I believe I may have discovered a new physical law: The Conservation of Quality.
Last year, Galaxy editor Horace Gold decided to slash writer pay in half. The effect was not immediately apparent, which makes sense since there was likely a backlog of quality stuff in the larder. But the last issue of Galaxy was decidedly sub-par, and I fear Gold’s policy may be bearing bitter fruit.
On the other hand, Astounding (soon to be Analog) editor John Campbell has been trying to reinvent his magazine, and this latest issue, dated April 1960, is better than I’ve seen in a long time. To be sure, none of the stories are classics for the ages, but they are all readable and enjoyable.
by Kelly Freas
Randall Garrett still pens a good quarter of the magazine, and you know how I feel about him, but he’s not bad this month. For the lead serial, Out Like a Light, Garrett teams up again with Laurence Janifer under the pseuonym “Mark Phillips” in a sequel to That Sweet Little Old Lady. FBI Agent Malone and Garrett look-a-like Agent Boyd investigate a series of Cadillac heists only to discover a ring of teleporting juvenile delinquents. I had expected the story to drag, and it is occasionally too cute for its own good, but I found myself enjoying it. We’ll see if they can keep up the interest through two more installments.
Next up is the enjoyable short story, The Ambulance Made Two Trips by ultra-veteran Murray Leinster. Mob shake-down artist meets his match when he tangles with a psionically gifted laundromat owner who can alter probability to make violence impossible—with highly destructive results! It’s a fun bit of wish fulfillment even if it (again) stars the Heironymous device, that silly psychic contraption made out of construction paper and elementary electronics. I’m not sure whether Campbell inserts references to them after editing or if authors incorporate them to ensure publication.
Harry Harrison is back with another “Stainless Steel Rat” story featuring Slippery Jim diGriz (the first having appeared in the August 1957 Astounding). My nephew, David, had rave reviews for The Misplaced Battleship, in which con man turned secret agent tracks down the construction and theft of the galaxy’s biggest capital ship. I liked it, too: stories with lots of interstellar travel get extra points from me, and Harrison is a good writer. Not as compelling as Deathworld, but then, that was a tour de force.
by John SchoenHerr
Wedged in the middle of Harrison’s tale, on the slick-paged portion of the magazine, rocketteer G. Harry Stine has an entertaining plug for model rocketry. It is a hobby that has grown from a dangerous homebrew affair to a full-fledged pastime. Safe miniature engines are now commonplace, and launches can be conducted in perfect safety—provided one observes all the rules. Stine prophetically notes that the first person to walk the sands of Mars is already alive and in high school, and he (of course, he) probably cut his engineering teeth on model rockets. Maybe so.
The story published under Randall Garrett’s name is The Measure of a Man, and it’s surprisingly decent. The lone survivor in a wrecked Terran battleship must find a way to get the hulk back to Earth in time to warn humanity of an alien superweapon before it is used. Again, I like stories with lots of planets and spaceships. I also liked the direct reference to Leinster’s The Aliens, a really great story.
Finally, we have Rick Raphael’s sophomore effort, Make Mine Homogenized, a surprisingly good story about a tough old rancher, a cow that starts producing high octane milk, and hens that lay bomb-fuse eggs. The first half is the superior one, in which the rancher discovers that her (yes her!) “milk” is highly combustible and that, when mixed with the fuse eggs, creates an explosion that puts Oppenheimer’s work to shame. The second half, when the AEC gets involved, is still good, but it digresses and becomes more detached. I really enjoyed the intimacy of the beginning. I’m a sucker for accurately detailed farm stories, having grown up on a farm.
by Kelly Freas
So, there you have it. A perfectly solid Astounding from cover to cover. Who’da thunkit?
Happy Spring everyone!
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