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F&SF – June 1963 – illo by Ed Emsh, “No Truce With Kings.”

Nuts and Bolts

I’m not trying to show some favoritism with F&SF, seeing as this is the third of its issues I’ve reviewed in such a short period of time, but such things happen when I own roughly twice as many F&SF issues as I do any of its competitors. (The closest in number is probably Imagination or Fantastic, to my undying shame.) I picked this one specifically in honor of the late Jack Vance; it has one of his more notable stories, “Green Magic;” I’ll be going through my collection to find other Vance stories which are new to me. It doesn’t hurt that the cover story is Poul Anderson’s award-winning “No Truce With Kings;” fresh after his “Outpost on Empire” in the Dec. ’67 issue of Galaxy, I could do worse than another Anderson novella. Plus, Richard Matheson—who, between writing and posting, has also since passed.

I’ve also had a soft spot for F&SF under Avram Davidson’s editorship, April ’62 – Nov ’64. Davidson had a playful, easygoing style; his editorials, when he wrote them, remind me of the beat writers for some reason. Davidson’s writing is entertaining, though insubstantial at times, and he leads the amused reader through an enjoyable path regardless of its lack of direction or the fact not much happens along the way. He brought that same style to F&SF as editor, and picked a number of choice works, expanding the boundaries of what, exactly, constituted fantasy and/or science fiction. Alas, living in California and editing a magazine in New York proved unsustainable, and Davidson stepped down.

The cover is what I mean when I criticize F&SF‘s earlier “rockets on the moon” pseudo-realistic cover style. Ed Emshwiller has done, in my opinion, a gorgeous cover for “No Truce With Kings.” Vibrant, surreal, colorful; I love the thick paint-strokes that look like they could flake off the cover, the use of blue, the inverted white and black outlines on the man, the adorned rocket. This is one of those issues I bought simply to own the cover; if I had the time or initiative I’d create a poster-sized print of it. One of the more surrealistic and colorful of his covers, but a good representation of Emsh’s output for F&SF; he did most of the covers for the magazine in the ’60s, most of them good, several of them brilliant.

No Truce With Kings – Poul Anderson – Novella

In a futuristic America, Balkanized after an unspecified apocalyptic war, civil war is brewing. The Pacific States of America suffers a coup d’etet in response to its leader, Judge Brodsky, signing a peace treaty with Western Canada; the PSA is split between loyalists to the new leaders seeking a centralized government, and the Brodskyites, who support the old way of feudalism under regionalized bossmen united by a loose confederation. The battle lines are drawn: on one side is Colonel Mackenzie, who leads one of the military units still loyal to Brodsky; on the other side is his son-in-law, Tom Danielis, an idealistic young lieutenant who sees centralized government as the next step to reclaiming humanity’s lost glories and getting back on the path of progress. In the middle are the Espers, independent communities who claim to possess psychic powers.

Anderson’s a master at this sort of thing; he’s combined a slew of disparate elements to create a strong novella, winner of the 1964 Hugo award. The characters are starkly realistic, normal people caught up in events beyond their control. There’s a number of gripping action scenes, including the climactic assault on San Francisco. And there’s the revelation of a secret society that’s been pulling humanity’s strings, trying to lead it to greatness but leading intstead into more war and death and decay. The setting evokes the American Civil War and Feudalistic Europe, with technology around on par with the First World War (armored cars, airplanes, bolt-action rifles) rub shoulders with levied serf militia armed with bow and arrow. An intoxicating blend of creativity that reads like a dream. My only complaint is that the characters tend to break into clunky exposition, for example the soldiers giving page-long “rants” or daydreams that explain the current political situation. Oh, and that this would have made a wonderful novel.

The twist at the end and moral of the story can be taken two ways; the surface level bluntly argues that feudalism is the best socio-political course for a humanity struggling to re-establish itself in the wake of Armageddon, but at a deeper level it’s an argument against nation-building, positing that free will and freedom of choice should not be infringed by external powers, no matter how noble the intent. The former I disagree with, the latter I support for the most part. Anderson is on the opposite side of the political spectrum from myself, since part of the story is a Libertarian attack on the values of a social democracy where “the do-gooders get their comeuppance.” That said, it’s more than that, and I loved reading it. The mark of an artist is when you disagree with the values of their creation but still find merit in it.

Reprinted in Time and Stars, The Hugo Winners Vol. 2, as half of a Tor Double, and in an assortment of recent Poul Anderson collections. It’s worth seeking out.

Books – Avram Davidson – Article

Of the six books Davidson reviews, only two are “real” books, e.g. fiction of the scientific or fantastic variety. The first is Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Apparently Davidson had been neglecting Dick because this book caught him off-guard; it released in January 1962, but it sounds like Davidson read it much later, after it won a Hugo award. The review is the longest and bursting with praise, and includes a lengthy quote to display how the characters in the Pacific States of America are influenced in speech and thought by their Japanese occupiers.

The other “real” book is Time Waits for Winthrop, and Four Other Short Novels from Galaxy, which Davidson ends up rating “three A’s, one B, and one D-minus.” The A’s are William Tenn’s title novella (which “…shows [Tenn] at very good advantage, too—until the conclusion,” which Davidson disliked), Damon Knight’s “Natural State,” and Ted Sturgeon’s “To Marry Medusa.” The B is Isaac Asimov’s entry, “Galley Slave,” one of his robot stories, which is “utterly logical, utterly natural—and leaves me, though not cold, cool.” The D-minus—which Davidson left unnamed—must be F.L. Wallace’s “Accidental Flight;” the sole comment is “And the fifth short novel I found unreadable.” Unlike the surgically precise criticism performed by Anthony Boucher or Damon Knight, I assume Davidson takes to heart the adage if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.

The other four reviews are of non-fiction works (Kingdoms of the Octopus, Myths of the Hero, The Planets) and one children’s book, March of the Robots, containing a few rare bits of information which “might engage the attention of the adult purchaser briefly before passing it on to the recipient.”

Pushover Planet – Con Pederson – Short

The interesting bit here is that Con Pederson was using Forrest J. Ackerman as his agent, but sometime between when the story was written and when it was published Pederson disappeared. This was the third of his four published stories, and Avram Davidson makes a plea for any information about Con Pederson, so he can be paid for this story and to write more like it.

To be honest, it’s decent but not that great of a story; I’m sure I’ve read the same plot done better by Sheckley or Tenn. First-class planet exploiters land on a virgin planet to search for uranium and platinum, and the first thing they find is a psychic kangaroo-beast that brings them tidings of cheer and affection. Things can only end in tears. Thus, they do. The incoming twist ending was foreseen a mile away, but the actual execution for that twist felt a bit rushed and random. Again, it’s not bad, and would have rated higher had it not already been done in the previous decade.

Starlesque – Walter H. Kerr – Verse

“Starlesque,” as in burlesque, as in alien strippers. If I’m reading it right, what they’re stripping is layers of skin and musculature and tissue. Science fiction poetry tends not to be as strong as “literary” poetry, at least as far as I’ve seen, in either cadence or content. Kerr was one of those few SF poets, whose only work was poetry that appeared in F&SF and a few Arkham House publications.

Green Magic – Jack Vance – Short

As the introduction paragraph explains it, the story of a “the man who dwelt in Fairyland—minus any hint of saccharinity that may imply.” Howard Faire is an expert in black (evil) and white (good) magic, and is dabbling with purple magic when he discovers the titular green. Summoning its sprites, he finds them arrogant and cold; despite their objections he convinces them to teach him green magic: immortality, increased perception, all-round vision, control of time and fate and the future, et al. And in that, he’s probably taken on more than he realized—hate to say it, but they told him so.

Great fun in the typical Vance style; he has a tendency to describe creatures and items by name alone—the “Egg of Innocence” stands out to me—and those undefined items rest perfectly on their evocative names. The story’s approaching rather dense philosophical issues in Vance’s playful, lighthearted prose. When is too much knowledge a burden, a curse? Is there a limit to personal growth, a barrier to perfection? Just ask Howard, trapped halfway between the pitiful mundane existence and the glorious world of green magic. Later reprinted in several of Vance’s collections, including Green Magic, The Narrow Land, and the limited Subterranean Press volume Wild Thyme, Green Magic.

The Light That Failed! – Isaac Asimov – Article

I’m ashamed that the first review of Asimov’s writing here is one of his many science articles in F&SF and not his fiction; it’s the first of Asimov’s works to be reviewed here, but it will not be the last. Here, Asimov talks a bit about the history of how scientists tried to study the speed of light. The article’s based around the Michelson-Morley experiment and how its spectacular failure—an attempt to measure the velocity of the solar system through the aether—helped disprove the theory of luminiferous aether because it failed to detect any aether whatsoever. The point being, even failure can be a lesson learned about science, and Asimov points out that sometimes one failed experiment can tell us more than a hundred successful ones—after all, Michelson won a Nobel Prize for failing.

Asimov’s style is a bit formal, and he’s got the odd habit of being self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing in the same sentence, but overall he condenses a lot of historical science fact into bite-sized layman’s terms. He’s no Carl Sagan, but to be honest I thought his background in fiction gave it a good flow and kept it both interesting and comprehensible, and compared to articles from contemporaries like Willy Ley and John Campbell, I’d actually read a book on science by Asimov. Which is something the good doctor himself realized, because he began packaging up his science column articles in book form; this one’s in Asimov on Physics (1979). My only complaint is that it relies heavily on one of his articles from two months’ prior, an issue I don’t own. (Minor quibble, I know.)

F&SF June 1963 page 129 emsh

The Weremartini – Vance Aandahl – Short

The tale of a college professor who discovers he’s a weremartini, which is much as it sounds; he can become a martini, glass, olive, and all. The object of his desire is one of his students, a beautiful girl whom he pines over during class; the source of his hatred is his coworker Dr. Norlin, the “Negro” professor who beats him at chess and is generally smarter, more well-liked and humble. Dr. Norlin is hated because when the protagonist talk to him about being in love with his student, Norlin just laughed at him and essentially told him to walk it off. Editor Davidson’s introduction compares Aandahl’s wit to Voltaire’s; judging by this example, that’s more than an overstatement. I didn’t find this story particularly witty or satirical. A bit of surreal academe humor done in the form of magical realism; well-written, but pointless, and in a word—obtuse.

As if the story so far wasn’t weird enough, the ending is plain bizarre; spoilers: the beautiful girl drinks the martini-professor, the professor-martini becomes the beautiful girl, and the beautiful girl-professor goes off to taunt the black guy because ‘he laughed at me once; now he’ll love me and I’ll laugh at him instead.’ Guy becomes martini becomes girl to flirt with and deny another guy. I’d love to see Freud or Jung try to unravel that one. And it may just be the now-archaic use of the word “negro” but I sense a slight bit of racism in the story—after all, the hated Dr. Norlin doesn’t do anything wrong, while the protagonist with an irrational dislike of Dr. Norlin takes us on a trip into weirdsville.

Ferdinand Feghoot LXIII – Grendel Briarton – Short-Short

Or, to quote the full title, “Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LXIII;” author “Grendel Briarton” was a pseudonym for Reginald Bretnor. A feghoot is a short vignette ending with an atrocious pun or play-on-words for a famous phrase, kind of a shorter shaggy dog story. A Ferdinand Feghoot is a troubleshooter who who’s brought in to solve bedeviling problems and fend off dangerous monsters. This one has Feghoot tasked with setting up a communications system for a gravitational-locked planet known for farming chickens. Is it bad when I say it’s not as groan-inducing as others in the series only because its pun was so weak? You need some knowledge of radio-waves for it to work.

Bokko-Chan – Sinichi Hoshi (trans. by Noriyoshi Saito) – Short

This is widely reported as the first work of Japanese SF to be printed in an English-language SF magazine. Author Sinichi Hoshi wrote over a thousand short-short stories, and was included in many collections in the ’70s and ’80s; this one is 6 pages long, and tells the story about a bartender who builds a robot that looks like a beautiful girl. He’s not the best at programming, so her responses are limited, but she looks human enough that everyone just thinks she’s an air-head. (He’s also cheap; Bokko-chan’s only reaction is to drink anything put in front of her, and the bartender collects the liquor in a vat so he can re-serve it.) Eventually a young man falls in love with Bokko-chan, with disastrous consequences. The story’s got a sharp little ending, though like many translations it’s a bit rough.

‘Tis the Season To Be Jelly – Richard Matheson – Short

Davidson’s usually verbose with his introductions. Here? “This is one of the damnedest stories we have ever read.” That about sums it up; there’s no real way to explain the story and convey the absurdity—it must be read to be believed. It’s about a family of mutant hillbillies living after some nuclear/biological war has demolished their atomic structure, their extra limbs and malformed bodies falling apart like jelly as they scrounge for food. Their prodigal son decides today will be the day he proposes to his girl. There’s a lot packed into this short story (it’s just four pages long); its prose and weirdness puts other “mutant hillbilly” stories—like Kuttner & Moore’s Hogben series—to shame. But it relies on its confused style over substance. Comically grotesque, and enjoyable for that, though I’m certain some readers will find it painfully contrived.

Later reprinted in several Matheson collections: Shock 3; Richard Matheson: Collected Stories; Button, Button: Uncanny Stories; and The Box: Uncanny Stories.

Another Rib – John Jay Wells & Marion Zimmer Bradley – Novelette

An expedition of sixteen men on an alien planet are stranded when they realize the solar system has been destroyed; they are the last of the human race. An alien—member of a dying race himself, with no hope of saving his kind—has a startling revelation, having such advanced science that to him differences in human anatomy between male and female are minute. Against the captain’s more conservative judgment, the alien offers to genetically modify some of the men, who are already living in implied homosexual relationships, to carry children to term. Some take him up on that offer, hoping to propagate the human race once more.

It’s a well-written story dealing with some dense issues that are still causing heated debates today. There’s not a lot of detail in there, but apparently the alien is just re-arranging the genetics, since the men are still notably men, just pregnant ones, which makes it a bit weirder than the sex-change operations I was expecting. A bizarre and unique idea, and for the most part it’s handled with a deft carefulness given its subject and its time. Still, I can see it being highly controversial in its day, because it’d be a controversial story if published today, and there’s probably plenty of readers who’d rant and rave against it—much like the ship’s captain, who complains that it’s not just living in sin, it’s the sin.

“John Jay Wells” was actually Jaunita Coulson, who with her husband Buck edited the Hugo-winning fanzine Yandro (taking its name from one of Manly Wade Wellman’s tales of John the Balladeer). Given this story and its contents, I can’t blame her for writing behind the male pseudonym—the only time she did that, according to ISFDB—given that the story really intends to rock the boat and ruffle the status quo.

There Are No More Good Stories About Mars Because We Need No More Good Stories About Mars – Brian Aldiss – Verse

Aldiss’ poem takes us through the history of Mars in fiction, how its portrayal changes from the ’30s to the ’40s to the ’50s as it becomes more and more realistic and therefore less magical than its predecessors. I thought it was decent; here’s a copy of your own:

F&SF June 1963 page 127

The Bottom Line

Again, I’m finding F&SF is proving more prone to experiment and push the boundaries of what is traditionally published. The fact that it prints poems stands out to me—the only other speculative fiction magazine I can think of that did that was Weird Tales—and, as usual, it has more female authors than Analog or Galaxy. (Though, this time, its women writers are collaborating, and one’s hiding behind a pseudonym.) Nor did other magazines have half as many translations as F&SF; Its editors took care with reprints and translations, going after very obscure stories… in this case, the first English publication of a Japanese SF story.

We have two stories here about swapping gender roles; the first being The Weremartini where the protagonist ends up in a girl’s body, the second being Another Rib where it’s got men carrying children to term. Mind-switching and body-jumping isn’t new to SF, but I find it interesting to contrast the two stories in this issue. In Weremartini it’s done for kicks, for lust; in Another Rib it’s an unnatural last attempt of bio-genetic modification, done to stave off humanity’s extinction.

Like most magazines, a mixed bag. The best (the Anderson, Vance, and “Bokko-chan”) have been well-anthologized and are worth tracking down; it should be easy since all three are in what feels like dozens of collections. “Another Rib” is the best of those not found anywhere else; give it time, since any history collecting LGBT science fiction will surely pick it up. The Matheson and Pederson are readable, but I’m not sure they’re worth seeking out; the first is short and dopey, and the latter shows potential but lacks a certain je ne se quois, and I just can’t shake the feeling that “Pushover Planet” is a rehash of a Sheckley story. Con Pederson leans closer to the Galaxy style of satire but pales in comparison, though it is technically sound. Aandahl’s is an absurd academe joke that’s not particularly funny; it was the only one I disliked. It felt like it was trying to be smarter than it is, and what it is doesn’t impress me.