[December 21, 1960] Short and Long Term (the January 1961 Analog)

There’s a big difference between weather and climate.  Weather is immediate; climate is gradual.  50 years from now, when the Earth’s average temperature has climbed a half a degree or more, thanks to the warming effects of human-caused pollution, people will still point to a cold day in January as proof that nothing has changed.

That’s because, just as for the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot of water, gradual change is difficult to perceive.  Only by assiduous collection of data, and by the subsequent analysis of that data, can we detect long-term trends.

Thus, it is too early to tell whether or not Analog is ever going to pull itself out of its literary doldrums.  I had such high hopes after December’s issue; January’s has dashed them.

It doesn’t help that Randall Garrett is still one of Campbell’s favorite writers.  I’m not sure if Garrett’s stories are lousy because Campbell tells Garrett what he should write, or if they’re lousy because Garrett writes what he knows Campbell will take.  Or maybe Garrett and Campbell independently share awful taste.  In any event, the long long lead novella, The Highest Treason, is a one-star drek-fest if ever there was one. 

In brief: In the far future, humanity has been reduced to mediocrity after the triumph of bleeding-heart liberal, Commie-pinko sentiments.  Job seniority is determined solely by time in service.  Decisions are made by group-think.  Innovation is scorned as antisocial.  There being no classes, there is no motivation to excel. 

This strawman of a culture is threatened by a Sparta-esque race of bald humans with pointy ears..I mean, complete aliens.  Earth’s defeat is only a matter of time.  One brilliant man dares to reverse the trend by defecting to the enemy with a cunning plan.  He becomes the conquering race’s greatest general, winning battle after battle, becoming the most vile traitor to humanity.  Then he orders the utter decimation of a populous Terran colony. 

This goads the Terrans into activity.  It would not have stirred us to action to have our colonies reduced and their people enslaved.  No.  Only a canny traitor could motivate our rennaissance.  Humans quickly develop superweapons that tilt the advantage Earth’s way.  The war is over in no time, and the era of stifling complacency is over.  Hurrah.

The moral: No alien will ever threaten mankind unless we let them.  And if we let them, only a human can horrify us out of out lethargy—because humans are better than aliens in every way, even being worse. 

Dumb story, dumb premise.  It’s also poorly written and overpadded.  True to Garrett form, only passing mention is made of the existence of women.  Three times to be exact–they are offered as a prize to the traitor, hanged from lampposts by the traitor, and disparaged as fickle philanderers by the traitor.  All excused by the context of course.

Bleah.

The issue only improves from there; how could it not?  Tom Purdom has a weird blood and guts piece called The Green Beret, about a young Black American who joins the UN peacekeeping forces to enforce anti nuclear proliferation rules.  I’m not sure what the point is, but I give Purdom points for giving us an atypical protagonist.  I don’t understand why the UN forces wear green berets, though—they have been wearing blue ones since the Suez Crisis four years ago.  Two stars.

Onward and upward.  Walter Bupp (John Berryman) gives us Card Trick a sequel of sorts to Vigorish.  In the universe portrayed, psi powers exist, and gambling parlors take great pains to ensure they are not used to sway odds.  In this story, a fellow is accused of possessing and abusing psionic abilities to win at cards; then he is strong-armed into joining a union of psionic gamblers.  He’s certain he is a “Normal,” however.  Is it a frame-up?  Or does he have a new kind of power?  Three stars. 

G. Harry Stine provides the non-fiction article for the month, Time for Tom Swift.  It starts off well enough, contending that our current methods for getting into space will never result in a sustainable off-planet presence.  They fail the “grandma test,” he says.  No little old lady can withstand the rigors of rocket take-off..much less afford the ticket!  But then he goes on to describe some cockamaimee futuristic designs that are clearly in the same camp as the Dean Drive and electrostatic boosters.  Two stars.

That leaves “Leonard Lockhard’s” interesting legal study, The Lagging Profession, likely inspired by actual events: In the story, Arthur C. Clarke (the real guy) retains a law firm to investigate the possibility of patenting his idea for geosynchronous (24-hour orbit) communications satellites.  It turns out the idea can’t be patented because it was described in an article 15 years ago.  Moreover, it couldn’t even have been patented at the time because the rockets and miniaturized components required for the concept did not exist.  We are left with the conclusion that high concepts related to space travel are unpatentable under the laws in their current state.

This may well be true.  On the other hand, patents are not the only motivation for invention.  Space travel is such an expensive proposition that the sheer cost will provide the protection from competition normally provided by patents.  I suspect Clarke’s synchronous satellites will be with us well before the decade is out, if our current pace of space development is any indication—you can bet they’ll all have Ma Bell’s name on them, too.  Four stars.

Part Three of “Mark Phillips'” Occasion for Disaster makes up the rest of the issue.  I’ll hold comment until next month.  Giving the serial a three-star placeholder, the January 1961 issue of Analog garners a disappointing 2.5 star rating.

Weather or climate?  Only time will tell.

8 thoughts on “[December 21, 1960] Short and Long Term (the January 1961 Analog)”

  1. I skipped the Garrett, – you have my respect for wading through it – and Card Trick just wasn’t to my taste, though the basic idea’s a good one.

    But I did like Green Beret. Though I disagree with the political background: as political units get larger, they get harder to take over. I don’t think the UN will ever have even the League of Nations’ power, and we know how little that turned out to be.  Still, the action writing was good, including the pov as far as it went. It reminds me a bit of good Mack Reynolds. I think the futurising was well done, Read’s background and the car skimming across the lawn. Good end, too: where sf agrees with other genres.

  2. The Garrett was deeply problematic. There might have been the germ of a decent story in there somewhere (protagonist must appear as traitor to the human race in order to save the human race), but everything he wrote and plotted would need to be discarded to find it.

    “Card Trick” was enjoyable, but there are my problems with psionics. I rate that “skill” as another of Campbell’s bugaboos, right down there with the Dean Drive.

    “Green Beret” was pretty good. I’m not too sure of the wisdom of doing a snatch-and-grab on a head of state, no matter how tyrannical and despotic he might be, but the overarching premise was interesting. I agree with Stephanie that it was reminiscent of good Mack Reynolds. It was vastly better than Purdom’s last offering, “Sordman the Protector” back over the summer.

    I find it fascinating that you absolutely despise Randall Garrett’s solo work, but seem to enjoy his collaborations with Laurence Janifer. Some of his stuff with Silverberg wasn’t bad either. Maybe Garrett just needs the anchor of a collaborator to keep his unpleasant tendencies in check.  I’ve been hesitant to dig into this one, since it’s clearly about psionics again. Is it really a tentative 3?

  3. Wow, that Garrett story sure sounds awful. I love the cover inspired by the story, though; really dark and hard-hitting. (Though I think it would be much better without the wanted poster in the foreground.)

  4. Based on your comments, I did not bother with “The Highest Treason.”  Maybe if it were not so long I might have given it a try.

    “Card Trick” seemed about average for that sort of thing.  Readable, but nothing special.  I thought it was odd that the author named one of his characters for himself (or the other way around.)

    “The Green Beret” was pretty good.  It’s one of those stories whose speculative element doesn’t seem particularly necessary.  In particular, the teleportation device could have been left out with only very minor changes.  Despite that quibble, I thought it was an interesting study in psychology.

    (By the way, the green beret has been worn by British Commandos since 1942.  I understand that members of the United States Army Special Forces also wore it unofficially, although it use was banned in 1956.  I suppose the point of its use in the story is that it represents being part of an elite to the protagonist, so that he learns to become part of something bigger than himself.)

    1. I went against my better judgement and read “The Highest Treason.”  Pretty bad, indeed.  Bringing the story to a dead halt twice to deliver a lecture on why equality is bad really made it tedious.  There were a lot of things I couldn’t believe.  (How did this passive, unambitious human culture manage to have far-flung colonies.  And is every subculture on Earth — and on many planets — exactly the same?  And is there only one person able to go against this culture.

      The “twist” was pretty evident from the very start, when the protagonist thinks to himself that he has to convince the aliens that he’s a traitor.  At that point the reader knows that he’s got something else in mind. 

      It’s hard to enjoy a story in which the “hero” is willing to sacrifice millions of innocent lives on a gamble like this.

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