Science Fiction & Fantasy

ELIZABETH BEAR & SARAH MONETTE “Boojum.” Short story. First appeared in Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (Nightshade Books, 2008). Reprinted in three “Best of Year” anthologies edited by Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell; by Gardner Dozois; and by Rich Horton. Also reprinted in Cosmic Corsairs, edited by Hank Davis & Christopher Ruocchio (Baen, 2020).

   Nothing says “space opera” more than pirates in space, and that’s exactly what this story’s about. What’s somewhat unique (though perhaps not entirely) is that the pirates’ ship is a living organism, a boojum, a spacefaring vessel they have named the Lavinia Whateley. She is described as “a vast spiny lionfish to the earth-adapted eye. Her sides were lined with gasbags filled with hydrogen; her vanes and wings furled tight. Her color was a blue-green so dark it seemed a glossy black unless the light struck it; her hide was impregnated with symbiotic algae.”

   What is likely to be even more unique is that when the crew has finished plundering their latest prey, Vinnie finishes it off, hull, engines and all, by, um, eating it. Part of their loot in their latest score are some cylindrical metal containers containing human brains. Captain Song laughs it off, but Black Alice Bradley, a junior grade engineer, is not so sure about it. She is right.

   The cylinders were a shipment intended for the Mi-Go, and they want what they paid for. The Mi-Go come “from the outer rim of the Solar System, the black cold hurtling rocks of the Öpik-Oort Cloud. Like the Boojums, they could swim between the stars.” Black Alice likens them to “the pseudoroaches of Venus … with too many legs, and horrible stiff wings.”

   Black Alice likes living in Vinnie, and hopes someday Vinnie will respond in kind. Luckily she is on the outside of the ship on a repair mission when the Mi-Go show up … but you will have to read anything more than this on your own. This is as far as I go.

   I think that Black Alice, who is the primary protagonist in this one, could be played in a TV show based on it by the young lady who stars in Poker Face, which I reviewed on this blog a while back. She’s a most sympathetic figure, in a definitely non-conformist way.

   Other than the action that’s packed into this one, well, I assume you all recognized the Lewis Carroll reference. But what about the Livinia Whately (from The Dunwich Horror) and the Mi-Go (aka the Fungi from Yuggoth)? This gives the tale a whole new dimension, most certainly so.

ERNEST HILL – Pity About Earth. Ace Double H-566; 1st printing, 1968. Published back to back with Space Chantey, by R. A. Lafferty, reviewed here. Cover art by Kelly Freas.

   In a future more than 30,000 years from now, man has lost his place in the universe, to the machines that have taken away even his humanity. The Publisher controls all forms of communication: TV, tapes, and papers that sell only advertising space.

   Archexecutive Shale represents mankind’s loss of feeling and does not know what it means to care. The hybrid half-ape Marylin he befriends is more human than he. The scientific laboratory’s experiments on living humans are something worse than black comedy. Is this any way to run a universe?

   Marylin takes the role of Publisher and initiates the slow process of restoring to man the illusion he controls [his existence]. Not very subtle, but tending to be both fascinating and dull.

Rating: ***½

— May 1968.


Bibliographic Update: Ernest Hill was a British SF writer whose other two novels were published only in the UK: The G. C. Radiation (1971) and The Quark Invasion (1978). Of several dozen short stories, most if not all also appear to have been published only in the UK, many for New Worlds SF.

R. A. LAFFERTY – Space Chantey. Ace Double H-56, paperback original; 1st printing, 1968. Published back-to-back with Pity About Earth by Ernest Hill (to be reviewed soon). Cover art by Vaughn Bodé.

   Captain Roadstrun and his crew decide not to return ti Earth immediately after the war ends. Thus begins a wild, woolly and sometimes wonderful parody of the Odyssey. All the important episodes are evident, though coming out strangely different through Lafferty’s eyes and brain.

   The first and last chapters are the funniest, but the entire book is written to fit my idea of the Theatre of the Absurd. Would the story have been better if Lafferty hadn’t written himself (and the crewman) into situations where no escape was possible, but somehow they did, or is this the stuff of tall tales? Note: the cover painting and the interior illustrations by Bodé are excellent.

Rating: ***½

— May 1968.

GALAXY SF – June 1967. Editor: Frederik Pohl. Cover artist: Gray Morrow. Overall rating: ***

POUL ANDERSON – To Outlive Eternity. Serial; part 1 of 2. See review following the July 1967 issue.       [NOTE: Expanded in 1970 and published as the novel Tau Zero.]

GARY WRIGHT “Mirror of Ice.” More a sports story than SF, but an exciting account of a new form of bobsledding. (4)

R. A. LAFFERTY “Polity and Customs of the Camiroi.” Further investigation of politics, religion, and life on Camiroi. (3)       [NOTE: This follows the story “Primary Education of the Camiroi” in the December 1966 issue.]

ROGER ZELAZNY “The Man Who Loved the Faioli.” The gravekeeper of the universe meets a comforter of those who are about to die. Wish I understood. (3)        [NOTE: This story has been collected and anthologized many times.]

C. C. MACAPP “Spare That Tree.” Novelette. A detective tries to regain a stolen tree by disguising himself as a tree himself. Goes from bad to worse. (1)

JIM HARMON “Howling Day.” The advance publicity releases for an invasion of Earth are mistaken for scripts. (2)

LARRY NIVEN “The Adults.” Novella. An alien in search for a lost colony brings Earth the roots and seeds for the tree-of-life, but the discovery is no longer needed or wanted by mankind. The alien’s culture is brought out piecewise and sympathetically, and its death, while necessary, is also regrettable. However, the story is clumsily written, and even worse, poorly edited. Much too long [at 70 pages]; the ending is best. ***        [NOTE: This story was expanded in 1973 and published as the novel The Protectors.]

CHARLES V. DeVET “Alien’s Bequest.” An alien invader was sent with the best wishes of another intelligent race. (3)

— April-May 1968.

IF SCIENCE FICTION – June 1967. Editor: Frederik Pohl. Cover art by Paul Wenzel. Overall rating: ***

ANDRE NORTON “Wizard’s World.” Novelette. While being hunted down as as Esper on Earth, Craike somehow crosses over to another world, one where the power is accepted and used. His adventures put him on the side of the young witch Takya, and together they defeat the Black Hoods. The wandering plot line and indiscriminate magic does not enthuse. (3)

FRED SABERHAGEN “Berserker’s Fury.” Knowledge of agriculture helps captives take over a ship controlled by berserkers. (3)

HOWARD L. MORRIS “All True Believers.” Novelette. A historical take of a parallel “Briden.” Too bad the reader isn’t let in on the story. A waste. (0)

JACK B. LAWSON “The Castaways.” Prospective colonists from Earth may not really be prepared for difficulties. (3)

KEITH LAUMER “Spaceman!” Serial, part 2 of 3. A review will follow that of the July 1967 issue.

STAN ELLIOTT “Family Loyalty.” First story. Colonists for the stars are not always on the best of terms with relatives left behind. (3)

SAMUEL R. DELANY “Driftglass.” Novelette. An amphiman scarred for life meets a youngster about to attempt the same job. Moving but not involving. [Nominated for a Nebula for Best Short story of 1968.] (4)

— April 1968.

R. A. LAFFERTY – Past Master. Ace H-54. [Ace SF Special, series one.] Paperback original; 1st printing, 1968. Cover by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon. Reprinted by The Library of America (trade paperback, 2019). Also included in American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s (Library of America, hardcover, 2019). Nominated for a Nebula as Best Novel, 1969, and also a finalist for a Hugo as Best Novel, 1969.

   The world of Astrobe was constructed as the realization of Utopia; the people lived in wealth and perfection, yet it was decaying. Rejection of the comfort of the cities led to the settlement of Cathead and the Barrio, huge sores on the planet, where men lived in poverty, disease, and misery.

   The mystery prompts the leaders of the planet to send for Thomas More, the Past Master, to act as world president, to solve the crisis.

   Thomas More was chosen because of his one moment of honesty, but he is the same Thomas Moe who wrote of the original Utopia. A thesis could be written analyzing the parallels, the the Astrobe dream, which one wonders might be confused with the American Dream, is dying with the loss of individuality, with Finalized Humanity, which may mean perfection, or which may mean termination. Life must have challenge and suffering, or mankind cannot be distinguished from the Programmed People.

   Tremendous: Lafferty has his goals set high.

Rating: *****

— April 1968.


CONNIE WILLIS “The Sidon in the Mirror.” Novelette. First published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, April 1983. Reprinted in Isaac Asimov’s Space of Her Own, edited by Shawna McCarthy (Davis, digest softcover, 1983). Also reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois, and The Best Science Fiction of the Year #13, edited by Terry Carr. First collected in Fire Watch (Bluejay Books, hardcover, 1985). Nominated for both Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novelette of 1983.

   Some novelettes by some SF writers are nothing but fluff and padding. On the other hand, there are novelettes by other SF writers that are dense enough to have enough story content to fill two full novels and maybe more. “The Sidon in the Mirror” is one of the latter.

   Consider then the protagonist, a pianobar player with two eight-fingered hands who is also the “mirror” of the title, a man who can absorb the characteristics of others – not physically – but their thoughts and inner beings. Sidon is the third largest city in Lebanon, but that may (or may not) be important. In the story, a sidon is an animal having a ferocious unpredictable temper. It cannot be tamed; if you try, it may seem as though you are succeeding, but turning your back on it is not a thought worth considering.

   A sidon is also (in the story) what the miners on the all-but-dead star called Paylay (after the Hawaiian volcano Pele?) call their taps into the similarly dangerous gas-mines through the crust and into the core below. The man (mirror), named Ruby by the proprietor of the bar slash brothel, is there (perhaps) on a mission of revenge. It is not clear, but a blind girl named Pearl whom he befriends is somehow the crux of the story.

   The crust is thick enough that one can walk on Paylay, but if one stands still long enough, the bottoms of you feet will suffer severe blisters.

   So, there you are. Just a hint of who and what this story is about, told in something like Gothic overtones. And at the moment you probably know as much how it all ends as I do, and I have the advantage that I’ve actually read the story. I’ll take that back. I’ve absorbed the story rather than simply read it, and so I’m wrong. I do know more than you do. Until you’ve read it yourself, that is, and I think you should. This is a good one, a story told well beyond the capabilities or visual imagery of a Stanton A. Coblentz and maybe even a Stanley G. Weinbaum.

   Way beyond. Like night and day.

ANALOG SF – June 1967. Editor: John W. Campbell. Cover artist: by John Schoenherr. Overall rating: ** ½.

MACK REYNOLDS “Computer War.” Serial, part 1 of 2. See report following that for the July 1967 issue.

LLOYD BIGGLE, JR. “The Double-Edged Rope.” Iron Curtain censorship can “protect” the populace or keep important news from coming out. (2)

JOSEPH P. MARTINO “Security Measure.” A spy inside the USSR finds it necessary that US security measures be declassified to protect Russian missile sites from the underground. Interesting, but not science fiction. (3)

LAWRENCE A. PERKINS “Project Lion.” Analogous to Analog editorials: scientists who don’t know the rules make the greatest discoveries. (1)

CHRISTOPHER ANVIL “The Dukes of Desire.” Novelette in Anvil’s ‘Federation of Humanity’ series. Sequel to”Strangers in Paradise” in the October 1967 issue, would not seem to stand well by itself. Roberts and his crew return to that planet with the want-generator to help correct the damage they had done there. They must have a feeling of power along with their altruistic motives, but they manage to get the planet’s population working together again. Fun, if the previous story has been read. ***

— April 1968.

IAN WATSON “Slow Birds.” Novelette. First published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1983. Reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois, and The Best Science Fiction of the Year #13, edited by Terry Carr. Lead story in the collection Slow Birds and Other Stories (Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1985). Nominated for both Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novelette of 1983.

   Before starting this review in earnest, a description of the Slow Birds of the title is probably a good idea. The setting isn’t stated, but it appears to a rather cut-off area of perhaps a future United States, but if so, an appreciably altered one. The slow birds are a hazard the small population has learned to live with. They are not alive, far from it. They have tubular metal bodies, rounded in front and tapering to a point in back, about the length of a man and the girth of a horse with small wings used for stabilizing, not for propulsion.

   They appear and disappear at random and fly through the air at a constant speed of three feet per minute at the height of a man’s shoulders. Objects they can push their way through, they do. If they can’t, they bank around them. Graffiti on them identifies them, one from another. Eventually one of two things happen. They vanish on their own, or they explode, leaving a circle of flat glass having a radius of two and half miles on the ground below.

   One way to describe how well the inhabitants of five villages which lie close to each other have adapted is to tell you about the competition has developed between them on Mayday every year: a windsail/skating race on a circle of glass next to one of the villages. Jason Babbidge, the story’s primary protagonist has hopes of prevailing against last year’s winner, but as told in some detail, he fails.

   It’s the detail that matters, not necessarily that he fails. Later the same day, Jason’s younger brother climbs onto one of the slow birds, determined to learn, once and for all, where they go when they vanish, only to appear again later. Does he survive the trip? It takes a lifetime for him to return again, with finally an answer.

   When I started this review I was going to tell you what he learned, but now I have decided not to. You may have some idea what the slow birds and why they do what they do, and I did as well. What I did not expect to happen is to have the story turned inside out in such a cosmic mind-blowing fashion, from the scale of a small annual semi-friendly competition to what I will tell you is the exact opposite.

   If ever after I finished a science fiction story by saying to myself “Wow,” this one was it.

   Five stars.

JOHN BRUNNER – Born Under Mars. Ace G-664, paperback original, 1st printing, [October] 1967. Cover art by John Schoenherr. Reprinted several times. Serialized previously in two parts in Amazing Stories, December 1966–February 1967.

   Ray Mallin is a Martian, and a space pilot whose last voyage brought him to the attention of three factions. After the colonization of Mars, the stars [?] were settled by two spheres of influence: the Bears in the north, the Centaurs in the south. The third group consists of Earthmen and Martians interested in improving the genetic structure of all mankind.

   A stolen baby is the key, and [the way Martian society has developed] provides the means of getting him back again.

   The science is that of sociology, The separate distinct cultures did not form by accident. But because certain traits are dominant in a society, [it should not be assumed that] all members of that society have that same trait.

   The story itself is dreary, reflecting the dreariness of a stagnant Martian culture. Or is sociology itself not particularly interesting? A standard plot with a good point of view.

Rating: ***½

— April 1968.

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