galacticjourney: (Default)
I've said before that there seems to be a conservation of quality in science fiction. It ensures that, no matter how bad the reading might be in one of my magazines, the stories in another will make up for it. Galaxy was pretty unimpressive this month, so it follows that Fantasy and Science Fiction would be excellent. I am happy to say that the October 1960 F&SF truly is, as it says on the cover, an "all star issue."


from here

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
galacticjourney: (Default)


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!)
galacticjourney: (Default)
How do you attract the intelligent fan? Why, appeal to her/his sense of mental superiority, of course. Science fiction magazines do it all the time; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is particularly fond of showcasing the brainy cultured notables who have subscriptions. There is some justification to this conceit. After all, science fiction (at least the literary kind) tends to be the province of the creative, the egg-headed. The ideas are, by definition, innovative and sometimes revolutionary, and it follows that an oversized brain is required to understand them.

Howard Fast's lead novella in this month's issue of F&SF, The First Men, seems a conscious nod to this concept. Its premise: just as normal humans raised in the wild by animals have a stunted intellectual growth that cannot be remedied once they reach maturity, exceptional humans (geniuses) are stunted by the straight-jacketing society into which they are born. This society is designed to accommodate the average person, thus the wunderkind does not develop to her/his full potential. In Fast's story, some far-sighted folk decide to create a new isolated society designed to enable geniuses, identified at infancy, to fully flower into the next level of humanity.



It's a compelling notion, isn't it. How many of us clever folk have felt stifled and underapplied throughout life? In school, in work, in social situations, we find insufficient challenge and our faculties atrophy. Of course, many of the bright figure out how to use their talents to get ahead, but is it enough simply to do better than others at games for dullards?

What keeps this story from greatness are the fundamental flaws with the premise and the implementation. For instance, the old fable about only using 10% of our brains is trotted out, much to my dismay. But setting that aside, how can a group of admittedly normal folk be sure to find the optimal way to hatch a new race of unfettered geniuses? And what guarantee do we have that they will be, as happens in the story, be utterly benevolent? I think Golding's Lord of the Flies is a better signpost than Ballantyne's The Coral Island, frankly.

Also, it seems that the Israeli kibbutz is the inspiration for the ideal society depicted in the story. It may be too early to tell, but it seems that the kibbutz, a sort of commune, may not be the paradise it seems to be. The second generation of kibbutzniks is coming of age, and many are dissatisfied with the socialism, the provincialism, and the overfamiliarity that comes with living in an isolated village. Moreover, these young adults have been raised in common with all the other kibbutz kids, without individual parents (as is the norm on the kibbutz, and in The First Men). This causes them to see their fellow kibbutzniks as siblings rather than potential mates, and they feel they must leave home to marry. For all of these reasons, some are predicting that the kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) will not survive as an institution past this generation, much to the dismay of the idealists who founded them. By extension, I feel Fast's commune is similarly doomed.

Finally, the tale does not end happily, which left me with a bad aftertaste, perhaps more so as we smart readers are supposed to identify with this budding race of liberated humanity. For all these reasons, I have to give the story no more than three stars.

However, as Oklahoma Senator Mike Monroney is fond of saying, "your mileage may vary."

The rest of the issue in a couple of days!

---

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!







(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)
galacticjourney: (Default)
It's going to be a dreary month, if October's selection of digests is any indication.

Of course, my mood isn't buoyed by the fact that I must compose this article in long-hand. I hate writing (as opposed to typing; and typing on an electric is sheer bliss). On the other hand, I'm the one who chose to occupy much of the next few days in travel, and fellow airplane passengers don't appreciate the bang bang of fingers hitting keys.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning, shall we? As I write, I am enjoying my annual plane trip to Seattle for the purpose of visiting my wife's sister, myriad local friends, and to attend a small but lively science fiction convention. This one is singular in that its attendees are primarily female, and its focus is woman creators. People like Katherine MacLean, Judith Merril, Pauline Ashwell, Anne McCaffrey, etc.

Once again, I get to ride in the speedy marvel that is the jet-powered Boeing 707. San Diego to Seattle in just a few hours is a luxury to which I hope I never become jaded. Although I will concede that the roar of jets is less pleasant a sound than the thrum of propellers.

I made several attempts to read this month's Astounding, but I could find nothing in it I enjoyed. I'll summarize that effort later. In the meantime, I have just finished the November 1959 F&SF, and if you can read my chicken-scratch (I hope my editor cleans it up before publication), I'll tell you all about it.



F&SF often features brilliant stories. Last month, the magazine had an unheard-of quality of 4.5 stars, just under the theoretical maximum of five. This month, we're at the nadir end of quality. It's readable but fluffy, forgettable stuff.

Story #1, The Martian Store by Howard Fast, recounts the opening of three international stores, ostensibly offering a limited set of Martian goods. They are only open for a week, but during that time, they attract thousands of would-be customers as well as the attention of terrestrial authorities. After the Martian language is cracked, it is determined that the Martians intend to conquer the Earth. The result is world unity and a sharp advance in technological development. Shortly thereafter, an American company begins production and sale of one of the Martian products, having successfully reverse engineered the design.

Except, of course, in a move that was well-telegraphed, it turns out the whole thing was a super-secret hoax by that company in order to create a demand for those putatively Martian products. World peace was a by-product. Thoroughly 3-star material.

G.C. Edmondson's From Caribou to Carry Nation is a gaudily overwritten short piece about transubstantiation featuring an old man who is reborn as his favorite vegetable... and is promptly eaten by his grandson. Two stars, and good riddance.

Plenitude, by newcomer Will Worthington, is almost good. It has that surviving-after-the-apocalypse motif I enjoy. In this story, the End of the World is an apparent plague of pleasure-addiction, with most of the human population retreating into self-contained sacks with their brains hooked into direct-stimulation machines. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but the quality is such that I anticipate we'll see ultimately see some good stuff from Worthington. The editor says there are three more of his stories in the bag, so stay tuned.

There is a rather pointless Jules Verne translation, Frritt-Flacc, in which a miserly, mercenary old doctor is given a lordly sum to treat a patient only to discover that the dying man he came to see is himself. Two stars.

Then there is I know a Good Hand Trick, by Wade Miller, about the magical seduction of an amorous housewife. It's the kind of thing that might make it into Hugh Heffner's magazine. Not bad. Not stellar. Three stars.

I'll skip over the second half of Starship Soldier, which I discussed last time. That takes us to Damon Knight's column, in which he laments the death of the technical science fiction story. I think Starship Soldier makes an argument to the contrary.

Then we've got Asimov's quite good non-fiction article, C for Celerity, explaining the famous equation, E=MC^2. I particularly enjoyed the etymology lesson given by the good doctor regarding all of the various scientific terms in common physical parlance. I've been around for four decades, and my first college major was astrophysics, yet I never knew that the abbreviation for the speed of light is derived from the Latin word for speed (viz. accelerate).

James Blish has a rather good short-short, The Masks, about the futuristic use for easily applied nail polish sheets. It's a dark story, but worthy. Four stars.

Ending the book is John Collier's After the Ball, in which a particularly low-level demon spends the tale attempting to corrupt a seemingly incorruptible fellow in order to steal his body for use as a football. Another over-embroidered tale that lands in the 2-3 star range.

That puts us at three stars for this issue, which is pretty awful for F&SF. Given that Astounding looks like it might hit an all-time low of two stars, here's hoping this month's IF is worthwhile reading. Thankfully, I've also picked up the novelization of Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, and it's excellent so far.

Back in a few days with a convention report and a book review!

---

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!



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


galacticjourney: (Default)


It's those haunting, evocatively written F&SF stories that keep me a regular subscriber. July's issue opens with Robert F. Young's To Fell a Tree, about the murder (mercy killing?) of the tallest tree imaginable, and the dryad that lived within. It'll stay with you long after you turn the last page, this sad, but not entirely desolate, tale. So far, it's the best I've seen by Young.

Asimov's column, this month, is a screed against the snobbery of the champions of liberal arts and humanities to the practitioners of science. I'm told that the rivalry is largely good-natured, but Dr. Asimov seems to have been personally slighted, and his article is full of invective.

Avram Davidson's Author, Author is next: venerable British mystery writer is ensnared by the very butlers and baronets who were the subjects of his novels. I found most interesting the interchange between the author and his publisher, in which the latter fairly disowns the former for sticking to a stodgy old format, the country-house murder, rather than filling pages with sex and scandal. I found this particularly ironic as my wife is a mysteries fan who appreciates whodunnits of an older vintage, from Conan Doyle to Sayers. She has, of late, become disenchanted with the latest, more cynical crop of mysteries. I suspect she would have words for the publisher in Davidson's story.

For Sale, Reasonable is a short space-filler by Elizabeth Mann Borgese about a fellow soliciting work in a world where automation has made human labor obsolete. Damon Knight's following book review column is devoted to The Science Fiction Novel, Imagination and Social Criticism, a book of essays written by some of the field's foremost authors. It sounds like a worthy read.

Jane Roberts' Impasse hits close to home--a young lady loses her last living relative, her grandfather. So great is her grief that, by an act of will, she returns him to life, though the old man is not too happy about it. The story struck a chord with me as I lost my family when I was quite young, and I can certainly identify with the poor girl's plight.

The Harley Helix is another fill-in-the-space short short by Lou Tabakow, the moral of which is There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (i.e. the First Law of Thermodynamics). Success Story, which I reviewed last time, is next.

Raymond E. Banks has the penultimate tale, with Rabbits to the Moon, a thoroughly nonsensical tale about the teleportation of creatures (including humans). Its only flaw, that the transported arrive without a skeleton, is made into a selling point.

Last up is The Cold, Cold Box by Howard Fast. The richest man in the world becomes afflicted with terminal cancer and has himself frozen in 1959 so that the future can cure him. But the members of his company's board of directors have a different agenda, particularly after they become the world's de facto controlling oligarchy.

It's good reading all the way through, but it's the lead novella that really sells it. 3.5 stars, I'd say.

I'm off to the movies tonight, so expect a film review soon!

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


galacticjourney: (Default)
Last time on this station, I informed all of you that Part 2 of this (last) month's Fantasy & Science Fiction review would have to wait since I'd wanted to get through the Poul Anderson novelette before reporting.

Well, I'm glad I did. Damn that Anderson, anyway. How dare he write a good story! Now I can't justify skipping him. But more on that later.

Of Time and Cats by Howard Fast, who normally doesn't dip his toe in the science fiction pool, is a fun tale of the multiplicity that ensues when time travel is involved. A slick, paradoxical story.

Algis Budrys has another winner with The Distant Sound of Engines about impending death and the urgent need to impart a lifetime's accumulated wisdom before final departure. Sad. Good.

Avram Davidson's The Certificate is dystopic in the extreme, and probably inspired by the recent Holocaust. A subjugated humanity is reduced to bitter slave labor. The only "gift" from their new overlords is perfect health. How does one escape?



I liked Three Dimensional Valentine by Stuart Palmer (who had a story in the very first F&SF) quite a lot. It is fun and frivolous and rather old-fashioned. It is also unexpected. The author has given me permission to distribute this one, but I haven't quite received it in the mails yet. I'll let you know when I do.

And now to Poul Anderson's The Sky People. As you know, I always approach Anderson with trepidation. Apart from the amazing Brainwave, his work is generally turgid, and I don't like his manly men and absent women.

This one was different. There is still plenty of swashbuckling in this post-apocalyptic tale, but it is done in the style and with the flaire of a good pirate movie like Black Swan. It is set in old San Antone, in the heart of the decaying "Meycan" Empire, south of Tekas and north of S'america. Their technology and mindset is mired in the 16th century. The eponymous "Sky People" are dirigible-driving corsairs from the Kingdom of "Canyon." Though rapacious and ruthless, they possess a greater technology than their target--the Meycans. Unfortunately for them, the timing of their attack proves to be inauspicious as it coincides with the arrival of a delegation from the Federation, successors to the Polynesian nations of Oceania.



Told by three viewpoint characters, one Polynesian, one sky pirate, and one Meycan (a woman!), it is really quite good. Not only has Anderson managed to convincingly portray a wide variety of cultures, he has done a fine job of projecting recovery from an atomic catastrophe in a world that has used up most of its natural resources. I don't know if Anderson has written other stories in this universe or if he intends to, but I would enjoy reading more.

The final story is Alfred Bester's Will You Wait?. The deal with the Devil story has been just about done to death, but this is an infernally cute story about how the modern way of business has made the process Hell on Earth.

Gosh, where does that leave us for the issue? 4 stars? 4 and a half? Definitely a good read worth picking up--if there are any left on the stands, that is.

See you on the 12th!





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

Profile

galacticjourney: (Default)
galacticjourney

April 2017

S M T W T F S
      1
2 34 56 78
9 1011 121314 15
16 171819 2021 22
23242526272829
30      

Links

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Apr. 24th, 2017 09:00 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios