The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction #147, August 1963

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Other reviews:
Rich Horton, Black Gate.

Fiction:
Turn Off the Sky • novelette by Ray Nelson ♥♥♥♥
Fred • short story by Calvin Demmon
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXIV • short story by Reginald Bretnor [as by Grendel Briarton ] ♥
Glory Road (Part 2 of 3) • serial by Robert A. Heinlein ♥♥
The Censors: A Sad Allegory • short story by T. P. Caravan ♥♥
Sweets to the Sweet • short story by Paul Jay Robbins ♥♥♥

Non-fiction:
In this issue… Coming Soon…
T-Formation • essay by Isaac Asimov
Ubi Sunt? • poem by Kathleen P. Reis and R. H. Reis
Books • by Avram Davidson
Letters

This issue has another Emsh cover this month, this time for Ray Nelson’s long novelette Turn Off The Sky. This stand out story tells of the hippyish future anarchist Abelard Rosenburg meeting the prostitute Reva on a high speed tube-train under the Atlantic. After some time together in London he loses her. Rosenberg immediately starts searching and eventually they are reunited and she falls pregnant. Although this seems a pretty straightforward story this is all done with some verve against a vivid future backdrop that reflects the beatnik scene of the late fifties and early sixties. There is a jaundiced, witty look at the counterculture movement, especially at how it is sliding towards violence:

“The State will never voluntarily give up its powers!” roared Little Brother. “Don’t you know any history? Social progress can only come through violent revolution! The old order must be washed away in a bath of blood.”
“Sometimes,” said George, “I think you are more interested in the bath of blood than in the social progress that is supposed to come out of it.”
p.28

Along the way he also manages to make the story about as transgressive (or realistic, depending on your viewpoint) as a 1963 SF story could be, with mentions of homosexuality, frequent drug-use (including a heroin-using President), sex and menstruation. There is also is also some graphic, upsetting violence. I am surprised he managed to publish it at all, but it provides what must have been one of the best stories of the year.1 Way ahead of its time.

Immediately after this we go to the opposite end of the fictional spectrum on pp.44-45. This contains an one page story Fred by Calvin Demmon and a Feghoot, neither of which I cared for. The story is about a genie trying to get two cents for a bottle he lives in and the pun is about time travel and Robert Burns.

Glory Road meanders on in this issue. There is the same amount of chatter as last issue and a number of mostly perfunctory fantasy adventures: the rat-infested wood, the Forest of Dragons, etc. In amongst all this Oscar proposes to Star, and after a short ceremony which involves jumping over their swords while pledging their vows they are married. Finally, they go through a ‘gate’ towards the Black Tower, to steal the Egg of the Phoenix which is defended by the Never-Born, the Eater of Souls. The episode finishes with Oscar in a tight tunnel with giant rats moving towards him, and a wounded Star and Rufo to his rear. As you can probably gather from the previous, one definitely gets the feeling that Heinlein is rather going through the motions with the fantasy adventure material and that his real interest is in the relationship between Star and Oscar.

Asimov’s article T-Formation is about large numbers, googols, Fibonacci sequence, prime numbers, etc. At the beginning of the article he says, Freeze, every-one! No-one’s leaving till I’m through. Quite.
I enjoyed the poem Ubi Sunt? by Kathleen P. Reis and R. H. Reis. It is about the discovery of very high temperatures on Venus and the loss of all those pulp cliches previously associated with the planet, the swamps and blue skinned women, etc. The non-fiction is rounded off by the Books column by Avram Davidson, who also helms an ‘experimental’ Letters column. This latter is a bit of a hit and miss affair. Some of the letters, like the one from R. D. Coleman, are worthwhile. This reads, in part:

It was all very well for Science Fiction to cry doom when doom wasn’t so conveniently at hand, but now it seems all too much like writing stories about the first man in orbit. The reality is too close. How about a little Science Fiction indicating a way out? p.128

This reader comment came less than a year after the Cuban missile crisis. Mr Davidson replies that he has already decided to stop using ‘doom’ stories. However, the publication of some letters is pointless. From E. Gary Gygax:

Lately I and my friends have been somewhat disappointed with F&SF. Mr. Davidson leaves something to be desired as an editor. Therefore, I am declining your kind offer to renew my subscription to your magazine. pp.127-128

To which the editor makes a facetious reply. Why bother printing a letter like this? We learn nothing.

The Censors: A Sad Allegory is a half-page short story by T. P. Caravan about an immortality serum. Short and sweet, and a better attempt at humour than the previous two short-shorts. The final piece of fiction is Sweets to the Sweet by Paul Jay Robbins. This is quite a good story about a man who is disillusioned with both work and wife and takes solace in being a part-time warlock. He eventually has a realisation that he has the potential to change into a were-creature. After being sexually rebuffed by his wife—a passage more adult than I expected from a sixties SF magazine—he decides to attempt the change. The payoff could have been quite a weak one but the author uses a repeated ‘you know the kind’ refrain throughout he story that buttresses the end in an effective and wry way.

A significant issue for the Ray Nelson story, if nothing else.

  1. There is an unconfirmed rumour that the author went off his story and refused permission to reprint it which is why this probably never appeared in any ‘Year’s Bests’. It was eventually reprinted in the 1990s, in Asimov and Greenberg’s The Great SF Stories #25.
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4 thoughts on “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction #147, August 1963

  1. Todd Mason

    I like the Demmon better than you do, but his tend to be mildly surreal jokes. The Nelson apparently had languished for several years before Davidson was in a position to publish it and was reminded of it, so written perhaps no later than 1960 Nelson is overdue for collection as well. That even THEY LIVE hasn’t given him much of a profile is pretty sad, particularly given how much better the source story, “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” is.

    Reply
  2. paul.fraser@sfmagazines.com Post author

    One of my many deficiencies as a reader is that I am too literal. So it can be quite hard for me to distinguish impressionistic or imagistic stories from those that have a meaning or joke that is going over my head!
    As to a Nelson collection, you would think that it would be a no brainier to issue a collection with Turn Off the Sky and Eight O’Clock in the Morning in it, but I seem to recall his 70s stories in Amazing/Fantastic were not up to quite the same standard.

    Reply
  3. Todd Mason

    I’ll have to review, though at least his “Nightfall on the Dead Sea” struck me as very good indeed when I read it when it was new in F&SF in 1978.

    Reply
  4. Todd Mason

    As for the Gygax letter…it takes on greater significance as a historical document…Gygax’s leaden assessment of Davidson’s issues helps explain to me why I always found Gygax’s brainchild, Dungeons and Dragons, such a distended bore.

    Reply

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