The Fireman • novella by Ray Bradbury ♥♥♥♥♥
…and It Comes Out Here • short story by Lester del Rey ♥
The Protector • short story by Betsy Curtis
Second Childhood • short story by Clifford D. Simak ♥♥
Two Weeks in August • short story by Frank M. Robinson ♥♥♥
Tyrann (Part 2 of 3) • serial by Isaac Asimov ♥
The Tying Down of a Spaceship on Mars in a Desert Sandstorm • cover by Chesley Bonestell
Interior artwork • Karl Rogers, Don Sibley, David Stone, Don Hunter, Elizabeth MacIntyre, John Bunch
Yardstick for Science Fiction • editorial by H. L. Gold
Galaxy’s Five-Star Shelf • book reviews by Groff Conklin
Ray Bradbury’s novella in this issue, The Fireman, is the work that was subsequently expanded into the well-known novel Fahrenheit 451. The story of Guy Montag, a fireman in the future whose job it is to burn books rather than to put out house fires, is probably too well known to need recounting here. What is probably less well known is that this excellent novella is, in my opinion, far superior to the book.
There are several reasons for this (multiple spoilers). Unlike the book, which starts with quotable ‘It was a pleasure to burn’ section and then goes on to detail Montag’s relationship with Clarisse that starts his awakening process, the novella begins about twenty five pages into the novel where Montag is in the fire station asking about the origins of firemen. His ambivalence about the job is already beginning to show, and this is the scene where he tellingly uses the phrase ‘Once upon a time.’ Starting at this point, and condensing the relationship with Clarisse into a later flashback (and Montag’s wife’s attempted suicide in the book into a sentence in the novella) gets the story off to a much faster start.
At the beginning of this fire station scene jet-planes on war-alert scream overhead, so from the get-go the war threat is prominent and it is repeated often enough to give the novella version a pervasive sense of imminent doom.
It is also easier to see in the novella what Bradbury is taking aim at in these works. In general this is 1950’s American society, but in particular there are repeated attacks on radio and TV, and the intellectual dumbing down in the population and contingent threat to books that Bradbury thought resulted. He also sets his sights on barbiturates (his wife’s sleeping pill use/attempted suicide) and on juvenile joy-riding (Montag only just escapes being a road fatality when he is on the run and, in the novella, Clarisse’s death is attributed to an automobile). There are other scenes where the vacuous social intercourse of the time is shown, and there is a lament for the various aspects of American life that have disappeared (porches, walking—Montag is stopped by the police for this).
In the novella all this and more is compressed into the first thirty-five pages making it a very intense read. It almost becomes overwhelming when this is followed by the fire team arriving at Montag’s house to burn both it and his collection of books:
“Was it my wife called you, or one of her friends?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Was it my wife?”
Leahy nodded. “But her friends turned in an alarm earlier. I let it ride. One way or the other, you’d have got it. That was pretty silly, quoting poetry around free and easy, Montag. Very silly. Come on, now.”
“I think not,” said Montag.
He twitched the fire-trigger in his hand. Leahy glanced at Montag’s fingers and saw what he intended before Montag himself had even considered it. In that instant, Montag was stunned by the thought of murder, for murder is always a new thing, and Montag knew nothing of murder; he knew only burning and burning things that people said were evil.
“I know what’s really wrong with the world,” said Montag.
“Look here, Montag—” cried Leahy.
And then he was a shrieking blaze, a jumping, sprawling, gibbering thing, all aflame, writhing on the grass as Montag shot three more blazing pulses of liquid fire over him. There was a hissing and bubbling like a snail upon which salt has been poured. There was a sound like spittle on a red-hot stove. Montag shut his eyes and yelled and tried to get his hands to his ears to cut away the sounds. Leahy twisted in upon himself like a ridiculous black wax doll and lay silent. p.40-41
The rest of the piece is gripping if not quite so intense. In this last section I also noticed that a couple of passages that particularly struck me are rewritten in the novel and not necessarily, I think, to their benefit. Dig out your novel version, find these two passages, and contrast and compare.1 The first is from when Montag is hiding at Faber’s house and they are watching the deployment of the Electric Hound; the second is from the moment the city is bombed:
Montag watched the scene with a solid fascination, not wanting to move, ever. If he wished, he could linger here, in comfort, and follow the entire hunt on through its quick phases, down alleys, up streets, across empty running avenues, with the sky finally lightening with dawn, up other alleys to burned houses, and so on to this place here, this house, with Faber and himself seated at their leisure, smoking idly, drinking good wine, while the Electric Hound sniffed down the fatal paths, whirring and pausing with finality right outside that door there.
Then, if he wished, Montag could rise, walk to the door, keep one eye on the t-v screen, open the door, look out, look back, and see himself, dramatized, described, made over, standing there, limned in the bright television screen, from outside, a drama to be watched objectively, and he would catch himself, an instant before oblivion, being killed for the benefit of a million televiewers who had been wakened from their sleeps a few minutes ago by the frantic beepbeeping of their receivers to watch the big game, the big hunt, the Scoop! p.48
Montag saw the screen go dark in Mildred’s face, and heard her screaming, because in the next millionth part of time left, she would see her own face reflected there, hungry and alone, in a mirror instead of a crystal ball, and it would be such a wildly empty face that she would at last recognize it, and stare at the ceiling almost with welcome as it and the entire structure of the hotel blasted down upon her, carrying her with a million pounds of brick, metal and people down into the cellar, there to dispose of them in its unreasonable way. p.58
I think there is simplicity perhaps even rawness in the novella version that I prefer.
The last point I would make is that it was quite a surprise to discover such a significantly different—and better—version of such a well-known work. That said, I checked the publication history of the novella version and found that it lay unreprinted for almost thirty years, and it was fifty-five before it appeared in one of Bradbury’s own collections.2 Now you know why I read SF magazines. Unmissable.
The rest of the fiction pales by comparison. … and It Comes Out Here by Lester del Rey is a time loop story about a man going back in time to take himself to the future. There he steals a revolutionary power source and goes back to the past. I rather lost track and interest by the end, but suspect there is a chicken and egg problem in there somewhere.
The Protector by Betsy Curtis is about an alien race called the Anestha who feel no pain so, obviously, the narrator takes one of them back to Earth to be a boxer. The pair subsequently hear of the Anestha dying out and so return to the planet to find they are being used as slave labour and consequently dying from work related accidents. This is all told in an irritatingly slangy style. This is from when the manager meets his fighter Pierre’s sister:
She is a cute trick with lots of yumph showing through the molla. She stands kind of slumped, though, and a few of the flowers in her shiny black hair are pretty mashed.
“’Smatter, Jennel?” I says. “You look kind of dragged out for a dame whose brother comes home practically a champeen. Katweela flowers go on strike?” I says, just trying to make talk. p.79
It has a weak ending as well.
Second Childhood by Clifford D. Simak is an odd piece that probably ends up in the interesting failure box. It is about a man who is over five thousand years old and who petitions the Council to help him die. He states that the weight of all his memories has become unbearable. When they decline he settles on another idea: he will regress to childhood to wipe away all the memories, and proceeds to get an oversize house built and provisioned with all the toys of his youth.
On a rational level none of this convinces, not the weight of accumulated memories causing his ennui, not the belief in his regression to childhood removing those memories. However, in the final section, when he does regress to childhood and later the council introduces a huge mother-android, it does have a compelling dream logic that makes this of some interest.
Two Weeks in August by Frank M. Robinson starts by describing an irritating office type:
What kind of guy was he? Well if you came down to the office one day proud as Punch because of something little Johnny or Josephine had said, it was a sure cinch that McCleary would horn in with something his little Louie had spouted off that morning. At any rate, when McCleary got through, you felt like taking Johnny to the doctor to find out what made him subnormal.
Or maybe you happened to buy a new Super-eight that week and were bragging about the mileage, the terrific pickup, and how quickly she responded to the wheel. Leave it to McCleary to give a quick rundown on his own car that would make you feel like selling yours for junk at the nearest scrap heap.
Well, you see what I mean. p.102-103
So one of the guys in the office pretends he is going to Mars on holiday to get one over on McCleary. Once they are all back in the office after the holiday period (spoiler) McCleary regales them with stories about his holiday on Mars and the matching photographs. A pleasant if minor piece of wish-fufillment.
Tyrann by Isaac Asimov carries on as it did in the first part, the only difference being my increasing weariness with it. Biron, Artemesia and Gillbret escape from Rhodia on a Tyranni cruiser and stay in orbit a couple of days before landing and getting provisions. The time in orbit gives Biron and Arta a chance to moon over and/or irritate each other:
It occurred to her, at that moment, that Biron, though young and therefore rather unreasonable in some of his viewpoints, was at least large and well-muscled, which was convenient. It had been foolish of her to snap at him. Quite pleasant looking, too. p.112
The trip, he decided, could be quite wonderful if she would only learn to behave herself. The trouble was that no one had ever controlled her properly, that was all. Certainly not her father. She’d become too used to having her own way. If she’d been born a commoner, she would have been a very lovely creature. p.128
Pages and pages later the sexual tension is excruciatingly resolved:
They were closer to one another. He could have reached out and touched her, held her in his arms, kissed her.
And he did so.
It was a complete non sequitur.
Nothing, it seemed to Biron, had led to it. One moment they were discussing Jumps and gravity and Gillbret, and the next she was soft and silky in his arms and soft and silky on his lips.
His first impulse was to say he was sorry, to go through all the silly motions of apology, but when he drew away, and would have spoken, she still made no attempt at escape but rested her head in the crook of his left arm. Her eyes remained closed.
So he said nothing at all and kissed her again, slowly and thoroughly. p.139
Later there is much talk about a planet that has started a rebellion. Gillbret thinks the Autarch of Ligane may be involved, so they make the jump there. Biron recognises the Autarch as Jonti—the plot thickens! After various recriminations they discuss the possible location of the rebellion planet:
If such a situation is to remain possible, there is only one place in the Sector where such a planet can exist.”
“And where is that?”
“You do not find the solution obvious? Doesn’t it seem inevitable that the world could exist only within the Nebula itself?”
“Inside the Nebula!”
Gillbret said, “Great Galaxy, of course!” p.153
Needless to say Brion and Arta subsequently fall out, so brace yourself for more teenage angst in part three.
As for the non-fiction, Chesley Bonestell follows his cover for the December issue of F&SF with Galaxy’s best one yet. The internal artwork is competent enough if a little old fashioned looking. None of it grabbed me except perhaps the last couple by Karl Rogers for The Fireman.3
Yardstick for Science Fiction by H. L. Gold is an editorial of two parts. In the first he succumbs to some pre-story submission fluffing from a writer:
Galaxy is naive enough to believe in the publishing platitudes of good characterization, believable situations, credible conflict, all of which have been talked up for years while the opposite was used.
Whether Galaxy really does use them can be attested to by a letter from an author whose name would be instantly recognized: “. . . I opened the first issue with interest but without any special expectation, one way or the other. I recognized your name on the masthead . . . and I was impressed with both the ambitious format and the table of contents names. Then I read it, almost at one sitting—and realized I was reading the first fully adult science fiction magazine I had ever held in my hands!” p.2
In the second part he launches into an astonishing public attack on Street & Smith/Astounding:
Galaxy buys only first magazine publication rights. We retain no other rights at all, whether radio, pocketbook, anthologization, or any other sort. We demand not a single cent of the payment for the resale of any Galaxy story!
Galaxy does not use fictitious excuses to deprive writers of this income, such as regarding them as business infants who must be protected against their inclination to give their work away for nothing—while demanding a share of resale price.
Because of our higher rates and refusal to cut in on earnings that are not ethically a magazine publisher’s, Galaxy is, as a natural consequence, getting the finest science fiction stories. Also as a consequence, apparently, Needle by Hal Clement will not be the current Galaxy Science Fiction Novel, though announced last month. A fraction of the book first appeared in another magazine, and since it is that publisher’s policy to retain reprint rights, it has been refused us, despite the wishes of the author and the publishers of the clothbound edition.
Hal Clement has thus suffered a serious financial loss—a guarantee of almost the original price of the story, and royalties that could very possibly make it much more—through having his interests “protected.”
It is dubious protection that can cancel a sale for an author and yet often involve a demand for a substantial part of the payment. p.12
I agree with Gold but am surprised he decided to pick a fight about it in public.4 Hal Clement subsequently sold Campbell Iceworld, which would be serialised in Astounding (October-December 1951).
Galaxy’s Five-Star Shelf by Groff Conklin is another very short book review column (two and a half pages). One of the four books he reviews is Robert Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky, of which he says this:
Though conceived as a book for “adolescents,” and first published, in a shorter version, in Boy’s Life, this book is also one of the best of the month’s output in science fiction for adults.p.99
The whole book is a very effective antidote to the complex and often bloody tales of intergalactic and interplanetary wars which seem to be the stock in trade of too many modern science fiction writers.p.100
The latter comment could be about today’s books.
Highly recommended for the Ray Bradbury novella.
- Here are the book quotes. From p.130 of the 1980 Panther edition of Fahrenheit 451:
He watched the scene, fascinated, not wanting to move. It seemed so remote and no part of him; it was a play apart and separate, wondrous to watch, not without its strange pleasure. That’s all for me, you thought, that’s all taking place just for me, by God.
If he wished, he could linger here, in comfort, and follow the entire hunt on through its swift phases, down alleys, across streets, over empty running avenues, crossing lots and playgrounds, with pauses here or there for the necessary commercials, up other alleys to the burning house of Mr. and Mrs. Black, and so on finally to this house with Faber and himself seated, drinking, while the Electric Hound snuffed down the last trail, silent as a drift of death itself, skidding to a halt outside that window there. Then, if he wished, Montag might rise, walk to the window, keep one eye on the TV screen, open the window, lean out, look back, and see himself dramatized, described, made over, standing there, limned in the bright small television screen from outside, a drama to be watched objectively, knowing that in other parlours he was large as life, in full colour, dimensionally perfect! and if he kept his eye peeled quickly he would see himself, an instant before oblivion, being punctured for the benefit of how many civilian parlour-sitters who had been wakened from sleep a few minutes ago by the frantic sirening of their living room walls to come watch the big game, the hunt, the one-man carnival.
From p.153 of the 1980 Panther edition:
Montag, falling flat, going down, saw or felt, or imagined he saw or felt the walls go dark in Millie’s face, heard her screaming, because in the millionth part of time left, she saw her own face reflected there, in a mirror instead of a crystal ball, and it was such a wildly empty face, all by itself in the room, touching nothing, starved and eating of itself, that at last she recognized it as her own and looked quickly up at the ceiling as it and the entire structure of the hotel blasted down upon her, carrying her with a million pounds of brick, metal, plaster, and wood, to meet other people in the hives below, all on their quick way down to the cellar where the explosion rid itself of them in its own unreasonable way.
- The Fireman’s ISFDB page. There is other interesting material on Wikipedia.
- Karl Rogers’ illustrations for The Fireman:
- It was pointed out to me elsewhere this may have been Gold’s medication and PTSD talking. Campbell had his say in James V. Taurasi’s news fanzine Fantasy Times.