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by Gideon Marcus

I used to call The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction "dessert." Of all the monthly sf digests, it was the cleverest, the one most willing to take risks, and the most enjoyable reading. Over the past two years, I've noticed a slow but decided trend into the realm of "literary quality." In other words, it's not how good the stories are, or how fun the reading – they must be experimental and erudite to have any merit. And if you don't get the pieces, well, run off to Analog where the dumb people live.



A kind of punctuation mark has been added to this phenomenon. Avram Davidson, that somber dilettante with an encyclopedic knowledge and writing credits that take up many sheets of paper, has taken over as editor of F&SF from Robert Mills. Five years ago, I might have cheered. But Davidson's path has mirrored that of the magazine he now helms: a descent into literary impenetrability. Even his editorial prefaces to the magazine's stories are off-putting and contrived.

I dunno. You be the judge.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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by Gideon Marcus

and


by Lorelei Marcus

[I'll let the Young Traveler lead this time. She's put her finger on what we enjoy and don't about The Twilight Zone]



Guess who's back with another The Twilight Zone review! Well, I personally prefer Rocky and Bullwinkle, but I'm afraid you came here for a The Twilight Zone review, so I suppose I'll have to comply. As usual, me and my father watched four episodes of Sterling's show over these past four weeks.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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by Gideon Marcus

It's the end of the year! "What?" you exclaim, "but it's only November!" True that, but the date on my latest Fantasy and Science Fiction says December 1961, and that means it is the last science fiction digest of the calendar year that will go through my review grinder.

F&SF has been the best magazine, per my ratings, for the past several years. Going into this final issue, however, it has lagged consistently behind Galaxy. Would this final issue be enough to pull it back into 1st place? Especially given the stellar 3.8 stars rating that Galaxy garnered last month?

Well, no. I'm afraid the magazine that Bouchier built (and handed over to Mills) must needs merit 8 stars this month to accomplish that feat. That said, it's still quite a decent issue, especially given the rather lackluster ones of the recent past. So, with the great fanfare appropriate to the holiday season, I present to you the final sf mag of 1961:

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How do rate a story which is objectively well done, but which you just don't like?

We taught our daughter manners at a very early age. When she encountered a food she didn't enjoy, she was to say, "This is not to my taste," rather than something more forceful and potentially bruising of feelings. I recognize that my readers are turned on by different things than I am. One person's trash is another's treasure, and so on. But at the end of every review, I have to come up with a numerical score, and that score necessarily reflects my views on a piece.

This conundrum is particularly acute with the current issue of Galaxy, dated February 1961. None of the stories are bad. Many are well crafted, but I found the subject matter unpleasant. They may be the bees knees for you. Take my reviews with that disclaimer in mind, and you should be all right.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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If there is any innovation that defined the resurgent science fiction field in the 1950s, it is the science fiction digest. Before the last decade, science fiction was almost entirely the province of the "pulps," large-format publications on poor-quality paper. The science fiction pulps shared space with the detective pulps, the western pulps, the adventure pulps. Like their brethren, the sci-fi pulps had lurid and brightly colored covers, often with a significant cheesecake component.

Astounding (soon to be Analog) was one of the first magazines to make the switch to the new, smaller digest format. Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, and a host of other new magazines never knew another format. By the mid-'50s, there were a score of individual science fiction digests, some excellent, some unremarkable. It was an undisputed heyday. But even by 1954, there were signs of decline. By the end of the decade, only a handful of digests remained. The "Big Three" were and are Astounding, F&SF, and Galaxy (now a bi-monthly alternating production with a revamped version of IF). Also straggling along are Fantastic Stories and Amazing, the latter being the oldest one in continuous production.

My faithful readers know I don't generally bother with the last two titles. Although some of my beloved authors sometimes appear in them, their quality is spotty, and my time (not to mention budget!) is limited. Nevertheless, Rosel George Brown had a good story in Fantastic last month, and this month's Amazing had a compelling cover that promised I would find works by Blish, Bone, and Knight inside.



I bit. This article is the result.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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With Astounding so good this month, I suppose it was too much to ask that Fantasy and Science Fiction would also be of high caliber. While it's not a bad issue, it's not one of the better ones, either.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Happy Thanksgiving!

This season, we have much to be thankful for, but I am particularly thankful that I ended this publishing year on a high note—the December Fantasy and Science Fiction.



If anything could get out the taste left by this month's Astounding, particularly the Garrett story, it's F&SF. In this case, the lead novelette, What now, little man? by Mark Clifton, was the indicated antidote.

Clifton addresses the issue of racial abuse head on with this excellent tale. On a distant mining colony, humans have only one native source of food—the bipedal, humanoid "Goonie." When the colony was first inhabited, the Goonies were deemed unintelligent by human standards. They seemed to have no culture, and they let themselves be slaughtered without so much as a peep of protest.

Then they proved to be trainable. At first, they performed simple beast-of-burden chores, but over time, they learned more sophisticated skills. By the time of the story, many can read and write, and one exceptional example can perform as an accountant.

This tale is that of a man wracked with conscience. This farmer, who was the first to train a Goonie to perform advanced mathematical services, is convinced that the slaughter of Goonies is wrong. To champion this cause, he is willing to put his life on the line, though it turns out that a female sociologist from Earth employs better, non-lethal methods to effect change, or at least to set the world on the course of change.

The protagonist, and the reader, are left with the fundamental questions: What defines intelligence? Who defines intelligence? Can one justify making the definition so rigid as to exclude members of one's own race? And what do the Goonies represent? True pacifists? The ultimate survivors?

Good stuff. Four stars.

Dr. Asimov has another fine article, this one on the layers of the Earth's atmosphere. It's well timed, perhaps on purpose, as I'd just read a scholarly article on a new revised atmospheric model. We've learned a lot in just three years of satellite launches.

I've never heard of Gerard E. Neyroud. His Terran-Venusian War of 1979, in which Venus conquers the Earth with love, but subsequently devolves into civil war, is glib and fun, if rather insubstantial.

Marcel Aymé has another cute short translated from the French. The State of Grace is about an (un)fortunate fellow whose saintliness is blessed with a halo only a few decades into his life. This quickly becomes a terrible annoyance to his wife, who begs him to do something about it. His solution: to sin like there's no tomorrow. Yet, no matter how far he indulges himself in the seven deadly sins, he cannot rid himself of the damned thing. The moral is, apparently, piety will out, even when covered in degradation.

Stephen Barr's The Homing Instinct of Joe Vargo is chilling stuff, indeed. An expedition to a mining planet finds a truly unbeatable creature. Ubiquitous, cunning, and virtually indestructible, "It" is a translucent blob that kills by extruding threads of incredible strength, constricting its prey, and slicing it alive.

Only one fellow, the eponymous Joe Vargo, is able to survive thanks to equal parts wisdom and luck. The ending of the story is unnecessarily downbeat, and also implausible. As with Poul Anderson's Sister Planet, one can excise the coda and come away with a perfectly satisfying story.

Jane Rice has another good F&SF entry with The Rainbow Gold. Told in folksy slang, it is the story of a somewhat magical (literally) yokel family and their quest to secure that legendary pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It's a lot of fun, and it has a happy ending.

damonknight has, perhaps, the best line of the issue in his monthly book column. Writing of Brian Aldiss, he says, "If the writer ever does a novel with his right hand, it will be something worth waiting for."

The Seeing I is Charles Beaumont's new column on science fiction in the visual media. In this installment, he details at length his involvement with the new show, The Twilight Zone. It's an absolutely fascinating read, and it just goes to show that things of quality can still be made, on purpose, so long as people are willing to invest the time and energy into the endeavor.

Finally, we have Robert Nathan's A Pride of Carrots, written as a radio play. That's because it actually was a radio play a couple of years ago on CBS. The prose has been substantially embellished, but it's largely the same story. At least, I think it is. I'm afraid fell asleep during the last act of the radio show.

I won't spoil the plot, save that it involves the planet Venus, two warring states peopled by vegetables, two visitors from Earth, and an interracial love triangle.

But is it good, you ask? Well, it's silly. It's not science fiction, but it is occasionally droll. Try it, and see what you think.

That wraps up the year. I'll be compiling my notes to determine which stories will win Galactic Stars for 1959. I'll make an announcement sometime next month.

In the meantime, enjoy your turkey. I'll have more for you soon.



Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

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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Not too long ago, I lambasted the September 1959 issue of Astounding as the worst science fiction magazine I’d read in a long while. This is not to say that it’s the worst of the bunch—I’m sure there are plenty of issues of B and C-level mags that constitute the nadir of written science fiction, although I don’t imagine there are too many of those publications still around.

I’m happy to report that this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction may well be the best single issue I’ve ever read.



I asked last time whether folks prefer whiz-bangery in their science fiction or not. The overwhelming response was that gadgets aren’t important; characters, story, and writing are. F&SF typically holds to a higher standard of writing, and this month, they’ve hit a zenith.

The incomparable Theodore Sturgeon has the first story, The Man who lost the Sea. It’s told in a weird and effective 1st/2nd/3rd person style, about an explorer who has come to grief beside what appears to be a vast ocean. As his thoughts become more lucid, it becomes clearer and clearer what has happened to him until we get the powerful reveal. I understand Sturgeon has been making a concerted effort to get into the slicks (non-science fiction commercial magazines), and it’s a travesty that he hasn’t been more successful. Oh well; the mainstream public’s loss is our gain.

Asimov has a great column this month entitled, The Height of Up, in which he discusses the coldest and hottest possible temperatures. Ever wonder why our temperature scales (Fahrenheit, Celsius, Kelvin) have such weird and arbitrary end-points? Dr. Asimov spells it out most entertainingly.The good doctor is definitely finding his feet with this column. It was so good that I read a good half of it aloud to my wife as she put together a complicated piece of electronic equipment (a hobby of hers, bless her).

I was delighted to find that Zenna Henderson has published another story, And a little child… It’s not exactly a story of the People, but it has the same sort of magical feel. The viewpoint character is a grandmother on a two-week camping trip with family, particularly a young girl who can see things that others can’t. Such things are monstrous, living creatures—the hills are alive, quite literally. It’s really quite a lovely piece.

Finally, for today, we have Damon Knight’s compelling and cute To be Continued, about a sword-and-sandals fantasy writer (whose name’s first two thirds are “Robert E.”) who is compelled to write a tale of Kor the Barbarian after reading a work that the author had never written, but which only could have been authored by himself!

Peeking ahead, I see that Heinlein’s newest novel, Starship Soldier, is going to be among his best yet. To accommodate the work, F&SF is a whopping 32 pages longer this month!

With the star-o-meter steadily quivering at 4-and-a-half stars, I’m eagerly anticipating the book’s second half.

However, the next time we chat, so to speak, it will not be about magazines, but about the 17th annual Worldcon going on right now in Detroit. “Detention,” as it’s called this year, will last until the 7th, and I expect to have a full, breathless telephonic report in time for the 8th.

Last year, Worldcon was in my backyard (Los Angeles). This year, Los Angeles is going to Detroit: an intrepid group of Angelinos, organized by the dynamo, Betty Jo Wells, embarked earlier this week on a road-trip across the country, Detroit-or-Bust. I’ve reprinted “BJo’s” ad in its entirety for your entertainment.



"TRAVELCON to the DETENTION -- a different city every day. TravelCon plans are starting to shape up. Latest report from Bjo is that about 20 L.A. fans are already making plans to attend the Detention. Fans in the Berkeley area are organizing a group to join up with the Travel Con In L.A. For information and details, contact Betty Jo Wells, 2548 West 12th, Los Angeles 6, California."

Sadly, I was unable to spare time off from work for this event; it looks like fun.

---

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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In this month’s F&SF editorial, editor Doug Mills reports that he’s gotten a number of complaints regarding the oversaturation of stories in the post-apocalyptic, time travel, and deal-with-the-Devil genre.  Mr. Mills’ response was that any genre can be oversaturated, but quality will always be quality, and F&SF will publish quality stories in whatever genre it pleases. In fact, there are stories dealing with all three of the "oversaturated" genres in this issue.

What do you think?  I have to agree with Mr. Mills.  Personally, I can never get enough of After the Bomb stories, time travel is often a hoot, and the Devil features in relatively few tales these days, in my experience.   But I’d like your opinion on the matter.
I had not realized that Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol story had taken up so much of the current issue; there isn’t much left to review.  There is some goodness, however:

Rosebud, by Ray Russell, is teleological nonsense in a single-pager.  Damon Knight’s book review column deals with horror, and is interesting, as usual.  I wish he were still helming IF (come to think of it, I just received this month’s copy… I wonder who’s in charge.)

Kit Reed’s Empty Nest is well nigh unreadable, but I think it’s a horror about being eaten by anthropoid birds.

Obituary, by Isaac Asimov, is actually quite good, and one of his few stories from the viewpoint of a woman.  It involves domestic abuse, a truly evil (yet in a plausible and everyday sort of way) villain, and a satisfactory, grisly come-uppance.  I hope the good doctor is not writing from experience in this one…

Finally, we’ve got Pact, by Poul Anderson (under his pseudonym, Winston P. Sanders). This is the aforementioned Devilish Deal story, and it is my favorite story of the issue. I hear you gasp--an Anderson story is my favorite? Yes! It's clever all the way through, this story of a demon summoning a human in the hopes of consumating a contract. Fine stuff.

My apologies for the shortness of this installment. I'll make it up next time. Perhaps.

P.S. One of the reasons I enjoy science fiction so much is the clever gadgets. In Asimov's story, the villain uses a "desktop computer" with some sort of typewriter keys attached. Boy, would that be a fine tool to have, and I've never seen the like in a story before. Something to look forward to in a decade or two?





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A bit of a grab bag today as I finish off the odds and ends before the new (diminishing) crop of magazines comes in.

Firstly, the sad news regarding Vanguard II has been confirmed: the wobbly little beachball has got the orbitum tremens and is unable to focus its cameras on Mother Earth. So much for our first weather satellite.

Secondly, the sad news regarding the April 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction. Yes, Poul Anderson does have a story in it. The Martian Crown Jewels is a science fiction Sherlock Holmes pastiche. As a mystery and as a story, it is fairly unremarkable. Still, Doyle-philes may enjoy it. As can be expected, both for the genre and for the author, the only women's names are to be found gracing ships, not characters.



There are a couple of oddball pieces in this issue. One is a translated Anton Checkhov parody of a Jules Verne story called The Flying Islands. Perhaps it's better in the original Russian.

There is also a chapter of Aldous Huxley's new book, Brave New World Revisited, comparing the myriad of mind-altering substances available today to the simple and perfectly effective soma that appeared in the original Brave New World. It is an interesting contrast of prediction versus reality. It is also a great shopping list for some of us.

As I mentioned earlier, Damon Knight is out of an editorial job after just three issues at the helm of IF. F&SF has found him a new place to hang his reviewer's hat--as the new writer for the magazine's book column. Good news if you like damonknight.

Jane Roberts, an F&SF regular, contributes a two-page mood piece called Nightmare. It's another two-minutes-to-midnight fright.

But the real gem of the latter portion of the magazine is Fred Pohl's To see another Mountain about a nonagenarian supergenius being treated for a mental illness... but is he really sick? Interestingly, I never liked it when Pohl and Kornbluth teamed up, but Pohl by himself has been reliably excellent. This story is no exception.

Where does that leave us in the standings? There isn't a bad piece in the bunch (the Anderson and Chekhov being the least remarkable). Let's say "four", maybe "four-and-a-half" given the greatness of the lead story.

Two days to Asimov!





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The February 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction has left me with a variety of impressions, so I preemptively beg your pardon for the scattered nature of this piece.



Firstly, the cover. It's a pretty Emswhiller, for certain, but "Under Jupiter's Red Spot"? It has been some 250 years since anyone last thought that the Red Spot (Jupiter's most enduring feature, three times the size of the Earth) was the result of vulcanism or any other "surface" activity. In fact, the prevailing model is that Jupiter, composed almost exclusively of hydrogen and helium, has no surface. There is just hydrogen and helium under increasing pressure until it takes on the properties of an ice, Further in, the hydrogen may take on the characteristics of a metal. There may be a rocky core underneath all of that, but we'd never see it. There would not be a "surface" as we are familiar with the term.

Thus, Emsh's drawing is a weird throwback. It's just strange to see it on the cover of a current science fiction digest.

Secondly, the big news:

After ten years at the steady rate of 35 cents a digest, which was standard for "The Big Three," F&SF is finally upping its rates to 40 cents an issue. You can also get a year's subscription for $4.50 (or 37.5 cents apiece). I don't think the increase is egregious, especially given that publishing costs have increased 38% since 1949--at least, according to the publisher. With Galaxy now at 50 cents for a bimonthly, one wonders how long it will be before Astounding raises their rates. Their production quality is the lowest of "The Big Three," but I imagine their costs must still have gone up like everyone else's.

Thirdly, Asimov has another article in this issue. It's a pretty short piece about the naming of big numbers--quite handy for describing things like a multitude of stars... or atoms. It's worth reading, but hardly his best work.



Fourthly...

Perhaps you wonder why I slog through so much mediocre science fiction every month. Two stars... three stars... Randall Garrett... Well, it's for stories like the opener to this month's F&SF.

Damon Knight (or damonknight, as he's known when he's reviewing), has written a lot. Much of it is unremarkable. One of his stories, Four in One, which came out in Galaxy way back in 1952, is one of the niftiest stories I've ever read. His latest work, What Rough Beast, is in that caliber.

Mike Kronski, the protagonist, is a foreigner. That is clear from his manner of speech, which seems Eastern European. He has a very special gift--the ability to change one thing into another. But the mechanism by which he does this is unique, and its ramifications are both fascinating and chilling. I don't want to spoil it anymore. Suffice it to say that it is excellent. It's worth 40 cents just for this story.

So's you know, my next update may be a day late. I know my readers (I almost need two hands to count you now!) love my travelogues almost as much as my reviews. Just for you, the family and I are flying to the island of Kaua'i in the Territory of Hawa'ii. We will be sure to include photos with the next installment of this column!





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