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Every year or so, Fantasy and Science Fiction releases an "All Star" issue in which only Big Names get published. It's a sort of guarantee of quality (and, presumably, sales). I'll tell you right now that, with the notable exception of the lead novelette, it's largely an "All Three Star" issue. Perhaps it's better to leave things to the luck of the draw. That said, it's hardly an unworthy read, and Zenna Henderson, as always, makes the issue a must buy.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey)
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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!)
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If there's anything this month's IF, Science Fiction proves, it's that you get what you pay for.

Last year, Galaxy editor, H. L. Gold, cut story rates in half to 2 cents a word. Shortly thereafter, he took over the helm of the promising but unsuccessful digest, IF. Its quality has been in steady decline ever since, and I can only imagine that he pays IF writers even less.

IF's name is ironic. Under the stewardship of Damon Knight, it had a short-lived renaissance culminating in the February 1959 issue. Had this continued, IF might be the leader of the current, heavily winnowed, crop of science fiction digests. Alas, such a history can only be contemplated, never directly perceived.

Why all the doom and gloom? The May 1960 IF is definitely the worst issue I've read to date. While not unmitigatedly bad, it never rises above the passable. In detail:

(See the rest at Galactic Journey!>
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Every month, there is the perennial hope that this will be the month a truly great story will be published. Every month, a stack of science fiction digests arrives at my door. There are few moments as exciting as that day (my postman holds them all so they arrive at once; I like big events). With great enthusiasm, I tear into my magazines. Sometimes the promise is fulfilled. Sometimes it isn't.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction most consistently delivers the stand-out stories, so I usually save it for last. Other months, I am a greedy child and eat dessert first. This time around, I split the difference.



First up is Fritz Leiber's short story, The Oldest Soldier. It's a good piece, very atmospheric. I originally thought it was another story about an immortal, a la Long Live Walter Jameson, the Twilight Zone episode, but upon further reflection, I think it's about one of the many time traveling soldiers in Leiber's The Big Time universe.

Fred McMorrow follows Leiber with the thematically similar, The Man from Tomorrow. It takes place in a New York steak and booze joint. A reporter and a crustily jovial bartender are debating the appeal of gambling when they are accosted by a fellow from the future. As a time traveler, the man has a perfect knowledge of events, and as a marooned prisoner of the 20th Century knowing everything that will happen (down to the most minute detail, it seems, and with no ability to alter events), he is miserable with boredom.

The reader is left with the question: Is it better to know the future and capitalize upon it, or to revel in the uncertainty of what's to come?

I did not like Rex Lardner's American Plan, about a fellow who goes to Mars as a tourist and ends up a prisoner in his hotel. As Damon Knight says in his book review column, it is not sufficient to slap a few science fiction trappings (in this case, a Martian setting) onto an otherwise conventional story and call it "genre."

John Collier's That Tender Age (a New Yorker reprint) is even worse. A would-be lodger interviews with potential landlords. He has a nomadic history, and he's had experience sojourning with cannibals. Early on, he makes it clear, inadvertently, that he has predatory designs upon the landlord's daughter, and at the end, cannibal and landlord's daughter head off to the woods, hand-in-hand, presumably never to return.

What makes this story unbearable is its run-on construction, with no quotation marks or attributions of expression. While Collier does indicate who is speaking through tone and use of proper nouns, it's tedious going. Moreover, the end is telegraphed from the beginning, which makes the conclusion all the more ridiculous. At least it's short.

A Specimen for the Queen is the conclusion (?) to Arthur Porges' "Ruum" series, in which a taxidermist alien robot is deposited in the backwoods of Canada to assemble a preserved zoological collection. In the millions of years that the robot has been on Earth, it has amassed quite an exhibit, including one sentient biped. In this story, the robot encounters a detachment of Galaxy-conquering human-sized bees, who have mounted a scouting expedition to the Canadian wilds.

Has the robot finally met its match? Or are the bees grasping a tiger by its tail? Entertaining, if somewhat disturbing.



Dr. Asimov has a fascinating (if you are mathematically inclined) article on the fundamental constant, Pi. Of particular interest, to me anyway, was his presentation of Liebniz's series, which can be used to calculate Pi, provided one has a lot of spare time. It's quite simple: 4/1-4/3+4/5-4/7+4/9... and so on. You can do it with a pen and paper, but it will take you hundreds of thousands of iterations to get close to the answer, since you'll keep bouncing high and low around it.

Or, you can do what I did and rent some time on a local computer; I borrowed the university's lightning-fast IBM for a few hours. I cleverly reduced the computation time by having my program calculate the average of the last two numbers in the sequence (since one is an upper bound, and the other is a lower bound, to the value of Pi, the actual value must be somewhere about halfway). After 20,000 iterations, I narrowed Pi down to 3.1415926. Good enough for government work!

Finally, we come to Philip Jose Farmer's Open to me, my sister. Lane, the lone surviving astronaut of a five-man expedition to Mars discovers a wildly alien symbiotic biology. This beautifully described, but somewhat simplistic, set of species is responsible for the life-giving canals of Mars, which are actually biologically constructed water transport tubes.

Stranger still is Martia, also a lone survivor, but from a different solar system, who shelters Lane after he nearly drowns in one of Mars' natural hydroponic pools. Tantalizingly humanoid but repulsively alien, she and Lane enjoy a budding friendship and attraction over 25 fascinating, well-written pages. Near the end, Lane discovers how Martia's race breeds—an exchange of an internally carried worm-like parasite.

Whereupon, revolted by his attraction to a female with such a shocking sex life, Lane goes beserk, binds Martia, and kills her parasite. Lane is, soon after, captured by some of Martia's people, who plan to rehabilitate him (to Lane's horror).

It was such an unnecessarily violent end to such a beautiful story. Moreover, it was implausible. Early on, Farmer took great pains to describe Lane as a fellow in touch with his "feminine" side, able to bend ideologically without breaking. And yet, by the end, Lane cannot suffer this threat to his machismo. He cannot love/lust after an alien whose reproduction is, to him, so distasteful.

I get what Farmer is trying to do here, but I don't like it.

Which raises another question: What's worse? Consistent mediocrity, or the promise of greatness capped by a disappointing ending? Both the story and the issue fall into the latter category.

Ah well. There's still one more magazine to go.


Cover by Mel Hunter

P.S. I have exciting news! Very soon, the format of this column will change, and all of you lovely readers can get automatic notification (via instant telegraphic message) whenever a new piece is published.

P.P.S. I have found a kindred spirit, though his focus is both more scattershot chronologically and focused topically: Science Fiction Ruminations

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(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)
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We live in such exciting times that it's no wonder science fiction is flourishing. It seems not a month goes by without some kind of space shot, and yet we're still perhaps years away from the first manned orbit (not to mention a lunar jaunt). Science fiction lets us see the headlines of tomorrow long before they are thrown onto our doorstep.

Of course, not all science fiction deals with space, and not all science fiction magazines deal exclusively in science fiction. The latter half of this month's Fantasy and Science Fiction comprises naught but fantasies.

Not that this is a bad thing. With Berlin under siege, Israel and its neighbors barely restrained from coming to blows, Cuba in the throes of revolution, any kind of escape is a welcome one.



Most of the rest of this month's ish is taken up by Philip Jose Farmer's The Alley Man, a gritty, rambling story that is as hard to take as it is to put down. It spotlights the grubby life of the what may be the last of the Neanderthals consigned, like the rest of his race, to survive off the scraps cast off by the superior Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Not that Old Paley is any dumber than us. Quite the contrary. While he has the rough manner and speech as might be expected of the lowest of the lower economic class, he is a fine raconteur and rather wise.

No, what did in the Neanderthals 50,000 years ago, was the loss of their chieftain's sacred headpiece (and the fact that Neanderthals were worse shots with the bow and arrow). Over the millenia, the Neanderthals have slowly dwindled away, until just one remained (though it appears there are plenty of half-breeds and quatroons around). Old Paley is a garbage scavenger who lives with a half-Neanderthal woman called "Gummy" and a physically blemished former socialite intellectual named Deena with a fetish for rough treatment.

Enter Dorothy, the aide of a physical anthropologist, who befriends Old Paley to study him. It becomes clear over the course of the story that she becomes rather attracted to him (in part due to the powerful stench of the Neanderthal, like "a pig making love to a billy goat on a manure pile," but laden with powerful pheremones), but theirs is not fated to be a happy relationship. In fact, the resulting love quadrangle is all kinds of dysfunctional and, ultimately for Old Paley, fatal.

But you can't deny it's well-written and compelling.

There are three remaining odds and ends: an interesting article on orbits, Satellite Trails by Ken Rolf, about not just the course satellites take around the Earth, but the interesting and sometimes unintuitive patterns they make to ground observers (something like Ptolemy's epicycles); Charles Finney's Iowan's Curse, a cautionary tale about the karmic danger of being a Good Samaritan; and Robert Young's Production Problem, a short-short about a creativity shortage in the far future. They fill the pages, but are not particularly noteworthy.

I think that leaves us at an uninspiring 3.5 or so for the issue. The lead story is very good, and Alley Man is worth reading, I suppose, but the rest is lackluster.

But you can decide for yourself! And should. Until next time (and do stay tuned--I have many interesting updates to come).

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


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