Science Fiction Monthly v02n11, November 1975

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Fiction:
Artist • short story by Terry Greenhough ♥♥
By the Falls • reprint short story by Harry Harrison ♥♥
The Nunatak Wall • short story by Robert Jackson ♥
At the Pleasure Centre • short story by Thomas M. Disch ♥

Non-fiction:
Space Cracker • Cover by Tim White
Interior artwork • by Bruce Pennington, Harry Harrison, Glenn Carwithen, A. R. Lowe, Robert Offord, Tony Masero, Paul Mahoney, Peter Elson, P. Jepson, John Storey, K. Newstead, Ian Henderson, Michel de Saint Owen
Editorial
Harry the Galactic Hero: An Interview with Harry Harrison • by Malcolm Edwards
News • Julie Davis
Film Review: Rollerball • by John Bronsan
The Query Box • by Walter Gillings [as by Thomas Sheridan]
Letters
SF Artist Interview with Anthony Roberts • by Julie Davis
Book Review: The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication by Fredric Wertham • by Cy Chauvin

As it is the New Year—new beginnings and so forth—I thought I’d dig out the magazine that started it all for me: Science Fiction Monthly, November 1975. This was a large-size magazine started in 1974 by one of the UK book publishers (New English Library) to capitalise on an interest in SF art. After I’d read the first few pages of this issue I realised it was just past the fortieth anniversary of my purchase, so another good reason to comment on it now.

This was a LARGE magazine, the largest I ever saw until the first issues of Aboriginal SF many years later. Half of the 32pp. were taken up with full colour artwork on coated stock and the rest of the magazine was normal newsprint. The ‘normal’ pages contained a good selection of non-fiction: interviews, articles, news, letters, B&W artwork, etc., plus three or so short pieces of fiction including reprints. In fact, that appeared to be the magazine’s pecking order: art, non-fiction and then fiction.
I don’t know where I stumbled upon this magazine or why I didn’t notice it earlier. I’d been reading SF for years by then, and part of the after school walk to the bus-stop was down Union Street in Aberdeen to a bookshop that is now long gone. This magazine however, was bought from a newsagent about twenty yards from the bus-stop where I disembarked for school, so maybe it was on display there.1

As for the contents, the artwork in this issue is not actually as good as it usually was. The reason for this was that they had been running an artwork competition and used this issue to print a number of the entries (there were only two professional paintings in amongst these, one of them the marvellous Space Cracker cover from Tim White). The competition entries were of a pretty variable standard and the only artist that seemed to have a future was the winner, Peter Elson.2
The non-fiction in this issue is of a good variety and standard. There is a very good interview with Harry Harrison by Malcolm Edwards. Harrison is an interesting subject and fires back about three anecdotes for every question. Also, the subject matter is interesting, such as when he talks about John Campbell (Harrison was politically the polar opposite of Campbell but he managed to work well with him and also respected him greatly):

Campbell was an easy lay for people who wrote to his prejudices. He was also a grand editor who would fight with you, but would print what you wrote even if he didn’t agree with it. p.2

I wrote a book that I knew Campbell wouldn’t buy—a thing called Bill, The Galactic Hero. I never submitted it to him because I knew he wouldn’t go near it and it was sold elsewhere. I was absolutely right, because years later I was in the office and he said, in his own quiet, friendly way, ‘Why did you write Bill, The Galactic Hero?’ He had me backed up against the wall, so I said, ‘John, why do you ask?’ He said, ‘Well, I was going home and I saw your name on a book on the news-stand, so I picked it up.’ That’s a frightening thought to begin with: he only reads 2,000,000 words a week or so and he still buys a little science fiction to keep him busy on the way home! I asked him what he thought of it and, of course, he hated every word of it. p.2

Basically, he was an old-style technocrat. He believed that engineers could run the world, and they can’t, you know; it’s a very simplistic point-of-view, politically. p.3

[Rescue Operation] wasn’t really for the Analog readers, even though Campbell bought it. Many times he said he bought stories he knew his readers wouldn’t like, and to Hell with them. He knew better. And he really did know better. p.4

Harrison also speaks about the problems in placing his more controversial work such as The Streets of Ashkelon:

It was done over ten years ago, when you couldn’t use the words ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ in science fiction, and my hero was an atheist. And that was that, mate! Your hero could be a priest—or maybe a rabbi, reluctantly—and he could cross himself all the time (the priest, not the rabbi, that is) but you couldn’t use the word ‘atheist’. Science fiction was a lump of pulp that was still leading a pulp life. I sent the story to my agent in New York, and he said, ‘You can’t sell this: it’s about an atheist’.
So I tried: I sent it to every single magazine, and they sent it back. It was written for an anthology Judy Merril was doing of way-out stories, called
The Thin Edge. The publisher went bust and the book never came out. I thought Britain might be more generous, so I sent it to Ted Carnell, and he wouldn’t print it in New Worlds; he felt it was too far out. I asked Brian Aldiss what to do, and he said, ‘I’ll put it in my Penguin anthology’. We told Ted Carnell about it and he said, ‘Oh well, in that case I’ll print it’. That might give you the feeling he had a supple spine; but at least he had a spine, which the American publishers did not have at all. p.3

The SF Artist Interview with Anthony Roberts that Julie Davis does later on in the issue is the chalk to the cheese of the Harrison interview. All Roberts seems to be interested in is spaceship covers. I did learn, however, that Sphere Books swapped the paintings done for The Best of Fritz Leiber and The Best of A. E. van Vogt.

The News column announces the winners of the art competition. There is other news including the rumour that Pink Floyd may be providing the music for the Dune movie… Also on this page is a review of the film Rollerball and an advert for a 1976 Science Fiction Monthly calendar, which I wish I had bought.3 Letters is an interesting column, to me anyway, with Ian Covell writing in to criticise a review by James Goddard of Nebula Award Stories 9 and The Year’s Best Science Fiction #7 and Goddard’s long reply/rebuttal.4 There is also The Query Box by Walter Gillings, which answered reader’s questions because in those days we didn’t have SFE or ISFDB or Wikipedia at our fingertips. In this column he deals with ‘What is the New Wave?’ and series information on Star Trek and Planet of the Apes. The non-fiction is rounded out by a book review.

There are four short stories in this issue. Artist by Terry Greenhough is about Tamodil, a particularly unpleasant and arrogant artist who can create installations with the power of his mind. Tamodil has previously cuckolded a colleague, another mind-artist called Cjang. This tells of the latter getting his revenge when Tamodil presents a new installation.
In By the Falls by Harry Harrison (Worlds of If, January 1970), a reporter visits a man who lives at the base of The Falls, a vast waterfall, ‘a falling ocean,’ that almost deafens him before he gets inside the man’s shelter. While he is inside he starts glimpsing things that are in the falling water, a person, a wooden house, etc. The reporter and the man speculate about the world at the top of the falls. This has the feel and logic of a nightmare (and was similarly inspired).5 This will either work for you, or not.
The Nunatak Wall by Robert Jackson should have been probably been left in the slush pile. It begins with a passenger on an ion-jet to the South Pole: this section is basically a really clunky info-dump about ion-jets and how they work:

Nowadays, atomic personal phones and watches were universal; people trusted radioactive shielding implicitly. p.25

The magnets for the H-plasma draw their power from the fusion plant itself, so once inactivated they can only be started again while the jet is on the ground, near an external source of power. All power is lost if the magnets are cut off, so the situation has to be pretty bad before the cutouts operate. If HEF loss triggers them, then more than half the fluid has gone. p.25

This sets up the emergency that leads to him having to fight for survival on the ground after ejecting from the ion-jet. This next part details his struggle to survive as he slowly succumbs to hypothermia—probably the best section as it has some narrative drive. Finally, we see how he survives: an original resolution but not really a believable one. As I recall, this is fairly typical of a few of the stories Science Fiction Monthly ran: material picked from the slush pile by what seems like non-SF and/or inexperienced fiction editors.
Finally, there is a disappointing finish from Thomas M. Disch. At the Pleasure Centre is a short-short about a woman, Gloria, who goes to the Pleasure Centre where she is plugged in by a policeman. After she has received her ration of pleasure they have a short conversation. I have no idea what this is about; it seems completely fragmentary.

This issue was an interesting introduction to SF magazines for me because of the non-fiction if nothing else. Up until then I’d been in my own little world and these articles pointed to so much more. Eventually, I’d be hearing about other magazines that were still being published.
Many Happy Returns.

  1. I ended up getting quite a few magazines from that newsagent, and I can see the proprietor clearly in my mind’s eye now: a tall, stout grey-haired chap in a darker grey coverall. Those magazines were this title, SF Digest, Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the last two from July 1976), Galaxy (from April 1977), and I think the last one was Vortex, one of the many short-lived British SF magazines of the 1970s and ’80s. Looking at the magazines upstairs, this arrangement lasted until August 1980. I know it was around then as he had the annoying habit of writing my surname and sometimes the price on the magazines (I got over this about thirty years later, by which time my attempt at keeping a pristine set of magazines had been beaten by fading spines, browning pages and the dawning realisation that I personally was not going to defeat Entropy).
  2. Elson had provided the cover for Sphere Books Pebble in the Sky in 1975.
  3. That 1976 calendar could have been reused in 2004 and 2032. Isn’t the internet great?
  4. For one thing, I didn’t realise the Aldiss/Harrison The Year’s Best Science Fiction #7 was an abridged version of the American edition.
  5. Harrison explains the genesis of By the Falls in the interview and this is reprinted before the story: “By the Falls was the same in one sense: it had pure emotional content and very little else. We were living in this house at the foot of a hill called Suicide Hill, which will give you some idea of what it was like! When we first moved in, the road ended at the top of the hill and there was no traffic. After a few years they built a road and cars would come belting down it. The house was angled towards the hill, only about twenty or thirty feet back from the road. One night I was just going to sleep, sometime after midnight, and I was in that half-way state between waking and sleeping. It was dead quiet, there wasn’t too much traffic in those days, and I heard a car at the top of the hill, revving its engine. It came down the hill, crashing through the gears, right to the top, engine roaring—and the lights came through the bedroom window because of the way the house was angled—and I had the feeling that the car was going to come right into the bedroom and out again the other side of the house. All this while I was half asleep. I rose about five inches from the bed, just suspended in mid-air from the shock of this thing, while the car went by the house. But as I did this—which had never happened to me before—I had a vision, not of a car coming down a hill, but of a waterfall about five miles wide, pouring down, nothing but sound overwhelming me. This vision so shocked me that I lay there vibrating for a while, went to sleep, got up in the morning, thought about it—and instantly the emotion came back. I went into the studio and in one day wrote the story.”

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