularly from the mainstream edges of our fandom (probably because it dares to mention sex).  It has also earned its fair share of scorn.  It’s a lousy, preachy book, but if we’re judging by the sales, then it’s won its trophy, fair and square.

Galouye’s book was my #2, so I’m glad it was recognized.  The Fisherman was quite good.  The Harrison was no great shakes, especially compared to Deathworld, which it resembled.  I suspect these two made it to the top ranks thanks to their appearing in Analog, the most popular digest.

We weren’t covering Fantastic last year.  Maybe Second Ending is excellent.  Someone tell me, please.

Short Fiction

The Hothouse series by Brian W. Aldiss [F&SF Feb,Apr,Jul,Sep,Dec 1961]

Nominees

Monument by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. [Analog Jun 1961]
Scylla’s Daughter by Fritz Leiber [Fantastic May 1961]
Status Quo by Mack Reynolds [Analog Aug 1961]
Lion Loose by James H. Schmitz [Analog Oct 1961]

Once again, Analog dominates, and once again, I cannot agree.  None of these stories won the Galactic Star last year (and that’s even with me giving out far more awards than Worldcon does).  I did give a Star to the first story in the Hothouse series, but the quality of the tales went down over the course of the publication.  I understand they were novelized early this year, so Aldiss may get another bite at the apple.  He doesn’t deserve it, though (the reviewer for UK sf digest, New Worlds, agrees with me).

As for the rest, Monument is a good story, and I haven’t read the Leiber, but the other two nominees were wretched.  And where’s Cordwainer Smith?  Zenna Henderson?  Or a host of more worthy authors?  Feh, Chicago.  Feh!

Best Dramatic Presentation

The Twilight Zone (TV series) by Rod Serling [CBS]

Nominees

Village of the Damned (1960) [MGM] Directed by Wolf Rilla; Written by Stirling Silliphant and Wolf Rilla and Ronald Kinnoch
The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1961) [Warner Brothers] Directed by Karel Zeman; Screenplay by Frantisek Hrubin and Karel Zeman; based on the novel Face au Drapeau by Jules Verne
The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon (U. S. Steel Hour #8.13) [CBS, 1961] Teleplay by Jame Yaffe; based on the short story Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Thriller (TV Series) [NBC, 1961]

This is interesting.  Three of the five are television shows, and while Jules Verne won a nomination, it wasn’t for any of the films I watched and nominated.  I have not seen Village, but Ashley Pollard spoke fondly of it.  Neither The Twilight Zone nor Thriller were stellar last year, but I suppose if that’s what you tune into week-after-week, you’re bound to be partial. 

I’d be keen to know how the Flowers for Algernon adaptation was.  It was based, of course, on an excellent story.

Best Professional Magazine

Analog Science Fiction and Fact ed. by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Nominees

Galaxy ed. by H. L. Gold
Amazing Science Fiction Stories ed. by Cele Goldsmith
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction ed. by Robert P. Mills and Avram Davidson
Science Fantasy ed. by John Carnell


That’s Cele Goldsmith, editor of Fantastic and Amazing, at the podium

Another set of rankings that shouldn’t surprise me — Analog has far and away the biggest circulation numbers.  That said, it was pretty lousy last year.  Of course, we weren’t covering Amazing and Fantastic, and Science Fantasy remains the last English-language magazine yet to be reviewed at the Journey. 

It seems the fandom feels Galaxy is of highly variable quality, sometimes showcasing the best stuff and sometimes the worst.  I hold an opposite opinion — for me, Galaxy is always good, but only occasionally stands out.  My feelings on F&SF are, of course, no surprise to the regular followers of my column.

Best Professional Artist

Ed Emshwiller

Nominees

Virgil Finlay
Mel Hunter
John Schoenherr
Alex Schomburg


Emsh is on the right

Kelly Freas appears to have fallen out of favor.  Emsh remains the favorite, and I can agree with that.  I think I’m going to have to start nominating my own set of artists for Galactic Stars, especially after the beautiful work Gaughan contributed for Vance’s novella, The Dragon Masters (which almost assuredly will win a Star of its own, if not a Hugo).

Best Fanzine

Warhoon ed. by Richard Bergeron

Nominees

Cry ed. by F. M. Busby, Elinor Busby and Wally Weber
Yandro ed. by Robert Coulson and Juanita Coulson
Amra ed. by George H. Scithers
Axe ed. by Larry Shaw and Noreen Shaw

Last up is the fanzines, which I don’t generally have time to read — though I did pick up the latest copy of Rhodomagnetic Digest, and I now have a subscription to Axe and Science Fiction Times.  Fill me in on what I’m missing, folks?

So there you have it.  A markedly different list from what I would have chosen, but then I suppose there is merit to having more than one curated selection at your disposal.

What choices did you make?