Editors, Anthony Boucher & J. Francis McComas; Managing Editor, Robert P. Mills
Love Thy Vimp • short story by Alan E. Nourse ♥
SRL Ad • short story by Richard Matheson ♥
Sealskin Trousers • reprint short story by Eric Linklater ♥♥♥+
The Dreamer • short story by Alfred Coppel ♥
The Anomaly of the Empty Man • short story by Anthony Boucher ♥♥♥
The Cheery Soul • reprint short story by Elizabeth Bowen ♥
A Tale to Tell • short story by C. A. Barnett ♥
The Bitterness of Ghoril • short story by Kay Rogers ♥♥♥+
The Shout • reprint novelette by Robert Graves ♥♥
Machine • short story by John Jakes
The Doll’s Ghost • reprint short story by F. Marion Crawford ♥♥
The Actinic Actor • short story by H. Nearing, Jr. ♥♥
Letters to the Editor • reprint short story by Ron Goulart ♥
Cover • by George Salter
The Believing Press • filler
Recommended Reading • by The Editors
This issue does not get off to a good start. The first story, Love Thy Vimp by Alan E. Nourse, is a contrived and unlikely tale about monkey-like alien creatures that arrive on Earth and cause mayhem. Barney the narrator and another man have been given the job of trying to catch one (they are fast-moving when required and it has proved impossible to gas, poison or shoot them), and finally manage to do so (there is no world or government-wide organisation here, just these two, presumably on a zero-hours contract).
Barney notices (spoiler) that people who don’t hate them or other humans are not harassed, and confirms his theory by being nice to his disaffected wife. This proves to be the solution and the people of the world start being nice to them and each other. The aliens promptly return to where they came from, leaving Barney, his wife and the world on better terms.
Next is SRL Ad by Richard Matheson, which is of poorer quality than his previous contributions. In this one, a college student replies to a personal ad in the Saturday Review of Literature that is supposedly from a Venusian female, although he assumes the extra-terrestrial part is a joke. It isn’t, and matters take a turn for the worse when she says she wants to marry him and will arrive soon. This rather unsophisticated piece might have been more amusing in a 1940’s copy of Stirring Science Stories.
I don’t think it is a good idea to run two similarly lightweight pieces one after another.
Fortunately, the quality picks up with the third story, Sealskin Trousers by Eric Linklater (The Sealskin Trousers and Other Stories, Hart-Davis, 1947). It tells of Elizabeth and her fiancé, who are on holiday in the Scottish islands. When out alone one day she arrives at a cliff-shelf they have grown accustomed to using together for reading and she finds another man there. Initially annoyed at the interloper, and unsettled by his partially clothed appearance, she then recognises him as a notorious student from her time at Edinburgh University.
During the following (strange) conversation between them, he suddenly dives sixty feet into the sea, climbing back up the cliff with a huge lobster in his hands. Elizabeth starts to panic—his actions and appearance have upset her—but when she tries to leave he takes hold of her.
The last part of the story is a hypnotic section where he talks about his people, the selkies, and an ability to use their minds to change the form of their bodies. It becomes apparent that he is now altering Elizabeth so she can do the same. While they wait for her to change he also volunteers that he was on a mission for his people to investigate how humanity were developing:
“Our teachers had told us,” he said, “that men endured the burden of human toil to create a surplus of wealth that would give them leisure from the daily task of breadwinning. And in their hard-won leisure, our teachers said, men cultivated wisdom and charity and the fine arts; and became aware of God. — But that’s not a true description of the world, is it?”
“No,” she said, “that’s not the truth.”
“No,” he repeated, “our teachers were wrong, and we’ve been deceived.”
“Men are always being deceived, but they get accustomed to learning the facts too late. They grow accustomed to deceit itself.”
“You are braver than we, perhaps. My people will not like to be told the truth.”
“I shall be with you,” she said, and took his hand.
The minutes passed, and presently she stood up and with quick fingers put off her clothes. “It’s time,” she said.
He looked at her, and his gloom vanished like the shadow of a cloud that the wind has hurried on, and exultation followed like sunlight spilling from the burning edge of a cloud. “I wanted to punish them,” he cried, “for robbing me of my faith, and now, by God, I’m punishing them hard. I’m robbing their treasury now, the inner vault of all their treasury! — I hadn’t guessed you were so beautiful! The waves when you swim will catch a burnish from you, the sand will shine like silver when you lie down to sleep, and if you can teach the red sea-ware to blush so well, I, shan’t miss the roses of your world.” p. 37
An impressive piece that is a good example of modern literary fantasy. It also shows, contrary to my reservations last issue, of the benefit of well-chosen reprints. I’ll have to track down other work by this writer.1
The best of the rest of the issue includes The Bitterness of Ghoril by Kay Rogers and The Anomaly of the Empty Man by Anthony Boucher.
The Bitterness of Ghoril by Kay Rogers is about a djinn who is bound to an amulet that has come into the possession of old man’s niece:
This Helen Gorden sat at a table, turning over the chest of loot which old Eli had sent home, and as she touched the amulet, a mere bit of silver, set with balas rubies, I felt her unslaked desire.
What writes Rahman, “Where love enters, there is room besides for folly and nothing else”? That is another true saying and so I thought to beguile Helen Gorden. It is easy to trap a ruttish female. Her own lust is the chief weapon against her. p. 71
He appears to Gorden and, after a short discussion, offers to make any man she wants desire her. Gorden thinks about this and asks:
“I’ve heard of your sort,” she said. “There’s always a price. Isn’t there?”
“Yes,” I snarled, for I am bound to answer that question. “If you take my aid, you must always wear the amulet.”
“And?” she demanded, still with that evil smile.
“If you forget, I may claim your liver and your eyes.”
“All I need from him is a new awareness of me,” she pleaded. “Only that arrow I spoke of.” And that was child’s talk.
“I have but one bargain to make.”
For the space of five breaths Helen Gordon stared past me. “All right,” she said. “But I shall make a condition. Our bargain holds only if I marry the man whose love you obtain for me. So you won’t trick me with some kind of back-alley affair.” p. 73
The rest of the story details who gets the best of the bargain. This is a clever and earthy tale, with a definite Unknown Worlds vibe.2
The Anomaly of the Empty Man by Anthony Boucher is a story by one of the editors, so the other3 provides the introduction:
In writing this introduction we for once abandon the formal (and for us quite accurate) editorial “we” and l take it from here. For I bought this story on its own merits and, for better or worse, suggested a few editorial changes which the author dutifully made. Anthony Boucher is a writer, critic, editor and co-editor. He is also a nut on opera. Stacked in his living-room are between four and five thousand operatic recordings, ranging from an 1895 Adelina Patti to a 1911 Ezio Pinza. All too often, when we should have been working on this magazine, he has beguiled me into listening to choice selections, of these, accompanied by the most fascinating, most intelligent, least patronising commentary on things musical I have ever heard. So, herewith a story on recordings; a story that can either be straight fantasy (and uniquely horrifying such!), or straight detective problem (still horrifying!).
Alternate solutions are offered. Frankly, I think it’s fantasy, I just don’t see any other way out. If you like this story and its Dr. Verner, let me know; Boucher promises a series . . . you and time willing. If you don’t like it,
well, I am the editor in this case. — J. F. McC. p. 43
The story itself starts with a visit by a Mr Lamb to an Inspector Abrahams, and what may be a very peculiar homicide scene:
Then I managed to look again at the thing on the floor.
It was worse than a body. It was like a tasteless bloodless parody of the usual occupant of the spot marked X. Clothes scattered in disorder seem normal—even more normal, perhaps, in a bachelor apartment than clothes properly hung in closets. But this . . .
Above the neck of the dressing gown lay the spectacles. The sleeves of the shirt were inside the sleeves of the dressing gown. The shirt was buttoned, even to the collar, and the foulard tie was knotted tight up against the collar button. The tails of the shirt were tucked properly into the zipped-up, properly belted trousers. Below the trouser cuffs lay the shoes, at a lifelike angle, with the tops of the socks emerging from them.
“And there’s an undershirt under the shirt,” Inspector Abrahams muttered disconsolately, “and shorts inside the pants. Complete outfit: what the well-dressed man will wear. Only no man in them.” p. 44
After leaving the scene the narrator visits Dr Verner (it is later implied that he is the cousin of Sherlock Holmes). Lamb tells him what he has seen and Verner, in response, takes out an old format record (it plays from the inside out, among other technical differences). Once the singer, a soprano called Carina, has finished, Verner tells Lamb about her and a number of similar disappearances after her death.
This is an inventive and entertaining piece.
There are three stories that fall into the ‘OK’ category.
The Shout, a novelette by Robert Graves, starts with the narrator going to a cricket match at an insane asylum where he has agreed to be one of the scorekeepers. On arrival one of the doctors briefs him about the other scorekeeper, a patient called Crossen who claims that he can kill with a shout, and that his soul has been smashed into fragments.
Once the match starts Crossen tells a surreal story to the narrator. It starts with a childless couple, Richard and Rachel, who describe the strange dreams they have had to each other. Later the husband goes to the local church and meets the Crossen (called Charles in this part) in the churchyard. They converse but, as they are talking, some children shout at them and Crossen scares them off, terrifying them in the process:
‘You have strange powers, Mr. Charles,’ Richard said.
Charles answered: ‘I am fond of children, but the shout startled me; I am pleased that I did not do what, for a moment, I was tempted to do.’
‘What was that?’ asked Richard. ‘I might have shouted myself,’ said Charles.
‘Why,’ said Richard, ‘they would have liked that better. It would have been a great game for them. They probably expected it of you.’
‘If I had shouted,’ said Charles, ‘my shout would have either killed them outright or sent them mad. Probably it would have killed them, for they were standing close.’
Richard smiled a little foolishly. He did not know whether or not he was expected to laugh, for Charles spoke so gravely and carefully. So he said: ‘Indeed, what sort of shout would that be? Let me hear you shout.’
‘It is not only children who would be hurt by my shout,’ Charles said. ‘Men can be sent raving mad by it; the strongest, even, would be flung to the ground. It is a magic shout that I learned from the chief devil of the Northern Territory. I took eighteen years to perfect it, and yet I have used it, in all, no more than five times.’ p. 80
Crossen ends up back at the couple’s house and the tale becomes even stranger: there are missing shoe buckles, a demonstration of the shout that has wide-ranging effects, stones in the sand dunes representing people’s souls, etc., etc.
This has an unsettling and compelling quality but is ultimately unfathomable.4
The Doll’s Ghost by F. Marion Crawford (Uncanny Tales, 1911) starts with a scene where the daughter of a wealthy family drops Nina, her doll, and breaks it. A local doll maker, Mr Purlock, who lavishes a lot of care and attention to the dolls that come to him, is asked to repair it. When he finishes repairing Nina he can’t bear to let the doll go, so he gets his daughter to take it back to the owners. Subsequently, the daughter does not return, and Mr Purlock can hear the pattering of tiny feet in the house. . . It materialises (spoiler) that the girl has been accosted and the doll smashed, but the doll’s ghost leads him to the hospital where she is recovering.
The Actinic Actor by H. Nearing, Jr. is the fifth in his ‘C. P. Ransom’ series. It is an enjoyable enough story, although rambling and contrived, about Professor Ransom wanting to give a scene-stealing performance of the ghost in an upcoming performance of Hamlet. To this end he has been studying fireflies, and has taken a cocktail of drugs that make the retina in his eyes light up, an effect he hopes to use to great effect on stage.
The story wends its way through Ransom’s inability to learn his lines despite help from Professor MacTate, a visit to a cinema to see the film version of the play (during which he gets the hiccups and triggers the effect), and the inevitably disastrous performance.
The rest of the fiction is lacklustre.
The Dreamer by Alfred Coppel is about an astronaut called Denby who is being prepared for flight by a doctor. Denby gets a lot of probing questions from him:
Feldman glanced at his watch. “You still have time to change your mind, you know. There’s an alternate pilot ready.”
Denby turned his face away. The sedative was beginning to make him drowsy and cross. He wished this damned witch doctor would get out and leave him alone.
“You lived with a fantasy,” Feldman pursued, “and because of it, you were lonely—always. Isn’t that so? p. 40
…and so on. He later wakes up orbit and when he sees the Earth in a viewscreen the loneliness makes him panic and he starts screaming. Of course (spoiler) it is a simulation and they drag him out.
This is an outdated story; even if it wasn’t, its core idea (that lonely people wouldn’t be able to cope with a short space flight) strikes me as unconvincing, even for its time.
The Cheery Soul by Elizabeth Bowen (The Listener, 24th December 1942) is set in WWII Britain, and has a young man visiting work colleagues (a brother and two sisters) for Xmas. After cycling twelve miles he arrives at a dark and gloomy house and finds a crotchety old aunt sitting by the fireside. After some rather unproductive conversation with this grudging soul, he goes into the kitchen to drop off his rations. There he finds a number of unpleasant messages from the cook to the three siblings (‘Mr. & the 2 Misses Rangerton-Karney can boil their heads. This [pan] holds 3.’ etc.), and makes a similar discovery upstairs.
At the end of tale a policeman turns up to inform him (spoiler) that the Rangerton-Karneys have run off and that the cook died over a year ago (making the message-leaver a ghost). I couldn’t help feeling that I missed the point of this one, or maybe the reveal about the cook is all there is.
A Tale to Tell by C. A. Barnett has an introduction that states ‘As you know, it’s our policy to publish first stories just as often as possible. So far, in fact, we’ve had at least one in each of our issues. . .’ Unfortunately this is a debut that shows some promise but isn’t that good.
The devil has materialised in a civilised future world and tells a girl a series of short tales that are designed to corrupt her. He eventually (spoiler) gives up, but after he leaves the girl shows evidence of his success.
Machine by John Jakes is about a man who burns his hand on a toaster. We get a short resumé of his theories about machines and their souls before (spoiler) he tries to destroy the toaster but is possessed by it instead. One that should have remained in the slushpile I think.
Letters to the Editor by Ron Goulart (Pelican, October 1950) is a one-page parody of pulp magazine letter columns. Goulart was seventeen when it was first published so I presume that Pelican is a school or a university magazine.
The Cover is, obviously, by George Salter and is probably one of the worst he has done. Odd colour for the background, foreground figure that looks both amateurish and weird, etc.
Recommended Reading provides the editors’ second annual survey of SF publishing, this time for 1951. They start with this:
Checking back on our survey of 1950 science fiction publishing (F&SF April 1951), we find that there was plenty to complain about and that we did just that in not very pleasant terms. The principal gripes were, as you may remember, these: alarming lack of original novels, the resurrection in book form of ancient magazine trash better left buried, and the crudest sort of mis-labeling, such as presenting adventure-fantasy as “science fiction” or a crudely strung together batch of short stories as “a novel.”
Fortunately for all concerned—writers, readers, publishers and reviewers—these practises have all but ceased; and this survey of 1951 publishing will be as mild and amiable as you please. p. 94
I found this a particularly interesting article, not only for the comments they make on particular books (John Collier: Fancies and Goodnights, ‘We’ll go out on a limb: The largest number of truly great stories of the imagination ever contained in a volume by a single author’; L. Ron Hubbard: Two Novels, ‘One of the two has not worn well; but Fear remains a nearly perfect novel of psychological terror.’ ) but also for the titles they mention that I never have read or heard of (Carlo Beuf: The Innocence of Pastor Mueller, ‘Another subtle satirico-allegorical import, and a pure delight in the offtrail Capek tradition’; Gerald Heard: The Black Fox, ‘Literarily and spiritually, the outstanding supernatural novel of at least the past decade’, etc.).
There is one other non-fiction piece, a small snippet called The Believing Press, which is a short note about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘devout exponent of spiritualism,’ who is listed as one of the attendees at a San Francisco organised town hall meeting eight years after his death.
This issue has a weak start and a weak finish, but a few worthwhile stories in the middle.
- There is a short editorial note after Linklater’s story: One of the most beautiful records that even John McCormack ever made is the Song to the Seals, a haunting arrangement by Granville Bantock of a spell (Oiran, oiran, oiran, airoo. . .) by which the men of the Hebrides communicate with their neighbors the seals. The record is still in print (Irish Gramaphone IR326), and we suggest you order it now as the perfect accompaniment to your eventual rereading of this equally haunting story. p. 38
Thanks to the modern wonders of technology you can hear the song on You Tube.
- Surprisingly, Kay Roger’s story in this issue has never been reprinted—ISFDB shows that only one of her six short stories has. There is no biographical information in any of the F&SF story introductions, and I couldn’t track down anything else, apart from this short quote (from the Google Books information on the anthology Cassandra Rising, ed. Alice Laurence, Doubleday 1978): Kay Rogers is a Pennsylvanian, a green-eyed redhead who has somehow contrived to remain single—if anyone with thirty-four cats can said to be “single.” That last snippet of information may make her the author of this title.
- While we are on the subject of McComas, it was about this time that his contribution to the editorial workload was scaled back considerably. According to Wikipedia (credited mostly to Jeffrey Marks, Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography, 2008), ‘In 1951, McComas, who had a full-time job in sales on top of his role as editor of F&SF, was forced to reduce his workload for health reasons. Boucher then did most of the reading and editing, while McComas reviewed the results and occasionally vetoed a story. In August the following year the schedule switched to monthly. In 1954 Spivak sold his shares in Mercury Press to his general manager, Joseph Ferman; that year also saw McComas’s departure—his health had deteriorated to the point where he had to give up the editing post completely.’ It will be interesting to see if there are significant changes to the type and quality of fiction going forward.
- Robert Graves’ The Shout was filmed in 1978, and features a number of well-known—in some cases, stellar, actors—Alan Bates, John Hurt, Susannah York, Tim Curry, Carol Drinkwater and a fleeting Jim Broadbent. I found a copy of the film online, but another hour and a half of consideration provided no further illumination.