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.
From a writing standpoint this was a 2 steps forward, 1 step backward kind of week. I went through a significant chunk of None Call Me Mother and cleaned it up.
I also did some plotting and figured out yet one more piece of the puzzle to get all the actors in the final scene. I expect to see a huge step next week.
I’ve also started an editing project that I’ll talk more about in December.
We’re working on the house, as I often do in November. We got rid of carpet in our great room and have been laying bamboo flooring. The carpet was original, 1983 vintage, and it had seen more than a few battles.
Going to try and knock out a few more words tonight, so I hope everyone has a good weekend.
Current Playlist Song
Instead of music, I worked on this while watching Chris and Sheellah showing old pictures on their weekly CKP Facetime session. If you’re a fan of the Four Horsemen Universe, the Fallen World, or anything put out by Chris Kennedy Publishing, it’s a great way to interact with them.
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.
– Rudyard Kipling, Tommy
This week’s interview is with J.F. Holmes. He is a really talented military science fiction author and editor. He’s just released the first of a large shared project called JTF 13. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that universe evolves. I especially love its tagline: “They hold the line… between heaven and hell.
Interview: J.F. Holmes
Rob Howell’s Interview Questions
What is your quest?
My quest is to tell the story. I have a boundless imagination, fueled by Tolkien and Asimov, and there are dozens of stories running through my head at any time. Show me an object and I will, on the spot, make up a story about it. So I guess you can say that I need to get it all out.
What is your favorite color?
1968 Ford Green, as painted on a Mustang. I like to tell a story by character interaction and character action. I hate information dumps; I’d rather know by what a person does or says.
What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?
Well, one thing I’ve learned is to follow the Soviet Army doctrine. Reward success, starve failure. If I write a book that maybe I loved but didn’t do well in the market place, then I doubt I’ll ever do a follow up.
What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?
Small unit interaction and combat. Both of which are about the people involved in them, nothing else. How do they feel? What emotions are driving their actions? When people ask me about Irregular Scout Team One, I tell them that it’s not about the post apocalyptic world, it’s about the Team.
Favorite Muppet? Kermit. Deep down he’s a smart ass.
Your Wrestler Name? Couch Potato
And Signature Wrestling Move? Intellectual bafflement. (Rob’s Note: “From the top rope!!!”)
Favorite Weird Color? 1968 Ford Green
How Will You Conquer the World? I already have, by bringing the world down to my size.
What Cartoon Character Are You? Bugs Bunny.
Best Present You’ve Ever Received? My Executive Vice President of Happiness for my company, AKA my significant other, Karen. And my two sons, who are good, decent men.
What Do You Secretly Plot? Novels. Many Novels.
Favorite Sports Team? NY Yankees. Since I was small kid growing up in Long Island.
Cake or Pie? Cake.
Lime or Lemon? Chocolate
Favorite Chip Dip? Buffalo Ranch
Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Count Hans Von Haffenpepper, who invented the electric glockenspiel in 1734. A man way ahead of his time.
Whisky or Whiskey? I gave up drinking at aged 21 when I realized it made me do really stupid stuff.
Favorite Superhero? Superman
Favorite Weird Color? 1968 Ford Green
Steak Temperature? Well.
Favorite 1970s TV show? Battlestar Galactica
Best Thing From the 80s? EVERYTHING. You children do not know what the awesomeness of the 1980’s was. And Madonna.
Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Thanks, now that song is stuck in my head. (Rob’s Note: You’re welcome)
Favorite Pet? My neighbor’s dog.
Best Game Ever? D & D, Axis & Allies, Red Storm Rising, TACOPS
Coffee or Tea? Tea
Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Sci-Fi
Brought to you by the letter ___? Q, because Q invents all kinds of cool stuff
What question(s) would you like to ask me?
What is best in life?
Rob’s Answer: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!
Second best: Being paid to write stories in the tradition of Robert E. Howard, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, and so many others.
J.F. Holmes is a retired Army Senior Noncommissioned Officer, having served for 22 years in both the Regular Army and Army National Guard. During that time, he served as everything from an artillery section leader to a member of a Division level planning staff, with tours in Cuba and Iraq, as well as responding to the terrorists attacks in NYC on 9-11.
From 2010 to 2014 he wrote the immensely popular military cartoon strip, “Power Point Ranger”, poking fun at military life in the tradition of Beetle Bailey and Willy & Joe.
His books range from Military Sci-Fi to Space Opera to Detective to Fantasy, with a lot in between, and in 2017 two are finalists for the prestigious Dragon Awards. As of August 2017, Mr. Holmes has eighteen books and two novellas published.
In 2018, he launched Cannon Publishing, www.cannonpublishing.us specializing in anthologies and works from up and coming authors.
Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?
You should have asked if I had any any idea what I was getting into? My answer: No.
Thanks to John for taking the time to answer my questions.
If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.
Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.
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 hope everyone had a happy Halloween. The proto-incipient stepdaughter and I celebrated it in our entryway. She dressed up as Harley Quinn and handed out candy. I set up the laptop so we could watch the 49ers play the Cardinals. The 49ers are one of her teams, by the way, so we were going to watch the game somewhere, and this way we reward the hardy travelers on a chilly night.
Speaking of sports, congratulations to the Washington Nationals for winning the World Series. One thing I love about baseball is that it doesn’t always make sense. The home field disadvantage was something we’ll probably never see again. The home team losing every game? Crazy.
Probably happen again next year just because the whimsies of the baseball Furies like toying with us.
It’s been a pretty good week here. I sent off the final copy of my contribution for the third Phases of War anthology. Unlike Far Better to Dare and In Dark’ning Storms, this story is set in Anglo-Saxon England.
Then, after that, I got about 4000 words written in None Call Me Mother. I realized at one point that I had unconsciously done something exactly in the way I wanted, but didn’t know I wanted. I’ll explain this in more detail once the book is released, but serendipity raised its lovely head.
Side note: Serendipity is one of my favorite words. Serendipitously, it is smooth and mellifluous. As is mellifluous, by the way.
Another side note: Playing with words is one great part of writing. I get to look up etymologies, play with sounds, and hunt for just the right connotation. I may not always succeed, but I love the chase.
Current Playlist Song
As usual, since over half of my writing playlist are Rush songs, this week I’m listening to Beneath, Between, and Behind from their first album.
Quote of the Week
To follow up on the weirdness of this year’s World Series, here’s a perfect quote by Thomas Boswell.
“More than any other American sport, baseball creates the magnetic, addictive illusion that it can almost be understood.” – Thomas Boswell