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I've said before that I like my reading to be light and pleasant. Not exclusively, mind you, but I find the current trend toward the depressing to be... well... depressing. This month's F&SF is the bleakest I've yet encountered, and under normal circumstances, it would not have been to my taste. On the other hand, being near Hiroshima on August 6 and then near Nagasaki on August 9, fifteen years after they became testing grounds for a terrible new weapon, is enough to put even the cheeriest of persons into a somber mood, and my choice of reading material proved to be quite complementary.

As usual, I lack the rights to distribute F&SF stories, so you'll just have to buy the mag if you want the full scoop, but I'll do my best to describe the stories in detail.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction regularly beats out the other regular digests in terms of consistent quality. This month's, April 1960, is no exception.

There's a lot to cover, so let's dive right in:

Daniel Keyes, who wrote the superb Flowers for Algernon, has returned with the issue's lead novelette, Crazy Maro. Our viewpoint character is an attorney who has been contracted by unseen agents from the future to secure psychically adept (and invariably disadvantaged) children for work in a later time. The fellow meets his match, however, when he is asked to recruit the titular Maro, a young black man with an uncanny talent for reading the emotions of others. Much of the novelette is a mystery story, with the lawyer trying to puzzle out the root of Maro's power. It's a powerful piece, assuredly, though the very end is unnecessarily melodramatic.

Another serious piece is The Hairy Thunderer by "Levi Crow" (Manly Wade Wellman in disguise). The writing is deceptively simplistic, describing the arrival of a hairy pale foreigner to the lands of an American Indian tribe. The European commences to ensnare the tribe with his boom stick and, more effectively and terribly, his firewater. A young man of the tribe, Lone Arrow, is able to resist him with the magical assistance of a certain eight-legged class of arthropods.

The moral of the story, that one should be kind to spiders for they are misunderstood but fundamentally good creatures, is one that resonates strongly. I'm always hoping that, when I die, the Spider Gods will look favorably upon me for the compassion and mercy I have shown Their Kind.

The incomparable Edgar Pangborn brings us The Wrens in Grampa's Bears, in which "Grampa," the narrator's Great Grandfather, hosts a brood of beneficient angels within his long beard. Their existence is only hinted at, and the story is mostly a mood piece capturing the sunset of an old man's life in the Summer of '58, a man whose memories encompass both Gettysburg and satellites. Yet, the theme of the tale is not how much things have changed, but how they stay essentially the same.

A Certain Room, a short by Ken Kusenberg, translated from German by Therese Pol, is a silly, archaic piece. What happens when you fiddle with the objects in a room that have a causal connection to bigger, worldwide events? Not much good.

George Elliott has the issue's second novelette, the fantasy-less, science-fiction-less, but nevertheless compelling Among the Dangs. It is a mock account of an anthropologist's sojourn amongst the fictional Dang tribe of Ecuador. Enlisted for his talent for mimicry and his dark skin, the protagonist spends years living with the Dang, learning their customs and even taking a wife, so that he can become one of their high prophets. His initial motivation is to compose a thesis for an advanced degree. But so complete is his indoctrination that it is only through a titanic force of will that he breaks free, and the experience forever marks him.

The piece originally appeared a couple of years back in Esquire, and it is a strange story to find within the covers of F&SF. On the other hand, while the content is neither science fictional nor fantastic, there is a certain flavor to it that allows it to fit nicely in the middle of this issue. I'm not complaining for its inclusion.



I'm not sure what to do with Rosel George Brown. I really want to like her, but she has this tendency toward first-person pieces featuring scatterbrained housewives. Their situations are tediously conventional and exhaustingly frenetic. I have to wonder if the stories aren't semi-autobiographical. A Little Human Contact continues in this vein, and while it's not horrible, it is still not the masterpiece I know Brown is capable of. Of course, I may be looking in the wrong place--Amazing and Fantastic are still around, and I understand she's due to be published there soon.

Isaac Asimov has an excellent non-fiction piece this month, It's About Time, describing the evolution and fundamental incompatibility of our various calendar systems. The conclusion: trust the astronomers and go with Julian dating.

I won't spoil Joseph Whitehill's In the House, Another since it's a one-trick pony. Cute, though.

Rounding out the issue is Gordy Dickson's latest novelette, The Game of Five. It is strangely reminiscent of his earlier The Man in the Mailbag, but it's not as good. Both stories involve a man infiltrating an alien culture to rescue a captured woman. In both stories, it quickly turns out that the situations are more complex than they seem at first blush. In both stories, the "captured" woman turns out to be an agent of some kind.

But though Five is competently written, the Hercule Poirot moment, that bit at the end where the hero explains the mystery, is not supported strongly enough by clues in the narrative. The world is also not as interesting as the one depicted in Mailbag. Unlike the former title, I don't this one will get nominated for any Hugos. Not that it's bad, mind you—just not up to the bar Dickson has set for himself.

That's it for April 1960. I have a whole new crop of magazines and books to review for next month. I also have far more time to devote to the column now that I am between day jobs. Cry not for me—it was a decision long coming and well worth it.

In the meantime, before we get onto things fictional, I have some scientific news with exciting science fiction ramifications...

...but you'll just have to wait two days for it!

---










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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.











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