John the Revelator • short story by Oliver La Farge ♥
One of the Family • short story by Reginald Bretnor ♥♥
Temporarily at Liberty • short story by Lawrence Goldman ♥
Journey • short story by Gene Hunter ♥♥
The One Who Waits • reprint short story by Ray Bradbury ♥♥♥
My Brother’s Wife • short story by Wilson Tucker ♥♥
The Friendly Demon • reprint short story by Daniel Defoe
The Roommate • short story by Graves Taylor ♥
No-Sided Professor • reprint short story by Martin Gardner ♥♥♥+
Barney • short story by Will Stanton ♥♥♥+
Fearsome Fable • short story by Bruce Elliott
The Railway Carriage • reprint short story by F. Tennyson Jesse ♥♥♥+
Time Tourist • short story by Thomas A. Meehan [as by Maurice Murphy] ♥
Episode of the Perilous Talisman • short story by C. Daly King [as by Jeremiah Phelan] ♥♥♥
Cover • by George Salter
Recommended Reading • by the Editors
The Kraken • poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson
More—And Still More! • by the Editors
After the brief respite of a Bonestell cover last month we are back to the peculiar offerings of George Salter. Moving swiftly on, this first bimonthly issue starts with a story from the 1930 Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Laughing Boy, a novel of Navajo life which the editors refer to as ‘an American Classic’ in their introduction. Contributors such as this from outside of the SF field would be a continuing characteristic of the magazine.
John the Revelator is a Cold War inspired story about rival supercomputers. One of the newest American computers is ‘sleeping’ while a chaplain prays nearby. Subsequently, it and the other supercomputers start inserting religious text in amongst the equation solutions they provide:
Luke added a contribution of his own to a problem looking to a vastly improved guided missile. At the end of his solutions he printed numbers which when decoded made another Greek sentence followed by four figures. Translated, the passage read, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. 23:34.” The numbers referred to the chapter and verse in St. Luke. p.9
Relations between the nations of the world improve for a period as the computers shame mankind into better behaviour. However (spoiler) it isn’t long before man is back to his old ways. The story’s initially somewhat naive view about the effect that computer preaching would have on world affairs makes it a little unconvincing, but this aspect probably appealed to Boucher’s devout Catholicism.1
There are another half-dozen or so SF stories in this issue, the overall standard of which is probably higher than the fantasy. Journey by Gene Hunter has an introduction which states:
It took the fresh approach of Gene Hunter to reveal that the trip through time might, in a perfectly normal and convincing manner, occur on a streetcar. And with the same fresh realism, Mr. Hunter describes time travel in terms, not of tomorrow’s galaxies, but of today’s Suburbia, not of the lntertemporal Patrol, but of thirteen-year-old Bobby Holcomb. This is a story which brings you no time-travel marvels of another age, past or future —only the quietly perturbing realization of what an encounter with your self-at-another-time-point might mean. p.25
That pretty much summarises the story. A thirteen-year-old boy meets his future self who is doing a job he doesn’t like and has a wife he doesn’t want to be with. He tells the boy to remember the poor choices he made when he goes back to the past. It’s competently done but perhaps most noteworthy for being an attempt at using fantastical SF ideas on a personal level.
The One Who Waits by Ray Bradbury (The Arkham Sampler, Summer 1949) is an eerie tale set on Mars. An alien entity in a deep well senses a spaceship from Earth land nearby. When they come to the well it rises and possesses one of the men:
I nod my head and it is good to nod. It is good to do several things after ten thousand years. It is good to breathe the air and it is good to feel the sun in the flesh deep and going deeper and it is good to feel the structure of ivory, the fine skeleton hidden in the warming flesh, and it is good to hear sounds much clearer and more immediate than they were in the stone deepness of a well. I sit enchanted. p.36
I liked this but the final scene made me wonder about the rationale behind this creature’s behaviour.
In the next story I recognised the name of Martin Gardner from the puzzles he produced for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in the 70s and 80s. I hadn’t realised that he also wrote fiction. No-Sided Professor (Esquire, January 1947) would seem to be an accomplished writing debut as well as the first of two ‘Dr Stanislav Slapernarski’ stories. It has an excellent opening hook:
Dolores—a tall, black-haired stripteaser at Chicago’s Purple Hat Club stood in the center of the dance floor and began the slow gyrations of her Cleopatra number, accompanied by soft Egyptian music from the Purple Hatters. The room was dark except for a shaft of emerald light that played over her filmy Egyptian costume and smooth, voluptuous limbs.
A veil draped about her head and shoulders was the first to be removed. Dolores was in the act of letting it drift gracefully to the floor when suddenly a sound like the firing of a shotgun came from somewhere above and the nude body of a large man dropped head first from the ceiling. He caught the veil in mid-air with his chin and pinned it to the floor with a dull thump.
Pandemonium reigned. p.74
It goes on to tell a superior story about a group of topologists who assemble at a meeting of the Moebius club to hear a talk on ‘non-lateral surfaces’ from a visiting Polish professor. This story is probably the highlight of the issue.
Once again, the editors’ introduction to Barney by Will Stanton provides a better description than I can:
The experimental biologist who overreaches himself belongs to the oldest traditions of science fiction, the documentary diary form to the oldest traditions of English fiction itself. P.84
The biologist and an animal subject called Barney—who has had his intelligence increased—are on an island and are engaged in a battle of wits that ends with a clever twist ending.
The final two SF pieces are slight, forgettable stuff. Fearsome Fable by Bruce Elliott is a forgettable three-paragraph squib that concerns fifteen apes in front of typewriters, each of who type out a single word.
Time Tourist by Thomas A. Meehan is more a notion than a story with its tale of a time traveller from 5050 who has a verbal sparring match with a young girl. The last short section seems to end quite abruptly.
The half-dozen fantasy pieces are all quite traditional stuff this time around with nothing like Howard Schoenfeld’s Build Up Logically from a couple of issues ago; two or three are ghost stories. One of the Family by Reginald Bretnor could be described as one of the latter although it is arguable that the ending makes it SF. A woman lives in fear of a mirror:
The mirror hung beyond the stairs, high on the wall above the spinet-desk, where it could not see Miss Graes, where she did not need to pass it to reach the echoing, empty rooms in which she lived. For a while, long after her father’s death, she had locked it away, face downward and closely hooded in many layers of brown paper, as though the woman who had cheated her might use it as an entrance-way. And might she not?—Miss Graes had asked herself—might guilt not rouse her in her stolen grave, send her across the gap of time and death, vengefully? p.15
As Miss Graes talks to a companion it appears that her father had adopted a girl who, after she died, was buried with the her father, using up the remaining space in the grave. The woman fears the adopted girl coming through the mirror for her.
The ending perplexed me until I reread a previous part and realised (spoiler) the final scene loops back to a couple of lines (in a page of rambling dialogue) referring to the time when the orphaned girl was found. I don’t think Bretnor helps the reader much here, so my advice is to pay attention when reading this one.
Temporarily at Liberty by Lawrence Goldman probably isn’t even fantasy. It is a slight story about a stage magician in hard times who turns to shoplifting from a large department store, and could probably be passed off as a mainstream piece.
My Brother’s Wife by Wilson Tucker is another entry for my ‘Sweary SF’ series due to the use of the word ‘bugger’ on p.45. It is a hard-boiled crime-type story about a gangster who has two brothers, the elder in a mental institution and the younger married to a far Eastern woman the gangster has never seen. As there seems to be a link between the brother’s insanity and the wife, the gangster investigates and discovers the woman had a different physical appearance in the three previous locations the couple lived.
The resolution (spoiler) reveals the obvious answer that she is a shape shifter, but it leaves various other questions unanswered: why was the brother driven to insanity; why did the woman refuse to ever meet the gangster; why would the gangster kill her when he finds out what she is; how did the younger brother become a similar kind of creature? It is OK up to the final scene but it ends up as one of those pieces that collapses under the weight of its set-up.
I have no idea why the editors thought it a good idea to reprint The Friendly Demon by Daniel Defoe (a chapter titled The Devil Frolics with a Butler from The Friendly Demon, 1726). The events in this story about a butler plagued by spirits seem to be completely arbitrary, and the story’s age and consequent style doesn’t make for an easy read:
The Lord Orrery, hearing of the strange passages, for his further satisfaction of the truth thereof, sent for the butler, with leave of his master, to come and continue some days and nights at his house, which, in obedience to his lordship, the servant did accordingly. Who after his first night’s bedding there, reported to the earl in the morning that his specter had again been with him and assured him that on that very day he should be spirited away, in spite of all the measures that could possibly be taken to prevent it. Upon which he was conducted into a large room, with a considerable number of holy persons to defend him from the assaults of Satan, among whom was the famous stroker of bewitched persons, Mr. Greatrix, who lived in the neighborhood, and knew, as may be presumed, how to deal with the devil as well as anybody. Besides, several eminent quality were present in the house; among the rest, two bishops, all waiting the wonderful event of this unaccountable prodigy. p.55
In the introduction to The Roommate by Graves Taylor the editors comment that the story:
…represents a tradition in American supernatural writing apart from either the Gothic overstatement of Poe and Lovecraft or the naturalistic understatement of O’Brien and Bierce. The true Jamesian fantasy is one of psychological indirection, a story in which hinted-at supernatural forces serve to illuminate the crannies of the protagonist’s mind. p.61
I’ve never really thought about this as I’m not a big reader of horror (bar Stephen King), but I recognise that latter category (which I presume would include the likes of Robert Aickman and Ramsey Campbell) as one that I’ve never really got on with, Ballardian inner space horror stories if you will. Unfortunately, that continues with this story.
In this piece a spinster starts to sense that the ambience of her bedroom has changed, and she subsequently finds an impression of a head in the pillow next to hers when she wakes in the morning. The story describes three areas of the woman’s life: her servant Dora and Dora’s husband Lamb; her dead sister and previous suitors; a physical change in her appearance and weight. While readable and atmospheric enough, the ending made no particular sense. There is a vague impression of repressed sexuality, but otherwise I have no idea what this one is about.
The Railway Carriage by F. Tennyson Jesse (The Strand, November 1931) is one of the writer’s ‘Solange’ stories. Solange is a lady detective who has ‘an extra spiritual sense that warns her of evil’, which sometimes aides and other times frustrates her in the elucidation of crimes. The first half of this story is set in a third class carriage of a train that she shares with two other people, a quiet old lady and a somewhat odd man. Solange notes a strange atmosphere in the carriage, one that became apparent when the man joined them at the second stop. Subsequently the three of them are joined by a few local farmers and a lawyer’s clerk, and an interesting conversation begins about a young man who has been hanged that morning for cutting the throat of a love-rival.
The original three passengers are left in the train after this group disembark, and the train continues on only to be involved in an accident. When Solange comes to consciousness, there is a young man above her saying she needs to get out of the carriage as the train is on fire.
The rest of the action neatly ties together all the elements that have been established. The young man (spoiler) tells her to wake the odd man and tell him they need a rope to get the old woman out of the carriage. The man, once roused and having climbed out of the carriage, tells Solange to look in his bag where she discovers a hangman’s noose. There are a couple of further wrinkles to this clever and engrossing story, and the editors also include an afterword:
In granting us permission to reprint this story, Miss Jesse wrote: “The only crab to it is this: I thought it was such a good idea that, although knowing it was incorrect and that in England hangmen don’t carry their ropes around with them in little over-night hags, I couldn’t resist writing it. It is the only time I have ever committed the crime of being incorrect and I got a long letter from a barrister and one from a prison governor informing me that the rope is always kept in the prison where executions take place and is laid up in vaseline to keep it supple. So I wrote back very humbly and said I knew I had been wrong, but it was such a good idea that I was afraid I had been unable to resist it. I do hope you don’t mind this lack of correctness.” If “the crime of being incorrect” could he regularly guaranteed to produce such results as this, we’d establish an editorial tabu against accuracy! p.101
I have to agree: it is an enjoyable story, to the point that I am curious as to whether The Solange Stories (Macmillan, 1931) are worth acquiring.
Episode of the Perilous Talisman by C. Daly King is, after an unnecessary page or so of previous series-story waffle, an interesting Egyptian artefact fantasy about a box that kills people when opened. A politician with nefarious motives brings the box to an expert called Tarrant. The latter is a Sherlock Holmes style character who understands most things and knows all the questions to ask if he doesn’t.
It eventually materialises (spoiler) that the politician wants to use the box as a cover for murdering his wife. When Tarrant opens it and survives, he lies to the politician to lure him into doing the same, which eventually leads to his death. What is actually inside the box is a special kind of mirror that gives the observer an elemental and traumatic reflection of themselves.
The non-fiction is minimal as per usual. The Recommended Reading column by The Editors starts with a quick stab at definitions:
Many anthologists and magazine editors, and even some readers, make quite a serious to-do about drawing a precise line between science fiction and the rest of imaginative literature. As you know, we’ve never felt the tremendous importance of the distinction; and only in this review department have we tried to draw any line of demarcation between science fiction and fantasy.
But if the line is to be drawn, we feel strongly that it should come at a different point than the usual one. Extrapolation of probable science, as practised notably by Heinlein and by a few other authors such as de Camp and Simak, can be legitimately called science fiction; space-warps, galactic drives, BEMs and time machines are as purely fantasy as werewolves or vampires. p.58
After praising Theodore Sturgeon’s The Dreaming Jewels, they go onto cover a number of books including these two, which I have never heard of:
Elizabeth Cadell’s delightful Brimstone in the Garden (Morrow) is a charming (if faintly snobbish) picture of a tiny English village subjected to a summer’s haunting by two soul-catching demons and a wistful ghost.
These are really demons of good-will who manage, with just a touch of mild malice, to solve everyone’s problems and bring about a generally happy ending. Robert Coates’s Here Today (Macmillan) is an exasperating novel of current English life and time travel. The fantasy is weak and confused; the non-fantasy is, while undisciplined, profoundly moving. p.59
They weren’t as impressed as Groff Conklin (Galaxy, December 1950) with Hugo Gernsback’s Ralph 124C41+, calling it ‘unreadable as a novel’.
There is also a poem, The Kraken by Lord Alfred Tennyson, and a short note about next issue’s contents, More—And Still More!:
Beginning with our next issue, we’re adding close to 10,000 words to our contents!
Our problem all along has been that of a small keg of dynamite looking for a place to explode. Right now we’re loaded with stories both rich and strange, and we’ve been wondering unhappily how we could possibly bring them all to you. This new extra space is the big solution! For one thing, it makes possible the use of longer novelets, possibly up to 20,000 words, such as we never thought we could run; or we could instead keep the contents much as they are and add a short novelet of around 10,000 words, or perhaps two extra short stories.
What do you think? We have an especially warm feeling for readers who speak up about their likes and dislikes, and we’d be enormously pleased to receive a flood of letters telling us how you would like to see us use our new space. We can be reached anytime at 2643 Dana St., Berkeley 4, California.
In conclusion I’d say that this issue seems to be a good example of what the magazine is at the moment: a dozen or so stories that are a good mix of reprint and new material, and of SF and fantasy and horror, with perhaps three of four of them particularly noteworthy.
- Boucher’s religion is referred to here: Teller of Weird Tales.