Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, July 1952

This is a pulp that I own and read recently, and the scan is of my copy. I probably own and have read fewer of the SF pulps than any of the other major genres (and I’m betraying some bias there by not considering aviation, sports, and love pulps to be major genres, although they certainly were, sales-wise). Not sure why it’s worked out that way, since I certainly enjoy a good SF pulp, and by and large, that’s what STARTLING STORIES was. But is that true for this particular issue? We’ll see.

The cover art on this issue is by Alex Schomburg, an artist whose work I generally like. This painting isn’t a particular favorite of mine, but I have to admit, that’s a pretty impressive rocket ship. Nice fins.

The lead novella is “Passport to Pax” by Kendall Foster Crossen. I’ve read a number of Crossen’s hardboiled novels featuring insurance investigator Milo March, published under the name M.E. Chaber, and enjoyed all of them. I tried to read his Green Lama pulp series but never was able to get into the stories. He wrote a considerable amount of SF, both novels and stories, under his own name and as Richard Foster, but as far as I recall, this is the first SF yarn I’ve read by him. It starts out as a hardboiled detective tale with SF trappings, as Personal Observer (get it?) Jair Holding is hired by the Association of Galactic Industries to find out who’s been sabotaging their business interests across the galaxy. The chief suspect is the planet Nike, in the Regulus System. There’s another planet in the system, the mysterious Pax, that’s been cut off from outside contact for millennia. Things get a lot more complicated from there, with Holding getting captured by bad guys and escaping several times. It’s all moderately entertaining but never seemed to develop any sense of real urgency in me. I ought to try one of Crossen’s full-length SF novels, but this novella didn’t impress me. It does have a couple of really good Virgil Finlay illustrations, though.

Next up is an early story by Arthur C. Clarke, “All the Time in the World”. It’s about a shady lawyer hired by a mysterious client to steal some specific books from the British Museum and given the means to do so: a gadget that stops time except for a small bubble around the user. Of course, things don’t turn out as planned. It’s a gimmick that’s been used many times, and especially considering the author, this is a minor story, but it’s well written and entertaining anyway.

William Morrison, the author of the short story “New Universe”, was really Joseph Samachson, who wrote quite a bit of science fiction under the Morrison name and then became a prolific scripter for DC Comics. (He co-created the characters Martian Manhunter and Tomahawk.) “New Universe” is a fairly clever little yarn about what happens with the supreme, all-powerful conqueror of the universe gets bored. The illustration for this one is by Ed Emshwiller, under the pretty blatant pseudonym Ed Emsler.

“The Best Policy”, by Phyllis Sterling Smith, is a short story about a group of Martian intelligence agents who come to Earth and possess the corpses of recently deceased humans, or in one case, a dog. It’s supposed to be a humorous tale but never amounts to much. I’m not familiar with Smith at all and can only tell you that she wrote just a handful of stories. The illustration is by some unknown artist trying to imitate Virgil Finlay.

A good Schomburg illo graces the novelette “Collision” by Raymond F. Jones. Jones wrote the novel THE YEAR THAT STARDUST FELL, which I read several years ago and really enjoyed. This novelette is the sort of blue-collar SF I like, as a space yacht belonging to a famous actress collides with a communications relay station between Earth and Mars and causes great destruction and loss of life. The manager of the station has to try to figure out what happened and defend himself against the station’s vengeful owners, in a set-up that reminded me a little of Hammond Innes’ classic adventure novel THE WRECK OF THE Mary Deare. This is an excellent story, very well-written and ultimately more about humanity than nuts and bolts. I really need to read more by Jones. Luckily, I own several of his novels.

I’m familiar with Miriam Allen deFord as a mystery author whose stories I recall reading in EQMM and THE SAINT, but she wrote fantasy, too, such as her short story in this issue, “Mr. Circe”. It’s about a guy who spends his life plagued by a certain mysterious power. The problem is that the big twist at the end of the story doesn’t work at all. Well-written, wryly humorous, but ultimately a big misfire.

The final story is “Courtesy Call” by Ross Rocklynne, a long-time SF author. This one is about a diplomat from another planet where everybody is always agreeable, but when he arrives on Earth, he’s taken prisoner and subjected to interrogation and psychological torture. The motive for the whole thing is really murky, the characters are unlikable, and it’s just not a very good story.

In addition to the fiction, there’s a column by Jerome Bixby listing all the SF fanzines currently available, and the lengthy letters column, “The Ether Vibrates”. In this issue, the readers are debating the controversial covers by Earle Bergey that graced issues of STARTLING STORIES and THRILLING WONDER STORIES, as well as the question of whether sex should ever be mentioned in science fiction stories. Man, those readers had some really strong opinions and didn’t mind expressing them emphatically and at length. Sort of like SF readers today, I guess. But I’m afraid that, as with most Facebook arguments of the same sort, I just kind of skimmed through “The Ether Vibrates”.

So overall, I found this to be a below average issue of STARTLING STORIES, with only two really good stories, the ones by Clarke and Jones, with the others being readable but not much more than that. If you own a copy of this issue, I wouldn’t get in a hurry to pull it down from the shelves.

1 comment:

Walker Martin said...

STARTLING STORIES and THRILLING WONDER are big favorites with me especially starting when Sam Merwin took over as editor in 1945. This issue's editor is Sam Mines who continued after Merwin left in 1951. STARTLING lasted 99 issues and it's still possible to easily compile a set for a reasonable price.