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[September 18, 1962] On the Precipice (October 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Are the times changing?

Summer threatens to change to Fall, and the kids are going off to high school and college.  Is this just another turn of the wheel, or are we on the verge of something different, what Historian of Science Thomas Kuhn might call a new “paradigm?”

I had this feeling once before.  In ’53, right after Korea, and after Stalin died, America seemed poised on the edge of an unprecedented era of stability.  Well, really stagnation.  The pendulum had swung heavily in the direction of conservatism.  Black soldiers had come home from the war and were being treated worse than ever.  Ditto women, who had for a while gotten to enjoy some of the rights of men while they were off to war.  The swing music from the prior two decades had gotten overripe and shmaltzy, only somewhat mitigated by the western, blues, and latin music I was able to tune into on nights with clear reception.  The one truly bright spot was science fiction, which had been booming since the late ’40s.

Then rock and roll hit, and boy was it a breath of fresh air.  Sure, you couldn’t hear Black songs on White stations, but there’s no color bar on the airwaves.  Fragile 78 records gave way to durable 45s.  The vacuum tube started to step aside for the transistor.  We were building the missiles that would soon blast us to orbit.  At the same time, sf started to wane.  We went from forty magazines to six over the course of the decade. 

This, then, has been the recent paradigm.  Here we are nine years later, but Elvis and the Everley Brothers still dominate the airwaves.  A new President has asked us what we could do for our country, not what it could do for us; tasking us to go to the Moon before the decade is out, but Black men must still fight even for the right to go to school or ride a bus in much of the nation.  There are now ten thousand Russian troops in Cuba and ten thousand American soldiers in South Vietnam, but are these transitory brush fires or the tip of a belligerent iceberg?

Are the 1960s going to be a continuation of the 1950s?  Or are we overdue for a new epoch?  You tell me.  I’m no soothsayer. 

I suppose in one way, the shift has already happened.  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has become quite different since new editor Avram Davidson took over earlier this year.  It’s not bad, exactly, but it has meandered even further into the literary zone.  This has rendered one of my favorite mags almost unreadable on occasion.  The October 1962 issue does not have this problem, for the most part, but it’s not great.

Enough dilly-dallying.  Here’s the review:

A Kind of Artistry, by Brian W. Aldiss

The son of a baroque and decadent far future Terra journeys across the galaxy to make contact with a most unusual alien intelligence.  Upon his glorious return, he must decide if he has the strength to break the stultifying conditioning of his inbred upringing.

Aldiss wishes he were Cordwainer Smith, and he just isn’t.  Nevertheless, despite some rough patches, there are some good ideas here.  The extraterrestrial has a wildly implausible biochemistry, but the meeting of species is genuinely gripping.  Three stars.

There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, by Robert F. Young

Overpopulation continues to be the theme of many of our current science fiction stories.  A common concept is the idea that excess population can be shipped to the stars, but as any student of history knows, neither England, Spain, France, Portugal, nor any other country ever became empty as a result of colonization.  We can’t expect spaceships to change that equation. 

Neither does Young.  His story is cute, if one-note, holding our interest for as long as the idea can be stretched.  Three stars.

Twenty-Four Hours in a Princess’s Life, With Frogs, by Don White

What if all the fairy-tale princesses were pals, all living together in Hans Christian Andersonville with intersecting storybook plotlines?  Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel… the whole neurotic gang of them.  Don White explores that possiblity in a clever, funny piece that makes me hope that Disney never tries to combine its franchises.  What a mess that would be!  Four stars.

Inquest in Kansas (A Modern American Ballad) by Hyacinth Hill

The unknown Ms. Hill (I understand she may be Virginia Anderson) has a poetic piece about a woman seduced from her home and family by a unicorn.  Whether you find it horrifying or liberating depends on how you infer her life history.  Two stars, as it didn’t grab me.

Measure My Love, by Mildred Clingerman

What a fascinating, almost excellent, but ultimately disappointing piece this was.  Dodie is a youngish spinster whose actress cousin, Althea, has a penchant for melodramatic love affairs.  When Althea’s irresistible romantic nature meets the immovable, unwinnable affections of a married man, Dodie takes her cousin to the local witch, Maude, to cure her of her of broken heart.  Turns out the “witch” is more than meets the eye, but it’s an open question whether or not her panoply of equipment can remedy Althea’s condition. 

Clingerman is one of the most seasoned veterans our field, and her work has a pleasantly old-fashioned tone to it — appropriate both for the era (just post-war) and the protagonist portrayed.  The story moves you along the plot, slowly unfolding things to maintain your interest.  What hurt Measure for me was that, near the end, Maude mentions that she might also be able to cure Dodie’s “little problem,” hitherto undiscussed but strongly hinted at.  But then the problem turns out to be something completely different from what I expected (given the close relationship of the cousins, and Dodie’s unending patience where things Althea-related are concerned). 

I wonder if I guessed wrong, or if the ending was changed at the editor’s insistence for being a bit too…unconventional.  Either way, it turned a four-star story into a three-star one.  I’m probably being unfair, but unsatisfying endings sit poorly with me.

Slow Burn, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor touches on one of my favorite scientific topics — the theory of Phlogiston and how its research eventually led to the discovery of oxygen.  It’s one of those fascinating models that almost but not quite got things right, like impetus theory in the 13th Century ultimately led to the concept of momentum.  I mentioned Kuhn’s “paradigms” earlier, and Phlogiston is a perfect example of the concept.  Four stars.

The Unfortunate Mr. Morky, by Vance Aandahl

One of my readers once said that Mr. Aandahl really wants to be Ray Bradbury.  Surely, there must be loftier goals.  In any event, this incomprehensible piece about the connection between time travel and the profusion of milquetoast personalities isn’t worth your time.  On the other hand, it’s only a few pages, so you might as well see why I gave it only one star (and perhaps you’ll disagree with me).

The Journey of Joenes (Part 1 of 2), by Robert Sheckley

At long last, Bob Sheckley has come back to us.  It’s my understanding that he’s been writing mainstream mysteries and such, which probably pays better than sf.  His latest work, which Editor Davidson says is a hacked up version of the novelized form due out later this year, follows the adventures of Joenes, an American ex-power engineer raised in Polynesia.  His pilgrimage to the Mainland to find his destiny is a series of satirical vignettes told from a foreign and futuristic perspective that turns the story into a kind of dark Canterbury Tales.

It’s a fun read, though I hope there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  Sheckley is better at short stories than novels, so the format plays to his strengths.  I do have to wonder why F&SF prints chopped up novels to fill up half of two consecutive magazines.  I expect that of Ace Doubles, not a high-end digest.  Three stars so far.  We’ll see what happens.

And so we find ourselves on the other side of another issue.  On the face of things, it seems to reinforce the trend that F&SF is in a new and duller era.  Will we soon have enough data points to know if the larger world has changed, too?




[August 6, 1962] Bookkends (September 1962 IF Worlds of Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

It’s a hot, doldrumy summer.  My wife and I are hard at work.  Our daughter has headed to the North for a vacation.  There’s hardly anything in the news but sordid details of the Sol Estes case (if you’ve been living under a rock this whole year, he’s the Texas financier fraudster with dubious dealings with the US Department of Agriculture, not to mention Vice President Johnson). 

About the only item of interest is that the island of Jamaica is finally achieving independence.  I visited the place before the War.  I don’t remember much but lush beauty and friendly people.  The music coming out of the Caribbean is pretty interesting to my ear, too – some post-Calypso stuff including innovative steel drum work and a fledgling new genre that as yet has no name (q.v. Lord Creator and Robert Marley).

So in this languorous time, about the only consistent pasttime I can enjoy, aside from my records, is the ever-growing pile of stf (scientifiction, natch) magazines.  One of the ones I look forward to is IF, which, if it is not always stellar, usually has a few items of interest.  This month, the September 1962 issue has a lot of lousy stories, and editor Pohl cunningly placed the best one in front so as to dull the impact of the sub-par stuff that follows.  But the last tale is a fine reprise of the first, quality-wise.  See if you agree:

The Snowbank Orbit, by Fritz Leiber

A famous author and actor, Leiber’s works often approach sublimity.  This is one of them, combining both beautiful prose and cutting edge science fiction.  Plot in brief: a Mercurian mining vessel, one of Earth’s last remaining spaceworthy ships, is fleeing from an alien armada.  Its only hope for survival is to thrust at maximum acceleration toward the seventh planet, Uranus, and then use the giant planet’s gravity and atmosphere to slow it down and send it back in the direction of Earth.

There are so many interesting components in this tale: a demographically diverse and well-characterized crew, some truly bizarre aliens, a gripping set-up.  The scientific concepts, from the “International Meteor Guard” to the communication via visual light lasers, are both plausible and fresh.  Leiber’s use of color and texture makes for a literary experience yet does not get too self-indulgent.

Orbit is an almost great story.  I’m not sure what keeps it from hitting five stars save for its reminding me a little too much of Heinlein’s Sky Lift.  Nevertheless, it is vivid, it packs a lot into a small space, and the hero is a refreshing departure from the ordinary.  Four stars, and you may rate it higher.

One Million Four Hundred Ninety Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty Three Marlon Brandos, by Vance Aandahl

Aandahl has accomplished the fannish dream, to be published in one’s teen years.  His work runs to the literary side.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his first published piece, not of his stories break the three-star mark – including this one, about a bored teen girl whose desire to be wooed by the great mumbler momentarily subverts the will of a town’s menfolk.  It’s one of those “cute but doesn’t go anywhere” pieces.  Two stories.

The Winning of the Moon, by Kris Neville

Neville was a brief shining star at the turn of the last decade, right as stf was undergoing its post-War boom.  But the field proved too limiting for the young author’s vision, and now Kris mostly makes a living doing technical writing.  He still dabbles, though.  Moon is a Murphy’s Law tinged tale of lunar colonization, a satire that is grounded just enough in reality to be effective.  Three stars.

And Then There Was Peace, by Gordon R. Dickson

No matter how mechanized war gets, the burden of fighting will always rest on the shoulders of the beleaguered infantryman.  Peace explores the sad fate of a futuristic soldier after the conclusion of hostilities.  Dickson’s explored pacifistic themes before, particularly in his latest novel, Naked to the StarsPeace is mostly a gimmick story though, and if you can’t guess the wallop, then you’re very new to this business.  Two stars.

The Big Headache, by Jim Harmon

I never know what to expect from Jim; he wobbles in quality like a Cepheid Variable…but without the regularity.  In Headache, a pair of scientists develop an anti-migraine drug only to have it turn out to have lobotomizing side effects.  It’s played for laughs, but I only opened my mouth to grimace.  What might have been an effective horror story or cautionary tale Headache is, instead, neither fish nor fowl, and only succeeds in delivering what’s on the tin.  Two stars.

Transient, by William Harris

This is a ghost story, except the haunter is an alien, and the place of haunting is a computer.  It’s a frivolous piece one might expect as one of the lesser entries in any given issue of F&SF, but you may like it more than me.  Two stars.

Once Around Arcturus, by Joseph Green

A futuristic retelling of the Greek myth of Atalanta, the woman who would only be wooed by the suitor who could beat her in competition.  Green, a brand-new writer and employee at NASA, pens a pretty clunky tale.  He almost manages to make it work in the end, though…but then he flubs it.  I suppose if you took out the last paragraph and gave the piece a downer ending, it might be a whole lot better.  Instead, Green cops out with a literary Picardy Third.  Two stars.

World in a Mirror, by Albert Teichner

The universe is full of dangerous symmetry: anti-matter will violently destroy matter with which it comes in contact; a southpaw fencer or pitcher often makes mincemeat of her/his opponent.  And what will our stomachs make of left-handed DNA?  Teichner expects the worst. 

It’s a worthy topic to explore (and, in fact, I’ve speculated on the subject in one of my recent works), but the set-up in World is heavy-handed and doesn’t serve Teichner’s intent.  Two stars.

Just Westing, by Theodore Sturgeon

Writing science articles for the general public, even for an intelligent subsection thereof, is hard.  You have to distill complicated subjects in a way that folks can I understand, and then you have to explain to the readers why they should be interested in what you’re telling them.  Asimov does it effortlessly; Ley did and often still does.  I like to think I’ve gotten consistently good at it.

Sturgeon, brilliant author that he might be, has not.  His summary of the recent Westinghouse catalog of advancements is neither interesting nor particularly comprehensible.  Two stars.

Cultural Exchange, by Keith Laumer

Retief, the much aggrieved Jack of All Trades diplomat/secret agent must thwart a war between Imperial worlds covered up in a cloak of harmless-seeming personnel and equipment transfers.  Retief stories run from the overly broad to the gritty.  This one strikes a nice balance and delightfully plays up the interplay of bureaucracies, something with which Laumer has more than a passing acquaintance.  Four stars, and thank goodness after the string of mediocrity that precedes it.

Taken as a whole, this is a pretty lousy issue – just 2.4 stars.  Plus it’s yet another “stag” mag: no woman authors, virtually no woman characters.  But, if you take just the 35 pages comprising the first and last stories, you’ve got some excellent reading.  Whether that’s worth a penny a page…well, it’s your wallet.

Next up: The Travelers hit the drive-in for The Underwater City!




[June 25, 1962] XX marks the spot (July 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I’ve been thundering against the new tack Editor Avram Davidson has taken The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for several months now, so much so that I didn’t even save what used to be my favorite magazine for last this month.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when, in synchronicity with the sun reaching its annual zenith, the July edition also returns to remembered heights.  Of course, Davidson’s editorial prefaces are still lousy, being at once too obvious in describing the contents of the proceeding story, and at the same time, obtuse beyond enjoyment.  If there’s anything on which I pin the exceeding quality of this issue, it’s the unusual abundance of woman authors.  It’s been a long time, and their absence has been keenly marked (at least by me).  For the most part, the fellas aren’t too bad either.  Take a look:

Darfgarth, by Vance Aandahl

Hundreds of years from now, or perhaps thousands of years ago, a mesmeric bard named Darfgarth came to a little Colorado town.  He exerted his influence like a God, but men aren’t Gods, and men who aspire to be Gods usually meet an unpleasant end.  A nicely atmospheric story, though the seams showed through a bit too much.  Three stars.

Two’s a Crowd, by Sasha Gilien

A pair of polar opposite souls struggle for ascendancy in the tabula rasa mind of a newborn.  Gilien’s first published piece reads like one – uneven and with a hackneyed ending.  Two stars.  (Take heart – this is the only sub-par story in the book!)

Master Misery, by Truman Capote

When a thought-vampire steals all of your dreams, what is left to live for?  I tend to look dimly upon reprints as a cheap way to fill space, but it’s hard to complain about the inclusion of this story, by a very young Capote, fresh off the success (and controversy) of his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms.  It’s a dreamy, metaphorical piece, both in theme and delivery, and it works.  Four stars.

Stanley Toothbrush, by Carl Brandon

Newcomer Brandon has written a timeless yet incredibly now story about a tired young man, his fetching (but physically demanding) girlfriend, and the improbably named fellow who literally comes out of nowhere to threaten their relationship.  It’s the youth’s owned damned fault, but he doesn’t know it.  A very The Twilight Zone sort of piece that’s rising action all the way to the very pleasant end.  Four stars.

Subcommittee, by Zenna Henderson

Henderson’s first non-The People story in a good long while is a tale of finding common ground between two seemingly implacable foes.  In this case, the enemy is a fleet of alien exiles, the “good guys” the denizens of Planet Earth a few decades from now.  The cynical side of me groans at the naivete of the piece.  The romantic side of me kicks the cynical side a few times and reminds it that Henderson still spins a compelling yarn, and we can use a little hope in this harsh world.  I only cringe slightly at the highly conventional gender roles of Subcommittee – but then, I expect Henderson is making more of a statement about today than a prediction about the future.  Let’s hope HUAC doesn’t investigate her for being a commie peacenik.  Four stars.

Brown Robert, by Terry Carr

A gritty time travel story with a twist, but the set-up doesn’t quite match the ending, and the thing falls apart on closer inspection.  Good twist, though.  Three stars.

Six Haiku, by Karen Anderson

Better known as the better half of prolific writer Poul Anderson, Karen seems to be embarking on an independent career; her first story came out just two months ago.  Anyway, this handful of poetic trifles is worth the time you’ll spend on them, plus the customary 20% mark-up.  Three stars.

My Dear Emily, by Joanna Russ

A fine take on Stoker from the victim’s point of view, but is the increasingly unshackled Emily really a victim?  Russ doesn’t write often, but when she does, the result is always unique.  Four stars.

Hot Stuff, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor serves up an article on a subject near and dear to my astronomically-minded heart: the death of stars.  You may find it abstruse, but careful reading will reward.  Four stars.

Meanwhile, Alfred Bester continues to savage books he hasn’t actually read, to wit, his utterly missing the point of The Lani People.  Moreover, he refuses to do more than describe the plot of Catseye, so affronted is Bester by the grief Andre Norton gave him for his review of Shadow Hawk.  Ms. Norton was entirely in the right – I, too, was incensed when Bester proclaimed, “women just can’t write adventure.”  Firstly, Norton does not represent all of womanhood.  Secondly, Norton has proven countless times that she can.  And lastly, when’s the last time you wrote anything, has-been Alfred? 

It’s a good thing I don’t rate book review columns…

The Man Without a Planet, by Kate Wilhelm

A rendezvous on the way to Mars between the man punished for unlocking the heavens and the boy he inspired to reach them.  A great idea if not a terrific story.  Three stars.

Uncle Arly, by Ron Goulart

Yet another Max Kearney story.  This time, the avocational exorcist takes on the spirit of a buttinsky ad-man who won’t stop haunting a young man’s TV until he agrees to marry the ghost’s niece.  The prime requisite of a comedic story is that it be funny.  I chuckled many-a-time; call this one a success.  Four stars.

Throw in a conclusory Feghoot (the groan it elicits is a sign of its potency) and you’ve got an issue that comfortably meters in at 3.5 stars.  Four woman authors marks a record for the digest – any s-f digest, in fact.  Perhaps it is this quality issue that prompted “Satchmo’s” profuse praise, which now graces the back of the magazine:

[Apr. 28, 1962] Changing of the Guard (May 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I never thought the time would come that reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would be the most dreaded portion of my duties…and yet, here we are.  Two issues into new Editor Avram Davidson’s tenure, it appears that the mag’s transformation from a great bastion of literary (if slightly stuffy) scientifiction is nearly complete.  The title of the digest might well be The Magazine of Droll Trifles (with wry parenthetical asides).

One or two of these in an issue, if well done, can be fine.  But when 70% of the content is story after story with no science and, at best, stream-of-consciousness whimsy, it’s a slog.  And while one could argue that last issue’s line-up comprised works picked by the prior editor, it’s clear that this month’s selections were mostly Davidson’s. 

Moreover, Robert Mills (the outgone “Kindly Editor”) used to write excellent prefaces to his works, the only ones I would regularly read amongst all the digests.  Davidson’s are rambling and purple, though I do appreciate the biographical details on Burger and Aandahl this ish. 

I dunno.  Perhaps you’ll consider my judgment premature and unfair.  I certainly hope things get better…

Who Sups With the Devil, by Terry Carr

This is Carr’s first work, and one for which Davidson takes all the credit (blame) for publishing.  It sells itself as a “Deal with Diablo” story with a twist, but the let-down is that, in the end, there is no twist.  Two stars.

Who’s in Charge Here?, by James Blish

A vivid, if turgid, depiction of the wretched refuse that hawk wares on the hot streets of New York.  I’m not sure what the point is, and I expect better of Blish (and F&SF).  Two stars.

Hawk in the Dusk, by William Bankier

This tale, about a vicious old prune who has a change of heart in his last days, would not be out of place in an episode of Thriller or perhaps in the pages of the long-defunct Unknown.  In other words, nothing novel in concept.  Yet, and perhaps this is simply due to its juxtaposition to the surrounding dreck, I felt that it was extremely well done.  Five stars.

One of Those Days, by William F. Nolan

From zeniths to nadirs, this piece is just nonsense piled upon nonsense.  It’s the sort of thing I’d expect from a 13-year old…and mine (the Young Traveler) has consistently delivered better.  One star.

Napoleon’s Skullcap, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can a psionic kippah really tune you in to the minds of great figures of the past?  Dickson rarely turns in a bad piece, and this one isn’t horrible, but it takes obvious pains to be oblique so as to draw out the “gotcha” ending as far as possible.  Three stars, barely.

Noselrubb, the Tree, by Eric Frazee

Noselrubb, about an interstellar reconnaissance of Earth, is one of those kookie pieces with aliens standing in for people.  Neophyte Frazee might as well throw in the quill.  One star.

By Jove!, by Isaac Asimov

Again, I am feeling overcharitable.  It just so happens that I plan to write an essay on Uranus as part of my movie that took place on the seventh planet.  Asimov’s piece, about the internal make-up of the giant planets, is thus incredibly timely.  It’s also good.  Five stars (even though the Good Doctor may have snitched his title from me…).

The Einstein Brain, by Josef Nesvadba

F&SF‘s Czech contributor is back with another interesting peek behind the Iron Curtain.  Brain involves the creation of an artificial intelligence to solve the physical problems beyond the reach of the greatest human minds.  The moral – that it’s okay to stop and smell the flowers – is a reaction, perhaps, to the Soviet overwhelming emphasis on science in their culture.  We laud it, but perhaps they find it stifling.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: L, by Reginald Bretnor

Possibly the worst Feghoot…and there’s no small competition.

Miss Buttermouth, by Avram Davidson

The unkindly Editor lards out his issue with a vignette featuring a protagonist from the Five Roses, complete with authentic idiom, and his run-in with a soothsayer who might have a line on the ponies.  It’s as good as anything Davidson has come up with recently.  Two stars.

The Mermaid in the Swimming Pool, by Walter H. Kerr

Mr. Kerr is still learning how to write poetry.  Perhaps he’ll get there someday.  Two stars.

Love Child, by Otis Kidwell Burger

Through many commas and words of purplish hue, one can dimly discern a story of an offspring of some magical union.  Mrs. Burger reportedly transcribes her dreams and submits them as stories.  The wonder is that they get accepted and published.  Two stars.

Princess #22, by Ron Goulart

If Bob Sheckley had written this story, about an abducted princess and the android entertainer for whom she is a dead ringer, it probably would have been pretty decent.  Goulart makes a hash of it.  Two stars.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, by Vance Aandahl

Young Vance Aandahl made a big splash a couple of years ago and has turned in little of note since.  His latest, a post-apocalyptic tale of love, savagery, and religion, draws on many other sources.  They are less than expertly translated, but the result is not without some interest.  Three stars.

***

Generously evaluated, this issue garners 2.7 stars.  However, much of that is due to the standout pieces (which I suspect you will not feel as strongly about) and to a bit of scale-weighting for the three stars stories…that are only just. 

(by the way, is it just me, or does the cover girl bear a striking resemblance to the artist’s spouse, Ms. Carol Emshwiller?)

[July 27, 1961] Breaking a Winning Streak (August 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

Take a look at the back cover of this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.  There’s the usual array of highbrows with smug faces letting you know that they wouldn’t settle for a lesser sci-fi mag.  And next to them is the Hugo award that the magazine won last year at Pittsburgh’s WorldCon.  That’s the third Hugo in a row. 

It may well be their last.

I used to love this little yellow magazine.  Sure, it’s the shortest of the Big Three (including Analog and Galaxy), but in the past, it boasted the highest quality stories.  I voted it best magazine for 1959 and 1960

F&SF has seen a steady decline over the past year, however, and the last three issues have been particularly bad.  Take a look at what the August 1961 issue offers us:

Avaram Davidson and Morton Klass’s The Kappa Nu Nexus, about a milquetoast Freshman who joins a fraternity that hosts a kooky set of time travelers.  Davidson’s writing, formerly some of the most sublime, has gotten unreadably self-indulgent, and William Tenn’s brother (Klass) doesn’t make it any better.  One star.

Survival Planet, by Harry Harrison, features the remnant colony of the vanquished Great Slavocracy.  It’s not a bad story, but it’s mostly told rather than shown, the book-ends being highly expositional.  Three stars.

Vance Aandahl, as one of my readers once observed, desperately wants to be Ray Bradbury.  His Cogi Drove His Car Through Hell has the virtue of starring a non-traditional protagonist; that’s the only virtue of this mess.  One star.

Juliette, translated from the French by Damon Knight (it is originally by Claude-François Cheiniss), is a bright spot.  It’s a sort of cross between McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang and Young’s Romance in a Twenty-First Century Used Car Lot.  I found it effective, written in that Gallic light fashion.  Four stars.

For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you the point of E. William Blau’s first printed story, The Dispatch Executive.  Something about a bureaucratic dystopia, or perhaps it’s a special kind of hell for office clerks.  Hell is right, and here’s hoping we don’t see Blau in print again.  One star.

Then we have another comparatively bright spot: Kit Reed’s Piggy.  Per the author, it is “the story of Pegasus, although I don’t remember that his passengers spouted verse, and a mashup of first lines from Emily Dickinson, whom I admired, but never liked.”  There’s no question that it’s beautifully written, but there is not much movement as regards to plot.  Three stars.

A Meeting on a Northern Moor, Leah Bodine Drake’s poem on the decline of Norse mythology is evocative, though brief.  Murray Leinster’s The Case of the Homicidal Robots is a turgid mystery-adventure involving the spacenapping of dozens io interstellar vessels.  Three and two stars, respectively.

Winona McClintic is back with Four Days in the Corner, some kind of ghost story.  It’s worse than her last piece, and that’s nothing to be proud of.  Two stars.

Then we have Asimov’s science fact column, The Evens Have It, on the frequency of nuclear isotopes among the elements.  The Good Doctor’s articles are usually the high point of F&SF for me, but this one is the first I’d ever characterize as “dull.”  Three stars, but you’ll probably give it a two.

Rounding things up is Gordon Dickson’s The Haunted Village, about a traveler who vacations in a village whose inhabitants are hostile to outsiders.  The twist?  There is no outside world – only the delusion that such a thing exists.  Dickson is capable of a lot better.  Two stars.

I often say that I read bad fiction so you don’t have to.  This was especially true this month.  While Galaxy was quite good (3.4 stars), both Analog and F&SF clocked in at 2.2. 
For those of you new to the genre and wondering why they should bother (why I should bother), I promise – it’s not all like this.  Please don’t let it all be like this…

Coming up next: The sci-fi epic, Mysterious Island!

[January 2, 1961] Closing out the month (the January 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

If you are in the accounting profession, you are familiar with the concept of “closing the books,” wherein you complete all your reconciliations and regard a month as finished.  Here at the Journey, Month’s End does not occur until the last science fiction digest is reviewed.  Thus, though the bells have already rung for the new year of 1961, December 1960 will not officially end until I get a chance to tell you about the latest issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction!

It’s an uneven batch of stories, but definitely worth wading through the chaff for the wheat.  Avram Davidson’s The Sources of the Nile combines both in roughly equal proportions.  The story begins with an encounter between the narrator, a down-on-his-luck writer, and a haggard old fellow who once was able to predict the whims of fashion with uncanny accuracy.  Is it precognition?  Time travel?  Excellent taste?  No–as the protagonist learns, the source of his success is a modest family in a modest apartment that just seems to know.  Next year’s popular books, next year’s clothing fads.  Well, the narrator is denied certain fortune when, after a glimpse of this locus of prescience, he loses contact with the family.  He is thus doomed, like the guy who tipped him off, to search the world for this holy grail.

Davidson has adopted an avante garde style these days.  At first, I was much impressed.  After a dozen pages of over-cute overexertion, I was tired of it.  I applaud innovation, but not at the expense of readability.  Three stars.

Then we have Vance Aandahl’s The Man on the Beach, sort of a poor man’s The Man Who Lost the Sea.  Aandahl is not Ted Sturgeon, and his short tale, of an astronaut who lost his ship to murderous aborigines, somehow misses the mark.  Two stars.

But then there’s the ever-reliable Cliff Simak with Shotgun Cure, in which an ostensibly benevolent alien visits a country doctor (how Cliff loves those rural settings!) and offers him a cure for every illness in the world.  There’s just one catch: it also lowers the intelligence of the cured.  What price health!  A fair idea told in excellent Simak style.  Four stars.

Charles De Vet’s The Return Journey is also worthy: What recourse exists when a colony of Terrans expands beyond the boundaries set by treaty with the native aliens?  Sometimes the winning move is never to have played.  Four stars.

Rehabilitated, by Gordon Dickson, is a cross between Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon and Sturgeon’s More than Human.  A fellow seems ill-suited for work in the modern (read: near future) era.  He is rescued from a life of crime by a do-gooder outfit that rigorously trains him for a new profession: planetary colonist.  But it turns out that he is wholly unqualified for the job, having an IQ of just 92.  What was the point, then?  The organization is actually a network of telepathic misfits, all suffering from some degree of mental illness, from instability to retardation.  Working together, they maintain a balance such that each member’s strengths compensate for another’s weaknesses.  The training for colonization was just a a sort of dry run.  I have “Three stars” listed in my notes, but upon reflection, I think I’ll bump it up to Four. 

This trio of excellence is followed by a twosome of mediocrity.  William Eastlake’s What Nice Hands Held is a story of romance, infidelity, poverty, status, and magical realism in an heterogeneous Indian lodge.  Again with the trying too hard.  The other is Robert Young’s silly Hopsoil, about Martians visiting a post-apocalyptic Earth and raising a most unusual crop in our oddly fertile soils.  Two stars for both.

Asimov’s article this month, Here it Comes, There it Goes, is a bit of a disappointment.  It’s a summary of one of the current fads in cosmology, the idea that matter is created and disintegrated continuously, and that’s how the Universe is, always has been, and always will be.  The Good Doctor’s arguments (which are, to be fair, not his) are not particularly compelling.  Three stars.

F&SF is trying out poetry again.  Lewis Turco’s A Great Grey Fantasy didn’t strike my fancy.  Perhaps it will strike yours.  Two stars.

Rounding out the issue is a tour de force from an author who has been on fire these days, Poul Anderson.  Time Lag is a gripping novelette of the attempted conquest of one Terran colony by another.  It is told from the point of view of Elva, a married mother from the peaceful, apparently pastoral planet of Vaynamo.  Her husband is killed and her village savaged by an advance party of Chertkonians lead by the ruthless Captain Bors.  Elva is forced into the position of Bors’ mistress, and while Bors is not particularly cruel about it, we are never made to forget that Elva is an unwilling partner. 

Interstellar travel is a relativistic affair in this story.  The journeys between Vaynamo and Chertkoi take fifteen years of objective time even though they take only weeks of subjective time.  Thus, Time Lag is told in a punctuated series.  Through Elva’s eyes, we get a glimpse of the overcrowded and polluted Chertkoi, stiflingly authoritarian and caste-conscious.  Elva is taken along for the second assault on Vaynamo, in which the capital is atomized from orbit.  She bravely confers with a captured general under the guise of extracting intelligence and learns that the Vaynamonians, possessed of a highly advanced science themselves (as one would expect; they did come from star-travelling stock), are not quite so helpless as the Cherkonians have surmised.  Elva uses her position as consort to the increasingly prestigious Bors to obtain a degree of succor for the Vaynamonian captives, though her efforts are never entirely successful. 

The third assault from Chertkoi is the last.  Thousands of ships, the fruits of the labor of billions of oppressed souls, are unleashed against Vaynamo, a planet with a population of just ten million.  Bors, now a Fleet Admiral, is certain of his victory.  But is it really assured?

What elevates this story above a simple good-versus-evil story is the parallel drawn between the planetary and personal conflicts.  Elva has been enslaved, but she has not been defeated.  Her strengths go far beyond the blatantly visible.  Bors never breaks her; in fact, Elva quickly becomes his master, though he is never aware of the fact.  Similarly, Vaynamo does not need to win by matching the vulgar rapacity of Cherkoi; rather, the world relies on compassion, deliberateness, and immense inner strength.

Time Lag is a refreshingly feminine story from a feminine viewpoint, something which Anderson has been getting pretty good at.  I appreciated that there was no suggestion of taint upon Elva for her plight.  Like Vaynamo, she endured violations and pain, but she emerged an unbroken heroine. 

Five stars.

That comes out to an aggregate of 3.25 stars making F&SF the winning digest for the month (IF was just behind at 3.2, and Analog trailed far behind at 2.5).  I think IF wins the best story prize, however, with Vassi, and IF certainly wins the “most woman authors” award, with two (the only ones to appear in all three magazines).

And now 1961 can truly begin!

[Oct. 30, 1960] Halloween Candy (the November 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

With Halloween around the corner, one might have thought that there would have been an extra spooky issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction this month.  Nothing doing.  The current issue is nothing extraordinary, if not completely forgettable.  Having covered the end novellette in my last article, it’s time to cover the rest of the magazine.

I’ve never heard of Vance Aandahl before, but his tiny It’s a Great Big Wonderful Universe, about a sad Terran who has everything but the planet he hails from, is a good aperitif.  Four stars.

Robert F. Young is up next with his Romance in a Twenty-First Century Used-Car Lot.  It’s a weird extrapolation and intersection of two trends: an increased sanction of promiscuity coupled with a perverse need to be armored against the world.  In this story, everybody, but everybody, is expected to wear their own personal automobile at all times.  To go without is to be shunned as a “nudist.”  It’s all very strange and allegorical, but too silly to be effective.  Once again, it’s not up to the standard set by his excellent To Fell a Tree, though I did appreciate that the protagonist was female, and the story’s focus on the very real difficulties they face vis. a vis. men and society.  Three stars.

Who dreams of Ivy? is another macabre piece by Will Worthington set in a world marred by institutionalized violence and fear.  I’m afraid I didn’t quite get it, or maybe there isn’t much to get.  Is there a message to this dark look at election season, where mayors live in constant fear for their lives, and thus take this fear out on their citizens?  I feel as if Sheckley’s Ticket to Tranai did it better and more humorously.  Three stars.

Next up is an old old reprint, Funk, by John W. Vandercook.  It’s a well-written if somewhat pedestrian tale of dark magic on the steamy coast of West Africa.  What happens when you build a bank vault right square on the spot where the Crocodile God slithers to devour its periodic sacrifices?  Nothing good, I assure you.  The closest we get to a seasonal ghost story.  Three stars.

I did quite enjoy Combat Unit, from newcomer Keith Laumer, in which a damaged but still-sentient robot tank finds itself behind enemy lines.  This is a fine portrayal of metallic, sexless intelligence.  Four stars.

Yes, we have no Ritchard, by Bruce J. Friedman (normally a writer for the slicks), is a cute tale about an usual afterlife situation.  There is a Heaven and a Hell, but no one goes to Heaven, and Hell isn’t so bad.  So how does one distinguish the good from the bad?  And what happens to the ego of a good man in such a demoralizing predicament?  Three stars.

Finally, we have Isaac Asimov’s latest non-fiction piece, The Element of Perfection.  As one might gather from the title, it’s on the discovery of Helium (and, incidentally, the other noble gases).  It’s one of my favorite articles from the good doctor–educational and entertaining.  Five stars.

No surprises this month: an F&SF that finishes slightly on the positive side of three stars.  You won’t regret the expenditure of 40 cents (quite reasonably, really), but I suspect you won’t find yourself returning to this issue very often, either.

Tomorrow, a sneak preview at the month of November!