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[July 18, 1962] It Gets Better? (August 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

There’s a war going on in our nation, a war for our souls.

No, I’m not referring to the battle of Democracy versus Communism or Protestants against Catholics.  Not even the struggle between squares and beatniks.  This is a deeper strife than even these.


(from Fanac)

I refer, of course, to the schism that divides science fiction fans.  In particular, I mean the mainstream fans and the literary crowd.  The former far outnumber the latter, at least if the circulation numbers for Analog compared to that of Fantasy and Science Fiction are any indication. 

Devotees of editor Campbell’s Analog, though they occasionally chide the editor’s obsession with things psychic, appreciate the “hard” sf, the focus on adventure, and the magazine’s orthodox style it has maintained since the 1940s.  They have nothing but sneering disdain for the more literary F&SF, and they hate it when its fluffy “feminine” verbosity creeps into “their” magazines.

F&SF, on the other hand, has pretentions of respectability.  You can tell because the back page has a bunch of portraits of arty types singing the magazine’s praises.  Unfortunately for the golden mag (my nickname – cover art seems to favor the color yellow), many of the writers who’ve distinguished themselves have made the jump to the more profitable “slicks” (maintstream magazines) and novels market.  This means that editor Davidson’s mag tends to be both unbearably literate and not very good.

This is a shame because right up to last year, I’d sided with the eggheads.  F&SF was my favorite digest.  On the other hand, I’m not really at home with the hoi polloi Campbell crowd.  Luckily, there is the middle ground of Pohl’s magazines, Galaxy and IF

Nevertheless, there is still usually something to recommend F&SF, particularly Dr. Asimov’s non-fiction articles, and the frequency with which F&SF publishes women (“feminine” isn’t a derogatory epithet for me.)

And in fact, if you can get past the awful awful beginning, there’s good stuff in the August 1962 F&SF:

The Secret Songs, by Fritz Leiber

Leiber is an established figure in the genre, having written some truly great stuff going back to the old Unknown days of the 30s.  He even won the Hugo for The Big Time.  However, Secret Songs, a tale of a drug addled Jack Sprat and wife with countering addictions, won’t win any awards.  It’s not sf, nor is it very interesting.  I give it two stars for creative execution and nothing else.

The Golden Flask, by Kendell Foster Crossen

Boy, is this one a stinker.  Not only does Davidson ruin it with his prefatory comments (I’ve stopped reading them – they are too long by half, inevitably spoil the story, and are never fun to read), but the gotcha of this bloody tale is puerile.  One star.

Salmanazar, by Gordon R. Dickson

Some obtuse tale of the macabre involving magic, Orientalism, and a sinister cat.  Gordy Dickson is one of the better writers…when he wants to be.  He didn’t this time.  One star.

The Voyage Which Is Ended, by Dean McLaughlin

When the century-long trip of a colony ship is over, crew and passengers must struggle with the dramatic change in role and responsibilities.  This somber piece reads like the first chapter of a promising novel that we’ll never get to read.  I did appreciate the theme: a ship’s captain isn’t necessarily best suited to lead a polity beyond a vessel’s metal walls.  Three stars.

Mumbwe Jones, by Fred Benton

A vignette of undying friendship between a White trader and an African witch-doctor…and the vibrant world of sentient creatures, animate and otherwise, with which they interact.  An interesting piece of magic realism a little too insubstantial to garner more than three stars.

The Top, by George Sumner Albee (a reprint from 1953)

Career ad-man receives the promotion he’s always desired, allowing him at last to meet the President of the sprawling industrial combine of which the copywriter is just a valuable cog.  But does the Big Boss run the machine, or are they one and the same?  Another piece that isn’t science fiction, nor really worth your time.  Two stars.

The Light Fantastic, by Isaac Asimov

The good Doctor’s piece on electromagnetic radiation is worth your time.  He devotes a few inches to the brand new “LASERS,” artificially pure light beams that stick to a single wavelength and don’t degrade with distance.  I’ve already seen several articles on this wonder invention, and I suspect they will make them into a clutch of sf stories in the near future.

By the way, the cantankerous has-been Alfred Bester has finally turned in his shingle, resigning from the helm of the book review department.  In an ironic departing screed, he lamented the lack of quality of new sf (not that he’s contributed to that body of work in years), and states that people shouldn’t have been so sensitive to his criticisms.  To illustrate, he closes with the kind of chauvinism we’ve come to expect from Bester:

“A guy complained to a girl that the problem with women was the fact that they took everything that was said personally.  She answered, ‘Well, I sure don’t.'”

Good riddance, Alfred.  Don’t let the turnstile bruise your posterior.

Fruiting Body, by Rosel George Brown

I always look forward to Ms. Brown’s whimsical works, and this outing does not disappoint.  When mycology and the pursuit of women intersect, the result is at once ridiculous, a little chilling, and highly entertaining.  That’s all I’ll give you, save for a four-star rating.

The Roper, by Theodore R. Cogswell and John Jacob Niles

Some pointless doggerel whose meaning and significance escapes this boor of a reader.  One star.

Spatial Relationship, by Randall Garrett

Ugh.  How to keep two space pilots cramped in a little spaceship for years from killing each other?  Give them phantom lovers, of course.  I liked the story much better when it was called Hallucination Orbit (by J.T.McIntosh), and could well have done without the offensive, anti-queer ending.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Two stars.

The Stupid General, by J. T. McIntosh

Speaking of J.T.McIntosh…  The literature is filled with if-only stories where peace-loving aliens are provoked to violence by the hasty actions of a narrow-minded general.  But what if the fellow’s instincts are right?  A good, if not brilliant, story.  Three stars.

What Price Wings?, by H. L. Gold

This is the first I’ve heard from Galaxy’s former editor in a couple of years – I have to wonder if this is something that was pulled from an old drawer.  Anyway, a classic tale of virtue being its own punishment.  It ends predictably, but it gets there pleasantly.  Three stars.

Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman, by Harlan Ellison

Many years ago, on a lark, I translated the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice from an Old English rendition.  Now, in his first appearance in F&SF, Mr. Ellison presents a translation of the tale into hepcat jive.  It’s an effective piece, though heavier on atmosphere than consequence.  Three stars.

The Gumdrop King, by Will Stanton

The issue ends with a fizzle: a youth meets an alien, and incomprehensibility ensues.  I’m not sure that was the result Stanton was aiming for.  Two stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LIII, by Grendal Briarton

Oh, and the Feghoot pun this time is just dreadful.  Not in a good way.

Good grief.  Doing the calculations, we find this issue only got 2.4 stars.  It’s definitely a favorite for worst mag of the month, and indicative of momentum toward worst mag of the year.  Those philistines who subscribe to Analog are going to win after all…

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  You’ll have a chance to win a copy of F&SF – not this issue, I promise!)




[May 31, 1962] Rounding Out (June 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Ah, and at last we come to the end of the month.  That time that used to be much awaited before Avram Davidson took over F&SF, but which is now just an opportunity to finish compiling my statistics for the best magazines and stories for the month.  Between F&SF‘s gentle decline and the inclusion of Amazing and Fantastic in the regular review schedule, you’re in for some surprises.

But first, let’s peruse the June 1962 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and see if, despite the new editor’s best efforts, we get some winners this month (oh, perhaps I’m being too harsh – Editor is a hard job, and one is limited to the pieces one gets.)

Such Stuff, by John Brunner

Thanks to recent experiments, we now know what people cannot survive long when deprived of the ability to dream.  But what about that bedeviled fellow who enjoys an escape from nightmares?  And what if your mind becomes the vessel for his repressed fantasies?  A promising premise, but this Serling-esque piece takes a bit too much time to get to its point.  Three stars.

Daughter of Eve, by Djinn Faine

After an interstellar diaspora, there are but two remaining groups of humans on a colony world.  One is a large population of radiation-sterilized people; the other comprises just one man and his young daughter, the mother having died upon planetfall.  From the title of the story, you can likely guess the quandary the sole fertile man is faced with.  The childlike language of the viewpoint character (the daughter) is a bit tedious, but this first story by Virginia Faine (nee Dickson – yes, that Dickson) isn’t bad.  It stayed with me, and that’s something.  Three stars.

The Scarecrow of Tomorrow, by Will Stanton

Reading more like a George C. Edmondson tale than anything else, this pleasantly oblique tale describes the encounter between two farmers and a murder of crows…with a partiality for things Martian.  I reread the ending a half-dozen times, but I’m still not quite sure what it all means.  Nicely put together, though.  Three stars.

The Xeenemuende Half-Wit, by Josef Nesvadba

During the War, a prominent German rocket scientist is stumped by a thorny guidance problem.  Can his savant son help him out?  And is it worth the price?  Another moody, readable piece from Nesvadba.  I’m sure there’s a point, but I’m not quite sure what it is.  Three stars.

The Transit of Venus, by Miriam Allen deFord

I don’t usually go for expositional stories, but deFord makes this one work, particularly with the story’s short length.  In a world of regimentedly liberal mores, one prude dares to turn society on its ear with a scandalous go at winning the Miss Solar System beauty pageant.  A fun piece from a reliable veteran.  Three stars.

Power in the Blood, by Kris Neville

I didn’t much like this story when it was It’s a Good Life on The Twilight Zone, and I like it less here.  Some addled old woman with the power to destroy slowly deteriorates the world until there’s naught left but wreckage.  Disjointed, unpleasant, and just not good.  One star.

The Troubled Makers, by Charles Foster

About the reality-challenged psychic who bends reality to his will, and the Watusi Chief who helps him around.  You’ve seen versions of this story a dozen times or more in this magazine over the years, but it’s not a bad variation on the theme.  An assiduous copy of the mold from a brand new writer.  Three stars.

The Egg and Wee, by Isaac Asimov

I normally enjoy the Good Doctor’s essays, and this one, comparing the ovae of various creatures and then segueing to a discussion of the smallest of biological creatures, isn’t bad.  But it misses the sublimity that his work can sometimes achieve.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LI, by Grendel Briarton

Mr. Bretnor’s latest is much worse than normal, perhaps in Garrett territory.  But, I’ve never included these puns in my ratings, so I shan’t now.  Lucky for F&SF.

The Fifteenth Wind of March, by Frederick Bland

Penultimately, we’ve got the jewel of the issue.  As magical winds scour the Earth with increasing frequency and intensity, one thoroughly ordinary British family attempts to find shelter before it’s too late.  Both extraordinary and humdrum at once (no mean feat), it’s a poignant slice of unnatural life.  Four stars.

The Diadem, by Ethan Ayer

Mr. Ayer’s first printed story involves two women and the goddess that connects them.  It tries hard to be literary, but is just unnecessarily hard to read.  Two stars.

It should be clear to one with any facility with math (and who read every article this month) that the June 1962 F&SF was not the prize-winner this month.  In fact, the Goldsmith mags took surprising first and second place slots with 3.4 and 3 stars for Fantastic and Amazing, respectively.  Galaxy and Analog tied at 2.7 stars.  F&SF rated a middlin’ 2.8, but it may have had the best story, though some will argue that Fantastic’s The Star Fisherman earned that accolade.  It also had the laudable achievement of featuring the most woman authors…though two is hardly an Earth-shattering number. 

Speaking of women, the next article will feature women in the army.  And on that progressive note…ta ta for now!

[Nov. 26, 1961] End of the Line (December 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s the end of the year!  “What?” you exclaim, “but it’s only November!”  True that, but the date on my latest Fantasy and Science Fiction says December 1961, and that means it is the last science fiction digest of the calendar year that will go through my review grinder.

F&SF has been the best magazine, per my ratings, for the past several years.  Going into this final issue, however, it has lagged consistently behind Galaxy.  Would this final issue be enough to pull it back into 1st place?  Especially given the stellar 3.8 stars rating that Galaxy garnered last month?

Well, no.  I’m afraid the magazine that Bouchier built (and handed over to Mills) must needs merit 8 stars this month to accomplish that feat.  That said, it’s still quite a decent issue, especially given the rather lackluster ones of the recent past.  So, with the great fanfare appropriate to the holiday season, I present to you the final sf mag of 1961:

Damon Knight seems have gotten a gig as editor Mills’ favored French translator.  Perhaps the job was in compensation for Knight’s having been laid off as book editor for his scathing (unpublished) review of Judith Merril’s The Tomorrow People.  Claude Veillot’s The First Days of May is a grim story of a Parisian survivor after the devastating invasion of the bug people from outer space.  Beautifully told, but there are no happy endings here.  Four stars.

My friend, Herbert Gold, returns with The Mirror and Mr. Sneeves.  Well, I shouldn’t say returns given that this rather unremarkable story, about a frigid husband who swaps bodies with more vivacious men, was first published in 1953.  Notable mainly for its literary gimmicks and copious sexual teases, I was first inclined to give it just two stars.  However, I found myself remembering the story long after I’d finished it, and that’s usually a sign of quality.  Three stars.

You’ll definitely remember Anne Walker’s The Oversight of Dirty-Jets Ryan for its almost impenetrable future slang (which reads a lot like current slang with a few space-related words thrown in).  Well, it’s also a good story, this tale of a none-too-legal trading expedition from Callisto to an alien world.  I’d expect nothing less from the lady who brought us the high point of the August 1959 Astounding.  Three stars.

On the other hand, Will Stanton’s You Are with It! is pretty lousy.  Something about a game show in which persons become thoroughly absorbed in the role they play.  Two stars.

The Fiesta at Managuay is an excellent piece by John Anthony West, a metaphor for the destruction of native culture by more “civilized” societies.  If you find yourself in the tourists of Managuay, be justifiably concerned.  And if you do not, look harder.  Four stars.

Isaac Asimov’s science fact piece this month, The Trojan Hearse, is an interesting article on Lagrange Points, those points of relative gravitational stability one finds between a big world and an orbiting companion.  For instance, the Sun and Jupiter, or the Earth and the Moon.  The timing is fortunate given that I plan to write about Jupiter (and its “Trojan Points”) next month!  Four stars.

I can’t quite tell you why I loved Hal Draper’s Ms Fnd in a Lbry: or, the Day Civilization Collapsed so much.  Perhaps for its frightening, if satirical, plausibility.  Or maybe because I’m an archivist as well as someone who went through a graduate program where the professors were more interested in the cataloging of knowledge than knowledge itself.  Read it and tell me if it strikes you as it struck me.  Five stars.

Last up is the conclusion to Brian Aldiss’ “Hothouse” series (soon to be a fix-up book), Evergreen.  Sadly, what started out so imaginative and interesting has degenerated to near unreadability.  The more said about this future, sun-blasted Earth, the less plausible it gets, and the strained dialogue makes this apocalyptic travelogue a slog(ue).  Two stars. 

And so ends the year for F&SF, and with that, the magazines for all of 1961.  At last, I can dig out my graph paper and copious notes and start compiling data for this year’s Galactic Stars awards!  I hope you’ll look forward to them as much as I do!

East meets West (September 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction, second half; 8-04-1959)

A thousand pardons for my lateness.  It is partly to blame on mundane matters taking precedence, and partly to blame on my magazines showing up late this month.  Perhaps laziness is also a factor.  It’s languidly warm this Summer.

We left off half-way through this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Fifth in the line-up is Will Stanton’s Who will cut the Barber’s Hair? It is the very definition of a two-start story; I’ve had to go back several times to remember what it was even about.  In brief, a human from the far future, when creativity has disappeared, takes over a hayseed’s body to experience a bizarre cocktail party and feel the full gamut of human emotions.  Utterly forgettable.

On the other hand, newcomer Joanna Russ’ Nor Custom Stale stayed with me far longer than it ought to have given the silliness and simplicity of the premise.  A husband and wife shut themselves into a near-immortal house with the ability to generate Air and Food in limitless quantities.  They discover that adhering to an extremely regular schedule every day contributes to longevity.  In fact, the couple end up sleep-walking through thousands, if not millions, of years until the ultimate end of the Earth in a fashion recalling Leiber’s A Pail of Air.  I don’t know why I liked it so much, but I did, and I look forward to more by Ms. Russ.

Robert Graves’ Interview with a Dead Man is a cute reprint from 1950 about an embalmed fellow who still finds time to write.  It’s over almost as quickly as it begins, and it seems mortar for bricks, but I enjoyed it.

The Makers of Destiny, by Edward S. Aarons, is a direct sequel to his The Communicators, although it is so different in tone and content that I’d forgotten until recently, when I looked through my catalog of stories.  The world is rather fascinating–the Ten Day War erupts between East and West when an American bomber inadvertently bombs Moscow near the end of the century.  The United States and the Soviet Union are reduced to barbarism for decades, and the rest of the world shuns the erstwhile superpowers as pariahs.  Slowly, painfully, the United States reforms as a loose confederation with the aid of a group of psionically adept “Communicators.” 

In the instant story, Private Mugrath is a soldier of the Northern Union fighting in the last battles of the 15-year Civil War, which has waged since 2050.  But he is more than that–he is an esper under the control of the Communicators.  Their goal is to alter the course of history through the creation of squad of psychic superhumans–but there is resistance, and whether that resistance is some fundamental property of the universe or a traitor in the organization, is unknown.

I liked it a lot.  Evocative, dramatic.

Last up is Leslie Bonnett’s Game with a Goddess, a delightfully lusty (though oblique) tale of the ravishing of a comely acolyte by the Goddess of Love.  There aren’t many stories dealing with the mythology of the Orient, and this story does a great job of conjuring the setting and style. 

Apropos of nothing, have you read Robert van Gulik’s Chinese Detective novel, The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee?  It is excellent and lots of fun, a recreation of Ching dynasty mysteries set in the Tang dynasty. 

That’s that for this issue.  A unremarkable but not unpleasant 3-star issue.  See you in two days.  I’m sure I’ll have something for you!

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