[January 12, 1962] Odd one out (February 1962 Galaxy)

by Gideon Marcus

Science fiction is a broad genre.  It includes hard scientific, nuts-and-bolts projections that read like modern tales with just a touch of the future in them; this is the kind of stuff the magazine Analog is made up of.  Then you’ve got far out stuff, not just fantasy but surrealism.  The kind of work Cordwainer Smith pulls off with such facility that it approaches its own kind of realism.  In this realm lie the lampoons, the parables, the just plain kooky.  They get labeled as “science fiction,” but they don’t predict futures that could actually happen, nor do they incorporate much real science.  Rather, they end up in the sf mags because where else would they go?  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction showcases this type as a good portion of their monthly offerings (appropriately enough — “Fantasy” is in the name).

Galaxy magazine has always trod a middle road, delivering pure scientific tales, fantastic stories, and pieces of psychological or “soft” science fiction that fall somewhere in between.  It’s that balance that is part of what makes Galaxy my favorite magazine (that and stubborn loyalty – it was my first subscription). 

The first Galaxy of 1962, on the other hand, veers heavily into the fantastic.  Virtually every story presented has a distinct lack of grounding in reality.  Does it work?  Well…see for yourself.

Fred Pohl and his lately deceased frequent partner Cyril Kornbluth wrote a whole lot together.  In fact, I think they’ve published more since Kornbluth’s death than while he was alive!  I have to think Pohl is doing most of the work on Kornbluth’s outlines, but perhaps there’s something mystical going on.  Anyway, Critical Mass is the latest from this duo, a satirical “if this goes on” piece combining the mania for construction of bomb shelters and the public passion for baseball.  An entertaining piece though lacking in nuance.  Three stars.

LaGrange points, those places of gravitational stability involving two celestial bodies, were the topic of a recent Asimov piece.  Willy Ley now discusses them in his latest science column, For Your Information: Earth’s Extra Satellites.  There’s interesting stuff here though I’m afraid the Good German no longer has the gift for presentation that the Good Doctor possesses.  Three stars.

Shatter the Wall is an odd piece by newcomer, Sydney Van Scyoc.  Television, now taking up entire walls of houses, has become the object of the world’s attention.  In particular, a prosaic domestic drama featuring four stars whom everyone tries to emulate.  Wall reads like a dream, and if taken in that way, is a neat story.  I found it a little too off-kilter to really connect, however.  You might feel differently.  Three stars.

There’s a new hobby I’ve discovered called “board wargaming.”  Players do battle using cardboard chits representing military units and a set of rules considerably more involved that those of, say, Chess or Checkers.  Avalon Hill, a publishing company, started the fad with Tactics II, a simulation of modern strategic warfare, and recently followed it up with a D-Day game and a couple on Civil War battles.

Now, imagine if the world stopped settling their differences with armed conflicts and instead resorted to simulated fighting. 

That’s the premise of James Harmon’s The Place Where Chicago Was.  All war is simulated, presumably facilitated by computer.  Big cities are not actually destroyed in enemy pseudo-attacks.  Rather, they are simply quarantined for twenty years and left to fend for themselves.  Residents are forbidden to leave; outsiders are restricted from entering.  To enforce the peace, giant psycho-transmitters are set up that broadcast pacifistic thoughts to the populace. 

It’s such an implausible idea that I have to think Harmon is attempting some kind of satire.  On the other hand, it doesn’t read like satire.  It’s well written, but I don’t quite know what to make of it.  Three stars.

by Cowles

The Martian Star-Gazers is a “non-faction” piece by Ernst Mason, whom I’ve never heard of.  It tells the sad story of the erstwhile inhabitants of the Red Planet, done in by their fear of the heavens.  I appreciated Mason’s take on Martian constellations, particularly their contrast with terrestrial counterparts.  Three stars.

Algis Budrys writes deep, thoughtful stuff with a somber edge.  The Rag and Bone Men features a stranded alien intelligence that has taken over the Earth but only wishes to be able to go back home.  Terran science simply isn’t up to the task, and neither are the mind-slaved humans who labor at it.  A weird, perhaps overly poetic story.  Three stars.

Ed Wellen is back with another non-faction “Origins” piece, Origins of Galactic Fruit Salad.  A catalog of intergalactic service decorations, it’s in the same vein as his last piece: Origins of the Galactic Short-Snorter.  Sadly, unlike that work, Galactic Fruit Salad commits the cardinal sin of any comedic piece – it’s not funny.  One star.

The Big Engine, by Fritz Leiber, is solipsism done backwards.  The world is a giant machine, all of its pieces playing preordained parts save for the few components that become self-aware.  There’s not much to this story, but I must confess that I found it all the more memorable for having read it on a busy street corner, where the thrum of Leiber’s mechanical world was most immediate.  Three stars.

The balance of the issue comprises Part 2 of Poul Anderson’s Day after Doomsday, which as I said in my last article, was disappointing in comparison to the promising first half. 

While I applaud the effort toward experimentation in this issue, the result is an oddly monotonous clutch of stories, no “real” sf here.  Each of the tales might have been decent sandwiched between traditional stories, but they become an abstract, off-putting blob in unrelieved combination.  Galaxy would do well to return to its heterogeneous mix of sf types; I think trying to beat Analog or F&SF at their own games would be a bit of a forlorn hope.

See you in two with a “Fantastic” update!

23 thoughts on “[January 12, 1962] Odd one out (February 1962 Galaxy)”

  1. Fritz Leiber has used the “world as a machine in which only a very few people have volition/actual life” trope before in a novel: YOU’RE ALL ALONE back in 1950 in FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, during athebrief period when that pulp was sometimes publishing pretty good, and rarely even very good, stuff .  With the possible exception of Sturgeon’s THE DREAMING JEWELS, I think this was the best of said good stuff in FA.

    His novel version could really use a new paperback edition, especially since the only previous one was retitled THE SINFUL ONES (!) and sexed-up (“impurgated”?) by the sleaze publisher who brought it out a couple of years later, doubled-up in an ugly package with a non-sf title about a sexy bullfighter or some such silliness.

    (I don’t know if the world as a whole is a soulless machine, but the world of sleaze publishing certainly seems to be one.)

  2. ‘Critical Mass’ may be ‘an entertaining piece though lacking in nuance’ but is rather better written on a sentence and paragraph level than most of what we see from SF writers . This was always true of anything with Kornbluth’s name on it, and usually true of Pohl, too.

    As for Budrys’s “The Rag and Bone Men” I rather like it for its differences from ‘normal SF’. After all, a stranded alien super-intelligence wouldn’t be comprehensible to us.  Also, the two lead ‘mind-slaved humans’ aren’t really human, either, but synthetic humans the alien had created to assist it in its longterm dealings with humankind.

  3. Re: Pohl/Kornbluth, I don’t disagree.

    Re: Budrys, his two homunculi weren’t human, but I got the impression that the rest of humanity was in the Entity’s thrall.

    And… welcome to the Journey, Mark!

  4. The Mason was brilliant! I kept expecting it to dribble to a weak end, but it certainly didn’t.

    contra Critical Mass , where very good writing is spoiled by the sitcom resolution, including the president’s switch in personality.  (That Chase thought there was the slightest chance Douglasina would take him back is also most weak. )

    My theory is von Scyoc has at least one teenager of his own.

    Here, both Wellen and Harmon give the impression of very raw writers. Perhaps these are early pieces which were in the back of drawers?

    Thanks for sharing.

      1. I’m sure I’ve liked at least one story of Harmon’s; but I think it was a more conventional setting, where his strengths showed more.

        I should have guessed about von Syoc.

  5. I’ve only had time to read part of this issue so far.

    “Critical Mass” was quite good, classic Pohl and Kornbluth satire.

    The science article was fairly interesting, if dry.

    “Shatter the Wall” was enjoyable, even if hardly anything that happens in it was remotely plausible.  Again, good old Galaxy-style satire.

    “Ernst Mason” is actually Pohl himself, I understand.  The fake article was cute.

    The thing by Ed Wellen was dumb, and went on way too long.

    I look forward to reading the Budrys and the Leiber soon; the Harmon, maybe not so much.

  6. As much as I love Pohl and Kornbluth’s I have never read Critical Mass.
    I wonder if that was a Pohl project to help Mary Kornbluth? I remember in 1983 or 84-85, Greg Benford invited me to have dinner with him when a Sercon was held here in Houston. It was at a hotel near Hobby Airport. I was surprised when it expanded into a dinner with several writers; I wish I kept a diary because I only remember Fredrick Pohl and James Gunn being there. I do remember, at the time, Fred Pohl talking about how he helped out Cyril’s wife Mary who was left in bad financial condition by the unexpected death of her husband. He took notes and fragments of Kornbluth’s stories and finished them. I am pretty sure this is why this story appeared 4 years after Kornbluth’s death.

    1. I obviously can’t speak to future events, but that gibes with what I’ve heard through the grapevine.

      I think it’s great getting these Pohl/Kornbluth stories, even posthumously.  I do have to say that I’m not as enamored of their work as everyone else seems to be, however.

  7. Galaxy Magazine had an enormous influence on me. I had been reading Heinlein and Norton’s ‘juvies’ starting in late 1953 , supplemented by Groff Conklin’s extensive anthologies. So I knew John W. Campbell’s ‘style-of-SF’ well. That trade I made for a June 1954 issue of Galaxy was a phase transition. Gladiator at Law knocked me off my feet. I bused to downtown Dallas and Old Man Miles famous used book store and scooped up used copies of Galaxy, 2 for a nickel!  I am telling you: Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Gravy Planet, James Blish’s Surface Tension, Theodore Sturgeon’s Baby is Three, Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, Asimov’s Caves of Steel , many others, (lots of others!), finally my mind blown to pieces by Bester’s The Stars My Destination. Campbell was still doing good stuff at Astounding in spite of Dianetics, the Hieronymus machine and the Dean Drive. H.L. Gold was trumping Campbell at every turn. Galaxy, 1950’s, was a great junction from the SF tree that Campbell had planted.

    1. Hello, Al.

      ’54 was when I started subscribing to all the big mags, and may of the little ones, too.  People were already portending the death of sci fi since volume was already off the 1953 peak.

      I really miss Satellite.  That was a good magazine.  Also Mari Wolf’s fanzine column in Imagination.  The others, I haven’t missed so much.

      1. I never saw many Imaginations, but I have just about the whole run of Galaxy in the 1950s and well into the 60s. Fabulous magazine, and I’m in agreement with Al on the effect it had on many of us. Electric stuff in a decade full of good SF. And by the way, Al, I wish you had kept a diary too, given how many great stories you’ve told me about the various writers you’ve come into contact with!

        1. Paul, “Madge,” as Imagination was called, was a pretty mediocre magazine.  It deliberately eschewed the pointy-headed crowd.

          And once Mari Wolf was replaced with Robert Bloch, I didn’t have much use for it.  That was in ’56.

  8. Finishing up:

    The Harmon held my interest well enough, and certainly moved quickly, but was a bit too much everything-but-the-kitchen-sink for my taste.

    The Budrys was downright weird.  It certainly created a genuine sense of the alien and inexplicable.

    The Leiber is very similar indeed to his earlier story “You’re All Alone,” and doesn’t really add anything new.

    This issue was indeed full of oddities.  I suppose my favorite was the Budrys, whose strangeness was haunting.

  9. A footnote: The cover on this Galaxy is ok enough, but not like ASF. There may be an essay about it out there , somewhere, but John W. Campbell , for some reason, had an eye for story illustration , be it a cover or an interior. H.L. Gold and Fred Pohl, seemed, to me, to be indifferent. The Jack Coggins’s covers looked like Popular Mechanics rejects, they were kluncky and looked about 20 years out of date. I loved Wally Wood as a comic book illustrator, but all of his covers for Galaxy looked like a comic book illustrator being ‘serious’, same for his interior work. As far as I know Freas never did a cover for Galaxy or interior, am I right about that? (First time I have thought about it, I wonder why?) Emsh was Galaxy’s go to artist , tho many of his covers are joshing and are not illos for stories. Emsh’s Christmas covers were a humorous delight. The October 1952 cover is a one of kind by Emsh with the Galaxy 2nd anniversary party , continued on the back cover , I think, with so many icons of SF writing , even to this day. Gold only seemed to trump Campbell once, the October 1956 cover for The Stars My Destination and this continued in all the serial issues with the interior illos which are one of Emsh’s great masterpieces, boy Bester really inspired him. Around 1960 Freas was doing covers and illos exclusively for non SF zines, in particular MAD. Early 60’s Emsh picked up some well-deserved HUGOs before going into video art.
    I will write something about John W Campbell’s stewardship of SF illustration, somewhen.

  10. Lagrange point aren’t regions of gravitational stability. A common misconception is that they are where gravitational forces cancel out.

    There are three forces at play:
    1) gravity of central body
    2) gravity of orbiting body
    3) inertia in a rotating frame (what we used to call centrifugal force).

    I will put my discussion of Lagrange points in the field asking for my website as I post this message.

    1. Hello, David!

      Thank you for sending me a copy of your article.  It can, indeed, be frustrating when common scientific phenomena are mischaracterized. 

      I think the ambiguous phrase that piqued your ire was “between two celestial bodies” — I should have clarified and said, “involving two celestial bodies.”  In my (feeble) defense, I’ll note that I did not maintain that gravity was cancelled out at Lagrange Points. 

      That said, LaGrange points are clearly points of stability, and their root cause is gravitational. 

      Thank you for your comment and elucidation!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.