[July 24, 1961] COMIC CON 1961!

by Gideon Marcus

1961 has definitely been a fine year for fan gatherings, thus far.  It doesn’t seem like a month goes by without one fan circle or another throwing a science fiction convention.  Some are tiny affairs, little more than an expanded club meeting.  Others, like WorldCon (coming up in a little over a month, in Seattle), clock in attendances of several hundreds.  It’s a great way to pass the time, learn inside dope on the doings of fans and writers, alike, and it sure beats the Summer reruns!

I’ve just come back from “Comic Con,” a San Diego convention of considerable size.  A good many notables from both the comics and science fiction genres were there including Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee and Allen Bellman (he drew Captain America during the Golden Years), D.C.’s Ramona Fradon )(Aquaman), superfans Trina Robbins, Bjo Trimble and John Trimble, and Twilight Zone actor William Shatner (who you may recall from the excellent episode, “Nick of Time”). 

There were at least a hundred fans there, many of them in costume.  Guarding us all was the U.S.S. Midway, a modern aircraft carrier:

For your viewing pleasure, here are all the shots I managed to snap before my Kodak ran out of film:

Conventions, for me, are a place to meet folks and share my love of things scientifictional.  I’m hoping the friendships I made there will last a good long time.  See you next year…1962!  (Drop me a line if you’d like an original photograph…)

[July 22, 1961] Into Space – and the Deep Blue (The Flight of Liberty Bell 7)

By Larry Klaes

After three failed attempts just this week, yesterday (July 21, 1961), astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom finally became this nation’s second (and the world’s third) man to reach outer space.  Grissom achieved another sort of milestone when his spacecraft unexpectedly sank after splashdown – and almost took the astronaut with it to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean!

Following a very similar mission profile to that of his predecessor, Alan Shepard, back on May 5, Grissom rode his Mercury vessel, which he christened Liberty Bell 7 (complete with a painted white crack on the hull) in an arcing flight across the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 5 (LC-5) in Florida.

The reliable Redstone booster hurled the ton-and-a-half craft, some 262.50 nautical miles downrange and 102.76 nautical miles above the Earth’s surface Grissom’s 15-minute suborbital flight lasted just nine seconds longer than Shepard’s.  Of course, both flights were far shorter than Cosmonaut Gagarin’s 90-minute flight in April.  That’s because the Redstone simply isn’t powerful enough to send a Mercury into orbit, unlike the unnamed ICBM the Soviets are using. 

Grissom’s flight was relatively short in both duration and distance, but our second American astronaut did get to experience a few moments of weightlessness, move his ship around, and view our home planet and the blackness of space as few have yet to do.  His view was better than Shepard’s: The two portholes on Freedom 7 were replaced with a larger single window. 

The other improvement on Liberty Bell 7 was an explosive side hatch, to be activated in the event of emergency after landing.  It was a wise precaution, but it almost caused the Mercury program’s first fatality.

After Grissom’s splashdown in the Atlantic, while he waited inside his space vessel to be rescued by four Sikovsky UH-34D helicopters dispatched from the aircraft carrier USS Randolph, the explosive release on the Liberty Bell 7 side hatch suddenly activated, blowing the heavy metal door across the water like a skipping stone.  The Atlantic Ocean rushed into the now open spacecraft.

The Mercury astronaut prudently abandoned his vessel and waved frantically at the hovering helicopters to hoist him out of the drink: Grissom’s spacesuit was filling with sea water due to an open oxygen inlet connection and it began weighing him down.  The rolls of Mercury dimes Gus had taken along in his suit to later hand out as souvenirs were also contributing to his inexorable dip beneath the ocean surface.

Unfortunately, the lead helicopter pilot interpreted Grissom’s reaction as an indication that he was okay, so they focused on trying to rescue the sinking Liberty Bell 7 by attaching a cable to it>.

The flooding Mercury spacecraft soon became too heavy for the helicopter to lift from the water, and it threatened to bring down the chopper and its crew as well.  With no other choice, the rescue team detached Liberty Bell 7, which quickly sank to the bottom of the ocean over seventeen thousand feet below. 

Attention finally returned to the desperate astronaut.  Grissom grasped for the lowered harness.  Exhausted, he slumped in the harness as he was retrieved for his trip back to the rescue ship. 

It remains to be determined whether the premature explosion of the side hatch was caused by a mechanical defect or by manual release by Grissom, perhaps in a momentary panic.  Gus himself swears he was lying calmly inside the spacecraft when the incident occurred.  Whatever the real story, engineers will need to check the hatch escape system thoroughly to make sure it does not happen again – especially in space!  Perhaps this system will be more fully tested during the next Mercury mission, another suborbital flight scheduled for September, with John Glenn the anticipated pilot.

Intriguingly, in his post-flight briefing this morning, attended by his family and fellow astronauts, Grissom admitted to feeling “scared” when his vessel lifted off towards space.  The Mercury spacemen were chosen for their exceptional bravery and flying skills.  Yet, in the end, they are human.  Did Gus, who flew 100 combat missions during the Korean War and has had a long reputation as a top-notch pilot, have a moment of weakness when confronting the unknowns of outer space?  Is this what contributed to the release of the spacecraft hatch that caused the loss of the Liberty Bell 7 and nearly the astronaut as well?  Are there aspects about the vast realm beyond Earth that may make it impossible for a man to extensively explore and colonize space?

At the moment only three human beings have actually ventured into the alien void.  All have returned alive and unharmed; however, in all of these cases they made only the briefest of ventures into space.  Can someone survive the longer durations entailed in extended orbital missions?  What about manned expeditions to the Moon and other worlds in our Solar System?  Can man make it to those places in person and live to tell the tale?

In the end, there can be only one way to find out: By sending qualified men and eventually even women into the Final Frontier to confront what may be there and conquer it for the good of humanity. 

[July 20, 1961] A CULTURAL DIVIDE (A UK fandom report)

By Ashley R. Pollard

This month, our London correspondent looks upon the rifts in the British science fiction community and despairs for the world as a whole…

Fans gathered at The White Horse in the 1950s—before we moved to The Globe

I have previously mentioned that London science fiction fandom is engaged in a feud that started three years ago, but which hasn’t stopped us from all meeting up at the pub once or twice a month for a drink and a chat. The feud is rather boring and has become increasingly tedious with disputes and tempers flaring over trivial things like membership cards — who needs membership cards anyway?

I mention this again apropos of this month’s title: A Cultural Divide.

For those who don’t know me, I’m a psychologist, and therefore people interest me, and understanding their behaviours is all part and parcel of my job.  Still, I’m amazed at what I see happening within fandom when quarrels break out.  Given science fiction fans have a lot in common with each other you might think that a sense of community would lessen divisions rather than stir them up.

Still, there’s always a Gin & Tonic with ice and a slice for when things get too hot and bothered in the pub.  Besides, as a woman, my opinions are rarely sought by the men who are arguing away over the various trivialities that consume them.

Our perennial fannish storm in a teapot proved a fine backdrop for the larger one described in C. P. Snow’s famous 1959 Rede Lecture The Two Cultures, which transcript I was able to recently secure, and which I read with great interest in a quieter corner of the pub.

In Cultures, Snow discusses at great length the divide he sees between the scientific and the arts and literary communities.  In particular, the way each perceives the world and the growing divide where one side is unable to comprehend what the other side says. 

The primary example Snow uses is the inability of the arts and literary culture to grasp things like the importance of the second law of thermodynamics: the idea of entropy increasing over time.  His argument being that the political and social elites are no longer taught science and technology, which effectively makes them modern day Luddites opposed to industrialisation, at a loss to cope with the changes technology is bringing.

Because of this, Snow argues there has grown a divide between arts and literary intellectuals and scientists/engineers.  Neither side being able to comprehend the other or finding the points of view expressed nonsensical to their ears.  Each side seeing the other as deluded.

Snow goes on to argue that social changes have been driven by the industrial revolution, which has changed society in ways the political leaders of the country fail to appreciate, because they come from the arts and literary side of the intellectual spectrum.  As such, they’re unable to see beyond the change in their lives, and don’t understand the best hope for the poor is industrialization despite the problems that occur as a result of people leaving the countryside and living in the cities.

After all, would one really want to go back to working the land as an agricultural labourer?

Now, Snow argues, we are standing at the beginning of a new revolution, a scientific revolution, heralded by the harnessing of the atom.  Yet our leaders, both political and social, are brought up in the domain of arts and literature not science and engineering.  Rich and poor, however, while divided by wealth, share a cultural assumptions from the historical narrative, but this, while good in one way, is also problematical because of the assumptions from the historical narrative affect how one sees the world.

So, the rich fail to comprehend science and technology, while the poor treat science and technology as things equivalent to magic: beyond their comprehension and understanding.

However, the poor experience the benefits that science and technology bring and are affected by the social changes arising in a visceral way that the rich are insulated from by their wealth.  In short, the rich live their lives with values derived from an arts and literary education where social change is slow, whereas the poor have to contend with both the benefits and costs from a rapidly changing cultural milieu.

And now we face the possibility of another change, with Great Britain, Denmark and Ireland applying to join the European Economic Community.  While Britain and the countries of EEC share a cultural heritage the leaders of all the countries have failed to recognize the implications of the socio-economic changes that will occur from a union which will accelerate technological change across Europe.  A change that will be magnified if the cultural elites fail to pay attention to the scientific revolution.  Snow argues these social changes will divide populations and the only thing that can address the problem is better education with a greater emphasis on science. 

The narrative of science is based in evidence, whereas the arts and literary narrative is based on mythology.  If were are to develop, not just new machines, but to to gain insight into the most valuable of resources, ourselves and what makes us tick, then we have to embrace the scientific method, put facts before feelings and develop theories that account for our natures, rather than mythologizing the human condition based on beliefs held onto through faith. 

Perhaps science fiction is the answer.  I like to think that our genre serves as a bridge between the abstruse texts of science and the spiritual fantasies of the uninitiated.  Science fiction, as educating entertainment, is the “spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.” 

On the other hand, looking at fandom, which I would argue is society writ small, we can’t seem to agree on anything.  And if we can’t agree on our own narrow issues, how can we expect a more fundamental divide, such as the one described by Snow, ever to be healed?

I can only conclude human nature drives peoples reaction to change and differences of opinion, which education alone may not be able to address.  No matter where you go in this world, ultimately people are just people.

[July 17, 1961] Bridging two worlds (The animation, Alakazam the Great)

And here is Ms. Rosemary Benton with her monthly report, this time on a subject near and dear to my heart: Japan…

July 14th was a red letter day for me.  Not only did I receive word that my uncle was marrying his long time Japanese girlfriend, Mika, but Alakazam The Great was released in theaters across America.  This film is a beautiful piece of animation from Toei Animation Company Ltd. 

Released in Japan in August last year under the title Journey to the West, the story of Alakazam the Great is actually a retelling of a very old and popular tale from China known as Saiyuuki.  Scholars of this 16th century morality epic will recognize Sun Wukong in our protagonist, Alakazam, as well as his dealings with the Buddha, named King Amo in the film.  There are far fewer acts in the film than there are in the original story of Sun Wukong, but the writers did do an impressive job of compacting the four main arcs of the epic into an 88 minute movie. 

Our story begins shortly after Alakazam has earned the title of king of the animal kingdom.  But as our narrator descibes, Alakazam is a conceited ruler obsessed with becoming more powerful than any human magician.  After tricking Merlin (yes, that Merlin; more on this later) into teaching him his craft, Alakazam believes that he can take on anything, even the entire magical population of the heavenly land of Majutsu.  Following a humiliating defeat, the king of Majutsu, King Amo, sends him on a pilgrimage to learn wisdom, humility and mercy so that he may once again rule the animals as a wise and compassionate leader.  Meeting many interesting companions along the way, Alakazam eventually learns to utilize his magic for good and justice.  He saves the prince of heaven, returns to his love, and lives happily ever after. 

I was very excited to see this film for two major reasons, as well as many many lesser reasons.  First and foremost the credited director of the film is Osamu Tezuka, one of modern Japan’s most prolific “manga” (Japanese comics) creators.  I am an appreciator of the comic book medium, so Tezuka is hardly an unknown name to me.  Thanks to my soon-to-be-aunt I’ve been able to obtain translations of numerous works of his, all of which are exceptional with whimsical storytelling ferrying intense characters into entrancing conflicts.  To date he has created numerous adaptations of western classics like Faust (1950) and Crime and Punishment (1953), and has created hugely popular works for Japanese young adults including the science fiction action story Astro Boy and the coming of age title Jungle Emperor.  Upon looking into the production of the film, however, it is unclear how much direct involvement he had.  Still, I like to think that he had a part in not only the style, but the script — both of which bear a striking similarity to Tezuka’s situational humor and Disney-inspired art style. 

Second, and perhaps most importantly, this is a film that beautifully showcases the changing relationship that America has with Japan and her citizens.  The very fact that this film made it to our shores at all suggests that there are English speaking audiences out there who are interested in the much larger world of Japanese cinema rather than the limited diet of Japanese culture (samurai, bonsai trees, tea…and Godzilla) normally encountered in America.  I would like to believe that there are even those high up in the entertainment industry who see this film not only a way to make money, but to introduce Americans to other noteworthy Japanese cinema besides the thrilling giant radioactive monsters we’ve seen so far. 

As avid consumers of film, Americans both young and old, literate or illiterate, have been exposed to Japan and her citizens for many years.  Until recently, these depictions were one-sided affairs, universally from the White perspective.  Observing film history chronologically, one can see a positive and dramatic change since World War II regarding the portrayal of Japan and the Japanese in American cinema. 

Live action documentary propaganda films created by the United States government in the 1940s were, predictably, focused on explaining the relocation of Japanese-American citizens to internment camps.  These 20-30 minute shorts were stark in their description of the camps, but also tried to show that civility and nationalism could work hand in hand during this time of crisis.  In 1942 a film from the U.S.  Office of War Information titled Japanese Relocation depicted Japanese-Americans as being humanely and voluntarily evacuated to orderly camps.  The reason being that there was a possibility that the West Coast of the U.S.  could become the site of a Japanese invasion, and in order to avoid conflict over who was loyal to Japan versus the U.S., precautionary relocation needed to occur.  The 1944 film A Challenge to Democracy, produced by the War Relocation Authority, also characterized the relocation as a voluntary choice made by patriotic Japanese-American citizens who could be released if they displayed unquestionable loyalty to the war effort.  In both of these movies the Japanese are shown as compliant, obedient and content with their situation.  These notions were partly reinforced in the silent film Topaz, a 1945 amateur film by internee Dave Tatsuno.  In the film one can see smiling faces despite the sorrow Tatsuno said they experienced.  Regardless, those who were shown in the camp were still experiencing play, family, community and civil responsibility.

As the war progressed, animated shorts emerged with far more harsh portrayals of the Japanese.  Stereotypical depictions of “Tojo” were common such as in Paramount Pictures’ Private Snafu, UPA studios’ Commando Duck (1944).  In each of these examples the supposed evil nature of the Japanese took precedence over the portrayal of any moral grey areas.  The Japanese were dehumanized and shown as cowardly; animated films played to the wider fear and anxiety of Japan generated by the grueling brutality of the war. 

In the 1950s, our view of the Japanese began to shift.  An early anomaly during the time when Japanese-Americans were still largely ignored in film (if not outright demonized), Go for Broke! (1951), featured not only Japanese-American actors, but told the story of Japanese-Americans fighting for America in Italy and France while their families waited for them at internment camps.  Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) continued the portrayal of Japanese-Americans along a similar vein – honorable and possessing good attributes.  By 1957 the Japanese were beginning to regain some of their humanity in American cinema despite still being the common villains.  Bridge on the River Kwai depicts the brutality of the Japanese POW camps, its prisoners forced to construct bridges for the Japanese army, yet there are laudable aspects to the enemy.  The Japanese are not all portrayed as irredeemable monsters.  And then, in 1958, there was Geisha Boy – a romantic comedy that stressed the importance of the United States’ alliance with Japan against communism and even explored the possibility of a blossoming romance between the protagonist, Jerry Lewis, and his character’s Japanese interpreter. 

Enter Alakazam, one of the first real glimpses of Japan as seen by Japan.  Well, not quite.  According to Mika, who’d happened to see the original film in Japan but was still willing to rewatch it with me in America, the original Japanese and the English language scripts are significantly different from one another on the surface.  In translating the script to better suit a Western audience, iconic figures from both West and East mythologies exist along side one another. 

In the original Chinese story, and in the film, the concept of the supreme heaven is ruled by Taoist deities.  No one would expect Hercules and Merlin to be classified as sages and to reside in this version of heaven, and yet they appear as such in the English story.  Merlin is a mountain hermit who teaches Alakazam all he knows of magic.  Hercules challenges Alakazam when he attempts to infiltrate Majutsu Land (The Heavens).  Western concepts are also substituted for more Japanese ones.  Such is the case when Alakazam first meets King Amo.  In the Japanese version the scene sets up a contest of strength between the two.  Alakazam claims that he can transform into any creature and leap, “108,000 li”, in a single bound.  His hubris is his overestimation of his abilities and his conviction that his skill is greater than anyone’s. 

In the English version Alakazam says that he has come to challenge heaven because, “You old guys should make room for the younger generation”.  His hubris is that he can challenge those more experienced than himself and still retain superiority.  Despite what is lost in the translation of people and places, little appears to be lacking from the message of the film be it in English or in Japanese.  The moral still rings consistently true – Alakazam must learn how to rule for his people rather than for himself. 

Paralleling the relationship between the U.S.  and Japan, little is different between us despite our superficial cultural differences.  We both see ourselves as Alakazam did, but like him we must both grow to be better leaders.  I believe that we will continue to find our common goal as more and more films make their way from Japan to our shores.  It’s too early to tell what the reception of American audiences will be to Alakazam the Great, but one can hope that it will not only herald more cross-cultural exchange, but more understanding between our peoples. 

[July 15, 1961] Saving Grace (The August 1961 Analog)

Recently, I told you about Campbell’s lousy editorial in the August 1961 Analog that masqueraded as a “science-fact” column.  That should have been the low point of the issue.  Sadly, with one stunning exception, the magazine didn’t get much better.

For instance, almost half the issue is taken up by Mack Reynold’s novella, Status Quo.  It’s another of his future cold-war pieces, most of which have been pretty good.  This one, about a revolutionary group of “weirds,” who plan to topple an increasingly conformist American government by destroying all of our computerized records, isn’t.  It’s too preachy to entertain; its protagonist, an FBI agent, is too unintelligent to enjoy (even if his dullness is intentional); the tale is too long for its pay-off.  Two stars.

That said, there are some interesting ideas in there.  The speculation that we will soon become over-reliant on social titles rather than individual merit, while Campbellian in its libertarian sentiment, is plausible.  There is already an “old boy’s club” and it matters what degrees you have and from which school you got them.  It doesn’t take much to imagine a future where the meritocracy is dead and nepotism rules.

And, while it’s hard to imagine a paperless society, should we ever get to the point where the majority of our records only exist within the core memories of a few computers, a few revolutionaries hacking away at our central repositories of knowledge could have quite an impact, indeed! 

Flamedown, by H.B. Fyfe is a forgettable short piece about a spaceman who crashes onto the surface of a Barsoomian Mars and is trailed by a lynch mob of angry Martians.  There is a twist at the end, but it’s a limp one.  Two stars.

I don’t know who Walter B. Gibson is, but his impassioned defense of psionics in our legal system, The Unwanted Evidence, is wretched.  It reads like a series of newspaper clippings from the back page of the newspaper, or maybe one of those sensational books on UFOs and mystic events that are in vogue.  One star.

Analog perennial Randall Garrett, an author I tend to dislike (yet one of Campbell’s favored sons) gives us Hanging by a Thread, about an interplanetary ship holed by a meteor.  It could have been engaging, but the smug, detached tone, and the overly technical and uninteresting solution make this a dreary read.  Perhaps even Garrett knew he could do better; maybe that’s why he penned this one under the name “David Gordon.”  Two stars.

by Douglas

Laurence Janifer also appears a lot in Analog, often paired with Garrett (either as a true duet, or just side by side).  He’s usually the better of the two, but Lost in Translation is a typical lousy “clever Terrans beat aliens” story, not worth your time.  Again, it’s pseudonymous (Larry M. Harris), perhaps on purpose.  Two stars.

This is a pretty damning litany, isn’t it?  A series of 2-star stories and a pair of 1-star “science fact” articles.  Is there any reason I don’t just toss this issue into the kindling box?

There is.

Cyril Kornbluth shuffled off this mortal coil far too soon, some three years ago.  He wrote a lot, both by himself and with partners.  Perhaps his most famous partnership was with Fred Pohl, who now runs Galaxy and IF magazines.  The Pohl/Kornbluth pair is best known for their novels, including the acclaimed The Space Merchants, but they also produced a plethora of short stories.  Interestingly, many have only reached print after Kornbluth’s death.  I can only imagine these were skeletal affairs that Pohl has recently completed.

The Quaker Cannon, their latest piece, is very good.  It’s the story of First Lieutenant Kramer, a veteran of a war fought in the 1970s, between East and West.  In this war, he had been captured by the Communists and subjected to complete sensory deprivation as a torture and interrogation technique.  Unlike most of his captured compatriots, he neither went incurably mad nor held out until death.  He simply resisted as long as he could, then he cracked and gave up what he knew.  He was later repatriated.

Now 38 and still a First Lieutenant despite years of service, blacklisted from any significant role, he is suddenly recruited into Project Ripsaw: a new attempt to invade Asia.  As the commanding general’s aide-de-camp, he oversees Ripsaw’s growth from a cadre of three to an organization of hundreds of thousands, privy to all of the unit’s secrets and plans. 

As the vast force prepares to invade, Kramer learns of “The Quaker Cannon,” a parallel invasion unit that exists only on paper.  Its purpose is to serve as a blind to confuse the enemy as to the real plan.  The Soviets call this kind of deception maskirova, and it’s worked time and time again.

Just prior to D-Day, Kramer is betrayed to the enemy.  In short order, the Lieutenant is back in the “Blank Tank,” all of his senses completely deadened.  Hours pass by in seconds, each a drag on his sanity.  Though Kramer’s defiance is admirable, his ultimate submission, as before, is only a matter of time.  He, of course, divulges the Ripsaw plan in its entirety.  When Kramer returns to coherence, he is back home.  Rather than being punished for his lapse, he is given a high honor.

Ripsaw was the ghost.  “The Quaker Cannon” was the real invasion.  Kramer’s confession was all part of the plan.  The story ends with that reveal.

In the hands of Randall Garrett, or even Mack Reynolds, the focus would have been on the gimmick, to the detriment of the story.  Pohl and Kornbluth let Kramer be the narrator, albeit in a third person fashion.  They paint a vivid portrait of a battle-fatigued soldier, almost numb to life (as though he never left the Blank Tank) until Ripsaw gives him purpose again.  We are made to feel his anxiety at the thought and ultimately the reality of returning to the Blank Tank.  We feel disgust at his being used as a tool, yet we also fundamentally understand why.  Cannon is not a triumphant story.  It is a beautifully told, weary story of a weary man, not only capturing the psyche of a battered soldier, but also the perversity of the military structure and mentality.

Hard stuff, but it deserves five stars. 

So, as a whole, the issue gets just 2.2 stars.  Nevertheless, thanks to that half-posthumous pair, the August 1961 Analog will be reserved a place on my shelf, not in the garbage. 

[July 12, 1961] Reaction time (The launches of MIDAS 3 and TIROS 3)

My brother, Lou, used to tell me that the only way to beat a bully is to not fight fair.  Jump the guy when he’s not looking, and fight like there are no rules.  That’ll teach him that you’re nuts and not worth messing with.

He learned this lesson honestly.  When Lou was in the navy, he immediately got flak for being Jewish.  Someone tried to steal his bunk; Lou rammed the guy’s head into the wall.  After that, whenever someone tried to take advantage of Lou, by cutting in the chow line, for instance, another sailor would restrain the miscreant.  “Don’t do it!  That’s Marcus.  He’s crazy.  He’ll kill you!”

The problem is that these days, there are just two kids on the block: The USA and the USSR.  Each one’s the bully in the other’s eyes.  If the Russians decide they can get in a sucker punch, they just might do it to get us out of the way, once and for all.

We have the same option, of course, but it is the avowed intention of our leaders that America will never start a nuclear war.  The Soviets have not made such a pledge.

That’s why we have invested so much time and money in developing a strategic nuclear force.  We want the Russians to know that we can strike back if they launch an attack, so that any attempt at a preemptive blow would be an act of suicide.

But we can’t retaliate if the first indication we have a Soviet attack is the sprouting of atomic mushrooms over our cities and missile fields.

To that end, we recently finished the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line, a string of radar installations along the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada.  These can detect a missile some ten minutes from target.  Still not a very good window of time in which to order a counter-strike.

Enter MIDAS.  The MIssile Defense Alarm System satellite has infrared sensors.  As it flies over the Soviet Union, it will be able to detect the heat off a rising ICBM (or space shot, presumably).  Operated in a constellation of low-orbiting craft, there will always be one or two whizzing over the vast expanse of our enemy superpower.  This will raise the window of decision to a more-comfortable 30 minutes.

That should give the Soviet Union pause.  If they can’t wind up a punch without us seeing and countering, maybe they won’t wind up at all.

I’ve written about MIDAS before.  The difference this time is that the launch of MIDAS 3 today was freely covered in the press, and it looks like this may have been the first operational vehicle in the series.  In any event, it’s one more use of space that benefits all of humanity…hopefully.

In a similar, if more benign vein, today NASA got up the third in its TIROS weather satellite series.  It replaces TIROS 2, which went off the air in January.  TIROS 3 is an improvement on its predecessors, incorporating two wide-angle cameras (the narrow-angle cameras having been eliminated as not particularly useful) as well as five infrared sensors to measure the Earth’s heat budget.  I cannot stress enough how revolutionary the TIROS series has been.  Not only has it provided the first full pictures of large-scale weather patterns, but we’re getting global climatological data, too.  In concert with the super-powerful computers now at our disposal, meteorology has entered a new age.

For those who live in the Gulf area or Florida, TIROS 3 will be of particular interest: it will be spotting those pesky hurricanes long before they hit the shore.  Again, outer space provides a valuable window of decision for folks on the ground…in this case, the decision whether or not to evacuate!

See you in two with the rest of the latest Analog!

[July 10, 1961] The Last Straw (Campbell’s wrong-headed rant in the August 1961 Analog)

Has John W. Campbell lost his mind?

Twenty years ago, Campbell mentored some of science fiction’s greats.  His magazine, Astounding (now Analog), featured the most mature stories in the genre.  He himself wrote some fine fiction.

What the hell happened?  Now, in his dotage, he’s used his editorial section to plump the fringiest pseudosciences: reactionless space drives, psionic circuits with no physical components, the assertion that the human form is the most perfect possible.  The world hasn’t seen an embarrassing decline like this since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle started chasing fairies. 

But this month, Campbell has gone too far.  This month, he replaced Analog’s science-fact column with a rant on the space race, a full twenty pages of complete poppycock, so completely wrong in every way that I simply cannot let it lie.

Campbell’s argument is as follows:

1) America could have had a man in space in 1951, but America is a democracy, and its populace (hence, the government) is too stupid to understand the value of space travel.

2) The government’s efforts to put a man in space are all failures: Project Vanguard didn’t work.  Project Mercury won’t go to orbit.  Liquid-fueled rockets are pointless.

3) Ford motor company produced Project Farside, a series of solid-fueled “rock-oons,” on the cheap, so therefore, the best way to get into space…nay…the only way is to give the reins to private industry.

Campbell isn’t just wrong on every single one of these assertions.  He’s delusional.

Regarding #1:

There’s a reason we didn’t launch an astronaut in 1951.  There was no point.

It is just conceivable that America could have put a man in space in 1951.  It took six years of development to bring the Atlas ICBM from inception to fruition.  Let’s say that we, as a country, decided that the national objective after the fall of Fascism would be to put a fellow in space.  Six years after the end of World War 2 is 1951; we might just have made it – if we didn’t bother to make sure the rockets and satellites were safe enough for a man to fly in.

But to what end?  What would have been the benefit?  Why would we have engaged in one of the more expensive projects in history for the privilege of sailing a person in an orbital cannonball?  Certainly, the scientific virtues of space travel had been barely conceived in 1945.  There would have been no money in the endeavor.  It would have been a stunt – a mass expenditure on a rickety aerospace infrastructure with no clear benefit to humanity.  A boondoggle wisely avoided.  The Soviets would have looked at our effort (and the likely trail of dead astronauts) and laughed.

So why do we have a non-military space program at all?  Because we have a military missile program.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw the value of blowing up the other’s cities on a moment’s notice.  Bombers are too slow and vulnerable.  Missiles can do the job in half an hour and cannot be stopped.  It is no coincidence that Sputnik first flew the year the first Soviet ICBM was finished, in 1957.  The military mission was foremost, the civilian one a political afterthought. 

Ditto our response.  What booster lofted Explorer 1?  The army’s Redstone.  Now, the American side had an unusual wrinkle.  We actually had also developed a “civilian” booster, the Vanguard, to launch our first satellite.  But Vanguard was a Navy-run affair and based on a Navy sounding rocket (the Viking, in turn based on the German V2).  It didn’t work right out of the gate, so the Redstone got the glory.  Either way, our unmanned space program was only possible because of our military missile program.

Currently, both manned space programs depend on their related ICBM programs.  Gagarin went up on a modification of the Sputnik missile.  Deke Slayton (or another of the Mercury 7) will go up on an Atlas, when we feel it is safe enough.  Both men are active-duty military officers. 

Like it or not, the peaceful development of space is only possible because of the military value of space.  There is no way either side would have spent this kind of dough on space travel just for the fun of it, or even for the potential scientific advancements.

Which leads me to assertion #2.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when Campbell said Mercury is not an orbital space program.  A quick perusal of an issue of Aviation Week, or even the daily newspaper, shows his assertion to be absurd. 

Sure, Shepard’s mission was, and the next two missions will be, suborbital ones.  These are to test the spacecraft and their pilots (and also a vain attempt to achieve a space record before the Communists – we missed by four weeks).  When Mercury is finished, it will have achieved the same goals as the Soviet Vostok program: to prove a man can survive for several days in space and come back safely. 

Mercury’s successor has already been announced.  Apollo will be a three-person ship that will go around, and perhaps even land on, the moon.  The Soviets have not announced a similar program, but then they only like to announce space shots after they’ve succeeded.  Who knows how many failures they’re hiding.

I have no doubt that an orbital Mercury will fly by next year.  I also have no doubt that an Apollo will take a crew to the Moon “before this decade is out” (the President’s recent words).  I don’t know where Campbell gets his information.

Campbell splutters that the Saturn moon rocket should be scrapped because liquid-fuel rockets are expensive failures, and Ford Motors likes solid-fuel rockets.  Campbell has forgotten that the Farside rockets and the new solid-fueled Scout are just as unreliable as the Vanguard was when it started, and ICBM-strength solid-fueld rockets ain’t cheap. 

As for Vanguard being a failure, well, that’s just not true either.  After some expected teething troubles, Vanguard launched three satellites into orbit, two of which are still beep-beeping away.  And guess what?  Project Echo, the communications balloon that Campbell touts as the pinnacle of commercial space success, was launched by a Thor-Delta, our most reliable space booster.  Know what the “Delta” is?  It’s the top half of a Vanguard.  Some “failure. ”

How about the “Thor” half?  That’s right.  It’s an Air Force missile.  Some “private enterprise.” 

And that brings us to #3.

It’s great that Ford Motor Company was able to launch a whopping six (count them!) sounding rockets from balloons, two of which actually worked.  Yes, science can sometimes be done on the relative cheap. 

Orbital missions cannot.  It takes far more energy to keep an object circling the Earth than to shoot it up real high, something the editor of a science fiction magazine should understand.  There’s a reason no company has invested the kind of money it takes to develop a private IRBM, let alone a private ICBM: It’s not worth it, liquid or solid fueled.  That’s not a matter of government jealousy, as Campbell maintains, or short-sightedness; it’s simple economics. By the way, who paid for Operation Farside (and developed its booster components)?  That’s right.  The government.

Private companies may build the rockets that get us into space.  But it takes government money to interest a Convair or a Douglas in multi-year, hundred-million dollar projects.  The space program is literally impossible without government involvement.

At least for now.  It is possible that in fifty years or so, after the government-run space projects result in a mature, cheaper space industry, that private enterprise will pick up the slack.  Rockets, nuclear engines, or anti-matter drives, will be inexpensive enough, and the commercial opportunities of space (communications, manufacturing, tourism) attractive enough, that we’ll see PanAm space stations and TWA moon bases. 

But it will take government investment first.  The interstate highway, the jet, the rocket, the atomic power plant, all of these developments required massive government spending before they could become commercially sustainable realities. 

Having shown every one of Campbell’s points for the utter nonsense they are, we are left to wonder: What brought on Campbell’s irrational rant?  I think it’s because Campbell, like a lot of Americans, is sore that our country seems to be behind in the Space Race. 

Are we really behind, though?  I count the current operating satellite score at 9 to 0.  Moreover, since 1957, we’ve launched 51 craft into orbit and beyond, the Soviets just 13.  The Discoverer series alone numbers 26, a good half of which were successes.  In other words, the CIA (with the help of the Air Force) has launched as many working flights as the entire Soviet Union!

Much is made of the fact that the Soviets launched the first satellite into orbit.  In fact, the rocket that launched Explorer 1 was ready in 1956, a full year before Sputnik.  Why did Eisenhower wait?  Why didn’t we seize the orbital high ground for a quick propaganda victory?

One: If we had, you can bet the Soviets would have made a stink in the UN about our having “violated” their air space.  By letting the Russians beat us to the prize (by a paltry four months), Ike cleverly sidestepped this fight.

Two: The Soviets used a plainly military missile to launch their first space vehicle.  Ike wanted the first American satellite to be lofted by a (technically) civilian platform.  Had Sputnik never flown, or had it flown six months later, the first American satellite would have been a Vanguard, not an Explorer.  We were more interested in preserving the moral high ground than being first. 

In any event, Sputnik was no surprise.  Both superpowers had announced their intention of flying a satellite in 1957-8.  The Soviets announced their plans for the October 1957 launch two months prior.  We announced our first orbital Vanguard flight would happen by the end of the year.  Sputnik was a great achievement, but it was not a coup.  The Soviet successes in space since then are admirable and should be applauded.  Then they should be assessed in light of our successes. 

It does no good to Chicken Little one’s way to insanity.  And that’s what’s happened to Campbell.  He is not making a rational argument.  He’s not presenting science.  He is throwing a tantrum. 

Analog’s readers deserve better from their “science fact” column.

So let me summarize:

Vanguard was and is a tremendous success.  It’s still working for us today.

Mercury is an orbital program in its suborbital phase.  In a few months, we’ll have an astronaut in orbit.

America’s government-run space programs, all ten plus of them, are doing just fine.

Commercial interests could not and would not have achieved our current successes on their own. 

Analog could use a new editor.

[July 6, 1961] Trends (August 1961 Galaxy, second half)

Human beings look for patterns.  We espy the moon, and we see a face.  We study history and see it repeat (or at least rhyme, said Mark Twain).  We look at the glory of the universe and infer a Creator. 

We look at the science fiction genre and we (some of us) conclude that it is dying.

Just look at the number of science fiction magazines in print in the early 1950s.  At one point, there were some forty such publications, just in the United States.  These days, there are six.  Surely this is an unmistakable trend.

Or is it?  There is something to be said for quality over quantity, and patterns can be found there, too.  The last decade has seen the genre flower into maturity.  Science fiction has mostly broken from its pulpy tradition, and many of the genre’s luminaries (for instance, Ted Sturgeon and Zenna Henderson) have blazed stunning new terrain.

I’ve been keeping statistics on the Big Three science fiction digests, Galaxy, Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction since 1959.  Although my scores are purely subjective, if my readers’ comments be any indication, I am not too far out of step in my assessments.  Applying some math, I find that F&SF has stayed roughly the same, and both Analog and Galaxy have improved somewhat.

Supporting this trend is the latest issue of Galaxy (August 1961), which was quite good for its first half and does not decline in its second.

For instance, Keith Laumer’s King of the City is an exciting tale of a cabbie who cruises the streets of an anarchic future.  The cities are run by mobs, and the roads are owned by automobile gangs.  It’s a setting I haven’t really seen before (outside, perhaps, of Kit Reed’s Judas Bomb), and I dug it.  In many ways, it’s just another crime potboiler, but the setting sells it.  Three stars.

Amid all of the ugly headlines, the blaring rock n’ roll, the urban sprawl, do you ever feel that the romance has gone out of the race?  That indefinable spark that raises us to the sublime?  Lester del Rey’s does, and in Return Engagement, his protagonist discovers what we’ve been missing all these years.  A somber piece, perhaps a bit overwrought, but effective.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s science column, For your Information, is amusing and educational, as usual, though its heyday has long past.  This time, the subject is the preeminent biologist, Dr. Theodore Zell, whom Dr. Ley never got to meet, though he tried.  Three stars.

Deep Down Dragon, by Judith Merril, depicts a lovers’ jaunt on Mars that ends in a brush with danger.  Told in Merril’s deft, artistic style, the rather typical boy-rescues-girl story isn’t all it appears to be.  Three stars.

I can’t lay enough praise upon the final novella, Jack Vance’s The Moon Moth.  Science fiction offers a large number of tropes and techniques that provide building blocks for stories.  Every once in a while, a writer creates something truly new.  Vance gives us Sirenis, a planet whose denizens communicate with musical accompaniment that conveys mood beyond that inherent in words.  Moth is a murder mystery, and that story is interesting in and of itself, but what really makes this piece is the struggle of the Terran investigator to master the native modes of communication and to overcome the pitifully low status that being a foreigner affords.  Really a beautiful piece.  Five stars.

That puts the total for this issue at a respectable 3.4 stars.  So far as I can tell, science fiction has got some life left in it…

[July 3, 1961] Bigger is Better (August 1961 Galaxy)

Even months are my favorite. 

Most science fiction digests are monthlies, but the twins run by Fred Pohl, IF and Galaxy, come out in alternating months.  The latter is noteworthy for being the longest regularly published sf magazine, comprising a whopping 196 pages, so big that I need two articles to cover it.  Galaxy also happens to be a personal favorite; I’ve read every issue since the magazine debuted in October 1950 (when it was a smaller monthly).

How does the August 1961 issue fare?  Pretty good, so far!

The lead novella, The Gatekeepers, by J.T. McIntosh, portrays an interplanetary war between two worlds linked by a matter-transmission gateway.  The setting is interesting and the feel of the story almost Leinsterian.  There is an unpolished quality to the piece, though, which I’ve seen in McIntosh before, as if he dashes off pieces without a final edit when he’s writing for the poorer-paying mags (Galaxy dropped its rates in ’59; they may have recently gone back up).  Three stars.

The whimsical Margaret St. Clair brings us Lochinvar, featuring an adorable Martian pet with the ability to neutralize anger.  It’s a story that had me completely sold until the abrupt, expositional ending.  Did the editor (now Fred Pohl) lose the last few pages and have to reconstruct them?  Was the original piece too long?  Three stars.

You may remember Bill Doede from his promising first work, Jamieson, about a group of star-exiled teleports who derive their power from a surgically implanted device.  The God Next Door is a sequel of sorts, its protagonist one of the prior story’s teleports who flits to Alpha Centauri.  There, he finds a tribe of regressed primitives, their humanity underscored by the juxtaposition of another alien, the omnipotent, incorporeal whirlwind who claims the world for his own.  The plot is simple, and by all rights, it should be a mediocre story.  But Doede’s got a style I like, and I found myself marking four stars on my data sheet.

R.A. Lafferty’s Aloys, on the other hand, about a poverty-stricken but brilliant theoretician, is not as clever as it needs to be.  Lafferty’s stock-in-trade is his off-beat, whimsical style.  It often works, but this time, it grates rather than syncopates.  Two stars.

Now for a piece on a subject near and dear to my heart.  As any of my friends will tell you, I spend a lot of time lost in daydream.  I think that’s a trait common to many writers.  My particular habit is to project myself backward in time.  It’s an easy game to play since so many artifacts of the past endure in the present to serve as linchpins for such fantasies. 

But what if these harmless fugues aren’t just flights of fancy?  What if these overly real memories prove the existence of a past life…or constitute evidence of something more sinister?  James Harmon’s The Air of Castor Oil, is an exciting story on this topic with a good (if somewhat opaque) ending.  Four stars.

It seems that sci-fi poetry is becoming a fad, these days.  Galaxy has now joined the trend, offering Sheri S. Eberhart’s amusing Extraterrestrial Trilogue.  A satiric, almost Carrollian piece.  Four stars.

Henry Slesar is a busy young s-f writer who has been published (under one name or another) in most of the sf digests.  His latest piece, The Stuff, features a man dying too young and the drug that just might salvage him a life.  The twist won’t surprise you, but the story is nicely executed, and the title makes sense once you’ve finished reading.  Three stars. 

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans.  I’ll see you with Part II in just a few days.

[June 30, 1961] Reaping the Harvest (June 1961 space science results)

June was a busy month for space travel buffs, especially those who live in the Free World.  Here’s an omnibus edition covering all of the missions I caught wind of in the papers or the magazines:

Little lost probe

The Goddess of Love gets to keep her secrets…for now.  The first probe aimed at another planet, the Soviet “Venera,” flew past Venus on May 19.  Unfortunately, the spacecraft developed laryngitis soon after launch and even the Big Ear at Jodrell Bank, England, was unable to clearly hear its signal.

The next favorable launch opportunity (which depends on the relative positions of Earth and Venus) will occur next summer.  Expect both American and Soviet probes to launch then.

X Marks the Spot

Just as planes use fixed radio beacons to determine their position, soon submarines (and people!) will be able to calculate where they are by listening to the doppler whines of whizzing satellites.  Transit 4A, launched by the Navy, joined the still-functioning Transit 2 on June 29 (#3 conked out March 30, and #1’s been off the air since last July). 

This Transit has an all-new power source.  Instead of batteries or solar panels, it gets its juice from little nuclear reactors.  These aren’t aren’t like the big fission plants you see being established all over the country.  Rather, they are powered by the heat of radioactive decay.  These energy packs are small and much simpler than solar panels.  Expect to see them used quite a bit on military satellites.

The Navy gets extra points for making their rocket do triple-duty: Also boosted into orbit were Injun 1 and Solrad 3.  The first is another University of Iowa particle experiment from the folks who discovered the Van Allen Belt; the latter a solar x-ray observatory.

Along a dusty trail

Contrary to popular belief, outer space is not empty.  There are energetic particles, clouds of dust, and little chunks of high-speed matter called micrometeorites.  All of them pose hazards to orbital travel.  Moreover, they offer clues as to the make-up and workings of the solar system. 

Prior satellites have tried to measure just how much dirt swirls around in orbit, but the results have been vague.  For instance, Explorer 8 ran into high-speed clouds of micrometeorites zooming near the Earth late last year corresponding with the annual Leonids meteor shower.  Vanguard 3 encountered the same cloud in ’59, around the same time.  But neither could tell you precisely how many rocks they ran into; nor could previous probes.

NASA’s new “S(atellite)-55” is the first probe dedicated to the investigation of micrometeorites.  It carries five different experiments — a grid of wires to detect when rocks caused short circuits, a battery of gas cells that would depressurize when impacted, acoustic sounding boards…the whole megillah.  It is one of those missions whose purpose is completely clear, accessible to the layman, unarguably useful.

Sadly, the first S-55, launched today from Wallops island, failed to achieve orbit when the third stage of its Scout rocket failed to ignite. 

It’s a shame, but not a particularly noteworthy one.  The Scout is a brand new rocket.  We can expect teething troubles.  Every failure is instructive, and I’ll put good money on the next S-55, scheduled for launch in August.

Worth the Wait

Speaking of Explorer 8, Aviation Week and Space Technology just reported the latest findings from that satellite.  Now, you may be wondering how a probe that went off the air last December could still generate scientific results.  You have to understand that a satellite starts returning data almost immediately, but analysis can take years. 

I’d argue that the papers that get published after a mission are far more exciting than the fiery blast of a rocket.  Your mileage may vary.  In any event, here’s what the eighth Explorer has taught us thus far (and NASA says it’ll be another six months until we process all the information it’s sent!):

1) The ionized clouds that surround a metal satellite as it zooms through orbit effectively double the electrical size of the vehicle.  This makes satellites bigger radar targets (and presumably increases drag).

2) We now know what causes radio blackouts: it is sunspot influence on the lower ionosphere. Solar storms create turbulence that can cut reception.

3) The most common charged element in the ionosphere is oxygen.

4) The temperature of the electrons Explorer ran into was about the same as uncharged ionospheric gas – a whopping 1800 degrees Kelvin.

This may all seem like pretty arcane information, but it tells us not just about conditions above the Earth, but the fundamental behavior of magnetic fields and charged particles on a large scale.  Orbiting a satellite is like renting the biggest laboratory in the universe, creating the opportunity to dramatically expand our knowledge of science.

Air Force discovers Pacific Ocean

The 25th Discoverer satellite, a two-part vehicle designed to return a 300 pound capsule from orbit, was successfully launched June 16.  Its payload was fished from the Pacific Ocean two days later, the recovery plane having failed to catch it in mid-descent.  I recently got to see one of those odd-tailed Fairchild C-119 aircraft that fly those recovery missions; they’re bizarre little planes, for sure. 

As for the contents of the space capsules, it’s generally assumed that they carry snapshots of the Soviet Union taken from orbit.  This time around, however, the flyboys included some interesting experiments: three geiger tubes, some micrometeroid detectors, and a myriad of rare and common metals (presumably to see the effects of radiation upon them). 

You may be wondering what happened to Discoverers 23 and 24 (the last Discoverer on which I’ve reported was numbered 22).  The former, launched on April 8, never dropped its capsule; the latter failed to reach orbit on June 8.  Unlike NASA, the Air Force gives numbers to its failed missions.

Next Mercury shots planned

Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom is set to be the next Mercury astronaut in late July.  His flight will be a duplicate of Alan Shepard’s 15 minute jaunt last month.  If all goes well, astronaut John Glenn will fly a similar mission in September.

I don’t think the Atlas is going to be ready in time this year for an orbital shot.  That means there will be several tense months during which the Soviets could upstage us with yet another spectacle.