In our last episode we read a story by Evelyn Goldstein in which the main character tortured and murdered innocent people and then was shot down by the cops...on Venus. "God of the Mist" was such a strange (and compared to so many of the other stories in Fantastic Universe's June 1957 issue, compelling) creation that it inspired in me an itch to read further in Goldstein's relatively small body of work. A search through the internet archive's vast collection of old SF magazines turned up most of the nine stories isfdb says Goldstein published, so let's delve deeper into the oeuvre of an SF-writing Brooklyn housewife! Today we'll look at three of Goldstein's tales, all from the mid-1950s.
"The Land Beyond the Flame" appeared in an issue of Planet Stories with an absorbing Kelly Freas cover featuring scaly fish men and a curvaceous human woman. The exciting illustrations continue inside: the first thing we see when we turn to Goldstein's story is a two-page illustration depicting a barren alien landscape where one guy is discharging a ray pistol at hideous monster rats while another actually wrestles the noisome vermin for his life! This is just the kind of thing we are looking for!
There are two kinds of people in the world Goldstein depicts in this story, the Numen, seven-foot-tall men with night vision who live in a high tech city under a dome, and the Olmen, barbarians who live in the wilderness and, as barbarians in stories do, wear loincloths. The Numen dress fashionably but live in a totalitarian society controlled by scientists called Logicians; the Numen have no emotions, their actions are solely based on cold intellectual criteria. The Olmen and Numen do not get along because the Numen, insatiably hungry for biological data, regularly sally forth from their domed city to kidnap Olmen (not to mention Olwomen and Olchildren!) for their vivisection tables!
Allyn is a Numan who's got something wrong with him--he is a throwback who has emotions! So, when the Logicians ordered him to impregnate his twin sister Aleena (cripes!) he refused because the Numen have a genetic defect that results in Numen women dying in childbirth. (The scientific overlords of the Numen wanted Allyn and Aleena to mate in hopes of producing more citizens with a propensity to giving birth to twins.) Allyn fled into the wilderness, pursued by Numen aircraft, and as the story begins he makes friends with an Olman, Keeven, whom he rescues from a pack of giant rats with his flame pistol.
Keeven takes Allyn to his village, only to find that it has been raided by Numen--only Keeven himself and his sister Marva have escaped capture. These three lost souls travel to the Forbidden Area beyond a radiation zone in search of the super weapons rumored to be there (they hope to use said weapons to crack the Numen's dome and rescue Aleena and the captive Olmen.) On the way Allyn and Marva fall in love and our heroes tangle with Numen patrols; like we so often see in adventure fiction, people get captured, people get shackled, people escape, people steal vehicles etc.
In the forbidden land our heroes meet a people who are a hybrid of Numen and Olmen. They have an archive of information about the past, and we learn (despite the illustration which shows three moons in the sky) that this story is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. The Numen are descendants of people who were mutated by the radiation of the nuclear war, while the Olmen are descendants of people who hid deep underground during the period of the war and escaped exposure to radiation. The Olmen do not suffer the genetic defect that causes death in childbirth, and neither do children of mixed Olman and Numan parentage. Allyn, Keeven and Marva travel to the domed city of the Numen and with the help of the hybrids' psychic powers (the reality behind the rumor of super weapons) persuade the Numen to make peace with the Olmen.
The plot of this story is not bad, but it suffers in the style department and includes mistakes editors should have fixed. "Flaunted" is used in place of "flouted," which is embarrassing. When Allyn kisses Marva for the first time we are told she is "delicious as wild strawberries." How would Allyn know what wild strawberries taste like? On the same page Goldstein tells us the Numen eat only dehydrated foods and she presents a scene in which Allyn is "amazed" by how tasty fresh meat is. Maybe a scene in which he ate fresh fruit for the first time was excised?
Despite its problems, an acceptable entertainment.
The intro to "The Recalcitrant" in Fantastic Universe tells us that "only a woman could have written this story..." that it has "compassion...high poetry...tenderness...[and] the breath of a fierce vitality...." Sure enough, the first paragraph is a bunch of gush about flowers, sunlight, and some chick's dream home!
But not to worry, the rest of the story is not like that. Jim and Alicia are a happily married couple, and over the twenty years of their marriage they have built their farm, house, and beautiful garden with their own hands. But today comes bad news! Jim tells Alicia that "some men" are coming to take him away, and he hides from them in the woods. He is eventually caught, but Jim's performance in the woods (he is very strong and indefatigable, for example) provides us clues that suggest Jim is a robot married to a woman from whom he has kept his true mechanical nature a secret! But when he is brought before the doctors who claim they want to help him, we learn that the truth is even more strange.
Jim is a cyborg, a human brain in a robot body. His body was wracked in a catastrophic war decades ago, a war that reduced the human population of the Earth to a mere half-million! So he could live as normal a life as possible, he was given this robot body, and something else--Alicia, a robot who thinks she is a real woman! But all those robotics were a temporary expedient--the doctors now have developed a real biological body for Jim, with which he can, in a relationship with a real human woman, father human children and help repopulate the ravaged Earth! But Jim is in love with Alicia, even if she is a machine, and resists being separated from his super strong robot body and the wife with whom he has built a happy life! (Alicia is slated to be reprogrammed to work like a drone in a factory!)
This story is pretty good--I was genuinely surprised when it was revealed that Jim was not really a robot and Alicia was. And, while the editor oversells the story, it is certainly noteworthy that both "The Recalcitrant" and "The Land Beyond the Flame" have at their centers obstacles to childbirth and parenthood--maybe Goldstein really does bring a female perspective to the traditional SF template of a melodrama* in which science causes and/or solves problems.
*"Melodrama" is the word Alexei Panshin uses to describe SF stories before the New Wave in his article of criticism in the December 1970 issue of Fantastic; I liked the article and like the word, which is more broad than a word like "adventure" and thus can comfortably encompass a story like "The Recalcitrant."
The blurb on the first page of "Hour of Surprise" mentions motherhood, and I was excited to see the theme of parenthood carrying over from the last two stories. This story appeared in Fantastic Universe, whose editor Leo Margulies (echoing the sentiments he expressed about "The Recalcitrant") tells us it is "tender" and "lyrical."
Aram is a twelve-year-old boy living "Inside" with his two sisters and single brother and their metallic "Mother." His whole world is five rooms, but he knows an "Outside" exists, because Mother sometimes goes out there; when she returns her metal skin is cold, even though she has described "Outside" as a forbiddingly dangerous place of fire.
Mother has also set off limits a room into which she goes while the kids sleep; clever and curious Aram figures out how to gain access to the room and he discovers in there clues that suggest Mother is not their real mother and that they won't grow up to have metal skins themselves! Mother may in fact be a machine who is holding them captive because of some kind of human vs robot war! With the help of his eleven-year-old sister Aram manages to sneak Outside, where he learns the shocking truth (well, shocking to him; I guess it is more or less what we readers expected: the Earth was wrecked in an atomic war and Aram and his siblings, likely the only humans left alive, were left with Mother for safekeeping by their robot-building father.)
I liked it.
I like old-fashioned SF stories, and these are competently executed, and Goldstein's theme of unusual or dangerous parenthood gives them a freshness and an emotional angle that touches our real life experience of having (and maybe even being!) a parent. I enjoyed all three of them and we'll read more Goldstein in our next blog post.