Tag Archives: Sydney van Scyoc

[January 10, 1963] (February 1963 Galaxy)

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


by Gideon Marcus

The Traveler family has now been on the island of Kaua’i (in the newest state of the Union, Hawai’i) for five days, and I can feel the shackles of the mainland loosening.  We are staying in a vacant worker cottage on the Waimea Sugar Plantation, guests of one of the manager’s, and it’s just lovely.  Timeless beauty surrounds us.  There’s no question but that this state is destined to be a tremendous tourist attraction some day – but I hope this island never loses its virgin charm.

It’s hard to describe the relaxation that comes with visiting this sub-tropical paradise.  In the main room of our three-room cottage, the Young Traveler plucks away at her ukelele, singing Elvis’ recent Hawai’ian hit, I can’t help falling in love with you, and then the apt Jamaican Farewell popularized by Belafonte not long ago.  Last night, we were guests of the Gaylord family at their Kilohana estate.  After a sumptuous meal of meticulously prepared fish and delectable desserts (including a half-coconut), we dallied in the Sitting Room as one of the family played Scott Joplin tunes on the piano. 

Of course, even in this Westernmost bastion of America, modern civilization is encroaching.  We flew into the new small but international airport at Lihue (and commerce is already relocating from its traditional center here at Waimea to that burgeoning mini-city).  The grocery chain, Safeway, is building a supermarket on the island. 

And then there are the relics of the Mainland we’ve brought with us in the form of the books packed in our suitcases.  The Young Traveler has been devouring Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People (Watch out World!), while I have just finished this month’s Galaxy.

Its editor, Fred Pohl, has spilled much ink over the role of the science fiction writer.  He insists that our job is not to predict the future, and indeed, we’re pretty bad at such things, statistically speaking.  Rather than saying, “This is what will happen,” we really say, “This is what will happen if.”

The timing is no coincidence.  The February 1963 Galaxy is filled with “what will happen ifs,” — have a look:

Home from the Shore, by Gordon R. Dickson

Dickson’s story asks, “What will happen if the nascent trend of undersea living is carried to its logical conclusion?”  The result is, as we’ve seen previously explored in The Underwater City, a nation of humans living underwater.  Living in Castle-Homes and Small-Homes on the ocean floor, some six million people, enhanced by genetics and technology, thrive alongside their dolphin companions.

It is an uneasy existence, the Landers resenting the independence of their former brethren (who they’d hoped to use primarily as stock for space exploration).  As Home from the Shore begins, one of the sea people’s leaders, Johnny Joya is defecting from the astronaut corps to rejoin his people.  It turns out that the precipitous action is the spark that provokes war between the Landers and the mermen.  Willy-nilly, this fight will catapult the sea people to the next phase of their existence.

Dickson pens a vivid piece, but it feels more prologue than complete tale, and the details are a bit too oblique to follow in places.  In particular, I’m never quite sure just how life underwater works or how it’s sustainable.  I found myself stalling at the beginning a number of times.  I think Shore earns three stars, but just barely.

Think Blue, Count Two, by Cordwainer Smith

This latest tale of the “Instrumentality,” Smith’s unique far future, explores the ramifications of centuries-long space flight given an unchanging temperament for humans.  How will we keep our sanity, our morality, when faced with the yawning vastness of space, divorced from the society that keeps us civilized.

Think Blue, Count Two is a sequel, of sorts, to The Lady who Sailed the Soul, which introduced us to the concept of interstellar sailing ships and deep frozen passengers.  This latest edition stars an ingenue colonist, chosen solely for her beauty, and details how she manages the increasingly neurotic attentions of her two male co-passengers.

It’s another beautiful Smith tale, but Think Blue is less about what the protagonist does but what happens around and to her.  Riveting but somehow unsatisfying stuff.  Four stars.

For Your Information: First Flight by Rocket Power, by Willy Ley

To project where we’re going, one has to know where we’ve come from.  This month’s science department traces down the very first rocket powered human flight and then describes the important ones since.  Three stars.

(Anyone want to lay odds on whether the Russians will beat Gordo Cooper to be the first person in space in 1963?)

Comic Inferno, by Brian W. Aldiss

Aldiss makes a bold prediction in this story of robots and people: As life gets easy, our breeding instinct will wane, and a hundred years from now, the world will be a fraction as populated.  Mechanical people will fill in the gaps, being our servants and our underclass.  But what if the romen tire of their inferior position?

There are great concepts in here, but Comic Inferno is rather rough sledding, what with its Extremely British satirical style.  Much like the Dickson, it takes time to get into, but in retrospect, the trip was rewarding.  Three stars.

Pollony Undiverted, by Sydney J. Van Scyoc

Here is another journey into an indolent future, in which all needs are met save for the ones that matter most – those that give us emotional satisfaction.  Van Scyoc gives us a tale from a feminine perspective that captures the frivolity of existence and the fleeting nature of happiness in a world made infinitely small by teleportation.  Three stars.

Day of Truce, by Clifford D. Simak

Did you just put up a fence to keep tykes from riding their bicycles and scooters on your property?  Maybe a menacing “No Trespassing” sign?  What if these are the first unplanned shots in an escalating war between the Homeowners and the Punks?

Simak writes a fun, barbed story about a battle deep in the course of the conflict at a time when a man’s home is truly a castle, and the teenage delinquents are armed with time bombs and Molotov cocktails.  Four stars.

The Bad Life, by Jerome Bixby

You may remember Bixby from his The Twilight Zone story, It’s a Good Life.  His latest story shares no similarities but for the titles and the overwhelming sense of feeling trapped in a hellish situation.

John Thorens is a do-gooder, a Hand of the Helping Hands dispatched to the Jovian artificial moon/penal colony called Limbo to bring solace to the criminals living there.  The extrapolation in this piece is, “How would a first generation Australia in space treat a well-meaning vistor?” 

Not well.  An intellectual among boors, a civilized man among animals, Thorens is hounded and beaten to the point of insanity. 

This is a brutal story, difficult to read, made compelling by Bixby’s sheer “writerliness” (as one of my readers might put it).  Not recommended for the easily disturbed, and perhaps Bixby overdoes the writing by 10%.  But it’ll sure stay with you.  Three stars. 

And that’s that.  A dense read, a hard read at times, but in many ways a rewarding one.  None of the futures depicted are pleasant ones, but they offer valuable signposts of potholes to avoid on the path of progress.

Next up – John Boston and this month’s Amazing!

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Check your mail for instructions…]




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

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


by Gideon Marcus

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

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

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

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

The Ballad of Lost C’mell, by Cordwainer Smith

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

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

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

Come Into My Cellar, by Ray Bradbury

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

The Earthman’s Burden, by Donald E. Westlake

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

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

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

A City Near Centaurus, by Bill Doede

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

How to Make Friends, by Jim Harmon

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

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

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

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

Roberta, by Margaret St. Clair

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

Bimmie Says, by Sydney J. Van Scyoc

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

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

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

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

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

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




[February 14, 1962] St. Valentine’s Update (The Second Sex in SFF, Part V)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s not quite time for a funeral, yet!

Nearly a decade ago, the Chicken Littles of our genre scribbled at length in our magazines and buttonholed each other at conventions to voice their fears that science fiction was dying.  Well, it is true that we are down to just six American sff digests per month, off of the 40 magazine peak of 1953.  On the other hand, I’d argue that we’re not that much worse off for having lost the lesser monthlies.  Moreover, sff novels still seem to be doing a brisk trade.

In the three years since I started this column, I’ve seen a cadre of new writers burst onto the scene; clearly, no one told them that their field is dead!  And while sff continues to be something of a man’s world, this fact is changing, slowly but surely.  Since just last year, when I wrote 18 mini-biographies of the women authors of science fiction, I’ve become exposed to a whole new crop of female bylines.  Some of them are just new to me, having been in the biz for a long time.  Others are genuinely fresh onto the scene. 

Without further ado, the supplemental list for early 1962:

Doris Pitkin Buck

Currently an English teacher at Ohio State University, at least two authors that I know have enjoyed her tutelage: John Jakes and Harlan Ellison.  Mrs. Buck is a comparative rarity in our genre.  Not many manage to balance unabashed love for sff and a “respectable” career in academia.  Said career includes an active college writing stint, a cluster of stories written in the early 50s and a couple of recent pieces, of which I was not particularly fond, but that nevertheless suggest a high degree of literacy. 

Mildred Clingerman

Like Buck, Clingerman is a veteran with ten years of professional sff experience under her belt.  Her consistent career has produced 16 stories, most of them published in the pages of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Sadly for my readers, her last one came out in 1958, just before I started this column.  However, she recently released A Cupful of Space, a collection of all of work to date, so you can enjoy her quirky, often whimsical, occasionally macabre stylings all in a sitting.  Like Buck, she’s a teacher, at the University of Arizona.

Kate Wilhelm

The elusive Ms. Wilhelm has enjoyed a prolific career that started in 1956 and yet has rarely crossed my path.  I first encountered her excellent The Mile-Long Spaceship in the April 1957 Astounding.  This tale of a telepathic contact across the stars was impressive despite its extreme shortness; it must have really impressed Astounding editor, John Campbell since his magazine tends to be the most staggish of the digests.  Her latest work, A Time to Keep was not in the same league, but everyone is entitled to periodic variances.  Here’s hoping she publishes more works in the magazines I cover – there aren’t many that I don’t these days…

Otis Kidwell

Otis Kidwell, who acquired the surname Burger some time after her birth, sprang onto the sff scene just last year with the compelling The Zookeeper.  However, it was hardly the first publication of this noteworthy New Yorker (great-grandaughter of famed abolitionist, Sydney Howard Gay) – her short pieces have appeared in The New Yorker since 1957. 

Sydney J. Van Scyoc

“Joyce,” as her family and friends know her, took on her mannish first name to help her break into the science fiction market.  It took several years of writing for her work to see print, but her premiere tale Shatter the Wall, which came out just last month, shows real promise. 

Maria Russell

Ms. Russell (real name, Mary R. Standard) is a true newcomer.  Her first (and currently only) story is The Deer Park, a haunting, surreal tale that was a fine addition to the F&SF in which it appeared.  Details on her non-writing career are scarce, but I am given to understand that she is computer systems analyst in Connecticut, a fine career for a science fictioneer. 

Anne Walker


Picture courtesy of the Vassar Chronicle

Ms. Walker (also known as Mrs. Gutterman) is a Vassar graduate and New England resident with but two stories to her name, but boy were they good ones.  She’s newish, coming on the scene in 1959, so she has plenty of time ahead of her if she wants to continue.

Joy Leache

I’m afraid I know even less about Joy Leache, whose career started in 1959, and whose latest story, Satisfaction Guaranteed was a good’n.  Does anyone have a clue?

Rosemary Harris

A nurse during World War 2, Ms. Harris is Londoner whose first work, Hamlin, appeared in F&SF last year.  Hamlin is a derivative of the Pied Piper Tale, so it’s no surprise that Ms. Harris also writes childrens’ books.  Will she keep toes in both genres?

At this rate, we’ll soon reach gender parity in scientifiction, which I think will be to its benefit.  After all, that will mean we are finally seeing the best efforts of our entire population, not just one half.  I can’ wait to see who will be on the 1963 supplement!

[January 12, 1962] Odd one out (February 1962 Galaxy)


by Gideon Marcus

Science fiction is a broad genre.  It includes hard scientific, nuts-and-bolts projections that read like modern tales with just a touch of the future in them; this is the kind of stuff the magazine Analog is made up of.  Then you’ve got far out stuff, not just fantasy but surrealism.  The kind of work Cordwainer Smith pulls off with such facility that it approaches its own kind of realism.  In this realm lie the lampoons, the parables, the just plain kooky.  They get labeled as “science fiction,” but they don’t predict futures that could actually happen, nor do they incorporate much real science.  Rather, they end up in the sf mags because where else would they go?  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction showcases this type as a good portion of their monthly offerings (appropriately enough — “Fantasy” is in the name).

Galaxy magazine has always trod a middle road, delivering pure scientific tales, fantastic stories, and pieces of psychological or “soft” science fiction that fall somewhere in between.  It’s that balance that is part of what makes Galaxy my favorite magazine (that and stubborn loyalty – it was my first subscription). 

The first Galaxy of 1962, on the other hand, veers heavily into the fantastic.  Virtually every story presented has a distinct lack of grounding in reality.  Does it work?  Well…see for yourself.

Fred Pohl and his lately deceased frequent partner Cyril Kornbluth wrote a whole lot together.  In fact, I think they’ve published more since Kornbluth’s death than while he was alive!  I have to think Pohl is doing most of the work on Kornbluth’s outlines, but perhaps there’s something mystical going on.  Anyway, Critical Mass is the latest from this duo, a satirical “if this goes on” piece combining the mania for construction of bomb shelters and the public passion for baseball.  An entertaining piece though lacking in nuance.  Three stars.

LaGrange points, those places of gravitational stability involving two celestial bodies, were the topic of a recent Asimov piece.  Willy Ley now discusses them in his latest science column, For Your Information: Earth’s Extra Satellites.  There’s interesting stuff here though I’m afraid the Good German no longer has the gift for presentation that the Good Doctor possesses.  Three stars.

Shatter the Wall is an odd piece by newcomer, Sydney Van Scyoc.  Television, now taking up entire walls of houses, has become the object of the world’s attention.  In particular, a prosaic domestic drama featuring four stars whom everyone tries to emulate.  Wall reads like a dream, and if taken in that way, is a neat story.  I found it a little too off-kilter to really connect, however.  You might feel differently.  Three stars.

There’s a new hobby I’ve discovered called “board wargaming.”  Players do battle using cardboard chits representing military units and a set of rules considerably more involved that those of, say, Chess or Checkers.  Avalon Hill, a publishing company, started the fad with Tactics II, a simulation of modern strategic warfare, and recently followed it up with a D-Day game and a couple on Civil War battles.

Now, imagine if the world stopped settling their differences with armed conflicts and instead resorted to simulated fighting. 

That’s the premise of James Harmon’s The Place Where Chicago Was.  All war is simulated, presumably facilitated by computer.  Big cities are not actually destroyed in enemy pseudo-attacks.  Rather, they are simply quarantined for twenty years and left to fend for themselves.  Residents are forbidden to leave; outsiders are restricted from entering.  To enforce the peace, giant psycho-transmitters are set up that broadcast pacifistic thoughts to the populace. 

It’s such an implausible idea that I have to think Harmon is attempting some kind of satire.  On the other hand, it doesn’t read like satire.  It’s well written, but I don’t quite know what to make of it.  Three stars.


by Cowles

The Martian Star-Gazers is a “non-faction” piece by Ernst Mason, whom I’ve never heard of.  It tells the sad story of the erstwhile inhabitants of the Red Planet, done in by their fear of the heavens.  I appreciated Mason’s take on Martian constellations, particularly their contrast with terrestrial counterparts.  Three stars.

Algis Budrys writes deep, thoughtful stuff with a somber edge.  The Rag and Bone Men features a stranded alien intelligence that has taken over the Earth but only wishes to be able to go back home.  Terran science simply isn’t up to the task, and neither are the mind-slaved humans who labor at it.  A weird, perhaps overly poetic story.  Three stars.

Ed Wellen is back with another non-faction “Origins” piece, Origins of Galactic Fruit Salad.  A catalog of intergalactic service decorations, it’s in the same vein as his last piece: Origins of the Galactic Short-Snorter.  Sadly, unlike that work, Galactic Fruit Salad commits the cardinal sin of any comedic piece – it’s not funny.  One star.

The Big Engine, by Fritz Leiber, is solipsism done backwards.  The world is a giant machine, all of its pieces playing preordained parts save for the few components that become self-aware.  There’s not much to this story, but I must confess that I found it all the more memorable for having read it on a busy street corner, where the thrum of Leiber’s mechanical world was most immediate.  Three stars.

The balance of the issue comprises Part 2 of Poul Anderson’s Day after Doomsday, which as I said in my last article, was disappointing in comparison to the promising first half. 

While I applaud the effort toward experimentation in this issue, the result is an oddly monotonous clutch of stories, no “real” sf here.  Each of the tales might have been decent sandwiched between traditional stories, but they become an abstract, off-putting blob in unrelieved combination.  Galaxy would do well to return to its heterogeneous mix of sf types; I think trying to beat Analog or F&SF at their own games would be a bit of a forlorn hope.

See you in two with a “Fantastic” update!