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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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Hello, all. I’d meant to report on the newest issue of IF, but the fershlugginer thing hasn’t arrived yet. My Fantasy and Science Fiction is in my hot little hands, however, and it is off to a strong start. Fasten your seatbelts!

The cover is quite lovely, and in fact, it is available for purchase if you are so inclined. It features the next-generation upper stage being designed as we speak to turn the Thor and Atlas missiles into powerful orbital boosters. The rocket is called “Vega.” I have heard rumblings, however, that the thing may not actually make it to fruition as the Air Force has a very similar booster in the works, and what’s the point of inventing the wheel twice, simultaneously?

Heading the issue is Edgar Pangborn’s The Red Hills of Summer. Mr. Pangborn has not written very much—looking through my records, I see he did a whimsical story for Galaxy called Angel’s Egg way back in 1951. Summer is almost excellent, the story of a generation ship arriving at an inhabitable planet after a 15-year journey. The stakes are high—Earth has become bombed-out and nigh unlivable. Four members of the crew, evenly divided by gender, must conduct a preliminary survey to ensure that the destination, called Demeter, will support the 300 colonists.

The ecology is a little too undeveloped to be plausible, and also a bit too terrestrial. But the writing is sound, the situations tense and interesting. It doesn’t quite hit 5 stars as it trails off more than ends. Perhaps Pangborn will turn this into the opening section of a novel, which would be quite readable.

Asimov’s article is on infinity, and the many different types of infinite counting. Engaging, but dry.

The next piece is called Quintet and is a bit of an experiment. There are five pieces, two poetry and three prose, one of which was penned by a pre-teen, and the rest by four distinguished authors. We’re supposed to guess who wrote what. All of the prose pieces have substantial spelling and grammatical errors of a patently unbelievable nature. This is, I suppose, an attempt to portray the writings of a juvenile. They go too far, though, to be fair, correspondence written by my current employer look quite similar. The conceit makes the pieces well-nigh unreadable. I’m going to guess that the youngster penned one of the pieces of poetry (I’m guessing it’s the first of two). We’ll see if I’m right next month.

Finally, for today, we have The Devil’s Garden, a “Murchison Morks” story by Robert Arthur, the same fellow who brought us Don’t be a Goose (and of similar vintage). It is a light-hearted but creepy story of telepathic transference of pain as a form of punishment. The resolution is satisfying and a little (but not very) surprising. I enjoyed it.

In two days, I’ll have the rest for you. Thus far, we’re in 3-star territory.

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

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by Erich Lessig

It's been heavy reading following the papers these days what with the Communist siege of Berlin seemingly without end. These potential flashpoints between East and West get more frightening every day, particularly as both sides perfect methods of delivering atomic weapons across the globe.

Thankfully, I can rely on my monthly installment of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (often the highlight of my literary science fiction experience). Thankfully, it doesn't look like F&SF is going the way of IF, Satellite, or even Galaxy. And its quality remains high, if not stellar.

James Blish opens the issue with a bang, quite literally. This Earth of Hours is a really good tale of first contact and interstellar war... one in which the Terrans are hopelessly outmatched. A proud terrestrial fleet is completely destroyed save for two segments of its flagship that crash to the surface of an alien planet. There, what's left of the crew finds a race of sentient hive mind centipedes that communicate through telepathy. Not only is are the aliens (collectively) smarter than us, but they span a federation of like-minded aliens that spans much of our galaxy. In short, humanity doesn't have a chance against them. Beaten, the crew repair their ship and embark on a tortuously long journey back to Earth to dissuade humanity against further bellicose expeditions.

If there's anything wrong with the story, it's the fact that it's too short. It's a brilliant opening couple of chapters to a bigger novel, but I don't know if a novel is forthcoming.

Asimov has an interesting article, Planet of the Double Sun, which examines the effect on ancient mythology of having an extra sun in our sky a la the situation that might exist around Alpha Centauri. Of course, Isaac sort of misses the point--in a world where true darkness happens rather rarely (perhaps a quarter of the year), I should think evolution would have ended up quite a bit differently, not to mention the effects another star's gravitational influence might have had on our planet's formation. Whatever ancient society might have developed in this hypothetical situation probably wouldn't have been human in any sense of the word.

Lee Sutton hasn't written a lot. So far as I can tell, his only work prior to this issue of F&SF was the juvenile novel Venus Boy, about which I know nothing. Soul Mate is his latest story, and it's a rather chilling, decidedly unromantic story about what happens when a dominating middle-aged telepathic male crosses path with a naive, sexually liberal young telepathic woman. There is a meeting of the minds, but it is anything but pleasant, and the end is truly horrifying. Plausible, but icky.

About Venus, More or Less, by Punch writer, Claud Cockburn, is so slight a story, that I quite forgot it was even in the issue until I re-checked the table of contents.

Josef Berger is another author unknown to me. His Maybe we got something is about a band of fisherman who, in a post-apocalyptic era, trawl up the head of Lady Liberty, herself. It's nothing special.

The last story for today is the rather amusing The Hero Equation, by Robert Arthur (first printed in 1941 as Don't be a Goose! When a milquetoast scientists transports himself into the past to inhabit the body of a hero, he is surprised that the heroic form he comes to possess is not human at all...

I'm sorry I haven't been able to secure permission to distribute these stories freely. On the other hand, with the exception of the first one, they are diverting but unremarkable.

But stay tuned! There's a second half to cover in a few days...

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


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