Short Fiction Review: John D. MacDonald’s “Flaw” (1949)

The following review is the 16th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

I decided to return to this all-but-defunct series after I was inspired by a conversation in the comment section of my recent review of John D. MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” (1950). A friend of the site listed a fascinating range of MacDonald’s short stories and multiple appeared to fit my series on subversive accounts of astronauts and space travel. MacDonald’s “Flaw” (1949) charts the end of the dream of the conquest of space.

As always, feel free to join the conversation and read along with me on the search for the depressed astronaut.

Previously: Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “The Hoofer” in Fantastic Universe, ed. Leo Margulies (September 1955). You can read it online here.

Up Next: Alfred Coppel’s “The Hunters” in Fantastic Story Magazine, ed. Samuel Mines (Fall 1952). You can read it online here.

“The Dreamer” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher, Jr. and Francis McComas (April 1952). You can read it online here.

“Double Standard” in Galaxy Science Fiction, ed. H. L. Gold (February 1952). You can read it online here.

3.75/5 (Good)

John D. MacDonald’s “The Flaw” first appeared in the January 1949 issue of Startling Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. You can read it online here.

The Dream Sold to the Legions

Carol Adlar, a government clerk at a rocket station in Arizona, falls in love with both the young astronaut Johnny Pritchard and his dream. Johnny believes the moment that humanity can travel to the stars will be the opportunity to create a new “world with no wars, no disease, no starvation” (84). The scars of the ruined Earth offer lessons to create a better future where the sinful will be able to transcend their timeless tendencies. Carol recounts, after Johnny’s tragic death, that “within a week I had caught his fervor, his sense of dedication” (84). They share the dream. They imagine that they will become “one of the first couples to become colonists for the new world” (84). And against her better judgement, she gives her “heart to a man who soars up at the top of a comet plume” (84).

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCX (R. A. Lafferty, Jan Morris, Star anthology, and an August Derleth anthology)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Strange Ports of Call, ed. August Derleth (1948)

From the back cover: “‘Begotten of Imagination, on the body of Technology, there springs forth the wild child Science Fiction.’ –Clifton Fadiman

The above is one of the many attempts that have been made to describe a department of fiction which, in spite of some sniping critics, continues to increase its followers. Recently Bertrand Russell observed that science fiction consists of ‘intelligent anticipation–much more intelligent than the expectations of statesmen.’

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Generation Ship Short Story Review: Fred Saberhagen’s “The Long Way Home” (1961)

This is the 15th post in my series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. Today I have an unusual take on the subgenre–a young scavenger couple encounter a mysterious blip on their radar!

As a reminder for anyone stopping by, all of the stories I’ll review in the series are available online via the link below in the review.

You are welcome to read and discuss along with me as I explore humanity’s visions of generational voyage. And thanks go out to all who have joined already. I also have compiled an extensive index of generation ship SF if you wish to track down my earlier reviews on the topic and any that you might want to read on your own.

Previously: Don Wilcox’s “The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years” in Amazing Stories, ed. Raymond A. Palmer (October 1940). You can read it online here.

Next Up: TBD


3/5 (Average)

Fred Saberhagen’s “The Long Way Home” first appeared in the June 1961 issue of Galaxy Magazine, ed. H. L. Gold. You can read it online here.

Among the Asteroids out Near Pluto

Marty and Laura–recently married and very much in love–form the crew of the Clementine, a robotic mining, ore refining, and hauling vessel. They spend their isolated existence identifying prospective asteroids out near Pluto. Laura, on her very first space voyage, remains his liaison in the control room when Marty scoots off in his space bike to investigate a blip on the radar. If it’s a wrecked hull of “a ship dead for decade, or a century, or a thousand years” if theirs by right of salvage if they could tow it into a port (181). The robotic librarian indicates that no such vessel has ever existed! Marty’s investigation reveals that the thirty-mile long hull is part of a two-thousand-year-old larger vessel that has suffered a possibly cataclysmic disaster.

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Future Media Short Story Review: Ray Bradbury’s “Almost the End of the World” (1957)

Today I’ve reviewed the twenty-first story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Ray Bradbury conjures a strange new world without television.

Previously: Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” in Galaxy Magazine, ed. H. L. Gold (October 1958). You can read it online here.

Up Next: TBD

3.5/5 (Good)

Ray Bradbury’s “Almost the End of the World” first appeared in The Reporter (December 26, 1957). It later appeared in his short story collection The Day It Rained Forever (1959). If you have an Internet Archive account, you can read it online here.

In multiple earlier reviews in this series, I’ve laid out television’s transformative and speedy infiltration of the American consciousness and daily activities over the course of the 1950s. Multiple Bradbury stories critique this new world. The lovely and crystalline “The Pedestrian” (1951) imagined a future night city in which its denizens are transfixed by their TV scenes. The city, observed by the solitary one-time writer Leonard Mead, is as silent as “a wintry, windless Arizona country” (90). “Almost the End of the World” (1957) ruminates on the effects on American society if a cosmic event severs the viewer from the succor of the screen.

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Future Media Short Story Review: Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” (1958)

Today I’ve reviewed the twentieth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Frederik Pohl satirizes a post-apocalyptic world where advertising gets right to work after the bomb!

Previously: C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, ed. Frederik Pohl (1958). You can read it online here

Alice Eleanor Jones’ “The Happy Clown” in If, ed. James L. Quinn (December 1955). You can read it online here.

Up Next: Ray Bradbury’s “Almost the End of the World” in The Reporter (December 26, 1957). If you have an Internet Archive account, you can read it online here.


3/5 (Average)

Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” first appeared in Galaxy Magazine, ed. H. L. Gold (October 1958). You can read it online here.

The year 1957 flashed subliminal messaging directly into the popular imagination. Vance Packard published The Hidden Persuaders (1957), that quickly became a best seller, and articles including “The Growing Power of Admen” in the Atlantic [1]. In addition, research findings were released and publicized demonstrations occurred over the course of the year appeared to substantiate Packard’s primary claims. In September 1957 James Vicary, a pioneer in subliminal advertising, conducted his infamous “breakthrough media event” to gathered reporters [2]–he intermixed a nature documentary with the subliminal message “Drink Coca-Cola” 169 times! –that built on his earlier studies [3].

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCIX (John Brunner, Lester del Rey, John Domatilla, anthology of Best SF 1965)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Quicksand, John Brunner (1967)

From the back cover: “She had nearly killed a man who tried to assault her. She spoke a language no one could understand. Commonplace objects like clothing and cars were a mystery to her.

Paul was haunted and entranced by her. He licked at the secrecy that surrounded her until, inevitably, his fate became linked to hers. And she gave him a vision of a world more beautiful than any he had ever known.

THEY LIVED IN A PARADISES OF SENSUAL ECSTACY… UNTIL IT WAS TOO LATE. BECAUSE HER LOVE WAS LIKE QUICKSAND.”

Initial Thoughts: My Brunner obsession in my early 20s generated a packed few years of reading as many novels–the good and the bad–that I could get my hands on. This one escaped my grasp.

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Future Media Short Story Reviews: C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” (1958) and Alice Eleanor Jones’ “The Happy Clown” (1955)

Today I’ve reviewed the eighteenth and nineteenth stories in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Alice Eleanor Jones and C. M. Kornbluth conjure a media-saturated world and cartoon characters that generate cultish adoration. Both authors respond to the rapid growth of television in the United States over the 1950s and multimedia conglomerates like Disney.

Previously: John Brunner’s “Fair” in New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell (March 1956) under the pseudonym Keith Woodcott. You can read it online here

Up Next: Frederik Pohl’s “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” in Galaxy Magazine, ed. H. L. Gold (October 1958). You can read it online here.


4.5/5 (Very Good)

C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Advent on Channel Twelve” first appeared in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 4, ed. Frederik Pohl (1958). You can read it online here if you have an Internet Archive account. Nominated for the 1959 Hugo for Best Short Story. Lost to Robert Bloch’s “That Hell-Bound Train” (1958).

In the short intro to the story in The Best of C. M. Kornbluth (1976), Frederik Pohl explains that Kornbluth’s two young sons (and their father) never missed an episode of the The Mikey Mouse Club (1955-1958). The iconic Disney TV show generated a “national mania” with kids everywhere singing the Mouseketeer song and wearing mouse-ear hats. In 1955, the wider Disney craze would see the creation of their first theme park–Disneyland. Expanding on earlier ruminations on media and the masses in The Space Merchants (1953), “The Advent on Channel Twelve” imagines the dystopic elevation of cartoon character to an altogether new pedestal in the American consciousness.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCCVIII (Brian W. Aldiss, D. G. Compton, and Shirley Jackson)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. The Sundial, Shirley Jackson (1958)

From the back cover: “THE SUNDIAL is a chilling, suspenseful, bloodcurdlingly macabre novel of twelve strange people awaiting the end of the world in a fantastical house like no other on earth.” SF Encyclopedia describes The Sundial as “the closet to SF she came.”

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Book Review: Heroes & Villains, Angela Carter (1969)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

English author Angela Carter (1940-1992) spun postmodern fabulations of decadent futures and decaying urban expanses replete with incisive deconstruction of genre conventions [1]. Her dark, Freudian, and erotic masterpiece The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) ranks amongst my favorite SF 70s visions. From a young age Carter read John Wyndham and, like so many others in the 60s, felt the relentless pull of Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine and the larger New Wave movement: “this lode, this seam of intensely imaginative and exciting fiction” [2]. And, as with her contemporary Emma Tennant, the work of J. G. Ballard–and/or his ability to fill the air with his entropic sadness–spurred her to write post-apocalyptic SF [3]. Heroes & Villains (1969) is the product of her inspiration and “her first tale to engage in a recognizably sf displacement of reality” [4].

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