Bright Phoenix • short story by Ray Bradbury ♥♥♥♥
To the Chicago Abyss • short story by Ray Bradbury ♥♥
Mrs. Pigafetta Swims Well • short story by Reginald Bretnor ♥♥
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXII • short story by Reginald Bretnor [as by Grendel Briarton]
Newton Said • short story by Jack Thomas Leahy
Underfollow • short story by John Jakes ♥
Now Wakes the Sea • short story by J. G. Ballard ♥♥♥
Watch the Bug-Eyed Monster • short story by Don White ♥
Treaty in Tartessos • short story by Karen Anderson ♥
Niña Sol • short story by Felix Marti-Ibanez ♥♥
Cover • Joe Mugnaini
Interior artwork • Emsh
Introduction • essay by Avram Davidson
Bradbury: Prose Poet in the Age of Space • essay by William F. Nolan
Bradbury Film Wins Academy Award Nomination
An Index to Works of Ray Bradbury • bibliography by William F. Nolan
Books • by Avram Davidson
Just Mooning Around • essay by Isaac Asimov
Atomic Reaction • poem by Sharon Webb [as by Ron Webb]
No Trading Voyage • poem by Doris Pitkin Buck
I picked up this issue after reading The Fireman in a recent Galaxy as I discovered there were two other associational Fahrenheit 451 stories. One is The Pedestrian, which I’ll read shortly as it was published in the February 1952 F&SF; the other one is the first story in this special Ray Bradbury issue, Bright Phoenix.
Ray Bradbury’s introduction says it is:
“…a curiosity. I wrote it back in 1947-48 and it remained in my files over the years, going out only a few times to quality markets like Harper’s Bazaar or The Atlantic Monthly, where it was dismissed. It lay in my files and collected about it many ideas. These ideas grew large and became … Fahrenheit 451.” p.23
The story starts with Jonathan Barnes, the chief censor and book burner, arriving at the town library. Tom is the librarian who has to deal with him. After some verbal sparring between the pair Barnes’ black uniformed men start throwing books out of the windows to be burnt outside. Tom the librarian leaves for his lunch and convinces Barnes to come across to the café with him:
We crossed the green lawn where a huge portable Hell was drawn up hungrily, a fat black tar-daubed oven from which shot red-orange and gaseous blue flames into which men were shoveling the wild birds, the literary doves which soared crazily down to flop broken-winged, the precious flights poured from every window to thump the earth, to be kerosene-soaked and chucked in the gulping furnace. p.25-26
Once the pair are in the cafe and seated there are some odd exchanges with the staff:
Walter, the proprietor, strolled over, with some dog-eared menus. Walter looked at me. I winked. Walter looked at Jonathan Barnes. Walter said: “‘Come with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove.’”
“What?” Jonathan Barnes blinked.
“Call me Ishmael,” said Walter.
“Ishmael,” I said. ‘We’ll have coffee to start.’’ p.26
After these and subsequent exchanges, both in the cafe and on the street, and along with his puzzlement about the lack of resistance to the book-burnings Barnes realises (spoiler) that the townspeople have memorised all the books he is trying to burn:
“Do you think you can all fool me, me, me?”
I did not answer.
“How can you be sure,” he said, “I won’t burn people, as well as books?” p.28
Barnes eventually stops the operation and leaves.
This story is an elegantly written and brilliantly economical story that neatly encapsulates the book burning/censorship/living books aspects of Fahrenheit 451, and will be of interest to readers of both that book and The Fireman. As Avram Davidson notes, it is far from being just ‘a curiosity.’
The second Bradbury story, presumably written a decade and a half later isn’t bad but it illustrates the difference in quality between his early and later work. To the Chicago Abyss tells of an old man in a future society that has experienced Annihilation Day. The old man approaches people and reminds them of things lost:
“Raleighs,” said the old man. “Lucky Strikes.”
The young man stared at him.
“Kent. Kools. Marlboro,’’ said the old man, not looking at him. “Those were the names. White, red, amber packs grass-green, sky-blue, pure gold with the red slick small ribbon that ran around the top that you pulled to zip away the crinkly cellophane, and the blue government tax-stamp—”
“Shut up,’’ said the young man.
“Buy them in drug-stores, fountains, subways—”
“Shut up!” p.32
After the old man is physically assaulted another man takes him home and hides him when the secret police call. He suggests to the old man that it would be better to address several people at a time in private rather than strangers in public.
I wasn’t really convinced by the concept and the writing isn’t as good as in the first story.
The rest of this issue’s fiction highlights a couple of Avram Davidson’s irritating editorial characteristics: one is his overuse of so-called ‘humorous’ stories, the other overlong story introductions. The first of the stories probably falls into the former category. Mrs. Pigafetta Swims Well by Reginald Bretnor (Peninsula Spectator, Oct 23, 1959) is a too straightforward account of an Italian sailor who was formerly a singer, and a mermaid who keeps him captive and wants to marry him. He promises to buy her a new hat but on the shopping trip escapes to America. Or has he…?
Following hard on the heels of this is Mr Bretnor’s other contribution to the issue, the punning Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXII.
The next story is another light/humourous piece. Newton Said by Jack Thomas Leahy concerns an unhappy elf called Mr Peaseblossom: his son Newton has become a chemist. After several pages of Mr Peaseblossom’s spells going wrong he goes to a shrink and as a result decides to address matters with his son:
“Newton!” he shouted loudly into the darkness.
“I’m down in the lab, Dad,” his son’s voice came back to him. Mr. Peaseblossom hopped nimbly off the toadstool and made his way to Newton’s laboratory. “Dad!” Newton said. “You’re an Elf again.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Peaseblossom said. “I am an Elf again, full of magic and poetry. There are golden candlesticks on the moon.”
“Aw, dad,” Newton said. “Not that old stuff again.”
“All right! All right!” Mr. Peaseblossom roared at him. “You’re getting too big for your pants. The time has come to find out what’s what.”
“O.K.” Newton said. “What’s what?”
“A test, that’s what’s what,” Mr. Peaseblossom yelled. “A test between you and me to find out who’s boss around here.” p.63
During the contest Mr Peaseblossom (spoiler) fluffs another spell and Newton nukes his father.
The fourth entry in this laugh-riot is Underfollow by John Jakes. This one concerns a lobbyist on an alien planet:
Pendennis sighed. He was 45 and almost all fat. He sprawled before the solido set in his apartment near the rocket port. Every time a rocket fired off, the walls shook. Stinking fumes seeped under the door day and night. Still, Pendennis couldn’t live anywhere else. The blue men of Mica II discriminated against Earthies, considered them inferior since the Micans had conquered the Earthies a hundred years ago. They said they had a funny smell, too. p.66
He is required by his boss to improve the image of ‘Earthies’ by influencing the plot line of a popular Mican soap opera that portrays Earthmen as villains. The story is about how he wangles an appointment with the Culture Minister, and the solido episode which results. It improves a little towards the end (or maybe by that time I had just got used to the dreadful style) but initially reads like a 1950’s Galaxy reject. This story also illustrates Davidson’s introduction problem: this one is so long (200-250 words) it needs a title as the story itself starts over the page.
Now Wakes the Sea by J. G. Ballard is a welcome change of tone. This fantasy is about a man who, after an illness, starts to wake up in the night and see the town he lives in flooded by an imaginary sea, even though he is hundreds of miles inland. He notices that the sea is getting closer to the house every night. Later, while exploring, he sees a woman with silver hair on the headland and tries over the course of the next few nights to make his way towards her….
The writing style of this one is as polished as the first Bradbury story:
Again at night Mason heard the sounds of the approaching sea, the muffled thunder of the long breakers rolling up the nearby streets. Roused from his sleep, he ran out into the moonlight, where the white-framed houses stood like sepulchres among the washed concrete courts. Two hundred yards away the waves plunged and boiled, sluicing in and out across the pavement. A million phosphorescent bubbles seethed through the picket fences, and the broken spray filled the air with the wine-sharp tang of brine. p.76
After this one story respite there is Watch the Bug-Eyed Monster by Don White, of which Davidson says ‘it is funny’. This one tells of Zlat, an alien spaceship pilot who finds he can get drunk on water. He makes an unintended drunken arrival at a Sydney bar and gets talking to a female impersonator called Vernon/Valerie who tells him about, perhaps notably for the period, his unreliable boyfriends:
Valerie went on with his life story: “. . . and that was the end of Duncan, though I still wonder if he’ll ever come back, if only for his bell-bottoms and his Japanese camera. But then . . . then I met Desmond,” he sighed. “But, Zlat, he’s just like all the others. He doesn’t understand me. Why, I even have reason to believe that tonight,” he broke down long enough to swallow a Pink Lady whole and scatter more water on the almost delirious-with-joy Zlat, “tonight be may be out with a . . . a WOMAN!” p.88
Meanwhile Zlat spills the beans to Vernon about an upcoming alien invasion.
I disliked this one to begin with but warmed to it a little on the way through. Part of the problem is that this is the fifth story with a light/humorous style. None of them are particularly good at it, and most don’t have other story skills (plot, style, etc.) to pull them through.
Treaty in Tartessos by Karen Anderson is a fantasy-historical about a man and a centaur meeting to try to agree terms that will end a war between their peoples. Apart from a finish you can see coming from a mile off (about a continent that will be given to the centaurs as a homeland) it doesn’t help that the conversation is conducted in modern vernacular. On one page you can read “The boys found a couple of dead . . . uh, buffalo, after the battle, and we had a fine barbecue” and “I got to admit you gave us a good fight today, for all you’re such lightweights,” the centaur said. Or, “We could lick any two of them with our eyes shut.”
The last story is Niña Sol by Felix Marti-Ibanez. This is a fantasy that takes place on the high altitude plateaus of Peru, where an artist meets an writer who is there for the yellow light. After several days of painting he recounts a tale to the writer about the golden girl he has met, a remnant from Inca times who appears to be a spirit of the sun. He eventually determines to follow her to her world.
“At first I thought she was a statue. My eyes were so blinded by the sun, which reverberated on the hill and on the house as on a mirror, that I barely saw her silhouette. But after a while, with my hands shading my eyes, I was able to see her quite clearly. She was almost a child, dressed in a sleeveless waist and a short skirt which glistened as if made of gold. At first I thought she was wearing a helmet on her head, but then I realized that it was her blond hair on which the sun broke into myriad luminous sparks. But what left me spellbound was her skin. I cannot give you even a remote idea of the color of her arms, her bare legs, her face. They were of the same golden shade as the paradise that surrounded her, but with a gossamer quality, a transparency, an iridescence, that was not of this earth. It was as if she were standing on a blazing throne of gold and she herself was made of such fiery gold as mortal eyes are not meant to look at and retain their sight.” p.120
As previously mentioned this is a special Ray Bradbury issue, the second of a number of such issues that F&SF would publish (the most recent David Gerrold one just appeared). As a consequence of this it incorporates several articles apart from the fiction. The cover of Ray Bradbury himself is by Joe Mugnaini, and incorporates scenes from The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 and several short stories (Uncle Einar, Skeleton, A Season of Calm Weather). There is a fulsome Introduction by Avram Davidson which is followed by an good article by William F. Nolan, Bradbury: Prose Poet in the Age of Space. This is full of quotable bits but I’ll limit myself to one anecdote from when Bradbury was still trying to break into the professional magazines:
“During this period I began haunting the doorsteps of the local professionals, many of whom belonged to the club,” says Ray. “I was desperate to learn the secrets of the pros, and would pop up with a new story nearly every week which I passed around for criticism and advice from Hank Kuttner to Leigh Brackett to Ed Hamilton to Bob Heinlein to Ross Rocklynne to Jack Williamson to Henry Hasse, all of whom were incredibly kind and patient with me and with these dreadful early efforts. In fact, the above-named authors grew lean and rangy from countless flights through the rear exits of walk-up apartments when Bradbury would suddenly appear at the front door with a new manuscript in his teeth.” p.14
Bradbury Film Wins Academy Award Nomination is a short note about an Oscar nomination for Icarus Montgolfier Wright, an 18 minute semi-animated film based on Bradbury’s story and 200 tempera paintings by Joe Mugnaini, the cover artist. Bradbury co-wrote the screenplay with George Clayton Johnson.1
William F. Nolan’s bibliography, An Index to Works of Ray Bradbury, would have been, as I have pointed out about this kind of thing before, a great boon back in the days before the internet. Even now, I found it quite an interesting read as it gives the story titles alongside their first magazine or book publication (to get this on ISFDB you have to click the story title, so looking at this kind of thing there would be quite tiresome).
What I noticed was that Bradbury wrote about twenty-two or so stories for Weird Tales from 1942-48 and then he stops. However, he still sells to other pulps for next couple of years before transitioning to the slicks in the early fifties. In the previously mentioned period he sold eleven stories each to Planet Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories, and then sold them another three and seven respectively in the next couple of years. But nothing to Weird Tales….
There is a short Books column by Avram Davidson this issue. He admits to not finishing Robert Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars and says:
If this book will bring young girls to read SF, hurray. But your middle-aged, fatherly editor, though he concedes the author’s dexterity, is simply incapable of identifying with a space-kitten who uses expletives like “Dirty ears! Hangnails! Snel-frockey! Spit! and Dandruffl” and what’s more, he ain’t going to try. Not any more than he has, anyway. Snel-frockey, indeed. p.98
Just Mooning Around by Isaac Asimov is an interesting essay in which he works out the relative magnitude of the sun’s gravitational attraction for the moons of the solar system’s planets relative to their primary. He works out the distances of the zone where moons can exist (between the point where the sun wins the tug of war, and the Roche limit, where tidal forces would break the moon up). Our moon turns out to be the exception to his calculations, so he posits a boundary condition where a ‘double planet’ can be formed.
This article won’t be for everyone as it starts off with formulae and number crunching but, notwthstanding this, the essay could do without Davidsons’ irrelevant and ultimately patronising introduction where he says:
The alchemists, gentlemen and scholars to a man (. . . well . . . almost to a man. There was the case of that cad, Dr. Dee. However, de mortuis nil desperandum.)—the alchemists referred to the Relation between the Moon and the Sun, as well as that between silver and gold, as The Fair White Maiden Wedded to the Ruddy Man. Isn’t that beautiful?
However, the alchemists don’t seem to be writing like they used to, so, faux de mieux, here is our very own Dr. A. once more, who does manage to bring up one or two interesting points, once you get past all those numbers. p.1002
I think that should possibly be ‘faute de mieux’: for want of a better alternative.
There are two OK poems: Atomic Reaction by Sharon Webb, a limerick, and the two page long No Trading Voyage by Doris Pitkin Buck, which is about humans captured as slaves freeing themselves and returning to Earth via a planet inhabited by plants and insects. Finally there are a couple of pieces of internal art. One is an odd drawing of a fractured head at the bottom of p.85 by Emsh; the other on p.90 looks like a doodle and is uncredited.
A worthwhile issue for the Bradbury material, the J. G. Ballard story and Asimov’s article but otherwise an irritating entry.
- Icarus Montgolfier Wright is a rather monochromatic film but worth a look. It is available on YouTube. I looked up ‘tempera’: ‘a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium (usually a glutinous material such as egg yolk or some other size).’
- I don’t think there was much love lost between Asimov and Davidson: When [Robert P. Mills] retired as editor in 1962 and was replaced by Avram Davidson, almost the first thing Avram did was to let me know that he didn’t wish to be called the “Kindly Editor.”
There was no danger of that. Avram was a class-A writer, but he was a cantankerous individual I would never think of as “kindly.” Isaac Asimov: I, Asimov: A Memoir, Chapter 83.