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1956 - Year in SF&F: September

1956: September

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Robert Sheckley
"Love, Incorporated"
(also as "Pilgrimage to Earth")
© Playboy, Sep 1956
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

A classic story, highly recommended. Ironic, visual, told with wit and grace, it has all the best ingredients that characterize good Fifties SF: biting social commentary (without being boring), loads of sense-of-wonder, an interesting plot and attention to detail. Here is the plot summary from David Horwich: "Alfred Simon, born and raised on a quiet agricultural planet, yearns to visit Earth, where "everything is possible", and find love. He works and saves for years to afford the trip, but once he finally arrives on Earth he learns that it's not what he expected (the poisoned paradise). He's soon disillusioned when he stumbles across a shooting gallery, with live ammunition and live female targets. A naive outworlder on a cynical, jaded planet, Simon does find love -- Love, Inc., which sells him the experience of a night of genuine love. Simon is brutally disappointed when he discovers that the experience was programmed, entirely a commodity, and in his rage he returns to the shooting gallery to vent his anger. The clash of cultures, the poisoned paradise, the ordinary man out of his environment all come together in this disturbing ending"
review: 18-Sep-06 (read in 2001)


Milton Lesser
"The Music of the Spheres"
© Imaginative Tales, Sep 1956
--/ fourth place space sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ rare find

Here is an example of a very entertaining story published in a pretty much "literary schlock" magazine. Milton Lesser (being a "prince", not a "king" mind you, of space opera) came up with a wondrous tale of planetary exploration and aliens made of audio-waves. Nobody has ever heard of this story; I doubt that anybody even read it in thirty years, except me and a handful of hard-core collectors. Well, it's too bad, as it is prime anthology material (editors take note). Someday Lesser will be counted among the "greater" ones again (if the world is in any degree just) - pun intended.
review: 19-Sep-06 (read in 2002)


Milton Lesser
"Operation Disaster" (nv)
(as Darius John Granger)
© Imaginative Tales, Sep 1956

Speaking of Lesser, we can not discount the complete"shushera" (russian for "schlock") that he sometimes wrote. This example is so horrid, that "Operation Disaster" proves to be a very appropriate title. (at least, he chose a pseudonym - mind you, it is not a certain fact that Lesser hides behind it: sometimes it served as a "house-name" for others as well)
review: 19-Sep-06 (read in 2002)


Milton Lesser
"A World Called Crimson"
(as Darius John Granger)
© Amazing Stories, Sep 1956
--/ cool sf novel
--/ idea award
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ awesome scale
--/ rare find

Hm... Milton Lesser writing as Darius John Granger, which does not promise a masterpiece. Right? Wrong. This wonderful space adventure was completely overlooked by publishers, but contains a very cool idea: an imaginary environment, created by a child. In fact the whole planet is a hilarious puzzle to human colonists until they realize that there is no logic, other than the playful fantasy of a child. A very capable alien child, of course, but still playing with his toys...which happen to be humans and all kinds of imaginary creatures, some of which are very deadly indeed.
review: 19-Sep-06 (read in 2002)


Harlan Ellison
"But Who Wilts The Lettuce?"
(as Ellis Hart)
© Amazing Stories, Sep 1956
--/ humour award

This is a surreal story as well, almost as if Ellison ate some lettuce, drenched in marijuana and mushroom sauce. At least he hid under a pen-name here... I could not make much sense of this (supposedly humorous) story. Ellison was very active in 1956, writing dozens of slightly mad stories, which pulp magazines (in the beginning of their decline) gobbled up. However, some stories of his early period are total SF blockbusters, as you will see in later reviews.
review: 20-Sep-06 (read in 2003)


Clifford D. Simak
"Galactic Chest"
© Science Fiction Stories, Sep 1956
So Bright the Vision, 1968
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

Nicely told story about the correspondent who begins to believe in "brownies" and "fairies", and discovers them all over the place. Shimmers with wonder and feel-good emotions.
review: 25-Jul-06 (read in 1997)


Margaret St. Clair

© Science Fiction Stories, Sep 1956
--/ cool sf story
--/ emotion award

The story was translated in Russian as "Potrebiteli", and it is no wonder that communist publishers liked this biting satire against consumerism. In this story, a future society demands that people buy, spend and consume more and more products. If you don't, you face the consequences of being thrown down the social ladder. This is one of the rarest treatments of this subject, all the more so because it was not ever reprinted in any English-language anthology.
review: 01-Aug-06 (read in 1984)


Robert Silverberg
"Mind For Business"
© Astounding, Sep 1956
To Worlds Beyond, 1970

Average story about aliens trying to camouflage as humans, but not having enough... "mind for business". Silly entertainment. Typical output of Silverberg in these years - prolific and totally forgettable. It hardly needs mentioning that the second half of the Fifties were the years of the sad demise of "Astounding" magazine, with a total drop in the quality of its vision and fiction, as a result.
review: 19-Sep-06 (read in 1989)


Murray Leinster
"The Swamp Was Upside Down"
(Colonial Survey)
© Astounding, Sep 1956
Colonial Survey, 1956
The Planet Explorer, 1957
--/ cool sf story

A typical problem-solving piece from Astounding of these years. Not very exciting, with an exotic scientific puzzle, having little application for our life... in other words a waste of time (only redeemed feature is that it is from Leinster, who brings some class to the story). Otherwise - yawn...Here is the summary from Amazon: "On Canna III, a colony was built on the only island in a water world. However, when the colonists started irrigating the soil, the water soaked down to the bedrock and there created a swamp below the surface. And now the soil of the island is preparing to slip down the bedrock, into the ocean, carrying the Canna III colonists to a watery grave. Can Bordman save this situation?".
review: 19-Sep-06 (read in 1997)


Poul Anderson
"Margin of Profit"
(Nicholas Van Rijn)
© Astounding, Sep 1956
Un-Man and Other Novellas, 1962
The Earth Book of Stormgate, 1978
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

Same issue of Astounding, not quite the worst issue in the history of science fiction, but coming close. Or rather it is the essence of mediocrity, of dryness, boredom and editorial dictatorship. And the worst thing of it is that it rubbed off on the best writers in the field: Leinster and Anderson. Their efforts bring some redeeming presence to the overall sad state of later editorial affairs of John Campbell, but even they still marinate in their own scientific emotional vacuum and pretentious pomp. If I sound a bit harsh, that's because I just had my wisdom tooth pulled (seriously). Come to think of it, "Margin of Profit” is a fine story about interstellar trader van Rijn , who's showing off his understanding of economics as well as his bargaining skills. However, it is of inconsequential value and utterly forgettable.
review: 19-Sep-06 (read in 1989)


Poul Anderson
"Operation Afreet"
© F&SF, Sep 1956
Operation Chaos, 1971
--/ fourth place f story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award

Anderson writes fantasy with glee and abandon, full of cool imagery and lively action. Some kind of Harry Potter for adults, with traces of Strugatskie's "Monday Starts on Saturday" and Indiana Jones, this is only the first in a series of stories collected in "Operation Chaos". Fun, fun, fun! "In an alternate world , where the existence of God has been scientifically proven and magic has been harnessed for the practical needs of the adept, the United States is part of an alternate Second World War in which the enemy is not Germany but a resurgent Islamic Khalifate. A werewolf and a witch meet on a military mission to stop the invading Islamic army from unleashing a secret superweapon, a deamon released from a bottle in which it had been sealed by King Solomon".
review: 19-Sep-06 (read in 1990)


Margaret St. Clair

© F&SF, Sep 1956
Change the Sky, 1974
--/ fourth place space sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ shock value

Absolutely surreal and at times bewildering story about a "nightmare of the senses" in a hyperspace starship, where nothing is what it seems. The cause of the hallucinations is not explained, it could be some physiological effect of hyperspace itself. The creepy feeling is top-notch, almost Hitchcock-ian it its intensity - people disappear from the ship one by one, turning into saw-dust filled dummies, and our poor girl is left alone to pilot the ship... Can she make it, as the instruments and technology itself are crumbling all around her? No, she definitely can't, and the way her doom catches up with her is quite nightmarish indeed.
review: 20-Sep-06 (read in 2003)


James Gunn
"The Big Wheel"
(Station in Space)
© Fantastic Universe, Sep 1956
Station in Space, 1958
--/ cool space sf story
--/ wonder award

A kind of the respectable space fiction, pioneered by Robert Heinlein in his "Delila and the Space Rigger" - with lots of detail and tough-hide characters, cold detached narrative coexisting with the warm pathos of space exploration. All wrapped in an engrossing tale that really makes you cheer for the American effort and glare in righteous indignation at the fumbling Red Menace in space. Vintage Gunn, which means top-notch story-telling. It's a pity such examples of "industrial space grunge" are out of print...
review: 19-Sep-06 (read in 2001)

art by Vincent diFate


Robert Sheckley
"Human Man's Burden"
© Galaxy, Sep 1956
Pilgrimage to Earth, 1957
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

Great quality from Sheckley! This is a very impressive story from his best period.An asteroid farmer orders a Frontier Model Bride with a low center of gravity, and instead is sent a Deluxe Luxury Model Bride who definitely has a high one. Also featuring "old android spirituals" that robots sing during their work (Sheckley does not give details on that, however. As you can see, this is not just an entertaining story. It is also a shrewd prediction of the convenience (and folly) of an internet shopping and bride-searching. I heard of some dubious websites shipping hamsters as a russian brides - well, not yet.
review: 19-Sep-06 (read in 1987)


We have seen some good pulp issues in September 1956 (Galaxy, F&SF), and some really bad ones ("Astounding" in the same company as "Imaginative Tales" ??). A sad testament to the wilting of the lettuce, oops, of the good old pulp tradition, and embracing new more respectable (and for the most part, boring) ways. 1956 was the last year of "Thrilling Wonder Stories", and its school of writing. And it's not a compliment to the publishing industry, by the way. This tradition, however, was carried on by the paperbacks, and Ace Books picked it up nicely, with a number of intense adventures. Here is one of them:


Poul Anderson
"Star Ways" (nv)
(also as "The Peregrine")
(Psychotechnic League)
(Nomad Culture)
(sequel to "Gypsy")
© 1956, Ace Books
revised: 1978, Ace Books
--/ fourth place space sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ romance award
--/ adventure award
--/ rare find

A sequel to "Gypsy", which is hands down the best story of Poul Anderson, and because of Anderson's place in SF, maybe THE best story in all of space science fiction, period. Nobody ever wrote a more romantic and emotional paen (hymn) to star exploration, wanderlust and sheer red-blooded male urge to "get out there". It vibrates, throbs, thrills and wants to tackle the unknown, in the best tradition of vikings and Jewish Old Testament pioneers. However, if the story was so good, the novel is watered down and only faintly resembles the original drive. It will not "kick your butt" and prompt you to drop your pitiful "hamster cage" day job in a way that "Gypsy" would, but it still makes for competent entertainment. Wandering tribes (or rather, clans) of freedom-loving space pioneers are taking on the whole Galaxy-spanning void and are establishing good old sheriff order on the frontier. A mixture of Scottish and Nordic cultural influences, a big dose of awe and humble appreciation of the vastness of space... All this is very good, however the novel drags in places and may even start to bore the reader in the end. It should've stayed as a short story.
review: 20-Sep-06 (read in 2005)

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"SF&F Reading Experience" is part of "Dark Roasted Blend / Thrilling Wonder" family of sites. We try to highlight the most entertaining and rewarding science fiction and fantasy, with emphasis on memorable reader experience, not necessarily general acceptance by the critics. Have fun, and delve into our extensive ratings and reviews!

Most reviews are written by Avi Abrams, unless otherwise noted. Reviews also appear on our unique historical retrospective page Wonder Timeline of Science Fiction. Feel free to submit your own review, if a particular story is not listed here.

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Also, there are our personal STYLE / GENRE SPECIFIC AWARDS. These reflect the story's content and the lasting impression on the reader:

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