[July 2, 1962] Getting to the Point (July 1962 Analog Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

There are many ways to measure the strength of a story.  Is the plot innovative?  Does it resonate emotionally?  Are the featured characters unusual?  Does it employ clever literary devices?

As a writer, I am always particularly impressed by efficiency: the ability of an author to develop his tale with a minimum of exposition, unfolding a plot teasingly so as to keep the reader turning those pages with increased anticipation, and then delivering a solid conclusion at the end – where it belongs.

The July 1962 Analog Science Fiction delivers a series of object lessons in how (and how not) to write efficiently.  In some cases, the execution can be admired even if the story isn’t great shakes.  And vice versa.  Read on!:

Listen! The Stars!, by John Brunner

Brunner is a new British author whose prolific writings have already enchanted one of the Journey’s writers.  Now it’s my turn.

Listen! takes place a few decades from now, just after the discovery of an esoteric electronic principle that allows one to literally eavesdrop on the stars.  Using a sort of acoustic telescope, the “stardropper,” one can tune in to the mental vibrations of extraterrestrials.  This isn’t telepathy, and even if it were, who could understand the minds of total aliens? 

Yet, listening to these emanations is compelling in the extreme.  There is the feeling that, if you could just wrap your head around them, the secrets of the universe might be yours.  Stardropper addiction runs rampant…and then the disappearances begin.  Users simply vanish, though very few cases are actually witnessed.  Concerned at the ramifications, the American government dispatches a special agent to investigate the vanishings. 

Listen! is perfectly constructed, fitting its novella length just right.  The plot is also novel, though there are shades of Clarke’s Childhood’s End.  The characterizations serve the tale rather than being tacked on.  A five star story.

Junior Achievement, by William M. Lee

This tale of a gaggle of precocious kids and their science project is neither engaging nor novel.  I think the idea is that fall-out from an atomic exchange has caused the kids to surpass the adults by leaps and bounds, but otherwise, I couldn’t see the point.  Two stars.

The Other Likeness, by James H. Schmitz

Alien agents in human form are inserted into a Terran Federation with the goal to destroy it from within.  A textbook example of how not to write: three quarters of this story is action without explanation, followed by the most expository of endings.  The result is that one wonders why one is reading until the finale and then feels let down for the effort expended.  Two stars.

Brain Waves and Thought Patterns, by John Eric Holmes, M.D.

I normally cringe at the prospect of reading non-fiction in Analog given Editor Campbell’s preference for crackpots pushing psychic malarkey, but July’s piece genuinely intrigues.  We are finally learning a bit about the black box of the mind that lies between stimulus and response.  The key has been to implant electrodes into the brain and measure the electrical output.  Cats are the subject of choice being the perfect combination of ubiquitous and medium-sized.

The result?  We now know a lot about the brainwaves of cats.  What this means for the future of humanity, brain research, Dr. Rhine, etc. remains to be seen.  Three stars.

Border, Breed Nor Birth (Part 1 of 2), by Mack Reynolds

El Hassan, the mythical would-be uniter of North Africa is back in Reynolds’ second tale set in the Mahgreb of the 1980s.  As in the first, it follows Homer Crawford and his band of Westernized Negroes as they promulgate the virtues of democracy and technology under a collective assumed identity. 

I’m a little warmer to the idea that Africa can use the help of its displaced children across the sea, and I do appreciate the attention to detail in the setting and the politics (no surprise – Reynolds spent a good deal of time in Morocco and Algeria).  However, the presentation is still too flip, and I suspect the endeavor is going to prove all too easy.  But perhaps the naive ambitions of Crawford et. al. will be thwarted in Part II.  Three stars so far, but I’m waiting for the thump of shoe #2.

The Rescuer, by Arthur Porges

Last up is the chronicle of the destruction of a machine, perhaps the most powerful and important machine in human history.  The pay-off is as hoary as your grandmother, but the unveiling is rather masterful.  Three stars.

Summed up, this month’s Analog is the least good of the Big Five magazines, scoring a still respectable 3.1 stars – and it has the month’s best story, in my opinion.  Given that no digest scored under the three stars this month, it has been an unusually fruitful July for science fiction lovers.


(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  If you can’t make it to Worldcon/Chicon III, this is YOUR chance to Vote for the 1962 Hugos!)

9 thoughts on “[July 2, 1962] Getting to the Point (July 1962 Analog Science Fiction)”

  1. Starting with the short stories:

    “Junior Achievement” was pleasant to read, for reasons I can’t quite explain, but pretty much left me with a “so what?” feeling.  I guess it was missing a big climax at the end.

    “The Other Likeness” started off quite intriguing, but bogged down into pure exposition at the end.  Lots of interesting technology, at least, before the talky part.

    “The Rescuer” wasn’t as daring a story as it thought it was.  I saw the gimmick coming pretty quickly.  At least it was short.

  2. I liked the Brunner story a lot.  You see people wandering around with little transistor radios all the time now, the earphone stuck in their ear, who knows what they’re actually listening to?  It’s kind of creepy when you see ordinary people in real life doing that.  Well, except for the vanishing part.  So far…

    The Reynolds… I’m probably one of the few Mack Reynolds fans around, but I’m not impressed with his story at all.  I’m hoping he’s just setting things up for Part 2, which might be much better.

    1. I’m one of those guilty of carrying my music around.  But then I’ve always been like Maynard G. Krebs — I’ve got to have my sounds everywhere I go!

      And I’m a big Reynolds fan, too.  Like you, this series isn’t working for me.  Do you think it’s set in the same universe as his East/West tales that take place in the 80s?

  3. “Listen!  The Stars!” was quite interesting, and certainly a new idea.  I like the fact that it’s a story without any villains which still manages to create a great deal of suspense.  It might even be able to expand this into a novel and explore some of the implications of the concept.  I’d like to know what exactly happened to the teenage girl at the start of the story, for example.

  4. Re “Brunner is a new British author. . .” — only for some very broad definitions of “new.”  John Kilian Houston Brunner began appearing in the magazines (under a longer form of his name, K. Houston Brunner) back in 1953, and was fairly prolific throughout the 1950s. 

    He’s not even new to ANALOG/ASTOUNDING, having published a story as “John Loxsmith” back in the March 1953 issue.  (The pseudonym was rumbled when the story, “Thou Good and Faithful,” was reprinted the following year under the Brunner name in an Andre Norton anthology, SPACE PIONEERS.)

    There’s even a persistant rumor that he published an entire sf novel (!) a year or two before that, when he was still a teenager, as a UK paperback original in one of the ghastly downmarket lines cluttering the UK shelves at that time. 

    But I understand that Mr. Brunner refuses to confirm, let alone to reveal that publication.  So I’m sure that, given the high quality of much of his later works, if he is ever tagged with that earlier title it will be only over a universal storm of protest from him.  (Well, perhaps not quite *that* large a storm, but probably still one of astronomical proportions.)

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