Tag Archives: Algis Budrys

Mag Review: Galaxy (December, 1961)

Greetings all

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.

Galaxy (December, 1961)
Cover of Galaxy (December, 1961)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58679

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’s Oh, 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’s Wall 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.

The next story is Rainbird by R.A. Lafferty. Lafferty’s an inventive writer, and this is a good example.

“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.

Next we get to Floyd C. Gale’s review section. The most interesting review is that of The Science Fictional Sherlock Holmes. As far as I can tell, it’s the first SF version of Holmes and includes authors like Gordon R. Dickson, Poul Anderson, and H. Beam Piper.

I had never heard of this anthology before, and it’s no wonder. It’s not published anymore, and the only places I found it was ABEBooks where I could get it for $75 or $150. No Amazon or ebook.

I’m not a huge collector of things, but this may just happen anyway.

The next story is An Old Fashioned Bird Christmas by Margaret St. Clair. St. Clair is another author I haven’t been exposed to much, which is too bad. She’s an interesting person and writer.

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 SeaThomas’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.

The last story is William W. Stuart’s The Little Man Who Wasn’t Quite. I don’t know anything about Stuart and there’s not much to find about him. I will say I wish he’d written more.

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.

Next Week’s Issue:  Astounding Science Fiction of March 1961.


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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: Fantastic Universe (March, 1955)

Greetings all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you next week.


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

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