[April 30, 1961] Travel stories (June 1961 Galaxy, first half)

My nephew, David, has been on an Israeli Kibbutz for a month now.  We get letters from him every few days, mostly about the hard work, the monotony of the diet, and the isolation from the world.  The other day, he sent a letter to my brother, Lou, who read it to me over the phone.  Apparently, David went into the big port-town of Haifa and bought copies of Life, Time, and Newsweek.  He was not impressed with the literary quality of any of them, but he did find Time particularly useful.

You see, Israeli bathrooms generally don’t stock toilet paper…

Which segues nicely into the first fiction review of the month.  I’m happy to report I have absolutely nothing against the June 1961 Galaxy – including my backside.  In fact, this magazine is quite good, at least so far.  As usual, since this is a double-sized magazine, I’ll review it in two parts.

First up is Mack Reynolds’ unique novelette, Farmer.  Set thirty years from now in the replanted forests of the Western Sahara, it’s an interesting tale of intrigue and politics the likes of which I’ve not seen before.  Reynolds has got a good grasp of the international scene, as evidenced by his spate of recent stories of the future Cold War.  If this story has a failing, it is its somewhat smug and one-sided tone.  Geopolitics should be a bit more ambiguous.  It’s also too good a setting for such a short story.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s science column immediately follows.  There’s some good stuff in this one, particularly the opening piece on plans to melt the Arctic ice cap to improve the climate of the USSR (and, presumably, Scandinavia and Canada).  Of course, if global warming happens on schedule, we won’t need any outlandish engineering marvels to make this happen; we can just continue business as usual.  Hail progress!

I also appreciated Ley’s reply to one of his fans, who asked why he rarely covers space launches anymore.  His answer?  They come too quickly!  Any reporting would have a 4-5 month delay – an eternity these days.  It’s hard enough for me to keep up.  Four stars.

The Graybes of Raath is Neal Barret, Jr.’s third story in Galaxy.  It should be a throw-away, what with the punny title, the non-shocker ending, and the hideous Don Martin art.  But this tale of a well-meaning immigration agency attempting to find the home of a family of itinerant alien farmers is actually a lot of fun.  Barrett is nothing if not consistent.  Three stars.

Now here’s a weird one.  Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth have a new duet out called A Gentle Dying.  Now, the two have worked together for many years; that’s not the surprising part.  Nor is the fact that the story, about an incredibly elderly and beloved children’s author’s last moments, is good.  No, it’s strange because Kornbluth has been dead for five years!  I can only imagine that Pohl (now de-facto editor of Galaxy, per last month’s F&SF) dusted this one off after having waited for the right venue/slot-size.  Three stars.

Last up is R.A. Lafferty’s absolutely lovely The Weirdest World.  Can a marooned alien blob find sanctuary, even happiness, among aliens so strange as those that live on Earth?  I’ve always kind of liked Lafferty, but this one is his best to date, with its gentle writing, and its spot-on portrayal of cross-species telepathy.  Five stars.

This column began with travel, and it ends with travel.  My wife and I are in Las Vegas for a weekend, enjoying the food and the sights.  Sinatra doesn’t seem to be at the Sands right now, but that’s all right.  We’ll catch Ol’ Blue Eyes another time.

While we were here, we ran into Emily Jablon, a famous columnist and Jet Setter who spends much of her time flitting across the world.  She gave us some tips on travel that were new even to us!  Of course, we introduced her to Galactic Journeying, and what better way than with this month’s Galaxy?

12 thoughts on “[April 30, 1961] Travel stories (June 1961 Galaxy, first half)”

  1. Though I think the ending of the Lafferty is out-of-synch in more than one way, this is certainly a good issue.

    I love the ideas of Farmer, and the French grammar was a great clue.  If I carp at some details, it’s because I think it’s worth taking seriously. First, no eucaplypts.  And I admit I hated the the afforestation team killing all the stock. Humane issues aside, I’d think the older generations would need to keep a small number for self support.  Also, mere population hasn’t helped China that much so far.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your Las Vegas trip. Good luck and good ratpacking with the next one; and may the Israeli branch of the family continue to thrive.

    Unsurprisingly, I much enjoyed the Barrett. Written so neatly, and losing a whole system behind a filing cabinet!

    The dark fantasy of A Gentle Dying is most elegant, and full of idea.

    1. It really is a different magazine, one that bodes well for the future.  Their slate of upcoming writers is promising, too.  I’ve got high hopes.

      Agreed that the Lafferty’s ending is a downer.  I like happy endings.

      What’s wrong with Eucalyptus?  The callous nature of the White Men was off-putting, though in the end, they were terrorist goats. 

      The inaccuracy I spotted?  There ain’t no Mali Federation anymore… but perhaps there will be a new one in 30 years.  Right now, the two Presidents (Senegal and Mali) hate each other.  The former sent the latter back to Mali in a hot, unairconditioned railroad car…whereupon the latter ripped up the railroad between the two countries!

      1. Eucalypts are a megaweed – rather goatlike, in fact. They suck up all the water and soil’s goodness, crowd out productive plants, and give little nothing back.

        I think it could have been made more a point that the the wouldbe Greater French were responsible for the choices facing the Americans.

        Thank for the headsup about geography.

  2. It’s interesting that the theme of this installment of your adventures seems to be deserts, in real and fictional form.  Whether it be the desert of hard work (best wishes to your nephew) or of pleasure (have a good time in Sin City) or of the future, that sort of setting has a special fascinating.

    “Farmer” is one of those science fiction stories in which the background is more fascinating than the plot.  So much so that I’d rate it a bit higher than you did.  I found all the details about this mind-boggling project compelling.  The author seems to know the area very well.  To me, like many other readers, it’s so unfamiliar that it’s more exotic than most alien worlds in SF.

    The science column was pretty interesting.  It was enlightening to find out that scientists in the USSR can disagree in their journals, without having to follow the official line.  The Cold War may be thawing just a little bit, along with the planet.

    “The Graybes of Raath” was just too silly for me, and the dialect got on my nerves.

    “A Gentle Dying” really got to me.  I found it to be a tremendously powerful story, and I’d rate it quite a bit higher than you did.

    On the other hand, “The Weirdest World,” although an enjoyable madcap romp in the inimitable Lafferty fashion (with that touch of melancholy his stories often seem to have, which keeps them from just being slapstick) would get a slightly lower rating from me, although I did enjoy it.

    I’m looking forward to your thoughts on the new story from Cordwainer Smith.

    1. Victoria, this comment is why I maintain you should be writing this column!

      This month’s stories have so much to them, so much more than usual.  Then it becomes a matter of taste rather than quality, which is the best of all worlds.

  3. Once again, we largely agree (I’ll get to my disagreement below and it may surprise you).

    “Farmer” was excellent and I agree that Reynolds needs to return to this world and tell some more stories there. He’s spent some time in North Africa, which gives the story some extra verisimilitude. I do wonder, though, about the long-term effects of a green Sahara on the world’s weather. Might Europe get colder without the sirocco blowing across the Mediterranean?

    I though the Barrett was fun, though like Victoria I was somewhat bothered by the dialect. It was a little too “minstrel” for my taste. But my disagreement with you is on the art. I think it goes well with this story, but then I’m familiar with Don Martin’s work as one of the usual gang of idiots over at Mad Magazine, so that might have colored my thinking a bit.

    A lot of these Pohl-Kornbluth collaborations are posthumous. Kornbluth left behind a lot of unfinished stories, and Pohl has been finishing them up, I believe at the request of Kornbluth’s wife Mary, since the two of them had collaborated successfully on several things before his death.

    Lafferty was Lafferty.

    I’m looking forward to the review of the second half. There are some very good stories there. In the meantime, don’t lose too much money, though maybe you should try your luck at the Sahara in honor of the first story.

    1. It’s interesting that you describe Graybes as minstrel.  I guess the lousy art would suggest that the Raath family was a spoof of poor Black folk, but the itinerant farmers in the book, The Grapes of Wrath, as well as most of those affected by the Dustbowl crisis of the ’30s, were White. 

      It didn’t press those buttons for me, and mine have a fairly sensitive threshold.

      1. I think it was mostly the “suh” and maybe the “tol’ble” that set me off. It’s possible that I’m seeing something that’s not there. And I’m embarrassed to say that I only just got that the title is a Steinbeck reference. I was thinking Lewis Carroll (“the mome raths outgrabe”) for some reason.

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