How should I rate a story which is objectively well done, but which I just don’t like?
We taught our daughter manners at a very early age. When she encountered a food she didn’t enjoy, she was to say, “This is not to my taste,” rather than something more forceful and potentially bruising of feelings. I recognize that my readers are turned on by different things than I am; one person’s trash is another’s treasure, etc. But at the end of every review, I have to come up with a numerical score, and that score necessarily reflects my views on a piece.
This conundrum is particularly acute with the current issue of Galaxy, dated February 1961. None of the stories are bad. Many are well crafted, but I found the subject matter in some of them unpleasant. But they may be the bees knees for you. Take my reviews with that disclaimer in mind, and you should be all right.
I covered the first half the issue time-before-last. I’d rated all of the stories a solid three stars–reader feedback indicated that they liked the stories more than I (which is what led to the musings with which I started this column). Part two begins with C.C.MacApp’s The Drug. Is the ability to transcend one’s consciousness beyond one’s skull the key to eternal health and happiness? An exploration of a fun idea as well as a pleasant slice-of-life depiction. Three stars.
Gordy Dickson is back with An Honorable Death, contrasting a decadent but advanced Terran society with a primitive, vibrant aboriginal culture. It’s got a wicked sting in its tail. This is one of those stories that made me uneasy, but whose quality is undeniable. Three stars… but you may give it more.
One of my readers once said that he “bounces” off Daniel Galouye, a writer with real talent, but whose writing is not to everyone’s taste. I happen to like his stuff quite a lot, though his latest, The Chaser, about two spacewrecked fellows on a planet whose population is engaged solely in romantic games of tag, doesn’t seem to have much of a point. Three stars.
Damon Knight offers the cutting and unpleasant Auto-da-fe, about the last man on Earth and the 59 sentient canines over whom he reigns. As he reaches his last years of life, will he allow the dogs to breed and thus become master of the Earth? Another off-putting story of high quality. Three stars.
Rounding things out is a delightful novelette from the master of interstellar adventure, Murray Leinster. Doctor shows us a galactic polity of humans imperiled by a plague that appears unstoppable, but is, for the moment, limited in scope. Just one planet has succumbed, but its sole survivor, a precocious 10-year old girl who has lived her life in an aseptic bubble, has been shipped off-world in defiance of quarantine. Is she infected? If so, has she doomed the inhabited universe to destruction? Or is she the key to the plague’s eradication? Leinster’s viewpoint character, the spaceship’s doctor who must deal with the enormity of the situation, is a compelling one, and I greatly liked the relationship forged between him and the girl. Four stars.
Add it all up, and you’ve got an issue that barely tops three stars–enjoyable, but not superlative. I don’t think that tells the whole tale, however. Galaxy (and its sister, IF) are taking chances, and for that, they are to be commended. I’m very interested to know how you feel about these stories. Drop me a line, would you?
My editor says I’ll get more response if I include a picture of a pretty girl and a cat… Is she right?