[January 12, 1961] A matter of taste (February 1961 Galaxy, Part 2)

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?

15 thoughts on “[January 12, 1961] A matter of taste (February 1961 Galaxy, Part 2)”

  1. I was going to comment as soon as I saw the photo of that pipe-smoking toddler, so we’ll never know what the effect of the cat picture might have been by itself.

    I’ll have to take your word about Damon Knight’s “Auto-da-Fe” since you’ve obviously just read it. It was a well-regarded story at the time I read it in some Best of collection, decades ago. For all I know the Suck Fairy has worked her way on it during the intervening years.

  2. I’m afraid I skipped the Knight, after checking the ending. Definitely not my beverage, either.

    The Dickson is very good! It wins both as (good!)space opera, and dem-civilisation-blues, which is so often not sf at all. I was a bit disconcerted at how dismissive the humans were of their intelligent co-habitants. But isn’t that true nowadays of at least two species? Three, really, since people are probably right in saying their parrots are smarter than either cats or dogs.

    To me the MacApp hero ends up more isolated inside his skull than before, with two ‘other’ himselves his main company. The Campbellian jargon is well used, but being abl to fit human intelligenct into these smaller cortexes is magical possession, not science.

    Doctor is just excellent, of course. Characters, ation and science.

    To me, the Galouye is half, or possibly quarter, of an adequate story. The one good thing about it is the Fuzzy Tails, and they disappear for no reason. Maybe they’ll appear in some better writer’s story. They’d fit in well to television, I’d think.

    Good looking pair in the bottom photo. Many soothing chicken livers were required, I’d guess.

    1. Oh, Minty’s a sanguine sort.  Akin to Calhoun’s Murgatroud (another Leinster reference).

      I’m glad you enjoyed.  I agree that the Dickson is the best of the threes in this batch, and maybe it deserves a four.  I may revise my opinion (as is my privilege as Lord of the Column!)

  3. A well-written mixed bag. The McApp started off with an interesting premise, but quickly went off the rails for me. The nature of the experimental drug was a bit too much for my to accept. I’d give it 2 1/2 stars, but round up to 3 if you don’t do fractions.

    The Dickson was very good, but maybe a little too long. I think some judicious editing to remove 10 or 20 percent would have improved it.

    I’m the one who bounces off of Galouye and I did it again. Actually, I made it farther than I usually do with his stuff. But after I got a quarter of the way through or so, I gave up and skipped to the end. Part of it was the horrible Germanic syntax of the natives. Who could sit through one character trying to impart information in such a tortured way, let alone most of them.

    The Knight was good, but very much not my cup of tea. Such a depressing ending. Another one where I gave up and skipped to the end.

    Ah, but the Leinster. A solid Leinster story and one that kept the reader wondering where exactly it was heading. Definitely a four star story.

    The Junior Traveler certainly looks like her mother. I hope she got some of your height, though.

  4. Still rushed for time here, so I’ll work my way through these one at a time.

    Nice to see that the Junior Traveler is a classy dresser like her sire.  Cats, of course, are always dressed perfectly.

    Speaking of cats, “The Drug” didn’t go the way I expected it to.  I can certainly understand why DemetriosX had trouble accepting the premise, and the story seems to become pure fantasy near the end.  Still, I enjoyed it.  Although it really bore no resemblance at all to last year’s movie “The Apartment,” it gave me the same feeling.  They both dealt with the rat race in an oddly bittersweet way, and somehow walked the narrow line between comedy and tragedy.  I guess both stories wound up with two lonely “pigeons” together.

  5. “An Honorable Death” was a good story.  The ending may not have been much of a surprise, but I suppose that’s inevitable; any other ending would have been a cheat.  Given the single setting and the limited number of characters, as well as the possibility for colorful costumes and sets, and an intense dance sequence, this would make a very good stage play.

    On next issue’s contents: I wouldn’t put McIntosh in the same triumvirate as Leiber and Sturgeon.

    On the book review: I seem to have read only the best of these: “A Canticle for Leibowitz,” “Level 7,” and most of the Heinlein collection.  Lucky me!

  6. It’s interesting that “The Chasers” and “Auto-da-fe” should have been placed together, given that they share a common theme in very different ways. 

    The Fuzzy Tails are in the first part of “The Chasers” as an ironic commentary on the rest of the story, I believe.  The pseudo-anger of the older man seems confusing at first, and arbitrary, but when you realize what the author is doing, it makes perfect sense.  It bears rereading for clues when you’ve reached the end of the story.  A light, clever piece.

    “Auto-da-fe” is, of course, an extremely dark story.  I thought it was excellent, although not exactly “enjoyable.”  It can be seen as a very grim variation on Simak’s “City” series.  So far it ties with Smith’s story for my favorite in the issue.

  7. “Doctor” was a solid SF story, but I can’t work up the same enthusiasm for it as the rest of the folks here.  I found the solution to the problem just too convenient — “deus ex flora,” if you will.  For me that brought it down to the “pretty good” level of the rest of the issue.

    So, it’s a toss-up for me between Smith and Knight, just slightly above the rest of the stories.  You were right; this is a very “even” issue.

    1. It is a bit pat, although it’s a nice rejoinder to the old “stuff on other planets is likely to eat us!” trope, which I find unrealistic.

      And any story that stars a girl of similar age and disposition to the Junior Traveler, well…. 

      I’d love it if you could expound on your Fuzzy Tails hypothesis!

      1. Well, I was afraid of spoiling the story for those who have not read it yet.  Let me warn them away with something I’ll call a

        *****SPOILER ALERT*****

        The whole point of the story is that the humans are literally pets of the aliens.  With that in mind, we can see the way that the astronauts treat the Fuzzy Tails — a sort of benign but vague affection — reflects the way the humans on the planet are treated.  The aliens mostly ignore them, although they give them a nice “dog house” with lots of toys to play with.  The older man is like the big dog that barks at you when you approach, but really just wants to play.  Of course, we know why the males chase the females . . .

        1. Oh, and throwing rocks at the alien transports is like dogs chasing cars.  There’s a lot of clever detail like that in the story.

          1. Ahhh.. I see.  I hadn’t made the connection that the humans were being kept by aliens.  I had thought the humans had set up an automated society and then regressed…

            Of course, I read the story while walking on the beach, so perhaps I was distracted.  Thank you very much for putting the story in perspective.  I may revise my score upwards based on your comments.

            I am glad my readers are smarter than I am!

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