Flowers for Algernon • novelette by Daniel Keyes ♥♥♥♥♥
The Flying Islands • reprint short story by Anton Chekhov ♥♥
The Amulet • short story by Gordon R. Dickson ♥♥
The Lady in the Tower • novelette by Anne McCaffrey ♥♥♥+
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XIII • short fiction by Reginald Bretnor ♥♥♥
Unto the Fourth Generation • short story by Isaac Asimov ♥
The Martian Crown Jewels • reprint short story by Poul Anderson ♥♥
Nightmare • short story by Jane Roberts ♥
To See Another Mountain • short story by Frederik Pohl ♥♥
Flowers for Algernon • cover by Emsh1
The Lady in the Tower • interior artwork by John Schoenherr
Life’s Bottleneck • science essay by Isaac Asimov
Chemical Persuasion • essay by Aldous Huxley
Half Loaves • book reviews by Damon Knight
This issue contains the brilliant Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, one of the best stories that F&SF has ever published. It tells the story of Charlie Gordon, whose IQ is 68: his diary begins with this:
progris riport 1-martch 5 1965
Dr. Strauss says I shud rite down what I think and every thing that happins to me from now on. I dont know why but he says its importint so they will see if they will use me. I hope they use me. Miss Kinnian says maybe they can make me smart. I want to be smart. My name is Charlie Gordon. I am 37 years old and 2 weeks ago was my brithday. I have nuthing more to rite now so I will close for today.
He becomes a test subject for an experimental program that will triple his IQ. Just over two months later:
I am very disturbed. I saw Miss Kinnian last night for the first time in over a week. I tried to avoid all discussions of intellectual concepts and to keep the conversation on a simple, everyday level, but she just stared at me blankly and asked me what I meant about the mathematical variance equivalent in Dorbermann’s Fifth Concerto.
This process is far from straightforward and the account of what happens makes it one of the best, and most heart-breaking, SF stories ever. And Keyes doesn’t even get his name on the cover!2
If Daniel Keyes’ story didn’t dominate this issue we might have all been talking about Anne McCaffrey’s ‘debut’ story The Lady in the Tower.3 This accomplished story tells of ‘The Rowan’ who is a Prime or T1 that works for Federal Telepath & Teleport on Callisto station in Jupiter orbit. Her job is flinging freight and people to other Earth colonies by mechanically aided teleportation. The normal routine of the day is interrupted when an unknown Prime, ‘Deneb’, comes ‘on the air’—telepathic communication between all the talents, from T1s to T12s—and requests serums and patrol ships as they are being attacked by aliens. An emotional frisson develops between them while they deal with this.4
Matters escalate when the aliens starts a missile attack and, eventually, Rowan and several other Primes form a gestalt to link up with ‘Deneb’ and fight them off. Part of this is described thus:
She abandoned her most guarded self to him and, with that surrender, the massed power she held flowed into him. The tired mind of the man grew, healed, strengthened and blossomed until she was only a small part of it, lost in the greater part of this immense mental whole.
This Mills & Boon stuff is one of the story’s minor weaknesses as is the fact it is populated with quite a lot of stock SF furniture, but it is hard to hold this against it when the story is told with such gusto. An impressive ‘debut’, and I’ll be digging out the sequel story that appeared a decade later.5
The Feghoot is wedged into the space at the end of the McCaffrey story. In the spirit of showing that even a broken clock is right twice a day it provides a pun about men communicating with fish that actually made me smile. Or maybe that was a grimace…
The rest of the fiction in this issue is a mixed bag. The Flying Islands by Anton Chekhov (Budilnik, 1883, translated by Frances H. Jones) is supposedly a parody of Jules Verne. This gets off to quite a good start but tails off.
The Amulet by Gordon R. Dickson is a fantasy about a murderer jumping off a train and finding himself at a witch’s house. He is persuaded to perform an errand that involves another witch who lives over the ridge.
Isaac Asimov has a story as well as a science column is this issue. Unto the Fourth Generation is a fantasy about a man noticing certain odd Jewish names. Eventually he goes looking for someone and subsequently finds one of his ancestors. At this point in the story he then seems to go back to when he first recognised the strange names. Maybe I missed something but this didn’t work for me, and I have the vague memory that I felt the same way about the story the first time I read it.
The Martian Crown Jewels by Poul Anderson (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, February 1958) is a detective story that involves the theft of the Martian Crown Jewels from an unmanned Earth-Mars spaceship. It is solved by a Martian detective who gives off a Sherlock Holmes vibe. Pleasant and original, but like a lot of mystery stories rather formulaic.
Nightmare by Jane Roberts is what it says. A woman dreams of catastrophe and her dead baby. Difficult to work out what is happening and it goes nowhere.
Finally, To See Another Mountain by Frederik Pohl goes on longer than it needs to with its story about a great scientist and his treatment in a medical centre. He has been insane in the past and the government have been expending a lot of time and money trying to cure him because of the importance of his work. The last image is striking but a standard SF trope.
There are three pieces of non-fiction in this month’s issue. Isaac Asimov’s Life’s Bottleneck is an interesting essay on the importance of phosphorus for life and how we may be flushing it all into the ocean… There is also an essay from Aldous Huxley, Chemical Persuasion. This is one of the chapters from Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited (1958) and looks at current and past drugs in relation to the soma of his Brave New World. Interesting piece (who knew there were a million speed addicts in the Japan of 1959?) The last piece of non-fiction brings with it the news that Damon Knight is replacing Tony Boucher as F&SF’s reviewer. Knight’s short column covers books by Murray Leinster and Edmund Cooper.
Also of note in this issue is the fact that Anne McCaffrey’s story has an interior illustration by John Schoenherr! I never knew that F&SF ever used interior illustrations, so this was a bit of a surprise.
To conclude, a must read issue for Flowers for Algernon with good support from Anne McCaffrey.
- From Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey by Daniel Keyes (F&SF, May 2000): “Five months later, he [Emsh] gave Aurea [Keyes’ wife] the original oil painting as a gift in honor of the birth of our first child, Hillary Ann. The painting still hangs in our living room.”
- The story had a long, almost troubled, gestation and this is detailed in Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey by Daniel Keyes (F&SF, May 2000). This article was five chapters from the book of the same name (out of twenty-three). There is a singular anecdote. At one point in the story’s development Keyes’ new agent Harry Altshuler has sent him over to Horace Gold’s flat. Gold [the editor of Galaxy] would read the manuscript while Keyes waits. Gold emerges some time later: “The ending is too depressing for our readers,” he said. “I want you to change it. Charlie doesn’t regress. He doesn’t lose his intelligence. Instead, he remains a super-genius, marries Alice Kinnian, and they live happily ever after. That would make it a great story.”
I stared at him. How does a beginning writer respond to the editor who bought one story from him, and wants to buy a second? The years of labor over this story passed through my mind. What about my Wedge of Loneliness? My tragic vision of Book Mountain? My challenge to Aristotle’s theory of The Classic Fall?
“I’ll have to think about it,” I mumbled. “I’ll need a little time.”
“I’d like to buy it for one of the upcoming issues, but I’d need that revision. It shouldn’t take you long.”
“I’ll work on it,” I said, knowing there was no way I’d change the ending.
“Good,” he said, showing me to the door. “If not, I’m sure you’ll write other stories for Galaxy in the future.”
I called Harry Altshuler from a pay phone and told him what had happened. There was a long pause. “You know,” he said, “Horace is a fine editor, with a strong sense of the market. I agree with him. It shouldn’t be too hard to make that change.”
I wanted to shout: This story has a piece of my heart in it! But who was I to pit my judgment against professionals? The train ride back to Seagate was long and depressing.
When I told Phil Klass [William Tenn] what had happened, he shook his head. “Horace and Harry are wrong. If you dare to change the ending, I’ll get a baseball bat and break both your legs.”
When I first read this account in 2000 the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
- Not really her debut. A single page story, Freedom of the Race had appeared previously in Science Fiction Plus, October 1953.
- Rather unusually for the time this story contains the line ‘The only male T-2 ever discovered in the Nine-Star League had been a confirmed homosexual.’
- The sequel was A Meeting of Minds (F&SF, January 1969). There were also a series of ‘Talents’ novels starting with The Rowan in 1990.