Magazine Review: Marvel Science Fiction November 1951 edited by R.O. Erisman
Marvel Science Fiction started as a pulp magazine titled Marvel Science Stories that was published irregularly from 1938 to 1952. The original publisher was the same one who eventually published Marvel Comics. At the point this issue is from, the magazine was a digest-sized quarterly. The line-up of authors is particularly strong.
The cover by Hannes Bok isn’t related to any of the stories, but served as a caption contest. You might want to enlarge the image to look at some of the details.
“Embroidery” by Ray Bradbury opens the issue. Three elderly women concentrate on their embroidery as they wait for five o’clock. This is not so much a science fiction story as an opportunity to use poetic metaphor. As with many speculative stories of the time period, the threat of nuclear annihilation looms large over the text.
“‘Will You Walk a Little Faster'” by William Tenn continues the theme of existential dread with a tale that explains the origin of the legendary “little people.” It seems they’re really aliens, and the rightful successors of humanity once we render ourselves extinct. The problem is that the latest developments in mass destruction will render the planet uninhabitable if used in World War Three. So the aliens are offering an even better weapon that will destroy humans without harming the environment, cynically counting on humans’ short-sighted self-interest to close the deal.
“The Dark Dimension” by William Morrison is another tale of humans being destroyed by their own greed, but on a…smaller scale. Gerald Weldon, a self-educated scientist, was cheated out of his discoveries twice, by two different men. Now Weldon has discovered a way to communicate with, and possibly travel to, another dimension with different physical laws. The beings on the other side of the portal seem anxious to have him visit, but having been burned twice, Weldon is hesitant. Can he make full use of his discovery without being betrayed, or will he need to play on that betrayal to gain revenge?
“Shah Guido G.” by Isaac Asimov concerns a future United Nations that has become corrupted into a dictatorial regime that reigns from a new Atlantis. It’s all a setup for a last-line bit of wordplay. (The title might also be a pun, but if so it eludes me.)
“Chowhound” by Mack Reynolds takes place during an intergalactic war. A Kraden has finally been taken alive, only for the Terrans to learn it’s no brighter than your average cow. So the New Taos has been dispatched to the front to try to discover how such a creature could fly a starship, let alone wage a war. It seems hopeless, especially when it appears an invisible spy has gotten aboard the ship. Can Mart Bakr’s interest in exotic cuisine solve the mysteries?
“The Most Dangerous Love” by Philip Latham features the first rocket expedition to an extrastellar planet. They’re aided by a young inventor who’s invented a new, more powerful scanner, able to focus on tiny areas at great distances. Young Sidney Schofield has had no time for romance, having been so fixated on completing his invention. It perhaps is no surprise then that when his scanner picks up a beautiful girl on the planet Del-S is headed for, he falls in love hard. As the ship gets closer to the destination, it turns out the girl has a similar device, and soon the couple are in communication and looking forward to a life together. Unfortunately, there is one small detail that makes them star-crossed. There’s some Fifties sexism on display; the captain muses how grateful he is that there are no women aboard his ship, as they’d be constantly fighting and causing trouble.
“The Restless Tide” by Raymond Z. Gallun tackles the problem of immortality for a species like humans that evolved to handle a lifespan less than a century. A husband is already tired of his comfortable Earth life, but his wife isn’t quite ready to go out to the space frontier again. It’s ultimately something of an optimistic story; humans will always find something to do.
This is followed by a twenty-question science fiction trivia quiz. Some of the answers are outdated.
Next up, a three-essay discussion of the question, “Should Population Be Controlled?” The Yes position is taken by Fritz Leiber, in the form of a dialogue between two smug future people explaining the benefits. Mr. Leiber correctly predicted the Pill (which came on the market in 1960) and the e-book. On the other hand, he also talks about the concept of the stupid people outbreeding the intelligent people if steps aren’t taken, which is largely discredited.
No is handled by Arthur J. Burks, who argues that God intends for humanity to multiply, and Nature makes sure that we do. Therefore, any attempt to artificially control population is doomed, so we shouldn’t even try. Mr. Burks is also not a believer in “child-free” people. Fletcher Pratt ties it up with Maybe, pointing out that no method of population control will be effective unless people go along with it, and known methods offend many religious people.
The letters column is the usual assortment of praise and gripes, with one correspondent (Francis J. Litz) complaining about the prevalence of half-naked women on covers of supposedly serious SF magazines.
“Mountains of the Mind” by Richard Matheson starts with a political scientist getting an electroencephalographic (EEG) reading from a doctor who’s researching geniuses. When he sees his chart, however, he feels the need to seek out a mountain range that matches those peaks and valleys (ala Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) And he feels the need to do so alone, ditching his fiancee from their planned vacation. Eventually, he reaches the mountains and learns that he has been selected as one of the secret guardians of the world based on his compatible brainwaves. He also learns that all the secret guardians must remain celibate, and he’s been manipulated since birth, which is why he’s kept putting off getting it on. It’s difficult to get a read on the sexism level here–the story never specifically says that women can’t be secret guardians (only one other guardian appears or is named), but the only female character in the story is specifically not a genius, and works as a receptionist.
“Dover Spargill’s Ghastly Floater” by Jack Vance has the title character buy the Moon just a day before new transmutation technology makes Lunar real estate worthless. Except that this was part of the plan all along. His real motive was to terraform the Moon. There’s some dodgy science to explain how the atmosphere isn’t going to evaporate off, and a businessman who fails at flexibility to the point I’m surprised he still has a company.
Judith Merrill and Harry Harrison provide the words and art respectively for a short piece on the Hydra Club, an invitation-only society for science fiction authors, publishers and interested people. There were a lot of famous people in this club.
The back cover is a look at the first real-life space suit designed by the U.S. Air Force.
All in all, an enjoyable issue with lesser stories by good authors.