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The Wonder Spyglass - 6




THE WONDER SPYGLASS.
Part 6 - August 1956, 1946

Read other issues here

Retrospective Fiction Reviews
This month in the fantastic literature:
going back by 10-year jumps.

Only includes the stories I've read personally. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge cover images.

The idea of these "time trips" - to highlight the particular stories throughout SF&F history (all 100 years of it). Each month I will publish (time permitting) SPYGLASS issues, giving selective reviews to stories, collections, original anthologies and novels, choosing out of literally thousands of stories I've read - for example only stories which appeared in a particular month in SF magazines, and taking jumps of 10 years in SF history. This is a way for me to gradually go through stories and fill out the reviews, and a way to get a fun perspective on the genre.

This issue will highlight stories from August of 1956, 1946


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FIFTY YEARS AGO: August 1956

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Some splendid and many-faceted fiction appeared in the vintage pulps in this month:



Robert Sheckley
"Early Model"
© Galaxy, Aug 1956
Pilgrimage to Earth, 1957
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ humour award

Superb example of a total Sheckley hilarity. An astronaut goes to a distant planet equipped with the newest model of force-field space-suit that turns on automatically at the most inconvenient of times, leading the baffled aliens to believe that the astronaut is evil personified. Simply utmost entertainment, highly recommended.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 1983)

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Theodore Sturgeon
"Fear Is A Business"
© F&SF, Aug 1956
--/ cool sf story
--/ style award
--/ emotion award

Nice, easy flowing story about an alien gift to mankind, breaking the barriers of fear and embracing deeper knowledge - but with bittersweet overtones, which is how Sturgeon loves to do it, bringing a little tear of "much is lost, but perhaps not all" sentiment to reader's eye. They say that the idea for that story was provided by Robert Heinlein. Of course, Sturgeon wrapped it in his inimitable style.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 1983)


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Garen Drussai
"Woman's Work"

© F&SF, Aug 1956
--/ third place sf story
--/ idea award: marketers
--/ humour award
--/ style award
--/ rare find

Improbable find! A writer unknown to me, a name I have not seen mentioned anywhere in SF - and a story to die for. There is just no better treatment of the "future of spam and door-to-door sales" than in this sizzling gem. The irony of the main idea (concentrated in just over three pages) strikes amazingly close to home, as our telemarketer-saturated, spam-blighted existence clearly testifies. A well-to-do couple in an "american dream" suburb have to turn themselves into veritable soldiers to effectively battle and say "No" to sales guys and their high-tech pitches. Using emotional and psycho-enhancements is the norm in "cultivating" prospective clients, so an average housewife has to shield her mind by even more advanced methods and beat them at their own game. I have to admit, I was simply blown away by the story, and the intensity of its writing. Bravo.
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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Mack Reynolds
"Compounded Interest"
© F&SF, Aug 1956

Time loop: "someone proceeds into the past, deposits ducats in a Venetian bank at compound interest, and centuries later in New York demands from a bank payment of the entire capital, a gigantic sum. Why does he need so much money? So that he can hire scientists to construct for him a thus far nonexistent time vehicle, and by means of this vehicle go back in time to Venice where he will deposit ducats at compound interest...
review: 23-Jul-06 (read in 1984)

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Great novella "So Bright the Vision" by Clifford Simak appeared in an unlikely pulp "Fantastic Universe" (signifying the highest point in quality this pulp would ever achieve). You can read review of this ground-breaking tale (and all other stories in this collection) HERE . The future of creative process in a dawning age of cybernetics clearly occupied many SF writers at this time, just like the outsourcing of all jobs to China is a big concern for the modern futurists.

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Robert Silverberg
"The MacAuley Circuit"
© Fantastic Universe, Aug 1956
also in - New Worlds, Apr 1958
Sunrise On Mercury, 1975

Computers compose music. This story echoes the story of Clifford Simak "So Bright the Vision" where computers write marketable fiction - both stories are from the same pulp issue.
review: 25-Jul-06 (read in 1997)

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Theodore L. Thomas
"The Far Look"
© Astounding, Aug 1956
(russ. as "Dvoe S Luny")
Nauchnaya Fantastika USA, 1960
--/ fourth place space sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award

A classic tale about a long and lonely watch on a Lunar station where hidden psychological disorders become obvious, but where a "wider perspective" (a "far look") on things is also easily achieved. One of the first realistic attempts to depict the gritty aspects and psychological turmoil of an astronaut's life. Plus this story has an interesting technique for making oxygen on the Moon.
review: 25-Jul-06 (read in 1984)

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click to enlarge

Brian Aldiss
"Ahead"
(also as "The Failed Men")
© Science-Fantasy # 18, 1956
Space, Time and Nathaniel, 1957
No Time Like Tomorrow, 1959
--/ cool time sf story

"Time impresses itself upon man as evolution"... Various interesting thoughts on the nature of time, the language is both complex and fascinating — traits typical of an Aldiss story texture. This piece is considered a minor classic.
review: 26-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

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Not all pulp issues were of good quality, of course. As an example of the "same old", average drivel served in some places - read this review of "INFINITY Science Fiction, August 1956" pulp HERE . This is really a sad decline, compared to the truly Golden Age of Thirties and Forties...

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Some great novels appeared in 1956, here is one of them:





Frank Herbert
"Under Pressure" (nv)
(also as "The Dragon in the Sea")
(also as "21st Century Sub")
© Astounding, Nov-Dec 1955, Jan 1956
book: Avon Books, 1956
--all time novel : 1975 Locus All-Time Poll /34 (tie)
--/ third place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award

A murky, depressed, claustrophobic feeling permeates this book - one of the best submarine thrillers in the history of literature. The story of the troubled journey of a nuclear sub is deeply lodged in a web of conspiracies (and suspicions of conspiracies). It is full of psychological turmoil and undercurrents of emotion, and is written in a dense (but highly readable) style, keeping the reader enthralled till the very end. This is my favorite book by Frank Herbert, as he does not indulge himself in strange page-bloated discourses, but keeps the story flowing and the emotions intense. I especially adore "closed environment" stories with haunted characters who try to break the limits and conspiracies imposed upon them. The plot of this book is really quite simple: uncovering of a spy among the sub crew, stealing some oil from underwater pipelines, engaging enemy subs, and generally "heating up" the Cold War. But it is in the deep, deep mind currents that Herbert lays the ambiguous egg of paranoia and asks the reader to hatch it.
review: 26-Jul-06 (read in 1988)





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Chad Oliver
"The Winds Of Time" (nv)
© 1956, Ballantine Books

"It tells the story of a vacationing man who comes across a group of aliens who have been sequestered in the Colorado mountains for millenia, sleeping in suspended animation. It's almost two stories: one about the aliens and their purpose for coming to Earth, the other about a man who makes first contact and discovers his own alienation". Unexciting; did not do anything for me. Paperback has nice cover.
review: 26-Jul-06 (read in 1983)

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SIXTY YEARS AGO: August 1946

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It was a year after dropping the atomic bomb, so this collection ( A. E. Van Vogt "Empire of the Atom" click here for full review) was a stand-out among post-nuclear series in 1946...

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Meanwhile in the other pulps:



Paul Carter
"The Last Objective"
© Astounding, Aug 1946
--short story : Best SF selection
--/ cool apocalyptic sf story
--/ wonder award

Another apocalyptic scenario, and a curious one. The Earth's surface is destroyed by a previous conflict, so the warfare moved... into the planet's depths. The mole-like warships battle each other underground or circle on long patrols, not unlike nuclear subs during the Cold War. A gritty tale, this one sticks in the mind; the ending is all about self-sacrifice (one of the mole-ships develops a nuclear leak and has to be removed to a safe place where it blows up).
review: 28-Jul-06 (read in 1999)

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A. E. Van Vogt
(with E. Mayne Hull)
"Bankruptcy Proceedings"
(with E. Mayne Hull)
(Planets For Sale)
© Astounding, Aug 1946
Planets For Sale, 1954
--/ cool sf novella
--/ wonder award

Good quality novella, average interstellar intrigue, just a "filler", I suppose, but enjoyable. Part of a larger series, so may be pointless to read on its own. Written with Van Vogt's wife - Edna Mayne Hull. I like the name Edna.
review: 28-Jul-06 (read in 1992)

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Here is a beauty: a groovy issue of "Planet Stories" for Summer 1946, which I was lucky to read in its entirety. For review of all stories CLICK HERE. Certainly, a publication which has a lead novella with title like "Lorelei of the Red Mist" is worth reading :)

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Fantasy-lovers in 1946 have been treated to a great novel:



Henry Kuttner
"The Dark World" (nv)
(Dark World # 1)
© Startling Stories, Sum 1946
Fantastic Story Magazine, Win 1954
novel: Ace Books, 1965
--/ third place f novel
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award

MZB (or, Marion Zimmer Bradley, for those unfamilliar with this "fiction factory" brand) said: "I consider the works of Henry Kuttner the finest fantasy ever written"; Roger Zelazny cited "The Dark World" as a seminal influence on his Amber series; now - both these writers have contributed to many 300-pages-plus reworkings of the same ideas that Kuttner put in 100 pages here. When reading the novella (for that is what it is, really) today you will be struck how often you may have read same stuff in modern "door-stopper" trilogies - diluted and laundered for a publisher's fun and profit. However, here is the genuine article, the novel that started it all. It has color, adventure and the sense of wonder needed (required!) for publication in "Startling Stories" and the accompanying brevity. God bless Henry Kuttner. Wish he was more often reprinted nowadays.
review: 28-Jul-06 (read in 1992)

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NEXT ISSUE - SF&F FROM 1936, 1926, 1916, all the way to 1906 !

Read other issues here

CONTINUE TO NEXT PAGE

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