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1946 - Year in SF&F: Reviews



THE WONDER TIMELINE: SF&F RETROSPECTIVE
Read other issues here

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Isaac Asimov
"Evidence"
(Robot series)
© Astounding, Sep 1946
I, Robot, 1950
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ idea award (for the whole series)

Meanwhile, Asimov continues to build his impressive "Robots" series with this thought-provoking installment. Wikipedia says it best: "In his short story " Evidence", Asimov lets his recurring character Dr. Susan Calvin expound a moral basis behind the Three Law of Robotics. Calvin points out that human beings are typically expected to refrain from harming other human beings (except in times of extreme duress like war , or to save a greater number). This is equivalent to a robot's First Law. Likewise, according to Calvin, society expects individuals to obey instructions from recognized authorities: doctors, teachers and so forth. Finally, humans are typically expected to avoid harming themselves, which is the Third Law for a robot. The plot of "Evidence" revolves around the question of telling a human being apart from a robot specially constructed to appear human; Calvin reasons that if such an individual obeys the Laws, he may be a robot or simply "a very good man". Another character then asks Calvin if robots are then very different from human beings after all. She replies, "Worlds different. Robots are essentially decent."
review: 22-Sep-06 (read in 1989)

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Ray Bradbury
"Chrysalis"
© Amazing, Jul 1946
S Is for Space, 1966
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ shock value
--/ idea award: metamorphosis


Cocoons, metamorphosis and disasterous mutations resulting from the best intentions combine to become a super-specimen (remember "The Fly" movie?). Here we have an insect-like mutation of a man in a wonderful "purple" pulp style, predictable creepiness and the overall guilty pleasure of a shocking pulp-tale professionally told, which is quite rare for Bradbury. He was probably feeling more "guilt" after writing this story than necessary, and that is why we've not been treated to such cool stuff ever since. (admittedly, Bradbury wrote a lot for "Weird Tales" and other pulps in the forties, which is a wonderful thing, but in the fifties he put a stop to that)
review: 13-Jul-06 (read in 1984)

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It is "Vintage Season", as we finally get to review a slice of the Golden Age in Science Fiction - the Forties, with a great multitude of classic short fiction published left and right... Here is a sample of what was available only in one month in the pulps:



Henry Kuttner
& C. L. Moore
"Vintage Season"
(as by Lawrence O'Donnell)
© Astounding, Sep 1946
No Boundaries, 1955
--novella : 1999 Locus All-Time Poll W
--/ third place time sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ style award


Tourists from the future come to witness various disasters in the past, just for the thrill of it. The idea has been used many times since (John Varley's "Millennium", Wyndham's "Pawley's Peeholes", movies, TV episodes, etc.), but this is definitely the original treatment. They say C. L. Moore largely wrote this story, with some minor additions by Henry Kuttner (maybe an encouraging kiss or two :) - this married couple of great writers were the essence of creative cuteness, as far as I can tell. Their stories were always the product of both minds, with Kuttner probably responsible for more off-beat humour, and Moore - for the "proper" plot outlines. Although, not so sure about "proper", after reading her wild fantasy outings in "Weird Tales") "Vintage Season" turned out to be a true classic, understated novella of great charm and mystery, one of the most beloved stories to ever appear in "Astounding". A fresh take on real estate success: "A couple with a mundane, everyday house to sell find themselves unwilling landlords to a trio of renters who are anything but mundane and who seem to have a particular and uncommon interest in their home. And they are not the only ones - another equally odd group also want exclusive rights to the house, at any cost." "Location, location, location" is the key to success in real estate, with location in time suddenly becoming way more important.

review: 21-Sep-06 (read in 1987)

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Henry Kuttner
"Call Him Demon"
(as by Keith Hammond)
© Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fall 1946
Bypass to Otherness, 1961
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award


"In the 1920s a group of children staying at their grandmother's house realize that one of the uncles who lives there is not a real person, and only arrived there a few weeks before. He is able to exert some kind of mental influence over the adults of the household, which makes them believe he has always been a member of the family. The Wrong Uncle, as they call him , is a kind of projection -- or, more precisely, a detachable limb in human form -- of a creature which lives in a cavern deep beneath the house, accessed by a portal in the attic. The thing has only two emotions: hunger and satiety, and it only eats raw meat". The kids are giving it some meat from a local store (and are given the mental images of creature's wondrous travels as a reward), but they are running out of spare change, and the creature only gets hungrier and hungrier... Surprisingly, one of the children defeats the creature, as he proves to be at least as terrible as the creature itself. Sorry if I revealed the secret behind the story's title, but Kuttner wrote so many stories about hidden capabilities of children (not all of them benign) that it's easy to catch the drift. He obviously has some issues with kids. He suspects that they intrinsically know more of the "reality" of the world than adults do, and it makes him uncomfortable. As for myself, this only excites me beyond belief.
review: 21-Sep-06 (read in 1988)

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Henry Kuttner
"Absalom"
© Startling Stories, Fll 1946
Bypass to Otherness, 1961
--/ cool sf story
--/ idea award

Solid "mutant child" story, the child who makes his parents literally obsolete. Though a little dry in style.
review: 01-Jul-06 (read in 1985)

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Edmond Hamilton
"Day of Judgement"
© Weird Tales, Sep 1946
--/ cool apocalyptic sf story
--/ wonder award

Reprinted in the "Last Man on Earth" anthology, and in the "Best of Edmond Hamilton" collection, this story has all the right ingredients to impress and to stay with the reader, and yet it falls short, somehow. More moody and sad than his usual style in the Thirties, it may even be compared to "Twilight" by John Campbell. Having said that, the story is unmemorable, partly because it sticks to the canon of post-apocalyptic fiction so closely. Not the best piece, but certainly not one to discount entirely, as everything written by Hamilton for "Weird Tales" contains that special "sensa-vonda".

review: 21-Sep-06 (read in 1988)

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Fritz Leiber
"Alice and the Allergy"

© Weird Tales, Sep 1946
--/ fourth place f story
--/ wonder award
--/ idea: ghost allergies
--/ style award
--/ rare find

Hilarious stuff. Some people can be allergic to ghosts, which can prove quite useful and also annoying at the same time. You have to read it to believe it. Maybe Leiber got into a bet that he could write an interesting story about... sneezing. Surely he won here, as this vintage slice of black humour hilarity will brighten up your day.
review: 21-Sep-06 (read in 1988)

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Murray Leinster
"Dead City"
(also as "Malignant Marauder")
© Thrilling Wonder Stories, Sum 1946
Fantastic Story Magazine, Jul 1953
Twists in Time, 1960
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award


One of these stories, that do not generate a lot of reviews, quietly providing us with the sense of wonder and adventure. Strange expedition, stars above us (in fact, whole huge Galaxy, approaching our galaxy on a collision course), mystery and great pulp writing.
review: 01-Jul-06 (read in 2002)

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J. R. R. Tolkien
"Bilbo's Last Song (At the Grey Havens)"
(Middle-Earth)
© 1946, original
book: Allen & Unwin, 1974
--/ style award
--/ wonder award


A poem written by Bilbo Baggins just before he takes ship from Middle-earth to the Undying Lands at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Very stirring, in the elegaic mood, full of riveting imagery. Something that will make you cry and your heart sing. The poetry itself perhaps is not as important as the thoughts conveyed there - everyone can hear the music of these thoughts. A perfect piece for a genius composer.
review: 13-Jul-06 (read in 2005)



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A. E. Van Vogt
"Film Library"
© Astounding, Jul 1946
Away and Beyond, 1952
Quest for the Future, 1970
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award

Films from the future find their way to the present day...Van Vogt makes quite an entertaining story out of this premise. I remember something like this happening in my life - some western films found their way behind the Iron Curtain to awe and astonish communist country viewers; in a way they were considered to be from the future, too.
review: 13-Jul-06 (read in 1989)

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A. E. Van Vogt
"A Son Is Born"

© Astounding Stories, May 1946
"Child of the Gods"

© Astounding Stories, Aug 1946
"Hand of the Gods"

© Astounding Stories, Dec 1946
"Home of the Gods"

© Astounding Stories, Apr 1947
Empire of the Atom, 1957


A story of post-nuclear Moses who may (or may not) bring about the deliverance from Pharaoh-like Emperors and stuck-up Temple of the Atom priests. A mutant child is born and escapes killing at birth, destined to be brought up among Machiavellian intrigues.
review: 27-Jul-06 (read in 1990)

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Manly Wade Wellman
"The Solar Invasion" (nv)

(Captain Future series)
© Startling Stories, Autumn 1946
book: Paperback Library, 1966
--/ cool space sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ awesome scale


This Captain Future entry does not live up to the standards of Edmond Hamilton, who wrote most of Captain Future books. The hero fights a fiend from the fifth dimension who threatens to destroy the Universe (but, of course!). Sounds kinda nice, but the writing is uninspired, and the action is pretty flat.
review: 01-Jul-06 (read in 2004)

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Good quality stories from great writers... large scale vistas, moral investigations, off-beat humour, breakthrough ideas - all are there, in 1946 pulps.


Artwork copyright by Chris Foss

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