Editor, Edward L. Ferman; Assistant Editor, Anne W. Burke
The Persistence of Vision • novella by John Varley ∗∗∗+
Hundred Years Gone • short story by Manly Wade Wellman ∗∗
The Family Man • short story by Theodore L. Thomas ∗
The Seventh Fool • short story by Glen Cook ∗∗∗
Hear Me Now, My Sweet Abbey Rose • short story by Charles L. Grant ∗∗∗+
Down the Ladder • short story by Robert F. Young ∗∗
The Horror Out of Time • short story by Randall Garrett ∗∗∗
Papa Schimmelhorn’s Yang • novelette by Reginald Bretnor ∗∗∗+
Cover • by Chesley Bonestell
Books • by Algis Budrys
Cartoon • by Gahan Wilson
Films and Television: The Road to Albany • by Baird Searles
Coming next month
Anyone for Tens? • science essay by Isaac Asimov
The reason I picked up this issue was that I’d watched the movie Damnation Alley1 and couldn’t recall what Baird Searles had said about it in his column (although I remember he reviewed it). After finding the copy and reading Films and Television: The Road to Albany, I discovered that he thought as little of it as I did:
All I can say further is that all those people who came down on Star Wars because it was “childish,” “mindless,” “inept,” “silly,” or “fatuous,” should be condemned to see Damnation Alley ten times to find out what those words really mean. p. 99
He also briefly mentions a UK TV series called Star Maidens, which I’ve never heard of, never mind seen.
After I’d read the column I skimmed the rest of the contents and thought that the line-up of names looked like that of an all-star issue—before noticing, a few moments later, that description on the cover. This was quite unusual for the time as F&SF normally ran only one all-star issue every year, its October anniversary issue. Why there was an extra one in the March of this year I have no idea—I suspect that Ed Ferman realised he had inadvertently put one together, and labelled it as such. That said, there were quite a few special issues around this time,2 so it may have been a marketing decision.
The fiction leads off with The Persistence of Vision by John Varley, who was, at the time, probably the hot new writer of the mid-seventies. Although this wasn’t one of his acclaimed ‘Eight Worlds’ series,3 it would go on to win both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.
The story takes place in a near-future America, and is narrated by a man who has been travelling from commune to commune. In New Mexico he comes upon Keller, a settlement created for a group of deaf-blind people who are the result of a 1960’s German Measles epidemic. He ends up staying, and the story mostly describes the very different way the Kellerians live to compensate for their lack of sight and hearing. More significantly, it is also about how they communicate.
Initially the narrator is taught by Pink, a teenager who later becomes one of his two lovers, how to ‘speak’ to the group.4 She teaches him to spell out letters using his hands. However, there is another level of language more complicated than this which he calls ‘shorthand,’ which is turn is exactly that for a even more complex whole-body form of expression. He sees this at the unusual nightly gatherings the group has:
I thought I was in the middle of an orgy. I had been at them before, in other communes, and they looked pretty much like this. I quickly saw that I was wrong and only later found out I had been right. In a sense.
What threw my evaluations out of whack was the simple fact that group conversation among these people had to look like an orgy. The much subtler observation that I made later was that with a hundred naked bodies sliding, rubbing, kissing, caressing all at the same time, what was the point in making a distinction? There was no distinction.
I have to say that I use the noun “orgy” only to get across a general idea of many people in close contact. I don’t like the word, it is too ripe with connotations. But I had these connotations myself at the time, and so I was relieved to see that it was not an orgy. The ones I had been to had been tedious and impersonal, and I had hoped for better from these people.
Many wormed their way through the crush to get to me and meet me. It was never more than one at a time; they were constantly aware of what was going on and were waiting their turn to talk to me. Naturally, I didn’t know it then. Pink sat with me to interpret the hard thoughts. I eventually used her words less and less, getting into the spirit of tactile seeing and understanding. No one felt they really knew me until they had touched every part of my body, and there were hands on me all the time. I timidly did the same. p. 23-24
Much later (the story is a slow burn) he discovers that the Kellerian adults also get together to ∗∗∗:
The German shepherds and the sheltie were out there, sitting on the cool grass facing the group of people. Their ears were perked up, but they were not moving.
I started to go up to the people. I stopped when I became aware of the concentration. They were touching, but their hands were not moving. The silence of seeing all those permanently moving people standing that still was deafening to me.
I watched them for at least an hour. I sat with the dogs and scratched them behind the ears. They did that chop-licking thing that dogs do when they appreciate it, but their full attention was on the group.
It gradually dawned on me that the group was moving. It was very slow, just a step here and another there over many minutes. It was expanding in such a way that the distance between any of the individuals was the same. Like the expanding universe, where all galaxies move away from all others.
Their arms were extended now; they were touching only with fingertips in a crystal lattice arrangement.
Finally they were not touching at all. I saw their fingers straining to cover distances that were too far to bridge. And still they expanded equilaterally. One of the shepherds began to whimper a little. I felt the hair on the back on my neck standing up. Chilly out here, I thought.
I closed my eyes, suddenly sleepy.
I opened them, shocked. Then I forced them shut. Crickets were chirping in the grass around me.
There was something in the darkness behind my eyeballs. I felt that if I could turn my eyes around I would see it easily, but it eluded me in a way that made peripheral vision seem like reading headlines.
If there was ever anything impossible to pin down, much less describe, that was it. It tickled at me for a while as the dogs whimpered louder, but I could make nothing of it. The best analogy I could think of was the sensation a blind person might feel from the sun on a cloudy day.
I opened my eyes again. p. 38-39
Not only can he not grasp this ineffable sensation, neither can the children of the group, who can all see and hear. His inability to connect with the group on this level (and his other inner demons) eventually lead him to leave the commune.
The last few pages of the story (spoiler) have him return to the group shortly after the Millennium, to find that the adults have ∗∗∗-ed, vanished, transmigrated to what- or wherever. He sees that Pink is now blind and deaf, as are the other remaining ‘normal’ children, and the story finishes with her putting her hands on his ears and eyes and making him the same way.
When I first read this story all those years ago I found the ending exasperating; this time around I thought it worked better. My reservation on this occasion is that the story feels a little dated and hippy-ish, but you can see how its Stranger in a Strange Land/Mimsy Were the Borogroves mashup won it a Hugo and Nebula Award.
Hundred Years Gone is one of Manly Wade Wellman’s ‘Southern Appalachia’ stories according to ISFDB,5 which essentially means that it has the feel of a ‘Silver John’ story without Silver John. In this one a young man makes his way up a hillside trail and collapses at the door of a cabin. When he wakes he finds two woman caring for him, one younger and one older. Eventually we find that the man has made his way there because of a folklore tale about the original owner of the place, which used to be an inn for travellers. The owner killed the visitors for their money, horses, and darker reasons involving devil worship.
In the cabin there is a storeroom with a cross on the door and the windows. There is also a hundred year anniversary of the owner’s death, etc. It is a competent enough tale that plays out pretty much as expected, but it feels a little uneven, and the authorial hand manoeuvring the actors through their paces is too obvious. It rather reads like a by-the-numbers pastiche of Wellman’s work by another author.
The Family Man by Theodore L. Thomas tells of an astronaut whose spaceship is exploring the plume of a comet. This narrative is intercut with scenes from his domestic life with his wife and kids. While he is in the plume he sees a kid’s marble ball go by, as well as a desk. The last scene has him on the surface where he sees another anomalous object:
At ten seconds he looked around, glanced back behind him out the porthole for the first time. Thirty meters behind him, on the surface, was a perfectly square depression on the surface, framed in a rim. A raised bar ran across the center of the surface of the square within the rim, and the bar had openings along its length. Openings, like handholes. p. 77
I was mystified as to what this, and the point of the story, was.
The Seventh Fool by Glen Cook is a slight but entertaining fantasy about a con-artist and thief who arrives in Antonisen, one of the Hundred Cities, and tries to scam one of the candidates in the election for a new Fool. The biter is bit, or nibbled at least.
Hear Me Now, My Sweet Abbey Rose by Charles L. Grant is an unsettling horror story about a man and his three daughters at a new house in the country, and the trouble brought by the young men of the area. The father is particularly possessive of one of the three daughters, Abbey, and this is the core of the story.
I thought this was excellent piece the first time I read it and, while I didn’t appreciate it as much this time around, it is still a strong contribution.
Down the Ladder by Robert F. Young is a nostalgic story of a boy’s childhood, and the visits he made to his grandfather’s and uncle’s house, an old, creaky, and ill-maintained affair with an overgrown garden. The narrative alternates between Jeff’s childhood and the present day, where he runs a restaurant and lives in a new house on the site of his uncle’s old one. Late on in the story (spoiler) there is a rather tacked-on ending that has the uncle extracting from Jeff a promise not to tear down the house after his death, and a mention of the critters that live there . . . .
I think that this story may be typical of Young’s later work: they are well-written and absorbing pieces, but don’t always work as a story.
The Horror Out of Time by Randall Garrett tells of an explorer on a sailing ship which encounters a storm caused by volcanic eruption. After barely surviving the event they come upon land that has risen from the depths. While the captain anchors the ship to make repairs, the explorer goes to investigate a structure he has seen:
The close-up view through the spyglass only made the island look the more uninviting. Rivulets of sea water, still draining from the upper plateau, cut through sheets of ancient slime that oozed gelatinously down the precipitate slopes to the coral-crusted beach below. Pools of nauseous-looking liquid formed in pockets of dark rock and bubbled slowly and obscenely. As I watched, I became obsessed with the feeling that I had seen all this before in some hideous nightmare.
Then something at the top of the cliff caught my eye. It was something farther inland, and I had to readjust the focus of my instrument to see it clearly. For a moment, I held my breath. It appeared to be the broken top of an embattled tower! p. 115
Once on the island and inside the tower he comes upon what he suspects is a sacrificial altar. He sees a carven monstrosity above it and flees back to the ship.
This reads for the most part like a middling Lovecraftian pastiche, but its twist ending is quite clever.
Papa Schimmelhorn’s Yang by Reginald Bretnor starts with the eighty year old lecher having been once again grounded by his wife for his amorous adventures:
So he had retreated to his basement workshop and to the more congenial company of his old striped tomcat, Gustav-Adolf, whose tastes and instincts were much like his own, and had devoted several days to assembling and installing the curious miscellany of valves, gears, tubing, solenoids, and oddly formed ceramics which, in and around a device resembling (though only when you looked at it correctly) the illegitimate offspring of a translucent Klein bottle, constituted the functioning heart of his invention.
The job done, he fired up the boiler and stood over it while it produced a proper head of steam.
“Ach, Gustav-Adolf,” he exclaimed, “how nice it iss I am a chenius! Imachine—no vun else knows dot for anti-grafity you must haff shteam, instead of elecdricity vhich gets in der vay. Und I myself do not know vhy, because it iss all in mein subconscience, chust as Herr Doktor Jung told me in Geneva vhen I vas chanitor at der Institut fur High Physics.”
“Mrreow!” replied GustavAdolf, looking up from his saucer of dark beer on the cluttered Schimmelhorn workbench.
“Dot’s right, und predty soon ve see how it vorks.” Papa Schimmelhom made some fine adjustments and peered at the steam gauge on the dashboard. He closed the hood and clamped it down. “Zo, ve are ready!” he exclaimed. Thinking of Dora Grossapfel’s plump behind under easily removable stretchpants, he climbed into the driver’s seat. “Ach, such a pity, Gustav-Adolf! Imachine, my nice Dora among der predty clouds maybe at two thousand feet!” p. 135-136
His nephew Anton turns up and takes him and the modified car to Hong Kong, where he meets two businessmen, Mr Peng, and Mr Plantagenet. Mr Peng explains the latter is the rightful heir to the British throne:
“He is descended directly from another Richard Plantagenet, known as the Lion Hearted, and he is the rightful King of England—”
“Your Machesty—” murmured Papa Schimmelhom politely.
“Thank you,” said His Majesty. “Yes, after we became friends Horace explained the influence of dragons on our history. All that dreadful St. George nonsense, and the other horrible myths and fairy tales. I at once saw the role they’d played in enabling the usurpation of our throne. Not that I have anything against the present usurper, who seems to be a very decent sort of woman, but I do want to set the matter right, you know. That’s simple justice, isn’t it? Besides, Horace and I have all sorts of plans. We shall re-establish the Chinese and British Empires. No one will be able to stand against us. My dear Papa, we shall rule the world!” p. 143
They tell him about the connection between his anti-gravity car, black holes and a parallel universe. This other reality has dragons and a Chinese Empire, and yin and yang are in balance. Papa agrees to work on a portal that will connect the two universes.
As his subconscious works on the problem he works his way through the local women, much to the annoyance of the two stewardesses who were his playmates on the flight over: they tell the wives of the two tycoons what is going on, and they fly to the States to convince Mrs Schimmelhorn to come back with them to put an end to the project:
Mrs. Peng did her best to explain the technicalities of Black Holes and anti-gravity and yang and yin—to engineer a breakthrough into another universe, where there were dragons and the Chinese Empire still flourished.
Mama Schimmelhorn stood up. “Donnerwetter! Die yang und yin I do nodt undershtand, also Black Holes except like maybe in Calcutta. But Papa—dot iss different. Vhen it iss nodt naked vomen, it iss time-trafel, und gnurrs, und sometimes X-rated cuckoo-clocks. Such monkey business. Vell, now I put a shtop!”
“We were hoping you could,” Mrs. Plantagenet said fervently. “I assure you that I have no desire to become Queen of England. I couldn’t possibly cope with that dreadful Labour Party at my age. Besides, Richard keeps talking about crusades against the Saracens, and though I dare say they deserve it, it does seem a bit late in the day for that sort of thing, doesn’t it?”
“Primula’s quite right,” declared Mrs. Peng. “I myself certainly do not want to be Empress of China, surrounded by eunuchs and slave girls and palace intrigues and all that rubbish. Of course, Horace has promised me that he doesn’t want the throne, but there aren’t any other candidates, and—well, you know how men are.”
Mama Schimmelhorn indicated grimly that indeed she did.
“But worst of all,” Mrs. Peng continued, “he wants to bring the dragons back again, even though he knows I can’t stand snakes and lizards and all those horrible crawly things. You see, in ancient China his family had charge of them, and they became quite devoted to the creatures. Can you imagine having the sky full of dragons, Mrs. Schimmelhorn?”
“Dragons?” Mama Schimmelhorn snorted. “Herr Gott, iss bad enough vith seagulls und die filthy shtarlings!” p. 149
The story eventually resolves at an imperial palace in the parallel world. Entertaining and amusing stuff, if you can take its occasional Benny Hill-like sensibilities.
The Cover for this issue is a very poor affair: dull, static, and with amateurishly drawn lizards. Surprisingly, it is by Chesley Bonestell.
Books by Algis Budrys is a rambling column that supposedly starts with a review of Fred Pohl’s Gateway, but it is really a reflection on a type of fiction he suggests is different from Campbellian SF, and stems from the Futurians. Budrys variously describes this:
What is clear is that the major artistic weakness of Futurian technique was a gimmicky, sometimes mordant, always slightly withdrawn effect which lent itself tellingly to important but flashy work such as The Space Merchants, but even at Kornbluth’s hands had difficulty coming to grips with the deeper feelings. Perhaps a term we’re groping for is “anti- Romanticism.” p. 65
Futurians liked to thump you with a cartoon beginning, tell a straight story spotted with wry observations, and hit you with a twist ending. Not until the 1950s did Cyril Kombluth begin making it a rule to end in the withdrawing, omniscient auctorial comment to be found ending such stories as “The Luckiest Man in Denv.”
Or, not ending—terminating… a technique that can be seen again in Pohl’s “Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus,” et seq. p. 65-66
He finishes by saying how Gateway transcends this model:
Gateway represents two departures from the Futurian style, even the evolved Postwar ex-Futurian style. One is that general collage-y technique, like a restrained version of Joe Haldeman’s Mindbridge, whose roots are much elsewhere. But the other is that, in the ending, Brodhead weeps.
Now, people at the endings of many Futurian stories weep. Or they stand aghast, or scream, or drop their jaws. They are cartoons. Not Brodhead. Pohl would not be true to his past if Brodhead were a full figure; he is still not a personality but an archetype—a prole. But he is a lost prole. His enemy is not the fat cat; his troubles are not those of the innocent victim within too large a mechanism. He is, in a sense, not a victim at all. He is large enough a person within himself so that he has the capacity to inflict pain on himself, and to recognize whence it comes. He weeps real tears. From the author of “Let the Ants Try,” Gladiator-at-Law and Slave Ship, this is more than unexpected.
I think Gateway is more than an excellent piece of SF. I think it is a sign that the Futurian/Campbellian dichotomy is at an end just as we begin to grasp the extent of its existence. p. 66
The last part of the essay reviews Knight’s The Futurians, but quickly veers off into how, since the Futurians, SF writers have been taught: universities, Milford, Clarion, etc.
It is a pity there isn’t a letters column in F&SF; it would have been interesting to read the replies to this essay.
Gahan Wilson contributes a Cartoon (God hurling thunderbolts from a cloud and moaning that it isn’t easy) that is a miss for me.
Anyone for Tens? by Isaac Asimov starts with an anecdote:
Occasionally I will write an article for F&SF that will accept, as a matter of course, the development of the Universe and life and man and brain by evolutionary processes. This is taken quietly by my F&SF audience.
Not so if I reach beyond to people not ordinarily exposed to such ideas. If I make similar assumptions in articles in TV Guide, for instance, I rouse the Bible Belt, and I am promptly bombarded with letters on the iniquity of evolutionary ideas or of any notions that are post-Biblical in nature (except for television sets, I presume).
At first, I would conscientiously try to send reasoned replies, and then it became clear that this was equivalent to trying to bail out the ocean with a spoon, I spent some time brooding on human folly.
Then I decided that such brooding also got me nowhere, and so what I do now is glance over each letter for laughs before dumping it.
My favorite recent letter, coming in response to an article on the big bang theory of the origin of the Universe, began as follows: “The trouble with you scientists is that you don’t observe. If you only took the trouble to make the simplest observations you would see at once that the Bible says, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’”
Imagine scientists overlooking that key observation! And it is actually the first verse in the Bible! You would think it was impossible to miss. It makes me feel sad that I must turn now to a mathematical topic concerning which there is no controversy and on which the Bible Belt makes no stand based on their superior powers of observation. p. 123-124
The article itself is about number bases, logarithms, and slide rules. I briefly used the latter before electronic calculators became available, so this was a trip down memory lane.
Finally, Coming next month trails a promising All-British Special issue, with stories from Aldiss, Priest, Cowper, Brunner, Roberts, Watson, Aickman and Bulmer.
A good issue.
- The movie of Damnation Alley gets off to a good start actually. The first ten or fifteen minutes take place in an underground missile control room when a Soviet attack occurs. A nuclear conflagration ensues.
We then cut to two years after the holocaust, and the Earth’s weather has become very strange. By this time Hell Tanner, one of the missile officers, has left the Air Force and we find him on his motorcycle, evading man-size insects. His rebellious attitude does not stop him and his black friend going to Albany in two armoured Air Force cars.
The rest of the movie consists of various characters either dying (in a storm, and by armoured, killer cockroaches) or being picked up (a woman with a French accent, and a teenage kid). The unifying features of these adventures are people acting like idiots (just as in the more recent Promethus) and Hell Tanner zooming about on his muffler-less motorbike.
There is also a spectacularly bad piece of script-writing when they discuss the cause of the freak weather (nice SFX skies). This is attributed to a change in the Earth’s axial tilt but, after a half-hearted attempt at explaining this, the scriptwriters give up.
- The tail end of 1976 had an October anniversary issue and a November Damon Knight special author issue; 1977 had a July Harlan Ellison special author issue and an October anniversary issue; 1978 had a March all-star issue, an April all-British issue, and an October anniversary issue.
- The ‘Eight Worlds‘ series, like much of Varley’s other writing of the time, took the sense of wonder SF of the forties and fifties and married it to a very modern attitude to sexuality, gender and characterisation.
- After decades of paedophile scandals it is difficult to view this relationship, between a forty-seven year old man and a thirteen year old girl, dispassionately. However, the sexual attitudes in the story, probably a hangover from the hippie ‘free love’ era, are perhaps best summed up by another passage in the story:
I also don’t seem to have mentioned homosexuality. You can mark it down to my early conditioning that my two deepest relationships at Keller were with women: Pink and Scar. I haven’t said anything about it simply because I don’t know how to present it. I talked to men and women equally, on the same terms. I had surprisingly little trouble being affectionate with the men.
I could not think of the Kellerites as bisexual, though clinically they were. It was much deeper than that. They could not even recognize a concept as poisonous as a homosexuality taboo. It was one of the first things they learned. If you distinguish homosexuality from heterosexuality, you are cutting yourself off from communication—full communication—with half the human race. They were pansexual; they could not separate sex from the rest of their lives. p. 40
Presumably this philosophy applies across the (puberty onwards) ages and well as the sexes.
- Wellman’s ‘Southern Appalachia’ series at ISFDB.