by Gideon Marcus
If “no news is good news,” then this has been a very good week, indeed! The Studebaker UAW strike ended on the 7th. The Congo is no more restive than usual. Laos seems to be holding a tenuous peace in its three-cornered civil war. The coup is over in the Dominican Republic, the former government back in power. John Glenn hasn’t gone up yet, but then, neither have any Russians.
Poul Anderson’s Kings who Die leads the issue. Anderson has been writing a blue streak over the past decade, and I don’t think I’ve disliked any of his work since this decade started. One of my readers has noted Anderson’s tendency toward the somber (A Bicycle Built for Brew and The High Crusade not withstanding), but I like a bit of gravitas in my stories.
Kings who Die tells the moving tale of a shipwrecked astro-soldier picked up by The Enemy in the depths of space. The captive is induced to join his foes, who have developed a super-weapon. But in the end, it turns out that the prisoner has a weapon of his own, one hidden deep inside of him.
Told by most others, this would be a throwaway gimmick piece. Anderson puts flesh on the bones of this story, despite it being rather short. Four stars.
I don’t think Jim Harmon has missed an issue of IF in good long time. This is generally to the reader’s favor as Harmon oscillates between fair and superior (if never great or awful). Dangerous Quarry has a cute title, but this tale of a town and its bad-luck mine of luxury granite feeles dashed off, metering in at around sin of π (or three stars).
AUTHOR KICKS SELF
I usually don’t review Ted Sturgeon’s nonfiction pieces, but this month’s was long enough, and about an interesting-enough topic (Murray Leinster’s myriad of nifty scientific inventions – real, not literary), that I felt it worth a rating: Three stars.
I normally associate Stephen Barr’s surreal stylings with Fantasy and Science Fiction, in whose pages I usually find him. His latest story, Tybalt, thus, is an odd (but not unwelcome) addition to this month’s IF. Tybalt has the distinction of being the first story I’ve read to feature time travel by aid of chemicals (as opposed to using a machine), and its feline-tinged middle section is excellent. Too bad about the rather rough ending, though. Three stars, though I am reasonably certain this will be a favorite of some of my readers.
TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE
Frank Banta is back again with The Happy Homicide, a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on circumstantial evidence, particularly when the jury is sympathetic to the circumstances. Never rely on a computer, at least so long as Perry Mason is around! Three stars.
IT DOESN’T MATTER
James Stamers continues his upward trend with E Being. The premise is fantastic: a pilot on the first Faster Than Light flight is converted into energy, fundamentally changing his nature but not his soul. Upon this transformation, he finds himself in a community of radiation-eating, incorporeal creatures with a rather unique perspective on life (or perhaps it is we, the comparatively rare beings made up of…stuff…that are the oddballs).
I would have liked a serious exploration of these concepts, something philosophical and profound (e.g. The Star Dwellers, by James Blish). Instead, Stamers plays the story for horror and laughs (an odd combination, but it works) and E Being ends up a fun tale, if a lost opportunity. Three stars.
RETIEF STRIKES AGAIN!
The best-known interstellar diplomat is back, this time attempting to solve the mystery of the misplaced heavy cruiser. Laumer’s The Madman from Earth plays Retief a bit straighter than I’m used to, which I think is to the story’s ultimate benefit. However, Laumer commits the whodunnit writer’s cardinal sin: he never explains just how Retief gains the critical piece of information on which his success hinges. Three stars.
NOW YOU SEE IT…
Wrapping things up is a charming piece of whimsy by R.A. Lafferty (who else?) called Seven-Day Terror, which involves a thieving brat, who absconds with necessary items, and the precocious little girl who sets things to rights. Four stars, making this issue a worthy palindrome.
Read all about it!