Tuesday, February 8, 2022


Slavomir Mrozek (1930-2013). @. Daniel Mroz (1917-19930 

I  love Mroz's artwork.  He illustrated books for both the above authors and more besides.  As I might be absent for a awhile due to heart issues, i thought i'd leave a bunch of his masterpieces for your edification, lol...  Mrozek is the top photo.  i have a post planned for his "The Elephant", but who knows if it will transpire...

Saturday, January 29, 2022


David Grinnell  (Donald Wolheim, 1914-1990)

In 1970, shortly after Neil Armstrong spoke his inspired words, Chet Duncan found himself trudging up a steep incline, swishing through the moon dust, on his way to rescue a fellow astronaut, Jim Holmes, who had had a mishap with his Lunar walker.  Holmes had been returning to the lunar lander when his robotic walker had frozen up and, not being mechanically inclined, he'd called for help.  After replacing a shear pin in the lower axle, they both returned to the small vehicle and made preparations to return to the orbiting module, their "mother ship" as it were.  Before they left, however, they received a radio message that the Russians had just landed the first Cosmonauts on Venus, which they described as balmy and temperate, with abundant and variegated flora.  Since there was some competition between the United States and Russia over "first landings" on alien planets, and since Venus was known to the U.S. scientists as a wasteland of dust and rocks hovering at a temperature of at least 500 degrees Fahrenheit, there was some debate as to what the truth was regarding the status of the inner planet.  It was assumed in the halls of Washington that Russia was ambitiously courting the good wishes of billions of their fellow Asiatic inhabitants, and that they would not be beyond exaggerating their spatial exploits and the discovery of a viable colonial site in order to capture the admiration of the oriental nations.

So NASA decided to send their own ship to the planet, just to clarify the picture, and to provide a bit of a challenge to the second Soviet vessel which was launched at the same time.   Chet, Carter and Quincy were delegated as the team assigned to verify or disprove the Soviet claims.  The three left in the module and after an uneventful trip reached an orbit around Venus.  All three entered the landing "bug" as they termed it, and left the module which was designed to maintain an orbit by itself around the planet.  They plummeted down through thousands of feet of dense clouds and only at several thousand feet above the ground were able to see the surface clearly.  High winds bounced the small bug around and when they finally landed, they discovered that one of the legs on the machine had been irreparably damaged, prohibiting take-off.  The landing had placed them on the sheltered side of a cliff, but the overhang would prevent them from being able to maneuver the bug into take-off position.  At first they assumed they were doomed, but then they remembered that the Russian vessel had already landed about 100 miles away from their location.  So the decision was made to attempt to walk to the Russian camp.  The three donned their servo-powered suits of armor, loaded up a power sled with their remaining supplies and began trudging.  The terrain was full of loose rocks and cracks and crevices that required them to follow a circuitous path while fighting the constant wind at the same time.  

After struggling ahead for several days the party arrived at a cliff that seemingly blocked the way ahead. But after a considerable time spent in looking for a way up, they found a cave that appeared to be fairly deep.  And so it proved.  Using their suit flashlights, they spent days crawling and walking through tunnels, all the while gradually gaining height as they went.  The food and water started to run low, and Carter, who had been depressed about their chances to begin with, vanished one night and the next "morning' they found his belongings and suit parked near a bottomless drop-off.  With the slight addition to their supply cache, the two continued on, laboring their way along, until they reached yet another cliff which was soon found to contain yet another cave.  In a few more days, as their water was about to give out, they found some rivulets in a dark corner.  But Quincy was getting tired of the trek and, angry at the hopelessness of their situation, he opened up his face plate to end it all.  To his surprise he realized that he could breathe.  They had evidently reached an altitude at which oxygen was available.  They theorized that since the poles were covered with ice five miles deep and the temperate zones were so hot, that when the icecaps were melted at the edges, the resulting run-off would be entirely evaporated, freeing the oxygen to accumulate just below the cloud layer.

At any rate, the two, heartened, continued on until they received a garbled message on their radio which they were able to interpret as Russian.  They soon arrived at the Soviet camp site and were given to understand that all the Cosmonauts had died except one and he was very sick.  And that, at this elevation, the terrain was indeed covered with strange plants and grasses suitable for human activities.  After they healed the Russian with some of the medicines they had brought along, all three flew up to the Russian module and headed back to Earth.

This was a science fiction horse of a different color; i guess it would be categorized as "hard" sci fi.  But as a variant of the space voyages of the late sixties and early seventies, it was pretty interesting.  Although i did slightly balk at the heroes finding all those caves just when they needed them.  Wolheim was a good writer, tho, and even if i was hesitant about reading this effort for "sci fi January" due to it being the second book by the same author, i was glad i did.  It riveted my attention, more or less, and provided interesting descriptions of  some of the chemical and geological mysteries of Venus, which, even if they weren't true, were diverting...  Probably next weekend i'll be back with another sort of book, now that January is over...

Saturday, January 22, 2022


Robert Silverberg  (1935-    )

After a war lasting one hundred years, a radioactive holocaust left much of planet Earth in chaos.  The next five hundred years saw the establishment of feudal kingdoms in almost all countries, with "Dukes" the rulers of each of the twelve enclaves encompassing the globe.  These leaders had acquired immortality perhaps due to lingering radioactive influences, and they reigned autocratically in the major cities.  The cities were also based on the feudal idea of security, with a central castle surrounded by business and residential districts.  Employment in the rural areas were principally related to agriculture and whatever mechanical or mining interests seemed appropriate in each vicinity.

Dale Kesley had been a farmer for five years that he knew of, as he had no memory of his life before that period.  He was rather tired of the unceasing grind, so when a stranger named Dryle Van Alen arrived at his farm and informed him that he had been brain-washed and that a brilliant future awaited him, he readily acceded to his proposed plan of abandoning his livelihood and accompanying him to Antarctica, where a 13th dukedom had been established.  Traveling by six-legged horse (mutations were common in this era), the pair journeyed to Galveston where they caught a freighter to Argentina.  South of Buenos Aires, they were captured by bandits after an exchange of gun fire and Dale was taken back to the capital to see Duke Miguel.  Van Alen had managed to escape.  The Duke, a smiling exemplar of cheerful autocracy, gave Dale a choice:  he could either be imprisoned or he could go back to America and assassinate Duke Winslow, the Duke of Chicago and then marry Narella, his adopted daughter.  Narella's father was Daveen the blind singer, known for his talent and psychic abilities;  his location was unknown but Dale thought he might be able to aid in recalling his past if he could locate him.

So Dale goes to Chicago and is captured while trying to kill the obese Duke.  The same night, however, he's rescued by a seven foot tall mutant named Lomark Dawnspear, a master of psychic manipulation who put all the guards to sleep.  Escaping on another six-legged horse, he leads the Duke's minions a merry chase through Illinois and Indiana but finally receives refuge in a "mutie city" (an enclave of mutant humans who have been isolated by "normal" humanity) situated in Kentucky.  Here he sees Dawnspear again and through the agency of a local teleport is transported in a flash to Antarctica.  The Antarctic capital city is wildly different than what he's used to, with large edifices in brilliant colors and designed in a plethora of varying styles.  He's taken to see the local Duke, who explains things to him.  (spoilers ahead)  In the first place, the Duke has psychic abilities also, and is a shape-shifter:  his alternate physiques are Daveen the blind singer, Van Alen, Dale's guide, and Lomark Dawnspear.  Dale remains confused about the purposeless of all that he's been through until Van Alen (his real identity) informs him that he is the successor to the throne for one reason:  he's not sterile, as all the other Dukes are, and that Van Alen is his real father.  He had hypnotized Dale five years before and made a farmer out of him to protect him from the other Dukes who were envious and fearful of how he might  jeopardize their powers.  Anyway, after a struggle, Dale agrees to accept the Dukeship and looks forward to revising the world.

This wasn't a great novel by any means, but it had interesting action scenes including gunfights, daring escapes, oddly shaped humans and horses and devious plotting.  I found it kept my interest, but i probably wouldn't read it again.  Of course Silverberg became a well-known sci fi figure in his later life (this was his first major novel) with a unique style and perspective.  The Majipoor Cycle including Lord Valentine's Castle have thus far been his most popular efforts, i believe...

Saturday, January 15, 2022


John Rackham. (1916-1976)  pseudonym of John T. Phillifent

Playgirl Selena Ash has just left the play-planet Shangri-la in a hurry and she's being chased by two guys in another ship.  Pierre LaCoste and Robin Delamar were friends and practical jokers with whom Selena had been having a great time with, but apparently they hadn't had enough fun and games and were racing after her for more.  She had just left the world's atmosphere and she had just begun checking the instrumentation as a matter of habit when she realized that someone had sabotaged her automatic navigational equipment which hurled the ship without warning into hyperspace.  By the time she got the problem sorted she realized she was about thirty light years away from anything.  Poking about in the circuitry, she found a bomb, which she quickly disabled.  Thinking about her situation, she realized that the navigational problem was probably Pierre and Robin's idea of a practical joke, but the bomb was something else again.  Maybe she was being victimized by space pirates!

Selena wasn't actually just a playgirl;  she had a secret identity as an agent for the Galactic Security Association and she was on a mission.  Five years ago an explorer named Jory Jensen had vanished  after finding a planet with intelligent plant life on it and Selena had been recruited to find him.  Now, evidently lost in space, she fixed the navigational system and it informed her that a benign world was in the neighborhood and that she was being pursued by two ships.  One of them was undoubtedly that of Pierre and Robin, but the second one was a mystery.  Arriving on the world, she liked what she saw, a vast plain with mountains in the distance and extensive forests bordering a large ocean.  Debarking, she went for a walk toward the adjacent woods.  Suddenly the figure of a man appeared in the corner of one eye and she immediately drew her blaster.  At the same time the weeds and brambles around her began clutching her legs and sticking thorns into her skin.  Being rapidly overwhelmed, she called for help and the man told her to think friendly thoughts.  He was dressed in a sort of swim suit and had a kind of ivy growing around his body, the end of which jutted out over his head.  There was a small blue bud glaring at her from the plant.  She struggled for a while and then managed to smile and began mentally admiring the botanical life around her.  After a bit the plant life backed off and resumed their normal plant life behavior.

The Man called himself Joe, but Selena realized that he was probably the lost  Jones.  They became friends and she learned that the whole planet was governed by one enormous tree that permeated the atmosphere with psychic energy devoted to friendship and love.  She persuaded him to guide her to where the tree was located and on the way they saw a battle taking place between two ships in the upper atmosphere.  One shot the other one to pieces and captured the two occupants, then proceeded to land near the distant mountain range.  Selena had identified the ship as one belonging to Pardoe, a notorious pirate, and she assumed that he'd followed her for the purpose of stealing the seeds of the tree which were rumored to react to mammalian thoughts, growing into any sort of material object required by the local sentiencies.  Selena and Joe anxiously increased their progress, but they were hampered by the indigenous wildlife:  Mountain cats like saber-toothed tigers and razor-billed birds that flew in flocks and tried to stab their victims, and crock beetles that lived near streams that liked animal flesh, sort of resembling land-based piranhas, were some of the more friendly denizens.  But eventually they reached their destination after days of scrambling through brush and warding off hungry and hostile predators.

Joe had warned Selena that the tree would take over her mind but she approached it nevertheless.  It was huge, with a bole about twenty feet in diameter and screened by leafy branches from every direction.  She felt the tree in her mind, drawing her in.  She placed her hands on the bark and closed her eyes;  but immediately understood that she was aware of everything around her in full technicolor without them.  The tree absorbed her and after bonding with it, she felt at once how comforting and warm the whole planet was, in spite of its dangers.

But trouble was on the way.  Pardoe and his accomplice Scorpia reached the tree shortly afterwards, blasting all the plant life out of the way as they came.  Selena had learned from Joe that the tree was, in a way, very naive, and that it spontaneously bonded with any creature that approached it.  So when Pardoe stepped up to it, with his innate badness, it absorbed that also, but was so traumatized that it went into shock.  (Seeing as most readers won't be able to obtain copies of these old novels, i'll go ahead and finish the story;  stop here if you don't want to know what occurred).  A gun battle transpired between the two parties and Selena and Joe were rescued at the last minute by the Galactic Space Navy which arrived just in the nick of time.  Conway Ash had been tracking his daughter all the time and saved the day at the last minute.  Joe and Selena stayed together on the planet and lived happily ever after.  The planet was quarantined and no interlopers were permitted admittance.  It was not stated specifically, but i assume that the tree eventually recovered and smilingly ruled the world once more.

John Rackham was not one of the science fiction major stars, but he did write a lot of books and they're not bad, if not quite up to the standard of an Asimov or Heinlein.  There were interesting ideas in this one, but i should mention that it seemed slightly disorganized, with a fairly unusual plot mechanism employed which allowed much of the action to occur before explanations of situations and events were described.  Kind of like the vintage cart and horse adage.  That was only mildly distracting, though, and didn't shadow the interesting ideas of psychic and benevolent botanical intelligence.

Monday, January 10, 2022


David Grinnell (Donald A. Wollheim)  1914-1990

Ajax Calkins was lolling about on the veranda of his billion dollar mansion bordering Great Slave Lake.  He was despondent over not having a world to conquer, like Genghis Khan or Christopher Columbus.  He needed to dominate something.  After all, in this modern world of 2080, when mankind had conquered most of the solar system, he shouldn't be sitting around moping.  As it happened, however, he received a message from Anton Smallways, a sort of real estate agent for the solar system, offering him a world in the Fore-Jupiter asteroid group.  This was a collection of planetoids caught in Jupiter's orbit that preceded that planet in its eternal revolution around the Sun.  These small worlds were in perpetual danger of being taken over by Saturnians, who were another species in the solar system who were vying with Earth for control of all the planets.  The miners that lived on that worldlet needed support and supplies and they were willing to name Ajax King if he'd come and help them.  

Ajax was enthused, but before he could take off, Emily Hackenschmidt, an agent for the Earth-Mars Space Administration, dedicated to preserving peace in the the sub-Jupiter section of the system, arrived at his house and informed him that his plans for domination of the planetoid he had in mind were illegal and that he'd be subject to massive fines and jail time if he continued with his project.  With the help of his robot-butler (purposely constructed with built-in agreement coils), Ajax managed to elude the agent and make his way to Mars, where he befriended a giant spider (Mars was inhabited with multiple species from all over the system).  Smallways explained that since the asteroid in question was just outside the official EMSA zone, it was perfectly legal for him to sell it and for Ajax to buy it.  Wuj (the giant spider) decided to go along with the idea and they all set off in the Destiny (Ajax's spaceship) to assume possession of his new kingdom.  

Arriving at their new home, the voyagers were delighted to see that they were greeted with enthusiasm by the miners and that the world was a comfortable one, being roundish and fully equipped with modern conveniences.  But Emily shows up and wants to arrest him for violating EMSA protocols;  at just about the same time, a giant fleet from Saturn is picked up on the radar intending to take over Ajax' world.  The miners get the idea of re-aligning the orbits of the surrounding asteroids to confuse the aliens but when the explosions are set off the achieve this,  their own world gets thrown completely out of orbit and accelerates toward the Sun.  Noting that the surface of the planetoid is being flung off in pieces, they come to the conclusion that it actually was a spaceship itself, probably created by another race five million years ago just before a gigantic explosion destroyed their civilization.

Emily wants to get Ajax arrested so she sneaks off in her own ship to contact the EMSA forces which are on their way to confront the Saturnians.  Ajax chases her in his ship, but it's blown up and he's cast adrift in a small lifeboat.  After several weeks he's picked up on the verge of starvation by a sail-freighter making a routine trip between Earth and Mars.  These giant ships were driven by solar winds and took years to travel between the two planets.  The crew consisted of Zen-like humans and other species who value silence and meditation.  After quite a while, Ajax convinces the captain of the ship to let him use the ship's lifeboat to find his errant world.  When he does, Emily and Wuj are there and have figured out how to run the vessel and they all set out, after some disagreement involving the applicability of EMSA regulations, to save the solar system from the vile Saturnians.  Which they do, in quite a clever fashion.

David Grinnell is one of the pseudonyms of Donald Wollheim, a major power in the early development of science fiction magazines.  He started a number of them and was managing editor of others, as well as writing stories and novels himself.  This was a funny and light-hearted production, well-written and imagined even though it violated all sorts of physical laws, such as gravitation and the speed of light.  But that's what sci fi is known for, anyway.  This is the first installment of "Old SciFi January", invented by Jean at Howling Frog blog, and featured here with gratitude.  More to come, lol...

Sunday, January 2, 2022



Elizabeth Mackintosh  (Josephine Tey). 1896-1952

Before WWI, Archibald Vicar, as a recently orphaned boy, was working for a farmer in England.  He found the work really boring, consisting of swamping out barns and cleaning up after various sorts of animal.  When a newly formed Regiment happened to pass through the local town, he decided to join up.  Being of over-average height and strength, he had no difficulty in pretending he was eighteen, the regulation age for recruits, even though he'd just celebrated his fifteenth birthday.  As it happened, he was shipped to France shortly after and spent the next four years fighting in the trenches except for nine months in the hospital after being wounded.  He liked to read but liked boxing better.  His training involved learning to scrounge, wangle, and to take cover amid "unspeakable conditions".  James Barclay, a friend, took him home during one of their leaves and introduced him to his family;  he was very impressed with the sister, Ann, although he came to understand that the Barclays were members of a higher social class than he was.  After the war Kif returned to London where he spent a lot of time drifting from job to job, as there were lots of ex-soldiers and not many desirable positions.  He fell in with a couple of bookies and was persuaded into joining them in starting up a business, taking bets on horse races and charging a small fee for doing the paperwork involved.  Things went along swimmingly until Kif came to work one morning and discovered that one of the partners had absconded with all the cash, including almost all of Kif's savings.  Back on the street, he was on the point of despair when one of his old soldier friends, Thomas Carroll, found him and invited him to stay with him and his family.  Soon after Kif got a job as a traveling salesman in soap, but found it not very satisfying nor remunerative.  

At this point he realized that father Carroll was a burglar and that Thomas helped him sometimes.  Gradually they brought Kif into the family business and soon made him a fully functioning member of the enterprise.  Until he was caught one night he was caught by a local bobby and sentenced to 21 months at hard labor.  When he got out, he tried to create an honest life for himself, but was unsuccessful.  One employer after another either turned him down or fired him because of his low class history or because of his recent conviction and sentence.  So he went back to live with the Carrolls and helped them with their illicit financial acquisitions.  One night after a series of successful ventures, he went out on his own, planning on a jewelry heist at a country mansion.  The first part went okay, but as he was busy drilling a hole in the safe's door, the owner appeared and fired a revolver at him.  Without thinking, Kif returned fire, killing the man.  He ran off in desperation, but was eventually apprehended.  A long trial was the result, but things didn't look good for the defense.  

This was Ms. Mackintosh's first book.  She was later destined to be the author of the very successful and admired series of detective novels featuring inspector Grant, but this effort was pretty obviously inspired by Ms. M's feelings of anger and despair over the treatment received by soldiers returning to the country that they'd risked their lives for.  She made it very clear that the English class structure and attitudes had a lot to do with the dire experiences shared by the majority of the lower class soldiers who had ventured everything for their country and received so very little for their efforts.  So, although this book had sort of a plot, and some interesting character development, it resembled an extended anti-social screed more than a standard novel.  Not to say that it wasn't well done, because it was;  it was quite moving and persuasive about societal attitudes and behaviors endemic to that period, and which are probably evident today as well...  But justice for all has pretty well taken a back bench in our times due to the overwhelming presence of other problems involving the future of the species...

The picture at top is of Flanders Field.

Friday, December 24, 2021


THE BOY WHO LAUGHED AT SANTA CLAUS  (from Good Intentions Little, Brown& co., publ. 1937)

Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

In Baltimore there lived a boy.

He wasn't anybody's joy.

Although his name was Jabez Dawes,

His character was full of flaws.

In school he never led his classes,

He hid old ladies' reading glasses, 

His mouth was open when he chesed,

And elbows to the table glued.

He stole the mild of hungry kittens,

And walsked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.

He said he acted thus because 

There wasn't any Santa Claus.

Another trick that tickled Jabez

Was crying "Boo!" at little babies.

He brushed his teeth, they said in town,

Sideways instead of up and down.  

Yet people pardoned every sin,

And viewed his antics with a grin,

Til they were told by Jabez Dawes,

"There isn't any Santa Claus!"

Deploring how he did behave,

His parents swiftly sought their grave.

They hurried through the portals pearly,

And Jabez left the funeral early.

Like whooping cough, from child to child,

He sped to spread the rumor wild:

"Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes

There isn't any Santa Claus!"

Slunk like a weasel or a marten

Through nursery and kindergarten,

Whispering low to every tot,

"There isn't any, no there's not!"

The children wept all Christmas Eve

And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.

No infant dared hang up his stocking

For fear of Jabez' ribald mocking.

He sprawled on his untidy bed,

Fresh malice dancing in his head,

When presently with scalp a-tingling,

Jabez heard a distant jingling;

He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof

Crisply alighting on the roof.

What good to rise and bar the door?

A shower of soot was on the floor.

What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?

The fireplace full of Santa Claus!

Then Jabez fell upon his knees

With cries of "Don't," and "Pretty Please."

He hawled, "I don't know where you read it,

But anyhow, I never said it!"

"Jabez", replied the angry saint,

"It isn't I, it's you that ain't.

Although there is a Santa Claus,

There isn't any Jabez Dawes!"

Said Jabez then with impudent vim,

"Oh, yes there is;  and I am him!

Your magic don't scare me, it doesn't" -

And suddenly he found he wasn't!

From grimy feet to unkempt locks

Jabez became a jack-in-the-box,

An ugly, vastly ghastly jack

In Santa Claus's bulging pack.

The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;

They searched for him, but not with zeal.

No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,

which led to thunderous applause,

And people drank a loving cup

And went and hung their stockings up.

All you who sneer at Santa Claus,

Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,

The saucy boy who mocked the saint.

Donder and Blitzen licked off his paint.

Nash published over twenty books of his inimitable "poetry", to the thankful delight of many unserious souls.  One of his last recommendations to his faithful readers:  "Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long."