Alan E. Nourse (1928-1992) was a medical doctor and science fiction/fact author. His professional training often showed in his stories, perhaps best exemplified by the novel Star Surgeon. He also wrote The Bladerunner, about a dystopian future where medical care is rationed. Hollywood optioned the title and stuck it on a Philip K. Dick story.
This book is a collection of nine SF short stories originally published in the 1950s, when speculative fiction was getting more psychologically complex.
“Tiger by the Tail” leads off with store detectives watching in amazement as a shoplifter blatantly stuffs merchandise into her pocketbook. Far more than could possibly fit into it. It ends with an existential threat to the entire universe. The story is exposition heavy, but pays off when an iron bar moving a centimeter becomes a horrifying event.
“Nightmare Brother” is the longest story. A man finds himself walking down a long tunnel without knowing where he is, how he got there, or even who he is. And the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train! He escapes that peril, only to find himself in a worse situation, over and over. Why is this happening to him?! Some dubious psychology, and a hint of Fifties attitudes towards women.
“PRoblem” involves a public relations man called in to sell the public on allowing extradimensional aliens to take temporary refuge on Earth while their babies are born. The aliens are almost designed to cause revulsion in humans, and their personalities are irritating. And then he finds out their real dealbreaker. I get the feeling this one was written around a typo.
“The Coffin Cure” involves a cure for the common cold. Dr. Nourse ignores clinical testing procedures that he would certainly have been familiar with in real life so that the cure can be released to large portions of the public by an overenthusiastic project leader named Coffin. A few weeks later, the side effects start showing up. (And they’re fairly logical side effects.) Phillip Dawson, the man who actually came up with the cure, must now find a cure for the cure. Very Fifties sitcom treatment of his marriage.
“Brightside Crossing” is a grueling tale about a disastrous attempt to cross the surface of Mercury. Since then, we have learned that Mercury does in fact rotate, so there’s no one “bright side.” That said, it’s an adventure story with some thrilling moments.
“The Native Soil” likewise is not viable because of new information about Venus. For the purposes of this story, it’s covered in deep, deep mud–some of which has unparalleled antibiotic properties. A pharmaceutical company is trying to mine that mud with the dubious aid of the natives. The enterprise is not going well, and even a top troubleshooter from Earth is about to give up until he finally realizes what’s really going on.
“Love Thy Vimp” has Earth invaded by the eponymous vermin-like aliens. They cause trouble wherever they go, are vicious and cruel, and nearly impossible to kill. Barney Holder, a mild-mannered sociology teacher, has been assigned to a task force to get rid of the accursed things. One vimp has been captured, but experiments reveal no way of stopping it. Barney must ferret out the vimps’ one weakness. Fifties sitcom marriage stereotypes pop up again, but this time the nagging wife is an actual plot point.
“Letter of the Law” involves a conman who tried to bilk a group of aliens, only to run into their biggest taboos. Now he’s on trial for his life, and has to be his own lawyer on a planet where truth is an unknown concept. The human government emissary isn’t exactly thrilled to be helping. And even if the conman succeeds, his neck might still be on the chopping block. Satisfying ending.
“Family Resemblance” isn’t a science fiction story per se, but a comic tale of a hoax designed to make it appear that humans evolved from pigs. Some groan-worthy humor in this one.
Overall, a decent enough collection of stories that have become dated either through scientific advances or social change. Worth looking up at your library.
Comic Book Review: 2000 AD #2020-24 Edited by Tharg
As I’ve mentioned before, 2000 AD is a weekly comic paper with a speculative fiction bent that’s been published in Britain for over forty years. It keeps up the schedule by featuring several short stories in each issue, most of them serialized. A while back I c came into possession of the March 2017 issues, which seems like a good chunk to look over.
“Judge Dredd” has been a headliner in the magazine since the second issue, and stories set in the dystopian future of Mega-City One are in almost every issue. We start with a two-parter titled “Thick Skin” written by T.C. Eglington with art by Boo Cook. Two vid stars have their skin slough off on camera in separate instances. Coincidence? Plague? Terrorist plot? It’s up to lawman Judge Dredd to investigate.
This is followed up by “The Grundy Bunch” by Arthur Wyatt and Tom Foster. A family/cult that worships “Grud and Guns” has taken over one of the few remaining green spots in the city. Despite the topical overtones, the story turns out to be a setup for a terrible pun.
“Get Jerry Sing” is by classic Judge Dredd team John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. The title phrase is a bit of graffiti that’s been appearing all over the city. What it means is a mystery, but pop star Jerry Sing isn’t happy about being a target. This one has a karmic twist ending that brought a dark chuckle from me.
Lastly, there’s the first part of a longer story, “Harvey” by John Wagner and John McCrea. The Day of Chaos and subsequent disasters have left the Judges severely understaffed, and it will be a while before they can train new human ones. So there’s a renewed interest in the robot Judge program, Mechanismo. Previous experiments with the artificial intelligences have proved disastrous, but this time, the Tek-Judges think they’ve cracked the problems with earlier models. Judge Dredd is asked to take on “Judge Harvey” as a trainee, to see if this time robot cops are finally viable.
The “Sinister Dexter” series is about Ramone Dexter and Finnegan Sinister, a pair of gunsharks (hitmen) who live in the city of Downlode. Due to shenanigans involving alternate Earths, the pair have managed to get themselves erased from human and computer memory, and are slowly re-establishing their reputations without the baggage of the past. They’re inspired by the hitmen from Pulp Fiction, but now bear little resemblance to them.
We have three stories in this group by Dan Abnett and Steve Yeowell. First, the robotic security system for their new apartment building decides that Sinister and Dexter are a threat to the tenants. A threat that must be eliminated. The second story is from the point of view of the bartender at their favorite watering hole. He doesn’t remember their previous interactions, but does know there’s something odd about the pair. And finally, there’s a new hitman in town, who calls himself “the Devil.” And his killing skills do seem…supernatural.
I find these characters smarmy and unlikable, but this sort of “not quite as bad guys” protagonist is popular with a segment of the readership.
“Kingmaker” by Ian Edginton and Leigh Gallagher is a newer serial. A fantasy world was having its own problems dealing with a wraith king, when suddenly technologically advanced aliens invaded. An elderly wizard, a dryad, and an orkish warrior riding dragons are beset by alien pursuers. When they finally defeat this batch of invaders by seeming divine intervention, the trio realizes they may already have found the chosen one.
Cyrano de Bergerac is the narrator of “The Order” by Kek-W and John Burns. On his deathbed, the boastful writer tells of his experiences with the title organization, which does battle with beings known as the Wyrm. Time has come unglued due to the latest Wyrm incursion, and a mechanical man from a possible future might or might not be the key to victory. The Wyrm are driven back, but at a cost.
“Kingdom” by Dan Abnett and Richard Elson is set on a future Earth where humanity as we know it has been all but wiped out by giant insects known as Them. The genetically-engineered dog soldier Gene the Hackman has finally found the “Kingdom”, haven of the last humans. Unfortunately, there are dark secrets in this supposed sanctuary, so Gene and his allies must strike even against the Masters.
“Brink” by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard takes place in the late 21st Century after Earth had to be abandoned due to ecosystem collapse. Bridget Kurtis is an inspector for the Habitat Security Division. After the horrific death of her partner on the last case, Bridget is assigned to investigate mysterious suicides on a new habitat that’s reputed to be haunted…even though it’s still under construction.
The latest installment of “Scarlet Traces”, set in a world where H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds took place is by Ian Edginton & D’Israeli. Humanity’s history has been twisted by access to Martian technology. It’s now 1965, and the Martians are doing something to the sun. It may require allying with the Venusian refugees to thwart them. This is fascinating alternate Earth stuff.
“Cursed: The Fall of Deadworld” by Kek-W & Dave Kendall is set in the backstory of Judge Death, the lawman from an Earth where life is a crime and the penalty is death. Sydney D’eath has put himself in charge, twisting the world to fit his vision of a crime-free paradise. We follow Judge Fairfax, his sentient vehicle Byke, and the orphan Jess as they search for a haven. Doesn’t look good for them, frankly.
There’s also two “Future Shocks”, stand-alone shorts. “The Best Brain in the Galaxy” by Andrew Williamson & Tilen Javornik features a descendant of Horatio Hornblower who will do anything to win a competition to become captain of the most important starship voyage ever. Anything. “Family time” by Rory McConville and Nick Dyer is a parody of a certain Hollywood couple who like adopting children from around the world. Except that this version is adopting orphans from across time. The Child Protective Services are concerned that these children may not be orphans in the usual sense. I liked the first story better.
There’s also the short humor strip “Droid Life” by Cat Sullivan in a couple of issues, depicting life for the robotic staffers of 2000 AD. Plus Tharg’s editorials, and actual letters pages.
2000 AD stories tend to be on the violent side, and sometimes get quite gory. I didn’t see any nudity in these particular issues, but the comic doesn’t shy away from toplessness. Parents of preteens may want to vet these comics before giving them to their kids.
As always, it’s a mixed bag for quality, but the very nature of the magazine means that there’s always something different to look at if the current story displeases, and serials are rotated frequently. worth looking into if you can afford it.
Magazine Review: Galaxy Science Fiction July 1951 edited by H.L. Gold
Galaxy lasted from 1950 to 1980 as a digest-sized science fiction magazine. Originally published by an Italian firm trying to break into the American market, the magazine was noted for its emphasis on stories about social issues and its comparatively sedate covers. (“Fourth of July on Titan” is by Willer.) Editor H.L. Gold offered up to three times the usual pay per word, allowing him to get first crack at superior work by noted authors.
“Getting Personal” is the opening editorial by H.L. Gold himself; it proposes a uniform for writers so they can be easily spotted and honored/shunned. This is in contrast to the potted bios of the authors appearing in the issue, which are widely varied. Mildly amusing.
“Venus is a Man’s World” by William Tenn takes place after the mass die-off of male humans in the Third Atomic War convinced women enough was enough already, and they voted themselves in charge. The lack of a Fourth Atomic War seems to have shown the wisdom of this approach.
However, women on Earth still vastly outnumber men, and the remaining terrestrial males aren’t much to write home about. Thus it is that young Ferdinand Sparling is hauled along with his adult sister Evelyn on a ship to Venus. That frontier world is heavily tilted in the opposite direction, with lots of virile, untamed men and few women. A great place to find a husband, right?
Ferdinand (who swiftly adopts the nickname “Ford”) is exploring the ship when he discovers a stowaway, Venusian rouster Alberta “Butt” Lee Brown. Butt had come to Earth to look for a wife, but fell foul of the law and had to escape.
The story ends about as you’d expect it to in the 1950s, with the wily men outfoxing the officious women. The stereotypes are so thick that it may circle around to be funny again for some readers.
“Common Denominator” by John D. Macdonald (perhaps best known for his Travis McGee crime novels) is a chiller involving first contact with an alien species. The Argonauts seem friendly and peaceful, and in a major twist, they actually are. They’ve licked the problems of violent crime and war and have eight thousand years of peace and quiet to show for it. One Earthman, chief of the Bureau of Racial Maturity (“wait, we have one of those?”), decides he should find out how they did that. He does. Warning for suicide. My pick for the best story in the issue.
“Syndrome Johnny” by Charles Dye takes place after two successive epidemics of previously unknown diseases have ravaged humanity. The good news is that the much reduced population has world peace. The bad news is that the survivors have been genetically modified by the diseases. Or is that bad news? One government agent figures out that the mythical Syndrome Johnny (we’d say “Patient Zero”) is a real person, and conditions are right for a third epidemic that will wipe out human beings as we know them. The fate of humanity is left up to one scientist who is also a father.
“Mars Child” by Cyril Judd (pen name of C.M. Kornbluth and Judith Merrill) is the second half of a serial. Sun Lake is unusual among Mars colonies in that it’s not corporate-owned, but the collective property of its inhabitants. (More libertarian than Communist.) It’s financially struggling, but if they can keep things together just a few more years, Sun Lake will be self-sufficient and a viable alternative to living on the environmentally ruined Earth.
Bad news hits when a nearby pharmaceutical company owner claims that several kilograms of the highly addictive drug marcaine have gone missing from his factory. The trail leads to Sun Lake, he claims. Not only does Hugo Brenner have Mars’ top cop, Commissioner Bell, in his pocket, but he’s also the only supplier of Ox-En, a substance needed for all but the hardiest of humans to breathe on Mars. Either Sun Lake turns over the marcaine (which as far as the colonists know they don’t have) within a week, or Brenner will ruin them by one of a number of technically legal methods.
Meanwhile, Tony Hellman, Sun Lake’s sole doctor, has many other problems on his plate. Sunny, the first baby born in the colony, refuses to suckle, and isn’t keen on other feeding methods. Sunny’s mother is dealing with severe post-partum depression, and hallucinating the presence of the mythical “Brownies”, supposed natives of Mars. A woman from a nearby mining operation dies of (among other things) a botched attempt to give herself an abortion. Plus numerous other sick and injured people. Oh, and Tony is beginning to notice how attractive his nurse is.
Into all this mess comes Graham, a top-notch journalist from Earth, who wants to report the true conditions on Mars. His story could save Sun Lake–if he doesn’t decide to write a hit piece instead!
Naturally, it turns out that all the plot threads are more closely connected than anyone realized. Part of the resolution comes from psychic powers out of left field, and part from some dubious genetics. This novel was published in book form as Outpost Mars in 1952 and reprinted as Sin in Space in 1961.
“Galaxy’s Five Star Shelf” by Groff Conklin is their book review column. Despite the name, not all the books are treated as stellar. Mr. Conklin does recommend Eric Frank Russell’s Dreadful Sanctuary and Fred Hoyle’s The Nature of the Universe. (With the caveat for the latter that Mr. Hoyle is a little too certain he’s got it right this time.)
“Pen Pal” by Milton Lesser concerns Matilda Penshaws, a woman who is determined to find a husband. But she’s picky, and none of the local fellows will do. (Which is why she’s still single on the far side of thirty.) She sees a personal ad in the pen pal column from Haron Gorka, whose advertisement promises he’s something different from the usual stamp collectors and radio hams that put out such ads.
Matilda decides to steal a march on other prospects and drives to the next state to meet him in person. Except that no one in that town seems to have ever heard of Mr. Gorka. Except, as it turns out, the town librarian, who knows him well and is not impressed. Directions in hand, Matilda finally meets Haron, to discover he is both less and more than the advertisement promised. The ending is rather telegraphed, and there’s some tired “battle of the sexes” stuff.
The issue ends with Fritz Leiber’s “Appointment in Tomorrow.” It is the end of the Twentieth Century, a few years after World War Three turned Washington D.C. into green glass and did similar things to other cities across the globe. The American government has fallen under the power of the Thinkers, a group whose methods have produced scientific miracles, despite their philosophy sounding like a bunch of malarkey to anyone who has actual science training.
As you might guess, the Thinkers are charlatans ala Dianetics. But one of them is in fact a true believer, which leads him to a collision course with tragedy. This story has a particularly strong final line, and a surprisingly good female character.
“Common Denominator” can be read on Project Gutenberg here. “Appointment in Tomorrow” is likewise here. Other than those, you’ll have to track down this issue yourself.
Manga Review: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon 3 by Naoko Takeuchi
Usagi Tsukino doesn’t look much like hero material at first glance. She’s clumsy, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and a bit of a crybaby. But Usagi has a secret heritage, and when talking cat Luna seeks her out, Usagi becomes the bishoujo senshi (“pretty guardian”) Sailor Moon! Now gifted with magical powers, Sailor Moon must seek out the other guardians and defeat the monsters of the Dark Kingdom to save the world.
This 1991 manga series was groundbreaking in many ways. The mahou shoujo (“magical girl”) subgenre of fantasy manga and anime had been around since the 1960s, inspired by the American TV show Bewitched, but was primarily about cute witches, fairy princesses and ordinary girls who were gifted power by witches or fairies who used their magic to help people with their day to day problems and maybe once in a while fight a monster or two. Takeuchi blended this with the traditionally boy-oriented sentai (“warrior squad”) subgenre to create magical girl warriors whose primary thing was using magical powers to defeat evil.
It was also novel for being a shoujo (girls’) manga with an immediate animated adaptation as Takeuchi developed the series in coordination with Toei. The manga ran monthly while the anime was weekly, so the animated version has lots of “filler” episodes that don’t advance the plot but do expand on the characterization of minor roles. Indeed, it’s better to think of the manga and anime as two separate continuities.
Both manga and anime were huge hits, though the versions first brought to America were heavily adulterated. American children’s television wasn’t ready for some of the darker themes of some of the episodes, and the romantic relationship of Sailors Neptune and Uranus blew moral guardians’ minds. More recently, new, more faithful translations have come out, and there’s a new anime adaptation, Sailor Moon Crystal that sticks closer to the manga continuity.
The volume to hand, #3, contains the end of the Dark Kingdom storyline. Wow, that was quick. Once forced into a direct confrontation, Queen Beryl isn’t really much more formidable than her minions; only the fact that she has a brainwashed Prince Endymion (Tuxedo Mask) on her side makes the fight difficult. Queen Metallia, the true power behind the throne, on the other hand, is a world-ending menace and it will take everything our heroes have plus Usagi awakening to her full heritage to defeat it.
Takeuchi had originally planned for her heroines to die defeating Metallia and ending the series there, but the anime had great ratings, and both Toei and her manga’s editor felt that this would be too much of a downer. After some floundering, the editor suggested the new character “Chibi-Usa” and her startling secret, and Takeuchi was able to come up with a plotline from there.
So it is that just as Usagi and Mamoru are getting romantic, a little girl who claims her name is also Usagi drops out of the sky to interrupt. “Chibi-Usa” looks a lot like a younger version of our Usagi, and is on a mission to reclaim the Silver Crystal (despite the fact that she seems to be wearing a Silver Crysal herself.) She infiltrates Usagi’s family, much to the older girl’s irritation.
At the same time, a new enemy appears, the Black Moon. Led by Prince Demande and advised by the mysterious Wiseman, they seek not only the Silver Crystal but a being called the “Rabbit.” Their initial ploy is to send out the Spectre Sisters to capture the Sailor Senshi one by one. The Spectre Sisters are very much evil counterparts of the Senshi, each having an elemental affinity and interests matching one of the heroes. The first two, Koan and Berthier, are destroyed in battle, but not before they remove Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury from the board.
In a subplot, a new minor character is introduced, an underclassman of Mamoru’s whose job is shilling Mamoru and his fine qualities. This is actually kind of helpful, as Tuxedo Mask had spent most of the Dark Kingdom arc either being mysterious or unavailable. This allows us more insight into who this Mamoru person is when he’s not around Usagi.
Rei and Ami get some development in their focus chapters, but seemingly mostly so that the Spectre Sisters can have similar interests.
Some of this comes off as cliche now, but that’s because Sailor Moon was such a strong influence on magical girl stories that came afterward. Here’s where many of the tropes started!
The art is very good of its kind, and again seems less distinctive now because of imitators.
Recommended for magical girl fans, teenage girls and romantic fantasy fans.
Magazine Review: Astounding Science-Fiction January 1946 edited by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Before Analog (see previous reviews), there was Astounding, the science fiction magazine that led the field for many years. Having gotten a copy of an issue from the pulp days, let’s take a look at what wonders lie within. Despite the cover date, the ads indicate it came out in early December 1945.
The lead and cover story is part one (of two) of “The Fairy Chessmen” by Lewis Padgett (a pseudonym for Henry Kuttner working with C.L. Moore.) It is roughly a century into the future, and the world is at war…again. After World War Two, the governments of Eurasia had crumbled, and reformed as the Falangists. They and America are the two superpowers and implacable enemies. Thanks to atom-bomb-proof shields and robot warfare, the war has stalemated for years.
Most Americans live deceptively peaceful lives in scattered communities on the surface, while the warmen toil in vast underground cities whose actual locations are closely guarded secrets. Low Chicago might be below the ruins of Old Chicago, or anywhere in the Midwest. Of course, in such conditions claustrophobia and other mental illnesses are a continuing concern, and it’s up to the Department of Psychometrics to keep the warmen in good mental health.
Which is why it’s concerning that Cameron, the head of the department, has been having hallucinations of eyeball doorknobs and talking clocks. He’s trying to keep it a secret, but his help is desperately needed by the War Department. It seems they have captured a scientific formula from the enemy, one that drives anyone who studies it mad (sometimes giving them strange powers in the process. For example, the levitating man who thinks he’s Muhammad’s corpse.)
There are time travel shenanigans involved, and one character seems determined to produce a specific future. The title comes from “fairy chess”, variants of the strategy game that use changed rules, such as a knight that can only capture backwards, or a 10×10 board. The formula changes the rules of physics, sometimes in mid-equation, and scientifically trained minds crack under the strain.
A nifty throwaway (probably) bit is the existence of “fairylands”, miniature cities with tiny robots that people play with ala the Sims. There’s also an amusing typo when one character claims he’s “half misogynist” when he means “misanthrope.”
Unfortunately, this novel is long out of print, so I have no idea how it ends. The cliffhanger is neat: “The edges of the spoon thickened, curled, spread into cold metallic lips. And kissed him.”
“N Day” by Philip Latham (pen name of R.S. Richardson) concerns an astronomer who discovers the sun is about to go nova. He tells the world, but is dismissed as a crackpot. (Had there been more time, someone would have checked his math and found him correct.) As a result, he finds his spine for the first time in decades.
“Veiled Island” by Emmett McDowell takes place on Venus (the pulp Venus of swamps and jungles.) A three-person anthropological team goes in search of the title island to investigate reports of a new variant of human. Apparently, unlike Earth, Venus just keeps producing new human variants out of the swamps which then climb up the ladder of civilization as they travel to the other side of the planet.
The Earthlings promptly crash-land, losing their clothing and supplies–they themselves have to start from scratch. While struggling to survive, they run into the new variant of humans they were looking for. A variant that seems destined to replace homo sapiens.
The sexism is pretty thick here, the action guy protagonist denigrates his female colleague for wanting to be treated as an equal, calling her a “tomboy” and the type who would have been a suffragette back in the day. (Apparently something like feminism happened in this future, but he’s not too keen on the results.) Over the course of the story, she comes to realize how awesome he is, and they are planning to get married (in the now considered barbaric Twentieth Century fashion) at the end.
The evolutionary science is suspect–emotionlessness is viewed as a huge evolutionary advantage that will allow the new species to outcompete other humans and replace them.
“A Matter of Length” by Ross Rocklynn (pen name of Ross Louis Rocklin) takes place in a far future with galactic travel. A stable mutation has created a new kind of human, the “double-brained” Hypnos, who have the ability to hypnotize ordinary humans. They are not physically distinguishable from other humans, but can be detected by “Sensitives.” Hypnos face severe prejudice, and there’s a war going on between societies that want to exterminate them and those that tolerate them.
All that is background. A Hypno named Joe has been captured by anti-Hypno forces, and was being shipped back to their planet for a show trial and execution when the ship went off-course and landed on a planet where time has gone wonky. There’s a paranoid belief among some of the crew that Joe somehow caused this, or is making them hallucinate this, despite the anti-mind control forcefield surrounding his cell. Eventually, the time wonkiness allows Joe to escape, and he rescues the two people on the ship who are not entirely anti-Hypno.
It turns out that Hypno powers have been vastly exaggerated as propaganda by the anti-Hypno forces; Joe never actually uses his mind control abilities during the course of the story. It’s the holding cell force field that gives him the temporary advantage he needs as it shields him from the time wonkiness for a while. Keitha, the Sensitive woman who tracked him down, is dismayed to learn that she’s next on the extermination list after all the Hypnos have been eliminated (as Sensitives are Hypno/ordinary human crossbreeds.)
Apparently, there are also longevity treatments in this future, as the captain of the anti-Hypno ship holds a grudge against the Hypnos for the death of his daughter nearly a century before, with the war starting later. (It’s a “failure to save” instance–a doctor who was secretly a Hypno couldn’t cure the daughter from a fatal disease, and when his secret was revealed, he was lynched for deliberately killing a human girl.)
“The Plants” by Murray Leinster takes place on a planet with only one form of life. Plants with flowers that follow the sun…or anything unusual that happens. Four men whose spaceship was sabotaged crash-land on the planet. Are they more in danger from the pirates that sabotaged the ship for its precious cargo…or from the plants? A story that has some creepy moments, and could have gone full on horror if the author wanted.
“Fine Feathers” by George O. Smith is the final fiction piece. It’s a science fiction retelling of the fable “The Bird with Borrowed Feathers” usually ascribed to Aesop. A ruthless businessman discovers a way to artificially boost his intelligence by energizing his brain. The process renders the user sterile (somehow) but since he wasn’t interested in having children, Wanniston considers that a small price.
Being superhumanly intelligent gives Wanniston a huge advantage over his fellow Earthmen, and he is soon the most powerful businessman on the planet. But he yearns for more, and when a suicide trap makes it untenable for Wanniston to stay on Earth, he decides to join Galactic civilization, where dwell people who have come to super-intelligence by eons of evolutionary processes. He keeps using the brain energizer, and is soon even more intelligent than the Galactic Ones.
Being logical beings, the Galactic Ones recognize Wan Nes Stan’s (as he now calls himself) superior intellect, and are willing to install him as their leader…as soon as his experience catches up to his intelligence in a few centuries. Wan Nes Stan tries to shortcut the process, only to discover his true limitations and destroy himself.
The story bookends with identical dialogue at the beginning and end, which would be effective if the language in those conversations wasn’t so stilted. It also uses the 10% of your brain gimmick (which admittedly was less debunked back then.)
John W. Campbell’s editorial “–but are we?” is prescient on the subject of nuclear proliferation though thankfully humanity has survived so far.
There are two science fact articles. “Hearing Aid” by George O. Smith is a very short piece on radio proximity fuses. “Electrical Yardsticks” by Earl Welch is about the international standards for the volt, ampere and ohm; how they were decided, and how they are maintained. Lots of math here, and possibly the technology is dated, but likely fascinating reading if you want to know more about electrical engineering.
I liked the Leinster piece best because of the thin line it walks between horror and SF; “The Fairy Chessmen” has some great imagery, but with only part one I can’t judge its full effectiveness.
Overall, an average issue, but well worth looking up for old-time science fiction fans.
Magazine Review: Gamma 3 edited by Charles E. Fritch
Gamma was a short-lived science fiction magazine (five issues in 1963-64), known for high-quality cover art and snagging stories from authors connected with the film industry. (Indeed, I picked up this issue because of the sweet Morris Scott Dollens art.) It was digest-sized and relatively thin. Let’s look at the contents!
“The Girl of Paradise Planet” by Robert Turner concerns retired millionaire George Prentiss. He and his third wife Evvie have come to the title planet on a long vacation (her idea.) Bored, Robert has taken up underwater swimming with future SCUBA gear. This world is not supposed to have any native intelligent life, but then where did that water-breathing naked girl come from? Is George having hallucinations from the water pressure, or is he just going insane?
Over the course of the story, we learn that George is a self-made man who spent his youth starting a business, growing that business and getting rich, so he didn’t look for romance until middle age, and three times went for trophy wives, none of whom have worked out. Which is okay…except that the possibly imaginary Irlana comes across as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl whose function is to rekindle his love of life (and is younger and prettier than Evvie.)
Mr. Turner was an experienced author, but this was his first time writing science fiction, and I can tell. He’s certainly no climatologist, and the ending twist relies on most of the characters forgetting a perfectly logical explanation for events that would be common knowledge to them, even if the reader wouldn’t know it.
“The Feather Bed” by Shelley Lowenkopf presents a bizarre future in which the economy runs on make-work. For example, three years after a building is built, all the piping is torn out and replaced just to give the plumbing crews something to do. This extends to writing as well. Every 37 years, all extant editions of Shakespeare are destroyed, and replaced with “newly written” versions by living authors. Except that it’s just retyping the whole thing verbatim. And the same goes for all other works of fiction by dead writers.
Lew has had it with the system–he doesn’t want to “rewrite” King Lear again, and on the union points system, it will be years before he’s allowed to write more of the original fiction that made him a successful author in the first place. Unfortunately, he’s just one man against the system, and winds up causing even the FBI to intervene. If Lew sticks to his principles, he could lose everything, including the writing he really wants to do.
“Angel Levine” by Bernard Malamud stars Jewish tailor Manischevitz, who is going through hard times. His shop burned down, and the insurance money was eaten by customer lawsuits. His son died in the war, and his daughter ran off with a man and never communicates. He’s got chronic pain, and his wife Rosie is dying. Manischevitz asks God for assistance, but when an “angel” named Levine shows up, there are reasons the tailor is unconvinced. It’s ultimately a story about belief in the face of your assumptions about people. There is racism and anti-Semitism in the story. (This one was reprinted from one of the author’s collections.)
“The (In)visible Man” by Edward W. Ludwig is a fantasy about James Smith, who has become socially invisible. He’s finally decided to exploit that fact, but one person has finally become able to see him, and that is both Mr. Smith’s weakness and best hope. It’s a fairly sweet story, helped along by James Smith, even when he turns criminal, sticking to a “least harm” principle. There is an attempted suicide in the story.
“Inside Story” by Miriam Allen deFord takes place in a far future when the Galactic Federation sends scouts to find new worlds that one of their myriad species can live on and isn’t already inhabited by intelligent life. These planets are exceedingly rare. It looks, however, like this one might be ideal. Presuming the scout party doesn’t find any surprises like rapid inexplicable temperature variations….
In this future, scout ships have mixed-sex crews, but this is because every member of that crew is a different non-compatible species. The twist ending is suitably bizarre.
“The Birth” by George Clayton Johnson is a retelling of a classic story from a different perspective. See how long it takes you to figure out which one!
“Buttons” by Raymond E. Banks concerns John Burke, a starship officer who is forced by disaster to upload his mind to a computer memory storage system. Supposedly, he will have his mind reinserted into his human body once that’s fixed. But that procedure has a high failure rate, and Burke is rapidly discovering the advantages of being a disembodied intelligence. There’s some relatively early thought about the benefits versus possible hazards of transhumanism.
“Society for the Prevention” by Ron Goulart is a humorous piece about the travails of a interplanetary surplus store manager. He’s just gotten a large shipment of extremely ugly wicker urns, the natives of the planet have organized a violent “Shop Local” campaign, and the newly arrived Young Girls Space Police and Welfare Committee officer suspects him of being in cahoots with the inventor of a death ray. Everything more or less works out in the end, but now the store manager has to try to explain to his boss why the urns didn’t get sold. The female Space Police officer is treated as a joke–admittedly so is everyone else, but it may not sit well with some readers, as part of the joke is that women are completely unsuited for the work.
The final story is “The Snail Watcher” by Patricia Highsmith. This creepy tale is about a man who gets a little too fascinated with the reproductive habits of snails, not noticing that these particular snails are reproducing much more rapidly than is anywhere near normal.
Interior art is by Luan Metheringham, who sadly seems to have completely dropped out of sight with only her Gamma appearances known.
There is also an interview with “Ivan Kirov” about the state of Soviet science fiction in the early 1960s. He declined to have his real name published for security reasons. Per the interview, SF in the USSR was beginning to blossom after being suppressed during the Stalinist years. Noted was a tendency for “nuts and bolts” stories of adventure, with little of the social or psychological exploration that had become common in Western nations’ science fiction. (At the time, the government censors were big on Soviet Communism going worldwide being the only possible future, and writers were expected to get on board with that.)
The Banks story is the one that I liked best, though the Highsmith story was also effective. Worth seeking out if you’re a fan of either author or the cover artist.
Book Review: The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution by David Wootton
At the beginning of the Fifteenth Century, there were no scientists as we understand the term, and no science. Received wisdom from Aristotle and Galen ruled knowledge and philosophy. Then a series of changes in technology and the way people investigated nature brought a new way of thinking. By the end of the Seventeenth Century there were scientists, an intellectual community of people who had created a process we call “science.”
This book covers the history of those centuries, and how the Scientific Revolution began. David Wootton is a professor of Intellectual History at the University of London and an Anniversary Professor at the University of York, and the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries are part of his focus.
There were, according to this book, several contributing factors to the Scientific Revolution. The printing press allowed ideas to be widely spread and preserved for long times. Perspective drawing allowed more accurate pictures to be published–you could build something from plans! The telescope and microscope opened up new worlds to human vision. Readily available compasses improved navigation.
Plus of course, the “discovery” of America showing there were entire landmasses unknown to the ancient philosophers, and a nova in 1572 that revealed the heavens were not fixed and unchangeable as Aristotle had decreed. The old answers no longer satisfied, and people began methodically testing to see what actually happened when, for example, you floated ice in water.
It wasn’t an overnight change; several of the pieces took a while before their true significance or usefulness was understood. At first, much of it was simply mathematicians applying their skills to astronomy or ballistics. But over time, the changes accelerated, so that by the time of Isaac Newton, what he did with refraction of light was clearly the scientific method.
This is a college level text, with copious footnotes and end notes, bibliography and index. Professor Wootton spends a great deal of time tracking down earliest uses of various words used for science in a science-related context, like “fact” and “hypothesis.” This can get tedious, but he’s trying to show how the new way of thinking had to adapt and invent vocabulary for ideas that simply didn’t exist in that form before. Thankfully, there are also illustrations throughout, and a center section of color plates.
The author also has a section devoted to calling out historians he disagrees with, primarily relativists. Apparently, there is a school of thought that science is effectively a group delusion, with more socially prominent or connected scientists imposing their views on their colleagues. Creationism is just as good science as evolution, it would seem. The author claims that there are such things as theories that don’t stand up to facts. I am not educated enough to evaluate his conclusions or his description of other historical philosophies; he may have misrepresented them.
Recommended primarily for history students and science buffs. The casual reader would probably be better off with biographies of the various individual people involved, many of whom led interesting lives that are barely touched on in this volume. (Women and non-Europeans who helped advance the cause of science are barely mentioned, mostly to say they existed.)
Magazine Review: High Adventure #143: Planet Stories Issue edited by John P. Gunnison
Planet Stories was a science-fiction pulp magazine published between 1939 and 1955; it specialized in interplanetary action and daring-do. (See my review of Planet Comics, its sister magazine that started publishing about the same time. Covers tended to the formula of busty, scantily-clad (by the standards of the time) woman, handsome hero and bug-eyed monster.
The stories in this reprint are from 1951 & 1952, by which time the general quality of the stories had improved and science fiction itself was trending towards more mature writing. Most of the SF pulps that survived did so by switching to a digest format on somewhat better paper; Planet Stories was unable to make that transition.
“Zero Data” by Charles Saphro is a bit different from the usual for the magazine in that while interplanetary travel exists, it takes place on Earth. Police officer Jason has been trying to get the goods on crimelord Lonnie Raichi for years. But no matter what new crime-fighting equipment the police labs produce, Lonnie always escapes detection. By 2009, he’s become THE Launcelot Raichi and the higher-ups of Government City are putting heavy pressure on Captain Jason to simply stop investigating.
Lonnie ascribes his success to his “Triple Ethic”, one of the tenets of which is paying the right people to produce solutions to his problems. For example, the head inventor of the police labs was on his payroll, creating ways to beat the latest anti-crime technology before delivering that technology to the police.
Captain Jason has the last laugh, however, figuring out what Lonnie is after, and using the low-tech approach of being there in person with his human eyes. He’s realized that Lonnie has never bothered learning the scientific principles his crime suit operates on.
“Thompson’s Cat” by Robert Moore Williams demonstrates the wisdom of bringing a housecat on your rocketship. An exploration crew finds a planet devoid of life, looking like everyone died in a sudden attack by unknown enemies, but with no radioactivity or battle damage to the buildings. On the way back to Earth, crew members start dying of something that turns their skin green. The captain locks the ship into a course for the sun–if they can’t figure out the cause before they fry, at least Earth won’t be contaminated. A fairly simple puzzle story, though raising some questions about the alien life cycles.
“The Slaves of Venus” by Edwin James is closer to the traditional “planetary romance” formula Planet Stories was known for. A political figure exiled from Earth and Mars arrives on Venus to free it from the tyrannical interplanetary government. Except that he himself is one of the former dictators who has been overthrown. The actual hero unites Venus’ barbarian tribes to stop the slave trade and has a romance with the dictator’s naive daughter who bought into her father’s narrative.
“Evil Out of Onzar” by Mark Ganes has a shapeshifting intelligence officer assigned to bodyguard a scientist who has developed a new wrinkle on hyperspace travel that would make it easier for one side of the galactic war to win. He fails, but manages to hook up with the scientist’s lovely daughter, herself a brilliant scientist (Planet tended to have pretty competent heroines who were of actual use to the hero once he saved them.) Onzar turns out to be an important choke point in the hyperspace system, and an ideal place for an ambush. Unfortunately, it’s run by a dictator who is himself bent on conquest.
The best character in the story is Pyuf, an amiable and hard-drinking fellow who has many jobs, not all of them legitimate. Sadly, he leaves the tale about halfway through. There’s also an interesting social divide between gold-obsessed males and religious females on Onzar.
“The Virgin of Valkarion” by Poul Anderson is in the “Barbarian Worlds” setting. Humanity went to the stars, but the planets became cut off from each other and fell into more primitive societies. Eons have passed since then. Alfric, an outlander, comes to Valkarion, last vestige of an empire that once ruled the planet back when it had oceans. He’s directed to a particular tavern, and the girl that comes with his room is of far too high quality to be an ordinary prostitute.
Turns out she’s Hildaborg, queen of Valkarion, whose husband just died–there’s a prophecy that Alfric fits to an uncomfortable degree, and she wants in on the ground floor. The priest Therokos, on the other hand, wants to break the prophecy and rule himself. (The title is a lie. There is no virgin in the story.)
This could easily be fantasy; the only hints of SF are the alien planet thing and hints that Alfric’s sword is technological in nature.
“The Big Pill” by Raymond Z. Gallun finishes the issue with a colony on Titan. It’s just suffered a tragedy due to defective equipment shipped in by Space Colonists’ Supply, Inc. The current owner values profit over safety, and has blocked more modern equipment from being imported thanks to his monopoly. Some of the colonists have a plan to make conditions on Titan better…using a descendant of the hydrogen bomb. They must work against the clock as the corporate jerk is determined to see them all under his thumb instead.
Overall, this is a fun issue for pulp SF fans, which is better on the sexism front than much of the contemporary material. (There’s some Mighty Whitey moments in “The Slaves of Venus” that may be off-putting.)
This is another in the line of Galaxy Press reprints of L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp magazine stories. As always, the physical presentation is excellent. This time, we have four short science fiction stories. The cover doesn’t actually apply to any of them.
“The Great Secret” is focused on Fanner Marston, the sole survivor of an expedition to find a lost city of the great star-spanning civilization that once ruled the universe. Hidden in that city is the Great Secret that gave them mastery–once Marston learns it he will be all-powerful and able to rule the current civilization. His single-minded focus allows him to ignore pain, starvation and thirst to some degree. At last he finds the lost city and learns the Great Secret. What is it? Sorry, spoilers.
“Space Can” is set during the war between the Terrans and the Saturnians. A small battleship is sent to check up on a report that shipping is being attacked. It turns out that the situation is much worse than advertised, but there’s no time for the Menace to wait for backup. The brave officers and men are outnumbered and outgunned, but perhaps they can pull it off. The theme of the story is the anthropomorphic way the crew relates to their ship–with the possibility that the ship reciprocates.
It’s worth noting that we learn almost nothing about the war; the Saturnians have pointy heads, but are otherwise not characterized. For all we know, the Terrans are invaders wiping out the peaceful folk of Saturn.
“The Beast” is a jungle adventure story transplanted to Venus. Great white hunter Ginger Cranston is called upon by the native “blues” when “da juju” starts killing people. At first he’s baffled by the cunning unseen monster, and spends much of the story in a funk due to an early defeat. Period racism is on display here, even if thinly disguised by making the superstitious natives aliens. Apparently they still have segregation in the future. The ending twist is fairly obvious a couple of pages in.
“The Slaver” is set in a future where Earth has been defeated by the forces of Lurga. They apparently just destroyed its military and spacefaring capabilities, but didn’t bother occupying the world. Instead, the Earth people have reverted to a semi-feudal social structure, and suffer slaving raids by the Lurgans.
On this particular trip, the Lurgan slavers have picked up Kree Lorin, a young lord, as well as the usual peasants. Kree had been haughty, and his courtship of the lovely Dana of Palmerton had been based on him elevating her social status, which she had refused. (There’s a sexist slur word used towards her mother.) Now they are chained next to each other on the slave ship Gaffgon, captained by the obese and cruel Voris Shapadin. When Voris decides to sample the merchandise early by taking Dana to his cabin, this gives Kree the motivation to fight for his (and Dana’s) freedom. The other peasants? Forgotten.
Some readers may find the “She rejected me, but when I save her from the much worse guy, she’ll be grateful and love me” plotline a bit obnoxious.
There’s a helpful glossary, but it’s been combined with that for the next book in the series, The Professor Was a Thief, so some of the entries don’t make sense in this volume. There’s a short preview of that story, and the usual potted biography of Mr. Hubbard.
This is midlist pulp SF, enjoyable but no great shakes. Check your local library or used book sales; it really is an attractive book.
Comic Book Review: Roy Thomas Presents: Planet Comics, Vol. 1
Comic books were still a very new thing in 1940, and the publishers were still trying to figure out what there was a market for. Science fiction themes seemed popular, so Fiction House created the pulp-inspired Planet Comics to appeal to fans of rockets and aliens. This volume collects the first four issues, including some of the advertisements.
After a brief introduction by Carmine Infantino, which is mostly about the fact that he had nothing to do with any of the included material, we get right down to some luridly colored adventures. Dick Briefer was the artist on “Flint Baker and the One-Eyed Monsters of Mars”, the first story in the volume and perhaps the most complex. Mr. Baker has designed and built a spaceship, but no sane people want to go on a trip to Mars with him. So he pulls political strings to have three murderous mechanics freed from Death Row if they’ll volunteer for the voyage.
After takeoff, it’s discovered that Mimi Wilson, a reporter for the New York Globe, has stowed away on the ship. Flint is quickly *ahem* convinced to let her stay aboard. The three convicts tell their stories, and amazingly, all three of them were actually guilty. The first one does claim self-defense, but the second decided to shoot his sister’s fiance at the altar on the grounds that he was “rotten.” The third man, Grant, claims to have been forced to murder by a mysterious man with hypnotic powers. Hmm….
It turns out that Mr. Baker’s is not the first expedition to Mars. As the ruler of the light side of Mars and his daughter Princess Viga explain, the Earthmen were criminals, and exiled to Mars’ dark side (protip: Mars does not have a “dark side”) where even now they plot to conquer the peaceful Martians. The word “they” turns out to be misleading. Their leader, Sarko, has murdered the others and seized control of an army of one-eyed monsters.
There is a fierce battle, during which the named women are captured, and the King of Mars gives up. The Earthmen are made of sterner stuff and infiltrate the enemy headquarters. Sarko is planning to kill Viga to prevent any opposition to his eternal rule, and is going to give Mimi immortality to be his Empress. Turns out that Sarko was the man who forced Grant to murder and then left him in prison to rot–they both wind up dead. But more adventures next month!
Other standout characters are the Red Comet, a mystery man who can shrink and grow at will thanks to a special belt, Amazona, last woman of a superior Arctic race, and Auro, Lord of Jupiter, who was raised by a saber-tooth tiger. Spurt Hammond is not so special in and of himself, being a standard two-fisted space pilot, but he battles the Lunerzons, woman warriors of the Moon with a vaguely Chinese culture, who are easily defeated when their leaders both get the hots for Spurt.
The design aesthetic is very pulp SF, which leads to some fascinating spaceships and cityscapes. But much of the art is crude, and some of the stories have lazy pages of big panels with little art in them. Often the stories are disjointed and somewhat nonsensical; this is most obvious with the Fletcher Hanks “Tiger Hart” piece which is apparently a medieval story with a couple of word balloons edited to make it happen on Saturn.
There’s no real depth of theme in these stories, just plenty of action. Be warned, there’s some period racism (seriously, a global invasion by what appear to be Eskimos?) and sexism. For most people, I’d recommend checking to see if you can find this through your public library. Only the most fanatical Golden Age collectors (like me) are likely to want to own it.