Editors, Anthony Boucher & J. Francis McComas; Managing Editor, Robert P. Mills
Budding Explorer • short story by Ralph Robin ♥♥
Hilda • short story by H. B. Hickey
Ganymedeus Sapiens: Modern Scientific Dilemma • short story by Kenneth R. Deardorf ♥
Mother • short story by Alfred Coppel ♥♥♥
The Factitious Pentangle • short story by H. Nearing, Jr. ♥♥♥
Extracts From a Bibliomaniac’s Journal • short story by Harry Lawton ♥♥
The Good Provider • short story by Marion Gross ♥
The Fly • short story by Arthur Porges ♥♥♥
The Mist • short story by Peter Grainger [as by Peter Cartur] ♥♥
Three Day Magic • reprint novella by Charlotte Armstrong ♥♥♥+
Mother • cover by Emsh
With Dignity Yet • news item
Recommended Reading • by The Editors
There is a short note on the inside front cover that has some interesting news items.1 The first is, with this issue, F&SF is moving from bi-monthly to monthly publication; second, in line with the editor’s ‘efforts to please [readers],’ they are going to increase the amount of science fiction; finally, there will be a new cover layout (the ‘three colour bars’ design) to make it easier to find on the newsstands (at least I presume this is what they mean from the ‘we think you’ll find it easier to read and recognize’ comment). This last change is a shame, I think: I rather like Salter’s original title.
As for the fiction, the vast bulk of this issue is taken up by a 30,000 word novella by Charlotte Armstrong, Three Day Magic. This is an uncut version2 of the original story that appeared in Today’s Woman, December 1948, and it takes up a whopping 72 out of the 128 pages!
When I first saw this my heart sank a little—the reprint fiction in F&SF is almost equally hit or miss, and the previous long reprint novella they ran (Jane Brown’s Body by Cornell Woolrich, F&SF, October 1951), struck me as, at best, a variable piece which seemed rather out-of-place in the magazine. I was pleasantly surprised by this one though.
The editors describe the author in the introduction as:
—a writer who understands the true nature of logical fantasy like few authors since E. Nesbit and F. Anstey, who can take all the formula ingredients of magic stories and twist them back to glittering newness, who can manage to be warm and imaginative and tender and extremely funny all at once. p. 56
An approximate genre comparison may be de Camp and Pratt’s ‘Incomplete Enchanter’ stories, and I can imagine this novella appearing in the likes of Unknown, if it was still being published at the time.
The story itself starts with a saxophone player called George who works in a quiet hotel in coastal Maine. There he meets a visitor called Katy, who is a wealthy heiress, and before long he is abandoning his sleepy life and chasing her to New York, determined to make a million dollars and secure her hand despite the reservations of Kathy’s guardian, Mr Blair. However, once he is in the city he finds further problems to add to the ones he already has, and matters reach a nadir when he can’t find employment and the rent is due. He manages to negotiate a reprieve from his landlady until the end of the day, and then goes to see Kathy and Mr Blair. His situation becomes even bleaker when Mr Blair rebuffs him and he argues with Kathy.
On his way home he goes into a pawnshop to get some money for his saxophone, but the strange proprietor doesn’t offer him a suitable price. To sweeten the deal he takes George into the back of the shop and offers him an old carpet bag and its contents. George opens the bag:
George pulled at the double handle. “Nuh-uh. What would I want with . . .? Hey, what’s that?” He reached in. There was an old sword wedged diagonally in the bag. George had a fancy for old things and a smallboyish love for swords. He fondled the hilt of this one. The scabbard was some worn crimson stuff.
George waked himself out of a dream. The old man’s bright eyes were avid and sly. “No, no,” said George.
“Maybe isss antique . . . .”
“Looks antique, all right,” George fished into the bag and found a small carved box. The lid opened by sliding. There was nothing in it but a flower. A rose. Artificial, he supposed. He dropped the box and rummaged again. There were soft cloth masses. There was a piece of flat metal, framed with a wrought design, burnished in the center. Old, very old. There was a small dark leather pouch. “What’s this?”
“Open,” said the proprietor softly.
George pulled the thong fastenings. Inside, he found a single piece of metal. Flat, lopsided, with some worn engraving on it, perhaps it was gold.
“Hey,” said George, “did you know this was in here?” The old man made his butterfly shrug. “Is it a coin? Is it gold?”
“Maybe . . .”
“This might be worth something,” George said honestly. “Old coins, y’know.”
“Maybe . . .” said the proprietor indifferently. “You take?”
“Wait a minute,” said George, “how do you know this isn’t gold? How do you know it isn’t worth a lot of money?”
“I am tired,” said the old man.
George looked dubious. He chewed on his lip. The whole thing was queer. Queer shivery feeling to this place. “I certainly don’t want this bagful of junk. Give me $25 and the coin. How about that?”
“I give twenty and all thisss. So no more, not less.” The sibilants sighed on the dusty air.
“You seem to want to get rid of it,” murmured George. His imagination was jumping. Maybe the coin was worth a lot. Maybe the sword would sell for something to a man who knew about swords.
“I am going,” said the proprietor softly, “to California.” p. 68-69
During the rest of the story George learns (spoiler) that the contents of the bag are: a magic ring that gives three wishes to each person who wears it; a magic lamp that will summon Aladdin; the Rose of Love (self-explanatory); an invisible cloak; a pouch that produces identical gold coins; a youth potion; a mirror that shows you the location of the person you are thinking about; a flying carpet; and a sword that will cut through anything.
The story that revolves around the eventual use of all these items is an enjoyable farce that involves George’s continued pursuit of Kathy, complicated by, among other things, his landlady smelling the Rose of Love and then falling in love with George; the Russian spy in the room opposite (!) discovering that George has a device that can cut through anything; the Genie of the Lamp building George a big house that later causes zoning and regulation problems for him; Kathy’s guardian Mr Blair taking the youth potion, then smelling the Rose of Love and falling for his ward; journeys across the country on a flying carpet, etc., etc.
It’s certainly worth reading, as you would expect from someone who would go on to win a 1957 Edgar Award for her novel A Dram of Poison.
There is one novelette in the issue, which is The Factitious Pentangle, the sixth ‘C. P. Ransom’ story from H. Nearing, Jr. It starts, as usual, with the two professors shooting the breeze:
“Suppose you wanted to get to Mars,” said Professor Cleanth. Penn Ransom, of the Mathematics Faculty. “What would you do?” He stuck out his little belly and began to swing in his swivel chair.
Professor Archibald MacTate, of Philosophy, smiled with half his mouth. “I suppose I’d see my psychiatrist,” he said.
“No, no.” Ransom stopped swinging and waved a reproachful hand at him. “You know what I mean. How would you get there?”
“Oh. Well—” MacTate crossed his long legs, folded his arms, and regarded the ceiling thoughtfully. Then he looked at his colleague and cocked an ingratiating eyebrow. “Fourth dimension?”
“Fourth dimension.” Ransom’s tone was acid. He began to swing again. “Every time you ask anybody a hard question, they say ‘fourth dimension.’ As if that meant anything. Why don’t they—?”
“Very well.” MacTate shrugged. “I give up. How would you get to Mars? If you wanted to?”
Ransom stopped swinging and faced him. “Now that’s better. Don’t throw some silly word around just because it sounds scientific. You can’t get to Mars through a word.” He aimed a finger at MacTate. “You’ve got to get there through— You’ve got to use— Well, as a matter of fact it is the fourth dimension. Sort of.” He frowned accusingly. “But you had no way of knowing that, MacTate. You just picked a word out of—”
“I apologize, old boy.” MacTate held up his hands. He looked somewhat nervously around the room. “I presume you’ve already worked out a fourthdimensioner?”
Ransom nodded. “Over there.” He pointed to a black box, the size of a large suitcase, that sat next to the door. “You plug that in, and the door opens on Mars.” p. 23
After a further and perhaps over lengthy description of the device, an alien couple from Mars come through his door and we are off. After moaning about their marital problems, caused by a third member, they leave. The professors quickly receive a visit from the third alien in question. At the end, they all meet to thrash things out with the two professors, Ransom and MacTate. Lightweight nonsense, but quite well done.
After the space taken up by the Armstrong and Hearing stories, there is little room left for the remaining eight stories and they are mostly very short (the Hickey, Gross and Porges stories occupy four pages each, the Coppel, Lawton and Grainger, three).
Budding Explorer by Ralph Robin is amusing story of an alien who materialises on Earth and starts doing research on the American presidential election:
Trying on a gray gabardine, Yeevee started his primary investigation. He asked the salesman, “Who, in your opinion, is going to be elected president today?”
The salesman laughed, in an embarrassed way. “That’s kind of a tough one to ask a salesman,” he said. “Wouldn’t want to give a customer the wrong answer.”
“I am not a citizen of this country, so you may speak freely. Will it be Ferris or Nicholson?”
“Well, I think Bob Ferris is likely to win.” The salesman still seemed reluctant to talk.
“Is that just your prediction, or are you personally in favor of the Democrats?”
“I’m for Ferris, all right . . . It fits very nicely in the back, sir.”
“Tell me,” Yeevee persisted, “what are your reasons for supporting Ferris?”
“My wife’s hot for Nicholson,” the salesman said. p. 4
After questioning a few people at a polling station party workers chase him away, and ends up in the house of an essayist. The alien questions the essayist about the election and, when the latter leaves to vote, he is left alone with stenographer. He lies down on a bed with her—attempting to do ‘secondary research’—and then dematerialises. A weak ending.
Hilda by H. B. Hickey is a pretty awful story about a gigolo, and Hilda, his domestic robot. After saving him from an angry husband she makes coffee and meatballs. At the end she copies his love making routine and inadvertently kills him. No three laws, then.
Ganymedeus Sapiens: Modern Scientific Dilemma by Kenneth R. Deardorf is a sequel, accompanied once again with line drawings, to the writer’s non-fact article in the December 1951 issue about the skiametric forms of Ganymedeus Sapiens. This one left me cold, but there is an OK joke in the last line.
I didn’t much care for Alfred Coppel’s previous attempt at fictionalising the possible psychological problems of space flight (The Dreamer, F&SF, April 1951) and thought that Mother, initially at least, was going the same way.
An astronaut is in his ‘womb,’ and his spacecraft is en route to the moon:
I can look outside if I choose, he thought. I can look out into the black sky and see the stars burning like beacons in the night. I can see the earth and moon as no man has ever seen them before. But he did none of these things. He lay in the warm darkness and let the ship comfort him.
They had made the ship so—the scientists and the surgeons and the psychologists. They were clever men, learned men. And though Kier was the most fit of many thousands, they knew that no man could live and be sane in space without the warmth, the darkness, the feeling of safety.
For Kier they made a mother. A metal mother shaped like a projectile and pointed at the sky. They bound him to that mother so that he could step forth—so that he could be born—when she carried him across the
Gulf. Compared to the distances between the stars, it was no gulf. And yet for a single man—the first—it was a chasm laden with the madness of loneliness, the terror of the unknown.
Kier stirred within the ship’s womb. p. 20
It’s difficult to take this type of story seriously as events later proved their theories wrong, and there is a little of that here, but this has a neat ending: he finds out why a competing country’s astronaut did not emerge from a preceding spacecraft . . .
Extracts From a Bibliomaniac’s Journal by Harry Lawton is an unlikely if OK story, told in diary format, about a collector acquiring books in the middle of an ongoing nuclear war. He sees the destruction and chaos as an opportunity to get the books he desires until, that is, he eventually gets radiation sickness. Unfortunately, none of his books are later than 18th Century, so he can’t find out anything about the treatment for his symptoms.
The Good Provider by Marion Gross is an overly contrived tale about an inventor who creates a time machine—but it will only take him to a specific place in the nearby town, only twenty years ago, and only for twenty minutes. His wife uses it to get cheap meat from the butcher. I realise that not all SF can have an epic scope, but . . .
The Fly by Arthur Porges is a short-short about a man looking at a spider’s web while having his lunch. He notices a bluebottle—or what he thinks is a bluebottle—landing on the web. (Spoiler: a metal rod comes out of the fly, penetrates the spider and sucks it dry. When the man tries to catch the fly it burns his hand with something highly radioactive.)
If you think about this afterwards it seems a rather daft idea, but it convinces as you read it. In that way it is probably typical of those short shockers that are endlessly reprinted.3
The Mist by Peter Grainger is about one man begging another to come to his bedroom and see an apparition. When they walk through it together (spoiler) they are both transported to an alien world.
The cover by Emsh, Mother, is quite good, and an improvement on his first effort in the June issue. Emsh will be one of F&SF’s semi-regular cover artists in the year ahead.
With Dignity Yet is a short half-page notice advertising the tenth World SF Convention.
Recommended Reading by The Editors starts with this:
The trend toward original hard-cover appearance of stories unpublished in any magazine reached its peak to date in the two-month period under consideration in this column, with the publication of ten new imaginative novels, eight of them science fiction. Unfortunately only two of these can be commended to the adult reader; but these two earn this department’s loudest praise. p. 43
They go on to recommend Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke and Takeoff by Cyril M. Kornbluth. They also go on to favourably review the rest of the reprint material, ending with this about Five Adventure Novels of H. Rider Haggard by H. Rider Haggard:
The Haggard collection, which includes She, King Soloman’s Mines, and Allan Quartermain, can hardly be overpraised, despite the Victorian ampleness called “wordy” by those same readers who tolerate the outrageous padding of most pulp science fiction. Here are lost-race themes treated with a combination of mysticism, depth of character, and glorious high adventure that no other story-teller has yet equaled. p. 44
This is an issue that is worth reading for the Armstrong novella and some of the other material.
- The announcement page:
I had a look at the address on Google Street View, but it looks like the original house has been torn down and a new house built on the site.
- There is an account of the previous publication history of Armstrong’s novella in The Virtue of Suspense: The Life and Works of Charlotte Armstrong by Rick Cypert (Amazon UK/Google Play):
Although Today’s Woman purchased Armstrong’s “Old Fashioned Magic,” the magazine changed the title to “Three-Day Magic,” much to the author’s dismay. In addition, Armstrong worried in a letter to Bernice Baumgarten about her family’s financial challenges with their new home and still unsold former home in New Rochelle: “We are on the point of getting ourselves into a ruinous loan at incredibly bad terms, because we simply must give out with 3,000.00 on November 1st. It’s this house, of course, and the fact that we can’t sell our New Rochelle house fast enough. … I don’t see how they [Today’s Woman with the title “The Three Day Magic”] could have done worse. And if they have monkeyed with the text I’m going to put my head under a pillow and howl. Sometimes I wish I was a bricklayer.”
After reading the story, Armstrong also expressed her concerns about its publication—especially the omitted material—with Carl Brandt: “Oh gosh, it isn’t anything now. They knocked out the character drawing, the satire, the wit, the rhythm . . . everything that mattered, as far as I can see. And the very handsome blurb on the cover just makes me feel terrible. . . . Taint so . . . although it could have been nearer so. Is it legal for a magazine to cut a piece to ribbons and then print my name on something I am ashamed to read? Especially after I, having been asked, stated my opinion that it could not be cut to 20,000 words without bad damage?”
Carl Brandt, in his typically supportive way with authors, responded: I don’t blame you for having a broken heart but I can’t tell you anything except that this is one of the hazards of the magazine business. . . . Magazines are a tribe apart and you never get any real criticism from a cut version of a story from anyone that matters. Just what the legal situation is I’ve never been able to find out. I suppose a case might be set up but precedent would be too much against you. They’d call it editing and that would be that. My own idea about these things is that an author should never read the story when it appears in the magazine. Look at the pictures but don’t read it. You’d be surprised how many people will come up to tell you what a good story it is even if you think it’s dreadful!’’
Cecil Gold beck of Coward-McCann rejected “Old Fashioned Magic” for publication as a book. Armstrong, in her letter of response to Bernice Baumgarten about the rejection, stated: “It’s not delusions of grandeur I’ve got about that story. It’s just that I have sat and watched several ‘readers’ or ‘customers’. . . just folks, you know, read it. . . . I’ll do another mystery. In fact I am doing one. But don’t you-all think you’ve got me pushed back in my box. I’ll break out again, another time, another way.” p. 70-71
Charlotte Armstrong (Lewi) has a page at Wikipedia.
- I had a quick look at ISFDB for The Fly reprints: it looks like eight English language anthology appearances.
- The announcement page:
Revised 20/10/2017 to add the footnote material about Armstrong’s novella (thanks to @F&SF for pointing this out).