[January 30, 1963] Escape Velocity (February 1963 Analog)

[If you live in Southern California, you can see the Journey LIVE at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, 2 p.m. on February 17!]


by Gideon Marcus

The latter half of January was filled with fanac (Fan Activity), and oh what a joy it was.  The third weekend in January, the Journey once again attended ConDor, San Diego’s SFF convention.  And once again, we were guests, presenting on the state of current science fiction both Saturday and Sunday.  It was a chance to meet up with old friends and make new ones.  ConDor is always a fun event.

The highlight of that weekend, however, was a Saturday night trip up to San Juan Capistrano to watch Dick Dale and his Del-Tones perform.  If you’re not familiar with the King of the Surf Guitar by now, he is easily the most exciting instrumental musician these days.  He puts on a hell of a show.

If the January’s fanac was superlative, the February 1963 Analog, though beautifully illustrated by Schoenherr, was anything but.  Not that the stories were bad, mind you.  They just all had some significant flaw that kept them from being truly good. 

Code Three, by Rick Raphael

For those not in the know, “Code Three” is police-speak for a high speed chase.  It’s an appropriate title for this Highway Patrol tale of the future, when North America is criss-crossed by mile-wide superhighways whose cars zoom at speeds of up to 400 miles per hour.  Raphael writes in a lovingly technical fashion that is oddly compelling but gives short shrift to its three human characters, who are so much cardboard.  I don’t find Raphael’s futuristic freeways particularly plausible, either, but they are fun to read about.  Three stars.

Hilifter, by Gordon R. Dickson

This is five sixths of a great yarn about a futuristic spaceship hijacker, who relies on daring and ingenuity to pull off a caper against all odds.  Dickson portrays his protagonist deftly and with subtlety, but the ending… hoo boy.  I’m not sure if Dickson wrote the expositional fatuity for editor Campbell, of if the editor sliced the original ending to bits, but it is the mustache on the Mona Lisa.  Three stars.

Something Will Turn Up, by David Mason

Stories with a lot of Beat jargon can often fall flat, but Mason does a good job of writing a poet/TV-repairman who pits forces against a hexed idiot box.  Cute.  Three stars.

“The Sound of Gasping”, by Mel Sturgis

If you read (as I do) Aviation Week, then you’re familiar with technical advertising.  It’s made with the slick standards of any Madison Avenue product, but the subject matter is abstruse engineering.  Sturgis’ piece is presumably on the growth and importance of technical advertising, as well as his experiences observing same at the recent convention, WestCon.  But if you get anything out of this article, you’re doing better than me.  One star. 

(The title is an obscure reference indeed — a riff on Isaac Asimov’s article The Sound of Panting in the June 1955 Astounding (that being this magazine’s name before it became Analog).  The article was on the difficulty of keeping up with current technical literature.)

The Topper, by Arthur Porges

Cockroaches made sentient by radiation?  It must be a joke… right?  Well, probably.  A bit of improbable fluff, just long enough to entertain rather than annoy.  Three stars.

With No Strings Attached, by David Gordon (Randall Garrett)

A fellow markets an amazing new power source as a battery (it isn’t, and you should know what it is right off) to prevent poaching and ensure exclusivity.  I’ve been around long enough to recognize most of Randy Garrett’s pseudonyms, so I cracked into “David Gordon’s” latest with trepidation.  Turns out Strings isn’t bad (just devoid of women, like most Garrett stories).  Three stars.

Space Viking (Part 4 of 4), by H. Beam Piper

This last installment of Piper’s latest is arguably the best of the bunch.  It contains the payoff of Prince Trask of Tanith’s quest to forge a civilized empire out of the wreckage of the Old Federation.  Though Trask started as a Space Viking, plundering half-civilized planets, by the end of the book, his league of planets has surpassed the feudal Sword Worlds whence he came and is a local power center.

As I’ve stated in prior reviews, the problem with Viking is its sketchiness.  We hardly get to know any of the characters, interesting episodes are glossed over, giant spans of time are leaped without transition.  This is an epic series of books compressed to a novel-length outline.  I hope Piper gets a chance to expand on this genuinely interesting saga at some point, or perhaps open up his universe to collaborative efforts (has that ever been done before?)

As is, this is a four-star installment of a 3.25-star book.

Now it’s time for the best part of the month, where we get to add up the numbers!  Galaxy is a clear winner at 3.3 stars, followed by F&SF with 3.1.  All of the other mags fell below the 3-star mark with Fantastic at 2.9, Analog at 2.8, Amazing at 2.4, and New Worlds at 2.3. 

But all of the magazines, with the exception of New Worlds, had at least one four-star story.  In fact, if you collected all the four and five-star stories, you could almost fill two magazines — twice as much material as last month. 

Finally, women wrote 3.5 of 37 fiction pieces.  Not a good showing, but again — better than last month.

Speaking of showings, next week I’ll let you know if The Twilight Zone is worth watching in its new format (hint: so far, not so good…)

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Check your mail for instructions…]




11 thoughts on “[January 30, 1963] Escape Velocity (February 1963 Analog)”

  1. Love that top photo!

    Knowing me, you won’t be surprised that I liked the three lightest stories: the fluffy light of the Mason and Porges; and the dry light of the ‘Gordon’. The book column has some good tips, too. If only Norton’s Storm series becomes regular. 

    Thank you for braving even the worst of TZ on our behalf.

  2. “Code Three” — Pretty much just an episode of “Highway Patrol” of the future, but quite effective at what it sets out to do.  The author’s attempts at characterization are clumsy, but the details of this extremely unlikely super cop car are nicely worked out.  It held my attention.

    “Hilifter” — I didn’t have strong feelings about this story one way or the other.  I don’t know if the author intended this message, but it seems to imply that terrorist acts are OK if you’re fighting for freedom.  (And the “don’t worry, nobody got killed” ending doesn’t change that point.)

    “Something Will Turn Up” — Cute, and I’m amazed that this got published in Analog.  It seems like pure fantasy to me.

    “The Topper” — Again, 1 mildly amusing tall tale.  Probably belongs in the “Probability Zero!” section of the magazine.

    “With No Strings Attached” — Fits the pattern of a certain kind of Analog story perfectly.  Somebody has to use psychology to get folks to accept that the Magic Box works.  Garrett can write these in his sleep by now.

  3. So far, I’ve only made my way through “Space Viking” and “Code Three”, but I’m generally in agreement here. I still think the Piper will read better in one go than over the space of three months. Piper is good at pulling the reader along, so a lot of the shortcomings here won’t be so obvious if you don’t have to wait for the pay-off. (Much the same can be said for “Podkayne” over at IF, except that’s taking half a year.)

    Victoria hit “Code Three” right on the head. It’s just an episode of Highway Patrol set 50 or 100 years from now. The characterization in the story is no worse than on the show, really. But it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

    1. Finished last night and I find I’m in general agreement with everybody on all the stories. I got a little more than Gideon did out of the fact piece, but not much. Maybe enough to make it two stars. There were things in there that were probably interesting to folks who don’t work in engineering, but the writer didn’t really seem to have much of a point to make. Ted Sturgeon has a piece in the new IF that is tangentially related, and it’s much better.

      By including the fact piece in your rankings, though, you took an issue with average to above average fiction (the stories are all 3s except for “Space Viking”!) and dragged to below average. I made the mistake of reading Campbell’s editorial, and it sent my blood pressure through the roof. I can’t quite tell if the man is an unreconstructed Confederate, ignorant, being disingenuous, or simply trying to be provocative. In any case, including a rating for the editorial would drag the whole grade down so far that no one would think to look at all those decent stories because the magazine had negative stars. Honestly, I think I’m just going to avoid reading those editorials ever again.

  4. re: “open up his universe to collaborative efforts (has that ever been done before?”

    Well, Lovecraft was supportive of some friends’ uses of his creatures, gods, and eldritch tomes in their own stories, so that sort of counts as an author opening up his universe.

    And there are lots of examples of multiple authors “playing around” in a given creative universe, with or without the encouragement of its founder (Sherlock Holmes parodies and pastiches) or even when there is no known single founder (the Matter of Rome, the Matter of France, and especially in the Anglophone world the Matter of Britain — Arthurian legends and related stories).

    I would think copyright/trademark worries would keep this from ever becoming a common thing for current/future universes, especially in cases with authorial approval, though.  That’s enough of a potential issue even in our smallish world of print sf/f, but imagine the uproar if people started writing such things based on, say, characters from popular television shows and movie franchises, where Big Money could be involved.  Nah, not likely ever to happen, surely?

  5. Love that cover, and was surprised to find I liked Code Three much more than I thought I would. I must have a liking for people “just doing their job”….  but I can see this forming a series or even a novel in the future. It’s never going to win awards, but is solidly entertaining.  The characterisation is rather Clarke-ean, for better and worse!

  6. The February issue of Analog hasn’t made it to Los Alamos yet. I keep watching the drugstore magazine racks for it.

    Meanwhile, that photograph of the blue and red computer room at the bottom page has me intrigued. What sort of equipment is that?

    On the left, a paper tape reader. The U in the center is like nothing I have ever seen before. The console to its right — well, it’s not a Univac or IBM.  Perhaps the Traveler knows what it is and where in the world would make a crazy colored floor like that.
    The woman on the right (who, by the way, would be more appropriate in saddle shoes than those absurd heels) is operating a paper tape punch. Note the brown handle bags with both pieces of paper tape equipment — that one has to gather that tape up and re-roll it (without tangling or breaking) seems to have not been considered in the design of the equipment.  The countless hours I have spent re-rolling punched paper tape…

    1. I wonder if the U thing is a punched card reader. And I also wonder why no one has come up with a tape punch that will spool the tape as it is punched.

      As for the floor, my mother-in-law had a kitchen floor that looked a bit like that. But for an office?

  7. That computer is an English Electric KDF9 computer. This particular site is the HSBC bank in the U.K. It must be one of the prototype installations, because the KDF9 is not scheduled to release until next year.

    I found a manual for the KDF9 in the brochure collection of one of my librarian colleagues. You know we librarians and archivists love to use our resources to help answer obscure questions!

    http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/English_Electric/EnglishElectric.KDF9.1961.102641284.pdf

    Turns out that the U-shaped piece of equipment in the middle is a high-speed paper tape reader. There’s a much better picture of it in the manual, plus a description of its use.

    As for the checkered floor. One cannot tell from this photograph, but computer rooms are often build on raised floors; about 10 inches from the actual floor. Underneath the tiles of the raised floor is where all of the huge cables that connect each of the machines together are routed. When a technician has to pick up a tile to examine the cabling, they use a tool that is essentially a handle with two suction cups, to grab the tile and slide it over to access underneath.

    Usually these raised floor tiles are white. That in this example they match the English Electric livery is another clue that this is a prototype installation used to show off the English Electric brand.

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