Once again, I find myself on vacation in my home town. San Diego is hosting two science fiction conventions back to back this July, and this second one promises to be the larger of the two. Of course, neither of these conventions holds a candle to the big one starting in Los Angeles tomorrow, the one that will determine our next Democratic candidate for President of the United States.
But that’s a topic for another article. You came here to find out about this month’s fiction, right?
John Campbell is continuing his magazine’s slow transitioning of names from Astounding to Analog. Both names are still on the cover, superimposed upon each other in a confusing mess, but the spine now unequivocally says Analog, so that’s how I’ll refer to it from now on. R.I.P. Astounding. Here’s to 24 years of an influential, if not entirely consistent, existence.
It’s not a bad issue. Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade continues to be excellent, if wholly implausible. This story of a 14th Century English village transformed into a nomadic band of universe-conquering marauders is played completely straight, with lovely characterization and an authentic ear for the language. I find it hard to imagine that I won’t enjoy it through all three parts at this point.
The magazine fares less well in its shorter pieces. The lead novella, Mack Reynold’s Adaptation, for instance, doesn’t quite work. A galactic Terran federation is trying to bring old, backward human colonies into the fold, but first, these wayward settlements must be brought to modern status sociologically and technologically. Two planets are the subject of a 50-year project, one of which has reverted to a European-style feudalism, the other emulating Aztec culture and advancement. Of course, the inhabitants all speak English and are descended from American stock.
The team dispatched to elevate the planets to galactic standard splits in twain. They determine that a healthy competition is in order, one of them championing a controlled economy a la the Soviet Union. The other employs capitalism. While both divisions manage to raise the economic output of their charge planets, they are accompanied by serious growing pains, and it is not clear which course is better (or if either be optimum).
The set-up is terribly forced, but I just pretended the contact team was really trying to improve the lot of a couple of real cultures from the past, perhaps in alternate timelines. The characterization is largely incidental, and there are no female characters at all. Still, Reynolds does get you from point A to B, and he does get you invested in the outcomes of the experiments.
Next up is Pushbutton War by brand-newcomer Joseph P. Martino, and it reads like someone’s freshman work. It’s the story of an Air Force pilot, who zips around at Mach 25 in a rocket-powered anti-missile interceptor. Not only is the concept silly, but the story alternates between walls of actionless dialogue and soulless action. And yet, despite this, it’s not horrible. I’d have suggested a rewrite or two, however.
by John Schoenherr
John Brunner has the exceedingly slight, Report on the Nature of the Lunar Surface, a few-pager that exists solely to set up the punchline. In short (as there is no long), a technician’s sandwich ends up on the Moon, the result of carelessness around a lunar probe. The bacteria in the dairy products thus introduced to Earth’s celestial companion result in a transformation of the Moon’s crust of a decidedly viridian and odorous nature…
Since the magazine is now Analog Science Fact and Fiction, it is apt that there are two science articles in this issue. One is a comprehensive summary on Venus by R.S.Richardson, the fellow who recently wrote a similar piece on Mars in a recent issue. The current scientific consensus seems to be that we still really don’t know much about “Earth’s Twin” save that it has an impenetrable veil of clouds. As we get better at radar studies, and once we send a spacecraft out to the solar system’s second planet, perhaps the Goddess of Love will reveal her secrets.
The other article is an interesting, if dry, essay by Alastair Cameron on how elements heavier than helium were formed in the universe. The popular theory these days is that everything north of atomic weight two on the Periodic Table formed amidst the unimaginable pressures existing in the center of stars. The idea that our bodies are composed of the remains of long-dead suns is a romantic, mind-boggling one, I think.
Last up is Christopher Anvil’s A Taste of Poison, about a canny businessman who convinces a set of alien would-be invaders that the inhabitants of Earth are a far tougher conquest than our comparatively primitive technologies might indicate. A typical Anvil story that might pass the typical editorial filters of Campbell.
All told, it’s a 3-star issue buouyed by the Anderson and the non-fiction articles and shackled by the pedestrian shorter fiction. Still, that’s two thirds of a winning combination. If Campbell manages to get a decent new set of writers, he could pull his magazine out of its recent nosedive.
See you very soon with a gallery of photos from “Comic Con.” Don’t let the name fool you–it’s a general science fiction/fantasy convention.