Before I finish my review of the August 1959 Astounding, let’s look at the issue’s “Analytical Laboratory” and what the readers thought of the May 1959 ish (and compare it to my findings).
Interestingly enough, no story got higher than a 3.00, which means the readers had trouble picking a favorite. That indicates a good issue or a bad one. Garrett’s mediocre Cum Grano Salis got top ratings followed by the first installment of Dorsai!, then the charming Hex and Project Haystack. I suppose that’s as good an order as any. One might as well throw a dart at the wall.
The August issue, on the other hand, has clear strong and weak points. Newcomer Anne Walker’s A Matter of Proportion is one of the strong points. Her tale about a super-competent commando, who was once a paraplegic is gripping. Anyone who can write about the ascent of a flight of stairs with the same tension and excitement of a daring assault on an enemy base has done an excellent job. An interesting, sensitive story.
The following tale, Familiar Pattern, is so obviously a Chandler piece under a pseudonym (George Whitely), that one wonders why the ruse was even attempted. To wit, it involves an Australian coast guard ship (Chandler is a former Australian naval officer), and one of the characters shares a name with a character in The Outsiders, which came out in the same issue!
Now, I like Chandler, but this story is only decent. Aliens come to Earth to set up a trading mission, manufacture a diplomatic incident, and use said event as a pretext to invade. It’s a metaphor for what the Europeans did to the Polynesians; I appreciate the sentiment, and I am amazed it could appear in the xenophobic pages of Astounding, but the allegory is a bit too precise and heavy-handed to be effective.
Lastly, there is Theodore L. Thomas, whose Day of Succession is, as Orwell might say, rather un-good. Aliens land on Earth, and their ships are dispatched with cold-blooded efficiency by an American general. The officer is recalled to Washington and chastised for his bloodthirstiness, but is soon proven right when more aliens appear and wreak havoc (I wonder why they would be hostile after such a warm welcome!) The general advises a nuclear strike on the entire Eastern seaboard to defeat the incursion. When the President and Vice President disagree, the general shoots them and requests that the Speaker of the House adopt the officer’s plan.
I didn’t really understand it either.
The book finishes off with P. Schuyler Miller (a self-professed Conservative from North-Eastern United States) lamenting the death of science fiction, again. We’ll see. This seems to happen every five years.
So where does this issue end up in the ratings? Well, I’d had high hopes. Aliens was a five-star story, and Outsiders and Proportion were both quite good. But Pattern was average fare, Succession was sub-par, and the Garrett was soporific. The non-fiction “article” was also pretty bad.
All told, the issue clocks in at a “3,” which is actually admirable for Astounding. Read it for the good stories, eschew the rest, and you won’t be disappointed!
In two days, the Explorer that wasn’t.
(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)