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Worlds of Tomorrow, August 1964

Worlds of Tomorrow August 1964We received this issue of Worlds of Tomorrow from Paul Di Fillipo in trade for the most recent issue of Chunga. I don't read everything that Paul sends us, but on a whim I read this one.

It wasn't completely whimsical. The main thing that attracted me was the "complete short novel" by Avram Davidson. Davidson seems to be a writer's writer, and because I'm not that kind of writer this must explain why I haven't read much by him. The short novel is called Valentine's Planet, and it's apparently not typical of Davidson's work. There's a longer version that was published as a novel called Mutiny in Space, and in an astute introduction that Michael Swanwick wrote for a reprint, he speculates that instead of expanding the short version for book publication Davidson may have cut down the longer version for magazine publication. This might explain why Valentine's Planet feels so choppy at times. The first few chapters were particularly hard for me to follow.

The story begins with a mutiny on a spaceship. The Captain, First Officer, and six loyal crewmembers are allowed to leave on a small lifeboat, and they eventually land on the titular planet. They need some kind of fuel to get themselves back to civilized parts of the galaxy, but soon they are attacked by armored warriors who in a shock surprise turn out to be women. Gradually, we learn more about the culture of this planet, and I started getting irritated because it was feudal and it all began to seem like the worst kind of science fantasy. Then I realized that what it really was was planetary romance. Davidson's heart clearly isn't in it, and this isn't up to the level of the best planetary romances of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett. Still, once I'd gotten myself attuned to what he was up to, I did enjoy the story.

The men on this planet are a third as big as the women, and there's an element of wish-fulfillment fantasy of the human men being what the alien women have always dreamed of. As Swanwick notes, however, Davidson treats the women with respect, and he actually treats the diminutive men with respect as well. He gives their culture some complexity, and he also brings a critical perspective to human behavior. There's a rather sly take on heroism presented throughout.

The other story that jumped out at me when I first looked at the table of contents was "The Little Black Box" by Philip K. Dick. For whatever reason, I haven't read much of Dick's short fiction, and I'd never even heard of this one. It turns out to be a story about Mercerism, which is the religion that he explores in more depth in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The little black box in question is the empathy box used to connect people to the curious pilgrimage toward death of the mysterious, possibly alien, Mercer. This story is interesting as a preliminary take on Mercerism, and it features some other familiar Dick tropes, such as a troubled couple and the FBI and Chinese Communists collaborating behind the scenes. Overall, however, the story didn't really go anywhere.

Christopher Anvil is a writer I've heard of but possibly have never read before. His "We from Arcturus" is a humorous alien invasion story with some slightly tired shtick and a pretty funny punchline. Jack Sharkey is someone I've never heard of. His novelette, "The Colony That Failed", gives us a colony on an alien planet that's slowly being picked off by mysterious forces. A scientific team arrives to investigate, and the big reveal is meant to fire off the sense of wonder. It's okay, but nothing special.

The last story, "Way of the Egg," is by another writer I'd never heard of, Allen Kim Lang, but I really liked it. It's another humorous story, about humans from two different colony planets, one controlled by the British and one by the Germans, who are trying to reach an exclusive treaty with the bird people of a third planet. The world-building and the plot aren't actually all that interesting, but the writing is punchy and vivid: "The breakfast Mountchessington-Jackson prepared for himself, working in a kitchen a-flutter with dismantling-crews, was a meal to pale the palate of a Texas fry-cook. Fat kippers, burnt black port and starboard, lay on the Admiral's plate like victims of a mine explosion." The Internet Speculative Fiction Database indicates that Lang didn't publish much SF, but I'd read more of it.

This magazine was edited by Fred Pohl, and he contributes an editorial espousing cryogenics, surprisingly enough, although at least he acknowledges that the freezing process would cause cellular damage of its own. There's also a non-fiction article by Joseph Wesley called "What Weapons Tomorrow?" that I didn't bother reading. All in all, this issue was a pretty good read, and the Davidson got me interested in finally delving further into his oeuvre. Real Soon Now!

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
voidampersand
Mar. 15th, 2015 06:58 am (UTC)
As someone who bounced off Davidson's work before, I really loved The Avram Davidson Treasury. It's in chronological order. His early short stories are very accessible. By the time I got to the later stories I was hooked.
randy_byers
Mar. 15th, 2015 03:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that seems to be the way to go. The consensus seems to be that his short fiction is where he really shines.
spacecrab
Mar. 17th, 2015 03:01 am (UTC)
I remember Jack Sharkey mostly for his "Space Zoologist" series in Galaxy, an explorer who mind-melded with various animals on other planets. (The protagonist was named "Jerry Norcriss.") My favorite Christopher Anvil story is a novella called "Mindpartner." I think it's collected in "Mindpartner and Others." I was fairly impressed by this Anvil story when I read it in my teens.
randy_byers
Mar. 17th, 2015 04:09 am (UTC)
This Sharkey story was a Jerry Norcriss story, and Norcriss mind-melds to discover what's killing the colonists. Actually, there was at least one explanation offered for a mysterious phenomenon that was remarkably morbid and fairly powerful.

I just took a look at Anvil's bibliography, and I had no idea that he wrote so much. Wikipedia says that he published quite a few stories in Astounding/Analog too.
randy_byers
Mar. 17th, 2015 05:58 pm (UTC)
Regarding Anvil, the SF Encyclopedia seems to be on your wavelength: 'Only the occasional non-Astounding/Analog story, like "Mind Partner" (August 1960 Galaxy), hints at the supple author who remained content within the cage of Campbell's expectations.'
richardthe23rd
Mar. 18th, 2015 03:25 am (UTC)
I've heard "Mind Partner" described as something of a lone masterpiece, actually, among a career of competent but generic ANALOG fodder.
Todd Mason
Jun. 24th, 2016 09:58 pm (UTC)
Allen Kim Lang
Just ordered this issue from Books from the Crypt via an old Amazon gift card that had been hanging Fire (koff) for some years...Lang at his best was pretty brilliant, as with the story Avram Davidson purchased for F&SF and then included in a BEST FROM volume, "Thaw & Serve"...a cryonics story, no less...that feels like what Ellison or Anthony Burgess in a more antic mood might've done with a more sensible version of DEMOLITION MAN in a 1963 short story. It tends to stick in the memory.

Budrys reviewed his one novel, noting that it demonstrated that Land didn't feel he had anything to prove, beyond offering an entertaining tale...WILD AND OUTSIDE. Budrys suggested his next might be titled WILD MODESTY.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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