Tag Archives: J.R.R. Tolkien

Rob’s Ramblings: Only *This* Story

This week I’ve been pleased to receive a whole slew of short stories for the FantaSci anthology. All told, we received 37 entrants, which seems like a good number to me. Chris and I are still discussing the ones we’re going to choose, so I’m not going to talk about results just yet.

However, since it’s fresh on my mind, I thought I’d go over some of the things I saw in this process. At this point, I’ve read a bunch of short stories over the years, written a dozen or so, and am in the process of editing my second anthology. There are many out there with more experience than I,  but this contest really helped coalesce my thoughts on short stories to something more concrete, so I’m going to post on this as much for me to remember as to help you all.

Let me lay down one overarching principle: “Only *this* story matters.” There’s your TL:DR of this post. Only this story matters and anything that’s extraneous drags it down.

First, let’s talk about exposition. The vast majority of stories that got put straight to the bottom of our list explained too much. There’s little that’ll bring a story to a screeching halt like a sizable infodump near the start.

Yes, readers need to know stuff. They’ll get frustrated when something isn’t explained. However, you want to only explain what you have to explain for *this* story, even if you have plans for that story being a part of a larger setting.

If you plan to compile a collection of connected short stories into a novel, you can come back and add exposition later if needed. But that’s part of that process, not this story.

Readers don’t always need to know technical details or the physics/metaphysics underlying a universe. They need to know only if the plot twist turns on it. Most of Asimov’s robot stories turn on the Three Laws, so the reader has to know them. But details how robots work? Not as much.

It’s really easy to throw in details the author thinks the reader needs to know. It’s rare, especially without more experience, for an author to limit that exposition to actually what is needed for *this* story. Believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and it’s a major part of my editing process to cut that sort of thing out of my own stuff.

For Songs of Valor, authors had 7-10,000 words to strike with. And I mean strike! Short stories work best with action, in my mind, not explanations of this and that. That especially includes a bunch of stuff about what the character is thinking. Show, don’t tell, the character as much as possible.

Now I don’t mind a character parsing through tactical choices a bit. “I did this to learn this and then did that to get this reaction.” This is, I think, especially useful in first person noir style stuff.

But even that’s a balance. For None Call Me Mother, a novel which needed more tactical discussion than a short story, my editor told me I’d gone overboard and I cut back on them dramatically to get a faster, sharper story. Editors are nice like that and the 148k original draft that seemed bloated ended up as a 124k sleek creature I’m pretty pleased with.

Tell us what we need to know and nothing else. And whenever possible, weave it into conversations and side notes in the story and avoid a major infodump.

But that brings up an obvious question, how do you know what the reader needs to know?

For me, short stories have a soul. This is true of all stories, long or short, but I think it’s more important with shorter stories because you have to focus on that soul and nothing else. With novels, you want to have some misdirection, extra plants, and some additional frippery. There’s simply not enough time for much of that in shorts.

The problem is that “soul” is such an amorphous term. I’m a pantser, especially with short stories. It is extremely rare that I know the soul of the story when I start it. It’s happened once, with my story “Far Better to Dare” from Those in Peril, but that’s it.

Most of the time I write at least 4-6,000 words before I realize what the soul of the story really is. Then I realize that much, if not most, of what I’ve written so far is not actually relevant to the soul of *this* story. Maybe I had to write it out to know the character well enough, or the events underlying the story, or whatever, but all that stuff is just background and I have to cut some, if not nearly all, of what I’ve written.

This is hard. You have to be ruthless with your own writing and take extra stuff out. Don’t delete it, of course, you may use it later elsewhere, but not here.

Of the stories we received that I thought had potential but weren’t in our top 4 and thus a part of the anthology, I would say nearly all of them suffered from too much exposition that didn’t matter to that story’s soul. In some cases, this exposition was the kernel of the story, and hence the author thought it had to be in the story. However, that’s not always the case, and took away space for action without adding as much as the author realized. That chunk mattered, because it drove the character, but the reader didn’t need to see all of it, just hints of it.

Let me give you an example from my story from this anthology. Its POV character is Katarina, the chaotic evil crime boss from Achrida who Edward has to deal with far too often. I initially started with a thread of her comparing people around her to those she’s murdered in the past. Number twelve, number two, number 47, etc. It’s a fun thread for this character and I had to have it in mind as I was writing from Katarina’s point of view as the most unlikely/reluctant hero I could think of, but those words were wasted in this story.

Don’t worry, I have all those murders saved and listed.

But what’s the soul of the story? That’s hard to determine and it could be really far afield from where you started.

When I started writing “Here Must We Hold,” my story about the Battle of Maldon in Trouble in the Wind, I wanted to write a version where Byrhtnoth’s decisions weren’t because of “ofermod,” or hubris, but rather from smart strategic thinking that gave up a tactical advantage. That’s there, of course, but in the end, it became about something else, a pure redemption arc I won’t spoil by describing here. That forced me to change the entire structure of the story, remove some particulars, and add others.

My story in We Dare, “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” is a version of the Finnsburh Episode & Fragment, or Romeo & Juliet if you prefer, set on Mars. That was all, but in the end, it became more of a story about the hero in the Wanderer or the Seafarer, two of my favorite Old English poems. That, too, forced a series of changes, cuts, and tweaks. I didn’t realize that until I reached the absolute end of the story and needed the extra gut punch.

I could describe the journey of each story I’ve written, but I think you get the point. Be open to finding a soul of the story after you’ve written it, then shaping the story around it.

Whatever I’m writing, I constantly think about Raghunath Rao. He’s a character from the Belisarius series by Eric Flint and David Drake. He is fond of saying, “Only the soul matters in the end.” Not a bad thing to remember when writing short stories.

Returning to “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” I mentioned I thought it needed an extra gut punch and that’s because I think short stories need a twist. Something at the end that forces the reader to think and want more. I get this philosophy from one writer in particular, my favorite writer of short stories ever, Randall Garrett.

He was about as flawed a man as he could be, which is why many of you have never heard of him. He wrote only when he needed drinking money. However, he was so good he could go to John Campbell and ask for an advance on a story and get it! What a crazy thing, especially in the era of the pulp magazines of the 50s and 60s.

If you ever see a copy of The Best of Randall Garrett paperback in a used book store, get it. Even if you already have a copy so you can gift it to someone. There’s an e-book on Amazon with the same title, but it’s not the same as the paperback, though the two are linked. Here’s the link for the paperback on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Randall-Garrett-1982-01-01/dp/B01K3JZWX2. Again, the e-book version is not the same.

That paperback has the single best collection of SF/F short stories I’ve ever found. Every story in here is absolutely amazing and powerful. And they all have a twist at the end, some which have never stopped resonating with me since the first time I read this collection in the early 80s. I would never suggest anyone emulate Garrett’s life, but his skills as a writer of short stories are hard to match.

So I try to have all my stories have some sort of twist at the end. It could be just a subtle thing like the last word in “Far Better to Dare.” It could be big like the gut punch at the end of “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms.” The twist in “What’s in a Name” is the word “Deor,” which is an odd word in Old English, but which added a neat addition to the redemption of Edward, provided the title, and shaped the soul slightly.

Doesn’t really matter what the twist is, nor is it necessarily a requirement. However, I think we can all understand that a story that hits you at the end with something extra is likely to be more memorable than without. In an anthology where you’re surrounded by great stories, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. And if you’re in a muddle of 37 stories for a competition, it’s even more important.

Finally, I’m going to touch on something that’s important, but which *can* be overcome, and that’s the use of language.

This is a fantasy anthology. We got a variety of definitions of fantasy, which was great, but of course some of it was medieval fantasy. There were a few of these submissions that suffered because the language was too modern for the setting. Imagine, if you will, Gandalf saying, “Well, hindsight is 20/20.” Wait. What? That totally throws me out of the story.  So does “OK.”

Likewise, if you’re writing an urban fantasy or SF and the characters speak in a Shakespearean style, the readers are going to wonder what the heck is going on. It might work, like David Weber’s Jiltanith character from his Mutineer’s Moon series, but it has to be explained.

It may seem cool, but that exposition might take the place of action later on or confusing the soul of the story. In other words, getting in the way of the story’s power.

Now, sure, an editor can go through and edit all of the modernisms out of a medieval fantasy story, or whatever other oddnesses might be there, but in a contest, it’s a factor from the editor’s point of view. It means your story has to be clearly one of the winners. In a tie or close race between two stories, it will matter more. It’s quite literally part of the discussion Chris and I are having right now.

So to sum up, here you go.

  1. Only *this* story matters right now.
  2. Exposition only as needed for *this* story.
  3. Only the soul of *this* story really matters, in the end.
  4. Find a twist to give *this* story extra punch if you can.
  5. Use only the language that makes *this* story work.

Yeah, sure, these targets are amorphous and difficult to hit. I’m also not perfect at hitting them. However, I know that when I have these principles in mind, I write better stories. I also know that those stories submitted for this anthology that matched these principles got noticed more.

Again, you’ll find others out there with more experience than me, and also more success. You should absolutely pay attention to them. Also, there’s one true way of writing, and it’s whatever works for *you.* Still, I would say you wouldn’t go wrong at least considering these five things as you write short stories.

 

Interview: Peter Cawdron

I’ve not yet met Peter Cawdron, though I follow him in For a Few Credits More. I like that story though, and he’s clearly a thoughtful fellow. If I ever get to Australia, I’ll make sure to look him up and share a few beverages discussing the universe.

Interview: Peter Cawdron

Peter Cawdron Portrait
Peter Cawdron Portrait

What is your quest?

Enlightenment.

I was a religious nut for decades. One book held all the answers. Only one group was capable of interpreting it. Everyone else was sincere but misguided. Thankfully, my one saving grace was honesty. When I heard a preacher trash Charles Darwin, likening him to Hitler, I felt conflicted. Hitler was a pretty bad dude, setting the world on fire and killing tens of millions of people. Didn’t Darwin sail around the world collecting animals? Really doesn’t seem comparable, does it? I grabbed a copy of On the Origin of Species and a highlighter pen and began reading. Much to my delight I realized Charles Darwin was methodical and honest in following the evidence wherever it went. He too was conflicted by religious sentiment, and once wrote to a friend saying, his discovery of evolution by means of natural selection felt like “confessing to murder.” In Charles Darwin, I found a kindred spirit.

Since then, I’ve taken off my rose-colored glasses and seen the world anew. I’ve come to appreciate the astonishing times in which we live and the way science has transformed our world—at times for the better (vaccinations have saved hundreds of millions, if not billions of lives), at times for worst (our infatuation with fossil fuels has allowed us to ravage the environment). In all cases, however, science has been a catalyst for change.

When I write, I try to inspire a sense of awe about reality, along with a need for responsibility.

What is your favorite word?

Myopic.

We’re all shortsighted.

A hundred years ago, we thought the Milky Way encompassed the entire universe. A couple of decades ago, Hubble showed us that even our most outlandish predictions were shortsighted. We now recognize the observable universe as spanning 93 billion light-years! We think the entire universe (not just the portion we see) is a minimum of 156 billion light-years in diameter. Then there are the emerging theories challenging this, looking at the curvature of the universe on a cosmological scale that suggest the real size could be as much as 23 trillion light years, and yet here we are on Earth, fighting over a scruffy patch of ground for oil or ideology. Our behavior is insanely shortsighted.

Likewise, the idea that we are alone in the universe is foolish and conceited. We have no reason to believe that—and every reason to believe otherwise. Like a medieval scholar standing on the shores bordering the Atlantic Ocean, making any kind of judgment about the existence of other continents is steeped in hubris. We need to wait until the evidence is in.

We share this astonishing planet with upwards of a trillion other species, but we only care about a few (deep fried chicken, anyone?). The rest, we’re happy to drive into extinction. As a writer, I try to get readers to see the bigger picture and inspire a sense of awe and reverence for this celestial oasis adrift among the stars.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen dictionary?

In orbit, or within the atmosphere?

Being an independent writer is akin to being a busker on a street corner. No matter how good you are, you’re only ever going to reach a handful of people for a few minutes at best. Trying to breakout as an author is like talking at a rock concert. There’s so much noise it’s hard to be heard. There are a lot of great authors rocking the world. I’m glad to be one of them in my own small way.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

My holy-hand grenade would be participating in anthologies like the one we both contributed to—For a Few Credits More. The best advice I can give to emerging authors is to collaborate in an anthology. It’s an awesome way to contribute to the writing community, meet other authors, and reach a wide variety of readers. Too many people underestimate the importance of short stories. They’re an awesome way to grow as an author and provide readers with an opportunity to sample a wide variety of writers to find those that match their tastes.

 Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Animal
  • Favorite Sports Team? Queensland State of Origin team (unknown outside of Australia)
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime (in a Corona)
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Yo Yo Ma (playing Bach’s six cello suites)
  • Favorite Superhero? Ralph Hinkley—The Greatest American Hero
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Battlestar Galactica
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? I write best on rainy days
  • Coffee or Tea? Hot chocolate (dark)
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Science fiction with complex characters

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

If you were a character in Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, who would you be and why?

Rob’s Answer: Probably Barliman Butterbur. Wait. He works too hard. In truth, probably some random hobbit in the Green Dragon. I like food, beer, good cheer, and I hate wearing shoes.

If I was feeling especially heroic, then I would say one of the Blue Wizards, probably Pallando. I’m the kind of guy who likes to do a bunch of stuff, but not necessarily in the limelight.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

I wish I could attend some of the US conventions, but the cost is prohibitive from Australia. Maybe one day I’ll make it to Comic-Con.


Thanks to Peter 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 rob@robhowell.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.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Rob’s Update: In A Hole In The Ground

Week 38 of 2018

Greetings all

This was not my best week ever. I caught a bit of con crud at TopCon and never really got myself going. That’s one reason why every one of my weekly posts happened today. Sorry about that.

I don’t get con crud often, and this time was kind of odd because the con had very little traffic. I sold enough, I suppose, but only because it was close enough for me to stay at home.

However, I’m glad I went because I got to hang out several friends, including James L. Young and Christopher Woods. In fact, Young helped me add a new event, the Great Plains Renaissance Festival in Wichita next weekend. If you’re in Wichita, come on by, I’ll be in the Author’s Pavilion.

Anyway, I didn’t get much written or done, which is annoying. My big accomplishment was making sure my sweetie got fed. That’s about it, though it’s important.

Today, I’m watching football and catching up with stuff, including my update. One thing I’m doing now is trying some new social media things. You’ll see me using hashtags much more often. Here are some you’ll see from now on.

  • #RobInterviewsCreators: My weekly interviews
  • #RobsReviews: Primarily for my magazine reviews, but I’ll tag anything I review on this blog
  • #RobsUpdate: These reviews.
  • #Shijuren: Anything related to me or Shijuren

I’ve also added the ability for you to share my posts at the bottom of each entry. If you like what I’m doing, please don’t hesitate to share.

It’s Cowboys v. Seattle, so I’m going to pay attention to that and write later. Have a great day.

Current Playlist Song

Since I’m watching the Cowboys game right now, I’m going to chat about my listening habits of late. Thanks to a buddy’s suggestion, I’ve been listening to Rush in album order. I keep forgetting just how good some songs I don’t listen to often actually are, especially in the context of the album. Clockwork Angels continues to amaze. It really is the best album of all time.

Quote of the Week

Friday (when I was supposed to my update) was the release of The Hobbit in 1937, so this one was easy.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort
J.R.R. Tolkien

News and Works in Progress

  • RTM (3,416)
  • The Feeding of Sorrows (approx. 20,000)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (2,556)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on Mel Todd, and it’s one of the more fun interviews I’ve had. You can find it here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1401.

Today’s Weight: 384.2

Updated Word Count: 1057

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Four Horsemen Wiki: 417 entries

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

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Mag Review: Astounding (April, 1941)

Greetings all

Astounding April, 1941
Astounding April, 1941

This week I’m going to review Astounding, Vol. XXVII, No. 2 (April, 1941). You can find its complete table of contents here: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?57379.

Unlike last week, where the Spaceway had few recognizable names, this issue is filled with them. John W. Campbell was the editor and if you ever wondered how much Campbell actually did, take a look at his full ISFDB page: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?14.  Wow. He starts this issue off with a short essay pointing out the importance of sea-water sources in the future.

Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov in 1944
Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov in 1944

Anyway, there will be a bunch you’ll recognize in this review, starting with the Feature Serial The Stolen Dormouse by L. Sprague de Camp. I probably don’t have to talk about him very much, as well-known as he is, but I do have to put up this picture from when he worked with Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov researching for the Philadelphia Navy Yard in World War II. What an amazing picture, and reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the Inklings, though I suspect these three did not have anywhere as comfortable as The Eagle and Child to chat about their writing. On the other hand, they probably got to at least watch the building of the USS New Jersey (BB-62) and the USS Wisconsin (BB-64).

Before even reading the story, though, I had my nose rubbed in one of my weaknesses: taglines. “The Stolen Dormouse: Part One of a new serial concerning a stolen semi-corpse – an engineer in suspended animation touches off a war in a later-day feudalism!” (Astounding, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, p. 9).

You had me at “stolen semi-corpse.”

I really enjoyed the story, especially the way de Camp interwove 1940s business terminology with feudalism. As an SCA ceremonial geek, I found the passage where the hero, Horace Juniper-Hallett is elevated to the rank of businessman delightful. “I hereby present to you the gold-inlaid fountain pen and the brief case that are the insignia of your new status. Guard them with your life” (p. 12).

Getting to wallow in the history of science fiction and fantasy is one of the prime joys of this exercise, but The Stolen Dormouse highlights the greatest drawback. This is Part One of the story. I have no idea when, or even if, I’ll grab the volume with Part Two. At this point, the story ends with, “A snore answered her” (p. 32).

At least I have Reason by Isaac Asimov to console me. This story is a robot story, but before the Three Laws of Robotics, which were originally published in the story Runaround first publish in the Astounding of March, 1942. It involves a robot who refuses to believe that humans invented it or, in fact, that anything exists outside of its mile-diameter solar energy generation station, completely dismissing Gregory Donovan and Mike Powell’s protestations. Despite, QT’s religious obsession with the “Master,” the robot continues to perform his duties at a level far surpassing human abilities. In other words, even though his “reasoning” is based on false assumptions, he retains his ability to do the job so they leave him in place and in fact plan to program all future models in the same way.

What’s fun, of course, is that it’s clear that Asimov is working his way up to the Three Laws. In Runaround Donovan and Powell return, this time with the explicit use of the laws. But that’s another issue, which might be on the shelves behind. I don’t rightly now, though I will do September, 1941 one of these days, which includes Nightfall.

Anyway, next we move on to Theodore Sturgeon’s Microcosmic God.  I love this sentence, “He never opened his mouth without grabbing a stickful of question marks.” (p. 47). The character he’s talking about is a bio-chemist named Kidder who creates a microcosmic race called the Neoterics who are fantastically intelligent. Their life cycle is much faster than humans, meaning that problems that take scientists generations to solve are solved much quicker, as their generations are that much shorter.

Kidder is oblivious of power and money, except when that allows him to expand his laboratory. Of course, not everyone is oblivious and his banker finally decides to kill the golden goose. In the end, the Neoterics create an impenetrable shield for Kidder, another scientist named Johansen, and the Neoterics to live out their lives in peace.

It’s a fantastic story and is included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964. Let’s see, three stories in and we have a fun serial, a prequel to the Three Laws of Robotics, and one of the best short stories in science fiction history. Talk about the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Next is Campbell’s column about what’s to come in the May, 1941 issue. The column talks about a story by Anson MacDonald called Solution Unsatisfactory. The story is about what happens if there’s a superweapon and what happens after that. In the story, all the solutions are unsatisfactory, but MacDonald goes through a number of them. “And MacDonald suggests that the weapon will come – and come in about three years. Personally, I’m most desperately afraid he’s absolutely correct. Now, remember this is April, 1941. Missed the prediction by a little more than a year, but is a fascinating question to someone who grew up during the Cold War.

Oh, and Anson MacDonald is one of Heinlein’s pseudonyms.

Anyway, we move on The Scrambler by Harry Walton. This story starts something like Moby Dick, in that a ship is trying to capture a living creature in space to help a man named Storm, who is searching for intelligent alien life. They succeed, though the captain is convinced it happened too easily. However, neither Storm nor the captain believe this could be the one until suddenly they find their personalities scrambled from man to man. They try to do roll call, but the personalities keep switching. Finally, they realize that Storm has actually had his personality switched with Comet the ship cat. The creature was testing the crew, and if they could realize Storm was in Comet’s body, learn from Storm that it was the creature’s doing while he was still a cat, they would all return to their rightful bodies.

So Storm has to endure the entire thing trying to get everyone to listen to him while as a cat. Oh, and it turns out that Comet had had a big night with a cat at the Martian fuel depot and was pregnant. A fun story, not a classic, but well worth reading.

Slacker’s Paradise by Malcolm Jameson is next. Another officer in the US Navy, he was forced out by cancer despite helping improve late World War II-era naval ordinance. He died in 1945 at the age of 53. It’s a damn shame, too, because Slacker’s Paradise is a great story.

Jameson uses his experience in the Navy and his knowledge of naval history to create something that would make a fantastic series of novels. This particular one draws on the surrender of the Austro-Hungarian battleships SMS Zrinyi and SMS Radetsky in 1918. The story is reminiscent of the Lieutenant Leary novels by David Drake. The only problem with Slacker’s Paradise is that it needs to be longer to draw out the tension.

Next is Not the First by A.E. van Vogt. In this story humans first break the light speed barrier, discovering that it shifts their perception of the universe they exist in. In so doing, it propels the ship at many thousands of times the speed of light. As it flies through the universe, their luck runs out and they find themselves sailing directly at a star so they try anything that comes to mind. In the end, they find a way to reverse time and send them back to where they were.

Right when the situation started with no change in the factors and for the “multi-billionth” time, the process begins again. Creepy. I like it.

Astronomer R.S. Richardson gives us our next article, Trepidation. While this is an excellent name for a short story, this is actually an article on trepidation in the astronomical sense.  I found this article confusing because the only theory of trepidation in an astronomical sense has been obsolete for centuries. This trepidation has to do with the speeding up and slowing down of astronomical bodies, as discovered by E.W. Brown. That led to questions of measuring time, including the difference between Universal Time and Terrestrial Time, and fluctuations of mass.

Back to fiction, we get Bird Walk by P. Schuyler Miller. This was an odd story to me. Basically, the birds of Venus include one that can tell when someone is lying, and the hero manipulates the thief of one of the, essentially, Crown Jewels of Venus into being within range.

But the story didn’t work for me. It could have, but I think it might have tried to do too much. The red herrings were too easy and the hints at strange powers by other Venusian animals not dealt with well enough. It could be a good story but much of what was in there was extraneous and the mystery too easily solved.

Next is another odd essay, The Homemade Gun of Jamrud by Willy Ley. It’s only one page about 2.75 inch hand-crafted gun made by a blacksmith in Jamrud. It was apparently more accurate than the official British Army ones. And that’s all there is to this.

Old Mr. Boston Apricot Nectar
Old Mr. Boston Apricot Nectar

The next short story is Mutineers by Karl van Rachen, which is actually a pseudonym of L. Ron Hubbard. This was a frustrating story for me, maybe because I was tired when I read it. It’s got a lot of moving parts and there’s too much exposition at the start. I got into it some when we got past the exposition into the action, but by that point I had lost my enthusiasm.

Doc Savage
Doc Savage

And it could have been a good story. Multiple mutinies and various different players are right up my alley. The hero wins by good tactics, awareness, and flat out bluffing. There’s a bit of a forced happy ending, which I hate, but it’s not awful. However, I just didn’t get into it.

Another possible reason are the great ads throughout this story. It’s at the end of the issue, so there are more ads and some are just wonderful from my perspective. Old Mr. Boston 70 proof Apricot Nectar as shown above from page 135? Maybe, but you might have me with the Wild Cherry version. There was also this Doc Savage ad on page 147.

But the piece de resistance was this wonderful Harley-Davidson ad. “See the 1941 models with their airplane styling, zooming power, rugged dependability and important mechanical improvements” (p. 145).

The most common advertisements in this issue, by the way, were ads to train you as a radio operator.

Anyway, at the end of Mutineers was an interesting postscript that I assume was written by Hubbard, as it doesn’t have any other name attributed to it. It’s a very short essay entitled Two Plus Two Equals 100. Obviously, it explains the binomial number system and points out that it is useful for “electrical calculating machines.” (p. 154) As someone writing on a fairly up-to-date computer and looking at my cell phone, I enjoyed this quote: “The resultant machine is bulky, but simple and positive in action” (p. 154). You don’t say?

Now we’ve gotten down to Brass Tacks, the letter’s to the editor section of Astounding. Several of this issue’s letters discussed a new rating system put into place by Campbell. In these Slan by Van Vogt gets a lot of approval. There’s also an announcement for the formation of the Minneapolis Fantasy Society, whose monthly meetings were held at the home of Clifford D. Simak, its director.

Another laments that Campbell could not come to the Chicago SF Convention because, “I’d hoped to see you and Doc Smith exchange diverse comment as of yore – remember the days of your glorious feud over the alleged – who did win those battles? – chemical vagaries in ‘Skylark of Space'” (p. 159). That would have indeed been fun to watch.

Then there’s a section of letters relating to hard science. The first discussed some new, higher resolution images from Mars showing conclusively the canals. The next one starts, “From the results the R.A.F. have been obtaining with their electrical enemy-airplane detectors, it looks as though spaceships when, as and if, won’t have to worry about developing meteor-detecting devices” (p. 163-4). Then it goes on to explain in some detail how radar works and how it blunted the Luftwaffe’s attacks in the Battle of Britain. Nothing new to us, but fantastic to see it from someone to whom it was new.

Well, I think that’s it from this issue. Clearly since I’m only two issues in, it’s a little silly to say this was my favorite issue. I’m sure I’ll find others, like perhaps the Astounding with Nightfall when I get to it. However, this was a brilliant example of the SF magazine concept. Great stories, writers who would become legendary, good scientific discussions, and good artwork.

Speaking of which, I suppose I should talk more about the art, but I got too much into the stories. Maybe next time. Speaking of which, I grabbed Fantastic Universe Vol. 3, No. 2 from March 1955. It’s table of contents is here: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?89712.


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