Tag Archives: science fiction

Beyond this Horizon (11-21-1958)

The traveling circus has moved to Osaka, Japan’s second metropolis.  It’s a grubby, earthy place, with a colorful dialect and brasher manners.  For an American, it’s actually kind of refreshing; the formality is less forced.  Like Tokyo, the city is alive with new construction and industry.  In contrast to cities back home, which have infrastructure dating back to the turn of the century, Japan looks like the future. 

It was thus the perfect place to finish Heinlein’s Beyond this Horizon, which was first published under a pseudonym back in 1942 and republished under his own name in 1948.  This was a second-hand copy I’d picked up specifically for this trip. 

Beyond this Horizon is an odd duck of a novel, particularly in comparison to Heinlein’s recent, more conventional works (i.e. The Puppet Masters, The Door into Summer, etc.).  It divides neatly into three parts, and only the middle section has any real plot.  I didn’t read the version originally serialized in Astounding, but I imagine much of the disjointed nature stems from the story having been written for magazine publication.

The book is set in a utopic far future, and it follows the life of Hamilton Felix (the order of names is reversed, Japanese-style, for reasons central to the premise of story).  He is the genetically superior result of a dozen generations of eugenic breeding.  In this regard, he is no different from most of his fellows.  Most everyone on Earth in the story is the result of the weeding out of undesirable traits and the promotion of positive ones.  People are allowed to find their own mates, but the children are artificially assisted to be the best possible offspring.  Only the “control normals” are left unmodified.

Hamilton’s primary involvement in the story is to be resistant to the possibility of having offspring (the first part), to infiltrate and disrupt a revolutionary group bent on deposing the world government and eliminating the control normals (the second part), and to give in to having offspring (the third part).  Hamilton’s children offer glimpses into an understanding of the world beyond the veil of mortality, the philosophical and scientific exploration of which is a recurring theme.

It is difficult to tell with Heinlein when he is portraying the mores and opinions of his characters and when his characters are simply spouting the mores and opinions of Heinlein.  I suspect the latter is more common.  I find this book fascinating as it makes a point of distinguishing between bad eugenics (which led to two devastating wars in Beyond’s timeline) and good eugenics as practiced by the government in the book.  Hamilton is, himself, dubious of the benevolence of the concept as exemplified by his statement in Part 1, “There is something a little terrifying about a man with too long a view.” Given that the world war raging at the time the book was written was in large part motivated by eugenics, the positive portrayal of same is a bit disturbing. 

On the other hand, Heinlein may simply be a seer.  In the book, the field of ultramicroscopy makes genetic mapping possible and turns breeding into a scientific art.  With the recent discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick, we seem right on Heinlein’s predicted schedule.  Who’s to say that we won’t soon find it desirable to edit out the genes that may cause disease and disorder for the good of humanity?

The other concept explored by Heinlein in the book is the idea of universal bearing of arms.  Most of the men pack heat (so long as they are sober), and many women as well.  It is made clear by the wearing of distinctive clothing that one is in an unarmed state, and those wearing the signifying brassards must defer to their armed fellows.

For most of the book, the practice is neither lauded nor condemned.  It simply is.  Near the end, however, one of the main characters praises the practice.  He recites the old maxim, “An armed society is a polite society.” As depicted in Heinlein’s novel, an armed society is an overly peevish one, prone to potentially lethal dueling for the most trifling of insults.  The other justification is that it weeds out the overly combative, a crude element of the eugenics project, essentially.  I suppose this makes sense coming out of the mouth of someone in Beyond’s world.  I hope Bob Heinlein doesn’t agree with him.

There are no female viewpoint characters, but many strong women are featured, and one has a decidedly central role to play in scouting “Beyond this Horizon.” I don’t know if Heinlein was exceptionally progressive (this was 1942!), or if we’ve simply gone backwards since the war.  Perhaps both–Heinlein generally populates his stories with smart, resourceful females, even if they are never quite the star.

Hamilton’s son, the only child character, does not fare so well.  In fact, other than his spotless genetics, I can find nothing at all to endear him to anyone.  I don’t know if Heinlein has kids, but I’d bet that he was not a father back in 1942, otherwise the relationship between dad and boy would have rung more true.  On the other hand, perhaps the lack of connection was meant to be a commentary on the world they inhabited. 

In summary, Beyond this Horizon is a bit of a meandering, preachy mess.  It is, however, quite readable.  Moreover, like many of Heinlein’s works, it does an excellent job of portraying a future, if not the future.  Heinlein presents the technology and culture with a glib vagueness that will help preserve the novel from becoming dated. 

3 stars out of 5.

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Pilgrimage to Earth (11-19-1958)

There is nothing that satisfies like a good collection of short stories.  And there is nobody who consistently releases good collections of short stories like Robert Sheckley.

A fellow lanzmann, Bob Sheckley emerged onto the science fiction magazine scene early in this decade, and he has elevated the standards of every digest for which he’s written (Galaxy seems to be his primary literary residence).  His first compilation, 1954’s Untouched by Human Hands, was a masterpiece right out of the gate.  I am especially partial to his second collection, Citizen of the Galaxy, perhaps because it is the first one I read.  It was published in 1955.

Somehow, I missed his third, Pilgrimage to Earth, even though it was published last year (1957).  It’s good, though perhaps not quite as good as the previous two.  It does deliver the qualities I’ve come to expect from Mr. Sheckley–whimsy, comedy, satire, horror.  The collection also has several stories I had missed when they were first published.

Standouts include the AAA Ace stories, Milk Run and Lifeboat Mutiny, featuring the unlucky yet plucky interstellar hustlers, Gregor and Arnold.  Bad Medicine, in which the protagonist receives psychiatric aid from a machine tuned to the Martian brain, is quite good.  I enjoyed All the Things You Are, a tale of a disastrous first contact between humanity and an alien race, but with an unexpectedly happy coda.  Protection is a cautionary tale regarding guardian angels–sometimes we’re better off without their help!

There are a few stories in this collection that miss the mark, to my mind.  These are stories that betray a certain degree of misogyny or at least resentment toward the female (I understand Mr. Sheckley divorced a few years back, and this may have colored his views; he is recently re-married, mazel tov.) We saw a bit of this attitude in last collection’s Ticket to Tranai and it is quite evident in the titular Pilgrimage to Earth.  In the latter story, a hayseed colonist travels to Earth, where he purchases a very convincing love affair.  The unsatisfactory ending leaves him bitter and soon a customer of another Earth commercial specialty–shooting galleries with live women as targets. 

Also unpleasant was Fear in the Night.  I won’t spoil the story, but it highly disturbed my wife when she read it. 

On the other hand, Human Man’s Burden features a mail-order settler’s bride, but the execution and the twist make the story surprisingly good.  There is a bit of male fantasy and wish-fulfillment in it, but I thought the bride was well-developed and a strong, self-reliant character.

In short, this collection is worth getting despite being more of a mixed bag than the previous two.  I am not too worried.  Anyone as prolific as Sheckley is bound to dash out a few clunkers, and perhaps his second try at marital bliss will improve his outlook on women.  Moreover, I’ve enjoyed Sheckley’s (and his alter-ego, Finn Donnovan’s) recent, as-yet unanthologized stories, and that’s a good sign.

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Godzilla raids.  Again.  (11-17-1958)

Greetings from Nagoya, Japan!  This industrial city emerged from the Second World War a drab and gray place with little of the charm of the new Tokyo.  Still, it is not without its attractions.  For instance, Nagoya castle is a national treasure dating back to the warring fiefs period of Japan; it is the legendary birthplace of Oda Nobunaga, the first of the 16th century warlords who tried to unify Japan.  It’s all very picturesque what with the brilliant fall colors accenting everything.

But you didn’t tune in to read about my travels.  You tuned in to hear about my encounters with giant sea monsters.  Dear readers, I shall not disappoint.

“Giant sea monsters?” you ask.  Yes, the use of the plural was deliberate.  The Japanese film industry has determined that, if one sea monster is thrilling, then two will be twice as much so (or more).  And thus, we have a movie about the recently-deceased Gojira and his intense rivalry with the Ankylosaurus, Anguirus.

The film’s title translates as “Gojira’s counter-attack,” and I am not certain whether or not it will reach American shores, though it came out three years ago (1955).  It is a decidedly inferior film to the first one, though Shimura Takashi does gamely reprise his role as Dr. Yamane (if you’re wondering where you have seen Shimura-san before, he was the lead samurai in the now-classic The Seven Samurai). 

The city that enjoys urban renewal this time around is Japan’s #2 metropolis, Osaka.  There is a good deal of interminable fighting between Gojira and Anguirus with the attendant collateral damage.  Gojira is ultimately the victor, biting the neck of the Ankylosaur and tossing him onto picturesque Osaka castle, or at least an unconvincing model thereof.  It is determined that Gojira cannot be stopped with conventional weapons, and they have lost the formula to the anti-oxygen concoction that (seemed to have) killed Gojira last time.

Gojira is thus not killed but simply stopped when the air force leads it away to the side of a frozen mountain, which is then blasted by missiles causing an avalanche that buries the giant dinosaur.  I remember this scene most distinctly from the movie as I had doubts it would ever end.  Perhaps they simply cut the same footage of a model plane doing spins around Gojira and spliced several copies into a ten-minute sequence.  That was the impression I was left with.

Were I an optimist, I would say that the film marked the death knell for Japanese monster movies given the sharp decline in quality from the original.  More have come and are coming out, however, including the turgid Rodan and the not-terrible Mysterians.  And so a genre is born.

I think the most significant difference between the movies is the attitude toward the atomic bomb.  In both movies, it is H-bomb testing in the Pacific that awakens the beasts and mutates them to their improbable sizes and gives them their incredible powers.  In the first movie, significant parallels were drawn between the destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused by American bombers and the devastation of Tokyo at the hands of Gojira–in essence, another atomic event.  Gojira was a cautionary tale: should we believe ourselves masters of these monstrous forces, we shall become victims of the monster.  A bit heavy-handed, but certainly legitimate, especially given the national source.

By this second movie, the moralizing is virtually absent.  Instead, the atomic bomb is merely a vehicle for creating giant monsters that knock down model cities and eat miniature trains.  The TOEI monster franchise has clearly shifted its demographic target.  It is now a series for children, the ones for whom World War II is a now-distant memory. 

That said, I am but a human; my inner child did delight in watching two actors in rubber suits locked in mortal overcranked combat amidst a miniature cardboard city.  If that’s all you want from a movie, by all means, find this film when it is translated into your language and enjoy.  Just don’t expect anything as well-made or thoughtful as the original.

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Astoundingly bad (11-15-1958)

I’m willing to concede that we (currently) live in a “man’s world.” Men make up most of the protagonists and characters in science fiction, and the vast majority of science fiction authors are men.  This month’s Astounding does not buck this trend–virtually every story has no, or at best a token, female presence.  I suppose I should be grateful for this, however, as I would rather have no women in my stories than see them horribly mistreated and poorly portrayed, as I saw happen rather gratuitously in the second half of the magazine.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Poul Anderson’s “Bicycle Built for Brew” ended as it started with a fine premise, an interesting if whimsical storyline, and horrible execution.  The resourceful engineer of the Mercury Girl managed to escape from the occupied planet by fashioning a ship from a sealed crate and several barrels of beer (providing the reaction mass for propulsion).  The national and gender stereotypes were tired by page 2 of the last installment, and they don’t get better here.  All’s well that ends, and I was happy to see this story finish.

Miller’s pre-book-review column focused on UFOs, which are still popular.  I remember reading in an Asimov or Ley article that the number of UFO sightings climbed sharply in the late ’40s coincident with the testing of new jets and sounding rockets.  At the same time, the number of reported demonic encounters dropped dramatically.  You may draw your own conclusions from this.

“Seller’s Market,” by Chris Anvil, is another inconsequential but readable story of the type that has characterized his writing since he started.  It depicts a small military force on a harsh planet as it struggles against a nominally superior but fatally flawed foe.

And now, I can put it off no longer.  The story that ruined my morning and my impression of Randall Garrett, and by extension, Astounding magazine: “Queen Bee.”

I don’t think misogyny can adequately convey the sentiment in this story.  “Hatred of women,” may get closer to the mark.  The setting of the story was interesting-enough: Four men and three women marooned on a wild planet for life.  However, the story begins with the viewpoint character hitting a woman (she was hysterical, of course), and it goes downhill from there.

It is decided, pursuant to codified law (!) that the males and females must breed constantly and switch partners each time such that a colony with a maximum of genetic diversity can be produced.  One of the women, the only married one, seems fine with this, much to the consternation of her old-fashioned husband.  The other two women resist the idea for some reason.  One of them is diagnosed by the resident doctor as a “man-hater,” and the other is a Taming of the Shrew Kate-type character.  That’s all right–the male characters beat sense into them, quite literally.  The man-hater, after being walloped a good one realizes the error of her ways and becomes pregnant shortly thereafter.

But the other hold-out won’t budge despite several clouts and a full course of spanking (!!) Eventually, she kills the other two women so that she, as the only woman, can enjoy an indispensable (and perhaps beating-free) status.  Given the circumstances, I’m not sure that I find her actions unreasonable.  Of course, the men are horrified, and they exact a horrible revenge… er… mete out appropriate justice.  They hold a trial and find her not guilty by reason of insanity.

And then they lobotomize her, turning her into a mindless child-bearing factory.

What is so maddening about this story is its contrast with Judith Merril’s story in this month’s F&SF.  The set-up is quite similar, except the women don’t have to resort to constant brutality to keep the men-folk in line.  One could argue that the arrangement in Merril’s story was consensual and thus a whole different matter.  This only emphasizes the horror of Garrett’s scenario: the women in his story didn’t sign up to be mothers of a colony.  They certainly never agreed to be dominated and brutalized by their fellow castaways. 

Perhaps, if the story had been meant as satire, I could have taken it.  But I think Randy Garrett’s premises, that men should automatically be in charge, that a woman’s duty is to bear children, and violence against women is the best method to keep them in line, must ring natural and true to Mr. Garrett, to Mr. Campbell, and if the readers of Astounding do not subscribe to them, I imagine they do not generally find them egregious.

Well, I did.  This is worse than the story that turned me off of Venture (“Eve and the Twenty-Three Adams” by Robert Silverberg; the set-up was similar–in that one, all starships came equipped with a ship’s whore, and when the story’s ship’s whore wouldn’t perform, the Captain drugged her up so that she could fulfill her role while unconscious).  Garrett’s lost me as a fan, and I am sending a copy of this article straight to Mr. Campbell. 

Sorry to end this piece on a down note.  I will hopefully have cheerier things to discuss next time around.  The final score: 4 stars for the first half, 1.5 stars for the second, 2.25 for the whole magazine.

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Gojira (Godzilla) 1954 (11-11-1958)

Greetings from the Orient!  More specifically, hello from the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, Japan.

It is hard to believe that, just thirteen years ago, the ward that is now Shinjuku had been virtually destroyed by American bombs.  Shinjuku today is a bustling commercial and transport hub with a giant train station and every imaginable kind of shop.

These days, if the movies coming out of Japan are any indication, Tokyo’s biggest threat comes not from the skies, but from the sea.  In 1954, Japan began what appears will be a long-running series of motion pictures featuring a giant dinosaur from the deep ravaging the countryside of this archipelago.  The Japanese call him (her?) Gojira, which is a punning combination of Gorilla and Kujira, the Japanese word for whale.  This name is meant to convey Gojira’s immense size. 

You may not have heard of Gojira, but you certainly know its renamed alter-ego–in 1956, a largely similar cut of the film was released in the United States, dubbed in English, and with linking scenes featuring Raymond Burr.  In this version, the monster was named Godzilla, and it looks like it will keep this name when the sequels come to America.

The phrase “Japanese product” generally connotes a cheaply made, mass-produced good.  When I watched this film back in ’54, this is what I expected.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The premise is simple: Godzilla is a several-hundred foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex that can shoot fire from its mouth.  He comes out of the sea, attacks Tokyo, is repelled at first by an enormous, hastily erected electric fence, but he quickly recovers and demolishes the city.  He is repelled at last through the use of a pseudo-scientific substance that strips an area of all of its oxygen thus removing the flesh of all creatures within the affected zone.

That does sound awfully silly at first blush.  What redeems the film is its style.  It is shot in a very effective moody fashion, almost film-noir.  The characters are nicely developed, especially Hirata Akihiko, who plays the erratic, noble scientist who develops the anti-oxygen substance; the famous Shimura Takashi, playing the elder scientist, Dr. Yamane Kyouhei; and the lovely Kochi Momoko, who plays Dr. Yamane’s daughter, Emiko.  Takarada Akira, who plays the movie’s protagonist, Hideto, is handsome enough, but he failed to impress as strongly. 

What’s particularly affecting, and this was highly controversial with the Japanese public, are the scenes of widespread destruction.  Japan’s war wounds, self-inflicted though they ultimately may have been, are but half healed.  The burnt wastelands shown in the film can’t help but evoke landscapes that were widespread a short decade ago.  For many, it was gratuitous and exploitative.  I’m sure many moviegoers walked out.

On the other hand, the movie scratches the same itch as knocking over sand castles.  Let’s face it–most people have an inner child that likes seeing things go boom, and Gojira/Godzilla does this very satisfyingly.  Moreover, it manages to do so while maintaining high production values, good acting (at least in the original Japanese), and even some decent moralizing.  If you get a chance to see the original film with subtitles, I recommend it.  It is a more serious film, I think. 

As for the sequels… well…

Stay tuned for the next article!

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Farmer in the Sky (11-09-1958)

When I started this column, I had not expected this to turn into a travelogue.  Given that I do much of my reading on a plane heading somewhere glamorous and exciting, I suppose it can’t be helped.  I hope you can all bear with me.

Northwest Orient, a Seattle-based airline, has been filling the air waves with advertisements about their shorter route to “The Orient” (i.e. East Asia).  Well, I decided to bite, and this weekend found us on a plane to the Far East.  There is no direct route to Japan, but Northwest has the next best thing: after a hop back to Seattle (how familiar!), there was a short layover in Honolulu.  Less than a day after takeoff from San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, we arrived at Tokyo’s modern air hub, Haneda airport.  The DC-7 is not as fast as the 707, but I think I prefer the gentle drone of propellers to the loud roar of jets.  Call me old-fashioned.

When I get used to the time difference (they should come up with a term for that logy feeling you get after long-distance air travel), I’ll tell you all about the wonders of Japan.  Or perhaps not–you come here for the science fiction commentary, don’t you?

With Anderson’s “Bicycle Built for Brew” deterring me from rushing off to finish this month’s Astounding, I decided to catch up on my burgeoning backlog of Heinlein novels.  I liked “Have Spacesuit Will Travel,” recently serialized in F&SF, so I read Farmer in the Sky on the trip.

The book was published eight years ago in 1950, but it feelst up-to-date.  It is the story of an Eagle Scout in his mid teens emigrating out to a newish colony on Ganymede with his family.  Interestingly enough, nearly half of its length is devoted simply to getting there: the application, the preparation, the flight to Ganymede on the Mayflower.  Once there, the tale emulates prior settler stories.  You have the hard times, the loving description of food raised and eaten, the triumphs, and the tragedies.  All throughout, Heinlein does a pretty good job of portraying the physics involved in spaceflight as well as a primer on agronomy on a recently dead world.  The book ends satisfyingly if on a slightly bittersweet note.

A few of interesting points from the book:

Bill, the book’s protagonist, is from San Diego, like me. 

As usual, the author does a good job with technology predictions.  His “quickthaw” and “autoresponder” are plausible and seamlessly executed.  I always find it a little jarring when “slipsticks” (slide-rules) are in copious evidence.  In these days of IBMs and UNIVACS, am I alone in thinking that portable computing machines are the wave of the far future?

California has around 50 million people in the book’s indeterminately dated (but probably the mid-to-late 21 century) future.  This is five times that recorded in the 1950 census.  Extending this to the world population, there must be some 10 billion people on Earth.  I talked about this in an earlier piece; 10 billion sounds like a lot, but not in the doomsday area.  But Heinlein’s future Earth has food rationing, and it is big impetus for leaving the planet. 

I would be okay with this, but Heinlein’s depicted future also has developed complete matter conversion drives and power plants.  Humans have the ability, in the book, to manufacture a breathable atmosphere for Ganymede.  As Bill’s father says early on in the story, “Wherever Man has mass and energy to work with and enough savvy to know how to manipulate them, he can create any environment he needs.” It seems to me that once humanity taps the limitless power afforded by mass conversion, or even thermonuclear fusion, providing food for even 10 billion people should be a trifling concern. 

There is a little bit of gentle misogyny: Bill’s father tells his step-daughter that she’s not allowed on the bridge of the Mayflower because she’s a girl, though this may be meant teasingly.  Bill notes that girls should be kept in a well until they are sixteen, and then a decision made to let them out or leave them there.  Again, I don’t know how out of character this is for a teenaged boy.  On the other hand, there is a skilled female pilot, Hattie.  She’s not the most likable of characters, but she knows her job, and she’s been at it for a long time. 

These are minor quibbles.  The book is good and should fire the imagination of many a young (and old!) reader.  It’s worth it just for the chapters describing the trip to Ganymede.

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December 1958: Astounding (1st half) 11-08-1958

With December’s Galaxy and F&SF done and reviewed, I now turn to the last of the Big Three: Astounding.  The elephant in this magazine is, of course, the second half of Poul Anderson’s dreary short novel, “Bicycle Built for Brew.” It lurks at the end of the magazine like an oncoming train at the end of a tunnel.  Thus, I abandoned my usual haphazard reading habits and began at the beginning, like normal people.

Good thing, too.  The first three stories, comprising 65 pages, are good and somewhat of a theme.  I have to congratulate myself for making it through a full three quarters of Campbell’s blatherous editorial before skipping to story #1.

“Ministry of Disturbance” is a fun story of a week in the life of the august ruler of a 1300-planet galactic imperium, one that has persisted virtually unchanged for centuries.  At first it seems that it will be a sort of light farce, but the story takes several turns before arriving at an unexpected conclusion.  It’s a little bewildering: there are a lot of moving parts including a large cast of characters and several concurrent event threads.  Ultimately, there is something of a happy ending.  My favorite line from the story is, “If you have a few problems, you have trouble, but if you have a whole lot of problems, they start solving each other.”

Did I mention it’s by H. Beam Piper?  That should be enough to recommend it.  He did that lovely tale, Omnilingual (from which story the lady in my masthead derives), which you can find in the February 1957 Astounding.

Next up is “Triggerman” by a fellow I’d never heard of before, an “R.T. Bone.” Rather than a tale of the far future, it is highly contemporary.  We’ve all heard of the metaphorical “button” on which the collective finger of the President and his generals rests, the pressing of which initiates atomic armageddon.  In Bone’s story, the button is real, and one man has his finger on it.  It’s a silly concept, but it is thankfully just the set up for a interesting short tale of an overwhelmingly destructive attack on the United States.  As with the last story, there is a surprise, and the subject matter is not apolitical.

The third in the initial trio is “Pieces of the Game” by Mack Reynolds.  Mack has been around for a while, bouncing from digest to digest, but I believe this is his first appearance in Astounding.  Like “Triggerman,” it is set in the Cold War, but a few years in the future, in a recently Communist Austria.  There is mention of a war, but it is clear that both sides are still active, as this story is a tale of espionage by an unlikely-looking agent.  It’s a pretty standard thriller; I hesitate to even call it science fiction.  But it is entertaining, and it fits in well with the theme of the first two stories.

That makes a solid 4 out of 5 stars for the first half of December’s Astounding!  Lord knows where that score will finish, however…

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December 1958 F&SF, 2nd half (11-05-1958)

Boy, am I glad I read from front to back this time!

As my faithful readers (should that be plural?) know, the first half of this month’s Fantasy & Science Fiction was pretty lackluster stuff.  It turns out I was mistaken about Tony Boucher’s story–it was not a new one, but some old thing from 1945 under the name “William A. P. White.” At least I know one of Boucher’s pseudonyms now.

The second half, thankfully, was far superior.  Story #1 was “Honeysuckle Cottage” by P.  G. Wodehouse.  I have not read much by this famous ex-patriate English humorist.  I think all of the stories I have encountered by him were published in F&SF.  This particular tale came out in 1928.  One wonders if Wodehouse is desperate for cash since being, perhaps unfairly, chased out of his home country for alleged collaboration with the Nazis.  Or perhaps Boucher could only afford an old reprint.  Either way, it’s a fun little story about a mystery writer being cursed with the haunting of his romance-writing aunt.  I liked it.

“Wish upon a star,” by famed anthologist Judy Merril, is an excellent story about coming of age on a generation ship.  For those not in the know, a generation ship is a starship, generally traveling slower than the speed of light, designed to colonize a planet after a journey of many tens or even hundreds of years.  Because the mission takes so long, it is anticipated that several generations will be born before the ship reaches its destination.  Unusually, though quite plausibly, in this story, most of the crew and all of the officers of the ship are women.  The only thing wrong with the story is its length–I would love to see a novella or full-length novel on the topic–by Ms. Merril, preferably.

Though Boucher no longer edits F&SF, he still does the book-review column.  He spends most of it praising Theodore Sturgeon but expressing his dissatisfaction with “The Cosmic Rape.” This, Sturgeon’s third novel, is an expansion on the novelette, “To Marry Medusa,” which appeared in Galaxy a few months ago.  Alternatively, the Galaxy story may be a pared-down version of the novel.  I recall the story, which was about an interstellar hive-mind’s attempts to incorporate humanity, had said all that was needed to be said.  I have to wonder what purpose the extra verbiage served.

Next up is “Dream Girl,” a slight head-trip penned by Ron Goulart, who had an interesting story back in July called “The Katy Dialogues.” The following story, “Somebody’s Clothes, Somebody’s Life,” by mystery-writer Cornell Woolrich, is written like a play and could easily be an episode of F&SF’s counterpart to X Minus One.  It’s sheer fantasy involving a Countess with a gambling problem, a young woman with bigger problems, and the Russian clairvoyant who crosses their paths.  Good affecting stuff.  Finally, there is a cute three-page story by Walter S. Tevis, which I shan’t spoil for you, but it’s worth reading. 

So that’s that.  2.5 stars out of 5 for this week’s F&SF, but that’s only because the first half is a 1.5 and the latter is a 4.5.

You should all know that I am flying out to Japan this Friday with my family.  This should not stem the tide of articles, however.  I am bringing along this month’s Astounding, two unread Heinlein novels, and I expect to catch up on my giant monster movies.  It’s my understanding that Godzilla has a sequel, and other movies by that studio have also recently come out.  Here’s hoping these films uphold the fine standard set by the first of them.

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Decmber 1958 F&SF, 1st half (11-03-1958)

I’m afraid this month’s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) thus far has been a bit of a let-down.  I recognize that this sister magazine to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine has a reputation to uphold as the most “literary” of the Big Three science fiction digests (a lofty standing it shares with Galaxy and Astounding), but I think it has gone a bit too far.

Perhaps it’s the doing of the new editor, Robert P. Mills, who took the reins when Anthony Boucher stepped down to pursue a more active writing career.  Maybe this is what the audience wants.  Maybe it’s a phase.  In any event, the stories are all long on imagery and short on plot and/or comprehensibility.  I know I’m prone to writing purplish prose, and I’ve certainly got a strong snobbish streak, but this month’s stories go too far even for me.

“The Eye and the Lightning” is an Algis Budrys-penned tale about a future in which (I think) scanning devices have given people almost unlimited ability to surveil, to destroy, and to teleport.  People live in constant fear of being murdered at any moment by an unknown assailant who tired of his peepshow subject.  They go to town swaddled in concealing clothes as some version of the Law of Contagion makes it easier to be a target of surveillance and attack if some of your clothes, skin or blood falls into someone else’s possession.  This tale chronicles what happens when one of the inhabitants of this dystopia invents a detector that allows a scanned person to identify and retaliate against his or her scanner.

Very atmospheric, but it didn’t make much sense to me.

Asimov’s science article goes too far in the other direction, perhaps.  It is a primer on escape velocity, the minimum speed necessary to escape a body’s gravity.  There is not much to it.  We would have been just as well served had he just submitted the charts showing escape velocity by planet without bothering with the explanation.

“Pink Caterpillar” is Tony Boucher’s recent foray into writing: a mildly cute, but somewhat fluffy story about the paradox caused by the impossibility of being in two places (or times) at once.

At least I understood it.  The same cannot be said for Fritz Leiber’s “Poor Little Miss MacBeth,” which (I think?) is about an old witch in a post-apocalyptic setting.  It’s a short mood piece, and it doesn’t make any sense.  Perhaps one of my three fans can read it and tell me what a dunce I am.

The final tale of the first half of the magazine is “Timequake,” by Miriam Allen Deford.  Per the editorial forward, she’s written a lot, but I’ve never heard of her.  This story is about the consequences of the clock resetting 12 hours into the past, eliminating all actions done in that period, but leaving the memories of everyone intact.  An interesting, if silly, premise.  It’s turned into a trivial, short tale.

Oh well.  Here’s hoping Part 2 comprises more substantial stuff.

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Wrapping up the December 1958 Galaxy (10-30-58)

On a walk down the block on a warm autumn afternoon, I finished the rest of the December 1958 Galaxy.  I’d worked my way backward from the end, as I’d wanted to finish the next installment of “Time Killer.”  Thus, I got to the lead novella, “Join Now” by Finn O’Donovan, last. 

Both the name and the style were familiar.  18 pages into the tale, I recalled that O’Donovan is a pen name for Robert Sheckley.  It is obvious from the writing style that it’s a Sheckley story, and given that Time Killer is being serialized in the same issue, I am not surprised Galaxy used a pseudonym.

Of course, this means that of the 142 pages, a good half of them were penned by Sheckley.  Galaxy is becoming Satellite (a bi-montly magazine which features a full-length, though short, novel plus a short story or two)!

Being a Sheckley short, it’s great.  It’s not science fiction, per se, or perhaps you might call it soft science fiction.  This is the kind of stuff Galaxy pioneered and Sheckley excels at.  This particular tale is about a “Splitter,” one of class of people in the future who splits his/her personality into three parts: the aggressive “id,” the conscientious and dull “superego,” and the fun-loving “libido.”  The superego remains in its own body while the other two parts are put into super-realistic androids. 

Traditionally, the polite superego stays on overcrowded Earth while the libido heads to Mars, which is mostly a fleshpot and tourist resort.  The tough id heads out to Venus, a wide-open jungle frontier.  Sheckley’s tale follows superego-bearing Crompton, as he travels to Mars and Venus, desperate to re-unite with his other parts. 

I think my favorite parts of the story involve Crompton’s libido-bearer, Loomis, and his speeches justifying his hedonistic lifestyle by which he makes fine money as a gigolo and escort.  There’s compelling satire here:

“Today everything is biased toward the poor as though there were some special virtue in improvidence.  Yet the rich have their needs and necessities, too.  These needs are unlike the needs of the poor, but no less urgent.  The poor require food, shelter, medical attention.  The government provides these admirably. 

But what about the needs of the rich?  People laugh at the idea of a rich man having problems, but does the mere possession of credit exempt him from having problems?  It does not!  Quite the contrary, wealth increases need and sharpens necessity, often leaving a rich man in a more truly necessitous condition than his poor brother.” 

To the question, “Why doesn’t the rich man give up his wealth,” Loomis replies, “Why doesn’t a poor man give up his poverty?  No, it can’t be done.  We must accept the conditions that life has imposed on us.  The burden of the rich is heavy; still they must bear it and seek aid where they can.”

The poor, poor rich people.  Also amusing is Loomis’ justifications for engaging in adultery.  He’s quite convincing, too…

Finishing up this month’s Galaxy is a short tale by the team of Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth.  This was obviously written some time ago since Kornbluth died quite unseasonably of a heart attack in March of this year.  He was only 34 (places hand over heart).

The story is called, “Nightmare with Zeppelins,” and it is less science fiction than an exercise in writing anachronistically.  Specifically, it is a tale told by someone living during the Great War reminiscing about his travels in Africa in 1864.  It is fun, ironic stuff; the point of such an exercise, of course, is really to comment on the present.  I might try my hand at it some time.

Next up: December 1958’s F&SF!

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