Amazing, July 1971
What we have here is a time capsule magazine. Everything here seems to fit very well in its time.
First, and taking up nearly half the magazine, is the first half of a two-part serialization of Robert Silverberg‘s novel, The Second Trip. The first thing that shocked me about this story is the deja vu effect, since I’d read it before and utterly forgotten about it. A second amusing point is that the protagonist’s birthdate is stated as March 11, 197<cough><mumble>, making him exactly my age (Happy Birthday, Nat Hamlin!). I remember when I read this before thinking of it as just the kind of “adult” (How long ago did I read this thing? Must have been a long time) science fiction I didn’t really get. To me then it was overly concerned with clinical psychology and the emotional consequences of the sexual revolution. Now, the story still seems dated, and I still can’t appreciate the ’70s’ fascination with psycoanalysis. But I do have a better appreciation of why the sex and sexual politics were, and still are, an edgy commentary on changing social norms. I don’t know if I’d call this a recommended read, but its at least achieved the status of an interesting historical document.
The second story is James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Peacefulness of Vivyan”. This one is pretty much the reason I bought the magazine, since I have the idea that Tiptree wrote a ton of good stuff that I haven’t gotten around to reading. The story is about a kind of child-like or otherworldly character poking about the wilderness areas of a couple of neighboring planets. Vivyan seems to wander about, investigating biological curiosities here and geology there. Meanwhile the fate of a third neighbor world is darkly hinted at, but not revealed. Finally, some of the mystery is cleared up, but more with hints and nuance than with bright arc-light clarity. The mysterious story and conclusion are somewhat preminiscient of the Gene Wolfe style, which would only really make itself known a year later. A good story, but it didn’t really live up to my hopes for all that undiscovered Tiptree I should be reading.
“Bohassian Learns”, by William Rotsler, is a short piece on the birth of what seems to be an example of that sf staple, a superman, or successor to homo sapiens. This story is professionally written, but its such a well-worn premise that even the wild destructive potential of Rotsler’s superman doesn’t really make the story stand out.
Pg Wyal’s story “Border Town” has a kind of counter-culture vibe, and a gonzo attitude that reflects a whole different aspect of 1971 than the rest of the magazine. Something like Firefly, if it had been written 35 years earlier and seen through psychedelic glasses. A troupe of three interstellar crooks are trying to pull a fast one on the natives of a backwater border town. The story’s nothing special but the enthusiastic (acid-fueled?) prose makes it a fun read.
“The Worlds of Monty Willson” by William F. Nolan is a very short alternate-worlds story with a fairly clever ending. Probably even when it was new, it would have been written and read as a stylistic throwback to the golden age.
The final story is a true throwback, a reprint of David H. Keller’s “The Lost Language” from 1934. The story is about a boy who grows up silent, but apparently intelligent. Eventually he begins to write in an unknown language, which is finally decoded by means that could only have been super-science (meaning, pure fantasy) when the story was written. It’s a fairly readable story despite the archaic tone, but one central premise, that no written language can exist without a correspondence to a spoken language, is easily refuted, and should have been even in 1934, by anyone aware of the use of Chinese characters by numerous east Asian cultures whose spoken languages are utterly unrelated.