Short Reviews – The Boy Who Cried Wolf359, by Kendall Foster Crossen

The Boy Who Cried Wolf359, by Kendall Foster Crossen, appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

I feel like there’s a popular conception of what Amazing Stories is based largely on the showcase television series, and it aligns with some of the more light-hearted Twilight Zones, and I’ve seen it in some of the stories in Thrilling Wonder, as well. A young person is confronted with the alien or supernatural, and with typical childhood bravery, the youth stands against it when even the adults will not or cannot. [See also the classic Invaders From Mars.]

The Boy Who Cried Wolf359 is a typic, and entertaining, example of this genre of science fiction. A young boy is able to pick up the telepathic communications of an alien race of fire beings who plan on settling on earth after planetforming it by setting it on fire. Of course, no one believes the lad, so after failing to convince any of the adults around him of the peril, he matter-of-factly explains his plans and goes off to the forest to face down the aliens himself.

The adults think he is going to play make-believe; his fellow youth complained they played ‘battle the Martians’ last week; the boy sets forth armed with a capgun and a water-pistol and single-handedly drives off the fire aliens landing in the woods.

No classic of science fiction, this, but it wasn’t bad. While not as funny as Joe Carson’s Weapon, I thought it read a bit better [and was certainly less PoMo].

Don’t forget, we’ve got roughly a week left on the Mongoose and Meerkat kickstarter. Be sure to back today!

 

Short Reviews – That a World Might Live, by Burt B. Liston

That a World Might Live by Burt B. Liston appeared in the February 1951 Issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

A mining operation to dig up super radioactives at the cost of the lives of its miners crosses tunnels with an advanced scout from the Atlantis of the Inner Earth.

You’ve got Manfred Drake, the scumbag mine owner who will throw the lives of his workers away to save pennies, Luke Hayward, who Drake roped into being the foreman of his operation before knowing he was stepping into a bloodbath, and Jim Murchison, Hayward’s chief machine operator. Together, this trio get dragged to the inner earth, which is in the midst of civil and religious war, which could spill over top-side with an atomic invasion.

They get the whole rundown from Marna, the legitimate queen of Atlantis who, along with her handmaidens, are going to be used as camp women when the topside invasion occurs, if something doesn’t happen soon.

What ensues is a pretty fun Flash Gordon-meets-Pellucidar adventure. It’s worth a read.

Short Reviews – The Pursuit of the Pankera, by R.A. Heinlein [Guest Post from J. Comer]

We’re really busy this week with the day job and with plugging the Mongoose & Meerkat crowdfund and weren’t able to get the next Amazing Story review in the queue. Also, trying to wrangle advertisements for the Summer Special, which are due today! Fortunately, friend of the magazine and sometimes contributor J. Comer is filling in this week with a short review of Heinlein’s The Pursuit of the Pankera.

Love him? Hate him? What’s impossible is to ignore Robert Heinlein(1907-1988).  Not only did Heinlein pioneer publication of SF/F stories in “the slicks”, such as The Saturday Evening Post, he originated multiple ideas now standard, such as the ‘generation ship lost in space’ (Universe  and Common Sense, collected as Orphans of the Sky). While his work varied from excellent (Citizen of the Galaxy, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress) through badly dated or mediocre (“Gulf”, Podkayne of Mars) to disgusting(To Sail Beyond The Sunset[1]), his narrative authority never waned.

Heinlein’s work is grouped into four or five periods, the last of which began with his illnesses in 1970- peritonitis and a blocked carotid artery, among others.  During this difficult period he wrote two novels: I Will Fear No Evil, a plotless sexual novel[2], and an unpublished work which his wife Virginia dismissed as “yard goods”.  This second work has had more than one name[3] and after Heinlein’s death remained among his papers, archived at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  The present reviewer looked at the fragments of the novel in the 2000s.  They were reminiscent of the later The Number of the Beast, which came out in 1980.[4]  There the matter rested for some time.

In 2019, Phoenix Pick announced that they would publish a ‘new’ Heinlein novel consisting of these fragments. This novel, titled The Pursuit Of The Pankera, as well as a new edition of The Number Of The Beast, came out in March 2020.

The plot of Pankera is that of the published Number of the Beast through about p. 185. Two couples, Zeb and Deety and Hilda and Jake(Deety’s father), meet at a party at Hilda’s home. The two couples marry that night as an unknown foe attacks.  While in hiding, Jake installs his ‘time machine’ (which jumps between alternate universes) in Zeb’s flying car.  The four then flee Earth and visit many universes, some based on famous novels. (At this point the two novels’ plots diverge).  The two longest such visits are to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom and to E.E. Smith’s Lensman series.  In Number of the Beast there is endless bickering among the four crew as to who will lead, and with a visit to a steam-era (“Space: 1889”) British colony on Mars; the plot of Number of the Beast then goes on to include Lazarus Long and his polyamorous family of immortals amidst many allusions to classic SF.

The plot of Pankera is more coherent. The four main characters leave Barsoom, as the two women are pregnant and need an obstetrician, and they visit the Land of Oz, where Glinda installs two bathrooms in the back of their car by magic.  The future space-opera world of the Lensman books has doctors, of course, but is at war with Boskone.  So the characters befriend the Lensman of Prime Base, and make plans to fight the Panki, the Barsoomian name for the dimension-hopping enemies who forced them off Earth.  Then they find a world (“Beulahland”) where there are doctors and there is enough nudism that the unhuman Panki cannot wear human disguises (as they do once on Barsoom and once on Earth). The end of the novel has the four main characters, the Lensmen, and others unite to wipe out the Panki with an ending reminiscent of The Puppet Masters, published in 1951.

So what can we make of these two novels, which ultimately are one novel?  First of all, the publisher’s claim that they’re an experiment by Heinlein has little foundation.  Heinlein would never have been able to publish two novels which were identical for more than two hundred pages[5]; as it stood, he did not get the advance he wanted for Number of the Beast, possibly because of its quality.  So what are these books, one of which has a coherent plot and appealing action, and one of which is rambling and full of sexual references?[6]

Larry Niven, friend and colleague of Robert Heinlein, offers an answer in his Scatterbrain (2003).  Niven remarks:

A writer’s best friend is his editor…many good writers don’t understand [this], and those included Robert Heinlein…the generation of writers ahead of mine came out of an era of censorship…Robert Heinlein was the first science fiction writer to become too powerful to be censored…Heinlein should not have used that power…his earlier novels were lean and dense with ideas… But his later novels sprawl all over the place. They needed an editor!

The fact of the matter is that Number of the Beast fell victim to the no-edit clause, and that I Will Fear No Evil is the same.  Niven’s critique here was written before Pankera was published, but still stands.  Pankera is simply the best fragments of Number of the Beast, worked over by a competent editor.  The fact that the Burroughs and Smith estates acquiesced to their characters appearing also helped Pankera to work as an homage to classic SF.

Is this worth reading? For Heinlein completists, it’s a don’t-miss.  For those who’ve read some of his work, these two books are optional.  If you’ve read no Heinlein, these are not the place to start.  Of the two, Pankera is the more coherent novel by far, thanks to Heinlein’s posthumous “best friend”. For aspiring writers these two works could serve as a sort of example of how much difference a competent editor can make.  All in all, we’re better for the experience.

 

[1] Reviewed here by Jo Walton.  https://www.tor.com/2011/07/06/heinleins-worst-novel/

[2] A review is here: https://inverarity.livejournal.com/175890.html

[3] Names recorded for this manuscript include Six-Six-Six and The Panki-Barsoom Number Of The Beast.

[4] A negative review is here: https://ansible.uk/writing/numbeast.html

[5] The Dictionary of the Khazars is a counterexample but is one book whose two texts differ by one word.

[6] David Potter’s interpretation of Number of the Beast is inconsistent with reading either the Heinlein papers or Pankera but is presented here for completeness.  https://heinleinsociety.org/rah/numberbeast.html

 

 

Short Reviews – Terror Out of Zanadu, by Robert Moore Williams

Terror Out of Zanadu, by Robert Moore Williams, appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org

Terror Out of Zanadu

The February issue continues with another adventure on Mars.

A small band is on a quest to find the strange Martian city of Zanadu. Hidden near an oasis in the harsh Martian deserts, Zanadu is said to have riches beyond imagination. The small band has reason to believe that the rumors of Zanadu’s wealth are true because one of their number has been there!

One of the party had been in the deserts, near death, when he was found by the Martians of Zanadu and nursed back to health. He has returned for his own reasons, but some of the ruffians he’s brought with him are only out for the wealth beyond imagination.

After an arduous trek, the band reaches Zanadu and is brought in by the Martians, but something is wrong. Zanadu is haunted by a force or presence, something that was not there before on the man’s first visit to the city. Why? And will they manage to escape Zanadu with their lives?

While there wasn’t a lot of story meat to this one, it was brilliantly atmospheric. There were a few places where the characters could’ve been fleshed out a bit better, and a longer story, encompassing the man’s original visit, the son’s disappearance, and the dame’s effort to find him, would’ve been great, but as it was, this was another solid hit for this issue.

Be sure to back the Kickstarter for Mongoose and Meerkat Volume 1: Pursuit Without Asking, out soon from Cirsova Publishing!

Short Reviews – The Man Who Forgot, by Charles Creighton

The Man Who Forgot by Charles Creighton appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read hereat Archive.org.

The Man Who Forgot

This issue offers up yet another thriller with Charles Creighton’s The Man Who Forgot.

A man wakes up amnesiac on Mars; all he remembers is that he was from earth. Right away, he gets sucked into intrigue when he meets Clara, a beautiful martian woman and loyalist, and Karn, her shifty brother who is a secessionist and member of the Martian Secret Police.

The woman introduces the man to her family as Rand Beecher, a chess historian, with the hopes that it will buy him some cover and keep her brother from taking too much an interest in him.

Turns out that the opposite is true: Karn takes “Rand” to meet a fellow secessionist, to reveal the plot that’s afoot. In fact, whomever “Rand” is, he bears a striking resemblance to the real Rand Beecher and is familiar with his works. Karn and his ally Aaron have a proposition for Rand–as a brilliant chessmaster, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to dispassionately plan out an actual war. A war of Martian secession.

Trying to unravel the mystery of his identity, Rand concludes a number of possibilities. The most likely is that he is an earth sleeper agent, either the real Rand, or someone who resembled him, programmed by hypnosis to infiltrate the secession movement. He would either give them bad strategy or good strategy, and either harm the Martian rebel effort by misdirection or the sheer fact that whomever had set him up on earth already knew whatever gambits he had to offer the Martians. In all likelihood, he was set up with Clara’s family because of the easy contact with Karn or because the loyalists in the family were in on the operation… Or are they?

This was a pretty exciting little spy-fi adventure with a lot of twists and turns as the mystery of Rand’s real identity unravels. I don’t want to go into it too much, lest I spoil it too badly. This one’s worth reading, for sure.

Enjoy exciting pulpy adventures? Be sure to check out the new issue of Cirsova out now!

Also, don’t forget to click Notify me on Launch for our upcoming Mongoose & Meerkat Kickstarter launching next week!

Short Reviews – Vanguard of the Doomed, by ???? as Gerald Vance

Vanguard of the Doomed is credited as by Gerald Vance, an Amazing Stories house name shared by several authors. The actual author of Vanguard of the Doomed is unknown. It appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories and can be read here at Archive.org.

Vanguard of the Doomed

A short-wave radio enthusiast and electronics engineer meets a girl over the air-waves. While she’s short and coy, the guy ends up absolutely head over heels for her, and she seems to like him. So when she cryptically signs off, telling him she’ll get in contact with him later if she can, then doesn’t show up for over a week, he worries begins to worry and decides to investigate.

What ensues is a tense, fairly action-packed post-war sci-fi thriller. Turns out the dame is the secretary of a mad scientist… who is actually an ex-Nazi posing as the mad scientist he’s done away with and using the mad scientist’s mad science to strike a blow for a resurrected Reich. Anyway, she’s stumbled on his secret plan to draw a planetoid referred to by astronomers and the media as “The Celestial Hammer”.

Remember the Max Fleischer Superman cartoon, where the astronomer has a magnet ray that he uses to get a better look at asteroids and meteors by directing them closer to earth and disaster ensues? Basically that, but the guy is doing it on purpose because he’s a Nazi and he’s gonna hold the world for ransom Cobra Commander style.

One interesting tidbit is that the Nazi villain is named Max Borzeny. Now, Borzney isn’t a real German name, but a thinly disguised spin on Skorzeny. Otto Skorzeny’s exploits in the war brought his profile much higher than his rank and responsibilities–he was larger-than-life boogeyman both feared and admired by Allies. The Borzeny in the story bears little resemblance to Skorzeny, but it is indicative of some of the mystique of SS Commando who, only a few years later, would be turned into ‘a real life pulp hero’ in Charles Foley’s hagiography Commando Extraordinary. Also worth noting, that despite being a relatively minor figure in the Reich, Skorzeny would go on after the war to basically become the real life Red Skull.

 

Retro Fandom Friday – Enchantress of Venus Edition

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

This is it, the final Retro Fandom Friday for some time! People were abuzz in the Vizigraph about the Fall issue of Planet Stories, which featured Enchantress of Venus as its cover story. I totally did not plan for this to fall on the day that our Illustrated 70th Anniversary Edition of Enchantress of Venus comes out, but hey, it is a happy coincidence!

First letter we’ll look at comes from W. Paul Ganley:

What is Planet coming to? How dare your cover illustrate a story! All the science-fiction tradition, gone–Destroyed by a mere flick of the paint brush–lost forever. Oh, well, I suppose an artist had to hit upon a picture that would follow a story just by the laws of chance–even though they don’t read the story. (They don’t, do they?)

 

Enchantress of Venus automatically slips into first place, by three laps head of Action on Azura. It also automatically places Leigh Brackett fourth upon my list of authors–no, wait a minute, I’ll make that third. Will Jenkins(…)has slipped.

 

I agree with Rodney Palmer: Brackett’s work is undeniably like that of Burroughs’. Not, I believe, in style, but in the mood she creates. (Burroughs, by the way, is my favorite writer.) Oddly, her style is akin to that of Bradbury (my second favorite author); I say oddly, because I see no similarity in the styles of Bradbury and Burroughs.

 

I guess her character, Stark is here to stay. Now, I have a question I’d like you to answer when (?) you print this. Did Miss (?) (Married.–Ed.) Brackett write any stories about Stark before she left science-fiction-writing ‘way back when I wasn’t reading (anything, probably)? (See Ed Cox’s letter, below.–Ed.) If so what are teh titles, and in what issues did they appear (I want to get them, if any)? If she didn’t, here is a request–two requests. First, have her continue the series, as she can have him as a hero on any planet she chooses, without detracting from the story value–in fact, it would enhance the story. Second, if N’Chaka is a new character, how about a story (book-length novel, huh?) about his early childhood. I doubt whether the fen will accuse her of pirating Burroughs’ work. I’d like to read about the adventures of Stark in his youth in Mercury, and about the incidents of which she has but hinted in her latest stories.

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Short Reviews – Sword of Fire, by Emmett McDowell

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Sword of Fire, by Emmett McDowell, was the featured cover story of the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Whatever the hell that is they’re riding is totally making epic meme-face.

At last we get to the exciting cover story of the Winter issue!

Dashing raygun pulp hero Jupiter Jones is on a mission for the Galactic Colonization Board to chart nearby star system with potentially habitable worlds when his ship, the Mizar, gets hit by a space warp that throws him half-way across the universe. Without fuel and supplies to get back, he’s forced to land on an earth-like alien world to seek out the necessary fissiles to get him home.

Jones finds himself on a strange planet with several divergent humanoid races, most of which are the bred-slaves of a race of evil telepathic mollusk men! Lucky for Jones, in the octopods’ temple, they have a giant tentacle monster statue made out of uranium that may be his ticket home!

The Octopods managed to take over the world because the humanoid civilization had found these small creatures that, when affixed to the neck, gave them telepathic powers. Having telepathic powers and small mollusks attached to your spinal cord became all the rage. Of course, the small mollusks were the young life-stage of horrible tentacle monsters from the sea, and everyone who had one of the buggers stuck to his or her neck was easily enslaved.

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Short Reviews – Let The Ants Try, by Frederik Pohl (as James MacCreigh)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Let The Ants Try by Frederik Pohl (as James MacCreigh) appeared in the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

A man’s first enemy is his family—for he sees them first—but he sides with them against the families across the way. And still his neighbors are allies against the Ghettos and Harlems of his town—and his town to him is the heart of the nation—and his nation commands life and death in war.

Let The Ants Try is a great one. A lot of pulp stories I’ve read have tried to mix humor and horror, often with varying results, but I think this one nails it. It has an almost absurd premise, practically a joke, that’s played straight through to the end with pretty terrifying and grisly results.

In the not-too-distant future of 1960, we’re looking at Fallout: Detroit. The bombs fell, and it was hell on earth. Those who died in the initial blast were the lucky ones—those outside the city had the fortune to die slow and miserable deaths from radiation sickness. When the radiation finally died down enough, Dr. Salva Gordy, a professor of mathematics and physics, moved back to the ruins of Detroit, to be where his family had been and because he felt he had nowhere else to go.

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Short Reviews – The Green Dream, by Bryce Walton

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Green Dream, by Bryce Walton, appeared in the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Even though I took Walton to task for his 5-point letter on illogical themes in STF, I’ve got to admit that between Savage Galahad and The Green Dream, I’m fairly impressed by his ability to convey the alien and the weird.

In The Green Dream, drug lord Owen Baarslag is accompanied by a strange alien girl, Joha, on his quest for revenge.

Owen is quite a heel:

To the Tellurian colonists scattered minutely through the rich area of Sector 5, Owen Baarslag was an unspeakable obscenity. A degenerate derelict; an abnormal who had “gone native” and things even more despicable. A Stith addict who eked out a precarious existence in the most polluted occupation known: that of forcing the timid Venusian swamp natives to harvest the meagre crops of aukweed from the lake bottoms.

He wasn’t always, though. He was once a scientist, quite brilliant, actually, until he was outlawed by the academy. Owen forever harbors a grudge against his twin brother, Albert, also a brilliant scientist, who was the one who turned in the very psyche eval that condemned him.

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