Magazine Review: Science Fiction Stories January 1960

Magazine Review: Science Fiction Stories January 1960 edited by Robert A.W. Lowndes

Science Fiction Stories was a minor SF magazine published as Science Fiction starting in 1940, then under a couple of different titles until 1943 when it and its stablemate Future Fiction were cancelled due to paper costs.  It was revived in 1950 and ran until early 1960, when the distributor abruptly chose not to carry any magazines by publisher Louis Silberkeit.  (Some of the remaining material was published by his next venture, Belmont Books.)  “The Original” on the cover was not part of the magazine’s name, but meant to tie back the 1950s edition to the 1940s version.

Science Fiction Stories January 1960

“The Coffin Ship” by Bill Wesley leads off the issue with a passenger in suspended animation aboard a spaceship waking up alone.  Cy Munson is in way over his head; he knows nothing about science or the ship’s technology, having barely squeaked through college on a football scholarship.  But he was picked for his newspaper’s representative from the circulation department because he was the only person available who could pass the rigorous physical requirements to go on the expedition to Capella.  It’s unclear how far in the future this is supposed to be; the newspaper publisher claims “no one’s done any actual reporting in fifty years” but he’s clearly supposed to be an excitable Perry White type so may be exaggerating.

Cy is unable to figure out the ship’s controls, location or how to awaken any of the crew; he finally decides suicide is better than staying alive alone for an indefinite period.  Happily, his suicide method proves to be the smartest thing he could have done.  He may not be book-smart but Cy has some common sense.

The illustration by Emsh makes it appear that the passengers were frozen topless, and we are only spared female nipples by light streaks on the glass.  This is not mentioned at all in the story.  (Cy is completely able to avoid the ickier impulses recently seen in the movie Passengers.)

“The Plot, The Plot!” is an editorial by Mr. Lowndes, in which he discusses the idea that science fiction won’t be recognized as real literature until it unshackles itself from stories that are entirely driven by plot, as opposed to character exploration and development.

“Day of the Glacier” by R.A. Lafferty is that author’s first published science fiction story.  The newest Ice Age begins on April 1, 1962, and the majority of Earth’s population is caught by surprise as the planet freezes over.  Climatologist Dr. Erdogic Eimer and three planeloads of his colleagues and families aren’t quite as surprised, as they knew this was about to happen, and made arrangements to get to a particular valley that will remain survivable for the duration.

But their calculations were a day off, and they’re also surprised to discover that someone got to the valley before them.  It turns out that the Communists decided to take advantage of April Fool’s to launch their takeover of North America.  They nuked the ICBM launching sides and simultaneously murdered the most anti-Communist Congresspeople so their “Peace Party” puppets can seize control of the Federal government.  But those nuclear explosions caused just enough atmospheric disturbance to start the Ice Age a day early.

Only Soviet climatologist Commander Andreyev had also worked out what was about to happen, and had just enough pull to get a military expedition sent with him to the valley a few days before the disaster he predicted but was not taken seriously about.  Will the future civilization be Red?

The story’s not all that good, but I can see Mr. Lafferty’s trademark humor and tall tale tendencies in it.  There’s a touch of casual sexism, of the “women are not as smart as men but are much more practical” variety.

“Puritan Planet” by Carol Emshwiller concerns a man named Morgan and his cat, whose spaceship has crashlanded on a planet named Brotherhood.  Unfortunately, the one access hatch is now buried in the ground, and Morgan will not be able to get out without outside help.  Worse, the planet was colonized by religious fanatics, who are forbidden to directly kill infidels but need not rescue them either…and they’ve already heard him swear.  Morgan has an ace up his sleeve, if only he can figure it out.

Carol Emshwiller happened to be married to Ed Emshwiller, the artist known as Emsh, and is a noted SF writer in her own right.  That said, this is a slight story and nowhere near her best.

“Once In a Blue Moon” by Norman L. Knight is a reprint from 1942.  This novella is set in the far future, during the second expansion of humanity among the stars.  The first expansion was a rush job, and new diseases and invasive species ran rampant.  The new expansion is much more cautious, and a special expedition has been sent to the planet soon to be known as Kenia to determine if it’s safe to allow colonists to come there.

One of the expedition members is Ilrai, a Martian novelist seeking material for his next book.  He is distrusted by expedition leader Counselor Sarrasen, as Martians are naturally telepathic to a high degree, while Sarrasen is a telepathic null, unable to send or receive.  The friction between them is an important subplot.

The expedition members are startled to discover that they are not the first human to reach the new planet.  They’re especially freaked that linguist and railroad hobbyist Mattawomba is a black man.  Evidently the first expansion had segregated spaceships, and their end of the galaxy was settled exclusively by white folks.  Only the long-lived Ilrai, who’s been to Earth, has seen black people before.  (After a couple of pages, Mattawomba’s skin color ceases to be an issue.)

Turns out that Mattawomba is the sole survivor of a colony ship that was headed elsewhere when plague broke out.  His lifeboat landed on the nearest habitable planet, and Mattawomba was able to ingratiate himself to the natives with his knowledge of steam engines.  This raises new problems.  First, the expedition is now quarantined on Kenia until it can be proved Mattawomba isn’t contagious, and second, he’s violated regulations regarding giving advanced technologies to aliens.

The story reaches its main climax when a hunting trip goes horribly wrong, and Commander Sarrasen gets lost in the Kenian wilderness.  He has to rely on crewmates that he has underestimated or actively hated to save him.

This tale being from 1942 explains a lot, and it is quite good for when it was written.   It’s exciting once the main action gets started, has some nice imagery, and has a neat bit at the end where there isn’t a title drop.  Y’see, while there is a blue moon in the story, the title phrase is no longer in the farflung humans’ vocabulary.  So one of them fumbles when that wording would be appropriate.

On the other hand, there’s one of those shoehorned romance subplots that are the bane of pulp adventure stories.

The issue finishes with the letters column.  (Mr. Lowndes was known for being enthusiastic about engaging with readers.)  Several of the letters reference a previous editorial about the declining number of fan letters in recent years.  They suggest that the elimination of fan club spotlight areas was part of that.  Another letter mentioned having sent in a subscription check.  Alas, the writer would only get two more issues.

A minor issue, of most interest to the Lafferty collector.

 

Book Review: Infinity Five

Book Review: Infinity Five edited by Robert Hoskins

This is the fifth and last (so far as I know) of the Infinity series of science fiction anthologies from Lancer Books.  As mentioned in my review of Infinity Two, they’re heavy on the New Wave style of story, free to have sex scenes and rough language (but not yet skilled at their use) and experimental storytelling styles.  The opening editorial mentions that SF has become a respectable genre for adults, but I’m not sure you could tell from this book.

Infinity Five

SPOILER WARNING: I’m going to be giving away some of the endings.

“The Science Fiction Hall of Fame” by Robert Silverberg starts us off with one of the more experimental pieces, Short fragments from different stories cobbled together around the reminiscences of an avid science fiction fan who has a recurring nightmare about possible futures.  It feels like Mr. Silverberg just grabbed random pages from rejected stories to fill out the length.  At the end, the nightmare becomes reality, and the fear vanishes.

“In Between Then and Now” by Arthur Byron Cover is about two immortal and nigh-omnipotent beings that have been fighting since they can remember.  One of them has a realization that his feelings have changed, but the other isn’t quite ready to accept this.

“Kelly, Frederic Michael: 1928-1987” by William F. Nolan is another “randomish fragments” story.  Mr. Kelly is dying on an alien planet, and his mind slips back and forth.

“Nostalgia Tripping” by Alan Brennert has people listening to oldies radio, except that what precisely the oldies are, and the history that created them, keeps changing.  It turns out that time travel has been invented and harnessed solely to change history to create these new “oldies” because 2003 is just that bleak.  An interesting concept, but perhaps wasted on such a short story.

“She/Her” by Robert Thurston is about telepathic aliens whose planet is undergoing first contact with humans.   Among the new concepts the visitors have brought with them is the significance of gender, as the humans innocently try to fit the aliens into their stereotypes.  This is actually a decent story with a good try at thinking in alien mindsets.

“Trashing” by Barry N. Malzberg goes back to trippy as an assassin attempts to kill a madman who is spreading riots and disorder.  Or is that really what’s happening?

“Hello, Walls and Fences” by Russell Bates is about an artist, or maybe an engineer, who’s asked to do something he finds repugnant by a wealthy man.   Unfortunately, he’s got a wife to feed (this was back when most married women were expected not to have jobs) and his solo work doesn’t sell, so at the end he has to accept the rich man’s job.  We never really find out what the process is or why the artist/engineer doesn’t like it.

“Free at Last” by Ron Goulart moves towards the silly.  A man with a Wide Open Marriage in 1992 is cheating on it by having a secret affair with his invalid aunt’s nurse.  Wide Open, of course, means no secrets.  As part of this, he’s also concealing that his aunt is already dead.  However, the man from the U.S. Department of Transition, which provides free funerals for all American citizens, is getting suspicious.  This one has a lot of extrapolating Seventies California goofiness into the future.  It’s maybe the best story in the issue.

“Changing of the Gods” by Terry Carr, on the other hand, takes a bitter approach to extrapolation.  It is a future where all the mainstream religions have collapsed, to be replaced with the Ancient and Apostolic Church of Christ, Pragmatist.  Yet they still have Fifties style ad agencies.  Sam Luckman is a creative type for one of those agencies, which has been chosen by the Pragmatists to create an ad campaign for “family control” to battle the hideous overpopulation of the world.  Luckman’s personal life is in the toilet, and his disgust with youth-oriented culture and the betrayal of his closest relatives boils over into the advertisements he creates.

Warnings for on-screen incest, pedophilia, castration, body horror.  Also casual homophobia: “homosexual rapists” are said to haunt restrooms.  This is all meant to shock, but just comes off as trying too hard.   One begins to understand why Mr. Carr normally was restricted to editing.

“Interpose” by George Zebrowski has Jesus snatched from the Cross by cruel time travelers.  Jesus is also an alien, not that it does him any good as apparently all his powers were withdrawn for the Crucifixion.

“Greyworld” by Dean R, Koontz is a full novella.  An amnesiac man who is probably named Joel wakes up in a suspended animation pod in a deserted laboratory.  After some wandering around, he runs into a faceless man and passes out.  When Joel awakens, he’s still amnesiac, but is now in a New England country house with his hot wife and distrustful uncle-in-law.  Several more layers of reality ensue.  It’s similar in many ways to Keith Laumer’s Night of Delusions, which I reviewed earlier, but has a more stable (if highly implausible) ending.

“Isaac Under Pressure” by Scott Edelstein wraps up the volume with a quick joke story about unusual genie containers.

Overall, this collection has not aged well, and is only worth seeking out if you collect one of the authors whose story hasn’t been reprinted elsewhere.

 

 

Book Review: The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories

Book Review: The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories edited by Otto Penzler

I have a fondness for Sherlock Holmes, as I am sure the majority of my readers do.  Unsurprisingly, there has been a ton of Holmes fanfiction over the years.  Pastiches that try to capture the feel of Arthur Conan Doyle’s prose, parodies that make fun of the detective’s odd habits, and weirder works.  This is a collection of such, many done professionally by famous authors.  Thus it might be better described as a big book of Sherlock Holmes-related stories.

The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories

There’s an editorial introduction, and the book proper begins with an essay by Arthur Conan Doyle regarding how and why he created Sherlock Holmes, and why he killed the character off.  (The essay being written before he brought the detective back.)  Interestingly, he mentions that the “arc” of a dozen individual stories designed to be collected into a book was an innovation at the time–most of the magazine authors aiming for book publication went with serialized stories.  Then there are two short pieces by Doyle being silly with his own creations.

There are over eighty stories all together, most quite short.  They range in time from the very first Holmes parody “An Evening with Sherlock Holmes” by J.M. Barrie (an obnoxious know-it-all engages in dueling observation with Mr. Holmes) to the very recent “The Case of Death and Honey” by Neil Gaiman (Holmes goes to China to solve one last mystery.)  Several stories crossover with other fictional characters (three times with jewel thief Raffles) or real life people.  Arthur Conan Doyle appears several times, but others range from U.S. President William McKinley to John Merrick, the “Elephant Man.”

There are stories as well, about Sherlockians (fans of the stories)solving mysteries, the most unusual of which is “The Martian Crown Jewels” by Poul Anderson  (a Martian detective investigates the theft of the title gems.)

The selection process heavily favored stories that are historically important or are by famous writers; this means that several of the tales are not of good quality.  “Sherlock Holmes and the Dasher” by the normally excellent A.B. Cox is particularly dreadful.  Most of the bad stories are extremely short.  Some of the stories are frequently reprinted (there’s a section of them towards the front), while others are rare.

There’s period sexism and ethnic prejudice in some of the stories.  “The Marriage of Sherlock Holmes” by Gregory Breitman is particularly bad on the sexism front for purposes of humor; it fell flat for me.  Suicide appears more than once, although some of them are actually murders.

The volume concludes with “The Adventure of the Marked Man”by Stuart Palmer (a Cornish man receives death threats, but he hasn’t an enemy in the world…right?)

Most of the stories are good, but due to the uneven nature of this anthology, I recommend it primarily for dedicated Sherlock Holmes fans who will appreciate the rare tales.  Others should use the library, and borrow the volume to read the stories by authors they like.  (I especially recommend the “Modern Victorians” section for casual fans.)

 

 

Comic Book Review: Uptown Girl Imitation of Life

Comic Book Review: Uptown Girl Imitation of Life by Bob Lipski

This is another collection of the Uptown Girl comic book stories, filled in with short newer pieces.  The main stories feature Rocketman’s never before mentioned career as a pinball champion (and the forgotten rival who wants revenge), and a zoo-related saga that combines an artistic monkey, a talking car, and a robotic dinosaur.  Smaller pieces talk about comics and gaming fandom, and Uptown Girl’s sometimes difficult relationship with modern technology.  And downer appearances by Sulky Girl.

Uptown Girl Imitation of Life

This is very much a local product of Minneapolis and the surrounding area–see if you can spot all the references!  The art is simple but effective, and most of the jokes hit.  Uptown Girl tries to do her job as a reporter, Ruby Tuesday tries to do her job as an artist, and Rocketman tries very hard not to do his job as an office drone.

The last story in the volume is “Learning How to Smile” , which is a more somber piece that also provides the book title.  Ruby’s uncle has had a stroke, and struggles with the smallest things.   This reminds him and her of his mortality, and it’s time for Ruby Tuesday to inherit part of her legacy….

Recommended to small press comics fans, especially in Minnesota.

Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans

This last weekend at Minicon 49, I moderated a panel on “Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans.”   As is common at this sort of thing, a lot of series and films were mentioned very briefly, and not everyone had the opportunity to write them all down.  Therefore, I promised to put up a list.  I should note that this list covers a wide variety of genres and styles, so you may see things that are not to your taste.

Wolf Children
Wolf Children

In roughly alphabetical order….

  • Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero:  A story that examines what happens after teens summoned to save magical worlds are returned to Earth.  (Note: the main character is a pervert and the show is heavy on female fanservice.)
  • Akira:  Motorcycle gang members deal with psychic children in a post-World War Three Tokyo.  One of the first anime films to make it big in America, massively compressed from the groundbreaking manga.
  • Appleseed: Post-apocalyptic society building with a heavy emphasis on artificial humans so close to biological ones that the lines are blurred at best.
  • Aria: A very quiet series about gondoliers on a terraformed Mars.  The setting is heavily based on Venice.
  • Attack on Titan:  Action series about humans in a walled city battling anthropophagous giants.  Extremely violent, anyone can die, some fascinating world building.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra: Not actually anime, but heavily influenced by it.  An alternative Earth setting with “benders”, people who can control the classic elements via martial arts training.
  • Azumanga Daioh: A slice of life series about a loose group of friends who go through high school together.  Some mild fantastic elements implied.
  • Big O:  In a city that has lost its memory, negotiator Roger Smith must resort to giant robot battles when negotiations break down.  Noted for a very dubious ending as the third season never materialized.
  • Bubblegum Crisis:  Cyberpunk series about armored vigilantes that fight Boomers, robots that have gone amok (not always by accident.)
  • Chobits:  An impoverished student in a world where personal computers are humanoid in shape, discovers an amnesiac “persocom” in the shape of a young woman lying in the garbage.  some interesting themes of humanity’s interactions with their machines and the effects of computers on society are set aside for soppy romance by the end.
  • Crying Freeman:  A mysterious criminal organization turns an innocent man into their assassin, whose body obeys orders even as his eyes fill with tears.  Quite a lot of sex in this one.
  • Dot Hack: A multimedia series of series revolving around a massive online immersive reality computer game.  Can be confusing, as important information only appears in other stories, not all of which are available in America.  Spawned a number of imitators.
  • Final Fantasy Advent Children:  An animated sequel to the fan favorite Final Fantasy VII video game, demonstrating the advances in computer animation since the game came out.  Cloud and his friends saved the world, but at great cost; can they get together for one last push to keep it saved?
  • Fruits Basket:  An orphaned girl becomes a servant to a big, screwed-up family cursed with animal transformations.  Despite their magical abilities, her compassion may be the strongest power of all.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist/Brotherhood:  There are two series based on the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, as the first one aired while the manga was still ongoing and had to come up with its own ending.  Both series revolve around brothers who practiced forbidden alchemy and paid the price.  They join the military to gain the resources they need to try and make things right.
  • Future Diary:  A young man discovers that his cell phone diary now records what he’s going to do in the future.  which would be cool if there weren’t other people with future diaries who want to kill him.  It seems the last one living will become the new god.  The standout character is Yuuno, the young woman who takes “stalker” to a whole new level.
  • Ghost in the Shell: By the same artist who brought us Appleseed, the cyberpunk tales of a special police unit that deals with cybercrime of all sorts.  The chronology can be confusing, but the themes run deep.
  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time:  A film about a young woman who discovers the ability to leap to the past and redo events, which she promptly abuses.  But just because you’ve erased an event doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it turns out there are, in fact, rules and a cost for time travel.
  • Iron Man: Yes, an anime series based on the Iron Man movies, and thus on the comic books.  Tony Stark goes to Japan and fights opponents based on Zodiac creatures.
  • Karneval:  A very new series about a young burglar, a mysterious albino boy, and a government agency they join for protection when a bioaugmentation organization puts them on its hit list.
  • Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya:  The title character is a young woman who longs for excitement in her life, so creates a club to seek out weirdness.  She is unaware that most of the club members are in fact the weirdness she seeks, or that she herself has a hidden power.  Hugely popular.
  • Moretsu Space Pirates: “Bodacious” space pirates in the American market due to the direct interpretation “flaming” being even less felicitous.  A young woman discovers that she is the heir to a pirate ship.  “Pirates” in this future are actually privateers, and it’s mostly for show…but then the politics start happening.  Notable for centering around a good mother/daughter relationship and female friendships without making the male supporting characters useless or invisible.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit:  A spearwoman becomes bodyguard to a prince who appears to be possessed by an evil spirit.  Things are much, much more complicated than they seem.  Notable for such things as having a heroine that’s pushing thirty, good worldbuilding (the author is an anthropology major) and not having a villain as such–everyone is trying to do the right thing, they just violently disagree on what that is.
  • Nichijou:  The ordinary life of four ordinary high school girls, one of whom happens to be a robot.  The closest genre might be “magical realism”; many strange and wonderful things happen, but it’s all part of the characters’ ordinary life.
  • Planetes: A hard science fiction series about astronauts whose job it is to clear space junk from Earth’s orbit.  Very down-to-earth (pun intended).
  • Project A-ko:  A girl with superpowers and her ditzy best friend transfer to a new school, where they meet a snobby girl with mechanical genius and a grudge against them.  Their battle is interrupted by an alien invasion.  Lots of fun.
  • Psycho Pass:  In the future, the cops have a way of detecting whether you are likely to commit a crime.  And if you detect too highly, they might act pre-emptively.  Dark.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:  A girl named Madoka is offered a wish, any one wish, in exchange for which she must become a magical girl and fight “witches.”  Her new friend Homura doesn’t want her to do this, and there are a variety approaches to the life of magical girls.  This is a deconstruction of magical girl tropes, so you may want to watch some Sailor Moon or Pretty Cure or other “standard” magical girl show first.
  • Queen’s Blade:  In a fantasy land, several women compete in a tournament to see which of them will become the next queen.   Extremely heavy on the erotic fanservice, but oddly feminist otherwise; the women have varied personalities, agendas and agency.  It’s a love/hate show.
  • Record of Lodoss War:  Essentially Dungeons and Dragons: The Anime.  On the island of Lodoss, a small band of adventurers discover that a secret hand is behind the wars that rack their lands.  There are two continuities, the direct to video version, and the television series.  the latter replaces the last third of the video version and moves on to a “next generation” plotline.
  • Robotech:  An oldie but a goodie, it took Macross and two other mecha series from Japan and edited them together into a surprisingly coherent continuity.    In what is now an alternate history, an alien craft landed on Earth, and was turned into our planet’s best defense against the aliens who had sent it.
  • Rosario + Vampire:  A “harem” series about a boy who mistakenly transfers into a school for monsters, many of whom appear to be pretty girls.  Some exciting fight scenes with the many monsters, but also much fanservice.
  • Samurai Champloo:  In a rather odd version of Meiji Restoration Japan, a samurai, a renegade swordsman, and a young woman search for “the samurai that smells like sunflowers.”  Interesting music.
  • Serial Experiments Lain:  A young woman builds her own computer, and connects to the Wired.  Government agents are not pleased by this.  Very surreal, and a mind screw.
  • Summer Wars:  A young man is dragooned into posing as his classmate’s fiance during her family reunion.  Meanwhile, a hostile program has taken over a major Internet hub.  These things turn out to be much more connected than they might look.  Very much a family movie, though the dub adds extra cursing.
  • Tiger and Bunny:  A superhero story in which the heroes are commercially sponsored and appear on a reality show.  Surprisingly much less cynical than that sounds, it’s very much a homage to American comic books.
  • Witch Hunter Robin:  Government agencies track down and capture/kill mutants known as “witches.”  Robin herself is a witch who serves humanity.  But is she really on the side of good?
  • Wolf Children:  A woman falls in love and marries a man who is also a wolf.  But he dies shortly after their second child is born, so she must raise their kids/cubs alone in a world that hates and fears wolves.
  • Yokohama Shopping District:  A very humanoid robot runs a cafe at the end of the world as we know it.  Humanity is almost gone, but our creations live on.  A very quiet story.
  • Yume Tsukai: “The Dream Master”; the main characters have the ability to pacify nightmares, turning them into restful dreams.  Which is kind of important when the nightmares can manifest in the real world.
  • Zipang:  A modern day Japanese destroyer travels through time to World War Two, and changes the course of history.  No take-backs, no reset button ending, and semi-realistic consequences, especially when the current Japanese try to interact with their historical counterparts.

Did we miss your favorite title?  Want to expand on the descriptions?  Just have some questions about anime?  Let us know in the comments!

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