Category Archives: Magazine Review

Mag Review: Imagination (October, 1950)

Greetings all

After a tumultuous October, it’s time to get back into the normal groove.

This week I’ll review Imagination, Vol. 1, No. 1 from October, 1950. Yes, that’s right, it’s the first issue of this magazine. I’m actually curious how it might differ from a regular issue, so let’s dive into it.

Imagination (October, 1950)
Imagination (October, 1950)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58906

Inside the front and back covers is a neat blurb and pictures about the new “scientifilm” Rocketship X-M. It’s a very 1950s sort of film, especially in how it looks at Mars, but it looks interesting.

We start reading with a rather large Editor’s column with one part by Forrest J. Ackerman and the rest by the regular editor, Raymond A. Palmer.

Most of you probably recognize Ackerman, but maybe not Palmer. However, Palmer was a foundational piece of SF magazines. He helped start one of the first fanzines and as editor for Amazing Stories bought Isaac Asimov’s first professional story. Imagination was his baby, for all intents and purposes.

In general, the editorial promises what Imagination would be. It is not terribly remarkable as it states that it will provide a freshtake on the SF magazine. However, based on what I see in the editorial and his biography, I think Palmer would have loved to be at the 20Booksto50K conference this week. He seemed to really enjoy bringing in new authors.

The first story in the issue is Chester S. Geier’s The Soul Stealers. It’s a workmanlike story, in my opinion. It suffers, I think, from a little too much plotting, in that I struggle at some of the transitions. A certain thing has to happen, so it happens, but I was not convinced by the events in the story that the thing was going to happen. It’s got action and mystery, but it didn’t quite mesh for me. It’s technically good, but left me wanting a harder fight for the protagonist.

Immediately after is a small space-filler that discusses the amazing impact of trucking and heavy earth-movers on American society. This is the most striking line: “All this is a harbinger of the future. Instead of concentration in cities as has been happening all over the world for the last few centuries, it is possible for a civilization to spread itself out all over the country and still produce as effectively as if it were in one spot” (p. 39). This is coming to pass, but Palmer could have had little idea of the internet. Still, it’s a prescient thought.

The next story is Wind in Her Hair by Kris Neville. I confess that when I see the name Neville I *always* think first about a shield bearing the device gules, a saltire argent, with 50 troops attached from the game Kingmaker. Sorry, not sorry.

Anyway, this Neville is a Missourian I have not ever heard of before. The reason why is SF was too limiting for him and after publishing a number of stories, he went to do other things that interested him. Namely, epoxy resins.

After reading this, I really wish he hadn’t shifted to epoxy resins. Wind in Her Hair is one of those “what happens on generational ships” kind of stories. How will our society evolve, and that sort of thing. This is a great example of the subgenre, because, in the end, it’s not really human society that’s evolved, but our physiology.

A screwed up environmental system meant the people on that ship now cannot breathe Earth air or live on Earth at all. The only way they find out is by actually returning to Earth. They’re excited about coming home, dreaming dreams of a future outside the ship, only to have their dreams crushed. Fantastic story.

Rog Phillips is next with One for the Robot – Two for the Same … Phillips, actually Roger Phillips Graham, is vaguely familiar to me, but I cannot recall reading anything by him. I’ll look for him in the future, though. His writing career is a tad tragic, and it’s a shame, because he looks to be a very good writer.

This story is about a scientist who tries to figure out how to transfer a human’s brain to a new, robotic body to make himself immortal. He figures out the secret, but in so doing he discovers something that essentially destroys him. He loses his reputation and becomes an alcoholic.

Another scientist replicates his work and tracks him down. He wants to know what it is that the main character discovered that destroyed him. He wants to try it himself, but doesn’t want to make the same mistake.

The main character’s first name is January. It’s a cool hint at the answer. The procedure doesn’t transfer the brain, it copies it. There is now a second one of himself, one facing back to what he has done, and the other facing to an immortal, robotic future. I’m not sure what I’d do in that situation, either. Very good story that kept me wondering until the end. It is only afterwards I really understood his first name.

Next is a couple of short essays. One discusses how brains work much the same as a TV or telephone does. The second essay talks about the brand new instrument, the encephalograph, and how it can help us understand sanity and why people murder other people. I wonder what we think of as cutting edge will seem so quaint to people in 2090.

We move on to the next story, Look to the Stars, by Willard Hawkins. Hawkins is another author I can’t remember having read before.

I’m a sucker for anyone who writes a mythology to start the story from whence that mythology derives. I like piecing the clues together, and this has all of that.

A crazy scientist creates a spaceship. Eight others come to him, not really by choice. By seeming accident, they get on the ship and it activates, sending them to the stars. But the ship has been encased in a special form of clay that holds anything with a spark of like in stasis, and takes them, along with all of the creatures and plants it has captured to a far distant world. These then repopulate the planet. The mythology is that of the eight’s descendants.

Part of the fun is the fact that seven of the eight are criminals and awful people. But the last line is, “All were gods, stupendous beings of high courage and noble aims…” (p. 149). It’s a good story. It drags a bit, and could have been smoothed, but it is still a fun read.

The last story is Inheritance by Edward W. Ludwig. This is actually his first published story of 25 or so.  It’s a solid story and creepy. A dog and her puppy run down into a cave and gets lost and her master chases them into the tunnel. They get lost for several days. During that time a chemical attacks kills everyone else on earth, but never reaches them.

He is initially terrified of being the only person left alive and contemplates suicide, but decides to have a last meal. He enjoys the best steak he can find, cigars he could never have afforded, and good scotch. He decides to enjoy these good things for a bit. Then he remembers there’s so much left to see on earth, and he decides to go visit them. There may not be people, but he’s got his dog and her puppy and he loves them more than people anyway.

After this story is a personal ad section. These include:

  • Have you seen flying disks or believes invisible beings walk the earth?
  • Selling a collection of SF/F books 3 for $1.
  • The Universal Musketeers , an unofficial fanclub around Newport News, VA, is looking for new members.
  • An F.J. Ackerman at 236 1/2 N. New Hampshire in Hollywood seeks certain magazines and books

Last is the letters to the editor page. First off is one by Chet Geier, yes the first author in this issue, thanking Palmer for the opportunities he has given him. There’s also a similar letter by Rog Phillips. My favorite letter is the one announcing all the things happening at Norwescon 1950. I wonder when this issue of Imagination was actually released, because Norwescon was actually on Labor Day, 1950 and this was the October, 1950 issue.

Anyway, though I didn’t really know any of authors coming into this issue, I really liked it. There’s no earth-shatteringly amazing story in here, but they’re all at least solid. Altogether, it’s an auspicious beginning and I look forward to future issues.

Next Week’s Issue: Fantastic Universe (December, 1957)


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: Astounding (May, 1941)

Greetings all

You have my apologies for not getting a chance to review a magazine last week. It will happen again next week as I’m on the road for most of the week.

This week, I’ll be reviewing the Astounding from May, 1941 (Vol. XXVII, No. 3). This is the first time I’ll be reviewing a magazine where I’ve read the issue immediately before or after. You can find my review for April, 1941 here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1352.

Astounding May, 1941 Cover
Astounding May, 1941 Cover

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?57588

This issue starts out with an editorial by John W. Campbell entitled History to Come. The opening line is a fun one to remember. “Fundamentally, science-fiction novels are “period pieces,” historical novels laid against a background of a history that hasn’t happened yet” (p. 5). I like that thought, especially since Campbell uses this editorial to discuss what that means. He focuses especially on the research involved and emphasizes that what an SF author should be doing is “mental research into possible future” (p. 5). He does this to set up Robert A. Heinlein’s “History of Tomorrow” timeline, which we’ll discuss in about 120 pages.

As I research this editorial and wallow in Campbell’s brilliance (and, of course, Heinlein’s), I discovered something very interesting. Alexei and Cory Panshin said in The World Beyond the Hill that this idea of world creation, which seems fairly obvious to me, changed science fiction. “Science fiction hadn’t been seen in these terms previously.  But the publication of Heinlein’s Future History chart would force a general alteration of perception of what science fiction was about and how it was made” (Alexei and Cory Panshin, Heinlein and the Golden Age (excerpt of The World Beyond the Hill), https://www.panshin.com/critics/Golden/goldenage3.html). I suggest you all read the whole article.

Baseball Yearbook Cover
Baseball Yearbook Cover

Then there’s an ad for the Street & Smith Baseball Yearbook of 1941. As a guy who got into sabermetric research in the late 80s, I think this is awesome. It’s the forerunner of Bill James and those who followed him.

That’s a young Bob Feller on the cover, by the way. He would play the summer of ’41, and do well, though not as well as in 1940. Then, of course, he loses 1942-44 and most of 1945 for the war, serving part of that as a Chief Petty Officer on the USS Alabama. I hadn’t actually caught that before, and it makes my time roaming around the Alabama a bunch of times as a kid even that more awesome.

These magazines are like traveling in time.

Anyway, I suppose we should actually turn to the fiction. The first story is Universe by Heinlein. Not surprisingly, given Campbell’s editorial, we see some of Heinlein’s most intricate world-building in this story.

The story is about a generational ship on its way to the stars. One fascinating little touch Heinlein used was the standard greeting, “Good eating.” With just that little bit, we learn a ton about the time and place. He’s so deft.

And the story is really good. What happens to humanity if they’re on a generational ship and many generations pass? What happens to their understanding of science? To their society?

It would change, undoubtedly. Our hero is someone who has grown from that society, raised by exiled muties, and learns the truth of their ship. His is now the job of tilting at the windmill of those generations’ evolution to get them, perhaps, finally, to Centaurus.

Oh, look. We move from Heinlein to Isaac Asimov. What a darn shame, having to read these two hacks. Such a bummer. Anyway, the story is another early Robot one starring Susan Calvin called Liar.

You’ve probably read this story as it was reprinted a bunch of times, but here’s a synopsis anyway. A brand new robot has the astounding ability to read minds, though how its positronic brain gained this talent is unknown and is completely not repeatable until they learn just how it happened.

RB-34, Herbie, is programmed with early versions of the Three Laws of Robotics, so this ability is a real problem for it. When it talks to people, it knows what they want, so telling them the truth might actually hurt them. So, it supplies the answer that the person talking to them wants.

Of course, this leads to conflict as Calvin desires the love of one of the other scientists and another character hopes to be the next director. After they realize Herbie is providing different answers to each person, they confront him. Now, Herbie is in an insoluble situation. No matter what he says, he will hurt at least one of the humans. In the end, he collapses in positronic insanity.

I love Asimov’s Robot stories because he’s so good at creating logic puzzles. Reading these stories in original form is incredibly fascinating because the laws of Robotics aren’t actually specified until 1942. In some ways, this is Asimov fumbling towards something amazing.

And yes, its a great story. Shocking, I know.

So we move to a story called Solution Unsatisfactory by Anson MacDonald. There’s a goodly amount to unpack in the author here, because that’s a pseudonym for Heinlein. Yes, he’s got two stories in this issue. What a fascinating time that was for science fiction.

And dates are really important when unpacking this story. This issue was released in May of 1941. The story is, essentially, about Mutually Assured Destruction. He’s asking the same questions that Truman would have to answer in 1945 and in the years following.

MAD was, and is, an unsatisfactory solution. Heinlein proposed another, that of a world-wide dictatorship which has a monopoly on the superweapon, but even he points out that will never work. Campbell has a follow-up to this story where he asks for any better suggestion. The request is almost pleading.

Moving on we get In Times to Come, the preview of the next issue. It promises a neat murder mystery, a “whodunit-to,” if you will, that helps deal with the challenge of writing a murder mystery in science fiction. The story is Ross Rocklyne’s Time Wants a Skeleton. I’m looking forward to reading that when I find that issue.

Also on that page is the scores from the ratings of the previous issue. Yeah, Heinlein might be good and really prolific at this time. The April issue also has one by him and one by him as Anson MacDonald. They were, by a large margin, the best-rated stories of that issue.

The next story is Eric Frank Russell’s Jay Score. This wasn’t a bad story, but I’ve had the twist before. It’s about a freighter that is blown off course by a micro-meteorite. It’s headed directly to the sun with broken rockets. They get the rockets going, but even so a slingshot around the sun will be difficult.

They only manage it because of Jay Score, the assistant pilot. He’s a larger than life figure. Six foot nine or so, laconic, immensely capable, and so good at chess that he’s actually able to be the Martians on occasion. He is, of course, a robot names J.20.

As I said, it’s a twist I’ve seen before and done better. It’s the kind of deus ex machina that bothers me. Surviving only because he’s a robot means that there’s no real heroism involved. Robots can be heros, just look at Asimov’s examples. But here we’re expecting to see a hero and instead we see something superhuman. It lessens the story for me.

Next is a cute little entry called Fish Story by Vic Phillips and Scott Roberts. Basically, it’s about a an old colonel telling tall tales in a bar. This particular story is about catching highly poisonous giant frog-like creatures on Venus. He succeeds by the use of creative chemistry.

As I said, it’s a cute piece of fluff, but highlights one of the few drawbacks of this exercise. I often wallow in the history of these stories, like I did in Solution Unsatisfactory. However, that’s a two-edged sword. So many of these are set on Venus or Mars as if they’re teeming with life, which we now know isn’t true. It’s a case of knowing too much sometimes.

We move on to Subcruiser by Harry Walton. This is ripping yarn of a ship captain drugged by his executive officer so he can steal their subspace cruiser and take it to their enemies. The captain thinks the drugs are simply part of alcoholic fits brought on by depression from a previous battle.

In the end, he manages to defeat his XO and save his ship, and in the process regain the trust of his crew. Great story. To bad Walton didn’t write more.

Next we get to the monthly section called Brass Tacks. This one is special, though, as it publishes a chunk of Heinlein’s timeline, as mentioned in the opening editorial. The entire section can be found here: http://astoundingstoriesatwar.lmc.gatech.edu/files/original/5c982f03ae0d7bd88f8b8a0f636f3860.pdf.

Next is the conclusion of The Stolen Dormouse by L. Sprague de Camp. Here’s the link to my review of the Astounding of April, 1941 and Part I: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1352.

This story is a mashup of a number of different threads. A bit of Ivanhoe. A heaping helping of Romeo and Juliet. Some Purloined Letter. However, there are a ton of loose threads. The heroes survive and live happily ever after, so that’s fine, but I feel like the ending was rushed and condensed. De Camp almost built too much depth into this world, and I didn’t think all of it was explored enough.

If you go to the story’s Wikipedia page, it has a number of comments from a variety of different perspective and I think that’s part of my frustration. So much is going on, it’s written well, and it’s full of action, so it’s a good novella. It’d be a better better novel, though.

That’s it for this issue. It was another great issue, but it’s hard to go wrong with two Heinleins and an Asimov.

I’ll probably not have a chance to do a review next week, so I’ll plan on getting one out Halloween day. That being the case, I’ll review the Imagination of October, 1950. This is actually the first issue of this magazine. I’m curious what I’ll find in a debut.

Thanks very much and have a great day.

Next Week’s Issue: Imagination of October, 1950.


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: Fantastic (March, 1974)

Greetings all

This week’s magazine won’t be the first I’ve reviewed published in my lifetime, but it’s the first one published after I’d learned how to read. It’s the Fantastic, Vol. 23, No. 2, published in March, 1974.

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58322

This month’s cover is disappointing. Not the artwork, because the art is a great example of this genre, but rather it’s the arrangement. The art is secondary to the text, as you can see. That’s a mistake, in my opinion.

However, there’s another treasure on the inside cover. It’s an ad for a book that will teach you about ESP. Better yet, it’s from the Rosicrucians. The AMORC is the kind of thing Dan Brown writes about. His stuff is a guilty pleasure, but I wish he would learn to write conclusions better.

Back to the cover, briefly. This issue’s cover price is $0.60 cents. In today’s dollars that’s about $3.20. Yeah, it’s smaller than a regular book, but that seems like a great price, especially since most people probably got this via a subscription at the corresponding reduced price.

Enough of me meandering. First is an editorial by Ted White. White’s name is not entirely unfamiliar to me, but if you had asked I could not have named a single place where I had read anything of his. He’s had a fun career, though. He’s also a jazz musician and critic. He’s written a Captain America novel. Where I might have seen him, though, is as an editor and writer for Heavy Metal. I read some of the magazines after the film came out. The soundtrack is still one of my favorites, by the way. OK, so maybe I’m not done meandering.

Anyway, in it White discusses why this issue bears no resemblance to any of the previous ads. He also talks about changes in typesetting and the challenges of an editor dealing with print companies. Interesting how the particulars change but the overall challenges do not.

White also discussed Alexei and Cory Panshin, Brian Stableford, and their respective works on science fiction and its place in society. Since I have not read the Panshins’ The World Beyond the Hill nor Stableford’s The Sociology of Science Fiction I am generally lost, though I will undoubtedly look all that up at some point, especially since we get a hint of what’s going on in Stableford’s essay later in the issue.

The big story in this issue is Part 1 of Brian Aldiss’s Frankenstein Unbound. This story, shockingly enough, is the basis for the movie titled Frankenstein Unbound. I know, I know. You wouldn’t have guessed if I hadn’t told you, but it’s true nonetheless.

Much of this story will be familiar to you, of course. The main character, however, is someone who gets sent back in time because the use of nuclear weapons in space has damaged the space-time infrastructure. Nevertheless, the story, at least the first part of it, asks similar questions of what makes humanity human. It’s also about whether progress is really progress.

Overall, I haven’t liked this story much, to be honest. There are a number of good scenes, like a discussion including both Shelleys, Byron, and the main character. However, I struggle with time travel stories because I can’t suspend my disbelief as much. They have to be precise and consistent, or I get knocked out of the story. This one has a number of jerky time movements that mess things up.

Also, there are a couple of scenes that threw me out of the story, including a weird thing with the main character’s children that seemed gratuitous. I suppose it could play a prominent role in Part 2, but I don’t know what that could be. Overall, I will hold off on final judgment until I finish the story, but thus far it’s not my favorite thing that Brian Aldiss wrote.

However, there’s a great line in Part 1 that I really liked: “…[H]ell hath no fury like a reformer who wishes to remake the world and finds the world perfers (sic) its irredeemable self” (p. 37). This especially resonated with me.

Next is R. Faraday Nelson with The City of the Crocodile. He’s not a prolific author, but he worked with Philip K. Dick, taught Anne Rice in a workshop, and apparently was the first one to identify the propeller beanie with science fiction.

This story is pretty good. It’s about a Roman who tries to cure his impotence by buying a slave girl in Egypt. Unfortunately, this girl is already married to Sebek, the Egyptian crocodile god. It turns out Sebek isn’t jealous, but he does care that the protagonist doesn’t mistreat her. So he watches the couple and leaves crocodile tracks all around, even though where they are has no crocodiles.

However, the hero is tricked into thinking that the governor of the province has sent him a letter directing him to get rid of the girl. He doesn’t want to leave her, and the only solution he can think of is to marry the slave girl and then kill her, telling her “Ave atque vale.”

Sebek still isn’t enraged, but he is miffed and he and the slave girl start harassing the main character. Eventually, the main character confesses to the authorities, hoping to be put into jail for his own safety. Of course, he’s to be put to death… in a battle against crocodiles. Yet there’s another twist. Sebek intervenes and saves his life. At the end, he thinks he hears the slave girl whisper “Ave atque vale” to him.

His Last and First Woman by B. Alan Burhoe. Burhoe didn’t write much SF, but he was a well-known professional chef and a contributor to a bunch of magazines.

This story apparently got him complaints from Robert E. Howard fans and I can understand why. The main hero, Cirnon the Barbarian, returns home after gaining his throne. He meets a girl and they sleep together, but he soon finds out she is his daughter kept looking young by her mother, who has only slept with one man: Cirnon when he left his homeland. Now he wonders what he has always been.

While I can understand why some Howard fans got mad over this story, I kind of think that Howard himself might very well have liked it. Conan was a deeper character than is often portrayed, and while he is the bad guy in this story, he was not always the good guy.

All in all, a well-done homage, in my mind, with a bitter twist at the end. Stories do not have to end on a happy note to be good.

Barry N. Malzberg is the next author with At the Institute. This is a grim story about a murderer getting treatment at the clinic. The treatment consists of putting him into a dream world where he has the choice of killing, or not. In the last dream, he kills himself for his own good.

It’s got all of Malzberg’s cynicism with a dash of cruelty. In general, his style is not my cup of tea and this story is in some ways merely another example. However, it’s a good story. It’s paced well and it brings the reader in. Those who like that style may love this story.

Images by Jerry Meredith comes next. I can find very little about Meredith, at least, I don’t know if I’m finding stuff about the same Meredith. He didn’t write much with only one other ISFDB listing, and I can see why. It’s a mediocre story about what reality is or isn’t. It could have been interesting, but misses some beats and lacks some information that might have made it better. I don’t usually want more exposition, but maybe I would have liked this story more with some.

However, there’s little I can think of that would make The State of Ultimate Peace by William Nabors any better. It is, by far, the worst story I’ve read so far in this sojourn through SF magazines. It’s message fiction about how war is bad. OK, fair enough, except the story is incoherent, rambling, an awful protagonist, and has no real plot. It’s like he threw a collection of words together that will offend people just to offend people. Bleah.

David Bunch is next with Short Time at the Pearly Gates. It’s about a guy hit by a truck who ends up near the entrance of Heaven. While there, he meets a strange fellow who first offers him a job and then cleans him of his sins in a bath of lye soap, pebbles, and later harsher materials. I may be dumb, but I didn’t find a narrative here, really, just a few things happening. At best, it’s a mediocre story, though the premise could have been fun.

Let’s see if F.M. Busby  can get us out of this rut with I’m Going to Get You. He can’t, though this is a much better story. The main character is out to get God. He knows God exists because of all the bad stuff that has happened to him. His family dead, he’s paralyzed, his child dead at birth, and his wife dies. Now he is committing suicide in order to get back at God.

As I said, it’s a decent story, but really, not one that I’m glad I read.

Next is some of Brian Stableford’s sociological discussion that I mentioned at the beginning  of this review. Stableford is trying to get a handle on SF’s role in society. Since this is but a part of what went into his monograph, I won’t talk about it much, since there’s only a tidbit of what Stableford is researching here.

Next are some movie reviews by Fritz Lieber. Lieber’s dad, also named Fritz, was a notable actor in early movies, so the younger Fritz grew up around theater and screen.

In this column, he shows how Ingmar Bergman was a fantasy writer, though many of his movies are set in modern day and don’t, at first blush, appear to be fantasies. Then he lists his dozen favorite in three categories: SF, Horror, and Fantasy. His top in each category: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Phantom of the Opera (I’m guessing he meant this version which included Fritz, Sr.), and The Seventh Seal.

Now we get to According to You, the letters to the editor. These were disappointing too, though there’s quite a bit of space devoted to them. They were generally frustrated with something that was published before based on the messages in the fiction. One, however, was fun, because it wanted more fantasy and less SF. I won’t argue with that.

Another pointed out that in an earlier edition it’s the Gray Mouser in places and the Grey Mouser in others. You know, this sort of type doesn’t bother me a ton. However, I’m not surprised that it showed up. There are a *bunch* of typos in here. I’d guess a minimum of 2 per page, so around 250. Sheesh. Kicked me out of a number of stories.

Overall this was a drab, dreary issue with a bunch of stories that left you either wanting more, or wanting way less. It is especially disappointing as I had high hopes, but the depressing cynicism of awfulness that runs throughout this issue really brought me down. I said that a story doesn’t have to end happily to be good, but a happy ending can save a bad story.

There are no happy endings in this issue, except, perhaps a little fun with the ads in the back. I wonder if my dad ever ordered a .38 Snub Nose from one of these ads. He might have at $24.95. It also has a couple of ads seeking poems for songs and and records. Hmmm, I wonder if my drottkvaett or Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse is what they’re looking for.

I think it’s time to get back to something I know I’ll like, and that’s an early Astounding from my mom’s birth month.

Next Week’s Issue: Astounding (May, 1941)


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: If (June, 1957)

Greetings all

This week I’m reviewing the If (Volume 7, No. 4) from June, 1957. I guessed I was going to like this one, given that it has an Asimov and a Biggle, but if I had any doubt, the rocket rotorship Mars lander by Mel Hunter that’s on the cover with the diagram on the inside front cover.

Mars Rocket Rotorship
Mars Rocket Rotorship

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58771

This issue starts with the Editor’s Report by James L. Quinn. It’s a bunch of short, interesting things he’s found in the previous month. He had a good eye and in this day and age he would probably be a well-followed blogger.

In this case, much of what he included relates to this issue of If, including small biographies of a couple authors in the issue. I wish more editors had done this, actually, as it’s quite interesting to see what the editor thought at the moment, especially before I read the stories.

He also talked about the Industrial Bulletin, which was a small sheet of interesting, fact-filled information. 1957 Clickbait! I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, and now I’m putting A Scientific Sampler, which has the best predictions, facts, and notes in my Amazon wishlist.

And if you need help with math you can get the IBM 709. The stats are amazing. 42,000 additions or subtractions per second. Multiplication and division at 5,000 per second. 327,000 decimal digits can be stored in it’s magnetic core, and any word in the core can be found in 12 millionths of a second. And then the piece de resistance, “You can get a typical system for about $3,000,000, or rent one for $56,000 per month! (p. 3)”

If (June, 1957) Cover
If (June, 1957) Cover

So, I suppose I should actually talk about the stories in this issue. First is Pretty Quadroon by Charles Fontenay. It’s a fascinating story about a number of different timelines related to whether there’s a second Civil War. Basically, if Beauregard Courtney meets and loves Piquette, then there will be a second war of varying results. In one, the South wins, in another the North wins, in a third the Russians nuke New York and other cities. If he doesn’t meet her, the second war does not happen.

This story is both well-written and fascinating, given that it’s written by a Tennessee man during the beginning of integration in the south. Not only that, it has the backdrop of the Cold War and fears of nuclear war. The story is thoughtful, challenging, and yet smooth to read. It is no wonder it was republished in Jim Baen’s Universe of October, 2008.

Walter Tevis is next with Operation Gold Brick and wow, what a fascinating find! Tevis is the author of The Hustler and The Color of Money. His other novel that got turned into a movie was The Man Who Fell to Earth, which starred David Bowie.

The story is a fun one about the US Army trying to build a tunnel through the Appalachians for a monorail track. They have a converter which easily cuts through the stone and creates a perfect tunnel, but suddenly it stops, having hit on a large gold brick. They try a pick, otherwise known as a manual converter, but that doesn’t work.

Then the  Army tries a variety of increasingly absurd ideas. They convert the *entire* mountain, but all they manage to do is end up with a gold brick sitting in the air about four feet off the ground. A physicist comes in and says this is the point, the fulcrum point, of Earth’s orbit. Ultimately, with a super bomb, they manage to move it, which sends the Earth on an orbit which will fall into the sun.

As a side note, this is message fiction done right. The story is humorous, catchy, and the reader keeps wanting to know more. In some ways it is a short story version of Dr. Strangelove. This story makes me wonder if Peter George, who wrote Red Alert, the basis of Dr. Strangelove, had read it, because it has the same sort of humor and message.

Next is an essay by Robert S. Richardson entitled the Face of Mars. You might have read his science fiction under the name Philip Latham. This essay talks about telescope images he worked with when Mars approached very close to the Earth in 1956. Reading the science articles in these magazines is odd to me.

I am no scientist, though I’ve read quite a bit about various scientific topics (and more now that I’m a writer, shout-out to my monitors at the FBI and NSA). However, I am standing on the shoulders of giants. I know more about Mars than Richardson did, yet he was widely recognized as an expert. He even helped as a technical assistant for Destination Moon. It’s a weird thought that’s hard to avoid as he’s describing specific aspects of astronomy and it all seems fairly basic. Amazing what’s transpired in 62 years.

Aldo Giunta’s Jingle in the Jungle is the next story. I had never heard of Giunta before, and it’s no surprise. This is the only speculative fiction he ever published. He was a playwright and a cabinet maker, as you can see from the linked obituary.

This story is about a future where boxing is much like it was in the 1930s, especially with all the corruption and fixing, except with robots.

This was another great story. A trainer, Charlie Jingle, has been working with an old boxing robot, Tanker Bell, for fourteen years. It’s way out of date and they can hardly get any fights. Then they stumble into a fight and beat the contender robot made by the shiny, big fighting-robot corporation.

But it’s a fix. It’s all a fix. The goal is to build up an outsider and suggest it has a chance. Then the champ wins big and looks even better and better. But Charlie has another idea and he tricks the Tanker into thinking he hasn’t got a chance and gets the robot mad and tricky. Ultimately Tanker Bell wins, and it is only then that he realizes his trainer has tricked him and gotten him to fight better than his best. Rocky before Rocky and with robots.

Isaac Asimov is one of my favorite writers. The Foundation and Hari Seldon shaped a style of magic in my world of Shijuren. Elijah Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw helped convince me hardboiled detectives can work in any time period. His entry in this issue shows why.

This issue’s entry is Does a Bee CareIf you click on the title links of most stories, you’ll find that the links almost always go to the bare ISFDB page. There’s rarely much on those pages, and I link to them as much to highlight the title as I do to give you places to find more information. In this case, though, the story is so powerful that it has its own Wikipedia page.

The story goes like this. An ovum was placed on Earth. The ovum grew to a creature that looked like it was human, though it was not. For 8,000 years it influenced civilization to help humanity achieve spaceflight. In the story, it has ensured that in one of the first rockets to the moon there’s space enough for it to fit inside. When the rocket reaches space the creature achieves full maturity. It is, finally, able to return to its home.

The twist is that while we see the creature manipulating things, Asimov guides us along the path of focusing on its point of view. Then at the end, asks if the bee cares what has happened to the flower after it has gotten the pollen. What a neat take on things.

Lloyd Biggle, Jr. is next with …On the Dotted Line. The story is about a car salesman getting transported to the year 2337. He’s a great salesman, but in 2337 salesmen are hypnotists, and all he’s got is psychology.

But that’s what he is, a salesman and he’s got to figure out how to make his way. Fortunately for him, after a couple of years the hypnotists are discovered and Congress passes laws outlawing hypnotism in sales. This is the salesman’s chance.

And he does pretty well, for a time. However, with his sales comes publicity, and after people have seen his pitch, they don’t buy and he loses his sales job. He’s a smart man and he succeeds in the field of space mining. He finally, however, figures out how to sell one more thing, essentially the moon Callisto, and retires, confident in his ability. At the end, though, the compulsion is still there, and he’s looking about for something else to sell.

It’s a good story, which doesn’t surprise me. Biggles had a neat way of looking at things, I’ve found, and this is an example. He made a *salesman* into a sympathetic figure.

Dan Galouye is another new writer to me. His story here is Shuffle Board. This is the first average story in this issue. Earth in a century or so will be filled with various radioactive waste. The main character is tasked with preventing the radioactivity from contaminating as much as possible. In the end, the increased radioactivity changes humanity so we’re not as susceptible to its affects.

I think this story didn’t catch me because it seemed a little obvious to me, but that’s in part because of my perspective in 2018 as opposed to 1957. I sort of expect humanity to adjust, if needed. More importantly, I felt the underlying causes see farfetched now. This is unfortunate, because the story is well-written. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from Galouye, and maybe the twist at the end will surprise me.

As a side note. Dear Editor of any magazine, please avoid, “Continued on page X” for any story, especially for the last 3 paragraphs. Ah, well.

Anyway, the next story is called The Human Element by Leo Kelley. It’s a fun story that connected to me because our protagonist hearkens back to an earlier time. Unfortunately, in his era, living in the past would get you sent to the Psych center.

If (June, 1957) Science Quiz
If (June, 1957) Science Quiz

However, our hero has expressed his rebellion by putting on a clown suit and running onto stage in a modern day circus. The circus is nothing like we would think, and no one there had seen a clown before. He’s a hit, and the circus owners hire him. In many ways, this story is nothing but the cotton candy the hero reminisces about. But I am someone who lives in the past quite often, and I do wonder about today’s society.

Next is a fun little game, a science quiz. I’ve included the image. Have fun.

Then we have a series of science briefs. More little notes and tidbits from science. The most interesting one to me was the idea that we’d have nuclear-powered aircraft in the early 1960s.

Finally, we get to Hue and Cry, the letters to the editor. I always enjoy reading these, and this one had several focused on the idea of humanity and humanism as discussed in a previous If. Oddly, as I type this, I happen to be listening to the album Hemispheres by Rush. The title song is about humanity’s challenge to balance thought and emotion, which apparently the earlier If issue talked about. Odd timing, there.

But it’s an excuse to include this wonderful Rush quote:

“Let the truth of Love be lighted
Let the love of truth shine clear
Sensibility
Armed with sense and liberty
With the Heart and Mind united
In a single perfect sphere”
Cygnus X-1, Book 2: Hemispheres, Rush

Overall, this was one of the better magazines I’ve seen so far. It didn’t sell well, though, and is one of the shorter-lived SF mags of the time. It’s a shame, though, because I’m looking forward to reading more of them.

Next week I’ll be reviewing the most modern issue I’ve read so far, the Fantastic from March, 1974. This issue’s cover story is by Brian Aldiss and Fritz Lieber reviews some books. Good stuff to look forward to.

Have a great day, everyone.


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: Galaxy (August, 1962)

Greetings all

Sorry I’m a bit late with this. I caught a bit of con crud at TopCon and was not terribly energetic earlier in the week. Anyway, this week I’ll look at Galaxy, Vol. 20, No. 6 (August, 1962). It’s got quite a few interesting names on the front like Jack Vance and Frederik Pohl and an armored knight charging into battle on odd insect-looking dragons. Right up my alley.

Cover of the August, 1962 Galaxy
Cover of the August, 1962 Galaxy

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58677

This issue starts with an editorial attempting to define progress. It is, not surprisingly, a moving target, and the conclusion is that we need science fiction so we can look at ourselves from the outside. I agree that we need to look at ourselves from the outside, but I’m not sure we needed a 750-word or so editorial to tell us that.

Ah, well. Deadlines make for hurried editorials, as well I remember from my newspaper days way back when.

First is Jack Vance’s novel The Dragon Masters which won the Hugo in 1963 for Best Short Fiction. This is a story consisting of four main foes. Joaz, the protagonist of the story and leader of one faction of humans on Aerlith. Elvis, the leader of the other humans. Then there are the sacerdotes, who view themselves as overmen. Finally there are the Basics, a race of intelligent lizard/insects who live on a different planet that only visit Aerlith when their stars approach each other.

It is from genetically adapted Basic captured in a previous visit that the humans on Aerlith develop a variety of dragons. These dragons are armed with maces on the end of tails and axes on arms. These weapons all go along with the normal spikes, horns, and claws. In return, the Basic developed their own army from genetically altered humans. The sacerdotes have genetically altered themselves and set themselves to a regimen of contemplation and learning.

Humanity as a species is nearly extinct, yet none of the human groups are willing to work with Joaz, though he seeks their help. His desire for assistance is pushed by the approach of the Basic planet. In the end Joaz wins, after a chaotic four-way fight.

One moment that struck me is when a character interacts with a sacerdote. It reminded me of the Readers in my world of Shijuren. People who gather knowledge but stay out of the fray. I did not get the idea from Vance, rather the Readers are a combination of Asimov’s Foundation, Gandalf, and a few other tidbits here and there. It’s fun to see other authors have similar ideas.

However, I did not particularly like this story. Maybe it was the artwork, which was sharp, and odd as you can see from the cover. Jack Gaughan did the artwork and he drew just about every kind of creature involved. The image on the cover was fun and creepy, but by the end of the story had a wrongness.

And that mirrors my view of the story. It was long, almost 90 pages, and I never really got caught up in it. I can see why it won the Hugo, as there are a lot of elements that I suspect many other readers will like, but for me it was a slog. It was perhaps too complex in some ways yet too simplistic in others. I don’t know. In any case, while I normally like Vance, this story didn’t suit me.

Next was Handyman by Frank Banta. I don’t know much about Banta but I liked this story. Unlike The Dragon MastersHandyman was very short, only three pages. However, that worked for the story. Our hero, James,  is constantly chopping up wooden doors so he can burn them for heat. The building’s carpenter cheerily comes to replace it every time. James keeps asking to help with the heating plant, as the carpenter doesn’t have the skills to fix it. However, James is a prisoner and prisoners aren’t allowed to work on things.

Throughout the story, James tries to find solutions to his various problems, but certain things aren’t proper, like him working on the plant. He tries to dig a tunnel, but the foundations of the prison go too deep. He can’t even call for help because he and the carpenter were left behind when all other humans left Earth.

And the carpenter is a robot.

Next comes a science article by Willy Ley. This particular article discusses the odd nautical phenomena of big, bright pinwheels. He goes through all the logged entries of this phenomena, maps them, and then goes through a few ideas of what might cause them.

Humorously, the ISFDB page on our next author, Jack Sharkey, only lists his Danish Wikipedia page. The only Jack Sharkey in the English Wikipedia is a boxer from the 1920s, and he’s an interesting guy too being the only person to fight both Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis.

But I digress. Shocking I know. Anyway, his story is A Matter of Protocol. The story is about making first contact. Humans have developed a  system to allow alien zoologists to meld with the minds of creatures on a planet. in this case, the planet is a green jungle where it turns out there are only a few species. These species work in a close symbiotic relationship. Unfortunately, simply landing on the planet ending up damaging some of the trees, and in two months the planet is a lifeless ball.

I have mixed feeling about this story. On the one hand, it’s got a couple of plot holes that I don’t like. The planet only has a few species, and and find that difficult to accept. Two, I grew up in Kansas, where the Flint Hills are routinely control burned because the prairie grass evolved to get hit by lightning and then burn, uncontrolled, so it can refresh itself. I find it challenging to think that the creatures on this planet are so simple to destroy when crazy, accidental stuff is just going to happen.

On the other hand, the story is well-written, innovative, and talks about the tough  question of first contact. I’m glad I read it, and I’d like to read more of Sharkey, but this story fought me.

Before I get to the next story, I have to mention the ad on page after Sharkey’s story. For $2.00, you can order a copy of The Complete Guide to Orbiting Satellites. It’s actually loose-leaf, and promises consistent updates. I don’t actually know how many satellites were in orbit in 1962, but it goes over the communication, weather, navigation, and reconnaissance satellites at the time. Even in 1962, I’d have paid $2.00 for that.

Frederik Pohl is next with a story called Three Portraits and a Prayer. Pohl was actually the editor of this issue, but of course he was a fantastic writer. I loved the Heechee series.

But this isn’t his best story. Basically, a dying genius physicist gives an evil billionaire enough knowledge to become dictator, but eventually manages to kill him. This story could have been great, because Pohl’s prose is excellent, but there are two problems. One, it’s message fiction. Knowledge should be free, among other things. Message fiction is not necessarily bad, but the story has to be better, in my opinion. Unfortunately, all the action happens off screen. Our narrator is the genius’s doctor and all we see is what he sees and much of the story is his opinion. I want to see the action, not what someone else knows and thinks of the action.

Jim Harmon is next with Always a Qurono. This is the second time I’ve run across Harmon. He had a story in the Mag Review I did for the Spaceway from June, 1954 that I really liked.

And I liked this story too, though it’s a bit confusing. A crew mutinies and maroons its captain on a planet occupied by Quronos. These are androids developed by someone in the past. They will “geoplanct” and “xenogut” every day on a schedule. The tagline is, “You too can be a Qurono. All you need do is geoplanct. All you need know is when to stop!” The captain emulates the Qurono and they revere him as a master, but then he continues and they realize he’s not actually anything special and they send him into space.

The crew that mutinied had tried to escape, but the Qurono forced them back and they rescue the captain. Then he imposes a new regimen on the crew, forcing them to geoplanct. Reluctantly, the crew obeys.

My confusion is that I simply don’t know what geoplanct or xenogut exactly mean, nor can find them any definition. I suspect Harmon hid some extra punch in those words, but I just don’t know. Still, Harmon is clearly a skilled writer as you are following intently what is going on.

So we move on to the essay The Luck of Magnitudes by George O. Smith. It discusses just how lucky we are that Earth is at the convenient place that it is, not simply for life but also for humanity’s ability to look at space around them, especially the moon. It’s a neat article, more interesting than I expected when I started it, because it involves how ancient astronomers looked at the sky.

The last story in this issue is One Race Show by John Jakes. John Jakes? Yep, the same guy known for historical fiction. I had no idea he wrote SF/F and now I see a lot of stuff I want to read like the Brak the Barbarian series.

Anyway, this is perhaps the perfect story for this issue. It’s about the owner of a gallery jealous because another gallery got amazing pictures from an unknown artist. They discover that the artist is so powerful because he draws what he sees in people’s heads.

It’s the perfect story for this issue because it’s well-written but not enjoyable. At least to me. Other people may find this issue really good, but I’ve found much better.

There are a few more details to discuss. The last section are  Floyd C. Gale’s reviews. The most interesting of these is his review of Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat, which he really likes.

There’s not many ads in this issue, so other than the ad I mentioned earlier, there’s not much to talk about.


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: Analog (September, 1968)

Greetings all

This week I am reading Analog, Vol. LXXXII, No.1 (September, 1968). This, and others in this time period interest me, because I was a month or two old when it hit the stands.

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56820

Analog (September, 1968)
Analog (September, 1968)

This has been my favorite cover so far. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show well online, as the colors are fairly dark. However, it has giant otters and one’s carrying a trumpet. How cool is that?

The giant otters show up in the first part of The Tuvela by James Schmitz, which starts the issue off. The two parts are later expanded to become The Demon Breed. I’ve been exposed to only a little of Schmitz before, mostly through the Telzey and Trigger republishing by Baen which you can find here: https://www.baen.com/original-edition-of-edited-schmitz-stories.html.

Now, one would expect that if a serial was turned into a full-length novel, it was probably a pretty good story. And one would be correct, at least in the case of Tuvela. I really enjoyed the first part, am looking forward to finding the second part, and may just skip ahead and read The Demon Breed instead.

The story involves a race called the Parahuans, who had attacked humanity previously and been defeated. How the humans won puzzled them, as in their world view they were the most superior creatures in existence. However, they hypothesize that humanity is controlled by a greater version of humans called the Guardians or the Tuvela. They choose to test this hypothesis out on a water planet called Nandy-Cline.

This hypothesis is crap, of course, but it gives our heroes a chance to bluff the Parahuans into not attacking again. Schmitz does a fantastic job of giving us active prose when much of it is solving a puzzle.

As part of this story, our heroes are aided by otters that have quickly evolved on Nandy-Cline to be intelligent at some level. At this point, we don’t really know just how smart they are, but we can guess they are very smart indeed. I suspect there’s a twist coming related to them in the final part of the story. I look forward to reading it.

The next story is by Harry Harrison and is called The Powers of Observation. Obviously, Harrison is remembered most by the Stainless Steel Rat, which I read a long time ago and clearly need to read again.

This story, however, is actually set in a Cold War Yugoslavia. As such this lets me do one of my favorite tricks when it comes to reading books now, and that’s looking at the satellite imagery of places that are mentioned. The Powers of Observation gives me a cool one by mentioning the Maslenica Bridge. Why is this cool? Well, that bridge has its own story to tell. It was destroyed in the war, a new one was built in 1997 near it, and then a new version of the old one was built later on. I find that sort of thing fun, call me crazy, and in any case I was able to follow the chase in the story from the sky.

Chase? Oh, yeah, the story itself, I should talk about that. It’s a very Bond kind of story where the hero spots a man sinking too deep into the sand at a beach. Some kind of superman, dense bone structure or something. Anyway, the hero has to chase him down, which he eventually does and they get into a fight. He shoots the bad guy but bullets bounce off of him, and we discover he’s a robot.

Our hero manages to defeat him, and then tears him apart to get pictures of his engineering. He takes a bunch of pictures with his chest camera. Chest camera? Oh, our hero was a robot too, and Harrison lets him sneer at the difference between Russian and American design philosophies at the end. I was so caught up in the chase that I didn’t see the hints until until I went back later.

Wallace West is next with Steamer Time. I’d not heard of West prior to this. He wrote quite a few stories in the 50s and before. This particular one is an essay on the possibility of replacing internal combustion engines with steam engines in cars. I was kind of bemused by the idea, but there are advantages to steam power.

One that West focuses on is emissions, based on the Air Quality Act of 1967 in response to the smog in California at the time. There are a number of other technical topics I’m not smart enough to grasp, but it’s an interesting topic. I’ve no clue if this is practical now or not, but there were steam-powered cars built in the 1960s so there’s probably a way to do that engineering now.

The next section is John Campbell’s column on what’s coming next. The following issue includes a Poul Anderson story about the effects of a fairly close supernova’s radiation effects on Earth. Also here are the tallied ratings for the June, 1968 issue in which Poul Anderson’s Satan’s World took first place.

Back to this issue, we move on to Peter Abresch’s Hi Diddle Diddle. Abresch is mostly a mystery writer, with only a couple of SF short stories to his credit. After this, I’m definitely looking up his mysteries.

The story begins when Paul Lama, an Air Force reservist, tasked  with tracking down UFO reports is thrust into a press conference with hostile press trying to trick him into admitting there are aliens. So he does. He says the aliens exist but they’re actually animals that evolved to live in space. Spacecows.

Lama expects the press to double-check, in which case they find out it’s baloney. The press, of course, does not, and everyone who hears about this gets sent into a tizzy, including Senators and the like wondering why they’re hearing classified info on TV. Spacecows everywhere. I can only imagine what that would be like in today’s media.

And it’s hilarious. The President hears about it from his dog-walker (p. 107). One senator feels, “…like he had just found out the Statue of Liberty was an unwed mother” (p. 107). Russian spies find out from their doorman. “When Isvestia says we know everything, it means we know nothing, and when the Air Force says they know nothing, it means they know something” (p. 124).

Later on, there’s this hilarious sequence where Lama gets tracked down first by the reporter who’s staking his career on the actual existence of spacecows, then Russian spies come in and say, “You Lama?” to which he replies. “Me Lama, you Jane?” This gets repeated when the FBI barge in. Then we get an Air Force captain that later comes on stage and says, “You Lama?” “Me Lama, you Jane?” “Yeah, Melvin Jayne, how’d you know?”

In the chaos, Lama’s secretary Jimmi manages to help him escape, but it turns out that Lama was just about right and Jimmi is one of the spacecows. His guess has forced her species to leave one of the best pastures in the galaxy and ruined her student grant project.

Great story.

The next story is Stanley Schmidt’s first story ever, called A Flash of Darkness. This story is about a Mars Rover who sees in darkness by, essentially, lidar. However, he discovers another light source that is blinding him with too much light. The robot discovers the problem and navigates to find solar cells.

This story seems incomplete. It’s the kind of thing James P. Hogan had a blast with in the Giants series, but Schmidt doesn’t go far enough. The Rover discovers something that requires intelligence to craft on Mars. Who made it? We don’t know. I wanna know.

Parasike by Michael Chandler is next. I had not heard of Chandler before and can’t find him on the internet. I don’t think he’s the Old West gunfighter reenactor writing westerns, at least.

Anyway, this story is about a new investigator for a federal Fraud agency. He’s tasked with finding fortunetellers and the like who are trying to bilk customers. What he’s actually looking for are people who have a paranormal skill. These often use such jobs as fortuneteller or magician to hide their abilities. The twist is that our hero can tell when people are telling the truth, so not only does he discover one parasike, he discovers he is one too.

The next section is the review section by P. Schuyler Miller. He starts with a discussion of a number of fun series out there including Doc Savage and Conan. He then reviews a number of books. The review I found most interesting was his review of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. He sums it up by saying it might take a couple of reads to really understand what Dick was saying, but that we should “Try it” (p. 171). I agree.

Then we’re to the Brass Tacks section, which are the letters to the editors. This set of letters has a theme. Apparently Campbell asked in the April, 1968 what “widdershins” meant and what word is the reverse. Campbell got a flood of responses, all interesting to an etymology geek like me.

Overall, this was a great issue. It’s only drawback was its lack of striking advertisements. Inside the back cover is one that says we should “Discover America, it’s 3000 smiles wide.” I kind of like that.

However, that’s clearly a minor thing when you look at the great stories here.

Next week, we’ll look at the Galaxy of August, 1962. It inlcudes Frederik Pohl, Jack Vance, and Willy Ley. It’s full table of contents is here: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58677. See you then.


If you have any comments, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Mag Review: Fantastic Universe (March, 1955)

Greetings all

Fantastic Universe (March, 1955)
Fantastic Universe (March, 1955)

This week I’m reading Fantastic Universe, Vol. 3, No. 2 (March, 1955).

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?89712

Unlike last week, there’s not a single author in this one that I have much familiarity with. Even the ones I recognize like Jack Vance and Algis Budrys are authors I don’t know well.

Vance has the first story, Meet Miss Universe. At a grand expo, they invite a number of aliens to submit their candidate for the most attractive woman in all the universe. Now, with all these species having different ways to judge beauty, they also ask them to submit their qualifications. The winner gets whatever they want.

The winner is, to human eyes, the most loathsome. The twist is that it’s not really a story about the women, but rather a story about an employee getting back at a lazy boss. She falls in love with an employee who, despite hating them, dutifully smokes the boss’s favorite cigars. As her reward, she tries to take him back, but the employee manipulates the situation so she realizes the boss is the one with the heavenly smell.

Overall, a cute story, but not necessarily among the best.

Next is Just For Tonight by Russ Winterbotham. I’m disappointed I’ve never at least heard of him, either under his own name or as J. Harvey Bond, previously as he’s from Salina, Kansas, which is a place I’m very familiar with.

I’d also like to read more of his stuff. The story was story, but I enjoyed the twist. It’s about two explorers examining a new world and it starts with the hero getting shot out of nowhere. He responds by destroying the area where the trouble came from with his beam gun.

He and his partner then decide to return to the ship and declare the world hostile, but the world isn’t having any of that. It warps time and space, making them walk in a circle sending them backwards. The hero sees a figure breaking a branch, then realizes what has happened, but not in time to stop his spooked partner from shooting at the figure. Who, of course, blows them both away.

I didn’t catch the twist, in part because the story is so short and tight there’s hardly any time to wonder. There’s also a great line I’ve got to remember. After the initial shot, the hero says, “No trouble at all… Just a light workout with one of Caesar’s legions” (Fantastic Universe, Vol. 3, No. 2, p. 23).

Moving on we get to Thing by Ivan Janvier, actually a pen name of Algis Budrys. This story made me think of LibertyCon, because in the opening we see them disassembling the Statue of Liberty because it is too irradiated from what we discover later is a nuclear war. In that war, an ordinary man survives a bomb, but somehow the bomb seems to have made him hyperintelligent.

But, as might be guessed by the title, it’s actually a ‘Thing’ that provides the man with his superhuman abilities. The man in question actually doesn’t really enjoy the abilities and he wants to pass them on. The Thing also wants to move on, because he’s lived on Earth for a while and likes it here when no one’s tossing nukes around, so they agree to find someone new for the Thing to work with.

The twist is that the Thing moves not to one person, but to three, none of whom knows the others have it as well. To be honest, this is a great leadup to a novel, but we’re left wondering with this short story. Which, I must say, is what short stories should do.

Next is Action-Reaction by F.B. Bryning. He was an Australian who did more editing than writing. It’s too bad, because Action-Reaction is a good story. The short bio I saw of him mentioned he was good with hard SF, and it shows here. It’s set on a space station researching whether certain forms of life can survive space, allowing it to travel and then procreate.

That’s interesting enough, but the action here is two people have an accident and are loose from the space station. One is a normal resident of the station, the other a beautiful doctor sent up to operate on one of the others on the station. She asks for a spacewalk, and things happen. How do they survive? Basically the astronaut is prepared to sacrifice himself by throwing the doctor at the station. Fortunately, both survive because of the intelligence and quick thinking of the doctor.

Jack the Giant Killer by Bryce Walton is the next entry. He’s another author I’d never heard of. This is a creepy story about a world that has done everything it can to eliminate dreams and other “mushy” things. A person standing by themselves for over ten minutes can get picked up and have their brain wiped.

The main protagonist is nine, and struggling with memories of his mother telling him stories like Jack and the Beanstalk. However, he’s overcome that to become a Junior Investigator, and he is sent after the old man who ran the Omega Calculator which ran the society with perfect rationality and who had gotten dreamy.

He does all of this and manages to brain wipe the old scientist. Then, however, he succumbs to dreams of his mother, at which point a girl of seven traps him and wipes his brain. Overall a creepy story that’s pretty well written, but I didn’t enjoy the topic.

Coming up next is The Big Jump by E.E Smith. Not him, but Evelyn E. Smith. She’s most known for the Miss Melville Mysteries, but she had quite a few credits to her name in SF. She was also a crossword puzzle, and I hope I find BAXBR/DAXBR, which involves Martian crossword puzzles.

This is an interesting story about the challenges of time travel. Like many others, it involves a time-traveling cop, but the results are much different than might be expected. The target’s name is Leinwand, and basically he manipulates the flow of time so that he and his family play with the cop and they end up in charge. A quirky story. Overall pretty good, but not great.

We have Brave New Strain by Lee Priestley. I didn’t know him before and I don’t know that I know anything now. I found a Lee Shore Priestley who was born in Iola, Kansas in 1904. As a side note, right next to Iola on US-54 is Gas, Kansas, which put on the back of their welcome signs “Now Passing Gas.” Fun as that fact might be, I have no clue if it’s the same guy. What I can say is that Priestley didn’t write much, with only eight published works from 1953 to 1959.

Anyway, this story is about creating a strain of algae that will grow fast enough in starships to help feed crews, but what it’s really about is the difference in men and women based upon the idea that men are logical and women are filled with intuition. It doesn’t take much logic or intuition to guess at the ending, which in this case is told by the female character. It is her intuition that develops a new strain. Really, a bland story, much like the thought of eating algae.

Next is The Sixth Season by Jacques Jean Ferrat, which is a pseudonym of Sam Merwin, Jr. I didn’t recognize either of his names, but he wrote the Amy Brewster mysteries which I dimly recall and will now have to check out some time.

I rather enjoyed this one, though it’s fairly straightforward. It’s about a Broadway play, “The Sixth Season,” which was condemned by reviewers but still getting sold out shows. One of the actresses, Maralyn, is trying to convince another, Lora, she should date a guy named Bobby, but she wants nothing to do with a long life in the theater.

Then, they have a visitor who is from the future. It turns out Lora and Bobby start a renaissance of the theater and end up getting married. It’s not terribly tricky, as the only twist is that Maralyn discovers she’s going to marry the guy that’s about to ask her out on their first date.

Now we have another entry by Algis Budrys, this time under his own name. As a side note, he would have another story the following month under a different pseudonym.

Assassin is another good story. Basically, an “organization” finds a way to allow someone’s soul to live after death in such a way as to kill other souls. That leaves bodies alone, but they become essentially mindless. The assassin they choose then kills all the world’s leaders at their behest.

The interesting twist is that the organization is trying to create a *peaceful* world. The assassin was aimed at those who are belligerent, which they then replaced with people who were in the organization.

But the assassin they chose was too much of an assassin. He did the job because he was good at it and didn’t have any moral scruples. In fact, he intimidates the leader of the organization into starting a new war because he “…likes the thought of people dying because of something I’ve done” (p. 101). Good twist. I think I’ll be looking for Budrys and his pseudonyms in other magazines.

They Are the Possessed by Irving E. Cox, Jr. is next. I’d seen his name in other magazines, but don’t recall if I’ve read anything by him. This story is convoluted and involves a symbiotic virus living inside humans shaping their reality.

In my reality I didn’t like this story much. It didn’t flow, though the idea is interesting. Maybe I’m not smart enough to get the complexities, but I was jarred out of the story by confusion a number of times. It’s a shame, because I think there’s a good kernel in there, but it was lost on me.

Next is Exiles of Tomorrow by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I’ve not read much of Bradley before, and it’s hard to separate out the story from what I understand of her life.

This story is about punishments in the future. Those who have committed crimes are not executed but sent back in time to an era where they fit it. It’s an interesting concept, and includes, again, the idea of time police. This time, the main character kills his target, who has learned enough that he threatens the entire fabric of time. A decent story, but hard for me to enjoy.

Last is James Blish. The only thing of his that I’ve read are the Star Trek novelizations, to be honest, so I was exited to find a story by him in this book called Translation.

Translation is about the frustrations of a Vegan archaeologist studying the lifeless planet Sol III. They find a few artifacts, but after the nuclear war killed everyone, there wasn’t much left. What’s interesting is that they discover one relic in particular that they cannot interpret. All it does it hammer at them with sound.

Fantastic Universe (March, 1955) Back Cover
Fantastic Universe (March, 1955) Back Cover

Thus the last surviving score of Beethoven’s Fifth is reviewed by a tone-deaf listener. Good ending, and I enjoyed the frustration of the archaeologist.

One of my favorite parts of reviewing these magazines has been looking at the ads. I suppose it’s funny to say, but this had a disappointingly small number of ads.

But it did have this gem. It’s hard to see the pictures, but they are from left to right: Dr. Wernher Von Braun, Dr. Heinz Haber, Dr. Joseph Kaplan, and Willy Ley. What a group!

Overall, I would say this was a solid issue. There weren’t any great stories, but none of them were awful, even if I couldn’t get into them.

Next week I’ll look at Analog from September, 1968 which includes a review of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which I am looking forward to. Here’s the whole Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56820.

See you next week.


If you have any comments, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Mag Review: Astounding (April, 1941)

Greetings all

Astounding April, 1941
Astounding April, 1941

This week I’m going to review Astounding, Vol. XXVII, No. 2 (April, 1941). You can find its complete table of contents here: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?57379.

Unlike last week, where the Spaceway had few recognizable names, this issue is filled with them. John W. Campbell was the editor and if you ever wondered how much Campbell actually did, take a look at his full ISFDB page: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?14.  Wow. He starts this issue off with a short essay pointing out the importance of sea-water sources in the future.

Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov in 1944
Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov in 1944

Anyway, there will be a bunch you’ll recognize in this review, starting with the Feature Serial The Stolen Dormouse by L. Sprague de Camp. I probably don’t have to talk about him very much, as well-known as he is, but I do have to put up this picture from when he worked with Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov researching for the Philadelphia Navy Yard in World War II. What an amazing picture, and reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the Inklings, though I suspect these three did not have anywhere as comfortable as The Eagle and Child to chat about their writing. On the other hand, they probably got to at least watch the building of the USS New Jersey (BB-62) and the USS Wisconsin (BB-64).

Before even reading the story, though, I had my nose rubbed in one of my weaknesses: taglines. “The Stolen Dormouse: Part One of a new serial concerning a stolen semi-corpse – an engineer in suspended animation touches off a war in a later-day feudalism!” (Astounding, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, p. 9).

You had me at “stolen semi-corpse.”

I really enjoyed the story, especially the way de Camp interwove 1940s business terminology with feudalism. As an SCA ceremonial geek, I found the passage where the hero, Horace Juniper-Hallett is elevated to the rank of businessman delightful. “I hereby present to you the gold-inlaid fountain pen and the brief case that are the insignia of your new status. Guard them with your life” (p. 12).

Getting to wallow in the history of science fiction and fantasy is one of the prime joys of this exercise, but The Stolen Dormouse highlights the greatest drawback. This is Part One of the story. I have no idea when, or even if, I’ll grab the volume with Part Two. At this point, the story ends with, “A snore answered her” (p. 32).

At least I have Reason by Isaac Asimov to console me. This story is a robot story, but before the Three Laws of Robotics, which were originally published in the story Runaround first publish in the Astounding of March, 1942. It involves a robot who refuses to believe that humans invented it or, in fact, that anything exists outside of its mile-diameter solar energy generation station, completely dismissing Gregory Donovan and Mike Powell’s protestations. Despite, QT’s religious obsession with the “Master,” the robot continues to perform his duties at a level far surpassing human abilities. In other words, even though his “reasoning” is based on false assumptions, he retains his ability to do the job so they leave him in place and in fact plan to program all future models in the same way.

What’s fun, of course, is that it’s clear that Asimov is working his way up to the Three Laws. In Runaround Donovan and Powell return, this time with the explicit use of the laws. But that’s another issue, which might be on the shelves behind. I don’t rightly now, though I will do September, 1941 one of these days, which includes Nightfall.

Anyway, next we move on to Theodore Sturgeon’s Microcosmic God.  I love this sentence, “He never opened his mouth without grabbing a stickful of question marks.” (p. 47). The character he’s talking about is a bio-chemist named Kidder who creates a microcosmic race called the Neoterics who are fantastically intelligent. Their life cycle is much faster than humans, meaning that problems that take scientists generations to solve are solved much quicker, as their generations are that much shorter.

Kidder is oblivious of power and money, except when that allows him to expand his laboratory. Of course, not everyone is oblivious and his banker finally decides to kill the golden goose. In the end, the Neoterics create an impenetrable shield for Kidder, another scientist named Johansen, and the Neoterics to live out their lives in peace.

It’s a fantastic story and is included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964. Let’s see, three stories in and we have a fun serial, a prequel to the Three Laws of Robotics, and one of the best short stories in science fiction history. Talk about the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Next is Campbell’s column about what’s to come in the May, 1941 issue. The column talks about a story by Anson MacDonald called Solution Unsatisfactory. The story is about what happens if there’s a superweapon and what happens after that. In the story, all the solutions are unsatisfactory, but MacDonald goes through a number of them. “And MacDonald suggests that the weapon will come – and come in about three years. Personally, I’m most desperately afraid he’s absolutely correct. Now, remember this is April, 1941. Missed the prediction by a little more than a year, but is a fascinating question to someone who grew up during the Cold War.

Oh, and Anson MacDonald is one of Heinlein’s pseudonyms.

Anyway, we move on The Scrambler by Harry Walton. This story starts something like Moby Dick, in that a ship is trying to capture a living creature in space to help a man named Storm, who is searching for intelligent alien life. They succeed, though the captain is convinced it happened too easily. However, neither Storm nor the captain believe this could be the one until suddenly they find their personalities scrambled from man to man. They try to do roll call, but the personalities keep switching. Finally, they realize that Storm has actually had his personality switched with Comet the ship cat. The creature was testing the crew, and if they could realize Storm was in Comet’s body, learn from Storm that it was the creature’s doing while he was still a cat, they would all return to their rightful bodies.

So Storm has to endure the entire thing trying to get everyone to listen to him while as a cat. Oh, and it turns out that Comet had had a big night with a cat at the Martian fuel depot and was pregnant. A fun story, not a classic, but well worth reading.

Slacker’s Paradise by Malcolm Jameson is next. Another officer in the US Navy, he was forced out by cancer despite helping improve late World War II-era naval ordinance. He died in 1945 at the age of 53. It’s a damn shame, too, because Slacker’s Paradise is a great story.

Jameson uses his experience in the Navy and his knowledge of naval history to create something that would make a fantastic series of novels. This particular one draws on the surrender of the Austro-Hungarian battleships SMS Zrinyi and SMS Radetsky in 1918. The story is reminiscent of the Lieutenant Leary novels by David Drake. The only problem with Slacker’s Paradise is that it needs to be longer to draw out the tension.

Next is Not the First by A.E. van Vogt. In this story humans first break the light speed barrier, discovering that it shifts their perception of the universe they exist in. In so doing, it propels the ship at many thousands of times the speed of light. As it flies through the universe, their luck runs out and they find themselves sailing directly at a star so they try anything that comes to mind. In the end, they find a way to reverse time and send them back to where they were.

Right when the situation started with no change in the factors and for the “multi-billionth” time, the process begins again. Creepy. I like it.

Astronomer R.S. Richardson gives us our next article, Trepidation. While this is an excellent name for a short story, this is actually an article on trepidation in the astronomical sense.  I found this article confusing because the only theory of trepidation in an astronomical sense has been obsolete for centuries. This trepidation has to do with the speeding up and slowing down of astronomical bodies, as discovered by E.W. Brown. That led to questions of measuring time, including the difference between Universal Time and Terrestrial Time, and fluctuations of mass.

Back to fiction, we get Bird Walk by P. Schuyler Miller. This was an odd story to me. Basically, the birds of Venus include one that can tell when someone is lying, and the hero manipulates the thief of one of the, essentially, Crown Jewels of Venus into being within range.

But the story didn’t work for me. It could have, but I think it might have tried to do too much. The red herrings were too easy and the hints at strange powers by other Venusian animals not dealt with well enough. It could be a good story but much of what was in there was extraneous and the mystery too easily solved.

Next is another odd essay, The Homemade Gun of Jamrud by Willy Ley. It’s only one page about 2.75 inch hand-crafted gun made by a blacksmith in Jamrud. It was apparently more accurate than the official British Army ones. And that’s all there is to this.

Old Mr. Boston Apricot Nectar
Old Mr. Boston Apricot Nectar

The next short story is Mutineers by Karl van Rachen, which is actually a pseudonym of L. Ron Hubbard. This was a frustrating story for me, maybe because I was tired when I read it. It’s got a lot of moving parts and there’s too much exposition at the start. I got into it some when we got past the exposition into the action, but by that point I had lost my enthusiasm.

Doc Savage
Doc Savage

And it could have been a good story. Multiple mutinies and various different players are right up my alley. The hero wins by good tactics, awareness, and flat out bluffing. There’s a bit of a forced happy ending, which I hate, but it’s not awful. However, I just didn’t get into it.

Another possible reason are the great ads throughout this story. It’s at the end of the issue, so there are more ads and some are just wonderful from my perspective. Old Mr. Boston 70 proof Apricot Nectar as shown above from page 135? Maybe, but you might have me with the Wild Cherry version. There was also this Doc Savage ad on page 147.

But the piece de resistance was this wonderful Harley-Davidson ad. “See the 1941 models with their airplane styling, zooming power, rugged dependability and important mechanical improvements” (p. 145).

The most common advertisements in this issue, by the way, were ads to train you as a radio operator.

Anyway, at the end of Mutineers was an interesting postscript that I assume was written by Hubbard, as it doesn’t have any other name attributed to it. It’s a very short essay entitled Two Plus Two Equals 100. Obviously, it explains the binomial number system and points out that it is useful for “electrical calculating machines.” (p. 154) As someone writing on a fairly up-to-date computer and looking at my cell phone, I enjoyed this quote: “The resultant machine is bulky, but simple and positive in action” (p. 154). You don’t say?

Now we’ve gotten down to Brass Tacks, the letter’s to the editor section of Astounding. Several of this issue’s letters discussed a new rating system put into place by Campbell. In these Slan by Van Vogt gets a lot of approval. There’s also an announcement for the formation of the Minneapolis Fantasy Society, whose monthly meetings were held at the home of Clifford D. Simak, its director.

Another laments that Campbell could not come to the Chicago SF Convention because, “I’d hoped to see you and Doc Smith exchange diverse comment as of yore – remember the days of your glorious feud over the alleged – who did win those battles? – chemical vagaries in ‘Skylark of Space'” (p. 159). That would have indeed been fun to watch.

Then there’s a section of letters relating to hard science. The first discussed some new, higher resolution images from Mars showing conclusively the canals. The next one starts, “From the results the R.A.F. have been obtaining with their electrical enemy-airplane detectors, it looks as though spaceships when, as and if, won’t have to worry about developing meteor-detecting devices” (p. 163-4). Then it goes on to explain in some detail how radar works and how it blunted the Luftwaffe’s attacks in the Battle of Britain. Nothing new to us, but fantastic to see it from someone to whom it was new.

Well, I think that’s it from this issue. Clearly since I’m only two issues in, it’s a little silly to say this was my favorite issue. I’m sure I’ll find others, like perhaps the Astounding with Nightfall when I get to it. However, this was a brilliant example of the SF magazine concept. Great stories, writers who would become legendary, good scientific discussions, and good artwork.

Speaking of which, I suppose I should talk more about the art, but I got too much into the stories. Maybe next time. Speaking of which, I grabbed Fantastic Universe Vol. 3, No. 2 from March 1955. It’s table of contents is here: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?89712.


If you have any comments, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Mag Review: Spaceway June, 1954

Greetings all

SF/F Magazines
SF/F Magazines

I have a decent sized collection of science fiction and fantasy magazines from the late 30s to the 70s. It may not look like much from here, but there’s a second layer behind each of these stacks. There’s about 700 of them, all told. And since I tend to keep my eyes open for new caches, I’m sure there’ll be more sooner or later.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to read one each week, picked basically at random, and then review it. Not only will I comment on the stories in each issue, but I’ll comment on ads and anything that catches my interest.

Oh, one other thing. There will be spoilers. I am writing these with the expectation that few of you will ever get a chance to read most of the stories and I don’t want to leave you hanging. If I get enough comments that suggest you want me to leave the spoilers out, I will, but for now, consider yourself warned.

Spaceway June, 1954 Front Cover
Spaceway June, 1954 Front Cover

The first magazine I grabbed was the June, 1954 issue of Spaceway (Volume 2, Number 1). Here is the table of contents and complete list of credits for this issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?203789.

Spaceway‘s entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Ficton is here: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/spaceway. As you’ll see from this page, Spaceway was a minor magazine which held few works by big name authors. Still, there might be a treasure or two. Let’s find out.

It begins with a novelette, X of Mizar by Arthur J. Burks. Burks was an interesting guy who left the Marine Corps in 1928 to write full time. He returned to the USMC during World War II, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel. In terms of his writing, he was prolific enough to earn the title of the Speed-King of Fiction by one reviewer.

X of Mizar is a creepy tale about a world that’s a living creature in itself. Not only that, it’s much more powerful than humanity. The closest analogy to me is Q from ST:TNG. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for this story. It started with all of the arrogance of Q, but there was little comeuppance. In fact, there was little in the way of conflict. It’s disappointing, because this story had a ton of potential, but was little more than a character’s internal monologue.

Next was The Green Earth Forever by Christopher Monig. Monig was actually a pen name used by Kendell Foster Crossen, who is best known for the Green Lama series. This particular story is a gloomy look at nuclear holocaust. Humanity is pushed to into a holocaust so great it destroys Earth by the species who has been watching us from flying saucers. It’s another disappointment, sadly, as it’s really just a series of events and then the Earth blows up.

That is followed by an essay on hypnotism by A.E. van Vogt. This is clearly part of the research he did while writing The Hypnotism Handbook. Much of this essay praises the research and work of Charles Edward Cooke, who was his co-author on the larger book. There’s an ad for the book later on in the magazine.

Spaceway June, 1954 Page 50 Advertisement
Spaceway June, 1954 Page 50 Advertisement

The essay wasn’t terribly interesting to me, but the ad for SFCon in 1954 at the end was fun.

Take a look at the registration price.

Anyway, the next story is The Human Thing To Do by Kinsley McWhorter, Jr. I know absolutely nothing about McWhorter. A Google search says he had a column in the Roanoke World News, and here’s a reprint of one in the Biloxi Daily Herald: https://newspaperarchive.com/biloxi-daily-herald-jun-09-1955-p-13/.

And it’s too bad he didn’t write more because this was a fun  story. The world has been invaded by a species of, essentially, dopplegangers called Galol. They take over people and no physical study can determine if someone is human or Galol. Once inside people, they serve as a Fifth Column. The solution, therefore, is to find what makes humans have a human personality. To McWhorter, the answer is our sense of humor.

I also love the conclusion.

“‘What beat Henley – what can beat all the Galol if we use it right – is a sense of humor. Laugh; it’s the human thing to do.’

George Morton smiled wearily.

Everyone was very careful to smile back.”
– Spaceway, Vol. 2, No. 1 (June, 1954), p. 65

Let’s see. Have a sense of humor or you get shot. Yeah, I’d be smiling too.

Melvin Sturgis wrote the next story, The Long Night. Again, I can find little about Sturgis, though I did find that he wrote a novel called The Unprotected Species. One of its reviewers said it was, “OK but not outstanding. Somewhat predictable.” To be honest, I felt the same about The Long Night, at least in terms of predictability. It’s a very short story (less than 3 pages) where radioactive smog covers Los Angeles after a nuclear war. Humans have to flee the smog, but rats survive, evolve, and then view the remains of LA in wonder at humanity’s stupidity. More of an info dump than a story.

Atlantis Hallam is the next listed author. What a name! Gotta be a pseudonym, right? That’s just too perfect for a science fiction writer. Well, it’s not entirely, as the author’s full name is Samuel Benoni Atlantis Hallam and he wrote Star Ship on Saddle Mountain.

His entry in Spaceway was a treasure called Martian Pete. It’s a very cute story where the spokesdog of Wooftie Biscuits flees after having an ‘accident’ on live TV. A crewman on a ship heading to Mars gathers him in and takes him to the Red Planet. Pete meets and, after woofing and snapping, befriends one of the local rooks. When Pete is discovered, he is sent back to Earth. The rook decides to stick with his buddy, meaning the crewman is going to be in trouble again, this time for carrying an unregistered animal from Mars to Earth. Fortunately, Colonel Willoughby, the sponsor of Wooftie Biscuits, has missed Pete and it’s a happy ending as he takes them all back. Pure fluff, but impossible not to enjoy.

Spaceway was Forrest J. Ackerman’s baby so it’s not a surprise to see an entry here. He reviews the movie Gog, third in the Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI) trilogy of movies by Ivan Tors, following The Magnetic Monster (1953) and Riders to the Stars (1954). Ackerman really loves the movie, and now I want to see it. Unfortunately, while Magnetic Monster and Gog are available on DVD, I haven’t found Riders to the Stars. Still, they look good.

Next is The Plague by Albert Hernhunter, whose name is actually Albert Hernhuter. As a guy who grew up loving the 1980s Robin of Sherwood series, I heartily approve of this subtle change.

However, the Plague is a story that has only one saving grace: it’s short with only 3 pages. Basically, it says that humanity tries to destroy another race with a bioweapon, only to find out the bioweapon saves that race from an already existing plague and to then have the plan backfire and destroy humanity. Not my cup of tea, and entirely predictable.

The second novelette is The Uncompromising People by Jim Harmon. Harmon, too, is an interesting guy, known at one time as Mr. Nostalgia. He was also a good writer. I rather enjoyed The Uncompromising People and it had seeds that might very well have influenced other writers.

The story is that Calvin Thomas Moss is a throwback to a sneakier time. He is a conman, a thief, and all-around scoundrel in a time when people have become more honest. That means that he is useful to those in power who need those skills, and once he got caught for a scheme, he was under their thumb.

Facing awful sorts of imprisonment, he ‘agrees’ to go to Vega to help discover why their number of registered voters is decreasing. This is odd because the Vegans, while similar to humans in size and shape, evolved from a rabbit analogue with all the same reproduction rates. Also, they are albinos who aren’t exposed to as much ultraviolet light.  Anyway, they believe that not registering to vote is a capital crime. It’s important because manipulating these votes allow the Galactic Federation of Earth to remain in power.

So he gets sent in a rocket that has a computer to help him along the way. And a nuclear warhead to make sure he actually goes to Vega and does his job.

What’s fascinating is that the computer is neurotic just like Marvin  the Paranoid Android. Here’s one quote: “‘Go on,’ said the brain. ‘Shut me off. Leave me lifeless, now that I’ve served my purpose, now that you’re through with me…'” (p. 95). I can even hear that in Alan Rickman’s voice from the last Hitchhiker’s movie. It’s so close it makes me wonder if Douglas Adams read this novelette.

But it’s not just that. The story has the same feel as Keith Laumer’s Retief stories. The only real difference is that Retief is never out of control of the situation and Moss is rarely in control until the climactic scene. Admittedly, that’s a big difference in storytelling, but it’s still got that same sly sense of humor and twist.

The answer, by the way, to the population dilemma is that the female Vegans have been impregnating themselves purposefully, meaning they only have daughters. Since only male Vegans are allowed to vote that means the number of voters is decreasing, while the population is expanding.

He tries to report back, but is halted by the paranoid rocket ship, which doesn’t believe that he knows the answer. While they argue, the Vegans catch up to him and are about to kill him, but he uses a Retief-esque trick. He convinces them that he has a secret hidden under his toupee, which requires a great deal of work including a special type of light to remove. He doesn’t have a toupee of course, but this gives him a chance to hit the albino Vegans with ultraviolet light, driving them away.

Then, just as expected, he gets his comeuppance. Just because he succeeded at this mission doesn’t mean he’s out of hot water with the powers that be. Nope, it means he’s more valuable. I don’t know if Harmon wrote other stories with Moss, but I do hope so. And, like Adams, I wonder if Laumer read this story.

The next story is Pearls of Parida by Alma Hill. Hill was not terribly prolific, but she edited a number of fanzines. This is another story that’s short, only 7 pages or so, and in this case needed to be longer. It could have been interesting, but ends up as just a shoot-em-up battle scene.

The last story, One Out of Many, is by Mark Pines. This is the only bibliographic entry for him in the Speculative Fiction Database. The story is of an archaeological expedition to a desert planet. At the end we discover that these are some other species and they are examining earth, as shown by the discovery of a small metal disc that says “E Pluribus Unum.” This is another story that could be really good, but seems curtailed. Not enough tension. It has a Randall Garrett sort of idea, but not Garrett’s skill at tricking the reader.

Spaceway June, 1954 Back Interior
Spaceway June, 1954 Back Interior

That’s the last story, but not the last bit of fun. I always enjoy looking at the strange ads at the back of old magazines, and you can expect me to show them in most of these entries.

One interesting thing I learned came from looking at these addresses. Notice anything missing? For some reason I thought Zip Codes were in use prior to 1963, but that’s when they officially came into being. This is also when the two-letter state codes came into existence. You all probably knew all this long ago, but it was new to me.

Overall, this was not a great collection of stories. I would give it a 3 on a scale of 10. None of the stories had enough conflict or tension, though I enjoyed a few of them. I might raise it to 3.5 if I really love Gog and the Magnetic Monster.

Despite the fact that this will not be my favorite in my collection, I really enjoyed the exercise. I’ve been wanting to go through these for some time because I know there are all sorts of cool things in them. I also can already tell it will spur some fun ideas.

If you have any comments, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.