Diary Reviews


HAROLD Q. MASUR – The Legacy Lenders.  Scott Jordan #11. Random House, hardcover, 1967. Bantam, paperback, 1st printing thus, April 1968.

   While representing a friend whose wife had been killed in a traffic accident, lawyer Scott Jordan us involved in another death, a murder which is neatly and carefully tied into the plot as it develops, The driver of the other car had transferred rights in a future inheritance for a fractional value in cash, but not without involving a number of other people in a fraud necessary to obtain the required insurance on his own life, It is the examining doctor’s nurse who becomes too curious and thus jeopardizing her own life.

   A badly written fake-suicide scene detracts for the otherwise tight plotting. The gun mysteriously switched from the right hand to the left, and wrong, hand. And unnecessarily, too, for medical evidence would have immediately indicated murder.

   Masur knows people, though, and New York City, and writes of both extremely well. He also has side comments to provide to lawyers as they are portrayed in TV series: Perry Mason, are you listening? Also, the current arguments of gun vs. auto licensing are reversed here. Masur seems to have a deep-seated grudge against automobiles – not strangely, as a resident New Yorker [city-style].

Rating: ****½

— July 1968.

JOHN D. MacDONALD – The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything. Gold Medal s1259, paperback original, 1962. Reprinted several times. Made-for-TV movie with Robert Hays and Pam Dawber, 1980.

   Kirby Winter’s uncles had died and instead of the millions Kirby expected to inherit, he received only a gold watch as a keepsake. But he finds that there are others, quite unscrupulous, who believe that he must at least have received the secret of his uncle’s success. And in fact he has; the owner of the watch has the ability to stop normal time and t o exist in that stopped world for up to an hour, free to act without fear of exposure or reprisal.

   Such a secret carries with it a tremendous responsibility, and Kirby’s uncle had set up conditions in his will to guarantee that his nephew would have to quickly show that he was worthy. During his adventures, he meets Bonny Lee, and it is his love for the uninhibited singer-dancer that helps change him from the poor ninny he was, afraid of women and life.

   Humorous, wild, sexy, science-fantasy: not to be believed, but wouldn’t it be great? Of course moral philosophy is emphasized: responsibility and other obligations restrict the honest user, but then the watch should also not be used solemnly, but, ah, frivolously or happily. Removing bathing suits, for example, rather than killing folks.

   Which is precisely what happens. Happily. And justice triumphs.

Rating: ****

— July 1968.

ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE – August 1967. Overall rating: ***½.

HUGH PENTECOST “The False Face Murder,” A rejected suitor wearing a mask is killed, and everyone is ready to assume the guilt. Would seem to have Meaning, but it all ends as typical detective story. (4)

THE GORDONS “The Terror Racket.” Short novel. First published in The American Magazine, June 1953, as “Case File — F.B.I.: The Faceless Killer.” An anonymous caller threatens a widow’s daughter with violence unless he is paid $10,000. The FBI is called in for protection, and they work quickly to decide which of the mother’s acquaintances is the extortionist. Marred by sloppy writing: the roles of the characters are introduced without introduction, and with no real purpose; and by bad writing: the rookie agent who has to be explained everything, (3)

EDWARD D, HOCH “The Spy Who Worked for Peace.” Rand of Double-C discovers that a defector’s secretary is actually the spy, One of the better ones in the series. (4)

JOHN LUTZ “Quid Pro Quo.” A computer service arranges murders for a price. (3)

AMY. M. GRAINGERHALL (NORMA SCHIER) “Mr, Copable, Criminologist.” Anagram pastiche of Mr. Campion. Otherwise not bad. (1)

MARGERY ALINGHAM “The Chocolate Dog.” First appeared in The Daily Mail, 07 June 1939, as “The Dog Day,” Not a mystery story, but one of British charm. Mr. Campion. (2)

STEVEN PETERS “George Washington, Detective.” First story. Washington traps a spy just before crossing the Delaware, Interesting, (3)’

STEVEN PETERS “The Backyard Dig.” An amateur archaeologist’s discovery. Obvious with a clever twist, (4)

PATRICIA ANN HOLLISTER “The Woman Who Couldn’t Wear Red.” First story. At least her husband didn’t think so. (1)

JULIAN SYMONS “The Main Chance,” First US printing. A con-man gets caught up in a truly fantastic scheme for murder, (5)

BOB BRISTOW “No Margin for Error.” A woman has a secret way of knowing when her husband is out with other women. (4)

H. R. F. KEATING “The Justice Boy.” Novelette. A pet robin is killed at a British boys’ prep school, and an investigation is begun. The appeal is that of reading details of the background. (3)

— July 1968.

ROSS MACDONALD – The Wycherly Woman. Lew Archer #9. Knopf, hardcover, 1961. Published earlier in condensed form in Cosmopolitan, April 1961, under the title “Take My Daughter Home.” Bantam, paperback, 1963. Reprinted many times since.

   Lew Archer is hired by Homer Wycherly to find his daughter Phoebe, who has been missing from school for two months. The case is not as simple as it seems on the surface, however, Two murders occur along the trail that Archer follows back, searching for both Phoebe and her mother. Illicit love has led to divorce, now murder, and blackmail of Phoebe for her mother’s death, which in neurotic fashion she blames herself for.

   You know, it’s great to read a mystery with a complicated plot that doesn’t also need complicated explanation. Excellent writing, in spite of occasionally corny similes that Macdonald seems to feel are expected of him, with a perceptive view of all levels of life.

    All of the characters are realistically portrayed, and become personalities rather than cardboard. Archer;s own outlook on life is succinctly summed up on page 10: Mr. Wycherly doesn’t trust himself “to do all the right things.” Archer doesn’t “trust anyone else to do them.”

Rating:   *****

— July 1968.

JACK WILLIAMSON – Bright New Universe. Ace G-641, paperback original, 1967. Cover art by John Schoenherr. Collected in Seventy-Five: The Diamond Anniversary of a Science Fiction Pioneer (Hafner Press, hardcover, 2004).

   Idealism is confronted with reality, as Adam Cave meets opposition, then disappointment, as he rejects the material comfort which could be his on Earth. The Moon is the site of Project Lifeline, aimed at sending signals to space, seeking other life in the universe. He does not know contact has been made, with his own father, believed dead, and organized opposition has already been created,

   His conflict is with those who feel change is always destructive, and indeed with white racists who know their values cannot withstand the shock if the alien culture as it overwhelms Earth’s. The symbol of his triumph is a small Negro boy who now has the power of a transgalactic civilization at his fingertips.

   There is a message here, and it is obvious. […] The characters are symbols and little more. It comes as a shock to realize how crude the writing style is, as compared to a craftsman such as [for example] mystery writer Ross Macdonald. There are the ideas, though. Williamson meant for better things, but [this time around], he doesn’t succeed.

— July 1968.

KEITH LAUMER – Spaceman! Serialized in If SF, May-June-July 1967. Published in book form as Galactic Odyssey (Berkley X1447, paperback, September 1967).

   Billy Danger is accidentally kidnapped off Earth by a hunting expedition consisting of two men and a girl, The Lady Raire. He is made a gun-bearer, and when the two hunters are killed, he is made responsible for the girl’s safety. They find cover and means for a signal, but slavers respond and steal her from him, leaving him for dead.

   His hunt for her takes him across the galaxy, with many back-breaking jobs and imprisonments, but also with many friendships, until he reaches her home planet, where she has been returned but under another’s control.

   Rousing action, from beginning to end, descriptive passages of alienness and nightmares, captures and escapes make this a most exciting story in the old tradition. Although a college student, Billy Danger at first seems more a grade-schooler in character, but his experiences mature him soon enough and he begins to fit his name exactly.

Rating: ****½

— July 1968.

IF SCIENCE FICTION, July 1967. Editor: Frederik Pohl. Cover art by Jack Gaughan. Full text and illustrations available at archive.org. Overall rating: ***½

PHILIP JOSE FARMER – The Felled Star. Serial, part 1 of 2. See review later after both parts are available. [The entire two-part serial is a section of Farmer’s novel The Fabulous Riverboat.]

E. A. WALTON “Pelandra’s Husbands. First story. Love proves stronger than possible immortality. (1)

ANDREW J. OFFUTT “Population Implosion.” Novelette. The plague hits only old people, in direct correspondence to the birth rate. Excellent idea suffers [is marred] only by jumps in the story. (5)

C. C. MacAPP “A Ticket to Zenner.” Novelette. A thief leaves behind a ticket, in a SF intrigue story, reminiscent of Eric Ambler, but without the convincing background. (3)

ALAN DIRKSON “Adam’s Eve.” Novelette. A world without humans has only waiting robots, but two find how to obtain services for themselves. (3) [His only published SF story.]

KEITH LAUMER – Spaceman! Serial, part 3 of 3. See review coming up soon. [Book publication as Galactic Odyssey.]

— July 1968.

OTHER WORLDS SCIENCE STORIES. June-July 1951. Editor: Raymond A. Palmer. Cover art: H. W. McCauley. Overall rating: *

RUSSELL BRANCH “Time Flaw.” Novelette. The love betwen Captain Hunter of the S. S. Stella and one of his passengers is interrupted by disaster and application of Einstein’s theories. Poor writing keeps plot from any depths it might have been capable of. (1)

POUL ANDERSON “The Missionaries.” Alien worship of machines is carried to its logical conclusion, cannibalism. (2)

R. BRETNOR “The Fledermaus Report.” Martin Fledermaus, chosen as first human to fly to the moon, discovers that the beauty of one’s wife is relative. Tripe. (0)

ROBERT BLOCH “The Tin You Love to Touch.” Low-grade comedy about the female robot maid that comes between Roscoe Droop and his domineering wife, This is really low. (0)

RAY PALMER “Mr. Yellow Jacket.” Galactic census-takers discover that some humans have the power yo make thoughts real, Included (page 81) is one of the silliest theories of meteors ever. (0)

S. J. BYRNE “Beyond the Darkness.” Novella. Intrigue aboard one of a fleet of FTL ships seeking new worlds for humanity. The passengers are subjected to a memory-erasing device so that the rebellious navigators can return to contest for already inhabited worlds. Nad, our hero, finds the ex-captain still alive; the plan fails, escape, discovery, loss of heroine, villain returns from oblivion, cowardly brother redeems himself. People don’t really talk and act this way, do they? *½

— July 1968.

ROBERT SILVERBERG – Thorns. Ballantine U669, paperback original, 1st printing, August 1967; cover by Robert Foster. Walker, hardcover, 1969. Bantam, paperback, 1983. Nominated in 1968 for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1967.

   A manipulated love affair, between Minner Burris, starman disfigured by aliens, and Lona Kelvin, virgin but mother of one hundred children, Mutual sympathy was the original reason for their attraction. But their obvious differences were bound to lead to the emotional conflict that Duncan Chalk, dealer in public entertainment, could feed on.

   Tries a bit too hard to be literary, and what story there is suffers. Message abounds. People with power tend to make themselves into gods; aliens remake a human body without explanation, doctors take the product of a young girl’s ovaries without regard to her feelings, and of course Chalk, who lives on stolen emotions.

   And thorns? “They stick you.” (page 83). “To be alive … to feel pain – how important that is.” (page 222).

Rating: ****

— July 1968.

PIERS ANTHONY – Chthon. Ballantine U6107; paperback original; 1st printing, 1967. Cover artist unknown. Berkley, paperback, 1975. Ace, paperback, 1987. Nominated in 1968 for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1967.

   Because of his love for the creature known as a minionette, Aton Five is sentenced to imprisonment in the underground caverns of Chthon, from which no escape is known. But the image of his nymph drives Aton to find a way out, no matter the consequences to his fellow inmates.

   He must find the key to his own behavior, buried in his memory, before he can fight his evil birthright and love normally. For the minionette he loves is his mother, for whom inversion of love is natural, but who sacrifices herself to swing the balance in his inner conflict. Chthon is more than a place, It is an intelligence seeking to use Aton to destroy man, but all it has seen before [has been] man’s unsanity.

   A story of love, and of cultural conflict, on many levels. The very structure of the novel demonstrates this, as it is told in flashbacks and flashforward parallel to — and symbolizing — Aton’s adventures in Chthon’s caverns. A highly effective way of presentation, as parts which are obscure [at first reading] will be clarified by continuing on, but the significance [of which] would be decreased if told in the usual chronological fashion.

   Hence the story is more than a tale of love; it is also one which requires time and effort [to reach the depth it offers].

Rating: *****

— June-July 1968.

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