[January 6, 1960] Watch your tongue?  (February 1961 Galaxy, Part 1)

The old saying goes, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  As you know, I am rarely reserved when I don’t like a piece of work.  Every once in a while, I get a gentle chiding.  One reader said he didn’t want to hear about stories I don’t like–just the ones I do.  Another opined that my fans might tire of my consistently negative reviews of a certain author. 

I don’t want to discount these criticisms as I think they are valid.  On the other hand, if I am unreserved in my scorn, I am similarly effusive about what I like.  My columns are rarely completely negative.  Moreover, I recognize that even the works I don’t like often appeal to others, and I love receiving letters from folks who disagree with my judgments. 

Besides, you good folk likely come here to see me as much as to get reading recommendations.  Alfred Bester said in F&SF last month that he prefers English non-fiction to American as English authors will intrude into the text.  There are only so many ways to package facts; the only distinguishing character is the personality of the packager.  Certainly, I read Asimov as much for the science lesson as for the fun anecdotes.

So, enjoy all of me, even the kvetching.  And if you don’t, feel free to tell me just how much you dislike me.  I may even agree with you…

On to the task at hand–reviewing the first half of the February 1961 Galaxy!

Evelyn Smith (formerly Gold, same name as the editor, natch) takes up most of it with Sentry in the Sky, a story about a malcontent in a futuristic caste system who is enlisted to become a long-term spy mole on a more primitive world.  It’s not bad, but it is awfully simplistic, and the point meanders.  Moreover, it relies on awfully human aliens.  Of course, it’s satire as much as anything else–the primitive world has a culture that is immediately familiar to 20th Century people.  Let me know what you think.  Three stars.

Doorstep is a cute short by Keith Laumer about an overachieving general and the UFO he tries to crack open.  Sort of a poor man’s Sheckley; something I’d expect from 1952.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s article is pretty interesting this month.  He covers the new science of “seeding” clouds to create rain in Let’s do Something about the Weather.  Three stars.

Finally, we have what may be the very first piece from a new writer, Volume Paa-Pyx by Fred Saberhagen.  It’s a fun twist on the future where those with specific aptitudes get placed in appropriate professions.  When is a police state not a police state?  Three stars.

It doesn’t take a slide rule to calculate this issue: Three stars across the board!  Nothing exceptional, nothing horrid.  Satisfying, but ummemorable.  Let me ask you–is it better to be delivered a dose of strong ups and downs or a steady, bland mean?

10 thoughts on “[January 6, 1960] Watch your tongue?  (February 1961 Galaxy, Part 1)”

  1. I enjoy a well written rant, myself. But if you ever decide you can’t stand another word of his, you’re most welcome to skip.

    The Smith is excellently written. The change in tone is a bit steep, I think. Perhaps it’s from being rushed as the morehumans turn hostile. The good point of the story could have come across cliche, and it was quite an accomplishment it didn’t.

    The Laumer was rather too obvious. I think if Laumer had got into the general’s mind a bit deeper it could have worked.

    The Saberhagen is a briliant idea; it’ll surely be a classic. The cure struck me as rather Heath Robinson, but so is Santa Claus. Great ending, too.  If a little more had been written about the patient’s craving, and his losing it, it would have been really outstanding; but it’s still a very good story.

  2. PS: I incline to the second approach, myself. The shotgun effect will always have more misses than hits. Especially, the fewer periodicals being put out, the likelier the reader will not be receiving in any adequate return for his time and money. In the second method, the very good unconventional will probably be accepted.

      1. Laumer is probably worth watching. Aside from “Combat Unit” he’s had one story each in Cele Goldsmith’s publications over the last couple of years. “Greylorn” (Amazing 4/59) was a bit heavy going, but an impressive debut, and “Diplomat-at-Arms” (Fantastic 1/60) was an amusing piece. He seems to have a hand for humor, which isn’t easy in any genre, let alone science fiction.

  3. Personally, I want ton know when you don’t like something. Your dislikes do as much as your likes to show me where our tastes overlap. As long as you say why you don’t like a thing and don’t just say, “This is dreck!” I can judge whether it might be something I might like anyway.

    I haven’t had time to dig into this issue yet, but it sounds like it’s off to a good start. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional run of everything being good enough, but a bit a variation is nice (spice of life and all that). I’d prefer high peaks and very shallow valleys. At the very least, I’d like to be able to see the merit in the stories I don’t like; they just weren’t for me for some reason. Alas, that’s so often not the case.

  4. I definitely want to see the negative reviews as well as the positive ones.  I gain a lot of insight into the stories through both, whether or not I agree.

    As far as peaks and valleys versus a smooth plain goes, well, I guess I prefer the former.  I’ll put up with F&SF’s taste for really silly comedy in order to obtain their literary stories.  I make my way through IF’s trivial pieces in order to gain their quirky stories. 

    Of course, it depends on how high the smooth plain is, if you know what I mean.  In recent times, Astounding — darn it, I mean Analog — has been reliably mediocre.  That makes their occasional gems really stand out!  Galaxy used to be reliably pretty good, so that a three-star story in the magazine didn’t grab your attention the way a three-star story in ASF (there, that covers the old name as well as the new one) would.

    Now that I’ve completely confused myself, let me start in on this issue.  So far I’ve just made it through the short pieces.

    The science article was OK.  I actually thought the question about Willy Ley’s name was the most interesting.  It may be of interest to note that the Bernard Vonnegut mentioned in the article about weather is the older brother of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., whose novels have been discussed here recently.

    “Doorstep” was acceptably short for a one-joke story, and the fact that it was a rather dark joke made it better than the usual attempt at humor.

    Nice slide rule.  I see a lot of other interesting stuff in that photograph.  What kind of flag is that?  And is that a bottle of champagne I see?

    More later!

      1. I finally made my way through “Sentry in the Sky.”  Not a great classic, but I liked it quite a bit.  There was something very smooth and readable about the author’s style, and the imagined future was interesting.  (At first I thought the “twist” was going to be that these were aliens sent to observe Earth, but I’m glad it didn’t go in that direction.) I was particularly taken with the ending, with have a delicate poignancy; not quite a happy or a sad ending, but a little of both.  It’s my favorite story in this half of the issue.

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