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[March 28, 1962] Paradise Lost (April 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I used to call The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction “dessert.”  Of all the monthly sf digests, it was the cleverest, the one most willing to take risks, and the most enjoyable reading.  Over the past two years, I’ve noticed a slow but decided trend into the realm of “literary quality.”  In other words, it’s not how good the stories are, or how fun the reading – they must be experimental and erudite to have any merit.  And if you don’t get the pieces, well, run off to Analog where the dumb people live.

A kind of punctuation mark has been added to this phenomenon.  Avram Davidson, that somber-writing intellectual with an encyclopedic knowledge and authorial credits that take up many sheets of paper, has taken over as editor of F&SF from Robert Mills.  Five years ago, I might have cheered.  But Davidson’s path has mirrored that of the magazine he now helms: a descent into literary impenetrability.  Even his editorial prefaces to the magazine’s stories are off-putting and contrived. 

I dunno.  You be the judge.

Gifts of the Gods, by Jay Williams

The premise of Gifts isn’t bad: aliens come from the stars to find Earth’s most advanced nation, and it turns out they’re the most primitive, technologically.  It’s three shades too heavy on the sermon, and it fails by its own rules (i.e. one can lambast states as a whole for not being perfectly self-actualized, but surely there are a thousand qualifying people within any given country that fulfill the ET’s requirements).  But then, these aliens seem to have shown up just to rub our noses in it.  Advanced indeed.  Two stars.

The Last Element, by Hugo Correa

Editor Davidson touts Sr. Correa as a brilliant find from Chile.  Sadly, this meandering piece involving (I guess) space soldiers who are undone in their attempts to mine a psychotropic mineral from a distant planet, feels incompletely translated from the Spanish.  It reads like an Italian sf film views.  Two stars.

The End of Evan Essant… ?, by Sylvia Edwards

A cute piece, more The Twilight Zone than anything else, about a fellow who is so determined to be a nebbish that he psychosomatically disappears.  It’s no great shakes, but at least it has a through line and is written in English.  Boy, my standards have dropped.  Three stars.

Shards, by Brian W. Aldiss

The editor advises that one give this story time to make sense lest you judge it prematurely.  He has a point.  This piece innovatively describes a traumatic out-of-body experience, and when you know the context, it’s not bad.  On the other hand, the context is laid out with surprising artlessness especially given the effort Aldiss puts into the first part (which is only readable in hindsight).  Three stars for effort, though your meter may hover at one star through most of the actual experience.

The Kit-Katt Club, by John Shepley

Something about a young, serious boy who abandons his starlet mother’s dissipated hotel life to frequent a bar with a literal menagerie of clientele.  I didn’t understand this story, nor did I much like it.  Maybe I’m just bitter at being made to look foolish.  Two stars.

To Lift a Ship, by Kit Reed

One of the few bright lights of this issue is Reed’s take on love, hope, greed, and despair involving two test co-pilots of a psionically driven aircraft.  I love how vividly we see through the eyes of the protagonist, and the subtlety (but not to the point of obtuseness!) with which the story unfolds.  Four stars.

Garvey’s Ghost, by Robert Arthur

I haven’t seen much from Arthur lately.  His stories have all been pleasant, fanciful fare and this one, about a most contrary ghost and the grandson he haunts, is more of the same.  Three stars.

Vintage Wine, by Doris Pitkin Buck

The English professor from Ohio is back, this time with a piece of ‘cat’terel (as opposed to the canine variety, which is not as good) that I actually quite enjoyed.  Four stars.

Moon Fishers, by Nathalie Henneberg

Charles Henneberg was a popular French fantasist who, sadly, passed away in 1959.  His wife, with whom he collaborated, has taken it upon herself to flesh out a number of remaining outlines for publication, Damon Knight providing the translations.  She has written well before, but her talents fail her this time.  This tale of time travel, Atlanteans, and ancient Egypt fails to engage at all.  One star.

The Weighting Game, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor takes on the subject of elements and how we determined their mass.  Just discovering that elements had mass was a critical step in understanding the nature of atoms.  Sadly, this article is really a highly abridged and much compromised version of his excellent book, The Search for the Elements, which came out two months ago.  I recommend you grab a copy and skip this article.  Still, substandard Asimov is still decent.  Three stars.

Test, by Theodore L. Thomas

A vignette about failing a driving test.  There’s the germ of a good story here, but the ending is too abrupt and affected to work.  Two stars.

Three for the Stars, by Joseph Dickinson

This piece is noteworthy for having one of the least intelligible Davidson prefaces.  Other than that, its a rather overwrought story about a chimp sent to Mars and back, and the scars he bears of the Martians he met.  Satire or something.  Two stars.

***

This issue ends up with a lousy 2.4 star score – by far, the worst magazine of the month, and possibly the worst F&SF I’ve read!  It’s a disappointing turn of events.  F&SF used to be the smart sf mag, and last month’s issue was a surprise stand-out.  With the arrival of Davidson, F&SF seems to be careening back toward smug self-indulgence.  I see that the back cover no longer has pictures of notables heaping praise on the book.  I wonder if they’re jumping ship… 

[November 8, 1961] Points East (Air Travel and the December 1961 Galaxy)


by Gideon Marcus

How small the world has gotten!

Less than a decade ago, trans-oceanic travel was limited to the speed of a propeller.  If you journeyed by boat, as many still do, it would take two weeks to cross the Pacific.  Airplanes were faster – with a couple of stops, one could get from California to the Orient in less than two days.  As a journalist and travel columnist, I spent a good amount of time in both hemispheres during the early 1950s.  I got to be quite seasoned at the travel game.

I have to tell you, things are so much faster these days.  The jet engine has cut flight times in half, taking much of the tedium out of travel.  Oh, sure, I always had plenty to do in the air, between writing and reading and planning my next adventures, but for my poor fellow travelers, there was little to do but drink, smoke, and write letters.  For hours and hours. 

These days, the Journey is my primary occupation.  I can do it from anywhere, and I often do, bringing my family along with me.  As we speak, I am writing out this article with the roar of the Japan Airlines DC-8’s jets massaging my ears, music from pneumatic headphone cords joining the mix.  It’s a smooth ride, too.  It would be idyllic, if not for the purple clouds of tobacco smoke filling the cabin.  But again, I suffer this annoyance for half the time as before.  I’ll abide. 

We’ve just lifted off from Honolulu, and in less than 8 hours, we will touch down at Haneda airport, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan’s capital.  We will be in the Land of the Rising Sun for two weeks, visiting friends and taking in the local culture.  I’ll be sure to tell you all about our adventures, but don’t worry.  I’ve also brought along a big stack of books and magazines so I can continue to keep you informed on the latest developments in science fiction.  Moreover, I’m sure we’ll see a movie or two, and we’ll report on those, too.

Speaking of reports, I’ve just finished up this month’s Galaxy Science Fiction.  I almost didn’t recognize this December issue as it lacks the usual fanciful depiction of St. Nick.  Instead, it features an illustration from Poul Anderson’s new novel, The Day After Doomsday, whose first part takes up a third of the double-sized magazine.  As usual, I won’t cover the serial until it’s done, but Anderson has been reliable of late, and I’ve high hopes.

The rest of the magazine maintains and perhaps even elevates Galaxy’s solid record.  The first short story is Oh, Rats!, by veteran Miriam Allen DeFord (the first of three woman authors in this book!) Rats reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone — I could practically hear Serling’s narrating voice as the story of SK540, a super-rat bent on world domination, unfolded.  Tense and tight, if not innovative.  Three stars.

Willy Ley has returned to original form with his latest non-fiction article, Dragons and Hot-Air Balloons.  Did the Montgolfier brothers get their lighter-than-aircraft ideas from the Chinese?  Have balloons been around since the Middle Ages?  Has the winged ancestor of the pterosaurs been discovered?  And, as an aside, did the Nazis really invent the biggest cannon ever?  Good stuff.  Four stars.

Satisfaction Guaranteed is a cute tale of interstellar commerce by Joy Leache.  Washed up salesman and his assistant try to figure out a profitable-enough endeavor for the elf-like denizens of Felix II such that they might join the Galactic Federation.  It’s a genuinely funny piece.  I’ve only one complaint: very early on, it is made clear that the woman assistant is the brains of the operation, yet she feels compelled to give credit the the fellow.  I prefer my futures looking a little less like the present!  Three stars.

Now, Algis Budrys, on the other hand, has no trouble breaking with the familiar entirely.  His Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night, involving a corporate executive whose plan to release television’s successor is thwarted by a seemingly immortal competitor, is a chilling mystery.  Just what gift did the Martians grant the businessman’s rival to make him so powerful?  And was it really a boon after all?  Four stars.

R.A. Lafferty tones his whimsical style down just a touch in his latest, Rainbird.  It’s a sort of biography of one Higgston Rainbird, an inventor who could have been, in fact was the greatest tinkerer in human history.  It just goes to show that a person’s greatest ally, and also one’s greatest impediment, is oneself.  Four stars.

An Old Fashioned Bird Christmas is Margaret St. Clair’s contribution, delivered in that off-beat, slightly macabre, but ever-poetic fashion that is her trademark.  A story of good vs. evil, of Luddism vs. progress, archaic religion vs. new, and with a strong lady protagonist to boot!  Four stars.

We’re treated to a second piece of science fact by Theodore L. Thomas, called The Watery Wonders of Captain Nemo.  Thomas praises the literary great, Jules Verne, for his writing skill, but then excoriates the French author’s use (or rather, lack of use) of science.  Every technical aspect of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is evaluated and picked apart.  To hear Thomas tell it, Verne knew about as much about science as his contemporary laymen…perhaps less.  An interesting blend of education and critique.  Three stars.

The issue is wraps up with a bang: The Little Man who wasn’t Quite, by William W. Stuart, is a hard-hitting piece about the horror that lies at the bottom of Skid Row.  A sensitive piece by a fellow who seems to know, it’s the kind of gripping thing Daniel Keyes might have turned in for F&SF.  Five stars.

And so Galaxy ends the year on a strong note.  Fred Pohl, now firmly in the editor’s seat, has done a fine job helming one of s-f’s finest digests into the 1960s.  This is the kind of magazine that could win the Hugo – it may well secure the Galactic Star this year.  It all depends on how F&SF is this month, the two are that close.

Next up… an article from our British correspondent, Ashley Pollard!