Old Man Henderson • short story by Kris Neville ♥♥♥
The Threepenny-Piece • reprint short story by James Stephens ♥
Love Story • short story by Kay Rogers ♥
Bargain from Brunswick • short story by John Wyndham ♥♥
Scrap Iron • reprint short story by William Campbell Gault [as by Larry Sternig]
The Boy Next Door • short story by Chad Oliver ♥
The Twilight Planet • short story by Arthur Jean Cox ♥♥♥
The Extreme Airiness of Duton Lang • reprint short story by Percival Wilde ♥♥♥
Hell-Bent • short story by Ford McCormack ♥♥♥+
The Glass of Supreme Moments • reprint short story by Barry Pain ♥♥♥+
’Twas Brillig… • short story by Evan H. Appelman ♥
Android • novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore [as by C. H. Liddell] ♥♥♥+
A Story at Bedtime • reprint short story by Dorothy K. Haynes ♥♥
Cover • by George Salter
To Our Readers
Recommended Reading • by The Editors
The SF in this issue is generally of good quality and better than the fantasy and horror, so I’ll start with that.
The best story in the issue is Android, a novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. This tells of Bradley, a man who has sliced off Court’s head, and who stands in front of him the next day with the realisation that androids can repair themselves. Later, after Court finishes talking to him, Bradley attempts to work out a way of detecting androids. This task leads him to a physicist called Walling:
“Then at least you don’t suspect me of being a—an android?” Dr. Wallinger asked dourly. He was slightly nervous, as the result of having sat for ten minutes now with a gun-muzzle pointed unwaveringly at his stomach.
It was, of course, ridiculous that a mysterious rubber-masked figure in a gold-braided cape whose flare concealed most of its wearer’s body should be sitting here in his library forcing him to listen to psychotic nonsense.
“You have children,” Bradley said, his voice a little muffled behind the mask. “That was how I could feel sure about you.”
“Look,” Wallinger said earnestly, “I’m a nuclear physicist. I think a psychologist could probably give you more help than—”
”A psychiatrist, you mean?”
“Not at all. Of course not. But—”
“But all the same, you think I’m crazy.” p.100
He returns to his work and finds that Court has found the rotary blade used for the decapitation. After being quizzed by both Court (his boss) and another man called Johnson, who Bradley thinks may also be an android, he is told to wait in his office. While he waits, Bradley reflects on the origin of the androids:
“How did it start?” he asked himself. “Why? Why?” And out of the human logic of his own mind came the glimmer of an answer. “When the first man made the first successful android, the human race was doomed.”
For a successful android meant one indistinguishable from man, one capable of creating others in its own image, one capable of independent motion and reasoning. And what purpose moved in the brain of that first of its metal kind? Had its human creator implanted there some command which led—knowingly or unknowingly—to all that followed? Had the order been one which the android could achieve only by duplicating itself until the human race was infected through and through with the robot cells of the androids? p.107
He leaves early and later ambushes Court with his car, crushing him against a lorry in the street. Bradley takes the (still living) body to Walling….
During its best passages this is intense and paranoid stuff and is very much in the mould of Philip K. Dick. Indeed, I wondered if Liddell was a pseudonym for Dick (although the writing seems better than his early work) and it was only when I checked ISFDB that I found this was by Kuttner and Moore. Despite it being overlong and possessed of a rather predictable ending this is, at times, impressive stuff.
There are some other good SF stories. Old Man Henderson by Kris Neville starts with Joey’s mother sending him and his alien pet to deliver a loaf of bread to an elderly neighbour, Old Man Henderson, who is known locally as ‘The Story’ on account of the one tale he attempts to tell everyone. He tries to tell his story to Joey, but this rather spoilt child starts to control the conversation and the situation becomes increasingly unpleasant. A compelling story albeit one with a slightly chilling and rather abrupt end.1
The Twilight Planet by Arthur Jean Cox is a minor but good Bradburyesque prose poem about a man who visits a non-rotating planet where there is perpetual twilight:
Between these two extremes, like a ship’s course between Scylla and Charybdis, runs a belt of life—the Twilight Strip, a girdle of immortal dusk between the fury of eternal day and the cold of eternal night. A long, thin place where plants and trees and cities could grow.
There is a liquid softness to the warm air. It flows through the hills and valleys, through the streets of the old town.
Twilight City it is called but it could be old Vienna, Rheims, or picturesque London of some ancient day. Cobbled streets sprawl and turn leisurely through rows of squat, quaint houses, and small shops appear here and there, tended by old couples. p.52
The Extreme Airiness of Duton Lang by Percival Wilde (Esquire, 1939) is another minor work but an amusing one told by a man in a bar about a scientist who discovers a substance that makes him lighter and lighter while remaining the same size. This tale is punctuated by fresh martinis for the narrator, which should give you an idea of the flavour of it.
Letting the SF side down, badly, is Scrap Iron by William Campbell Gault (Fight Stories, 1945), a dreadful reprint from the sports pulps: yes, it’s that American SF editor blind spot for sport stories again. This one tells of a future where human controlled robots fight in the ring. Invincible is due to fight The Crusher but has been sabotaged by an acid attack. When the fight gets going Invincible takes a pummelling until his operator jumps in the ring, attacks The Crusher and then ends up fighting the other operator. He manages to extract a public confession and the art of human boxing is reborn. At the end of the story, Walt comments to his new wife, the boss’s daughter:
“Listen, honey, that audience last night found out it’s fun to watch a fight, but I learned—Dot, I learned that it’s fun to fight. Sometimes, anyway. Maybe those ancients weren’t so dumb after all.” p.43
No, just brain damaged.
There are a couple of good fantasy and horror stories in amongst what is a ropey bunch. Hell-Bent by Ford McCormack2 is an original deal with the devil story that involves a young man committing evil acts throughout his life so the devil can use him as a demon after he dies. The problem is that if the young man has any virtue in him at all when he expires he will be dammed like other mortals.
Sometime later, while attempting to arrange for the murder of his fiancé, he is shot and goes to hell where he finds that he has been successful. However, life as a demon is not entirely as he expected….
As well as its refreshingly unpleasant narrator this story has a grisly old-school version of hell that is quite vivid:
Faintly audible in the steady muttering of the flames, there was an incessant chorus as of human wailing. Looking closely, I saw a moving figure on the bed of coals below. And another—and several more. Then, as my eyes became more accustomed to the fierce glare, I could distinguish them everywhere, most of them creeping slowly, and I realized it had been partly the random motion of these hundreds of creatures which had lent a seething aspect to the entire surface.
They were all human—or had been—and as I watched, it became clear that their continual crawling, which had seemed aimless, was not without purpose, after all. The general motivation was quite simple: to get to a cooler spot.
Here and there, places could be seen where the coals merely smouldered or were black. The nearest dozen humans would inch their way to one of these thermal islands, all reaching it at about the same time, when it would promptly flare into searing brightness. With anguished shrieks; the cluster of souls would begin the frantic but feeble dispersal toward other points only slightly less unendurable. p.79
The Glass of Supreme Moments by Barry Pain (Stories and Interludes, 1892) is a dreamlike fantasy that begins with a portrait of a dissatisfied man:
Lucas Morne sat in his college rooms, when the winter afternoon met the evening, depressed and dull. There were various reasons for his depression. He was beginning to be a little nervous about his health. A week before he had run second in a mile race, the finish of which had been a terrible struggle; ever since then any violent exertion or excitement had brought on symptoms which were painful, and to one who had always been strong, astonishing. He had felt them early that afternoon, on coming from the river. Besides, he was discontented with himself. He had had several men in his rooms that afternoon, who were better than he was, men who had enthusiasms and had found them satisfying. Lucas had a moderate devotion to athletics, but no great enthusiasm. Neither had he the finer perceptions. Neither was he a scholar. He was just an ordinary man. p.86
As he reflects on his visitors a staircase appears where the fireplace was. A veiled woman then appears who takes him up the stairs to a room that contains the ‘mirror of supreme moments.’ After discussing his friends and their success in life the women tells him to look into the mirror. There he sees the supreme moments of three of his friends and he then asks her what his supreme moment will be. She tells him (spoiler) that it is here and now, and then she lifts her veil and reveals herself to him. She is Death and, although kissing her will mean he dies, he does so anyway. I can’t say this makes any sense set down on paper but there is a conceptual and emotional aptness about this ending that is apparent while reading it.
The rest of the stories are mostly poor fare. The Threepenny-Piece by James Stephens (Here Are Ladies, 1913) has a man dying and going to be judged. He is cast down to Hell but discovers he has lost his silver threepenny bit and complains for so long and so loudly that an instruction goes out for whoever found it to surrender it to the judge Radamanthus. When the seraphim who found it refuses both he and O’Brien are cast down to Earth, at which point the story abruptly stops.
Love Story by Kay Rogers is a short squib about a beaten down woman called Old Liz and the ghost of a young girl who haunts her. Liz ends up (spoiler) meeting Jack the Ripper in the fog. There is not much lead in to this but you will see the end coming a mile away.
Bargain from Brunswick by John Wyndham (fresh from his novel The Day of the Triffids) is a story about a woman who receives a pipe from her son in Germany. When she plays it in her recorder class all the woman start dancing and following her: it appears that she has the Pied Piper of Hamelin’s pipe. After a couple of other similar episodes she arrives in town with the missing children taken by the Pied Piper. The townsfolk are reluctant to take them in so (spoiler) she leaves with them dancing behind her. She also takes the American children from the town too, which I thought was going to set up the story up to be a morality tale but the latter group come back, so I am not really sure what the point of this is supposed to be.
The Boy Next Door by Chad Oliver is, according to the introduction, his first sold but not first published story. A radio announcer hosts a show with a segment called ‘The Boy Next Door.’ This time around Jimmy is the boy who features, and he eventually reveals that he kills people with the help of his Uncle George. After this awkward segment is over the program finishes and the studio empties. The announcer and Jimmy are the last two left, and wait for Uncle George to pick Jimmy up…. A weak story with a supernatural ending tacked on.
’Twas Brillig… by Evan H. Appelman is an almost a poem like piece (five paragraphs) about something alighting on Earth for dinner.
Finally, A Story at Bedtime by Dorothy K. Haynes (Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch, 1949) is a rather inconsequential story about a witch who is the mother to a boy and a girl. We learn how the girl becomes a witch too.
The Cover by George Salter is another quirky cover effort, and looks like the same kind of photomontage technique used on the first issue.
There are a couple of editorial fillers in this issue. After the contents page there is information about next month’s contents and a subscription form. Further on, there is also a To Our Readers page that gives some feedback from the mail they have received:
We have no letter column in F&SF, largely because 90% of your letters to us insist that we should devote the space to more stories; but please don’t think this absence of a column means any lack of interest in mail from our readers.
We need your letters to help shape our policies in producing the magazine that will best please you; and to date you’ve been very helpful indeed, particularly in response to our query, two issues back, as to what we should do with the 10,000 words we’ve added to our content.
Frankly, you surprised us and somewhat changed our plans— we had expected a heavier demand for long novelets. In percentage form, the results are:
Shorts, only, no novelets 40%
An occasional novelet, but only if of very high quality 17%
A regular policy of a novelet in each issue 20%
Anything the editors think best 17%
The total impression from your letters seems best summed up by one from Georgia, which says: “I don’t think you should have an editorial policy of any sort about story length. Just buy all the good ones that come in….”
So that’s what we’ll try to do; and the issue you’re now reading certainly offers variety: 13 stories ranging from a 15,000 word novelet to a one-page short-short. We hope you’ll agree with us that each is a strong and highly individual specimen of its length. But whether you agree or disagree, let us know what you think.
We hope, from time to time, to make other reports like this on your opinions concerning editorial policy. Please remember that we’re always eager to hear from you, at 2643 Dana St., Berkeley 4, California. p.21
Recommended Reading by The Editors is a two page review where they praise, amongst others, Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky and Asimov’s I, Robot (singling out Reason and Liar!), Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance and Joseph F. Rinn’s Sixty Years of Psychical Research (dedicated to the proposition that ‘there is no limit to human gullibility’). It is interesting to note the areas of agreement and disagreement with Groff Conklin’s column in Galaxy.
A mixed issue: I’m beginning to detect a trend of quality being proportional to length.
- Neville’s story was reprinted in the Anthony Boucher memorial anthology, Special Wonder, edited by J. Francis McComas (1970), and he contributed this short introduction:
Once, on request, I rewrote a story called, “Old Man Henderson” three times, so you might think, in the end, it was the editor’s story, too. But it wasn’t.
He was content merely to clear away the barriers I had unwittingly set against my own vision and to be sure I did the best I was capable of. When he was done, no whisper of him remained.
He knew a trick that has been mastered only by very special men, men whose influence for good is always greater than any of us imagine.
He knew how to make himself invisible. p.299
- This story was printed with a ‘?’ for its title, and was the subject of a second $100 contest to suggest a title. This time I managed to come up with A Demonic End and Apprenticeship for a Demon. Now all I need is a time machine.
Ford McCormack only seems to have produced a handful of stories according to ISFDB. The only information I can find about him is from Worlds Beyond (January 1951):
“I was born in Seattle Wash.—a distinction shared with two or three million other people . . . Have taken up residence in Southern California, along with a few million other out-of-staters . . . I am or have been an amateur acrobat, pianist, hobo and several other things. In the last year or so, being fed up with this eternal amateur status. I have joined the sizable body of professional writers to whom editors have not yet begun to write pleading letters.” ifc