Sunday, December 6, 2015

1962 stories from J. G. Ballard, Avram Davidson, J. T. McIntosh, & Ward Moore

Because I found the cover illustration by Emsh irresistible, at Jay's CD and Hobby in a strip mall in southern Des Moines, I purchased a crumbling copy of the February 1962 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  The beautiful blue-eyed blonde, the twisting curling thorns, the disparate ill-disciplined crowd of soldiers...I kept looking at the picture, looking away, then looking at it again.  I knew I'd want to look at it yet again after I'd left the store, so I forked over the cash and took the magazine home.

This issue of the magazine includes the novella by Edgar Pangborn, "The Golden Horn," which makes up part of his novel Davy, which I read back in June.  It also includes a reprinted 1954 story by Richard Matheson, "The Traveller," which I read in June of 2013, shortly before this blog arose from its vat and began its march across the landscape, sowing amazement and indifference throughout an unsuspecting land.  (Joachim Boaz read the story, along with ten other Matheson stories, early this year, and proclaimed it "Bad."  My notes on "The Traveller" say "Eh.")

Even though I already had 40 or 50 pages of this one under my belt, so to speak, there were still attractive items I hadn't read yet.  This weekend I read them.

"The Garden of Time" by J. G. Ballard

This symbolist fantasy has been reprinted numerous times in collections of Ballard's work and in various anthologies.  I read a bunch of poems by Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot a few weeks ago, and "The Garden of Time" reminded me of one of the more easily digested of these verses, Pound's "The Garden."

Image from the Internet Archive 
"The Garden of Time" is about two good-looking sophisticated people who live in a beautiful Palladian villa full of rare books, fine paintings, busts and vases. Within the outer walls of the estate there is a pool and a fine garden, outside the walls an empty plain as far as the eye can see.  The Countess at her harpsichord fills the house with the sound of Bach and Mozart (my own wife at the TV fills our house with the sound of The Gilmore Girls, which is not the same thing at all.)  Every evening before a stroll around the grounds the Count looks out across the naked featureless landscape; sometimes he sees, miles away, a vast horde approaching, a rabble which stretches from one horizon to the other.  If this sea of filthy unkillable infantry is in sight he plucks one of the "time flowers" from his garden, and as the blossom expires time is shifted and the invincible ill-disciplined mob recedes back out of sight.  But there are almost no flowers left; soon the horde will batter down the walls, destroy the cultural treasures they are unable to appreciate.

Presumably this is a lament that the modern age, the age of mass capitalism and democracy, socialism and the welfare state, overpopulation and mass media, etc (pick your bogeyman), is an age in which nobody will appreciate the finer things, an age in which society will fail to preserve the finer things.  On the one hand there may be something to this, but on the other hand, technological advances in transportation and communication in my lifetime have made high culture more easily accessible, while the elite have been able to manipulate the political class in such a way that the taxpayers subsidize things like opera and poetry festivals, things very few taxpayers actually care about.  For the time being, high culture is available to those who still care about it.  

Vivid and thought-provoking.

"The Singular Events Which Occurred in the Hovel on the Alley Off Eye Street" by Avram Davidson

Years ago I read Avram Davidson's 1960s novels Rork! and Mutiny in Space--I still remember the girl at the checkout counter of the antique mall laughing at the title of Mutiny in Space.  These novels were OK, no big deal.  Tarbandu at the great PorPor Books Blog has reviewed quite a few of Davidson's works--click here to read a tarbandu review of two Davidson novels in which I make an appearance in the comments.  While he praises "The New Zombies," a story Davidson wrote with his wife, tarbandu mostly seems to award Davidson 2 or 3 stars out of 5.  Let's see if this six page story with the 14 word title meets or exceeds these expectations.

This is an elaborate joke story, set in an alternate universe 1961 USA in which there are dragons and magic, with magic spells a sort of consumer good produced by rival firms who commit industrial espionage against each other.  It is full of Shakespearean speech, outrageous puns, and topical jokes about things like Ed Sullivan and the JFK inauguration (occurring a year before this issue of F&SF was on the newsstands,)  No plot, no character, no emotion, just the kind of wordplay that may be fun to write but is a drag to read.


"One Into Two" by J. T. McIntosh

Speaking of horrible, it's once more unto the breach of a piece of J. T. McIntosh fiction.  (Dare I read such a piece?)

It is the future!  Millions of people commute everyday between Terra, Luna, Marsa and Venusa via matta transmittuh.  These are the kind of teleporters that read your atoms, vaporize you, transmit the data to your destination, and build a replica of you at your destination, the kind of teleporters that make every person reading the story say, "Wait, they are killing the person," and vow never to be matter transmitted regardless of whether a Kirk or a Spock or a Scotty tells them it is perfectly safe.  The government carefully regulates the teleporters to make sure what goes into the booth is completely annihilated, otherwise some smart guy would use the booth to duplicate money or hot chicks, and that would cause undesirable inflation.

The main character of the story is Willie Ross, a crook who works for the teleporter company.  Regardless of all that government regulation he duplicates himself so he can be on two planets at once.  While one version of Ross is setting up an alibi on Luna, the other version is on Mars murdering a man he's never met before, a guy who is married to a former partner in crime of Ross's.   I don't think McIntosh makes it very clear why Ross kills this innocent man, vengeance, I guess, or so he can pressure his former associate for money or something.  "One Into Two" is a mystery in multiple senses of the word.

The police very quickly catch both Rosses, either because they betray each other, or because they are able to trick the Rosses and have experience dealing with other assholes who have tried to exploit the teleporter system.  "You never had a chance, Ross....You don't think you're the first to try this, do you?"  Like numerous things in this story, it wasn't quite clear to me.

At the end of the story the police teleport Mars-assassin-Ross and Luna-alibi-Ross to New York, at the same time, to the same booth.  This means there is only one Ross again, but he has the memories of both Rosses--McIntosh even tells us that the food each ate separately is now together in his one stomach!  I don't think this makes any sense.


"Rebel" by Ward Moore

I read a story by Ward Moore earlier this year, and liked it.  Can he get me out of this bad story rut?

This is a gimmicky story which reminds you that attitudes, tastes, mores are just faddish opinion and change over time.  In 1962 parents wanted their kids to play outside and sit up straight at the dinner table and conservative people had short hair and rebellious kids wore long hair.  In this story young Caludo's parents have long hair and tell Caludo to recline and lament that he played outside as a kid instead of staying inside to read books and that he now wears his hair short.  Those are just a few examples--the entire story, eight pages, is a conversation between Caludo and his parents that is one obvious switcheroo joke after another--Mom and Dad smoke and drink and think it impolite their son abstains, Mom and Dad are artists and think son is wasting his time becoming a businessman, blah blah blah.



Alfred Bester, who wrote the famous The Stars My Destination wrote the "Books" column in this issue of F&SF, and addresses three books.  The Theodore Sturgeon collection A Way Home he tells us is great because Sturgeon is great--the word "genius" appears.  The novels Battle for the Stars by Edmond Hamilton and Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford Simak he admits are doing things that have already been done ("space-opera" the former, "conventional persecution" story the latter) but that Hamilton and Simak do these familiar things well.  I have read both Battle for the Stars and Time is the Simplest Thing myself, and those interested can find my Amazon reviews at the links in this paragraph.


One hit and three misses?  Damn!  Well, you pays your money and you takes your chances, as they say.  Besides, I read these things, in part, to learn about the SF field and the intellectual milieu of the past, so my time reading these stories, no matter how groaningly bad some were, was not wasted.  And I still have that gorgeous Emsh cover to comfort me.    

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