John Loyd, There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch
Editors, Anthony Boucher & J. Francis McComas; Managing Editor, Robert P. Mills
Love • short story by Richard Wilson ♥
The Causes • short story by Margaret St. Clair [as by Idris Seabright] ♥♥♥
The Desrick on Yandro • short story by Manly Wade Wellman ♥♥♥
The Moon Maiden • reprint short story by Hannibal Coons ♥
The Brothers • short story by Clifton Dance ♥♥♥
Finale • reprint short story by Reginald Bretnor ♥♥♥
The Beach Thing • short story by Ralph Robin ♥♥♥
Dragon on Somerset Street • reprint short story by Elmer Roessner ♥
Underground Movement • short story by Kris Neville ♥♥♥
Artists at Work • short story by Harold Lynch, Jr. ♥♥♥
The Call of Wings • reprint short story by Agatha Christie ♥♥
The Business, As Usual • short story by Mack Reynolds ♥
Lambikin • short story by Sam Merwin, Jr. ♥♥
Love • cover by Emsh
Recommended Reading • essay by The Editors
The Big Nasturtiums • reprint poem by Robert Beverly Hale
This issue doesn’t have any stand out stories but it does have several that fall into the ‘good’ category. The first of this group is The Causes by Margaret St. Clair, which is a story that manages to outdo L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt’s ‘Gavagan’s Bar’ series (although that’s a pretty low bar for the most part). It starts with a man called George in a bar talking to the regulars: the conversation is about the dangerous state of the world. A number of his co-drinkers provide, in turn, alternative theories as to why this is currently the case. First he is told that all the Gods, bar Athena and Ares, have permanently moved to New Zealand, leaving this unhealthy pairing of science and war behind. The second tall tale is told by a man who produces a strange looking horn, and he tells George about the Last Trump. The third story is about a lama in Tibet who desires one of the local girls, and the vagaries of reincarnation. There is one final episode that more directly involves George.
This doesn’t really amount to anything more than a collection of four tall tales, but it is a pleasant enough piece nonetheless.
The Desrick on Yandro by Manly Wade Wellman is another ‘Silver John’ (or ‘John the Balladeer’) story. It is an atmospheric piece about a rich, arrogant man who hears John singing about Yandro, a faraway hill. He tells John that Yandro is his surname, and asks about the song.
Once he finds out it refers to a real place, John is commandeered by Yandro and whisked away in a plane. After they land the pair immediately drive to the area and start climbing the hill.
Half-way up they come upon a rough cabin, and meet an old woman who offers to let the pair spend the night on her porch. Over a meal she tells Yandro how his grandfather was involved with the witch at the top of the hill, and how he snuck away with gold. She also tells Yandro other things:
“John says they have bears and wildcats up here.” He expected her to say I was stretching it.
“Oh, there’s other creatures, too. Scarce animals, like the Toller.”
“The Toller?” he said.
“It’s the hugest flying thing there is, I guess,” said Miss Tully. “Its voice tolls like a bell, to tell other creatures their feed’s near. And there’s the Flat. It lies level with the ground, and not much higher. It can wrap you like a blanket.” She lighted the pipe. “And the Bammat. Big, the Bammat is.”
“The Behemoth, you mean,” he suggested.
“No, the Behemoth’s in the Bible. The Bammat’s something hairy-like, with big ears and a long wiggly nose and twisty white teeth sticking out of its mouth—”
“Oh!” And Mr. Yandro trumpeted his laughter. “You’ve got some story about the Mammoth. Why, they’ve been extinct—dead and forgotten—for thousands of years.”
“Not for so long, I’ve heard tell,” she said, puffing.
“Anyway,” he went on arguing, “the Mammoth—the Bammat, as you call it—is of the elephant family. How would anything like that get up in the mountains?”
“Maybe folks hunted it there,” said Miss Tully, “and maybe it stays there so folks will think it’s dead and gone a thousand years. And there’s the Behinder.”
“And what,” said Mr. Yandro, “might the Behinder look like?”
“Can’t rightly say, Mr. Yandro. For it’s always behind the man or woman it wants to grab. And there’s the Skim—it kites through the air—and the Culverin, that can shoot pebbles with its mouth.”
“And you believe all that?” sneered Mr. Yandro, the way he always sneered at everything, everywhere. “Why else should I tell it?” she replied. p. 23-24
In the morning the men continue up the hill. . . .
The Brothers by Clifton Dance (the introduction mentions he is a doctor by profession) is a promising first story about a ghoul who ends up in a locked psychiatric ward. There he starts to decline, regardless of what they try to feed him, while they deal with what they think is an unusual form of madness. Then, one of the nearby patients dies from a gangrenous leg. . . .
This is a gripping piece that is given an edge by some clinical but visceral medical information:
Presiding at the special meeting was Dr. Heinrich Fuchs, chief of the psychiatric service, a wise and learned man. He’d seen and heard a great many things and what he hadn’t seen or heard himself, he’d read about.
But, he had said, never before had he known of a thing like this happening in a hospital. In cemeteries, yes, but never in a hospital.
Dr. Mayer, the pathologist, who always personally checked every cadaver in the hospital, was finishing his report. “I would say the marks were those of human teeth. An area 12 centimeters by 9 centimeters on the anterior aspect of the thigh was denuded of skin and the underlying portions of the rectus femoris, vastus intermedius and sartorius muscles were apparently devoured, exposing about five centimeters of femur. Tentative bites appear to have been made on the neck, chest and upper extremities. Through the jugular vein, apparently, most of the blood was drained off.”
The abundant use of “apparently” was characteristic of Mayer’s professionally conservative attitude, but his opinion as to the physical factors involved settled the matter, for he had examined more bodies than all the other men put together. Numerically, his autopsy record was unrivaled in the world. He put down the notes he had been referring to and looked quizzically at the assemblage. “Is it not strange that so many seemingly inexplicable happenings occur on the psychiatric wards?” He paused for a moment: “Perhaps where science ends, the mysterious begins.” p. 52-53
The other element in play throughout the story is that the ghoul can telepathically sense another of his kind working in the hospital, but can’t identify who it is. This story arc has an ending that is a little disappointing (spoiler)—the other ghoul identifies himself but rather than setting up the patient with a life in the human world he is helped to escape and told to go back to his cemetery.
My reaction to the next two stories was rather atypical in that they were both pieces where I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on but enjoyed anyway. Both reminded me somewhat of the kind of thing you’d sometimes found in the Orbit anthologies of the late-sixties or early seventies. Finale by Reginald Bretnor (Pacific Spectator, 1949) is a striking piece that describes a situation where time has fractured and a small group of people are making their way across an ashen landscape:
Behind them walked the man in uniform, with the counter which had ceased to click, choked by the radiation of the yellow fog. Behind them walked the man in leather, with sword and casque, whom they had first seen standing guard at a stone sally port behind which neither castle nor courtyard lay. Then came a woman in a fur coat, crying silently, and a fat old man whose burned skin hung from his hands like a pair of moist, gray gloves. The naked brown girl lagged behind, for she could not quite believe that her child was dead. Sometimes, she stopped, and opened the rabbit-skin apron in which she had it wrapped, and tried to shake it into life. p. 58
They pause briefly at a river until time is destroyed there too. In the final scene they make it to a huge plain where (I think) the rest of humanity has assembled for a rapture-like event.
The Beach Thing by Ralph Robin is about George, who jilts two women at the start of the story and then departs for a month’s holiday to a hotel on the coast. Apart from George there are another four guests at the hotel:
There was Sibyl McLeod who said she was psychic and was.
There was Mr. Baker who said he was wealthy and wasn’t.
And there was a couple named Weatherby.
There was also the owner of the hotel, Edgar Downie, a little man with a brown-and-white cat.
George was quickly absorbed into the social life, which consisted of eating three meals a day at separate tables in the hotel dining room and talking in the lobby and on the porch. His other pastimes were solitary: sleeping, shaving, cleaning his teeth, taking baths, reading, and walking on the beach. He did not overeat, overexercise, or underexercise. George was a young man who wanted very much to live to be an old man.
Obviously George needed no one to look after him. He realized now that he had gone too far in letting the girls think otherwise, though the pretense was useful for a healthful sex life.
A disadvantage of his hiding place was the lack of someone to have a healthful sex life with. Sibyl McLeod was forty-five and skinny. Mrs. Weatherby was young enough and rather pretty—but George believed that sex life with married women was unhealthful. He made the best of things, especially since he may have overindulged lately. A rest would be good for him. p. 62-63
Sybil later asks if there is a poltergeist in the hotel, and the owner says no. One of the other guests starts relating an anecdote, during which the owner’s cat returns after having been out on the beach. Something has upset it. Sybil goes out and later returns:
Sibyl McLeod came back. Where her face was not red from the cold beach wind, it was very pale. “I was right,” she said. “There is something on that beach.”
She let Baker help her into a chair. She blew her nose efficiently in a sheet of kleenex; then delicately touched her lips with a filmy handkerchief.
“It was horrible.”
“What was it, Miss McLeod?” George asked.
“It was love.”
“Why, that doesn’t sound so horrible, Miss Sibyl,” Baker said, laughing heh-heh, a good-humoured fat man.
“You needn’t laugh heh-heh,” said Sibyl McLeod. “It was horrible the way the word really means. It filled me with horror. It was fearful. It filled me with fear.” She rubbed and twisted her pearl choker. The necklace broke, and the pearl beads dropped and rolled. Mr. Weatherby began to pick them up.
Mrs. Weatherby was puzzled. “But love isn’t horrible or fearful,” she said. “It’s sweet.”
“This love was sweet. Sweet and thick like honey. And I felt like a fly being buried deeper and deeper in the honey till it dies.”
“You’re still with us, praised be the Lord,” Baker said.
“Amen,” George said.
“It wasn’t looking for me. It expectorated me.” Sibyl McLeod began suddenly to cry. George, who hated crying women, was annoyed. He decided she was acting. p. 65-66
One of the guests decides to leave; George, meanwhile, goes outside. The final scene has Sybil hypnotising Mrs Weatherby into a trance, and we get a hint as to what is happening to George.
This is a strange, enigmatic story—presumably an elliptical look at George’s inability to commit emotionally, but how he is consumed by love regardless. Whatever, it is one of those surreal stories that has a dreamlike logic and inevitability of its own.
Underground Movement by Kris Neville is a dark and moody story about an FBI telepath who is investigating a wave of mutant births around the world.3 There is a striking passage that describes his physical appearance:
Howard Wilson glanced at the mirror and saw the ridiculous bump on his forehead, round and blue, like a newly discolored bruise. It was the emblem of a telepath, and it grew, cancerous, from the ‘twentieth’ year of his life it would destroy him, eating inward to his mind and shooting malignant cells into his blood for impartial distribution to lungs and stomach and bones, before he was forty. His mouth remained emotionless, as he tried to imagine the bump away, and to recall his clear adolescent forehead in the days before he matured into hearing thoughts he did not want to hear. The mirror image peered back at him, nature’s mistake, a false evolutionary start, unproductive. p. 75
Throughout the investigation he experiences odd pains in his head. He also has feelings of unease which intensify and, after a meeting he has with another telepath who hands him a disturbing mutant autopsy report, these are exacerbated further.
The final reveal (spoiler) is his chilling discovery of a worldwide network of mutants who are supposedly dead and buried but are really resting and growing. It sounds like a ridiculous ending, but after the constant feeling of unease set up throughout the story it may give you, as it did to me, a shiver.
Artists at Work by Harold Lynch, Jr. is about a man and his friend who go to a watch repair shop. There, after some initial chit-chat about classical music with the German proprietor, one of the young men spins a tall tale about a composer who writes a symphony that involves the musical participation of several swarms of bees.
This is a minor but enjoyable tall tale, and it is improved by an ending that demonstrates it may not be so tall after all.
The also-rans lead off with the first story in the issue, Love by Richard Wilson. This is about a blind young woman called Ellen, who is in love with a Martian man called Jac. Her father forbids the relationship:
He’d stormed up and down the living room of their house at the edge of the spaceport. He’d talked about position and family and biological impossibility. He’d invoked the memory of her dead mother and reminded her of the things he had sacrificed to give her the education he’d never had: the special schools and the tutoring. He said that if she could see this Martian—this Jac person—she’d understand his point of view and thank him for his efforts to spare her the anguish she would experience as a girl who had crossed the planet line. He didn’t stop till he had brought tears to the blind eyes of his daughter. p. 3
The next day Ellen slips out of the house with her dog and she goes to visit her lover. They discuss their differences, their relationship, etc., etc.
They went arm-in-arm across the park to the meadows beyond. Pug was unleashed now and frisked about them, his bark echoing flatly in the Martian air.
“This is a beautiful day—one should be so happy,” Jac said. “And yet you look unhappy. Why?”
And so Ellen told him, and Jac was silent. For a long time they walked in silence until the ground began to rise and Ellen knew they were nearing the hills.
Jac said at last, “Your father is a good man, and the things he wishes for you are things I cannot give you.”
“If you’re going to sound like my father,” she told him, “I won’t listen.” Then he was silent again for a time, but soon he began to speak seriously, and the gist of what he said was that she must forget him because he had been selfish about her. He said he had never really considered that there would be more to their life than just the two of them, and that they must not break her father’s heart.
And she asked him, what about her heart? And his, too, he said.
And so they were silent again. p. 5
There is more relationship navel-gazing that follows this passage, and also some material about Ellen’s inability to see Jac’s physical appearance.
In the last part (spoiler) they stumble on the long-lost Cave of Violet Light in The Valley of Stars, a legendary place that is reputed to have healing properties. The dog, who had wondered off, returns with no sign of his habitual limp or the old injury that caused it. After some agonising, Ellen decides to enter the cave and cure her blindness:
Jac’s hand tightened until her hand hurt. “You are afraid you will see me and find me ugly. In your mind they have made me something monstrous because I am different!”
“Let us go away,” she said miserably. “I love you.”
He was silent for a long while.
“If the Cave will let you see me,” he said at last, “then you must. In the darkness, shadows become terrible things.”
Her hand touched his face gently. He kissed the slim, cold fingers. “Will you go in?”
“Yes,” she whispered. p. 8
This is obviously about racism/mixed-race relationships in the 1950s, and it deserves credit for tackling a (at the time) difficult subject—it’s just a pity that it has to do it in such an angst-ridden and ponderous way.1
The Moon Maiden by Hannibal Coons (Collier’s, November 10th 1951) is a light-hearted piece of froth about a movie producer who sends one of his lackeys to a spaceship that is being privately built by a German professor. His task when he gets there is to arrange for photos of a starlet to help publicise a forthcoming movie.
For the most part this is reasonably entertaining piece, albeit a dated 1950’s take on near future SF. However, the ending is very weak, involving (spoiler) the rep overloading the rocket’s computer and causing it to overheat, with the rocket consequently blowing up. Not a NASA employee then.2
Dragon on Somerset Street by Elmer Roessner (Esquire, November 1951) is a rather pointless story about a man who finds a dragon outside his house. He attempts to phone the authorities, talks a man out of killing it, makes a second phone call from the nearby apartment of a flirty woman. When he finally gets back it is gone.
It is worth noting that these last two stories are both ‘humorous’ reprints from the slick magazines: Boucher and McComas were obviously trying to instill more humour, wit, style and literary sensibility into the SF field, but too often these reprints lack any sort of substance.
The Call of Wings by Agatha Christie (The Hound of Death and Other Stories, 1933) has a rich man encountering a legless cripple on the way home. He listens to him play unusual, high-pitched music on an instrument that looks like a strange kind of flute. As the music plays he experiences a sensation of lightness, of ascent, and, even after he leaves the man and goes home, he continues to experience similar episodes. No matter how high he soars, he is always painfully brought back to his body.
Eventually, after talking about these experiences with an old friend, and tracking down and talking to the beggar, he decides to dispose of all his money and possessions. However, the voice that he has heard saying ‘You cannot bargain with me’ requires one final sacrifice.
The Business, As Usual by Mack Reynolds is an entertainingly enough told but ultimately trival time-travel story: (spoiler) you can’t take anything back in time, not even memories, you can only take things forward.
The last story in the issue is by Sam Merwin, Jr., the ex-editor of Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories (he had given up the editorship of the magazines the previous year).4 Lambikin is about a female sculptor called Jeanette, who is at a boxing match with her boyfriend when a stranger tells her the champ will win in the second round. He also tells her that her boyfriend will lose the ten bucks he is betting on the fight. Both events promptly happen.
She later learns that the man is Tony, is a wealthy scion who is looked after by his uncle. After sending her a car and chauffer to ask her to visit, the uncle tells her about Tony’s history, and his request that she come to live with them. Later, she goes to speak to Tony and he puts her into a three-way trance between the pair of them and a ‘familiar’ that the uncle mentioned previously. After this Tony produces a sketch showing what one of her sculptures should look like. She goes back to her studio and finishes a work that was proving problematical.
The rest of the story details her move to Tony’s mansion, and the repetition of this process. A physical attraction develops between them but, when they finally kiss, Tony reacts violently and Jeanette leaves the house and then organises a long holiday with her old boyfriend.
There are interesting individual elements in this story (there are undeveloped hints that the familiar is ‘life on an alien plane’) but Tony’s motivations aren’t convincing, and the piece doesn’t quite gel.
This issue’s cover, Love, is by Emsh—I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess that before finding out as it isn’t typical of his later work.
Recommended Reading by The Editors states that the column is being prepared in mid-January but that most of the scheduled books aren’t due for release until late-Spring at the earliest. Given this state of affairs they use the situation to catch up on some books they missed in last issue’s annual review. They close by mentioning the forthcoming The Best From Fantasy & Science Fiction, the first in what would be a long running series.
The Big Nasturtiums Robert Beverly Hale (The New Yorker, February 3rd 1951) is a poem about exactly what the title says.
A solid issue.
- Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Prozini thought better of Wilson’s story than I did as they included it in their anthology, The End of Summer: Science Fiction of the 1950s, Ace 1979. In the afterword Barry Malzberg says: ‘This sensitive story is, of course, as much about racial prejudice in contemporary society as it is about a union between an alien and an Earthwoman. It was something of a “delicate” story for its time. Controversial and “message” themes were generally eschewed by the pre-1950 pulps; their readers, it was said, preferred escapist science-adventure fiction. “Love” would not have been published at ail in the thirties and might not have been in the forties; that it found a ready market and was well-received in 1952 is testimony not only to the then-budding maturation of science fiction, but to the then-budding maturation of the American outlook on civil rights.’ p. 61
Richard Wilson has this in his afterword to the story: ‘In the early fifties I had just joined Reuters’ New York bureau after the demise of another wire service, Transradio Press, and began to eke out my salary with extracurricular writing. Reuters had a rule against free-lancing but made an exception for fiction writers. It had been nearly ten years since I’d written science fiction, and “Love” was born at this time. It was literally a dream story. I’d awakened before dawn with the story complete in my mind and wrote all 3,000 words at once, in longhand.’ p. 63
- NASA was not established until 1958, of course.
- The introduction to Kris Neville’s story states: ‘Two of the Great Cliché’s of modern science fiction are that human mutants will spring from the release of atomic radiations, and that the telepathic mutant will be an invincible superman.’ That will be John W. Campbell they are talking about then. . . .
- The introduction to the Sam Merwin Jr. story gives a potted publishing biography: ‘He’s published a series of amusing mystery novels and countless hundreds of thousands of words of science fiction while at the same time managing to edit not one but two science-fantasy magazines. (It takes two of us to edit one; and we can’t help feeling awed respect for what Mr. Merwin accomplished single-handed in raising the standards of two.)
A short while ago, however, Merwin abandoned editing and even deliberately cut down on his prolific production as a pulp writer. At present he’s devoting himself to more serious (though by no means ponderous) imaginative writing—strange and provocative concepts fully developed and fictionally fleshed.
Among the first products of this new Merwin period are that fascinating study in multiple universes, The House of Many Worlds (Doubleday, I951).’ p. 111
This book was mentioned in a previous review column, and I’ve been eyeing up for a future review the issue of Startling Stories that has the first of the two stories that were fixed up to create the book.