All posts by GalacticJourney

Let’s do the numbers (June 1959 Astounding; 5-23-1959)

I’m about half-done with this month’s Astounding, but since that half largely comprises the second third of Dorsai!, and because I don’t want to give anything away before it’s complete, there’s not much fiction on which to report today.

But that doesn’t mean I’m out of material… 

Four months ago, I wrote about Astoundings unique habit of publishing the results of reader surveys of fiction appearing in the magazine.  I then compared what the readers thought of the November and December issues of Astounding and what I thought.

The numbers are out again, this time for the January and February issues, and the results are similar.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

When I reviewed the January issue, I noted that, with the exception of To Run the Rim, and Seedling, the magazine had been awfully unimpressive.  The problem with Editor Campbell’s scoring system is that it only compares the stories to each other rather than on an absolute scale.  That said, on my card, I put Rim first and Seedling second. 

Well, the rest of the readers agreed that Seedling was #2, but they put the tedious Study in Still Life on top.  I just can’t wait for Campbell to put more turgid “funny” tales in his mag.  To Run the Rim finished fourth, behind the fatuous Deadlock; Robin Hood’s Barn and By New Hearth Fires came in a distant fifth and sixth.  The fact that the highest scoring story only got a 2.84 suggests that, as with the December issue, readers were unimpressed with the crop and were voting ranking based on the story they liked least (rather than which one they liked most).

The February issue was a better one, and the readers’ opinions were more in line with my own.  Murray Leinster’s Pirates of Ersatz (Part 1) was the favorite at 2.03 followed closely by Silverberg’s Hi Diddle Diddle!.  As you’ll recall from my review, I actually liked that story quite a bit despite it being Silverberg, and despite it being one of the “funny” stories.  Within two paragraphs, I am found out as a hypocrite.  Ah the shame.

The jingoistic but good Stoker and the Stars came in a solid #3, while the medicore Missing Link and Accidental Death round out the list at a distant 4th and 5th.  Sadly, Leonard Lockhard’s satirical look at patent law, The Professional Touch, did not even make the list.

I’ll be very interested to see the numbers for the April issue, which demonstrated a marked increase in quality.  Then we’ll really see how the ratings compare.

In the meantime, I’ll have more on this month’s Astounding in a few days, and by then, all of July’s issues should have arrived in my mailbox.  Here’s hoping I’ll have more space shots to discuss, too.

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Approaching midnight (Alas, Babylon; 5-21-1959)

Two years ago, the Soviet Union demonstrated the ability to lob an H-bomb across the globe.  Overnight, it was clear that anywhere on the planet could be destroyed with just 15 minutes’ notice, if that.  This year, the United States will base Thor and Jupiter IRBMs in Europe within range of the Soviet Union, and the Russians will feel that same Sword of Damocles.  Never mind that America’s Strategic Air Command has more bombers now than ever, and one can be fairly certain that the Soviet counterpart is at a historical high, as well.

Civilization could all come crashing down at a moment’s notice.  It’s a reality we’ve lived with since that first artificial sun blossomed over the desert of New Mexico, but it’s never been closer, more tangible. 

An atomic holocaust has been the subject of numerous novels and short stories since the late 1940’s, but until this year, there had not been a grittily realistic portrayal of a nuclear exchange and the subsequent struggle for survival.

Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon was released just two months ago, and it has already caused a well-deserved stir.  It is, quite simply, sublime.  With its strong grasp of the technology of the nuclear war machine, its savvy of human interactions in a post-apocalyptic setting, and its unadorned yet somehow gentle depictions of the well-drawn characters, it is a one-sitting page turner.

In brief: Randy Bragg is a dilletante resident of the sleepy resort and fishing town of Fort Repose, Florida.  After an abortive flirtation with politics (his defeat attributable to his soft line on segregation), he lives a rather aimless life.  His brother, Mark, is a senior intelligence officer at America’s missile command center in Cheyenne Mountain.  The book opens on December 3, 1959, with the two world Superpowers on the brink of war.  Mark warns Randy that war is imminent and sends his family (wife, two children) to live in Fort Repose.

And not a moment too soon.  Within six hours of Helen, Ben Franklin, and Peyton’s arrival, Florida and the rest of the nation are hit with several bombs, knocking out first communications and then electricity.  Within a day, Fort Repose is reduced to a pre-Industrial oasis in a radioactive hell. 

Randy quickly becomes the leader of his local group, which includes not just him and his brother’s family, but his strong, liberated girlfriend, Elizabeth, her parents, Randy’s black gardener and maid, the maid’s husband, a young doctor, Dan Gunn, and a retired Admiral, Sam Hazzard.  Together, they become the hope of Fort Repose, assuring its shaky survival over the course of the year after the attack.

Pat Frank sets the stage with care and a nail-biting sense of inexorability; the bombs don’t fall until page 91, after we have become intimately familiar with most of the book’s protagonists.  The hurdles that the residents of Fort Repose must overcome are plausible.  The solutions are reasonable.  The ending is bittersweet, but tinged with a little hope, and perhaps the best that could be expected.

What impresses me the most about this book is its progressive character.  There are several strong woman characters (Helen; Elizabeth; Peyton; Randy’s ex-girlfriend, Rita; the town telegrapher, Florence; the town librarian, Alice; Missouri, the maid), and the book is a strong indictment of racial prejudice, along with the legal practices stemming therefrom.  It is a book about the triumph of human spirit, as exemplified by all of the species’ members.

Is that a strong-enough recommendation?  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstand and get yourself a copy. 

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The Walking Dead! (Invisible Invaders; 5-19-1959)

What could be better than a trip to the movies?  A trip to a good movie, I suppose.  Well, beggars can’t be choosers.

A few days ago, my daughter and I went out for what has become a routine treat: a night flick at the drive-in.  We arrived too late for the main feature, but the “B” movie was Invisible Invaders, a putatively science fiction film.  I’m sad to report that this was easily the worst of the films I have had the pleasure to report upon since I started writing this column.

The eponymous invisible invaders are rapacious imperialists.  Having conquered the moon and its former inhabitants(!) some 20,000 years ago, they have now turned their sights on Earth.  Before destroying us outright, they give humanity an ultimatum to surrender within 24 hours.  This is easily the best part of the movie.  You see, the aliens, being invisible (not just the creatures, but their spaceships as well), can’t actually impress us with their presence; therefore, they must inhabit bodies to communicate.  This is revealed when the newly deceased Dr. Carl Noymann visits the moral Dr. Adam Penner, who has recently quit his job as a weapons scientist on principle.  Dr. Noymann/invisible alien delivers his threat and lurchingly departs.

Of course, no one believes Dr. Penner, except for his daughter, Phyllis, and her would-be paramour, the wimpy John Lamont.  24 hours later, the aliens start blasting the Earth (after one last warning, broadcast via radio), beginning an impressive string of disaster stock footage, one appearing to go back to the 1871 Chicago Fire!

In desperation, the remaining scientists of the world are ordered into underground bunkers to come up with a way to defeat the aliens.  Enter Major Bruce Jay, a pile of beef assigned as military escort.  He quickly wins his way into Phyllis’ heart (my daughter made gagging noises at this), especially when he cold-bloodedly shoots a nervous farmer just because the farmer asked for a ride.  But the farmer gets his revenge by quickly becoming a member of the aliens’ walking dead brigade.

In the underground bunker, Major Jay hatches a plan to spray acrylic plastic over one of the corpses to capture it.  He ventures out in a beekeeping suit (to ward off radiation–the corpses are radioactive, natch), and secures one of the zombies after a struggle.  Fortunately, the folks inside the bunker get to watch the whole thing on television as there are remote cameras that capture the entire scene.  You know, the kind of cameras that dramatically edit together events for the remote viewers.

It is quickly determined that certain annoying sounds cause the aliens to give up the ghost, quite literally.  Armed with a sound cannon, our heroes drive off into the swarm and defeat them.  Victory for humanity!

All of this is linked with an intrusive and redundant narration, the kind that is inserted when it is realized in post-production that not enough film was shot to make a coherent movie. 

The closing message of the movie is the idea, driven home by our friend, the narrator, that an alien invasion is sufficient common threat to unite the squabbling countries of Earth, though for how long is an open question.  I remember my father telling me long ago that, were he ever elected President, his first action would be to hoax an attack from outer space so as to end war on Earth.  Clever fellow, dear ol’ dad.

So that’s that.  Really just an excuse for a bunch of middle-aged fellows to stagger about menacingly.  It’s a cheap special effect, so I imagine movie-makers will come up with more opportunities to present such spectacles with titles like Day of the Living Dead! or The Dead Walk! Can’t wait.

Next week, my little girl and I will be heading back to the movies; until then, I’ve got plenty of fiction on which to report.  And it’s a damnsight higher in quality than Invisible Invaders!

Stay tuned!

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The shape of things to come!  Part 2 (New rockets; May 17, 1959)

My cup runneth over!

When I started this column, I had worried that the increasing paucity of new science fiction would mean I’d run out of things to write about.  Now, here we are seven months later, and I have a back-log of items on which to report.  I suppose I shall just have to write constantly to get it all out.  I hope you don’t mind…

First in the queue, I wanted to wrap up the Homer Newell article I reported on five days ago, about America’s new stable of rocket boosters.  Last time, I talked about the new rockets expected to be in used by 1960.  Now, let’s press on a few more years into the future for a truly exciting sneak peek.

With the exception of the Vanguard and (soon-to-be) Scout, all of our space rockets are really borrowed military missiles.  But as time goes on, we will see more purpose-built boosters that will be more powerful and efficient.  The first true space rocket vehicles will be second stages designed to go on the Atlas ICBM, currently our biggest military missile. 

The smaller of them, the Vega, is a purely civilian design that will be developed from the first stage of the Vanguard.  The Atlas-Vega will to launch satellites into geo-stationary orbit for the first time.  A bit of explanation as to the import of this: the Earth rotates on its axis every 24 hours.  The period of a satellite’s orbit is dependent solely on its distance from Earth–the closet the satellite orbits, the shorter the period.  Right now, our best rockets can barely get satellites into a low orbit with a period of about 90 minutes.  But the Atlas-Vega will propel satellites up to a height where the period matches the period of the Earth’s rotation.  This means the satellites will, to a ground observer, appear to be stationary (or at least will wobble about around a fixed place in the sky).  Arthur Clarke wrote about the value of these satellites more than a decade ago; they will be way-stations for global communications.

An even bigger stage is the Centaur, which will launch truly massive payloads to the moon and to the planets.  By the middle of the next decade, expect orbiting laboratories around Earth’s closest celestial neighbors.  To me, this is more exciting than sending a person into space, who probably won’t be able to do much but give entertaining color commentary.

The real wave of the future is likely to be Von Braun’s new brainchild–the Saturn family of rockets.  These boosters are being developed completely from scratch and will be an order of magnitude bigger than anything currently in the pipeline.  The biggest of them, the Nova, will be capable of landing 20 tons on the moon in one go!  We may well see people on the moon by 1967. 

My favorite part of the article is Dr. Newell’s personal appeal to us, the citizen-scientists of the nation, to send in proposals for experiments.  NASA is brand-new, and they need all the help they can get to develop not just the hardware, but the ideas that will drive the creation of the hardware.  It’s scientific democracy and it’s greatest, and perhaps it will prove an advantage over the Soviet system.

Day-after-tomorrow: Invisible Invaders!  There are A-movies, and there are B-movies.  This was not an A-movie.  The popcorn was yummy, though!

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No hands, ma! (5-16-1959)

Like a doofus, I washed two of my left-handed braces without washing my rights.  I can’t type long without them, so tonight’s update will have to wait until tomorrow.

Sorry, folks!  Instead, I shall saunter to the drive-in with my daughter.  Maybe I’ll catch a late-night sci fi flick to write about…

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Farewell, older brother (June 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction;5-14-1959)

We live in such exciting times that it’s no wonder science fiction is flourishing.  It seems not a month goes by without some kind of space shot, and yet we’re still perhaps years away from the first manned orbit (not to mention a lunar jaunt).  Science fiction lets us see the headlines of tomorrow long before they are thrown onto our doorstep.

Of course, not all science fiction deals with space, and not all science fiction magazines deal exclusively in science fiction.  The latter half of this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction comprises naught but fantasies.

Not that this is a bad thing.  With Berlin under siege, Israel and its neighbors barely restrained from coming to blows, Cuba in the throes of revolution, any kind of escape is a welcome one.

Most of the rest of this month’s ish is taken up by Philip Jose Farmer’s The Alley Man, a gritty, rambling story that is as hard to take as it is to put down.  It spotlights the grubby life of the what may be the last of the Neanderthals consigned, like the rest of his race, to survive off the scraps cast off by the superior Homo Sapiens Sapiens.  Not that Old Paley is any dumber than us.  Quite the contrary.  While he has the rough manner and speech as might be expected of the lowest of the lower economic class, he is a fine raconteur and rather wise. 

No, what did in the Neanderthals 50,000 years ago, was the loss of their chieftain’s sacred headpiece (and the fact that Neanderthals were worse shots with the bow and arrow).  Over the millenia, the Neanderthals have slowly dwindled away, until just one remained (though it appears there are plenty of half-breeds and quatroons around).  Old Paley is a garbage scavenger who lives with a half-Neanderthal woman called “Gummy” and a physically blemished former socialite intellectual named Deena with a fetish for rough treatment.

Enter Dorothy, the aide of a physical anthropologist, who befriends Old Paley to study him.  It becomes clear over the course of the story that she becomes rather attracted to him (in part due to the powerful stench of the Neanderthal, like “a pig making love to a billy goat on a manure pile,” but laden with powerful pheremones), but theirs is not fated to be a happy relationship.  In fact, the resulting love quadrangle is all kinds of dysfunctional and, ultimately for Old Paley, fatal.

But you can’t deny it’s well-written and compelling.

There are three remaining odds and ends: an interesting article on orbits, Satellite Trails by Ken Rolf, about not just the course satellites take around the Earth, but the interesting and sometimes unintuitive patterns they make to ground observers (something like Ptolemy’s epicycles); Charles Finney’s Iowan’s Curse, a cautionary tale about the karmic danger of being a Good Samaritan; and Robert Young’s Production Problem, a short-short about a creativity shortage in the far future.  They fill the pages, but are not particularly noteworthy.

I think that leaves us at an uninspiring 3.5 or so for the issue.  The lead story is very good, and Alley Man is worth reading, I suppose, but the rest is lackluster.

But you can decide for yourself!  And should.  Until next time (and do stay tuned–I have many interesting updates to come).

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The shape of things to come! (New rockets; May 12, 1959)

I had planned to write about science fiction today, but then I found an article by Homer Newell, Assistant Director of Space Sciences at NASA, talking about the new stable of rocket boosters about to come into use.  So, it’s time for the science-fiction-into-fact column!

For the first year of the Space Race, the United States had just three boosters at its disposal.  One was the slender Vanguard, which had its share of mishaps before achieving its objective.  The Vanguard was the Navy’s contribution to this nation’s orbital activities, though it was developed under civilian authority (the only civilian booster to date, in fact, in the world).  The Juno I, also known as the Jupiter-C, about which there has been much nomenclature-related confusion was the Army’s rocket, and it launched the first American satellite, Explorer I.  Finally, there was the Air Force’s booster–the Thor IRBM mated with the top two stages of the Vanguard rocket, known as the Thor-Able.  It launched Pioneers 0-2.

Late last year, Von Braun’s Army team took the top stages of the Juno I and put them on a bigger missile, the Jupiter IRBM, and created the Juno II, which launched Pioneers 3-4

That was all she wrote for the International Geophysical Year, but now there’s a brand new crop of boosters that have been unveiled:

One of them, the Thor-Hustler, has already been used to launch the first Discoverers.  I know what a Thor is, but I’m not sure about the Hustler.  I think it’s a booster designed for a self-propelled bomb to be mounted on the sleek new jet bomber, the B-58 Hustler… but I could be wrong.

As might be expected, the powerful new Atlas is being mated to the Able and Hustler boosters just as the Thor was, and its heft should be correspondingly higher.  After all, the Atlas is designed to send atomic bombs all the way to Moscow from California, whereas the Thor is based in England.  I believe the Atlas Able will be used to launch a set of bigger Pioneers to the moon.  I don’t know what the Atlas Hustler will be used for.

But perhaps the most exciting development is that of the Scout rocket.  Able to put 300 pounds in orbit, a good ten times the ability of the Vanguard rocket, it is also five times cheaper to launch–a mere half a million dollars as opposed to 2.5 million dollars.  It is also a civilian booster.  Expect this little number to usher in an uprecedented new era of space shots.  Soon, the sky will be filled with scientific beep-beeps!

There’s more to tell, but I think I’ll wait until next time to discuss it.  Oh, you want a hint?  Let’s just say that there’s a big planet out beyond Jupiter…  and it’s namesake is going to be a doozy!

To wrap up this news segment of Galactic Journey, I present to you our beloved Vice President announcing the nation’s “Handicapped American of the Year,” Dr. Anne H. Carlsen of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, who lacks both hands and feet.  I suppose it’s appropriate that Mr. Nixon gave this award; after all, he is similarly afflicted, lacking charisma or conscience. 

Just a word to the wise to those sending me comments via the U.S. Postal Service: you’d better do it quick, because the Postmaster General has asked permission to raise the price of a First Class stamp from four cents to a full nickel! 

See you soon!

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A break from it all (June 1959 F&SF, first half; 5-09-1959)

by Erich Lessig

It’s been heavy reading following the papers these days what with the Communist siege of Berlin seemingly without end.  These potential flashpoints between East and West get more frightening every day, particularly as both sides perfect methods of delivering atomic weapons across the globe.

Thankfully, I can rely on my monthly installment of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (often the highlight of my literary science fiction experience).  Thankfully, it doesn’t look like F&SF is going the way of IF, Satellite, or even Galaxy.  And its quality remains high, if not stellar.

James Blish opens the issue with a bang, quite literally.  This Earth of Hours is a really good tale of first contact and interstellar war… one in which the Terrans are hopelessly outmatched.  A proud terrestrial fleet is completely destroyed save for two segments of its flagship that crash to the surface of an alien planet.  There, what’s left of the crew finds a race of sentient hive mind centipedes that communicate through telepathy.  Not only is are the aliens (collectively) smarter than us, but they span a federation of like-minded aliens that spans much of our galaxy.  In short, humanity doesn’t have a chance against them.  Beaten, the crew repair their ship and embark on a tortuously long journey back to Earth to dissuade humanity against further bellicose expeditions.

If there’s anything wrong with the story, it’s the fact that it’s too short.  It’s a brilliant opening couple of chapters to a bigger novel, but I don’t know if a novel is forthcoming. 

Asimov has an interesting article, Planet of the Double Sun, which examines the effect on ancient mythology of having an extra sun in our sky a la the situation that might exist around Alpha Centauri.  Of course, Isaac sort of misses the point–in a world where true darkness happens rather rarely (perhaps a quarter of the year), I should think evolution would have ended up quite a bit differently, not to mention the effects another star’s gravitational influence might have had on our planet’s formation.  Whatever ancient society might have developed in this hypothetical situation probably wouldn’t have been human in any sense of the word.

Lee Sutton hasn’t written a lot.  So far as I can tell, his only work prior to this issue of F&SF was the juvenile novel Venus Boy, about which I know nothing.  Soul Mate is his latest story, and it’s a rather chilling, decidedly unromantic story about what happens when a dominating middle-aged telepathic male crosses path with a naive, sexually liberal young telepathic woman.  There is a meeting of the minds, but it is anything but pleasant, and the end is truly horrifying.  Plausible, but icky.

About Venus, More or Less, by Punch writer, Claud Cockburn, is so slight a story, that I quite forgot it was even in the issue until I re-checked the table of contents. 

Josef Berger is another author unknown to me.  His Maybe we got something is about a band of fisherman who, in a post-apocalyptic era, trawl up the head of Lady Liberty, herself.  It’s nothing special.

The last story for today is the rather amusing The Hero Equation, by Robert Arthur (first printed in 1941 as Don’t be a Goose! When a milquetoast scientists transports himself into the past to inhabit the body of a hero, he is surprised that the heroic form he comes to possess is not human at all… 

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to secure permission to distribute these stories freely.  On the other hand, with the exception of the first one, they are diverting but unremarkable. 

But stay tuned!  There’s a second half to cover in a few days…

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Over the Mountain, Across the Sea (The City in the Sea;5-07-1959)

Every so often, I find a piece of fiction so compelling that I hate to give away too much about it for fear of spoiling the experience.  Going through my stack of Galaxy novels, the ones I picked up cheaply not too long ago, I came upon The City in the Sea, by Wilson Tucker, published eight years ago in 1951.  I had not heard of him before, but a quick polling of my friends determined that not only is he a BNF (“Big Name Fan”), but he is also quite an accomplished science fiction author.  Interestingly, he coined the term “space opera.”

Sometimes one can judge a book by its cover.  In fact, the scene depicted is right from the novel.  In short, several thousands of years from now, after an atomic holocaust destroys civilization, and global warming floods the continents, a resurgent matriarchy in England (having reached a Roman level of technology) establishes a colony on the American eastern seaboard.  Finding only lackluster specimens of native humanity there, they are surprised when a clearly superior fellow (male, no less) strides purposefully into the colony from beyond the Appalachians.  He is mute but compelling, and the colony’s Captain accompanies him back across the mountains, along with a company of woman soldiers, in search of the man’s settlement.

The ensuing story is told entirely from a female viewpoint (one of three: the efficient Captain Zee, her wry and charming doctor, Barra, and, briefly, the Captain’s adjutant, Donnie).  It is suffused with a sense of wonder, the kind you get in a good Pellucidar story, and it is satisfying from beginning to end.  City also has that good, timeless quality that will keep it a classic in decades to come.

So read it already!  I’m sure you can find a copy somewhere.  If you like it, drop me a line.  Fair readers, be advised that vital plot elements may be discussed in the correspondence below.

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The Funny Papers (Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense; 5-05-1959)

What?!  The Traveler is reduced to buying comic books?  The same fellow who reads Fantasy & Science Fiction, like so many prominent intellectuals do?  Surely you jest!

Well, I couldn’t resist.  I pass these lurid covers at the grocery every week, and I decided it was time to plunk down two bits and see what all the fuss was about.  Actually, I bought them at a second-hand store, since I wanted to start at Issue #1 of the titles I’d selected. 

What did I pick?  Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense by publishing newcomer, Marvel Comics (which, I understand, is a sort of descendant of Atlas Comics).  I chose these two titles because they are billed as science fiction/fantasy anthologies, and if I’m happy to read science fiction “juveniles” and watch drive-in dreck, surely comic books aren’t beneath me. 

Astonish was a fun 15 minutes of entertainment, about at the level of the B-movie flicks.  The headliner story, We Found the Ninth Wonder of the World, features a scientist whose hobby is making overlarge sea creatures (with exactly the same proportion as their unaltered originals–the square-cube law need not apply!) And… that’s about it.  I’m not quite sure why a biggish sea turtle counts as the “Ninth Wonder of the World,” but it does make for a fine title.

The next vignette (I know the Secret of the Poltergeist!) is a silly tale about a poltergeist debunker who turns out to be a poltergeist–his scientific explanations are designed to allay the suspicions of the owners of afflicted homes.  I guess ghosts just like to add insult to injury.  The clever bit is that the sadistic spook has to rack his brain to come up with plausible answers.  Did you know ghosts can sweat?

I didn’t really understand the next story, I was the First to Set Foot on… the Mystery Planet! I think that a rogue planet ends up flying close to Earth, spraying our planet with radioactive oil.  I’m not certain why this is the greatest of the effects this interloper has on the Earth (one would think massive tides would be a far bigger concern), and the punchline, that the inhabitants of the other planet are robots who use the oil as lubricant, doesn’t make a lot of sense.  On the other hand, the subplot is that the protagonist, who has a deep-seated prejudice against robots, learns to confront and conquer his bigotry.  A rather high-minded and laudable tale for any medium these days.

In the last tale, I Foiled an Alien Invasion!, an alien race plans to invade the Earth by hiding out two-dimensionally on a series of billboards.  The plot is foiled because it is possibly the dumbest plot in the history of alien invasions since Wells’ Martians forgot to wear face-masks.  Dig that crazy future car from 2008, though!


Suspense’s cover was more overtly science-fiction themed, so I saved it for second, expecting a better treat.  I was not disappointed.

The first story (The Strangers from Space!) features an alien ship silently, menacingly approaching the technologically advanced Earth of 2000 A.D.

Of course that’s where the world’s capital will be!

Our first instinct, naturally, is to destroy the vessel, but one clear-thinking fellow manages to stop us from shooting as the spaceship lands.  It turns out that the ship’s crew look perfectly human, and the Earthers feel sheepish about judging a race before seeing it.  But the sting in the tale’s tail is that, after the aliens leave, we learn they really do look shockingly different, and they only adopted the disguise to avoid being slaughtered.  Humanity just can’t handle anything that looks too different, they surmised.

I’m sensing a strong anti-prejudice theme from Marvel. 

I rather liked the next story, I Dared Explore the Unknown Emptiness!, too.  500 years from now, the Earth is over-populated to the gills (a concept that is very popular these days), and humanity has invented its first faster-than-light drive to find a second Earth to export people to.  Instead, the crew of the new starship find nothing but hostile or over-crowded planets.  They take the discovery philosophically, however, resolving to solve Earth’s problems back at home rather than exporting them elsewhere.  Horace Gold would have rolled in his grave at this panel, though (and he’s not even dead!):

The Day I Left My Body wasn’t much.  A prisoner being held for murder gets shot in a jailbreak.  In a near-death experience, he briefly possesses a defense attorney and leaves the lawyer with a geas to get the prisoner off.  Unfortunately for the prisoner (who is shown to be an unrepentant jerk), the attorney works too hard to exonerate his client, turning in an exhausted, lackluster performance in court that results in the prisoner’s conviction.

He Fled in the Night follows the story of an 18th century clerk who leaves it all for adventure on the South Seas.  The punchline?  His name is Robinson Crusoe.  A slight story, but the art and style was nice.  I’d like to see more in this vein.

I feel something of a kinship with this fellow, sometimes…

Last, but not least, was the enjoyable vignette, Prisoner of the Satellites!  Aliens zap the Earth with a ray that enfolds its victims, living and inanimate, in a field that shrinks them into infinite smallness.  This is the first stage in an attempt to unhinge humanity, making us ripe for conquest.  It turns out, however, that cosmic rays reverse the effect (why not?), and the aliens leave, beaten.

So ends my first toe-dipping into the world of comics since I stopped collecting Detective Comics as a kid.  I appreciate Marvel’s subversively progressive message, and while the science isn’t exactly top-notch, it wasn’t bad for 48 pages of art and word-balloons.  I think Suspense is the better magazine, but that’s partly personal preference.  I’ll have to buy a copy for my friend, Carl McIlwain, a student of Dr. Van Allen who helped design the cosmic ray detectors on some of our recent satellites; I’m sure he’ll get a kick out of it.

Back to the printed word next week!  I hope you’ll all stay tuned in to this frequency. 

P.S. I’d like to give a special, public hello to some friends I made at the book store while perusing the stacks: Jake, Matt and Chris!  And, of course, Carl.

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)

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