[September 30, 1962] The Woman Pioneers of Space Exploration

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

The Journey has a tradition of spotlighting the accomplishments of women, both as writers of and characters in science fiction.  From Dr. Martha Dane, the eminent omnilinguist who graces the Journey’s masthead, to the 30+ authors who have been spotlighted in our series on The Second Sex in SFF.

But while the Journey has covered the Space Race in lavish detail, it has devoted little space to the woman scientists and engineers involved behind the scenes.  In part, this is because space travel is a new field.  In part, it’s because science is still a heavily male-dominated arena.  While women have risen to prominence as scientists for centuries, from Émilie du Châtelet to Marie Curie to Grace Hopper, it is only very recently that they have made their way to the top ranks of space science. 

Times have changed, and there is now a vanguard of women leading the charge that will perhaps someday lead to complete parity between the sexes in this, the newest frontier of science.  To a significant degree, this development was spurred by the digital computer, which you’ll see demonstrated in several of the entries in this article, The Woman Pioneers of Space Exploration:

Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, PhD. Astronomy
Chief of Astronomy, NASA Office of Space Science

Tennessee-born Dr. Roman began her professional career as a graduate student at Chicago’s Yerkes University, then the epicenter of astronomical research.  At the time, a full 20% of the students were women, and while there was no explicit discrimination against them, women earned just two thirds the pay of the men.  As department chair Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar unironically observed, “We don’t
discriminate against women.  We can just get them for less.”

That hardly sat well with Dr. Roman, and she went on to the Naval Research Lab in 1955.  She was initially given no assignments; in fact, she was virtually ignored.  It turned out that the rest of NRL’s staff (all men, of course) were prejudiced against women on account of a prior female colleague having been, as they characterized her, “useless.”  Dr. Roman’s competence quickly disabused them of their error in projecting the failings of one person upon an entire gender.

In 1959, Dr. Roman was tapped to lead the space astronomy department at the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), becoming the most senior woman at the agency.  Dr. Roman has since augmented NASA’s optical and ultraviolet astronomy efforts with new high energy and radio astronomy programs, and her fingerprints are and will be on a great many spacecraft, including the Orbiting Astronomical and Orbiting Solar Observatories, the latter of which launched earlier this year. 

Marcia Neugebauer, M.S. Physics
Senior Research Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Mariner 2 is on its way to Venus, and Neugebauer is one of the principal engineers behind its construction.  A graduate of Cornell and University of Illinois, Marcia came to California to marry her husband, Gerry, an infrared astronomer, taking a job as Research Scientist at JPL.

Her specialty is the solar wind, that stream charged particles issuing from the Sun whose impact on the Earth’s magnetic field is profound.  She was project scientist for Rangers 1 and 2, a pair of sky science flights that, sadly, were unsuccessful.  But Mariner 2, which is an adaptation of the Ranger probe, also carries the plasma analyzer of Neugebauer’s design, and it is now six million miles along on its journey.  Whether the solar wind be found to be a gale or a gentle breeze, that determination will be thanks to Neugebauer’s experiment – and one can bet that she’ll have a hand in many space probes to come.

Dorothy Vaughan, B.A. Mathematics
Computer programmer, Langley Research Center, NASA

It wasn’t long ago that “computer” meant a mathematician, typically female, who solved numerical problems.  Companies, banks, research centers, would have a corps of computers to resolve complicated mathematical issues.  NASA’s precursor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), had several such groups.  One of them was the all Black, segregated West Area Computing Unit at Langley Research Center.

Vaughan joined NACA in 1943.  After the War, she advanced to heading the unit, becoming the first Black manager at NACA.  In 1958, NACA became NASA, and all segregated facilities, including the West Computing office, were abolished.

At the same time, human computing centers were becoming obsolete, now that digital computers like the IBM 7090 were coming into their own.  But someone had to program them.  Computing, even by punch-card, is still considered “women’s work,” as it was when it was by hand.  This, then, represents an opportunity for thousands of mathematically minded women to enter a field that simply didn’t exist a few years ago, a world men are keeping out of by choice: the world of digital computer programming.

Seeing the electronic computer revolution approaching, Vaughan taught herself FORTRAN, a scientific programming language, and then imparted her knowledge to her colleagues such that she and they could join NASA’s new Analysis and Computation Division as coders. Dorothy Vaughan is still there, currently working on programming the Scout, a cheap and reliable solid-fuel booster.

Katherine Johnson, B.S. Mathematics and French
Mathematician, Langley Research Center, NASA

One of Dorothy Vaughan’s staff was mathematician Katherine Johnson.  A West Area computer from 1953, she went on to the Flight Research Division (FRD) after NASA was formed, where she became (and is) deeply involved in the Mercury manned space program.

In 1960, she became the first woman at FRD to receive credit as coauthor of a research report: “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position,” which lay out the equations for landing an orbital spacecraft.  She also did trajectory analysis for America’s first human spaceflight, the suborbital mission of Alan Shepard.

Having thus developed a strong reputation for accuracy, it is little surprise that, on the eve of John Glenn’s orbital flight, the astronaut specifically requested that Johnson hand-check his trajectory equations – even though they had been calculated by NASA’s most advanced computers.  “If she says they’re good,” Glenn said, “then I’m ready to go.”

They were, and he was. 

Mary Jackson, B.A. Mathematics
Aeronautical Engineer, Langley Research Center, NASA

Mary Jackson is not precisely a space pioneer, as her work is focused chiefly on wind tunnels and testing the aerodynamic properties of aircraft designs.  Nevertheless, she is noteworthy for being possibly the only Black woman aeronautical engineer in her field, and for her remarkable story:

Originally a math teacher with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences, she ended up in at Langley’s segregated West Area Computing section in 1951, reporting to Dorothy Vaughan.

Just two years later, she received an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the 60,000 horsepower Supersonic Pressure Tunnel.  Jackson took the job and proved herself, earning Czarnecki’s endorsement to take graduate level math and physics classes offered by the University of Virginia. But the classes were held at the segregated, all White, Hampton High School.  Mary had to fight for special permission from the City of Hampton to take the classes.  She succeeded and in 1958, thus became NASA’s first black female engineer.  That same year, she co-authored her first report: “Effects of Nose Angle and Mach Number on Transition on Cones at Supersonic Speeds.”

Susan Finley
Computer Programmer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Like Dorothy Vaughan, Southern California-based Susan Finley started out as a computer.  Actually, she started out as an art student, but she dropped out after her third year.  Applying for a typist job at Convair, creator of the Atlas rocket that boosted Glenn to orbit, she was asked if she liked math.  She did, and so was offered a computing position.

Marriage complicated things logistically, Finley moving with her husband for his job to San Gabriel.  This put her within commuting distance of JPL, which she joined in January 28, 1958 – just three days before America entered the Space Race with Explorer I.  In 1960, her husband went to grad school in Riverside, and Finley had to leave her position again.  She returned to JPL in 1962, but not before, like many women, she had learned FORTRAN.  Finley nimbly transitioned from mechanical calculators to advanced digital computers.

Ironically, Finley’s calculations that determined that this year’s Ranger 3 flight had missed the Moon by 22,000 miles were done by hand – the computer was off-line at the time!

Lauren “Frankie” van der Wal, M.S. Aeronautics
Chief of Biomedicine, Space Technology Laboratories (former)

Six feet tall and tough as nails, Frankie van der Wal was project manager for the first space biological experiment.  Before becoming Chief of Biomedicine at the overwhelmingly stag Los Angeles facility of Space Technology Laboratories’ (STL), she had been a 15 year-old high school graduate, a model, an airplane mechanic, a deputy sheriff, a showgirl, a graduate with a Masters in Aeronautics, and much more. 

In 1958, the Air Force ran a series of suborbital nosecone tests aboard the STL-designed Thor-Able booster, a rocket that had been patched together for the Pioneer Moon missions.  Van der Wal abhorred a vacuum as much as nature, and she proposed using the hollow space of the nosecone to house a mouse-tro-naut.  Packed into the tight space would be various biomedical monitors to track the life-signs of the rodent during its 15 minute, several thousand-mile flight (much like the ones astronauts Shepard and Grissom would later take). 

The experiment worked well, even if the mice had a penchant for biting the folks who strapped them in to their nosecone seats.  The hearts of Van der Wal’s mice acted like little accelerometers, hastening with the blast of the Thor engine.  Sadly, none of the mice could be recovered after splashdown, but at least they proved that animals could survive the rigors of blast-off and reentry.

I understand Frankie has left STL and is recently married.  Nevertheless, she set a high bar with her strong will and ability, inspiring admiring respect (and not a little fear!) in her coworkers.

These, then, are some of the more prominent of the women pioneers of space science.  Their example will inspire a whole generation of woman engineers and researchers into the aeronautical sciences, and someday even into the astronautical corps.  Of course, I haven’t even touched upon the myriad female astronomers who are not involved with NASA or a space program, but whose contributions to science have greatly expanded our understanding of the cosmos.  They’ll be the subject of the next article in this series…so keep tuned to the Journey!




[Sep. 28, 1962] Seduction of the Innocent (special sci-fi fanzine edition)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

My father used to say that the road to drug abuse didn’t start with pot, or smoking, or even alcohol.

“It all begins with milk,” he’d say.

The funnel that leads to a life of science fiction fanaticism is not quite so broad, but there sure are a lot of entry points.  For instance, one can’t read the newspaper without some update on the Space Race or a new drug.  Sci-fi movies, while often terrible, are ubiquitous.  Science fiction novels are starting to take off just as the monthly digests are at their nadir.  Marvel Comics has launched several new sf-related titles.  Conventions are increasing in number.  Yes, the tentacles of fandom are many, indeed.

My introduction was the October 1950 debut of Galaxy magazine.  Sure, I’d read and watched some science fiction before then, but it hadn’t grabbed me consistently.  Galaxy was pure quality in every issue, and I soon bought an addiction…er…subscription.  Well, there were so many other magazines on the shelf next to Galaxy, surely some of them must be good, too, I reasoned.  By 1954, I was regularly also reading Fantasy and Science Fiction, Astounding, Imagination, Fantastic Universe, Satellite, and Beyond.  Let me tell you — keeping up was a chore!  I was almost glad to have the field winnow a bit toward the end of the decade.

In 1958, I began writing this column, and my reading became more disciplined, more with an eye toward providing content to my readers (who numbered about three at the time; thank you, Stephanie, Janice, and Vic).  The trick then was to ensure I had enough material to fill 10-15 articles a month.  Three magazines and the odd space shot weren’t enough to do the trick.  So I started reading the science fiction novels as they hit the newsstands.  Not all of them, mind you, but the ones that looked interesting.  I began going to the cinema with the Young Traveler for all of the sf flicks, good, indifferent, and (too often) bad.  The Twilight Zone debuted in 1959, and that became a regular viewing experience.

There’s nothing a fan likes more than meeting other fans, so of course, attending conventions became a must.  And then I wasn’t just going to conventions; I became a panelist, a sought out guest.  There began to be rumblings that Galactic Journey might be on the ballot for a Best Fanzine Hugo sometime soon, so I broadened my reading material to include other fanzines.

This, then, is my current state…buried under a pile of reading material faced with a daunting publication schedule.  Thank goodness many of the Journey’s readers have become associates, bringing their unique (dare I say, superior) talents to this ever-burgeoning endeavor.

So this month, I’ve got a couple of special treats, which I shall provide largely without comment.  The first is a fanzine revival by Uberfan Al haLevy.  Rhodomagnetic Digest was a stand-out ‘zine for several issues in the early ’50s.  Al revived it this year, and I recently got my hands on the second issue.  Highlights include the converage of the Labor Day “Nonvention,” a sizeable California gathering for the folks who couldn’t make Chicon III; and a comprehensive encyclopedia of Tolkein’s hobbits.  The latter looks to be first in a series, and I’m certain Middle Earth fans will find it useful. 

Present #2 is a science fiction movie magazine, Spacemen .  I hadn’t even been aware of its existence, but a friend left his copy of Issue 5 here last weekend, and I found it interesting enough to share.  It’s a retrospective issue, full of lore going back several decades, the most compelling of which (to me) was the interview with Buster Crabbe about his work portraying Buck Rogers, which he did after his stint as Flash Gordon.  Lots of good pictures and some fascinating advertisements in the magazine’s aft section.

I hope you enjoy these off-the-beaten-path pieces of sf fandom goodness.  And if these be the items that tip you from FIJAGDH (Fandom is Just a G-D Hobby) to FIAWOL (Fandom is a Way of Life)…

…welcome aboard!




[Sep. 25, 1962] Peaks and Valleys (October 1962 Analog)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

There are two poles when it comes to how science fiction magazines like to fill their pages.  The Fantasy and Science Fiction approach involves lots of short stories — it makes for an impressive Table of Contents and a lot of bite-sized pieces.  Analog tends toward the other extreme: its stories tend to be novellas and serials, and you only get 4-5 piece of fiction each issue.  As a result, the average quality of any given issue relies on a very few pieces.  With Analog, if you don’t like several of the authors, you’re pretty much out of luck (and 50 cents). 

The October 1962 Analog is, fortunately, not that bad, but a wide swath of it is taken up with a pretty lousy novella.  If I’d started with it, I don’t know if I’d have made it to the rest of the magazine.  It’s a good thing I read from the back first…

Ethical Quotient, by John T. Phillifent

You’ve probably run into the British author, Mr. Phillifent, under his more common pseudonym, “John Rackham.”  Quotient takes up the most real estate of any piece in the issue, and it’s a shame.  The set-up is pure Campbell, with a Terran science-historian winning a trip aboard Earth’s first starship to meet the superior, psionically endowed humanoids of the Galactic Federation.  To ensure his safety, the historian is surgically equipped with a psychic transmitter that mimics the native powers of the aliens. 

In short order, the Earther is beset by murderers, whom he dispatches with his uncommon athletic ability.  A beautiful princess, daughter of the noble whose cabin was hastily vacated to give the historian passage on the starship, also gets involved. 

As to what happens next?  Well…I can’t tell you.  You see, I made several attempts to finish this story, and I found myself continually foundering on the shoals of page 20 (of 55!) Somehow, I kept finding the newspaper, or The Andy Griffith Show, or this month’s excellent issue of Fantastic more worthy of my attention.

I give up.  One star.  Let me know what I missed.

… After a Few Words …, by Seaton McKettrig

I’ve never head of McKettrig.  He’s either new or (more likely with Analog) someone writing pseudonymously.  The title of this piece gives the gimmick away of this short tale of the First Crusade, but it’s not bad, and the idea of the “televicarion” is an interesting one.  Three stars.

Gadget vs. Trend, by Christopher Anvil

Sometimes the transformative effects of a technology on society are subtle and slow; other times, they are dramatic and quick.  For instance, the creation of linen-based “rag” paper provided a welcome improvement over parchment, but it was the development of Gutenberg’s printing press (which used the fine paper) that caused a revolution.

Anvil’s Gadget explores the latter kind of invention, a “quasi-electron” barrier developed in the 1970s that leads to complete societal chaos.  Short, punchy, and pleasantly satirical, it’s one of the better stories Anvil has produced for Analog.  Three stars.

Hypergolicity, by Edward C. Walterscheid

I generally anticipate Analog’s science fact articles with a sense of dread.  They are often not worth the slick paper they are printed on (in an attempt to add respectability to his magazine, editor Campbell has included about 20 pages of magazine-quality paper for a couple of years now.) Walterscheid takes on a genuinely interesting and current topic: the use of spontaneously igniting fuel and oxidizer mixes for rockets.  These combinations are frightfully dangerous, but also convenient, for no spark or fuse is required to set them off, and rockets that employ hypergolics can stop and restart their engines.

It’s technical and not as adeptly written as Asimov’s or Ley’s stuff, but I found it highly informative.  Three stars.

A Life for the Stars (Part 2 of 2), by James Blish

Since my report on the first half of Blish’s newest novel, I have learned that the “Oakie” setting, featuring nomadic Earth cities powered by faster-than-light “spindizzy” drives, has been around at least since 1950, when Bindlestiff was published.  If the other entries in this universe are as good as A Life for the Stars, then I have some catching up to do.

When we last left our hero, Crispin deFord, an impressed resident of the spacefaring city of Scranton, he had been exchanged for food to the much larger community of New York.  As a promising citizen-candidate, guaranteed immortality should he be granted the franchise, Chris is force-fed a torrent of computer-inscribed education so that his true calling might be made evident by his 18th birthday.

But space is a dangerous place, and the potential for planetside treachery, shipboard revolution, or even inter-city conflict is high.  Suffice it to say that Chris has several adventures in store for him before he can become a full-fledged New Yorker…and that outcome is far from certain.

The pacing, writing, and characterization are all excellent, and if it occasionally feels as though history and society have stood still for the Oakie universe since 1960, it can be forgiven for all the novel inventions Blish presents.  Aside from the flying communities, there are also the “City Fathers,” benevolent computers that guide, but don’t run, the cities; beamed power that wirelessly runs the electronics; the powered military armor reminiscent of, but presumably predating, Heinelin’s Starship Troopers; and more.  Five stars, and I’m betting it’ll be on 1963’s Hugo shortlist. 

Buy this issue for, if nothing else, the Blish. 




[September 22, 1962] Cat and Mouse Game (October 1962 Fantastic)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Victoria Silverwolf

One of the most notable events this month, at least to those of us who look to the stars, was a speech by President Kennedy at Rice University.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

Fittingly, the second team of NASA astronauts was announced this month, captured here in a lighter moment.


Clockwise from top right are Frank Borman, John Young, Tom Stafford, Pete Conrad, Jim McDivitt, Jim Lovell, Elliot See, Ed White and Neil Armstrong.

Will one of these men become the first human being (or at least the first American) on the moon?  We’ll have to wait some years to find out.

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, the airwaves are dominated by the smash hit, Sherry, by the Four Seasons.  Personally, lead singer Frankie Valli’s falsetto makes me want to leave the planet myself.

A more practical form of escape can be found in the pages of the October 1962 issue of Fantastic.

Another fine cover by the great Emsh captures the mood of a major new story by one of the masters of imaginative literature.

The Unholy Grail, by Fritz Leiber

The author has published a number of tales relating the adventures of the red-haired giant Fafhrd and his much smaller companion the Gray Mouser since 1939.  This story takes place before the two met (although there is one line which suggests that the Grey Mouser caught a glimpse of Fafhrd during an encounter with pirates.)

Not yet known by his famous nickname, the hero is simply called Mouse.  He is the apprentice of a benign practitioner of white magic.  The local Duke hates all magicians.  His daughter secretly takes lessons from Mouse’s master, and a gentle romance seems to be blooming between the two young persons.  The story begins with the Mouse returning from a long and difficult quest for the magician.  He finds his master dead and his home burned to the ground.  This is obviously the work of the Duke, and Mouse seeks revenge by turning to black magic.

The story vividly portrays the terrible price one must pay in order to make use of evil magic, and becomes at time a tale of horror.  There is a great deal of psychological depth to the characters.  The Duke is haunted by the memory of his dead wife, who was stronger and crueler than he is.  He tries to force his meek daughter to become like her. 

Leiber’s female characters are usually charming and beautiful, but this time he explores the mind of the daughter to a greater degree than usual.  She is bitterly unhappy because of the way her father torments her.  She suffers even more when the Mouse blames her for betraying the magician.  During the climactic scene, when she plays a vital role in the Mouse’s scheme of vengeance, she shows unexpected strength of character.
The way in which the naïve and nonviolent Mouse is transformed by tragedy into the cynical, sword-wielding Gray Mouser is sure to capture the imagination of the reader.  Five stars.

The Double-Timer, by Thomas M. Disch

A new author makes his debut with this tale of murder and time travel.  In the next century, special members of the police force are able to investigate crimes by projecting themselves into the recent past.  (The device works only back in time, and no more than eighteen hours.) The narrator is one such officer, who works out a plan to murder his wife and place the blame on the man whom he believes is her lover.  Things don’t work out as he expects.  The plot is cleverly thought out, although this story might seem more suited to the pages of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which sometimes publishes crime fiction with science fiction elements.  Perhaps the author will follow the lead of Donald Westlake and John D. MacDonald and turn to writing thrillers.  In any case, he shows promise and intelligence.  Four stars.

Any Questions?, by Leo P. Kelley

In this brief story, aliens come to Earth disguised as humans and offer various people devices which allow them to create anything they desire.  The result is not surprising, but the tale is told in an efficient manner.  Three stars.

Nor Iron Bars a Cage, by Ron Goulart

This is a farce about the warden of an automated prison.  A glitch in the program (created in a very silly manner) causes him to be mistaken for a prisoner on death row.  The robot guards refuse to believe his story.  With only a few days until his execution, he must find a way out.  The ending of the story is as silly as the beginning.  The robot clergyman provides some mild amusement.  Two stars.

Presence of Mind, by Martin Armstrong

The Fantasy Classic for this issue is from the pen of a prolific British author of fiction and poetry.  It is taken from a 1934 collection of his short stories.  The protagonist takes a shortcut through a private garden on his way to an appointment, hoping to avoid notice.  When confronted by a servant, he tries to escape by pretending to be looking for the home of a man with the ridiculously unlikely name of Z. Q. Muggleton Spoffin.  To his astonishment, this is the name of the man who lives there.  In an attempt to get out of this absurd situation, he makes up a story involving people with other outrageous names.  Incredibly, all the imaginary people he creates actually exist.  As the story goes on, he even makes up an imaginary brand of lawnmower.  This is an eccentric story, which plays games with the nature of reality.  The mood is generally one of light comedy, although there is a subtle tone of uneasiness.  It is definitely better than the old pulp stories the magazine usually reprints.  Three stars.

The Teachers Rode a Wheel of Fire , by Roger Zelazny

A young writer who has already appeared in the publications edited by Cele Goldsmith a couple of times offers another very short story.  In this one, a primitive human (or humanoid) witnesses the arrival of a spaceship bearing two technologically advanced humans (or humanoids.) They try to teach him how to use simple tools of wood and stone by enticing him with food.  He doesn’t seem to learn anything, but at the end of the story he gets an idea in an unexpected way.  It was never clear to me whether this was another planet, or Earth thousands of years ago being visited by aliens (or, possibly, time travelers.) Despite this vagueness, and the fact that we never learn why the advanced characters are trying to teach the primitive character, the story is of some interest.  I hope the author, who obviously has talent and imagination, goes on to write longer and more complex stories.  Three stars.

Autogeddon, by Geoffry Wagner

Here we have a fierce and violent satire of the modern automobile culture from a name new to me.  In the future, the United States is ruled by a dictatorship.  The entire nation has been paved over.  Cars zoom by at enormous rates of speed.  A license is required to be a pedestrian.  Even so, drivers have the freedom to run over any victims they find.  These murders are televised as entertainment.  The plot involves a college professor and one of his students who try to rebel against this bloody society.  This is a grim and powerful tale, which may make you think twice the next time you try to cross a busy street.  Four stars.

You may not be able to buy a ticket to the moon yet, but at least you can purchase a trip into the realms of wonder.




[Sep. 20, 1962] Out of this World (the British Summer SF hit!)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


By Ashley R. Pollard

The end of summer has come, and autumn is upon us.  The result of the Earth’s journey around the sun, and as my esteemed colleague Mr. Mark Yon said, the weather here has been wet.  Sometimes we get good summers, but this year was not one of those, the icing on the cake being a miserable August Bank Holiday weekend after the weekend before’s promising sunny day.  But, Whether the weather be fine, Or whether the weather be not, here on Galactic Journey we will weather the weather to bring you the latest Sci-Fi news from soggy Britain.

This coming Saturday will see the last episode of Out of this World, which has made staying in on a Saturday night something to look forward to, rather than something that indicates one has no friends or better things to do.  Though to be fair, I’ve been babysitting for my friend, which I enjoy doing.

As I mentioned before, this series was launched with Dumb Martian shown as part of the Armchair Theatre series.  The new series has a very spooky theme tune called The Concerto to the Stars, composed by Eric Siday, which plays against a background of moving microscopic tentacles that sets the tone for the show.  For those who are interested, Tony Hatch has expanded the theme tune into very catchy 45 record, available from all good record stores.

The format of the show has each episode introduced by Boris Karloff, who is disarmingly charming with his bon mots about the story to come.  There are two breaks for adverts, which is annoying, but this is commercial TV, so it is to be expected.  Then Mr. Karloff signs off the story with an announcement of the cast.

The first actual episode shown under the banner Out of this World was the Yellow Pill by Rog Phillips, which was a story that explored the nature of reality and delusions.  As someone who works in the field of mental health, this was of particular interest to me, and it was interesting to see an author’s take on the subject.  The paradoxical ending pulled the rug from underneath the viewers’ feet.  It launched the series, pulling in eleven million viewers, which placed it as the eleventh highest rated show of the week.

Remarkable for any first episode of a series, let alone one advertising itself as science fiction.

The second story was an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Little Lost Robot, whose robot stories featuring Dr. Susan Calvin are some of my favourite SF reads.  While the adaptation is very good, it is a trifle over-cooked, and the ending of the story has been changed so that the robot kills the person who told it to get lost when it is found out.  This goes against Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and is a failure of Leo Lehman to understand the story.  Still, a compelling piece, despite this egregious ending.

The third episode is a much truer adaptation, based on the Cold Equations by Tom Godwin.  There’s not much I can tell you that you all don’t already know about this story of a spaceship with a stowaway.  The play has the rather suave Peter Wyngarde, who was seen earlier this year in the film Night of the Eagle aka Burn Witch Burn, acting alongside a very young actress called Jane Asher.  Her biography mentions that when she was a child she appeared in The Quatermass Xperiment. This was the Hammer Films adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s story that I have mentioned on several previous occasions.

Episode four’s story was Imposter by Philip K. Dick.  A famous piece that, again, should not need an introduction by me.  It’s a classic tale of paranoia adapted for television by Terry Nation, who I mention in passing because he contributes one of the two original stories for this series.  Judging by his story Botany Bay, which was transmitted the following week, he is someone to keep an eye on.

Botany Bay was a story with twists that were disturbing in their implication, set in a psychiatric institution.  The setting alone grabbed me from the start, and the central conceit of alien criminals transferring their minds into the minds of the patients in the asylum set the tone, making the sinister story feel like something from Philip K. Dick.  The denouement that this wasn’t Earth, and the intruders were from Earth, was shocking.

Medicine Show by Robert Moore Williams is a story about two doctors who are alien miracle workers who take payment from their patients in the form of seeds.  Again, this adaptation veers a little off course as it tonally makes it all rather more mystical than the original story, but it feels fresh, and I suspect it will appeal to younger people’s sensibilities.

Episode seven is an adaptation of Katherine Maclean’s, Pictures Don’t Lie.  I loved this story of aliens spaceship travelling here, peacefully announcing their intentions and talking to the people on Earth, which then goes all horribly wrong, because of scale.  They’re really, really tiny, and are lost after they land in what they describe as a marsh.  The humans who go out to search for them fail to see the microscopic alien ship and tragically destroy the visitors from another world when they step on them by accident.

Vanishing Act by Richard Waring, is an original play for Out of this World.  It turns down intensity of the previous week’s tragedy by presenting a comedy (if one may call it that?) The protagonist, a conjuror in search of the late magician Great Vorg’s lost vanishing-cabinet, finds himself getting far more than he bargained for.

The next episode goes back to the more paranoid-conspiracy tone with an adaptation of Raymond F. Jones’s Divided We Fall.  I remember him as the author of This Island Earth — only from the film because I’ve not read any of his stories.  This play presents the intriguing problem of how to tell synthetic humans that are indistinguishable from everyone else.  It features the charming Ann Bell, an actress unknown to me, who I suspect will go far in her career.  Also, this story reminds me of the film The Creation of the Humanoids, reviewed here by fellow columnist Miss Rosemary Benton.

Episode ten, The Dark Star, by Frank Crisp was based on his novel Ape of London.  He’s better known for his children’s adventure books, but this is a credible story about what happens when people get superhuman strength from a disease that chooses its victims according to their standing in society.  I’ve not read the novel, so I can’t comment on how close to the original story this adaptation is.

Clifford D. Simak has not one, but two of his short stories adapted for Out of this World.  The first, Immigrant, is about the planet Kimon, a paradise where people go — never to return again.  A nice story that builds up the tension, ladles on despair, and finishes with an uplifting ending.

However, the second Simak story, Target Generation, based on his story Spacebred Generations, was my personal favourite.  It’s a generation-ship story where the descendants of the crew are ignorant of the fact that they are on a starship.  The hero has to figure what to do with a key that was handed down to him by father with the instructions “only to be used in an emergency.”  With the help of a forbidden dictionary he has to learn how to land the ship.  Gripping stuff, even if it’s a well-worn story; seeing it televised just made it better than it had any right to be.

The final story of the series is on this coming Saturday and titled, The Tycoons by Arthur Sellings.  This is a pseudonym of Arthur Gordon Ley, who is a former scientist turned author, and also known as a bookseller.  I’ve only read this weeks Radio Times blurb, so all I can tell you is that it’s a story of three aliens coming here to make a weapon to take over the Earth, billed as a comedy.

Well, this was an excellent summer-time show, but as you know Irene Shubik and Sydney Newman have gone to the BBC, so I fear we will not see a sequel, which is a shame because every Saturday night it managed to knock me Out of this World for the hour it was on.  Perhaps the American audience will be lucky to see it imported, as I understand Supercar was this Summer, and Danger Man the Summer before.




[September 18, 1962] On the Precipice (October 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Are the times changing?

Summer threatens to change to Fall, and the kids are going off to high school and college.  Is this just another turn of the wheel, or are we on the verge of something different, what Historian of Science Thomas Kuhn might call a new “paradigm?”

I had this feeling once before.  In ’53, right after Korea, and after Stalin died, America seemed poised on the edge of an unprecedented era of stability.  Well, really stagnation.  The pendulum had swung heavily in the direction of conservatism.  Black soldiers had come home from the war and were being treated worse than ever.  Ditto women, who had for a while gotten to enjoy some of the rights of men while they were off to war.  The swing music from the prior two decades had gotten overripe and shmaltzy, only somewhat mitigated by the western, blues, and latin music I was able to tune into on nights with clear reception.  The one truly bright spot was science fiction, which had been booming since the late ’40s.

Then rock and roll hit, and boy was it a breath of fresh air.  Sure, you couldn’t hear Black songs on White stations, but there’s no color bar on the airwaves.  Fragile 78 records gave way to durable 45s.  The vacuum tube started to step aside for the transistor.  We were building the missiles that would soon blast us to orbit.  At the same time, sf started to wane.  We went from forty magazines to six over the course of the decade. 

This, then, has been the recent paradigm.  Here we are nine years later, but Elvis and the Everley Brothers still dominate the airwaves.  A new President has asked us what we could do for our country, not what it could do for us; tasking us to go to the Moon before the decade is out, but Black men must still fight even for the right to go to school or ride a bus in much of the nation.  There are now ten thousand Russian troops in Cuba and ten thousand American soldiers in South Vietnam, but are these transitory brush fires or the tip of a belligerent iceberg?

Are the 1960s going to be a continuation of the 1950s?  Or are we overdue for a new epoch?  You tell me.  I’m no soothsayer. 

I suppose in one way, the shift has already happened.  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has become quite different since new editor Avram Davidson took over earlier this year.  It’s not bad, exactly, but it has meandered even further into the literary zone.  This has rendered one of my favorite mags almost unreadable on occasion.  The October 1962 issue does not have this problem, for the most part, but it’s not great.

Enough dilly-dallying.  Here’s the review:

A Kind of Artistry, by Brian W. Aldiss

The son of a baroque and decadent far future Terra journeys across the galaxy to make contact with a most unusual alien intelligence.  Upon his glorious return, he must decide if he has the strength to break the stultifying conditioning of his inbred upringing.

Aldiss wishes he were Cordwainer Smith, and he just isn’t.  Nevertheless, despite some rough patches, there are some good ideas here.  The extraterrestrial has a wildly implausible biochemistry, but the meeting of species is genuinely gripping.  Three stars.

There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, by Robert F. Young

Overpopulation continues to be the theme of many of our current science fiction stories.  A common concept is the idea that excess population can be shipped to the stars, but as any student of history knows, neither England, Spain, France, Portugal, nor any other country ever became empty as a result of colonization.  We can’t expect spaceships to change that equation. 

Neither does Young.  His story is cute, if one-note, holding our interest for as long as the idea can be stretched.  Three stars.

Twenty-Four Hours in a Princess’s Life, With Frogs, by Don White

What if all the fairy-tale princesses were pals, all living together in Hans Christian Andersonville with intersecting storybook plotlines?  Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel… the whole neurotic gang of them.  Don White explores that possiblity in a clever, funny piece that makes me hope that Disney never tries to combine its franchises.  What a mess that would be!  Four stars.

Inquest in Kansas (A Modern American Ballad) by Hyacinth Hill

The unknown Ms. Hill (I understand she may be Virginia Anderson) has a poetic piece about a woman seduced from her home and family by a unicorn.  Whether you find it horrifying or liberating depends on how you infer her life history.  Two stars, as it didn’t grab me.

Measure My Love, by Mildred Clingerman

What a fascinating, almost excellent, but ultimately disappointing piece this was.  Dodie is a youngish spinster whose actress cousin, Althea, has a penchant for melodramatic love affairs.  When Althea’s irresistible romantic nature meets the immovable, unwinnable affections of a married man, Dodie takes her cousin to the local witch, Maude, to cure her of her of broken heart.  Turns out the “witch” is more than meets the eye, but it’s an open question whether or not her panoply of equipment can remedy Althea’s condition. 

Clingerman is one of the most seasoned veterans our field, and her work has a pleasantly old-fashioned tone to it — appropriate both for the era (just post-war) and the protagonist portrayed.  The story moves you along the plot, slowly unfolding things to maintain your interest.  What hurt Measure for me was that, near the end, Maude mentions that she might also be able to cure Dodie’s “little problem,” hitherto undiscussed but strongly hinted at.  But then the problem turns out to be something completely different from what I expected (given the close relationship of the cousins, and Dodie’s unending patience where things Althea-related are concerned). 

I wonder if I guessed wrong, or if the ending was changed at the editor’s insistence for being a bit too…unconventional.  Either way, it turned a four-star story into a three-star one.  I’m probably being unfair, but unsatisfying endings sit poorly with me.

Slow Burn, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor touches on one of my favorite scientific topics — the theory of Phlogiston and how its research eventually led to the discovery of oxygen.  It’s one of those fascinating models that almost but not quite got things right, like impetus theory in the 13th Century ultimately led to the concept of momentum.  I mentioned Kuhn’s “paradigms” earlier, and Phlogiston is a perfect example of the concept.  Four stars.

The Unfortunate Mr. Morky, by Vance Aandahl

One of my readers once said that Mr. Aandahl really wants to be Ray Bradbury.  Surely, there must be loftier goals.  In any event, this incomprehensible piece about the connection between time travel and the profusion of milquetoast personalities isn’t worth your time.  On the other hand, it’s only a few pages, so you might as well see why I gave it only one star (and perhaps you’ll disagree with me).

The Journey of Joenes (Part 1 of 2), by Robert Sheckley

At long last, Bob Sheckley has come back to us.  It’s my understanding that he’s been writing mainstream mysteries and such, which probably pays better than sf.  His latest work, which Editor Davidson says is a hacked up version of the novelized form due out later this year, follows the adventures of Joenes, an American ex-power engineer raised in Polynesia.  His pilgrimage to the Mainland to find his destiny is a series of satirical vignettes told from a foreign and futuristic perspective that turns the story into a kind of dark Canterbury Tales.

It’s a fun read, though I hope there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  Sheckley is better at short stories than novels, so the format plays to his strengths.  I do have to wonder why F&SF prints chopped up novels to fill up half of two consecutive magazines.  I expect that of Ace Doubles, not a high-end digest.  Three stars so far.  We’ll see what happens.

And so we find ourselves on the other side of another issue.  On the face of things, it seems to reinforce the trend that F&SF is in a new and duller era.  Will we soon have enough data points to know if the larger world has changed, too?




[Sep. 15, 1962] Communist Defector (Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Sun)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Roger Corman, the Savant of Schlock is back with a most unusual motion picture.  With incredible puissance, Corman stretches a dime such that he makes “A” quality out of “B” films (q.v. House of Usher, Little Shop of Horrors, Panic in Year Zero, etc.) But Corman takes a different tack with his latest flick, Battle Beyond the Sun.  From what I’ve read, it was originally a Soviet film, which Corman then redubbed and edited for American consumption.  The result is…interesting, and not an unrewarding experience.

The film begins with a somewhat non sequitur narrated sequence displaying a host of spacecraft models.  These are of current and futuristic design.  While a pretty sequence, it is better suited to one of the NASA documentary films you see on TV.  The rather ponderous narration continues as the setting is introduced: in the near future, an atomic war devastates the planet and erases political boundaries.  Once the Earth recovers, it is divided into two rival states: North Hemis and South Hemis.  Interestingly, the former includes what was once the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.  The latter comprises latin Europe, South America, Africa, and most of Asia.

Now it is 1997, and both nations are on the verge of sending a manned mission to Mars.  The South Hemis spaceship Mercury, docked at the orbiting station, Angkor, is undergoing final preparations when a distress call is received.  It is a North Hemis spacecraft, the Typhoon, in need of repair.  The Angkor personnel, apolitical in their devotion to science, open their airlocks to their distressed adversaries. 

But when the North Hemisians learn of the Mercury’s impending flight, they foolhardily depart with their half-fixed vessel in an attempt to reach the Red Planet first.  They run afoul of the sun’s magnetic field along the way, crippling the ship and leaving it in a helpless spiral toward extinction. 

Of course, the self-sacrificing and noble South Hemisians cannot let the Typhoon‘s crew die, no matter their treachery.  So begins an exciting adventure as the Mercury sails off to rescue the Typhoon, finds itself in need of saving, too, ultimate success resting in the hands of a third, prototype spaceship.  Will they make it to Mars?  Can they get back?  You’ll have to watch and find out.

The most striking aspects of this film stem from its Soviet provenance.  I recently reviewed the volume, More Soviet Science Fiction, and I note Battle shares the same grand stateliness with the first story of that collection.  Everything is larger than life.  The Director of Spaceflight sits virtually alone in an enormous control room, her voice echoing in the chamber.  Launchpads are giant, austere things.  The final scene is a sweeping pageant of clamoring humanity. 

There is, of course, the lackluster dubbing (par for the course if you’ve watched Japanese imports), and I imagine we lose a bit of the original plot.  But I was impressed with the lack of political bias.  Battle is a tale of the community of science winning out over personal or national ambition.  It was clearly a high budget film, with excellent use of matting, fine modelwork, and stunning costumes.

Technologically, it’s a big of a mixed bag.  I liked the fact that ships had to turn over to decelerate, and I was impressed with the way the astronauts’ couches reclined to always be perpendicular to the direction of thrust.  The filmmakers were obviously impressed with this effect, too — it gets shown a lot

In the demerits department, we have the fact that ships sail across the solar system in what appears to be a matter of hours.  With engines that powerful, one wonders how it’s taken so long to get a person to Mars.  Also, the superfluous mid-movie fight between purple space monsters, advertised heavily in the trailers, is both nonsensical and was clearly created in post-production as a way to jazz up the film.

But the movie doesn’t need it.  I fully expected Battle to be a ponderous mess, but it actually moves along quite nicely.  It was certainly much better than the Italian flick, Assignment: Outer Space

Three stars, and a keen desire to someday see the original.


by Lorelei Marcus

Strap in and recline your seats, because we’re going on a space adventure! This week me and my father watched, “Battle Beyond the Sun,” a Soviet science fiction film brought to the U.S. I didn’t have very high hopes going into this movie, but my dad promised purple space monsters, so, reluctantly, I agreed.

Surprisingly, the movie wasn’t bad! It was actually quite interesting to compare a Soviet film to the (mostly) American films we’ve watched so far. The cinematography was different, but still quite good, and the space suits looked cool and realistic. The voice actors who did the overdub for the movie were sub-par to say the least, but it didn’t take away from the movie too much. I noticed throughout the movie that all the actors had a certain ‘closeness:’ they were all simply closer together: Their faces were closer when talking, they had hands on each others’ shoulders, etc. That’s certainly different from the wide personal bubble we Americans prefer.

The story, on the other hand, wasn’t too far off from what I would expect in a science fiction film. The movie was about the two halves of the globe, North Hemis and South Hemis, and their race to Mars. The South Hemis ship gets stranded on an asteroid orbiting mars, after rescuing the North Hemis ship. Then there’s the odd and unnecessary scene of the purple space monsters fighting each other, which apparently wasn’t added in until it made it to the U.S. It was really unnecessary, but I suppose it did get me to the watch the movie!

For most of the movie me and my dad thought that the U.S. And Soviet Union were in different nations. It wasn’t until after the movie that we realized it was actually the opposite: Soviet Union and America in the North, and basically everyone else in the South. It struck me that they had purposefully done this to avoid labeling political sides, which was not something I would expect the Soviet Union would do!

Overall this was a pretty good movie. The effects were cool and the story was passable. The foreign influence also added a unique feel to the movie. I give this movie 3/5 stars and 1/5 purple space monsters (this movie either needed more or fewer purple space monsters.) I still recommend you watch this movie yourself, as it is an interesting contrast to the other science fiction movies I’ve seen so far.

Until next time…this is the Young Traveler, signing off.




[September 13, 2017] GRAZING THE BAR (the October 1962 Amazing)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by John Boston

Space!  Mankind’s dream!  Well, some people’s dream.  A lot of us seem to be more concerned with making a living, taking care of families, trying to keep a straight face at school, and other highly terrestrial activities.  But even in this small town in the boondocks, people mostly seem to take pride in the first human ventures off the planet, though you do hear the occasional grumble that all that money could be better spent right here on Earth.

I wasn’t so confident a couple of years ago, when I witnessed the second most remarkable thing I have seen here.  (First place is claimed by the man I saw walking a raccoon on a leash.  Raccoons do tend to have their own agendas.) I was downtown on a Saturday morning, which is when the farmers come into town to take care of their business.  The banks are open then, which I am told is not the case in larger cities.  The farmers come in their cars, their pickup trucks, and in some cases their horse-drawn wagons, all parked around the courthouse square.  On this Saturday, a man was preaching from the back of one of the wagons . . . against the evils of space travel.  “If Man reaches out to touch the face of God’s Moon,” he thundered, “God will BLAST HIM FROM THE EARTH!” But no one paid any attention, and I’ve heard nothing further about his prophecy.

I was reminded of this episode by the cover story of the October Amazing, Poul Anderson’s Escape from Orbit.  It’s another near-space epic like Third Stage from the February issue, also, like that one, illustrated by a Popular Mechanics-style cutaway depiction of guys in a space vehicle.  The situation: meteor destroys spacecraft, crew escapes in lifecraft without propulsion, now they’re stuck in Moon orbit with no one close enough to rescue them, and a solar flare due in 48 hours.  The only bright spot is that the ship’s big, heavy main air tank is nearby and retrievable, giving them enough to breathe until they get killed by the flare.  The air tank—that’s it!  In a paroxysm of arithmetic (work shown only at the end), the protagonist, second banana at Orbital Command on Earth, sees the solution. 

This five or six pages’ worth of story is stretched to 20 by extensive detail about our hero’s home and inner life, including his unsatisfactory wife, the woman he wishes he had married, his physical deterioration (he’s 34) and how he feels about it, his career anxieties, etc.  It takes five paragraphs to get from the early morning ringing phone to actually answering it, and several pages to get him out the door and on the road to Base.  Maybe somebody told Anderson he needed more human interest in his stories, or maybe he hoped to sell this one to Cosmopolitan (well, no, not with the complaints about the wife) or the Saturday Evening Post.  Whatever.  The whole thing is forced and clumsy.  Two stars.

This month’s “Classic Reprint” is The Young Old Man by Earl L. Bell, from the magazine’s September 1929 issue, which serves mainly to show how boring a story can be even if short.  Campers in the Ozarks encounter a storekeeper who looks about 45 but he’s obviously ancient, just look at his eyes.  The revelation is that immortality, which he received via thaumaturgist in the 11th Century, isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  How fortunate we are that most SF writers these days at least try to develop their ideas, rather than just laying them out like a dead fish on ice.  One star.

Things look up a bit after that one.  Ben Bova has taken a break from his article series and contributed a short story, Answer, Please Answer , about a couple of guys wintering in Antarctica (draftees in a war with the Soviets), who by coincidence are both astronomers.  So in their considerable spare time, they look for extraterrestrial signals from variable stars, and boy do they find them and are they sobering.  This is as much a one-gimmick story as Anderson’s, but it’s much better done by this guy with a decade’s less experience writing fiction.  It builds up smoothly, dropping in just enough background on the characters to make them characters, comes to its revelation, then stops.  Three stars for unpretentious cleverness and competence.

Jeff Sutton’s After Ixmal is readable but silly: a super-computer develops consciousness, albeit the consciousness of a petulant child, tricks humanity into destroying itself, lords it over the dead Earth for eons until it discovers a rival consciousness, and goes to war with it, just because.  As SF it’s barely thought through at all, and as fable or myth or whatever it lacks the necessary sonority, gravitas, etc.  Two stars.

The versatile Robert F. Young, who knows so many ways of being entirely too cute, is back with Boy Meets Dyevitza.  Captain Andrews of the United States Space Force, who thinks he is the first Earth-person on Venus, encounters Major Mikhailovna of the USSR, who is washing her stockings in a stream, having beaten him there the previous day.  As for conditions on Venus, hey, this is science fiction, so: “The data supplied by the Venus probes during the early 60’s, while inconclusive with regard to her cloud-cover, had conclusively disproved former theories to the effect that she lacked a breathable atmosphere and possessed a surface temperature of more than 100 degrees Centigrade, and had prepared him for what he found—an atmosphere richer in oxygen content than Earth’s, a comfortable climate [etc.].” See?  Science!  Extrapolation!  [And complete bollocks — Young should know better.]

Then the human indigenes show up, wearing brass collars; shocked by the Earthfolks’ naked necks, they later kidnap them and put brass collars on them, which can’t be removed by human tools and prevent them from getting very far from each other.  They are married, Venusian style.  But they discover they don’t really mind, and (to summarize brutally) the folks back home say “Awwww,” and—never mind.  Two stars for Young’s usual professional execution, heavily discounted for cloy.

The fiction contents are rounded out by Pattern, the second story in the SF magazines by the very youthful Robert H. Rohrer, Jr. (b. 1946), less slick but more interesting than Young’s polished artifact: a life form consisting of organized electricity tries to take over and consume the energy flows of human spaceship pilot Captain Brenner.  This is not exactly an original plot—see, or remember, van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle—but it’s much better worked out than, say, After Ixmal, with a nasty twist at the end.  Three stars and good if not great expectations for this new writer.

Sam Moskowitz’s SF Profile is The Secret Lives of Henry Kuttner—not one of his best.  Per his custom, he describes Kuttner’s early pulp stories in detail and gives very short shrift to his later and better work, emphasizing his pseudonyms and what Moskowitz thinks is his work’s derivative aspects (sometimes rightly and sometimes decidedly not), and summarizing his career: “Lured by opportunism, suffering from an acute sense of inadequacy, he refused to stand alone, but leaned for support upon a parade of greats: H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Stanley G. Weinbaum, A. Merritt, John Collier, A.E. van Vogt, and, of course, C.L. Moore.” This about the man who by the early ‘40s had become one of the most capable writers in the field, who produced a disproportionate number of the best-remembered stories of the ‘40s and early ‘50s, and whose work was pored over by the likes of Sturgeon and Bradbury.  Terrible analysis, terrible judgment.  Two stars, being generous.

Frank Tinsley, it turns out, isn’t gone.  He’s here with The Nuclear Putt-Putt, an article about Project Orion, a proposed gigantic spaceship to be powered by a succession of nuclear bombs.  Small ones, to be sure, but still.  Especially since this insane behemoth is apparently supposed to launch from Earth.  Can we say radiation?  Fallout?  Not a word about how these are to be contained.  Two stars for overlooking a rather obvious problem.

And Benedict Breadfruit . . . is gone as of this issue.  His last bow is actually reasonably clever . . . unlike most of its predecessors.

So the magazine bumbles along.  The wearying thing is not how bad its worst stories are, but that the top of its range is still readable competence and little more.




[Sep. 10, 1962] Leading by Example (the terrific October 1962 Galaxy)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Thirteen years ago this month, amidst the post-war boom of science fiction digests, Galaxy Science Fiction was born.  Its editor, H.L. Gold, intended his brainchild to stand above and apart from the dozens of lesser mags (remember those days of abundance?) with progressive and smart strictly SF stories.  He succeeded — Galaxy has showcased some of the best the genre has to offer, as well as a fine science fact column penned by Willy Ley.  The consistency of quality has been remarkable.

Two years ago, Fred Pohl, a bright authorial light already, took the helm from the ailing Gold.  If anything, he has improved on excellence, continuing to coax fine works from established authors and interesting pieces from new ones.  It helps that he, himself, can fill the pages with good material and often does….though I have to wonder if he gets paid when he does that.

If you were to pick any single issue to turn someone on to Galaxy (or to science fiction in general), you could hardly do better than to give them the latest issue (October 1962) of Galaxy.  Not only isn’t there a clunker in the mix, not only does it feature a new Instrumentality story by the great Cordwainer Smith, but it includes part one of an incredible new novel by the editor.

Wow.  I think I threw in more superlatives in the last three paragraphs than I have in the last three months.  I guess it’s time to show you what all the hubbub’s about:

The Ballad of Lost C’mell, by Cordwainer Smith

Many authors write in a consistent world.  Some are developed following an individual through her/his life in a series of stories.  Others might take place in a common setting but feature different protagonists.  Smith has introduced his Instrumentality universe through oblique flashes.  Each piece involves wildly different places and characters, each with a limited view of things.  Only after reading several of them does one get an idea of the nature of Smith’s creation.

Thousands of years from now, Earth has seen global empires rise and fall.  The current ruling entity is the Instrumentality, a council of pure-humans ruling over the people-citizens and genetically altered animal-subcitizens.  Technology caters to virtually every need; the world enjoys a purely service-based economy with the Underhumans providing the services.  For humans, Earth is a beautiful, magical place filled with strange wonders.  For the animal-people, enslaved to the pure humans, life is a struggle and punishments harsh.  We are beyond the familiar subtext of racism/chauvinism that suffuses Western stories – the relationship between the races hearkens to the rigid castes of Asia.  The animal-men may be cast in human mold, but their treatment is peremptory, inhumane.  And the humans are blithely unaware that their creations have the capacity to rebel…

C’mell is the most straight-forward of Smith’s Instrumentality stories, and it gives the sharpest insight, to date, of the world he’s created (though it by no means reveals all of its secrets).  As always, it displays Smith’s mastery of the craft, mixing showing and telling, romance and austerity, far-future and relatability.  Smith is an author who doesn’t put pen to paper unless it’s for a four or five-star story, and C’mell is no exception.  Five stars.

Come Into My Cellar, by Ray Bradbury

We’ve seen the plot where intelligent fungus take over humanity through forced symbiosis in Aldiss’ Hothouse stories.  Bradbury gives us a much more conventional setup, where the evil mushrooms send spores of themselves via mail-order catalog to be grown and ingested.  A nicely written but dumb story, and it has the same ending as All Summer in a Day, which is to say, Ray doesn’t bother to end it.  Three stars – about as good as Bradbury (not really an SF author) ever gets.

The Earthman’s Burden, by Donald E. Westlake

A competent if somewhat forgettable story of an arrogant, resurgent Terran star empire and the lost colony that promises to be more trouble than it’s worth to conquer.  There’s pleasant satire here, particularly of the buffoonish Imperials, but nothing we haven’t seen before.  In fact, I rather expected to find this piece in Analog (you’ll see why).  Three stars.

For Your Information: End of the Jet Age, by Willy Ley

A generation ago, propeller planes were the way to travel.  Now that they’ve been eclipsed by the jets, one has to wonder just how long our 707s and DC-8s will last before they are, in turn, replaced by the next mode of transportation.  Ley gives us an excellent preview of rocketplane travel in the 1980s as well as a spotlight on a living fossil and answers to readers’ questions.  Four stars.

A City Near Centaurus, by Bill Doede

Speaking of series, Doede has a third story in his tale of teleporting humans , who have exiled themselves from Earth using subcutaneous matter transmitters that work at the speed of thought.  This latest piece involves a dilettante archaeologist who’ll brave offending the Gods and even risk death to dig an ancient, abandoned site on Alpha Centauri II.  Another piece that shouldn’t work (why does the native speak perfect English?), but Doede always pulls it off.  Four stars.

How to Make Friends, by Jim Harmon

Resigned to an 18-year hitch, the solo operator of a Martian atmosphere seeder resorts to building his own companions to preserve his sanity.  It’s a little bit McIntosh’s Hallucination Orbit (one wonders if the events of the story are really happening) tinged with Sheckley-esque satire and robotics.  But Harmon is not quite as skilled as either of these authors, and so the story ends up like most of Harmon’s work, never quite hitting the mark.  Three stars.

Plague of Pythons (Part 1 of 2), by Frederik Pohl

How fragile our interconnected, technological world is.  How easy it would be for a few malicious demons, selectively possessing our bodies at propitious times, to utterly disintegrate our society.  Fast forward two years, after the world has reverted to feudal savagery.  Communities larger than the village are impossible.  Religion has revived in a last-ditch attempt to protect humanity from bodily appropriation.  One ex-engineer, name of Chandler, is on trial for a heinous assault he most assuredly committed, but which wasn’t his doing.  What justice can he find in a world where the dispensers of justice can, at any time, cease being themselves?

Pythons is a brutal, uncomfortable story, crushingly bleak.  It’s not the sort of thing I would normally go for, and I definitely caution against it if mind control pushes unpleasant buttons.  Yet Pohl executes the thing deftly, and he holds out the barest sliver of hope to keep you going.  I have no idea how Pythons will conclude, but if the latter half is as good as the first, we’ll have a minor masterpiece on our hands.  Four stars (for now…)

Roberta, by Margaret St. Clair

Roberta explores the lengths one might go to erase the wrongness they feel exists in themselves – and the possibility that it is impossible to escape that wrongness.  It is the first story I’ve read that explores the concept of transsexualism, and while it is not a positive story, it is an interesting one.  Three stars.

Bimmie Says, by Sydney J. Van Scyoc

While we’re on the subject of changing physical form, is it possible to be transCarnivorous?  In other words, what if cats and dogs can be made mutually intermalleable?  And if pets can be transformed, why not people?  Van Scyoc’s story is clearly inspired by Keyes’ hit, Flowers for Algernon, whose excellence it does not quite reach.  Still, it’s not bad, and I’m glad to see Sydney’s continuing her promising career.  Three stars.

Who Dares a Bulbur Eat?, by Gordon R. Dickson

Last up is the second in the adventures of the interstellar ambassadorial couple, Tom and Lucy Reasoner — a sort of Hammett’s Nick and Nora meets Laumer’s Retief.  In this installment, the Reasoners are tasked with attending a diplomatic banquet to find the weakness in the newly discovered Jacktal empire, a rapacious regime more powerful than the Terran Federation. 

It’s a bit of a muddle, and the title fairly spoils the piece, but the conclusion is great fun and worth the price of admission.  Three stars.

All told, this comes out to a 3.5 star issue, none of it tiresome, much of it amazing.  I am also happy to see that F&SF will not have the monopoly on woman writers this month.  It’s issues like this that buoy me through the lousy patches (like last month’s Analog).  I mean, suffering for art is all well and good, but sometimes it’s nice to have nice things to say!

Next up, let’s see how the October 1962 Amazing stacks up.  See you then!




[Sep. 8, 1962] Navigating the Wasteland (1961-62 in (good) television)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

The Fall season of television is nearly upon us, so it is appropriate that we pause to reflect on what the Idiot Box has brought us recently.  May of last year, Newton Minow, our (relatively) new FCC chief, described television as “The Vast Wasteland.”  While it may have its moments of education, quality, and even sublimity, he argued, the majority of the stuff you see, network or syndicated, will turn your brain to mush.

I imagine anyone exposing themselves 24 hours a day to every game show, every variety act, every soap opera would make a similar assessment.  But what about the selective viewer?  The one who rewards only quality with her/his eyeballs?  And has there been improvement since Minow made his judgment?

Now, I normally restrict my reviews to things SFnal (science fictional for the non-fan), but over the last year, I’ve found myself in front of the small screen more hours than I’d normally care to admit.  And since a subsection of my followers are, perversely, as interested in my humdrum 1962 life as they are in my analysis, I thought I’d give you insight as to what shows keep the Traveller’s tube aglow.

So here are the Galactic Stars, 1961-62 TV edition, covering the television season that ended back in June and has since been in summer reruns.  Many of these programs will continue into the Fall season, so consider this a Galactic TV Guide:

Route 66 1960-

Ever since Eisenhower paved the nation with the Interstate Highway system, Route 66, “America’s Main Street” has declined in importance.  Nevertheless, this national artery will likely always hold a nostalgic hold on our consciousness.  It represents a path to anywheresville, an open road with no limits.  Where the destination isn’t the state of Arizona or Iowa, but rather a state of mind, arrived at only after a long, contemplative journey.

On that road is a Corvette; in that Corvette are Todd Stiles, an erudite Yale ex-pat, and Buzz Murdock, a hard-knocked but soulful kid from New York.  Handsome wanderers (especially the latter!) trying to find themselves, in a myriad towns, a plethora of menial jobs.  They are Kerouac’s Beat Generation set to celluloid, their dialogue filled with poetry and meaning.

There is a formula to the show, albeit one that has lent itself to infinite variation.  Each episode features a new town, a new occupation.  Usually, a local is in some kind of trouble.  Maybe it’s physical danger.  Sometimes they just need to find where their head is at.  There are romances, comedies, hard-hitting dramas…the show runs the gamut.  But ever constant is the chemistry of the two leads, their individual charisma (again, particularly Murdock), the lyricism of the scripts, and the backdrop of our vast country. 

It can be maudlin, it can even sometimes be dull, but it’s usually beautiful.  Always worth a watch.

The Twilight Zone 1960-62

Speaking of literary, Rod Serling pinned the quality bar to the ceiling with this sci-fi/fantasy/horror anthology, blowing the doors off inferior (but still appreciated) precursors like Karloff’s Thriller and Dahl’s Way Out.  Of course, this is a show we’ve covered extensively here at the Journey, but it’s still worth noting what an impact Serling’s creation had on television.  It represents an intersection of innovation, a showcase for writing, acting, cinematography, and scoring.  Even at its worst, it was still decent; at its best, there was no equal.

And now it’s gone.  At the end of the third seaon, Rod decided he was “storied out,” and left to take a professorship at Antioch College; producer Buck Houghton went off to work with television production company, Four Stars.  There’s no sponsor in sight for Season Four. 

However, with nearly a hundred episodes in the can, there’s no doubt that The Twilight Zone will find its way into syndication, where it can continue to inspire.  Perhaps there will be a revival someday.  If not, we can at least hope that future shows will strive to top Serling’s bar, and television will be the better for it. 

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends 1959-

The Traveler watches cartoons?  Don’t scoff.  Ever since the days of Warner Brothers, there has been animation aimed simultaneously at the young as well as the old.  Stuff that combines the rapid slapstick that kids like with witty repartee and sly entendres designed to entertain their parents.

Rocky is a variety show, filled with wacky characters, surprisingly funny puns, and a breakneck pace that will leave you winded.  Indifferently animated, it’s superbly voice-acted.  Whether you’re watching the serial antics of the title’s flying squirrel and moronic moose, or the Silent Era-inspired tales of Mountie Dudley DooRight, or the often painfully punful Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop and Son, you will definitely laugh out loud at least once per segment — probably more.  It may well be the cleverest thing currently on television.

The Andy Griffith Show 1960-

Now here’s one I honestly didn’t expect to have on my favorites list.  It sounds pretty awful on the face of it: a comedy set in a backwoods town that never quite got out of the 1930s, featuring a drawly sheriff and his bumpkin deputy. 

And yet…

There’s something gentle and honest about this show.  It doesn’t rush, it doesn’t try too hard to make you laugh, and under Sheriff Andy Taylor’s rustic aw-shucks exterior is surprising wisdom and intelligence.  Moreover, the interpersonal relationships are mature, healthy ones — even a bit subversively so.

Take, for instance, this (paraphrased) interchange between Andy and his precocious little boy, Opie:

Opie: Pa, I have something to tell you.  You promise not to be mad?
Andy: I can’t promise that.  What is it?
Opie: Well, I put a ball through our neighbor’s window the other day.  Are you mad?
Andy: No, I’m not mad.  Now I have something to tell you, and you promise not to be mad?
Opie: No, pa.
Andy: Well there won’t be an allowance until the window’s all paid up, do you understand?
Opie: Yes, pa.

No moralizing.  No mawkish father-knows-best.  Certainly no spankings.  Just a discussion between reasonable people.  And if you saw my review of the episode where Andy’s girlfriend, the town pharmacist, runs for mayor, you know the show can be decidedly pro-feminist, too.  Now if they’d only tell where they keep the non-White people…

Other stand-outs include:

Mr. Ed 1960-: despite being overly rooted in conventional gender roles, one can’t ignore Alan Young’s charm, the fun of the barbed banter between Young’s married neighbors, or the impressive way they make a horse appear to talk.

Supercar 1961-62: this British import is definitely kiddie fare, but it’s still fun to watch Mike Mercury and his two scientist associates defeat criminals and triumph over natural disaster.  Of course, the acting’s a bit wooden…

Then there’s the rest…some watchable like Perry Mason (a lawyer/mystery show), The Real McCoys (Okies in Los Angeles), Ozzie and Harriet (dig that Ricky Nelson’s singing), and Leave it to Beaver.  Others wretched like My Three Sons and the endless cavalcade of Westerns (Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, etc.) Not to mention the Game Shows like Password, To Tell the Truth, and What’s My Line.

Hmmm.  Maybe Minow’s got something there.  Still, there’s at least ten hours a week of good TV (including the news and occasional Public Television specials like Jazz Casual and last year’s documentary on homosexuality, The Rejected).

And if you’re watching more than ten hours a week instead of reading that stack of sf books and magazines I’ve recommended, well…

…you deserve what you get!