[August 29, 1960] One shoe down (October 1960 Galaxy, 1st half)

There is an old saw: “Just when I got my mule to work without being fed, she up and died on me!”

At the end of 1958, Galaxy editor H. Gold announced that his magazine was going to a bi-monthly publication schedule.  He did not mention that he was also slashing writer pay rates in half.

Last issue, Gold crowed about his stable of fresh new authors who would carry the torch of science fiction creation.  And, of course, there is plenty of room for the new authors now that the old names have departed for greener pastures.

Is this how a great magazine dies?  Not with a bang, but with a whimper?  You may disagree with me, but the October 1960 issue of Galaxy feels like a throwback.  A lesser mag from the mid ’50s.  Let me show you the first half of the issue, and you’ll see what I mean.

Allen Kim Lang opens things up with his novella, World in a Bottle.  The premise is an interesting one: take a group of people with no resistance to diseases (such people exist today).  Put them together in a sort of commune.  What are the sociological and practical implications?  What kind of life can they expect to have?

Some of the story rings true, particularly the feeling of imprisonment and the lack of attraction for one’s fellow commune residents.  This isn’t science fiction–this is what’s happening right now on the kibbutzim in Israel.  What kills the story, for me, is the breezy style and the overly neat finish at the end.  It’s a pity–Lang has been good enough to get printed in F&SF.  I’m sure he could turn out better.

The Hills of Home, by Alfred Coppel, originally came out in Future Science Fiction back in 1956.  It reads like an inferior version of Sturgeon’s sublime The Man who lost the Sea, but I guess Coppel’s came first, so perhaps Sturgeon’s is a polish-up.  In any event, it’s a clunky piece, but not horrible.  It does show that Galaxy is now resorting to reprints to fill its pages.  That’s probably not a good sign. 

Marshall King is, as far as I can tell, a complete newcomer to science fiction.  His Beach Scene, about a cute little alien who can stop time, is rather engaging.  The creature’s encounter with a band of rapacious human colonizers is bittersweet.  Mostly bitter.

Willy Ley seems to be coasting these days.  His latest article, The Air on the Moon, is not a stand-out.

Then we’ve got James Stamers’ The Imitiation of Earth, positing a sort of planetary sentience that deliberately fosters the evolution of life.  This is Stamers’ fourth published story, and Gold has bought every one of them.  I’ve noted in my reviews of his last three that his work tends to be forgettable stuff with occasional interesting ideas mixed in.  He continues this trend with his newest story, which starts out in a quite compelling manner, but ends prosaically. 

That brings us to newcomer Andrew Fetler’s Cry Snooker, a satiric tale about the havoc wreaked on a suburban town by an experimental little flying machine.  It reads like a lesser Rosel George Brown story.  Heavy on the domestic banter, crude with the lampooning.

Now, things could turn around quite suddenly in the second half of this month’s issue, but thus far, we’re looking at a 2.5 star issue.  It would be a crying shame if Galaxy, once my favorite science fiction digest, ended up below Astounding!

In happier news, I met a lot of wonderful folks at the local science fiction convention last week.  One of them was dressed up as the new member of the family from Krypton, Supergirl.  Well, it turns out she is a local, and she sent me a photo to share with my fans.  Meet Janel, everyone!

7 thoughts on “[August 29, 1960] One shoe down (October 1960 Galaxy, 1st half)”

  1. “World in a Bottle” — I can see why you would quickly grow tired of the narrator’s wise guy style, and the ending was definitely too neat to be quite believable, and yet this story held my interest. It seems to indicate that this issue is going to be heavy on the soft, emotional side of SF.

    “The Hills of Home” — See the last sentence above.  It can’t hold a candle to “The Man Who Lost the Sea” — what could? — but I found it touching anyway, just barely this side of too sentimental.  (By the way, the version published in “Future” seems to have been somewhat different.  I think it’s shorter, and the ending seem more ambiguous.)

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22102/22102-h/22102-h.htm

    “Beach Scene” — Yet another story tugging at the heartstrings.  I liked this one quite a bit.  The alien was charming, and I must admit the ending made me sad.  My favorite story in this half of the issue.

    The science article was mediocre.  Ley certainly seems to know what he’s talking about — he seems to be familiar with every reference on every subject — but he lacks the special touch of Doctor Asimov, who is our finest science writer.

    “The Imitation of Earth” — A strange and fascinating story, ruined by a real clunker of an ending.  Too bad.  I expected the “humans” who had been evolved, so to speak, to complete the cycle by going off into space to encounter their own unusual world.

    “Cry Snooker” — The only real turkey so far.  This brainless comedy only annoyed me.  I wasn’t very pleased with the stereotypes in the stories, either.  The parking attendant’s dialect made me cringe.

    Onward, and upward (I hope.)

  2. Coppel *is* clunky. I’m pretty sure he’s trying to be literary, and he’s succeeded.

    To my taste, Stamers is a good enough writer to carry off his ‘Imitation…’. Actually, I liked the ending.

  3. Not a very promising beginning. Like Victoria, I found myself liking “World in a Bottle” the best. Once I managed to stop my brain saying, “Kandor” over and over again, that is. The ending was a tad pat, and it was rather heavily foreshadowed from very early on. But a decent enough read for all that.

    For most of the rest, my eyes kept glazing over. Generally forgettable, except for “Cry Snooker”. Now, it would be hard for a story to live up to a title like that, but this one falls far shorter of the biting social satire it thinks it is than almost any other attempt would have. Mack Reynolds could have turned this idea into a good story.

    Perhaps Willy Ley’s problem here is that the concept he’s exploring just isn’t all that interesting. The Galileo segment wasn’t bad.

    It’s clear that Galaxy is in trouble. If someone can convince the publisher to bring the rates back up to the industry standard, it might recover. I notice that they don’t seem to be paying a copy editor either. Tons of typos in the first story alone. A new editor might help, too. Gold has done good work in the past, but his rambling, semi-grammatical editorial left me wondering if his heart was really in it. Or if he’d had a stroke. Fresh leadership and a decent pay rate and it’s got a chance. Even one of those might pump in a little life, but I think it’s going to take both to give this magazine a future.

  4. The general pay scale from the SF magazines was already poor.  Cutting it in half… Gold isn’t going to be able to attract anyone who can possibly sell his work anywhere else.  That doesn’t mean some desperate newbie might not turn out a fine story, but I’m not holding my breath.

    We talked about the decline of the magazines a while back; this is another good example.  If you’re not going to pay for good quality work, you’re not likely to get much of it.

    You’re looking at, what, $500 to $1000 paid out for each issue’s stories?  A thousand bucks is a year’s mortgage payments to many people, but given the circulation number it’s peanuts.  When the publication starts cutting author pay, particularly in today’s boom economy, that’s a sign that The End Is Near.

    1. Yep, cutting author pay is equivalent to cutting production in manufacturing. These are the people who make what you’re selling, for crying out loud. Lower quality product leads to fewer sales which leads to lower advertising rates and lower quality advertisers (and they’re already down to the Rosicrucians). I think there’s still time to recover if they bring up the author pay soon.

      If they want to save money, I wonder just how much all those foreign editions they tout actually bring in. Editors, translators. Is the Finnish market really that big? And why not just sell the US edition in the UK? They’ll adjust to the missing “u”s and extra “z”s. That’s what New Worlds has decided to do in reverse after the failure of their US edition.

      1. I’ve read several times that Campbell paid more for cover art than he did for stories, and that it wasn’t unusual for other magazines either.

        Given how bad most of that art is (and that’s not even counting the blurry line drawing “art” some have inside!) they could dispense with that entirely and just print the cover text on a solid background, or the magazine’s logo, or something.

        Having the counter clerk give me the fish eye when I buy a magazine gets old.  “Yes, it has rockets, tentacles, and women with metal brassieres.  But it’s not a comic book, look, there are actually words in there.”

        Sigh.

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