Gideon Marcus: Galactic Journey
The Only Game in Town • novelette by Poul Anderson ♥♥♥
A Divvil With the Women • reprint short story by Eric Frank Russell [as by Niall Wilde] ♥♥♥+
The Blind Pilot • short story by Nathalie Henneberg (translation of Au Pilote Aveugle by Damon Knight) [as by Charles Henneberg] ♥♥♥
Bug-Getter • short story by Reginald Bretnor ♥
Final Gentleman • novelette by Clifford D. Simak ♥
A Little Girl’s Xmas in Modernia • reprint short story by David R. Bunch ♥♥
The Galactic Calabash • short story by G. C. Edmondson ♥♥♥
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble • short story by Holley Cantine ♥♥
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XXII • short story by Reginald Bretnor [as by Grendel Briarton]
Cover • Emsh
In This Issue…
Coming Next Month…
To JULIA, not to gaze at Flyinge Sawcers • poem by Anthony Brode
Those Crazy Ideas • science essay by Isaac Asimov
Backward, Turn Backward • poem by Randall Garrett
The Only Game in Town by Poul Anderson is one of his ‘Time Patrol’ stories. This one has two agents, Manse Everard and John Sandoval, going back in time to thwart a Mongol expedition sent by the Kublai Khan to conquer America. During this expedition, Everard suspects that the Time Patrol personnel in the far future may be manipulating time to their own ends.
This is an engaging mix of story and history, and has some of Anderson’s lovely descriptive prose, such as this scene where the two men are sitting at a campfire:
The fire blazed up in a gust of wind. Sparingly laid by a woodsman, in that moment it barely brought the two out of shadow, a glimpse of brow, nose, cheekbones, a gleam of eyes. It sank down again to red and blue sputtering above white coals, and darkness took the men. p.15
However, the ending is a little weak: part fortunate circumstance, part time-travel deux ex machina.
While compiling the contents list for this one I was surprised to discover that A Divvil With the Women is actually by Eric Frank Russell (according to ISFDB, it is a variant of Heart’s Desire, published in the British magazine Science Fantasy #16, November 1955).1 It is a colourfully told story about a drunk Irishman:
Well, I don’t suppose you noticed that paragraph in the Irish Independent last March, did you now? A right awful tale it told to any man sober enough to crawl but drunk enough to understand the whole of it.
Hold on to your glass while I tell you. This happens in Dublin itself which is the world’s finest city, God save the dirty, dissolute place. And it happens to Patrick Magonigal who is the blackest hearted scoundrel that ever got conceived behind a billboard. p.32
Magonigal is approached by Shatain (Satan) and asked to collect some holy water from a church, which Shatain himself obviously can’t do. In exchange Shaitan promises to make him irresistible to women. This short piece has a clever ending, if you like it as I did, or a feeble joke ending if you don’t.
The Blind Pilot by Nathalie Henneberg is a translation by Damon Knight of Au Pilote Aveugle (Fiction, July 1959), the first of a series of French stories that Knight would translate.2
The editors mention in In This Issue… that this story comes from F&SF’s French edition (edited by Maurice Renault), explaining that this foreign edition of F&SF uses mostly translated stories from the US magazine but substitutes some of the original content with stories written by Frenchmen. 3 They also add that Charles Henneberg died before this piece was published in France, but that the name ‘Charles Henneberg’ was used as a signature for the collaborative efforts of Charles and his wife Nathalie. According to ISFDB, this one is by her alone, and SFE gives the impression that we have a complicated Henry Kuttner/C. L. Moore situation here, at least for the material before Charles Henneberg’s death.4
The story itself gets off to a strong start and reads like the kind of work that Roger Zelazny would produce several years later:
The shop was low and dark, as if meant for someone who no longer knew day from night. Around it hung a scent of wax and incense, exotic woods and roses dried in darkness. It was in the cellar of one of the oldest buildings of the old radioactive district, and you had to walk down several steps before you reached a grille of Venerian sandalwood. A cone of Martian crystal lighted the sign:
THE BLIND PILOT
The man who came in this morning, followed by a robot porter with a chest, was a half-crazy old voyager, like many who have gazed on the naked blazing of the stars. He was back from the Aselli—at least, if not there, from the Southern Cross; his face was of wax, ravaged, graven, from lying too long on a keelson at the mercy of the ultraviolets, and in the black jungle of the planets.
The coffer was hewn from a heart-wood hard as brass, porous here and there. He had it set down on the floor, and the sides vibrated imperceptibly, as if a great captive bee were struggling inside. p.37
In this pawnshop scene a blind space pilot called North, his mutant brother Jacky (who has hooks for hands and who wheels himself about on a trolley) and a destitute spacer discuss the amount of money the latter can be advanced for the alien in the heart-wood box.
Later on, Jacky goes to a movie and then returns to his brother’s shop. He hears faint music and experiences a vision of being immersed in an ocean and then surfacing to a strange alien sky…. He and his brother subsequently see a newscast that includes footage of a drowned man at the docks—the one who pawned the alien. Jacky goes to the library to research the creature and he learns that one of the types of animal on the planet is a manatee-like species:
“Manatees? What are they?” asked Jacky, suddenly apprehensive.
“Herbivorous, sirenian mammals which live on Earth, along the shores of Africa and America. Manatees sometimes grow as long as three meters, and frequent the estuaries of rivers.’’
“A genus of mammals, related to the cetaceans, and comprising the dugongs, manatees, and so on.’’
Jacky’s eyebrows went up and he cried, “I thought it came from ‘siren’!”
“So it does,” said the robot laconically. “Fabulous monsters, half woman, half bird or fish. With their sweet singing, they lured voyagers onto the reefs—” p.42
Jacky continues to make discoveries about the creature while his brother has visions of being in space again. The rest of the story blends these two strands and the spacer’s drowning.
While it is a piece worth reading it doesn’t manage to sustain the level it achieves at the start and there are a couple of elements that confused me towards the end, even after rereading it. (Spoiler: something hits the roof when the shop is raided by the militia, perhaps North’s body, which shows the effects of travelling in space. Any evidence of the reality of North’s visions would run counter to the Siren myth introduced into the story, I would suggest.)
Notwithstanding this criticism, I’ll be looking for more of her/his/their translated work.
Bug-Getter is a short-short by Reginald Bretnor about a struggling artist plagued by crickets who has a visit from some tiny aliens. They agree to get rid of them for six of his paintings, delivered immediately, and a dozen more after the job. Two years later they come to collect. This has a punchline ending and a fairly lame one at that.
Final Gentleman by Clifford D. Simak is a longish novelette about a writer called Harrington who decides that he has come to the end of his writing career. The same day he is interviewed by a journalist, and Harrington is surprised when he is told there is no record of his birth or other personal history.
After the interview Harrington goes to his Mother’s house, but she is not there: he finds a woman who claims she has lived there for fifteen years. He goes to a coffee shop and starts to reflect on whether his life has really been a delusion. He recalls a shadowy figure in his past:
And suddenly Harrington was back again in that smoky, shadowed booth where long ago he’d bargained with the faceless being—but no longer faceless. He knew by the aura of the man and the sense of him, the impelling force of personality, the disquieting, obscene feeling that was a kind of psychic spoor. p.85
This is all slowly developed and has the feel, for the first half or so, of the kind of horror story that progressively builds a sense of unease. Unfortunately, it ends up having an unconvincing SF rational (spoiler: Harrington is eventually led to a predictive computer that is a front for aliens. He kills them and consequently frees the human race from their intervention). Overlong and unconvincing.
A Little Girl’s Xmas in Modernia by David R. Bunch (Coastlines, Fall 1958) concerns a young girl going to her partially robotic father and asking him to replace the star on her Xmas tree. After this they go to visit her mother and brother.
As they walked along, over the yard to Mother’s place, she kicked up snow and chortled and laughed and told off-color jokes—she had heard them on the programs—almost like a normal little girl should. Father tracked dourly through the unmarked snow under the featureless gray sky and thought only how all this nonsense of walking so early was making the silver parts of his joints hurt, and before he’d had his morning bracer, too. Yes indeed, Father, for the most part, was flesh only in those portions that they had not yet found ways to replace safely. He held on grimly, walking hard, and wished he were back in his hip-snuggie thinking chair where he worked on universal deep problems. p.105
There is no particular story as such, just a short but pleasant visit to Bunch’s robotic world of Moderan (called Modernia here in this early story).
The Galactic Calabash by G. C. Edmondson is the third of the ‘Mad Friend’ stories and it starts with two men and their wives visiting a Mexican couple. Once they arrive they get a tour around the poultry farm and processing unit (content you don’t find in many SF stories….) Back in the house they become aware of electrical interference to the television picture. Some time later (spoiler), and by way of what they think is a large pumpkin-like vegetable that has exploded in the oven, one of the two visitors reconciles this with the TV signal and realises an alien invasion has been averted.
I know this synopsis makes it seem rather an unlikely prospect but it is an entertaining and colourful piece.
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble by Holley Cantine starts with its narrator becoming disillusioned with left-wing politics:
The group to which I then belonged—it was called the Ultra Revolutionary Left Socialist Workers’ council, or something equally grandiose and pretentious—had been reduced by internal dissension to about 14 members, and there were rumors of an impending faction fight which might well split it still further. My comrades were all either narrow fanatics or callow youths, and their intemperance and wordiness increasingly had been getting on my nerves. p.116
After he inherits some money he moves to a house in the country, where he dabbles with magic and masters a doubling spell. After a period where he uses the spell sparingly to provide the material goods he requires, he uses the spell on himself so he can produce enough members for a brass band. All the copies are pretty much the same as him but the drummer seems more like his old self, and has a revolutionary attitude….
The story then turns into an ‘if this goes on’ tale. A neat idea but not entirely convincing.
Last is Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XXII by Reginald Bretnor, which is an OK pun for a change that involves vampires, undertakers & etc.
The Cover for this one by Emsh is not only a seasonal effort but is unusual for another couple of reasons: first, it illustrates a reprint; secondly, that reprint is the story by David R. Bunch. Bunch wrote a number of idiosyncratic stories and I can’t say that they ever struck me as being cover material. I suspect this is the first and only time his work was selected for this purpose.
In This Issue… and Coming Next Month… together occupy a page. Most of the space is spent discussing Poul Anderson’s novelette, Charles Henneberg’s story, and thanking Dorothy Cowles Pinckney for sending them the magazine with David R. Bunch’s contribution.
There are two poems, or perhaps more accurately, one poem and one piece of doggerel. To JULIA, not to gaze at Flyinge Sawcers is a poem by Anthony Brode that appears to be a pastiche of one of the seventeenth century poet Robert Herrick’s many ‘Julia’ poems.5 Backward, Turn Backward by Randall Garrett is about Pluto coming closer to the sun than Neptune in 1979.
Those Crazy Ideas, Isaac Asimov’s supposed science essay, is about what it says. He lists the factors that are required to come up with creative ideas.
Books: And the Truth Shall Drive You Mad by Damon Knight reviews a number of items. There is a relatively long section on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and he has this to say about Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley:
The hero is more solidly drawn than most of Sheckley’s protagonists, and the early part of the story is satiric and funny. But this is Sheckley’s first novel, a long way from the five-thousand-word length in which he has done most of his work: and the second half of the book trails off into a disorganized scattering of episodes, many of them perfunctorily written. p.67
He ends his column with this:
In One Against Herculum (an Ace Double, with Andre Norton’s Secret of the Lost Race, 35¢), Jerry Sohl has written the most featherbrained s-f novel of the year, unless that honor belongs to Robot Hunt, by Roger Lee Vernon (Avalon, $2.95).
The mildly inebriated novels of Leonard Wibberley have many devoted followers, of which I am not one. I couldn’t get past p. 84 of The Quest of Excalibur (Putnam, $3.50), but if you liked previous Wibberleys, go to this one, & bless you. p.68
An issue of F&SF with a number of good if not great stories.
- ISFDB lists this Russell story as a variant of the one that originally appeared in Science Fantasy but an OCR word count puts them within fifty words or so of each other (out of 2,000). A brief comparison reveals a few words changed/omitted, and the last line from the Science Fantasy version is cut: ‘It’s a real terrible story and I wouldn’t believe a word of it if I wasn’t telling it myself.’ Not quite a ‘variant.’ Personally, I’d reserve that kind of terminology for something like the magazine and book versions of Keith Roberts’ Corfe Gate.
- Damon Knight edited a collection of stories he translated titled Thirteen French Science Fiction Stories (1965). The content listing is here at ISFDB. Five of the translations were first published in F&SF.
- Fiction was a long running magazine: 412 issues by the beginning of 1990, according to SFE. I have a couple of dozen of these (part of an abortive attempt to learn French) and they have a number of French stories in them as well as review columns that consist of pages and pages of tiny dense type.
The Fiction cover below by Jean-Claude Forest illustrates Henneberg’s The Blind Pilot:
The contents page:
- Nathalie Henneberg’s bibliography at ISFDB and her page at SFE.
- Robert Herrick is a character in Thomas Burnett Swann’s novel Will-O-The-Wisp (Fantastic , September & November 1974) and includes some of his poetry (which led me to pick up his Selected Poems). Herrick lived to an exceptional age for his times, dying at the age of 83 in 1674. His Wikipedia page.