Superiority • short story by Arthur C. Clarke ♥♥♥
Prolog • short story by John P. McKnight ♥♥
Wilfred Weem, Dreamer • reprint short story by Robert Arthur ♥♥
A Peculiar People • short story by Betsy Curtis
The Punishing of Eddie Jungle-Spit • reprint short story by Garrett Oppenheim ♥♥
The Embarrassing Dimension • short story by H. Nearing, Jr.
Solitary Confinement • short story by Philip MacDonald ♥
The Man Who Could Smell Land • reprint short story by John Langdon ♥♥♥
The Daughter of the Tree • short story by Miriam Allen deFord ♥♥♥
John Thomas’s Cube • reprint short story by John Leimert ♥
The Collector • novelette by Gerald Heard [as by H. F. Heard] ♥♥
The Rat That Could Speak • reprint short story by Charles Dickens ♥
Cattivo • short story by Alan Nelson ♥♥♥
Spaceship in Trouble With Meteor Swarm; Europa and Jupiter in the Background • cover by Chesley Bonestell
Title Contest Announcement
Limerick • by Anthony Boucher [as by Herman Mudgett]
Recommended Reading • by The Editors
In this issue, unlike the last, the fantasy is probably better than the SF but, as some of it falls in the middle, I’ll just go through the stories in the order they appear.
Superiority by Arthur C. Clarke is a droll tale of an interstellar war and how one of the sides gets a new chief scientist called Norden. He suggests to a council of war that they should develop new inventions to decisively win the conflict, and that is what they do:
Then two things happened. One of our battleships disappeared completely on a training flight, and an investigation showed that under certain conditions the ship’s long-range radar could trigger the Sphere immediately it had been launched. The modification needed to overcome this defect was trivial, but it caused a delay of another month and was the source of much bad feeling between the naval staff and the scientists. We were ready for action again—when Norden announced that the radius of effectiveness of the sphere had now been increased by ten, thus multiplying by a thousand the chances of destroying an enemy ship.
So the modifications started all over again, but everyone agreed that the delay would be worth it. Meanwhile, however, the enemy had been emboldened by the absence of further attacks and had made an unexpected onslaught. Our ships were short of torpedoes, since none had been coming from the factories, and were forced to retire. So we lost the systems of Kyrane and Floranus, and the planetary fortress of Rhamsandron. p.5-6
Prolog by John P. McKnight is an minor story about a caveman, his mate and their baby, and a discovery they make.
Wilfred Weem, Dreamer by Robert Arthur (Argosy, 5th July 1941) is another of his ‘Murchison Morks’ stories. This one has an excellent hook:
“Last night I had the most remarkable dream,” Nichols, who manufactures saxophones, was saying as Morks and I entered the club reading room.
“I was in a rocket ship that had just landed on the moon, and a herd of beasts as big as elephants, but with wings, were flapping around, trying to break in and get at me. I knew it was just a dream, of course, but it was so real it frightened me into waking up.”
“I knew a man,” Morks—his full and unlikely name is Murchison Morks—said in a thoughtful voice as we came up to the little group, “whose dreams were much more remarkable than that. And they were so real they frightened his wife.”
“Into waking up?” Nichols asked, puzzled. Morks shook his head.
“No. Into running away and leaving him, gasping with terror. She was a very strong-minded and unscrupulous woman; very hard to frighten, too.”
Nichols got red in the face.
“As I was saying,” he went on, tight-lipped, “after I got back to sleep, I dreamed that I had found Captain Kidd’s treasure. The money was so real I could hear it chink when I dropped it, and—”
“When my friend dreamed of money,” Murchison Morks put in, in that soft voice which carried so remarkably, “it was so real you could spend it.”
Nichols, crimson with anger, tried to ignore him.
“I wish you could have seen the beautiful girl who came up then,” he said. ‘“She—”
But Morks is a hard man to ignore.
“When my friend dreamed of a beautiful girl,” he murmured, a faraway expression on his long, sad face, “you could see her.”
“Perhaps I ought to explain, though,” he said courteously. “So no one will think that I am exaggerating. About my friend’s dream, I mean.” p.15
Morks then tells the club members about a man who had dreams so vivid that other people could see them. Needless to say his avaricious wife and her shrink end up using this as a money making opportunity.
This has a good idea which is well developed but unfortunately has a weak ending (spoiler: if he dreamt of a starving tiger why wouldn’t it attack him?)
A Peculiar People by Betsy Curtis is about a Martian envoy to Earth who is actually a robot:
In the momentary privacy of the gentlemen’s room, Fedrik Spens loosened the neck cord of his heavy white toga and reached for the threadlike platinum chain of his tiny adjuster key. Pulling back the pale plastissue skin from the almost invisible slit at the center of his chest, he inserted the key in the orifice of the olfactory intensificator and gave it two full turns. Three full turns for the food receptacle grinder. These official banquets could be murder. Removing the key, he retied the cord and approached the mirror, as the ambassador had insisted in last minute instructions to the several robots on the embassy staff. p.28
He becomes interested in an Earth girl and starts spending a lot of time with both her and her family. Eventually his boss warns him off as he doesn’t want her father, who is the transport minister, upset. During their last meeting her parents come in and, after much speechifying, tell him (spoiler) that they are robots too!
Don’t let the Sladekian quote above mislead you, this is an unconvincing tale, and clunky to boot. I don’t really understand why Curtis’s stories are published by F&SF, they seem well below the quality of everything else.
The Punishing of Eddie Jungle-Spit by Garrett Oppenheim (Liberty, May 1950) concerns a family with a young boy called Eddie. He breaks one of his mother’s vases and, rather than blame him, she blames an imaginary friend. From then on any trouble that occurs isn’t the fault of ‘Eddie the Arrow Man’ but ‘Eddie Jungle-Spit.’ Unfortunately the trouble gets more and more serious until she has to do something harsh with Eddie Jungle-Spit, and even that doesn’t work.
This is all quite well done until an ending that didn’t work for me.
There is some initial social observation of the woman’s unhappy marriage that is noteworthy, and the editors suggest in the introduction that this helps make it:
…a surprisingly bitter and tragic story to have appeared in a mass-circulation slick. p.40
The Embarrassing Dimension by H. Nearing, Jr. is another in his ‘Ransom’ series. This time Ransom the mathematician waffles on about a fifth dimension and the creation of a particular type of crystal. After this, various historical characters randomly appear. A weak effort, which is a pity as I enjoyed the last one.
Solitary Confinement by Philip MacDonald is a short tale about a man whom finds himself in a strange grey environment that he eventually realises is limbo. Then he comes to a man at a desk…. Another one where the ending didn’t work for me.
The Man Who Could Smell Land by John Langdon (Mast Magazine, October 1947) is an enjoyable and original tale with a title that renders any further description by me superfluous.
The Daughter of the Tree by Miriam Allen deFord is set in the 1890s and concerns a story narrated by an American Native to a young man after a girl comes to their camp and eats with them. Apparently she is the daughter of a tree. The ending of this one isn’t as strong as the rest but it is an intriguing read nonetheless.
John Thomas’s Cube by John Leimert (The Atlantic Monthly, August 1945) is another story that largely describes itself. A young boy called Billy finds a cube under the apple tree in his back yard. After his parents find it cannot be moved and is also hovering the usual circus of journalists, politicians, scientists and holy men turn up. At the end of the day Billy wishes it was gone, at which point it disappears.
Later, a psychiatrist finds (spoiler) that Billy:
…did have an unusually vivid imagination and was subject to hallucinations, auditory, visual, tactual. Further, through the operation of a kind of mass hypnosis, he had the rare faculty of making the creation of his imagination as real to others as to himself. p.92
This is a disappointing cop-out ending to a promising story.
The Collector by Gerald Heard is the longest story in the magazine. This novelette tells of an expeditionary ship’s ichthyologist who goes for a long walk on an island his team have been surveying. He sees a naked man with strange green skin and before long finds himself pulled down under the waves by a huge decapod—a squid-like creature— and kept in a network of air-filled underwater caves. This is, at times, quite interesting but my attention wandered on several occasions, probably a function of its aforementioned length.
The Rat That Could Speak by Charles Dickens (All the Year Round, September 8th 1860) is a short deal with the devil story that gets off to a promising start—this includes a talking rat!—but it is downhill from there.
Cattivo by Alan Nelson is an original story about Cattivo’s hands, which appear to have an independent and detached life of their own:
And now I am going to tell you what seemed to happen:
From the edge of the table, I thought I saw a revolting tarantula-like insect of monstrous size and thick tentacles scrabble up on to the oilcloth and start waddling across the table toward me. It hesitated halfway. A thick bulb of a head peered at me from the crotch of two tentacles. It lumbered forward again, edged up to my glass of whisky. The ugly bulb-like head explored the rim of the glass. Then with irritation it kicked the glass off onto the floor and scampered back across the table and disappeared off the edge.
It was only Dubini’s hand, of course. His fingers were as thick as sausages and supple as snakes and he could make them into almost anything he wanted. It was like watching a puppet—you look at it long enough and soon you begin to see it breathe. p.121
The narrator recruits Cattivo to become a small-time thief, but this is just preparation for a bigger job…
The non-fiction this issue includes Chesley Bonstell’s second cover for the magazine, called Spaceship in Trouble With Meteor Swarm; Europa and Jupiter in the Background. It is a rather jumbled looking composition and not as good as his first effort.
The Title Contest Announcement gives the name of the winner of the $100 prize for naming Idris Seabirght’s story in the April issue, but doesn’t tell us what the title was!
Limerick is an OK five line effort by Anthony Boucher.
Recommended Reading by The Editors suggests that the two best novels of the year so far are Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke, and The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. They also have a good word for The Moon is Hell by John W. Campbell, Jr.
I was a little surprised at this comment about Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man as I thought the linking material effectively creepy:
There’s been only one recent volume of science fiction short stories; but that one is a must: Ray Bradbury’s THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (Doubleday). The attempt at a unifying frame-structure is, in contrast to THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, markedly unsuccessful; and a few of the eighteen stories seem less than wisely chosen to enhance the Bradbury reputation. But enough excellent ones remain to provide a feast for every devotee of the finest traditions in imaginative fiction. p.84
There is an amusing comment about Is Another World Watching? by Gerald Heard:
It starts off with a clear, well documented survey of the flying saucer situation to date, a badly needed corrective to the distorted and even flatly untrue “explanations” in recent magazines and newspapers. Then gradually, by certain steps of decidedly eluctable logic, Mr. Heard reaches the conclusion (and expatiates on it as established fact) that the “saucers” are piloted by intelligent bees from Mars. Frankly, we aren’t at all sure of the position of Mr. Heard’s tongue relative to his cheek at this point. p.84
In conclusion, I would say that this issue is another mixed bag, but unlike previous volumes there are no stories that make it worth getting hold of. It also illustrates one of F&SF’s developing traits, which is that there is too much froth and not enough substance. The Clarke, Arthur, Curtis, Nearing, Leimert and Dickens stories are all either humorous or ‘light’ pieces—too many. I wish that they would cull some of these and the weaker short stories and replace them with a couple of substantial novelettes. I also wish they would cut down on the reprints, the number of which would seem to indicate a shortage of original material. The next issue contains a short novel (albeit a reprint piece) that occupies half the issue: we’ll see if that improves matters.