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by Gideon Marcus

At the end of a sub-par month, I can generally count on The Magazine and Science Fiction to end things on a positive note. F&SF has been of slightly declining quality over the past few years, but rarely is an issue truly bad, and this one, for January 1962, has got some fine works inside.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Greetings from sunny Kaua'i! It seems like only yesterday I was reporting from this island's idyllic shores. Much has changed, of course--Hawai'i is now a state! 50 is a nice round number, so perhaps we won't see any new entries into the Union for a while.



Accompanying me on this trip is the last science fiction digest of the month, the February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction. On a lark, I decided to read from the end, first. In retrospect, I'm glad I did, but it certainly made the magazine a challenge. You see, the stories at the end are just wretched. But if you skip them (or survive them, as I did), the rest of the magazine is quite excellent.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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It's hard to keep the quality up in a long-format magazine like Galaxy, especially when your lower tier stuff gets absorbed by a sister magazine (IF). Thus, it is rare to find a full issue of Galaxy without some duds that bring the average down. Editor Gold has saved this month's weak entries for the second half.

(or has he? See the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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It is March Oneth, as my father would say, and it's time to review the last of the March 1960 science fiction digests.

Last on my plate was IF Science Fiction, which in 1959 had proven a slightly erratic but worthy sibling to Galaxy Science Fiction, also edited by Horace Gold. Sadly, this current issue reminds me more of the inferior issues of Imagination or Amazing. It's not all bad, just rather weak.

It has been said of Clifford Simak that when he's good, he's very good, and when he's not, he's forgettable. It appears he used up all of his energy on his masterpiece appearing in this month's F&SF, because his lead novella for IF, The Gleaners, is mediocre. It's a story about a fellow who coordinates a for-profit time travel agency that sends agents back in time to observe, but not to meddle. It's a tough job: the agent defection rate is high, and there is much pressure to verify the historical assertions of the various world faiths. It sounds like it would be a great read, but it doesn't do much interesting development. Perhaps Cliff should start over and try making a novel on the concept.

Raymond Banks has a short story called to be continued about colonists marooned on a tiny island hundreds of light years from Earth for centuries. The beginning and ending are a bit slipshod, but the meat of the story is pretty good, and I particularly like that the story features a starship crewed by a pair of women.

In The Upside-Down Captain, by Jim Harmon, an ethnologist joins the crew of a starship to seek out truly unusual planets. The ship is aided in its endeavor with the help of a cybernetic brain—but is the robot really being much help? It's oddly paced and written, weakening what might have been a strong story.

There are a couple of very short vignettes that I shan't spoil other than to give their titles and authors since any description would give away most of their game. They seem to be written by unknowns, either amateur auteurs or pseudonymic regulars. They are Old Shag, by Bob Farnham, and Monument, by R.W. Major; neither are good, but nor are they long.

Ray Russell has something of a career writing for Playboy. His Father's House is an story about an heir forced to inhabit his deceased father's home, bullied by ghostly holograms of his abusive parent, for five years in order to collect an inheritance. The protagonist seemingly has two choices—be a penniless but satisfied writer and husband or endure a lonely, unfulfilling life in the hopes of inheriting a fortune. In the end, he comes up with a third path with no down sides.

Ignatz, by Ron Goulart, is a cute story about a fellow who leads a one-man crusade against the fad of "Applied Lycanthropy," whereby the citizens of his sleepy town transform into cats for fun and relaxation. The fellow hates cats, you see; they make him feel "crawly." It's cute, though I can't imagine what anyone could have against felines, of whom I am far more fond than dogs.

The magazine ends rather strongly with Daniel Galouye's satirical Gravy Train, in which a retired couple on a remote planetoid gets mistaken for an important Third-World state and finds itself the recipient of a torrent of aid from both the Capitalist and Communist intergalactic empires.

All in all, it's not so much a bad issue as a merely weak one. Most of the stories end rather abruptly with a decidedly last-decade sci-fi slammer, and the writing has a slapdash feeling about it. Perhaps it's just a temporary lull.

In any event, I've got a whole new crop of magazines for this month that I'm looking forward to sharing with you. See you soon!


---

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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There are months when The Magazine of Fantasy AND Science Fiction is filled with sublime stuff. Then there are months when F&SF is just mildly diverting. This is looking to be one of those months. Things could be worse, of course.

Editor Robert Mills opens things up by asking if we'd like longer short stories (novelets), which apparently are in a bumper crop this year. Robert, if you're reading, I think that's a fine idea. I like a good 20 pages to feel the start, middle, and end of a story. Shorter pieces tend to rely on gimmick endings or be mood pieces. Not that those don't have their place, but everybody has her or his preferences, and that one is mine.

What do y'all think?

First out of the gate is J.T. McIntosh's Tenth Time Around, which takes place in a nearish future where travel back in time is possible, but expensive, and only into your younger self. Our protagonist uses his multiple lives trying to successfully woo a lost love. The result is not unpredictable, but McIntosh writes a fine yarn.

I much liked Asimov's non-fiction column in this issue, detailing the fiendish difficulty involved in both escaping Earth's gravity and ensuring subsequent capture by the moon. It is a subject of which I never had a real intuitive grasp, despite having followed all of the Pioneer and Mechta shots avidly (I've even published a few non-fiction articles on the subject, myself).

Satirist Ron Goulart's Ralph Wollstonecraft Hedge: A Memoir is a genuinely humorous account of a fictitious writer from the tarnished side of pulp's Golden Age. I caught the Lovecraft references, having read virtually everything H.P. ever published, but I'm afraid I've missed the other jokes. Perhaps someone can help me with this one.

Then there's The One that Got Away by Chad Oliver, who writes both science fiction and westerns. He combines the two to good effect here. Well, I'm not sure it actually takes place in "the west," but the setting is a bucolic valley and involves by turns pyromania, a rustic lodge, good fishing, and aliens. Fun and fluffy.

Finally, for today, is Robert Graves' The Shout, which Robert Mills found good enough to reprint, the story having first appeared in the magazine seven years ago (before I was a regular reader). Or perhaps F&SF is simply hard up for material. Or Mr. Graves is hard up for cash. Somehow I doubt the latter, the great classicist having penned such eternal works as I, Claudius.



In any event, Shout is a moody piece, told in a lunatic asylum, one inmate to another, involving a soul-shattering scream taught the narrator by Australian aboriginals. I found the tale a little too disjointed to be entirely comprehensible, but I did enjoy the idea that all of the souls of the world are actually small stones on a sandy hill between a town and beach in southern England.

I mean, they have to be somewhere, don't they?

So there you go. Nothing stand-out, nothing offensive. Pleasant fire-side or shady tree fare. In two or three days, Part II (unless some space spectacular compels me to issue a stop-press...)

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Boy, am I glad I read from front to back this time!

As my faithful readers (should that be plural?) know, the first half of this month's Fantasy & Science Fiction was pretty lackluster stuff. It turns out I was mistaken about Tony Boucher's story--it was not a new one, but some old thing from 1945 under the name “William A. P. White.” At least I know one of Boucher's pseudonyms now.



The second half, thankfully, was far superior. Story #1 was “Honeysuckle Cottage” by P. G. Wodehouse. I have not read much by this famous ex-patriate English humorist. I think all of the stories I have encountered by him were published in F&SF. This particular tale came out in 1928. One wonders if Wodehouse is desperate for cash since being, perhaps unfairly, chased out of his home country for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Or perhaps Boucher could only afford an old reprint. Either way, it's a fun little story about a mystery writer being cursed with the haunting of his romance-writing aunt. I liked it.

“Wish upon a star,” by famed anthologist Judy Merril, is an excellent story about coming of age on a generation ship. For those not in the know, a generation ship is a starship, generally traveling slower than the speed of light, designed to colonize a planet many tens or even hundreds of years in the future. Because the mission takes so long, it is anticipated that several generations will be born before the ship reaches its destination. Even more unusually, though quite plausibly, most of the crew and all of the officers of the ship are women. The only thing wrong with the story is its length--I would love to see a novella or full-length novel on the topic--by Ms. Merril, preferably.



Though Boucher no longer edits F&SF, he still does the book-review column. He spends most of it praising Theodore Sturgeon but expressing his dissatisfaction with “The Cosmic Rape.” This, Sturgeon's third novel, is an expansion on the novelet, “To Marry Medusa,” which appeared in Galaxy a few months ago. Alternatively, the Galaxy story may be a pared-down version of the novel. I recall the story, which was about an interstellar hive-mind's attempts to incorporate humanity, had said all that was needed to be said. I have to wonder what purpose the extra verbiage served.

Next up is “Dream Girl,” a slight head-trip penned by Ron Goulart, who had an interesting story back in July called “The Katy Dialogues.” The following story, “Somebody's Clothes, Somebody's Life,” by mystery-writer Cornell Woolrich, is written like a play and could easily be an episode of F&SF's counterpart to X Minus One. It's sheer fantasy involving a Countess with a gambling problem, a young woman with bigger problems, and the Russian clairvoyant who crosses their paths. Good affecting stuff. Finally, there is a cute three-page story by Walter S. Tevis, which I shan't spoil for you, but it's worth reading.

So that's that. 2.5 stars out of 5 for this week's F&SF, but that's only because the first half is a 1.5 and the latter is a 4.5.

You should all know that I am flying out to Japan this Friday with my family. This should not stem the tide of articles, however. I am bringing along this month's Astounding, two unread Heinlein novels, and I expect to catch up on my giant monster movies. It's my understanding that Godzilla has a sequel, and other movies by that studio have also recently come out. Here's hoping these films uphold the fine standard set by the first of them.

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