It’s been a pretty good week here in Rob-land. I should have anticipated, by the way, that I probably wouldn’t do a mag review or an interview this week because of the holiday. I’ll do some next week.
However, I caught up on a number of small projects. I’ll expand on that in January. I also sent off another short story. This too I’ll talk about more in January.
I also started a bit of whimsy that I will tell you about when it’s ready.
With all that was going on, I didn’t really look at None Call Me Mother much. I plan on writing a goodly amount over the weekend and all next week.
Of course, though, I spent a lot of time this week getting ready for Thanksgiving. We finished the great room and I spent a goodly amount of time putting books back into place.
Yesterday was, in general, a great day. Thanksgiving included the sweetie, her daughter, my mom, and a couple of friends. We ate a goodly amount.
Today was a lot of recovery and mostly lazing about. Still, I hope to get some writing in tonight.
What I’m Listening To
More college football. This time it’s South Florida v. Central Florida. Yes, I like football, even when I don’t care about the two teams in question.
Quote of the Week
I’m feeling silly, so you get something from Douglas Adams.
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
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I didn’t do anything this week, but I’ll get back into it all next week.
I’m looking forward to this week’s magazine review, unlike last week’s. This one is not filled with any classic stories and there’s no Asimov, Heinlein, or Clarke, but all the stories were solid and filled with action. There’s one exception. It isn’t a classic, but the last story should be.
I suspected I was going to enjoy this issue when I read the first words of the editorial by William L. Hamling. “An action story is more popular than any other type” (4). Previously, Imaginative Tales had focused on humorous stories, but they shifted their editorial focus starting in this one on action.
I like it, especially since it’s how I try to write.
By the way, Hamling had an interesting career. As an editor, he kept buying a poor artist’s fantasy cartoons. The cartoons weren’t very good and so Hamling never published them, but the artist needed the money. In 1953, the artist came to Hamling with a magazine idea. Hamling replied, “You can’t sell sex to the American public.” That artist was Hugh Hefner. Safe to say Hamling was wrong and Hefner stopped being poor.
Last week, I mentioned that this issue did something I wish they all did. It’s a simple Introducing the Author essay. Basically, they asked Dwight V. Swain to tell us about himself. It’s much like my weekly interviews, and I really enjoy getting to know the authors as people, especially ones I’m not terribly familiar with. In this case, it’s located inside the front and back covers, but I don’t really care where they would have placed it, given that inside the covers is such prime advertising territory, but I would have loved to have seen this sort of thing done routinely.
Swain’s story Terror Station is the cover story. I’d never read anything by him before, but I’ll remember the name. Terror Station is about a secret project in the desert. Stone, the project’s security officer, is returning to the facility when he sees a woman in the night running toward his car followed by some strange monster. He kills the monster, but the woman is dead. Guards from the lab rush up and immediately arrest him for killing her, much to his frustration.
Fury comes later when his expectations of the whole thing getting cleared up get squashed by everyone in the base thinking he’s guilty. None of these people, who were all friends and colleagues would give him any benefit of the doubt. To Stone it’s like they’re all filled with paranoia and fear which hadn’t been there when he left.
They send him to Reva, the psychologist, who happens to be one of Stone’s exes. She, at least, tries to help. In so doing, she discovers that he had once had encephalitis. In turn, he discovers why she’s there. The project wouldn’t have had a psychologist except she had her own work.
Stone discovers that her portion of the project is creating that fear and paranoia. He disables the device and all is back to normal, except they wonder at the source of the technology. Stone discovers that it comes from aliens who have landed near the base.
The manager of the project, MacDougal, it turns out, has been in league with these aliens. His project was going nowhere until they arrived, and he was afraid his career was about to crash and burn. He took bits of their technology to show his superiors that he was making progress while in turn helping the aliens.
What the aliens want is for us to capture all the krypton out of the air (about 1ppm) and give it to them as they use it for their technology. According to the story, though, what they want is for humanity to kill itself because krypton’s job is to keep our atmosphere intact. If we gave it to them, they could come back later to a dead planet, which to them would be a great joke.
Stone thwarts the aliens, figures out MacDougal’s part, and confronts him. MacDougal, however, has the drop on him and is about to kill him when Reva shoots him with Stone’s gun which she had picked up in an earlier fight. They then walk off, hand in hand.
A good, rip-roaring yarn, exactly like Hamling said he wanted.
Next is Coffin for Two by Winston K. Marks. Marks is another author I’d never read before, but I liked this story. A man returns from three years off Earth mining on Venus. Upon his return, he sees marked changes.
First, most people are walking around with a star on their forehead. Also, he finds his girl now making time with one of their friends. They get into a bit of a scuffle and his friend, who had never been much of an athlete, beats the heck out of the miner. Then the crew decides to go party to celebrate his return. On the way, the lead cab gets destroyed by a passing driver. His friends agree its too bad, because they would have enjoyed the party.
Too bad! The miner thinks two friends have just been killed and it’s “too bad?” It turns out that in the time he’s been gone, they’ve figured out a way to let people rest in a life support chamber (called coffins) and have their brain implant an automaton (called proxies) marked with a red star. His friends haven’t died, but they’ll take a bit of time to get another proxy.
At first, he is completely against the idea of getting his own proxy, but the friend who was now dating his old flame beats him up again. So he goes and gets fitted out. He hides the fact he’s using a proxy and confronts the old friend. Once the friend tries to kill him, he reveals he’s using a proxy and tells the friend to scram.
Now the old flame, who preferred the miner anyway, is waiting for an offer of marriage. However, he hesitates. He wanted to marry her three years ago, but how do proxies get married? Why, the share a coffin for two.
Following that is The Invisible Enemy by Jerry Sohl. Sohl is yet another write I hadn’t read before in this issue. This story is about a rescue attempt on another planet. The planet is a desert planet, out on the frontier, and the exploration vessel that came to it never left. Its crew vanished without a trace. A second ship came to look and the same thing happened to it.
Now comes a third ship. This one has a much larger crew and also includes a brand new computer with its own operator. Unfortunately, the commander of the ship despises the new equipment and scorn the operator as a mere civilian.
At first, his scorn is partially justified. The computer provides no answers, merely saying it has insufficient data. The crew starts exploring. And then they start disappearing, much like the crews of the previous ships. However, there’s nothing left behind. No shred of evidence.
Then, one of the crew is saved, briefly, from one of the attacks. He dies in the ship’s medical bay, raving of monsters. The commander insists that he give the boy a proper burial.
The computer now has sufficient data and says this is not advised. The tech goes to the commander and urges him not to follow through on the burial, but the commander ignores him and scorns the computer’s “advice.” He confines the tech to his quarters and continues with the burial.
However, the burial is a massacre. There are creatures swimming in the sand who are incredibly sensitive to the smell of blood. They scent the body and eat all the rest of the crew while the tech watches in horror. Then his horror is all the greater as he wonders if he can leave his quarters or is trapped here until he dies. Fortunately, the executive officer had believed him and left the door unlocked so he can flee the planet.
De-sert shark, do do, d-doo d-doo…
Henry Slesar’sThe Brat is next. Really good story, with one of Slesar’s common twist endings. I become more and more a fan of Slesar with every story.
In this one, an alien is brought back to Earth for study. When the doctor examining alien died, the alien fled. They eventually found him in Nebraska, happily married with children.
Not everyone is happy about this, especially a hate group led by a man named Turesco. He is obsessed with finding all of these offspring before the alien, who can clearly interbreed with humans, corrupts our blood. They track down two, one who has mostly alien characteristics and a brat, who mostly looks human. They kill one and take one away.
However, the only way they can do this is with help from the government. A protector first class named Ward is assigned to the case and it is his suggestion that finally brings the two boys to bay. He does everything he can to save them, but Turesco and his men are just too much.
Then, at the least, we see that Ward also has those alien characteristics, albeit weaker. Turesco and his vision of “purity” is long past any hope of success.
What a great way to turn a crappy ending into a “villain gets his comeuppance” ending.
Last is Buck and the Space War by Mack Reynolds. I loved this story. When I saw it in the table of contents I immediately wondered if it was a Buck Rogers story, so I was excited to check it out. It’s not, but it might even be better.
It’s about a guy named Buck to whom the strangest things happen. If he goes fishing and doesn’t catch anything, it’s because a sea serpent swamp up the St. Johns River. That sort of thing.
Buck lives in Dupont, Florida, north of Orlando, south of Jacksonville. He’s a complete hick and he decides one day to go to Lake Dexter get him a mess of squirrels.
I’m going to stop here and say that Reynolds’ use of language in this story is fantastic. The story is light-hearted in many ways, and the specific words he chooses adds to the humor. Like “mess of squirrels.” Had Buck just wanted a few squirrels he could have stayed close to home, but he wanted a “mess.”
Anyway, squirrel hunting involves sitting and waiting until squirrels come to the hunter. Buck, being Buck, never gets a chance at a squirrel. Instead a damaged spaceship crashes on one side of the clearing where he waited. A small alien pops out and runs to a depression. A second spaceship lands and another alien, also small, pops out and the two start firing at each other.
Buck’s had enough of this, especially since he was sort of in the middle anyway. He picks up one of the aliens and carries him over to the other. He sets them down and asks what’s going on. One is a Martian, the other a Venusian, and the two have been battling for millennia. He tells them to stop with all this foolishness. He talks about treating people as you’d wish to be treated and overrides their protests about the other guy.
The two take notes and he sends them off back to Mars and Venus. There they take his words of wisdom, leaving him with the title of Holy One. The presumption at the end is that he ends the ancient war because the two take his backwoods common sense back to their planets as the root of a new religion.
It’s silly and impractical. There’s no way these events could actually end a war spanning thousands of years. But who cares? It’s a fun story and you really like Buck.
Again, this isn’t a great issue. There’s no Foundation story or anything like that. It is, however, exactly what Hamling aimed for. A magazine with lots of action, good stories that you want to find out what’s going on, and heroes you can root for.
Next week I’ll review the Fantastic Universe from July, 1955. I’m excited because there’s stories by a number of good writers including Philip K. Dick and Murray Leinster. See you next week!
Frankly, this was probably my least favorite issue I’ve read so far. I didn’t care for any of the stories except one, none of the ads were fun, and nothing else appealed to me. Hence, I’m just going to give you a cursory review. I’ve got things to write in None Call Me Mother instead of drearily going over these stories.
The cover story is The Visitor at the Zoo by Damon Knight. You know Knight at least because of To Serve Man, a fantastic short story from 1950. Visitor was not his best effort. The cause of the conflict is never adequately explained, it ran too long, and the twist at the end was predictable.
Worse, I can’t root for the main character. He’s a moderately intelligent alien in a zoo who has his brain somehow transplanted into the mind of a passing journalist. We are meant to root for him because he’s got a chance to get out of the zoo where he had been trapped. I empathized with that aspect, but the journalist was simply an innocent tourist, who lost everything. There’s little in the story of sympathy for him, and in the end, the creature chooses not to exchange positions and return to the way it was.
I can both reject the legitimacy of the zoo and at the same time despise the selfishness of the main character. And I do. I said this wasn’t Knight’s best effort. I sure hope it was his worst, because I really disliked it.
On the Fourth Planet by J.F. Bone was the only story to be reprinted often. It was about an alien struggling for life in a desolate world with the remnants of his people. It’s a hard life, and the law doesn’t allow for much leniency. Unfortunately for this alien, he runs into an object that hasn’t been there before. It fills him with food and hope. It also returns to him the cellular memory of his people, suggesting a way they can grow out of their barbarism. As you can probably guess by the title, it’s a NASA rocket that has landed on Mars.
The best story of the lot, by far. However, it’s not a great one, just a good solid story that in a better issue would have seemed like a nice supporting piece. Here, it was drug down by the awful cover story.
I suspect I’ll really like the June 1963 issue, if I every run into it. It has stories by Clifford D. Simak, Gordon R. Dickson, Keith Laumer, and John Jakes. This issue, however, was not my cup of tea.
Next week I’ll review the Imaginative Tales from September, 1955. It has a story by Mack Reynolds and an interesting thing I wish more magazines had done.
Inside the front cover of this issue are a couple of ads, one of which has the tag line of “Making Your Wishes Come True” (1). The text begins with: “One wish has been fulfilled. Won by 3.5 years of deadly struggle.” It’s an ad to continue buying victory bonds.
If I needed a reminder when this issue was published, I got it right here. It’s the December, 1945 issue, and that matters during the rest of this issue.
The first article is the John W. Campbell’s editor column called Atoms Won’t Do Everything. This column talked about the possibilities of atomic power other than the bomb, at the point of writing this essay merely 3-4 previous. It’s got some surprising technical details, such as how to arrange the pile with either heavy water or graphite. The information is readily available now, but in 1945? I was surprised.
Beggars in Velvet is one of 6 Baldy stories about a mutation to humanity after a nuclear war. In it, a portion of humanity has mutated to have telepathic powers.
The war has splintered the remainder of humanity into a series of city-states who actively work to keep themselves separated. The concept of gathering together in large polities seems like something that caused the big war, though they regularly trade among themselves. There are also tribes called Hedgehounds, who have taken this concept of decentralization and become nomads. Add to this societal change a portion of the population that has telepathic powers and you’re guaranteed to have trouble.
The Baldies, the ones with telepathic powers, are split into two factions. One is trying to coexist and prevent any sort of pogrom. The other, the paranoids, are trying to promote a war where they can eliminate the lesser version of humanity.
This world-building has great potential for stories, and Kuttner and Moore don’t waste it. The main hero, Burkhalter, fights against Barbara Pell, a paranoid, to prevent everything from going to hell in their city-state of Sequoia. Also, the Mutes, the ruling class of the non-paranoid Baldies, are working alongside to keep the lid on the kettle.
Burkhalter is a good man and hates everything that the paranoids stand for. Desperately, he continues the fight, doing all he can to stop Barbara and her allies. However, despite their best efforts, the paranoids succeed in starting a nightmare that might end up sweeping the world in fire and terror.
In the end, with some desperate measures employed by, Hobson, the Mute leading the battle and successful long-laid plans to get the Hedgehounds on their side, the Baldies defeat the paranoids. The Hedgehounds are the ones with bows and arrows staring down the city folk on the cover, by the way.
However, the story isn’t over. You see, Burkhalter may hate and loathe what the paranoids think, but yet he still falls in love with Barbara. He doesn’t know it for much of the story, but the Mutes recognize this in his emotions. Someone who can empathize enough with a paranoid to fall in love with one must then be a latent paranoid. He is what he hates.
But he’s only a latent paranoid. If he has constant help, that transition could be avoided. That’s when we find out *all* of the Mutes are latent paranoids and they are in constant contact with each other, helping each one not to stray.
Man, what a good ending. The story lacked some zing because it’s not an uncommon type of “not-our-kind” conflicts, but the ending gives so much ooomph to the decisions of the Mutes and of Burkhalter. This is a character I want to see again. I’ll look for him in the later Baldy stories, because this is good stuff.
Next is the story Orders by Malcolm Jameson. In this story, the war across the Solar System is over. The ships are getting mothballed. Those needing repair or maintenance lack parts and money to pay for labor. Yet again, I mention how this story was published in December of 1945, but he himself died on 16 April, 1945. He is anticipating the end of the war, but I suspect he is remembering the end of World War One as well.
The treaty that ends the war has all the idealistic hopes and lack of reality built in to the Treaty of Versailles. Side note, Jameson was a naval officer and 28 or so in 1919. I don’t know if he was still in the Navy, but he certainly had some interest in the Treaty. Anyway, the treaty in this story outlaws war and in fact, outlaws any kind of threatening behavior. A ship captain couldn’t, for example, threaten any kind of force to comply a criminal to go to jail.
And that’s exactly the story here. A criminal is in the asteroids. The Terran government is asking for him to be extradited, but the government, such as it is, of the asteroids merely laugh at them. The diplomat who added the relevant clauses in the treaty drops the problem on Bullard’s lap, hoping the war hero can at least take the blame.
It’s a Retief-like problem. A bureaucrat with no idea how things actually work outside of his theoretical construct has no idea how to fix a problem when someone refuses to work within that construct. Knowing he can’t possibly be at fault, he dumps the problem, and therefore the blame, on someone else. He tells Bullard to get the criminal or else, but absolutely forbids him to use any hint of violent behavior or threats. No guns allowed. No weapons at all.
And yet, Bullard manages to pull it off.
How? Well, he sends his most capable officer with an unarmed ship and sealed orders. The officer goes to the asteroids and asks for the criminal. They say no. He goes back to the ship and waits. He’s been told to wait four hours, then open and execute the sealed orders. What’s in the orders nobody knows.
Just before the deadline, the criminal is delivered to the officer. The reputation of Bullard and the impending opening of the orders is enough to convince the other government to send the criminal over.
When the officer returns and the criminal is put away, he asks Bullard about the orders. He opens them and hands them to the officer. His orders, after waiting for four hours, were to “Return to Base” (59).
One of the joys of reading these magazines is stumbling upon something I should have read years ago but never stumbled across before. This is one of those. Orders is a story about John Bullard, in fact the last of them written. It was found among his papers after his death. This is early mil-SF and I am definitely getting the e-book collection of these stories.
At the end of this story is a Gillette ad. Gillette razors, after all, have “The swellest low-priced blade it town” (59).
The next story is a treasure. It’s part II of The Mule from Isaac Asimov. Yes, this is The Mule that’s a part of the Foundation series. I’m not going to explain the story here, because if you haven’t read the entire Foundation series, you should.
What’s exciting to me is that I have now seen the first published version. I didn’t notice any difference from the version I first read it, the 1966 Avon printing, but I suspect there might be. If there are, they’re formatting/typo changes, as it’s the same story.
As much of a treasure as it is to find the first printing of a Foundation story, the science essay immediately following is perhaps even greater. It’s a series including technical details of the creation of the atomic. It includes photos from the Trinity detonation from 16 July, 1945 and some photos from Hiroshima.
As for particular details, it covered just about everything it could that wasn’t classified. I again feel obligated to mention this was published in December of 1945, or about four years before the Soviets have their first successful detonation.
From a historiographical perspective, this is something someone researching the early atomic era would probably find riveting. I sure did. It’s also interesting to realize that this might very well have been the first time some of these details had been published. I don’t know that for sure, but it’s certainly a reminder of the speed of information dispersal then and now.
The next story is Trouble Times Two by George O. Smith. It’s about a schizophrenic with two useful personalities. One is an engineer. One is a theoretical physicist. When each is in control, they leave challenges for the other, which makes them both incredibly productive. The physicist keeps pushing boundaries and the engineer keeps making useful, profitable stuff. They also play each other a mean game of chess.
The problem is each wants to the only personality. Both despise the limitations of the other perspective. And yet, their collaboration is too profitable. The conclusion is a little open-ended, but unless the physicist can solve a series of practical issues in 24 hours, they lose their shirt, and the physicist will have to come closer to the engineer.
A tricky, intricate story with a lot of fascinating SF theories.
Side note here. Smith was a regular contributor to Astounding and worked often with Campbell until 1949. That’s when Campbell’s wife Doña left him to go off with Smith.
Anyway, moving along I have to mention an ad. It’s for Doc Savage Retires, on the newsstand. I’d really like to see Doc Savage brought back, as he’s always been one of my favorite characters. A few pages later, by the way, is an ad for the Shadow.
Next is Brass Tacks, the letter to the editor section. I often find these letters filled with fascinating nuggets and this one is especially powerful. These letters are all generally about the explosions of the atomic bombs. One reader talks about seeing the headlines from Hiroshima. Ironically, he says, “I look forward to Astounding for the first really informative article on this new secret weapon” (170). Well, this was that issue for that.
Another fascinating topic was the idea of recording video onto records. It’s an interesting think to contemplate in this day of essentially unlimited hard drive space how one could record and save things from TV. The writer suggests it might be possible to buy movies on disks and that these might replace using film. Campbell dismisses the idea of using records as they simply can’t spin fast enough, but this writer was before his time.
Finally, there’s a short commentary in Brass Tacks by Theodore Sturgeon. It’s a discussion of all the hassles people who read and write science fiction got at the time. Why? Why read it? Why write it? “Who writes this crap?” And then it concludes with the bomb on Hiroshima. Sturgeon then lists many things SF authors are dreaming up, concluding with, “But the man with the open eyes does not hear that. His looking at himself, on the other side of death. He knows – he learned on August 6, 1945, that he alone is big enough to kill himself, or to live forever” (178).
This battered copy, with fresh new cat scratches where Wynnifred demanded treats is going in my own personal special collection. Every other issue I review will be judged by the December, 1945 issue of Astounding.
I have to say, I’m really enjoying the new schedule so far. Doing the magazine reviews on Thursday or so meant I was reading the mags in the middle of the week, which is my most productive writing time. Now, they’re a weekend reading treat and writing the review is a nice Monday warmup for my writing.
Anyway, this week I’m reading the Fantastic Universe from July, 1957. This is another cover I wouldn’t mind seeing made into a poster. In general, I love the art in these mags, even though I know it’s usually not transcendent or legendary. It is, however, vibrant. I’m still the guy who was at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg ignoring a da Vinci because there was a table showing a seascape mosaic of lapis, malachite, and other semi-precious stones. Incredibly beautiful.
Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?89841
Derleth was a prolific writer in general. I didn’t realize until I looked at his Wikipedia entry just how much he’d written. I suspect I’ll have to track down some of his other things now. Anyway, he was a friend and correspondent of HP Lovecraft and continued the Cthulhu stories, despite some criticism from other correspondents of Lovecraft. If you’re a fan, you already know all that, but have you seen the picture of HP Lovecraft when he was about 9?
If you’re a fan, then you’ve also probably seen Seal of the Damned under the title Seal of R’lyeh. The story centers around Marius Phillips, who has always felt the call of the sea, despite his parents, who never let him go east of Ohio.
Then his eccentric uncle Sylvan died, leaving all he had to Marius. This included property in Innsmouth, Massachusetts on the coast of the sea. He finds that his uncle had “interesting” tastes in art and literature. He also finds that his family has been long connected to the Marshes, whose remaining member is the oddly attractive Ada.
He offers her a job as a housekeeper, which she accepts with a bit too much enthusiasm. He discovers her searching the house for something. Rather than confronting her, he too searches for the something, which turns out to be his uncle’s papers, journals, and notes, including “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” It also includes interesting details about an aquatic race. Humans, but ones who can live underwater and build cities like R’lyeh.
The call of the sea that Marius has felt all his life is all the more greater now that he’s at his uncle’s house. His uncle’s notes talk about investigating the sea all around the house, and when he discovers the secret passage his uncle took to reach the ocean he has no choice to explore.
He gets diving equipment and starts exploring, but he’s pulled by that desire to go to the sea far past its oxygen endurance. Just when he’s about to die, Ada swims up without any gear, rips off his helmet, and he discovers that they are descended from the aquatic race.
Now the pull shifts. He now wants to find the hidden city R’lyeh, as does Ada. According to his uncle’s notes, it’s near Ponape, and the two travel there. In the end, they find the lost city and are not seen above the ocean ever again.
I liked this story quite a bit, but it could have been improved. The high-quality building of tension in the early portion of the story sort of faded away into exposition at the end. Once he is saved from drowning, which was 20 pages leading up to that crisis, there are 3-4 pages of them spending weeks in Ponape and eventually disappearing. The story would have been stronger if it ended right after the crisis, leaving him wondering about what to do next, and not so casually glossing over the entire adventure to find the city.
Next is a really good story by Alan E. Nourse called The Native Soil. Side note, I can easily tell what others think about a story simply by looking at it’s ISFDB entry. Good stories are often reprinted, as was the case for both The Seal of the Damned and The Native Soil.
The NativeSoil uses one of those iconic SF pulp tropes. Iconic planet promises something of great value. Humans try to get that something, but for some reason, they’re not as successful as they ought to be. Troubleshooter is brought in, eventually identifies the problem and comes up with an elegant solution.
I love this trope, so I liked this story. We discover the surface of Venus is essentially mud, often many feet deep. There’s a type of that mud, however, that has an antibiotic especially useful for new medicines because it’s not creating resistant strains of diseases.
However, the pharmaceutical company trying to get that particular mud is finding it extremely difficult. There’s no way to do it all without the help of the Venusians, but they seem incredibly stupid. No matter how well things are described to them, they keep making mistakes that destroy equipment and halt production. They’re nice, happy, and try to be helpful, but they just aren’t smart enough.
That’s when the troubleshooter is brought in. At first, he keeps getting caught in the cycle of trying something and having it fail because the Venusians just can’t do their part. However, he also keeps remembering the intelligence test applied to the alien species soon after first contact. This test says they’re plenty intelligent enough, despite appearances.
He realizes they’re intelligent enough to sabotage their harvesting process. The special mud is, essentially, their food source. They eat antibiotics. His elegant solution is to trade penicillin, which isn’t as valuable as a medicine but still easily produced on Earth, for this mud, which the Venusians would harvest themselves to exchange.
I like elegant solutions of that sort.
The next story is The Machine by Robert Sheckley. This is a typical Sheckley story in that it has a good twist at the end, one somehow driven by the foibles of man.
The protagonist, Otto, a valued machinist for years, the kind of stolid employee that at the time would be expected to stay at a company all his life, comes in one day and quits. Not only does he quit, he tells the bosses exactly what he thinks of them, spits on the floor and leaves.
With that bridge burning nicely, he returns home. He is ready to build the “wishing machine” designed by his partner. It’s a machine that will essentially convert any mass, including air, into whatever is asked for. A philosopher’s stone that provides anything, not just gold. The partner told him the day previously that his design was complete, so Otto quits his machinist job to build the machine.
However, the partner wasn’t actually ready for that step. There’s still something wrong, a basic flaw in the design. However, the partner assures Otto he’ll have it ready in a few more months.
Otto’s heard that before, though, and he’s grown impatient. He feels the partner isn’t ever going to say the design is right and, even worse, would want to show other scientists what he’s created. So Otto kills him and makes the machine off the completed blueprints.
After many months of work, selling all he had for food, parts, and tools, then selling the unneeded tools, he manages to make the machine. At the end, he’s exhausted and hungry, but it’s done.
His first request is humble, a loaf of bread. Butter would be nice, but the bread would be just fine. However, the machine puts out pieces of metal, including gold. It’s a nuisance, but with gold he can go get bread… until the machine stops him.
The basic flaw is that it’s what the machine wishes for that matter, not the operator. And the machine wishes to be his sole owner, and last we see, he’s reaching for Otto. As I said, good story. Otto gets what he deserves, and we’re left with some curiosity of the fate of humanity.
Immediately after is a microstory. I have no better idea what to call it that that. It fits in about 2-3 inches at the bottom of the page and is uncredited. It asks one question. If you’re a robot and you must not harm a human, what would you do if you knew you were about to be replaced? Asimov’s first robot story is published in 1939, so this question wasn’t new, but it’s starkly phrased. What would you do?
The next story is A Candle for Katie by Lila Borison. As far as I can tell, this is the only thing she ever published, which is too bad. I found a reference to her in an article by Sam Moskowitz. In it he talks about the first science fiction class ever taught, which started in March of 1954. Moskowitz kept track of his students, and says of her, “Lila Borison, a receptionist who had been reading science fiction for five years and had written for her college newspaper. She was more interested in straight fantasy.” (Sam Moskowitz. “The First College-Level Course in Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 23, no. 3 (1996): 411-22. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240549, 417).
A Candle for Katie tells of a harried mom who’s hosting the first birthday party for her daughter Katie. Among the gifts she receives is a candle, notched 21 times, with the instruction to light it each year on her birthday, stopping it at each notch.
A strange gift, perhaps, but I for one would find such a tradition a fun one. So, in the midst of the chaos created by a party that included more kids than expected, it comes time for the cake. The mom adds the candle, but Katie has had enough and it’s time for a nap. The mom takes care of that, then deals with a boy who had gotten a hold of a knife and cut himself, and other disasters.
With a sigh, she goes in to check on Katie and she finds a girl of about 5 or 6, but no sign of Katie. Then, the girl looks up and the mom recognizes her eyes. She had left the candle burning, and it was nearly to the fifth notch.
Cool and creepy, especially since Borison left it hanging right there. We are left to wonder about all the things of what happens next, especially since we never know who sends the candle. Excellent work. I do wish she’d kept writing.
I do also wish the next authors hadn’t kept writing. I’ll admit I glossed over the essay here, which is written by Alexander Mebane, Isabel L. Davis, and Ted Bloecher, the Civilian Saucer Intelligence. For 17 issues, they submitted a list of the various potential UFO sightings they could track down. I suspect I might have enjoyed these essays in 1957 as collections of quirky tidbits, but looking back over 60 years, these mostly bore me. Perfectly appropriate content for the magazine, but these essays didn’t age well.
John Healy, much like Lila Borison, only published the story in this issue. It’s called the Book of Goots, and while it’s not as strong as A Candle for Katie, it is a good story. It’s about a small-time hoodlum who comes across a book that purports to teach someone how to use magic. Not the simple prestidigitation of a showman, mind you, but real magic. Goots doesn’t figure he has much to lose, so he reads it.
About the only thing I know about Healy is in the small blurb ahead of that story, which says he was mind reader and mentalist. Obviously, this is a case of write what you know.
Anyway, Goots is your typical hood, but he’s making enough on the magic gig to essentially be straight. The cops don’t believe it, of course, and Detective O’Flahirty sends Abigail in undercover to find out just what racket Goots is working on.
He suggests she pose as his sister, whose husband has died, to get into one of Goots’s seances. He does this in part, because he’s in love with Abigail, and this makes her slightly closer to him.
But this backfires because Goots really can do magic, and the brother-in-law appears, naked of course, grumpy because he’s in the middle of quality time with an Egyptian girl named Cleo. He tells everyone there that Abigail isn’t his wife and to let me get back to what’s more important to him right now.
In the ensuing kerfluffle, Abigail and Goots eventually discover they’re in love with each other. In the end, they fly off on a flying carpet improvised from a hospital sheet. O’Flahirty, for his part, gets admitted into the asylum as he apparently thinks he’s a cop chasing after said flying carpet.
It’s a cute, whimsical story made all the more fun by Healy’s use of language. It’s filled with the sort of slang we imagine from a 40s-50s hood. It’s too bad this is the only Swami Goots story, because they had a lot of potential.
Backward Turn Backward by Dorothy H. Edgerly is next. She, too, didn’t write much, just two stories that I can find. These star Jeb Enders, a warlock living in Appalachia. His village is essentially all witches and warlocks, living on the mountains for centuries. Enders is a regular troublemaker, one who has been told by their council never to interfere with humans again, never to use his magic on the mountain again.
Now, the future has come in the form of a factory looking to build a plant in the valley beneath them. This would force the entire collection of witches and warlocks living on the mountains around it to move.
This proposal would greatly harm the mountain folk, but Enders can’t simply use magic to drive progress away. He begins by looking at the valley and starts asking why it is why it is. He starts going back in time and finds that it was a lake fed by a large waterfall. Now it’s a creek, with soggy land around it every spring, fed by a small waterfall. He hunts through time to discover that it used to be fed by a spring that got blocked by a boulder, turning the large waterfall into the small one and leaving the lake to go away.
With help to do the magic he isn’t allowed to do, he cleans the dirt around the boulder and then lifts it away from the spring. It begins to run as it did before, and soon the lake with return, meaning the factory has to be elsewhere.
It’s a good story and Jeb’s a fun character. It’s got a bit of Avatar in it, though, with stock factory boss bad guys. It’s definitely got that trope of nature being awesome and civilization being awful. However, while Avatar uses amazing visual effects to distract you from a wretched story, Edgerly writes a good story with a solid puzzle and challenge to overcome faced by characters you want to succeed.
We know the next author, though not by the name of Lee Correy. This was the pen name for G. Harry Stine and his Landing for Midge is the next story. A ship coming to earth has been hit by a microasteroid which has knocked out its landing radar. Not only will they have to have a manual landing, one of the passenger is Midge, a pregnant woman.
Stine was a rocket scientist and this clearly shows. He throws in appropriate technical jargon here and there, but more importantly, the main question to the this story is how free-fall would affect pregnancy and birth?
What a fascinating question to ask three months before Sputnik launched.
Anyway, at first, the landing control people at White Sands try to divert the ship to an orbit, there to await the transport of a new radar, allowing the computers to land the ship properly. Again, this is written before Sputnik launched, yet the bulk of the science in this story still feels right.
The manage to make it to land just before Midge, who is in labor, gives birth. They roll up to the landing spot where emergency personnel are waiting. They rush up to the ship.
First on, of course because of Midge, is the vet.
Cats, you see, are the only other terrestrial creature to take to free fall at all. In fact, many seem to love it. Ship crews definitely love having them along, and let Midge come along because she insisted.
She didn’t need any help, by the way. The vet finds her with three cute, healthy kittens, all born during the landing.
Currently, Chapman’s reputation is ruined because he was supposedly the researcher for a best-selling historical novel on pharoahs that doesn’t get most of the facts correct. The book is written by Eric Stromberg, who is a reclusive genius much like Elon Musk.
When he opens the tomb he finds the second of Khufu’s soul ships. And something else. He rushes back to Stromberg hastily, asking if he’ll write a sequel. Stromberg says he will.
At that point Chapman leaves. He realized then he could never show Stromberg the item he’d found in the sealed tomb. It was a Stromberg Electronics Temporal Traveler, and Stromberg was headed to his death.
We get another pen name next: C. Bird. It’s actually Harlan Ellison and the story is Song of Death. Again, a short, sharp story, this one the cover story.
There is a planet where mermaids live. People would pay a pretty penny if someone could bring a mermaid from the planet back to Earth, but though many had tried, all of them had died. Like the Sirens of the Odyssey, the mermaids can sing a song that lures all to death.
However, this adventurer believes he can see. He’s tried many get-rich-quick schemes before, but he’s sure that this time, this time he’ll get al the money he’ll ever need.
Oddly, he’s right. He manages to land without dying, though the landing wasn’t pleasant. He manages to coax a mermaid close, stun her, fill a hold with water, and bring her back.
He’s tone-deaf and their song doesn’t affect him. Such a Harlan Ellison ending.
Lloyd Arthur Eshbach is next with The Fuzzies. Eshbach, as you may know, was a fairly important person in the early days of SF. He published his first story in 1929. In the 1930s, he was the editor of a couple of magazines, and then in he founded Fantasy Press. The list of authors and books published by it is impressive. However, it went under in 1956, so about a year before this story at a time when he needed money.
Again, another good story. This one involves miners on Ganymede. There are crystals on Ganymede that the Fuzzies desperately want. The Fuzzies are telepathic little balls of fur who can work with humans. However, they can only work with likeable humans. No criminals, none who are violent, nothing like that. They leave humans who stop being likeable by committing suicide.
Which makes the hero, Herb, all the angrier. He and two others had filed conflicting claims on rights to some crystal fields. One had dropped out, saying he was satisfied. Herb and Swain, however, had ended up in a duel. The thing was, Herb realized in the middle of the duel that his gun had been emptied.
Now he was on the chase for Swain to give him what he had coming.
He finds Swain in his portable shelter with the help of his Fuzzy. Swain has no gun, Herb doesn’t feel right shooting him without a gun, so he tells Swain to fight. Swain tries, but immediately passes out. He had a broken leg and would like die without Herb’s help.
Which, of course, Herb does. He brings back Swain to Center City. Along the way, he discovers that Swain hadn’t been the one to remove the ammunition, but rather it had been the other guy in hopes of getting all of his disputed claim.
But Herb brings Swain to the hospital, then files his claim, one of the richest. He actually files a joint claim with both he and Swain. That’s when he finds out Swain had also filed a rich claim. Also joint. Also in both of their names.
In any case, the story was worth my anticipation. Fiddler on Titan is about the first expedition to Titan, Saturn’s “biggest and only habitable satellite” (120). Expedition A includes 14 men and women. They arrive to find out that one of them, Ham, has brought his family fiddle with him in contravention of the rules and ignoring the effects that its weight might have on the trip.
But they made it and find a plain with vegetation and a big lake. The set up as pioneers in sort of a Little House on the Prairie fashion awaiting Expedition B in something like 18 years. Fiddles and music were important to those pioneers, and even more so to these on Titan.
For Titan held alien life, intelligent life, in the form of amorphous blobs who could take just about any shape they wanted and create any tool they needed. Ham played his fiddle and realized that if he played songs that made him think of dancing, they’d dance, or leaving, they’d leave, or working, they’d work. The Titanians and these first humans became allies.
But space is not without dangers, especially human dangers, and a pirate band comes to call. They landed, watched Expedition A, and come to take over. They know that Ham playing the fiddle gets the Titanians to work, but they don’t quite know how. They tell Ham to play, which he does, but instead of a song he’d played before, he plays a war song. The Titanians connect to song and thought and shoot the pirates.
Man, how many good stories are in this issue. The only downer was the UFO essay, and that’s easily skipped over. This is a 9.5 and would have been a 10 with a good essay and one of my favorites.
It even has a fantastic ad on the back cover. It says “Take this Lunar Quiz and win a round-trip reservation to the Moon. Free!” It’s a fantastic ad for the Science Fiction book club.
Greetings all. This week I’m reviewing the Analog of July 1962. The cover story in this is John Brunner’sListen! The Stars! and I love the cover art designed for it. It includes a good essay by John W. Campbell and a work by James H. Schmitz. Side note, I’ve already reviewed the issue immediately after this one. You can find that review here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1579. This will be especially relevant since Mack Reynolds had a two-part story, with part one in this one and the second over there.
The first article in this episode is What’s Wrong With Science by John W. Campbell. This is a distressing article, as it details things that are currently wrong in the scientific process, which means those problems are at least nearly sixty years in the making. Basically, he says that scientists are hamstrung by the process, which forces them to come up with answers that often fit the existing models that most scientists accept. Given that new research often radically changes or even replaces existing models, this means that such new research isn’t even allowed to be tried, because if it succeeds, it means that all the previous investment was wrong. Now, it’s as if instead of religious reactionaries wanting to execute Galileo, established scientists would execute him.
Sadly, I fear that this problem is even worse now, given examples I have seen.
The cover story Listen! The Stars! by John Brunner was fantastic. We discover a gadget that lets us listen to electromagnetic energy from other stars. In general these noises are not intelligible but there’s enough of a hint of something more, like hearing alien languages, that people keep listening. They’re hoping that they can understand that half-heard word they’re so tantalizingly close to comprehending.
This causes a number of societal issues, because that hope acts much like a drug. Addicts and acolytes, thieves and thespians. Worse, however, are the unexplained disappearances that seemed to be caused by “stardropping,” or eavesdropping on stars.
Dan Cross is a member of the UN Special Agency tasked to discover threats to peace. Basically, they’re trying to prevent the US and Russia from tossing their nukes at each other. The stardropping craze has finally come to their attention and he’s delving through the possibilities.
However, he and his agency are too late. Others have actually comprehended the science within what they find stardropping, science based essentially Einstein’s spooky action at a distance idea. This leads to both teleportation and telekinesis.
In the end, those who have discovered the potential from stardropping have generally unified together across the world. When the crisis happens, they reveal themselves with the intent to start the very war that Cross is tasked to protect. However, with their use of teleportation and telekinesis, they are easily able to distribute the atoms and particles of all the nuclear warheads and biological/chemical agents into the vastnesses of interstellar space.
The hint is that this will free humanity from its parochial differences and chase the stars, which are now within reach from their teleportative abilities.
It’s idealistic message fiction, promising a utopia that seems impossible for humanity. However, it’s also a fantastic story, filled with action and suspense. It’s also got enough hard science that it seems plausible.
Next is their announcement of things to come in the next issue. I won’t relate it here, but instead give you that link to my review again: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1579.
Then comes a single page on a scientific discussion of laser development by GE. As is often the case reading these magazines, it’s fascinating to read these sort of discussions. They provide a snapshot, in this case, of the development of lasers 57 years ago. I suspect anyone actually in the field, would find it very interesting.
Next is Junior Achievement by William Lee. I can’t find much about him. It is entirely possible that’s a pseudonym. One of his stories, A Message for Charity, was well-received. It has been republished a number of time and was turned into a Twilight Zone episode. However, very little else was published under this name.
Which is too bad. I rather enjoyed Junior Achievement, especially since at one time I was heavily involved in the organization. However, I didn’t have five geniuses to work with. In this case, they all come up with some new invention and the local science teacher, who is smart but not a genius, cannot quite keep up with them.
The only problem with this story is that it was more a narrative than a story. There wasn’t much of a buildup. No real crisis/climax. Instead, it went off at a rollicking pace of the kids involved making things happen and always succeeding. It was set in a town that had needed to be moved after some unexplained nuclear accident, so there’s some hint of genetic mutation, but not much, and that aspect only seems to be in the story to explain why the teacher is so poor. He has to pay two mortgages, one for the old house that’s in the fallout zone, and one for the new house. It’s an enjoyable story, but leaves you wanting more, like an ephemeral treat.
I was not disappointed. It starts with a scientist getting an alert. Then we discover he’s not just a scientist, but a member of a secret plot against humanity’s Federation involving 1200 people. These people are, in fact, aliens who were experts in genetics. They genetically raised these 1200 to be indistinguishable from humans. That would allow them to come into the Federation and create a bio-weapon that would devastate it, allowing their alien species to take over.
The scientist escapes with his three closest allies. At least, they think they escape. However, the Federation has set an elaborate trap for these 1200. They know them all because those 1200 have only 3 brain wave patterns, and are thus identified. Once captured, the 1200 are subjected to detailed scrutiny, most while they’re unconscious.
At this point, I was disappointed in the story. The initial start, with its evasion and capture, was really good, but immediately after that comes a disembodied voice explaining the plot. A series of exposition that would do Hercule Poirot proud, but in the context of a short story, takes too long.
But every once in a while, exposition can be the story, and this is the case here. Schmitz set us up to create espionage feel fighting the evil government bad guy, but the exposition reveals the truth at the very end.
The alien species was too successful. The beings it genetically created to be humans, were, in fact, human. None of the 1200 are actually going through with the bioweapon plan, instead doing something else that actually benefits humanity. The final line, which is spoken by the supposed government bad guy is fantastic: “You’ve regarded yourselves as human beings, and believed that your place among us. And we can only agree.”
It’s interesting how a really good writer can make something that shouldn’t work actually do so.
This is one of his essays about understanding the brain. There’s a lot in here that I don’t know enough to appreciate. It does talk about some of the imagined possibilities, which are not dissimilar to ideas talked about today. It’s fascinating in it’s own right that 57 years ago people were talking about implanted electrodes to increase communication between brains, tracking health status, and so on. Basically, he’s talking about implants here which even then promised “unexpected marvels and possible horrors.”
I actually skipped the next story Border, Breed Nor Birth by Mack Reynolds. I tried to read it, but I have already read Part II of this story. Worse, I really didn’t like the way the story ends. Again, you can find that in the review here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1579. It’s hard to connect with characters when you already know your not going to like the story, especially the ending. It was like watching a horror movie, knowing the kids are all going to do stupid stuff that makes it more likely the slasher’s going to get them. I don’t like watching them, either.
Anyway, I’m going to move on to the Analytical Library. I find this fascinating as it’s an attempt to objectively quantify what the readers want. It’s essentially much like a modern Amazon/Goodreads rating system. There’s also a bonus attached of an extra cent per word to the winning author, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
What I learned in this version of the AnalyticalLibrary is that I really need to read the March, 1962 issue. Poul Anderson’sEpilogue beat Randall Garrett’sHis Master’s Voice. I really like His Master’s Voice, so it’ll be fun to see the first version, but it’ll also be fun to read a story the readers thought was better.
And when I review that issue, I’ll talk about a number of interesting side notes involving Garrett and Anderson.
Anyway, next is The Rescuer by Arthur Porges. Porges was a prolific writer and a mathematician. i suspect my dad, who was a prolific reader and a mathematician, loved his stuff. I know I really liked this one. It’s very short, but also very powerful.
The story starts with a description of the greatest machine ever made, requiring multiple city blocks of space, fusion power, and computer power which might seem laughable now, but which was incredible then.
Then two scientists destroy it.
The story then turns to the preliminary hearing discussing the events that led to the destruction. In this, one of the scientists who destroyed the machine explained himself.
The machine was a time machine and one of the technicians involved in it commandeered the machine for his own purposes. However, he left a note, and the scientists, upon reading that note, decided that it was best to destroy the machine safely than allow the technician to succeed.
And this is where it gets thought-provoking. We’ve all wondered about changing the currents of time, but what if it changed so much more?
The technician is going back in time with a modern weapon and ammunition to prevent Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and execution. If Jesus had to die to save humans from their sins and that doesn’t happen, what next? Basically, it asks the question of all of us: Would you save Jesus of Nazareth? What would that do to all of history and to our souls? What a fascinating philosophical question and, as mentioned in the story, the kind of question we all have to answer for ourselves.
The last section, as usual in Analogs, is P. Schuyler Miller’s review section entitled The Reference Library. In this issue, he begins with a scathing discussion of the double-standard applied by publishing companies with respect to writers of SF and “literary” writers who happen to write an SF novel.
He nails something I talk about quite often at conventions. If you’re going to write in another genre you have to have read enough of the genre to understand the existing tropes and methods. In this case, the books in question didn’t get the hard science right, not even close to right. You also have to respect the genre, even if you’re writing a parody of it. Perhaps especially a parody, because if you despise it, your story comes out mean-spirited instead of humorous.
I have to say, this was a darn good issue. It rises in my mind because I didn’t actually read through the Reynolds story, of course, but there’s quite a bit here I’m pleased to have read.
Next week, I’ll read the Fantastic Universe from July, 1957. It has works by August Derleth, Manly Wade Wellman, and Robert Sheckley. Wellman is a familiar name to me not simply because of his speculative fiction, by the way, which I’ll explain next week.
Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?89841
Thanks for reading. I’m off to finish a short story for James L. Young.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a while since I did a magazine review, so I’ll explain what I’m doing. I have a goodly amount of Analogs, Amazings, Astoundings, and a bunch of other SF/F magazines from the 30s to the 70s. I’m going to read one a week and give you my review. I’ll be looking at everything, including the ads, because there’s lots of fun things to see in these. Also, I’ll be linking everything I can, usually from the fantastic Internet Speculative Fiction Database.
This week I’ll be reviewing the “Worlds of If” from October, 1971. This was an exciting issue to read for me because it included both a Stainless Steel Rat story and a Retief story. Not surprisingly, the theme for this issue is “insouciant.”
Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58836
This isn’t my favorite cover art of all time, but it is such a great example of the powerful, evocative art that is on so many covers. It’s kinetic, which now that I think about it is probably the best way to describe the goal of these magazines.
The ads on the interior covers of these magazines are often delightful. This issue’s is no exception. It leads with the questions: “Can Freddie Fong Fine save the world? If so, should he?” OK, you got me to look. It’s an ad for Richard Lupoff’sSacred Locomotive Files, which includes not only the titular locomotive, but also, among many things, a hyponuclear submarine (which sounds cool), Mavis Montreal the groupie, and “other denizens and features of the world of 1985.” I certainly wish Lupoff had accurately predicted 1985, because my junior year in high school was nowhere near that interesting.
The first section is Hue and Cry, the letters to the editor. The best letter was by a geology student taking issue with A. Bertram Chandler’s use of the word “extrusion” with relation to granite. Indeed, she “leaped up in horror!” upon seeing that usage. She concludes with a truly dire curse: “May the next koala bear Mr. Chandler meets eye him with reproachment.”
The first story is The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Harry Harrison. The Stainless Steel Rat is a fantastic character so I was really looking forward to this story, especially since I hadn’t actually read this one before. In the story someone is going back in time to change the upstream to kill off the entire Special Corps. Slippery Jim is just the man to get sent back in time to return time to its proper course.
The Rat gets sent back to 1984 with the help of Professor Coypu’s Helix. Things happen in a rush, of course, and he is sent back in time with all the equipment that they can throw at him. Gotta love the toys the Rat’s toys.
He arrives in 1984 and quickly gets himself a criminal associate. They rob a bank, but the associate leaves the Rat in the lurch. The Rat steals a police car in order to escape. Eventually he ends up in the hands of the mastermind, and only by the aid of the special potion hidden in one of his teeth that turns him into a superman is he able to escape. He turns the tables and defeats the evil mastermind and thereby saves the world.
I expect the Rat to have a useful gadget for every occasion, even though more often than not it is first mentioned right when he needs that precise thing. For some reason though, this particular tool bothered me. Supermen, even temporary ones, don’t work as well for me as the gadgets.
That kicked me out of the story for a moment, and the joy of Stainless Steel Rat stories is that you put your seat belt on and get taken for a roller-coaster ride. This is probably my least favorite Rat story, which means I liked it but didn’t love it.
Side note. When I roam through the ISFDB or other pages as I do these reviews, I come across various interesting things here and there. I now know that “acciaio” is stainless steel in Italian. In Dutch? Well that’s “roestvrij staal.” I’m sure one of those will provide the answer for Final Jeopardy one of these days.
I’m a fan of the Stainless Steel Rat, but I’m a fanatic about Jame Retief, who stars in the next story. The All-Together Planet by Keith Laumer is a Retief story I’ve never read, which is a surprise, since I thought I had all the Retief books and collections.
Another uncovered tidbit: Laumer always pictured Retief as having black hair and looking something like Cary Grant. Hence, he didn’t like the covers from the 1980s Baen reprints where Retief is blond. In fact, those covers of him were based on Corbin Bernsen. Now I have this vision of Jame Retief playing third base for the Cleveland Indians in Major League.
Anyway, this is all that one wants from a Retief story. The Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne has sent him and Magnan to a planet with an odd species, the Lumbagans, that evolves as separate body parts which gather together beginning with a group of ten. These parts can be anything, legs, arms, eyes, spleens, whatever, but the initial critical mass is ten parts. That’s a Singleton. Two of them get together and you have a Dubb. Two Dubbs can join together to become a Trip, and then two Trips can amalgamate and become the pinnacle of evolution, a Quad.
As usual, the Groaci are trying to gain control of the planet. Retief navigates with his usual wit and skill through the normal Groaci diplomatic corps, but finds one of their leaders, Ussh, to be unusually elusive.
Eventually Retief tracks Ussh down to discover he’s one of the largest Groaci he’s ever met before. Ussh is also more ambitious than most Groaci, which is saying something. He actually wants to rule the galaxy and his plan includes breeding Lumbagans to make a modular army of sorts.
As usual, Retief gathers allies among the locals, Gloot and Ignarp. At the end, in prison, he comes up with a desperate plan, one that leaves his allies in horror. Retief has figured out that Ussh is not a Groaci at all, but a super Lumbagan who is an amalgamation of two Quads who merely arranged his appearance to look like a Groaci. He tells Gloot and Ignarp that the only way to defeat Ussh is for them to combine as well, giving them equal powers to the mighty Ussh. They name themselves Lucael, which Retief agrees is “better than Michifer.”
Lucael and Retief head off to face Ussh and the Lumbagan emperor. In the end, it turns out that the emperor is essentially mindless and is completely controlled by Ussh. However, this taxes even the power of a super-Lumbagan, especially when faced with one who is just as powerful. In true Retief fashion, he manipulates the scene to expose the fraud, allowing Lucael to split Ussh back to his constituent Lumbagans.
At that poing Lucael assumes the throne and makes several proclamations, including telling all foreigners to stop meddling in Lumbagan affairs or “be shipped home in a box,” much to the horror of both the Groaci and CDT (except, of course, Retief). Then he declares all laws illegal, “including this one.” At the end, Lucael promises their emperor will return, should the need arise.
Then Lucael disappears to Ignarp and Gloot can separate back into themselves. But fear not for them, they take positions in the newly-created government-in-exile, “the only place for a government to be.”
No mere review can properly convey the sly subtleties that Laumer slides in. You may not be able to read this particular story, but I suggest you find a Retief story somewhere and remember the absurdity of bureaucracies.
The next story is To Kill a Venusian by Irwin Ross. This is the third and last story Ross ever published in a SF magazine. There’s a reason for this, and it’s not a pleasant one. Ross plagiarized To Kill a Venusian from Anthony Boucher’s story Nine-Finger Jack published in 1952 and no magazine ever published anything else by Ross.
The story basically involves a serial killer, who discovers his latest wife is actually a Venusian, who can’t be killed with any method known to humans. Ultimately, he discovers that human flesh is a deadly poison to them, and he escapes by killing the Venusian wife by cutting off his finger and putting it into their food. Gruesome and fun. Nice job by Boucher in 1952.
Anyway, next we move to One Moment in the Sand by Barry Weissman. In this we have a variety of people scrabbling about in a post-Apocalyptic world. These people are fantastically changed, though, including one who is a red dragon.
They find a cave and start exploring. The find a cave with a lot of oldtime equipment, including a large pillar. They start playing with it all. One presses a button causing lights to flash and sirens to wail. They keep pressing things and ultimately the large pillar ignites, burning them all and launching, for it’s an ICBM. It comes down on a farm halfway across the world.
All in all, not my favorite. It was less a story than a vehicle to say that nuclear weapons are bad. For message fiction to work, it has to be a good story, and this wasn’t.
Next we turn to After the End and Before the Beginning by William Rotsler. I will say that this magazine had some interesting authors, as Rotsler was also a writer, director, and actor in about two dozen porno movies as well as an illustrator in SF fanzines along with his SF writing.
This story is also message fiction in its own way, but far better written. It’s also set in a post-Apocalyptic world, one where the Earth has essentially been covered in buildings but the civilization has foundered. Dagger, the main character, is the leader of one of the many roving gangs.
Along the way, he finds a girl he wants to take so he chases her. Initially, he kidnaps her but eventually convinces her to come with him because one of his gang has books and knows how to read. He tells her of pirates and Robin Hood. In the end, he promises her he will read books to her. He’s not sure how he’ll do that, but he knows he will. The message is that reading will change your life in ways you never anticipate.
A solid story, with action and character growth. It’s not one that would win awards, but it’s worth reading.
Lester del Rey provides his list of reviews next in his Reading Room. He starts this with a discussion on the importance to SF readers and writers to read a wide variety of things, not just SF but fantasy, mystery, history, and everything else one can. The most interesting review in here was a collection called simply The Pulps edited by Tony Goodstone. This includes a bunch of pulp covers as well as fifty pulp stories, including a couple SF titles, some Lovecraft, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and a supernatural story from Tennessee Williams. This looks fun and I’ll probably get a copy one of these days.
The science article in this magazine is an essay by L. Sprague de Camp called Death Comes to the Megafauna. It’s a study of the possible reasons why megafauna disappeared. I would guess that in the half-century since he wrote this there have been many discoveries to answer and inform his questions, but I’m not knowledgeable enough in this field to be able to pick through this properly. These science essays provide a lens to see the process and growth of a discipline, and I suspect people in this field would really find fun connections. Not so for me, I’m afraid, though I did learn some places to look when I write a story about megafauna.
The story centers around Starfinder, a man with blood on his hands, including the spacewhales, who he hunted to make ships for men. He had achieved some absolution by saving one whale from death, but now has new blood on his hands.
The spacewhales dive into the Sea of Time, which the Starfinder discovers is a passage as well to Tartarus. The Erinyes board the vessel to damn him for his guilt. The fight not only goes between him and the Furies, but also with the spacewhale, who resents the human’s attempts to master him. In the end, they become friends and allies.
This is one of those frustrating stories that I could really love, but the arc felt rushed. The conflict resolved itself too quickly, especially after the excellent setup including the Erinyes. If he’d have had time, I bet Young could have had Starfinder face each of the Furies in turn, dealing with each of their specialties, and at the same expanding on the transition from uneasy allies to friends, which felt forced and hurried.
This is not an uncommon problem in SF magazines, and of course many of these are expanded from shorts to novels and novelettes. I’m going to look for more from Young to see if he expanded on the story, because the idea of the spacewhales is really cool.
Lastly, we come to the SF Calendar, which is a list of upcoming SF conventions. If I ever create a time machine, I’m definitely going back to some early conventions.
Overall, this was a very good issue, but not a great one. The Retief story brought it close, but the other stories didn’t quite carry enough of the load to put it in the absolute top tier. Say, an 8 or even an 8.5.
There some convention information to start off with this week. First, most you probably already heard that LibertyCon had to change it’s date and venue. It’s now the last weekend of June in the Marriott. I’m sure that there are a number of people negatively affected by the change, but fortunately, I’m not one of them.
The other change is that I just got added to ConCoction in Cleveland next weekend. It works out conveniently for my trip to Gulf Wars, actually, as I’ll stay in Pittsburgh during the following week before heading down to Hattiesburg.
I hope that by the time I leave I can send Chris Kennedy a full draft of The Feeding of Sorrows. I’m around 100k words on it, but better yet, I’ve been cleaning out a bunch of plot holes and mistakes. I’m about 2/3rds of the way doing that, and this process always adds a bunch of words as I realize I missed things.
The step after that is the grammer/spelling/crutch word cleanup. Then it’s off to the editor.
Following that I’ll be working on None Call Me Mother and a couple of short stories. One is a follow on “Far Better to Dare” from Those in Peril, this one with an aeronautical aspect. The other is a future of war kind of thing.
Lots of stuff to do to meet deadlines, which is really nice. Also, I’ve been averaging well over 1000 words per day in 2019. More like 1500 counting every day. It’s nice to be back into the flow, even though I wasn’t feeling well this week.
With that, I’m going to relax with the sweetie and kitties tonight and get back to the grind tomorrow. Have a great week.
Current Playlist Song
Anthrax’s Skeleton in the Closet. I’ve found myself really getting into Anthrax as I get older. Actually, I’ve found my tastes get harder and more metal in general. Anyway, it’s a great song.
Quote of the Week
On this day in 532, the Emperor Justinian began building one of his greatest legacies, the Hagia Sophia. Of this building, Procopius had this to day:
For it soars to a height to match the sky, and as if surging up from amongst the other buildings it stands on high and looks down upon the remainder of the city, adorning it, because it is a part of it, but glorying in its own beauty, because, though a part of the city and dominating it, it at the same time towers above it to such a height that the whole city is viewed from there as from a watch-tower.”
-Procopius, De Aedificiis
It’s the first Mag Review of 2019. I hope you enjoy these. I certainly have fun doing them.
By the way, I’m going to start something new. While I love these magazines, I don’t want to keep them all forever. So I will start giving them away at certain panels at various conventions. I’ll ask a trivia question and the winner gets it. I’ll also give out hints in my weekly update the week before those events. Stay tuned for ChattaCon.
Whatever else this issue contains, I love this cover. Rockets, stars, emotion. I love it.
It also has a fantastic ad on the inside of the cover:
Live in the days of the Galactic Empire…
Live on the ships of the first Interstellar Expedition…
Live – in a million could-be years, on a thousand may-be worlds.
The hope and attainments – the strivings and ultimate defeats – of all the future years of endless time.
We’ve a Time Machine for sale – a simple little machine of paper and ink that, coupled with your own mind, can soar down the years of Eternity.
It’s a small thing – and the doorway to Infinity and Eternity .
Ok, you got me. Sign me up now!
The issue starts with John W. Campbell’s editorial Elementary, My Dear Watson. This discusses how man is beginning to use a variety of elements that had been difficult to use up to that point, including rare earth elements. It was cool, but I’d it’d be especially interesting to someone who actually deals with such things to get a perspective from 67 years ago.
Next is the first story of the issue, Space Fear by James H. Schmitz. This was a puzzling story to me. It had so many elements that I like, but it seemed disjointed and I never really got into the flow. It’s about an agent of the Confederacy of Vega who pilots an intelligent ship fixing problems in the galaxy. That’s a fantastic start, right?
Well, the problem is that the story sends her on a number of missions all at once. The first thing is a mission to try and trap an alien race that sends ships in that are so far advanced they come into their space, look around, and then leave without hindrance.
Trapping them would have been a great story. Instead, that’s sort of the prologue. While she makes progress, more progress than anyone had before, they send her on another mission. With it’s own set of exposition. Then another.
It’s so jumbled I’ll freely admit I couldn’t really read the story well. I kept getting jarred out of it and skimming a bit until something caught my eye. I tried four times to thoroughly read it, and it’s clearly beyond me. I’ve liked Schmitz before, but this story kept dancing around at the edge of my attention, always seeming to push me away at some point.
A full space opera novelette wasted. That is, in these magazines, a true tragedy. Cut it into separate fast-paced stories and you got a tiddly little book along the lines of the Retief adventures or the novel M*A*S*H.
Next we move on to Philosophical Corps by E. B. Cole. This was Cole’s first release, and he didn’t write much more besides it. It’s too bad, because I think he had a goodly amount of talent.
A side note. This story starts off poorly in the magazine. There’s a longish excerpt from a future book that’s pure exposition. It has two problems. One it’s longer than perhaps works for a short story. Two, and far more important, the excerpt was printed in the magazine in a smaller font. Like difficult to read smaller font.
But if you get past that you get another story that has so much potential. The Philosophical Corps are the people who go to planets where the inhabitants are low tech and have had criminals and slavers set themselves up as gods to steal their wealth and gain slaves. Not only do they have to rescue the indigenous population from the criminals, they have to do so on a way to keep the planet growing as it has without too much corrupting of its way of life.
Man, this could be an awesome series of stories. Tap-dancing through the challenge of understanding a myriad of alien civilizations while facing high-tech organized crime? If you ever see me write a book entitled E.B. Cole, PCI you’ll know it’s about a hard-boiled detective going from planet to planet fighting interstellar crime bosses trying to be gods.
Of course, you might say Stargate already did that. You’d be right. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t do it, too.
I will also say that had Cole written more of these, he would have written stronger stories. This one is good, but somewhat direct. He released a later version of this story along with two other adventures in that universe in 1962, and I expect those are all stronger.
Still, this is a B/B+ story with tons of untapped potential in the universe.
Next we come to a skillfully written story, …Of the People… by Morton Klass. Klass was an anthropologist, and not surprisingly this story deals with the study of a people. Like E.B. Cole, he didn’t write much and again, it’s a shame.
This story starts out in a strange way, taking us to a place I didn’t care for initially. Basically, it’s about the President of Earth in 1975 talking about how he earned that title starting in 1955. He’s actually an alien who, with his advanced technological and cultural was able to unify the Earth.
He was actually sent here by his race because the Galactic Federation did not know what to do with this planet. We had achieved atomic power, but had not settled down. So they put us in quarantine for a while so that they could take a look at us later before possibly exterminating us.
The species that the President comes from could not let that happen without trying to help, so they sent him. Understand that this is tripping all of my buttons, and not in a good way. I may be an idiot, but I’d rather fail trying stupid stuff than having someone swoop in and protect me from making the attempt. Let me touch the hot stove and find out it freaking hurts, if you please.
But Klass is tricky and I ended up really liking this story. You see, the President has discovered that the entire council that helps him rule the earth consists of aliens sent by worlds who have just as much empathy as his. They’re all here to help.
However, the quarantine is about to end. The Federation is likely to send them all away. Not only will they rip away this world government, but they will expose that it’s composed entirely of aliens. Yes, the flying saucers did come to control us.
The President knows he can’t allow this to happen, so he confronts the council. No matter where they came from before, he and the councilors are now from Earth. Now they have to defend it from the Federation.
That’s where the story ends, so we don’t know if they succeeded or not, which is fine. A full answer would take a novel, in my mind, and I think this is stronger by Klass letting the reader think he’s going one way and then pushing into what is clearly an oncoming train full of adventure and politics.
His technique is amazing. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a story I disliked so much at the start come right around and use my distaste like that. Here, let’s challenge your independence, then let’s make it something we can root for. Brilliant.
Next we get to Casting Office by Henderson Starke (really Kris Neville). This story has an interesting premise. Basically it’s discussing the plight of actors seeking a job, along with stagehands, directors, and the like. It becomes clear that the author is God, who has made a universe of strange physical laws and outlandish events. He wants a place to exercise his whimsy and also to retreat to so he can become happy, but he also has this idea that the story will eventually be that of overcoming great trials.
Unfortunately, ratings plummet essentially. Critics lambaste his work. Eventually the directors bring in a script doctor over the author’s vehement objections. They turn his tale of heroism over the millennia into a horror movie that panders to those viewers who want violence.
Fascinating premise indeed, but not well executed. It needed more detail and less top-down discussion, I think. For example, the story talks about the critics blasting it, but never has a paragraph that talks about specific issues. It leaves the story too vague and we’re not invested in it.
There’s a solid scene where the author is in a role as a wealthy man enjoying good food, driving on beautiful days, the company of lovely women, and fine drink. Then he’s ripped from it by the director in order to face the music from the critics. That was great. It’s the only such scene, really. Oh, there are hints here and there of odd props like millions of extra bugs for England in 1869, but there’s just not enough of this quirkiness.
After that comes Experimentum Crucisby Andrew MacDuff (E.B. Fyfe). This is a solid story with a fun twist at the end. In it we have a human visiting an alien planet that is at something like our technological level of the 1970s.
The human is there negotiating a variety of mineral and resource rights on the moons of the system. The leader of the aliens is not stupid, though, and he is wary of the negotiations. His suspicions are increased when the human finds out about a particular moon with high radiation readings and has his car salesmen tendency come to the forefront.
Basically, the alien sets it up that if the human lands on the moon, he’ll come out ahead by owning the sponsorship rights. And, if the aliens’ belief that it’s a moon made of negative matter, “there will be a beautiful flare-up to prove my claim” (p. 97).
Gotta love the bad guy getting his comeuppance.
Following is the normal In Times to Come description of what’s in the next issue. Included is one of H. Beam Piper’s Paratime stories, so I’ll look forward to unearthing that issue eventually.
Then we get High Threshold by Alan Nourse. I’ve reviewed Nourse before and I will look forward to seeing him again. He writes good stories, though not yet a great story.
This one starts out very well. While experimenting with temperatures around a thousandth of a Kelvin, researchers discover an entrance to a completely alien place. The five people that have been sent into the entrance have all died of fear. The only hint they have is a tennis ball, which went into the entrance and came out completely reversed. The fuzzy part was on the inside and the rubber on the out. The same thing happened to a pencil, which returned as a sliver of wood sheathed by graphite.
The answer they come up with is to find someone so completely able to reject earlier data and accept new data, so adaptable, that they can survive long enough for their mind to adapt.
They find someone and send her in there. She goes in and realizes what’s going on, but realizes that she cannot explain the differences to the researchers because they simply have no way to understand. Her solution is to find a newborn baby and raise it in both worlds so that it can relate both universes instinctively.
This is all good stuff. The end isn’t as strong, though. She also realizes that she is going to have to trick the researchers into letting her try the baby idea. She also knows that she can now see how to get into that universe at any time. She plays as if she’s insane, and then escapes through the dimensions.
I sort of felt unsatisfied, almost as if I’d ordered chicken fried steak and there was no actual steak inside the breading. The breading, gravy, and mashed potatoes all tasted good, but it was missing the substance. Maybe the story should have been longer. Maybe a completely different twist that I’m not thinking of. I don’t know. Still, it should be noted I was sucked in reading this story and it is only at the end that I realized I wasn’t satisfied.
Next, in a half-page blank area, Campbell talks about what he looks for in the letters that he’ll respond to in the Brass Tacks section. He’s looking for things that are broad and general and will have some connection to the majority who read Astounding.
One wonders how many times he was nagged for not putting up a convention announcement for Wecanhandle50peopletotalacon or letters announcing someone has a cool pet rock for sale.
The next story is Protected Species by E.B. Fyfe writing under his own name this time. This is an oft-published story, meaning a bunch of readers liked it. I’m one of them.
It’s about surveyors and xenoarchaeologists on a nearby planet studying ruins of a long-dead alien civilization. The ruins show advanced technology, but also damage from explosions and war instead of earthquakes and natural disasters. There is no evidence that the people who made those ruins exist anymore, except perhaps a species that might have devolved from intelligence in the wake of wars.
The species provides some of the workers with a bit sport. They’re fast and hard to catch, and there’s not much else to do on the planet and their morale is generally fairly low. Then an inspector comes to look at their progress. He sees these hunts and he is bothered by them, especially with the likelihood that they are intelligent, even if devolved.
So he arranges to have them named a protected species, preventing future hunts. After so doing, he takes one last pass around the ruins, going specifically to a place where he had run into one of the natives, which had prompted his work to name them protected.
There, another native awaits him. Instead of running, or throwing rocks, or anything likes that, he greets the inspector by name. Apparently they have been watching this world for some time. His job is to watch for the revival of the original species on this world, and he is quite pleased to see the inspector name the species on this world protected. For, after all, that is what they actually did for humans after destroying this world humans inhabited. He’s very happy to see us finally returning to the stars. Perhaps, soon, we won’t be a protected species ourselves.
Fun twist, and an excellent job of twisting our humanocentric point of view against us. That’s two stories by Fyfe in this issue, and both are good to very good with good twists. I’ll keep an eye out for him.
Next is an article Notes on Nuclear Radiation by Edwin N. Kaufman. He didn’t write much for any SF magazine. He appears to have been an aeronautical researcher for Douglas and Lockheed, but I can find little more about him.
Anyway, like Campbell’s editorial to open this issue, I found this article moderately interesting, but obviously outdated. Again, i think this might be fascinating to someone in that field and interested in its history.
Jack Williamson is next with The Man from Outside. Williamson is one of the great fathers of SF of course, and I him a lot. I would expect a sizable fraction of you readers know he’s the guy who coined “Terraforming” but I had not realized until reading up on him today.
Anyway, this story is about an alien unit dedicated to watch Earth and ensure that its society is not corrupted by other aliens. The commander of the unit is hard, harsh man. A fresh idealistic lieutenant comes to him and asks to involve himself in the world below. The commander refuses. The lieutenant persists, finally convincing the commander something must be done, but the commander stalls and delays. Then, before the mission is done, he brings the lieutenant back.
The lieutenant is anguished. He wants to help some dissidents kill Stalin, who he realizes only exists because of outside contamination and who is an abomination. The commander stops him, and the dissidents are destroyed because they make a mistake designing a fusion bomb.
In the ensuing exchange, we discover that the outside influence that allowed Stalin to exist is the commander in his youth, as an idealistic lieutenant. He met Lenin, was impressed, and let slip some advanced knowledge about revolutions and the like, allowing for the Soviet Union and now Stalin.
He has stayed on this post during the decades since. He has refused promotion above his current grade and re-assignment to a better station. He knows what he’s done and his atonement is to remain here and prevent a re-occurrence. Now, because of the idealistic lieutenant’s actions, the balance is endangered. The lieutenant must now take up the commander’s mantle and “watch against the sort of men we used to be” (p. 143)
Where should duty and idealism meet? What’s the balance. It’s a tough question because unintended consequences are always lying in wait. Great story.
Last is Brass Tacks, the letters to the editor. There’s a lot of discussion about previous letters in this issue. Sort of like a monthly opportunity to reply on Twitter. The only difference is that the responses here are well-written with thought behind their premise.
The one topic I think remains relevant is the discussion of what language should an author use in SF/F. It’s a tough one sometimes, and I try to strike a balance. Language in another world would be completely different with different foundations. We would all have to be linguists to understand them.
Obviously, this is what Tolkien did. Yet he knew he could not write a tale in Elvish. He was also aware that the common speech was not English. He put enough of the other language in to give the flavor of Sindarin or Quenya or whatever. I think that is what we must do to give the taste of an alien or fantasy world.
But there’s a balance, and I’m not sure I’ve achieved it. I will occasionally perform Old English poetry, usually the Wanderer or Beowulf. Mostly, I do this in modern English, but I regularly insert a few lines here and there of Old English to let the sound resonate.
It’s a tough thing to accurately re-create a medieval performer. On the one hand, they had to connect with the audience so they could make money or have a place to sleep and eat. On the other, a true performance should be in the original language, but little else sends an audience away than reciting poetry in a language they don’t understand. Might be better to recite Vogon poetry. Flipping languages back and forth is my best compromise.
I don’t know if I have the answers, but it’s something I dwell on probably too often. If the language takes me out of the moment, then I know it’ll take some readers out, too. My problem is that I also know I use words that flow with me, but not with others. It’s a challenge, and no doubting.
Anyway, overall this was a grade B issue. All the stories were quality, even if I didn’t like the execution or some other quibble. There weren’t instant classics to me, but still I’ll reread a few of these someday.
Next week I’ll review the Analog from February, 1963. This one looks promising with a Gordon Dickson and H. Beam Piper.
This week I’m reading through the Galaxy, Vol. 20, No. 2, of December, 1961. It’s got a story by Poul Anderson that I’m looking forward to, and I always wonder what Willy Ley had to say. Also of note is that Frederik Pohl is the editor, and of course I always think of him as a writer. I loved the Heechee series.
As I grabbed the links for Pohl and the Heechee series, I noticed that Gateway was also originally published in Galaxy starting in November of 1976. That issue was edited by Jim Baen. Ah, the fascinating trail of science fiction publishing.
Anyway, the initial editorial is by Pohl. It’s a fun one about the size of the galaxy and the possibility of alien life. Also, he talks about some planetary conjunctions.
There are all sorts of time capsule moments when reading these books and Pohl provides one. He says that Jupiter is “monarch of more than a dozen moons. (p. 7)” Right now we know of 79 moons around Jupiter. Yep, that’s definitely more than a dozen.
The issue’s first story is The Day After Doomsday by Poul Anderson. The story begins with a starship returning after a three-year mission to find the Earth destroyed. Carl Donnan is the one man who keeps his head, barely, and he tries to lead the 300 men of the ship’s crew to find those who killed his world and maybe even find some of humanity’s other spaceships. If he gets dead lucky he can find one with women on it and humanity can survive.
The story is fantastic. I’d be on pins and needles waiting for the next issue to show up in my mailbox. There are a couple of data dumps, but the rest of it is fast-paced and full of action. Aliens and politics. Ship battles. A mystery. Clues hidden here and there. And the possibility of answers more deadly than the crimes.
Fun stuff. I’m looking forward to the conclusion.
Next we have Miriam Allen deFord’sOh, Rats. DeFord is not an author I’ve read before, though she wrote in both of my two favorite fictional areas, SF/F and mystery.
This is a twist on the Flowers for Algernon idea. SK540 is a super-rat engineered in a lab. Unfortunately, the engineering was too successful. He understands what is going on, leads an escape from the lab of his choice of the other rats, and then takes them to the house of one of the scientists.
Then he leads a fairly diabolical campaign against the scientist and his wife. He tricks them into befriending him and keeping him secret for the moment. Then he reveals that he has impregnated two other lab rats and the scientist realizes that it’s a war.
But he realizes it too late. SK540 has used rat poison (nice irony from deFord there) to kill the scientist and his wife. The story ends with the note that it’s the tale of the founder of their race and the end of humans.
This is a great story in many ways. I love the twist at the end. Yet, I’ve sat here for a bit to figure out why I detest it and I think I have the answer. SK540 wins because the wife recognizes him as a person and treats him nicely. I don’t like characters that take advantage of people being nice, so I simply can’t want him to win, not that way.
However, despite my dislike of the result, I can’t help but admire the quality of the work.
We move on to Willy Ley’s monthly essay. This one focuses on Dragons and Hot Air Balloons. In it, he talks about the possibility that the Chinese candle balloons are ancient. His argument is that they are not because Western travelers would have spoken about them prior to the 18th-century. I’m not sure I buy his argument completely, but that’s mostly because I wonder what research has occurred since 1961. He talks about the possibility that dragon banners might have been early balloons, but dismisses that too. He does so based on weight/volume ratio of the long tail.
His last segment discusses some of the biggest guns in history. He details the ones we know of and if they fired. Interesting stuff.
Then we move to Joy Leache’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. I don’t know much about her. She only had three stories published and I can’t find much about her on the internet.
This is a cute little story that where an account administrator from a promotions company is sent to a small planet to figure out something it can export so it can join the Galactic Empire. They have to have something they can contribute before getting accepted.
The problem is they have no resources. They aren’t artists. Their planet isn’t terribly attractive. As a species, the Felicians are attractive. They look like leprechauns, and they could get by setting up a tourist industry to take advantage of that. However, that would be demeaning and likely to lead to their extinction.
The get the promoter drunk, and while he’s drunk his steno, the real hero of the story, manages to figure out that the Felicians are excellent cobblers. So they set up a method to sell the shoes and it seems like the problem is at an end.
However, the Felician shoes don’t wear out and they only produce one style per species. Any others would be inefficient and demeaning for the leprechauns. That means the sales dry up within a few years.
So they go back to Felix to figure out a new plan. While there, the steno breaks a tooth. The Felicians don’t have teeth, ergo no dentists, so she has to go elsewhere. When she comes back she realizes that the Felicians, with their small size and skilled, dexterous fingers, would make excellent dentists.
It’s a cute story, but limited. It’s the kind of thing that suggests a promising author-in-training. Unfortunately, the was Leache’s last published story that I know of. Too bad.
Next is Algis Budrys’sWall of Crystal, Eye of Night. All I can say is wow! This was an amazing story about a media mogul getting to the top of the heap, so he thinks. However, his rival has gotten advanced tech from the ancient and dying Martian race to ruin him.
The tech essentially creates a sort of virtual reality, but with less on the virtual and more on the reality. It allows someone to essentially program a person’s future within broad guidelines. In this case, the mogul’s rival curses him with an adventure that will end with sorrow and pain.
Much of the story is the mogul trying to escape this doom. He kills his rival, sort of. However, the Martian tech keeps him alive as a sort of zombie to follow the mogul and push him into wilder and wilder bad decisions. To ruin his life. Very Shakespearean.
The Martian tech succeeds and the mogul dies at the end of the story. However, he leaves behind the seeds of his revenge by using the tech on the guild agent who eventually kills him. These agents are surgically altered to make incorruptible by removing their ability to feel, or taste, or enjoy much of anything. It’s sort of like a Blade Runner thing where they are changed into replicants and can’t ever go back to being human.
The mogul’s revenge is to change this one back. Suddenly, he can feel centuries of things he’s seen and done. And now he goes back to get his vengeance and the mogul’s.
Fantastic. Would make a great movie. And, as you can see from the ISFDB, it’s been republished a number of times. Find it if you can.
To fill out the final page of Wall of Crystal, there’s an ad for one of those book clubs. I could get 6 books for $2, including stuff from Asimov, Leinster, Farmer, Anderson, Aldiss, van Vogt, and a bunch of others. Here, take my money.
“Inventive” jumped to mind as this story is about an inventor who is greater than da Vinci. At the end of his life, he laments about all the things he meant to improve but never did. He has done amazing things, like wiring Philadelphia for electricity in 1799, but there’s some much else to do. So, he invents a time machine and goes back to himself while his younger self was hawking.
He lays out to his younger self a huge amount of information, to which that version of himself listens intently. The younger version puts away the joys of hawks and falcons, and invents at an incredible pace. Even gets us to Mars by 1830. However, when he is 85, he curses himself for being an idiot as he has never quite gotten around to corporeal immortality. He decides to go back to yet another younger version and impress upon him the importance of immortality to allow him to achieve all that he wants and needs to.
But this younger version is distracted by the hawk and the falcon and the joys of life. Now he is remembered for a number of useful things like a safer nutmeg grater and better wedge for splitting logs. And this one never figures out the time machine and never can do anything about all the things he meant to do someday.
Very good story, but with a limitation. It’s oddly structured in that it is almost pure exposition. This structure works, though, and you get caught up into it. It needs more of the main character doing, though, to become great.
But I don’t think this was her best story. She was Wiccan, and this story is a melange of Christian, Norse, Wiccan, Zoroastrian, Native American, and other mythologies combined with an evil time traveling company from 3000 AD fighting over when and how to use electricity.
The main character is a reverend who wants to return to simpler, more traditional Christmas’s. One way to do that is to avoid using electric lights and rely on candles, firelight, etc. His wife is beautiful, but she was a spy implanted by the electric company to get him to stop preaching against using electrical lights after dark.
If that all seems complex, it is, and the melange has too many elements. She loves Easter Eggs, and I’ll bet most of what’s in here exists because “So-and-so will love this!” I’m not unfamiliar with the vast majority of the mythology she uses, but it whizzes by so fast I can’t quite connect all the pieces together to make the story really work for me.
I’m also not entirely fond of the ending. In the end, he wins, and a great beings says, “You want an old-time Christmas, you can have it.” The last scene is the reverend, now converted to a Druid, getting ready to sacrifice a number of Christians in honor of the winter solstice. The main character, who is a good man that you root for, then becomes evil. I love endings that aren’t happy.
Had he been the Christian sacrificed and faced his ending with pride and honor, I’d have loved it. He’d have won, though he’d have died. In this case, he’s corrupted into evil through no fault of his own, only the great evil deus ex machina making him murderous. That’s too heavy-handed for me to enjoy.
Next we get to The Watery Wonders of Captain Nemo by Theodore L. Thomas. This is actually a long form review of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Thomas’s main criticism is that Jules Verne’s science is awful. He didn’t look for the technology given the submarine advances that had already been made when he wrote the story in 1870. He didn’t double-check the viability of the scientific-sounding things he says in the novel. Furthermore, we may think he advanced submarine science with his ideas, but Thomas points out that what readers think is there is not, actually, there. Batteries for the Nautilus, for example.
However, Thomas loves the way Verne tells stories. He might have missed some tech that was available to him, but he captures us in such a way that even an expert glosses over things. He calls it “non-science,” though a good story.
This story is about a guy who pulled himself up from the gutter, but he goes back from time to time to remind himself what he once was. While there, he meets two men, one large and obvious, and the other so withdrawn as to be almost invisible.
Turns out the withdrawn man is sliding from this universe to the next. He’s not really a part of this place, and this place is not really a part of him. That means that only people who are out of touch of this place, like those on skid row, can even see him. The main character can only see him when he’s visiting skid row, but not when he’s back at his job and real life with a newspaper.
The withdrawn man leaves, saying he’s found some other friends, so he disappears. He comes back to introduce his friend and the friend is terrifying. He has a form that seems to embody a sort of Platonic Ideal of the viewer’s greatest terror. Spiders, snakes, heights, whatever.
The terrifying creature says that’s the way it always goes and the withdrawn man promises to come back with more of them. The main character and the large man hope that the withdrawn man is so connected to the large man that if he cannot connect to the large man, he can’t get back. So the main character helps the large man succeed in society and escape skid row, where the terror lies.
Great story that catches you almost immediately even though there’s not much action, just a vague hint that yanks at your curiosity for a time until you can’t get away.
This was a very good issue. The worst story might simply be the worst because of my taste, and others might find it excellent. To me, that’s a great compliment for magazine.