[August 4, 1960] Phoning it in (September 1960 Analog)

If you hail from California, particularly the southern end of the state, you might find foreign the concept of seasons.  I know I expect mild, sunny days every time I step outside.  We have a joke around here that the weather report is updated once a week, and that’s just to give it a fresh coat of paint.

Japan, on the other hand, is a country rooted in seasonality.  Every month brings a new package of delights to the denizens of this Far Eastern land.  Now, usually I’m a smart fellow, and I only travel here in the Spring for the cherry blossoms, or the Fall to see the fiery colors of the wizened leaves.  Only a madman would visit in the Summer, when the heat and humidity are ferocious, and when neither is mitigated by the constant rain that characterizes the immediately prior Typhoon season.

This year, I joined the crazy persons’ club.

Thankfully, the new set of trains seems to be consistently equipped with air conditioning, and in any event, one can often get a nice breeze from the frantic hand-fannings of one’s neighbors.  And this country is lovely enough, and its people such good company, that one can tolerate a little physical discomfort.  For a while, anyway.

Osaka has always been a particular favorite of mine with its regional delicacies and colorful local dialect (virtually unintelligible if all you know is schoolbook Japanese).  This city has an independent streak, refereshing after the aggressive servility that characterizes Tokyo, and, perhaps not coincidentally, we have a great number of friends in this area.

Of course, social obligations keep my leisure time to a minimum, but I’ve managed to steal a few hours between shopping, taking tea, and visiting landmarks to finish the September 1960 Analog.  Here is my report:

I’ve already told you about the fantastic The High Crusade, penned by Poul Anderson.  This is not his only contribution to this issue.  In addition to the conclusion of his serial novel, there is also (under the pen-name, Winston Sanders), Anderson’s short story, Barnacle Bull, in which a Norwegian four-man spaceship sails on an eccentric orbit through the asteroid belt on a mission of reconnaissance.  Their aim is to lay the foundation for a nationalized asteroid mining concern.  There are two snags–one is the density of micrometeoroids between Mars and Jupiter.  The other is the existence of a space-borne life form that grows magnificently on the hulls of spaceships, fouling radars and antennas, not to mention spoiling the clean lines of a vessel.  It turns out that the two problems nicely cancel each other out.

It’s well-written, and no one portrays Scandinavians like Viking Poul, but the story is a slight one.  I give it bonus points for its realistic portrayal of near-future spaceflight, however.

Easily the worst story in this issue is Randall Garret’s By Proxy, in which a young, brash scientist announces his intention to launch a ship powered by some sort of intertia-less drive, but is oppressed, by turns, by the government, the military, and a cynical press.  Of course, the thing works.  I’m not sure if Campbell specifically asked young Randy for a bespoke story on this, one of Campbell’s favorite subjects, or if Randy chose this topic because it ensured him a sale.  Either way, it is not only a bad story, but the quality of writing is at the low end of the author’s range.  About the only good thing about the story is it features no women.  Given Randy’s reputation, that’s a blessing.

H.B. Fyfe, a grizzled veteran of the pulp era, comes out of retirement to offer up A Transmutation of Muddles, a sort of sub-par Sheckley story about the four-cornered negotiations between a marooned space merchant, his insurance adjustor, the aliens on whose sacred land he crashed, and the government.  It’s inoffensive, unremarkable.

The last fiction entry is Everett Cole’s Alarm Clock, about the pressure cooker of a situation a canny military drop-out is thrust into in order to awaken his peculiar talents so that he can join the legendary Special Corps.  It’s the sort of thing I like seeing from Harry Harrison.  Cole isn’t as good as Harrison.

Last up is Asimov’s fine article on the extent of the solar atmosphere, and how it interacts with the tenuous outer regions of the various planetary atmospheres, producing brilliant auroras and the deadly Van Allen Belts.  It’s amazing how much we have learned about the subject in the last two years, a revolutionary period for interplanetary physics. 

All told, we’ve got a just-under 3-star issue.  Once again, the great serial and non-fiction pieces balance out the mediocre short entries.  And the less we speak of Campbell’s editorials, the better…

See you in a few, likely from sleepy Fukuoka!

7 thoughts on “[August 4, 1960] Phoning it in (September 1960 Analog)”

  1. Campbell is known for his quirks and being hard to get along with, at least for authors who don’t share some of his more, er, exotic ideas.  But he can only print what authors send him.  If you don’t like what’s in the magazine, think about what his slush pile might look like.

    “And the mighty warship skidded around Venus, brake linings smoking…”  that’s only a slight exaggeration of what one of the guys at the writer’s workshop thought was a ready-to-submit manuscript…

    It’s not that all the good writers have moved over to the competition; at least, I’m not noticing it.  We’ve seen several magazines go under in recent years.  If the stories were there, presumably they’d be printing them.

    It could be that there simply aren’t enough science fiction stories to support that many publishers, or the market is shrinking, or the bulk of the people who used to write SF are moving on to novels or out of SF entirely.  Frederic Brown has moved mostly to detective stories now, for example.

    Or, maybe Progress-with-a-capital-P is moving so fast that there’s not much sense of wonder in SF any more.  Just in the last twenty years technology has moved so fast that if you said General Motors would have flying cars by 1963 most people would just shrug and say, “well, what took them so long?”

    Whatever the problem is, it’s not just Analog. The age of the pulps may have run its course.  Maybe in a few years they’ll be gone, and we’ll have new stories delivered via a teleprinter built right into the TV set…

  2. Another example of why more stories in an issue are better. A month from now you’ll forget ever having even read this one. Oh, you’ll remember The High Crusade, but Anderson has already sold it to Doubleday, so it’s the novel that will stand out in your memory.

    As to TRX’s comments above, it does seem as though the days of the pulps are waning, though I think there will always be a market for short fiction. I think the bigger problem is that the genre is shifting again, just as it did when Campbell took over Astounding (and for all his problems, we will always owe him for the changes he wrought). People are starting to pay more attention to things like characterization and avoiding some of the whiz-bang, “As you know, Bob” stuff that has long plagued science fiction. Heck, while we’ve managed to get rid of brilliant professors with beautiful daughters, we still see the traces of planetary romances with dying Mars and swampy Venus, even though the science makes it pretty clear that both of those are very unlikely. I think the big problem at Analog is that Campbell won’t buy those new types of stories, and the really good authors are starting to trend that way. That leaves him with a lot of dross.

    1. Exactly.  I don’t think there’s a shortage of good writing.  We may on the turning point of a revolution.  I think exciting young authors like Harlan Ellison and Anne McCaffrey willl be at its vanguard.

  3. My cousin was stationed in Japan a few years ago.  He said that the difference between “country” and “city” was a lot more noticeable than it is here; sort of like it was in France when he was stationed there as part of the US NATO forces.  Except that there’s a lot less visible war damage in Japan than in France.

    He also said that Japanese plumbing was a lot like old-style French plumbing, and that it could be pretty awkward to use.  He wouldn’t elaborate any further on that, though.  Someone else was telling me about holes in the floor, but that’s just silly.  I’m not a world traveler, but I’m no rube to be taken in by that kind of story.

  4. I shouldn’t have bothered with these three stories, but since you were so generous as to provide them for free I was unable to resist.

    “By Proxy” — Pretty dull stuff.  I saw the twist coming a mile away (and the title gives it away, too.) The Magic Space Drive is getting to be a pretty shopworn gimmick, too.

    “A Transmutation of Muddles” — Really poor title, but a so-so story.  The whole plot could be summed up in one sentence or so, but it was mildly clever.

    “Alarm Clock” — A little better than the other two.  Fairly vividly written.  Again, the theme was pretty obvious (and I think I just read it in “Galaxy” a while back.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.