Tag Archives: science fiction

Let’s do the numbers (June 1959 Astounding; 5-23-1959)

I’m about half-done with this month’s Astounding, but since that half largely comprises the second third of Dorsai!, and because I don’t want to give anything away before it’s complete, there’s not much fiction on which to report today.

But that doesn’t mean I’m out of material… 

Four months ago, I wrote about Astoundings unique habit of publishing the results of reader surveys of fiction appearing in the magazine.  I then compared what the readers thought of the November and December issues of Astounding and what I thought.

The numbers are out again, this time for the January and February issues, and the results are similar.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

When I reviewed the January issue, I noted that, with the exception of To Run the Rim, and Seedling, the magazine had been awfully unimpressive.  The problem with Editor Campbell’s scoring system is that it only compares the stories to each other rather than on an absolute scale.  That said, on my card, I put Rim first and Seedling second. 

Well, the rest of the readers agreed that Seedling was #2, but they put the tedious Study in Still Life on top.  I just can’t wait for Campbell to put more turgid “funny” tales in his mag.  To Run the Rim finished fourth, behind the fatuous Deadlock; Robin Hood’s Barn and By New Hearth Fires came in a distant fifth and sixth.  The fact that the highest scoring story only got a 2.84 suggests that, as with the December issue, readers were unimpressed with the crop and were voting ranking based on the story they liked least (rather than which one they liked most).

The February issue was a better one, and the readers’ opinions were more in line with my own.  Murray Leinster’s Pirates of Ersatz (Part 1) was the favorite at 2.03 followed closely by Silverberg’s Hi Diddle Diddle!.  As you’ll recall from my review, I actually liked that story quite a bit despite it being Silverberg, and despite it being one of the “funny” stories.  Within two paragraphs, I am found out as a hypocrite.  Ah the shame.

The jingoistic but good Stoker and the Stars came in a solid #3, while the medicore Missing Link and Accidental Death round out the list at a distant 4th and 5th.  Sadly, Leonard Lockhard’s satirical look at patent law, The Professional Touch, did not even make the list.

I’ll be very interested to see the numbers for the April issue, which demonstrated a marked increase in quality.  Then we’ll really see how the ratings compare.

In the meantime, I’ll have more on this month’s Astounding in a few days, and by then, all of July’s issues should have arrived in my mailbox.  Here’s hoping I’ll have more space shots to discuss, too.

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Approaching midnight (Alas, Babylon; 5-21-1959)

Two years ago, the Soviet Union demonstrated the ability to lob an H-bomb across the globe.  Overnight, it was clear that anywhere on the planet could be destroyed with just 15 minutes’ notice, if that.  This year, the United States will base Thor and Jupiter IRBMs in Europe within range of the Soviet Union, and the Russians will feel that same Sword of Damocles.  Never mind that America’s Strategic Air Command has more bombers now than ever, and one can be fairly certain that the Soviet counterpart is at a historical high, as well.

Civilization could all come crashing down at a moment’s notice.  It’s a reality we’ve lived with since that first artificial sun blossomed over the desert of New Mexico, but it’s never been closer, more tangible. 

An atomic holocaust has been the subject of numerous novels and short stories since the late 1940’s, but until this year, there had not been a grittily realistic portrayal of a nuclear exchange and the subsequent struggle for survival.

Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon was released just two months ago, and it has already caused a well-deserved stir.  It is, quite simply, sublime.  With its strong grasp of the technology of the nuclear war machine, its savvy of human interactions in a post-apocalyptic setting, and its unadorned yet somehow gentle depictions of the well-drawn characters, it is a one-sitting page turner.

In brief: Randy Bragg is a dilletante resident of the sleepy resort and fishing town of Fort Repose, Florida.  After an abortive flirtation with politics (his defeat attributable to his soft line on segregation), he lives a rather aimless life.  His brother, Mark, is a senior intelligence officer at America’s missile command center in Cheyenne Mountain.  The book opens on December 3, 1959, with the two world Superpowers on the brink of war.  Mark warns Randy that war is imminent and sends his family (wife, two children) to live in Fort Repose.

And not a moment too soon.  Within six hours of Helen, Ben Franklin, and Peyton’s arrival, Florida and the rest of the nation are hit with several bombs, knocking out first communications and then electricity.  Within a day, Fort Repose is reduced to a pre-Industrial oasis in a radioactive hell. 

Randy quickly becomes the leader of his local group, which includes not just him and his brother’s family, but his strong, liberated girlfriend, Elizabeth, her parents, Randy’s black gardener and maid, the maid’s husband, a young doctor, Dan Gunn, and a retired Admiral, Sam Hazzard.  Together, they become the hope of Fort Repose, assuring its shaky survival over the course of the year after the attack.

Pat Frank sets the stage with care and a nail-biting sense of inexorability; the bombs don’t fall until page 91, after we have become intimately familiar with most of the book’s protagonists.  The hurdles that the residents of Fort Repose must overcome are plausible.  The solutions are reasonable.  The ending is bittersweet, but tinged with a little hope, and perhaps the best that could be expected.

What impresses me the most about this book is its progressive character.  There are several strong woman characters (Helen; Elizabeth; Peyton; Randy’s ex-girlfriend, Rita; the town telegrapher, Florence; the town librarian, Alice; Missouri, the maid), and the book is a strong indictment of racial prejudice, along with the legal practices stemming therefrom.  It is a book about the triumph of human spirit, as exemplified by all of the species’ members.

Is that a strong-enough recommendation?  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstand and get yourself a copy. 

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The Walking Dead! (Invisible Invaders; 5-19-1959)

What could be better than a trip to the movies?  A trip to a good movie, I suppose.  Well, beggars can’t be choosers.

A few days ago, my daughter and I went out for what has become a routine treat: a night flick at the drive-in.  We arrived too late for the main feature, but the “B” movie was Invisible Invaders, a putatively science fiction film.  I’m sad to report that this was easily the worst of the films I have had the pleasure to report upon since I started writing this column.

The eponymous invisible invaders are rapacious imperialists.  Having conquered the moon and its former inhabitants(!) some 20,000 years ago, they have now turned their sights on Earth.  Before destroying us outright, they give humanity an ultimatum to surrender within 24 hours.  This is easily the best part of the movie.  You see, the aliens, being invisible (not just the creatures, but their spaceships as well), can’t actually impress us with their presence; therefore, they must inhabit bodies to communicate.  This is revealed when the newly deceased Dr. Carl Noymann visits the moral Dr. Adam Penner, who has recently quit his job as a weapons scientist on principle.  Dr. Noymann/invisible alien delivers his threat and lurchingly departs.

Of course, no one believes Dr. Penner, except for his daughter, Phyllis, and her would-be paramour, the wimpy John Lamont.  24 hours later, the aliens start blasting the Earth (after one last warning, broadcast via radio), beginning an impressive string of disaster stock footage, one appearing to go back to the 1871 Chicago Fire!

In desperation, the remaining scientists of the world are ordered into underground bunkers to come up with a way to defeat the aliens.  Enter Major Bruce Jay, a pile of beef assigned as military escort.  He quickly wins his way into Phyllis’ heart (my daughter made gagging noises at this), especially when he cold-bloodedly shoots a nervous farmer just because the farmer asked for a ride.  But the farmer gets his revenge by quickly becoming a member of the aliens’ walking dead brigade.

In the underground bunker, Major Jay hatches a plan to spray acrylic plastic over one of the corpses to capture it.  He ventures out in a beekeeping suit (to ward off radiation–the corpses are radioactive, natch), and secures one of the zombies after a struggle.  Fortunately, the folks inside the bunker get to watch the whole thing on television as there are remote cameras that capture the entire scene.  You know, the kind of cameras that dramatically edit together events for the remote viewers.

It is quickly determined that certain annoying sounds cause the aliens to give up the ghost, quite literally.  Armed with a sound cannon, our heroes drive off into the swarm and defeat them.  Victory for humanity!


All of this is linked with an intrusive and redundant narration, the kind that is inserted when it is realized in post-production that not enough film was shot to make a coherent movie. 

The closing message of the movie is the idea, driven home by our friend, the narrator, that an alien invasion is sufficient common threat to unite the squabbling countries of Earth, though for how long is an open question.  I remember my father telling me long ago that, were he ever elected President, his first action would be to hoax an attack from outer space so as to end war on Earth.  Clever fellow, dear ol’ dad.

So that’s that.  Really just an excuse for a bunch of middle-aged fellows to stagger about menacingly.  It’s a cheap special effect, so I imagine movie-makers will come up with more opportunities to present such spectacles with titles like Day of the Living Dead! or The Dead Walk! Can’t wait.

Next week, my little girl and I will be heading back to the movies; until then, I’ve got plenty of fiction on which to report.  And it’s a damnsight higher in quality than Invisible Invaders!

Stay tuned!

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Farewell, older brother (June 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction;5-14-1959)

We live in such exciting times that it’s no wonder science fiction is flourishing.  It seems not a month goes by without some kind of space shot, and yet we’re still perhaps years away from the first manned orbit (not to mention a lunar jaunt).  Science fiction lets us see the headlines of tomorrow long before they are thrown onto our doorstep.

Of course, not all science fiction deals with space, and not all science fiction magazines deal exclusively in science fiction.  The latter half of this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction comprises naught but fantasies.

Not that this is a bad thing.  With Berlin under siege, Israel and its neighbors barely restrained from coming to blows, Cuba in the throes of revolution, any kind of escape is a welcome one.

Most of the rest of this month’s ish is taken up by Philip Jose Farmer’s The Alley Man, a gritty, rambling story that is as hard to take as it is to put down.  It spotlights the grubby life of the what may be the last of the Neanderthals consigned, like the rest of his race, to survive off the scraps cast off by the superior Homo Sapiens Sapiens.  Not that Old Paley is any dumber than us.  Quite the contrary.  While he has the rough manner and speech as might be expected of the lowest of the lower economic class, he is a fine raconteur and rather wise. 

No, what did in the Neanderthals 50,000 years ago, was the loss of their chieftain’s sacred headpiece (and the fact that Neanderthals were worse shots with the bow and arrow).  Over the millenia, the Neanderthals have slowly dwindled away, until just one remained (though it appears there are plenty of half-breeds and quatroons around).  Old Paley is a garbage scavenger who lives with a half-Neanderthal woman called “Gummy” and a physically blemished former socialite intellectual named Deena with a fetish for rough treatment.

Enter Dorothy, the aide of a physical anthropologist, who befriends Old Paley to study him.  It becomes clear over the course of the story that she becomes rather attracted to him (in part due to the powerful stench of the Neanderthal, like “a pig making love to a billy goat on a manure pile,” but laden with powerful pheremones), but theirs is not fated to be a happy relationship.  In fact, the resulting love quadrangle is all kinds of dysfunctional and, ultimately for Old Paley, fatal.

But you can’t deny it’s well-written and compelling.

There are three remaining odds and ends: an interesting article on orbits, Satellite Trails by Ken Rolf, about not just the course satellites take around the Earth, but the interesting and sometimes unintuitive patterns they make to ground observers (something like Ptolemy’s epicycles); Charles Finney’s Iowan’s Curse, a cautionary tale about the karmic danger of being a Good Samaritan; and Robert Young’s Production Problem, a short-short about a creativity shortage in the far future.  They fill the pages, but are not particularly noteworthy.

I think that leaves us at an uninspiring 3.5 or so for the issue.  The lead story is very good, and Alley Man is worth reading, I suppose, but the rest is lackluster.

But you can decide for yourself!  And should.  Until next time (and do stay tuned–I have many interesting updates to come).

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A break from it all (June 1959 F&SF, first half; 5-09-1959)


by Erich Lessig

It’s been heavy reading following the papers these days what with the Communist siege of Berlin seemingly without end.  These potential flashpoints between East and West get more frightening every day, particularly as both sides perfect methods of delivering atomic weapons across the globe.

Thankfully, I can rely on my monthly installment of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (often the highlight of my literary science fiction experience).  Thankfully, it doesn’t look like F&SF is going the way of IF, Satellite, or even Galaxy.  And its quality remains high, if not stellar.

James Blish opens the issue with a bang, quite literally.  This Earth of Hours is a really good tale of first contact and interstellar war… one in which the Terrans are hopelessly outmatched.  A proud terrestrial fleet is completely destroyed save for two segments of its flagship that crash to the surface of an alien planet.  There, what’s left of the crew finds a race of sentient hive mind centipedes that communicate through telepathy.  Not only is are the aliens (collectively) smarter than us, but they span a federation of like-minded aliens that spans much of our galaxy.  In short, humanity doesn’t have a chance against them.  Beaten, the crew repair their ship and embark on a tortuously long journey back to Earth to dissuade humanity against further bellicose expeditions.

If there’s anything wrong with the story, it’s the fact that it’s too short.  It’s a brilliant opening couple of chapters to a bigger novel, but I don’t know if a novel is forthcoming. 

Asimov has an interesting article, Planet of the Double Sun, which examines the effect on ancient mythology of having an extra sun in our sky a la the situation that might exist around Alpha Centauri.  Of course, Isaac sort of misses the point–in a world where true darkness happens rather rarely (perhaps a quarter of the year), I should think evolution would have ended up quite a bit differently, not to mention the effects another star’s gravitational influence might have had on our planet’s formation.  Whatever ancient society might have developed in this hypothetical situation probably wouldn’t have been human in any sense of the word.

Lee Sutton hasn’t written a lot.  So far as I can tell, his only work prior to this issue of F&SF was the juvenile novel Venus Boy, about which I know nothing.  Soul Mate is his latest story, and it’s a rather chilling, decidedly unromantic story about what happens when a dominating middle-aged telepathic male crosses path with a naive, sexually liberal young telepathic woman.  There is a meeting of the minds, but it is anything but pleasant, and the end is truly horrifying.  Plausible, but icky.

About Venus, More or Less, by Punch writer, Claud Cockburn, is so slight a story, that I quite forgot it was even in the issue until I re-checked the table of contents. 

Josef Berger is another author unknown to me.  His Maybe we got something is about a band of fisherman who, in a post-apocalyptic era, trawl up the head of Lady Liberty, herself.  It’s nothing special.

The last story for today is the rather amusing The Hero Equation, by Robert Arthur (first printed in 1941 as Don’t be a Goose! When a milquetoast scientists transports himself into the past to inhabit the body of a hero, he is surprised that the heroic form he comes to possess is not human at all… 

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to secure permission to distribute these stories freely.  On the other hand, with the exception of the first one, they are diverting but unremarkable. 

But stay tuned!  There’s a second half to cover in a few days…

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Over the Mountain, Across the Sea (The City in the Sea;5-07-1959)

Every so often, I find a piece of fiction so compelling that I hate to give away too much about it for fear of spoiling the experience.  Going through my stack of Galaxy novels, the ones I picked up cheaply not too long ago, I came upon The City in the Sea, by Wilson Tucker, published eight years ago in 1951.  I had not heard of him before, but a quick polling of my friends determined that not only is he a BNF (“Big Name Fan”), but he is also quite an accomplished science fiction author.  Interestingly, he coined the term “space opera.”

Sometimes one can judge a book by its cover.  In fact, the scene depicted is right from the novel.  In short, several thousands of years from now, after an atomic holocaust destroys civilization, and global warming floods the continents, a resurgent matriarchy in England (having reached a Roman level of technology) establishes a colony on the American eastern seaboard.  Finding only lackluster specimens of native humanity there, they are surprised when a clearly superior fellow (male, no less) strides purposefully into the colony from beyond the Appalachians.  He is mute but compelling, and the colony’s Captain accompanies him back across the mountains, along with a company of woman soldiers, in search of the man’s settlement.

The ensuing story is told entirely from a female viewpoint (one of three: the efficient Captain Zee, her wry and charming doctor, Barra, and, briefly, the Captain’s adjutant, Donnie).  It is suffused with a sense of wonder, the kind you get in a good Pellucidar story, and it is satisfying from beginning to end.  City also has that good, timeless quality that will keep it a classic in decades to come.

So read it already!  I’m sure you can find a copy somewhere.  If you like it, drop me a line.  Fair readers, be advised that vital plot elements may be discussed in the correspondence below.

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The Funny Papers (Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense; 5-05-1959)

What?!  The Traveler is reduced to buying comic books?  The same fellow who reads Fantasy & Science Fiction, like so many prominent intellectuals do?  Surely you jest!

Well, I couldn’t resist.  I pass these lurid covers at the grocery every week, and I decided it was time to plunk down two bits and see what all the fuss was about.  Actually, I bought them at a second-hand store, since I wanted to start at Issue #1 of the titles I’d selected. 

What did I pick?  Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense by publishing newcomer, Marvel Comics (which, I understand, is a sort of descendant of Atlas Comics).  I chose these two titles because they are billed as science fiction/fantasy anthologies, and if I’m happy to read science fiction “juveniles” and watch drive-in dreck, surely comic books aren’t beneath me. 

Astonish was a fun 15 minutes of entertainment, about at the level of the B-movie flicks.  The headliner story, We Found the Ninth Wonder of the World, features a scientist whose hobby is making overlarge sea creatures (with exactly the same proportion as their unaltered originals–the square-cube law need not apply!) And… that’s about it.  I’m not quite sure why a biggish sea turtle counts as the “Ninth Wonder of the World,” but it does make for a fine title.

The next vignette (I know the Secret of the Poltergeist!) is a silly tale about a poltergeist debunker who turns out to be a poltergeist–his scientific explanations are designed to allay the suspicions of the owners of afflicted homes.  I guess ghosts just like to add insult to injury.  The clever bit is that the sadistic spook has to rack his brain to come up with plausible answers.  Did you know ghosts can sweat?

I didn’t really understand the next story, I was the First to Set Foot on… the Mystery Planet! I think that a rogue planet ends up flying close to Earth, spraying our planet with radioactive oil.  I’m not certain why this is the greatest of the effects this interloper has on the Earth (one would think massive tides would be a far bigger concern), and the punchline, that the inhabitants of the other planet are robots who use the oil as lubricant, doesn’t make a lot of sense.  On the other hand, the subplot is that the protagonist, who has a deep-seated prejudice against robots, learns to confront and conquer his bigotry.  A rather high-minded and laudable tale for any medium these days.

In the last tale, I Foiled an Alien Invasion!, an alien race plans to invade the Earth by hiding out two-dimensionally on a series of billboards.  The plot is foiled because it is possibly the dumbest plot in the history of alien invasions since Wells’ Martians forgot to wear face-masks.  Dig that crazy future car from 2008, though!

—–

Suspense’s cover was more overtly science-fiction themed, so I saved it for second, expecting a better treat.  I was not disappointed.

The first story (The Strangers from Space!) features an alien ship silently, menacingly approaching the technologically advanced Earth of 2000 A.D.


Of course that’s where the world’s capital will be!

Our first instinct, naturally, is to destroy the vessel, but one clear-thinking fellow manages to stop us from shooting as the spaceship lands.  It turns out that the ship’s crew look perfectly human, and the Earthers feel sheepish about judging a race before seeing it.  But the sting in the tale’s tail is that, after the aliens leave, we learn they really do look shockingly different, and they only adopted the disguise to avoid being slaughtered.  Humanity just can’t handle anything that looks too different, they surmised.

I’m sensing a strong anti-prejudice theme from Marvel. 

I rather liked the next story, I Dared Explore the Unknown Emptiness!, too.  500 years from now, the Earth is over-populated to the gills (a concept that is very popular these days), and humanity has invented its first faster-than-light drive to find a second Earth to export people to.  Instead, the crew of the new starship find nothing but hostile or over-crowded planets.  They take the discovery philosophically, however, resolving to solve Earth’s problems back at home rather than exporting them elsewhere.  Horace Gold would have rolled in his grave at this panel, though (and he’s not even dead!):

The Day I Left My Body wasn’t much.  A prisoner being held for murder gets shot in a jailbreak.  In a near-death experience, he briefly possesses a defense attorney and leaves the lawyer with a geas to get the prisoner off.  Unfortunately for the prisoner (who is shown to be an unrepentant jerk), the attorney works too hard to exonerate his client, turning in an exhausted, lackluster performance in court that results in the prisoner’s conviction.

He Fled in the Night follows the story of an 18th century clerk who leaves it all for adventure on the South Seas.  The punchline?  His name is Robinson Crusoe.  A slight story, but the art and style was nice.  I’d like to see more in this vein.


I feel something of a kinship with this fellow, sometimes…

Last, but not least, was the enjoyable vignette, Prisoner of the Satellites!  Aliens zap the Earth with a ray that enfolds its victims, living and inanimate, in a field that shrinks them into infinite smallness.  This is the first stage in an attempt to unhinge humanity, making us ripe for conquest.  It turns out, however, that cosmic rays reverse the effect (why not?), and the aliens leave, beaten.

So ends my first toe-dipping into the world of comics since I stopped collecting Detective Comics as a kid.  I appreciate Marvel’s subversively progressive message, and while the science isn’t exactly top-notch, it wasn’t bad for 48 pages of art and word-balloons.  I think Suspense is the better magazine, but that’s partly personal preference.  I’ll have to buy a copy for my friend, Carl McIlwain, a student of Dr. Van Allen who helped design the cosmic ray detectors on some of our recent satellites; I’m sure he’ll get a kick out of it.

Back to the printed word next week!  I hope you’ll all stay tuned in to this frequency. 

P.S. I’d like to give a special, public hello to some friends I made at the book store while perusing the stacks: Jake, Matt and Chris!  And, of course, Carl.

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What is IT?! (IT! The Terror from Beyond Space; 5-02-1959)

Last week afforded my daughter and I another sci-fi movie night, and you, dear readers, get to hear all about it.

The mini-traveler was keen on trying out the new Drive-In, so I took the Chevy to the outskirts of town and pulled in between the screens.  To my surprise, it seemed most of the attendees were families–apparently, our new outdoor cinema hasn’t had time to turn into a Lover’s Lane.  To be fair, it also was a school night for most people.

Our first feature was a short–a cartoon about automotive safety in the guise of a portrayal of the future.  We got to see cars of the year 2000 A.D.  They will apparently have bubble canopies, automated guidance systems, fins, and be able to fly (in a limited fashion).  I’m looking forward to those!

The main attraction was a film that came out late last year, the imaginately titled IT!.  In a nutshell, because there honestly isn’t much to this film, the first Martian mission (landed in 1972) has ended largely in failure.  The six-person crew of the Challenger 141 has been reduced to just one: Captain Carruthers, and the Challenger 142 has been dispatched to pick him up–and try him for murder.

I guess the implication is that the Captain, realizing that his ship had been marooned and that there might not be enough food to feed all of the crew until rescue, decided to kill his crew to have the food to himself.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s an excuse for a little tension between Carruthers and the new ship’s captain, Van. 

But first, a little about the ship.  As you can see, it’s a typical rocket job, looking something like a V-2, but with rooms inside.  Sensibly, the decks are arranged perpendicularly to the engine.  Yet there is a throwaway line about “artificial gravity” that suggests anti-gravity has already been invented!  I’m not sure why it matters how they lay out the ship then since the thrust of the engine is clearly far under the force exerted by the artificial gravity.  Moreover, I’d think their artificial gravity would be a good propulsive element.  Maybe it is… but it sure looked like standard fireworks under the ship’s nozzle.

Anyway, back to the film.  I was happy to see two women on the crew (one of whom gets involved in a love triangle between the Captains), though I noted they tended to be stuck with galley duty.  At first I was concerned that they were the ship’s maids, but it turned out they were actually the medical staff.  And, of course, everybody smoked, even in the cramped space and clearly limited air supply.  Welcome to the future!


Oh, you want to know the rest of the plot?  In short, the eponymous “It” gets aboard the ship and starts killing the crew one by one, by dessication.  The movie takes little time revealing the monster (thus exonerating Carruthers).  My daughter noted sagely, “it would have been a lot cooler if they hadn’t shown the monster.”  It’s a pretty dopey looking humanoid monster suit.  It’s also well-nigh indestructible.  Bullets and bazookas don’t hurt it (and, of course, those are exactly the kinds of weapons I would use inside a small spaceship!), fire and gas only annoy it.  It takes until the end of the movie for the bright lads to try venting the air to space and letting hard vacuum kill the Martian.



At this point, my observant daughter cried out, “Where are all these papers coming from?!”  And that is one of the joys of the Drive-In: you can be as obnoxious as you wish, and no one is bothered.  Living as we do in Southern California, you can’t beat the outdoor air-conditioning, either.

And, of course, the movie ends with a triumphant, happy, romantic ending. 

Thus ends a very fluffy slightly-more-than-an-hour.  My daughter enjoyed the special effects, and the cinematography is reasonably good.  I would have expected a bit more meat from writer Jerome Bixby, however.  Certainly not up to the standards of his famous story from six years ago, It’s a Good Life.  Maybe next time.

That wraps up this article, but I’ve got plenty more to say in upcoming installments.  Tell me–what subjects hold the most interest for you?  Reviews of digests?  Book reviews?  Movie critiques?  Columns on the Space Race?  Observations on life in general?  Travelogues?  I always like to keep my audience riveted.

And, by the by, I wish to give a public hello to my new friend, Bruce, with whom I conversed most intelligently at the local diner.  A hep cat if I ever saw one.  Dig those far out threads.

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Bewitched, bothered and bewildered (May 1959 Astounding, second part; 4-24-1959)

Sorry about the wait, friends, but I promise to make it up to you.  I had a lovely night at the drive-in that precluded my fingers hitting the typewriter keys, but I’ll have movies to discuss in short order as a result.

In the meantime, let’s wrap up this month’s Astounding. shall we?  After all, new issues come out in just a couple of days, and I have to have the boards clear before pressing on.


(illustrated by Martinez)

George O. Smith, science fiction’s A-lister of latin descent, turns out a fine story for animal lovers with History Repeats.  In the far future, canis familiar has been given enhanced intelligence to rival that of humanity’s, but their loyalty to their bipedal companions remains undiminished.  In this tale, Terran agent, Peter, and his furry companion, Buregarde, are sent to Xanabar, a sort of latter-day Byzantium, to rescue a kidnapped damsel in distress.  It’s worth reading just for Buregarde–Smith always writes a fun, poetic story.


(illustrated by van Dongen)

Operation Haystack, by Frank Herbert, is an interesting political thriller set about a thousand years from now.  It involves a centuries-old plot by the descendants of nomadic Arabs to seize political control of the galaxy.  What makes the story special is that the orchestrators of the plot are women–and they pretty much win in the end.  That said, it’s a little disappointing that these powerful women generally rule through their husbands, who hold the political offices (though the women pull the strings).  I’d like to think that the future lies in the equality of the sexes rather than the eternal struggle, with one side or the other side enjoying supremacy for a while.  Still, I suppose Herbert’s is as plausible a future as any, and at least the women are getting their say in it.


(NASA photo)

Philip Latham’s Disturbing Sun is written in the form of an interview, the kind of transcription you often find in NASA press releases.  It’s one of those non-non-fiction pieces, and it is not un-clever.  Psychologist Dr. Niemand describes the untoward effects increased sunspot activity has on the psyches of people during the sunlit hours.  Given that we still don’t know what sunspots really are (well, we know they are cool spots, but we don’t know why they exist or how they’re made), I suppose Latham’s fancies are to disprove.  Interestingly, Latham (who appears in the story as the interviewer) is actually the alter-ego of real-life astronomer Robert Richardson; Richardson was even the technical advisor on Destination: Moon, so I imagine he knows whereof he speaks.  Even if you don’t buy the sunspot/neurosis connection (I doubt Richardson does either), the style is captured with verisimilitude and is a fun read.


(illustrated by Summers)

Last up is Hex by Larry M. Harris.  This is a story I would have expected to find in Fantasy & Science Fiction (that’s a compliment) dealing as it does with witchcraft, a do-gooder welfare worker with fine intentions but creepy, eldritch methods, a scheming Russian ex-patriate who wants to bilk the system rather than be magically compelled to find work, and a gypsy witch in over her head.  Interesting, whimsical, disturbing.  Good stuff.

Gosh, where does that leave us?  I guess this really wasn’t a bad book, all told.  3.5 stars?  Worth getting, particularly if you want to catch Dorsai in serial form.

Next up: The last issue of Satellite!  Stay tuned!

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With a grain of salt… (May 1959 Astounding, first half; 4-21-1959)

The penultimate magazine offering this month, at least that has made it into my house for review, is Astounding.  As always, my bar is pretty low with that mag, though last month’s issue made me dare to hope.

In fact, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the May issue.  This may come out rather stream of consciousness, so bear with me!

Gordy Dickson, who has written much I like, starts a new serial this month uninspiringly called Dorsai! I am both enjoying it and somewhat off-put by it.  It’s the story of a young mercenary from a planet whose primary export is mercenaries.  It is written in this sober, manly style, and there is lots of posturing and fighting.  At the center of it all is the sole female character, who is bound by contract to a rather odious fellow, and whom it appears the protagonist is trying to save, somehow.

Story-wise, it’s not really my cup of tea.  Yet it is well written, and I’ve seen enough of Dickson’s work to know that he is facile in a number of styles (i.e. he must be writing this way for a reason) so I’m going to go with it and see where it takes me.  I will send you postcards along the way.

We didn’t do anything wrong, hardly, by Roger Kuykendall (of whom I know nothing) might well be called I didn’t write anything, hardly.  Children build a space ship out of spare parts and snag a Russian satellite.  I guess Campbell is reduced to buying Danny Dunn rejects these days.

(Please note that Mr. Kuykendall has given me permission to distribute his story, but Mr. Campbell has not.  If he expresses his displeasure, I shall let you know.)


by EMSH

Cum Grano Salis isn’t bad.  Of course, I had to get past the distaste that just comes naturally from seeing “Randall Garrett” on the byline (or, in this case, his nom de plume, David Brown).  In this tale, a colonizing team (all men, natch) are stuck on a planet with too few provisions to survive until relief.  All of the food on the planet tests poisonous.  Yet one crewmember, a hypochondriac with a supply of nostrums, manages to eat the local fruit and thrive.  The solution is interesting.

(Again, I have distribution permission from the author, not the editor.)

So that takes me exactly half-way through the magazine, so I will leave the other half (including a rather good tale by George O. Smith) for day-after-tomorrow.  Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!

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