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by Gideon Marcus



God help me, I've found a new medium for my science fiction addiction.

Before 1950, I was strictly a toe-dipper in the scientifiction sea. I'd read a few books, perused a pulp now and then. Then Galaxy came out, and I quickly secured a regular subscription to the monthly magazine. After I got turned onto the genre, I began picking up books at the stores, occasionally grabbing copies of F&SF, Imagination, Astounding, and Satellite, too. By 1957, my dance card was pretty full. I was reading up to seven magazines a month, and I'd already filled a small bookcase with novels.

Then I started this column.

Well, I couldn't very well leave magazines or books unbought. How then could I give an honest appraisal of the genre as a whole? By 1960, I was up to two large bookcases – one for magazines, and one for books. For me, the magazine bust of the late 50's was something of a blessing: fewer digests to collect!

I might have been all right with this load, juggling work, family, books and magazines. But then I discovered Ace Doubles.

Occupying that niche between single novels and story collections, Ace Doubles are two short novels bound back to back. It's a format that's been around since 1952, but I generally ignored them. I figured the material was either rehashes of magazine serials, or stuff too mediocre to warrant its own release.

I wasn't far off the mark, but at the same time, after plowing through a few of them, I determined that there was often solid entertainment to be had amongst the pages of these two-headed beasts. And so I start on my third set of bookshelves...and my first review of an Ace Double: serial number F-113.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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If there's anything this month's IF, Science Fiction proves, it's that you get what you pay for.

Last year, Galaxy editor, H. L. Gold, cut story rates in half to 2 cents a word. Shortly thereafter, he took over the helm of the promising but unsuccessful digest, IF. Its quality has been in steady decline ever since, and I can only imagine that he pays IF writers even less.

IF's name is ironic. Under the stewardship of Damon Knight, it had a short-lived renaissance culminating in the February 1959 issue. Had this continued, IF might be the leader of the current, heavily winnowed, crop of science fiction digests. Alas, such a history can only be contemplated, never directly perceived.

Why all the doom and gloom? The May 1960 IF is definitely the worst issue I've read to date. While not unmitigatedly bad, it never rises above the passable. In detail:

(See the rest at Galactic Journey!>
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September is almost over, and it’s not even the end of August.

Confused?  It’s standard practice to date magazines with the month that they are to be taken off the shelves.  Thus, I got all of my September 1959 issues in late June.  I also got my October Galaxy around then, too, but that’s because it’s a bi-monthly.



The September 1959 IF, now essentially Galaxy Jr., is the last September issue to review before moving on to the next month, and so far so good!

As with the last ish, the magazine opens strongly with a novelette by James H. Schmitz called Summer Guests.  At first, it seems like a bit of wish-fulfilment: bored, lonely working stiff encounters a pair of lovely fairies while at his summer retreat.  Very quickly, our protagonist learns that his guests are far more than they seem, and he finds himself an unwitting pawn in a struggle between races and dimensions.  It’s got a wicked sting in the tail, too.  Solid, 4-star tale.

On to number two.  Philip K. Dick never turns in a bad effort, but Fair Game is one of his lesser works.  A professor is hounded by extra-dimensional creatures who appear to be after his fine intellect.  In tone, it sounds a bit like a much better Dick story I read in Beyond many years ago (I can’t remember the title), but the ending is rather pat. 3 stars.

Margaret St. Clair (often known as Idris Seabright) has an entry in this month’s issue: The Scarlet Hexapod.  In short, if you like dogs, you’ll love the six-footed Martian version.  It’s all about how Jeff, the extraterrestrial Fido, risks all to save its owner from a murderous plot.  I found the story insubstantial, but not trying.  3 stars.

Finally, for today, we have Charles L. Fontenay’s Bargain Basement in which a pair of modern-day fellows frequent a little general store that is, literally, a slice of the future.  No one minds getting whiz-bang merchandise for cheap, but the pleasant situation collapses in a bit of paradox when one of the protagonists uses a love drug to steal the fiancée of the other (in a bit I found disturbing).  The subsequent change in history causes the future store to disappear… yet nothing else changes, including the marital status of the woman and her scoundrel new husband.  3 stars reduced to 2 for the poor treatment of the female character.

That leaves us at exactly 3 stars for the first half of the issue.  We’re doing better than this month’s Astounding, but will the luck hold out into Part 2?

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




P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

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Do you know who reads The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction?

Clifton Fadiman, writer, editor, judge of the Book-of-the-Month Club does. It supplies him his “special escape-reading...the finest the field has to offer in the way of short fiction.”

Spring Byington, famous star of the Broadway Stage does. It improves the imagination, she says.

Basil Davinport, another writer and editor for the Book-of-the-Month Club does. “F&SF gives us some of the best writing in the field, and the field is one of great importance.”

Orville Prescott, Book Review Editor for the New York Times does. He says, “People who think that their literary I.Q. is too high for them to enjoy [F&SF] don't know what they're missing.”

In other words, snobs read F&SF--and you can be a snob, too. Unlike those other lowbrow sci-fi mags, F&SF is the real stuff. Just stay away from Astounding, and for God's sake, avoid Amazing!

I know H.L.Gold was a bit nose-in-the-air when he compared Galaxy to Space Westerns, but F&SF is positively the caviar set by comparison. I'm for the promotion of science fiction's respectability, but I don't think F&SF has the sole claim on quality. In fact, I think F&SF's editorial policy leans a bit overmuch toward the superfluously florid.

On the other hand, they are the favored home of more female authors than any other science fiction magazine. And I've never read a Garrett or Silverberg story between its pages, though I did read a horrible Poul Anderson story in F&SF's, thankfully defunct sister magazine, Venture.

Good-natured ribbing aside, while many issues of F&SF may suffer from overwriting-itis, the February 1959 issue is good stuff all the way though (even if the rest of the magazine is not as amazing as its lead story).

Continuing where we left off, Misfit by G.C. Edmondson (the only Mexican science fiction author I know of, and a San Diego native!) is a good yarn about the perils of time travel--to the timeline if not the traveler.

Last month's issue had the first of George Elliot's Venusian stories, Invasion of the Planet of Love. Its sequel, Nothing but Love depicts the Venusian counter-attack. It is less satirical, less impactful, and less interesting. On the other hand, I don't know that I liked the first one very much either. It's not bad, exactly. It's just odd.

I did enjoy Charles Fontenay's Ghost Planet, in which a presumably failed Martian colony is found to have survived through an unexpected and happy circumstance. Apparently, Martian sage grass traps oxygen, so as long as one stays crouched within the grass, there is air and warmth.

Now here's where I need help: I have the strangest feeling that I've seen this gimmick before in another story. Does this sound familiar? I'm hoping one of my many (Webster defines “many” as “more than three”) readers will solve this mystery for me. Drop me a line and let me know. If you don't know the answer, please share this article with someone who might.

Raymond Banks wrote the next story, Natural Frequency, about what happens when someone's voice naturally hits the resonant frequency of... well.. everything. People, glasses, bridges... It's a silly story, reminiscent of that scene from the Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs, impersonating the great conductor, Leopold, makes an opera singer sing a high note until his pants fall off and his tuxedo rolls up like a Venetian blind. Filler.

Jane Rice's The Willow Tree is the last piece of the magazine. Per the editorial preface, Ms. Rice wrote for Unknown back in the late '30s, and I have it on good authority that she wrote for a solid ten years after that for various magazines. This story marks the end of a subsequent ten-year hiatus. Your mileage may vary, but I liked it, this tale of two children sent to the past after losing their parents. It is written like a fairly conventional children's fantasy, much like something Edward Eager would write, but with a much more sinister undertone and ending.

And thusly, we have come to the end. I'd say 4 stars out of 5. The lead story is fantastic, and the rest are decent to quite good.

Normally, one might expect (this being the 27th) that I have the new Astounding and/or F&SF in hand for the next review. However, I am still out in the Territory of Hawai'i, and deliveries are understandably delayed. Forward thinker that I am, I will still have something to discuss on the 29th.

But you'll just have to wait until then to find out what it is.











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

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