Waiting For You, Maude-Ellen • short story by J. P. Dixon ♥
Miranda-Escobedo • short story by James Sallis
The Massahattan Snap Tube • short story by D. Thomas Bear ♥♥♥
B.K.A. The Master • short story by George Alec Effinger ♥♥
The Sitter • short story by Charles W. Runyon ♥
The Anvil of Jove • novella by Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund ♥♥
The Ice Cream Golem • novelette by Mel Gilden ♥♥♥
The Anvil of Jove • cover by Rick Sternbach
Books • by Alexei Panshin and Cory Panshin
Cartoon • by Gahan Wilson
Films: The Greenwood at Sunset • by Baird Searles
Making It! • science essay by Isaac Asimov
F&SF Competition: Report on Competition 13
This month is an anniversary for me in that it was forty years ago that I bought my first digest-size US SF magazines.1 Although I had previously purchased copies of the large-size British magazine SF Monthly2 this was the first time I had seen the real deal. This was one of two magazines I bought on that day, the other being the July edition of Analog.
I remember that after reading both of the magazines I wasn’t particularly impressed. Perhaps, after having been served a diet of anthologies that contained the best work in the field, it needed some adjustment to get used to the more variable fiction quality found in the magazines. Having made that transition a long time ago I was curious to see what I would think this time around.
All of the short stories in this issue are at the beginning of the magazine punctuated with a couple of the non-fiction columns, a standard F&SF layout.
Waiting For You, Maude-Ellen by J. P. Dixon is about a woman who thinks she is being watched as she looks at her wishing star. She then hears a voice but is interrupted by her husband coming back to the house with another woman. The husband wants her to move out. The voice is subsequently revealed to be connected to her star in, literally, a wish-fulfilment ending.
Miranda-Escobedo by James Sallis is a story I’ve now read at least three times in the last four decades and I still don’t understand it: a cop goes to the scene of a motorbike accident and talks to the dead young man’s aura. He forgets to read him his rights and then a detective comes on the scene and takes charge.
The Massahattan Snap Tube by D. Thomas Bear is quite a well told and reasonably amusing story about a portal that opens between two store freezers, one in Massapequa and one in Manhattan—sixty miles apart. The two shop owners form the Massahattan Snap Tube Corporation and events proceed from there….
Although the mechanics and operation of the portal are never explained Bear gets away with this because (prospective writers take note) he only asks us to suspend disbelief about one thing before shifting the focus of the story to mass transit and big government.
Finally, Bear is an example of a writer who has only ever published one story in field. A pity: judging by this effort it is our loss.
B.K.A. The Master by George Alec Effinger is an odd urban fantasy about Roland and his flock of pigeons. As he goes through his day—down at the local pet shop and up on the roof with his flock—a voice speaks to him. Further, he finds himself having visions:
Roland stood in a huge cavern. Light spilled down in arrow-straight, arrow-sharp beams from a ceiling too far above his head to be seen. The walls of the chamber were likewise at a great distance and shrouded in darkness. There was a single shaft of light illuminating a kind of table about thirty yards away. Roland walked toward it. As he got closer, he saw that it was an altar, made of stone cut from the same rock that formed the rough floor. There was nothing on the altar but the light.
“No.” said the voice inside him. “You must avoid light. You must avoid anything that seems holy. You must learn these things quickly. Go into the shadows.” p.40
In later visions it appears he is being tested by the forces of evil and (spoiler) in the final one he fails. He and his brother subsequently burn down the pigeon coop of a rich guy who has stolen Roland’s flock. The voice subsequently berates him for having failed the test and for having chosen the path of evil. Roland is nihilistically indifferent. I’m not sure what point is being made here so it was an unsatisfying end to a story that I had been quite enjoying.
The Sitter by Charles W. Runyon is about a man who collects chairs sailing out to an island that has a house with a very special example. After he sits in it, and the man who transported him has left the island, he undergoes an alien experience. The last line seems rather arbitrarily tacked on and the whole thing doesn’t really make any narrative sense.
This mixed bag of short fiction is followed by a long novella by Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund, The Anvil of Jove. This is a genuinely self-contained part of the novel The Stars Are Gods, and tells of a spaceship in orbit around Jupiter whose crew are trying to decode an alien transmission. The three main characters are: Mara, who is a ‘manip’ or ‘nipper’, gene manipulated, super intelligent and very annoying to the other crew members; Bradley Reynolds, an 127 year old former astronaut and chief of the station; Corey, another ‘manip’, but one who exists in a metal box.
The sub-plots that revolve around the main idea are: a couple of murder attempts on Mara; the manips on Earth having their citizenship revoked and their threat to nuke Tokyo unless this is rescinded; onboard friction from some of the crew towards Mara and Corey. Throughout all this Bradley Reynolds feels his age while dispassionately trying to manage the friction between the people under his command.
This all rumbles along quite well for the most part but by the time the climactic section arrives, involving Corey flying a glideship into Jupiter’s atmosphere, I had rather lost interest: at 64pp. it is about a dozen pages too long. There are also at least a couple of typoes and one truncated sentence, which is quite unusual for F&SF.
The last piece of fiction in this issue is a fantasy novelette by Mel Gilden about two Jewish brothers, The Ice Cream Golem. One of them, the doctor, creates a golem—an artificial man—to help his brother. Initially the golem is a great help in Irving’s ice cream business. However, Irving accidentally spills chicken soup on the golem’s head and it develops self-awareness….
The Jewish background is a characteristic of this story that I enjoyed, like the stories F&SF printed which had a background of American folklore: both seemed quite exotic to someone from the north-east of Scotland in the 1970s!
The non-fiction in F&SF was always pretty strong in this period due to the appearance of three regular columns. Books by Alexei Panshin and Cory Panshin is an interesting review of three non-fiction books and an anthology, all with some historical perspective. After lukewarm coverage of Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction by James Gunn they express their dislike of Damon Knight’s 1930’s anthology Science Fiction of the 30’s, and Science-Fiction Handbook, Revised: A Guide to Writing Imaginative Literature by L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine Crook de Camp.
They have better things to say about van Vogt’s autobiographical volume: Reflections of A. E. van Vogt, which provides an interesting quote:
Van Vogt is a problem that the new historians of SF like Gunn and Aldiss must surely come to terms with. Those like Aldiss who value literary excellence cannot approve of van Vogt. He is foggy, semi-literate, pulpish and dumb. Those like Gunn who value rationality must admit, as Gunn does, that “van Vogt’s stories did not attempt to present a rational picture of the world.” And yet, anyone with any sense of SF must acknowledge the true power of van Vogt’s work. A power that the present critical understanding of SF is totally inadequate to deal with. p.37
Films: The Greenwood at Sunset by Baird Searles is another interesting column that discusses the movies Robin and Marian, The Green Slime and Weird Women (1944). The latter is apparently an early film version of Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife, and apparently inferior to the later Burn, Witch, Burn (1961). He ends the column with mention of a film that he has seen some pre-production work for and thinks very promising: Star Wars.
The final column in this issue keeps the standard up. Isaac Asimov’s Making It!, is an interesting account of the American War of Independence and industrial supremacy, both British vs. American, and North vs. South.
There is also a Gahan Wilson Cartoon, which were always a bit hit and miss for me—miss this time around, and the F&SF Competition. I should also note Rick Sternbach’s lovely cover for this issue. Co-incidentally he also provided the cover for that July issue of Analog that I bought at the same time.
So, in conclusion, not a particularly good issue, which helps explain my initial comments about being somewhat underwhelmed.
- Although both magazines were dated July it must have been June when I picked them up as it was still term time at school.
- The first issue of Science Fiction Monthly I bought is reviewed here.