Tag Archives: stephen barr

[Feb. 10, 1962] Here is the News (March 1962 IF)


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. 

And while this month’s IF science fiction magazine contains nothing of earth-shattering quality, there’s not a clunker in the mix – and quite a bit to enjoy!  Get a load of these headlines:

SURE THING

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.

NO SUPRISES

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.

LOST CAT

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 IFTybalt 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.


by Burns

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!


by Emsh

[April 26, 1961] Dessert for last (May 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Del Shannon’s on the radio, but I’ve got Benny Goodman on my hi-fi.  Say…that’s a catchy lyric!  Well, here we are at the end of April, and that means I finally get to eat dessert.  That is, I finally get to crack into The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  While it is not the best selling science fiction digest (that honor goes to Analog by a wide margin), it is my favorite, and it has won the Best Magazine Hugo three years running.

So what kind of treat was the May 1961 F&SF?  Let’s find out!

Carol Emshwiller returns with the lead story of the issue, the sublime Adapted.  It can be hard to resist the incessant mold of conformity, even when blending in means losing oneself.  Emshwiller’s protagonist loses the battle, but, perhaps, not all hope.  Four stars.

The somber Avram Davidson teams up with unknown Sidney Klein (perhaps the idea man?) with The Teeth of Despair.  It’s a cute but forgettable story involving a cabal of underpaid professors, a loser with a metal dental plate, a quiz show, and something that isn’t quite telepathy.  Ever wonder how Van Doren did it?  Three stars.

All the Tea in China is offered up by Reginald Bretnor, the real name behind the Ferdinand Feghoot puns (q.v.).  Watch as despicable Jonas Hackett, a mean cuss who wouldn’t commit a kind act for the entirety of the Orient’s signature beverage, is given what for by Old Nick.  Nicely told.  Three stars.

Somebody to Play With, by Jay Williams, is a compelling story with a brutal sting in the tail.  It may make sense for the adults of a tiny colony on an alien world to be overly cautious, but does the desire for security warrant genocide?  Telling from a child’s point of view, Williams skillfully conveys the claustrophobia of the outpost, the wonder of the strange world, the thrill of making an extraterrestrial friend, and the heartbreak of betrayal by one’s closest kin.  Four stars.

I know nothing about C.D. Heriot save that I imagine he is British.  He writes Poltergeist in an affected manner that almost, but not quite, dulls the impact of this story of a neglected pre-adolescent who conjures up her own malicious playmate.  In the hands of Davidson, it’d rate four or five stars; in this case, just three.

Stephen Barr’s Mr. Medley’s Time Pill is By His Bootstraps all over again, and it commits the same sin: telling both sides of a time loop story.  We already know what will happen after reading the first half; what is the point of conveying it twice?  Two stars.

Country Boy is the latest in G.C.Edmondson’s Mexican-themed tales, a direct sequel to Misfit.  As is often the case with Edmondson, the story is clever, but the banter isn’t, though he tries.  Too hard, really.  Three stars.

Heaven on Earth is The Good Doctor Asimov’s science contribution for this issue, on the measurement of the celestial sphere and its resident stars.  It’s all about degrees, base-60 number systems, and an Earth-sized planetarium.  I love his mathematical articles; I feel he often does his best work with what could be the most sterile of subjects.  Four stars.

The Flower is 11-year old Mildred Possert’s submission.  Editor Mills thinks she shows promise, and I don’t disagree.

Henry Slesar gives us The Self-improvement of Salvatore Ross, involving a fellow who can bargain for anything – including physical traits.  He swaps a broken leg for pneumonia, his hair for cash, and so on.  The twist ending is a bit out of nowhere, but it’s a good story nonetheless, the sort of thing that might get adapted for The Twilight Zone.  Three stars.

The appropriately named Final Muster is, indeed, the last story in the book (and the inspiration for the issue’s cover).  I believe this is Rick Rubin’s first effort, and he hits a triple right out of the box.  The premise: by next century, war is such a specialized, abhorred profession that soldiers are frozen in stasis and thawed only when needed.  This is a volunteer corps whose ranks are filled with combatants who cannot find joy in peaceful civilian life.  But what happens when war ends entirely?  A thoughtful story whose only fault is that it perhaps doesn’t go quite far enough in its projections.  Four stars.

With dessert finished, we can now run the numbers.  This issue came out at 3.3, edging out this month’s Analog (3), and IF (2.75).  Analog had the best story of the month (Death and the Senator).  There was one (count them) woman writer out of 21 stories, an abysmal score. 

A lot of space news coming up soon what with Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, or John Glenn scheduled to be the first American in space on May 4th.  Stay tuned!

[July 27, 1960] Footloose and Fancy Free (Japan and the August 1960 Fantasy & Science Fiction)

Perhaps the primary perquisite of being a writer (certainly not the compensation, though Dr. Asimov is the happy exception) is the ability to take one’s work anywhere.  Thanks to ‘faxes and patient editors, all of this column’s readers can follow me around the world.  To wit, I am typing this article in the lounge of my hotel deep in the heart of Tokyo, the capital of the nation of Japan. 

Japan is virtually a second home for me and my family, and we make it a point to travel here as often as time and funds permit.  Now that the Boeing 707 has shrunk the world by almost 50%, I expect our travels to this amazing, burgeoning land will increase in frequency.

Tokyo, of course, is one of the world’s biggest cities, and the crowds at Shinjuku station attest to this.  And yet, there are still plenty of moments of almost eerie solitude–not just in the parks and temples, but in random alleyways.  There are always treasures to find provided one is willing to look up and down (literally–only a fraction of Tokyo’s shops is located on the ground floor!)

Gentle readers, I have not forgotten the main reason you read my column.  In fact, the timing of my trip was perfect, allowing me to take all of the September 1960 digests with me to the Orient.  But first, I need to wrap up last month’s batch of magazines.  To that end, without further ado, here is the August 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction!

Robert F. Young has the lead short story, Nikita Eisenhower Jones.  I’d liked his To Fell a Tree very much, so I was looking forward to this one, the story of a young Polynesian who finagles his way onto the first manned mission to Pluto only to find it a lonely, one-way trip.  Sadly, while the subject matter is excellent, the tale is written in a way that keeps the reader at arm’s length and thus fails to engage in what could have been an intensely powerful, personal story. 

The Final Ingredient is a different matter altogether.  Jack Sharkey had thus far failed to impress, so I was surprised to find him in F&SF, a higher caliber magazine, in my opinion.  But this tale, involving a young girl whose efforts at witchraft are frustrated until she abandons love entirely and embraces wickedness, is quite good indeed. 

John Suter’s The Seeds of Murder, a reprint from F&SF’s sister magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery, is about telling the future through regressive (or in this case progressive) hypnosis.  It’s cute, but something I’d expect to find in one of the lesser mags.  I suppose this should come as no surprise–this is Suter’s first and only science fiction/fantasy story, so far as I can tell.

Rosel George Brown is back with another dark tale: Just a Suggestion.  When aliens subtly introduce the idea that the way to win friends and influence people is to be less impressive than one’s peers, the result is economic downturn and, ultimately, planetary destruction.  Obviously satirical; rather nicely done.

This brings us to Robert Arthur’s novelette, Miracle on Main Street.  A boy wishes on a unicorn horn that all of the folks in his small town, good and bad, should get what they deserve.  There is no ironic twist, no horrifying consequences.  It’s a simple tale (suitable for children, really) that very straightforwardly details the results of the wish.  It should be a vapid story; Arthur goes out of his way to ensure there are no surprises.  Yet, I enjoyed it just the same.  I suppose a little unalloyed charm is nice every so often. 

The Revenant, by Raymond Banks, is a fascinating little story about human space travelers who explore a planet less fixed in sequence and probability than ours.  Their lives are far less dependable, but infinitely more varied and interesting.  The closest approximation would be if our dreams were our waking lives and vice versa (and perhaps this was the tale’s inspiration).  Good stuff.

Avram Davidson has a one-pager, Climacteric, about a man who goes hunting dragons in search of romance.  He finds both.  It is followed by G.C.Edmondson’s Latin-themed The Sign of the Goose, a strangely written story about an alien visitation that, frankly, made little sense to me.  It stars the same eccentrics as The Galactic Calabash.

Asimov has an article about the Moon as a vacation spot whose main attraction is the lovely view of Earth.  Catskills in the Sky, it is called, and it’s one of his weaker entries.

Finally, we have Stephen Barr’s Calahan and the Wheelies, about an inventor who creates a species of wheeled little robots with the ability to learn.  The concept is captivating, and the execution largely plausible.  Sadly, the story sort of degenerates into the standard sci-fi trope: the robots, of course, become sentient and rather malicious.  It’s played for laughs, but I can just imagine a more serious story involving similar machines being put to all sorts of amazing uses.  Imagine a semi-smart machine that rolled around your house vacuuming and mopping your floor.  Or a programmable dog-walker.  I like robots that don’t look like people or act like living things, but which are indispensible allies to humanity.  I want more stories featuring them.

All told, I think this issue clocks in about a shade over 3 stars.  A thoroughly typical F&SF, which is no bad thing.

See you in a few days with more from the Land of the Rising Sun!

[June 9, 1960] To Pluto and the Future (July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

I was recently told that my reviews are too negative, and that I should focus on telling the world about the good stuff; for that hopeful fan, I present my assessment of the July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction.  There’s not a clunker in the bunch, and if none of the stories is a perfect gem, several are fine stones nevertheless.

My receipt of this month’s issue was accompanied by no small measure of eagerness.  The cover promised me two stories by female authors (Zenna Henderson and Miriam Allen deFord) as well as a novella by Wilson Tucker, who wrote the excellent The City in the Sea.  Here’s what I found inside:

Stephen Barr is no stranger to Fantasy and Science Fiction, having appeared in the book twice before.  His lead short story, Oh I’ll take the High Road is softer stuff than his usual science fictiony fare, but I enjoyed it.  It features a poet scientist, who invents a thought-propelled space drive, and the eternal love he shares with a professor’s daughter.  Where he ends up, and how that love endures, makes for a pleasant (if not particularly remarkable) story.

I’d never head of Hollis Alpert before.  His newness may explain the unusual nature of his premiere science fiction piece, a mock academic presentation called The Simian Problem, in which a professor discusses the relatively recent (fictional) phenomenon that involves women giving birth to degenerate ape children.  The occurrence of such “monsters” is on the exponential increase, it seems, and an effective treatment remains elusive.  The format meanders jarringly from first person expository to dialogue, but the sting in the story’s tail is worth waiting for.

Moving on, we have the delightful Theodore Cogswell with The Burning, a portrayal of a dystopic future from the point of view of a most unusual teen gangster.  Those involved in a certain ubiquitous youth organization may get more out of it than I did.

Zenna Henderson is always good, of course.  Her Things is the story of a first encounter between an alien aboriginal race, told from the point of view of its female spiritual leader, and humanity.  The Terrans bring all manner of technological gifts, but are they worth the physical and philosophical price?  Should one sacrifice one’s very cultural identity for the chance to “progress” scientifically?  Tough questions, and Henderson pulls no punches.

I wasn’t quite sure how to react to A.H.Z.Carr’s It is not my fault, though upon reflection (and the measure of a good story is how much it makes you reflect), I think it’s quite good.  In brief: when a down-on-his-luck fellow collapses and dies in broad daylight near a busy thoroughfare, a momentarily attentive God dispatches an angel to determine who was at fault for the miserable death and dispense punishment.  Sometimes justice isn’t so easy as all that.

Then we have Miriam Allen deFord’s All in Good Time, another first person exposition story.  In this case, the setting is a first year law classroom a century from now, but this is largely incidental to the plot, which involves a cross-time bigamist.  It’s cute, and the presentation is more expertly handled than in the above-described Alpert story.  I particularly appreciated that, in the future, female lawyers seem to be as common as male ones.

Ever wonder what to give the fellow who’s had everything?  What is Heaven to someone who enjoyed life to its fullest?  Gordy Dickson asks those questions in his excellent The Last Dream.  Of course, for many, just being close to the Almighty is reward enough, but most like to think of Heaven (if it exist) providing physical benefits, too.  I bet the doughnuts are fantastic, for instance.  And non-fattening.

Dr. Asimov has a good, timely article on Pluto and what lies beyond this month.  It was one of my motivations for writing my own piece on the subject.  He spends a good bit of space on the interesting Titius-Bode Law that seems to govern orbital spacing in our system, at least out to Uranus.  I’m still not convinced that the “Law” isn’t a statistical fluke–I look forward to being able to resolve systems outside ours so we can have a data set larger than one.

Fair Trade, by Avram Davidson, reads like a Clifford Simak piece.  A pair of aliens make a forced landing in a backwoods town and party the natives before being rescued by another alien-crewed ship.  Before departing, they swap their super-knives for a local manufactured good.  Its identity is not disclosed until the end.  One of the few non-somber pieces from the author.

Finally, we have Wilson Tucker’s To the Tombaugh Station, a very good, novella-sized mystery involving a man, an asteroid miner by trade, suspected of murder, a tough woman bounty hunter sent to investigate him, and the long long trip across the solar system they spend together.  Wilson Tucker has a penchant for writing strong female characters, and he does an excellent job here.  The whodunnit aspect is nicely done, too. 

I note that there is a Planet X beyond Pluto in this story, Tombaugh Station having been established solely for the purpose of investigating it.  Tucker, at least in the instant tale, subscribes to the popular theory that Pluto was once a moon of Neptune. 

Tallying up the numbers, we have a strong 3.5-star issue, well worth your time and 40 cents.  See you soon with something Amazing!

[Nov. 26, 1959] Happy Thanksgiving! (December 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Happy Thanksgiving!

This season, we have much to be thankful for, but I am particularly thankful that I ended this publishing year on a high note—the December Fantasy and Science Fiction.

If anything could get out the taste left by this month’s Astounding, particularly the Garrett story, it’s F&SF.  In this case, the lead novelette, What now, little man? by Mark Clifton, was the indicated antidote.

Clifton addresses the issue of racial abuse head on with this excellent tale.  On a distant mining colony, humans have only one native source of food—the bipedal, humanoid “Goonie.”  When the colony was first inhabited, the Goonies were deemed unintelligent by human standards.  They seemed to have no culture, and they let themselves be slaughtered without so much as a peep of protest.

Then they proved to be trainable.  At first, they performed simple beast-of-burden chores, but over time, they learned more sophisticated skills.  By the time of the story, many can read and write, and one exceptional example can perform as an accountant.

This tale is that of a man wracked with conscience.  This farmer, who was the first to train a Goonie to perform advanced mathematical services, is convinced that the slaughter of Goonies is wrong.  To champion this cause, he is willing to put his life on the line, though it turns out that a female sociologist from Earth employs better, non-lethal methods to effect change, or at least to set the world on the course of change.

The protagonist, and the reader, are left with the fundamental questions: What defines intelligence?  Who defines intelligence?  Can one justify making the definition so rigid as to exclude members of one’s own race?  And what do the Goonies represent?  True pacifists?  The ultimate survivors?

Good stuff.  Four stars.

Dr. Asimov has another fine article, this one on the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.  It’s well timed, perhaps on purpose, as I’d just read a scholarly article on a new revised atmospheric model.  We’ve learned a lot in just three years of satellite launches. 

I’ve never heard of Gerard E. Neyroud.  His Terran-Venusian War of 1979, in which Venus conquers the Earth with love, but subsequently devolves into civil war, is glib and fun, if rather insubstantial.

Marcel Aymé has another cute short translated from the French.  The State of Grace is about an (un)fortunate fellow whose saintliness is blessed with a halo only a few decades into his life.  This quickly becomes a terrible annoyance to his wife, who begs him to do something about it.  His solution: to sin like there’s no tomorrow.  Yet, no matter how far he indulges himself in the seven deadly sins, he cannot rid himself of the damned thing.  The moral is, apparently, piety will out, even when covered in degradation.

Stephen Barr’s The Homing Instinct of Joe Vargo is chilling stuff, indeed.  An expedition to a mining planet finds a truly unbeatable creature.  Ubiquitous, cunning, and virtually indestructible, “It” is a translucent blob that kills by extruding threads of incredible strength, constricting its prey, and slicing it alive.

Only one fellow, the eponymous Joe Vargo, is able to survive thanks to equal parts wisdom and luck.  The ending of the story is unnecessarily downbeat, and also implausible.  As with Poul Anderson’s Sister Planet, one can excise the coda and come away with a perfectly satisfying story.

Jane Rice has another good F&SF entry with The Rainbow Gold.  Told in folksy slang, it is the story of a somewhat magical (literally) yokel family and their quest to secure that legendary pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  It’s a lot of fun, and it has a happy ending. 

damonknight has, perhaps, the best line of the issue in his monthly book column.  Writing of Brian Aldiss, he says, “If the writer ever does a novel with his right hand, it will be something worth waiting for.”

The Seeing I is Charles Beaumont’s new column on science fiction in the visual media.  In this installment, he details at length his involvement with the new show, The Twilight Zone.  It’s an absolutely fascinating read, and it just goes to show that things of quality can still be made, on purpose, so long as people are willing to invest the time and energy into the endeavor.

Finally, we have Robert Nathan’s A Pride of Carrots, written as a radio play.  That’s because it actually was a radio play a couple of years ago on CBS.  The prose has been substantially embellished, but it’s largely the same story.  At least, I think it is.  I’m afraid fell asleep during the last act of the radio show.

I won’t spoil the plot, save that it involves the planet Venus, two warring states peopled by vegetables, two visitors from Earth, and an interracial love triangle. 

But is it good, you ask?  Well, it’s silly.  It’s not science fiction, but it is occasionally droll.  Try it, and see what you think. 

That wraps up the year.  I’ll be compiling my notes to determine which stories will win Galactic Stars for 1959.  I’ll make an announcement sometime next month.

In the meantime, enjoy your turkey.  I’ll have more for you soon.

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.