A Rose for Ecclesiastes • novelette by Roger Zelazny ♥♥♥♥
Mama • short story by Philip Winsor ♥
Wings of Song • short story by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. ♥♥
Winged Victory • short story by Sonya Dorman ♥
Eight O’Clock in the Morning • short story by Ray Nelson ♥♥♥+
The Eyes of Phorkos • novella reprint by L. E. Jones ♥♥♥
Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXVI • short story by Reginald Bretnor
A Rose for Ecclesiastes • cover by Hannes Bok
In this issue … Coming next month
Welcome, Stranger! • essay by Isaac Asimov
Books • essay by Avram Davidson
This issue is one of the Avram Davidson edited issues that comes from the year where F&SF had published Richard McKenna’s Hunter Come Home, Poul Anderson’s No Truce With Kings, Jack Vance’s Green Magic, Ray Nelson’s Turn Off The Sky and Alfred Bester’s They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To (titles that I recognize but may not have read) as well as a special Ray Bradbury issue and Robert Heinlein’s serial Glory Road.
The only critical comment on Davidson’s editorship I can remember is a negative one from New Worlds in the mid-60s.1 However, Mike Ashley points to a dominance in award nominations and wins and also states that the Davidson-edited issues of F&SF were ‘the most personalized and idiosyncratic’ of that magazine.2 This was the impression I was left with after reading this, my first Davidson issue. There was certainly more of the editor present than in the Edward L. Ferman edited ones from the seventies and eighties — although I thought ELF’s low-key editorial style worked fine. As well as some long introductions (the Jones introduction is nearly a full page) and a letter column with his replies, he is responsible for nearly the entire book review column.
Concerning the latter, if you like the grumpy old man style of book reviewing (as I do) this will be right up your street. He starts with:
I have not been altogether pleased that recently, so it seems, nonfiction has outnumbered fiction in this column, and that some of the latter has been only marginally SF or fantasy. However, complaints have been minimal, and I suppose that most of you would rather read a review of a good book on nematodes than a bad one on the Space-Raiders of Xilch. p.68
He then goes on to damn A. E. van Vogt’s The Beast. It is also pleasing that he doesn’t spend a dutiful two to three hundred words on books that don’t deserve it. One entire review3 is:
This is supposed to be a funny book about a dolphin. It seems, anyway, to be a book about a dolphin. Tom O’Sullivan’s jacket design is nice. p.71
This from another:
I quit reading when I discovered part of it was written by a cat, for pity’s sake. I do not review books written by cats. I would have mentioned this when I applied for the job, but I did not suppose the matter would ever come up. p.71
Entertaining stuff, and just as well, for as he mentions at the start, there is precious little SF or fantasy reviewed and a lot of non-fiction or associational material.
This harlequin covered issue is particularly unusual in that it has one of F&SF‘s few wrap around covers, and is doubly notable in that it is Hannes Bok’s last original for a magazine.4 It is for Roger Zelazny’s first F&SF story A Rose for Ecclesiastes.5 He had already served quite a long apprenticeship: a previous dozen and a half stories had appeared mostly in Fantastic, with a handful or so in Amazing. This well-known story of a poet-lingust on Mars translating the dying Martian race’s High Tongue texts, and his love affair with one of the temple dancers probably needs no further comment. A couple of things though: first, the hero is a slightly irritating arrogant genius, a type I remember from other Zelazny fiction; secondly, there is considerable reference to Christian, Buddhist and Hindu religion, something I also remember from his other work (Lord of Light). A superior story and obvious Hugo finalist.
Another notable story in this issue is Ray Nelson’s Eight O’Clock in the Morning, a variation on the ‘We’re Property’ theme — unnecessarily alluded to in the introduction. Admittedly, it is soon apparent what is occurring but nonetheless… On reading this it seemed very similar to a film I remembered, and a search revealed that it is, of course, the source material for the John Carpenter’s They Live.
Other fiction highlights include L. E. Jones’s short novel (a novella of 47pp.) The Eyes of Phorkos6 an almost ripping yarn type of story where an embittered archaeologist finds the eyes of Gorgon on a dig in the Greek islands after one of his labourers is accidentally petrified. There is a long, readable if slightly dated story that unfolds from this point.
Lloyd Biggle’s Wings of Song is set several hundred years in the future. A collector finds a damaged violin in a galaxy where, it seems, no trees exist nor is it immediately obvious how to restore the instrument into a usable state. He eventually finds a wood-carver on a distant planet but matters do not work out as he wishes although he receives a vision of what has been lost to the human race.
The remaining fiction is Philip Winsor’s Mama, a short unconvincing squib about a baby losing a fully formed consciousness on speaking his first word, and Sonya Dorman’s Winged Victory which would appear to be a surreal tale of a woman picking up a man and taking him home to the family told in avian metaphor. There is also a Feghoot which I didn’t get, and probably wouldn’t have liked if I had.
The other non-fiction apart from the book review and letters columns mentioned above are Isaac Asimov’s Welcome Stranger, a science essay purportedly about the element Xenon, but in fact a rather dull essay, mostly about covalent bonding. I was reminded why I generally gave these a miss when reading the magazine. Finally, there is a letters column with bouquets and brickbats for Robert Heinlein’s serial Glory Road and Ray Nelson’s Turn Off The Sky.
A worthwhile issue, and the quality and variety of contents coupled with what I read in Mike Ashley’s history will certainly make me dip into this period again.
- “Heavy-handed, over-mannered humour seems a trade-mark of F&SF during this particular period.” Review of Best of F&SF #13, ed. Avram Davidson by James Colvin (Michael Moorcock) New Worlds #162 (1966-05) p.146. He has less flattering things to say about Davidson’s What Strange Stars and Skies.
- Transformations, Mike Ashley (p217, 219).
- Penelope by W. C. Anderson.
- Transformations, Mike Ashley (p217).
- The Eyes of Phorkos was first published as The Resentment of Jimsey Carew in The Bishop’s Aunt, and Other Stories. James wrote no other fantasy or science fiction according to the ISFDB. He also gave me quite the vocabulary workout: ‘postern’, ‘clou’, ‘marmoreal’, ‘poltroonery’, ‘alpaca’, ‘enceinte’. Despite looking them up at the time, I can remember about two of them. Unfortunately, I think I am now at the age where if something has to go in, something else has to go out… The Zelazny was almost as bad (or good, depending on your viewpoint): ‘terza-rima’, ‘Mahabharata’, ‘hybris’.