No Truce With Kings • novella by Poul Anderson ♥♥♥♥
Pushover Planet • short story by Con Pederson
Green Magic • short story by Jack Vance ♥♥♥♥
The Weremartini • short story by Vance Aandahl ♥♥♥
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXIII • short story by Reginald Bretnor [as by Grendel Briarton]
Bokko-Chan • short story by Shinichi Hoshi [translated by Noriyoshi Saito] ♥♥
’Tis the Season to Be Jelly • short story by Richard Matheson ♥♥♥
Another Rib • short story by Juanita Coulson and Marion Zimmer Bradley [as by John Jay Wells and Marion Zimmer Bradley] ♥♥♥
Books • by Avram Davidson
Starlesque • poem by Walter H. Kerr
The Light That Failed! • essay by Isaac Asimov
There Are No More Good Stories About Mars Because We Need No More Good Stories About Mars • poem by Brian W. Aldiss
Index to Volume Twenty-Four – January-June 1963
I had intended to get back to modern magazines with this review but noticed that there was a one issue hole between the Ray Bradbury special I’d just read (F&SF, May 1963) and the reviews I’d done for Heinlein’s serial Glory Road (F&SF, July-September 1963). I pulled out the issue in question and when I saw the lovely Emsh cover1 and that it contained Poul Anderson’s No Truce With Kings, that was the next couple of days’ reading sorted….
Anderson’s novella has a number of story elements that are, to be honest, quite hackneyed: a post-holocaust world that has a balkanised USA, armed militias that use firearms and swords, an order of telepathic Espers whose psionic ability is dependent on extra-terrestrial technology, etc. While there is a touch of the kitchen sink about all this Anderson manages to blend it into a remarkably good example of what I think is now called ‘the good old stuff,’ and one that won the 1964 Hugo Award for Best Short Fiction.
The story opens in Fort Nakamura, a heavily fortified keep of the Pacific States of America, with a Colonel James Mackenzie receiving a signal that tells of changes to the political and army leaders out West. This starts a civil war between those that want to reunite the whole of the United States versus those that want the status quo of smaller feudal communities or ‘bossdoms.’
The story thereafter is centred around the various military engagements that occur between the two sides, something which is given more emotional depth than usual in this type of tale by two factors: the first is that Colonel Mackenzie is on one side of the conflict and his daughter and son-in-law are on the other; the second is the war-weariness that is described by Mackenzie later on in the narrative:
He would endure in the chronicles, that colonel, they would sing ballads about him for half a thousand years.
Only it didn’t feel that way. James Mackenzie knew he was not much more than average bright under the best of conditions, now dull-minded with weariness and terrified of his daughter’s fate. For himself he was haunted by the fear of certain crippling wounds. Often he had to drink himself to sleep. He was shaved, because an officer must maintain appearances, but realized very well that if he hadn’t had an orderly to do the job for him he would be as shaggy as any buck private. His uniform was faded and threadbare, his body stank and itched, his mouth yearned for tobacco but there had been some trouble in the commissariat and they were lucky to eat. His achievements amounted to patchwork jobs carried out in utter confusion, or to slogging like this and wishing only for an end to the whole mess. One day, win or lose, his body would give out on him—he could feel the machinery wearing to pieces, arthritic twinges, shortness of breath, dozing off in the middle of things and the termination of himself would be as undignified and lonely as that of every other human slob. Hero? What an all time laugh! p.43
Between the two sides, supposedly, are the Esper order, a group who have historically unleashed deadly ‘psi-blasts’ when their communities have been attacked. Although supposedly neutral they are controlled by extraterrestrials who are using their science of psychodynamics to control the future development of humanity to become a more peaceful species. However, the Espers eventually enter the fray in an exciting climactic battle south of San Francisco that is fought with a mixture of firearms, swords, cavalry, artillery and psi-blasts!
If you are looking for an entertaining old-fashioned read to lose yourself in for a couple of hours this one is recommended.
Another story of particular note in this issue is Green Magic by Jack Vance. This is a highly original fantasy about Howard Fair, who finds his great uncle’s journal and its descriptions of his experiments in purple and green magic. Although Fair is experienced in the cycles of white, black and purple magic he has never heard of green magic and starts researching the matter. His initial work affords him a short audience with a green sprite:
“What,” he asked, “is the green cycle like? What is its physical semblance?” The sprite paused to consider. Glistening mother-of-pearl films wandered across its face, reflecting the tinge of its thoughts. “I’m rather severely restricted by your use of the word ‘physical.’ And ‘semblance’ involves a subjective interpretation, which changes with the rise and fall of the seconds.”
“By all means,” Fair said hastily, “describe it in your own words.”
“Well—we have four different regions, two of which floresce from the basic skeleton of the universe, and so subsede the others. The first of these is compressed and isthiated, but is notable for its wide pools of mottle which we use sometimes for deranging stations. We’ve transplaned club-mosses from Earth’s Devonian and a few ice-fires from Perdition. They climb among the rods which we call devil-hair—” he went on for several minutes but the meaning almost entirely escaped Fair. And it seemed as if the question by which he had hoped to break the ice might run away with the entire interview. p.73-74
Needless to say Fast makes no progress, and the interview ends with his request to be taught green magic declined by the sprite as he bears Fast ‘no particular animosity.’
Fast continues his investigations, initially with a golem created from a miniature television camera, a beer-bottle top and graveyard clay, which he sends into the green realm. After the unintentional damage caused by the golem’s visit, two sprites petition Fast to desist, acceding to his request to learn green magic.
This is a strikingly original work. What is particularly impressive is the vastness and complexity of the fantastical world that Vance hints at but sparingly describes. As Avram Davidson says in his introduction:
We would like to know more about merrihews, sandestins, and magners, creatures benign and malignant which Jack Vance merely mentions in passing. We would like to know more about the Egg of Innocence, which [Howard] Fair broke open, disturbing among the Spiral towers. But it may be just as well that we do not. p.71
If I have one minor criticism it is that I found the ending a little weak, although it mordantly observes there are worse things in life than boredom and misery….
If two very good stories in one issue weren’t enough there are another three items that aren’t bad at all.
The Weremartini by Vance Aandahl, believe it or not, has a title that is an accurate description of the story’s narrator, a university professor who can change into a martini. During the story he sensuously describes the change process and goes on to detail the crush he has on one of the young students in his English class. He eventually (spoiler) uses his ‘gift’ to possess her, but not for the reasons you may think.
‘Tis the Season to Be Jelly by Richard Matheson would seem to be a post-holocaust story about hillbilly mutants who have parts of their bodies falling off:
Pa’s nose fell off at breakfast. It fell right into Ma’s coffee and displaced it. Prunella’s wheeze blew out the gut lamp.
“Land o’ goshen, dad,” Ma said, in the gloom, “If ya know’d it was ready t’plop whyn’t ya tap it off y’self?”
“Didn’t know,” said Pa.
“That’s what ya said the last time, Paw,” said Luke, choking on his bark bread.
Uncle Rock snapped his fingers beside the lamp. Prunella’s wheezing shot the flicker out.
“Shet off ya laughin’, gal,” scolded Ma. Prunella toppling off her rock in a flurry of stumps, spilling liverwort mush.
“Tarnation take it!” said Uncle Eyes.
“Well, combust the wick, combust the wick!” demanded Grampa who was reading when the light went out. Prunella wheezed, thrashing on the dirt.
Uncle Rock got sparks again and lit the lamp. p.107
As you can probably gather, the style and jocular ghastliness are the high points here.
Another Rib by Juanita Coulson and Marion Zimmer Bradley is one of Davidson’s ‘pushing the genre envelope’ stories, and he states in the introduction that the writers have ‘taken an admittedly daring theme and dealt with it in good sense and good taste.’ p.111
It tells of a sixteen man spaceship crew from Earth on another planet and a near immortal alien called Fanu who brings the Captain information showing our solar system has been destroyed in a nova. Later, after the men have started to come to terms with this disaster and have begun settling on the planet, Fanu mentions to the Captain it would be possible for him to convert some of the men into women. This (spoiler) is what eventually happens with three of them, the story ending with the difficult birth of the first child.
Some of the narrative concerns the Captain’s observations of his men, including some implied homosexual behaviour, but mostly it details his drama queen reactions to this and the sex-changes.
“Maybe we shouldn’t survive!” he snarled. ‘‘Wouldn’t it be more decent to die, die clean and human and what we were intended to be, than as some—some obscene imitation of—it’s not natural!” p.119
Nowadays his histrionics are more amusing than anything else but I doubt this was the case in 1963, so kudos to Davidson for publishing, and the writers for writing, a homosexuality/transgender story that probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day elsewhere.2
The rest of the stories are also-rans. Pushover Planet by Con Pederson is about a pair of prospectors who land on an alien planet and are met by a telepathic alien. When they go prospecting later on in spacesuits (spoiler) the alien misidentifies the pair as a threat and kills them. This is a gimmicky ending and I fail to see why Davidson was impressed with this story (in the introduction he makes a plea for the uncontactable writer to get in touch to get paid by his agent and to provide more material).3
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXIII by Reginald Bretnor is another pun, an OK one for a change, about an unusual planet and their radio transmission problems.
Bokko-Chan by Shinichi Hoshi is about a robot girl in a bar, an unrequited love, and has a neat twist end.
There is the usual non-fiction and also the six-monthly Index. In Books, Avram Davidson raves about Philip K. Dick’s The Man in a High Castle for two pages:
This is a remarkable book. Just how remarkable it is is little suggested by the basic premise, which is that the United States lost the Second World War. Other writers, such as Budrys and Kornbluth, have based stories on this notion, but in neither case was the story one of their best. If Mr. Dick ever writes anything better than this (indeed if he ever writes anything else as good), he deserves to take his place among the foremost in the field; how he has escaped my notice until now, I own to you I do not know. I don’t think he will elude me again. p.59
It surprised me that as of 1962-3, Davidson was unaware of Dick. Otherwise it is another eclectic column which, once again, makes me feel that I don’t read (a) widely enough or (b) enough non-fiction.
Both the poems in this issue are fairly good: Starlesque by Walter H. Kerr is a fairly gruesome poem about a striptease that involves quasi-humans peeling parts off their body; There Are No More Good Stories About Mars Because We Need No More Good Stories About Mars by Brian W. Aldiss tells how succeeding generations of writers have portrayed Mars.
Finally, The Light That Failed! by Isaac Asimov is an article about the history of the measurement of the speed of light and how this came to prove the non-existence of an ‘ether.’
A highly recommended issue: two very good stories (including a Hugo winner) and three other good pieces (one taboo-breaking).
- This is what the cheapskates at UK reprinter Atlas Publishing did with the cover:
- I was a little surprised that Coulson and Bradley’s story has never been reprinted. ISFDB link.
- According to ISFDB it looks like they found him (another story was published years later).