Editor, Edward L. Ferman; Assistant Editor, Anne W. Deraps
The Hertford Manuscript • novelette by Richard Cowper ♥♥♥♥
From A to Z, In the Chocolate Alphabet • short story by Harlan Ellison ♥♥♥
The Barrow • short story by Ursula K. Le Guin ♥♥
A Case of the Stubborns • short story by Robert Bloch ♥♥♥♥♥
Hero’s Moon • novelette by Marion Zimmer Bradley ♥♥
Where the Woodbine Twineth • short story by Manly Wade Wellman ♥♥♥
The Ladies of Beetlegoose Nine • novella by Reginald Bretnor ♥♥♥+
Mariner 10 Approaching Mercury • cover by Chesley Bonestell
Out of Dickinson by Poe, or The Only Begotten Son of Emily and Edgar • poem by Ray Bradbury
From A to Z, In the Chocolate Alphabet: a Note on how this Story Came to be Written • essay by Harlan Ellison
Cartoon • by Gahan Wilson
Films: Watch out for Falling Men (And Bluebirds) • film review by Baird Searles
Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright! • science essay by Isaac Asimov
The reason I picked up this issue is that it contains a Robert Bloch story I liked very much when I first read it forty years or so ago. As I noticed1 that it was the centenary of his birth, it seemed only fitting to look at it again.
A Case of the Stubborns is good in so many ways. First of all, its premise:
The morning after he died, Grandpa come downstairs for breakfast.
It kind of took us by surprise. Ma looked at Pa, Pa looked at little sister Susie, and Susie looked at me. Then we all just set there looking at Grandpa.
“What’s the matter,” he said. “Why you all staring at me like that?’
Nobody said, but I knowed the reason. Only been last night since all of us stood by his bedside when he was took by his attack and passed away right in front of our very eyes. But here he was, up and dressed and feisty as ever.
“What’s for breakfast?” he said. p. 60
The rest of the story entertainingly describes subsequent events, including visits from the doctor, undertaker, churchman, etc., as Grandpa slowly starts to exhibit the inevitable and ghoulish effects of his death—as noted in the conversation between Grandpa and the Reverend Peabody:
The Reverend swallowed again. “After what Addie and Doc told me, I just had to see for myself.” He looked at the flies buzzing around Grandpa. “Now I wish I’d just took their word on it.”
“Meaning a man in your condition’s got no right to be asking questions. When the good Lord calls, you’re supposed to answer.’’
“I ain’t heard nobody calling,” Grandpa said. “Course my hearing’s not what it use to be.”
“So Doc says. That’s why you don’t notice your heart’s not beating.”
“Only natural for it to slow down a piece. I’m pushing ninety you know.”
“Did you ever stop to think that ninety might be pushing back?” p. 65
This all leads up to a killer last line (pun intended).
What you would have had here with lesser writers is the initial setup and then a couple of thousand words of padding before that last line, and even then you would still have quite a good story. What raises this to an entirely different level is the wit and invention shown by Bloch on the way through, not least in a number of mini set pieces such as the one above, or when the grandson goes to the Conjure Lady in Spooky Hollow for help:
The Conjure Lady slid the money into her pocket and pinned the button atop her dress. “Now, son—purty is as purty does. So what can I do for you?”
“It’s about my Grandpa,” I said. “Grandpa Titus Tolliver.”
“Titus Tolliver? Why I reckon I know him! Use to run a still up in the toolies back of the crick. Fine figure of a man with a big black beard, he is.”
“Is turns to was,” I told her. “Now he’s all dried-up with the rheumatiz. Can’t rightly see too good and can’t hear for sour apples.”
“Sure is a crying shame!” the Conjure Lady said. “But sooner or later we all get to feeling poorly. And when you gotta go, you gotta go.”
“That’s the hitch of it. He won’t go.”
“Meaning he’s bound-up?”
“Meaning he’s dead.”
The Conjure Lady give me a hard look. “Do tell,” she said.
So I told. Told her the whole kit and kabodle, right from the git-go. She heard me out, not saying a word. And when I finished up, she just stared at me until I was fixing to jump out of my skin.
“I reckon you mightn’t believe me,” I said. “But it’s the gospel truth.”
The Conjure Lady shook her head. “I believe you, son. Like I say, I knowed your Grandpappy from the long-ago. He was plumb set in his ways then, and I take it he still is. Sounds to me like he’s got a bad case of the stubborns.” p. 69
An excellent story.
If it hadn’t been for the Bloch the standout in this issue would have been Richard Cowper’s third contribution2 to the magazine, The Hertford Manuscript, a time travel story set in the world of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine (although the only evidence of this is a mention of the Morlocks and the Eloi). It gets off to an immersive start:
The death of my Great-Aunt Victoria at the advanced age of 93 lopped off the longest branch of a family tree whose roots have been traced right back to the 15th Century—indeed, for those who are prepared to accept “Decressie” as a bonafide corruption of “de Crecy,” well beyond that. Talking to my aunt towards the end of her life was rather like turning the pages of a Victorian family album, for as she grew older the England of her childhood seemed to glow ever more brightly in her mind’s eye. In those far-off days it had been fashionable to accept the inevitability of human progress with a wholeheartedness which is almost impossible for us to imagine. In the 1990’s life presented Homo sapiens with a series of “problems” which had to be “solved.” It was as simple as that. The Edwardians merely gilded the roof of that towering pagoda of Victorian optimism which collapsed in smithereens in 1914. p. 6
This modern day narrator relates the death of his aunt and how he inherits a sum of money and leather bound book. In the rear of this volume he finds a number of anomalous pages—the paper seems far too recent—covered in a tiny handwritten script. The account he reads is of a Victorian time-traveller who becomes stranded in 1665 and makes his way to a plague infested London to obtain a replacement crystal for his machine. This is a riveting narrative that has a thoroughly convincing sense of time and place:
I crossed the river without further incident, picked out the gothic spire of Old St. Paul’s soaring high above the roofs to my left and knew that Ludgate lay immediately beyond it, hidden from my view. I passed through the gate at the north end of the bridge and stepped down into the city. No sooner had I done so than the waterside breeze died away and I was assailed by a most terrible stench from the heaps of garbage and human ordure which lay scattered all down the center of the street, baking in the sun and so thick with flies that the concerted buzzing sounded like a swarm of angry bees. I felt my stomach heave involuntarily and clutched my handkerchief to my nose and mouth, marveling how the other pedestrians seemed able to proceed about their business seemingly oblivious to the poisonous stench. I had covered barely 200 yards before I came upon a house, securely shuttered and barred, with a clumsy cross daubed upon its door in red paint and the ominous words Lord, have mercy upon us scrawled above it. Dozing on a stool beside it was an old man with a scarlet wooden staff resting across his knees. I observed that my fellow pedestrians were careful to give the area a wide berth, and at the risk of fouling my shoes I too edged out towards the center of the street, glancing up as I did so in time to see a small white face peeping fearfully down at me from behind one of the high leaded windows. p. 21
The last few pages of the story revert to the modern narrator’s investigations after (spoiler) the time-traveller’s perhaps inevitable fate.
This is a very good piece.
From A to Z, In the Chocolate Alphabet by Harlan Ellison is a collection of supernatural vignettes, most of them wry or amusing. There is one for every letter of the alphabet:
V is for VORWALAKA
Count Carlo Szipesti, a vorwalaka, a vampire, having long-since grown weary of stalking alleyways and suffering the vicissitudes of finding meals in the streets, hied himself to a commune in upstate New York where, with his beard, his accent and his peculiar nocturnal habits, he fit right in with the young people who had joined together for a return to the land. For the Count, it was a guaranteed fountain of good healthy blood. The young people in the commune were very big on bean sprouts and hulled sunflower seeds. They were all tanned from working in the fields, and the blood ran hot and vibrant in their veins. When the Count was found dead, the coroner’s inquest did not reveal that he had been a creature of darkness, one of the dread vampires of the old country; what it did reveal was that he had died from infectious hepatitis. As the Journal of the American Medical Association has often pointed out, health is inextricably involved with morality. p.47-48
This is followed by a short essay about how the story was written (you occasionally got the impression that Ellison’s stories from this period were as much performance as anything else):
What I offered to do was to sit in the front window of a bookstore for a full week, and to attempt to write a complete story each day for six days.3 The store I offered to do this gig for is the famous sf shop in Los Angeles, A Change of Hobbit4 (1371 Westwood Blvd., dial 213-GREAT SF), owned and operated by Sherry Gottlieb and a staff of bright, enthusiastic young sf fans. The promotional gimmick was that anyone who bought over $10 worth of books on any given day that I was in the window, would get an autographed copy of that day’s story. Six days, six stories, sixty bucks’ worth of merchandise. p. 50
He later adds this about the story:
Sadly, the idea was too big for one day. I was scheduled to sit in the Hobbit’s window from 10:30 a.m., when the store opens, till 5:00 when Sherry Gottlieb goes off duty (though the store stays open till 9:00). I wrote all that day, and by 5:00 I was up to H. Sherry went home. I kept on writing. By 11:00 that night, with the cops cruising past and shining their spots into the window trying to figure out what that idiot was doing in there, I was up to R. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. My back was breaking. Cramped in that damned window, I was spacing out. A day of having pedestrians gawking, of customers bugging me when I wanted to write, of having to think up a complete story for each letter of the alphabet had taken its toll. I crapped out and went home.
[. . .]
I got up at 8:00 the next morning, went back to the typewriter to work on the script, and about 9:30, when I should have gone in to take my shower and get ready to go to the store, I suddenly thought what S should be. I didn’t get in to the Hobbit till 11:30 but I was on U at that point. I finished the story on Wednesday, the 25th of February, a little after 1:30 p.m., and sent it off that night to Ed Ferman for publication in F&SF. p. 51
The Barrow by Ursula K. Le Guin is an Orsinian story (from the collection of them published that year) about a count whose castle occupies the borderlands between Christians like himself and heathens who follow an older faith. He entertains a visiting priest while his wife endures a difficult labour upstairs. Eventually the count looks to the old gods when his wife fails to deliver the child.
This well described if rather straightforward piece was, surprisingly, Le Guin’s first appearance in F&SF.5
Hero’s Moon by Marion Zimmer Bradley is about the three man crew of a relay station on the airless but electrical storm ridden planet of Charmides. The boss is called Feniston, and he is a rule-following martinet type who has a son due to arrive on the planet. Rawlings, the new guy, is rebellious and insubordinate, and angry that they didn’t break the rules to rescue the third, and now dead, crewmember after he had an accident.
An officer arrives in the middle of a storm to conduct an investigation, and once this is completed they dispose of the body. Shortly afterwards they hear a distress call, and see a crawler on its side some distance from the station. Rescue One can’t attend so once more there is conflict between Feniston and Rawlings about attempting a rescue versus following the rules.
These stereotypical characters are moved around the chess board capably enough but the story seems quite retro for F&SF, and feels more like something from a 1950’s issue of Astounding. Campbell would have loved the rules/emotion dichotomy but, further to that, you can’t help but wonder why Bradley didn’t set up a more direct conflict between Feniston’s desire to follow the rules and saving his son’s life.
Where the Woodbine Twineth by Manly Wade Wellman is one of his ‘Southern Appalachia’ stories and tells of a young man and a woman from two different country families who, in the previous generation, had been involved in a bloody fight that had led to several fatalities. The couple are in love and discuss their plan to elope at the site of the battle between their families, a place where the both the family heads killed each other and were buried:
Big Tobe got his hands on Burt Mair and they’d each chopped the other to death with hunting knives. Dead, they’d clung in such a grapple the neighbor folks who’d found them couldn’t drag them apart. So while the ten others who’d been killed were carried off to family burying grounds, the two chiefs were buried right where they’d died, with no prayer for them. Old Mr. Sam Upchurch, the storekeeper and township trustee, had said drive a locust tree stake through both of them, to keep them from ever walking out and making fresh trouble. Dirt and rocks were heaped on them, and next week two preachers and the sheriff and the superior court judge had come round to beg the lady folks left alive in both families to swear peace and no more killing forever. p. 100
A woodland witch who has been spurned by the boy decides to make trouble for the pair, and it appears as if the families will fight once more . . .
This one is pretty straightforward but it has good atmosphere.
The last piece of fiction is a ‘Papa Schimmelhorn’ novella, The Ladies of Beetlegoose Nine, by Reginald Bretnor. As I think I mentioned about the last of the Schimmelhorn stories I read, the sexual attitudes are a bit retro on occasion (think Benny Hill-lite), but if you can get past that then this one isn’t bad, and gets off to a particularly good start.
Papa Schimmelhorn creates an intricate cuckoo clock and is demonstrating it to his tomcat Gustav-Adolf:
“Und now,” he whispered, “comes der real McCoy.”
The choir vanished. With a gentle brrr-r-t. the upper doors opened suddenly. There was revealed, in miniature, a sylvan scene—a painted backdrop of forests and snowy peaks, a wooden windlass over a rustic well. Grasping the handle, stood a chubby Alpine maid. Sidling up from behind her, around the well, came a smirking Alpine youth.
He came on tiptoe; he stretched out a hand; he gave the maiden an intimate and goosy pinch. The maiden shrieked; briefly she did the bumps; she started cranking at the windlass furiously. And the weights that ran the perfect cuckoo clock rose several inches, drawn upward by their chains.
“Zo cute!” chuckled Papa Schimmelhorn. “Der self-vinding comes from efery pinch. It iss perpetual motion, vhich no vun else invents. For poor old Heinrich, iss a nice surprise.” p. 122
On his way to show the device to a nude dancer he is, ah, ‘friendly’ with, the eighty-plus year old inventor is kidnapped by a spaceship commanded by naked women (who also rule over effeminate men). His wife, who has been covertly following him to his assignation, and the cat are also taken.
On the spaceship Mama Schimmelhorn is initially outraged before she susses out the situation:
“More naked vomen!” she trumpeted.
Raising her weapon, she whirled on Papa Schimmelhorn. “Ach, you should be ashamed! For der old goat at more than eighty years vun at a time iss maybe nodt enough? I giff der lesson vith der bumbershoot—”
She saw his face. She stopped in midattack. She did a very careful double take. These women were certainly not dancing girls. They looked more like a bathing party of female Russian sergeants, painted by a Renoir without the glow and with a fragmentary and slightly surrealistic grudge against all hairdressers and the garment industry. They carried things like fireplace bellows with coffee-pots attached, which they were pointing at her. Behind them, a swarm of swishy little men in colored frocks were peering out, and squeaking shrilly, and ducking back again.
The women were now booming out excited comments in a strange language she did not understand.
So she ignored them. Her mind was putting two and two together rapidly.
An especially large commander was the first to find her voice. “L-Iook at her!” she gasped. “She has c-clothes on!”
“B-b-black clothes!” exclaimed another officer.
“All over!” cried a third. “And she has all her hair!”
They started talking all at once. “She—she must be at least a Mother-President!” “A-at least!” “And we—we’ve kidnaped her!”
“Hoisted her in a net as if she was a—a kreth or something!”
“Look at her!”
Mama Schimmelhom shuffled the data she had available. She added memories of many an afternoon spent in the company of a grandnephew named Willie Fledermaus, aged twelve. The answer came to her. “Shpacers!” she told herself under her breath. “Und they are only vomen vith lidtle pipshqveak men, nodt octupuses like in die comic books!” Her anger settled to a good white heat. Zo maybe you are vashervomen from Chupiter or Mars? she thought, rearing her head and standing even more stiffly than before. Vell, you vatch oudt— even vith lenses und die clefer tricks like in dot Kinseysons Report, you don’dt fool Mama Schimmelhorn! p. 127-128
Later, her husband is put in the brig.
The second half isn’t as good as the first but it is amusing stuff, if you like this sort of thing.
The cover, Mariner 10 Approaching Mercury, is by Chesley Bonestell. After appearing fairly regularly in F&SF during the early fifties he turned up about once a year from then to the late seventies.6
Out of Dickinson by Poe, or The Only Begotten Son of Emily and Edgar is so-so poem by Ray Bradbury.
The Cartoon by Gahan Wilson was a distinctive feature of the magazine at a time—these felt like part of the DNA of the publication—but they were usually hit and miss for me. This Frankenstein themed one is closer to the latter than former.
Films: Watch out for Falling Men (And Bluebirds) by Baird Searles is an interesting and lively film review column from a time when SF and fantasy movies were—with a few notable exceptions—pretty dire. He has this to say in the introduction to Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth:
All this is leading up to—and is necessary to—a discussion of Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. Roeg is a master exponent of the cinema of the incoherent; he has made an incoherent suspense thriller (Performance with Mick Jagger); an incoherent adventure-in-the-wilderness (Walkabout); an incoherent horror film (Don’t Look Now); and now we have his incoherent science fiction movie. p. 77
This is pretty much how I remember the movie. He goes on to pan The Bluebird (no, me neither).
Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright! by Isaac Asimov is another informative science essay, this time about the magnitudes and absolute magnitudes of stars.
This was the fourth issue7 of F&SF that I ever bought, and the quality of it made me sit up and pay attention to the magazine.
- Have a look at this post about Robert Bloch (as well as many others) at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.
- Richard Cowper’s two previous contributions to F&SF were The Custodians (October 1975) and The Piper at the Gate of Dawn (March 1976), both Nebula Award nominees/finalists.
- Ellison notes that the first story he wrote in the shop was Strange Wine, which appeared in Amazing Stories, June 1976, its 50th anniversary edition.
- The A Change of Hobbit bookstore went to the Shire in the Sky in 1991, the same year I first visited Los Angeles. I don’t think I made it there before it closed.
- Rather than following Roger Zelazny’s path from early publication in Amazing and Fantastic to later appearing in F&SF, Le Guin, perhaps because of the changed short fiction publishing landscape, later appeared in a number of original anthologies (Quark, New Dimensions, multiple Orbits) and also had three stories in Galaxy.
- Chesley Bonestell at ISFDB.
- My copy of this issue is almost pristine. For some reason it escaped the usual newsagent’s inky scrawl of my name on the cover, and it has also weathered the intervening years well.