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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


Take a look at the back cover of this month's Fantasy and Science Fiction. There's the usual array of highbrows with smug faces letting you know that they wouldn't settle for a lesser sci-fi mag. And next to them is the Hugo award that the magazine won last year at Pittsburgh's WorldCon. That's the third Hugo in a row.



It may well be their last.

I used to love this little yellow magazine. Sure, it's the shortest of the Big Three (including Analog and Galaxy), but in the past, it boasted the highest quality stories. I voted it best magazine for 1959 and 1960.

F&SF has seen a steady decline over the past year, however, and the last three issues have been particularly bad. Take a look at what the August 1961 issue offers us:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Many years from now, scholars may debate furiously which decade women came to the forefront of science fiction and fantasy. Some will (with justification) argue that it's always been a woman's genre – after all, was it not Mary Shelley who invented science fiction with Frankenstein's monster? (Regular contributor Ashley Pollard says "no.") Others will assert that it was not until the 1950s, when women began to be regularly published, that the female sff writer came into her own.

It's certainly true that a wave of new woman writers has joined the club in just the last few years. If this trend continues, I suspect we'll see gender parity in the sf magazines by the end of this decade. Right around the time we land on the Moon, if Kennedy's recently expressed wishes come to fruition.

Come meet six of these lady authors, four of whom are quite new, and two who are veterans in this, Part IV, of The Second Sex in SFF.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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If you've been a fan in the scientificition/fantasy genre for any length of time, you've likely been exposed to rumors of its impending doom. The pulps are gone. The magazines are dying. The best writers are defecting for the lucre of the "slicks."

And what is often pointed to as the cause of the greatest decline of an entity since Commodus decided he liked gladiating more than emperoring? The visual media: science fiction films and television. Why read when you can watch? Of course, maybe the quality's not up to the standards set by written fiction, but who cares?

All this hubbub is silly. There are two reasons why printed sf/f isn't going anywhere, at least for the next few decades. The first is that the quality isn't in the films or television shows. Sure, there are some stand-outs, like the first season of The Twilight Zone, and the occasional movie that gets it right, but for the most part, it's monsters in rubber suits and the worst "science" ever concocted.

But the second reason, and this is the rub, is the sheer impermanence of the visual media. If you miss a movie during its run, chances are you've missed out forever. Ditto, television. For instance, I recently learned that an episode of Angel (think I Love Lucy, but with a French accent) starred ex-Maverick, James Garner. I'm out of luck if I ever want to see it unless it happens to make the summer re-runs.

My magazines, however, reside on my shelves forever. I can re-read them at will. I can even loan them out to my friends (provided they pony up a $10 deposit). They are permanent, or at least long-lived.

And that's why I'll stick with my printed sf, thank-you-very-much.



Speaking of permanence, I think April 1961 will be a red-letter date remembered for all time. It's the first time, that I'm aware of, that women secured equal top-billing on a science fiction magazine cover. To wit, this month's Fantasy and Science Fiction features six names, three of which belong to woman writers. Exciting stuff, particularly given my observation that, while female writers make up only a ninth of the genre's pool, they produce a fourth of its best stuff.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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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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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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