Short Story Reviews: Betsy Curtis’ “Divine Right” (1950), “The Old Ones” (1950), and “The Protector” (1951)

In the past year or so I’ve put together an informal series on the first three published short fictions by female authors who are new(ish) to me and/or whose most famous SF novels fall mostly outside the post-WWII to mid-1980s focus of my reading adventures. So far I’ve featured Josephine Saxton (1935-), Carol Emshwiller (1921-2019), Wilmar H. Shiras (1908-1990), Nancy Kress (1948-), Melisa Michaels (1946-2019), Lee Killough (1942-), and Eleanor Arnason (1942-).

I do not expect transformative or brilliant things from first stories. This is particularly relevant to keep in mind for today’s post. Rather, it’s a way to get a sense of subject matter and concerns that first motivated authors to put pen to paper and to further map the territories that fascinate me.

Today I’ve selected the first three professional science fiction stories published by Betsy Curtis (1917-2002). She is “best” known for her Hugo-nominated short story “The Steiger Effect” that appeared in Analog Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr. (October 1968). It lost to Harlan Ellison’s “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World” (1968). Her short biographical blurb by Eric Leif Davin in Partners In Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction 1926-1965 (2006) indicates that she received an M.A. in English (1941) from Oberlin College, in 1966 another M.A. in Education from Allegheny College, and was active in the Society for Creative Anachronism (375). Her work is not discussed in much detail by Davin. She published 13 stories in professional magazines and two in fanzines between 1950-1973. For a bit more about her fannish activities, check out the following forum posts.

Have you read any of her work? If so, what were your thoughts?


2.75/5 (Below Average)

Betsy Curtis’ “Divine Right” first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas (Summer 1950). You can read it online here.

Sometime in the future a family of telepathic monarchs rule. Until the death of King Almar the Eighth, Curtis suggests the monarchy was more on the benevolent side of things–collecting a small tithe and encouraging the indoctrination of children to its glories through song and rhyme. But everything changes with the controversial ascension of King Glann. Unlike his predecessors, he squeezes the people dry for new palatial constructions. The story’s protagonist, the young Tod Winster bubbles with the capitalistic credo: “But Dad [..] When you’ve worked hard and earned something, shouldn’t it be yours to keep?” (98). He wants a bicycle. And in a confusing sequence of events his life savings are handed over as a tithe to King Glann in a ceremony to inaugurate the completion of the Winter Palace… but something is amiss. The king doesn’t seem to be a telepath at all. And Tod’s confused actions create the spark of rebellion!

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Short Story Reviews: Alfred Coppel’s “The Dreamer” (1952), “Double Standard” (1952), “The Hunters” (1952), and “Death is Never Final” (1952)

The following review is the 17th, 18th, and 19th 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. Many are far from the best. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.

Reinvigorated by the positive response to my last post in my series, I turn now to an author, Alfred Coppel (1921-2004), whom I’ve only infrequently explored. Track down his post-apocalyptic masterpiece, of the “realistic” variety, Dark December (1960) if you haven’t already. As I was in the Coppel reading mood, I included an extra tale on a different theme.

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

Previously: John D. MacDonald’s “The Flaw” in Startling Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. (January 1949), You can read it online here.

Up Next: Harlan Ellison’s “Psycho at Mid-Point” in Super-Science Fiction, ed. W. W. Scott (December 1956). You can read it online here.

3.5/5 (Good)

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

“The Hunters” imagines a world after humanity has voyaged to the stars. Or rather, after humanity figured out that they were not suitable for the stars–a simulacrum of the human was required instead. Felti hides from the hunters–Grancor and Corday–on a “twisted, tortured world that had not died with dignity” (107). An archaeologist by trade who studied the culture that started the exploration of the cosmos, Felti felt the pull of this shattered place despite its “acrid tang of radiation” (107). But he was on the run! The “Psychoanalyzer” required Felti’s reconditioning (107).

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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: 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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Future Media Short Story Review: Walter F. Moudy’s “The Survivor” (1965)

Today I’ve reviewed the fourteenth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Walter F. Moudy relays the coverage of the 2050 Olympic War Games between the United States and Russia with harrowing effect.

Previously: Barry N. Malzberg’s “The Idea” in In the Pocket and Other S-F Stories (1971) (as K. M. O’Donnell).

Up Next: Theodore Sturgeon’s “And Now the News…” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher (December 1956). You can read it online here.

3.5/5 (Good)

Walter F. Moudy’s “The Survivor” first appeared in the May 1965 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Lalli (Goldsmith). You can read it online here.

Recently James Harris highlighted the truncated writing career of Walter F. Moudy (1929-1973) with a focus on No Man on Earth (1964), his only science fiction novel. Inspired by his comments on “The Survivor” (1965) and relentlessly intrigued by authors who have fallen from contemporary memory, I placed the slick future televised Cold War conflict tale at the top of my media landscapes of the future review list. For those expecting a masterful Henry Kuttner tale, stay tuned! In the meantime, let’s plunge into Moudy’s coverage of the 2050 Olympic War Games between the US and Russia.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCC (James Blish, Norman Spinrad, R. M. Meluch, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

My 300th purchase post!

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

Preliminary Note: As I’m currently on vacation, the images in this post are photographs of my volumes rather than my normal hi-res scans. I’ll replace them when I get home.

1. Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1969)

From the inside page: “TAKE A TRIP WITH BILLY PILGRIM

-To the cellar of a slaughterhouse in Dresden, a city about to be destroyed by the greatest man-made catastrophe of all time.

-To happy marriage and mating with the sweet and willing daughter of one of the finest citizens of Illium, New York.

-To a luxurious zoo on the planet Tralfamadore for the public exhibition of lovemaking with the famous Earthling blue-moviestar, Montana Wildhack.

All in an amazing novel that could only have been written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., a writer whose wildest flights take you straight to the hear and now.

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Future Media Short Story Review: Barry N. Malzberg’s “The Idea” (1971) (as K. M. O’Donnell)

Today I’ve reviewed the thirteenth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Here, I finally return to the nightmarish embrace of Barry N. Malzberg.

Previously: Pat Cadigan’s “Rock On” in Light Years and Dark: Science Fiction and Fantasy of and for Our Time, ed. Michael Bishop (1984). You can read it online here.

Up Next: Walter F. Moudy’s “The Survivor” in the May 1965 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Lalli (Goldsmith). You can read it online here.

3.5/5 (Good)

Barry N. Malzberg’s “The Idea” first appeared in In the Pocket and Other S-F Stories (1971) (as K. M. O’Donnell). I cannot find the story online. Please contact me if you do not own a copy and want a PDF of the story. I recommend you procure the fantastic anthology TV: 2000, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh (1982) which “The Idea” also appears in. I’ll be returning to this volume in coming weeks for this series.

Reading a Barry N. Malzberg story is like returning to a familiar embrace–an embrace of the blackest satire conveyed via terrifying existential traps. Ever since I read his masterpiece Beyond Apollo (1972), a metafictional destruction of America’s obsession with space exploration, Malzberg joined the pantheon of my favorite authors.

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