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Happy New Year! 1959 promises to be stellar in all senses of the word.



My apologies for the hiatus. Those of you who are familiar with manual typewriters know the strain pressing down on those keys can have on your hand muscles. I am fairly drooling over the idea of trading in my Smith Corona portable for one of the slick, new IBM electrics. Perhaps when this column makes me a millionaire.

My regular subscribers (soon, I will need both hands to count you) know of my long quest to secure the January 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction. Ironically, shortly after I finally picked up a battered old copy at a secluded newsstand, I received the new February issue! So, for a short time, I have lots to read.



The January issue is quite good, at least so far as I have read. Former editor Anthony Boucher kicks off the issue with the first tale of his I've really liked: The Quest for St. Aquin falls into the rare category of post-apocalyptic religious fiction. In fact, the only real example of the genre I can recall is Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz, which I much enjoyed, and which also debuted in F&SF. Boucher's tale follows a young priest and his robot companion as they travel through a radiated, Christian-hostile America. It's atmospheric, thought-provoking, and fun. A cameo character gives the story an extra star all on his own (those who know me will know who he is).

I've already written about Asimov's non-fiction article, which dealt with the threat of global warming. It's worth reading. The next piece of fiction is a fine short piece by Avram Davidson (does he write any other kind?) called The Woman who Thought She could Read. If you like gypsies, fortune-telling, Avram Davidson, sad endings, or any combination thereof, you don't want to miss this atmospheric tale.

I'm saving the issue's novella, Fritz Leiber's The Silver Eggheads, for next time. Thus, the subsequent tale is Dick's first short story in a while: Explorers We, about a returning expedition from Mars. It's not bad, but Dick has spoiled me. I expect all of his stories to rock me. Ah well.

It is worth reading Tony Boucher's "Recommended Reading" column, if only for his droll relating of his encounters with UFOlogists.

Finally (for this article, not the issue) came Robert A. Young's cleverly titled and aptly timed Santa Clause. The story asks the question: is it better for the delusional characters of one's childhood to be real or completely nonexistent? Sadly, though the tale is well-written and ties in both Saint Nick and Old Nick, it somehow fails to deliver a knockout punch at the end.

So stay tuned! Next article, I shall wrap up the January F&SF, unless, of course, scientific events preempt my spotlight on fiction and compel me to do a stop-press account.

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Boy, am I glad I read from front to back this time!

As my faithful readers (should that be plural?) know, the first half of this month's Fantasy & Science Fiction was pretty lackluster stuff. It turns out I was mistaken about Tony Boucher's story--it was not a new one, but some old thing from 1945 under the name “William A. P. White.” At least I know one of Boucher's pseudonyms now.



The second half, thankfully, was far superior. Story #1 was “Honeysuckle Cottage” by P. G. Wodehouse. I have not read much by this famous ex-patriate English humorist. I think all of the stories I have encountered by him were published in F&SF. This particular tale came out in 1928. One wonders if Wodehouse is desperate for cash since being, perhaps unfairly, chased out of his home country for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Or perhaps Boucher could only afford an old reprint. Either way, it's a fun little story about a mystery writer being cursed with the haunting of his romance-writing aunt. I liked it.

“Wish upon a star,” by famed anthologist Judy Merril, is an excellent story about coming of age on a generation ship. For those not in the know, a generation ship is a starship, generally traveling slower than the speed of light, designed to colonize a planet many tens or even hundreds of years in the future. Because the mission takes so long, it is anticipated that several generations will be born before the ship reaches its destination. Even more unusually, though quite plausibly, most of the crew and all of the officers of the ship are women. The only thing wrong with the story is its length--I would love to see a novella or full-length novel on the topic--by Ms. Merril, preferably.



Though Boucher no longer edits F&SF, he still does the book-review column. He spends most of it praising Theodore Sturgeon but expressing his dissatisfaction with “The Cosmic Rape.” This, Sturgeon's third novel, is an expansion on the novelet, “To Marry Medusa,” which appeared in Galaxy a few months ago. Alternatively, the Galaxy story may be a pared-down version of the novel. I recall the story, which was about an interstellar hive-mind's attempts to incorporate humanity, had said all that was needed to be said. I have to wonder what purpose the extra verbiage served.

Next up is “Dream Girl,” a slight head-trip penned by Ron Goulart, who had an interesting story back in July called “The Katy Dialogues.” The following story, “Somebody's Clothes, Somebody's Life,” by mystery-writer Cornell Woolrich, is written like a play and could easily be an episode of F&SF's counterpart to X Minus One. It's sheer fantasy involving a Countess with a gambling problem, a young woman with bigger problems, and the Russian clairvoyant who crosses their paths. Good affecting stuff. Finally, there is a cute three-page story by Walter S. Tevis, which I shan't spoil for you, but it's worth reading.

So that's that. 2.5 stars out of 5 for this week's F&SF, but that's only because the first half is a 1.5 and the latter is a 4.5.

You should all know that I am flying out to Japan this Friday with my family. This should not stem the tide of articles, however. I am bringing along this month's Astounding, two unread Heinlein novels, and I expect to catch up on my giant monster movies. It's my understanding that Godzilla has a sequel, and other movies by that studio have also recently come out. Here's hoping these films uphold the fine standard set by the first of them.

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I'm afraid this month's Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) thus far has been a bit of a let-down. I recognize that this sister magazine to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine has a reputation to uphold as the most “literary” of the Big Three science fiction digests (a lofty standing it shares with Galaxy and Astounding), but I think it has gone a bit too far.

Perhaps it's the doing of the new editor, Robert P. Mills, who took the reins when Anthony Boucher stepped down to pursue a more active writing career. Maybe this is what the audience wants. Maybe it's a phase. In any event, the stories are all long on imagery and short on plot and/or comprehensibility. I know I'm prone to writing purplish prose, and I've certainly got a strong snobbish streak, but this month's stories go too far even for me.

“The Eye and the Lightning” is an Algis Budrys-penned tale about a future in which (I think) scanning devices have given people almost unlimited ability to surveil, to destroy, and to teleport. People live in constant fear of being murdered at any moment by an unknown assailant who tired of his peepshow subject. They go to town swaddled in concealing clothes as some version of the Law of Contagion makes it easier to be a target of surveillance and attack if some of your clothes, skin or blood falls into someone else's possession. This tale chronicles what happens when one of the inhabitants of this dystopia invents a detector that allows a scanned person to identify and retaliate against his or her scanner.

Very atmospheric, but it didn't make much sense to me.

Asimov's science article goes too far in the other direction, perhaps. It is a primer on escape velocity, the minimum speed necessary to escape a body's gravity. There is not much to it. We would have been just as well served had he just submitted the charts showing escape velocity by planet without bothering with the explanation.

“Pink Caterpillar” is Tony Boucher's recent foray into writing: a mildly cute, but somewhat fluffy story about the paradox caused by the impossibility of being in two places (or times) at once.

At least I understood it. The same cannot be said for Fritz Leiber's “Poor Little Miss MacBeth,” which (I think?) is about an old witch in a post-apocalyptic setting. It's a short mood piece, and it doesn't make any sense. Perhaps one of my three fans can read it and tell me what a dunce I am.

The final tale of the first half of magazine is “Timequake,” by Miriam Allen Deford. Per the editorial forward, she's written a lot, but I've never heard of her. This story is about the consequences of the clock resetting 12 hours into the past, eliminating all actions done in that period, but leaving the memories of everyone intact. An interesting, if silly, premise. It's turned into a trivial, short tale.

Oh well. Here's hoping Part 2 comprises more substantial stuff.

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