Science Fiction & Fantasy


SPACE SCIENCE FICTION. May 1952. (Volume 1, Number 1.) Overall rating: 3 stars.

LESTER del REY “Pursuit.” Feature novel. A man with unknown assailants pursued for unknown reasons for the major part of the story finally discovers that it is his own unconscious mind plus an uncontrolled psi factor which has been creating his monsters. The plot, meant to sweep the reader along with the hero’s plight, jumps badly at times, simply because of vague details or incongruous background. Also, forty-two pages is a long time for confusion to run rampant. (1)

Comment: Collected in Gods and Golems (Ballantine, paperback original, 1973). Also of note, perhaps, is that Lester del Rey was also the editor of this magazine.

JERRY SOHL “The Ultroom Error.” A readable but pointless story of a life-germ transplanting process gone wrong. (2)

Comment: Collected in Filet of Sohl: The Classic Scripts and Stories of Jerry Sohl (Bear Manor Media, softcover, 2003). Besides a dozen or so SF novels published later on, Sohl also wrote scripts for Alfred Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, Star Trek and several other TV shows.

ISAAC ASIMOV “Youth.” Novelette. The illustrations give away the ending, obviously meant to be hidden. Two alien cultures meet and initiate friendly relations, but the identity of each cannot be determined from the context. (4)

Comment: Collected in The Martian Way and Other Stories (Doubleday, hardcover, 1955). This is clearly a small gem whose first appearance is hidden away in what is today an sadly obscure magazine.

HENRY KUTTNER “The Ego Machine.” Novelette. A badly confused robot carries on an ecological experiment in adjusting a Hollywood screenwriter’s character to his environment. The wild type of science-fictional comedy that made Kuttner famous. Incidentally, this novelette has only three pages fewer than the feature novel. (5)

Comment: ISFDb suggests that this story was co-written with C. L. Moore. Reprinted in Science-Fiction Carnival, edited by Fredric Brown & Mack Reynolds (Shasta, hardcover, 1953). Collected in Return to Otherness (Ballantine, paperback original, 1962).

BRYCE WALTON “To Each His Own Star.” A predictable story of four men lost in space, each wanting to go his own way. (2)

Comment: Reprinted in Space Odysseys: A New Look at Yesterday’s Futures, edited by Brian W. Aldiss (Doubleday, hardcover, 1976). Collected in “Dark of the Moon” and Other Stories (Armchair Fiction Masters of SF #1, softcover, 2011). Walton was the author of several dozen short stories between 1945 and 1969, but only one novel, one of the Winston series of YA books, which I’m sure explains why he’s a Little Known Author today.

– June 1967

RANDALL GARRETT – Too Many Magicians. Lord Darcy #4 (first novel appearance), Serialized in Analog SF, August-November, 1966. Doubleday, hardcover, 1967. Curtis, paperback, 1969; Ace, paperback, 1979. Collected in Lord Darcy (Baen, softcover, 2002). Hugo finalist, 1967, Best Novel.

   A mystery novel which takes place in the alternative-history world where magic has developed rather than science, Two locked-room murders are committed in connection with secret plans for a new magical weapon, thus involving national security.

   One of the murders takes place at a Magicians’ Convention, making the number of possible suspects very large indeed. However, detection is made even more difficult by the fact that magic was not used; still, psychic talent was necessary to the extent that the murder would have been impossible in our world.

   The story is well done and consistent within, but does not always keep the reader’s attention well-fixed, since there is the continual uneasy feeling that the author may come up with an explanation for everything from nowhere. Garrett does play fair with the reader, though, and it is possible to at least guess who the killer may be.

   One of the characters, the Marquis of London, bears more than a striking resemblance to Nero Wolfe, and the connection is made obvious when one realized that name of his Chief Investigator is Lord Bontriomphe. Also (p.116, November issue) there is a version of the most famous Holmesian piece if dialogue between Darcy and his assistant, forensic sorcerer Sean O’Lochlainn.

   More such references may be present; these are the most obvious.

Rating: 3 stars.

– June 1967

   

ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION, November 1966. Overall rating: 2 stars.

MURRAY LEINSTER “Quarantine World.” Short novel [50 pages]. Calhoun of the Med Service. There is no possible reason for the length of this story, except payment by the word. Why can’t a reader to be expected to remember that plot as it has occurred without requiring a summary every two or three pages? Why must characters be shocked at the disclosure of political perfidy once on page 41 and identically again on page 42? (1½)

Comment: Collected in S.O.S. from Three Worlds (Ace, paperback, 1967), The Med Series (Ace, paperback, 1983), Quarantine World (Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1992), Med Ship (Baen, paperback, 2002). Leinster’s “Med Service” series was one of his most popular.

CHRISTOPHER ANVIL “Facts to Fit the Theory.” [Federation of Humanity.] A series of communications between commanders of Terran force trying to save colonists of Cyrene IV from invaders. Psychic powers of colonists make outside assistance unnecessary, but of course that can’t be included in reports to superiors. (2)

Comment: Collected in Interstellar Patrol II: The Federation of Humanity (Baen, hardcover, 2005; paperback, 2007). Baen has published several collections of Anvil’s work, real name Harry Christopher Crosby. A large percentage of the stories he wrote over the years fall into this same overall series.

STEWART ROBB “Letter from a Higher Circle.” Ingenious debunking of American history by a future historian. (4)

Comment: According to ISFDb, Robb’s only other work of speculative fiction was “The Doom of Germany According to the Prophecy of St. Odile,” a chapbook published in 1940.

RANDALL GARRETT “Two Many Magicians.” Serial, part 4 of 4. See separate report, to be posted soon.

– June 1967

JOHN RACKHAM – The Double Invaders. Ace Double G-623, paperback original, 1967. Published back-to-back with These Savage Futurians, by Philip E. High (reviewed here).

   This seemingly simple story of invasion from outer space is indeed something more. The prologue introduces the mystery, a secret plan of Earth against the expanding empire of Zorgan. Without knowing about this underlying factor, the reader would proceed quickly and enjoyably through the greater part of the book.

   As it turns out, a little more concentration is required. Motivations are not as obvious as they might first seem, relationships are not as they might first appear. And yet, if the blurb on the inside front cover is interpreted correctly, everything becomes as obvious as it does at the story’s conclusion. It should be obvious all along, but Rackham does a creditable job of fooling the reader.

   The society of Scarta, the invaded planet, is very well developed, with a [Poul] Anderson-like astronomy influenced theology. Another feature, passing almost without notice, is the linguistic problem of translation: for example (page 69) how do you describe war without a word for it?

Rating: 4½ stars.

– June 1967

   

Bibliographic Notes: John Rackham was a pen name of British writer John T. Phillifent. Under that name and as Rackham, he wrote 18 traditional SF novels for Ace and Daw between 1964 and 1973. He also wrote three of the series of “Man from UNCLE” books published by Ace in the 1960s.

PHILIP E. HIGH – These Savage Futurians. Ace Double G-623, paperback original, 1967. Published back-to-back with The Double Invaders, by John Rackham (review to be posted shortly).

   Two rival organizations surviving the end of present-day Earth’s civilization battle over a psycho-genetically controlled primitive named Robert Ventnor. As it often happens in High’s stories, Ventnor is captured and quickly trained in almost an overnight transformation.

   In fact, Ventnor becomes an expert in both micro-robotics and biology, combining both fields to find new methods in curing diseases. It is therefore not surprising that he becomes the key to the future of mankind.

   The story of mankind’s fall is not the usual one, not war, but the over-centralization of production, and that of decreasing quality. The description of gradual anarchy is quite chilling.

Rating: **½

– June 1967

   

Biographical Update: Quite a bit of information about the author can be found in his online obituary written by John Clute, from which the following excerpt seems relevant:

   “Nothing High wrote was as unremittingly apocalyptic as Shute’s On the Beach (1957), but his space operas consistently pit figures of valour (and science-fictional super powers) against dystopian cultures and worlds. One of the best of them, Butterfly Planet (1971), typically engages manipulative aliens against an Earth splayed into dystopian factions; telepathic sex for the good, and instant devolution for villains, arousingly ensue.”

STARTLING STORIES, September 1952. Overall Rating: 1½ stars.

JACK VANCE “Big Planet.” Complete novel [92 pages]. A long and tedious account of the adventures of a commission from Earth as they make their way from their wrecked spaceship to their Enclave on Big Planet. Vance does a good job in describing the numerous cultures on this heterogeneous planet, but the effect is lost under the weight of so many. An adventure story only. (1½)

Comment: This was expanded (perhaps) and published in hardcover by Avalon Books (1957), then in paperback as half of an Ace Double (D-295; 1958). Reprinted in novel form several times since. I am aware that many readers consider this a minor classic, and I knew so even at the time, but it just didn’t click for me.

ROGER DEE “The Obligation.” Novelet. A fairly interesting story of Man’s first meeting with Alien, taking place during a wild storm on Venus. Ending tries to make up fo a lack of solid characterization. (3)

Comment: Reprinted in Adventures on Other Planets, edited by Donald A. Wollheim (Ace, paperback, 1955).

R. J. McGREGOR “The Perfect Gentleman.” An effort to show the effects of being lost in space on a woman’s repressed sexuality. (1)

CHARLES E. FRITCH “Night Talk.” Obvious parallel to Christmas story on Mars. (1)

Comment: Collected in Crazy Mixed-Up Planet (Powell, paperback, 1969).

– June 1967

H. P. LOVECRAFT’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” Short story. Adapted in graphic format Lovecraft in Full Color #2. Adventure Comics [an imprint of Malibu Comics], March 1992. Writer: Steven Philip Jones. Pencils & inks: Octavio Cariello. Reprinted in H.P. Lovecraft’s Worlds – Volume One (Caliber Comics, paperback, June 2019).

   “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is one of H. P. Lovecraft’s earliest stories, written in Spring 1919 and first published in the amateur publication Pine Cones in October 1919. It has been reprinted many times since and is probably still in print today, over a hundred years later.

   In this particular comic, it’s been updated to what was present day at the time (1992), and while it’s told in a somewhat disjointed form, the story is still very much recognizable from the one Lovecraft first created. A university researcher is trying to find ways to read the minds of others, and in what may be a breakthrough, connects with a being somewhere in the cosmos through the mind of crazed killer named Joe Slaader, a denizen of the deep Catskill hills, a man suffering from dementia who likely never been more than five miles from where he was born.

   Slaader is dying, but has a history of visions and delusions, and somehow the researcher has tapped into that. And at least for the short time before Slaader dies, the researcher finds himself “not a stranger in this Elysian realm,” but looking out upon Earth from somewhere near the star Algol. Slaader is dead, but his life of torment on this world is over.

   The story is short, the adaptation is clunky and difficult to follow, but there’s a magic to it that somehow neither the telling nor the sketchy artwork can hide. It may, paradoxically, add to it.

   

   Other Lovecraft stories adapted in this series:

1. “The Lurking Fear.”
2. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.”
3. “The Tomb.”
4. “The Alchemist.”

JEFF VanderMEER “Fixing Hanover.” Short story. First published in Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology, edited by Nick Gevers (Solaris, paperback, 2008). Collected in The Third Bear (Tachyon, softcover, 2010). Reprinted several times, including: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books, softcover, 2009); Year’s Best SF 14, edited by Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell (Eos, softcover, 2009); The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2009 Edition, edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books, softcover, 2010); The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, edited by Sean Wallace (Running Press, softcover, 2012).

   Whew. Look at those credits. I knew this story was good as soon as I read it, but it’s a nice feeling to know that other people have thought it a good one, too. As far as what “steampunk” is, as a particular sub-genre of both science fiction and fantasy, here’s a description taken from Wikipedia, cut down to as short as I can make it. “Steampunk is a retrofuturistic subgenre of science fiction that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery […] Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the Victorian era or the American “Wild West”, where steam power remains in mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. [Stories may include] presentations of such technology as steam cannons, lighter-than-air airships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.”

   I’ve generally found steampunk novels tough going – they seem to focus more on the “technology” than on the people in them – but in shorter form, that’s a lot less so, and Jeff VanderMeer’s story is especially good in both regards. The hero of the tale is a man who has made a home for himself fixing things in a small enclave of survivors of the latest cataclysmic end of civilization, presumably this planet.

   His latest challenge is a strange metal contraption shaped vaguely like a man, filled with wires, bulbs, gears and lots of other unknown parts. Can he put it back together and make it work again? Blake, the former lover of Lady Salt, who is now the close companion of the fixer, insists he do so. But should he? There is a nascent Empire rising again in the distance, but more importantly, perhaps, the romantic tensions in this all-too-human triangle are as important as the right or wrongness of his decision.

   As I said up above, this is a good one.

   

HENRY KUTTNER “Don’t Look Now.” First published in Startling Stories, March 1948. Reprinted many times, including: My Best Science Fiction Story, edited by Oscar J. Friend & Leo Margulies (Merlin Press, hardcover, 1949); The Great Science Fiction Stories: Volume 10, 1948, edited by Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg (DAW, paperback, 1983); and Tales from the Spaceport Bar, edited by George H. Scithers & Darrell Schweitzer (Avon, paperback, 1987). Collected in Two-Handed Engine by Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore (Centipede Press, hardcover, 2005).

   Mos Eisley and the spaceport bar. What a perfect scene. One that thousands of long time science fiction fans had read about and pictured in their minds for years. And there it was, having come to life right before their eyes.

   Bars where spacefarers come to talk, lie and swap yarns. Not all of them human. All kinds and shapes of aliens used Mos Eisley as a stopover point, a place to restock and refuel and catch up on the news. Or in some cases the bar is on Earth, and the conversation is between two men, and the Martians are the beings secretly ruling the world that one of the men is trying to convince the other he can see. Most of the time they are invisible, lurking just out the corner of your eye, but when you can see them, they are easily identified by their third eye. Right in the middle of their foreheads.

   This is a classic story, first published way back in 1948, and if you go looking, over 70 years later, I’m sure you can find a book in print that it’s in, or if not, then in ebook format. In those years after the war, there was a certain uncertainty, if not outright paranoia, about the possibility we were not alone in the universe, that mankind had lost control of things, and in “Don’t Look Now,” Kuttner, in his most humorous mode, capitalizes on it most excellently.

ANNE McCAFFREY “A Proper Santa Claus.” Short story. First published in Demon Kind, edited by Roger Elwood (Avon, paperback, 1973). Collected in Get Off the Unicorn (Del Rey, paperback, 1977). Reprinted in Christmas Stars, edited by David G. Hartwell (Tor, paperback, 1992) and Treasures of Fantasy, edited by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (Harper, softcover, 1997), among others.

   Anne McCaffrey is best known for her many books of SF and fantasy in several long-running series, especially her Pern novels. But she was no slow hand at writing short fiction as well, as this small tale demonstrates full well. Please note that in what follows, I will need to tell you more than you may like to know!

   It begins when a young boy named Jeremy is about three years old. It seems that he has a special talent. Whenever he draws something or creates something out of clay, and if he does in a proper way, it becomes real. If he draws a cookie on a piece of paper and cuts it out, it is dry but very tasty, but when he paints a glass of Coke, it’s flat, because he forgot to draw in the bubbles.

   This remarkable ability stays with him until kindergarten, when at Christmas time he draws Santa Claus bringing him lots of presents. A conflict arises when he can’t do it in a proper way, after his teacher tries to tell him what a proper Christmas is all about, and his special talent is gone forever.

   An obvious fantasy, but I’d like to think that it’s also a sort of a “growing up” tale that applies to everyone. Short but extremely well done.

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