by Professor Gilbert Colon
Editor-in-Chief: Marv Wolfman
Cover Artist: Mike Whelan
Frontispiece: Gray Morrow
Editorial by Roy Thomas
Thomas is forced to “re-phrase” his assertion that “space opera had ‘rather run its course.’” Clarifying, he cites “the type of SF fantasy exemplified by the likes of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet…” – “transplanted westerns,” in other words, or “‘ether-oaters,’ [Thomas] perversely like[s] to call them…” Another knock against Flash Gordon, assaulted two or three times over in Unknown Worlds’ first issue. But now Thomas is beginning to eat his words (his “oats,” we should say?). Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” dictum, he admits that an “Otis Adelbert Kline vignette [is] slated for next issue.” This issue interviews Frank Herbert whose Dune, while containing hard science fiction elements, is filled with space operatics as well.
Script: Tony Isabella
Art: Gene Colan and Frank Chiaramonte
In the fifth issue of Unknown Worlds, “The Star-Magi” comes in next to last in their Reader’s Poll, finally forcing the editors into a reevaluation. “Most readers seem to have taken very well to our unique ‘framing sequence,’” they claim, yet go on to write that “We’ll be abbreviating our Slow Glass episodes for the next little while, to make room for more stories.” As pointed out here from issue #1, this device was tiresome from the start – stick with the original Bob Shaw story and leave it at that. The irony is that this one is not half-bad, though it still need not be a framing device.
Script: Gerry Conway
Art: George Perez and Klaus Janson
Adapted from the story by Frank Herbert
A small “glistening silver orb,” carried by its larger orbiting mother craft “nineteen miles long by twelve miles wide,” lands in Washington International Airport. It is not quite the National Mall as in The Day the Earth Stood Still or the Capitol Building in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, but the scene certainly suggests those films, right down to the alien scout ship’s design and the surrounding army units. Why are they here? “Majority Opinion: A hostile ship on a mission to conquer mankind. Minority Opinion: A ‘cautious’ visitor from space. As it turned out—both opinions were very, very wrong.”
“...Not Long Before the End”
Script: Doug Moench
Art: Vicente Alcazar
Adapted from the story by Larry Niven
In an Atlantis whose tectonic instability is sustained by magic, a swordsman named Hap steals a blade named Glirendree. A Warlock confronts the barbarian with the sword’s true history and, when persuasion fails, tries to disarm him. The closing scenes show the Warlock, having used up his magic, decaying into the 200-year-old man he is until his wife Sharla moves him to greener pastures. There the Warlock begins absorbing energy from his new surroundings, regenerating back to his youthful exterior, but wistful in the knowledge that there are fewer places for him and his kind to replenish.
Niven goes on to say, “I saw other truths by their contrast with traditional fantasy fiction ... If magic is anything like dependable, it will form the basis of the civilization, not exist as some anomaly to be ferreted out by Conan the Cimmerian.” In the Niven anthology Playgrounds of the Mind, the author briefly opens his “Magic Goes Away” universe story “What Good is a Glass Dagger?” with an introduction in miniature called “The Warlock’s Era.” It begins:
“Robert Howard [sic] and his tradition do speak to some part of the brain . . . but not the rational part ... Why did Conan keep finding magic as a shocking surprise in desert places? If magic had such power, it would be the basis of civilization!
Where did all the magic go? The older the legend, the more powerful was the magic. Magic must wear out like oil reserves.
And that’s all I was trying to say when I wrote a short story, ‘Not Long Before the End.’”
as opposed to “wizard” or “mage,” is telling as the word is etymologically connected in most dictionaries to evil, lies, black magic, and the devil. This is especially true when readers glimpse the pentagram-tattooed back of the Warlock (pg. 21). If he is meant as a proto-man of science, why a symbol so strongly associated with superstition and malevolence? Perhaps the Warlock is as much a scientist as Rotwang, with his pentacled front door and laboratory chamber, in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Sandworms and Saviors:
A Conversation With Frank Herbert, Author Of Dune
An Introduction by Interviewer Ed Leimbacher
The most impressive thing about Unknown Worlds has to be the interview subjects they manage to nab – first Bradbury, then Bester, now Herbert, with more to come. Early on, Herbert says, “I sold to the pulps when I was still in my teens.” What kind? “…Adventure short stories. Doc Savage, that sort of thing.” (The Doc tale, from 1946, is “The Jonah and the Jap.”) Also, Westerns, “The only thing I ever used a pseudonym for…I was learning; it’s a good place to learn.”
Story and Art: Bruce Jones
An exploratory landing on a planet described as “a botanist’s paradise!” devolves into nightmare and doom. The gradual build-up towards its unexpected and somewhat arbitrary conclusion creates an effective mood, but that is about it. Some intricate illustration by Bruce Jones is difficult for the eyes to take in because of the six or seven dense panels of detailed art per page. Written in a ship’s log format, the text is small and unusually dense as well. Just like the cocoons transforming the ship’s crew one by one, the tale feels poised to metamorphose into a cautionary tale about…what? The Reader’s Poll in issue #5 says that, “A number of readers compared this poignant story to Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes’ classic of recent years.” This tidbit may shed some light on the concluding panels. (Continuing with the endless Flash Gordon homages in these Unknown World issues, on page 40 one character wears a shirt patterned after Alex Raymond’s hero.)
“SFWA: The Thing that Spawned Nebulas”
Article by Don Thompson
Last issue, Thompson gave readers a tidy, concise history of the Hugos, and this one the Nebulas. The difference between these two science fiction awards? “…The Hugo awards [are] given by the fans,” while the Nebula Awards “were created by writers for writers.” These “annual writing awards [have been] given since 1965 to recognize what [SFWA] members considered the best short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels in the field each year.” It all began when “In the early 1950’s, Damon Knight, Judith Merril, and James Blish…tried to form a science fiction writers’ group,” but because “all…were living in Milford, Pennsylvania” and with “some people thinking the ‘Milford Mafia’ wanted to control science fiction,” “nothing came of it.”
Script: Roy Thomas
Art: Alex Nino
“Now begin in the middle, and later learn the beginning; the end will take care of itself.” Fortunately, anarchically jumbling the three-act structure does not obscure this simple, fable-like story. In a regimented authoritarian world where being late is a crime, a man calling himself the Harlequin gleefully mucks up the works with epic pranks until caught by the forces of the Master Timekeeper, aka the Ticktockman. Face-to-face with his nemesis, Ticktockman insists the Harlequin repent or have his remaining lifespan deducted, their confrontation ultimately boomeranging on the Master Timekeeper…
Harlan Ellison’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning short story (Galaxy Magazine, December 1965), delayed from appearing in the second issue due to artist Alex Niño’s (credited sans accent) family problems, finally finds its way into Unknown Worlds’ pages. Better late than never, the Harlequin might say (if only he were articulate). Marvel swore that “you, and…Ellison—will like it.” Letters in Unknown Worlds #5 ran high, and readers ranked it #1 in that issue’s Reader’s Poll, but Arndt says that “Ellison’s on record that he dislikes this adaptation.” As for the story itself, which seems calculated to pander to the era’s upstart college crowd, it has dated poorly.
In the other corner, the Ticktockman is the kind of enforcer who got Hitler and Mussolini’s trains running on time. He is even the Adolf Eichmann-like bureaucrat who would get the cattle cars to Auschwitz II-Birkenau with “efficiency.” Or he should be, instead of the caricature he is. While the penalty for being late is getting docked time from your life – the Master Timekeeper possesses personally-keyed cardioplates which give him the power to revoke minutes, hours, or years from a citizen – he seems more the bogeyman of asocial types who resent having to live according to societal norms. The Ticktockman could be the boss who insists you punch into work at nine, or the teacher who expects you not be tardy, or any authority figure (“the Establishment,” “the Man”).
“I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own.”
“I am not a number, I am a free man!”
“You’re full of it.”The Twilight Zone’s Wordsworth:
“…How does a man react to the knowledge that he’s going to be blown to bits in half an hour? … So for myself, I’m going to sit down and read my Bible. It’s been hidden here for over twenty years. It’s a crime punishable by death…So I’m just going to sit down and read it until the moment of my death. How will you spend your last moments, Chancellor?”
“…I’ll fit my fist into your mouth.”
“So here you have this strong, handsome, uniformed, bemedaled symbol of giant authority and this insignificant, librarian. And suddenly, in the eyes of God, there is precious little to distinguish us.”
“You’re an idiot!”
Script: Tony Isabella
Art: Gene Colan and Frank Chiaramonte
“The magi were wise men. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents…” With this O. Henry paraphrase ends Isabella’s science fiction retelling of “The Gift of the Magi,” retaining that short story’s main theme while cleverly integrating it with Shaw’s Slow Glass short story theme of not getting stuck – slabbed? – in the past. Again, as Slow Glass variations go, this one could actually stand on its own. Incidentally, this issue’s letter column promises that “next issue’s ‘Slow Glass’ intro [is] where Tony Isabella explains all!”
The Shape of Things that Came
Originally the title of the “Personal Playbill by Roy Thomas” introduction last issue, now the “first letters-page ever, in the first giant-size SF comic-mag ever!” Look for letters from Robert Bloch (“I was most favorably impressed! … I’d be only too pleased to be represented in the zine…”) and Mr. Slow Glass himself, Bob Shaw (“All the stories…were given…first-class treatment – fast and lively, yet preserving the drama and serious intent of the original texts. By the way, my son took the first issue to school to show his friends how famous his Dad was…”). In answer to Bloch, Roy Thomas personally promises, “in a very few issues,” his short story “‘A Toy for Juliette’ – and perhaps even Harlan Ellison’s sequel, ‘The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World.’”