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.
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)
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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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