Science Fiction Monthly v03n02, February 1976

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Fiction:
Sadim’s Touch • novelette by Kenneth Harker ♥
Brother’s Keeper • short story by Anthony Peacey ♥

Non-fiction:
Zenya • cover by Frank Kelly Freas
Interior artwork • Chris Foss, John Storey, Frank Kelly Freas, John Higgins
Editorial
On the Way to the Stars: Part Four: Galactic Empires • essay by Peter Weston
The Artist in Science Fiction: Frank Kelly Freas • essay by Sandra Miesel
Frank Kelly Freas: The Artist in his Studio • essay by Sandra Miesel
SF TV Review: The Invisible Man • by John Brosnan
SF in the Cinema: Bug • by John Brosnan
Music and Science Fiction • by Maxim Jakubowski
News • by Julie Davis
Letters
The Query Box • by Walter Gillings [as by Thomas Sheridan]

Of the half dozen issues of Science Fiction Monthly that I bought I think this one has the most memorable cover (although a few of the others run it a very close second). I don’t know if my teenage self appreciated the symbolism on an intellectual level, but I’m pretty sure I got the message.

There isn’t much in the way of fiction in this issue as the first story, Sadim’s Touch by Kenneth Harker, is a fairly long piece (approx. 8,500 words). The story starts with Bannerman, a down-and-nearly-out science columnist for a newspaper, and a scientist called Moncrief, who has developed a device that can let you see a short time, microseconds, into the future. Bannerman provides Moncreif with the funds for further development and starts to experiment with the device. Moncreif shows Bannerman that the device is set to look a fraction of a second into the future as he believes that a short term edge is all that is needed to improve the user’s confidence. Bannerman, against Moncrief’s advice, starts looking seconds along multiple time tracks into the future.
Up to this point it is a conceptually and philosophically intriguing piece but unfortunately it goes downhill from there as Bannerman (spoiler) slips across ‘time tracks’ to a future where Moncrief is swindling him. Bannerman subsequently kills the scientist and then finds he is in a time track where he is a mental patient. This all rather shakes the story to bits.

Brother’s Keeper by Anthony Peacey gets off to a good start with its opening paragraph:

Matz looked sideways at Jorvin, that lumpish head inches away to the right who shared the shoulders, shared all of the muscular, skin-clad body with him. Jorvin was intent upon the goat in the verdant, shut-in space between the stained cliffs of dead buildings with their rows of empty, black eye-sockets. They needed the goat. They had quenched the thirst of the dust bowl in a sewer where the water ran sweet after a couple of centuries of winter rains; but their hunger remained. p.26

There is a lot going on there: the description of the mutant brothers, the post-holocaust setting, and the push-pull comment about the sewer. Unfortunately the rest is a fairly derivative, and brutal, tale of their subsequent encounter with a young girl and, later, a group of marauding ‘norms.’ The ending (spoiler) where the good brother’s head grows back after the bad brother has hacked it off might have worked for a horror story but doesn’t really do so for this SF one.

The bulk of the non-fiction space is taken up by Sandra Miesel with a couple of articles on the featured artist. The Artist in Science Fiction: Frank Kelly Freas is a short introduction to Freas’s work and, although I knew he was a popular and successful artist, I wasn’t aware that he had (at the time of writing) won nine Hugo Awards, nor that he did so much work for NASA (including designing the mission patch for the Skylab 1 crew at the request of the astronauts). The Artist in Science Fiction: Frank Kelly Freas is a longer, more detailed article about how Freas physically creates his work, although it does have other interesting snippets:

At the beginning of a career getting work can be more difficult than doing it. The first portfolio Freas submitted to John Campbell was a masterpiece of neophyte pretension consisting of expensively contrived mockups of Astounding pages. It was returned to him scorched by Campbell’s wrath. Only after several humbling years in the pulps (when the train fare to a magazine office might equal the fee earned there) did he dare approach Campbell again. This meeting soon led to his first ASF cover, The Gulf Between, which Freas still counts among his special favourites. The painting shows a giant robot beseeching Someone to heal the mortally-injured human he holds in his hand. This sombre and innovative illustration ignited the artist’s career in sf. p.18

Work involving people requires simple costuming and appropriate models. Freas enlists family (his daughter posed for A Womanly Talent; the boy in Second Kind of Loneliness resembles his son), friends, and even total strangers in this enterprise. So indefatigable is he in the pursuit of interesting faces—restaurants are favoured hunting grounds—that an American fan has written a song warning people to stay alert in the artist’s presence lest ‘when you wake up, you’re on the front of Analog’ (this clever fellow appears on the cover for Renegades of Time). Freas also impresses himself into service as a model occasionally. He can grimace and wave a blaster convincingly (as for Your Haploid Heart) but finds comic roles more congenial: the hairless, green voyeur in Martians, Go Home! and the battered lion-man in Pandora’s Planet. p.19

Some of the covers mentioned above lead me neatly to the one criticism that I have concerning the selection of Freas’s artwork for inclusion. According to the editorial page Freas selected the paintings himself, but they lean too heavily on earlier work with six out of the nine pieces coming from the Planet Stories era. It would have been nice to see a couple of better known works in amongst these, e.g. The Gulf Between, Martians Go Home!, The Second Kind of Loneliness, etc.1
The rest of the non-fiction is the usual Science Fiction Monthly mix. On the Way to the Stars: Part Four: Galactic Empires by Peter Weston is an interesting article about Galactic Empires but it depressed me that I’ve read so few of the stories and novels listed (I’ve read some of Eric Frank Russell’s work, but not And Then There Were None, and I’ve not read anything by H. Beam Piper).
John Brosnan’s SF TV Reviews and SF in the Cinema cover the 70’s TV program The Invisible Man and the movie Bug, both of which sound like poor fare. Music and Science Fiction by Maxim Jakubowski provides a lukewarm review of Red Octopus by Jefferson Starship. There is a tiny News column by Julie Davis, a ho-hum The Query Box by Walter Gillings, and a Letters column that includes missives from two moaning Scots:

I remember someone writing in saying how prophetic sf was and how it was the literature of the future. I also remember that I was planning a long letter deriding this and asking you to refrain from printing such rubbish in SFM again.
I’m scared stiff by reading books, newspapers and magazines which make it obvious to me that we’re half way there already! Looking more deeply into the problem it also becomes clear that modern science is the cause. It’s dragging morality through the gutter and spitting in its face. Sex and love have gained different meanings, marriage is old-fashioned, God is non-existent. Test-tube babies, abortion, birth control, artificial preservation of life, sex before marriage, artificial insemination, parthenogenesis, transplants, transfusions, sterilisation, mechanical hearts and organs, sex changes, etc, abound everywhere. If you believe that any of these are perfectly natural then it just shows how you’ve been conditioned by society to accept them.
Ian Garbutt (Torbrex, Stirling) p.28

I have this month (October) cancelled my order for SFM for the following reasons:
(1) The magazine should be retitled Science Fantasy Monthly due to the fact that I like my science fiction to be reasonably believable. The recent fiction in the magazine would appear to be the product of disturbed imaginations.
(2) There are far too many articles on authors and books.
(3) The posters were excellent to begin with but now they have deteriorated into pure rubbish.
(4) Who needs comic strips?
I know of at least two other people in my area who have recently cancelled the magazine for the same reasons. David Quinney (Clackmannanshire, Central Scotland)
p.28

I’m not sure what the point of publishing either of these is. The first appears to have more to do with his personal political views than SF; the second has a point about the deterioration in artwork quality but the rest of it just seems to deny the magazine’s identity.

In conclusion, quite a lacklustre issue.

  1. Here are the nine paintings used for the feature, bar the cover (they could have squeezed in another two if they had left out the double-page Foss on the inner front/back cover):
    sfmv03n02freasx600
    My favourites are the cover and the these three:
    sfmv03n02i1x600
    sfmv03n02i2x600sfmv03n02i3x600
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