At long last, the February 1959 Galaxy is done, and I can give my assessment of the new bi-monthly format. It is likely that this issue was composed of material the editor, Mr. Gold, had accumulated before the decision to reduce the number of annual issues. Therefore, the real proof of the pudding will happen when the next issue comes out in the first week of February next year.
Two stories remained to be read when last you saw me. One is by newcomer, Ned Lang, whose short story, Forever is about the peril one faces when one has developed the world’s first immortality serum. Or, at least, when one thinks he/she is the first. It’s not a bad story, and it has a cute ending, but the writing has a certain clunkiness to it. I suppose allowances have to be made for neophytes, especially ones working for a penny-and-a-half a word.
The other story, a novella by J.F. Bone called Insidekick, is quite good. This is, in part, because it turns a genre on its head. Thanks to people like Bob Heinlein, the “Body Snatcher” trope is well-known: Evil, amorphous alien insinuates itself into its host human and turns it into a hollow shell. In particularly gory instances, the parasite eats its host like the larvae of the Digger Wasp. I have a friend who is relatively immune to the most nauseating of phenomena, but show him a movie about bodysnatching beasts, especially when they enter through cranial orifices, and he fairly faints.
In Insidekick, however, the symbiont is charitable rather than menacing. The Zark, as it is known, only wishes to help its host survive as best it can, for in doing so, the chances of success for both host and symbiont is maximized. The host, in this case, is a government agent by the name of Johnson, who is investigating a corrupt interstellar corporation under suspicion of growing tobacco illegally for profit on the planet Antar. Johnson is quickly fingered, and he certainly would not have lasted long were it not for the happy accident of his meeting with the Zark, a native to Antar. As the union of the two creatures occurs while Johnson is unconscious, he is unaware of the relationship.
The results, however, quickly become obvious. In Bone’s story, all humans have a certain degree of psionic potential. Practitioners of psi, on the other hand, are universally psychotic and, thus, only marginally useful. The Zark unlocks Johnson’s psionic potential without precipitating any nasty psychological effects. Johnson gradually realizes he has become a telepath and has the ability to teleport. Telekinetic and precognitive ability follow soon after. With his newfound skills, he is able to evade death and take down the criminal organization.
What makes the story so fun is how nice the Zark is. Who wouldn’t want a benevolent guardian angel living inside him/her, and thus enjoy a panoply of superpowers? Better yet, there is no sting in the story’s tail. Johnson isn’t doomed to die prematurely; it doesn’t turn out the Zark is really planning on eating Johnson; the Zark isn’t part of an alien invasion. The story simply is what it is—the happy tale of a man and his symbiont. The only weakness is the two-page coda, which feels tacked on.
If I did not know that Bone is a real flesh-and-blood person, I’d think he was a cover for Bob Sheckley (who also appeared in this issue, finishing up Timekiller). Insidekick has that same light, pleasant touch.
To wrap things up, let’s give the new giant-sized Galaxy a final score. Timekiller was decent, Installment Plan was flawed and disturbing in its politics, but the rest of the magazine ranged from good to quite good. Let’s call it three out of five stars.
And good news! I managed to secure a copy of F&SF. Stay tuned!
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