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Have you ever ordered your favorite dessert only to find it just doesn't satisfy like it used to? I'm a big fan of crème brûlée, and I used to get it every chance I could. That crispy carmelized top and that warm custard bottom, paired with a steaming cup of coffee...mmm.

These days, however, crème brûlée just hasn't done it for me. The portions are too small, or they serve the custard cold. The flavor doesn't seem as bold, the crust as crispy. I've started giving dessert menus a serious peruse. Maybe I want pie this time, or perhaps a slice of cake.

Among my subscription of monthly sf digests, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction used to be my dessert -- saved for last and savored. These days, its quality has declined some, and though tradition will keep it at the end of my review line-up, I don't look forward to reading the mag as much as once I did. This month's, the November 1961 issue, is a typical example of the new normal for F&SF:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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I tried. I really tried.

When last we left off, I had saved Fritz Leiber's The Silver Eggheads for last. It comprises a good third of the January F&SF, and I thought it would be worth an article all to itself. I suppose it does, at that, but not the way I had thought.

For some reason, when I started this project, I'd had the impression that I liked Fritz Leiber. I think it was from reading The Big Time, which was pretty good. Thus my puzzlement when I reviewed "Number of the Beast", and again when I reviewed "Poor Little Miss MacBeth.".

I am now coming to realize that I don't like Fritz Leiber. The Silver Eggheads was yet another of his over written yet frivolous stories. I know Fritz has won the Hugo, and I haven't published any fiction since I was 14 (so what do I know?), but his latest novella was execrable.



Here's the plot. I think. In the future, fiction is turned out by sentient computers. The fiction-bots are destroyed by disgruntled writers (in the future, human writers don't actually compose; they just tend the machines), but then are unable to come up with their own stories. The glib explanation is that people are insufficiently educated in the future to write. This makes no sense--if the primary form of entertainment in the future is reading, how can it be impossible to know how to write, even if a mediocre fashion?

And there are these silver eggs that are apparently the brains of dead writers. And there is a whole species of robots with their own culture and even genders (but who act just like people--a typical sin of contemporary writers). And the whole thing is written in this baroque mess that is as much fun to read as stabbing forks into my eyes, with that same casual Playboy Magazine glib chauvinism that I've come to expect from Mssrs. Anderson and Garrett.

So, I tried. I really tried. But I could not get past the 16th page without skimming. I have failed you. I present myself prostrate and ask forgiveness. Or vindication, whichever may be appropriate.

The rest of the issue fares little better. John Collier's Meeting of Relations is a slight, biblically-inspired piece. It is also 16 years old; its reprinting suggests it was picked based on length rather than quality.

Invasion of the Planet of Love, by George P. Elliott, is another one of those strange pieces that leaves me wondering if it supposed to be satire or not. I suspect it is, because the subject (rapacious Victorian-types looting and torturing Venus and its inhabitants only to be thwarted by the most peaceful of peoples) is implemented in so heavy-handed a fashion that it must have been meant as some kind of allegory. It's certainly not science fiction, at least no more than Burroughs' work at the turn of the century.

From <i>Exploring the Planets</i> Copyright 1958
From Exploring the Planets Copyright 1958

Incidentally, it is looking as though the "hot but tolerable" Venus is about to go by the wayside (along with all the science fiction stories that take place on it). A presentation at the Paris Symposium on Radio Astronomy last summer revealed that radar studies done a few years ago show that Venus may be extremely hot--well above the boiling point of water. I have a suspicion that most of our treasured science-fiction tropes may well be rendered obsolete in the next few years of space exploration.

Wrapping up the magazine is The R of A by Gordon Dickson. It's another in a long line of wish-granting genie stories and an interesting commentary on predestination. Not great, but not bad.

That leaves the score for this magazine at one third 4-star, one third 2-star, and one third 1-star. This leads to an average of 2.33. And things started out so well. On the other hand, the nice thing about digests is you can pick and choose.

Next article: 43,000 Years Later by Horace Coon. Stay tuned!

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