[January 19, 1962] Killing the Messenger (February 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

I said in a recent article that science fiction runs the gamut from the hard-nosed to the fantastic, and that the former can be found most consistently inside the pages of Analog magazine.

Well, the February 1962 issue has proved me a liar.

The problem is Analog’s editor, Mr. John W. Campbell.  Once a luminary in the field, really hatching an entire genre back in the late 30’s, Campbell has degenerated into the crankiest of cranks.  And since he offers 3 cents a word for folks to stroke his ego, he necessarily gets a steady stream of bespoke stories guaranteed to be published.

Want to know the secret to getting printed in Analog?  Just include psi powers and a healthy dose of anti-establishment pseudo-scientific contrarianism, and you’re in like Flynn.

Case in point: this issue’s lead story, The Great Gray Plague, by Raymond F. Jones.  Never have I seen such a cast of straw men this side of a cornfield.  The setup is that the snooty head of a government agency that oversees science grants refuses to consider the bucolic Clearwater College as a candidate because they rank so low on the “Index.”  Said “Index” comprises a set of qualifications, some reasonable like the ratio of doctorates to students and published papers per year, to the ridiculous like ratio of tuxedoes to sport coats owned by the faculty and the genetic pedigree of the staff.  Thus, the “Index” serves as a sort of Poll Tax for institutions, making sure only the right kind remain moneyed.  The Dean of Clearwater makes an impassioned argument to the government employee that such a narrow protocol means thousands of worthy scientists and their inventions get snubbed every year in favor of established science.

So far, so good, I guess.  But then, as if on cue, a pair of “crackpot” farmers submit a request for review of a telepathic crystal they’ve developed.  Of course, the government man dismisses the request out of hand.  Of course, the progressive Dean investigates.  Of course the thing works.  And, of course, one of the crackpots is really an alien testing humanity’s ability to assimilate science that doesn’t gibe with current theory (and if you didn’t figure that twist out immediately, you’re reading the wrong stuff).

Now, there is merit to the idea that science is not a gradual evolution towards perfection.  In fact, Historian of Science Dr. Thomas Kuhn recently advanced the notion that science works within “paradigms” that are only overthrown with some violence and replaced with other paradigms.  For instance, there was no gentle, step-by-step transition from Ptolemy to Copernicus – the Sun went around the Earth, and the data was squeezed into that model (however ill-fitting) until suddenly the Earth was determined to orbit the Sun and everything fit into place.  Another example is phlogiston theory, which almost did a good job of explaining why substances gained weight when they burned…said theory being turned on its ear when the true nature of oxidation was discovered.

However, Plague isn’t really making Kuhn’s point.  It’s making Campbell’s, which is, in short, “If all these highfalutin ‘scientists’ would actually give a chance to people pushing psi, reactionless drives, and perpetual motion machines, then they’d quickly see the merit to these ‘crackpot’ ideas.”

Sorry, John.  Whatever bad things one might say about inertia in the scientific establishment, the fact is that it exists for a reason.  Science must, necessarily, be incredulous.  It must seek out and process data according to the scientific method.  And let’s be honest, John – science has given the Dean Drive and the Heironymous Machine and Dr. Rhine a fair shot.  They’ve been found wanting.  Give it up and stop kneeling at the altar of charlatans like L. Ron Hubbard. 

Or turn over Analog’s reins to someone else.  There’s a paradigm shift I’d love to see.

Having used up so much space with the above rant, I shall endeavor to be brief with the rest.  Pandemic, by the consistent J. F. Bone, is a gripping, grim tale of planetary disaster…with a rather silly resolution.  If anything, however, the first three quarters of the story give ample evidence that Bone can write – does he have any novels in print I don’t know about?  Three stars.

This month’s science fact article, Power Supplies for Space Vehicles (Part 1 of 2) by J. B. Friedenberg is a refreshing departure from Analog’s usual offerings, featuring as it does actual science.  Friendeberg’s piece discusses photovoltaic, thermoelectric, and thermionic power supplies in a comprehensive (if unentertaining) fashion.  About as much fun as reading the encyclopedia, which I generally enjoy, but you may not.  Two stars.

Neil Goble is a brand new author from Okie whose cute Master of None hints at a fair talent to come.  The story’s moral: pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a worthy endeavor.  I heartily agree.  Three stars.

That leaves Hail to the Chief by “Sam and Janet Argo.”  It’s a meandering piece about the lengths to which a politician goes to get a non-politician elected President of the United States.  It’s not particularly plausible, nor is it remotely science fiction, seemingly more a platform for a series of puns on the candidate’s name (“Cannon”).  This is a story with Randy Garrett’s fingerprints all over it.  Two stars.

Thus ends the worst issue of Analog since the magazine took on the new moniker.  The proof is in the pudding, and Chef John’s fare is poor stuff indeed.  I hope we get a new cook soon.

(By the way, it certainly seems that this month’s cover was influenced by the new tower planned for Los Angeles airport – you decide…)

17 thoughts on “[January 19, 1962] Killing the Messenger (February 1962 Analog)”

  1. At this date have wonder what Campbell thought of his two greatest writers Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov? In the mid 1950’s, having not seen Campbell for a while, Heinlein had dinner with Campbell’s New Jersey home. After dinner Campbell went on a diatribe about , what seemed, Campbell’s own version of Dianetics. Heinlein was appalled. Still Heinlein serialized Double Star and Citizen of the Galaxy in ASF.
    For Asimov the relationship was more painful. Campbell was his mentor and a father figure. Asimov tolerated Campbell’s slide into befogged double think for some time. Asimov did publish The Naked Sun in ASF in 1956.
    However by about 1958 Heinlein and Clarke couldn’t take it anymore and left Campbell to stew in his own delusions. Star Ship Troopers could have been serialized in ASF.  However , Campbell was critical of Heinlein at the time, tho I must confess I find Campbell’s assessment of post 1950 Heinlein confusing and wrongheaded.

    1. Starship Troopers would have fit right into Analog, and, had it been published in its entirety (rather than butchered for F&SF’s smaller size), would have been a hit for magazine and book readers.

      What does Campbell have to say about post 1950 Heinlein?  I can tell you what I think of post 1960 Heinlein — and it’s not favorable, at least, so far.

      1. Why Campbell would say this in 1956 passes beyond my understanding:
        “Bob can write a better story, with one hand tied behind him, than most people in the field can do with both hands. But Jesus, I wish that son of a gun would take that other hand out of his pocket” (Letter to Isaac Asimov, May 11, 1956)
        Heinlein may have gotten a skosh more soap-boxy in the late 50’s, but not matter how much I disagree with it in Star Ship Troopers it’s not like the tidal wave of palaver that followed , I only enjoyed brief flashes of the old master in novels after 1960, couldn’t finish most of those books

  2. I do like Master of None; each sentence just right, and the Jones-Dwindle interaction is good. Hope there’s more Goble.

    To me. the rest seem heavily padded.

  3. Yes, padded.  In particular, the first and last stories.  The “Argo” wanders places for no particular reason.  I have to wonder if Campbell inserted passages to make the story fit properly or something.

  4. J. F. Bone was an interesting character.  As I recall, he was a vet who wrote the occasion SF novel or short story.  I was lucky enough to meet him in the 1970s. One of his more interesting novels was “The Lani People.”  He also wrote The Triggerman.”

  5. I, for one, am shocked — shocked! — that John W. Campbell would buy a story with a resolution like “Pandemic,” considering his views on smoking. I mean, what next, a story where the characters demonstrate that humans are superior to aliens through dowsing?

  6. I wonder if you might not be being a little hard on Mr Campbell. While it’s surely true that some of the hobby
    horses he rides can be a little tiresome I’m still inclined
    to value the kind of iconoclastic outlook he professes as
    an important voice in the genre (and, indeed, for society
    at large) .

    While it is indeed likely that the such matters as the Dean Drive and psionics are nonsense it is, at the same time, perhaps unwise to assume a complacently dismissive
    attitude regarding even unlikely possibilities; who knows
    what doors we may leave unopened?

    I take that to be the point that ‘The Great Gray Plague’ tries
    to make, in however clumsy and artless a fashion.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ian.

      Science loves new ideas, even unlikely ones.  All it asks is that they be testable and then tested.

      Jones’ story, in present such a straw man, undercuts its own validity.

      That said, you’re plenty correct that many institutions have their heads lodged in dark places, and they could stand to have a bit of extraction therapy.

  7. On the basis of what has been said, I think I will skip the lead novella. 

    I glanced at the science article and decided it was over my head.

    “Pandemic” was OK, with some decent medical science at the start.  I had trouble accepting the resolution, but maybe it was supposed to be a rather grim joke.  Perhaps the author was inspired by the way in which sickle cell anemia offers some protection from malaria.  That still doesn’t make sickle cell anemia a good thing!

    “Master of None” had no surprises, but it was quite enjoyable.  The best story in the issue, in my opinion.

    “Hail to the Chief” really wandered all over the place.  The section about the spaceship came out of nowhere.  Cut down to the bone, the basic theme of the story was interesting, and could have served as the basis of a good mainstream political story.

    (As far as the odd pen name goes, it reminds me an old joke.

    “Knock, knock.”

    “Who’s there?”

    “Sam and Janet.”

    “Sam and Janet who?”

    “Sam and Janet evening/You will meet a stranger . . .”)

    1. You win the Randy Garrett award for punniest letter, Vic!

      The science fact article was rough sledding and took me several sessions, but my background is in astrophysics so I found the underlying worthwhile.

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