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by Victoria Lucas

I am so honored to be taking up space here! The Traveler thought enough of my letters to the editor that he asked me to become a regular contributor. In my letters I mentioned how I've just graduated from Stanford and am going back to my old job in the Drama Department at the University of Arizona, and my mother's home, where I'm typing on an old portable Smith-Corona that has seen far too many papers, dissertations, theses, and so on as I've struggled to work my way through college.

Last fall I tacked up on my bulletin board (unfortunately in the sun) a short column of news about somebody with whom I sometimes work in Tucson little theatre--Bob Hammond, a French professor at the University of Arizona who once won a Fulbright to Paris and never recovered. He writes his plays in French and English and translates from each language into the other. The blurb introduced Hammond as one of four playwrights who formed a producing group for their work. One of the other playwrights was a fellow by the name of Charles Finney who was supposed to produce a play of his this year.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)


The article reminded me that I may have met Finney as I house-managed and assistant-directed Bob's plays. Or I might have seen him in his workplace, the newspaper building downtown, where he has been editor of the Arizona Daily Star for 32 years (I spent my Saturdays at the Tucson Daily Citizen my senior year in high school helping to put out the "Teen Citizen," a section of the paper.) So when I ran across The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories I picked it up. It's edited by Ray Bradbury and published by Bantam Books, first out 1956.

In the very first sentence of his introduction to this book of short and long stories, Bradbury asserts that the works in this book "are fantasies, not science-fiction." He goes on to list some adjectives and statements that contrast science fiction and fantasy as genres (or at least his idea of the genres). Then, in two short, strident paragraphs, like trochees in a poem, he argues:

"Science-fiction balances you on the cliff.

Fantasy shoves you off."

This book of short stories (and one long one) conforms to that opinion. At least the shoving-off-cliffs part.

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Each month, I look forward to my dose of new science fiction stories delivered in the form of digest-sized magazines. Over the decade that I've been subscribing, I've fallen into a habit. I start with my first love, Galaxy (or its sister, IF, now that they are both bi-monthlies). I then move on to Analog, formerly Astounding. I save The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for last. This is because it has been, until recently, the best of the digests-- my dessert for the month, as it were.

These days, the stories aren't as good. Moreover, this time around, the latter third of the magazine was taken up with half a new Gordy Dickson short novel, which I won't review until it finishes next month. As a result, the remaining tales were short and slight, ranging from good to mediocre.

In other words, not a great month for F&SF, especially when you consider that the novels they print seem to be hacked down for space (if the longer versions that inevitably are printed in book form are any indication). Nevertheless, it is my duty to report what I found, so here it is, the October 1961 F&SF:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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We live in such exciting times that it's no wonder science fiction is flourishing. It seems not a month goes by without some kind of space shot, and yet we're still perhaps years away from the first manned orbit (not to mention a lunar jaunt). Science fiction lets us see the headlines of tomorrow long before they are thrown onto our doorstep.

Of course, not all science fiction deals with space, and not all science fiction magazines deal exclusively in science fiction. The latter half of this month's Fantasy and Science Fiction comprises naught but fantasies.

Not that this is a bad thing. With Berlin under siege, Israel and its neighbors barely restrained from coming to blows, Cuba in the throes of revolution, any kind of escape is a welcome one.



Most of the rest of this month's ish is taken up by Philip Jose Farmer's The Alley Man, a gritty, rambling story that is as hard to take as it is to put down. It spotlights the grubby life of the what may be the last of the Neanderthals consigned, like the rest of his race, to survive off the scraps cast off by the superior Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Not that Old Paley is any dumber than us. Quite the contrary. While he has the rough manner and speech as might be expected of the lowest of the lower economic class, he is a fine raconteur and rather wise.

No, what did in the Neanderthals 50,000 years ago, was the loss of their chieftain's sacred headpiece (and the fact that Neanderthals were worse shots with the bow and arrow). Over the millenia, the Neanderthals have slowly dwindled away, until just one remained (though it appears there are plenty of half-breeds and quatroons around). Old Paley is a garbage scavenger who lives with a half-Neanderthal woman called "Gummy" and a physically blemished former socialite intellectual named Deena with a fetish for rough treatment.

Enter Dorothy, the aide of a physical anthropologist, who befriends Old Paley to study him. It becomes clear over the course of the story that she becomes rather attracted to him (in part due to the powerful stench of the Neanderthal, like "a pig making love to a billy goat on a manure pile," but laden with powerful pheremones), but theirs is not fated to be a happy relationship. In fact, the resulting love quadrangle is all kinds of dysfunctional and, ultimately for Old Paley, fatal.

But you can't deny it's well-written and compelling.

There are three remaining odds and ends: an interesting article on orbits, Satellite Trails by Ken Rolf, about not just the course satellites take around the Earth, but the interesting and sometimes unintuitive patterns they make to ground observers (something like Ptolemy's epicycles); Charles Finney's Iowan's Curse, a cautionary tale about the karmic danger of being a Good Samaritan; and Robert Young's Production Problem, a short-short about a creativity shortage in the far future. They fill the pages, but are not particularly noteworthy.

I think that leaves us at an uninspiring 3.5 or so for the issue. The lead story is very good, and Alley Man is worth reading, I suppose, but the rest is lackluster.

But you can decide for yourself! And should. Until next time (and do stay tuned--I have many interesting updates to come).

(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)


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