Take Two Quiggies • novelette by Kris Neville ♥
The Better Mousetrap • short story by L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt ♥
The Listening Child • short story by Margaret St. Clair [as by Idris Seabright] ♥♥♥+
Process • short story by A. E. van Vogt ♥♥
The Wondersmith • reprint novelette by Fitz-James O’Brien ♥♥♥+
The Angel With Purple Hair • short story by Herb Paul ♥♥
The Well-Oiled Machine • short story by H. B. Fyfe ♥
Another Chance for Casey • reprint short story by Larry Siegel ♥♥♥
Cover • by Chesley Bonestell
Review: Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L. Ron Hubbard • review by C. Daly King, Ph.D.
Recommended Reading • by The Editors
Index to Volume One, Fall 1949–December 1950
This month’s fiction starts with Kris Neville’s rather rambling novelette, Take Two Quiggies. This story tells of an alien race that has a restricted trade arrangement with humanity due to an undescribed incident. One of the items the aliens are allowed to trade is an animal called a quiggi (or kwiggi) which is short, green, bipedal and attractively clumsy. They also (spoiler) have an eight day gestation period. After they have been sold to a number of people the inevitable happens: a proto The Trouble With Tribbles I guess.
This overlong tale is told from a number of viewpoints: diplomats, businessmen, reporters, military men, etc., but this does not disguise its essential slightness.
The other novelette in this issue is a reprint. The Wondersmith by Fitz-James O’Brien (Atlantic Monthly, October 1859) was also reprinted in Weird Tales (July 1935), but this worthwhile and interesting piece fits in fine right here, especially as it involves the giving of Christmas presents to children. That said, the plot involves gypsies using those presents to murder them, so perhaps not so festive.
It gets off to a leisurely start, and has passages of discursive description about the story’s location in a more disreputable part of town:
I like a dirty slum; not because I am naturally unclean, but because I generally find a certain sediment of philosophy precipitated in its gutters. A clean street is terribly prosaic. There is no food for thought in carefully swept pavements, barren kennels, and vulgarly spotless houses. But when I go down a street which has been left so long to itself that it has acquired a distinct outward character, I find plenty to think about. The scraps of sodden letters lying in the ash-barrel have their meaning: desperate appeals, perhaps, from Tom, the baker’s assistant, to Amelia, the daughter of the dry-goods retailer, who is always selling at a sacrifice in consequence of the late fire. That may be Tom himself who is now passing me in a white apron, and I look up at the windows of the house (which does not, however, give any signs of a recent conflagration) and almost hope to see Amelia wave a white pocket-handkerchief. The bit of orange-peel lying on the sidewalk inspires thought. Who will fall over it? who but the industrious mother of six children, the youngest of which is only nine months old, all of whom are dependent on her exertions for support? I see her slip and tumble. I see the pale face convulsed with agony, and the vain struggle to get up; the pitying crowd closing her off from all air; the anxious young doctor who happened to be passing by; the manipulation of the broken limb, the shake of the head, the moan of the victim, the litter borne on men’s shoulders, the gates of the New York Hospital unclosing, the subscription taken up on the spot. There is some food for speculation in that three-year-old, tattered child, masked with dirt, who is throwing a brick at another three-year-old, tattered child, masked with dirt. It is not difficult to perceive that he is destined to lurk, as it were, through life. His bad, flat face—or, at least, what can be seen of it—does not look as if it were made for the light of day. The mire in which he wallows now is but a type of the moral mire in which he will wallow hereafter. The feeble little hand lifted at this instant to smite his companion, half in earnest, half in jest, will be raised against his fellow-beings forevermore. p.53
After describing a few of the shopkeepers and vendors on the street the story focuses on Herr Hippe, who has opened a shop as a ‘Wondersmith’. No-one knows what it is he sells, and the shop turns out to be a front. He is planning, along with three other gypsies, a massacre of Christian children at Xmas by distributing lethal gifts. Herr Hippe has created vicious little wooden manikins, and Madame Filomel, the fortune teller, provides the souls to animate them. The foursome decides to test the tiny manikins’ lethal skills in a nearby bird shop during the night:
The gypsies stood in the centre of the shop, watching the proceedings eagerly, while the Liliputians made in a body towards the wall and commenced climbing from cage to cage. Then was heard a tremendous fluttering of wings, and faint, despairing “quirks” echoed on all sides. In almost every cage there was a fierce manikin thrusting his sword or dagger vigorously into the body of some unhappy bird. It recalled the antique legend of the battles of the Pygmies and the Cranes. The poor lovebirds lay with their emerald feathers dabbled in their heart’s blood, shoulder to shoulder in death as in life. Canaries gasped at the bottom of their cages, while the water in their little glass fountains ran red. The bullfinches wore an unnatural crimson on their breasts. The mocking-bird lay on his back, kicking spasmodically, in the last agonies, with a tiny sword-thrust cleaving his melodious throat in twain, so that from the instrument which used to gush with wondrous music only scarlet drops of blood now trickled. p.71/72
The sub-plot has a hunchbacked bookseller who is in love with Herr Hippe’s daughter. Hippe discovers them together and imprisons the hunchback. The ultimate scene is even more Grand Guignol-ish than the bird shop one.
The Better Mousetrap by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt is the third of the ‘Gavagan’s Bar’ stories. This one relates the story of a man whose apartment is plagued by mice borrowing a small dragon from a magician. It is too straightforward and just stops at the end. When I first started reading F&SF during the seventies L. Sprague de Camp’s ‘W. Wilson Newbury’ stories1 were similar: an under-developed fantasy theme dropped into a story using familiar characters or locations.
I haven’t checked back but I get the impression that the story introductions are becoming more considered. This is the introduction to The Listening Child by Margaret St. Clair:
We’ve mentioned before, but we cannot stress too often, the growing importance of women as writers both of science fiction and of pure fantasy; the best of them, from such old hands as Moore to such recent discoveries as Merril and Curtis, bring to the field a welcome warmth and sensitivity, a striking immediacy of impact, a realization that every type of fiction must essentially deal with people . . . in short, with you. We’re happy, therefore, to bring you the first of a group of distinguished stories by a new name in the profession: a delicate story of mood and emotion that will stay in your mind (and heart) long after you have forgotten the most sensational transgalactic epics. p.37
Now the ‘new name in the profession’ part is a bit naughty as ‘Idris Seabright’ had previously published over two dozen stories in the SF pulps under her own name Margaret St Clair. However, the Idris Seabright pseudonym would subsequently become better known than her own name for a time.2
The story starts with this:
It was not until after his first bad heart attack that Edwin Hoppler really noticed the child. He had long ago decided on the basis of his contacts with his married sister’s strident brood that he didn’t like children. But the doctor, after telling him roundly that he was lucky to be alive, had ordered at least a month’s rest in bed. Somebody had to bring the trays up from the boarding house dining room. Timmy was usually the one. p.37
Over time he develops a liking for the child, who is profoundly deaf and as a result cannot speak. Nonetheless, Hoppler starts to notice that Timmy occasionally tilts his head to one side as if he is listening intently to something. He subsequently realises that the boy does this in advance of death or near-death occurrences, e.g. a dog being run over in the street, Hoppler experiencing an angina attack, etc. After a particularly serious attack that almost kills him, Hoppler encourages Timmy to spend more time with him.
This is a superior story, and is certainly at some remove from normal genre work of this period in terms of characterisation, writing and general texture.
The A. E. van Vogt story Process also has an extended introduction:
Alfred E. van Vogt has become one of the acknowledged masters, first of the pulps and later of hard-cover science fiction, largely because of the sheer overwhelming vastness of his concepts, which casually embrace more universes than you can name planets. But a few heretics like us think that his strongest work has been his least all-embracing, that his astute mind has best displayed itself in the detailed convincing study of a limited situation, as in the classic early sections of Slan (which is what converted one of us to science fiction!) p.46
The story is about a sentient forest and a spaceship that lands in the middle of it. After a battle between the two that the forest loses, it supplies uranium dust to the ship which subsequently departs. Following an atomic explosion (presumably from the excess dust) it then uses the secret of this new technology to attack another forest….
I wasn’t aware that van Vogt had ever contributed to F&SF, and they only just managed to get a story from him. This was one of the last half dozen he wrote before he fell silent in the early fifties.
The Angel With Purple Hair by Herb Paul is an odd story about an angel turning up at a club where she is later joined by a test pilot. They exit the club to some commotion and set off to get her a room at a hotel. The test pilot subsequently goes out to the hangar and is inspecting his test aircraft when she joins him again. They discuss the problems he has been having with a new airplane and she suggests a solution. They also talk about their impossible love for each other. The next day the engineers have made the suggested changes to the aircraft and he takes it up for a test flight.
I’m not sure this story really works to be honest: although I found it interesting due to my aviation background I’m not sure others will feel the same way. The poignant last scene helps.
The Well-Oiled Machine by H. B. Fyfe is about the editor of Stupendous Stories and an office full of editorial robots:
Sinner was a secretarial robot, designed with four arms to facilitate simultaneous handling, correcting, and copying of manuscripts. Two of his hands had twenty-four fingers each, for typing. He was mounted on three small wheels, and gave Ed a chill on mornings after. p.105
There is also Arty is the art robot, etc. The story ploddingly introduces all the robots and their quirks before mixing in the trouble the editor is having with his wife. I did not find this as ‘hilarious’ as the editors did.
Another Chance for Casey by Larry Siegel (American Legion Magazine, 1950) is a baseball story about a player, Casey, briefly returning from heaven to Earth in an attempt to salvage his reputation. I’m not a fan of fantasy sports stories but this one is atmospherically done even if you don’t understand all the terminology.
The cover on this issue4 is the first the magazine has used that makes it look like a SF magazine, and starts a long tradition of astronomical paintings for the magazine by Chesley Bonestell. I think this view of Saturn would have been improved if the dated fifties spaceship had been removed.5
Although there have been no editorials in the magazine, just before the introduction to the first story, there is a short note which reads, in part:
We are happy to announce that, beginning with this issue, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION steps up from a quarterly to a bimonthly status. The circulation volume that has made this possible is due solely to the support given our venture by you, our readers, and we want each one of you to take this note as an expression of thanks. Rest assured that we will continue our attempts to give you—every other month, now—the best stories by the best authors on that wonderful subject, the-impossible-made-convincing. p.3
In lieu of part of this month’s Recommended Reading column (although there is still a short one covering Judith Meril’s Shadow on the Hearth amongst others) there is Review: Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L. Ron Hubbard by C. Daly King, Ph.D. This member of the American Psychological Association does not pull his punches. His article starts with this:
This volume is full of assertions and claims, and frequent reference is made in it to “scientific evidence,” but your reviewer could find no item of such evidence in its 400-odd pages. Unsupported assertions are not evidence and, since the author presents every appearance of sincerity, one can conclude only that he is unfamiliar with the nature of scientific evidence. Diligent search has turned up the information that he is a Hollywood studio and radio writer, that he has contributed to 90 magazines, that he holds an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering and that he is an experienced explorer. No one would deny that all of these are legitimate activities but they are not the usual qualifications of an expert in psychology. p.99
The rest of the review continues in a similar vein to the extent that the editors add a postscript to the review:
Mr. King was, of course, given a free hand with his review; and the opinions expressed are his and not necessarily ours. Since his review has proved to be such a slashing attack on what one of his letters called “a sort of technocratic burlesque of psychiatry,” we feel it only just to say that our pages are open to any equally cogent and reasoned rebuttal from any equally competent and responsible authority.
Incidentally, some readers have expressed surprise at the reference in our last issue to “dianoetics.” That happened simply because our proofreader, who had never heard of the Hubbard book, checked the word in the dictionary and found the long-established, etymologically correct form. The one stand on the subject that we do feel ourselves competent to take is that Mr. Hubbard’s notions of spelling and etymology (and by no means in this word alone) are, to be polite, idiosyncratic. p.103
Last but not least is the start of another long running F&SF tradition: Index to Volume One, Fall 1949–December 1950.3 These indexes were very useful in the days before ISFDB and the internet.
A mixed issue but one with a number of items of note.
- L. Sprague de Camp’s ‘W. Wilson Newbury’ stories at ISFDB.
- According to SFE: ‘St Clair became temporarily better known for these than for the works published under her own name. They were smoother-textured than her pulp adventures and oriented more towards Fantasy, even Slick Fantasy’.
- The first index:
- The cover was also used on The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction by Anthony Boucher & J. Francis McComas (1952).
- A more elegant cover without the spaceship?: