Short Reviews – Joe Carson’s Weapon, by James R. Adams

Friday , 24, November 2017 5 Comments

Joe Carson’s Weapon appeared in the Spring 1945 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org

Joe Carson’s Weapon may be about the most PoMo thing I’ve read in Planet Stories.

A kid writes into his favorite sci-fi pulp magazine and a pair of Martians whose orders are to take over the earth take the kid’s letter at face value.

While it definitely wasn’t my thing, there were some pretty good laughs to be had on this one. The best part, perhaps, is the nearly page length “letter” to the editor that Joe Carson sends in, which absolutely captures the very essence of the most egregiously banal letters that ended up being printed in the pulps. The adventure itself is practically proto-Aqua Teen Hunger Force with the Martians being completely daft and incompetent while complimenting one another on their superior intellects or saying deliciously comic self-congratulatory stuff like “Yes, we are truly martyrs. My only regret is, I have but nine tentacles to give for my species.” (Try not reading that in Oglethorpe the Plutonian’s voice.)

As a perfect lead-in to next week’s Retro-Fandom Friday, I’m including the entirety of Carson’s “Letter” (oh, my God, Adams nails how some of these letter writers write), but it might behoove you to check out the whole story:

Ye Humble Ed:

 

Once again the keeper has negligently left my door unlatched and I slyly crawl from my cage, drawn by one, irrevocable purpose. Glancing hither and yon, to make sure I am unobserved, I dash to the fence and clear it with a prodigious leap that carries me half way to the corner drug-store.

 

Snatching a tricycle from a gawking kid, I push his face in the mud and pedal furiously the remaining distance to the store. Leaping off, I rush in and batter my way through the screaming throng, shouting imprecations at all who stand in my way.

 

Panting with exhaustion, I at last reach my goal and clutch it to my breast. The crowd surges forward and frantic hands grab at my prize.

 

“It’s mine! All mine!” I shout in their faces. “No one can take it from me!”

 

Galloping madly from the store I race swiftly across yards and up alleys, quickly losing the howling mob in the distance. Squatting under a street-lamp, I sneak a triumphant look at the treasure. What is it? Yep, you guessed it—Galactic Adventures!1

 

But—shades of Major Mars!—what is that horrible monstrosity on the cover? A BEM, no less…an abominable, wretched BEM. Why, oh why, can’t we have at least one different cover painting? Wesley is no good. Get Marlini or Sidney to do the covers. I don’t mind a BEM now and then, but a steady diet of them soon palls on the palate. (Heh heh.) All joking aside, your covers are terrific.2

 

Now we come to the task of rating the stories. Only one stands out in my mind as being of excellent quality. I refer to Arthur M. Ron’s super-epic, The Infinite Finite. The other stories paled into insignificance in comparison to this classic. More power to Ron! Percival’s Puissant Pulverizer and Nothing is Something follow Ron’s story in that order. The rest are not worth mentioning.3

 

The interior illustrations are somewhat better than the cover, although, for the most part, they are inaccurate and do not follow the themes of the stories. Ye gods! Can’t your artists read? So much for the art, which wasn’t so much.4

 

Say! What does that jerk, The Amphibious Android, mean by calling me a “mere child”? His assertion that I’m but a youth of fifteen is a good way off the beam. I’ve been reading Galactic Adventures for the past eight years and I was nine years old when I picked up my first copy, so figure it out for yourself. A jug of sour zeni to him. May fire burst out in his s. f. collection and utterly destroy it. No! I retract that. That’s too horrible a fate, even to visit upon The Amphibious Android. Let him wallow in his ignorance. I, The Super Intellect, will smile down on him and forgive him his sins.5

 

That’s an interesting letter from Charlie Lane. The Miserable Mutant has propounded an amazing theory that has set me to wondering. Perhaps G. A. can induce one of its authors to work this theory into a story. I’m reserving my four wooden nickels right now for the tale, if it is written. I’ll even suggest a title—Those Who Are Froze In The Cosmos. How’s that? Well, I didn’t like it either.6

 

Once again I tear my hair and roar: GIVE US TRIMMED EDGES!7 Ye Ed must know by now that the majority of fandom is in favor of trimmed edges. As it is, one comes suddenly to the most interesting part of a story, at the very bottom of a page and spends several moments feverishly attempting to gain a hold on the ragged edge and go on to the next passage. By the time he has accomplished this, he is a raving lunatic, a martyr to trimmed edges. I am not a crusader, as is The Misled Biped, but I insist on seeing justice done.

 

As a whole, this is a fair issue. I might even call it good, if it were not for the artwork and stories. Ron’s epic will live forever in my mind, although its ending was rather weak and it could have developed into a more powerful tale by having the Slads all die in the Inferno.8

 

I enter my plea for longer stories. A long novel by M. S. Jensen would be appreciated. His last, Dr. Higbaum’s Strange Manifestation, was a gem. On the other hand, short stories are not without merit and good old G. A. wouldn’t be the same without them. I believe the story policy had best remain as is.

 

Give Higgins a rest. His yarns are rapidly degenerating into hack, with only four out of the last five meeting with this reader’s approval. I don’t like to be finicky, but it seems like he isn’t contributing his best material to G. A.

 

Well, this missive is growing to huge proportions and I would like to see it in print, so I’d better sign off.

 

Oh, yeh, almost forgot to comment on the departments. They are all good, with The Reader’s Opinion being the most interesting.9 Ye Ed’s ruminations come in for a close second. Do not change the departments in any way, although the quiz and the Strange Phenomena feature could be discontinued, without any great loss.

 

Before I close, I wish to make a revelation which will rock the world. Yes, Ed, I have a secret weapon! Nothing can stand against this terrible invention and, with it, I could even destroy Earth, with Mars and Pluto thrown in for good measure. Beware, Ed, lest you arouse my ire and cause me, in my wrath, to unleash this vast force upon helpless, trusting mankind.

 

Having read G. A. from cover to cover, I crawl back into my cage, drooling with delight. Prying up a loose stone in the center of the floor, I tenderly deposit the mag among the other issues of my golden hoard. Replacing the stone, I sigh contentedly and manipulate my lower lip with two fingers to indicate complete satisfaction. See you next issue!

 

Joe Carson

 

The Super Intellect

1. It was not uncommon for letters to begin with flash fiction (often sci-fi-themed) accounts of acquiring the latest issue, ranging from “So, I plunked my two dimes down at the newsstand…” to full-overblown stuff along the lines of the above. Adams really nails how bad many of these are.

2. Covers and quality of the covers were a frequent topic of discussion in Vizigraph. I do think that a lot of writers had justifiable complaints against several of Planet’s early-mid 40s artists, Parkhurst in particular, who, while he did do some good work now and then, had some pretty lousy compositions. Additionally, there was always the debate on whether the girls were too scandalous or not scandalous enough, or the fan who’d quip about the need to hide the front cover… not because of the dame but because of how embarrassingly bad they though Parkhurst’s cover was. Though it was clear that most of his iconic pieces were all based off the same handful of reference photos, Allen Anderson’s run was much better quality and much better received than Parkhurst’s.

3. Obvious joke titles aside, this could be word-for-word cropped from a real letter.

4. More frequent complaints about the interior illos. By the late 40s, the art was jibing with the stories a bit better, there was often a strange contradiction of tone when you’d get a hardboiled SF Noir story paired with Doolin’s illustrations of Flash Gordon silly hats and underwear on the outside.

5. SF Fandom has always been terrible, and letter cols were filled with this kind of stuff…

6. …which often had context lost as they referred to stories and letters from previous issues.

7. A big deal.

8. This and the next paragraphs are fairly characteristic of the unhelpfully contradictory feedback usually included in reader letters.

9. Oddly enough, Planet did get several letters saying that the Letters section was the only part worth reading. Imagine only reading a pulp zine for the yahoos writing in to complain about things! Part of the ostentatiousness of the letters, however, was almost certainly the result of the quarterly competition in which letter writers could vote on their favorite letters, with the top three vote-getters getting a shot at original pieces of interior art-work.

5 Comments
  • Mark McSherry says:

    Thanks for this! Reading the story reminded me of Eric Frank Russell’s “The Illusionaries”. Clueless alien would-be-conquerors land on Earth only to be thwarted by their own disillusions. Lots in common with your story, along with many chuckles. And it appeared in the November 1951 Planet Stories.

  • Cambias says:

    Those letter columns were the first forums, the first blog comment sections, and they displayed the same in-jokes and obsessive self-reference.

    The only differences were the time lag — imagine waiting six months to see if this comment appears after I hit SEND — and the cost. Those letters cost three cents in postage, plus whatever the paper and envelope cost, at a time when a candy bar cost a nickel.

  • D.M. Ritzlin says:

    Don’t you wish you got letters like this for Cirsova, Alex?

    • cirsova says:

      Yeah, I’d originally hoped for them, but the internet kind of makes a letters column a moot point. I stopped actively encouraging folks after the second issue when we hadn’t gotten any.

  • TWS says:

    This brings back memories. Not all terrible either.

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