a review by Rich Horton
I've decided to make September "Anthology Month". This is really because Patti Abbott plans for September 9th to be devoted to anthologies (and collections) at her excellent every Friday feature Friday's Forgotten Books. I had a few interesting anthologies to cover and I thought, why not do the whole month?
Raymond J. Healy (1907-1997) is primarily remembered within the SF field for his role as co-editor (with J. Francis McComas, one of the founding editors of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) of the absolutely seminal 1946 anthology Adventures in Time and Space, with was the first introduction in book form to short SF for many post-War readers. It was reprinted numerous times, including a Modern Library edition in 1957.
|(cover by Fred L. Wolff)|
Healy edited three other SF anthologies, one more reprint book with McComas, the much shorter and less good More Adventures in Time and Space (1955); and two original anthologies on his own: New Tales of Space and Time (1951) and the book at hand, 9 Tales of Space and Time (1954). (I don't have any idea why the words "time" and "space" are in a different order in the Healy solo anthologies.) Both books are very good, and both seem to have been quite significant at the time, but I don't think they are much remembered. The first book had two major stories, Kris Neville's "Bettyann" and Anthony Boucher's "The Quest for Saint Aquin", as well as contributions from the likes of Asimov and Bradbury. The second book has no story as good as those, but it is still quite interesting.
Healy acknowledges a sub-theme of the anthology in his introduction: several of the stories are by writers much better known as editors (Campbell, McComas, Boucher, Gold, and Healy himself). Most of the stories are reasonably long. The TOC is as follows:
"The Idealists", by John W. Campbell, Jr. (14,000 words)
"Shock Treatment", by J. Francis McComas (11,400 words)
"Genius of the Species", by R. Bretnor (5700 words)
"Overture", by Kris Neville (20,000 words)
"Compound B", by David Harold Fink, M. D. (11,600 words)
"The Chicken or the Egghead", by Frank Fenton (7800 words)
"The Great Devon Mystery", by Raymond J. Healy (8400 words)
"Balaam", by Anthony Boucher (5200 words)
"Man of Parts", by H. L. Gold (5300 words)
John Campbell was of course a significant SF writer of the '30s, publishing some of the most popular "super science" stories, as well as some excellent stories in a much quieter vein as by "Don A. Stuart". But when he took over as editor of Astounding in 1937, he nearly stopped writing. Stories continued to appear for a couple of years, but presumably they were already in the pipeline. Some trunk stories eventually showed up posthumously, but the only stories likely to be new, as far as I can tell, were a novel, The Moon is Hell (1951), and this story, "The Idealists". Three other novellas appeared as a book in 1949, The Incredible Planet, but they look possibly like trunk stories, sequels to his novel The Mightiest Machine (1935) -- likewise, the status (trunk or not) of The Moon is Hell is perhaps in question, but I think there can be little or no doubt that "The Idealists" was written around the time of publication.
"The Idealists" is pure Campbell, a story that reads like something he would have pitched to one of his regulars at Astounding, H. Beam Piper, perhaps, or someone lesser like Everett Cole. An expedition of humans is exploring a planet where the intelligent race is at a medieval tech level, under the autocratic rule of Dukes, who forbid scientific experimentation. The humans have tried to teach some new tech to a clever local man, and the Duke has had him killed, so they try again with the Duke's rather volatile son. The Duke, backed into a corner, as the wisest of the human ship has warned, kills his son as well, and then comes to challenge the humans. At first we are led to feel sympathy for the humans, but it becomes clear that they are acting foolishly, as we are told (lectured) by the Campbell stand in. The ending is a bit dark, and there is a bit of a twist, as a superwise alien race turns out to be involved. It's not bad stuff, very didactic to be sure, but worth reading and making its point, if a bit thuddingly, fairly well.
J. Francis McComas (1911-1978) wrote fairly little fiction, a half dozen pieces between 1943 and 1955 (including one that he and Healy picked for Adventures in Time and Space). "Shock Treatment" is set on a planet that has accidentally been colonized by the survivors of a crashed spaceship. They have tried to set up a rather utopian social system, particularly in the area of penology -- the death penalty is forbidden. This comes under stress when an obvious no-good drug addict kills a respected citizen. The prosecuting lawyer, a rather unpleasant man, argues that this proves that the death penalty is necessary, while the aging Judge and an idealistic young man who acts as the defense lawyer try to defend the values of their society, but the other side organizes a mob to do justice their way. The story turns on foolish escape attempt, and then a stern resolution, in which the idealistic young man is forced to allow the execution to go through, to "teach a lesson", as it were, to the populace. (A lesson about how harmful the death penalty is to society, not about how bad crime is.) It's talky and didactic again, though again the point is made tolerably well. (There are some bad missteps, especially attributing the crime to an implausible and unnecessary drug.)
Reginald Bretnor (1911-1992) was a Russian born writer (born in Siberia, actually) who came to the US in 1920. His name was Alfred Reginald Kahn until after the Second World War. He published a great many mostly humorous stories in the SF magazines and the slicks (his first sale was to Harper's) from the late '40s until his death. He was perhaps best known for his Feghoots, punny flash fiction (well over a hundred examples) mostly published in F&SF as by "Grendel Briarton". His most famous story is also from F&SF, "The Gnurrs Come From the Voodvork Out", the first of a number of stories about Papa Schimmelhorn. He published very little at novel length -- an SF novel, Gilpin's Space (1986) and a Schimmelhorn novel. He was also active critically, mostly as the editor of three anthologies of essays on SF, beginning with Modern Science Fiction (1953).
"Genius of the Species", published as by R. Bretnor, a form of his name he used about half the time, is a comic story set in Russia. They have invented a shield that prevents any animal life (including humans) from entering or leaving the country. A series of foolish 5-year plans by the latest dictator lead inevitably to the creation of super-intelligent cats, who take over the country. It's a reasonably funny light story.
Kris Neville (1925-1980) had one of the interesting disappointing careers in the field. He was a native of St. Louis, long resident in California, who began publishing short fiction in 1949, and quickly made an impact, most notably with "Bettyann" (1951), but also "Hunt the Hunter" (1951) and "The Toy" (1952) among others. By the time of this book he had published some three dozen stories, and then he largely fell silent for close to a decade, returning to publish another couple of dozen stories before his too early death. He also published perhaps a half-dozen novels, the last of which, Run, the Spearmaker, has only been published in Japan, except for an excerpt in the Riverside Quarterly. (It was co-written with his wife Lil, as were other late stories.) The novels were mostly expansions or fixups of earlier stories, and made little impact. There is little question that he could have had a major career. Why didn't he? Barry Malzberg, who collaborated with him on two stories and carried on an extensive correspondence, says that this was partly due to frustrated ambition -- the field, perhaps most of all its editors, were not ready to publish work of the ambition he desired. Another reason could be that he had a very good job, a technical writer and an expert on epoxies, which he seems to have liked and in which he was highly respected. Sometimes we readers forget that much as we want to see promising writers keep at it, there are other, equally rewarding, careers, and it's not our call what a given person chooses to do with their life. (I think of P. J. Plauger sometimes in this context.)
"Overture" is the direct sequel to "Bettyann". (The two stories were combined, presumably with additional material, into a novel in 1970, and another story, "Bettyann's Children", written with Lil Neville, appeared in 1973.) (Obviously, spoilers for "Bettyann" follow.) The story opens with Bettyann, having left the ship in which her alien relatives were planning to take her away, using her shapechanging ability to fly back to her true home, in Southwest Missouri. She must now come to terms with her newly revealed alien abilities, and somehow explain to her parents why she suddenly left Smith College. She becomes obsessed with the idea of making a difference -- perhaps by using her powers to heal people, and she also begins to fall for the much older local doctor. Not much else really happens -- a couple of minor health crises for her, engendered by her expending energy on healing a man with cancer, and her despair when she fails, her young love for the older doctor (and its reciprocation), her relationship with her adoptive parents -- but the story is very nicely told, sweet, well-written.
The next two stories are curiously linked. Apparently David Harold Fink, a psychiatrist who had published a bestselling motivational book, Release From Nervous Tension, suggested the idea of a drug to raise IQ to Frank Fenton. Fenton took the idea in a more satirical direction, so Healy suggested that Fink write a story himself on the subject. The result was "Compound B", in which a rather unpleasant doctor with an even more unpleasant wife invents a drug that raises IQs remarkably, but only in black people. This is Compound A. Unhappy with the notion of benefiting blacks (his wife is particularly racist), they end up on a Pacific Island (where the people are also black, of course), hoping to work on Compound B (for white people) in isolation. But the local leader intervenes, obtains the drug for himself, and things proceed -- to worldwide disaster. (The story is told from a POV centuries in the future.) It's an OK satirical story, told with a broad brush. All such stories, seems to me, were swept away by "Flowers for Algernon" (and later Camp Concentration).
Frank Fenton (1903-1971) was mostly associated with Hollywood, though he also published stories in the slicks and a couple of novels. His only SF credits were stories in the two Healy anthologies, and one other. "The Chicken and the Egghead" is a reasonably amusing, if obvious, satire set in Hollywood. It tells of a screenwriter barely scraping by, perhaps because he is too ambitious and too serious. He has a beautiful but apparently dimwitted girlfriend, to whom he won't commit because (I deduce) that would be shallow. His psychiatrist suggests a cure for his problems -- a drug that will reduce his IQ to average ... which of course allows him to write a bestselling novel aimed at the lowest common denominator market, which becomes a film in which is girlfriend can star ... alas, there are downsides ..., and, anyway, the drug wears off.
The next story is editor Raymond Healy's only story, based on an event he read about in one of Charles Fort's books. "The Great Devon Mystery" concerns the curious appearance of a great many mysterious footprints in the snow in Devon in 1855, never explained. In this story, the explanation revolves around Sir Humphrey Muffin and his would-be mistress, the lovely but lowborn tavern owner Queenie Broadaxe, not to mention a great detective and a Venusian. Healy stated that he intended the story to be something of a romp, but it's not really successful that way, though it holds the interest acceptably.
Besides "Overture", the best story in the book is by F&SF editor Anthony Boucher (real name William Anthony Parker White (1911-1968)). Boucher wrote a fair number of short stories, was a significant reviewer both as by Boucher and "H. H. Holmes". He was the first translator of Borges to English. "Balaam", like "The Quest for Saint Aquin", is on a religious theme. Rabbit Chaim Acosta and Father Aloysius Malloy are on Mars, considering the question of "What is a Man?", as they prepare to meet an alien -- the Army wants them to curse the alien, to beef up their men's morale, but the two men, especially Acosta, question whether belligerence and curses are the right way to greet another intelligent creature. The story ends ambiguously, possibly tragically, and quite effectively.
Finally, there's a story from Galaxy editor H. L. Gold. "Man of Parts" is a fairly silly piece about a human who crashlands on another planet, and can only be saved by having his brain and the few parts of his body that survived grafted to the body of a dead alien. Follows a reasonably funny plot about his conflicting instincts, as both alien and man, with a kind of silly twist ending. An OK piece, but nothing special.
In the final analysis, this is a nice enough anthology, never less than competent, but though the best stories are quite good, it's never great.