With December’s Galaxy and F&SF done and reviewed, I now turn to the last of the Big Three: Astounding. The elephant in this magazine is, of course, the second half of Poul Anderson’s dreary short novel, “Bicycle Built for Brew.” It lurks at the end of the magazine like an oncoming train at the end of a tunnel. Thus, I abandoned my usual haphazard reading habits and began at the beginning, like normal people.
Good thing, too. The first three stories, comprising 65 pages, are good and somewhat of a theme. I have to congratulate myself for making it through a full three quarters of Campbell’s blatherous editorial before skipping to story #1.
“Ministry of Disturbance” is a fun story of a week in the life of the august ruler of a 1300-planet galactic imperium, one that has persisted virtually unchanged for centuries. At first it seems that it will be a sort of light farce, but the story takes several turns before arriving at an unexpected conclusion. It’s a little bewildering: there are a lot of moving parts including a large cast of characters and several concurrent event threads. Ultimately, there is something of a happy ending. My favorite line from the story is, “If you have a few problems, you have trouble, but if you have a whole lot of problems, they start solving each other.”
Did I mention it’s by H. Beam Piper? That should be enough to recommend it. He did that lovely tale, Omnilingual (from which story the lady in my masthead derives), which you can find in the February 1957 Astounding.
Next up is “Triggerman” by a fellow I’d never heard of before, an “R.T. Bone.” Rather than a tale of the far future, it is highly contemporary. We’ve all heard of the metaphorical “button” on which the collective finger of the President and his generals rests, the pressing of which initiates atomic armageddon. In Bone’s story, the button is real, and one man has his finger on it. It’s a silly concept, but it is thankfully just the set up for a interesting short tale of an overwhelmingly destructive attack on the United States. As with the last story, there is a surprise, and the subject matter is not apolitical.
The third in the initial trio is “Pieces of the Game” by Mack Reynolds. Mack has been around for a while, bouncing from digest to digest, but I believe this is his first appearance in Astounding. Like “Triggerman,” it is set in the Cold War, but a few years in the future, in a recently Communist Austria. There is mention of a war, but it is clear that both sides are still active, as this story is a tale of espionage by an unlikely-looking agent. It’s a pretty standard thriller; I hesitate to even call it science fiction. But it is entertaining, and it fits in well with the theme of the first two stories.
That makes a solid 4 out of 5 stars for the first half of December’s Astounding! Lord knows where that score will finish, however…
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