Unknown v03n02, April 1940

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Other Reviews:
Fred Smith: Once There Was A Magazine— p.18-19.

Fiction:
The Indigestible Triton • novella by L. Ron Hubbard [as by René Lafayette] ♥♥
The African Trick • short story by Howard Wandrei [as by H. W. Guernsey] ♥
All Is Illusion • short story by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore [as by Henry Kuttner]
He Shuttles • short story by Theodore Sturgeon ♥
The Reign of Wizardry (Part 2 of 3) • serial by Jack Williamson ♥♥♥+

Non-fiction:
The Indigestible Triton • cover1 by Edd Cartier
Interior Artwork • Frank Kramer, M. Isip2, Flessel, Edd Cartier
Of Things Beyond • essay by The Editor
And Having Writ— • reader’s letters by Harry A. Stern, Bob Tucker, Isaac Asimov

This issue has another good Cartier cover and the internal illustrations are of a better standard, with Kramer, Cartier and Flessel the best (and noting my usual poor scan quality caveat).

L. Ron Hubbard’s long,3 pseudonymous fantasy novella The Indigestible Triton starts with an unnecessary introduction about the delusions of sane psychiatric patients. Interestingly, it references Hubbard’s Death’s Deputy from earlier this year.
The story itself pretty much falls into two parts. In the first half or so, Bill Greyson pretends to be crazy to avoid a marriage arranged by his rich family. This lands him in the asylum temporarily where he becomes so bored that he arranges to get out and go fishing. During this he hooks Trigon, a Titan from Neptune’s court. Trigon takes great exception to this and physically enters Bill taking possession of him. Back on land the police are hunting for Bill, and when he returns from the fishing trip Trigon makes sure that they and the doctors (who want Bill to remain committed for the money he makes them) think he is properly crazy by the way he talks and his superhuman strength: bursting out of straight-jackets, bending lampposts, etc.
A lot of this is pulpy stuff, quite corny and a bit juvenile. For instance:

“See here,” said Trigon, suddenly exasperated, “you’re nothing but a !!&&?(??)&&! man! Where do you get off telling me what to do and what not to do? If you think I’d kill you now you’ve got another thought coming. Why, you kelp-headed freak, you got to remember that you’re talking to Trigon!”

The quality improves in the second half where Bill, still possessed by Trigon but with Bill able to hypnotise him, ends up in the depths of the ocean. There follow more adventures with sharks, a helpful pilot fish, a Scylla, etc.—at one point I got the feeling that parts of this were like a belligerent Finding Nemo, but that would be misdescribing it. Eventually, Bill makes his way to Neptune’s court and seeks a solution to his troubles.
Overall, this story has its shortcomings but it also has flashes of inventiveness and humour. I imagine that in 1940’s America this would have been thought quite an entertaining yarn.

As usual, unfortunately, the short fiction is dismal. I had high hopes for the Howard Wandrei contribution after last issue’s The Black Farm but The African Trick just doesn’t work as a story for me. It tells of an explorer in Africa, Dr Leyden, who sends a strange seed back to a Russian man in America who is blackmailing him over the murder of his wife. Vladimir, the Russian, plants the seed and a young woman ‘grows’ from it overnight. She strangles Vladimir when he gets back home and makes it look like a suicide. Running parallel to this, Dr Leyden is in a strange village where the headman is controlling the girl from afar as payback for the Doctor saving his life. There is a further development as the doctor leaves to return home. These separate parts just didn’t convince.
Matters do not get any better with All Is Illusion, a short story by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. This starts with a man who goes into a supernatural bar while waiting for his sister’s train. He ends up in an argument with a hairy midget and is cursed. He then ends up smelling of violets, has a whistling sound come from his stomach, smells of fish, turns into a duck, etc. Eventually, after a court trial, he goes back to the bar to get the curse lifted. All of this seems completely pointless, writers flogging a not particularly good idea for far too long: even if you got rid of all the padding it wouldn’t be much better at a shorter length.
I was hoping that Theodore Sturgeon’s novelette He Shuttles would improve the batting average for the short fiction but I didn’t think this ‘Three Wishes’ story was successful. To me, this type of tale depends on a clear explanation of the rules governing the wishes and then a clever avoidance or pitfall, and Sturgeon’s story doesn’t do that. An unpleasant tycoon uses one of his wishes to get people to obey him and then sets out to murder someone, using another wish to escape punishment for what he does. As it happens (spoiler) matters do not work out to his satisfaction, but I had to go back and reread part of the earlier story to work out why this happened. There is also some unnecessary authorial framing at the beginning, middle and end of the story.

This issue has the second part of The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson. This is a fairly short offering compared with last issue’s and comprises three main sections. The first part (spoiler) tells of how Firebrand escapes from his cell with help from the wizard Snish after assuming the form of Admiral Phaistro; the next has him meeting Adriadne as Phaistro; the final part has Firebrand sent down into the pitch-black labyrinth and tells of him attempting to find his way out. He ultimately ends up circling back to where he started and meeting something that may be the Bull! The first and last sections are the strongest. You will get an idea of the overall quality, though, if I tell you I meant to read five or ten minutes of this before sleeping but finished the entire instalment just over an hour later.

As well as the usual blurb about upcoming stories in Of Things Beyond, Campbell encourages readers to give their finished copies to those who may enjoy it—an attempt to increase circulation as he feels it isn’t getting off the news-stand to the kind of people who may be receptive.
He also touches on short fantasy fiction:

Generally speaking, shorts in the fantasy field have more difficulties, for the author, than longer yarns. They have to build up a mood and tell a story in rather limited space. More difficult—but also more fun, when the author makes it tick.

An interesting comment given that over the last four issues I have found the short fiction quite weak and easily outperformed by the longer material.
The letter column —And Having Writ— is fairly short this issue containing only three letters that generally comment on Unknown’s first year. It ends with Isaac Asimov giving his top ten.4

Overall, an OK issue held up by the Williamson serial and the Hubbard novella.

  1. This cover is an edited version of one from Siren in the Night on flickr.com.
  2. Thanks once again to Fred Smith’s book for catching the misattribution of M. Isip’s work to R. Isip. Now that I’ve examined some of their other artwork, M. Isip’s signature seems to look like an ECG trace, whereas R. Isip’s seems to be a more conventional signature with what looks like ‘Rey’ as the first word (his full name was Pagsilang Rey Isip). There is more information about Rey Isip on Lambiek Comiclopedia  and Pulpartists.com—although I think the latter has his brother Manuel’s cover displayed. Talking of his brother Manuel, there doesn’t seem to be anything on the web about him, certainly no further links on ISFDB.
  3. A quick cut and paste of Hubbard’s story from the PDF to MS Word gives a word count of 39,000 words, almost novel length.
  4. Asimov’s letter:
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