[March 18, 1961] Bad Luck of the Non-Irish (April 1961 Analog)

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.

6 thoughts on “[March 18, 1961] Bad Luck of the Non-Irish (April 1961 Analog)”

  1. Happy St Patrick’s Day to you, too!

    I was particularly disappointed with the Anvil. For some reason, I normally find the Centrans appealing (if I manage to duck the unavoidable fact they shouldn’t be conquering the galaxy in the first place), but they’re just too inept here.  And biological weapons really are more of a Pandora’s Box than Able Hunter could manage.

    I agree about the Biggle. As so often, his bullying protagonist leaves an unpleasant taste.

  2. We’re seeing Campbell’s major flaws and prejudices as an editor here. Aliens are just (stupid) human beings, Terrans (especially Terrans of north-western European ancestry) are better than everybody else in the whole universe, and so on and so forth.

    The Bone was halfway readable, but he was really just going for laughs. There have to have been some humans involved in the process somewhere and the committee would just give the prize to the lab team. This could have been a fascinating counterpart to Galouye’s Homey Atmosphere from this month’s Galaxy, but it certainly isn’t.

    The Biggle is the sort of thing better handled by Mack Reynolds. I couldn’t get through either the Anvil or the Locke. I thought maybe you just weren’t in the right mood or something, but no, this is just a bad issue.

    As for those electroluminescent panels, Heinlein came up with them 20 years ago. Of course, his worked both ways (light to energy and energy to light), but I can see lots of uses for these things as they are.

  3. I managed to get my hands on a couple of stories from this issue.  Unfortunately, now I wish I hadn’t.

    The premise of “A Prize for Edie,” as DemetriosX points out, is absurd.  The punch line is also extremely weak.

    “Next Door, Next World” was really poorly written.  I’ll give it a tiny bit of credit for an OK twist at the end.  (I predicted that he would wind up in a time line where his parallel self was already married to his parallel girlfriend.) Other than that, not worth much.

    One can always hope that the Simak is up to his usual standard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.