Tag Archives: William W. Stuart

[June 13, 1962] THE SINCEREST FORM? (the July 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

The July Amazing starts off ambiguously, with Stonehenge on the cover—often a bad sign, you could find yourself in Atlantis if you’re not careful.  But it illustrates A Trace of Memory, a new serial by the reasonably hardheaded Keith Laumer, so we may be spared any deep wooliness.  I’ll defer reading and comment until it’s complete.

So what else is there?  Excepting the “Classic Reprint,” this is the Literary Pastiche issue of Amazing.  The first of three short stories is The Blonde from Barsoom by Robert F. Young, featuring an aspiring fantasy writer whose work is virtually plagiarized from Edgar Rice Burroughs, as we are shown entirely too clearly.  It is vivid, because he has a knack for projecting himself into Burroughs’s world, and it soon enough occurs to him that maybe he could project himself into a more pleasant and less strenuous world.  Two stars for this slick but annoying trifle.

Then there is Richard Banks’s The Last Class, a Zola pastiche, which we know because it is subtitled (With Apologies to Emile Zola), and the blurb-writer helpfully adds that Zola wrote a similar story of the same title set just after the Franco-Prussian War.  This version is set in a regimented future world where people seem to live underground and get around via matter transmitter, and features a schoolteacher who tells her students about the Twentieth Century, when people were free, and gets caught at it.  It’s pretty well done, except that the teacher is referred to throughout as Miss Hippiness because she has big hips.  Would anyone refer to a sympathetic male central character as Mr. Beergutty or Mr. Hairybackish?  It’s an annoying distraction from an otherwise reasonably commendable story, holding it at three stars. 

This Banks—not to be confused with the more established and prolific Raymond E. Banks—has published one prior story in F&SF and one that sounds pretty SFnal (Roboticide Squad) in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

In between these two is William W. Stuart’s A Prison Make, in which a guy wakes up in a disgusting institutional setting which proves to be a jail, charged with something that he doesn’t remember—but in this world, law enforcement can rummage around in your mind, and they can damage your memory doing it.  He’s got a lawyer—a robot on wheels in very poor repair who doesn’t hold out much hope.  The story is about his adjustment to his absurd and outrageous situation, and if it sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it’s a downmarket SF rendition of Kafka’s The Trial.  As with the other stories, you don’t have to figure it out on your own, since the blurb-writer refers to it as a “Kafkaesque tale.” Well, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best, or at least the most interesting.  This one too is well done if a little heavyhanded in places, but without any stupid missteps like Mr. Banks’s character-naming gaffe.  Four stars.

So maybe it’s not such a bad idea to have SF writers emulating great mainstream writers of the past.  Who’s next?  I hear James Joyce is kind of interesting.  Just—please—no more Hemingway.  (See Hemingway in Space by Kingsley Amis from last year’s Judith Merril “best of the year” anthology.)

Interestingly, there is no editorial comment other than in the blurbs on the fact that three of the five fiction items here are overtly derived from the work of other authors.

The “Classic Reprint” this month, G. Peyton Wertenbaker’s The Chamber of Life from the October 1929 Amazing, is actually pretty good.  Once more we have the nearly omnipresent plot device of this old SF: ordinary guy is invited by scientific genius to check out his invention, and trouble follows.  But Wertenbaker could write: he had a plain and understated style which compares well to the clumsier and more stilted diction of some of his contemporaries, and he avoids the tiresome digressions of the recent Buck Rogers epic.  Here the invention is the ultimate motion picture: all senses are engaged and the viewer is precipitated into an encompassing hallucinatory world, in this case, a regimented utopian society of the future.  This guy was ahead of his time; too bad he hung it up in 1931, after only half a dozen stories.  Four stars.

Ben Bova contributes another science article (the second of four, we are told), The Three Requirements of Life in the Solar System, which is better organized and more to the point than the one in the previous issue.  The three requirements are a “building block atom” for construction of large molecules, a solvent medium in which large molecules can be built, and an energy exchange reaction.  On Earth, these are of course carbon, water, and hydrogen-oxygen respectively.  Bova then runs down the possibilities for life on each of the planets (for Mars, “almost certainly”; for Venus, “quite possibly”; Jupiter “might”; and the rest, “probably not” or worse).  That “almost certainly” is a surprise; but Bova asserts, “Even the most conservative astronomers will now grudgingly admit that some form of plant life no doubt exists in the greenish areas of the Red Planet.” That’s certainly news to me.  Three stars.

Bova’s articles, by the way, are illustrated by Virgil Finlay (unlike Frank Tinsley’s, which had at most diagrams or badly printed photos)—an interesting conjunction.  Finlay illustrates this month’s sober rendition with something like a fanged lobster with tentacles (“Artist’s rendition of author’s conception of Jovian sea-creature”), and last month he presented a pageant of DNA, the animal kingdom from trilobite to H. Sapiens overlaid with the double helix, its meticulous detail badly betrayed by Amazing’s mediocre printing.

***

One other item of interest appears in Or So You Say, the letter column: one Julian Reid of Canada takes Mark Clifton to task at great length for the misanthropy of his recent stories in Amazing, and compares them knowledgeably and unfavorably with Clifton’s earlier work.  Clifton replies at almost the same length, asserting variously that he was just kidding, he venerates humanity and that’s why he bothers to needle it, and his mail is running fifty to one favorably about those stories. 

***

And, looming inescapably, in inexorable pursuit . . . B_______ B_________.

(Don’t miss your chance to see the Traveler LIVE via visi-phone, June 17 at 11 AM!  A virtual panel, with Q&A, show and tell, and prizes!)

[January 14, 1962] Horrors! (February 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

Since the demise nearly a decade ago of the fondly remembered magazine Weird Tales, there has been a dearth of markets for horror stories.  Occasionally a tale of terror will appear in the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but otherwise there are few places where fiction dealing with the deepest, most irrational fears of humanity can be found.  Perhaps this is due to the burgeoning popularity of science fiction as an expression of modern anxieties in this age of space exploration and atomic energy. 

Even at the local movie theater one is more likely to find radioactive mutants and creatures from outer space than vampires, werewolves, and mummies, though the recent revival of these Gothic monsters by the British film production company Hammer hints that the tide may be changing, as does the popularity of classic horror movies on television programs such as Shock Theater.  The new publication Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by well-known science fiction fan Forrest J. Ackerman, also proves that there are many readers still interested in the dark side of fantasy.

A striking exception to above trend is Fantastic, which often features supernatural horror stories along with the kind of science fiction found in its sister publication Amazing.  In particular, the February issue of the magazine contains at least as much of the former as the latter.

The surrealistic cover art by Leo Summers aptly conveys the mood of Fritz Leiber’s lead novelette “A Bit of the Dark World.” The story is set in modern Southern California.  (Leiber has been a pioneer in bringing the supernatural into the Twentieth Century ever since his story The Automatic Pistol appeared in Weird Tales in 1940.) Four passengers are driving through steep hills near Los Angeles.  In the back seat are the narrator and his lover, who are in the movie business.  (In a sly nod to his roots, the author gives these characters the surnames Seabury and Quinn, Seabury Quinn having been a prolific writer of horror fiction, with hundreds of stories to his credit, many in Weird Tales.)

In the front passenger seat is their host, who is bringing them to his small but luxurious home for the night.  At the wheel is a neighbor.  On the way they share a strange vision at a peculiar rock formation.  The driver sees nothing, and this character soon vanishes from the story.  He seems intended to represent those who have no ability to sense anything beyond the physical world, and thus he is completely safe from it.

The other three are not so fortunate.  As the night progresses they experience unnerving sensations; a burning smell, a metallic flavor, the feeling of cobwebs, the sound of falling gravel.  Most of all they perceive vague shapes, shining black against an equally black night sky.  Leiber creates an effective sense of inexplicable menace which leads to a dramatic conclusion.  Four stars.

Before returning to tales of terror, Daniel F. Galouye (a likely Hugo contender for his recent novel Dark Universe) offers us a taste of his skill at creating imaginative science fiction in A Silence of Wings. Set in the far future, when humanity has made contact with many different alien species throughout the galaxy, the story takes place on a planet inhabited by flying telepaths.  Although friendly to the visiting humans, they have no interest in learning about Earth technology and are to content to remain gliding from place to place in their treetop homes.  The Terrans are not entirely altruistic in offering to bring advanced science to the flyers; a prime motivation is to enlist them in exploiting the planet’s resources.  In a foolish attempt to force the aliens to adopt machinery, one of the humans uses logic to “prove” that their wings are far too frail to allow them to fly.  Since this ability is the only thing which prevents them from being destroyed by ravenous ground-dwelling predators, a crisis ensues.

The story reads in some ways like a typical Analog story reflected in a funhouse mirror.  The self-confident humans smugly think themselves superior to the local natives.  The author is careful to avoid depicting them as one-dimensional villains, however, resulting in a believable set of characters.  Three stars.

Although also set in a future of space travel, this time confined to the limits of the Solar System, Joseph E. Kelleam’s story The Red Flowers of Tulp is really an old-fashioned horror story decked out with science fiction trappings.  It deals with three vicious space criminals who encounter the title plants at a carnival on Mars, just after reaping the benefits of their latest felony.  The flowers not only talk, but predict their futures (they really serve only as a plot gimmick, and could easily be replaced by a Gypsy fortuneteller.) They state that one of the men will die by cold, one by fire, and that one will never die.  The reader is not terribly surprised to discover that these predictions all come true.  It’s a moderately effective tale of just desserts, worthy of two stars (three if you’re more generous than I am).

Appropriately, this month’s reprint is credited, in part, to the late H. P. Lovecraft, another veteran of Weird Tales whose name is associated with stories of terror.  I suspect that “The Shadow Out of Space” is primarily the work of co-author August W. Derleth.  Derleth, along with Donald Wandrei, founded the Arkham House publishing company with the goal of preserving the work of Lovecraft in hardcover.  Derleth and other authors have expanded on Lovecraft’s concept of ancient, god-like beings far beyond human comprehension into the so-called “Cthulhu Mythos.”

Taking its title from Lovecraft’s 1936 story The Shadow Out of Time, this variation on the same theme was first published in The Survivor and Others, a 1957 Arkham House collection of Derleth’s elaborations on notes and outlines left by the deceased author.  The story is told from the point of view of a psychiatrist examining a patient who suffers from terrifying dreams.  These involve inhabiting the body of an inhuman creature in a vast library located on a distant planet.  It is eventually revealed that these aliens are able to send their minds into the bodies of others, including human beings, over vast distances of space and time.  Derleth weaves together many themes from Lovecraft in an apparent attempt to make a coherent whole.  Fans of H. P. Lovecraft will appreciate the effort, but the story itself is rather dry, and the author forgets the important rule to show and not tell.  Two stars.

We turn from cosmic terror to more mundane fears in our final story.  William W. Stuart’s What If? has something of the flavor of an introspective The Twilight Zone episode.  The protagonist is a fellow who has been so dominated by a willful mother and a bureaucratic job with the IRS that he is unable to make the simplest decisions on his own.  When he is asked to make a trivial selection between a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich, he foresees the tragic consequences of each choice.  Unwilling to hurt anyone because of his actions, he goes into a catatonic state.  Years later, in a psychiatric institute, he emerges from his trance and decides to act only in his own self-interest, disregarding how his decisions will harm others.  Although his strange ability to predict the exact consequences of all his actions allows him to become rich and powerful very quickly, the outcome is not entirely pleasant.  Three stars.

Overall, this issue provides solid entertainment, even if it may not be the best choice to read all alone in the dark…

[Then again, who reads in the dark?  Best to, at least, bring a flashlight!  Ed.]

[Apr. 29, 1960] A Banks Shot (June 1960 Galaxy, Part 2)

Without preamble, let’s get to the second half of this month’s Galaxy, the June 1960 issue.  I hope you’ve all been reading along with me because there will be a quiz next period.


by Wood

Jack Sharkey is a prolific newcomer who started out in the lesser mags.  His The Dope on Mars, the first-hand account of a journalist sent to the Red Planet, is fair.  The title actually is a clever (if intentional) pun, as it suggests both the true story about Mars and the moron sent to cover it.  And that’s ultimately what I found frustrating—the reporter really comes off as a putz.  On the other hand, recalling my competition back in my reporting days, perhaps the depiction isn’t that far off the mark.

Transstar is a dense novelette, and is the first thing by Raymond Banks that I’ve really enjoyed.  In fact, were it not for the slightly disappointing ending, it would have earned the coveted 5-star award.  In the far future, humanity has spread across a thousand star systems.  Protecting it is the extra-governmental agency, Transstar, with millions of ships at its disposal.  This overwhelming force comes with a hefty price tag, however, and partial mobilization does not appear to be an option.  This sounds implausible on its face, but recall that the French mobilization of the last war had similar problems, which was one of the reasons there was no armed resistance to the German taking of the Rhineland in ’36. 

Despite the massive scope of the backdrop, Transstar is a very personal story, that of one agent stationed at a small colony that happens to be next in line for conquest by the sadistic Eaber, who also have a thousand systems under their control.  The story is by turns poignant and horrifying, written in an excellent, understated fashion.  My only issues are with the ending, which was both too glib and somewhat inconsistent.  But I’ll save the rest of my commentary for the letter column.


by Dillon

I remember Charles de Vet largely from his propping up the rather dismal January 1959 AstoundingMonkey on his Back, de Vet’s contribution to this month’s Galaxy is an interesting adventure story.  Imagine if Harrison’s Slippery Jim diGriz suddenly got amnesia and went to a shrink for help. 

Frederic Brown’s Beware Earthmen Bearing Gifts is over almost before it starts.  Taken at face value, it’s a silly premise, but there are two valid themes conveyed: the principle that nothing can be observed without affecting it, and, our methods of exploration may be more destructive than necessary. 


by Dillon

Idea Man, by British neophyte John Rackham (who wrote the lead story for the November 1959 issue of IF) has a fun piece on what it’s like to have a great concept but limited vision for its application. 


by Dillon

Finally, we have Inside John Barth, by the brand new William W. Stuart (I’m seeing a trend; ever since lowering his rates, editor Gold is having trouble getting old pros to work for him).  It’s a rather fascinating tale about a fellow who becomes a colony (in the 17th century sense of the word) for a clan of aliens.  Their relation is symbiotic, for the most part, though the “host” increasingly resents the salutary restrictions placed on his activities to ensure the benevolence of his internal environment.  A good first effort, for sure.

So there you have it: a solid 3-star issue (sadly, with nary a female writer nor much of a female character presence).  Let me know what you think, and I’ll see y’all in a few days!