[August 29, 1961] Surprise party (Escondido’s “Nerd Con”)

by Gideon Marcus

My, what a pleasant surprise this weekend turned out to be!  The group known as the North Escondido Rarities Devotees (NERD) put on a little gathering at a local venue.  It was supposed to be an informal party, but attendance ended up over several dozen!  It was essentially a little convention — NERD-CON, if you will.  It looks as if there are far more weirdoes in my town than I thought… 

I met a lot of wonderful people.  There was Angel, the flautist; Chris, the camera collector; Jay, the photographer; and many, many more.  The highlight of the event (for me, anyway, and perhaps a few others) was my hour-long presentation.  I talked about the state of science fiction, and which of our current predictions might become future realities.  It was something of a Mort Sahl stand-up routine, and by the end of it, I was both elated and exhausted. 

I can’t wait to do it again!

If there is anything that unites us fans beyond an abiding love for the genre (one charming fellow buttonholed me to discuss the comparative virtues of Space Opera legend, Doc Smith, versus the offerings of today), it is our love of dressing up in bizarre costumes.  I’ve developed my film and hereby devote the rest of this article to the outrageous cast of characters that brightened up my weekend.

Trotting out an old dress.  Her name was “Peggy”

I think their names were “Cheryl” and “Pam”

Local belly dancing troupe

The Man of Steel

Snow White

His name was “Milo”

Representative for the Western Science Center.  Called herself “Brittney” (which must have been some kind of pseudonym)

Aladdin and Peter Pan!

An Aztec jaguar warrior!

Mrs. and Mr. Traveler at the station.

I look forward to seeing all of my new friends in the near future.  Drop me a line!  I’d love to hear from you.

[August 26, 1961] Introduce Yourself!  (September 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

Just what is the Galactic Journey?  Who is this mysterious “Traveler”?

Every so often, it’s good idea to remind my readers who I am and why I do what I do.  This weekend, I am presenting at a local science fiction gathering, so it makes sense that the first article they see makes sense of all of this.

My twin passions are science fiction and outer space.  I live with my wife and daughter in San Diego, the fairest city in the Golden State of California.  From 9 to 5, I run a mid-sized electronics company.  In my off time, I maintain this column, writing about current books, magazines, movies, and science news (as well as other miscellany).

Oh yes.  I live in 1961.

Normally, I wouldn’t have cause to mention this fact.  For the longest time, I was the under the impression that we all lived in the same time.  Some of the mail I’ve been getting, however, suggests that a few of you come from the future — 55 years, to be exact. 

It’s quite exciting to have a fan-base from the far-flung time of 2016.  They report on all sorts of far out advances, some of which have been conceived in science fiction, others of which are beyond our wildest dreams. 

Happily, they report that global overpopulation has not been realized.  On the other hand, global warming has.  They say that Pluto is not a planet; well, that’s nothing new.

I suspect, of course, that this is all a fannish game.  No one really can know the future.  The best we can do is write down our speculations and hope we’re right (or in the case of scary visions, wrong!)

And that leads nicely into the subject of this article, the September 1961 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  For those of you who don’t know, F&SF is one of several monthly science fiction digests, each containing a slew of stories.  The story length ranges from single-page vignettes through serialized novels that run over several issues.  Digests used to be the way science fiction was delivered to the public.  They’ve been on the decline since their peak in 1953, however, and the science fiction novel appears to have taken its place. 

There is still plenty of good stuff to be found in the magazines, however.  Here’s what I found in this issue:

Gérard Klein is an author for F&SF‘s French edition, and his The Monster in the Park was deemed good enough to be translated into English (thank you, Virginia Kidd!) It is a worthy piece, this tale of an alien’s landing in a Parisian park.  The pacing is excellent, with the largely expositional setup interpreted through the lens of a worried Frenchwoman’s grief over the possibility that her husband has been abducted.  The story builds the tension quite nicely, and the resolution works, though it is a bit abrupt.  Four stars.

Moving on, we have Herbert Gold’s satirical The Day They Got Boston, about the diplomatic tit-for-tat that might ensue should the Soviets ever accidentally blow up one of our cities.  His name may be unfamiliar to you if you’re the kind who never leaves our particular genre.  In fact, Gold writes a lot, but most of his stuff ends up in the “slicks” — high-paying outlets like Playboy.  Hefner politely declined the offer to print Boston, but his loss is our gain. 

Herbert Gold

Gold, a friend of mine, told me he wrote this genuinely funny little yarn as a reaction to all the panic about The Bomb, which he doesn’t personally buy into.  Boston is not really science fiction, but then Gold isn’t a science fiction writer.  As he puts it, “the world is bizarre enough without inventing a fantasy science fiction alternative.”  A fair assessment from a man who writes with a stylus dipped in his own blood stored in a skull of Goethe he keeps on his desk (or so he claims!) Four stars.

The Timekeeper is Michael Young’s first story, an odd vignette about a fellow who escapes mortality by shuffling into the timeless place of waking dreams.  Strangely enjoyable.  3 stars.

Floyd Wallace used to write a lot more, but if saving his strength means we get more stories like Privates All, then I don’t begrudge him his rest.  Imagine a stultifying world of scarcity where production is in the hands of a myriad of monopolies: General Housing, General Apparel, General Entertainment, General Food, etc.  A person can work for any of them, but only one at a time.  Within each unit, goods can be secured with relative ease, but without, they cost dearly.  How does one get ahead in a world where wealth in one economic field means poverty in all others? 

Wallace writes powerfully, evocatively, and I’m a sucker for stories set in caste-based societies.  I imagine, rather like Orwell’s 1984, that Privates is less a prediction of a future time than a depiction of an existing place — namely, the Soviet Union.  Good stuff.  Four stars.

Pecking Order is a tale of witchcraft, humility, and pride from a virtually unpublished author, Nils Peterson.  Macabre in its mood, wicked in its finale, it is a quintessentially F&SF-ish story.  Three stars.

Hamlin is by another unknown: Rosemary Harris.  She has the sad distinction of being the only female author appearing in the digests I read this month.  Hamlin is the re-telling of an old fable, gussied up in scientifiction trappings.  It’s my least favorite story in the issue, but that’s more due to the quality of its competition, than any lack on its part.  Three stars.

Now, all of the Big Three digests (F&SF, Analog, and Galaxy) include a science fact column.  F&SF‘s is the best as they managed to secure the works of a certain Isaac Asimov, a fellow with a broader breadth of knowledge than Da Vinci. 

I like science fiction, but I love articles that can inspire science fiction stories.  Not As We Know It describes elements and solvents that could be alternatives to our boring old carbon/oxygen/water mix as the basis for alien life.  It is a treasure trove of ideas.  Five stars.

Rosser Reeves, a writer/businessman like me, has made a name for himself with his poetry.  He returns with two more pieces: the mournful Effigy and the inconsequential
E=MC².  Not as good as his last outing, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more.  Three stars.

Finally, we have Brian Aldiss’ Timberline.  This is the next installment in his “Hothouse” series of novellas, which form a continuous sequence set on an Earth of the far future.  The sun has swelled with age, and our planet has frozen into tidal lock with one face always presented to its parent star.  The Earth’s surface has been conquered by vegetable beings, and only a few animals remain — including a diminutive race descendant of once mighty humanity.

Aldiss’ is an imaginative world, but this outing in particular felt more travelogue than complete tale.  It might be all right as part of a book (I imagine there will be a compilation when the last novella is completed), but by itself, it feels shallow.  Three stars.

Last month, I lamented that the quality of my favorite digest was declining.  This issue seems to reverse that trend: It scored 3.6 of 5 on the Star-o-meter (TM), easily beating out IF‘s 2.9 and Analog’s 2.6.  It also had the best story (Privates All), the most women (a whopping one), and the best non-fiction.  Pretty good for a magazine with such a large number of authorial first outings!

By next article will be a photologue of my trip to the convention.  If I meet you this weekend, do drop me a line.  I love making new friends!

[August 23, 1961] Lost in translation (Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land)

by Rosemary Benton

I enjoy my science fiction in the evenings, when I can open the windows and let my tortoise, Mabel, out of her cage to meander around my condominium.  Both of us love these night time relaxations as a way to expunge stress and enjoy new environments.  For me, I get the opportunity to stretch my mind with speculative fiction, while Mabel enjoys the more humble tortoise pleasure of exploring nooks and crannies. 

On one such recent evening I looked at Mabel and felt a coincidental connection between our activities. For whatever reason, she was choosing to repeatedly walk in a wobbly circle from the couch to the table, to the wall, to the bookshelf, and then back to the couch.  This wouldn’t have struck me so powerfully except for the fact that I was reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.  Like Mabel, I was not only willingly subjecting myself to drudgery, but I was engaged in a circular story that felt like it was going nowhere.

The premise of Stranger is interesting enough.  Conceived on Mars and raised by the Old Ones (the elders and collective holders of all Martian knowledge), Valentine Michael “Mike” Smith is the sole survivor of a scientific expedition sent from Earth to study the Red Planet.  Approximately 25 years and one world war later, mankind again makes a trip to Mars where they find Michael alive and well under the care of the Martians.  Mike makes the voyage back to Earth under the strict order of his surrogate parents, whereupon he is first taken to a hospital for observation by a purposefully all male staff. With his legal status up in the air, Smith is stuck between the odd position of being the Sovereign of Mars or a citizen of Earth’s World Federation of Free Nations.  Eventually smuggled out of the hospital, Mike begins his life on Earth under the tutelage of his liberator, his lawyer, and his other “water-brothers”.  Stranger is the story of a man flung into an odd world of concepts, theories and rules, and the journey he takes to “grok” humanity and heal mankind of its self-inflicted wounds.

This is the story of the creation of a culture that is an amalgamation of human nature and Martian ideas.  It makes sense that on an Earth such as Heinlein creates, where religion is a powerful entity politically and socially, the journey of the main character would be one of a religious awakening.  A religious story of a naive boy growing into an enlightened man is virtually a cliche, but in the hands of the right author it can be given fresh life.  Was Heinlein the right author for this? Sort of. 

Despite my initial expectations about a story that promised to be part “coming of age” and part “survival in an alien culture”, Stranger in a Strange Land is a tedious read.  The first 200 pages are an almost moment-by-moment recount of The Man from Mars being brought to Earth, escaping the hospital with the help of a nurse named Gillian “Jill” Boardman, meeting her associate Jubal Harshaw, coming to trust Jubal and having lengthy and repetitive conversations with him as a burgeoning father figure/lawyer/interpreter/guide to human nature.

Often a conversation between characters will read like a transcript of a classrom group discussion set in wherein one person is the primary speaker and the rest of the group contributes small insights or asks for clarification.  Then the whole topic will be reintroduced, but from a different angle. It is immensely dry to read.

Heinlein takes great care to describe Mike’s inner voice and his difficulty “grokking” or grasping human logic and concepts.  Slowly he teases out the special powers of perception and control over physics that Mike learned from the Martians.  At first, sections written from the perspective of Mike’s mind were the most anticipated parts of the novel, but as Mike adapted and became more “human” in his thinking, the intrigue of his mind’s workings likewise faded. 

Stranger contains a sizable cast of side characters including, but not limited to, the founder of the highly influential Church of the New Revelation (Fosterite), the Muslim semanticist Dr. “Stinky” Mahmoud, and Jubal Harshaw’s three secretaries, Anne, Dorcas, and Miriam.  Numerous, yes, but not well-developed.  Very little is given as to the pasts of these or any of Heinlein’s characters.

Indeed, aside from the snake handler and tattoo aficionado Patricia “Patty” Paiwonski, they are all shadows compared to the protagonist: Mike is the most rounded character given the necessity of explaining portions of his Martian upbringing.  Everyone else begins their arcs in the immediate present, and continues on from there.  I found this to be the most frustrating part of Stranger in a Strange Land (aside from the circular nature of many of the characters’ interactions) for the simple fact that it doesn’t give you much to grasp.  If the concept of a science fiction Mowgli-turned-philosopher type main character isn’t enough to hold your interest for over 400 pages, you are somewhat out of luck, I’m afraid.

That being said, Stranger in a Strange Land‘s readability does significantly improve in the second half of the book.  As I mentioned earlier, Patty Paiwonski is introduced during the journeying stage of Mike’s self-realization.  Not only does she grow to become an important member of Mike’s Church of All Worlds but she is nearly 50 years old, covered in religious tattoos and artwork from the neck down, and described as, “associat[ing] with grifters and sinners unharmed” (271).

It is also at this point that the book really begins to dig into the complexities and issues of church-founding, culture versus religion, and the practice of Mike’s teachings. Sex, God, the differences between men and women, all of this and more is played out in a far more digestible pace than in the early half of the book.

Jill Boardman’s character really comes into her own as she finds liberation from social constraints with Mike’s help.  Working as a showgirl while Mike is out amongst the population of America, she learns to enjoy her own body, feels the shame of voyeuristic tendencies fall away, and even takes on the role of teacher to Mike.  Through her he groks how to achieve the one thing he hasn’t been able to feel – laughter.  Despite how interesting her transformation is from jealously guarding Mike to happily sharing him, her lessons at times can rub the reader in the wrong way.

For me it was hard to read about Mike’s understanding of homosexuality. “ Mike would grok a “wrongness” in the poor in-betweeners anyhow – they would never be offered water” (303).  The fact that Heinlein acknowledges homosexuality is heartening.  There is very little mainstream fiction that addresses homosexuality with anything other than fear and contempt, but despite offering a kind of understanding and sympathy, it’s piteous and exclusionary. T o never be offered water in the realm of Stranger means to never be offered the closeness and community that leads to ultimate happiness and physical well being.

The role of women in Mike’s grokking of Earth is another point which unfolds in an intriguing but ultimately controversial way.  Jill’s understanding of rape is highly repugnant.  I, for one, do not believe Jill’s explanation that, “Nine times out of 10, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault” (304).

The strengthening of female minds and bodies is likewise seen by the handyman, Sam, as something that will cause problems for society.  “When a female conceives only as an act of volition, when she is immune to disease…and has her orientation so changed that she desires intercourse with a whole-heartedness that Cleopatra never dreamed of – but any male who tried to rape her would die so quickly, if she so grokked, that he wouldn’t know what hit him?  When women are free of guilt and fear – but invulnerable?  Hell, the pharmaceutical industry will be a minor casualty – what other industries, laws, institutions, attitudes, prejudices, and nonsense must give way?” (401).

Jill’s view on rape is never tested in a real case.  The societal outcome of women heartening their minds and bodies is not explored on a large scale.  In fact, precious little is.  While Stranger proposes a (somewhat) better society, it doesn’t explore what such a society would look like in action outside of a small commune.

This is not to say that Stranger in a Strange Land isn’t worth a read.  Though painful, dense and not altogether enjoyable, Stranger does have is noteworthy points.  The eroticism and communal living present titillating ideas.  Nevertheless, it feels claustrophobic with Heinlein’s view of a conflict-less world.  In this is Heinlein’s ultimate failing – there is just too little conflict in Stranger.  Society just effortlessly adapts and molds itself to Mike’s teachings which, at the end of the day, all come from the philosophies of wealthy and well off people. 

To bring everything back to my earlier question of whether Heinlein was the right author to breathe new life into the story of religious awakening – Stranger in a Strange Land had the ideas, but is too verbose and simple.  Frankly, I’ll stick with Heinlein for his Starship Troopers material.  He does far better when he allows himself to couch his moralizing in action adventure than when he presents unadorned explorations into the origins of cultural identity or the dissection of human nature.

Two and a half stars.  Five for originality.  One for execution.

[August 20, 1961] Sub-mediocre (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea)

by Gideon Marcus

“Wake me when it’s over, willya?”

In this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov describes the dread he felt when his children suggested they all go see a “science fiction” film.  The kids thought the mention of that term would sway him positively, seeing how sf is Asimov’s bread and butter.  Asimov knew better, though.  Sci-fi films generally aren’t very good, replete with scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo, giant monsters, and nonsensical plots. 

Of course, in service to my readers, I make sure to see them all.  Every so often, a gem slips through.  Witness The Time Machine and The World, the Flesh, and the Devil.  They may not be scientifically rigorous, but they are worth watching.

Galactic Journey’s latest cinematic outing, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, is neither scientifically rigorous nor worth watching. 

(Actual voyages to the bottom of the sea not included)

From the trailer, I’d expected a madcap romp across the ocean, a sort of modern-day cross between Mysterious Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Certainly, the snippet showing off Barbara Eden’s jiggling hips and Frankie Avalon’s trumpet, not to mention the giant octopus on the movie poster, suggested as much. 

This is what we got instead:

The nuclear submarine Seaview surfaces at the North Pole, a moment billed as momentous (even though the real-life sub Nautilus accomplished this feat in 1958).  Almost immediately thereafter, the Van Allen Belts catch fire, dramatically heating the Earth, and the ship is recalled home. 

Yes, you read that right.  The Van Allen Belts caught fire.  Never mind that despite the hellish radiation resulting from all those charged particles whizzing around up there (which I described in my recent article on Explorer 12), the space up there is essentially a vacuum.  What matter exists in the Belts comprises just free nuclear particles — neutrons, protons, and electrons.  There’s virtually nothing up there to burn.  Certainly not in the literal sense, i.e. rapid oxidation. 

Never mind that.  I can hand-wave an improbable premise if it results in a good flick.  Sadly, this one does not.  Quite the opposite.

Upon arrival in New York, Admiral Nelson, the sub’s creator and flag commander, announces before an emergency session of the United Nations that he can stop the heightening catastrophe before the Earth is burned lifeless.  At odds with every other scientist in the world, Nelson believes that, by firing a nuclear missile at the proper trajectory into the Belts, upon detonation, the Belts will be saturated with radiation and poof out of existence.  I’m not sure how the Admiral is qualified to make this deduction given his specialty is nuclear submarines, not geophysics. 

A scientist named Zuko declares that he is “diametrically opposed” to the Admiral’s plan, that it will prove disastrous to the Earth, and that, by his calculations, the Van Allen fire will burn itself out before the Earth reaches the critical, point of no return, absolutely scientifically based, life-destroying temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit.  The UN votes, and Zuko’s admonitions are heeded.  Nelson is not to proceed with his mad plan.

So, of course, Nelson does.  The renegade Seaview, Nelson in command, takes off for the Marianas region of the Pacific.  Three weeks hence, at a specific short window of time, he will fire his missile and save the Earth.

To the Marianas! (but not the bottom of the sea)

At this point, the movie has only committed a few sins: The science has been laughable, the protagonist has been portrayed as unquestioningly correct (despite no justification; well, we did see Nelson fondle a slide-rule at one point, so math was apparently involved), and despite the magnitude of the portrayed disaster, it’s been a dull film.  Come on, fellas — if you’re going to present an Earth-ending event, at least let us see some of it. 

Over the next hour, however, Voyage only sinks further into the depths of its badness.  We get a few “exciting” set-pieces.  When crew of the Seaview leave the ship to tap into a telephone cable (the radios having been silenced by all that Van Allen burning), they end up in a pitched battle with some kind of tentacle monster.  Later, the sub runs into an old minefield and has to clear its way through.  Directed as flatly as a plane, all drama is leached from scenes that could have been interesting.

Fighting killer seaweed!  Oh wait… that’s Diver Dan.  Which is better.

There is one mildly compelling thread in Voyage.  Throughout the film, Admiral Nelson becomes increasingly irascible and monomaniacal.  The ship’s psychiatrist is certain that he’s cracking up.  Captain Crane, the Seaview’s skipper, becomes concerned with Nelson’s irrationality, opposing him at every turn.  The crew seethes toward mutiny, and incidents of sabotage occur. 

Given the peremptory manner in which the Admiral hatched his plan, as well as the news that the navies of the world have begun a hunt for the Seaview to prevent it from launching its missiles, I started to think that perhaps we weren’t supposed to sympathize with Nelson.  That Voyage was a morality play about the danger of self-righteous action in the face of contrary evidence.  This thread climaxes with Crane’s relieving of Nelson just as an American attack submarine appears to do battle with the Seaview.

For a moment, Voyage teetered on the edge of watchability.  Could Allen salvage an hour of badness?

Well, no.  You see, it turns out that Zuko was wrong.  The Belt doesn’t burn itself out, evidence of which comes just before the launch window (even though the whole drama of the film depends on Nelson not believing he’ll get this information until a full day after).  So the Admiral was right all along.  After a few minutes of tacked on drama involving a giant octopus and a couple of civilians who lacked proper faith in the infallible Admiral, the missile is fired at the last minute.  The Van Allen Belts explode outward, and the day is saved. 

In short, in just 5 minutes, Irwin Allen sabotages his own movie, sacrificing an actual story for some cheap (and I do mean cheap action). 

It’s films like Voyage that rightly make Asimov trepidatious about going to the movies.  And in this case, it was the father who dragged the child unwillingly to the theater.  I feel terrible.  Almost as terrible as Irwin Allen should feel for making this flick.

One star.

But don’t just take my word for it…

by Lorelei Marcus

Today we watched Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. I’m sorry to say that this movie was more of a journey to the exposition sea, than anything else.  Almost everything was told to us in radio or TV announcements.  The sets consisted of three colors, gray, red, and grayish blue. The acting was mediocre, the dialogue almost nothing but exposition, and the costumes all a bland uniform beige.  By the end of the movie I couldn’t tell anyone apart!

Tell us more, magic box!

Who’s who again?

There was a plot to the movie, but filled with too many holes to count, and the entire movie was conveyed through static speeches or random (speechless) visuals.  God forbid you have both at the same time though!  That would mean the movie might start to make sense!

Ten minutes of silent diving footage?  Sure, I’ll wait.

All joking aside, the movie was bland, boring, and predictable.  I guessed events long before they happened.  There wasn’t even any journeying to the bottom of the sea as the title suggested. If I had to choose, I’d have to say the best parts of the movie were the cook’s parrot, the dog (carried aboard by a rescued civilian), and one of the crew member’s accents.  That should tell you how hard it was to find a good part to this movie.

Gertrude lives!

Oh the ending, the ending was the worst.  Basically the movie kept putting out a certain message.  Conveying it through actions and behaviors.  Though it was kind of obvious it was also pretty clever, for this movie at least.  The ending, however, threw that all away and did the opposite of what THE ENTIRE MOVIE had been building up to.

“Ha ha!  I was right all along.”

Overall this movie was one of the worst I’ve seen with my dad.  I’d give it a 1 out of 5.  I do not recommend you see this movie.  It’s the worst kind of bad, where it’s not even ironically good.  I was tempted to walk out of the theater it was so bad.  They tried really hard to make a movie, and didn’t.  So please, spare yourself from this, and be glad we watched it so you don’t have to.

This is the young traveler, signing off.

[August 17, 1961] Voyages of Discovery (Explorer 12)

Every so often, a discovery comes along that shatters our conception of the universe.  Galileo turned his telescope to the heavens and discovered moons around Jupiter – suddenly, it was clear that Earth was not the center of everything.  Roentgen and Curie showed that matter was not entirely stable, leading to our modern understanding of physics (and the challenges that come with the harnessing of atomic energy).  Columbus sailed to find Asia; instead, he was the first to put the Americas on European maps.

Until 1958, space was believed to be a sterile place, a black void in which the planets and stars whirled.  Maybe there was an odd meteoroid or two, and far away, one might find a big cloud of gas, but otherwise space was synonymous with vacuum. 

Then Explorer 1, America’s first space mission, went into orbit around the Earth.  Its particle detectors, designed to measure the free-floating electrons and cosmic rays whizzing around up there, quickly became saturated.  Girdling the planet were hellish streams of energy, particles ionized by the sun and trapped by the Earth’s magnetic field. 

Overnight, our idea of space was revolutionized; a few scientists had speculated as to the existence of the “Van Allen Belts,” but the idea was hardly mainstream.  More probes were sent up to determine the nature of these belts.  Pioneer 5 went beyond far into interplanetary space and sent back news of a solar atmosphere that extended far beyond the shiny yellow bits – a field of particles and rays that went beyond even Earth’s orbit.  Other probes returned maps of the turbulent region where the sun’s field met Earth’s. 

Space was hardly empty – it was a new ocean filled with waves, eddies, and unknowns to be explored.

Yesterday, Explorer 12 zoomed into orbit, NASA’s latest voyager to ply the charged sea of space.  While it practically grazes the Earth at its closest point in its orbit, at its furthest, Explorer 12 zooms out a full 50,000 miles – a fifth of the way to the Moon.  Twice every 31 hours, the satellite studies the Van Allen Belts as well as the region of cislunar space, that variable region in which the Earth and the Sun fight for magnetic dominance. 

Armed with a battery of instruments like that carried by its spiritual predecessor, Explorer 6, the new probe also has several strips of solar cells covered with varying levels of shielding.  These will help determine the extent to which the Van Allen Belts will affect ship’s equipment as they travel through the deadly particles.  The data will be of particular use to Apollo astronauts on their way to the Moon.

If Explorer 1 was the satellite Columbus of the Van Allen Belts, and Explorer 6 was John Cabot, then Explorer 12 will be Amerigo Vespucci, fully determining the contours of a new ocean whose depths had been but briefly surveyed before. 

Shiver me timbers, laddie.  It’s an exciting time to be a sailor!

[August 15, 1961] SEVEN DAYS OF CHANGE (August’s UK report)

by Ashley Pollard

The month of August started with cool weather after a warm spring, which is disappointing for those of us who love to get out in the summer sun and lie on the beach. It is the time when the British newspapers are full of light-weight, fun stories in what is known over here as the ‘silly season.’

Such fripperies were ended quite suddenly with an array of news from behind the iron curtain, starting with the announcement of Russia’s second manned spaceflight on Monday the 7th of August.

While America has launched two sub-orbital flights in response to Yuri Gagarin’s conquest of space, they have yet to orbit the Earth. Now the Russians surge ahead, upping the excitement in the race to the moon by launching their second cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov. His call sign was Eagle, I imagine to emphasize his soaring over the world. But perhaps it’s also a poke at the Americans, who have failed to orbit the world with their Mercury capsule.

So, after staying in space for a just over a day, Pilot Cosmonaut Titov is now a Hero of the Soviet Union. During his flight he orbited the world seventeen times, during which time he slept, shot ten minutes of film, and completed various other tasks he had been assigned — proving that men can work in space. Not only that, but at age twenty-six he’s the youngest man in space, too.

For me, Titov’s mission was not just a success for the Russians but the furthering of the dream of travel in space for all mankind. But, I have to ask, how long will it be until the Russians send a woman into space? Perhaps this is a chance for the Americans to get one step ahead of their rivals.

Sadly, Titov’s flight was the only good piece of news inspired by the Communists this month. Seven days after Titov’s flight, the Russians upped the ante in the Cold War when Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced the Russians were going to build a wall around Berlin. This rather puts a dampener on things, taking us back to the unpleasantness that started in 1948 when they cut-off access to Berlin by land.

The first signs of action after the announcement was the erection of a barbed wire fence. But this is now being followed by workers building a wall, which seems to me to be a physical manifestation of the cultural divide between free-market capitalism and Russian state controlled centralized planned economy.

Beyond the very real fear I share with everyone regarding the threat of atomic destruction, I must also say that I find Premier Khrushchev’s escalation of tensions between East and West a tantrum tedious beyond belief. I truly doubt that human nature allows for nation states to function as communes that share resources for the good of all. If this act shows us anything it serves only to illuminate the cracks in the Russian Cold War polemic against the West. It’s not as if the new Wall has been erected to keep West Germans from fleeing into East Germany.

More to the point, doesn’t Khrushchev know this is the silly season? There is only so much heaviness we can stand during the summer!  As for now, despite the disappointingly cool weather, at least we still have a beach to look-visit, ice-cream to eat (we British eat ice-cream even during our cold summers), and once Khruschev has had his fun, hopefully we can return to reading stories of cats stuck up trees being rescued by the nice men from the fire brigade.

And accounts of space shots: as a science fiction fan, I find those an acceptable break from the fluff of the silly season…

[August 13, 1961] Predicting the Future (September 1961 Analog)

by Gideon Marcus

Everyone who writes has got an agenda, but Science fiction writers may be the most opinionated of authors.  That’s because their pigeon involves prediction, which in turn, is a personal interpretation of current trends.  They can’t help but express their own biases in their work.  And so we have Robert Heinlein and his penchant for plugging love of cats, libertarianism, and nudism (not necessarily in that order!).  Dr. Asimov denounces anti-scientific themes in his works.  It is no secret that I advocate for the equal representation of women and minorities.

John W. Campbell, editor of the monthly science fiction digest, Analog, is a big fan of psi – the ability of the human mind to alter matter.

Psi is one of those “pseudo-sciences.”  To date, I don’t think there has been a scrap of compelling research as to the existence of ESP or telepathy or precognition, save in the parlors of the less reputable carnivals.  Yet it can make for interesting storytelling, a sort of modern magic.  I don’t mind it so much in my stories, any more than I mind Faster than Light space travel, which is just as baseless.

That said, Campbell, who has more power projection than a single writer, is a psi fanatic.  It’s rare that an issue of Analog appears without at least one psi-related story, and most have several.

Like this month’s, the September 1961 issue:

I’ll skip over part 1 of Harry Harrison’s serial, Sense of Obligation, saving its review for after its completion.  That brings us to Donald Westlake’s short They Also Serve.  If you read Asimov’s The Gentle Vultures, about a bunch of pacifist aliens patiently waiting for humanity to blow itself up so that they could take up residence on our planet, then you’ve essentially read Westlake’s story.  It’s exactly the same plot.  Convergent evolution or recycling?  One star.

Up next is a novella by an unlikely duo: The Blaze of Noon by Randall Garrett and Avram Davidson.  My disdain for the former is well documented, but I have also noted that, when he writes with a buddy, the results are often pretty good.  Set in the far future, after an intragalactic civil war has left Earth’s outer colonies unvisited for three centuries, Blaze chronicles the attempts of a fellow named Tad to build a teleportation grid on the backward world of Hogarth.  Said planet was a metal-poor pleasure planet 300 years ago, and it has since regressed to rough feudalism.  The reasoning behind making Hogarth the first world to bring back into the fold is that, if reconnection can be accomplished under the least favorable of conditions, it can be done anywhere.

Teleportation grids require metal.  As all of Hogarth’s warlords jealously guard their own meager hoards, Tad must resort to refining magnesium and sodium from seawater, a tedious process that takes the better part of a year.  During the grid’s construction, pressure builds up between the area’s political factions, each wanting control of the build site and its increasing trove of precious metal.  On the eve of the grid’s completion, a struggle breaks out, and lusty warriors cleave into the grid’s magnesium-clad sodium beams with stone implements, attempting to steal pieces.  During a rainstorm.  The result is a chemical inferno that devours the grid and its assailants.

A decidedly downbeat ending is averted when the head of the local Barons, who foresaw the grid’s greed-fueled destruction, celebrates the fiery death of the most avaricious nobles.  Now, he believes, the stage is set for the more level-headed nobles to give up their stores of iron for the building a proper grid, one that can help everyone.

It’s a good story.  I particularly liked that Tad is unable to maintain his smug disdain for the provincial Hogarthians (which might have been the case in other stories appearing in Analog; Campbell likes his smug).  One aspect of Blaze I found puzzling, however.  Throughout the story, there is absolutely no mention of any women.  Not a single one.  To write forty pages of prose, involving a cast of thousands, and not portray a single female requires serious dedication.  Perhaps this is not misogyny but an actual prediction – in the future, humans will reproduce via a masculine form of parthenogenesis?  Four stars.

(Sadly, this is the one story in this issue on which I have been unable to secure reprinting rights.  I am in contact with the author, and I will notify you if and when this change.  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for its anthologizing, though there is no guarantee you will live to see it…

Captain H.C. Dudley is back with a science fact article, Scientific Break-throughs.  Unlike Dudley’s last one, which was rather crack-pot, his latest is a genuinely interesting piece on the myriad sub-atomic particles that have been discovered in the last decade.  Beyond electronics, neutrons, and protons, there are even smaller neutrinos and mesons and who knows what else.  There may well be no end to the layers of atomic structure, at least until we get to the turtles.  Three stars.

I promised psi, and the last third of the magazine delivers.  Walter Bupp returns with Modus Vivendi, a continuation of his previous stories set in a future where a neutron bomb blast has caused the birth of hundreds of “Stigmatized” or psi-endowed people.  I like Bupp’s take on the societal factors that stem from having a sub-race of different, superior humans; I appreciate the parallels he draws with our current inequality issues; I’ve enjoyed Bupp’s stories in the past.  However, something about the writing on this one, a bit too consciously colloquial, made Modus tough sledding.  Two stars.

Finally, there is Darell T. Langart (Randy Garrett, again) and his Fifty Per Cent Prophet.  This is also a sequel, featuring The Society for Mystical and Metaphysical Research: an agency of psi enthusiast kooks with a secret, truly psionic society within.  Prophet is about a parlor prognosticator who turns out to have a true touch of second sight.  The story’s first few pages, told from the point of view of the not-quite-sham, suggest we might be treated to a nuanced character study.  Sadly, Garrett abandons the clairvoyant for his more typical omniscient and (Campbell’s favorite) smug style. 

I wonder if Davidson wrote Prophet’s beginning.  Two stars.

I’m not a psychic, but I’m willing to make a prediction about the October 1961 Analog: It’ll be another middlin’ quality issue, and it will feature at least one story about psionics.  Anyone want to take that bet?

[August 10, 1961] A Fair Deal for the Fairer Sex (Women, politics, and The Andy Griffith Show)

by Gideon Marcus

A woman on the City Council?  Say it ain’t so!

It’s not news that there just aren’t a lot of women in politics these days.  Universal suffrage is now 40 years old, but women comprise just 18 out of 437 members of the House of Representatives and 2 of 100 Senators – about 4% and 2%, respectively.  For most of us, that’s not an alarming statistic.  That’s just the way it’s always been.  But for some of us (including this columnist), equal representation can’t come soon enough.  After all, when women make up half the population but only 4% of the government, that’s a crisis of almost Revolutionary proportions.

I’m not the only one taking a stand, but sometimes support for the cause comes from the unlikeliest of places.

I watch a lot of television, maybe too much.  There’s plenty of dross in this “vast wasteland” behind the screen of the idiot box, but there’s also gold.  To wit: The Twilight Zone, Route 66, and, surprisingly, The Andy Griffith Show.

I didn’t expect much when I started watching this strange little slice-of-life program set somewhere in the southern Appalachians.  It’s a broad comedy on the face of it, with Sheriff Andy Griffith’s drawl and wide smile and Deputy Barney Fife’s pretentious bumbling, but after a few episodes, it became clear that the comedic elements are a sugar coating for deep thoughtfulness.

The other night, I happened to catch a summer rerun from early in the series, back when Griffth’s stuttering yokelish portrayal was at its least subtle.  It opens on a picnic where Elinor Walker, the town’s new pharmacist (and Andy’s recently acquired sweetheart) articulates her disappointment that there are no women running for city council.  Andy slights her concern, noting that the position is called “Councilman,” and it’d be silly if a woman held that title.

Ellie, no timid soul, is emboldened rather than discouraged by Griffith’s disparagement.  In short order, she acquires the 100 petition signatures needed to put her on the ballot, the first provided by none other than Griffith’s own Deputy Fife (speaking of unlikely support)!  The affronted men of Mayberry, North Carolina attempt to stop Ellie’s candidacy through supra-political means, refusing the women access to charge accounts at local businesses.  This tactic backfires when the women stop cooking, washing, ironing, and mending (and presumably work a little Lysistrata action in there, too).

The episode’s climax begins with a rally downtown.  The women (and a few supporting men) wave signs and shout “We want Ellie!”  Most of the men jeer.  Upset at the strife her running has caused, Ellie visits the Griffith home and tells him, “You won,” and that she will withdraw her candidacy because, “It’s just not worth it…when I decided to run I had no intention of starting a Civil War in Mayberry.”

Young Opie Griffith, steeped in his father’s latest comments, cheers, “We won, we beat them females!  We kept them in their place.  Us menfolks don’t want women running our town, do we, Pa?”

It’s a powerful moment that sharply drives home the effect of Andy’s ill-considered words.  Ashamed at the example he’s set, instead of accepting Ellie’s surrender, he heads to the rally in support.  Addressing the assembly, he notes significantly: “We men are against a woman running for council.”  The men cheer and applaud, but the sheriff continues, “The woman in this case being Ellie Walker.  Now we’re against her because she’s a woman.  But, now, when you try to think of any other reason, you kind of draw a blank.”

This proves the shot that deflates the balloon, the men acknowledging the point.  Ellie wins the election – how could she not with all the women and many of the men backing her? 

Now, if you’re from one of the more progressive parts of the nation that happens to have women in government, you might think the whole problem silly and overblown, the events of the episode a caricature.  But think about the 96% of the country without female representation.  Remember that, in Alabama, women aren’t even allowed to serve on a jury!  It’s not the situation in The Andy Griffith Show that’s implausible — it’s the happy ending.

So let’s applaud Andy Griffith for showcasing the bias against women in government, and then let’s keep working to overcome it, so that one day, some little girl who saw Ellie Walker win a seat on the Mayberry City Council might be inspired to run for Representative or Senator or, dare I say, even President of the United States. 

It’s an outcome worth the long fight, even if it takes half a century.

[August 7, 1961] Day-O!  (Vostok 2 spends day in orbit)

by Gideon Marcus

For a few bright weeks, it looked as if the United States might be gaining in the Space Race.  Now, the Reds have pulled forward again with a most astonishing announcement: their second cosmonaut, a Major Gherman Titov, orbited the Earth in his “Vostok 2” for an entire day before coming safely back to Earth this morning.

As usual, details of the launch were not divulged until Comrade Titov was already in space.  He circled the globe a record 17 times (compare to his predecessor, Gagarin’s, single orbit).  The flight lasted long enough that Americans had the unique, if not entirely pleasant, opportunity to both go to bed and awaken with the knowledge that a Russian was whizzing just a matter of miles over their house.

This flight comes almost on the heels of that of our second spaceman, Captain Gus Grissom, who flew into space for a comparatively puny 15 minutes on July 21.  For a few short weeks, the free world held the lead, if not in time in space, then at least number of astronauts.  The Soviets have now made that success look feeble.  In fact, I am now hearing rumors that astronaut John Glenn’s suborbital Mercury flight, scheduled for next month, will likely be canceled.  There is no propaganda value left in half-measures, and besides, Shepard’s and Grissom’s flights taught us all there was to be learned from the Redstone launched missions.

Now, there is a whole lot of worry being dispensed by the newspapers over Titov’s flight.  Many speculate that there is no way we can catch up to the Communists in our race for the Moon.  After all, our first orbital flight is still untold months away; before an American ever orbits the Earth, the Russians may have a space station or even a foothold on our nearest celestial neighbor.

I think these fears are unfounded.  Vostok 2 was almost assuredly the same type of ship as Gagarin’s Vostok 1.  It was designed, like our Mercury, to endure several days in orbit.  The increase in orbits from 1 to 17 does not reflect a seventeen-fold increase in Soviet space capability – merely greater use of Vostok’s full potential.

Similarly, the 15 minute flights of Freedom 7 and Liberty Bell 7 reflect but a tiny proportion of the Mercury spacecraft’s endurance.  When the Atlas booster is on-line in a few months, you will see the American program accomplishing the same feats as that of the Soviets.  I’m willing to bet our lunar ship, which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration began work on earlier this year, will be done before its Russian counterpart, too.

We have to remember that the timing of the Soviet missions is designed for maximum psychological effect.  Without taking anything away from the 26-year old Titov’s noteworthy trip, I note that it occurred just as tensions over Berlin reached their highest since the Commnunist blockade of 1948.  Khruschev is flexing his muscles, both on the land and in space, hoping that Kennedy will blink if the Soviets carry out their threat to wall off their side of Berlin from ours. 

Now is not the time to get discouraged.  Not in the Space Race, not in the Cold War.  As I’ve said before, the Race to the Moon is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

[August 5, 1961] In the good old Summertime! (September 1961 IF science fiction)

Gideon Marcus

by Ron Church

Summer is here!  It’s that lazy, hot stretch of time when the wisest thing to do is lie in the shade with a glass of lemonade and a good book.  Perhaps if Khruschev did the same thing, he wouldn’t be making things so miserable for the folks of West Berlin.  Well, there’s still time for Nikita to take a restful trip to the Black Sea shore.

As for me, I may not have a dacha, but I do have a beach.  Moreover, this month’s IF science fiction proved a reasonably pleasant companion during my relax time.  If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, I recommend it.  Here’s what’s inside:

Keith Laumer has made a big splash in just the last few years.  He wrote a fine three-part alternate Earth novel that came out in Fantastic earlier this year.  I look forward to covering it when it’s novelized in a few months.  Meanwhile, this month he offers us a prequel to Diplomat-at-Arms, starring his interstellar man of mystery, Retief.  It’s called The Frozen Planet, and while the setting is interesting (a quartet of frozen human worlds on the edge of the evil Soetti empire), I found it a bit too smug.  When the secret agent is too powerful, where’s the drama?  Two stars.

Mirror Image is a Daniel Galouye’s story, about a raving (but not necessarily mad) man who claims to have built a bridge to the parallel universe behind every looking glass.  It’s a B-grade plot, something you might find in the lesser annals of The Twilight Zone, but I found it engaging, nonetheless.  Three stars.

It looks like Lester del Rey has returned from vacation.  His story in August’s Galaxy, was his first in a few years.  Now, hot on its heels, is Spawning Ground, about a startling discovery made by a colonial group upon planetfall.  The set-up is good, and I greatly appreciated the inclusion of a mixed-gender crew, but the ending was too mawkish and abrupt.  Three stars.

H.B. Fyfe, whose byline can be found all over the magazines of the pulp era, has been a consistent Analog and IF contributor for the past couple of years.  None of his stories have been strong stand-outs, and this month’s Tolliver’s Orbit is no exception.  It’s a thriller set on the wastes of Ganymede featuring a pair of an interesting characters: an honest space pilot who wants no part of the graft rife in the local commercial concern, and a woman vice president of said business, sent to investigate wrong-doing.  In the hands of an expert, it could have easily garnered four or five stars.  Sadly, Fyfe phoned this one in, telling rather than showing at too many critical junctures.  Two stars.

by Ritter

On the other hand, the succeeding novella, by newcomer Charles Minor Blackford, is solid entertainment.  The Valley of the Masters depicts a space colony generations after establishment.  Its people have forgotten their technological past, and the automatic machines are beginning to fail.  Without them, the community will be swallowed by a hostile environment.  Is an enterprising young couple the only hope?  If Valley has any faults, it is that it is too short.  Four stars.

Robert Young’s The Girls from Fieu Dayol presents us with a cautionary tale: be careful when eavesdropping on a note-passing conversation — You just might end up embroiled in an interstellar husband hunt!  Cute.  Three stars.

Full disclosure: Any story with my daughter’s namesake is subject to extraordinary scrutiny.  Thankfully, Charles de Vet’s Lorelei, featuring a seductive shape-changer who haunts the stranded crew of the first Jovian expedition, is good stuff.  Three stars.

Wrapping up the issue is Donald Westlake’s novella, Call him Nemesis.  If you’re a fan of child superheroes, you’ll like it; it’s a simple story, but the execution is charming.  Three stars.

All told, the September 1961 IF clocks in at 2.9 stars out of 5.  That’s pretty respectable for this magazine, and certainly good enough for a couple of hours of summer lolling.