Science fiction is dead. Long live science fiction.
Naysayers have been predicting the end of the genre since 1953 when the first post-war boom started to lose momentum. Since then, I’ve read a lot of science fiction (and fantasy). It’s true that a lot of the lesser magazines have folded in the past 6 years, but I still find plenty to read every month, and much of it is quite good.
Now that I’ve been at this article-writing business for more than a year, I have enough comparative data to not only convey my favorite stories of 1959, but the best stories (in my opinion) for each magazine, and for each length.
In other words, I can conduct my own mini-Hugos specifically for the Big 3 (or 4, depending on how you count Galaxy/IF. Let this serve as both a buying guide and a request for agreement/rebuttal.
THE GALACTIC STARS, 1959 EDITION!
Best Astounding Stories by Length
Serial: Pirates of Ersatz by Murray Leinster—3 stars.
Novella: Despoiler of the Golden Empire by Randall Garrett—2 stars.
Novelette: Cat and Mouse by Ralph Williams—5 stars.
Short story: Seeling by Katherine MacLean—4 stars.
Vignette: Vanishing Point by C.C. Beck—3 stars.
Non-fiction: Blood from Turnips by William Boyd—4 stars.
Pretty pathetic that the best novella is one of the worst I’ve ever read. There were just two 5-star stories the entire year (Murray Leinster’s novelette Aliens being the other). In fact, if you took all of Astounding‘s four and five star stories and articles, they would fit in a single large-ish issue. It’d be a very good issue, but the other eleven would be just dreadful.
Best Galaxy/IF Stories by Length
Serial: None (Bob Sheckley’s Time Killer started last year).
Novella: Whatever Counts by Fred Pohl—5 stars.
Novelette: Return of a Prodigal by J.T.McIntosh—5 stars.
Short Story: Death in the House by Clifford Simak—5 stars.
Vignette: Jag-Whiffing Service by David R. Bunch—4 stars.
Non-fiction: Solar Orbit of Mechta by Willy Ley—5 stars.
There were a total of seven 5-star entries in Galaxy/IF in 1959 and plenty of 4-star pieces. IF is slightly more uneven in quality than its big sister, Galaxy, but it consistently has stand-out tales. Call it an experiment that’s working.
Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories by Length
Serial: Starship Soldier by Robert Heinlein—4 stars.
Novelette: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes—5 stars.
Short Story: The Man who lost the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon—5 stars.
Vignette: Game with a Goddess by Leslie Bonnet—4 stars.
Non-fiction: No more Ice Ages by Isaac Asimov—5 stars.
F&SF had 11 5-star pieces this year! There were some hard choices here. Knight’s What Rough Beast, Boucher’s Quest for St. Aquin, This Earth of Hours, To Fell a Tree–F&SF has no shortage of excellent novelettes. Asimov’s articles are consistently better than Ley’s, too (not to slight Willy, whose pieces are never bad and often cover more esoteric territory).
I’m very curious to see what gets anthologized.
Best Overall by Story Length
Serial: Starship Soldier.
Novella: Whatever Counts.
Novelette: Flowers for Algernon.
Short Story: The Man who lost the Sea.
Vignette: Game with a Goddess.
Non-fiction: No more Ice Ages.
F&SF comes out on top, though there was stiff competition. I find it interesting that there were no 5-star vignettes; it may simply be that it is harder to make a strong impression in such a short space, or perhaps I am simply biased against the format.
Fantasy and Science Fiction: 3.33
I don’t think these rankings come as a surprise.
There you have it: 1959’s Galactic Stars. I had considered making this a double-length article by judging the worst science fiction and fantasy stories of the year (perhaps the Galactic Turkeys?), but it’s the holiday season, and I’m feeling charitable. Let’s just make one award, engrave it with Randall Garrett’s name, and burn it in effigy.
Now—tell me your top picks for 1959!
Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.
P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!
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