Six-Legged Svengali • short story by Fredric Brown and Mack Reynolds ♥♥♥
An Epistle to the Thessalonians • reprint short story by Philip Wylie ♥♥
Simworthy’s Circus • short story by Larry T. Shaw
The End of the Party • reprint short story by Graham Greene ♥♥♥
The Big Contest • short story by John D. MacDonald ♥♥
The Hunter Gracchus • reprint short story by Franz Kafka ♥
The Mindworm • short story by C. M. Kornbluth ♥♥♥♥
The Smile of the Sphinx • reprint novelette by William F. Temple ♥♥
Invasion Squad • short story by Battell Loomis ♥
Wow • reprint short story by William B. Seabrook ♥♥
The Loom of Darkness • short story by Jack Vance ♥♥♥
Cover • by Paul Callé
Internal artwork • by Paul Callé, Harry Harrison
The Dissecting Table • book reviews by Damon Knight
Editorial: Science-Fantasy Fiction • by Damon Knight
Worlds of Beyond was a short-lived digest magazine that appeared on the scene at the same time as Galaxy. Unfortunately, unlike like the latter it lasted for only three issues, killed off by poor circulation. The magazine came from a company called Hillman Publications and was edited by Damon Knight, who later described the birth, life and death of the magazine in his Knight Piece in the autobiographical anthology Hell’s Cartographers.1
As with F&SF there is a mixture of original and reprint material, which I’ll deal with it in the order it appears.
Six-Legged Svengali by Fredric Brown and Mack Reynolds is a pleasant but minor Sheckleyesque tale of a specimen gathering expedition on Venus: Rod the narrator has paid to go along as he is keen on Dixie, the daughter of the expedition leader Dr Everton. They are looking for a creature with a very particular protective mechanism. What this defensive characteristic is becomes apparent during dinner when Dr Everton and his daughter are talking about Venusian mud turtles and Rod has no idea what they are talking about. Dr Everton tells him he must have found one and explains:
“You see, Spenser, many creatures have amazing protective mechanisms for use against their enemies. There are the insects that survive by resembling twigs—the harmless snakes that have the markings of deadly vipers—the small fish that can puff itself up so large that it cannot be swallowed—the chameleon that—”
I interrupted him. “I’ll concede protective mechanisms, Dr. Everton. But what’s that got to do with whatever we’re talking about?”
He waggled a finger at me. “All right, you concede protective mechanisms. Now we come to the protective mechanism of the Venusian mud turtle. Like all other forms of life on Venus, it has limited telepathic powers. In its case, a special adaptation of telepathy. It can induce temporary amnesia concerning itself—its very existence—in the mind of any creature coming within a certain range of it.
“In other words, if anyone goes out hunting a Venusian mud turtle and finds one—he not only forgets he was hunting it but that he saw it or ever heard of it!” p.4
Later, Dr Everton informs Rod he has also amnesia about their private deal: if Rod captures one of the creatures he can marry Dixie, if he doesn’t he can’t. Rod goes back to his tent and tries to figure out what his plan for catching an animal that induces amnesia as a protective mechanism was….
As well as being cleverly developed, this has a twinge of early ecological awareness in it:
Actually, I had little real sympathy for the expedition. I’ve never thought much of people penning animals in cages to be gawked at. Already, of the sparse animal life on Venus, two species had become extinct: the beautiful Venusian egret, to supply plumes for hats in a ridiculous revival of the millinery styles of the 19th century, and the kieter, whose meat was delicious beyond belief, to adorn the tables of wealthy gourmets. p.2
An Epistle to the Thessalonians by Philip Wylie is an excerpt from his 1934 novel Finnley Wren, and as such is a rather inconsequential but moderately interesting piece. It tells of a thousand mile high giant arriving on Earth from space and the events that follow.
Simworthy’s Circus by Larry T. Shaw is the only real clunker in the issue, and it stands out for its markedly pulp voice:
Simworthy rose from the pilot’s armchair, still cursing with an energy that, tight-beamed, would have burned a hole in the planet’s heaviside layer. He spat, and stainless steel sizzled. p.21
The story is about a very ugly man turned space trader and his adventures after he is given a love potion on a planet by a hermit. There is a reasonably clever end to this but it’s too little too late.
The End of the Party by Graham Greene (The London Mercury, January 1932) is a well written—as you would expect—atmospheric chiller about one of two twins dreading an upcoming birthday party as he has a fear of playing hide-and-seek in the dark. He tries a number of ruses to avoid this and his twin brother intervenes at one point, but to no avail….
The Big Contest by John D. MacDonald is, perhaps the next most ‘pulp’ of the tales herein with its tale of some good old boys sitting outside the fire station and one of them telling a story about flying saucers. This mostly concerns an unusual entrant to a spitting contest that took place in the town some years ago. The ending is fairly predictable but the local colour is really the thing that is of interest here.
The Hunter Gracchus by Franz Kafka (The Great Wall of China, 1948, translation of Der Jäger Gracchus, 1931) is a short fragmentary piece about Gracchus the Hunter arriving in a village and the burgomaster later meeting him. Gracchus tells him of how he died and became marooned on Earth, forever travelling from place to place. I haven’t read much Kafka but The Trial and Metamorphosis were also about people trapped in existential situations: is this a theme?
The Mindworm by C. M. Kornbluth is an impressive story, and the best in the issue. It is about a man who feeds on people’s intense emotions, killing them in the process—a sort of telepathic vampire if you will. The ending is a little predictable—not helped by Knight’s giveaway blurb—but the notable feature of this is the grittiness of the narrative, which is informed by the protagonist’s telepathic roamings. An example of this is when he runs away from home as a child and encounters some hoboes:
They were ugly, dirty men, and their thoughts were muddled and stupid. They called him “Shorty” and gave him a little dirty bread and some stinking sardines from a can. The thoughts of one of them became less muddled and uglier. He talked to the rest out of the boy’s hearing, and they whooped with laughter. The boy got ready to run, but his legs wouldn’t hold him up.
He could read the thoughts of the men quite clearly as they headed for him. Outrage, fear and disgust blended in him and somehow turned inside-out and one of the men was dead on the dry ground, grasshoppers vaulting onto his flannel shirt, the others backing away, frightened now, not frightening.
He wasn’t hungry anymore; he felt quite comfortable and satisfied. He got up and headed for the other men, who ran. The rearmost of them was thinking Jeez he folded up the evil eye we was only gonna—
Again the boy let the thoughts flow into his head and again he flipped his own thoughts around them; it was quite easy to do. It was different—this man’s terror from the other’s lustful anticipation. But both had their points. . . . p.56
The inner cover blurb notes Kornbluth was only in his late twenties when he published this and was working as the head of a local news bureau—an occupation, one suspects, that informed his clear-eyed view of humanity (or jaundiced view, take your pick).
The Smile of the Sphinx by William F. Temple (Tales of Wonder, Autumn 1938) places the narrator of the story near an arsenal at Woolwich when it violently explodes destroying a large part of the town. This is the start of a series of worldwide explosions that occur at locations where humans have munitions, or the means of producing them. Shortly before this cataclysm, the narrator had witnessed a huge number of cats leaving the town. After his comment to a newspaper about this phenomenon he is contacted by a man called Clarke who has a wild theory about cats:
“Let me give you a brief history of these creatures,” he said. “I don’t expect you to believe it, but it’s true. Firstly, the moon was inhabited much more recently than some astronomers think. It was shared by two races, the feline and the canine. They were incompatible from the start, and finally a terrific war broke out between them. “Now, the feline mind could detach itself at will from any body—though it could not remain apart from that body long without its store of energy becoming exhausted—and these minds were practically indestructible, even if they happened to be inhabiting a body at the time it was destroyed. But there was an Achilles’ heel, and the canine race knew of it. One thing alone could harm a feline mind, and that was a violent explosion adjacent to it. By ‘adjacent’ I mean within a foot, or two at most, for the feline mind is a tenacious and almost unshakable structure. But a really concentrated effect of disruption slap up against it will somehow upset the balance of forces which holds that incorporeal mind together. It disintegrates, and to all intents and purposes it is finished as an entity forever. p.78
This is, of course, an utterly daft idea for a story but, in its defence, I’ll plead that it is readable and well worked out for all that. If you have a cat, be warned.2
Invasion Squad by Battell Loomis is a strange, almost surreal, story. It has three oddly named explorers (with authorial intervention about how their names are pronounced and how they should be typeset). They are trying to scale a vertical cliff in in a strange landscape. After several attempts using different equipment they succeed and arrive at plateau. They then discover a hole that they explore.
For the most part this reads like one of those strange, perplexing stories you would find in the editor’s later Orbit anthologies but this one actually has a hoary explanation that explains the situation, to its detriment. Twenty years later you would have been left scratching your head and probably the better for it.
Wow by William B. Seabrook (The Smart Set, January 1921) is a fable about a Chinese Emperor who abolishes the use of language, permitting only the sound ‘Wow’ to be used. This is a nice idea but the ending is poor.
The Loom of Darkness by Jack Vance is the second of the ‘Dying Earth’ stories and presumably appeared here as a result of Hillman Periodicals publishing Vance’s book The Dying Earth (the back cover is an in-house advertisement for that volume at 25 cents).
It is a vivid fantasy about a ne’er do well called Liane the Wayfarer who has found a circlet of wrought bronze that lets the user slip from reality to a dark space, as he demonstrates to a Twk-man he encounters:
He saw a blue-white, green-white flicker against the foliage. It was a Twk-man, mounted on a dragon-fly, and light glinted from the dragon-fly’s wings.
Liane called sharply, “Here, sir! Here, sir!”
The Twk-man perched his mount on a twig. “Well, Liane, what do you wish?”
“Watch now, and remember what you see.” Liane pulled the ring over his head, dropped it to his feet, lifted it back. He looked up to the Twk-man, who was chewing a leaf. “And what did you see?”
“I saw Liane vanish from mortal sight—except for the red curled toes of his sandals. All else was as air.”
“Ha!” cried Liane. “Think of it! Have you ever seen the like?”
The Twk-man asked carelessly, “Do you have salt? I would have salt.”
Liane cut his exultations short, eyed the Twk-man closely.
“What news do you bring me?”
“Three erbs killed Florejin the Dream-builder, and burst all his bubbles. The air above the manse was colored for many minutes with the flitting fragments.”
“Lord Kandive the Golden has built a barge of carven mo-wood ten lengths high, and it floats on the River Scaum for the Regatta, full of treasure.”
“A golden witch named Lith has come to live on Thamber Meadow. She is quiet and very beautiful.”
“Enough,” said the Twk-man, and leaned forward to watch while Liane weighed out the salt in a tiny balance. He packed it in small panniers hanging on each side of the ribbed thorax, then twitched the insect into the air and flicked off through the forest vaults. p.118-119
Liane sets off to find the witch and, having found her later, is unable to force his affections on her. She agrees to trade them for a tapestry she wants. The only problem is that the tapestry is owned, and guarded, by Chun the Unavoidable….
There are similarities here to Green Magic (F&SF, June 1963)3 and, although not as good as that piece, it is the best story here after the Kornbluth.
The cover for this issue is a flat, amateurish affair (but see Knight’s comments below about how this piece was obtained) and the small postage stamp-size internal illustrations don’t really add anything to the ’zine.4
The written non-fiction is thin on the ground and, apart from Knight’s review column, is mostly trivial stuff. Contributors… comprises of brief author biographical notes. Science Briefs comprises of three separate paragraphs of science facts. In The Next Issue promises stories by Ford McCormack, Judith Merril and Cleve Cartmill and also has this:
Your comments on this issue, and your suggestions for future issues, are earnestly solicited—especially if you’re not an old-time science-fiction reader. This field is expanding rapidly—therefore new readers are important—and we want your reactions. p.107
Shades of Horace L. Gold and Galaxy magazine.
The Dissecting Table by Damon Knight is a book review column that covers half a dozen works by various authors including Festus Pragnell , Theodore Sturgeon, William Gray Beyer, L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt, and Nelson S. Bond amongst others.
Knight was never a great fan of A. E. van Vogt but has this to say about The House That Stood Still:
This book might have been written to oblige critics of van Vogt’s work, for an analysis of it clears up several puzzling aspects of his previous stories. For example, the characters in this book have little if any more depth than those in previous van Vogt novels, but here the lack is not felt as acutely, for this sort of superficial characterization is exactly what is expected in a not-quite-first-rate detective story. More is expected from a science-fiction writer of the first rank; but it seems to me at least an illuminating hypothesis that van Vogt is not, strictly speaking, a science-fiction writer—that he has been writing crime-suspense novels, with a dollop each of science-fantasy background, ever since Slan; though never before as explicitly as in The House That Stood Still.
Uncharacteristically, all the threads in this story have been satisfactorily tied up; and the suspense is kept at a high level. Recommended. p.114-115
He also has these comments about Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L. Ron Hubbard:
This is a closely reasoned, carefully composed and extremely persuasive book, certainly the best job of writing Hubbard has done since the war. The status of dianetics as a science is another question, and one which would have been much easier to resolve had the author included any clinical evidence to support his claims.
Throughout the book the assumption is implicit that the reader will accept each statement as true for the time being until the argument is complete and the validity of the whole can be tested. The force of these reiterated confident statements, coupled with the suggestion of acceptance-on-faith, is very strong. But the matter of proof, when you have finished the book, is still deferred to the author’s integrity and to your own experiments with dianetic technique.
New therapies are ordinarily not publicized or put into general practice without prolonged checking by qualified independent experimenters. Since dianetics has by-passed this procedure, the reader experiments at his own grave risk. p.116
This is an interesting and insightful review column and I look forward to the next couple (and will track down his collected criticism, a volume I should have read a long time ago).5
Editorial: Science-Fantasy Fiction by Damon Knight is a short piece with a debateable contention:
Science-Fantasy Fiction is a blend of two forms of imaginative writing: science fiction and fantasy. Fantasy is as old as recorded history; science-fiction is a child of the industrial revolution.
For years these two branches of the field have been considered as separate, but the old standards no longer apply: a fusion has taken place. The “pure” sciencefiction story is almost nonexistent; it has acquired the flavor and the freedom of fantasy. “Pure” fantasy is equally doomed by the new attitudes and knowledge that science has introduced; but at the same time the principles of science-fiction writing have given it new life.
The hybrid (and if you doubt that it exists, read C. M. Kornbluth’s The Mindworm, in this issue!) is as strongly alive as any form of modern fiction. It’s our aim to do everything possible to strengthen it further and to aid its growth.
You won’t find “wiring-diagram” science-fiction stories here, or Gothic horror-fantasy either. But the whole field in between is our meat—and, we hope, yours, too. ibc
In conclusion I would note that the three issues of Worlds Beyond have a good reputation in a couple of sources I checked and, on the basis of this one, I would concur.6 I thought the quality of the writing was far superior to any of the other magazines I have read from the period, even if the individual works don’t always work that well as stories. If the other two issues are up to this standard then it is a pity this title didn’t last longer: I think Worlds Beyond would have given F&SF a run for its money, and Galaxy too.
- From Knight Piece by Damon knight in Hell’s Cartographers, ed. Harry Harrison & Brian W. Aldiss:
“I was tired of Popular again [Knight was dissatisfied with his job as assistant to Ejler Jakobsson on Super-Science Stories], and wished I had my own science fiction magazine to edit. I asked Fred Pohl if he knew of any publisher who might be interested; he suggested I try Alex Hillman of Hillman Publications. I sent Hillman written proposal and was called in for an interview. Hillman who looked something like Charles Coburn, hired me in ten minutes. When he asked about salary, I said I was getting $75 at Popular (an exaggeration) but would like to do better than that; we settled on $85 a week, the most I had ever earned in my life. I paid off some debts and bought two new suits for the first time in my life. I had never owned more than one suit, mostly second-hand, before.
I wanted to call the magazine Science-Fantasy, but the firm’s lawyers, after a haphazard search, advised against because both words were in use in the titles of other magazines. We finally settled on Worlds Beyond, swiped from the title of a symposium edited by Lloyd Arthur Eshback, Of Worlds Beyond. My handshake agreement with Hillman was so hasty that I discovered afterward I didn’t even know if the magazine was to be a monthly. I was too green to ask for a contract guaranteeing a minimum number of issues, or to settle details of production and format. Hillman was leaving on a vacation, and told me to have a cover ready for him when he got back.
Fred, now an agent, laughed with delighted disbelief when I told him I had sold Hillman the magazine. I bought several stories for the first issue from his clients, and one or two others from Meredith. From a young writer named Richard Matheson, then almost unknown, I bought a story called ‘Clothes Make the Man,’ a deft little satire about a suit of clothes that takes over its owner’s personality. This was the story I chose to illustrate on the cover. I called in an artist named Herman Bischoff and gave him the commission; he turned out a fine spooky painting of an empty suit of clothes waving its arms at a startled girl. When he came back, Hillman rejected the painting and would not be dissuaded, even though a vice-president took my side. I discovered that I had only thought I had authority to order the painting made; what Hillman had meant was for me to get a sketch made for his approval. Bischoff was never paid. I turned to Paul Calle, who I knew had a painting that had been turned down by Popular, and we bought it for $100.
The atmosphere at Hillman Publications was utterly unlike that at Popular. I had an office to myself for a week or two, then was put in with the staff of Hillman’s fact detective magazines, headed by an irascible, popeyed man whose name I have forgotten. Every editor seemed alone at his little desk, even though several of us worked in the same room. There was no camaraderie and no fraternization. Meeting Hillman in the hall was an unnerving experience. Smoking a cigar, he lumbered down the hall staring straight ahead, hands clasped behind his back. When I said good morning, he continued to stare and lumber. (I used him as the Boss of Colorado in my novel A for Anything.)
I had the tiniest of budgets, but since I was using about half reprint material I could afford to pay the going rate for new stories. Fred sent me an elegant satire by Phil Klass which I retitled ‘Null-P’. I got stories from Poul Anderson, Fred Brown and Mack Reynolds, John Christopher and others. I wrote a book review department, which I called ‘The Dissecting Table’.
The first issue appeared, with a dumb headline sticker contrived by one of Hillman’s lieutenants (something about flying saucer men). It was printed on the poorest grade of newsprint I had ever seen, worse even than Lowndes’s magazines. When the first sales report came in three weeks later, it was so bad that Hillman cancelled the project at once. Two more issues were in preparation by then and appeared. The cover for the fourth had been painted. The firm did not want to pay the artist for this, either, but this time I stood by him (his sketch had been approved), and he got his money.” p.126-128
- When I say ‘have a cat’ I obviously mean ‘are a full-time butler to a cat.’
- I reviewed Jack Vance’s Green Magic here.
- One of the interior illustrations (I thought this one rather good):
- Damon Knight, In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction (Amazon UK, USA).
- The SFE entry for Worlds Beyond.