Tag Archives: wilson tucker

[June 9, 1960] To Pluto and the Future (July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

I was recently told that my reviews are too negative, and that I should focus on telling the world about the good stuff; for that hopeful fan, I present my assessment of the July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction.  There’s not a clunker in the bunch, and if none of the stories is a perfect gem, several are fine stones nevertheless.

My receipt of this month’s issue was accompanied by no small measure of eagerness.  The cover promised me two stories by female authors (Zenna Henderson and Miriam Allen deFord) as well as a novella by Wilson Tucker, who wrote the excellent The City in the Sea.  Here’s what I found inside:

Stephen Barr is no stranger to Fantasy and Science Fiction, having appeared in the book twice before.  His lead short story, Oh I’ll take the High Road is softer stuff than his usual science fictiony fare, but I enjoyed it.  It features a poet scientist, who invents a thought-propelled space drive, and the eternal love he shares with a professor’s daughter.  Where he ends up, and how that love endures, makes for a pleasant (if not particularly remarkable) story.

I’d never head of Hollis Alpert before.  His newness may explain the unusual nature of his premiere science fiction piece, a mock academic presentation called The Simian Problem, in which a professor discusses the relatively recent (fictional) phenomenon that involves women giving birth to degenerate ape children.  The occurrence of such “monsters” is on the exponential increase, it seems, and an effective treatment remains elusive.  The format meanders jarringly from first person expository to dialogue, but the sting in the story’s tail is worth waiting for.

Moving on, we have the delightful Theodore Cogswell with The Burning, a portrayal of a dystopic future from the point of view of a most unusual teen gangster.  Those involved in a certain ubiquitous youth organization may get more out of it than I did.

Zenna Henderson is always good, of course.  Her Things is the story of a first encounter between an alien aboriginal race, told from the point of view of its female spiritual leader, and humanity.  The Terrans bring all manner of technological gifts, but are they worth the physical and philosophical price?  Should one sacrifice one’s very cultural identity for the chance to “progress” scientifically?  Tough questions, and Henderson pulls no punches.

I wasn’t quite sure how to react to A.H.Z.Carr’s It is not my fault, though upon reflection (and the measure of a good story is how much it makes you reflect), I think it’s quite good.  In brief: when a down-on-his-luck fellow collapses and dies in broad daylight near a busy thoroughfare, a momentarily attentive God dispatches an angel to determine who was at fault for the miserable death and dispense punishment.  Sometimes justice isn’t so easy as all that.

Then we have Miriam Allen deFord’s All in Good Time, another first person exposition story.  In this case, the setting is a first year law classroom a century from now, but this is largely incidental to the plot, which involves a cross-time bigamist.  It’s cute, and the presentation is more expertly handled than in the above-described Alpert story.  I particularly appreciated that, in the future, female lawyers seem to be as common as male ones.

Ever wonder what to give the fellow who’s had everything?  What is Heaven to someone who enjoyed life to its fullest?  Gordy Dickson asks those questions in his excellent The Last Dream.  Of course, for many, just being close to the Almighty is reward enough, but most like to think of Heaven (if it exist) providing physical benefits, too.  I bet the doughnuts are fantastic, for instance.  And non-fattening.

Dr. Asimov has a good, timely article on Pluto and what lies beyond this month.  It was one of my motivations for writing my own piece on the subject.  He spends a good bit of space on the interesting Titius-Bode Law that seems to govern orbital spacing in our system, at least out to Uranus.  I’m still not convinced that the “Law” isn’t a statistical fluke–I look forward to being able to resolve systems outside ours so we can have a data set larger than one.

Fair Trade, by Avram Davidson, reads like a Clifford Simak piece.  A pair of aliens make a forced landing in a backwoods town and party the natives before being rescued by another alien-crewed ship.  Before departing, they swap their super-knives for a local manufactured good.  Its identity is not disclosed until the end.  One of the few non-somber pieces from the author.

Finally, we have Wilson Tucker’s To the Tombaugh Station, a very good, novella-sized mystery involving a man, an asteroid miner by trade, suspected of murder, a tough woman bounty hunter sent to investigate him, and the long long trip across the solar system they spend together.  Wilson Tucker has a penchant for writing strong female characters, and he does an excellent job here.  The whodunnit aspect is nicely done, too. 

I note that there is a Planet X beyond Pluto in this story, Tombaugh Station having been established solely for the purpose of investigating it.  Tucker, at least in the instant tale, subscribes to the popular theory that Pluto was once a moon of Neptune. 

Tallying up the numbers, we have a strong 3.5-star issue, well worth your time and 40 cents.  See you soon with something Amazing!

Momentum stalled (October 1959 Galaxy; 8-13-1959)

I really enjoy the broadness of Galaxy’s 196-page format.  It allows for novellas and novelets, which is a story size I’ve come to prefer.  F&SF has lots of stories per issue, too, but they tend to be very short.  Astounding likes serials, which can be fine if they’re good, but dreary if they’re not.  I mentioned last time that this month’s issue was looking to be a star all through.  Let’s see if that prediction held true.


All pictures by Dick Francis

Wilson Tucker’s King of the Planet certainly did not disappoint.  You may remember that Tucker wrote the excellent Galaxy novel, The City in the Sea.  His writing skills are on full display in the instant story, about a old old man who has outlasted all of his comrades. and now lives a solitary existence in a mausoleum, the one remaining survivor of a colony of humans.  Every so often, he is visited by other humans from faraway stars.  They question him, conduct surveys, and then they leave, puzzled at the self-styled king’s longevity and solitude.  King is the story of one such visit.  There is an interesting, religious twist at the end; what is your take?  Let me know, would you?

Silence, by Englishman John Brunner, is also fine reading.  Abdul Hesketh has been the captive of the inhuman Charnogs, with whom humanity has been at war with for decades, for 28 years.  When he is at last rescued, his mind has been thoroughly damaged by the ordeal, and his treatment at the hands of his saviors, which amounts to near-torture as they attempt to pry useful intelligence from him, is anything but therapeutic.  A little let down by the ending, but a fascinating psychological exploration.

Sadly, the last two stories are not up to the standard set by the rest of the magazine.  Elizabeth Mann Borgese, polymath daughter of the famed German philosopher, Thoman Mann, has never written anything I really liked, and True Self is no exception.  It is a story of plastic surgery and feminine beautification taken to an absurd level.  A worthy topic of satire, but not a very engaging piece.

Lastly, “Charles Satterfield” (co-editor Fred Pohl, presumably working for peanuts) has a rather mediocre novelette (Way Up Younder) set on a future colony world with a decidedly Ante-bellum Southern culture with robots standing in for Black slaves.  It’s not bad; it just sort of lies there.

Where does that leave us with the star tally?

Sadly, the last two stories dropped the issue from 4 to 3.5 stars.  A pity, really.  What’s better?  A tight, good issue, or a less-good longer issue?
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Over the Mountain, Across the Sea (The City in the Sea;5-07-1959)

Every so often, I find a piece of fiction so compelling that I hate to give away too much about it for fear of spoiling the experience.  Going through my stack of Galaxy novels, the ones I picked up cheaply not too long ago, I came upon The City in the Sea, by Wilson Tucker, published eight years ago in 1951.  I had not heard of him before, but a quick polling of my friends determined that not only is he a BNF (“Big Name Fan”), but he is also quite an accomplished science fiction author.  Interestingly, he coined the term “space opera.”

Sometimes one can judge a book by its cover.  In fact, the scene depicted is right from the novel.  In short, several thousands of years from now, after an atomic holocaust destroys civilization, and global warming floods the continents, a resurgent matriarchy in England (having reached a Roman level of technology) establishes a colony on the American eastern seaboard.  Finding only lackluster specimens of native humanity there, they are surprised when a clearly superior fellow (male, no less) strides purposefully into the colony from beyond the Appalachians.  He is mute but compelling, and the colony’s Captain accompanies him back across the mountains, along with a company of woman soldiers, in search of the man’s settlement.

The ensuing story is told entirely from a female viewpoint (one of three: the efficient Captain Zee, her wry and charming doctor, Barra, and, briefly, the Captain’s adjutant, Donnie).  It is suffused with a sense of wonder, the kind you get in a good Pellucidar story, and it is satisfying from beginning to end.  City also has that good, timeless quality that will keep it a classic in decades to come.

So read it already!  I’m sure you can find a copy somewhere.  If you like it, drop me a line.  Fair readers, be advised that vital plot elements may be discussed in the correspondence below.

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