Sunday, August 28, 2022

Old Bestseller Review: Mistress Masham's Repose, by T. H. White

Old Bestseller Review: Mistress Masham's Repose, by T. H. White

by Rich Horton

T. H. White (1906-1964) is of course primarily -- almost exclusively -- remembered for The Once and Future King, his brilliant tetralogy (or single novel) aboout King Arthur. But he wrote a great deal, including two science fiction novels in the 1930s (Earth Stopped and Gone to Ground.) He wrote the first three parts of The Once and Future King (The Sword in the Stone, The Witch in the Wood, and The Ill-Made Knight) in the late '30s and early '40s, but just after the war he produced this delightful children's book, Mistress Masham's Repose. It was first published in the US in 1946, and the next year came out in the UK. (The Once and Future King was published in full in 1958, with the first and second sections much revised (and the second retitled The Queen of Air and Darkness) and a new fourth section added, The Candle in the Wind. There is a pendant, The Book of Merlyn, written in 1941 but not published until 1977.) 

My copy of Mistress Masham's Repose appears to be a true first edition. (Not that that is impressive -- the same book in the same condition runs about $10 at Abebooks.) It is inscribed "Vera and Gene Brown. Oct. 1946." The illustrations are by Fritz Eichenberg. (I called this an "Old Bestseller Review" -- I doubt this was a true bestseller, but I think it was very well-received from the beginning.)

The story concerns Maria, a 10 year old girl living on a decaying estate, Malplaquet, in Northamptonshire. She is an orphan, and her guardians are an extremely unpleasant pair, Miss Brown and the Vicar. The two of them are conspiring to steal Maria's inheritance; and in the mean time are abusive, and are embezzling from her. One day while the Vicar and Miss Brown are malingering (a common event) she takes advantage of her freedom to take a boat on one of the little lakes or ponds on the estate, and comes to a tiny island. She goes ashore, and with difficulty reaches a structure (a folly) on the island, and while poking around she sees a tiny person. Fascinated, she picks the little woman up and decides to take her home, as sort of a doll, despite the fierce resistance in the form of tiny pinpricks from a tiny man ... Back in her room, the little woman refuses to be fed and refuses to cooperate, and Maria takes her to her only friend (besides the Cook): the Professor, an aging Latin scholar. The Professor immediately rebukes her -- surely she must realize that these little people have as much right as anyone for liberty, and he urges her to return the little woman to her home.

Eventually, Maria reluctantly agrees, and takes the woman back to the island. She hatches a plan to benefit the islanders -- there are a few hundred -- and after some suspicion, they start to accept her. But her clumsy attempts to help, and her desire to be praised for that, backfire as well, and the Professor urges her again to understand that these are independent agents, and know best how to live their lives. (He uses the Cargo Cult story as a bad example.) By now they have found out that these little people are Lilliputians, brought to England by a sea captain who had rescued Gulliver and knew their location. The captain had planned to make a fortune exhibiting them, but the Lilliputians were happily able to escape and make their way to this now neglected small island. 

The rest of the plot revolves around the danger of the Lilliputians being discovered by Miss Brown and the Vicar, who will doubtless exploit them much as the captain had planned. In addition, they are increasing their pressure on Maria, hoping to find a way to extract all of her inheritance, either by killing her (by accident, of course) or by finding the document establishing her title and altering it. Maria and the Professor and the Lilliputians end up cooperating to mutually save themselves and to send Miss Brown and the Vicar to their deserved fate. All this is intriguing enough (though some of the action is a bit overdone, even tedious): daring escapes and heroic Lilliputian treks across the dangerous miles (as it seems to them) of the estate, with dungeons and vile punishments and locked rooms etc.

The real joy, though, at least for an adult reader, is the comical asides. The Professor is the ur-Absent Minded Professor, obsessed with figuring out the meaning of obscure Latin words. The Cook is a sweet old lady with her own ideas about treatment of little girls. There is a Lord Lieutenant obsessed with horses who gets an extended comic segment involving the various toy horses he uses to dispense his cigars and candy etc. The various Lilliputians are nice individuals with their own comic aspects. And there are constant hilarious references to the history of the estate, and the many famous individuals who stayed there. (Those alert to English history will recognize allusions to, for example, the Duke of Marlborough (for example, one of Marlborough's great victories was at the Battle of Malplaquet. My actual knowledge of Marlborough is mostly derived from Thackeray's Henry Esmond, and may be distorted, as Esmond (and presumably Thackeray) disliked him.) This is a book I think I'd have loved had I discovered it as a child; and that I greatly liked discovering it late in life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Review: Finder, by Suzanne Palmer

Review: Finder, by Suzanne Palmer

by Rich Horton

Suzanne Palmer has been publishing short fiction since 2005, and, curiously perhaps for an American writer, she first made her mark with stories for Andy Cox's magazines in the UK (Interzone and Black Static) and for the Australian publication Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I first noticed her with the Black Static story "Zombie Cabana Boy" in 2010, which won me over despite being about perhaps my least favorite horror trope. She has been publishing more widely in the last decade, with stories both thoughtful and full of adventure and action; and she has a Best Novelette Hugo for "The Secret Life of Bots".

was her first novel, from 2019. It has spawned two sequels (Driving the Deep (2020) and The Scavenger Door (2021)), neither of which I've read. I will say that Finder is a perfectly successful standalone; though its protagonist is clearly, on the first hand the sort of character who could be the driver of an entire series, and on the second hand, one who has a personal situation that could drive a more tightly connected set of books with a true narrative arc. I read the book by listening to the audio version. The narrator is Joe Hempel. (I will likely misspell some names, or forget some, in the review -- a hazard of reading by listening. Also, there is a map in the printed book, which might have helped!) 

This main character is named Fergus Ferguson. He was born on Earth in a climate-ruined future, and after a fraught childhood in flooded Scotland, escaped to Mars as a teen. He became an accidental hero of the Martian resistance in a losing fight, but having lost his closest friend, a combination of survivor guilt and perhaps some PTSD led him to keep escaping, it seems; and his current job is to find things; wherever they might be in the human occupied Galaxy. This Galaxy appears to be the fairly typical sort we see in a lot of SF: connected by wormholes of some sort, with planets and space habitats scattered widely, some home to humans, others to a variety of alien species. 

Fergus has come to Cernekan, a loose collection of different types of space-based habitats, in search of Venetia's Sword, a spaceship which was stolen by a criminal named Arum Gilger. On arrival, he meets a woman named Mother Vahn, and learns quickly that she and Gilger are enemies ... and almost immediately their transport is sabotaged, and Mother Vahn is killed. Fergus manages to escape and is rescued by the rest of Mother Vahn's family, who appear to be clones. Fergus learns -- despite the fierce suspicions of some of the Vahns, especially the teenager Mari, that Cernekan is politically divided into roughly five power centers: the Governor, the "Wheels" (which is to say, the habitats where the Vahns (lichen farmers) and the arms dealer Harcourt live), the medical satellite, the criminal organization running the mines, and Arum Gilger's upstart criminal group. (There are also the mysterious Shielders, who live in the sunshields that control solar radiation for Cernekan, and are very reclusive.) The Vahns somewhat reluctantly trust Fergus, believing that his mission to recover the stolen spaceship puts him on the same side as them, who want Gilger stopped.

The novel's pace is extremely rapid, with neat action segments following each other relentlessly. It soon becomes clear that Gilger is making a play for control of Cernekan. He's a sociopath, and his chief henchman, Bor Graf, is even more clearly a psychopath, given to murdering people (especially Vahns) on a whim. Gilger has formed an alliance with the miners, with the aim of destabilizing Cernekan. Fergus begins to take actions in support of the other side (basically the Governor and the Wheels) with help from Harcourt (another ex-Martian) and (reluctantly) Mari Vahn. Full scale war breaks out, and it soon is clear that Gilger is winning. But Fergus is able to do some good (taking Venetia's Sword out of action is one thing) until Harcourt's daughter on Mars is kidnapped by Gilger's thugs, and the price for her life is that Harcourt stay out of the battle. All may be lost ...

I've not mentioned a key outside factor -- the alien Asiig, who have lurked near Cernekan for decades, occasionally taking a person, and either not returning them, or returning them much changed. It's clear to the reader that the Asiig will eventually play a key role. And, indeed, that is one of a couple of quibbles I had with the book -- the Asiig's actions have a certain deus ex machina feel. My other quibble is one I have with many novels these days -- the bad guys are so bad, so sneeringly, pyschopathically horrible, that they stretch belief. Moreover, one has to ask -- what kind of polity would tolerate an Arum Gilger -- or especially a Bor Graf -- for any period of time? Really, one comes to the conclusion that Cernekan is a pretty dreadfully flawed society.

At any rate -- the novel is still a very enjoyable read. As I said, the pace is headlong, and well-maintained (though a side trip to Mars perhaps is a bit of a distraction.) At first it seemed set up to be rather light, a caper novel; but it's not. Fergus has his own troubled backstory, and the novel itself is a war novel, with a pretty extreme body count. But it's still a good deal of hectic fun, with some very clever plotty bits, and some nice humor mixed throughout. It's a first novel, and I'd say that shows, but it's a good first novel, and I'm definitely going to be checking out the sequels.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Review: The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith; and Queen of the States; by Josephine Saxton

The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith; and Queen of the States; by Josephine Saxton

a review by Rich Horton

I recently reviewed Josephine Saxton's Vector for Seven, so I won't rehash the potted bio I did then. Suffice it to say that Saxton was a significant figure in the English SF New Wave of the late 1960s (though she never appeared in New Worlds, and in fact F&SF was her primary short fiction market.) I say that, yet I think her fiction so individual that she should be thought of as a writer with her own vision, who was associated with the New Wave because at that time that seemed the proper home for anyone as strange as she. Here I've considered her first (and likely still best known) novel, and also one of her last, perhaps her last full length novel.

Her first novel was The Hieros Game of Sam and An Smith, which was published by Doubleday in 1969. Doubleday published her first three books in three consecutive years, no further books appeared until 1980. And on the face of it none of her novels seem likely to have been big sellers to the SF audience. Doubleday at that time relied heavily on library sales, and I sense that they could sell a reliable quantity of any book they could slap an SF label on. That allowed them, perhaps, to take risks that other firms might not. It also sometimes put a cap on the exposure of their books. At any rate, only Saxton's first Doubleday novel got a paperback reprint, from the fairly low end publisher Curtis Books. (None of this, I add, should imply that they are not good books!)

The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith opens with a boy of about 14 wandering what seems an entirely deserted landscape. There are apparently a very few other people somewhere, who he avoids, and there is trash visible. Sometimes, it seems, he can scrounge food or clothing from places. For an SF reader, the immediate thought it that he is a survivor of some apocalyptic event. (We learn that Saxton has very different plans for us!) The boy hears a sound, and against his better instincts he investigates, and finds a dead woman, with an apparently newborn girl. The boy tries to make himself leave -- he knows this is the safest course -- but eventually takes the infant, drawn by her cries, and takes her with him, trying to comfort her. Soon he must feed her, and after much distress finds some cans of condensed milk. And so he begins walking again, with the baby in his arms. So far, so post-apocalyptic!

But their next stop is a town, still seemingly empty, but full of stores -- well-stocked stores, but empty of people. The two end up in a sort of department store, where the boy finds food for the baby (and for him) and clothes, etc. And occasional hints of a mysterious other. They hole up in the department store for some four years, the boy raising the baby as best he can, with apparently unlimited necessities available in this store. Then they set out walking again. And the novel continues ... an ongoing journey, a story of growth. The boy teaches the girl to talk and she learns about the world as best she can by asking him questions. Their walking takes them through a series of still curiously empty places, but full of what seem typical 1960s English structures. They give each other names (Beryl and George.) And the time comes when they must decide what do with their lives, together or apart. They must, in essence, grow up, perhaps? I won't say how it ends (and if you don't know what the title of the novel means, don't look it up until after reading the book.) But it's effective, and moving, and the very end is -- not perhaps what we expect.

It's hard for me to quite describe how strange, how unexpected, this novel is. It never goes where one expects. It is also often quite funny (Saxton is always funny) -- not laugh out loud funny, not sitcom stuff, but slyly funny. It's also sweet, and powerful, and oddly mesmerizing.

Queen of the States (The Women's Press, 1986) is a very different novel, but shares some of the same weirdness I find in The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith (and for that matter in Vector for Seven.) It opens with Magdalen Hayward having left her husband Clive, driven off somewhere remote, to consider her new life, or a return to Clive. She gets out of her car and -- is sucked up into an alien spaceship.

On the spaceship she wakes to find the very odd aliens communicating with her, about the simulacra they have made of a room for her, some food, etc. It seems she is an object of study, very interesting to them. And they are willing to make her whatever she wants -- another room, great food, even, eventually, other people. (But not her cherished toy bear.) 

And then we are told (unreliably) that Magdalen is in an asylum, having committed herself, presumably due to stress resulting from Clive's cheating, and his generally erratic behavior. The nurses there are cruel, the other patients generally batty, and Magdalen is soon considering leaving. Of course, when she leaves she will return to the White House, and her role as Queen of the United States.

And the novel, in short chapters, zigs and zags from reality to reality. We are often in Magdelen's POV but we also have scenes with Clive, with his student/lover, with another patient, with a couple of Magdalen's lovers (in the past? present? or in another reality?) And also we see the POV of a psychiatrist, who seems to be treating at times both Magdalen and Clive's young lover. The psychiatrist also has an experience with a UFO, and soon is trying to write a book that will revolutionize his field. Magdalen contemplates leaving the asylum, or leaving the aliens, or confronting Clive ...

It's a wild enough ride, and it never takes itself too seriously. It never commits to the truth of any of the suggested realities. It's quite funny, in a noticeably Saxtonian way. It's got the same sort of extra-real affect that the other two Saxton novels I've read have. I don't want to suggest it's weird like, say, Robert Shea Wilson. It's a very grounded weird, a very real-seeming weird. It didn't work as well on the whole, for me, as either Hieros Gamos or Vector for Seven, perhaps because it was never quite as involving, and never quite as moving, as those books. But I'm glad I read it. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

Alternate Hugo Nominations of the 1950s

This post organizes links to all 11 posts I made on potential or alternate Hugo nominees, and winners, for the years 1949 through 1959. I should note that I have made some revisions, often significant (adding a story or two in some cases, fixing typos and other mistakes, and adding a lot of additional possibilities to the post about stories from 1957.)

In each case the title refers to the year of the convention at which the Hugos would have been (or actually were) awarded, so the stories are from the prior calendar year. 

I will note that where possible I've referred to the excellent work done by Jo Walton in her book An Informal History of the Hugos, and also to Richard Lupoff's What If? anthologies, which chose one potential alternate Hugo winner for each year from 1952 through 1973.

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1950

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1951

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1952

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1953

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1954

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1955

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1956

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1957

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1958

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1959

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1960

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1960

Potential Hugo nominations for the 1960 Hugos (stories from 1959)

Here's my last planned post on potential Hugo nominees from the past. This is for the 1960 Hugos, for stories from 1959. Thus I close out the decades of the 1950s. Also, I was born in 1959, in October, and so this is a pretty important year for me! (Not that I remember it well!) The 1960 Worldcon was in Pittsburgh. I highlight the actual Hugo nominees and winners below.

I will once again mention Jo Walton's exeptional book An Informal History of the Hugos, in which she discusses the Hugo Awards from 1953 through 2000, including the nominees and potential additional stories to consider. I will also mention Richard A. Lupoff's What If? series of anthologies, which chose a single alternate story for each year (of story publication) from 1952 through 1973. 


Time Out of Joint, by Philip K. Dick

Starship Troopers aka "Starship Soldier", by Robert A. Heinlein Hugo winner

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

A for Anything aka The People Maker, by Damon Knight 

The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Hugo nominee

Other possibilities:

We Claim These Stars! aka "Hunters of the Sky Cave", by Poul Anderson

The Manchurian Candidate, by Richard Condon

Dorsai! aka The Genetic General, by Gordon R. Dickson Hugo nominee

Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank

First to the Stars, by Rex Gordon

Providence Island, by Jacquetta Hawkes

"The Pirates of Ersatz" aka The Pirates of Zan, by "Murray Leinster" (Will Jenkins) Hugo nominee

The Beast Master, by Andre Norton

"The Sweet Little Old Lady" aka Brain Twister, by "Mark Phillips" (Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer) Hugo nominee

Wolfbane, by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

Level 7, by Mordecai Roshwald

My choice for the Hugo would be Time Out of Joint, one of my favorite Philip K. Dick novels. I don't mind the Hugo for Starship Troopers, however, as I think it an interesting and pretty well done novel (even if I don't approve of the political organization the novel suggests.) I haven't read the Jackson novel but it sure sounds like it is worthy of a nomination. The Sirens of Titan is quite good, too. A for Anything is a decent novel, but not great -- Knight wouldn't really figure out how to write a fully satisfying novel for a couple of decades at least. Based on what I've read about them, very possibly Mordecai Roshwald's Level 7 and Jacquetta Hawkes' Providence Island are also Hugo-worthy, and perhaps even The Manchurian Candidate.

This was the height of the Cold War, and the height of fears of Nuclear War, and that is emphasized by the popular success of out and out "End of the World due to Nuclear War" books like Level 7; Alas, Babylon; A Canticle for Leibowitz; and On The Beach, all published in this time frame. For that matter, Providence Island is about a lost race resisting the use of their island for nuclear tests, and The Manchurian Candidate is surely a Cold War novel to the max!

I list Pohl and Kornbluth's Wolfbane, but a shorter version (perhaps just novella length) appeared in 1957. I was amused to learn, in searching for it in the ISFDB, that the slight variant title Wolfsbane turns out to be a very oft-used title -- at least eight novels and a dozen or more short stories. Note also the two titles with exclamation points -- Dorsai! was the title of the Astounding serial, clumsily retitled, because Don Wollheim, for the Ace Double (which was also abridged.) And Anderson later collected We Claim These Stars! in Agent of the Terran Empire, retitled "Hunters of the Sky Cave" (and possibly revised.) Despite its presence in a collection, it is novel length by my estimate, 45,000 or more words.

Jo Walton suggests that Starship Troopers was going to win against this competition no matter what, and that despite its controversial aspects it's a major novel that has lasted. She hints that she might prefer either Eric Frank Russell's Next of Kin (which I mentioned in the post about 1958 novels in its slightly shorter form as The Space Willies) or Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.

A couple of novels worth mentioning that don't quite qualify are Psycho, by Robert Bloch, which isn't SF or Fantasy (there's no supernatural element at all), and A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, which is a fantastic novel and a very worthy Hugo Winner -- in 1961! It is often cited (for example by the ISFDB) as a 1959 novel, but though it is copyrighted 1959 is was not published until February 1960. (Thanks to Denny Lien for the research that established this.) Likely the publisher originally scheduled it for late 1959 but delayed it until 1960 for marketing reasons (better chances to get reviews, something like that.) Reputedly Algis Budrys was bitter that his great novel Rogue Moon lost the Hugo to A Canticle for Leibowitz, which he thought ineligible due to the 1959 copyright -- but he had no case to complain, as the book really was a 1960 book.


"A Handful of Stars", by Poul Anderson (Amazing, May)

"Sister Planet", by Poul Anderson (Satellite, May)

"The Whole Man", by John Brunner (Science Fantasy, April)

"Someone to Watch Over Me", by "Christopher Grimm" (Floyd C. Gale and H. L. Gold) (Galaxy, October)

"The Alley Man", by Philip José Farmer (F&SF, June) Hugo nominee

Another fairly thin novella list. I'd lean towards "The Alley Man" though I haven't read Brunner's "The Whole Man", which I assume is an early version of the novel of the same title -- the novel, at least, is strong work, and if the novella is as good perhaps it would have got my Hugo vote. The Anderson stories are solid work. The Christopher Grimm story is pretty enjoyable -- the Gold brothers (Floyd was Horace's brother, though he used Gale for his SF work, perhaps to avoid accusations of nepotism?) were a pretty strong writing team.


"The Waiting Grounds", by J. G. Ballard (New Worlds, November)

"Take Wooden Indians", by Avram Davidson (Galaxy, June)

"What Now, Little Man?", by Mark Clifton (F&SF, February)

"Jordan", by Zenna Henderson (F&SF, March)

"Flowers for Algernon", by Daniel Keyes (F&SF, April) Hugo winner

"Lean Times in Lankhmar", by Fritz Leiber (Fantastic, November)

Other possibilities:

"Brave to be a King", by Poul Anderson (F&SF, August)

"The Sky People", by Poul Anderson (F&SF, March)

"Despoilers of the Golden Empire", by "David Gordon" (Randall Garrett) (Astounding, March)

"What Rough Beast", by Damon Knight (F&SF, February)

"Wherever You Are", by "Winston P. Sanders" (Poul Anderson) (Astounding, April)

"The Silver Eggheads", by Fritz Leiber (F&SF, February)

"Dodkin's Job", by Jack Vance (Astounding, October)

"Cat and Mouse", by Ralph Williams (Astounding, June) Hugo nominee

Well, my vote for best novelette of 1959 goes to the obvious choice, the same choice the voters in 1960 made for the Best Short Fiction Hugo, "Flowers for Algernon". I will say that "Take Wooden Indians" is one of my favorite Avram Davidson stories; and "Lean Times in Lankhmar" is one of the best Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, and "What Now, Little Man?" is Mark Clifton at his bleak best, and "Jordan" is a major People story (indeed, as I recall, the "First Contact" story in that set) and "The Waiting Grounds" is one of the first J. G. Ballard stories to make a significant impact ... but, yeah, it's "Flowers for Algernon". (Jo Walton also endorsed the choice of "Flowers for Algernon".)

Of the other possibilities, one might note that "Despoilers of the Golden Empire" isn't really SF, though it's a bit of an, er, despoiler to say so. "Dodkin's Job" is uncharacteristic Vance, but it's pretty good. And I confess I know nothing about the Ralph Williams story, though Williams did do some interesting work.

Short Story:

"The Pi Man", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, October) Hugo nominee

"Dagon", by Avram Davidson (F&SF, October)

"Adrift on the Policy Level", by Chan Davis (Star #5)

"All You Zombies ...", by Robert A. Heinlein (F&SF, March)

"The Man Who Lost the Sea", by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF, October) Hugo nominee

Other possibilities:

"A Man to My Wounding" aka "State of Assassination", by Poul Anderson (EQMM, December)

"The Shoreline at Sunset", by Ray Bradbury (F&SF, March)

"The Distant Sound of Engines", by Algis Budrys (F&SF, March)

"The Man Who Tasted Ashes", by Algis Budrys (If, February)

"The Montavarde Camera", by Avram Davidson (F&SF, May) 

"Angerhelm", by "Cordwainer Smith" (Paul M. A. Linebarger) (Star #6)

"Golden the Ship Was - Oh, Oh, Oh", by "Cordwainer Smith" (Paul M. A. Linebarger and Genevieve Linebarger) (Amazing, April)

"The Clone", by Theodore Thomas (Fantastic, November)

"Plenitude", by "Will Worthington" (Will Mohler) (F&SF, November)

Once again, a slam dunk for me, despite a very strong shortlist. "The Man Who Lost the Sea" is hands down one of the greatest SF stories of all time. I would have voted for it ahead of "Flowers for Algernon" for "Best Short Fiction" on the 1960 Hugo ballot. That said, "The Pi Man" is brilliant. "All You Zombies ..." is brilliant. "Dagon" is brilliant. I mean, heck, what a shortlist!

Richard Lupoff's choice for an "alternate Hugo" in his What If? series of anthologies was Bester's "The Pi Man". I note, by the way, that F&SF for the month of my birth -- October 1959 -- included three (!) great stories: "The Pi Man", "Dagon", and "The Man Who Lost the Sea".

There is plenty of good stuff in the "other possibilities" too -- notably a first rate Ray Bradbury story, some examples of Algis Budrys at close to his obsessive best, a neat biter-bit story from Avram Davidson, a couple of good early Cordwainer Smith stories, and a solid work by the nearly forgotten "Will Worthington".

Sturgeon's "The Man Who Lost the Sea" was selected for Martha Foley's The Best American Short Stories 1960. Indeed, under Foley's long editorship of that series, only two SF stories from genre sources were reprinted, the other being Judith Merril's "Dead Center" in the 1955 volume. Foley died in 1977, and after that the series had different guest editors each year, allowing, one presumes, a more diverse, more varied, perspective, and increasing the likelihood of genre pieces being selected. Offhand, I can think of four such stories making it: Harlan Ellison's "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore" in the 1993 volume (guest editor Louise Erdrich); two from the 2005 volume, guest edited by the notoriously SF friendly Michael Chabon: Tim Pratt's "Hart and Boot" and Cory Doctorow's "Anda's Game"; and Ted Chiang's "The Great Silence" from the 2016 volume, edited by another SF friendly writer, Junot Diaz. (Very possibly other SF/F stories have been chosen as well in recent years.) Note that there were occasional fantastical stories from traditional literary publications in the series all along, though not, I think, very many. But Karen Russell, for example, has appeared several times, with distinctly fantastical stories -- but always from publications like Granta and the New Yorker.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1959

 Potential Hugo nominations for the 1959 Hugos (stories from 1958)

One more post about potential Hugos from 1950s conventions: this one for 1959, so that stories from 1958 were eligible. This was the first year that the dates of eligibility were essentially standardized. (A couple of minor tweaks were made later.) Thus, as of the 1959 Worldcon, stories from the previous calendar year (defined by publication date for novels, and cover date for stories from magazines) were eligible. Also in 1959, a formal nomination process was established, and a final ballot was issued. (Prior to this, there were tentative moves in this direction a couple of the conventions.) One thing that was not standardized was the short fiction categories. (Also, I'm not sure if the novel length limit had been set.) That didn't settle down until the early '70s, probably partly under the influence of the Nebula Awards.

I have cited Jo Walton's excellent Informal History of the Hugos before, and in that book you can find Jo's comments on the short lists, her choices for the winners, and comments by a variety of people (myself included) discussing the stories and often offering additional possible nominees or winners. I'll list Jo's choices below, along with Richard Lupoff's short fiction selection from What If, Volume 1. And for the years from 1960 on, I'll leave the field to Jo! (After all, my thoughts are generally recorded in her book anyway.) I've decided to go ahead and make one additional post for stories from 1959, for two reasons: one, to round out the decade of the 1950s by story publication year, not just Worldcon year; and, two, because I was born in 1959.

The 1959 Worldcon was called Detention, and was held in Detroit, MI.

(Note that the 1959 Hugo short fiction shortlists are pretty long, and that novelette and novella are combined. Also note that 1958 was the year magazine distribution collapsed, and there was a decrease in the amount of short fiction published.)


Non-Stop aka Starship, by Brian W. Aldiss

The Enemy Stars aka "We Have Fed Our Sea", by Poul Anderson Hugo Nominee

A Case of Conscience
, by James Blish Hugo Winner

Who?, by Algis Budrys Hugo Nominee

Have Space Suit, Will Travel, by Robert A. Heinlein Hugo Nominee

The Once and Future King, by T. H. White

Other possibilities:

The Cosmic Rape aka "To Marry Medusa", by Theodore Sturgeon

War of the Wing-Men aka "The Man Who Counts", by Poul Anderson

The Triumph of Time, by James Blish

VOR, by James Blish

The Survivors, by Tom Godwin

The Big Time, by Fritz Leiber Hugo Winner 1958

Star Gate, by Andre Norton

The Time Traders, by Andre Norton

The Space Willies aka Next of Kin, by Eric Frank Russell

Immortality, Inc., by Robert Sheckley Hugo Nominee

The Lincoln Hunters, by Wilson Tucker

The Languages of Pao, by Jack Vance

My choice here is still A Case of Conscience, though The Once and Future King would have been an intriguing option. Andre Norton's The Time Traders was one of the first Andre Norton books I read, and it remains in my memory as one of my favorites. Blish's VOR is interesting in part because it's an expansion of a collaboration -- the original short story was written with Damon Knight, titled "The Weakness of RVOG". I note that with Next of Kin (actually a slightly expanded version published in the UK in 1959) and a few other stories that year, Russell essentially packed it in as a writer. (Two more novels followed, The Great Explosion (an inferior expansion of "And Then There Were None") and The Mindwarpers, plus a couple of stories. He was only 60 in 1965, when The Mindwarpers appeared -- I'm not quite sure why he quit. Couldn't have been the pay, could it? :)

Jo Walton didn't express a preference among the five Hugo nominees.


"Captivity", by Zenna Henderson (F&SF, June) Hugo Nominee

"Two Dooms", by C. M. Kornbluth (Venture, July)

"Be My Guest", by Damon Knight (Fantastic Universe, September)

"Hunt the Space Witch!", by Robert Silverberg (Science Fiction Adventures, January)

"The Big Front Yard", by Clifford D. Simak (Astounding, October) Hugo Winner

"The Miracle Workers", by Jack Vance (Astounding, July) Hugo Nominee

It's a thin novella list (though strong at the top.) I would have to choose the same story the voters picked, "The Big Front Yard". (Jo Walton also agrees.) The Henderson, Vance, and Kornbluth are close to it, though. The Silverberg is there because it's perhaps the most fun early Silverberg novella I read. Richard A. Lupoff's selection for an alternate Hugo was Kornbluth's "Two Dooms". 


"Unwillingly to School", by Pauline Ashwell (Astounding, June) Hugo Nominee

"The Ugly Little Boy" aka "Lastborn", by Isaac Asimov (Galaxy, September)

"It Walks in Beauty", by Chan Davis (Star Science Fiction, January)

"Among the Dangs", by George Elliott (Esquire, June)

"A Deskful of Girls", by Fritz Leiber (F&SF,  April) Hugo Nominee

"Second Game", by Katherine MacLean and Charles V. de Vet (Astounding, March) Hugo Nominee

Other possibilities:

"Segregationist", by Brian W. Aldiss (New Worlds, July)

"Big Sword", by "Paul Ash" aka Pauline Ashwell (Astounding, October)

"Aristotle and the Gun", by L. Sprague de Camp (Astounding, February)

"The Immortals", by James Gunn (Star #4)

"Shark Ship" aka "Reap the Dark Tide", by C. M. Kornbluth (A Mile Beyond the Moon) Hugo Nominee

"Rat in the Skull", by Rog Phillips (If, December) Hugo Nominee

"Ullward's Retreat", by Jack Vance (Galaxy, December)

In this list I'd pick Chan Davis' "It Walks in Beauty", I think most present day readers would choose "The Ugly Little Boy", and I really don't dispute that. I just think "It Walks in Beauty" is underrated, too little known, and original and moving. Richard Lupoff chose "Unwillingly to School", which is lots of fun also!

Note that Star #4 is the fourth edition of Frederik Pohl's seminal original anthology series, while Star Science Fiction for January was his abortive attempt to turn it into a magazine. 

Short Story:

"But Who Can Replace a Man?", by Brian W. Aldiss (Infinity, June)

"The Men Who Murdered Mohammed", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, October) Hugo Nominee

"Pelt", by Carol Emshwiller (F&SF, November)

"Casey Agonistes", by Richard McKenna (F&SF, September)

"The Yellow Pill", by Rog Phillips (Astounding, October)

"A Touch of Strange", by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF, January)

Other possibilities:

"They've Been Working On", by Anton Lee Baker (Astounding, August) Hugo Nominee

"That Hell Bound Train", by Robert Bloch (F&SF, December) Hugo Winner

"Triggerman", by J. F. Bone (Astounding, December) Hugo Nominee

"The Edge of the Sea", by Algis Budrys (Venture, March) Hugo Nominee

"Or All the Seas with Oysters", by Avram Davidson (Galaxy, May) Hugo Winner 1958

"The Burning of the Brain", by Cordwainer Smith (If, October)

"Far From Home", by Walter Tevis (F&SF, December)

"Examination Day", by Henry Slesar (Playboy, February)

"The Statistomat Pitch", by Chan Davis (Infinity, January)

"The Advent on Channel 12", by C. M. Kornbluth (Star #4) Hugo Nominee

"Theory of Rocketry", by C. M. Kornbluth (F&SF, July) Hugo Nominee

"Try and Change the Past", by Fritz Leiber (Astounding, March)

"Space Time for Springers", by Fritz Leiber (Star #4)

"Rum-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee", by Fritz Leiber (F&SF, May) Hugo Nominee

"Space to Swing a Cat", by Stanley Mullen (Astounding, June) Hugo Nominee

"Nine Yards of Other Cloth", by Manly Wade Wellman (F&SF, November) Hugo Nominee

I would have chosen "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" (and Jo Walton agrees with me.) The Aldiss story might be second, or perhaps the Emshwiller. Behind that, the next four stories plus the Bloch, Budrys, Davidson, Slesar, Smith, all three Leiber stories, and "Theory of Rocketry" are very very close. Note that Kornbluth had died in 1958, and this was the last we'd see from him, except for the Pohl collaborations that showed up later. Finally, I admit I know almost nothing about the Stanley Mullen, J. F. Bone and Anton Lee Baker stories, which are listed because the Hugo nominators thought them worthy. I have been assured by multiple people that J. F. Bone's "Triggerman" is quite good.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Complete SF of Sylvia Jacobs

The Complete SF of Sylvia Jacobs

a survey by Rich Horton

In surveying SF of the 1950s recently I came across the name of a woman writer unfamiliar to me. This was Sylvia Jacobs. She published 8 SF stories in all, beginning with "A Stitch in Time" (Astounding, April 1951). Seven more stories followed, the last being "Slave to Man" (Galaxy, April 1969). There was also an article in Astounding, "Hold That Helium!", about spacesuit design and the similarities to (and differences from!) deep sea diving. 

I have had great difficulty finding much biographical data about Sylvia Jacobs. With the yeoman help of Paul di Filippo, a few newspaper stories, mostly from the San Pedro, CA, local newspaper, the News-Telegram, reveal that she and her husband Harold ("Jake") Jacobs lived in San Pedro from some time in the 1940s through at least 1960. (San Pedro is a neighborhood of Los Angeles, abutting the Los Angeles harbor, and between Torrance and Long Beach.) Jake Jacobs was a professional deep sea diver, and he worked for Marineland of the Pacific, a now defunct oceanarium that operated in Los Angeles from 1954 to 1987, at which time it was bought by Sea World in San Diego and abruptly closed.

I got some additional help from Bill Mullins. He found newspaper and journal articles from the San Pedro News-Telegram, the Long Beach Press-Journal, the Electrical Workers Journal, and even The Nautilus, a journal about conchology (the study of seashells.) The latter journal published a scholarly paper from Jacobs about color variations in a rare seashell, Pedicularia California, based on a collection assembled by her diver husband. One news item concerns a presentation Jacobs made about her employer as of December 7, 1941: the Honolulu Advertiser, and about their press breaking down as they were trying to put out an edition covering the Pearl Harbor attack. Her letter in the Electrical Workers Journal is from early 1942, and discusses life in Honolulu under wartime conditions. An article from 1947 is about "trailer life" -- it seems that Sylvia and Jake Jacobs spent some years travelling around the country in an RV. (As it happens, my own half-sister-in-law spent years doing the same thing, including writing articles for an RV magazine.) She wrote about the Army Corps of Engineers removing sunken ships from shipping channels. At least one of these articles introduced her as "Dr. Sylvia Jacobs, English instructor at Palos Verdes College." She also at least flirted with Dianetics/Scientology, as did many SF writers in that period.

For SF readers, the most interesting detail may be that the Jacobs made the acquaintance of Robert A. Heinlein in the late 1940s, when Jake helped Heinlein make a few dives as research for a planned juvenile novel about "ocean farming". Jake Jacobs himself claimed to be an ocean farmer. Heinlein apparently abandoned this novel after health issues made it clear that it was unsafe for him to keep diving. Other newspaper articles mentioned Sylvia's sale of a story to Astounding, and the "Hold that Helium!" article, and that she had plans for a couple more articles for Astounding. (These never appeared.) A visit to one of the West Coast worldcons was also mentioned. Finally, a book about Marineland, called Marineland Diver, was published in 1960, by "Jake Jacobs as told to Sylvia Jacobs". 

Jacobs is referenced in Lisa Yaszek's Galactic Suburbia, which explores the increasing emergence of women writers in science fiction post World War II -- from about 1945 through the 1960s. However, her fiction is only mentioned in passing, while Yaszek takes a close look at the science article "Hold That Helium!". (Yaszek is quite interesting on the way Jacobs presents her authority on the subject -- as the wife of a deep sea diver (apparently not mentioning her doctorate).) 

It's clear from all this that Sylvia Jacobs lived a full and interesting life -- she held a doctorate, worked as a journalist and as a college instructor, was in Hawaii at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, and wrote somewhat regularly on a variety of subjects. In this context her slim output of SF is just another facet of her life, and evidence that she was busy enough that she only wrote fiction when she felt like it. 

Here then are Sylvia Jacobs' eight science fiction stories, just over 50,000 words. (Enough for a collection, especially if "Hold That Helium!" were added.)

"A Stitch in Time" (Astounding, April 1951) 19000 words

Dr. Arlich is a 60 year old scientist who believes he's invented a time machine. The only people who believe in him are his beautiful young wife Stephanie, and Bob Schilling, his plant manager. But Arlich's rival, Fred Morrison, is trying to get the project cancelled, especially as all the animals sent to the "future" have died or disintegrated. Of course, the dastardly Fred also has his eye on Stephanie. One night, in despair, partly over his feeling that he has failed Stephanie (they haven't been able to have children, and too he feels the age difference is a problem) he decides the only way to prove the machine works is be a guinea pig himself -- and he decides to send himself 20 years into the future. By then Stephanie will be in her 40s -- not such a terrible age difference.

Not a bad setup, and then Jacobs pulls a nice twist. When Arlich comes out of the machine, he realizes he has aged 20 years -- but that only a few minutes have passed outside. He reasons that the time sped up inside the machine only. He figures he need only reverse the electical leads and get back in the machine, and at least he'll turn back his own clock! Indeed, maybe he could come out as young as Stephanie!

I called it a nice twist, and it is, but it's also ridiculously preposterous. The rest of the story complicates things a bit more -- because there is a screwup, and instead of reversing aging by about 30 years, Dr. Arlich ends up a baby. The next day, the baby is discovered, and it is presumed that Dr. Arlich decided to experiment on a baby, a shocking ethical violation. But Bob Schilling and Stephanie both guess what really happened, and Stephanie takes the baby home to raise him as her own, while Schilling maneuvers things so that Fred Morrison is discredited. Meanwhile, the government is investigating, and the prospect of a machine that might confer a return to youth on people is raised -- a potentially interesting, but also very scary, idea. Alas, Bob Schilling and his team don't quite have the expertise to figure it out, and so the idea is buried (perhaps for the best.) But in the meantime, Stephanie and Bob Schilling have become a couple -- and they are raising a child, who might, we understand, have the capacity to solve the problem!

I think this story had promise, but Jacobs' skill wasn't up to the task of making it work. Not to mention the rather creepy ending! It remains, though, by far the most ambitous of her stories. Jacobs does return in a couple further stories to executing twists on the idea of time travel.

"The Pilot and the Bushman" (Galaxy, August 1951) 9000 words

This story turns on a now pretty familiar premise -- the Earth is visited by powerful aliens, and the notion that humans might become victims of a "cargo cult" sort of situation. The aliens are rumored to have matter replication technology, which humans of course covet. However, the aliens refuse to share -- it's too dangerous. Alas, Earth's economy is already in shambles because of the anticipation of this new technology making human manufacturing obsolete. What can Earth do? Well, humans have one technology the aliens don't -- advertising! And our hero, an advertising man, works out a campaign to make Earth an attractive tourist destination, and, more importantly, to restore human faith in human manufacturing. 

Kind of middle range Christopher Anvil (before Anvil, to be sure). It's all a bit busy, and not terribly convincing, and (as became a habit) Jacobs paints her concluding moral too explicitly, but it's an OK read. 

"Old Purply-Puss" (Vortex, Volume 1, Number 1, 1953) 4000 words

Vortex was a magazine edited by Chester Whitehorn that lasted two issues in 1953. Their strategy was to stuff as many stories as possible into each issue -- 20 in the first, 25 in the second. Most very short, of course. It is one of the worst SF magazines of all time, in my opinion, even though the first issue included some well-known writers (Jack Vance, Lester Del Rey, Alfred Coppel, S. A. Lombino (better known as "Evan Hunter" or "Ed McBain") and Milton Lesser (better known as Stephen Marlowe.) The second issue is best remembered, if remembered at all, for featuring Marion Zimmer Bradley's first two pro sales.

In the Jacobs story, a charlatan employs a genetic engineer to create fake "aliens", including trying to duplicate one that supposedly landed with a UFO. The eventual twist ending is obvious.

"The Sportsmen" (Vortex, Volume 1, Number 2, 1953) 900 words

Alien hunters on a new planet. They shoot an animal that seems to want to communicate ... I mean, the so-called punchline here is beyond obvious, and really silly. 

"Up the Mountain or Down" (Universe, September 1953) 7200 words

A new colonial administrator comes to a planet called (perhaps unwisely) Tonga. He is appalled at the relations between the two intelligent species on the planet -- the reclusive Masters completely dominate the very human-like sholaths. But he is assured that the sholaths like it this way. He determines to confront the Masters, though travel to their mountain home is forbidden to humans. He sets out instead, with a party of sholaths, and his faithful dog. 

It's actually an intriguing setup, but the story does nothing with it. I was expecting a revelation about the Master/sholath relationship, and a comeuppance for the obviously misguided administrator. Instead, we get an instantaneous conversion by the administrator, who is convinced by his dog's faithfulness that, I guess, he was wrong after all. I mean, probably this is a plausible resolution, but it's clumsily handled, and the story ends with a mini-lecture telling the readers what to think.

"Time Payment" (If, July 1960) 4400 words

This story concerns a gangster who realizes the Feds have the goods on him. But he's heard of a time machine under development, so he confronts the scientist in charge and order him to send him 20 years into the future. The scientist tries to convince him that all the machine does is make the subject fail to experience time passing in any conscious sense. The gangster doesn't understand or care, and grabs the scientist's child (as insurance) and both go "forward" 20 years. The point? There's some mumbo-jumbo about "fore-memories" and about it being possible to "condition" people under the influence of the "time machine" to remove criminal tendencies. The upshot is that prison sentences are replaced with this conditioning treatment. All well enough, except I couldn't buy it for a second, and it really doesn't make sense in story. 

"Young Man from Elsewhen" (If, March 1961) 4500 words

Another look at time travel. This one works a bit better, though it suffers from a labored setup to get to an amusing but minor resolution. A very old man, confined to a wheelchair, is traveling to visit one of his children (it seems they shuffle him from home to home.) He resents this, and wishes he could get up to the fun he did when younger. Then he meets a curious young man, who doesn't seem to understand the customs well. He learns that this is a time traveler -- but that for ethical reasons time travelers have to travel in vat grown temporary bodies, that for unexplained reaons can't be returned to the future. The only way to return is by finding a natural human body to mentally occupy -- and so the traveler offers the old man a deal -- he can switch places, so that the traveller will have a body, no matter how decrepit, from which he can return to the future, while the old man gets a vigorous young body that will only last a brief while -- but think of the fun he can have!

The complicated time travel setup makes no sense, but the finish is decent enough. If this could have been done at half the length it could have been pretty good. 

"Slave to Man" (Galaxy, April 1969) 3600 words

A slight but amusing story about an editor for a line of "adult fiction", who has seen his ambitions to improve the quality of the line frustrated. One day he gets a package of stripped covers (for return) from one bookstore, and sees a message written on several of them "Help! Save me! I am in bondage!" At first he thinks it a gag based on the books' contents, but decides to investigate, and finds (to our non-surprise) that the writer is a robot who learned English from reading the adult books. He rescues the robot, and soon realizes that the robot knows the genre well enough to ... well, you can see where it's going, and you can probably guess the conclusion.