Tag Archives: Fritz Lieber

Mag Review: Astounding (March, 1951)

Greetings all

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.

Anyway, I’m reviewing Astounding Science Fiction, Vol. XLVII, No. 1 (March, 1951) today.

Astounding (March, 1951) Cover
Astounding (March, 1951) Cover

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?57572

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 Crucis by 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.

Next is P. Schuyler Miller’s book reviews of the month. Among this set are books by Heinlein, Merril, Lieber, and more. Imagine getting paid to read those guys.

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.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56747


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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: Fantastic (March, 1974)

Greetings all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: If (June, 1957)

Greetings all

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

Mars Rocket Rotorship
Mars Rocket Rotorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great day, everyone.


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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell