Gideon Marcus, Galactic Journey
Editor, Robert P. Mills
Jonathan and the Space Whale • novelette by Robert F. Young ****
Wonder as I Wander: Some Footprints on John’s Trail Through Magic Mountains • short story by Manly Wade Wellman **
The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity • short story by Fritz Leiber ***+
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIX • short story by Reginald Bretnor [as by Grendel Briarton] *
A War of No Consequence • novelette by Edgar Pangborn ****
The 63rd St. Station • short story by Avram Davidson ***
Shadow on the Moon • novelette by Zenna Henderson *****
Cover • by Mel Hunter
In this issue . . . Coming next . . .
Communication • poem by Walter H. Kerr
That’s Life! • science essay by Isaac Asimov
The Stone Woman • poem by Doris Pitkin Buck
Books • essay by Alfred Bester
The big news in this ‘All Star’ issue is that the magazine’s editor, Robert P. Mills, is stepping down and Avram Davidson will take over from the next (April) issue. Mills says:
Coming next . . . a new editor, and regretful as we are to step down from the chair, the change is made enormously easier than it might well have been because matters are being turned over to a man as varied and able as Avram Davidson. Mr. Davidson’s name has shown up regularly on F&SF’s contents page—as it does again this month—and even semi-regular readers are surely familiar with his wide range of interests, deft, sure command of the language, and extraordinary erudition. We leave this magazine, after being associated with it from its first issue in the fall of 1949, solely because the demands of other professional responsibilities no longer leave enough time to do the kind of job on F&SF we feel should be done. p. 4
Mills’ last issue is outstanding, and has four very good or excellent stories.
It opens with Jonathan and the Space Whale by Robert F. Young,1 which is by far the best story of his I have read. It is, in part, a Jonah and the Whale story, with the SFnal element provided by a spacewhale that is a vast space-travelling creature, first detected by humankind when it takes a bite out of the asteroid belt.
The spacewhale is intercepted by a spaceship which has orders to destroy it but Jonathan, a gunner on the ship, disobeys. His gunnery pod disintegrates and he ends up in orbit around the whale before he is consumed by it. Although there are touches of real science here (there is mention of the Roche limit for his orbit around the whale) it doesn’t entirely convince on a realistic level (the massive size of the whale, the mention of magnetic fields providing gravity). This didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.
Once Jonathan is inside the whale he finds a world that has a miniature sun that heats and lights it, and a ‘backward’ community of people (i.e. 20th century America). They are descendants from a spaceship crew that was lost centuries ago. He gets a job on a farm and, around the same time, the whale starts speaking to him telepathically.
The rest of the story follows Jonathan’s rise in this society and his many conversations with the whale. He finds out that the whale is female and he calls her Andromeda. All of her people have departed for Messier 31. He discovers that her equivalent human age is seventeen and that she will die soon (soon for her: in our time a thousand years will pass). The cause of her impending death, the disease that will kill her, is given to Jonathan in a passage that is a remarkable Bradburyian howl of anti-consumerist rage:
The aerobic pathogenic multicellular bacteria. A few at first, then doubling, tripling, quadrupling, consuming, destroying. Not out of malevolence but in response to the life force within them. Melting and marketing the ores I need for my sustenance, draining me of oil deposits accumulated over millennia, laying low my forests, enervating my topsoil, taking and not returning, polluting my lakes and my atmosphere; trying to attain the technological El Dorado promised them by their Sunday-supplement Christ . . . The Founding fathers were well-intentioned, but their memories were short. In their eagerness to exploit my vast and virgin lands, they forgot the lesson of Old Earth . . . Yes, Jonathan, I am dying. In a thousand of your years the disease will have run its course and I shall be dead.
Aghast, he said, I did not know, I did not realize. And then, But a thousand years is a long time. At least you could cross the Deep and be with your people when you died.
No, Jonathan, l cannot. The sadness of the thought was almost tangible. Even travelling at my maximum velocity I could not hope to reach the shores of Messier 31 in less than three millennia. I—I am afraid to die in darkness, Jonathan, in the cold and callous emptiness of the sea. I am not really like the cetaceous creatures you named me after. They were bold and brave and savage. They feared nothing and no one—not even man.
But man destroyed them, every one. And the sea they lived in and the land that rose out of the sea. Not out of malevolence, no—but was our motivation any better? Is greed noble? Is selfishness? Is anthropocentricism? Tell me, Andromeda, is there nothing we can’t destroy?
The horizon of his mind remained empty. Nothing? he repeated. Is there nothing, Andromeda?
He stood up on the hill, beneath the pulsing stars. “Andromeda, answer me,” he said. “Is there nothing we can’t destroy?”
The stars looked silently down on him. The night wind sighed, but made no comment. Seemingly at his feet glowed the light-inflamed ulcer of the city, and in the distance the new infection showed, insignificant now, but tomorrow vast and sprawling and malignant. “Answer me, Andromeda!” he cried. “Answer me!”
Silence. Stars. Darkness. The lonely wind against his face.
“All right,” he said, “so be it,” and started down the hill. “If destruction is our destiny, then destruction will be our way of life.”
He climbed into his car. Starlight gleamed gently on the rakish hood, glittered harshly on the chrome filigree. The framework of the half-completed house showed against the hillside like the gaunt ribs of a flesh-stripped whale. He backed into the arrow-straight highway and headed for Prosperity. PROGRESS, a sign by the roadside said. ONLY THROUGH PROGRESS CAN MAN’S DREAMS COME TRUE. Sponsored by the Prosperity Chamber of Horrors. No, not “Horrors.” He looked at the sign again. This time he read it right. The Prosperity Chamber of Commerce. p. 31-32
Jonathan eventually manages to convince Andromeda to expel the humans living inside her onto a suitable planet, and she leaves to find the rest of her race in an emotional last scene.
With the message above, its myths, symbols, and religious references, I look forward to rereading it again.
The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity by Fritz Leiber is a good modern horror story that starts with an estate agent called Scott who is struggling to rent a house. The problem is the nearby high-tension electric pole beside the house. A prospective tenant notices the line:
“Listen to that!” Mr. Leverett said, his dry voice betraying excitement for the first time in the tour. “Fifty thousand volts if there’s five! A power of power!”
“Must be unusual atmospheric conditions today—normally you can’t hear a thing,” Mr. Scott responded lightly, twisting the truth a little.
“You don’t say?” Mr. Leverett commented, his voice dry again, but Mr. Scott knew better than to encourage conversation about a negative feature. “I want you to notice this lawn,” he launched out heartily. p. 43
Later on in the tour they come back to the powerline:
On the quick retrace, however, Mr. Leverett insisted on their lingering on the patio. “Still holding out,” he remarked about the buzz with an odd satisfaction. “You know, Mr. Scott, that’s a restful sound to me. Like wind or a brook or the sea. I hate the clatter of machinery—that’s the other reason I left New England—but this is like a sound of nature. Downright soothing. But you say it comes seldom?”
Mr. Scott was flexible—it was one of his great virtues as a salesman. “Mr. Leverett,” he confessed simply, “I’ve never stood on this patio when I didn’t hear that sound. Sometimes it’s softer, sometimes louder, but it’s always there. I play it down, though, because most people don’t care for it.”
“Don’t blame you,” Mr. Leverett said. “Most people are a pack of fools or worse. Mr. Scott, are any of the people in the neighboring houses Communists to your knowledge?”
“No, sir!” Mr. Scott responded without an instant’s hesitation.
“There’s not a Communist in Pacific Knolls. And that’s something, believe me, I’d never shade the truth on.”
“Believe you,” Mr. Leverett said. “The east’s packed with Communists. Seem scarcer out here. Mr. Scott, you’ve made yourself a deal. I’m taking a year’s lease on Peak House as furnished and at the figure we last mentioned.” p. 43
Mr Scott becomes a regular visitor to Mr Leverett after his son tells him about the tricks the new tenant can do with electricity. Mr Leverett tells Scott the stories that he has heard from the electricity. Leverett later falls out with the electricity when he learns there is American electricity in Russia and vice versa. Moreover, electricity isn’t going to let humankind start any big war that will destroy its infrastructure, and it tells Leverett not to go to the FBI, or else.
You can probably see the ending coming (spoiler): a high-tension line electrocutes Leverett during a storm. Leiber still owns the ending, though, due to a particularly effective last few lines:
The police and the power-and-light men reconstructed the accident this way: At the height of the storm one of the high-tension lines had snapped a hundred feet away from the house and the near end, whipped by the wind and its own tension, had struck back freakishly through the open bedroom window of Peak House and curled once around the legs of Mr. Leverett, who had likely been on his feet at the time. He had been killed instantly. One had to strain that reconstruction, though, to explain the additional freakish elements in the accident—the fact that the high-tension wire had struck not only through the bedroom window, but then through the bedroom door to catch the old man in the hall, and that the black shiny cord of the phone was wrapped like a vine twice around the old man’s right arm, as if to hold him back from escaping until the big wire had struck. p. 50
This is a convincing and atmospheric story, with Leverett’s political views and the background nuclear threat giving the story a district edge.
A War of No Consequence by Edgar Pangborn is a sequel to last issue’s The Golden Horn, and another in his ‘Davy’ or ‘Tales from a Darkening World’ series.2 This one begins with Davy sneaking through town of Skoar in the dead of night. He is on his way to recover a charm he lost in a fight with one of the town’s sentries, during which the latter was killed. On arriving at the scene he finds the policers have found the body and flees into the woods. The rest of the first part of the story is a tense and intensely atmospheric account of his journey to the cave where he has the Golden Horn and his other valuables stashed:
I had to move with dismal slowness. I don’t remember too much fog of fear in my mind, but the short journey was an experience outside of time. During what may have been ten or fifteen minutes, I walked a thousand years. Then bearing at last the mumbling wet monotone of the brook, I returned abruptly to a place and time scheme I knew, in a kind of waking. A big frog jumped and ploshed from blackness to blackness unseen, less startled than I was and maybe less afraid.
Struggling upstream with no guide except the feel of rushing water was a different nightmare. Instead of too much time, I imagined there was not enough, yet I knew it was dangerous to hurry. The brook itself was shallow and moderate; at the small rapids and waterfalls I only needed to step out on the bank and keep the noise of the stream at my left until it changed back to the sound of easier flow. But I could lose my footing and brain myself on a rock. I could step on a black water-snake—moksins they call that kind in my home country, fat and timid and sluggish, not as bad as rattlers or the coppersnakes because they can’t bite so well, but bad enough. My smell could reach black wolf anywhere in the night, and he could come take me before I had time to free the knife I carried under my shirt. Spring is the season too when the bear are thin and hungry, their males edgy with the beginning of the sex fret and sometimes in a mood to kill for the pleasure of it, as they say the great brown bear of the northern countries may do at any time.
Or I could walk innocently by one of brown tiger’s favorite drinking holes and save him a lot of trouble, never being aware of it until it was too late to be aware of anything. A man’s a small thing in the dark. p. 54-55
After Davy recovers his belongings he begins a journey to the faraway town of Lebannon. Further on he hears noise, and takes cover up a tree. From his vantage point he watches Moha troops pass by on the road below, en route to Skoar, and then watches while Katskil troops ambush them mid-column. He watches a bloody battle ensue. At a pivotal point of the battle the Moha troops scatter in disarray and Davy sounds his horn to rally them. The Moha troops eventually prevail and chase the Katskil survivors into the woods.
Much later Davy watches the troops leave, and continues to watch the battlefield. He cautiously makes his way there and sees a dying man. He brings him water and gives what comfort he can. The dying man talks to Davy and asks where he comes from. Then he asks:
“What do they say about us there?”
“You mean the war talk?”
“Tell you something, boy. It’s all crap. No consequence.” He wanted to talk, but it was hard for him. “Pretty country around here,” he said. “Laid up all night in the woods, our mudhead hard-luck outfit. Three companies, you had two battalions. Another comp’ny, likely we’d’ve had you. That’s all crap too, boy. All night in the woods waiting for you, and a foggy son of a bitch too, had trouble keeping my gear dry.”
“Waiting for them,” I said. “I’ve got nothing to do with the army.”
“Ayah. No country. Running away. Be glad you haven’t, boy it’s all crap. I’ll tell you what you got for a major in one of them battalions. ‘No prisoners,’ he says, ‘just bring us the evidence.’ I was off in that ‘ere thicket, heard him give the order. ‘Any old thing,’ he says, sitting his hoss real handsome, you know, and you could’ve heard him laugh ’way back in Nuber. ‘Any old thing, but a head’s troublesome to carry, a hand’ll do, just bring us the evidence.’ “
“You wanted to run away?”
“Ayah. A kid’s thought. Maybe you’ll make it.”
“Maybe you can run away with me. We could travel together, to Levannon, that’s where I’m going.
Further too. Maybe—”
“Sure enough?” Why, he was thinking of it, with the arrow in his side, and taking pleasure from it I believe, seeing the idea for that moment as I saw it myself, the horizons, the friendship, the new places.
“You don’t need to be afraid of me,” I said.
“Nay, of course not.’’ He said that easily. And that remains with me most clearly out of that morning—the flash of what I call recognition because I have no other word. I don’t know his name, but he was in some way my kind, and we both knew it well for that little time before his face smoothed out completely and I had to let him lie back on the earth. p. 72-73
On the face of it this is a profoundly anti-war story, but I think what it actually shows, along with The Golden Horn, is Pangborn’s deep compassion for humanity.
Shadow on the Moon by Zenna Henderson is the second published story in a new sequence of ‘People’ stories3 (these are about a group of humans with paranormal powers, who come from another planet and are shipwrecked on Earth). This story revolves, initially at least, around Remy, a teenager (although his sister Shadow narrates). He is desperate to go into space and cannot see why the People don’t share their knowledge and paranormal powers with the human race to achieve this. It leads to arguments with his father:
“What’s the use then!” Remy flung at Father. “What’s the use of being able to, if we don’t?”
“Being able to is not always the standard to go by,” said Father.
He flicked his fingers at the ceiling and we three watched the snowflakes drift down starrily to cover the work bench. “Your mother loves to watch the snow,” he said, “but she doesn’t go around snowing all the time.” He stopped the snow with a snap of his fingers and it dampened the wood shavings with its melting.”No, just being able to is not a valid reason. And reason there must be before action.” p. 95
Remy and Shadow later discover an old man called Tom at a nearby mine. He initially warns them off with a shotgun but, while Shadow is away for a fortnight, Remy wins his trust. He discovers (rather too conveniently) that Tom is working on the construction of a spaceship in the mine but, even though Remy has befriended him, Tom remains in an emotional and volatile state. The reason for this (spoiler) is that his son has died. Tom had come to help him finish the ship, but he died in a rock fall; he is determined to take his son’s remains to the moon.
Shadow knows none of this as she has been away for a fortnight and, when she comes back, Remy does not explain what he has learnt, telling her it would be better for her to find out for herself. This happens when she goes down the mine to see the spaceship for the first time:
“You’d better channel,” whispered Remy.
“You mean when we have to scrape past—” I began.
“Not that kind of channeling,’’ said Remy.
The rest of his words were blotted out in the sudden wave of agony and sorrow that swept from Tom and engulfed me—not physical agony, but mental agony. I gasped and channeled as fast as I could, but the wet beads from that agony formed across my forehead before I could get myself guarded against it.
Tom was kneeling by the heaped up stones, his eyes intent upon the floor beside them. I moved closer.
There was a small heap of soil beside a huge jagged boulder. There was a tiny American flag standing in the soil, and, above it on the boulder, was painted a white cross, inexpertly, so that the excess paint wept down like tears.
“This,” mourned Tom almost inaudibly, “is my son—”
“Your Son” I gasped. “Your sonI”
“I can’t take it again,’’ whispered Remy. “I’m going on to the ship and get busy. He’ll tell it whether anyone’s listening or not. But each time it gets a little shorter. It took all morning the first time.” And Remy went on down the drift, a refugee from a sorrow he couldn’t ease. p. 112
Shadow later becomes alarmed that Remy intends to go into space with Tom and won’t let her go with them. Remy tells her:
He’s so wrapped up in this whole project that there’s literally nothing for him in this life but the ship and the trip. He’d have died long ago if this hope hadn’t kept him alive. You haven’t touched him unshielded or you’d know in a second that he was Called months ago and is stubbornly refusing to go. I doubt if he’ll live through blast-off, even with all the shielding I can give him. But I’ve got to take him, Shadow. I’ve just got to. It—it—I can’t explain it so it makes sense, but it’s as necessary for me to do this for Tom as it is for Tom to do it. Why he’s even forgotten God except as a spy who might catch us in the act and stop us. I think even the actual blast-off or one look at the earth from Space will Purge him and he will submit to being Called and go to where his son is waiting, just the Otherside.
“I’ve got to give him his dream.” Remy’s voice faltered. “Young people have time to dream and change their dreams, but old people like Tom have time for only one dream, and if that fails them—”
“But Remy,” I whispered forlornly. “You might never make it back.”
“It is in the hands of The Power,” he said soberly. “If I’m to be Called, I’m to be Called. p. 117
Shadow later touches Tom and finds out how near he is to dying:
I took one of his hands in mine to examine the cut flesh—and was immediately caught up in Death! Death rolled over me like a smothery cloud. Death shrieked at me from every comer of my mind. Death! Death! Rebellious, struggling Death! Nothing of the solemn Calling. Nothing of preparation for returning to the Presence. I forced my stiff fingers to open and dropped his hand. p. 118
There is a particularly religious or spiritual element here that I hadn’t noticed (or can’t remember) in the original series of stories.
One aspect of this story that is initially a little unconvincing is the home-made spaceship idea, but this is convincingly dealt with: not only does Tom state that his son may have stolen the parts from the military, but the unusual power source, a small box with no obvious function, eventually leads to further revelations.
As the spaceship nears completion the old man increasingly starts to unravel. He takes Remy hostage and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t launch the spacecraft. Remy does not know what to do as there is no obvious power source, so he tries to move it using his telekinetic powers and fails. Shadow and summons her family, who put Tom to sleep and rescue Remy.
The final section has the family and other members of the People examine the ship, at which point they realise it is of People design, and they conclude that Tom’s mother must have been one of the People who had been lost when they were dispersed across the Earth. Shadow then accidentally lifts the spaceship out of its launch tube using her weak telekinesis—and they discover that the small box is an amplifier for their paranormal powers.
The last few pages describe the People taking Tom (still unconscious and very close to death) and his son’s remains to the moon. After they arrive they take the coffin out onto the surface of the moon and wake Tom:
Then inside the ship they lifted Tom to a window. Mother went in to him before she woke him completely and told him where we were and where his son was. Then she awakened him gently. For a moment his eyes were clouded. His lips trembled and he blinked slowly—or closed his eyes, waiting for strength. He opened them again and looked for a long moment at the bright curve of the plain and the spangled darkness of the sky.
“The moon,” he murmured, his thin hand clenching on the rim of the window. “We made it, Son, we made it! Let me out. Let me touch it.”
Father’s eyebrows questioned Mother and her eyes answered him. We lifted him from the cot and, enveloping him in our own shields, moved him out the door. We sustained him for the few staggering steps he took. He half fell across the box, one hand trailing on the ground. He took up a handful of the rough gravel and let it funnel from his hand to the top of the box.
“Son,” he said, his voice surprisingly strong. “Son, dust thou art, go back to dust. Look out of wherever you are up there and see where your body is. We’re close enough that you ought to be able to see real good.” He slid to his knees, his face resting against the undressed pine. “I told you I’d do it for you, Son.”
We straightened him and covered him with Mother’s double wedding ring patchwork quilt, tucking him gently in against the long, long night. And I know at least four spots on the moon where water has fallen in historical time—four salty, wet drops, my own tears. Then we said the Parting Prayers and returned to the Ship. p. 128-129
The story ends on a final spiritual note:
But what will never, never change is the wonder, the indescribable wonder to me of seeing Earth lying in space as in the hollow of God’s hand. Everytime I return to it, I return to the words of the Psalmist—the words that welled up in me unspoken out there half way to the moon.
When I consider thy heavens,
the work of thy fingers, the
moon and the stars which thou
hast ordained; What is man that
thou art mindful of him . . . p. 129
An intensely emotional story.
The rest of the fiction contains a good story from Davidson and a couple of minor pieces.
The 63rd St. Station by Avram Davidson starts normally enough with a man in a train. He lives a quiet life with his sister but is going to move out and marry a woman at his work called Anna. He hasn’t yet told his sister as he worries about the effect it may have on her:
And what would Fanny do? Fanny would die. She had put so much of life away from her, it would be no effort to let go of what remained. p. 75
We also learn of an unmarked station that he passes every day on his journey. The train never stops but today—as he suddenly realises he cannot leave his sister— it does. He gets up to leave the train to immediately tell Anna his decision.
At this point there is a surreal break in the story: an old woman—who has told him to leave the train quickly—screams, and he is taken by two men called Legs and Shoulders (names that are part of a private joke with Anna) to a series of mortuary-like drawers, where he is put in one. I assume that this is a metaphor for his renunciation of his new life with Anna but, whatever it signifies, the story is an unsettling piece.
Wonder as I Wander: Some Footprints on John’s Trail Through Magic Mountains by Manly Wade Wellman is a group of seven ‘Silver John’ vignettes, connecting material from a forthcoming collection, and all about half a page long. OK I suppose, but very minor stuff.
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIX by Reginald Bretnor is a masterclass in straining for effect, with a last line so bad it is almost good.
The Cover by Mel Hunter is a wraparound effort: I tried to get a decent image online but failed.
In this issue . . . uses its half page to discuss Pangborn’s story, which includes this from the writer:
“These stories—I don’t quite think of them myself as science-fiction—deal with a world that doesn’t require a true suspension of belief. Conditions like these could come into existence, simply as a result of factors operating in today’s world: the mutations, change of climate, destruction and disappearance of modern culture after a time of upheaval in which atomic war was only one element, human beings thrown back into a primitive (call it medieval) way of living with a latent possibility of staggering up and trying again some time. Civilizations have perished before; personally I don’t think ours will perish in this way, but it could.
These stories are fantasy; I’d like to call them fantasy used as a special lens for looking at present reality.” p. 4
Communication is a poem by Walter H. Kerr whose first stanza I followed, but the second one lost me. The other poem, The Stone Woman by Doris Pitkin Buck, is about just that: a woman leaves a man and turns to stone. There may be a bit of a break-up thing going on here (he said glibly) but I liked it anyway.
That’s Life! by Isaac Asimov is, on the whole, an interesting essay about a definition of life but it does rather teeter, as with a number of his essays, on the edge of reductive boredom.
Books by Alfred Bester is an odd column, an interview with an SF fan. I think the take away is:
“We’ve got to become non-conformists again. I’m telling you, if science fiction doesn’t come up with something new and daring and unacceptable, we’re going to look around for something else.” p. 93
It will be two or three years until the New Wave gets going.
This is possibly the best single issue of F&SF I’ve read (or of any title). I’d have all three of the novelettes for a ‘Best of the Year’ collection for 1962 (but would probably swap the Pangborn for his story in the last issue).
- Although it is listed by ISFDB as one of the ‘Spacewhale’ series, it does not appear to be part of the fix-up novel Starfinder, which incorporates the rest of the series. I suspect the idea of massive space whales is the only thing that the original story and the others have in common.
- This story is chapters 9 and 10 in the book Davy.
- Shadow on the Moon is the second published story in this cycle of stories but the last entry in the second People collection, The People: No Different Flesh; contents at ISFDB.