[March 8, 1961] Bland for Adventure (April 1961 Galaxy, 1st half)

As we speak, my nephew, David, is on the S.S. Israel bound for Haifa, Israel.  It’s the last leg of a long trip that began with a plane ride from Los Angeles to New York, continued with a six-day sea cruise across the Atlantic to Gibraltar, and which currently sees the youth making a brief landing in the Greek port of Piraeus.  He’s about to begin a year (or two) in Israel on a kibbutz.  An exciting adventure, to be sure, though I will miss our discussions on current science fiction, even if his tastes were, understandably, a little less refined than mine. 

So I hope, dear readers, that you will make up for his absence by sending me even more of your lovely comments!

Of course, you can hardly prepare your posts until I’ve reviewed this month’s set of magazines.  First on the pile, as usual, is the double-large issue of Galaxy, the biggest of the science fiction magazines with 196 pages packed with some of the biggest names in the field. 

But is bigger always better?  Not necessarily.  In fact, Galaxy seems to be where editor H.L. Gold stuffs his “safe” stories, the ones by famous folks that tend not to offend, but also won’t knock your socks off.

So it is with the April 1961 Galaxy, starting with the novella, Planeteer, the latest from newcomer Fred Saberhagen.  It starts brilliantly, featuring an interstellar contact team from Earth attempting to establish relations with an aboriginal alien race.  Two points impressed me within the first few pages: the belt-pouch sized computer (how handy would that be?) and the breakfast described as, “synthetic ham, and a scrambled substance not preceded or followed by chickens.”

The race, however, is disappointingly human; the tale is a fairly typical conundrum/solution story.  On the other hand, the alien king does show some refreshing intelligence—no easy White God tactics for the Planeteers!  Three stars.

Fritz Leiber offers up Kreativity for Kats, an adorable tale of a feline with the blood of an artiste.  Now, any story that features cats is sure to be a cute one (with the notable, creepy exception of The Mind Thing…) It’s not science fiction at all, not even fantasy, but I read it with a grin on my face.  Four stars.

Galaxy’s science fact column, For Your Information, by German rocket scientist Willy Ley, continues to be entertaining.  This bi-month’s article is on the Gegenschein, that mysterious counterpoint to the Zodiacal Light.  There’s also a fun aside about the annexation of Patagonia by a bewildered German professor as well as silly bit on Seven League Boots.  Three stars.

Last up for the first half of the book is James Stamer’s Scent Makes a Difference, which answers the question on everyone’s mind: What if you could meet all the alternate yous—the ones who took different paths in life?  Would you learn from all of your possible mistakes?  Or would you merely commit the biggest blunder of all?  I didn’t quite understand the ending (or perhaps I overthought it).  Three stars.

That’s that for now.  Read up, drop me a line, and I’ll have the second half in a few days!

10 thoughts on “[March 8, 1961] Bland for Adventure (April 1961 Galaxy, 1st half)”

  1. Definitely a good collection here. The Leiber, of course, is just so..! And it does discuss humans interacting with a nonhuman mind. Not that any sane editor would have rejected it. I’m sharing it with friends.

    I found the Stamer fun, and the world gate original. Perhaps he managed another twist, such as adding age to the death scent.

    Another large tick for the Leiber. Society, individuals and procedures all solid, believable and interesting.

    Thanks for sharing such a good lot; and best wishes and admiration to David!

  2. David is quite an adventurer!  I suppose journeying, on Earth or through the galaxy, runs in the family.

    “Planeteer” was a good, solid space adventure.  It’s true that the aliens were far too human.  However, I found this account of “first contact” more realistic than most, with the author well aware of the many difficulties of landing on an alien world.  I was glad to see that the crew was multinational, but disappointed that the only woman mentioned was only briefly encountered and called a “cute chick.”

    I’m an ailurophile, and I’m mad for Leiber, so of course I enjoyed “Kreativity for Kats.”  It’s not quite as fine a story as the first Gummitch tale, “Space-Time for Springers,” but it’s certainly charming enough.

    The science column was fairly interesting.  It may be a while before the mystery of the “counterglow” is solved.

    “Scent Makes a Difference” was an enjoyable madcap romp.  I suspect the ending, with its scent of ozone and sulfur, was hinting that the protagonist’s next journey during sleep may be to the infernal regions.

    Three very different stories, and not a bad one in the bunch.  Nice to see “Galaxy” willing to print both “pure” SF as well as more unusual pieces.

    1. I think you like them all more than me…  not for any particular reason, just more of a muchness.

      But, as you say, all eminently readable. 

      (By the way–there are *two* women in the Saberhagen, though the first only gets a single line near the beginning.  At least it is clear that it is a ship crewed by men and women!)

  3. “Planeteer” was quite good. I think this is the first story I’ve read where the people or the culture in it have put that much thought into first contact (to use Murray Leinster’s phrase as Mr. Saberhagen did) protocols. Terrific set-up, while the rest of the story was decent enough. I was also intrigued by the idea of the Tribune. On the one hand, I like that they have someone whose role is to look out for the interests of the indigenes, but on the other hand, it also felt a bit like it was just another aspect of Earth people deciding what’s best for the primitives. Something to think about. And I’ll be looking for more from Mr. Saberhagen.

    Gummitch! I loved “Space-Time for Springers”. This one wasn’t bad, though obviously Kitty-come-here needs to teach Old Horsemeat to put the lid down.

    It was the story of the professor who “annexed” Patagonia that really jumped out at me in the Ley article. He was from my wife’s home town. It’s such a small, out-of-the-way place, hearing about someone famous from there really made me pay attention. Apparently, he’s the one of the fathers of Argentine geology and even has a mineral named after him.

    I didn’t much care for the Stamer. Like you, I didn’t understand the ending at all, and it took me forever to get past the apparent absurdities of the beginning. It was like badly written Lafferty. I liked the base concept of being able to talk to alternate versions of yourself, but beyond that I was unimpressed.

    Let’s hope the rest of the magazine lives up to the first half.

    1. Re: Stamers, yes the beginning is something of a mess, isn’t it?

      I wish I had time to read all of the magazines rather than just the Big Three (Four)–I miss out on some good stuff.

  4. “European governments would have been deprived of all pretext to interfere in the territorial and domestic concerns of Mexico. We should have thus been relieved from the obligation of resisting, even by force, should this become necessary, any attempt of these governments to deprive our neighboring republic of portions of her territory, a duty from which we could not shrink without abandoning the traditional and established policy of the American people.”

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