Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, December 1948

I wrote a couple of days ago about the Richard S. Shaver novelette “Daughter of the Night” in the December 1948 issue of AMAZING STORIES, and I thought while I had that pulp out, I might as well go ahead and read the rest of it.

Despite saying that I wasn’t going to read anything else by Shaver, what should come up second on the table of contents except a short story called “The Plotters”, published under the house-name Alexander Blade. And who might Blade be in this particular case? Why, none other than Richard S. Shaver, of course. Thinking that this yarn couldn’t be any worse than “Daughter of the Night”, I plunged right into it, and I was a little surprised to find that . . . it’s not bad. The writing is a little clunky in places, and the plot, which concerns an alien spy who comes to Earth to find out our atomic secrets, is pretty stereotypical, but the story moves right along and winds up being somewhat entertaining, which makes it a lot better than the incomprehensible mess that’s “Daughter of the Night”. Actually, I never would have guessed that they were by the same writer.

The next story, “Tillie” is by Craig Browning, a pseudonym for Rog Phillips, who also has a story in this issue under his own name. “Tillie” is about some physics teachers at a small university who discover a new element and use it to power a homemade rocket ship on a journey to Mars. Of course, numerous things go wrong and endanger the lives of the protagonists. This is a really silly story with a weak premise, but it’s decently written.

Next up is “Once Upon a Planet” by J.J. Allerton, an author I’m not familiar with but evidently a real person, not a house-name. It’s about an alien warlord whose consciousness is transferred into the brain of a soldier on Earth during a war in the 23rd Century. The idea has some potential, but Allerton’s writing is so bland it was hard to finish this one.

Rog Phillips returns under his own name with “The Unthinking Destroyer”, a tale that consists of two sets of characters, one human and one not, having conversations about the nature of intelligence. That’s all there is to it other than a would-be twist ending that’s painfully obvious from the first page of the story.

All that leaves is a serial installment from “The Return of Tharn” by Howard Browne, which I didn’t read because I haven’t read any of the other Tharn stories, and “Beyond the Thunder” by H.B. Hickey (really Herbert Livingston), which is my favorite story in this issue. “Beyond the Thunder” is a novelette in which aliens attack Earth through a rift in space with a death ray that can destroy cities. It’s up to two-fisted rocket jockey Case Damon to locate the source of the attacks, put a stop to them, and uncover a conspiracy that reaches into the highest levels of Earth’s government, all in 10,000 words. As you might imagine, it’s fast-paced (Palmer calls it “mile-a-minute reading” in his introductory column), full of fistfights and blasting ray-guns. It’s fun, even though it is pretty much pure hokum. I don’t recall ever reading anything by H.B. Hickey before, but based on this one, I’d give his work another try.

As I said in my comments on “Daughter of the Night”, I don’t generally write reviews of things I don’t like, but honestly, this issue of AMAZING STORIES is pretty bad. If it’s representative of the late Forties AMAZING, I can see why that era in the magazine’s history doesn’t have much of a reputation. The Hickey story is okay, the two by Rog Phillips are weak but readable, and the “Alexander Blade” story by Shaver is at least fairly entertaining. Nothing rises to a level that I’d actually recommend, though, and I’m not even fond of the cover painting by H.W. McCauley. If you have a copy of this one, I think you can just leave it on the shelf without worrying about reading it.


Walker Martin said...

I gave up on AMAZING in the 1940's when I first discovered SF a long time ago. A terrible magazine and you are right about the cover. But I'd go even further and say that the cover is just outright ugly.

I think part of the problem was that Howard Browne simply hated SF and Ray Palmer had no respect for it either.

Kurt Reichenbaugh said...

I actually do have a copy of this issue but I've never read any of the stories in it. I'm perfectly fine leaving it on the shelf, especially after reading your take on this issue. Thankfully I didn't spend much on it when I got it some years ago. I do however like the cover. The cover was the only reason I bought it, since I've never been interested in reading Shaver's stories.