“All You Zombies—” • short story by Robert A. Heinlein ♥♥♥♥
The Shoreline at Sunset • short story by Ray Bradbury ♥♥
Jordan • novelette by Zenna Henderson ♥♥♥♥
Of Time and Cats • short story by Howard Fast ♥
The Distant Sound of Engines • short story by Algis Budrys ♥♥♥
The Certificate • short story by Avram Davidson ♥♥♥
Three-Dimensional Valentine • short story by Stuart Palmer ♥
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XII • short story by Reginald Bretnor [as by Grendel Briarton] ♥
The Sky People • novelette by Poul Anderson ♥♥♥
Will You Wait? • short story by Alfred Bester ♥♥♥+
Sportsman’s Difficulty • poem by Doris Pitkin Buck
Nothing • essay by Isaac Asimov
This issue was published just before my birth and is an all-star issue that was done, presumably, to shore up sales after a recent price rise from 35 to 40 cents (there is an open letter in the magazine about this). My initial thoughts about the cover were not positive ones: it looked like an excellent cover by Emsh had had a block of solid colour dropped on it to prominently display the writer names. Further enquiry revealed that Emsh had actually delivered the cover like that to the publisher.1 Pity, I would have liked to have seen the rest of it. I get the impression that it would have been pretty spectacular.
This issue leads off with the classic time travel story “All You Zombies—” by Robert Heinlein. This has a great hook at the start:
2217 Time Zone V (EST) 7 Nov 1970 NYC—”Pop’s Place”: I was polishing a brandy snifter when the Unmarried Mother came in. I noted the time—10:17 p.m. zone five, or eastern time, November 7th, 1970. Temporal agents always notice time & date; we must. The Unmarried Mother was a man twenty-five years old, no taller than I am, childish features and a touchy temper. p.5
It goes on to have a great twist on the go-back-in-time-and-be-your-own-grandfather theme.
Unfortunately there is an elephant in the room. Perhaps this creature started as a miniature, airborne, whiskey-drinking one that nests in a bar (see Gavagan’s Bar by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, F&SF Winter-Spring 1950) but over the passage of time it has grown into a full size pachyderm. It concerns the story’s notions about the sexual requirements of spacemen in the future:
He went on: “It was when they first admitted you can’t send men into space for months and years and not relieve the tension.” p.7
…and moves on to describe the service that recruits women to attend to these needs:
“I couldn’t compete. So I decided to join the W.E.N.C.H.E.S.”
“Women’s Emergency National Corps, Hospitality & Entertainment Section, what they now call ‘Space Angels’—Auxiliary Nursing Group, Extraterrestrial Legions.”
I knew both terms, once I had them chronized. We use still a third name, it’s that elite military service corps: Women’s Hospitality Order Refortifying & Encouraging Spacemen. p.7
One of the female characters goes on to specify the training:
“A gal had to be respectable, preferably virgin (they liked to train them from scratch), above average mentally, and stable emotionally. But most volunteers were old hookers, or neurotics who would crack up ten days off Earth. So I didn’t need looks; if they accepted me, they would fix my buck teeth, put a wave in my hair, teach me to walk and dance and how to listen to a man pleasingly, and everything else—plus training for the prime duties. They would even use plastic surgery if it would help—nothing too good for Our Boys. “
“Best yet, they made sure you didn’t get pregnant during your enlistment-and you were almost certain to marry at the end of your hitch. Same way today, A.N.G.E.L.S. marry spacers—they talk the language. p.7-8
Believe me, I am not one for political correctness, or safe spaces, or virtue signalling or any of the other nonsense of modern society, and I know that when you read older material that you have to make allowances for the social mores of the time. But what disappoints here is that both writer and editor thought this was acceptable even in the late 1950s, appropriate for half the human race to be consigned to this degrading role because obviously they couldn’t do the other one. What on Earth did the many female contributors to F&SF think of this?
So, yes, a four star story, but you may have to hold your nose.
The other stand out story in the issue isn’t as flashy as the Heinlein but is a warm, mature and affecting story. Jordan is the sixth story in the popular ‘People’ series: the first five stories dealt with the catastrophic arrival of humanoid aliens on Earth following the destruction of their home planet and their efforts to regroup.
This story starts with one of the—restless—younger members, Bram, thinking that his dreams have been answered when a spaceship arrives from one of the other planets that refugees from Home have settled. There are only four on board as their mission is to take the People on Earth back there.
Bram’s determination to do this is reinforced when he meets and is attracted to Salla, a young woman from the spaceship crew. Or so he thinks until his belated realisation that he wants to stay on Earth.
Then again, I’d lie in the edge of the hot sun, my head in the shade of the cottonwoods, and feel the deep soaking warmth to my very bone, smell the waiting, dusty smell of the afternoon, feel sleep wrapping itself around my thoughts and hear the sudden creaking cries of the red-winged blackbirds in the far fields, and suddenly know that I couldn’t leave it. Couldn’t give up Earth for anything or any place. p.41
Another complication is his friend Obla, who lost her arms, legs and sight in an aircraft explosion, and with whom he communicates telepathically. Matters develop.
My complaint about a couple of the previous People stories was that Henderson was repeating herself but this one is quite different. Not only that, she is writing at the top of her form and produces in this work something that easily matches the best of Theodore Sturgeon. In fact, with Obla being trapped in her own body there is an echo of a More Than Human in this one. Recommended.2
As well as these two stand out works, there are, believe it or not another four stories that are solid work as well. The Distant Sound of Engines by Algis Budrys is an intriguing story about a trucker who is hospital after a truck accident double amputation. He has a patient in the next bed who tells him all sorts of information: the formula for exceeding the speed of light, for coordinating space-time, etc.
Avram Davidson’s The Certificate had a major impact when I first read this in my youth. It tells of a Dr Freeman on an Earth subjugated by aliens. He shuffles around an underground bunker going from one office to another in search of a Certificate. The payoff in this is the shock ending; second time around there is less of a payoff, but the setup has a certain grim verisimilitude to recommend it.
The longest story in the issue is a long novelette by Poul Anderson and the first in the ‘Mauri’ series. The Sky People is a fairly good post-apocalypse story that tells of armed conflict between three sides. Captain Ruori Rangi Lohannaso is the Mauri captain of a ship from a technologically developed society that is from N’Zealann (New Zealand) and is visiting a less developed, virtually agrarian Meyco (Mexico). After a diplomatic dinner, the city is attacked by sky pirates from the Corado (Colarado) Highlands in the north, led by Loklann sunna Holber.
The bulk of this story is taken up by the attack on the city and subsequent ship versus airship battles. If I have one criticism of this story it is that some of the detail of the latter is perhaps not as clear as it could be. An entertaining and colourful story nonetheless.
The last of this group of stories (some would put it along with the Heinlein and Henderson) is the well-known, witty, and very modern deal with the devil story by Alfred Bester, Will You Wait? It is pretty good, and a good representative of the more sophisticated of F&SF stories too.
The also-rans in this issue are the Ray Bradbury story, The Shoreline at Sunset, which is an OK mood piece about two men who live together on the beach and a mermaid that is washed up onshore. Of Time and Cats by Howard Fast has a man summoning his wife to a hotel room where warns her to avoid the many copies of him she may encounter. There is an implausible time loop explanation that didn’t work for me. Stuart Palmer’s Three-Dimensional Valentine has a lab assistant with the hots for the scientist running a lab. The current experiment involves feeding spiders the blood of mental patients. Light in tone but a weak ending.
Other material includes a fairly lamentable Feghoot (pun story) about a Chinese man wishing laundry clean. I wonder if my dislike of these (and Probability Zero and various other feeble attempts at mirth) is a cultural one. I can’t recall much of this kind of stuff being published in British SF magazines. If any.
Doris Pitkin Buck contributes an OK unicorn poem, Sportsman’s Difficulty and Isaac Asimov’s essay Nothing is literally about that: it discusses the quantity and density of matter in the Universe by way of an initial discussion on the hardness of vacuums.
Overall, a very impressive issue. Two stand out stories and four contenders: you would be lucky to get that in some reprint anthologies, never mind one issue of a monthly magazine.
- This cover was used on the endpapers of Emshwiller: Infinity x 2. Available as a book and a cheaper PDF.
- Although I think that Jordan is the strongest story in the initial ‘People’ series (six stories from F&SF collected with linking material in Pilgrimage: The Book of the People, 1961) it was the previous story, Captivity (F&SF, June 1958) that was a Hugo Award finalist.