C. C. Finlay, F&SF Blog
Christmas Treason • novelette by James White ♥♥♥♥
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLVII • short story by Reginald Bretnor [as by Grendel Briarton] ♥
A Time to Keep • short story by Kate Wilhelm ♥
Interplanetary Sex • short story by Jay Williams
The Deer Park • short story by Maria Russell ♥♥
Please Stand By • short story by Ron Goulart ♥♥
Prelude to a Long Walk • short story by Nils T. Peterson ♥♥
Progress • novelette by Poul Anderson ♥♥♥
Cover • Mel Hunter
The Modern Demonology • science essay by Isaac Asimov
Books • by Alfred Bester
To the Stars • poem by James Spencer
This issue was one of the last few to be edited by Robert P. Mills before Avram Davidson took over in April. It not only has a Xmas cover but a Xmas story too, and a very good one at that.
Christmas Treason by James White is about a secret group of exceptional young children with telepathic and telekinetic powers who attempt to solve the puzzle of how Santa manages to deliver so many presents at the same time:
Richard shook his head. “None of the grown-ups can say how exactly it happens, they just tell us that Santa will come all right, that we’ll get our toys in time and not to worry about it. But we can’t help worrying about it. That’s why we’re having an Investigation to find out what really happens.
“We can’t see how one man, even when he has a sleigh and magic reindeer that fly through the air, can bring everybody their toys all in one night . . .” Richard took a deep breath and got ready to use his new, grown-up words. “Delivering all that stuff during the course of a single night is a logistical impossibility.”
Buster, Mub and Greg looked impressed. Loo thought primly, “Richard is showing off,” and Liam said, “I think he’s got a jet.” p.7
After some more discussion, their leader Richard sends the three boys off looking for large caverns as he thinks there is a chance that this is where they may find Santa’s secret toy factories. The boys have the ability to travel to places that closely match what they can visualise in their minds, and it isn’t long before one of them finds something:
In Liam’s mind was the memory of a vast, echoing corridor so big it looked like a street. It was clean and brightly lit and empty. There was a sort of crane running along the roof with grabs hanging down, a bit like the ones he had seen lifting coal at the docks only these were painted red and yellow, and on both sides of the corridor stood a line of tall, splendid, unmistakable shapes. Rockets.
Rockets, thought Richard excitedly: that was the answer, all right! Rockets were faster than anything, although he didn’t quite see how the toys would be delivered. Still, they would find that out easily now that they knew where the secret cavern was.
“Did you look inside them for toys?” Greg broke in, just ahead of the others asking the same question.
Liam had. Most of the rockets were filled with machinery and the nose had sort of sparkly stuff in it.
All the ones he had looked at were the same and he had grown tired of floating about among the noses of the rockets and gone exploring instead. At the other end of the corridor there was a big notice with funny writing on it. He was standing in front of it when two grown-ups with guns started running at him and yelling nonsense words. He got scared, and left. p.10-11
Matters are interrupted by the children having to return to their various houses in different parts of the world to be present for mealtimes and naps, etc. Meanwhile Richard thinks about a recent visit to a store that had lots of toys in it, and recalls his parents’ conversation as his dad offered to buy his mother a piece of jewellery:
Then Mummy had said, But John, are you sure you can afford it? It’s robbery, sheer robbery! These storekeepers are robbers at Christmas time!
Guards all over the place, Greg’s theory, and storekeepers who were robbers at Christmas time. It was beginning to make sense, but Richard was very worried by the picture that was forming. p.13
Alarmed by the conclusions Richard has reached, the group formulate a plan that will ensure children throughout the world get their Xmas presents!
This is both seasonal and charming, and has all the elements you would want in such a story: it is cleverly plotted, amusing, features cute, precocious children, has an appropriate amount of sentimentality, and (spoiler) an ending that involves world peace. A very good novelette.1
I don’t particularly like Feghoots, and Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLVII by Reginald Bretnor is no different from all the others. All I will add is that readers should contrast and compare this with the previous story for genuine wit.
A Time to Keep by Kate Wilhelm is about a man who has visions when he opens doors: he crosses a bridge in the pouring rain and sees an old man accosted by two youths; he skates with children and gets stuck on the opposite side of the river from them; he is part of a huge mob and discovers he is the one they are pursuing; he is a member of a jury pressured into finding a man guilty.
The man has an epiphany at the end, but how these visions inform the final scene rather escaped me. It is well-written if not ultimately coherent.
Interplanetary Sex by Jay Williams is less a short story than a ‘humorous’ article about female company for pilots on the way to Mars.2 It is full of this kind of thing:
The whole thing could be simplified by having the pilot and his assistant get married before the voyage commences. There are several strong objections to this course of action. If you take a young newlywed couple and lock them in a cramped, metal room full of machinery, probably they will not be likely to notice, for the first couple of months, that it isn’t the Plutocrat-Hilton. Things will be different by the time they reach the asteroids, however. By the six hundredth serving of vitamin capsules and K-rations, the husband will begin talking about Mom’s can-opener, and the wife will begin noticing that he doesn’t bother to press his space-suit any more. By July, they won’t be speaking to each other, and they would still be a considerable distance from their goal. p.41-42
This one is really very poor.
The Deer Park by Maria Russell is, according to ISFDB, the only SF story published story by this writer. It starts with a Minister of Defence for the Terrana Hegemony in a deer park with his companion Ronde. The Minister appears to have the ability to will things into existence via the ‘qopot,’ so when Ronde wants to see a fight between a buck deer and a lion, he obliges. Later when he wakes from a doze and finds his arm numb from Ronde lying on it he flicks her out of existence.
A visiting delegation from a far off planet then appears and matters become a little confusing (and I read it twice). The visitors want a fleet of ships to fight off aliens, and after some discussion the Minister obliges. He then goes on board the ship himself. At this point he becomes aware that his world is virtual and it—the ‘mamiraj’—starts to disintegrate around him.
Puzzling, yes, but its vivid images make it an interesting if not totally successful piece.
Ron Goulart’s Please Stand By is one of his ‘Max Kearny’ stories. Kearny, who side-lines as an occult detective, has a friend called Dan who confides in him that he has been turning into an elephant, but only on national holidays. Max investigates and finds that a girlfriend of Dan’s and an animator called Westerland are involved. This is an entertaining story but a kitchen sink one, with various things lobbed in to keep it on the boil. Some of the individual plot elements (spoiler), such as Dan changing into an elephant, are never satisfactorily resolved (at the end of the story this problem just stops).
In Prelude to a Long Walk, Nils T. Peterson channels his inner Bradbury in this short, efficient and well written tale. Two cities grow and sprawl around the land an old man owns. Peterson makes clear his feelings about this, consumerism and TV. Not SF, not that I was bothered.
Progress by Poul Anderson is the second story in his ‘Maurai’ series, a post-holocaust sequence centred on the political machinations of the nation that has now replaced New Zealand.3
It starts off on a Maurai catamaran, which has supposedly had engine trouble and is now adrift. A Beneghali airship comes to their aid and lowers men who help them to raise their sales and get to port. The three strong Mauri crew, two men and one woman, are there to spy on the Beneghali island as they suspect there is a secret science project running in the mountains.
In port they meet a Coradon (American) called Lorn—who they know is an astrophysicist. Pleased at the prospect of company Lorn insists they stay at his house. During this initial meeting one of the three Maurais, Alisabeta, asks a question that is too direct and gets what seems like a telepathic warning from one of the other crew members: the moment passes.
At dinner that night the talk again turns to politics, in particular the Beneghali population pressures and the Mauri’s policy of non-imperialism with more backward peoples—unless it is necessary, of course, when they send in their psychodynamicists.
Ranu, the leader of the three Maurais, sneaks out that night and soon finds himself hanging underneath an airship headed for the interior.
Generally, this is a well-written adventure:
Darkness closed in, deep and blue. The sea glimmered below; the land lay black, humping up toward stars that one by one trod brilliantly forth. Yellow candlelight spilled from windows where the dinner table was being laid. Bats darted on the fringe of sight. A lizard scuttled in the thatch overhead. From the jungle came sounds of wild pigs grunting, the scream of a startled peacock, numberless insect chirps. Coolness descended layer by layer, scented with jasmine. p.101
Ranu goes on to discover (offstage, which I am not sure was a good idea) what the Beneghali’s have hidden in the mountain and, by use of ‘telepathic’ contact, warns the other two and tells them to leave immediately and raise the alarm. The rest of the story kicks up a gear and is a fast paced affair.
If it had continued in this vein until the very end this would have been, like the first story in the series, a superior and entertaining piece. Unfortunately it rather sabotages itself in the last chapter, which takes place many years later, when Lorn is in N’Zealann and decides to look up the Maurai crew who came to the island.
The first thing that damages the story is the explanation that Alisabeta provides to Lorn (after the latter has managed to track her down) about how they were able to communicate:
Are you telepaths, or what?”
“Goodness, no!” She laughed, more relaxed each minute. “We did have portable radios. Ultraminiaturized sets, surgically implanted, using body heat for power. Hooked directly into the nervous system.
It was rather like telepathy, I’ll admit. I missed the sensation when the sets were removed afterward.” p.125
Radio sets hooked directly into the nervous system? Apart from sounding rather far-fetched, it doesn’t fit in with the technological level of the society portrayed.
Worse is the latter part of this final chapter where Anderson unleashes his inner Heinlein and has Alisabeta perform as a mouthpiece for the Maurai nation’s interference in the affairs of other countries:
“Nevertheless,’’ [Lorn] said sharply, “you do interfere.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “That’s another lesson we’ve gotten from history. The ancients could have saved themselves if they had had the courage—been hard-hearted enough—to act before things snowballed. If the democracies had suppressed every aggressive dictatorship in its infancy; or if they had simply enforced their idea of an armed world government at the time when they had the strength to do so—Well.” She looked down. Her hand left his and went slowly across her abdomen; a redness crept into her cheeks. “No,” she said, “I’m sorry people got hurt, that day at Annaman, hut I’m not sorry about the end result. I always planned to have children, you see.” p.128
I don’t know what is worst about this: the irritatingly simplistic ‘ends justify the means’ rationalisation of the Maurai nation’s ‘benign’ imperialism, or the smugness with which it is stated. That said, it probably didn’t sound as banal in the 1960’s as it does now.
The non-fiction this issue includes Mel Hunter’s previously mentioned Xmas Cover. It is part of a series of covers he did for the magazine featuring this robot.
In The Modern Demonology Isaac Asimov starts his science essay talking about entropy and heat transfer before extending the idea of entropy (meaning in this case an increase in the disorder of a system) to other areas such as writing and evolution. There is more than the whiff of angels dancing on the heads of pins here, and it ends up more like theology essay than a science one.
Books by Alfred Bester covers four items this time around and starts with a rave review for The Glass Bees by Ernst Jünger:
…is a remarkable book, half Grand Guignol, part parable, vaguely science fiction, not at all a novel. It is a stream of metaphilosophical consciousness. It is a reflection on the contrast between XIXth century idealism and XXth century materialism. It is a penetrating revelation of the thinking of a self-destructive man. It is, like all unusual books, wonderfully impossible to categorize. p.84
Bester later has this to say about Arthur C. Clarke after reviewing A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke:
It’s all theoretically interesting, but not quite dramatic enough for the taste of this department, which is why we opened our review with the reference to Mr. Clarke’s English background. He demonstrates the point we’ve often made before; that English authors seem to lack the emotional impact and dramatic drive of their American colleagues. A Heinlein, a Budrys, or a Sturgeon in the same story would not only have interested you; they’d have made you sweat big drops. p.86
There is also a poem, To the Stars, by James Spencer, and a Statement of Circulation showing an average of 56,276 copies sold over the last twelve months. Magazines today only dream of circulations like that. Finally, the classified adverts in the Marketplace are always worth looking at. Two of the bookshops listed are named after animals (Werewolf Bookshop and Aardvarks Fantasy). Come to think about it, are werewolves animals or people? Amongst other items there are handmade Mexican wallets available (this before NAFTA), Nudes of Jean Straker from Soho in London, and “Apache Tears,” Native American good luck stones, supposedly.
Worth getting for the James White story if you don’t have any of the anthologies it appeared in and, maybe, the Poul Anderson novelette.
- This was quite widely reprinted for a Xmas story, making it into two ‘Best of the Year’ anthologies and three Xmas ones as well as others. Its publication history on ISFDB is here.
- Mills also published Heinlein’s “All You Zombies—” the previous year (F&SF, March 1959), which also touches on the theme of unrelieved male sexual tension in space. Reviewed here.
- The first story in the ‘Maurai’ series, The Sky People (F&SF, March 1959), is reviewed here.