Science Fiction & Fantasy


JOHN COLLIER “Evening Primrose.” Short story. First published in 1940. Collected in Presenting Moonshine (Viking Press, 1941) and more famously in Fancies and Goodnights (Doubleday, 1951; Bantam 1953). Reprnted many times. Adapted as both radio (three times on Escape, CBS) and television plays , the latter a musical by Stephen Sondheim (ABC Stage 67, November 1966).

   I read this again last night for the first time since High School and delighted in it on several levels.

   First, Collier’s prose, rich in lines like, “I felt like a wandering thought in the dreaming brain of a chorus girl down on her luck.” and “Their laughter was like the stridulation of the ghosts of grasshoppers.”

   All in service of Collier’s dark whimsy as starving poet Charles Snell takes up residence in a stately old Department Store of Byzantine aspect (“Silks and velvets glimmered like ghosts, a hundred pantie-clad models offered simpers and embraces to the desert air.”) only to find it already haunted by the Living. Or the nearly-living, once-humans like he, who permeated themselves into the store years and ages ago, and gradually lost touch with their own humanity.

   The one exception is Ella, a foundling adopted by the reigning Grande Dame of this society and used as a servant. Still human and in her teens, she has fallen in love with the Night Watchman, much to the chagrin of our poet-narrator. And when discovered, her love raises the venomous ire of the nearly-living, who summon The Dark Men, setting up a conflict that pits our narrator and the Night Watchman against…

   It’s a short tale, perhaps a dozen pages, but Collier packs a whole sub-world into it, reawakens the spirit of those grandiose old emporiums (for those who remember them) and makes it real, even as he sketches out characters who – well, “come alive” doesn’t really fit here, so I’ll just say they become convincingly inhuman under his skillful pen.

   Even better, Collier touches on the alienation common to fantasy readers, evokes it, embraces it and rejects it without wasting a single comma. I remember being profoundly moved as a teenager by Evening Primrose’s Truth. As an adult I was just as moved by its Beauty.

FRITZ LEIBER “Lean Times in Lankhmar.” Published in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Book Four. Epic (Marvel) Comics, 1991. Adaptation & script: Howard Chaykin. Pencils & inks: Mike Mignola & Al Williamson. Also in this same issue: “When the Sea King’s Away.” Note: “Lean Times in Lankhmar” was first published in Fantastic SF, November 1959. Reprinted many times.

   Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are a pair of adventurous rogues living day by day if not moment by moment in the swords and sorcery setting of the city of Lankhmar on the world of Nehwon, just west of the Great Salt Marsh and east of the River Hlal. Fafhrd is a tall powerful barbarian, while the Gray Mouser is a small hotheaded thief extraordinarily good at swordsmanship.

   Their first story, “Two Sought Adventure”, appeared in the pulp magazine Unknown in August 1939, but the story of how they first met was “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” did not appear until the April 1970 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

   They usually team up well, but at the beginning of this story they have split up, perhaps arguing over the spelling of Fafhrd’s name. (I have trouble, too.) Fafhrd becomes an acolyte of Bwadres, the sole priest of Issek of the Jug, while the Gray Mouser goes to work for a local racketeer named Pulg, who offers protection to “priests of all godlets seeking to become gods — on pain of unpleasant, disturbing, and revolting things happening at future services of the defaulting godlet.”

   And of course in the course of their new occupations, the two heroes’ paths are about to cross. Many consider this story to be one of the funniest sword and sorcery stories ever, and you can count me as being one of them.

   I enjoyed the comic book version, and I do recommend it to you. The structure and setting of the stories, as well as the flashing charisma of the heroes themselves, are perfect for adaptation to graphic novel format, but I kept wondering whether I’d have enjoyed it as much if I didn’t already know the story itself ahead of time.

   The art is fine, but there was a day, back into the 1960s, where to get the story told, the captions and word balloons took almost all the space in the pages of the comic books of the day. No more. The art is now supposed to tell a lot more of the story, but it takes a lot of coordination between writer and artist to make it so. It may very well be the best that could have been done, but I don’t think it happened here. There were several times when if I hadn’t know what was supposed to be happening, I’d have had no clue.

   Or maybe I’m an old dog struggling with new tricks.

  DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

#10. JACK CHALKER “Adrift Among the Ghosts.” Short story. First published in the collection Dance Band on the Titanic (Del Rey, paperback original, 1988).

   One of the early ideas of science fiction — or could it possibly be true? — is that all of the signals of every radio or TV show ever aired are still heading out from Earth, and if intercepted they could take the would-be listener, no matter how many light years away, back to the past and all of this planet’s cultural history, a high percentage of which is now considered lost.

   The signals would be awfully weak, of course, and they would need to b amplified. It would also take an alien listener, as it is in this story, years and years to translate, assimilate and sort the worthwhile from the trash. But if that alien listener, perhaps, was a prisoner alone in space, for crimes committed on its own world, with years and years on its hands tentacles, then of course then it could be done.

   There’s only one flaw, and of course I can’t tell you that, for that’s the point of the story. But it’s a flaw worth realizing, and one I think I will remember for quite a while.

   During the 1980s and 90s Jack Chalker as an author will himself be remembered for his many SF and fantasy sagas. all several books long (Dancing Gods, Well of Souls, etc.) than for his short fiction, which in number were not many, but this one is a good one.


Previously from the Wollheim anthology: B. W. CLOUGH “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.”


JOHN CHRISTOPHER – The Little People. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1967. Simon & Schuster, US, hardcover, 1967. Avon V2243, US, paperback, August 1968. Serialized in three parts in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January through March 1967.

   The house lay at the heart of the wilderness. Small creatures moved in the lawns and gardens, fish cruised in the lake. In the house itself, mice came out from holes and wainscots and fed on crumbs, vaguely aware that things were easier, now the cats and the rats had gone. For the rats had gone indeed. They had come to this place a millenium and a half ago, with the first men who settled here. For fifteen centuries, man had waged war on them, and the rats had survived. They had survived the periods of man’s absence, too. Now they were gone, killed not by starvation, or poisons, or traps, but by a new, strange, subtle and deadly weapon, wielded by creatures who still did not know the nature or the extent of their powers; but who were learning. The cats, who had been their hunters, died with them. The mice lived on, undisturbed, because they posed no threat to the new masters.

   In their bedrooms, men and women slept, and dreamt their ordinary dreams. Elsewhere in the house, figures, human in form though not in stature, moved silently and quickly. Sometimes they talked to each other, mouthing a guttural tongue in high liquid voices, but speech was a habit, not a necessity. They had long known what it was to share each other’s thoughts, but now they were aware of other minds, of territories open, and vulnerable. This was not like the rats or the cats had been : they had no sense of danger. More from curiosity and interest than malice, they made their forays, conducted their manipulations.

   Conveniently John Christopher introduces the title characters of his novel, The Little People, fairly late in the action just as the reader and a few of the cast of eight protagonists gathered at a holiday at Castle Kilabeg in Western Ireland on the Kilabeg bog discover the mystery they have uncovered is more sinister than it origins in Nazi pseudo-science. As is the usual way with Christopher, suspense is ratcheting up to a fever pitch, along with terror, as the something awful at the heart of the action works into the light.

   Christopher was one of the leading exponents of a particularly British type of science fiction I think of as British Gothic SF, a genre that begins with H. G. Wells and finds its modern voice in John Wyndham, and which was practiced by writers as diverse as John Creasey, John Blackburn, Christopher Priest, Nigel Kneale, Charles Eric Maine, Christopher Hodder-Williams, Philip McCutchan, L. P. Davies, and at times even John Buchan, Victor Canning, and Geoffrey Household.

   Chief among its attributes are usually a modern often bucolic setting, flawed modern protagonists pitted against something beyond their understanding or ability to combat, and a sense that some things may never be fully explained or understood.

   Christopher (Sam Youd), who also wrote straight suspense fiction (Scent of Poppies, Caves of Night), historical novels (Sarnia), but made his name with No Blade of Grass (aka The Death of Grass), The Possessed, Pendulum, The Long Winter, and The Ragged Edge (Christopher once remarked in an interview about the number of civilizations he had destroyed) and went on to write the classic juvenile Tripods series, falls somewhere between John Wyndham and J. G. Ballard (I’ve seen it suggested Ballard had read Christopher) in voice and ranks high in his ability to generate real suspense and quiet terror while drawing believable human beings thrown into irrational confrontations. His best books usually feature a group of people in isolation placed under incredible tension as in The White Voyage and A Cloud of Silver.

   Here a group of people, a German businessman, son of a Nazi war criminal and his half Jewish wife; a British couple who hate each other and their sexually precocious teen age daughter; the owner of Castle Killabeg, an attractive young woman, who recently inherited it, her London-based solicitor boyfriend and his solicitor pal from Dublin; gather on holiday in sharply drawn portraits replete with flaws and discover there is something going on at the Castle. When one of them sees a perfectly formed human being only a foot tall dressed in green, it seems like an Irish fairy tale come true, but all too soon it becomes clear this is not the wee fairy folk of legend.

   Soon enough they discover these small people are substantially real and make contact. They learn that they are the result of Nazi medical experiments to retard human growth and that they and the Nazi who created them were smuggled into neutral Ireland at the end of the war by the owner’s recently passed uncle.

   Horrible enough, but there is more, especially when the housekeeper who has shown a morbid fear of them is found dead at the bottom of the cellar stairs, and what happened to the rats that inhabit any Irish castle worthy of the name?

   From that point on, the terror ratchets up exponentially as the “little people” play on the fears and weaknesses of the humans in the castle, all building to a night of terror in which humans face their darkest nature and greatest fear manipulated by the little people made monsters by their creator and masters.

   Some of you may recall the Avon paperback edition of this novel with a garish cover that makes it look like Ilsa the SS She-Wolf meets whip and Swastika bearing Leprechauns. Glorious as that piece of pulp art might have been it did ill service to a fine suspense novel that deals with something far more serious than pulp exploitation. The Little People is not only a fine read, it has something to say about what makes us human and what makes monsters into monsters, human and inhuman.

  LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #11. PHYLLIS MACLELLAN “Thus Love Betrays Us.” Short story. First published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1972. Reprinted in The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: 20th Series, edited by Edward L. Ferman (Doubleday, hardcover, 1973).

   I have been remiss. It’s been over a month since I reviewed the previous story in this anthology. At this rate, when I’m done, an event that is still four stories off, neither you not I (and especially I) will have any way to look back and put the book into any kind of overall perspective.

   But I can say this now. I admire Lester del Rey’s willingness to pick stories by authors who were not very well known then and even more so now. Phyllis Maclellan’s SF writing résumé consists of seven short stories and one novel, Turned Loose on Irdra (Doubleday, hardcover, 1970), which seems to escaped the notice of almost everyone.

   But even so, “Thus Love Betrays Us” is a good one, and is well worth being chosen for this Best of the Year anthology. When biologist Alex Barthold is dropped off by an exploratory ship on the planet Deirdre to learn what he can about it as a one man expedition, what he does not know is that the ship will never return. Until superiors realize that something has gone wrong, he will be as alone as he can be.

   This on a planet on which there is no day or night, only an ever present gloom on a place in which the only plant life is various forms of moss. He sends reports out, but replies never come back. He’s all alone on a world that seems to close in on him more and more every day.

   Until, that is, he comes across a strange truly alien being whose life he happens to save. They become friends, he thinks, but aliens are aliens, and friendship may or may not be friendship in the sense that Barthold assumes to be reciprocal. This, in the end, is the point of the story, most literately told. No Planet Stories tale, this.


Previously from the del Rey anthology: C. N. GLOECKNER “Miscount.”

STAR TREK: Harlan Ellison’s THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER – The Original Teleplay #1 . IDW Publishing, first of a five issue mini-series, August 2014; later collected into book form. Based on Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay, adapted by Scott Tipton and David Tipton. Artwork by J. K. Woodward.

   There’s better than even odds that every Star Trek fan reading this already knows the story behind the scenes of what was the final episode of the first season. Ellison’s original version of the teleplay won the annual Writers Guild of America Award for “Best Episodic Drama on Television.” The version that was shown was substantially different from Ellison’s original story in many ways, but it was still a sensation when shown and in fact was later awarded the Hugo Award in 1968 for the “Best Dramatic Presentation.”

   A loud and public falling out between Harlan Ellison and Gene Roddenberry ensued and lasted for many years. Ellison was not a man who took slights — real or perceived — lightly, to put it mildly.

   Unfortunately I have only the first issue of the comic book mini-series. I will either have to track down the other four or buy the complete collected version in either hardcover or paperback. The people at IDW worked closely with Ellison, and I’m impressed with the end result, the little of it that I have in hand.

   The story has to to with a majestic city on an isolated planet on the rim of the galaxy, a place where time and space converge. A portal exists there that can take those brave or desperate enough into Earth’s past. The 1920s, in fact, and in order to undo a change in the timeline, Kirk, Spock and crew must go back and make things right again. This, they discover, is not so easy to do.

   The artwork is far better than average, verging at time to nothing short of spectacular, and it’s no wonder the folks at NBC said, no, we can’t do that on the budget we have. The likenesses of the main characters, while not as consistent as I’d like, are very very close and always recognizable. The people behind the project had a good time working on it, I’m sure, and it shows.

  LOU SAHADI, Editor – An Argosy Special: Science Fiction. One-shot reprint magazine. Popular Publications, 1977.

#4. JOHN W. JAKES “Half Past Fear.” Short story. First appeared in Super Science Stories, August 1951. Otherwise never reprinted.

   Before John Jakes hit it rich with his Kent Family Chronicles, he was generally regarded as an all-around hack, and rightly so. He wrote a couple dozen sci-fi novels, maybe a dozen more mystery and spy novels, of which his PI Johnny Havoc books may be the best remembered today, and even a half dozen “Man from UNCLE” stories for the magazine of the same name in the mid-60s.

   Of his fantasy and science fiction, his Brak the Barbarian pastiches of Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales are collectable now; the rest are safely forgotten. And the same can be said of “Half Past Fear,” his third to be published short story. In it a family of three takes in a strange traveler as a boarder, only to discover that he came from the past and that he is being pursued.

   Time travel tales are almost always fun to read — they make up one of my favorite subgenres in all SF — but this one is clunky and confusing, with one of the lead characters, unable to explain how things turn out, simply shrugs and calls upon the unexplainable “paradoxes of time travel” to bail out both the author and the story, and not at all succeding.

   One might be forgiven in thinking that this story was chosen for Jakes’ name only, to help sell the magazine, but if you take a look at the image at the upper left, you’ll see that none of the authors are mentioned, only the titles of the stories. A strange marketing device, indeed.


Previously from this Lou Sahadi anthology: LEIGH BRACKETT “Child of the Green Light.”

  DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

#9. B. W. CLOUGH “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.” Short story. First appeared in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, June 1988.

   This was Brenda Clough’s first published short story, after four novels, and it’s a good one. Most of her work has been fantasy, but even though it’s told in the style of an rural fantasy, this one’s definitely science fiction.

   It’s about the owner of a comic book store — one who also carries other popular culture memorabilia, as most owners of comic book stores have to do in order to survive — and he’s realizes that he’s found a pot of gold when he begins to get repeat orders, many times over, for the aforementioned memorabilia.

   Not comic books, but X-Men bumper stickers, fuzzy dice, lawn trolls, iron-on decals of Disney characters, commemorative liquor bottles, Deely-Bobbers, and anything at all associated with Elvis, including plush floppy-eared dogs that you could wind up to play … you guessed it.

   Thinking that his new patron– who pays only in cash, brand new twenty-dollar bills — must be a reclusive millionaire, and having never met a reclusive millionaire before — makes the trek out to the wildest part of West Virginia mountain country to pay him a visit.

   What he finds there is the crux of the story, and obviously I dare not tell you. I think I’d react differently than does the teller of this story, but on the other hand, maybe just maybe he’s on to something.


Previously from the Wollheim anthology: FREDERIK POHL “Waiting for the Olympians.”

  LOU SAHADI, Editor – An Argosy Special: Science Fiction. One-shot reprint magazine. Popular Publications, 1977.

#3. LEIGH BRACKETT “Child of the Green Light.” Short story. First published in Super Science Stories<, February 1942; reprinted in the April 1951 issue. Reprinted in Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, edited by Terry Carr (Harper & Row, hardcover, 1978). First collected in Martian Quest: The Early Brackett (Haffner Press, hardcover, 2002).

   There are science fiction stories so vast in scale it is next to impossible for the human mind to comprehend them, and even though this tale takes place within the orbit of Mercury in our own solar system, this is one of them.

   Son is a living creature — a mutation, perhaps — capable of existing in space without protection, the only living being in a junkyard of wrecked ships that his own space craft is part of. Nearby and at the center of this story is the Light, burning green in color, and the Veil, on the other side of which is Aona, a creature such as himself but obviously female.

   Coming to investigate the Light is, for the first time in a place where time and aging have no meaning, is a ship of seven humans and other intelligent aliens. It seems that a Cloud has passed through the solar system, changing the metabolism of all the creatures it touched. Destroying the Light is the only means of survival for billions of people.

   What has happened to Son to make him the being that he is? Is there any way for him to cross through the Veil to become part of the parallel universe where Aona is? And what about the one of the seven who sees Son as someone with powers that, if had them and the Light were destroyed, could rule the solar system?

   Whew! One thing you can say about this story is that has a cosmic Sense of Wonder, the secret ingredient of stories such as this one, and is the absolute epitome of Super Science.


Previously from this Lou Sahadi anthology: CHAD OLIVER “The Land of Lost Content.”

  LOU SAHADI, Editor – An Argosy Special: Science Fiction. One-shot reprint magazine. Popular Publications, 1977.

#2. CHAD OLIVER “The Land of Lost Content.” Short story. First published in Super Science Stories, November 1950. Collected in A Star Above It and Other Stories (NESFA Press, hardcover, 2003).

   Of the many SF writers of his day, Chad Oliver certainly had the credentials for the job. He had a PhD in anthropology from UCLA and was a fixture in that department at the University of Texas for nearly 50 years, including twice being chairman. He didn’t write a lot of science fiction, but as they say, what he did write was choice.

   My favorite of the nine novels he wrote, some of which were westerns, was The Winds of Time (1956), in which a race of aliens who came to Earth thousands of years in past decide to go into suspended animation to wait for a civilized mankind to evolve.

   “The Land of Lost Content” was Oliver’s first published story, and frankly, while certainly quite readable even today, it doesn’t show him at his best. The story line is unfortunately a very familiar one, that of a group of underground survivors of a nuclear and/or germ-based catastrophe on the surface of the Earth deciding generations later to break all of their dying society’s laws and see if they can make it to the land above.

   The last few lines sum it up: “Could they succeed where gods had faltered? He shook his head. Probably, almost certainly they would fail. But they would try. For that was what it meant to be a man.”


Previously from this Lou Sahadi anthology: ROGER DEE “First Life.”

Next Page »