Short Reviews – The Diversifal, by Ross Rocklynne

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Diversifal by Ross Rocklynne originally appeared in the Winter 1945 issue of Planet Stories. It was reprinted “by Popular Request” in the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories and in at least three other anthologies. It can be read here at Stories Logo

The Diversifal is very different from the other two Ross Rocklynne stories I’ve read. It had a rather interesting premise and a heartbreaking ending. It was not the ending I wanted, but I can’t deny that it was a moving ending.

Bryan Barret, an ethical journalist and “Seeker of the Truth” has been visited by a strange being from the distant future called Entore. Entore is a creepy looking Homo Superior with telepathy and a striking resemblance to Brainiac; he can manifest himself in a strange semi-transparent physical manner in the present as he guides Bryan down a path that will change the future:

There is a woman Bryan Barret must never meet, must never fall in love with, must never marry, and must never have a child with – the fate of humanity in the midst of an interdimensional war in the year 800,000 AD depends upon it!

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Short Reviews – Asteroid of Fear, by Raymond Z. Gallun

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Asteroid of Fear by Raymond Z. Gallun was featured in March 1951 issue of Planet Stories. It can be found here at Stories Logo

This issue that started out a bit rocky* finds its footing with Asteroid of Fear. Though the menace is human, the setting and sci-fi elements are anything but mundane.

John Endlich and his family are the first agricultural colonists on the asteroid Vesta, assigned and provided for by the Asteroids Homesteaders Office to grow foods locally for asteroid miners. Johnny’s one of those guys who’s made his own bad luck in the past, and this could very well be the last chance to do right by his family. After a rough ride of ups and downs in life, standing up to a bully landed him in jail for six month, costing him last farm, so in a last ditch effort, he signed up to be given a kit and head off to the asteroid belt. Unfortunately for John, he finds himself the target of harassment from a group of space miners on their way back from a brief respite on Earth.

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Interview: The QuQu and Dan Wolfgang

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

We interrupt our regularly scheduled review of the pulps for this important and exciting interview with The QuQu and Dan Wolfgang, the team behind QuQu Media, who are with us today to talk about science fiction, new media, and the Alt-Furry. Short Reviews will return next week [actually tomorrow] with Asteroid of Fear!

Alex: Thanks to both of you guys for agreeing to do an interview for us. First, can you tell us a little about yourselves and what it is you’re doing with QuQu Media?

The QuQu: I was the stereotypical lurker on the internet until March 2015 during the GamerGate events. When I posted prior to that, I largely used small community websites, or posted anonymously. I had been a gamer for ages, and was dissatisfied with the videos that were being produced at that time on the topic of GamerGate. I decided that I should just report on it myself.  With the help of a video editor, Johnny D, I got my start making RECAP videos, summarizing the current news related to the event in a brief and amusing manner.

After my assistant departed, I kept doing RECAPS myself until December of 2015 when Dan Wolfgang, AKA Rayndrops, joined the team. With his writing skill and knowledge, we were able to cover broader topics with more depth, including subjects outside of my personal area of expertise. Around this time we started covering things like Sci-Fi/Fantansy literature, visual novels, and more. QuQu Media became what it is today: A small team of two seeking to present news and opinion on various happenings in both political and cultural spheres, giving it our own twist to avoid just jumping on the latest Youtube bandwagons. Mostly, I’m looking to have fun, as this is a hobby to me.

Dan Wolfgang: I first spoke with QuQu about a year ago in the Dountain Dew and Moritos teamspeak, and we got to talking about Nintendo 64 emulation. Since his previous collaborator had moved on, I later asked if he was interested in resuming video production with my help. My interests have always been more toward reading and writing stories, so that influenced the content of the channel. As an example, I really enjoy stories written by Harlan Ellison, and because of this, you can see references to his work in some of our videos. The intro for our video on Science Fiction was directly inspired by the opening of Harlan’s commentary show on Sci-Fi Buzz (now SyFy.)

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Last Day For the Wild Stars IGG! + On Geek Gab with Jeffro Johnson

Update: John Trent’s interview with Michael Tierney at Bounding Into Comics has gone live!

Today is the last day for the Wild Stars IndieGoGo. And while I don’t expect a miracle that would land us $5500 in backers on the last day, it would be nice to get some numbers up. [It’s a flexible campaign, and all backers will have their perks fulfilled.]

We got all of the cover art in from Mark Wheatley, so we should be able to start getting the softcover proofs very soon.

Back Covers

I did another Wild Stars Noise Stream. This time, actually live. But because it was my first time, and I am a pleb, you can hear the “how does i obs?” vid I was checking to make sure I could hear my own streaming audio in the first couple seconds of the stream.


In a non-Wild Stars related note, I was on Geek Gab with Jeffro Johnson to talk about AD&D. This was really cool, especially since this is the first time Jeffro and I have actually talked, not just via email and blog comments. So it was kind of a big deal to me!

Short Reviews – The Envoy, Her, by H.B. Fyfe

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Envoy, Her by H.B. Fyfe appeared in the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Stories Logo

“His Illustrious Sublimity the Lord Vyrtl, Viceroy of Terra, Emperor of Pollux,” yadda yadda yadda, is on Klo, the moon of Jursa, awaiting the envoy from the planet where the imperial armada has just crushed a rebellion. All that’s left is the formality of the Jursan’s suing for peace in a groveling show of genuflection. When the envoy arrives, Lord Vyrtl is intrigued; no mere diplomat, Daphne Foster is the most beautiful and alluring woman the emperor has ever seen! He’s caught off guard, taken aback by her wit and enchanting beauty and ultimately grants a number of concessions that he otherwise likely would not to the defeated Jursans.

Folks want to know what’s up, why the emperor would give up all of that to some old crone. Old crone? Preposterous! Did they not see the envoy’s stunning beauty?! Nope, only the emperor had. Before she can get back to Jursa, Daphne’s summoned to the emperor’s presence. To soften the terms of the surrender, the Jursan used a psychic projection device that allowed someone to project someone’s ideal into their perception of an individual; she appeared to Vyrtl as the impossible ideal of a beautiful and enticing woman.

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Short Reviews – The Star Saint, by A.E. Van Vogt

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Star Saint by A.E. Van Vogt appeared in the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Stories Logo

The Star Saint is the first story I’ve read by A.E. Van Vogt; it’s a deconstruction of the Raygun Romance, and I hated it.

A ship full of colonists is on its way to drop off a fresh batch of pioneer folk at a frontier outpost only to find that the outpost is destroyed and all of the colonists are dead. There were only enough supplies for a one-way trip, so the colonists are going to have to hold out against whatever alien threat awaits until something more can be done. Something like receiving aid from the Star Saint.

The Star Saint is something of a rogue space cop – he only shows up where and when he feels like it, but when he does show up, he has a reputation for saving the day. He’s strong, he’s brilliant, he’s reputed to be able to survive even in the vacuum of space, and the womenfolk all around the galaxy swoon at the thought of him. He practically craps rainbows. Except he’s not the main character. Some poor shlub named Leonard Hanley is.

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Review of Flying Sparks Vol 1.

Most folks who know us know that Jon Del Arroz & I are interweb buddies. But the dirty secret I have is that I really hadn’t gotten around to reading any of his books yet!

As an editor, I’m frequently swamped, and as a reviewer of old stories with a regular review column, most of my reading energies went towards those…

Well, I ended up backing the first Flying Sparks crowdfund to support Jon, but I only backed for the digital copy. I’m terrible about reading digital stuff, and just never got around to it [like the upward of a dozen Alt-Hero comics I may or may never get to].

This time, I backed for physical copies of both volume 1 and volume 2, and I’m glad I did.

flying sparks

Honestly, part of my procrastination was that Jon Malin’s cover for volume one was pretty uninspiring–it said nothing about the comic and looked like generic cape-stuff. [I prefer covers more evocative of the action within, and almost never go for character portrait covers if I can help it].

But Jethro Morales’ interior art and Shannon Ho’s colors are fantastic. Plus, Jon’s story is really good!  It’s well-paced and exciting. The story is something like a mix of My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but he’s able to pull it off without the campy cheese that a story like that lends itself to.

I’ll be reading volume 2 soon, and I’ve got to say, Flying Sparks is right up there now with The Terrifics in terms of new titles I’m excited about and looking forward to reading more of.

Short Reviews – Duel on Syrtis, by Poul Anderson

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Duel on Syrtis by Poul Anderson appeared in the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Stories Logo

One is a big game hunter who complains about liberals and suffrage, the other is a cute Martian owlbear just trying to make it in the cruel world.

Riordan has a spaceship, a monstrous hawk-thing, an alien hunting-dog, a gun, a spacesuit and a radiation perimeter to cordon off his prey. Keegan has only his wits and affinity with the planet.

Duel on Syrtis shifts back and forth between the perspectives of these two characters as they slug it out over several days while Riordan aims to bag the most dangerous game: Owlbear hobos who might be allowed to vote someday.

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Retro Fandom Friday (on a Tuesday)- One Letter to Make You Think

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

More Sex In The Future? appeared in the letters column of the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. Though we’ve included the text in its entirety, it can be read here at Stories Logo

I’ve noticed in the last couple stories I’ve read, including two of the three that I’ll be talking about in the upcoming weeks, one by Poul Anderson and another by A.E. Van Vogt, that in the post-war stories, around the cusp of 1950 (give or take a few years, there’s no hard line) there’s been a gradual change in both the tone and the kinds of stories being published in Planet. Less hopeful, more grey, and definitely not in the heroic tradition that one would’ve come to expect from reading stories by Rocklynne, Brackett, Wells, or any other number of space romance writers.

In the last Retro Fandom Friday, I talked about how Planet was mulling over axing their letters section (they didn’t) over some gripes about the letters they were receiving. While I can’t and won’t say “this is the kind of letter that made them consider axing Vizi”, nor can I say this letter writer is necessarily representative of greater fandom, it does contain many of the things I’ve seen begin to crop up in the letters section in the late 40s that might raise an eyebrow. Beginning with appeal to reason, moving into the need for ‘serious discussion’ and call for ‘serious’ science fiction, this writer meanders through psychology and atomic science to the Kinsey Report to denigrating Western sexual mores in favor of delicious polyamory and cultural relativism.

Dear Editor:

These letters squawking emotionally against the inclusion of sex in science-fiction stories leave me disappointed, disturbed and more than a little disgusted. They seem to be the work of inhibited repressed personalities. I am not placing myself in the position of endorsing smut or pornography, but I believe the subject of sex deserves some straightforward, adult handling.

If science-fiction has anything to offer other than mere escapism, its value lies in promoting a receptive, questioning attitude and freeing the mind from the narrow, superstition-bound, taboo-ridden ruts of accustomed thought channels.

Nearly every science-fiction story is a glimpse into some writer’s conception of a possible future, and as change is the one certainty in this universe, the future will be different from the present. How different? Our present-day patterns are neither perfect nor static. Some of our better brains have concluded that if we don’t rapidly learn as much about our own psychology and social structures as we already know about the guts of a uranium, we are heading for disaster on a grand scale.

Anyone not entirely prejudice-blinded can see that the conventional standards of sex conduct of today are irrational, hypocritical, and simply are not working. The Kinsey report indicates clearly that a socially dangerous schizoid gap exists between “moral principles” and actual conduct.

Our self-appointed “Moral leaders” have decreed certain rules, to which everyone is supposed to adhere unquestioningly on blind faith alone. And they insist on the face of contrary evidence that these rules are eternal and immutable and unchanging. They carefully ignore the fact that other civilizations have done as well or better than our own in promoting human welfare, using an entirely different set of standards of conduct.

Polygamy has been successful in many places, until our own civilization intervened with superior military and police forces. (And the present Hollywood concept of marriage is nothing but legalized serial polygamy.) Many cultures, those of Crete and Athens and Bali, for instance, have accepted costumes which left female breasts fully exposed and yet have not lapsed into unbridled lewdness. Many civilizations have experimented, some quite successfully, with premarital and extramarital sexual freedom.

And if our own civilization doesn’t radioactivate itself into oblivion or sterility, increasing biological knowledge will surely give us complete control of reproduction. Children will be born only when they are definitely desired. That too will alter the social patterns.

Sex will probably remain one of the basic human drives as long as homo sapiens is recognizable as such. So let’s quit trying to hide the fact beneath a mound of taboos. Whether the authors see the future patterns as puritanism or libertinism, monogamy or polygamy or polyandry or eugenic mating controlled by bureaucrats, that makes little difference. To each author his own dreams. But a writer can’t very well depict the social structure of a hypothetical future world without including man-woman relationships—and in these sex will be a basic factor.

So I contend that discussions of sex have just as legitimate a place in science-fiction as nuclear physics and military technology and synthetic foods and the eternal struggle of dictatorship vs. freedom. If science-fiction can persuade people to look openmindedly at themselves and their emotion-dominated attitudes, it can do us all a great service.

So let’s start jettisoning the taboos!

Sincerely, John Higgins


Other letters in this issue include complaints about the unbearable whiteness and American-ness of Science Fiction. We have to get rid of this anglo-Americentric vision for the future! It’s up to you Sci-fi editors to achieve this! Some of the garbage in this issue’s Vizigraph could have been written yesterday on Vox, Kotaku or The Mary Sue.