Saturday, May 14, 2016

Infinity Science Fiction - June 1958

Recently a trip to Half-Price Books resulted in a sweet find for me. Two stacks of various vintage science fiction magazines. Among them are Satellite Science Fiction, Infinity Science Fiction, and If Worlds of Science Fiction, all from the 1950s. They were bundled and wrapped in plastic, and I could only see the spines of each issue but I liked the titles and the price was too good to pass up. I figured that at the worst I’d have some cool covers to admire. Getting home and opening the bundle I was delighted to find stories by Robert Silverberg, James Blish, Algis Budrys, Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke among many other names new to me. All of the magazines were in fine reading condition and most had that wonderful old-paper smell that’s like a drug to book addicts like me. Here is a look at the first one that I sampled.

Vol. 3, No. 5, June 1958. Cover by Ed Emsh

Recalled to Life – Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg has become one of my favorite (Science Fiction) writers purely because he makes his novels and stories seem effortless. That comes only with millions of words pounded into a typewriter and years of dedication. I know I’m several decades late to the party but it’s a real treat to read his novels now. I’ve had some personal hangups with a lot of Sci-Fi which I may or may not get to here. Silverberg has surmounted those and made reading Sci-Fi both fun and thought provoking. The first part of “Recalled to Life” is no exception. Former governor turned attorney, James Harker, (a nod to Jonathan Harker from Dracula?) is approached by one Dr. Lurie on behalf of Beller Research Laboratories seeking a legal advisor. For the past 8 years Beller Labs has been working on a method for resuscitating the recently dead. Of course this research has been undertaken in the utmost secrecy. Now, having achieved successful results, Beller Labs is ready to announce their achievement to the public. Harker’s job is to maneuver through the inevitable political and religious fallout that will ensue upon the announcement. Harker takes the job, with misgivings, and soon learns that Beller Laboratories is undergoing something of an internal power struggle of its own. Part One of the novel ends on a cliff-hanger as Harker learns that not all resuscitations are achieved with ideal results. Questions of the mind, the soul and the role of science as God abound. Luckily, I have the next issue of Infinity that concludes “Recalled to Life”, so I can find out how it all ends.

But Who Can Replace a Man? – Brian W. Aldiss
I’d heard of this story from a Brian Aldiss collection by the same name. I’m pretty sure I had that same collection way back when, but never read this story until now. It’s a cool little story about the delemna faced by robots after man’s extinction. The robots only know service to man, and have developed, or had been programmed with, a caste system of their own, mandating a pecking order among them. There are no “Three Laws of Robotics” hampering anyone in this cynical story. I’m looking forward to reading more Brian Aldiss in the future.

Pangborn’s Paradox – David Mason
This short story is a riff on the time travel paradox about traveling back in time and killing one’s grandfather. A group of eggheads debate the theory, and as luck would have it, one of them has actually invented a time machine to play the experiment out. It has a nice twist at the end.

The Way Out – Richard R. Smith
This one is a cool “military” sci-fi story about a conflict between man and a race of lizard-like aliens named Antarians.  It seems that men who’ve been captured by the Antarians have been giving up military secrets under psychic and physical torture. A certain Colonel Donovan has been tasked to oversee a project that will enable soldiers to withstand any torture without divulging classified information. There are “Catch-22” motifs that soldiers must abide, madness and the nature of reality and fantasy that make this story the best one in the issue, not counting Silverberg’s novel.

The High Ones – Poul Anderson
And lastly we come to Poul Anderson’s contribution. Anderson had a huge hurdle to cross with me after reading his stinker novel Virgin Planet. This story did nothing to elevate his stuff for me. Every attempt at reading Anderson reminds me what I hate about some vintage (and recent) Science Fiction. I don’t know if he’s popular or not among fans anymore, but I do know that scads of his books can be found in any used bookstore in any state.  This story is no different from the Virgin Planet experience. The first page in was like trying to read a first draft of prose too cute with whole paragraphs missing from it. Jarring shifts in scenes, characters chattering between themselves without propelling the story, too many exclamation points!, 8th grade nerd dialog and...I shitcanned it without going any further.

The departments are the standard letters to the editor, in this case Larry T. Shaw, fanfare poetry, current science fiction news by Larry Shaw, and reviews by Damon Knight of recent publications. Apparently Damon Knight kicked up a lot of response from readers, at least from the sampling of letters printed in this issue. There is also an announcement of the death of Henry Kuttner who died of a heart attack on February 4th, 1958 at the age of 43. 

So, in summing up, this early issue of Infinity was a nice read. I have a fondness for vintage, mid-century takes on genre fiction, clearly, and these pieces totally lived up to my expectations. I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the other issues I’ve got. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hell's Our Destination - Gil Brewer

Cora was poised in a half crouch not five feet away from Bliss's agonized, pleading face. She was wearing only a jaggedly torn remnant of yellow jacket over her shoulders. She stood there with her hands out, her head thrust forward, absolutely silent, frighteningly beautiful, her long finely sculptured legs pale against the dark green. 

Gold Medal, October 1953
Hell’s Our Destination is an earlier novel from Gil Brewer, and falls into that ever popular “swamp-noir” genre in which characters drink a lot, sweat a lot and feed upon their lusts toward no good endings. Who doesn’t like a good swamp noir romp? This one has all the right ingredients: buried loot, an eccentric loner, ex-cons out of their element, and sweaty babes who smoke cigarettes and disrobe a lot. We have two such dames in this novel. Vern, a raven-haired good girl from town, and Cora, the sultry blond from the city whose sideways glances give the menfolk pause.

There isn’t much surprise that’s ahead for someone who has made a steady diet of reading noir paperbacks from this period. You know a couple chapters in that Cora is no good and is going to screw at least one of the guys over before the end. In this case she’s got three suckers to pick from. The most obvious being our hapless “hero” of the novel, Simon.

Simon hasn’t had it so well these past years. He’s been obsessing over a wad of stolen loot that he knows is hidden out there somewhere in the swamp. Six years before he took two hundred dollars to help a traveler named Fred hide the loot. Problem is that he doesn’t know exactly where Fred hid the loot, just that it’s a couple hours up the river from his cabin, by two crossed “trees.” Simon figures that he’s going to get the money eventually, but waiting for the opportunity has eaten into his soul. It’s also but a halt to his relationship with Vern. With the money he figures he can make a life for the two of them, leave the swamp behind them forever. But until then…well…there’s booze and the bible to carry him along. But Vern can’t wait forever.

Simon reads about a payroll heist, and that Fred is sent up for it. The money is missing of course because Fred has hidden it in the swamp. Simon figures that he’d have to wait for Fred’s release from prison in order to get the money. But Fred is killed days after getting paroled, and Simon has no choice but to wait for Fred’s killer to show up looking for a tour guide into the swamp.

In the meantime Simon has to deal with a couple of smartass insurance detectives sniffing around. They figure that Fred disposed of the stolen loot in Simon’s swamp. They needle Simon. They dose him with a Mutt and Jeff routine. They wear him down with insinuations. One of them in particular, Steggins, seems to have plenty of time to just hang around the swamp in his skiff, fishing and whatnot, just waiting for Simon to make a move. If that isn’t bad enough, Fred’s old partner Bliss shows up. Bliss seems to figure Simon isn’t as simple as he tries to be. He tells Simon that it’s best for him that he shacks up in Simon’s cabin for a while, just to keep the heat off. Oh, yeah, and what about that missing loot his old buddy Fred made off with?

Then there is Cora. Ah...Cora, that icy blond who parades around Simon’s cabin flashing her legs and blowing smoke at him. Her method of attack is to play at a city gal looking for a local guide to take her out on a photography safari. She’s hot and bored and maybe willing to share a hot afternoon in Simon’s cot, but first, the guided tour into the swamp. As if she doesn’t know what’s buried there.

These characters come and go in Simon’s cabin to the point that you begin to wonder if they’re not manifestations of Simon’s torment.  He’s been putting life on hold for a false promise that his mind is getting as tattered as his old bible. Personally, I’d avoid a guy like Simon. Yeah, maybe Cora might be able to trip me up a couple of time, but I’ll know not to follow her anywhere near any quicksand.