Category Archives: Science Fiction Monthly

Science Fiction Monthly v03n03, March 1976

ISFDB link

Executive Editor, Pat Hornsey; Editor, Julie Davis

Fiction:
Schwartz Between the Galaxies • reprint novelette by Robert Silverberg ∗∗∗+
Reaching Out • short fiction by Garry Kilworth
Compensating Factor • short fiction by Robert Wells

Non-fiction:
Cover • by Roger Dean
Interior artwork • by Chris Foss, John Higgins, Tony Roberts, Mark Lowden, Robert Burton, A. R. Lowe, Roger Dean (6), Adrian Arnott, Tony Masero
Introduction
The Metamorphosis of Robert Silverberg
• essay by Brian Stableford
News • by Julie Davis
A Boy and His Dog • film review by R. A. Ashford
Paperbacks on Trial • book reviews by Maxim Jakubowski and others
Review: Views by Roger Dean • by Jenny Jacobs
Letters
The Query Box
• essay by Walter Gillings [as by Thomas Sheridan]

The fiction in this issue starts off with Schwartz Between the Galaxies by Robert Silverberg (Stellar #1, 1974), which was published to mark Silverberg’s appearance as that year’s British Eastercon GOH.
Schwartz is an anthropologist who travels the lecture circuit in a homogenised future Earth:

Then a smiling JAL stewardess parts the curtain of his cubicle and peers at him, jolting him from one reality to another. She is blue-eyed, frizzy-haired, straight-nosed, thin-lipped, bronze-skinned — a genetic mishmash, your standard twenty first-century-model mongrel human, perhaps Melanesian-Swedish-Turkish-Bolivian, perhaps Polish-Berber-Tatar-Welsh. Cheap intercontinental transit has done its deadly work: all Earth is a crucible, all the gene pools have melted into one indistinguishable fluid. Schwartz wonders about the recessivity of those blue eyes and arrives at no satisfactory solution. She is beautiful, at any rate. Her name is Dawn — O sweet neutral non culture-bond cognomen! — and they have played at a flirtation, he and she, Dawn and Schwartz, at occasional moments of this short flight. p. 2

He laments that this homogenisation has effectively killed his profession, and in his lectures he proselytises for a diversity of subcultures, while unconvinced it will happen:

Clinging to the lectern, he outlines the programme he developed in The Mask Beneath the Skin. A rebirth of tribalism without a revival of ugly nationalism. The quest for a renewed sense of kinship with the past. A sharp reduction in nonessential travel, especially tourism. Heavy taxation of exported artefacts, including films and video shows. An attempt to create independent cultural units on Earth once again while maintaining present levels of economic and political interdependence. Relinquishment of materialistic technological-industrial values. New searches for fundamental meanings. An ethnic revival, before it is too late, among those cultures of mankind that have only recently shed their traditional folkways. (He repeats and embellishes this point particularly, for the benefit of the Papuans before him, the great-grandchildren of cannibals.)
The discomfort and confusion come and go as he unreels his themes. He builds and builds, crying out passionately for an end to the homogenisation of Earth, and gradually the physical symptoms leave him, all but a faint vertigo. But a different malaise seizes him as he nears his peroration. His voice becomes, to him, a far-off quacking, meaningless and foolish. He has said all this a thousand times, always to great ovations, but who listens? Who listens? Everything seems hollow tonight, mechanical, absurd. An ethnic revival? Shall these people before him revert to their loincloths and their pig-roasts? His starship is a fantasy; his dream of a diverse Earth is mere silliness. What is, will be.
p. 3

Throughout all this, Schwartz falls in and out of a reverie about a Golden Age spaceship, packed with different species:

With the Antarean not-male beside him, Schwartz peered through the viewport, staring in awe and fascination at the seductive vision of the Capellans coiling and recoiling outside the ship. Not all the passengers on this voyage had cosy staterooms like his. The Capellans were too big to come on board; and in any case they preferred never to let themselves be enclosed inside metal walls. They travelled just alongside the starship, basking like slippery whales in the piquant radiations of space. So long as they kept within twenty metres of the hull they would be inside the effective field of the Rabinowitz Drive, which swept ship and contents and associated fellow travellers toward Riegel, or the Lesser Magellanic, or was it one of the Pleiades toward which they were bound at a cool nine lights? He watched the Capellans moving beyond the shadow of the ship in tracks of shining white. Blue, glossy green, and velvet black, they coiled and swam, and every track was a flash of golden fire.

Even on the fantasy spaceship the question of his own identity, and his contribution to this proposed revival of ‘ethnic tribalism’ plagues him:

‘A Jew,’ the Antarean said. ‘You call yourself a Jew, but what is that exactly? A clan, a sept, a moiety, a tribe, a nation, what? Can you explain?’
‘You understand what a religion is?’
‘Of course.’
‘Judaism — Jewishness — it’s one of Earth’s major religions.’
‘You are therefore a priest?’
‘Not at all. I don’t even practise Judaism. But my ancestors did, and therefore I consider myself Jewish, even though . . .
‘It is an hereditary religion, then,’ the Antarean said, ‘that does not require its members to observe its rites?’
‘In a sense,’ said Schwartz desperately. ‘More an hereditary cultural subgroup, actually, evolving out of a common religious outlook no longer relevant.’
‘Ah. And the cultural traits of Jewishness that define it and separate you from the majority of humankind are . . . ?’
‘Well . . .’ Schwartz hesitated. ‘There’s a complicated dietary code, a rite of circumcision for newborn males, a rite of passage for male adolescents, a language of scripture, a vernacular language that Jews all around the world more or less understand and plenty more, including a certain intangible sense of clannishness and certain attitudes, such as a peculiar self-deprecating style of humour . . .’
‘You observe the dietary code? You understand the language of scripture?’
‘Not exactly,’ Schwartz admitted. ‘In fact I don’t do anything that’s specifically Jewish except think of myself as a Jew and adopt many of the characteristically Jewish personality modes, which, however, are not uniquely Jewish any longer — they can be traced among Italians, for example, and to some extent among Greeks. I’m speaking of Italians and Greeks of the late twentieth century, of course. Nowadays . . .’ It was all becoming a terrible muddle. ‘Nowadays . . .’
‘It would seem,’ said the Antarean, ‘that you are a Jew only because your maternal and paternal gene-givers were Jews, and they . . .’
‘No, not quite. Not my mother, just my father, and he was Jewish only on his father’s side, but even my grandfather never observed the customs, and . . .’
‘I think this has grown too confusing,’ said the Antarean. ‘I withdraw the entire inquiry. Let us speak instead of my own traditions. The Time of Openings, for example, may be understood as . . .’
p. 3

In the end (spoiler) it appears as if Schwartz undergoes a physical or mental breakdown, or both, and the story ends in the fantasy world with him, the Antarean, and all the passengers spilling out of the ship to joyously join the Capellans.
The first time I read this as a teenager I loved it (I got a real sense of wonder high off of it) but I didn’t feel the same way this time around, perhaps because I’m not entirely sure what the story is about. One unlikely theory I have is that, on one level, it may be a metaphor for SF fans escaping the mundanity of the ‘normal’ world for the diversity of fandom (the story did place third in that year’s Locus poll and was also a Hugo finalist). Or perhaps I should just take it at face value: Silverberg is known for his worldwide travel: perhaps this is just a genuine lament for the McDonaldisation of the world that was occurring in the mid-1970s.

The story is followed by an essay, The Metamorphosis of Robert Silverberg by Brian Stableford, which is a heavyweight but lucid examination of Silverberg’s work, as shown in this passage where Stableford shows how the writer progressed from the ironic endings of his earlier stories:

‘To See the Invisible Man’, was the best piece Silverberg had produced to date. Its protagonist is punished for repeated transgressions of the law by expulsion from society: he is declared ‘invisible’. The condition, he finds, has both advantages and disadvantages: he can steal or play the voyeur without interference, but he cannot get medical help and is cut off from all human intercourse. In a sense, he is godlike in his ability to interfere mischievously in the ordered lives of others, but he is also totally vulnerable — if he goes too far, ‘accidents’ may happen. In the end, it is the torment of being unable to communicate which triumphs over all other aspects of the situation, and his torture is complete when even another invisible man refuses to recognise him. When his sentence ends, he is approached by that same invisible man, who has by now learned what the other man had learned and pleads for recognition in his turn. After an agonised moment of decision he embraces the man, and goes to trial facing probable condemnation for a second time.
The situation at the end of ‘To See the Invisible Man’ permits the invocation of the same irony so characteristic of Silverberg’s early work, but it is rejected. The theme destroys the method, and the actual meaning of what is happening in the story forbids its trivialisation. The mousetrap is unsprung, the invisible man does not turn away to confirm the neatness of situation and system, and the implications of the central idea are left naked. Silverberg invites the reader to be more interested in the problems of the character than those of the storyteller.
p. 10

Reaching Out by Garry Kilworth has Captain Flashbender sent to recce a far-off alien planet. Two previous attempts have failed, the last explorer having gone mad and flown his ship into the sun on return from the mission. Captain Flashbender is an unusual choice for a pilot as he is blind; he does, however, have a probe that comes out of his head that gives him a crude, shadowy type of ‘sight.’
When he gets to the planet (after several years) he lands and starts surveying. During his EVA he is ‘attacked’ by a creature and his probe breaks. Although now he is totally blind, he continues to gather samples before returning home. En route he gets the computer to destroy the film taken of the planet.
The reveal at the end (spoiler) is that he has deduced that the creature on the planet was a dog-analogue—he has realised on the trip home that it did not attack him but licked his cheek. He erased the film as he does not want to be responsible for the invasion and destruction of the planet by humanity.
This early effort by Kilworth is overlong and is rather contrived.

Compensating Factor by Robert Wells has an indigenous alien delegation turn up at a mining company headquarters on the planet M19. They are represented by another species of alien that looks like a cat,1 and it files a complaint that stops work:

‘Clearly my clients have every justification for complaint. Look at the proximity of that waste to the river! Quite inexcusable! I can’t see any way such dumping could avoid polluting the flow and hence the sea, in due course.’
Ensor felt his mouth very dry. Some way he had to start talking to this cat about a deal. ‘Do they care?’ he said harshly. ‘And what about the waste from their mining? They don’t do anything pretty with it.’
‘They don’t use radioactive crackers or chemical solvents,’ said the cat icily. ‘And they’re mining the ore because you want it. It’s of no interest to them. You should be educating them, setting an example.’
‘So the scenery gets spoiled for a while,’ said Ensor irritably. ‘Listen, the Insosi draw a very good royalty on the pronucleon we take out. It’s not as if M19 was over-populated. So this area gets spoiled, polluted. Their crops don’t grow; the fish don’t breed. With the credit they draw it’s no problem to move some place else.’
‘Typical,’ Sinn murmured. ‘Typical. Quite a few species are like it. You find them around. Never mind
the pattern of the economy. Never mind evolution. Never mind ecology. If there’s something you want, go in and get it. Spoil! Pollute! Lay waste! Don’t worry, we’ll pay you not to notice!’
p. 27

One of the human managers later tries to bribe the cat and, when that doesn’t work, tries to bully him into submission. After that the humans fly in another of the natives from Sinn’s planet, Reror, and it turns out to be an even larger version of a ‘cat.’ When the two ‘cats’ first meet (spoiler) the larger chases the smaller and eats it.
Apart from this ridiculous ending, the story has unpleasant and crudely drawn characters, and, by the by, I don’t like that the amoral and rapacious humans win. I suspect this one came from Well’s reject pile, and had been everywhere else before appearing here.

The best of the Interior artwork is provided by the Cover (a striking piece) artist Roger Dean, who contributes several other works to illustrate Review: Views by Roger Dean, an article on his new book by Jenny Jacobs.2

The other artwork is a sometimes lacklustre selection by Chris Foss, John Higgins, Tony Roberts, Mark Lowden, Robert Burton, A. R. Lowe, Adrian Arnott, and Tony Masero. With the colour reprints you definitely get the feeling that they are beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel.
News by Julie Davis starts with an explanation about the magazine’s price rise to 50p.3 This is followed by news of a poster offer which will be in the next issue (and which I didn’t take up at the time, alas). Various writer and book news follows.
A Boy and his Dog by R. A. Ashford is an interesting review of a movie I’ve never seen:

According to the author, surely the most critical judge, the film is a faithful version. In order to achieve this, though, mountains had to be moved. A mountain, 43,000,000 lbs to be precise, was actually moved 82 miles to the Coyote river bed. The set itself covered 4½ miles and was filled with 4,700 tons of building materials, to create the setting of a world devastated by a fourth world war. Impressive as these figures are, except for a single shot of a half-buried car and some sunken telephone poles, the extent of the effort put into creating the world is not apparent in the film. This is to the film’s advantage; the aura of desolation is relegated to the background, providing a setting for the story, yet not becoming the story itself. p. 12

Paperbacks on Trial by Maxim Jakubowski and others uses the grid-box method of multiple reviews I’ve commented on before:

As ever, it is interesting to not only see the average ‘score’ each book gets, but each reviewers’ likes and dislikes (why did John Clute not particularly rate Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside for instance?)
The Letters column this month has Ian Butterworth miss the point of Paperbacks on Trial, and there are a couple of letters responding to John Bronsan’s savaging of Space: 1999: John X. Hind mostly agrees, while (inexplicably) C. Morris defends the program (probably the worst piece of TV SF I have ever seen).
The Query Box by Walter Gillings runs its usual reader questions and his expert answers.

An okay issue, with the Silverberg material improving the overall quality.

1. The Well’s story’s tenuous connection to cats gives me an excuse to post a photo of Layla (I’ve already posted a photo of the other cat I am a full-time butler to, Troy):

2. Roger Dean is an atypical example of an SF artist: you couldn’t miss his many album covers and posters in the 1970s, but I can’t remember him appearing on an SF paperback or magazine cover apart from this one.
3. There was a lot of inflation in the mid-1970s as a result of the OPEC oil price increase. The magazine had debuted at 25p at the beginning of 1974 and had then been 30p, 35p and 40p per issue before this rise.