And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: An actual review of an actual science fiction magazine!
NOVEMBER 1958, ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION
I usually save Astounding for last among my subscriptions. I have mixed feelings about this magazine. On the one hand, it is physically of the lowest quality compared to its competitors (F&SF being easily the highest). Editor John Campbell, with his ravings about psionics, perpetual motion and Hieronymous machines, as well as his blatant human-chauvinism, is tough to take. But he has a fine stable of authors, and some of the best stories come out of his magazine.
This issue’s headliner, Poul Anderson’s short novel, “Bicycle Built for Brew,” does not look like it will be among them. It is the first half of a two-parter set some time in the next century in the Asteroid Belt. The setting is interesting, and so is the set-up: a renegade faction of an Irish-colonized nation of asteroids has taken over Grendel, a small asteroid under the sovereignty of the “Anglians,” and the crew of the trader, Mercury Girl is stranded until it can find a way out.
Unfortunately, this is one of those “funny” stories, the kind of which Bob Sheckley is a master and Poul Anderson is not. Moreover, Anderson phonetically transcribes the exaggerated accents of his multinational cast of characters, which quickly becomes a slog to read. I had high hopes for Anderson after “Brainwave” (1953), but everything since then has been generally (though not entirely) mediocre to turgid. It’s all very chauvinistic stuff, too. More so than most contemporary authors.
“Goliath and the Beanstalk,” by Chris Anvil is forgettable, like all of Anvil’s stuff I’ve read to date. He and Robert Silverberg are much alike: prolifically generating serviceable, uninspired space-filler.
The next story is by a fellow named Andrew Salmond, a name so unfamiliar to me, that I suspect it is a pseudonym for one of the regular contributors. “Stimulus” is a mildly interesting yarn about Earth being the one planet in the universe made of contra-terrene matter (also known as anti-matter), and the effect this has on spaceflight and humanity’s future in general. The gotcha is that the situation was recently imposed upon the Earth–right before our first moon launch, in fact. Can you guess how the Earth figured out what had happened? I (he said smugly) did quite early on.
By the end of the story, humanity is the most powerful race in the galaxy and rather insufferable about it, too. I’m sure this appealed to Editor Campbell, given his taste (editorial requirement?) for stories where humans are better than everyone else.
Gordy Dickson’s “Gifts…” is not science fiction at all, and it reads like a screenplay for a short television episode. It is about a man given the opportunity to wish for whatever he wants, and his decision whether or not to use the power. Slight stuff.
Katherine MacLean’s “Unhuman Sacrifice” is reason enough to buy this issue. I had not read much of MacLean’s stuff before, but I will be on the look-out for her stories from now on. Her tale of a spaceship crew’s encounter with an alien species with a singular life cycle, told from the viewpoint of both the humans and the aliens, is fascinating and haunting. I won’t spoil it by telling you anything more.
Asimov’s new science column continues. This time, it attempts to answer why, in a galaxy filled with billions of suns, Earth has yet to be contacted by alien civilizations. He ultimately concludes that galactic civilizations are likely to form in the center, where stars are densest, and may well avoid the backward edges, where we live. He further opines that we may well have been discovered by vastly superior races (for any race that could find us must be far beyond us, at least technologically) and are being left alone so as not to disturb our development. It’s a cute idea, but it is also indistinguishable from our being undiscovered. Until the flying saucers announce themselves outside of the deep Ozarks, we have to assume We Really Are Alone.
P. Schuyler Miller’s book review column remains the most comprehensive available. His comparing and contrasting of Bradbury with Sheckley, Matheson and Beaumont is interesting and arch. The rest is good, too.
The issue wraps up, as always, with Campbell’s letter column, Brass Tacks. I skipped it, as always. Campbell may fill his magazine with fine stories, but I find the quality of his own opinions (like the quality of Astounding’s paper) to be lacking.
New magazines come out on the 26th. Stay tuned!
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