[July 10, 1960] Eye of the Storm (August 1960 Analog)

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.

Stay tuned!

10 thoughts on “[July 10, 1960] Eye of the Storm (August 1960 Analog)”

  1. “Adaptation”

    Reynolds seems to be setting up a rather forced analogy for the current Cold War.  His point appears to be that both planned economies and free market systems have their advantages and disadvantages, and that something else entirely might evolve out of them.  There also might be a suggestion that the non-aligned nations could overcome the superpowers, after some economic and technological progress.

    Giving my reading of the author’s intent, it should come as no surprise that I found this story rather dry, artificial, and talky.

  2. “Adaptation” wasn’t bad, but it might have been a lot better in the hands of another editor. As it is, it pushes a lot of Campbell’s buttons. The story was also hampered by taking place over such a long period of time. And I think Victoria is right about the suggestion that story suggests the non-aligned nations could overcome the superpowers. That fits very well with Reynolds’ themes and politics.

    That said, the general concept of reintegrating backwards planets and cultures into a galactic commonwealth through subtle means to get them to the point they can interact without being overwhelmed is interesting. There are probably a number of decent stories in that idea. This just isn’t (quite) one of them.

  3. > Venus

    The word from the USSR is that they plan to launch some kind of probe toward Venus soon, probably next year.  Given their continued lead in space technology I don’t really doubt the announcement, but… Wow.  Venus.  Somehow that makes the entire space effort seem more real.

    To be brutally frank, our space program isn’t working very well.  The British are still touting their space program, but they haven’t even built a satellite yet, and they’ve already decided to use American rockets instead of their own.  They’d better build two or three spare satellites; maybe one of them will make it into orbit without the rocket blowing up.

    [flaps arms in frustration]

    1. I attended a NASA press conference via telephone on the 7th–Lovell talked about how the English are building their own rockets, and he described the UK as a “neutral” in the Cold War, which I found interesting.

      Pioneer 5 was almost a Venus probe.  I’m pretty sure we can get one launched by the next favorable apparition (in 1962). 

      It’s amazing how impatient we can get in just a few short years.  Why isn’t the future happening faster?!

  4. I have an issue with “capitalism and communism” are two sides of the same coin, though I do take Randall’s point that the “Third World” may one day be ascendant.

    I don’t think Plekhanov looks much like Khruschev, myself….

    1. Well, maybe not so much in the interior illos, but I think he does on the cover. Or more like a cross between Khrushchev and Mussolini.

  5. “Pushbutton War”

    This one didn’t do much for me.  The author tells us what the main character is going to do, then he does it.  No surprises, and the attempt at characterization was only moderately effective.  I didn’t buy the premise, either; surely there’s a better way to destroy incoming warheads.

    “Report on the Nature of the Lunar Surface”

    Just a joke, but cute enough to be amusing.

    “A Taste of Poison”

    I actually liked this one pretty well, and thought it was the best story in this issue (not counting “The High Crusade,” which is very good indeed, but not yet finished.) Yes, it’s yet another “dumb aliens bested by smart human” story, which Anvil could write in his sleep, but the characters (including the aliens) were fairly vivid and the humor was light enough to be enjoyable.

    1. I agree, Victoria.  I think Anvil is getting better at… doing what he always does.  He has a story in this month’s Galaxy, and I’m interested to see if he writes differently for Gold.

  6. I liked all three of the stories. Mack Reynolds was more satisfying than most space operas, and it was a different and better twist than the one I was expecting. The lack of female characters, especially in the Terrans, should, I think have been excused or even mended.

    The Anvil was just fun, especially the aliens. He can write humour just right for me; but humour is very much a matter of taste. Still, one to go on the to-be-read-by-flu-patients list.

    I think the Martino is the likeliet to make the Best of books. To me, the best part is how Lightfoot doesn’t have to reject either western or Amerindian heritage. And I find the solid background convincing and admirable.

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