Frankly, this was probably my least favorite issue I’ve read so far. I didn’t care for any of the stories except one, none of the ads were fun, and nothing else appealed to me. Hence, I’m just going to give you a cursory review. I’ve got things to write in None Call Me Mother instead of drearily going over these stories.
The cover story is The Visitor at the Zoo by Damon Knight. You know Knight at least because of To Serve Man, a fantastic short story from 1950. Visitor was not his best effort. The cause of the conflict is never adequately explained, it ran too long, and the twist at the end was predictable.
Worse, I can’t root for the main character. He’s a moderately intelligent alien in a zoo who has his brain somehow transplanted into the mind of a passing journalist. We are meant to root for him because he’s got a chance to get out of the zoo where he had been trapped. I empathized with that aspect, but the journalist was simply an innocent tourist, who lost everything. There’s little in the story of sympathy for him, and in the end, the creature chooses not to exchange positions and return to the way it was.
I can both reject the legitimacy of the zoo and at the same time despise the selfishness of the main character. And I do. I said this wasn’t Knight’s best effort. I sure hope it was his worst, because I really disliked it.
On the Fourth Planet by J.F. Bone was the only story to be reprinted often. It was about an alien struggling for life in a desolate world with the remnants of his people. It’s a hard life, and the law doesn’t allow for much leniency. Unfortunately for this alien, he runs into an object that hasn’t been there before. It fills him with food and hope. It also returns to him the cellular memory of his people, suggesting a way they can grow out of their barbarism. As you can probably guess by the title, it’s a NASA rocket that has landed on Mars.
The best story of the lot, by far. However, it’s not a great one, just a good solid story that in a better issue would have seemed like a nice supporting piece. Here, it was drug down by the awful cover story.
I suspect I’ll really like the June 1963 issue, if I every run into it. It has stories by Clifford D. Simak, Gordon R. Dickson, Keith Laumer, and John Jakes. This issue, however, was not my cup of tea.
Next week I’ll review the Imaginative Tales from September, 1955. It has a story by Mack Reynolds and an interesting thing I wish more magazines had done.
This week’s interview is with Robert E. Waters. As you’ll see, he’s also interested in using history to shape his SF, something I mention later myself.
What is your quest?
I strive to write fun and engaging stories. Do I always succeed? I do not know, but the effort is well worth it. My early influences were Clifford Simak, Robert Silverberg, and Stephen King, an odd mix, I admit, but each of these authors brought a different perspective to my own writing. I figure, if I can model my work around “the spirit” of what these three authors have accomplished in their lives, and if I can achieve a fraction of the skill and success that they have accumulated, then I can die a happy man.
What is your favorite color?
I’m a plotter, not a pantser. I don’t feel comfortable starting a story until I know how the tale will end. All the details in the middle can evolve as I write the story, but the big strokes of the narrative need to be firmly in my mind before I crank up the ol’ Word and get going. Most of my writing also has a decidedly historical bent, and so, I firmly recommend that if research is involved in the telling of a tale, that the research be done prior to starting the writing. I have found that I can get lost in the weeds of a narrative if I stop too often to research while I’m writing.
What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?
Patience. To be a good author, and more importantly, to be a published author, one needs to accept the molasses pace that often plagues the publishing industry. You must remember that there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people out there trying to get their stories and novels published just like you, and it can take a long while for your submissions to get a response. So, don’t be an ass like I was on occasion in the early days and harass editors about making a decision on your novel/story prematurely. If you push too hard, they might make a decision that you do not want them to make.
What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?
I think I write combat and battle scenes very well. I’m no expert on such scenes, mind you, but I’ve been able to work in my knowledge of historical warfare with a kind of frenetic pace that showcases the chaos of battle. I once wrote a 14,000 word rolling battle sequence that took nearly two full weeks to write, but in the end, it made the story.
Favorite Muppet? The Count (assuming he is one and not just a Sesame Street construct)
Best Present You’ve Ever Received? My son, Jason.
Favorite Sports Team? Miami Dolphins
Cake or Pie? In a pinch, pie
Lime or Lemon? Neither
Favorite Cereal? Captain Crunch
Favorite Superhero? Iron Man
Favorite 1970s TV show? Sanford and Son
Best Thing From the 80s? The fact that we survived it, with the threat of nuclear annihilation present for a time
Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Summer
Favorite Pet? Bandit, my dog for 15 years; died because he had cataracts so bad he didn’t see the car to get out of the way
Best Game Ever? Hard to say, but with a gun to my head, Fury of Dracula
Coffee or Tea? I like both, but coffee
Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Sci-Fi
Brought to you by the letter R
What question(s) would you like to ask me?
What would you consider to be the “definitive” science fiction novel written in the last ten years? And why?
Rob’s Answer: Man, this is a hard question to answer for me because I don’t read as much new stuff as I should. The definitive SF novel to me is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It’s got everything an SF story should happen, with fantastic pacing and an ending that’s only partially happy. The good guys win, but not all survive. I can’t not cry at the end.
As for recent stuff, I’m going to lean towards David Drake’s Lt. Leary series, of which I can’t pick one book. It’s strong work, solid all the way through, filled with action and strong characters. As a historian, I also love the way he uses historical events to shape the story. I just mimicked that process with my short story for the anthology We Dare, which comes partially from the Finnsburh Fragment.
Tell me again where we can find your stuff?
The Masks Of Mirada, published by Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, also available on Amazon
Robert E Waters is a technical writer by trade, but has been a science fiction/fantasy fan all his life. He’s worked in the board and computer gaming industry since 1994 as designer, producer, and writer. In the late 90’s, he tried his hand at writing fiction and since 2003, has sold over 60 stories to various on-line and print magazines and anthologies, including the Grantville Gazette, Eric Flint’s online magazine dedicated to publishing stories set in the 1632/Ring of Fire series. Robert is currently working in collaboration with author Charles E Gannon on a Ring of Fire novel titled, 1636: Calabar’s War. Robert has also co-written several stories, as well as the Persistence of Dreams, with Meriah L Crawford, and The Monster Society, with Eric S Brown.
He has also written in several tabletop gaming universes, including Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy series and in the Wild West Exodus weird tech/steampunk universe. He has also dabbled a bit in Warlord Games’ Beyond the Gates of Antares milieu, writing about assassins and rescue missions.
Robert currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife Beth, their son Jason, and their precocious little cat Buzz.
Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?
You should have asked what my favorite music is so I could tell you I love smooth jazz. All the greats: Gerald Albright, David Sanborn, Steve Cole, Grover Washington Jr., Euge Groove, etc. etc. I listen to it every evening. It relaxes and inspires me.
Thanks to Robert 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: https://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 firstname.lastname@example.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.