Gideon Marcus, Galactic Journey
Executive Editor, Avram Davidson; Managing Editor, Edward L. Ferman
Who Sups With the Devil • short story by Terry Carr ∗
Who’s in Charge Here? • short story by James Blish ∗∗
Hawk in the Dusk • short story by William Bankier ∗∗∗
One of Those Days • short story by William F. Nolan
Napoleon’s Skullcap • novelette by Gordon R. Dickson ∗∗
Noselrubb, the Tree • short story by Eric Frazee
The Einstein Brain • short story by Josef Nesvadba ∗∗
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: L • short story by Reginald Bretnor [as by Grendel Briarton]
Miss Buttermouth • short story by Avram Davidson ∗
Love Child • short story by Otis Kidwell Burger ∗∗
Princess #22 • short story by Ron Goulart ∗∗∗
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed • short story by Vance Aandahl ∗∗
Cover • by Emsh
Editorial • editorial by Avram Davidson
By Jove! • science essay by Isaac Asimov
Books: Mutterings from the Underground • essay by Fritz Leiber
The Mermaid in the Swimming Pool • poem by Walter H. Kerr
A short while ago I suggested that the March 1962 issue of F&SF may be the best issue of the magazine—this one may be the worst. Not only are the stories a generally weak bunch—Davidson is still ploughing his way through the inventory left by Mills—but he also manages to make matters worse by the way he presents them. Not only are there a number of irritating introductions but it also appears that he doesn’t yet know how to put a magazine together.
The issue starts with Davidson’s Editorial, which opens with half a page of wittering before he gets to anything of substance. After briefly mentioning his lack of a secretary, we get this:
For the time being we will continue to do our very best with what staff we have, videlicet: our ace agent, Mr. Pettifogle, whose pursuit of biographical intelligence regarding our shyer authors has carried him into the remotest bat-caves and perilous seas; our Miss Mossmolar, whose vast experience with periodical fiction began with her employment on Godey’s Ladies’ Book, and whose inability to master the typewriter is more than compensated by her keen eye for such double-entendres and rude words which certain of our contributors continue to attempt to smuggle into their stories; and Horatio, our somewhat elderly but industrious office-boy whose last name we can never quite remember—he is said at one time to have written quantities of popular juvenile fiction of a wholesome and improving nature-and whose conviction that he will yet (as he puts it) “Rise in the world” never flags: bonne chance, Horatio! p. 5
The rest of it is a list of things he won’t be doing: letter column, fanzine reviews, raise word rates, reduce subscription prices, accept mss that use red ink on yellow paper, etc., etc., very little or any of which needed saying.
Who Sups With the Devil by Terry Carr would seem from the introduction to be one of the first stories bought by Davidson. It is a moderately diverting deal-with-the-devil story where Old Nick’s lack of success with his contracts is pointed out to him. The ending is weak (spoiler: after the contract is signed the Devil states he reserves the right to cheat, completely undermining the contract premise).
Who’s in Charge Here? by James Blish is an odd piece about a building that disgorges a number of panhandlers and their dogs, all of who subsequently get on a train and go uptown. Once there they take up their pitches and listen to the conversation of the district’s literary agents, ad men, and others. There doesn’t appear to be any point to this but it’s a well observed slice of life.
Hawk in the Dusk by William Bankier is another strange fantasy. This one has an unpleasant old man wake up in the middle of the night to find that the grandfather clock is producing strange objects, one every second:
From the face of the great clock, right at the centre spot where the hands joined, a small, cylindrical object appeared and dropped onto the floor. Another followed, and another. They came in a steady flow, a little greater in frequency than the swinging of the pendulum. Sometimes they fell directly to the floor. Other times, their progress impeded by the movement of the second hand, two or three would pile up and drop simultaneously. Peering over the edge of the cot, Hagbart saw a large mound of the things covering the floor and obscuring the base of the clock to a depth of more than a foot. Whatever was happening, it had been going on for some time. p. 19
The old man falls back to sleep and, by the time he wakes up again, they are up to the level of his cot. Reluctant to have any contact with the objects, he sits on a nearby chair and observes them, noticing that they have numbers on them and are counting down to zero; he has several hours left until that point. By the time he eventually decides he should leave the room it is too late: the objects act like quicksand and he returns the chair. At this point he starts reflecting on his earlier choices in life . . . .
One of Those Days by William F. Nolan is an irritating three page story that has an irritating three-quarter page introduction. A man hears a singing butterfly and decides he needs to go and see his shrink. Several more wacky things happen on the way there (talking cat, friend looks like a camel, etc.). The title is the punchline.
Napoleon’s Skullcap by Gordon R. Dickson is, for the most part, an interesting story about a clinical psychologist called Carl and his friend Sean Tyrone. Tyrone is a lawyer who has invented a copper banded cap that he says is a ‘psychic lever,’ and he wants to use it on a patient of Carl’s who thinks he is Napoleon. His theory is that mad people who think they are someone else were once psychically connected to the person in question, and that his lever can re-establish the contact.
Tyrone manages to arrange a visit to Carl’s patient. While visiting, Tyrone surreptitiously gets the patient to wear the cap before Carl interrupts him. Matters develop pretty much as you would expect thereafter, but the ending is baffling and I’m not exactly sure what happens in the last scene.
I note in passing that these events unfold at a fairly leisurely pace, and include several descriptions of the winter weather:
Carl looked down at the broad, snow-clad lawn below, spread out under the towering pines of the grounds. It would be spring in a few weeks, he thought, and then suddenly everything would be breaking out at once; earth-patches showing raw through the melting snow, water running loudly in the gutters, under a fresh, clean sky flecked with puffy clouds—and at night a damp, wet wind from the south, stirring the soul of a man even as it stirred the buried seeds in the ground with the call of new life. p. 36
Noselrubb, the Tree by Eric Frazee has this second and third paragraph:
With a moan he looked down at his exposed feet. They were cold. He was cold. His name was Noselrubb and he was the tree.
He shook vigorously, throwing snow from his branches. He thought of his home, Slupbh, on the planet Phid. There it was warm. There he had been happy. There he had met Lechtmi at Phid U. She took one look at him, whipped out her portable computer, ran twenty-three factors through it in a twinkling, and announced that Noselrubb loved her. p. 48
Do I need to say any more about what is possibly the worst story I’ve ever read in F&SF?
The Einstein Brain by Josef Nesvadba (trans. of Einsteinův mozek, 1960) starts with a lot of professor-type talking-heads lamenting the lack of youngsters entering the sciences. They then turn to the limitations of cybernetic machines:
But technical progress has not solved the fundamental problems of the human mind. People are still asking how and why we should live, we still know nothing of how the universe came into being, and we still cannot understand the fourth dimension Einstein worked out. Whenever we set this question to our cybernetic machines they refuse it as unscientific, wrongly set out, too personal, private, human. But this does not make the question any the less important for every one of us. p. 74
So, after this, they agree that one of their female scientists should take the brains from three recently dead people and uses them to form the Einstein Brain. Initially, the experiment goes as predicted, but then the Brain starts behaving erratically and, eventually, demands a body.
I’m not sure this is an entirely successful piece, but its philosophical ending improves it.
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: L by Reginald Bretnor is another pun that escaped me.
Miss Buttermouth by Avram Davidson starts with a man receiving a pamphlet that predicts the winner of a horse race. He contacts the sender hoping for a repeat performance. A notion stretched out to three pages.
Love Child by Otis Kidwell Burger would seem, again from information in the introduction, to be another Davidson purchase. The story is about an American woman in Paris looking after not only her own two children but also three of her male cousin’s. The woman and the cousin were raised together and were very close, but argued in their early twenties and became estranged. They later married other people. One day, when the five children return from the park, a strange child accompanies them. He turns out to be (spoiler) the child that the cousins would have had if they had married.
Although this has a guessable dénouement, its dense prose and reflective style make it better than it would be otherwise.
Princess #22 by Ron Goulart is the best piece in the issue. This droll and slightly loopy tale concerns Bert, who is touring the planet of Osbert with Donna Dayton android #22—Dayton was a famous Martian torch singer a few years before and, although passé back in the Solar System, still does well in the sticks. When Bert gets to the town of Monarchy Hill he hopes to meet the Princess but ends up meeting several underlings instead, including two Junior Prime Ministers and the former Minister of Cafeterias (recently demoted to Secretary of Chalk and Erasers). Bert asks about the political system:
“Look,” said Bert. “What kind of monarchy is this? I’m impressed by meeting prime ministers and all, but I had hoped to shake hands with the princess herself. Not only don’t I meet her, I have to sit here a week and do nothing. Maybe I should just take my android and go on about my business.” Bert stopped. He hadn’t intended to speak so strongly to someone of the Prime Minister’s station.
“You like princesses, do you?”
“As a class, yes. They have a certain status that one can respect.”
Barnaby smiled, his head bobbing. “I feel I can trust a man with your beliefs.”
“Princess Louise has been abducted. Three days ago while she was cutting the ribbon that opened a new downtown cafeteria”. p. 102
As the Princess looks like Donna Dayton, they borrow Bert’s android for an important event:
“I don’t know if you know how our age-old system of government works,” said Barnaby. “I’ll explain. Each year we hold a contest to select the prettiest girl in each town. This girl must be more than just a likeable beauty. She must have either great political wisdom or be able to play some musical instrument. From these girls the princess who rules all the territory is picked. The finals are held right here on Monarchy Hill.”
“Sounds like as good a system as any,” said Bert, sitting down on the crate.
“Careful of that,’’ said Barnaby. “I think you will get some idea of Princess Louise’s intense personal charm and accordian playing ability when I tell you that she has won the contest five years in a row.”
“I’d like to meet her.” p. 103
Bert then goes off with a man called Vickens to search for the princess. At one of their stops they pick up a woman Bert has previously met on the train to Monarchy Hill, Jan Nordlin. Jan does a ventriloquist act, and is interested in Bert. He is more interested in meeting ‘important people.’
This is an entertaining and amusing story. I note that it meanders and rambles more than his later and more polished work, and is probably the better for it.
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed by Vance Aandahl1 is, for the most part, a pretty good story about a man in a post-apocalyptic world. He starts to hear a voice in his head telling him to join ‘It.’ Having seen several of his companions taken over by ‘It’ he leaves the city.
Later, when he is out in the country, he sees a young woman and chases her, only to be trapped by others of her tribe. The next part of the story concerns his time as a captive in the village, where the woman takes it upon herself to instruct him in their form of Christianity.
For one entire day, they talked about God.
“He is your Father,” she said. “He is my Father, and your Father, and all [men’s] Father. He is the Father of the world, for He made everything when there was nothing. And He has given us the flowers. They are our comfort and protection.”
“How could anyone do all that?”
“God is perfect. He knows everything. He is everywhere. He can do anything.”
“But why can’t we see him?”
“You can,” she cried. “You must! If you only open your heart, you will see all His divine goodness and mercy!”
But Robert Smith could not see God. Sitting on the hill, gazing across the land or into the sky, he would try with all his strength to see the divine Father. He could see the green summer grass, undulating in countless waves toward the horizon; he could see a river, wandering in aimless beauty, eddying into little ponds and lakes, where trees grew and birds sang; he could see the colors of the great mountains, whose purple peaks, even under the summer sun, were [. . .] dotted with a fleet of far distant clouds. But he could not see God, no matter how hard he tried. p. 123
In the end (spoiler) all the villagers are all possessed by ‘It,’ and are commanded to go to a cave some distance away. He is taken with them and, when they go inside the cave, he sees a vast chamber containing what would seem to be a global consciousness. He is plugged into it. This rather unconvincing ending somewhat spoils a quite good story.
There is the usual limited non-fiction. The Cover by Emsh uses, I believe, his wife as a model for the woman in the foreground. In this issue . . . Coming next . . . is on page 30, and part of the text describes at least two of the stories I had already read by that point. To be brutally honest, even if this blurb had been at the beginning of the issue it would have been a complete waste of space.
By Jove! by Isaac Asimov is a science article about the physical characteristics of the outer gas giants and the possibility of finding life on Jupiter.
Books: Mutterings from the Underground by Fritz Leiber is a guest essay in lieu of the normal book review column by Alfred Bester. It is about how the mainstream views SF and, to begin with, is quite hard to follow. Once he gets into his stride it is mostly a moan about the situation:
It seems to me that the situation of the other literary forms with science fiction in their midst is like that of a respectable family with a crackpot uncle who is forever going off prospecting for gold with a donkey, a stubbly red beard, a pack of unregimented fleas, and a general unwashed smell. One day he strikes it rich. He finds himself the family hero, his gold is immensely popular, but he soon discovers that just as before the family wants neither him nor his donkey in the house when visitors call. For one thing they might have to explain to people what fools they were not to believe in his dreams, and no one ever likes to do that. p. 70
Near the end there is this:
What the purist can legitimately demand is that wherever the author take off from, he be completely honest, remember science, keep his eyes open, and see all he can—not flinch from any dark wall in popular or scientific worldview or in his own mind. The science-fiction writer’s noblest task is this: to awaken, in a story, a world on the very edge of impossibility, and then, in the midst of the story, on the verge between the written and the unwritten, to study and search with all the passion of a scientist scrutinizing his experiment, or an analyst his patient’s thought-stream, or a Holmes a Moriarty, or a lover his beloved.
And if, in such a wild pursuit, the science-fiction writer [fails] to achieve ungrudging recognition, or if the science-fiction reader lack the wholehearted approval of his peers, neither should grieve. p. 72
—the last part of which is what I would have said at the outset.
The Mermaid in the Swimming Pool by Walter H. Kerr is an OK poem about a man in a swimming pool thinking/dreaming about a mermaid.
Finally, there are a couple of items that don’t normally feature; there is a Hugo Awards Nomination Blank for those wanting to vote for the Hugo Awards, and an F&SF—For A Lifetime subscription offer.
A poor issue, and this is not helped by Davidson’s editorial material or the running order of the stories. Concerning the latter, if a new reader had picked this one up I wonder whether they would have made it past the first few stories (even the Bankier, while good, is a little odd). I thought the ideal in compiling a magazine issue was start and finish with something strong, and if you can’t start with something strong, use something relatively conventional.
There are also quite a few typos in this issue.
- Vance Aandahl’s story introduction states he is a nineteen year old sophomore English literature major at the University of Colorado. A look at his ISFDB page shows him to be the quintessential F&SF writer: out of twenty-nine stories all but three have appeared in F&SF. His first story appeared in 1960 and the last in 1995 (at the age of fifty-three). There is a photo on this site where he publishes film reviews.