This week, we’ll look at the Fantastic Universe from December, 1957 edited by Hans Stefan Santesson. He also edited a couple of anthologies I’ll need to read that focus on characters such as Conan, Thongor, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and Elric of Melnibone.
Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?91011
The issue starts with a humorous thing on the first page. It’s an add asking “Are you giving your wife the companionship she craves?” I didn’t realize Cialis and Viagra ads were that old.
The first story is Bear Trap by Alan E. Nourse. Like so many authors of the Golden Age, he’s an interesting guy. He wrote SF to pay for medical school.
A side note, the movie Blade Runner got its title form his story The Bladerunner, though nothing of the story in the movie comes from the book.
Bear Trap is a pretty good story with a number of worrisome thoughts. The main character is a propagandist tasked with helping control American society. He has to frame words to get the emotional impact his bosses desire.
And what they desire is to create a war. The people behind it, though, are not what they seem. In a fun twist, the people behind the system are creating a war not to make a profit, but to push humanity to create offworld habitats. The mastermind’s analogy is that humanity is caught in a bear trap. We are trapped on Earth and will die if we don’t escape it, but to escape it we have to gnaw off our own leg, so to speak.
Again, a good story, though not a great one. The last bit drags because the mastermind has to explain why he has done all of the bad things he’s done to get out of the trap. That exposition eliminates the tension at the end.
Then there’s a small essay about the “Coming Conquest of the Moon.” Sad to say, their optimism has proven unfounded.
Next is a robot story called The Love of Frank Nineteen by David C. Knight. Knight did not publish much, and I can see why with this story.
Man, it was disappointing. It had such promise. “Min and I were just getting settled into the spotel game when the leg turned up” (p. 49) That should have been the first sentence, but even as the first line of the third paragraph, that’s got so much power in it. What leg? What are space hotels going to be like? Where is this story going?
It is a great setup for a good hardboiled detective mystery, but it’s not that kind of story. They find out fairly quickly a robot called Frank Nineteen has been smuggling up his one true love part by part. They catch him reassembling and activating her about a third of the way through.
That, too, could have had promise. A tragic romance that can never be or Robot and Juliet. Instead, it then turned into a boring bit about Frank Nineteen becoming the face for robot civil rights, becoming a movie star, and parading around Earth with a different female robot chosen as his co-lead.
Even then, the story could have been salvaged, and almost was. His love sees the coverage of him and the leading lady gallivanting around. She tries to commit suicide, which would have been a heartwrenching story when Frank finally returns to her. But, no, they manage to save her and they go off happily ever after.
Sigh. Once again, a potential story ruined by some supposed need for a happy ending. Bleah. It’s close, really close, to being very good, but it’s almost like every time Knight had a choice, he choose the boring option.
After that is My Father the Cat by Henry Slesar. In German, it’s Mein Vater, der Kater. I accept that I’m just an immature little boy, but that makes me chuckle. Slesar is another interesting guy. He might very well have coined the term “coffee break.” Starbucks should pay him royalties, if true.
This is a great story. All of the potential the Knight ignored, Slesar pursued. The main character is, in fact, the son of a Breton noblewoman and big, intelligent Angora. The cat is a lover of art, and literature, and good food, and all such things. He educated his son in these things, and the son comes to America to excel at a university on this side.
Over here, he finds the woman of his dreams and he brings her back to Brittany to get married. However, he has not told her of his, shall we say, different parentage. He is determined to tell her once back at home, but his father tells him he would lose her if he does. He refuses to believe that and tries to force the issue.
The father stops it by breaking his son’s heart. He comes to dinner and meows. The butler gives him a saucer of milk in the corner, and he acts like a normal cat. The scene is powerful and excellent.
C.M. Kornbluth is next with Requiem for a Scientist. Yet another side note, “requiem” was my first bingo in tournament Scrabble.
But this is a fascinating rip on Ivan Sanderson, who follows next with Comments from a Scientist. Kornbluth has many complimentary things to say about Sanderson, but tears him to shreds for losing his scientific mind and proselytizing about UFOs.
Sanderson’s rebuttal is quite fun, actually. He says that while he’s never met Kornbluth, after reading his critique, says, “I think I will like him too, when we meet. In the meantime, I am genuinely appreciative of his criticisms for it will be a sad when everybody agrees about everything…” (p. 79). Then he proceeds to eviscerate Kornbluth’s argument.
I sure hope they had a chance to argue over pints, for that would have been lots of fun.
Speaking of fun, we come to Zelda Kessler’s limerick Good-by Terra on page 82.
A Martian explorer called Klimp
Found earth, but it left him quite limp.
Tho’ man merely bored him,
The weather here floored him –
So he hurried back home in his blimp.
It’s been snowy and in the 20s here most of the past week. I don’t blame him for heading back to sunny and warm Mars 😉
We get more whimsy with the next story, Inside Stuff by Theodore Pratt. It stars Young Gastric Juice and Old Gastric Juice. Young GJ falls in love with a spritely Celery who has such lovely eyes. Young GJ refuses to push her out of the stomach because of her beauty, despite the fact that Old GJ has seen this story before. The two GJs spend much of the rest of the story dealing with the variety of foods coming through, including a tough old Steak.
Unfortunately, the love story ends when Celery turns her affections to a newcomer, Bonbon. Young GJ, in pain from getting spurned, promises he will never fall in love again until, at the end, he muses that maybe there’ll be celery again tomorrow.
Hilarious, cute story.
Next is another essay called Shapes in the Sky. This one lists a variety of skyquakes in the hopes of determining the reality of UFOs. It’s written by CSI, the Civilian Saucer Intelligence. Now I want a mash-up of Project UFO and CSI. Gil Grissom should be in charge of Project Blue Book!
The story Moment of Truth by Basil Wells follows. This is a disappointing story about a woman who has emigrated to Mars but has at some point lost connection with reality. Her husband tries to save her by showing her the Mars desert, but she merely incorporates it into his vision.
It’s disappointing because nothing really happens. If literature needs to show some change in characters, then this does not qualify. The main character lives in a dream. Her husband tries to bring her out of the dream, but she remains where she was. What’s the point?
Unfortunately, the next story suffers from the same problem, only even worse. It’s called Resurrection by Robert J. Shea. Shea is interesting because he co-wrote the Illuminatus trilogy, which became the inspiration for Steve Jackson’s Illuminati game.
This story is incredibly good. It’s about the ability of new science to restore life to any human being if there are any cells left. A woman asks to hear the whole story of one of these resurrected people. It’s a great conversation, and is the start of a fantastic story.
But it’s less than two full pages. There’s no result. There’s no action. You don’t even get to finish the initial conversation. Gah! This could be a great series of novels, not a few hundred words. Less than this review. It’s a damn shame.
Gah! It happens again, exactly the same thing, in Forgotten Ones by Stephen Bond (really, Hans Stefan Santesson under a pen name). It’s a robot artist staring at a statue of humans amazed that they might in any way be involved with the creation of the First Ones. But it is, again, less than two full pages.
It’s a fantastic introduction or ever just raw world-building for an interesting robot universe as they struggle with religion, creation, and all such things. Asimov would have done amazing things with it.
Sadly, you can basically see the entire story on the front cover. No real need for those few hundred words.
L. Sprague de Camp is next with an essay about Ignatius Donnelly Pseudomath. This essay is de Camp pointing out just how wrong Donnelly, (Wikipedia entry here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_L._Donnelly) was about Atlantis, how Francis Bacon was Shakespeare, and other ideas.
Donnelly is another fascinating character, though. He wrote SF in the 1800s. He was a fairly successful politician and a leader in the Populist Party. The things you learn reading these magazines is amazing.
The last story is Kenneth Bulmer’s By the Beard of the Comet. It’s another potentially fun story that lacks fleshing out. It’s about a man frustrated by an evil boss and a nagging wife. He goes to the local VR theater, which interprets his thoughts and gives him the VR experience his mood wants. So the VR makes him a pirate on the spaceways, fighting and defeating his boss. He has jewels, wealth, skill with the rapier, and many other defeated enemies.
But his wife tracks him down and inserts herself into his VR. She does it as much as anything to continue yelling at him. In the end, though, he comes out filled with the confidence installed as a pirate captain, and he vows to take his boss’s place.
The transition happens too swiftly, though. There’s not enough of him fighting through his inner demons. Nor is the twist at the end anything terribly surprising.
As you can tell, this issue frustrated me. The prose is all well-constructed. There’s a good kernel to every story but they’re just not executed well enough. Sigh.
Anyway, next week I’ll be reading the Analog of August, 1957. I’m really excited about this one because it’s the first one I’ve run across with something by Randall Garrett.
Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56739
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: https://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.
Have a great day.
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels
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