John Boston and Damien Broderick: Strange Highways: Reading Science Fantasy, 1950-67 (p.227 of 365)
The Blue Monkeys (Part 2 of 3) • serial by Thomas Burnett Swann ♥♥♥
Room with a Skew • short story by John T. Phillifent [as by John Rackham] ♥♥
The Charm • short story by Keith Roberts ♥♥♥
Not Me, Not Amos Cabot! • short story by Harry Harrison ♥♥♥
The Madman • short story by Keith Roberts [as by Alistair Bevan] ♥
Joik • short story by Ernest Hill ♥
One of Those Days • short story by Charles Platt ♥♥
Cover • by Roger Harris
Editorial • by Kyril Bonfiglioli
J. Carnell – A Quick Look • essay by Harry Harrison
Readers picking up this issue of Science Fantasy after the last will perhaps get a feeling of déjà vu all over again:1 as well as an instalment of Swann’s serial there are another two Keith Roberts stories, one of them an episode of ‘Anita’ and the other under his Alastair Bevan pseudonym. However, this time around any easily shocked 1960s readers will not have to cope with homosexuality, violence, suicide or cannabilism. Just some soft drug use….
The Blue Monkeys by Thomas Burnett Swann goes off the boil slightly at the start of its second part. Not only does the pace slacken in Chapter 3 but the tone becomes, perhaps, a little too ‘gentle’—the perpetually hungry bear Pandia cadging honey cakes at a picnic is an example of this:
No sooner had I laid our basket on a tuft of grass than a small felt hat bobbed above the nearest ridge. No, it was Pandia’s hair.
“I smelled the cakes,” she said. “They smell like more than you can eat.”
“Come and join us,” said Icarus, nobly if reluctantly, since the cakes in fact were less than we could eat. Thea had yet to learn the extent of a Minotaur’s appetite.
“Too many are bad for you,” Pandia explained. “One of my acquaintances—not a friend, fortunately—gorged herself and got so sweet that a hungry bear came out of the trees and ate her. Ate his own cousin. Didn’t leave a crumb.” As always before a meal, she looked immaculate. She had spruced her tail, cleaned her kidskin sandals, and tied her belt of rabbit’s fur in a neat bow with exactly equal ends. p.19
Now I rather like this part—I’m really talking about the quantity of this kind of thing.
However, it isn’t long before the domestic affairs of Thea, Icarus and Eunostos give way to darker matters. Eunostos takes them to a huge burnt oak and recounts the tale of their wounded father, Aeacus, arriving in the forest and being cared for by Kora the dryad. The couple eventually have two children, Thea and Icarus. Later, Aeacus decides to return to Knossos and takes the children with him. Kora the dryad takes to her tree and sets it on fire….
The final two chapters of this section detail a plot by the Acheans to kidnap the children and invade the forest. All the Beast tribes are summoned by Chiron the centaur to prepare a defence.
Room with a Skew by John Rackham features the same two amateur scientists that appeared in A Light Feint (Impulse #2, April 1966).2 This time around they are expecting a visit from a relative, so they invent a device that will shift all the junk in the spare room into what they think is the fourth dimension (but is actually a parallel world). Meanwhile, they start receiving some very peculiar programs on their TV set. The visiting aunt comments on what should be The Black and White Minstrel Show (ah, enlightened times) on the BBC:
“I don’t recognise any of the songs, this time” she said, “and they have done something different with the costumes, haven’t they?” They had indeed. For a change, the girls were blackface and the men were in revealing tights. Very revealing. I half-expected Auntie to complain, but she seemed to be enjoying it. I hope I’m as broad-minded as most, but some of the poses and dances weren’t just near the knuckle, they were half-way up your arm. Too, the cameras kept giving us a shot of the orchestra, and they were the queerest crowd I have ever seen outside of a science-fiction convention. p.56
The Charm by Keith Roberts is another ‘Anita’ story. I thought this one rather good the first time I read it but was impressed less this time around, probably as I knew what happens at the end.
Anita is trapped by an expert on witches, Sir John Carpenter. After he extracts witches honour from her not to harm him he requests two favours. The morning after the first he tells her about the second, which is to tell him the purpose of a magic charm he owns. This leads to a scene with Anita and her Granny Thomson:
“Guz back” said Granny Thompson, prodding the winking jewel with her finger. “Or forrard, whichever soots. Dunt mek no odds in the long run.”
“Back where, Gran? ”
“In Time, o’ course . . . wheer d’yer git it?” Her Granny looked suspicious.
“Off a man.”
Anita could be very annoying. She picked up the dally and began to swing it. Reflections from it danced round the room like little blue searchlight beams. “Just a man.”
“’Oo were it? Yer dunt git things like that orf any Tom Dick or ’arry . . .”
Anita raised her nose a trifle. “Very well then, he was called Sir John Carpenter.”
Her Granny screwed up her face oddly. “Ho, was ’e? Hoity-toity hen’t in it, is it? ‘Horf Sir John Carpenter’ she says. An’ I needn’t arsk ’ow . . . Comin’ yer airs and graces . . . earned that on yer back, didn’t yer . . .”
“Gran, there’s no need to be crude . . .”
Granny Thompson snatched the amulet, quick as a snake. “Well yer kent keep it. I’ll look after it till yer got more sense . . .”
“But Gran you can’t; it’s his, it was only lent. I promised to take it back . . .”
Her Granny softened a little. “Orlright then, dunt git yer ’air orf . . . but I’ll tek it down a bit fust, it’s too sharp as it is, it’ll ’ackle too much . . .” She dropped the charm into a small lead-lined pot she kept on the sideboard. Anita had always thought of it as a tobacco jar.
“Yer kin ’ave it come Toosdey ” said Granny Thompson. “ It’ll ’ave ter soak.” p.70-71
After Anita gets the charm back, she and Sir John go on journey through time, hurtling back to the start of creation, and beyond….
Not Me, Not Amos Cabot! by Harry Harrison heralds the welcome arrival of this writer as a regular contributor to the magazine. Although Harrison had contributed stories to the magazine in the past, in the next couple of years he would contribute a number of fiction and non-fiction items, including two novels. Towards the end of the magazine’s run he would become its editor.
This story is an amusing one about an old man who starts getting free copies of Hereafter, a magazine to help people prepare for death. Outraged, he goes to the publisher and eventually manages to see someone who tells him he has a free two-year subscription. The circulation editor explains how it works:
“It’s a matter of statistics, sir. Every day just so many people die, of certain ages and backgrounds and that kind of thing. The people in the insurance companies, actuaries I think they call them, keep track of all these facts and figures and draw up plenty of graphs and tables. Very accurate, they assure me. They have life expectancy down to a fine art. They take a man, say like yourself, of a certain age, background, physical fitness, environment and so on, and pinpoint down the date of death very exactly. Not the day and hour and that kind of thing. I suppose they could if they wanted too, but for our purposes a period of two years is satisfactory. This gives us a number of months and issues to acquaint the subscriber with our magazine and the services offered by our advertisers, so by the time the subscriber dies the ad-messages will have reached saturation.” p.84
Cabot determines to prove them wrong and goes to his doctor for a check-up and advice. He then makes a number of lifestyle changes. Two years later he waits to see if his Hereafter subscription has expired….
The Madman by Keith Roberts is the first appearance of Keith Roberts under his Alastair Bevan pseudonym. At this stage in his career he had written so many stories that he needed not only a pseudonym for Science Fantasy but used two others for some of his work in the anthology series New Writings in SF (John Kingston and David Stringer). Generally, but not always, anything in Science Fantasy that wasn’t an ‘Anita’, or later on a ‘Pavane,’ story appeared under the Bevan byline.
This story concerns an old man in a world where urban sprawl has covered the countryside. He destroys a plastic wishing well for children and then goes on journey where he vandalises other such affronts to his sensibilities. When he is caught at Stonehenge he is sent to a state asylum and interviewed about his actions. Later on (spoiler) the interviewer shows him some of the things they have in the asylum: a grassed area, books, old cars, coal fires, etc. and suggests he stays there. This is at best mawkish, and at worst unattractively Luddite. It does not convince.
I’m not really sure what Joik by Ernest Hill3 is about. Set in a future where everyone is naturally black or has their skin pigmented, Ngula, an investigator, is trying to establish why a spaceship using a joik (transportation) device has disappeared. This takes the form of an interrogation of Dadulina, the pilot’s partner. She eventually reveals to Ngula that the universe is a spiral, and that the pilot has gone to the reality that lies outside it. All the people in the spiral are ‘dream fragments’.
The general impression is of a story written after one spliff too many:
“Narcotics,” she said slowly, “are the only real thing in a world of dreams. They bring us nearer to the Dreamer. Beauty, music are the gateways to reality but reality is hard for us dream-symbols to fathom.” p.117
“You will all be happier when you know that the quest for knowledge is futile and that nothing ultimately matters in a world that is fundamentally unreal.” p.119
Phil Dick it isn’t, and I think there may be a final twist/wrinkle that went over my head.
One of Those Days by Charles Platt is his first published story. Platt would shortly produce other work but it would appear in Science Fantasy‘s sister magazine New Worlds, of which he would later become designer and sometime editor. As in the last issue this is a cheery end to proceedings. A man doesn’t feel well and then starts feeling worse…. Not really SF and on the slight side, but OK for all that.
In Kyril Bonfiglioli’s Editorial he raves about Brian Aldiss’s new novel Greybeard. I suspect if he had been in the editorial role earlier it would have been a Science Fantasy serial:
There really seems little point in writing an editorial this time about anything but the most important science fiction event for a long time—the publication of Brian Aldiss’ new novel GREYBEARD (Faber 18s.).
There is no doubt about this being Aldiss’ best work yet: the difficulty lies in trying to decide whether to invite attack by saying that I think it is the best science-fiction novel anyone has ever written. Perhaps the best plan is to compromise and say that I am sure it is in the best six. Those enthusiasts who may have, from time to time, been puzzled by his tentative steps in new directions; those who have felt, perhaps, that he may have been written out; those particularly who, like myself, have been frustrated by a kind of wilful perfunctoriness about his novels—all these must now sit back and say that they were wrong, for this novel is rounded, complete, mature and beautifully coherent. This may indeed be the novel we have all been hoping someone would write: the novel which is to emancipate science-fiction and clear it of the reproach of infantility. p.2
He goes on to criticise the publisher’s labelling of the book as SF.
At the end of the editorial there is a promise of more pages, monthly publication, a letter page, line illustrations and a regular science fact feature. Only the monthly publication materialised quickly and some (such as the latter) never materialised at all.
There is one other short non-fiction piece in this issue. E. J. Carnell – A Quick Look by Harry Harrison is a short—a couple of pages—appreciation of the previous editor Ted Carnell, and a nice gesture by the current one, Kyril Bonfiglioli.
A solid enough issue but nothing special.
- Yes, I know. Pick up a copy of Private Eye’s Colemanballs.
- A Light Feint is reviewed in Impulse #2, April 1966.
- This was the third of Ernest Hill’s published stories and he would produce another dozen or so (as well as three novels). A handful appeared in Science Fantasy but he also sold to New Worlds and New Writings in SF of the same period; later on his work would also appear in Galaxy, If and Science Fiction Monthly. Ernest Hill at ISFDB.