Gideon Marcus, Galactic Journey
Executive Editor, Avram Davidson; Managing Editor, Edward L. Ferman
Gifts of the Gods • short story by Jay Williams ***+
The Last Element • short story by Hugo Correa *
The End of Evan Essant . . . ? • short story by Sylvia Edwards ***
Shards • short story by Brian W. Aldiss ***
The Kit-Katt Club • short story by John Shepley **
To Lift a Ship • short story by Kit Reed *
Garvey’s Ghost • short story by Robert Arthur
Moon Fishers • novelette by Charles Henneberg **
The Test • short story by Theodore L. Thomas **
Three for the Stars • short story by Joseph Dickinson *
Cover • by Emsh
Editorial • by Avram Davidson
Vintage Wine • reprint poem by Doris Pitkin Buck
The Weighting Game • essay by Isaac Asimov
Books • by Alfred Bester
This is the first issue under the editorship of Avram Davidson. He is listed as the ‘Executive Editor’ and, if I recall correctly, was either living abroad or would shortly do so.1 I presume his duties consisted of reading and selecting manuscripts, and writing introductions, while the donkey work fell on the shoulders of Edward Ferman (son of the publisher, Joe Ferman), who also appears on the masthead for the first time.2 Robert P. Mills is now listed as ‘Consulting Editor,’ replacing J. Francis McComas as ‘Advisory Editor.’3
Davidson starts off the issue with an introductory Editorial, which begins with this:
In 1950, when this magazine was still a quarterly, we picked up a copy of it at a newsstand in the Times Square subway station, over towards the BMT. Possibly we were going to see a girl who lived in Brooklyn; in those days all the girls seemed to live in Brooklyn. We had just come back from abroad and were shortly to go abroad again, and consequently missed many of the earlier issues: but no matter: we were hooked. In that same year we made our first submission to this magazine; it was returned with what Ward Moore (at whose suggestion we sent it) called “the gentlest letter of rejection he had ever seen.” Anthony Boucher, then (with J. Francis McComas) co-editor, had a way of turning down a story which was more encouraging to authors than some editors ways of accepting. p. 5
The stories in this issue are selected by Davidson from an inventory purchased by Mills.4 As we shall see, it is a lacklustre collection—I rather suspected this would be the case as Mills had raided the larder for his last few issues (which contain at least half a dozen particularly strong stories).
That said, the issue gets off to a good start with Gifts of the Gods by Jay Williams, a Galactic Federation story that takes an entertainingly cynical view of humanity. When an alien ship lands on Earth their representatives go to the UN. The spokesman explains the rules for joining their organisation, and how they aid and make gifts to those groups that they consider ‘pre-Federable’:
Spokesman held up a small, glittering object between the fingers of his right hand. From it, a metallic voice spoke:
“A group, or unit, of human beings, shall be said to be in a pre-Federable condition when they have successfully reached the following level of sophistication:
“They must have adapted successfully to their environment without drastically changing the ecology of the region so that it becomes unfit for other living beings.
“They must have developed creative arts which reflect their culture and are an integral part of their social organism, the performance of which arts does not rest on economic or political motivation.
“They must not take other life except for direct protection of their species, or the natural requirements of their own survival.
“They must have developed a social order in which no individual goes hungry or shelterless, and in which the physical well-being of one is the responsibility of all.”
The voice ceased, and Spokesman put away his device.
The delegate from the United States broke the stillness. “Well, sir, everything you have said is embodied in the principles by which our great democracy, throughout its history, has attempted to . . .”
He fell silent before the grave, penetrating gaze of the Visitor.
Spokesman said, “We are not speaking of principles, but of practise. Our words are precise and admit of no loose interpretation.”
“I protest!” said the delegate from the Soviet Union. “Civilized beings must admit of principle.”
“We are not civilized,” said Spokesman, placidly.
“But it is not a simple matter to put principles into practise when one is surrounded by hostility,” cried the delegate from Pakistan.
“I did not say it was simple,” Spokesman returned. “Principles are no more than good intentions. The hungry, the wounded, the dead, are not concerned with good intentions.”
The French delegate, who had once visited the prisons in Algeria, cleared his throat several times. The British delegate, too proud to ask whether fox-hunting fell into the third category, shifted uncomfortably in his chair. The delegate from the United States, thinking of the increase in Unemployment figures, tapped his teeth with a pencil. The Soviet delegate, considering state edicts on the nature of Art, buttoned and unbuttoned his jacket uneasily. No one spoke. p. 12-13
The Spokesman subsequently identifies a small tribe of Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert as the only society that meets these conditions. Of course, the UN members rebel and refuse to send for the Bushmen, so the aliens freeze all of the nearby humans in place until they get their way.
The story’s focus then switches to the Bushmen. After the tribe discusses the matter among themselves they insist that all fourteen hundred of them come to the UN to meet the aliens. The story develops as expected (spoiler) when the aliens ask what gifts the Bushmen want from them:
“Master” he said, “we are content to have flown in the sky, to have seen this great werf with its high tower and shining windows and strange people, and to have beheld you and the other gods with our own eyes. Now, all that we want is to go home again.”
Spokesman said, “We can make you richer than all other men. We will teach you how to build scherms like this one you stand in, how to wear splendid clothing, how to cure all your ills, how to fly through the air yourselves and speak to other men at a great distance.”
Tk’we looked over his shoulder at the others for a long time. He shrugged. “As for me,” he said, “I do not want those things. If the Gods will give me some meat, I will not refuse it. Also, some medicines to cure the aches in my bones; that would be very good. But why should I want to fly, or to live in one of these great scherms? What I want is to be left alone.”
Behind him, hundreds of soft voices murmured discreetly: “Yes, yes, that is so. Meat and some medicines. Do not forget tobacco. Perhaps a little tea, that would be nice.”
“I think those are the gifts we expect, Master,” said Tk’we, grinning. “If you gave us all the other things, then for a little while perhaps we would seem like great men. But then the Bantus and the white men would come and quarrel with us, and there would be war, as there was in the old days, when many Bushmen were killed and we were driven into the desert.
“It is this way with me,” he went on. “I was a good hunter, and I loved hunting. Also, I liked to lie with women. You cannot give me those things again. Nor can you give them to the young men, for they already have them. Now, I like to have a full belly. I enjoy seeing the children play about, and I love to see the young people dance. Sometimes, when my heart is heavy or full of longing, I like to sit apart and play on the guashi and sing the songs I have invented. You cannot give me these things, for I already have them.
“What other things are there for men? No one needs more. If he says that he does, he is not yet a man but a child, who, no matter what he has always desires more, and looks from the bag of tsi nuts that he has to the bag someone else has. But we are not all children. Therefore, give us the promised gifts and let us go.” p. 19
The story’s philosophy and politics are, perhaps, naïve and simplistic, but it is smart and amusing entertainment.
There are a couple of other stories of note in the issue. The End of Evan Essant . . . ? by Sylvia Edwards is fantasy about a man who goes to see a psychologist as he fears that his name is also what is happening to him, i.e. he is becoming evanescent. He tells the doctor the story of his life, his job, of an unexpected marriage to a woman who improves his life, and his authorship of a novel called Sol, which he writes under the name Mark Clifton (an SF writer of the time and later Hugo winner). He initially sells the manuscript to a publisher but when they find out he isn’t the ‘real’ Mark Clifton, they change their minds.
The rest of the story (spoiler) details his journey to non-existence.
Shards by Brian W. Aldiss is, for most of its length, an early New Wave entry that reads like an SF version of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake (comparison disclaimer: I only got a few pages into the latter before giving up):
“What comes after us?”
“After us the deluge.”
“How big is the deluge?”
“How deep is the deluge?”
“How deluge is the deluge.”
“Deluge, deluger, delugest.”
“Conjugate and decline.”
“I decline to conjugate,”
“Who was that dinosaur I dinna saw you with last night?”
“That was no knight. That was my dinner.”
“And what comes after the vertebrates?”
“Nothing comes after the vertebrates because we are the highest form of civilization.”
“Name the signs whereby the height of our civilization may be determined.”
“The heights whereby the determination of our sign may be civilized are seven in number. The subjugation of the body. The resurrection of the skyscraper. The perpetuation of the species. The annihilation of the species. The glorification of the nates. The somnivolence of the conscience. The omniverousness of sex. The conclusion of the Hundred Year War. The condensation of milk. The conversation of muts. The confiscation of monks—” p. 52-53
There are several pages of this moderately entertaining wordplay, leavened with more straightforward but still baffling material. It ends up having a standard SFnal explanation (spoiler): two men’s brains have been inserted into fish bodies so they can be sent into the sea to gather information about a hostile alien race that has invaded Earth. As one of the scientists says:
“I would so much like to know, though, the insane sensations passing through those shards of human brain embedded in fish bodies.” p. 56
I’m not sure this piece is entirely successful but it is quite original and, despite myself, I rather enjoyed it.
The rest is a mixed bag. The Last Element by Hugo Correa has a spaceship land on an alien planet that has variable radiation, varicoloured terrain that glows, etc. The crew start exploring and have visions, people disappear, die etc. Nevertheless, the captain persists with his mission to get the deadly Element X—there is a war to be won after all—and it becomes apparent that this substance is part of the reason for the demise of the race that previously inhabited the planet. It has a perplexing last line, and is not really up to F&SF’s standards. I doubt if it would have been published without Ray Bradbury’s recommendation (mentioned in the introduction). I note in passing that Correa is a Chilean writer, and wrote this in English—something that shows in some of the prose.
The Kit-Katt Club by John Shepley consists of two parts. In the first half a boy called Tony looks for his alcoholic mother in a cheap hotel; the second half has him leave the hotel and go to a bar run by talking animals, where he mostly ends up listening to a heavy drinking terrier. Both of these parts are well observed and occasionally entertaining but they don’t amount to anything.
To Lift a Ship by Kit Reed has a woman and a man who are telepathically linked and who use their psi powers to pilot a ship. The woman, Mary Lee, has a thing for the man, Ike, who is an arrogant and obnoxious womaniser. He later steals the ship with Mary Lee, and puts on a display for a rich industrialist.
At the end of the flight the scales have fallen from Mary Lee’s eyes and she realises that Ike is not interested in her. When the industrialist comes on board for a test flight they cannot make it fly. After Ike and the industrialist leave she flies it back herself.
This reads like it was written for the woman’s magazines: the two-dimensional relationship stuff is prominent, and the SFnal aspects are largely ignored. It is not a very good story, but is perhaps notable for its early feminist ‘woman doing it on her own’ ending.
Garvey’s Ghost by Robert Arthur Daft is a silly tall tale. One night a boy goes to visit a man who is haunted by a ghost. He listens to the man tell him that the reason he lives his life at night is because (spoiler) the ghost is an inky black shape that haunts him during the daytime—this is, of course, his shadow.
Moon Fishers by Charles Henneberg (trans. by Damon Knight of Pêcheurs de lune, from La première anthologie de la science-fiction française, ed. by Alain Dorémieux, 1959) has an interesting introduction:
The novels and stories signed “Charles Henneberg” were actually written by Charles Henneberg zu Irmelshausen Wasungen and his wife, Nathalie, in collaboration. Henneberg, bom in Germany in 1899, had an active and varied career. He and his wife met when he was a member of the French Foreign Legion stationed at Homs, Syria; she was a Russian journalist. After their marriage they spent four years in the Arabian desert, and during the war fought together under de Gaulle. He was subsequently appointed Directeur des Medaille’s Militaires. Henneberg died of a heart attack in March, 1959. His widow is carrying on the series of science-fantasy novels they had planned together, signing herself in his honor, “Nathalie Charles-Henneberg.” p. 84
This story starts in the year 2500 with two or three pages of distinctly hand-wavey material about paratime travel and Atlantis. The next section takes us to the Egypt of the Pharaohs, and a blue-skinned Atlantean woman called Neter who is visiting a friend. During their conversation, she discovers a plot by the Ptah to replace the soul of the soon to be crowned pharaoh, Amenophis.
Now in those days, Egypt was throwing off an ancient oppression: the Hyksos invaders were being expelled, the Eighteenth Dynasty was mounting the throne, and the age of gold was about to open. Not that the land was entirely free; dark terror reigned in the desert. The Interplanetarians were landing in these sands. They, were of many kinds. Much later, the Pharaoh Psammetichus III noted: “They fell front the sky like the fruits of a fig-tree that is shaken; they were the color of copper and sulphur, and some had three eyes.
These were paratroops from a neighboring planet. But at the dawn of the Eighteenth Dynasty, others were landing in those manyeyed wheels of which the prophet Ezekiel speaks: they had a lion’s body, wings, and a human face. Their leader was called Ptah. His statue—that of the Sphinx—burdened the plain. p. 87
Hugh, a paratime-traveller from 2500, arrives to this developing situation. This unlikely mix isn’t entirely successful but works better than you might expect. I suspect it will be one of those Marmite stories.
The Test by Theodore L. Thomas is about a young man driving a car with his mother as a passenger. They have a blow-out that makes them cross to the other side of the road where they crash head-on with another car. A young woman dies.
The young man (spoiler) then wakes up and realises that the accident was a simulated part of his driving test. However, as he shows no concern about the experience he has just undergone the examiners tell him he is ill and needs treatment. So far, so routine. Its Dickian ending improves it a little:
But don’t you worry now, Son. They’ll take good care of you, and they’ll fix you up.” He nodded to the two men, and they began to march Robert Proctor out. At the door he spoke, and his voice was so urgent the two men paused. Robert Proctor said, “You can’t really mean this. I’m still dreaming, aren’t I? This is still part of the test, isn’t it?”
The uniformed man said, “How do any of us know?” And they dragged Robert Proctor out the door, knees stiff, feet dragging, his rubber heels sliding along the two grooves worn into the floor. P. 119
With the imminent appearance of driverless cars this one feels dated.
Three for the Stars by Joseph Dickinson starts with a scientist involved in a forthcoming space shot sitting in a bar and getting hammered. The next day he has a breakdown at the launch site and rips a handful of clothing off a female colleague. The launch continues and an ape goes to Mars, returning later with (spoiler) a bottle containing a stupid message (‘No cream today. Leave three quarts milk, and a kiss for me’.)
This is only peripherally SF and seems more like something written for a mainstream magazine, what with its drunken, angst-filled scientist, his Ice Maiden colleague, and the Colonel Blimp-like military. It is a particularly weak finish to the issue.
The Cover for this issue is by Emsh.5 Vintage Wine by Doris Pitkin Buck is a vampire poem and is, I think, an accidental reprint (it first appeared in the July 1961 issue). The Weighting Game by Isaac Asimov is an interesting science article about atomic weights.
Books by Alfred Bester starts with this about The Primal Urge by Brian Aldiss and The Silver Eggheads by Fritz Leiber:
We are appalled this month to be forced to slate two of our favorite authors; men whose work we admire, whose talent we envy, and whose books we always open eagerly, anticipating an exciting adventure in literature. They are Brian Aldiss and Fritz Leiber. p. 113
. . . and ends with this:
[Humor] is meaningless and can never come off unless it stems from the absurdities of human nature. Mr. Aldiss and Mr. Leiber have succeeded in being absurd, but somewhere along the line they lost their grasp on humanity. p. 114
It is a short but acerbic book review column.
There is a one page advert for a magazine called Space World at the beginning of the issue, and the back page is an advertisement for a Mercury Press collection of Dashiell Hammett stories, A Man Named Thin.
An average issue at best.
- Davidson was initially in the USA. This is from Edward L. Ferman’s preface in the facsimile edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1965, ed. by Edward L. Ferman & Martin H. Greenberg, Southern Illinois University Press, 1981:
“Avram edited F&SF from his home in Milford, Pennsylvania and came into New York once weekly, ostensibly for an “editorial conference,” but primarily, I think, to buy kosher meat at a market on Houston Street. Our conferences were mostly agreeable meetings, although my father and I would occasionally object to Avram’s affection for stories that we found obscure or unclear. “It’s not that this story is not clear,” Avram would explain. “It’s just not explicit.” To which we had no good answer.
During the summer of 1963, Avram moved to Mexico, and F&SF became quite possibly the only U.S. magazine to be edited from another country. We had agreed to the move with some reservations, but in fact it proved workable enough, despite some awkward complications. For instance, letter of 5/26/64 from Avram: “Two days ago I got 3 big batches of mss. which the silly Mexico post office had held up for a month—testing each page under ultra-violet rays for tamale weevils, maybe.” Or, letter of 5/22/64: “Hope to mail the batch of mss. including the Ballard this afternoon, but things are at sixes and sevens here; the maid has a) quit, b) been fired, c) is taking care of her sick mother—choose one.”
Each month I would mail a list of stories we had set in type and ask Avram for a phone call giving me the issue contents. He wrote: “These letters asking for telegrams or phone calls present certain difficulties. There is one (count it) one public phone in this whole town—in a candy store. It opens late, closes early, and has a two or three hour siesta.” And so I gradually took over the job of deciding the contents of each issue, with some general guidance from our editorial headquarters in the small Mexican town of Amecameca.
In May 1964 I got married, and Avram and his wife Grania promised to send us a Mexican wedding gift:
4/20/64: “Happy May 24! Grania is out buying you both an iguana.
‘But maybe they don’t like an iguana,’ I said. ‘Nonsense,’ she said briskly. ‘Everyone likes an iguana.’”
5/7/64 (after my query about the necessity for walking the beast): “We are getting an iguana that not only is house-broken but does card tricks.”
5/19/64 (after I wrote asking if it was safe): “The iguana eats raw meat and is perfectly harmless if kept well fed.”
5/26/64: “We are measuring the iguana for a cage. You won’t mind paying the freight, will you.”
6/3/64: “Today when I went to feed the iguana she snapped at me. It must be she thought I had designs on the eggs. The carpintiero is making a strong box with air holes. Please don’t be impatient.”
While the sojourn in Mexico was, as I’ve said, workable, and while it provided me with reams of amusing correspondence (from one of the wittiest and most interesting letter writers in the field; I would love to see a collection of Davidson letters some day), it was not wholly successful for Avram. Late in 1964 he returned to the U.S. and settled in California, where he concluded that he would be better off resigning as editor and returning to full-time writing. p. viii-ix
- From the volume above:
Avram and I both joined F&SF in early 1962. He had been (and still is) one of science fiction’s brilliant short-story writers, and he took over the editorship from Robert Mills. I was four years out of college. I had put in a sleepy year as an assistant editor with a large publisher of textbooks and was fresh from two more eventful years as a financial writer at Dun & Bradstreet. My job at the magazine was to assist Avram and Joe Ferman, my father, who was publisher. I opened the subscription mail, wrote circulation promotion letters, kept the accounting books and prepared the monthly trial balance, read the slush, proofed the galleys and page proofs and dealt with printers and advertisers. In fact, I was assistant publisher, editor, business manager, circulation manager and advertising manager, but the title Managing Editor had an engaging “Front Page” ring to it, and nobody objected when I inserted it after my name on the masthead. p. vii-viii
- I thought that these positions were probably honorary ones, but Ferman notes on p. ix of his preface that, when he took over from Davison in the Fall of 1964, he had help from Ted White and Robert P. Mills.
- From In this issue . . . on p. 6: ‘All the stories in this issue were selected from the treasury handed on to us by Bob Mills.’
- There is a rough for this cover on Pinterest.