[July 3, 1961] Bigger is Better (August 1961 Galaxy)

Even months are my favorite. 

Most science fiction digests are monthlies, but the twins run by Fred Pohl, IF and Galaxy, come out in alternating months.  The latter is noteworthy for being the longest regularly published sf magazine, comprising a whopping 196 pages, so big that I need two articles to cover it.  Galaxy also happens to be a personal favorite; I’ve read every issue since the magazine debuted in October 1950 (when it was a smaller monthly).

How does the August 1961 issue fare?  Pretty good, so far!

The lead novella, The Gatekeepers, by J.T. McIntosh, portrays an interplanetary war between two worlds linked by a matter-transmission gateway.  The setting is interesting and the feel of the story almost Leinsterian.  There is an unpolished quality to the piece, though, which I’ve seen in McIntosh before, as if he dashes off pieces without a final edit when he’s writing for the poorer-paying mags (Galaxy dropped its rates in ’59; they may have recently gone back up).  Three stars.

The whimsical Margaret St. Clair brings us Lochinvar, featuring an adorable Martian pet with the ability to neutralize anger.  It’s a story that had me completely sold until the abrupt, expositional ending.  Did the editor (now Fred Pohl) lose the last few pages and have to reconstruct them?  Was the original piece too long?  Three stars.

You may remember Bill Doede from his promising first work, Jamieson, about a group of star-exiled teleports who derive their power from a surgically implanted device.  The God Next Door is a sequel of sorts, its protagonist one of the prior story’s teleports who flits to Alpha Centauri.  There, he finds a tribe of regressed primitives, their humanity underscored by the juxtaposition of another alien, the omnipotent, incorporeal whirlwind who claims the world for his own.  The plot is simple, and by all rights, it should be a mediocre story.  But Doede’s got a style I like, and I found myself marking four stars on my data sheet.

R.A. Lafferty’s Aloys, on the other hand, about a poverty-stricken but brilliant theoretician, is not as clever as it needs to be.  Lafferty’s stock-in-trade is his off-beat, whimsical style.  It often works, but this time, it grates rather than syncopates.  Two stars.

Now for a piece on a subject near and dear to my heart.  As any of my friends will tell you, I spend a lot of time lost in daydream.  I think that’s a trait common to many writers.  My particular habit is to project myself backward in time.  It’s an easy game to play since so many artifacts of the past endure in the present to serve as linchpins for such fantasies. 

But what if these harmless fugues aren’t just flights of fancy?  What if these overly real memories prove the existence of a past life…or constitute evidence of something more sinister?  James Harmon’s The Air of Castor Oil, is an exciting story on this topic with a good (if somewhat opaque) ending.  Four stars.

It seems that sci-fi poetry is becoming a fad, these days.  Galaxy has now joined the trend, offering Sheri S. Eberhart’s amusing Extraterrestrial Trilogue.  A satiric, almost Carrollian piece.  Four stars.

Henry Slesar is a busy young s-f writer who has been published (under one name or another) in most of the sf digests.  His latest piece, The Stuff, features a man dying too young and the drug that just might salvage him a life.  The twist won’t surprise you, but the story is nicely executed, and the title makes sense once you’ve finished reading.  Three stars. 

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans.  I’ll see you with Part II in just a few days.

6 thoughts on “[July 3, 1961] Bigger is Better (August 1961 Galaxy)”

  1. I didn’t much care for the Doede. An interesting style (a bit Sturgeon-esque), but I found the plot much too pulpy. That sort of thing was fine 30 years ago, but I expect more these days.

    I agree with you on the Lafferty. For me, he can be very hit or miss, with little to no middle ground. This one was definitely a miss, although it felt just a little like a Papa Schimmelhorn story.

    The Harmon had quite a few twists in it. At first it reminded me of the Heinlein story “They-” and then went in a very different direction. (Speaking of RAH, have you got your hands on the new book yet? I’ve got an order in at my local bookstore, but it hasn’t arrived yet.)

    The only word for the Slesar story is poignant.

    1. I did get the new RAH, an advance copy from the publisher.  I’m 50 pages in, and it’s… impenetrable.  I hope it gets better.

      Regarding Doede, exactly my point.  It shouldn’t have merited four stars, but I liked it anyway.

  2. This half of the issue seemed to improve as I kept reading.

    There’s something about McIntosh that usually seems vaguely dissatisfying, without being able to put my finger on it.  “The Gatekeepers” was typical.  Nothing really wrong with it, but it never grabbed me.  The fact that I understood the basic premise right away, but he kept telling me over and over that the two warring planets don’t dare destroy the Gates.  The more I thought about it, the more holes I could see in the plot, too.  (If that many Gatekeepers had been killed in the line of duty, why wasn’t security a LOT better?)

    “Lochinvar” was very minor, but cute.  The creature was adorable.  I don’t know if the editor came up with the sudden, rather flat ending, or if the author just didn’t know what to do with the situation.

    “The God Next Door” reads like science fantasy from “Planet Stories,” but I found it engaging.  There was something enjoyably exotic about the story which held my interest.

    I liked “Aloys” better than either of you, it seems.  It seemed a fine, if not outstanding, example of Lafferty’s semi-melancholy, semi-comic, whimsical style.  If it doesn’t really go anywhere, well, that’s Lafferty for you.  He’s always more interested in the journey than the destination.

    “The Air of Castor Oil” really got to me.  What seemed at first to be a bittersweet fantasy about recapturing the past turned into something much different.  I like the fact that not everything was fully explained at the end.

    As you say, the ending of “The Stuff” was obvious from the start.  That didn’t make the story any less powerful.

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