John Boston and Damien Broderick: Strange Highways: Reading Science Fantasy, 1950-67 (p.239 of 365) (Amazon UK)
The Outcast • novelette by Harry Harrison ♥♥
Song of the Syren • novelette by Robert Wells ♥♥
Moriarty • short story by Philip Wordley ♥
Bring Back a Life • novelette by John T. Phillifent [as by John Rackham] ♥
The Jennifer • short story by Keith Roberts ♥♥♥
A Cave in the Hills • short story by R. W. Mackelworth
Hunt a Wild Dream (Part 1 of 2) • short story serial by D. R. Heywood ♥
Cover • by Agosta Morol
Interior artwork • by Keith Roberts
Editorial • essay by Kyril Bonfiglioli
With this issue the roster of regular names is beginning to grow. Once again we see Harrison, Wordley, Rackham and Roberts. They are joined this issue by R. W. Mackelworth, with the first of five contributions. (Even Robert Wells would be back again with another story).
The Outcast by Harry Harrison is set on board a civilian spaceship. The first scene is on the planet of departure and has the captain and another crewmember watch a man struggling to get through a mob and get on board. This is Origo or ‘Butcher’ Lim, a doctor who turns out to have been responsible for the deaths of over two hundred people.
Initially the captain treats him coolly, until he discovers that the deaths weren’t Lim’s fault. When there is friction between Lim and the other passengers he agrees to let him use the officer’s mess. Lim finds the crew accept him readily enough and he eventually relaxes.
Later on the High-Duchess Marescula develops a disease that requires the immediate amputation of her hands and feet, but if Lim operates on her, having been stripped of his medical qualifications, it means a death sentence for him….
This is really only SF by virtue of its setting but it is an entertaining enough yarn.
Song of the Syren by Robert Wells is another solid SF novelette to follow the Harrison. This story is set on an alien planet that has a resident scientific research team from Earth, and the prize asset they have is a collection of singing plants which is kept in a restricted area. After some scene setting the story kicks off when Sorenson, the chief scientist, finds that they have been destroyed.
Sorenson’s boss Barbera arrives and together they interview a number of the station’s personnel to ascertain what happened. It becomes apparent that access to the restricted section may have something to do with male affections for the two woman who are among the station’s personnel….
This is all well-told and assuredly developed but the ending is quite a convoluted and contrived affair.
Moriarty by Philip Wordley is the second of this writer’s four contributions to the magazine and it is a rather schmaltzy story that could have easily appeared in the 1940’s pulps. The story is about a telepathic and teleporting female cop who repeatedly prevents a safecracker from robbing banks as she has a thing for him, and doesn’t want him to become a criminal. During this particular thwarted attempt she enlists his help to clear out another bank that she knows it is going to be robbed. When the gang arrive to rob the bank (spoiler) he is supposed to make the call to the police but things go wrong and he ends up being the (surprise!) telekinetic hero.
It’s not a bad story it’s just old-fashionedly naff, albeit in a pleasant enough way.
Bring Back a Life by John T. Phillifent is a real curate’s egg. It starts with a really creaky setup that has Raynor, the narrator, awakening to find that he has been abducted by some near-future parliamentary types. Long story short, vital negotiations with Mars and the lunar colony are in jeopardy as Sir Herbert Fremantle, the Prime Minister, has fallen ill. The only way he can be cured is if they send Raynor back in time to get a sample from a non-diseased ancestor.
After this nonsense the rest of the story improves considerably as Raynor travels to several historical periods, occupying someone of a similar somatype each time and having a number of engrossing encounters . Each time Raynor arrives he meets an ancestor of Fremantle’s. Each time he arrives he also meets a woman called Jasmine, who he fell in love with on the first encounter. Eventually he gets back to an uninfected Fremantle and finds from Fremantle’s wife that the sample he actually needs is from her. The personality occupying the wife is Fremantle the Prime Minister’s granddaughter—she has also travelled back in time, but from Raynor’s future. Still with me?
After Rayner’s mission is accomplished and he is back in the present recovering, he meets the Prime Minister’s sister and finds that she is going to be his Jasmine. The woman he has been lusting after through time is actually his granddaughter. Ewgh! The other implication of the story is that two first cousins would have to marry for her to be his granddaughter.
The Jennifer by Keith Roberts is another in his series about Anita the teenage witch. This one doesn’t really have much of a story but I can’t say I was that bothered as I like spending time in the company of Anita and Granny Thompson. It starts with the pair on holiday at the beach after Granny Thomson has had a small win on the pools1:
Her Granny glanced up fleetingly at the huge blue dazzle of the sea. “ ’Ell of a lot o’ worter” she pronounced grimly. That seemed to sum up her opinion . . . She went off on another tack. “Orlright fer you ter talk. Gooin’ on at yer indeed. Never ’eard nothink like it . . . You’re bin orf ’ooks with me ever since we started. Jist acause I wouldn’t ’ave nothink ter do wi’ that siv idea. Sailin’ down in sivs, very thought on it sets me rheumatics a-gooin’ . . . ‘No me gel’ I ses, ‘The train fer me or nothink at orl’ . . . an’ rightly too. Very idea . . .
“Well, witches do sail in sieves. I’ve read about it.”
“Not in my expeerience” snapped the old lady. “And I dunt goo much of a bundle on them there old fangled ways neither. They ent ’ygenic . . . I only ever ’alf believed that one anyways. I dunt reckon there’s a spell as ’ud ’old, not fer no time any’ow. Wadn’t nuthink ter stop you tryin’ . . .”
“I did try. I got one floating on Top Canal, you know I did.”
“Yis, an’ come ’um in ’Ell of a stew—”
“It was all right till Aggie’s nephew opened the lock . . .”
“Molecular tensions” explained Granny a little more kindly. “You ’adn’t put enough be’ind the spell. Orlright chantin’ uvver summat but if yer wants a spell ter take yore gotta work it right inside . . . I expects things got uwer-stressed when yer got in the race . . .”
“I know I got overstressed. I was nearly drowned.”
“Stuff” said the old lady firmly. “Wunt ketch no sympathy orf me.” p.99
Later, in an underground cave on the shoreline, Anita meets a mermaid, or Jennifer. The next day, during their second meeting, the Jennifer suggests to Anita that she should come and visit the depths, and that she can arrange for a huge Serpent to take her:
Anita called again, louder this time, conscious of all the black water beneath her.
“Serpent . . .”
There was a rumbling that grew to a roar, a burst of phosphorescence that looked a mile long, and he was there. Anita soared and dropped in the great waves that rolled back from him. But he was so big, she’d never dreamed he would be as big as that . . . he was like a reef in the night sea, the swell of his back was curving against the sky and all the length of him was alive with rivulets of turquoise light . . . His skin was craggy and knobby, wrinkled and rough, his flat head rose towering, his tail stretched away for ever. The sea touched him softly, muting itself because he was so old. Anita paddled towards him and the head snaked down till the eyes could see her and those eyes were a yard across, bulging and smooth as black mirrors, and there was everything in them, everything there had ever been in the world. Anita wanted to hug him but he was so huge, so huge . . . p.107-108
A Cave in the Hills by R. W. Mackelworth starts with a discontented woman in a future society finding out her husband is in ‘Debtors.’ After contacting Accounts, they tell her an Arbitrator will call. What happens next is that a neighbour she is attracted to visits and takes her husband’s valuables: his books, paintings and papers. During this, there is commentary about him being a subversive and this is the reason he has been bankrupted. I didn’t really have much of an idea what this one was supposed to be about.
Hunt a Wild Dream by D. R. Heywood is about three white hunters in East Africa (presumably Kenya) at the time of the Mau Mau uprising. They load up their vehicles and go on a long drive to a plateau they intend searching. As this section proceeds we are introduced to a mythical creature known as the Nambi bear or Chemosit. Needless to say when the three men hack their way on through the bamboo at the base of the plateau they encounter this creature and shoot but don’t kill it.
After they take the Chemosit back to the camp Cullen, the expedition leader, just sits and watches it. Later (spoiler) he drives off from the camp, is ambushed by the Mau Mau, and escapes into the jungle. He then finds he has become the Chemosit and the encounters the three men and is shot….
This time-loop ending to the story doesn’t work at all but this is probably worth reading for the local colour (albeit Colonial colour where black characters barely exist):
Cullen stepped out of his tent and looked critically at the unpretentious hills, which looked so easy to climb. He knew how deceptive appearance could be from previous experience in similar country. This gentle range of hills presented a climb of over two thousand feet, through a bamboo forest. The most treacherous type of forest that man could wish to penetrate. Where seemingly solid canes would collapse at the slightest touch; where fallen bamboo crossed each other in a lattice work barrier; and, where the unwary could crash through the apparently solid ground formed by years of fallen and decaying canes. . . . p.119
There is a short glossary of the native expressions used at the end of the story.
Although I’ve reviewed the whole thing here, this sixteen page short story is actually serialised across this issue and the next. I can only presume this was a blunder because if they had dropped the Roberts or the Wordley story, and added a couple of pages to the editorial, they could have fitted the whole thing into this issue.
This month’s Cover is a distinctive contribution by Agosta Morol, the first of three he would produce for the magazine.2 Keith Roberts also contributes a piece of internal artwork for his story.3
In this month’s Editorial Kyril Bonfiglioli doesn’t have much to say as evidenced by the anecdote he relates:
People discussing wit usually end up by pointing out that brevity is its soul. Perhaps that is why the telegram4 lends itself so well to humour. My favourite example is the interchange between a newspaper editor and a dilatory journalist who had been sent abroad as a special correspondent. After a fortnight without receiving a single news story the editor cabled: EXPLAIN UNNEWS.
The reporter, a man of spirit who disliked “cablese” replied UNNEWS GOOD NEWS.
The editor, however, had the final word, as editors usually do, with UNNEWS UNJOB.
What I am working around to saying is that there is rather little to say this month, except that I hope readers will agree that our contents continue to show steady improvement. p.2
Bonfiglioli goes on for another paragraph or so, mentioning a number of new novels and stories written by various writers.
A comparatively lacklustre issue with a measure of competent material but little that is noteworthy.
- The ‘pools’ was a pre-Lottery gambling activity that involved the participant selecting eight score-draws from a list of fifty odd football (UK soccer) matches every Saturday. Top prizes were in the region of half a million pounds, a huge amount of money at the time. Actually, a huge amount of money now. My grandmother did the pools religiously for years.
- Agosta Morol’s ISFDB page.
- Keith Roberts’ illustration of Anita the witch:
Roberts’ cover illustration for The Jennifer which had appeared the issue before:
- A ‘telegram’ was a sort of printed out email that was delivered to your door before the internet was invented.