John Loyd, There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch
Editors, Anthony Boucher & J. Francis McComas
Ransom • short story by H. B. Fyfe ♥♥
The Rape of the Lock • short story by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt ♥
Ugly Sister • reprint short story by Jan Struther ♥♥♥
Flood • short story by L. Major Reynolds ♥♥
Mrs. Poppledore’s Id • novelette by Reginald Bretnor ♥♥
Minister Without Portfolio • short story by Mildred Clingerman ♥
The Good Life • short story by John R. Pierce [as by J. J. Coupling] ♥♥♥
The 8:29 • short story by Walter B. Gibson [as by Edward S. Sullivan] ♥♥
Jizzle • reprint short story by John Wyndham ♥♥
The Giant Finn MacCool • reprint short story by William Bernard Ready ♥♥
The Pedestrian • reprint short story by Ray Bradbury ♥♥
The Lonely Worm • short story by Kenneth H. Cassens ♥♥
Hands Off • reprint short story by Edward Everett Hale ♥♥
If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox • reprint short story by James Thurber ♥♥♥
The Hole in the Moon • short story by Margaret St. Clair [as by Idris Seabright] ♥♥
Exploring the Moon • cover by Chesley Bonestell
Report from the Editors • by the Editors
Recommended Reading • by the Editors
The Hunting of the Slan • filler by Edgar Allan Poe
The Two Magicians • filler by Nathaniel Wanley
Worlds of If • essay by The Editors
If, or History Rewritten by J. C. Squire • essay by The Editors
Once again there are a lot of stories in this issue—fifteen this time around (as well as a couple of short snippets that ISFDB1 also lists as stories); the longest piece is a solitary novelette by R. Bretnor. I rated around two-thirds as ‘average’ so this isn’t a great issue.
The best of the stories include Ugly Sister by Jan Struther (The London Mercury, December 1935), which is a droll story that tells the Cinderella myth from the viewpoint of one of Ugly Sisters:
If I had only myself to consider, I would not waste ink and paper on clearing the matter up; but I am thinking of Sophonisba. I cannot endure that that gallant, humorous, lovable soul shall go down to history as a malicious, sour-tempered woman; and if in clearing her character I also make my own a little less misunderstood by posterity, so much the better.
Qui s’excuse s’accuse: but in our case all the accusations are such common property that we can well afford to put forward our defence. Everyone admits that there are two sides to every story, but unfortunately the side that is heard first is the one that sticks in people’s heads, especially if it is told by a pretty mouth. p. 19-20
It has a number of mordant passages:
When we first knew her we thought it remarkable that she was not already married, but we soon discovered the reason. True, a young man had only to look at her and he lost his heart: but he had only to listen to her conversation and he recovered it. We saw this happen over and over again. The eyes which had been bright with admiration would gradually glaze with boredom; the lips which had been parted in eager wonder would compress themselves upon a stifled yawn; and then the young man would either leave off coming to the house altogether or else strike up a queer lopsided friendship with Sophie and me. They all seemed to regard us as immensely old but rather entertaining. Sometimes they would even discuss Cinderella with us.
“Miss Sophie,” they would say, “it’s a pity about Cinders, isn’t it? I mean, she’s perfectly lovely and all that, but—well, what I mean is, she’s dumb.” And Sophie (who was never quite as quick as I am to assimilate the modern idiom) would answer, drily, “That’s just what she isn’t, more’s the pity.” p. 22
Also notable is The Good Life by John R. Pierce. This story about a mismatched couple actually takes some getting in to, but, once the wife discovers a spell that releases her soul from her body, it is more engaging. When she leaves (returning only to sleep) she spends a lot of time in New York at various plays and literary salons and so on:
Some things seemed a little horrid in her inexperience. That evening in the gypsy restaurant, run by the coarse-featured, heavy gypsy woman with the rough voice, had started so charmingly. The two neat young men had talked so warmly and so earnestly about so many things—about Utamaro, about Sharaku, about Hokusai, and about Yoshida and the modern revival. And all about the influence on the impressionists, and of Mary Cassatt and her doll-paintings. When they went upstairs, it had seemed so ugly, somehow, although she had read Corydon.1 And when she saw the stencils later, her pleasure was spoiled by thinking of the two young men. p. 65
Meanwhile, while she is away her body carries on doing all the usual chores and other tasks. Later she notices that her body’s relations with her husband have improved, and then finds she has become pregnant. In the final scene she sees her body lying on the bed with her husband: he has been drafted and they are both upset about him leaving. It is at this point (spoiler) that she discovers she cannot re-enter her body.
I rather liked this one: apart from its original use of the idea, the central character is well educated and worldly wise, which gives the piece a convincing depth.2
The third of the good stories, by James Thurber, is discussed further on.
Ransom by H. B. Fyfe is a light-hearted and colourful tale of an avian race of aliens who are aggressive, keep slaves, and capture each other for ransom. Into this world comes an exploratory Earth ship, and the humans quickly find themselves at the wrong end of several kidnappings. However, the final one doesn’t pay off as the alien King hopes (spoiler: he has kidnapped two robots).
Flood by L. Major Reynolds is about a rainstorm that causes a hill to slide into a river; the nearby city starts to flood. What follows is a supernatural battle between cats, dogs and wildcats on the one side, and the rats coming out of the sewer on the other. Finally (spoiler) a black mass appears from below, only to be vanquished by the rising run. This reads rather like something Weird Tales might have published a decade before.
Mrs. Poppledore’s Id, the novelette by Reginald Bretnor, is, perhaps, one of the frothier stories that F&SF has published. It starts with a psychiatrist called Dr Vole in session with one of his patients, Constance Poppledore:
“Names,” said Constance Poppledore. “People’s names.” Her large brown eyes regarded Dr. Vole. She asked herself why ugly, hairy little men so often were attracted to psychiatry. She sighed. “I think about them all the time,” she said. “People’s names, I mean. They’re always like their hats. Why do you suppose Mildred Bunny’s hats make her look as if she had long, floppy ears? Ugh!” She shivered. “Each time I see her, I think of nothing else for hours and hours.”
Dr. Manfred Vole smoothed the fur on the back of his left hand, and made a soft professional noise. The garment which enveloped Mrs. Poppledare’s rotundities was, like the chaise longue which supported them, chastely Hellenic. Hellenic, too, was the pear-shaped cluster of red grapes held in an antique attitude above her small red mouth. The balance of the Poppledore apartment was spare and angular with chrome and desiccated wood and zebra skin. The over-all effect, thought Dr. Vole, was as though Isadora Duncan had been swallowed, young and whole, by some unpromising designer of svelte powder rooms.
“Now, Mrs. Poppledore,” he suggested gently, “weren’t we beginning to discuss the Id?” p. 32-33
The rest of the story tells of the events that follow the reappearance of a poltergeist that Constance last endured when she was a child (there is a hint of a latent telekinetic ability). There is an ensuing comedy of manners involving her, Dr Vole, Mr Poppledore and several religious figures from both the Catholic and Protestant churches. There are a few smiles to be had from this story but it never amounts to much; I suspect it was aimed at the slick magazines but missed.
The 8:29 by Walter B. Gibson concerns a man who deliberately misses his 0817 train and ends up on the 0829, where he is given a message by a strange woman. This leads to a chain of events that puts him on a spaceship that journeys to another planet, a section of the story that is a little crude and pulpish (a uranium mountain and neutron rays, etc.). The end result is that George sorts out an interplanetary war and coincidentally saves Earth. It has a neat penultimate paragraph that lifts the story, calling back to the beginning of the tale and an office colleague who regularly torments George about the world coming to an end if he ever missed his regular train.
Jizzle by John Wyndham is a reprint of a story that appeared in an abbreviated version in Colliers, January 8th, 1949. It is about a man called George who runs a circus act with his wife Rosie, and a monkey called Jizzle that George buys from a sailor one night at the pub.
Later, we find that Jizzle can draw portraits of people, and this becomes the basis of a new act for George and his wife. However, the money that rolls in does not compensate for the friction that the animal causes, and this comes to a head when Jizzle draws a picture of Rosie and another circus performer in a compromising situation. Matters continue to deteriorate until the twist ending.
This is all well enough done but, and I’d never thought I’d hear myself saying this: I wasn’t entirely convinced about the monkey’s motivation.
By the by, the editors’ introduction describes the author’s The Day of the Triffids as ‘a logical and terrifying study in future history.’ Some mistake surely?
The Giant Finn MacCool by William Bernard Ready (The Great Disciple and Other Stories, 1951) seems to have come to the magazine by way of a collection called The Great Disciple, which is reviewed by the editors in this month’s Recommended Reading. They mention they will be bringing more of his reprints and original stories to the magazine in future issues.3
This story is a tall tale about the giant Finn MacCool, an Irish legend. When MacCool realises that a lot of the people he knows have emigrated from Ireland to America, he goes over to visit them. When he finds the Irish people stuck in the east coast cities, he suggests that they build a railway across the country to enable them to travel further afield. He tells them that he will help with the difficult terrain:
The Irish took the picks and shovels and went to work. They were issued barrels of beer and plenty of hamburgers to keep them going, but it was slow and weary work. Finn watched them from above the clouds, and as long as the going was only average tough he stayed watching. When they came up against muskeg he would tell them to lay off for the day, and he would take about fifty shovels and squeeze and stretch them together until he got one big enough to handle. Then, looking like a big buck Irish navvy enlarged about fifty times, he would dig through that muskeg, find the bedrock, tap piles in it with the flat of his shovel, and lay the ties across, that he kept in his mouth, like bobby pins. In a day he would get the rails across the worst stretch of muskeg, and then the Irish would take over again, until they struck another bad patch. p. 87
The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury (The Reporter, August 7th, 1951) is about a man goes for regular evening walks in a future city where no-one else out and about:
He now wore sneakers when strolling at night, because the dogs in intermittent squads would parallel his journey with barkings if he wore hard heels, and lights might click on and faces appear, and an entire street be startled by the passing of a lone figure in the early November evening.
On this particular evening he began his journey in a westerly direction, toward the hidden sea. There was a good crystal frost in the air; it cut the nose going in and made the lungs blaze like a Christmas tree inside; you could feel the cold light going on and off, all the branches filled with invisible snow. He listened to the faint push of his soft shoes through autumn leaves with satisfaction, and whistled a cold quiet whistle between his teeth, occasionally picking up a leaf as he passed, examining its skeletal pattern in
the infrequent lamplights as he went on, smelling its rusty smell.
“Hello, in there,” he whispered to every house on every side as he moved. “What’s up tonight on Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 9? Where are the cowboys rushing, and do I see the United States Cavalry over the next hill to the rescue?” p. 90
He is stopped by the police (spoiler) and taken away for psychiatric evaluation.
This fragmentary, anti-TV piece is based on an actual encounter that Bradbury had with the police.4 The idea was reused in his novel/novella Fahrenheit 451/The Fireman.
The Lonely Worm by Kenneth H. Cassens is perhaps the oddest story I’ve ever read in F&SF. It concerns a single chicken farmer called Hubert who lives with a twenty foot long, talking worm called Cyril. There are a number of minor episodes: an ill-natured neighbour involves the police when Hubert uses Cyril as a washing line; he and the lady next door become engaged to be married; Cyril cuts himself in half to produce a companion. It is quite a peculiar tall tale but probably OK for all that: perhaps it has a touch of Lafferty about it.
The Hole in the Moon by Margaret St. Clair opens with a man looking at the moon, which has a huge crater in it. There has been a war and humanity has all but been destroyed:
And besides, there weren’t many rats now. They had died from the plagues of which they had been carriers.
The plagues. Were there any women anywhere who weren’t infected? Hovey thought not; they had all caught it, every woman; he didn’t want to think of it. He sighed and rubbed one hand over his eyes. But that had been the enemy’s masterstroke, surely, as good as anything Hovey’s own people had ever delivered. To scatter an infection that fastened only on the female half of humanity, an infection that drove them, young or old, modest or wanton, irresistibly toward the male, urged by the inward fire of the disease. . . . Nothing else could so have poisoned human life, could so have maimed the human race.
In women the plague smouldered quietly. It betrayed itself only in their pitted skins, their roughened voices, their cracked lips. But the men who received the virus from them, transmuted by its incubation in their bodies, died quite quickly and, Hovey thought, quite unpleasantly. There was a gangrenous rotting and a smell. No doubt of it, that plague had been the enemy’s masterpiece. p. 123
The man later sees a woman and invites her into his cabin. She is a hallucination though, and after she vanishes he scavenges some grain alcohol and gets drunk. When it is just about finished (spoiler) a real woman turns up at the gates of the junkyard. He lets her in.
This issue’s wooden spoon is shared between de Camp, Pratt and Clingerman.
The Rape of the Lock by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt is another ‘Gavagan’s Bar’ story that has the same weakness as most of the others: it is a fragmentary piece based around a notion. After a few paragraphs of blather between some of the regulars, a visitor tells a story about a Persian amulet that can open doors to different times and places. He describes one trip that took him to France at the end of WWII. This section is engrossing enough but, as I’ve indicated above, goes nowhere.
Minister Without Portfolio by Mildred Clingerman marks this writer’s debut, and this is commented on in the introduction, along with remarks about how physically ‘beautiful’ she is. At least they go on to say the quality of the writing is the important thing.
The story has a grandmother bird-watching when she finds what she believes are Air Force personnel. They are actually aliens, and after some initial chat they quiz her about her beliefs and then swap photos of children and grandchildren, etc. On returning home she finds the house in uproar as (spoiler) there has been a TV broadcast by alien visitors who state that the Earth has been saved by a woman.
There is a minor twist in that she is colour blind and, when she shows her grandchildren a photo she has been given by the aliens, they tell her that they have green skins.
It is a rather naff story to be honest, notable only for its relatively rare (at the time) domestic perspective (Bill Brown’s The Star Ducks is referenced in the introduction). Clingerman would go on to better things as a regular contributor to the magazine.
There are two reprint stories about parallel-worlds (I originally wrote ‘two parallel-world reprint stories’—that would indeed have been a scoop. . .) and they both have extensive introductions. The first, Worlds of If, introduces a story called Hands Off by Edward Everett Hale (Harper’s, March 1881), and references Sam Merwin’s The House of Many Worlds, L. Sprague de Camp’s The Wheels of If, and Murray Leinster’s Sidewise in Time, and the 1931 collection If, Or History Rewritten, before going on to talk about the writer.
The story itself uses the idea of how one small change in the past can radically change the future, and in it a man, who I presume has died and become a spirit, is accompanied by a Guardian, and has access to all space and time. When he sees a prisoner called Joseph, son of Jacob (the biblical character), escaping from captivity but about to be revealed by the bark of a dog, he goes to kill it. His guardian stays his hand and tells him that such actions have unforeseen consequences. To prove the point he gives him a shadow world to play with: he makes the change. Matters do not turn out well, and the human race reduces itself to extinction. An interesting historical curiosity, I suppose.
The next introduction, If, or History Rewritten by J. C. Squire, discusses the collection in more detail, mentioning in particular Winston Churchill’s essay If Lee Had Lost at Gettysburg. It states that at the time this book’s essays were being serialised in Scribner’s, the following piece appeared in The New Yorker for December 6th 1930. If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox by James Thurber is a two page tall tale about General Grant having drunk too much the night before the Confederate General Robert E. Lee arrives to surrender. His staff struggle to get Grant ready:
“Where’s my other sock?” demanded Grant. Shultz began to look around for it. The General walked uncertainly to a table and poured a drink from a bottle.
“I don’t think it wise to drink, sir,” said Shultz.
“Nev’ mind about me,” said Grant, helping himself to a second, “I can take it or let it alone. Didn’t ya ever hear the story about the fella went to Lincoln to complain about me drinking too much? ‘So-and-So says Grant drinks too much,’ this fella said. ‘So-and-So is a fool,’ said Lincoln. So this fella went to What’s-His-Name and told him what Lincoln said and he came roarin’ to Lincoln about it. ‘Did you tell So-and-So I was a fool?’ he said. ‘No,’ said Lincoln, ‘I thought he knew it.’” The General smiled, reminiscently, and had another drink. “That’s how I stand with Lincoln,” he said, proudly. p. 120-121
It brought a smile to my lips, and I definitely didn’t see the end coming.
This issue’s Cover is another early piece by Chesley Bonestell, and not a bad attempt at a scene on the moon. His weakness seems to be human figures, which, if I recall correctly, appeared either rarely or not at all in his later work.
Report from the Editors comments on the experiment of running Cornell Woolwich’s long novella in the October issue:
In the October issue we made the experiment of varying our contents to include a short novel, of about 30,000 words: Jane Brown’s Body, by Cornell Woolrich. We’ll frankly confess that this turned out to be the most controversial step we’ve ever taken. Few stories in F&SF have drawn so much mail, and no story has produced such an even 50/50 split between extreme enthusiasm and extreme dislike, with no moderate opinions expressed. But the reason for this controversy was not the unusual length, but the very nature of Mr. Woolrich, who seems to some (including, still, your editors) a master of terrifying suspense, and to others the crudest sort of cheap pulpster. Even the most ardent protesters, however, did not mind turning over half the issue to a short novel, provided that the other half contained a sufficiently varied diet of short stories and short shorts. p. 19
The editors state that they may try running a long story again.
Even though Recommended Reading is normally a collection of capsule reviews, this one uses its entire first page to give rave reviews to three books by Robert A. Heinlein: The Day After Tomorrow, The Green Hills of Earth, and The Puppet Masters.
The Hunting of the Slan by Edgar Allan Poe is a short extract from Marginalia (Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849). It is about the fate of individuals that are particularly gifted and/or superior to the rest of the human race. Is this referring to Van Vogt’s novel? Or SF fans more generally?
The Two Magicians by Nathaniel Wanley (1678) is half a page filler about two magicians who spar with each other. I can’t quite see the point of this other than mild historical interest.
Finally, the top of the Coming Soon page (not labelled as such) is given over to quotes by various luminaries about the magazine.5 This is the first appearance (that I have noticed) of a long running feature of F&SF: a page of testimonials regularly featured on the back cover in later years.
In conclusion, this issue shows one of the notable characteristics of F&SF of this period, which is that the editors sometimes act as much as curators as editors. There are no less than six reprint stories (plus the two fillers) in this issue with dates ranging from 1678 to 1951 (two are from the nineteenth century). While this readiness to use stories from far and wide can be a strength if the material is good, it can seem rather quixotic if they are average or poor, which is mostly what they are this issue. More of a scrapbook than a magazine this time around.
- According to the define function in Goodreader, Corydon by André Gide is about homosexuality and pederasty.
- The Pierce story is strangely unreprinted, as are other stories in the issue (the Gibson and the Cassens; several others have only been reprinted once, sometimes in minor anthologies).
- According to Galactic Central, it looks like a further three stories appeared in F&SF in 1953. There is more information about the author here, and sale of his first five stories to Atlantic Monthly.
- The pedestrian incident in mentioned on the Wikipedia Fahrenheit 451 page.
- The page of quotes:
. . .and a typical back cover (the magazine will soon start putting all or some of the cover artwork here):