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I haven’t gone into much detail about Amazing Stories during the Cele Goldsmith-Lalli years because, until recently, I only owned one issue. This one.

Cele is now revered as one of the greatest editors of her time—1958 to 1965—for opening up new authors and experimental technique in the fiction she published. Her magazines printed just about anything by anyone, but she knew a good story when she saw it, and handled her magazines well for an editor coming from outside the SF field. She championed authors like Le Guin, Ballard, Zelazny, and Disch, while printing old hands like Leiber, Bloch, Blish, and Dickson. I don’t think she saw the same levels of respect and adoration at the time, but nowadays she gets glowing praise for her work on Amazing Stories and Fantastic.

Amazing Stories – April, 1965 – illo by Paula McLane, “The Shores of Infinity.”

The lead story here is the fourth of seven Star Kings novels by Edmond Hamilton, galactic space opera adventure on an impressive scale. Below it is the header for this issue’s installment of genre historian Sam Moskowitz’s column; here, SaM is looking at religion in SF stories. Hidden between the covers are several other prominent writers, namely John Brunner and John Jakes, along with Arthur Porges and Robert Rohrer. Porges saw stories printed in most of the major SF magazines; Rohrer wrote 16 stories, and the few not printed in Amazing/Fantastic wound up in F&SF.

The cover is not one I’m fond of; Paula McLane’s illustration for the Star Kings story looks like a cover reused from a Communist-bloc propaganda poster. Amazing is littered with ads, including the ubiquitous Rosicrucians, a hollow earth tract, the Electronic Experimenter’s Handbook, and a three-page classifieds marketplace. Its columns are few: a one-page editorial; a recurring book review column, The Spectroscope, by Robert Silverberg; and Sam Moskowitz’s recurring column on genre history topics. The articles Moskowitz wrote were either biographies of specific authors, or were centered on themes, such as the science-fiction detective novel, or this issue’s look at religion in science fiction.

Breakdown:

  • Cost: 50 cents
  • Length: 130 pages
  • Editor: Cele G. Lalli (nee Goldsmith)
  • Interior Art?: Yes, mostly by George Schelling
  • Fiction: Two novelettes, three short-stories.
  • Columns: Editorial, book reviews by Silverberg, and a fact article on religion in SF by Sam Moskowitz.

Editorial

I’ve never been sure if Cele Goldsmith wrote any of these, since most were signed “nl” or “nml” (for Norman M. Lobsenz, editorial director). This one is unsigned, but I have the feeling it was still by Lobsenz. Amazing’s editorials were usually just a page or so long, as is this one; it talks about a machine used to induce sleep, as well as praising Isaac Asimov for winning $1,000 from The American Chemical Society for “increasing the public’s understanding of chemistry” in his fiction.

The Shores of Infinity – Edmond Hamilton – Novelette

John Gordon is the unluckiest lucky man in the world. After an out-of-body experience shuffled him across space and time, from twentieth-century Earth into the body of a far-future scion of the feudal Star Kings, he found a way to send himself—mind and body this time—back to the future. However, the love of his life doesn’t reciprocate, his best friend doesn’t recognize him, and everyone considers him a primitive throwback. Hoping to prove his worth, he tags along to the capital of the Empire, hoping to uncover strange goings-on in the Marches—independent star-baronies on the fringes of the Empire. His adventures will uncover an uneasy alliance with past threats, and a dangerous alien adversary which looks to crush the Star Kings and their empire…

The impressive space opera that was the Star Kings series was some of Ed Hamilton’s best science fiction. Hamilton wrote the first volume of the Star Kings duology in 1946, but they don’t feel as dated as they could be, possibly because Star Wars came around and proved there was an enduring market for galaxy-spanning space opera with exotic alien cultures and interstellar war. Ed Hamilton was a dependable writer, and here he balances political intrigue and adventure with a deft hand. My criticism is that the story feels like a segment to a larger work—it ends with our heroes heading off to save the universe, when the story started with them just investigating strange goings-on in the Marches—lo, it’s the second of four stories (all in Amazing) that formed the fixup novel Return to the Stars.

If you can get over the story ending on a more interesting premise than the one it started with, you’ll find some vintage Ed Hamilton to enjoy. I recommend it, though I’d also recommend reading the complete fixup novel so things make more sense. The easiest way to acquire it is in the Haffner Press volume Stark And The Star Kings, which collects Hamilton’s two Star King novels, three novellas of Erik John Stark by Leigh Brackett, and the couple’s single collaborative novella which forms the title.

No Vinism Like Chau-Vinism – John Jakes – Novelette

After watching a decade of endless war between the Reds and the Yellows, the Americans have become a people crippled by a national ennui, the Pentagon comes up with a solution: televised “commercial wars” between different corporations and unions. Unbeknown by the American people, these televised slaughters are scripted and fought by waves of unarmed actors. Greg Rooke is one such actor, playing the commanding General of the United Dairy Expedition Force as they close in for the last offensive against the rebellious remnants of the American Manufacturers of Margarine Association. (Yes, this is a social satire.) But, as Greg finds out, the AMMA are playing for keeps: after going off-script and breaking out live ammo, it’s clear they have something else in mind.

I’m most familiar with John Jakes from his historical novels and his Brak the Barbarian stories; I’d expected this one to be more of a mainstream SF novel, but instead it’s more of a social satire in the Galaxy vein. Like many similar works, it’s both brilliant and a bit over-the-top—after all it’s a war between butter and margarine, fought in the dairylands of Wisconsin. After establishing the setting, Jakes keeps piling more elements on. Greg Rooke’s ex-wife is a member of a rival actor’s union, and part of the movement behind the AMMA going rogue. Then there’s a “Yellow Peril” twist late in the story that feels even more over-the-top than the dairyland war. It feels like Jakes kept thinking of more ways to over-complicate an already interesting plot.

Jakes starts off well, but most authors would stick to the brilliant satire of flag-waving consumerism: the American people cheering on the warring sides like they were football teams, chanting product jingles in support of butterfat or lower-priced spread. Instead, Jakes goes one-twist-too-many, in part because of the awkward “Yellow Peril” angle; maybe Jakes included it to further poke at jingoism. (Note that “No Vinism” saw print seven months before the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first major U.S. engagement in the Vietnam War, and that within ten years Nixon would open up trade relations with China, who the story depicts as the dastardly Yellows.) Overall, pretty good, not bad.

“No Vinism” was reprinted in The Best of John Jakes and Amazing Stories: 60 Years of the Best Science Fiction.

Ensign De Ruyter: Dreamer – Arthur Porges – Short

De Ruyter of the Galactic Navy is left on a primitive, inhabited planet that—according to the planet’s wizened trader—is about due for one of its thirty-year bloodbaths, an annual gods-decreed turf war which sees some 15,000 young savages killed off by spear and knife. De Ruyter cannot abide such wanton loss of life, and sets forth to stop it—first attempting diplomacy, then attempting a more complex trick. The third of seven De Ruyter stories that Porges sold to Amazing, a fairly typical plot with an inventive (if unpredicted) solution. The De Ruyter stories would eventually be collected in Eight Problems in Space.

Religion in Science Fiction: God, Space, and Faith – Sam Moskowitz – Article

Sam Moskowitz‘s reputation is that of a Big Name Fan prone to pontificate, knowledgeable of SF and its many personae, but also prone to speak an inaccuracy and stick by his guns longer than was rational. Some controversies—his defense of Hugo Gernsback in the face of mounting evidence, along with those inaccuracies and a few odd feuds—tarnished SaM’s reputation later in life. Still, it’s clear that he loved the genre from his dedication and scholarly interest. In the ’50s and ’60s, Moskowitz began writing articles for the professional SF magazine field, specifically Amazing/Fantastic, and his almost encyclopedic knowledge poured fourth. (I say “almost” because of the aforementioned inaccuracies; but really, he wasn’t all that bad considering.)

“God, Space, and Faith” touches on all the major stories you’d expect; there’s a good deal of time spent on C.S. Lewis and his Space Trilogy before SaM gets to A Case of Conscience, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Gather, Darkness, and many shorter works, plus mentions of everything from John Jacob Astor’s A Journey in Other Worlds to Bradbury’s “The Fire Balloons.” I’m always impressed by Moskowitz’s ability to go into detail about stories I’d never heard of, and it’s a nice change of pace to read a science fact article that’s about the genre, and not 1960s space probes or whatever. (“But,” as Moskowitz writes, “with a moon landing scheduled for 1970…”) Moskowitz is also in typical verbose form—not that there’s anything wrong with that (cough cough)—and he gives a pretty in-depth overview for his subject, twelve pages worth. Informative and interesting, though SaM’s fact articles do read more like lectures than articles written by Willy Ley or Isaac Asimov.

Later reprinted as “Space, God, and Science Fiction” in Arthur C. Clarke’s The Coming of the Space Age.

Greendark in the Cairn – Robert Rohrer – Short

Robert Rohrer was not a prolific author, totaling 16 pieces of short fiction and one memoir for F&SF; he wrote his earliest stories in high school, and was a regular in the Amazing/Fantastic stable. “Greendark in the Cairn” shows a lot of potential; its protagonist is Captain Stanley, commander of a small torpedo boat; Stanley’s mind gave out after an enemy battleship obliterated a passenger liner under his protection. The thought of the innocent civilians whose lives were snuffed out has broken his will—or, he fears, alien mind-control broke his will beforehand, which is why he failed in his duty. The title is part of Stanley’s stream-of-consciousness thought process, a little mental note stuck in his head ala “Nothing But Gingerbread Left” by Kuttner; the stream-of-consciousness technique is both campy and immersive.

Speech is Silver – John Brunner – Short

Jeremy Hankin didn’t really want to submit his voice for the Soundsleep Corporation’s “Great Search” contest, but his pretty wife badgered him into it. The contest is looking for people with the best voices, who are willing to lend that voice to Soundsleep’s business—a dial-in phone number which plays soothing subliminal suggestions and morale-boosting good ideas while the callers sleep. The trick’s on Hankin, because he ends up loosing his voice, his face, and his wife to the company, in return for a sizable check. Now Hankin wanders their corporate headquarters, on a quest only he knows the details to…

A pretty good social satire from Brunner, essentially condemning capitalist consumerism to the tune of “money don’t buy happiness.” Jeremy Hankin is a pitiful sad-sack even before he loses everything. He’s not so much mistreated by the company as much as he becomes a corporate sellout, then realizes the huge mistake he’s made by selling his own voice and image. The wife is presented as a cold shrew, and even had Jeremy not won the “Great Search” she probably would have screwed him over from something else. The only other female character in the story is a pretty blonde Hankin brainwashes into sleeping with him. Aside from that odd misogyny, the story is well-developed. A far cry from what Brunner would be writing in a few years (e.g., Stand on Zanzibar), but “Speech is Silver” is much more social science fiction than his earlier schlock for Ace Books.

Later reprinted in More Tales of Unease and the Brunner collection Time-Jump.

The Spectroscope – Robert Silverberg – Article

Robert Silverberg does a balanced job as book reviewer; he describes the book’s story before going into criticism about the quality of prose and plotting. No capsule reviews here, and Silverberg isn’t afraid to dish out criticism when it’s due. Four books are reviewed in this issue, all of them fiction; none of that non-fiction filler other magazines spent time reviewing.

Of Brian Aldiss’ The Dark Light Years, Silverberg felt it had great ideas, but that the writing’s too cutesy, the implications aren’t fully realized, and that the book isn’t as good as Starship (aka Non-Stop) or The Long Afternoon of Earth (aka Hothouse). Philip K. Dick’s The Penultimate Truth gets a glowing review: “Recommended. This man is in the very top rank of today’s science-fiction writers.” Silverberg hopes Theodore Sturgeon rakes in the money from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, given that “Sturgeon managed to make something out of the sow’s ear he was handed;” the novelization is reputed to be better than the movie, but not up to Sturgeon’s usual high par. Lastly, Eric Frank Russell’s The Sinister Barrier is praised, as is Paperback Library for reprinting such a quality but hard-to-find novel.

The Bottom Line

Amazing Stories has always been a hard magazine to place; while Galaxy, Astounding, and F&SF were directed by their editors’ whims and fancies, Cele Goldsmith printed everything. (Well, not quite everything; she had great taste despite not reading any SF before she was handed Amazing/Fantastic to edit.) We have a traditionalist space opera, not one but two Galaxy-style social satires, a more experimental story, and a puzzle-piece for Ensign De Ruyter to solve. Considering Amazing‘s budget had been sliced and diced into oblivion to the point where it was a penny-a-word digest, it’s pretty impressive that Goldsmith was getting the quality she was, from big-name authors to boot.

Being a huge fan of space opera, I’ve always felt that the Star Kings were some of Hamilton’s best work—a sprawling space opera polished by Hamilton’s thirty-some years of experience, whose influence on George Lucas is unmistakable. It’s not quite a serial, but it’s not really a self-contained work, which is the main reason I strongly recommend it but only in fixup novel form. Besides, buying that fixup novel in Stark and the Star Kings supports Haffner Press, one of the best archival-quality independent SF publishers of our time. (And who are apparently within walking distance from me, based on the address on their dustjacket.)

The rest of the stories aren’t bad either. John Jakes writes a solid satire about a war between butter and margarine, and manages to keep a straight face; though I’d wish he’d been more satirical with the Chinese insurgents. Likewise, John Brunner writes a solid satire of how money does not lead to happiness, which would have been better had it lacked the odd misogynistic vibes. Rohrer’s “Greendark” was an intriguing work by a minor writer; at times its deception of paranoid schizophrenia was silly, at other times intense, but I like the innovative creativity on display. I wish he’d had a longer career, since it’d be interesting to see where he ended up. Porges was a regular in F&SF, and his “Ensign De Ruyter” entry makes me think of other puzzle/troubleshooter stories that appeared there; it’s unexceptional, but good lighthearted filler.

Issues like this one make me understand why Cele Goldsmith-Lalli has the reputation she has today. The fiction is a blend of old and new, with an eclectic mix of stories whose only shared characteristic is that they’re pretty dang good. If you don’t mind that “Shores of Infinity” is merely a quarter of a finished work, everything in this issue is worth reading.

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