[Oct. 23, 1961] Making Progress (Harry Harrison’s Sense of Obligation)

by Gideon Marcus

Author Harry Harrison has been around for a long time, starting his science fiction writing career at the beginning of the last decade (1951).  Yet, it was not until this decade that I (and probably many others) discovered him.  He came into my view with the stellar Deathworld, a novel that was a strong contender for last year’s Hugo.  Then I found his popular Stainless Steel Rat stories, which were recently anthologized.  The fellow is definitely making a name for himself.

Harrison actually occupies a liberal spot in generally conservative Analog magazine’s stable of authors.  While Harry tends to stick with typical Analog tropes (psionics, humano-centric stories, interstellar hijinx), there are themes in his work which are quite progressive – even subversive, at least for the medium in which they appear.

For instance, there is a strong pro-ecological message in Deathworld.  I also detect threads of pacifism in Harrison’s works, not to mention rather unorthodox portrayal of women and sexual mores.  Harry isn’t Ted Sturgeon or anything, but he is definitely an outlier for Analog, and refreshing for the genre as a whole.

Harrison’s latest novel, Sense of Obligation (serialized over the last three issues of Analog) continues all of the trends described above.  On the surface, it has a plot that’s not unusual: Brion Brandd is the most recent winner of “The Twenties,” a combined Olympics-type event held on the inhospitable planet, Anvhar.  The residents of this difficult world already have to be tougher than the average Terran; Brion is the toughest of them.  He is recruited by a former Twenties winner to join the interstellar secret service. 

His first mission is to help stop the destruction of planet Dis by it’s neighbor Nyjord.  It turns out that the Disans, a xenophobic branch of humanity, have assembled an arsenal of bombs and plan to attack its technologically superior neighbor.  The Nyjordians are a normally peaceful people, but they can see no way to combat the implacable Disans other than to utterly wipe them out from orbit.  Brion, and his partner, brilliant Terran xenobiologist LeaMorees, have but a few days before the Nyjordian ultimatum expires, and destruction ensues.

Sense is a solid read, though it is not the classic that Deathworld was.  Call it three stars.  But what I really appreciated was that, once again, Harrison has given us a female character who is not only interesting and talented, but also has romantic agency.  As with the superhumanly strong Meta, from Deathworld, Lea makes the first move with the book’s protagonist.  Moreover, the Anvharrian take on romance is contrasted favorably with the one that prevails on Earth.  Terran males relentlessly pursue their women, who must frequently employ the “spike heel” defense – sound familiar?  On Anvhar, men are respectful and respond only once a woman has expressed interest.  Platonic friendship between members of opposite sexes is valuable in and of itself, and if the female partner desires something further, she is in the driver’s seat.  It’s different, and I dig it.

This portrayal of alternate societies is surprisingly rare in science fiction, particularly in Analog.  The focus is usually on futuristic technologies.  Harrison’s willingness to incorporate both sociological and technological speculation in his works makes him part of science fiction’s vanguard, broadening the scope of our genre for the better.  It’s what makes his name a pleasant addition to any magazine’s table of contents.  May he continue to be a luminary throughout the ’60s… and beyond!

[Oct. 21, 1961] Cause célèbre (Three years, and the November 1961 Analog)

by Gideon Marcus

Three years ago, my wife pried my nose out of my sci-fi magazines.  “You’ve been reading all of these stories,” she said.  “Why not recommend some of the best ones so I can join in the fun without having to read the bad ones.”

I started a list, but after the first few titles, I had a thought.  What if, instead of making a personal list for my wife, I made a public list?  Better yet, how about I publish little reviews of the magazines as they come out?

Thus, Galactic Journey was born.

It’s been an interesting ride.  I was certain that I’d have perhaps a dozen subscribers.  Then a large ‘zine made mention of the column, and since then, we’ve been off to the races.  Our regular readers now number in the hundreds, and the full-time staff of The Journey is eight, going on nine.  We’ve been guests at several conventions around the West Coast, and we’ve been honored with one of fandom’s most prestigious awards.

All thanks to you.  So please join us in a birthday toast to the Galactic Journey family. 

Speaking of significant dates, this month marks the end of an era.  Astounding Science Fiction, founded in 1930, quickly became one of the genre’s strongest books under the stewardship of Editor John W. Campbell.  Last year, Campbell decided it was time to strike out in a new direction, starting with a new name of the magazine.  The process has been a gradual one.  First, the word, Analog, was slowly substituted month after month over Astounding.  The spine name changed halfway through this transition.  As of this month, the cover reads Analog Science Fiction.  I am given to understand that next month, it will simply say Analog

I think it’s a dopey name, but it’s the contents that matter, right?  So let’s see what Campbell gave us this month:

Well, not a whole lot, numerically.  There are just five pieces, but most of them are quite lengthy. 

First up is a novella by Analog perennial, Chris Anvil: No Small Enemy.  It combines two common Analog tropes, Terran supremacy and psionics.  In this case, an alien invasion is defeated by doughty humans using psychic talents.  It should be terrible, and the coincidence of the extaterrestrial onslaught and humanity’s discovery of ESP strains credulity.  Nevertheless, it’s actually not a bad read, and it suggests Anvil will do well when he’s not writing for Campbell’s unique fetishes.  In fact, we know that to be the case based on last year’s Mind Partner, published in Galaxy.  Three stars.

Jim Wannamaker’s Attrition features a fairly conventional set-up.  Interstellar scout is dispatched to determine why a previous scout mission failed to return from an alien world.  Where it fails in originality, it succeeds in execution.  It’s a decent mystery, and the characterization and deft writing make it worth reading.  Four stars.

Things go downhill in the science fact section of the magazine, as they often do.  A Problem in Communication, by George O. Smith, is a weird piece about how the two brains of a Brontosaurus might talk to each other.  It is followed up by Hal Clement’s Gravity Insufficient, an attempt to describe how magnetic fields modulate the Sun’s tempestuous flares.  It starts out like gangbusters but then fizzles into incomprehensibility.  Both pieces get two stars.

That leaves (Part 3 of 3) of Sense of Obligation, by Harry Harrison, which I’ll review next time.  All told, this issue garners 3 stars.  Given some of the real clunkers Campbell churned out this year, this may represent a good augury for this newly renamed digest.  I’d hate for them to go the way of the dinosaurs…

[Oct. 18, 1961] Call me Old-fashioned (The Planet Strappers, by Raymond Z. Gallun)

by Gideon Marcus

The nice thing about writing reviews for an immediately published medium, like a newspaper or a daily column, is the currency of the information you convey.  Most reviewers get their books just before release from the publishers, and by the time their reviews are in print, their subjects are several months old.  At Galactic Journey, you can be guaranteed a presentation of the very newest material.

Ironically, my offering for you this time around is Raymond Z. Gallun’s The Planet Strappers, which while a brand new novel, reads like something written several decades ago.  I’d gotten used to the out there stuff by Sturgeon and Farmer and Henderson, so it was a little jarring to find something so old-fashioned.  But it makes sense: like the legendary “Doc” Smith, Gallun is a grizzled veteran of the 20s and 30s pulps.  In fact, he hardly turned out a thing in the last decade.

Strappers is the story of The Bunch, a gang of young space enthusiasts from Jarviston, Minnesota who live some time in the mid-distance future.  Their dream is to save enough dough to put together the kit needed to become space colonists: inflatable plastic habitats, “bubbs,” that can be spun for gravity; ionic engines with weak but constant thrust, nuclear batteries; food, water, and air. 

The Bunch are a diverse group.  There’s the Mexican, Miguel Ramos.  The sole girl, Eileen Sands.  The colored kid, Mitch Storey.  The disabled fellow, “Gimp” Hines.  The mathematically challenged “Two-and-two” Baines.  To Gallun’s credit, he does a good job of giving each of them character beyond their signature features.  In fact, if there is any message of Strappers, it is that space is a level playing field, and that cultural distinctions are meaningless there. 

Our viewpoint is Frank Nelsen, perhaps the smartest of The Bunch (and probably, though never specifically, a White man).  We follow him through the creation of his colony kit and into space where he travels to most corners of the inner Solar System, encountering adventure, tragedy, and ultimately, happiness.  It’s a strange outline of a saga with a few fleshed out bits but with most being told in shorthand.  Nelson’s journey could easily have filled a book series (a la Danny Dunn or Lucky Starr).  Instead, Gallun pares the tale down to its bare minimum.

As a result, rather than any of the sparsely portrayed players, the setting ends up being the real star of Strappers.  We get a lot of technical exposition regarding the space-based economy as well as some solar-political background.  The main polities seem to be The Free World and the statist Toves.  The asteroids are a wild, woolly place constantly under threat by space-suited brigands.  We are treated to loving descriptions of the “Archies,” the ubiquitous space-suits that are practically single-person spaceships.

Gallun shows us a decidedly archaic view of the solar system with planets that don’t conform with our latest scientific knowledge.  For instance: Venus is uninhabitable, but not boiling.  Mars’ air is about a tenth as thick as Earth’s (this may be true, but this assumes the existence of nitrogen in the Red Planet’s atmosphere, which can’t be directly detected).  The Moon has a thin atmosphere, about 1/20,000th that of the Earth, as well as a few hardy plants clinging to volcanic vents.  This is highly unlikely — virtually all sources I’ve consulted say that the Moon’s atmosphere, such as there is, isn’t much different from the hard vacuum of space.

Strappers features remainders of the Burroughsian belief that the outer planets were created earlier, cooled sooner, developed sentient life before ours.  In fact, the asteroid belt, Gallun presents, was once the solar system’s fifth planet before it was destroyed 60 million years ago in a war with the Martians.  (The hoary idea that the Belt used to be a planet is probably impossible – all of the asteroids together barely make up a mass 1/20th of our Moon).

Despite the fanciful astronomy and the skeletal nature of the storytelling, I nevertheless got through Strappers, even enjoying it at times.  There are genuinely interesting episodes that each could have made excellent novellas, particularly Nelsen’s experience as a indentured archaeologist on the Moon’s FarSide, his encounters with the sentient vegetables of Syrtis Major.  I’d call the book a juvenile, but the subject matter isn’t quite naive enough.  I give the overall effort 2.5 stars. 

Now if only someone would tell Gallun that “enormity” is not a synonym for “vastness”…

[Oct. 15, 1961] Top of the Third (The Twilight Zone, Season 3)

by Gideon Marcus


by Lorelei Marcus

Two years ago, CBS aired the first episode of a new television anthology, one destined for the history books.  It was called The Twilight Zone, and it featured science fiction and fantasy themed stories in a most sophisticated fashion.  Twilight Zone garnered its creator, Rod Serling, a much deserved Emmy, and if Serling be remembered for nothing else, it’s certain he will leave a lasting legacy.

The new season began last month, and though I had high hopes, Serling’s creation is starting to feel a little tired.  Word through the grapevine is he’s a bit storied out, and the episodes that used to flow like water from his pen come a lot more sluggishly.  That said, a half hour of Twilight Zone is still better than most hours of other television — and two hours have already been aired this year.  Let’s take a look, shall we?  (Synopsis first, then my commentary followed by the Young Traveler’s)

First up is Two, and it’s easily my favorite of the new crop.  This may well be attributable to it having been written by someone other than Serling – in this case, writer/director Montgomery Pittman.  Two features an abandoned urban setting some years after the start of World War Three.  A ragged young invader (Elizabeth Montgomery) in a threadbare uniform is scavenging for scraps when she runs across a similarly bedraggled native soldier (Charles Bronson).  Though the latter would be quite happy to forget the horrors of war, the Russian woman continues the conflict, repeatedly attacking the American.  Ultimately, through kindness and appeal to reason, Bronson convinces Montgomery to give up the fight, her gun, her uniform, and the two head off into the sunset as friends. 

There is little dialogue in this episode and no twist.  It’s just a little post-apocalyptic meet cute.  What makes Two work is the sublime cinematography, the deft acting.  Bronson has already proven to be a charismatic leading man (q.v. Master of the Air), and Montgomery delivered her virtually wordless role convincingly.  Four stars.

Over the past couple of weeks, me and my father have been watching the first few episodes of the new season!  The first episode was fairly standard.  It was, once again, about life after a nuclear dust-up.  There were only two characters, a male and female soldier from opposite sides of the war.  The episode was basically just them interacting, and almost no words were spoken.  It was exactly what it was trying to be, and I don’t really have much else to say about it.  You may watch it if you like, but honestly, I would recommend skipping this episode.  Two stars.

Serling-penned The Arrival begins compellingly enough: a DC-3 lands at a busy airport with not a single soul or piece of luggage on board.  Grant Sheckly, an FAA investigator, is brought in to crack the case.  A little past halfway, realizing that none of the pieces are adding up to a coherent whole, Sheckly concludes that the plane is an illusion, the result of some kind of hypnosis.  In a tense scene, Sheckly places his hand in the path of the plane’s spinning propeller, and the aircraft disappears…along with the rest of the airport crew in the hangar with him! 

Sadly, this is the peak of the episode.  It turns out that the DC-3 is not some kind of ghost ship, nor is there some sinister purpose behind the apparition.  Rather, the plane is a personal demon of Sheckly’s; 17 years ago, the plane had disappeared without a trace, and Sheckly’s inability to solve the case has haunted him ever since.  It’s entirely too prosaic an explanation for The Twilight Zone, quite possibly the least satisfying resolution to what started as a most promising episode.  Two stars.

The second episode was interesting, at least until the end.  It was about a ghost plane with no one on it, and the man who was trying to figure out how it landed by itself.  His eventual conclusion was that the plane simply didn’t exist, and that turned out to be true.  In the end, the man was just crazy, end of story.  In my opinion there were a lot of stupid moments that could’ve easily been avoided that really damaged the story.  It was an interesting concept, but not very well carried out.  Despite the bad ending, I would recommend watching this one, as there were some interesting parts.  Two and a half stars.

The lackluster run continues through The Shelter, another Serling story.  A convivial birthday party for a neighborhood doctor is broken up by a bulletin from CONELRAD: unidentified flying objects, believed to be missiles, have been detected, and there is but a matter of minutes to reach safety.  The forward-thinking sawbones had built a shelter in his basement, and he quickly repairs there with his family.  Then the doctor’s friends arrive, each pleading to be let in, but the doctor refuses.  Whipped into a panicked frenzy, the neighbors bickeringly debate breaking into the shelter, then fight amongst themselves for the privilege of displacing the doctor’s family.  Racial slurs are cast against the one Jewish neighbor.  Just as the friends batter down the door to the shelter, CONELRAD announces that the UFOs were harmless space debris.  The neighbors, shamefaced, attempt to apologize to the doctor, but it is clear that the trappings of civilization cling loosely to them – and to the physician, as well, who refused to share his refuge. 

It’s not horrible, but this message was done more satisfyingly (and in a less over-the-top fashion) in the first season episode, The Monsters are due on Maple Street.  Two stars.

Episode three was fairly straight-forward.  It re-explored a common Twilight Zone topic of testing human nature under immense stress and danger.  I didn’t enjoy it very much, simply because people going crazy and yelling at eachother is not my cup of tea.  However, it is still an interesting episode and I recommend you watch it.  Three stars.

Last up for now is yet another Serling episode, the Civil War piece, The Passerby.  In the wake of Appomattox, a train of bedraggled soldiers trudges past a burned out home toward a final destination.  The inhabitant of the house is a fever-ridden widow whose husband died at Gettysburg.  She is joined by a maimed Confederate sergeant, who keeps her company as they are visited by several spectral forms in uniform.  One is the husband of one of the widow’s friends, a man the widow believed had been killed.  Then a Union lieutenant whose death the sergeant personally witnessed arrives, asking for water. 

The next morning, the sergeant confesses to a deep desire to continue down the road.  As the widow pleads for him not to leave, she hears the rich baritone of her husband.  He arrives, embracing her, and it is clear now that he, the sergeant, and even the widow are all ghosts of the war dead.  Last up the road is Honest Abe, himself, the last casualty of the “Great Unpleasantness.”

The first half is a talky muddle, the widow giving an overwrought performance of the kind I might expect in a high school play.  Yet, even though it was clear where the story was going (and I have, in fact made fun of shows employing this exact gimmick), I found its resolution somewhat moving.  It’s nicely scored, too.  It deserves two stars, but I’ll give it three anyway.

Last week’s episode was probably my favorite.  It was about a civil war fighter on the long road home who stops, seeking hospitality from a nice young woman.  I won’t spoil too much (though it looks like my dad may have), but despite the predictable ending, I still enjoyed the episode.  The acting was good, the sets, though simple, were attractive, and just overall it had a moody feel.  Of course, I highly recommend you watch this one on your own.  Three and a half stars.

So ends the first batch of the third season.  A mediocre batch, to be sure, though I have to remember that Season Two started badly, too. 

Next week, Galactic Journey will return to the written word.  It’s a little book called The Planet Strappers, and I think you’ll enjoy it (the review, if not the book).  In the meantime, as you know, I went to a small convention in Seattle last week.  While there, I met a lovely young lady who has since become a fan of this column.  She is a fashion model as well as the owner of a clothing store, and she sent me a photo to be included in the column as a kind of advertisement.  Please meet Sarah, the Journey’s latest Fellow Traveler.

[October 13, 1961] The Music of the Spheres (November 1961 Fantastic)

by Victoria Silverwolf

The power of music to portray emotions and to evoke images in the listener’s mind seems to be universal to all cultures.  It seems inevitable that it will be used in the future to convey feelings and experiences as yet unknown.  As human beings explore the unimaginably vast silence of outer space, they will take music with them to fill the void.

Such is the theme of the novella which forms the anchor of this month’s issue of Fantastic.  Before we indulge in this sonic feast, however, let’s whet our appetites with an offering from the creative genius of Fritz Leiber.

Cover art by Lloyd Birmingham (making his debut here) accurately portrays the bizarre event at the heart of Hatchery of Dreams.  This tale of magic begins like a modern suspense story, as a man awakes one morning to discover that his much younger wife has disappeared, leaving behind a note that she has deserted him.  In desperation, he enters her private “perfume distillery,” which he had previously left unexplored.  He finds a gigantic egg on a heated, cloth-lined incubator.  This is only the beginning of his strange adventures, as he tracks down one by one the three other young women who make up his wife’s “bridge club.” Each one seems to be suffering from some kind of illness.  Even odder is the fact that each one seems unnaturally attached to a toy animal.  Nothing is what it seems to be, of course, and many more revelations will be made during the hunt for his lost bride.

Making use of themes from the author’s classic 1943 novel Conjure Wife, this is a richly imaginative story.  As one expects from Leiber, the “girls” he interviews during his search are alluring and mysterious creatures.  Somehow the author is always able to bring these archetypical females to life, and his obvious genuine affection for women renders them fully realized characters.  Four stars.

After this delightful aperitif, we turn to the main course for the evening.  J. F. Bone’s novella Special Effect is set in the twenty-second century, when humanity has settled all parts of the Solar System.  From civilized, bird-like Martian humanoids to utterly alien organisms inhabiting the moons of the outer planets, extraterrestrial life is found almost everywhere.  The author offers the reader a guided tour of this setting as he tells his tale.

A great composer has died just after completing his masterpiece, the “Nine Worlds Symphony.” It is as yet unperformed, as the score requires recordings of authentic sounds from throughout the Solar System, from the crash of falling ice towers on Pluto to the bubbling of lava on the border between Mercury’s hot and cold sides.  Many of these sounds involve alien life forms: the ringing of a Martian temple bell, the roar of dangerous Venusian animals, and more.  A producer who owns the rights to the symphony, and thus stands to make a large profit when it is performed, hires the narrator, a veteran of space travel, to transport his workers and equipment on an odyssey among the planets to collect the sounds. 

Recording each sound offers a new challenge, often deadly.  Scenes of violent adventure alternate with scenes of encounters with enigmatic extraterrestrial lifeforms.  Although the portrait of the Solar System is a little old-fashioned, with its inhabited Mars and its swampy Venus, and the story is inherently episodic, the descriptions are vivid and always interesting.  Three stars.

If the reader is not yet sated, there are three short tales for dessert.  To Heaven Standing Up by Paul Ernst is this issue’s reprint.  Originally published in the pages of Argosy in April of 1941, this is an account of a man who attempts to build a flying machine operated by muscle power.  The materials and methods he uses seem plausible; so much so, in fact, that this story might not even be considered speculative fiction by many readers.  In any case, it’s a well-written character study.  (In his introduction, science fiction historian Sam Moskowitz reveals that Argosy was a stepping stone between the pulps and the slicks, which explains the story’s mainstream style.) Three stars.

The Living End by Henry Slesar offers an intriguing premise.  A meek fellow winds up with an old book of prophecies, much like those of Nostradamus.  The predictions are uncannily accurate, foretelling events such as the Declaration of Independence to the very day.  When he discovers that the last prophecy in the book announces that the world will come to an end in ten days, he throws away his conformist lifestyle and goes on a wild spree.  Of course, there’s a twist ending.  Unfortunately, I found it both illogical and anticlimactic, so I can only award the promising story two stars.

Rog Phillips offers an entry in his “Lefty Baker” series in . . . But Who Knows Huer, or Huen? This is a madcap farce about very human aliens who enlist the narrator’s aid in combating another group of very human aliens who intend to wipe out all other forms of life.  It’s the kind of silly comedy which is not my cup of tea.  Add to that the fact that the story seems to imply that mental illness is funny, and I have to give it one star.  I’ve haven’t read any of the other stories about Lefty Baker, and I won’t seek them out.

Although the quality of the issue slowly decreases from front to back, overall it earns a rating of just slightly over two and one-half stars.  Without the final story, it would have earned a solid three stars.  Fantastic continues to be a promising, greatly improved magazine, well worth reading.  Of interest is the fact that the letter column contains more than one complaint about the stories of David R. Bunch, one of the innovative authors brought to the magazine by editor Cele Goldsmith.  Since I am highly impressed by the daring and controversial work of Bunch, I look forward to discovering what other new talents she will bring to a publication that has not always lived up to its name.

[Oct. 10, 1961] On the Edge of Tomorrow (Geek Girl Con… 2016?)

by Gideon Marcus

Seattle, one of my favorite towns, is about to become big news for it will be the home of the 1962 World Expo, and its futuristic “Space Needle” is under construction.  When it’s done, the city’s skyline will be distinctive, indeed!

But that’s not what brought us to the Emerald City in 1961.  In fact, we fly out each year to visit my sister-in-law and the dozen or so friends we’ve accumulated from visits past.  It is, if course, complete coincidence that our trips always seem to coincide with the annual gathering of female fandom affectionately nicknamed “Geek Girl Con.

Much smaller than the World Con held in Seattle just last month, it nevertheless is a tremendously fun event.  The dozens of attendees are passionate about their genre and deeply intellectual.  At any hour of the day, one might engage in a variety of discussions: on how to break into the pro market, the best techniques of illustration, the travesty of modern science fiction film.  I found myself at the center of one of these impromptu colloquia Sunday afternoon, opining on the current state of science fiction and fantasy and making tentative prophecies of the far future 55 years hence.

I brought my new color film camera, and for those who couldn’t attend (and those who just want to see themselves), please enjoy the following gallery:

First, the (more or less) conventionally dressed attendees:

Some good friends:

Here are the Hicks’, creators of adorable Gothic-monster themed art.

Here’s the radiant Beth, who we met at a similar gathering some four years ago!  She’s very up on the British sf scene.

And here’s The Journey’s very own Erica Frank, imperturbable copy editor and expert of things fannish!

This being a science fiction gathering, there was a good deal of technical tinkery in the works:

And, of course, the highlight of the event was the masquerade ball!

A trio of Peter Pan costumes!

Cinderella and her step-sisters!

Medieval and Renaissance costumes were popular…

As were uniforms from the War:

All in all, it was yet another tremendous time.  I do hope that all of my new friends will drop me a line.  Let’s stay in touch until next October!

[Oct. 7, 1961] That’s Super!  (Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four)

by Gideon Marcus

There’s no question that we are in the Space Age.  Our headlines are dominated with space flights, the movies feature missions to the Moon and invaders from other planets, and our comic books incorporate the very latest scientific discoveries delivered from beyond our planet.

Not that comics employ the most rigorous application of science, but it’s the thought that counts.  If you follow my column, you know that I am an unabashed fan of these junior pulps.  Call me a kid if you like, but I dig these mags.  The Westerns, the romances, the science fiction anthologies.

But what I fondly remember from the War Days are the superhero comics.  Though Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman are still around, it seems caped crusaders have fallen out of vogue with the populace.

Until now…

The other day at the local newsstand, a new comic book caught my eye.  It was a brand new one from Marvel Comics, the spiritual successors of Atlas Comics, which went under late last decade.  Called The Fantastic Four, and brought to us by the creator of Captain America (Jack Kirby), it features the first superheroes I’ve seen in a long time – four, in fact!  We are introduced to the quartet in media res on their way to answer a call to assembly: Sue Storm, who can turn invisible at will; her brother, Johnny Storm, who bursts into flame and can fly; Ben Grimm, a hulking, orange rocky beast; and Dr. Reed Richards, who possesses the power of extreme elasticity.

Whatever crisis they may be meeting to fight, it’s hard to imagine anything more destructive than this team, which manages to demolish just about everything in their way!  Once they are all together, we are treated to an expository interlude in which we learn how these four formerly normal humans became super.  They had been an ordinary set of astronauts out on an investigatory mission into orbit.  There, the savage radiation of the Van Allen Belts suffused their bodies, altering them irrevocably.  Upon their return to Earth, their powers manifested. 

They quickly determined that they must use their powers only for good (the above-described collateral damage notwithstanding).  Each chooses names appropriate to their talents – Sue becomes “The Invisible Girl,” Johnny dubs himself “The Human Torch,” Ben ruefully takes on the moniker of The Thing… and Reed Richards, for no apparent reason other than his expanded ego, chooses “Mr. Fantastic.” 

The story proceeds from there, introducing the Fantastic Four’s first villain: the Mole Man.  This sinister subterranean has developed complete control over the beasts beneath the Earth as well as a suite of advanced technologies; these allow him to terrorize almost any point on the globe with impunity – at least until the Fantastic Four arrived to put paid to the menace.

I note several points of interest.  First, the featuring of the deadly belts of radiation girdling the globe, which are quite real (though they likely won’t have quite the same effects on humans as shown in the comic).  Second, I was happy to see a woman member of the team.  Of course, her talent is already shared by most of her gender – that of being invisible.  On the other hand, it’s nice to see a female character who, by definition, cannot be objectified for her appearance!  Third, I liked the rationale for the Mole Man’s powers – plunged into the lightlessness of the Earth’s interior, he developed acute senses to replace his vision, much like the cave-dwelling humans of Daniel Galouye’s recent book, Dark Universe.

The Fantastic Four #1 is not great art by any means, but I enjoyed it.  It took me about 24 minutes to read, cover to cover.  At a cost of 12 cents the issue, that’s a half cent per minute of entertainment — more expensive than a book, but cheaper than a movie.  I’d say it was worth it!

Next up – a report from Seattle’s latest science fiction gathering!

[Oct. 5, 1961] Half Full (November 1961 IF Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

A long time ago, back in the hoary old days of the 1950s, there was a science fiction magazine called Satellite.  It was unusual in that contained full short novels, and maybe a vignette or two.  Satellite was a fine magazine, and I was sorry to see it die at the end of the last decade. 

Novels still come out in magazines, but they do so in a serialized format.  This can be awkward as they generally extend across three or four magazines.  Several magazines have started publishing stories in two parts, a compromise between Satellite and the usual digests.  Fantasy and Science Fiction does that, but it also hacks the novels to bits, and they suffer for it. 

IF, which is Galaxy’s sister magazine, had not flirted with this format until this month’s, the November 1961 issue.  This means a novella-sized chunk of a story and a handful of shorter ones.  That makes for a briefer article than normal this time around, but I think you’ll still find it worth your time.  Let’s take a look!

Masters of Space, the aforementioned two-part novel, is an interesting throwback, stylistically.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise given its provenance: E.E. “Doc” Smith, possibly the brightest light in space opera of the 20s and 30s, is one of its two authors; the other is E. E. Evans, another old hand who passed away in 1958.  Masters stars a crew of Terran colonist/scientists that encounters a race of androids, immortal servants of a prior offshoot of humanity that had once conquered the stars.  The novel is told in a flippant sort of shorthand, a bunch of banter reminiscent of 1940s film dialogue.  The colonists are evenly divided by sex, and much of the book is devoted to their romantic escapades.  It’s weird and anachronistic writing, but I’m enjoying it thus far.  Three stars.

Albert Teichner brings us Sweet Their Blood and Sticky, a subtle mood piece about an atomically razed Earth and its one remaining monument to humanity: an automated taffy-making machine.  It’s just long enough to make its point, and it’s a good sophomore effort for this new writer.  Three stars.

At The End of the Orbit is the latest by Hugo-winning Arthur C. Clarke, who has been writing quite a lot lately.  Orbit starts out like an episode of Michener’s TV show, Adventures in Paradise, featuring a South Seas pearl diver.  Things go in a decidedly dark direction when said aquanaut discovers a Soviet capsule at the bottom of the ocean.  Four stars, but it’s not a happy piece.

by Gaughan

Patrick Fahy, like Teichner, turns in his second story (at least to my knowledge), The Mightiest Man.  Alien race conquers humanity and, as in Wells’ classic, is laid low by microbes.  But not before empowering one traitorous man with immortality and the ability to control minds.  His fate, and that of those he encounters, comprise another unpleasant (but not unworthy) tale.  Three stars.

Fortunately, for those who like happy stories, like me, the next story is Keith Laumer’s Gambler’s World.  It’s another installment in the adventures of Retief, the Galaxy’s most irreverent and capable diplomat/super spy.  Can Retief foil a coup attempt on a provincial planet?  Can he best the most fiendish games of chance ever devised?  Can he make you laugh with his antics?  I think you can guess the answer.  This is my favorite Retief story to date.  Four stars.

The issue wraps up on a lame note with Kevin Scott’s brief Quiet, Please which I, frankly, did understand or particularly enjoy.  Two stars.

All told, that’s 3.11 on the Star-o-meter, which is pretty good for IF these days.  Pretty good for anyone, really, and good enough to remain among my subscriptions.

Stay tuned for an unusual super-powered article in just a couple of days…

[Oct. 1, 1961] Over and Above (America’s surprising lead in the Space Race)

by Gideon Marcus

When the news is full of Soviet spacemen and bomb tests, it’s easy to get the impression that America’s losing the Space Race.  The Russians got the first Sputnik, the first Muttnik, the first Lunik.  They launched the first two men into orbit; America’s two astronauts had shorter missions than most people’s commutes.  Not a week goes by without some cartoon in the papers depicting a Sickle and Hammer festooning a space station or the Moon.

And yet, are we really behind?  Just last month, the Air Force had three Discoverer missions (29, 30, and 31).  Discoverer is a spy satellite.  It is launched into a polar orbit (i.e. one that goes North to South rather than East to West) that allows the craft to view the entire Earth every day.  It snaps pictures with an onboard camera and then, after a couple of days, jettisons the camera back to Earth in a reentry probe.  The Air Force catches these probes in mid-air!  This is to ensure that our nation’s enemies don’t recover them before we can. 

The Communists are up to Sputnik #10.  The Air Force, with just one series of satellites, has over thirty.  There is simply no comparison in the number of flights we are launching.  Moreover, we have more kinds of flights: the scientific Explorers and Pioneers, the Echo and Courier communications satellites, the missile-detecting MIDASes, the navigational TRANSITs

Now, you may be wondering if the Soviets have more satellites up, and they just aren’t telling us.  It is true that the Communists seem loathe to announce any flights unless they are a) civilian in nature and b) successful.  However, since satellites necessarily travel across the entire globe, it is impossible to hide an orbital mission for very long.  Too many countries are scanning their skies with radar and telescopes.  Too many professionals and amateurs tune into the heavens, listening for a scrap of telemetry.  No, it’s pretty clear that the West is beating the East, at least in the number of missions, by an overwhelming margin.

Moreover, we will very soon catch up to the Russians in terms of the size of payloads we can launch into orbit and beyond, the one arena in which they’ve enjoyed a consistent advantage.  Not only will the Atlas and Titan ICBMs soon be able to boost humans into orbit, but the new Saturn should dwarf anything the Soviets have to offer.  Unlike all of our (and their) previous rockets, the Saturn has been purpose-built as a civilian heavy-lift booster.  Its capacity is going to be tremendous – and it will only be increased as time goes on.

Next time someone tells you that the Reds are clobbering us in Space, just send them one of those commemorative postcards our flyboys issue for each Discoverer launch.  By the time the Russians get to 31 in any satellite series, I imagine we’ll already be well past 100.

[September 29, 1961] Slim Pickings (October 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

Each month, I look forward to my dose of new science fiction stories delivered in the form of digest-sized magazines.  Over the decade that I’ve been subscribing, I’ve fallen into a habit.  I start with my first love, Galaxy (or its sister, IF, now that they are both bi-monthlies).  I then move on to Analog, formerly Astounding.  I save The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for last.  This is because it has been, until recently, the best of the digests– my dessert for the month, as it were. 

These days, the stories aren’t as good.  Moreover, this time around, the latter third of the magazine was taken up with half a new Gordy Dickson short novel, which I won’t review until it finishes next month.  As a result, the remaining tales were short and slight, ranging from good to mediocre.

In other words, not a great month for F&SF, especially when you consider that the novels they print seem to be hacked down for space (if the longer versions that inevitably are printed in book form are any indication).  Nevertheless, it is my duty to report what I found, so here it is, the October 1961 F&SF:

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who is not exactly a science fiction author but dabbles in the arena, leads with Harrison Bergeron.  It’s a deceptively juvenile satire against Conformity and Communism, and while it may not impress upon first reading, it stays with you.  Four stars.

One of my favorite new authors is Rosel George Brown, and I have to give her credit for being willing to take chances.  The Ultimate Sin, however, is a bit avante garde for me.  Something about a social misfit interstellar explorer who finds a planet where gravity depends on whim rather than mass, and where the entire ecology is a unit, its pieces constantly consuming each other and exchanging knowledge in the process.  I didn’t like it at first, but as with the first story, I found it engaging in retrospect.  Three stars.

Charles G. Finney’s The Captivity isn’t science fiction at all; it’s more an analysis of captivity on humans, particularly when they discover that they aren’t really captives at all.  What is there left to push against when external forces are removed?  Only each other, and themselves.  Three stars.

Robert E. Lee at Moscow is Evelyn E. Smith’s attempt at satire this issue.  She’s produced some real doozies, but this one, an extreme logical extension of turning our political ambassadors into cultural ambassadors, falls flat.  There is a laugh-inducing line on the last page, however.  Two stars.

The half-posthumous team of Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth bring us The World of Myrion Flowers, which tells the tale of a driven Black philanthropist whose attempts to raise a cadre of Negro executives end unhappily.  The moral: it’s best when a disdained class doesn’t have too clear an idea of what the favored class thinks of them.  I can only imagine what insanity I would derive from having telepathy while living in 1930s Germany.  Three stars.

Isaac Asimov hasn’t written much fiction lately, and when he does, it tends to be old fashioned.  So it is with The Machine That Won the War, a very slight computer-related piece that probably got accepted more out of respect for the author than for its quality.  Two stars.

Meanwhile, George Langelaan, the Paris-born Britisher who penned The Fly in ’57 brings us The Other Hand, a macabre story of digits that move as if possessed, compelling their owners to strange activities.  Rather overwrought and archaic.  Two stars.

If Asimov’s fiction fails to impress, his fact remains entertaining.  That’s About the Size of It is all about the comparative sizes of Earth’s animals, all done logarithmically for easy data manipulation.  It turns out that people are medium-biggish creatures, all things considered.  Four stars.

The Vat is Avram Davidson’s latest, featuring a bit of alchemy and misadventure.  Short but readable.  Three stars.

Grendel Briarton’s latest pun, Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: XLIV, is as always, perhaps a bit more.

And that leaves us with Dickson’s Naked to the Stars (Part 1 of 2), which I’ll cover next week.  All in all, a 3-star issue that will not revulse but neither will it much impress.  Faint praise, indeed.