Tag Archives: Joseph Kaplan

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.