Fri Oct 02 2009 12:38 Reviews Of Old Science Fiction Magazines Special:
Looking at my bookshelf I see that I've read about half of the old science fiction magazines I got back in May 2008, even though I didn't review all of them. So here is a bonus middle-of-the-project review of a book my mother gave me for my birthday in 2001 but which I never read until today.
It's The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Eighth Series, published in 1959 (not 1957, as I said earlier). It's a best-of anthology from F&SF, edited by founding editor Anthony Boucher, and it's full of big names. And sexism.
Both the big names and the sexism are front-loaded. Here are capsule reviews of all the big stories in the anthology. There are some tiny stories and poems as well, but they're generally only as short as they need to be to convey a horrible pun, so I'm not gonna review them.
- "Ministering Angels" by C.S. Lewis is unutterably awful. Apparently inspired by this quote from "Dr. Robert S. Richardson's controversial 1955 article, The Day after We Land on Mars":
[W]e may be forced into first tolerating and finally openly accepting an attitude toward sex that is taboo in our present social framework... To put it bluntly, may it not be necessary for the success of the project to send some nice girls to Mars at regular intervals to relieve tensions and promote morale?
Assuming you don't immediately spot the enormous hole in this logic, you might consider "Ministering Angels" to be a hilarious send-up of Dr. Richardson's [no relation] idle fantasy. And if you're a fan of awkward, moralizing parental facts-of-life lectures, you'll love a kick-up-your-heels sex romp written by C.S. Lewis. Me, I'd rather read slash written by George Bernard Shaw. In fact, I'll write my own story! With blackjack! And space hookers!
- Poul Anderson's "Backwardness" is one of those stories that should be called "Untitled" because any clever title spoils the story. But it's fun. There's a great scene between the Cardinal Archbishop of New York and an alien priest.
- "The Wait", Kit Reed's first story... has not aged well. Though not itself sexist, the twist ending only works if the reader is constantly thinking "It's the 1950s and I'm reading this in a magazine, this can't be going where I think it is!" There's also weird stuff in the story that I just don't understand. I thought it must be a metaphor for something, but after reading other peoples' online reactions I think it's just weird stuff in a story. So that's certainly a plus.
- Ah, Isaac Asimov, king of genteel sexism. "The Up-To-Date Sorceror" doesn't have any space hookers, but only because that would be too crude for Asimov's taste. The excruciating correctness and moral probity of the story is clearly a ruse and probably intended to be satirical.
I remember reading a 19th-century story called something boring like "Personal Recollections of General Grant", a parody of hagiography which portrays Ulysses S Grant as a squeaky-clean teetotaler. I thought Mark Twain wrote it, which would have caused severe lacerations to the hand that feeds, but apparently not. (If you know what story I'm talking about, let me know.) Anyway, the tone of "An Up-To-Date Sorceror" reminded me of that Grant story.
- Despite the title (and some of his other work), Fritz Leiber's "A Deskful of Girls" is not titillating at all. It's also not that interesting a concept, but it's extremely well-written, and the way it showcases the damaged psyches of the three main characters is good noir.
- Brian W. Aldiss's "Poor Little Warrior!" is "Shooting an Elephant" meets "A Sound of Thunder", recommended only if you can stand prose so purple it verges on the ultraviolet. Includes brontosaurus [sic] farts.
- Shirley Jackson's "The Omen" is excellent: a funnier, not-totally-unbearable The Chain of Chance. Not the source material for the movie The Omen.
- There's a Jules Verne story in here. No kidding. "Gil Braltar" was published in 1887 to fill out a novel, and translated for F&SF as part of a comprehensive barrel-scraping project. It's kind of funny, I guess. What do you want? It's 120 years old. I don't expect to be funny when I'm 120 years old.
- Avram Davidson's "The Grantha Sighting" is funny and good-hearted, the way science fiction from the 1950s ought to be.
- Cyril M. Kornbluth's "Theory of Rocketry" begins: "Mr. Edel taught six English classes that year at Richard M. Nixon High School, and the classes averaged 75 pupils each." And I wouldn't say it gets better from there, but it's really good.
- The intro to Ron Goulart's "A New Lo!" (do not read this as "A New Lol") compares Goulart to Thurber, and the story is indeed what you'd get if Thurber wrote a Charles Fort parody. Usually I hate three-page "funny" SF stories, but this one was great.
- John Shepley's "Gorilla Suit" has kind of a McSweeney's vibe to it. It's damn funny, and one of the only stories Shepley ever sold.
- Zenna Henderson's "Captivity" is a perfectly fine but not great story that I wouldn't be too surprised to see published today, as a perfectly fine but not great story.
- "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" is the funniest Albert Bester story I've ever read. Sumana read it when she was a kid, and agrees with my assessment. Highly recommended.
In general, the best stories are by the non-big names.
Fri Oct 02 2009 22:08 Grant, Grant, Grant:
Aha! I found the Grant story mentioned in the previous entry, by searching for "General Grant" on Project Gutenberg. It's from Donald Ogden Stewart's 1921 "A Parody Outline of History", featuring vignettes from American history "as they would be narrated
by America's most characteristic contemporary authors."
"How Love Came to General Grant" parodies the self-bowlderizing style of Harold Bell Wright. This HBW website says that "readers quickly recognize which characters are intended to be models for good behavior, and which are symbols of evil," as you can tell from scrupulously accurate passages like this:
"Madam," said he, turning to Mrs. van der Griff, "Am I to
understand that there is liquor in those glasses?"
"Why yes, General," said the hostess smiling uneasily. "It is
just a little champagne wine."
"Madam," said the general, "It may be 'just champagne wine' to
you, but 'just champagne wine' has ruined many a poor fellow and
to me all alcoholic beverages are an abomination. I cannot
consent, madam, to remain under your roof if they are to be
served. I have never taken a drop--I have tried to stamp it out
of the army, and I owe it to my soldiers to decline to be a guest
at a house where wine and liquor are served."
Wright and half of the other parodied authors are completely forgotten today, but the parodies are still funny, because they parody types of writing that are recognizable and/or immortal. Here's the beginning of the first chapter. Who cares who it's parodying, it's hilarious:
On a memorable evening in the year 1904 I witnessed the opening
performance of Maude Adams in "Peter Pan". Nothing in the world
can describe the tremendous enthusiasm of that night! I shall
never forget the moment when Peter came to the front of the stage
and asked the audience if we believed in fairies. I am happy to
say that I was actually the first to respond. Leaping at once out
of my seat, I shouted "Yes--Yes!" To my intense pleasure the
whole house almost instantly followed my example, with the
exception of one man. This man was sitting directly in front of
me. His lack of enthusiasm was to me incredible. I pounded him
on the back and shouted, "Great God, man, are you alive! Wake up!
Hurrah for the fairies! Hurrah!" Finally he uttered a rather
feeble "Hurrah!" Childe Roland to the dark tower came.
That was my first meeting with that admirable statesman Woodrow
Wilson, and I am happy to state that from that night we became
The non-forgotten authors include F. Scott Fitzgerald and Eugene O'Neill. I still have no idea how I came to read the Grant vignette from this book in the first place.
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