Mag Review: Fantastic Universe (March, 1955)

Greetings all

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

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

Table of Contents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week I’ll look at Analog from September, 1968 which includes a review of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which I am looking forward to. Here’s the whole Table of Contents:

See you next week.

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Interview: Cameron S. Currie

This week’s interview is with Cameron S. Currie, who I met at Ad Astra a couple of years ago. We were on a couple of panels, and did a reading together and that was a lot of fun, so here’s his interview.

Interview: Cameron S. Currie

What is your quest?

To seek the Grail? Seriously, though, I think the fabled ‘meaning of life’ is hidden in the Hero’s Journey… most of our big problems, and their solutions are represented there. I try to show that to people, preferably in a way they haven’t seen before, and I hope it hooks them into that. So yes, the Grail. Also, books are cool.

Cameron S. Currie
Cameron S. Currie

What is your favorite color?

Anything dark, preferably with humour (excuse the Canadian spelling) to throw it into sharp relief. I like my heroes deeply flawed, and my villains deeply villainous. There are very few bits in the real world that are 100% shiny and pretty, and anyway conflict is the basis of all that is interesting. Soooo… black. No, blue.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

Editing is the nastiest trial to face, because you never get everything. There’s always some tiny error that slips through to the final, printed product. My advice here is that whenever you think you have nabbed every issue, put it all aside for a week or two and then DO IT AGAIN. It still won’t be enough, but it will be better.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

My HHG powers are probably creating interesting characters. Typically, I’ll go over each character’s dialogue and actions and ask myself if it sounds like the character in question. One character was particularly laconic, so I went over his dialogue and removed as many words as possible. Villains I tend to make worse with each pass until they disturb me (if they can’t disturb me, how can they do so to the reader?).

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? The guy with the boomerang fish. Lew, I believe. I always thought the fish should explode, though. In a perfect world…
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchiness is next to godliness.
  • Favorite Sports Team? Errrrrrr… the Bad News Bears…?
  • Cake or Pie? PIE. But in general, I do not have much of a sweet-tooth.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lemon. Sour is good. When life hands you lemons…
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Dill Pickle. Sour is good. My publishing imprint logo has three jars of dill pickles in it.
  • Wet or Dry? Any way I answered this question would come out more suggestive than I intended. MOIST.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Possibly Jackyl… the lead singer plays the chainsaw once or twice an album. Especially good in a live performance.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Obviously Scotch, but I can never remember which is which. It’s wasted on me anyway.
  • Favorite Superhero? This merits more discussion than we have room for here. I tend to go for ‘realism’ over infinite power- more impressed with imaginative uses of minor powers, but there aren’t many common examples of that. It’s not the hero, it’s the way they’re portrayed. Sooo… Deadpool…?
  • Steak Temperature? Medium. I want to like rare, but was raised on well-done. This is as far as I’m willing to go.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Twilight Zone (I think they made these at that time… so many remakes and reboots… ugh. They were at least on in reruns).
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? In Canada, there is only Winter and Construction, and I am not a fan of snow.
  • Favorite Pet? I have two rescued cats with PTSD I inherited from my father. I don’t like them, they don’t really like me, but I clean up their puke and they don’t suffocate me in my sleep.
  • Best Game Ever? Video Game: The really old DOS version of Space Hulk you could get on 3.5 floppy. Super tense… scariest application of Genestealers I ever saw, and lots of boltguns.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee, except when… nope. No exceptions. Coffee is better, and when you run out of coffee, JUST FIND MORE.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Yes.

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

I dunno questions… I am kinda jealous of your education in history, I’m mostly self-taught, which leaves gaping smart-holes… The questions I probably should ask are somewhere in the smart-holes where I can’t articulate them. But I know the general grey area that I would come to you with if I got a question sorted out, you know, what with that edumacationism and stuff.

Rob’s Answer: Uh, I’m not educated enough to answer that properly 😀

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

  • My web site is at , where you can get all my stuff.
  • I’m posting e-books back on Amazon over the course of the autumn, so stay tuned for that!

And where can we find you?

I’m currently not scheduled for much, but you can always find me at Ad Astra in Toronto every year. I expand this whenever I can, but usually at the last minute. You can also find me on Facebook or Goodreads.

Do you have a creator biography?

Cameron S. Currie lurks in the deepest, darkest jungle of Ontario, where he spends time raising his two autistic children and publishing science fiction & fantasy books. His works include A Human Number, My Name’s Not ‘Girl’, and Depends on the Strength of the Yes. He has no real spare time, but when he gets some he plans to either overthrow the earth or make coffee.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not? 

You should have asked about my current WIPs, which would be A Map of the Inner Skull (the fourth book in my fantasy series) and The Starship Rumplestiltskin (which is taking way, way longer than I intended ‘cuz Sci-Fi research takes FOREVER). AMotIS will be out this spring, hopefully TSR will also be out sometime in 2019.

My fantasy series (currently untitled, but I’m thinking ‘The Book of the World’ for the second editions) is thrumming along pretty well. I’m very proud of them, they’re fairly genre-busting and full of awesome characters that show up in every book. I keep them coming out regularly enough that there’s no ‘Game of Thrones’ style multi-year gaps.

I have two volumes of Extremely Large Showcase (so far) which contain excerpts from each of my books, lots of short fiction, and art and are a great deal at $3 Canadian for 50+ pages of content.

Thanks to Cameron 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.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here:

If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at

Also, 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 and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.


Rob’s Update: Three Times Out Of Ten

Week 35 of 2018

So, I thought I had posted this on Thursday, but I apparently got distracted. Sorry this is a few days late. Ted Williams’ birthday is actually the day I wrote this, 30 August, not today.

Anyway, it was a relaxing week here in Robland. I actually took a complete day off, the first one in longer than I remember. I didn’t intend to, but I apparently needed it.

I still got a goodly amount of work done this week, and am close to finishing one of the short stories I’ve been working at thanks to help from some of my Alpha Readers.

I also started on The Feeding of Sorrows. The bad news is that I thought I had more written of it from scraps here and there, but some of that total was duplicated and part was rendered invalid by some of what happened in A Sword for Striking, the short story that was accepted for the Lyon’s Den anthologies, but I’m still aiming to be done with it by the end of September. Going to be a long haul, but I think I can do it.

I’m starting to get a bunch of irons in the fire, writing-wise. I kind of like that. I have a bunch of stories bubbling to the top and I am excited to get them on the page.

Current Playlist Song

I’m listening to the song of my people, Dallas Cowboys football. Yeah, it’s still the preseason, and yeah, it’s mostly players who will never make the team, but we are only a week away from the season. I’m so ready.

Quote of the Week

Today is the birthday of the best hitter ever, Ted Williams. He’s a fascinating guy, in part because even though his career stats were amazing, he lost 4.5 years of his prime because he was flying fighters in World War II and Korea. In Korea, one of his wingmen was John Glenn. Glenn’s wife called Williams, “the most profane man she ever met.”

“Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

– Ted Williams

News and Works in Progress

  • The Feeding of Sorrows (7,395)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (2,556)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events


This week’s spotlight was on Tom Tinney, biker and Dragon-nominated writer in like two thousand genres. You can find the interview here: and his Amazon page at:

Today’s Weight: 381.2

Updated Word Count: 181,483

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Four Horsemen Wiki: 376 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works

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