Science Fiction & Fantasy

MICHAEL BISHOP “Allegra’s Hand.” Novelette. First appeared in Asimov’s SF, June 1996. Collected in At the City Limits of Fate (Edgewood Press, hardcover, 1996).

   I called this a science fiction story, and it is that, but it’s far from a space or planets story. A young girl new to her school catches the head counselor there, as well as a host of bullies. It’s not difficult to see why. She wears a glove on her left hand, a long-sleeved one that goes up her arm to almost her elbow.

   Why? What is she hiding? Why won’t she tell anyone? She is clearly intelligent, perhaps more than her years. But taunted one day too far, she punches the boy bullying her in the stomach with the hand in the glove, leaving a huge circular bruise. I won’t tell you her secret, as the mystery is a major factor in the first half of the story, one her counselor (female, and a first person narrator) works to unravel.

   Which she eventually does, gaining Allegra’s trust at last, slowly and carefully. It is quite an affliction, shall we say, that Allegra has to face. Luckily she has her father on her side, and she doesn’t have to face her future alone, not for a while yet.

   It’s in essence a quiet, melancholy story and I think a memorable one. But as Mrs. Hewit tells a colleague, “Beth, I go bump against more hopeless, intractable cases than Allegra’s almost very week. None more unusual, I grant that, but many sadder and a few even harder to envision tuning out acceptably.”

   As for me, I agree. It won’t be easy, but I think Allegra is a survivor.

   Michael Bishop has been writing SF since 1970, and his work has won or has been nominated for any number of awards. Even so, his stories are not flashy, and I don’t believe they’ve ever gained the attention they should have.

WORLDS OF TOMORROW – February, 1967.  Edited by Frederik Pohl. Cover by [Gray] Morrow.  Overall rating: 3½ stars.

SAMUEL R. DELANY “The Star-Pit.” Short novel. The golden are those people psychologically capable of traveling beyond the limits of the galaxy, exploring new worlds, having adventures that ordinary people dream of and hate them for. Vyme, working at ship-repair at the edge of the galaxy, is trapped there. But the golden, exploited for their ability, are trapped, too, in another way. The best treatment of this theme ever written. Characterization is truly tremendous; there are no minor roles in this story. The future of the human race on a believable galactic scale. (5)

KEITH LAUMER “The Planet Wreckers.” Novelette. An Earthman gets caught up in the efforts to stop an alien movie company from destroying the US while filming a galactic effort. Meant to be funny, but not very convincing. (3)

KENNETH BULMER “Station HR972.” No story, but a brutal picture of our highway system if this goes on. (3)

RICHARD C. MEREDITH “The Fifth Columbiad.” Short novel. Twelve descendants of Earth capture an enemy spaceship as part of a revenge lasting over 700 years. Action story, with sex arising in inconsistent ways; not too interesting. (2)

–December 1967

IF SCIENCE FICTION. February 1967. Editor: Frederick Pohl. Cover art: [Paul E.] Wenzel. Overall rating: 3 stars.

LARRY NIVEN “The Soft Weapon.” [Known Space series #14.] Novella. Two humans and a puppeteer have stolen from them a strange weapon from the past. Corresponding to each setting the weapon takes on a new shape and purpose. Much too long [43 pages]; not until the second half does there seem to be any story at all. (2)

   [Collected in Neutron Star (Ballantine, paperback original, 1968), and Playgrounds of the Mind (Tor, 1991).]

BRUCE McALLISTER “Gods of the Dark and Light.” A contrast between religions as settlers invade an isolated planet, and what religions become. (4)

   [Although this story has never been reprinted or collected, Bruce McAllister has written a long list of short fiction, and as of last year was still adding to that list.]

KEITH LAUMER “Forest in the Sky.” [Retief.] Novelette. On a planet where the inhabitants are forced to live in he sky to avoid the ferocity of their children on the ground, Retief again saves the diplomatic staff from the Grocci. Quite funny. (3)

   [First collected in Retief: Ambassador to Space (Doubleday, 1969 / Berkley, 1970.) The long running series of Retief adventures were a big hit back in the day.]

ALGIS BUDRYS “The Iron Thorn.” Serial, part 2 of 4. To be reviewed in its entirety at a later date.

ROBERT RAY “Confession.” A priest in North Australia receives an alien with a message of deep religious significance. Overdone. (2)

   [This was the author’s only published science fiction story.]

RICHARD WILSON “The Evil Ones.” Novelette. A murderer committed to a rest-home redeems himself by aiding aliens to repair their ship and leave Earth. Sentimental at the end, but effective. (4)

   [First collected in The Story Writer and Other Stories (Ramble House, 2011.) Wilson wrote only two novels, but was well known for a long list of short fiction.]

MATHER H. WALKER “The Dangers of Deepspace.” Glamorous space reality isn’t. (3)

   [The second “one shot wonder” in this issue.]

C. C. MacAPP “A Beachhead for Gree.” [Gree series.] Novelette. The battle against the Gree continues, this time on a planet of pacifists. From page 149: “It appears … you are as fanatical as those you fight.” A good point, but the evil of Gree overcomes. (3)

   [Never reprinted or collected. The last of nine stories about the long fought battle against the Gree.]

–December 1967

THEODORE STURGEON. “Agnes, Accent and Access.” Short story. First published in Galaxy SF, October 1973. Reprinted in The Best from Galaxy, Volume II, edited anonymously by Ejler Jakobsson. Collected in Case and the Dreamer, Volume XIII: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (North Atlantic Books, 2010).

   This is the second of three short stories in this issue of Galaxy that I’ve been reading, ignoring the two long serial installments by James White and Arthur C. Clarke that take up a full two-thirds of the magazine. As far as ISFDb knows, the story has appeared in only two other places, which seems strange to me, as it’s a good one.

   When a company who stock in trade is the information retrieval business, it seems strange that they have to hire an outside consultant when problems arrive internally: requests from departments of the firm are being replied to with very incorrect responses. His way of investigating: to sit outside the president’s office ostensibly waiting for an appointment but in reality watching the very efficient secretary, named Agnes, working at her desk throughout the day.

   This story was written in 1973, long before Siri and Alexa came along, but if science fiction could ever have been said to predict the future, and the describe the problems that come along with it, this is a story that fits the bill to perfection. Adding even more to the enjoyment of the tale is the fact that Theodore Sturgeon was a flows along.

   Examples. This one line sentence, a mere throwaway in fact, sums up a fact that you might not of thought of yourself, but once read, you say, “Of course.”

   If the eardrum ever becomes taboo, high fashion will find a way to give you a glimpse of it.

   Or how about this longer passage, describing only the office itself where the consultant is waiting and observing:

   Suave was the word; the room was suave. The lighting was gentle and varied, tasteful and flattering. Sound went where one desired it to go and was swallowed up everywhere, else. There was a sense of pleasant disorientation, for the walls and to a very subtle degree the floor were not perfectly flat and there was no special place or line where wall became ceiling. In a strange way one seemed not to be indoors at all as much as in another country. Most of the light in the room changed color, but only slightly and with the wonderful gradualness of an aurora, for one does not see the change; one must look away and look back again to be able to know it at all. Yet the light was steady and clear where it should be so – around the wide soft benches and their displays of literature (current magazines, “coffeetable” art books and, nowhere in sight but by no means out of reach, discreetly startling M&H promotions), and equally steady and warm near the two mirrors. Clever touch, that, thought Merrihew.

HARLAN ELLISON “Cold Friend.” First published in Galaxy SF, October 1973. Reprinted in The Best from Galaxy, Volume II, edited anonymously by Ejler Jakobsson. Collected in Approaching Oblivion: Road Signs on the Treadmill Toward Tomorrow (Walker, hardcover, 1974).

   A man who has died on cancer wakes up and finds that except for a chunk of land surrounding the hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire, perhaps only three blocks in radius, the rest of the world has disappeared. Electricity is still on, and food is always stocked in the stores. At the edge of his world, things dangle from underneath, cables, water linesand the like.

   He is the only one there, except at first strange barbarians from all eras from Earth’s past, who ride through then vanish over the edge. Until, finally, a young girl from Boston shows up. She is very pale and is wearing only a translucent dress. She is also very cold to the touch. She claims to have been responsible for the situation they are in, but Eugene Harrison (that’s his name), is not so sure.

   There is a little more to the story, but not a lot. (I have glossed over the finer details.) Readers who want solid endings to their reading matter may not like this one, but it’s told in such a way, — as if Eugene Harrison is telling us his story in words an ordinary person would use (or if Harlan Ellison, in proxy, was leaving an audio recording for us to listen to) — you may not mind at all either.

PostScript: You may be able to discern from the cover of Galaxy SF above that this was a special issue, the 23rd Anniversary issue, with quite a few name authors in it. If I’d bought this issue from the newsstand, and I probably did, I might have been disappointed. One chunk of 50 pages is the first part of a serial by James White (“The Dream Millennium”), and another chunk of almost 70 pages is the end of a serial by Arthur C. Clarke (“Rendezvous with Rama”).

   That’s 120 pages of a 180 page magazine. This leaves space for only a one page poem by Ray Bradbury, and three short stories. The other two are by Theodore Sturgeon and Ursula K. LeGuin. If you skip the serial installments, that’s not a lot of reading for 75 cents.

PHILIP K. DICK – Martian Time-Slip. Ballantine U2191, paperback original; 1st printing, 1964. Cover art by Ralph Brillhart. Previously serialized in Worlds of Tomorrow, August/October/December 1963 as “All We Marsmen.” [See Comment #2.] Collected in Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s (The Library of America #183, 2008).

   Mars in the early 21st century is not really an emigrant’s paradise: water and supplies from Earth are severely limited. The colonies barely self-supporting. The suicide of a black marketeer is the focus of events overwhelming a tightly-knit cast of characters, beset by their own problem of existence. “Death .. Sets a radiating process of action and emotion going…” (page 101).

   Neurosis, and schizophrenia in particular, is the main theme, personified by technician Jack Bohlen, who find himself lost in an autistic boy’s time-warped world. Individual characters are developed individually, possible only in the closed world of Mars.

   A great deal could be done in further development; for example, the society of the native Blackmen is barely touched upon. But it would add nothing to the plot, fitted together well.

Rating: ****

–November 1967

ALFRED BESTER “Galatea Galante, the Perfect Popsy.” Novella. First published in Omni, April 1979. Reprinted in The Best of Omni Science Fiction, edited by Ben Bova & Don Myrus (1980) and The Best Science Fiction of the Year #9, edited by Terry Carr (Del Rey/Ballantine, 1980). Collected in Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester (Vintage, 1997).

   The word “biodroid” may be as new to you as it was to me, but it didn’t me take long to figure out what one is, and Dominie Regis Manwright is the number one craftsman in the field of making them, and always to his client’s complete specifications. He’s commissioned in this highly amusing tale to create just that: a young and attractive woman, perfect in every way: intelligent but compliant, perceptive but instantly available; that is to say,  completely perfect in every way.

   But as Manwright explains to his client, such a woman would also be completely boring. What he suggests is a “wild” factor, a random ingredient that would also make her interesting. Which of course, when Galatea comes of age, it does.

   Keep in mind that this story was written when men’s magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse were at their peaks of popularity. This rollicking romp of a story may have a harder time of it being accepted for publication today, based as it is on the emphasis on the male perception of the ideal woman, much less ending up in a “Best of the Year” anthology (and the lead-off story, to boot). Maybe I’m wrong, but if I’m right, we the readers today are the losers for it.

   But it should also be noted that it was Omni (a slick magazine with connections with Penthouse, and generally assumed to be rather sophisticated) that first published it, not Analog or Asimov’s. I never bought the magazine myself, thinking that the fiction in it was always outweighed by the scientific articles in each issue, of which I had much less time for at the time.

MACK REYNOLDS – Amazon Planet. United Planets #5. Serialized in Analog SF in three parts: December 1966 through February 1967. Ace, paperback, 1975.

   United Planets, with its variety of political systems, socioeconomic theories, and religions, is once again the [setting] for a lecture by Reynolds. This time Renny Bronston of Section G is sent to Amazonia to investigate the alleged suppression of the male half of the population. Amazonia is, however, a most enlightened planet, threatened with overthrow by the forces of a renegade G-agent.

   If it weren’t for the obviousness of the lecture, things might happen a little faster. Reynolds has good ideas, though, the most noteworthy being the possible use of time as monetary basis. A clever plot fits together well, except for a feeling of being just a little too forced.

Rating: 3½ stars.

–November 1967

ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION February 1967. Cover by Kelly Freas. Editor: John W. Campbell. Overall rating: 3 stars.

JOE POYER “Pioneer Trip.” The completion of the first manned flight to Mars must be weighed against a man’s life. Interesting problem, but conventional ending. (3)

JACK WODHAMS “There Is a Crooked Man.” Short novel. We are rapidly approaching the point where science and engineering can easily enable the criminal mind to outwit the law, if the particular law does indeed exist. Law enforcement becomes a hilarious problem, as Thorne Smith becomes SF, not fantasy. Not Analog’s usual stuff. (4)

J. B. MITCHEL “The Returning.” Alien takes over experimental US rocket to return home. (2)    [His only published SF story.]

MACK REYNOLDS “Amazon Planet.” Serial, part 3 of 3. Separate report forthcoming.

WINSTON P. SANDERS [POUL ANDERSON] “Elementary Mistake.” Crew sent to establish mattereaster [?] on a distant planet discovers they haven’t the necessary elements available. Too technical to make sense. (1)

–November 1967

LARRY MADDOCK – The Flying Saucer Gambit. Agent of T.E.R.R.A #1. Ace G-605, paperback original, 1966.

   The Temporal Entropy Rescue and Repair Agency sends the team of Hannibal Fortune and Webley to the year 1966 on Earth to stop Empire from using a new weapon capable of driving mankind insane. The trail leads from the plains of Kansas to the mountains of Arizona, where a last-ditch battle is fought in the cave headquarters of Empire.

   The basis of history, as expounded upon on page 56, is not that of individuals, but of social dynamics, determining a certain stability that makes temporal tampering difficult, although not impossible. It is Fortune’s job to maintain current time-lies, relative to the 26th Century, against Empire’s efforts to tyrannize the universe.

   All ends [of the story] are tidy, except for a lingering suspicion that time-travel should make warfare even easier. Or more complicated. The background seems well-researched, but the basic character of Hannibal Fortune does not yet seem settled – James Bond is a prototype, but the Bond of the books, or of the movies?

Rating: **½

–October 1967

      The Agent of T.E.R.R.A. series —

1. The Flying Saucer Gambit (1966)
2. The Golden Goddess Gambit (1967)
3. The Emerald Elephant Gambit (1967)
4. The Time Trap Gambit (1969)

Biblographic Update: Larry Maddock was the pen name of Jack Jardine, who wrote other SF novels and stories as Howard L. Myers. The comments following my earlier review of The Mind Monsters which he wrote under that name has quite a bit of discussion about him.

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