Happy St. Patrick’s Day! It’s a banner year for Irishmen, particularly with one having reached the top spot in the country, if not the world. And did you know that the phrase, “Luck of the Irish,” actually referred to the knack of Irish immigrants and Americans of Irish descent for becoming wealthy in the Silver and Gold Rushes of the last century? Though the term was often used derisively by folks who thought the fortune was ill-earned.
My luck with Analog, deserved or not, ran out this month. With the exception of the opening serial installment, The Fisherman, by Cliff Simak (which I have not yet read but look forward to), the April 1961 Analog has been singularly unimpressive.
One wonders if John Campbell deliberately alternates good issues with bad ones—I’d think he’d be better served by ensuring each magazine had at least one worthy tale! Perhaps he plum ran out.
Take J.F. Bone’s brief A Prize for Edie, for example. A trio of teeth-gnashing members of the Nobel Prize committee agonize over giving the honor to a computer. Disappointingly silly, and, as seems to be a theme this issue, it misses the opportunity to make a deeper point. Two stars.
Lloyd Biggle, Jr’s Still, Small Voice had some promise: A Cultural Service agent is sent to an alien world to succeed where the Interplanetary Relations Bureau had failed, namely, to convert a centuries-old absolute monarchy into a democracy. In particular, I appreciated how the aliens were depicted as an artistic race, and that music was the key to progress. But the thing is sloppily written with a number of duplicated phrases, the alien race is utterly human, and the story a bit too condescending in tone. The first betrays too light an editorial touch, and the others spotlight a lack of editorial discrimination. Two stars.
Interestingly enough, John Campbell’s nonfiction piece is the most engaging part of the issue. Normally, the stuff he writes himself is dreadful; he often shills for one kind of junk science or another. This time, he’s back to his hobby of photography, but on an interesting tangent. He showcases a new kind of light source, an electroluminescent panel that looks for all the world like a thick sheet of paper. Pretty neat stuff—I could see it becoming a feature of future science fiction stories. Three stars.
Back to the dreary stories, Pandora’s Planet, by Chris Anvil (whose best work always appears outside of Analog), is another “Earthmen are just plain better at everything than everyone else” story. In this case, some fuzzy humanoids can’t seem to win a war to subjugate a planet’s native race without the help of some plucky, original Terrans. The point of the piece seems to be that unorthodox war is just as valid as “real” war, and stuffy rigidity will only lead to failure. That’s fine so far as it goes, but the canny Terran tactics aren’t that innovative, and the stodginess of the fuzzies is insufficiently explored. Two stars.
That leaves us with Next Door, Next World by lesser magazine perennial, Robert Donald Locke (often writing under the pseudonym, Roger Arcot). The premise is great: A hyperdrive makes travel to the stars a matter of weeks rather than millennia, but with the side effect that one never returns to quite the same time track one left. The execution is lousy, however, with plenty of insipid dialogue, stupid characters, and lots of padding. Again, the impression I got was that Campbell was in a hurry and took what he could get without requesting revision. And it’s yet another piece with a beginning along the lines of, “Clint Hugearms stood near his trusty spaceship, tanned and sturdy features marking him as the protagonist of the story.” I’m starting to think Campbell inserts these openings into all of his submissions. Two stars.
I apologize to my readers who want only to hear about the good stuff; however, by jingo, if I have to read the drek, you have to read about it! Perhaps the Simak will yet knock my socks off. It is not uncommon that a given Astounding’s stories are bad, but its serial is good (e.g. The High Crusade and Deathworld, for instance).
I’ve a surprise for my readers—guest columnist Rosemary Benton will be writing the next article, and she’s graciously agreed to contribute one piece per month! Like you, I will eagerly look forward to what she has to offer.