Something is changing over at Galaxy magazine.
Horace Gold, Galaxy‘s editor, started the magazine in 1950, near the beginning of the post-pulp digest boom. He immediately set a high bar for quality, with some of the best authors and stories, and including a top-notch science columnist (this was before Asimov transitioned from fiction). Galaxy only once won the Best Magazine Hugo (in 1953, and that one it shared), but it paid well, eschewed hoary cliches, and all-in-all was a pillar of the field. It was the magazine that got me into reading science fiction on a regular basis.
Warning bells started to clang in 1959. The magazine went to a bi-monthly schedule (though at a somewhat increased size). Author rates were slashed in half. Gold, himself, suffering from battle fatigue-induced agoraphobia, became more erratic. This new Galaxy was not a bad mag, but it slipped a few rungs.
Fred Pohl came on last year. He was not officially billed as the editor, but it was common knowledge that he’d taken over the reigns. Pohl is an agent and author, a fan from the way-back. I understand his plan has been to raise author rates again and bring back quality. While he waits for the great stories to come back, he leavens the magazines with old stories from the “slush pile” that happen not to be awful. In this way, Galaxy showcases promising new authors while keeping the quality of the magazine consistent.
The June 1961 Galaxy is the first success story of this new strategy.
Last issue, I talked about how Galaxy was becoming a milquetoast mag, afraid to take risks or deviate far from mediocrity. This month’s issue, the first that lists Pohl as the “Managing Editor,” is almost the second coming of old Galaxy — daring, innovative, and with one exception, excellent.
Take Cordwainer Smith’s Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons, in which an interplanetary ring of thieves tries to steal from the richest, and best defended planet, in the galaxy. Smith has always been a master, slightly off-center in his style; his rich, literary writing is of the type more usually seen in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Kittons is ultimately a mystery, the nature of the unique (in name and nature) “kittons” remaining unknown until the last. A brutal, fascinating story, and an unique take on the future. Five stars.
Breakdown is by Herbert D. Kastle, one of the aforementioned novices. Despite his green status, he turned in an admirable piece involving a farmer who finds the world increasingly differing from his memories. Is he sliding across alternate universe? It is a cosmic prank? A gripping story, suitable for adaptation to The Twilight Zone. Four stars.
The one dud of the issue is Frank Herbert’s A-W-F Unlimited: thirty pages of pseudo-clever dialogue and inner monologue set in a mid-21st Century ad agency as its star executive attempts to fulfill a recruiting drive contract for the space corps. I got through it, but only by dint of effort. 1 star.
Poul Anderson has another entry in his Time Patrol series, though My Object all Sublime does not betray this fact until the end. It’s a slow, moody piece; the reflections of a man from the far future, flung into the worst areas of the past as punishment for a nameless crime. In one thought-provoking passage, the condemned man notes that being from the future in no way guarantees superiority in the past, for most people are not engineers or scientists with sufficient knowledge to change the world. Moreover, they arrive penniless, and who can make a difference without money?
This is actually a problem I’ve considered (i.e. what I’d do if ended up stuck far back in time). While I probably wouldn’t recognize salt-peter if I smelled it, I suspect just introducing germ theory and Arabic numerals would be enough to carve a niche. Zero must be the most influential nothing in the history of humanity… I rate the story at four stars.
Rounding out the issue is Fred Saberhagen’s The Long Way Home. Two thousand years from now, a (surprisingly conventional) man and wife-run mining ship discovers an enormous spacecraft out among the planetoids near Pluto. How it got there and where it’s going pose enigmas that should keep you engaged until the end of this competently written tale. Three stars.
In sum, the June 1961 Galaxy weighs in at a solid 3.5 stars. If you skip the Herbert, you end up with a most impressive regular-length magazine. Given that Pohl also edits Galaxy’s sister mag, IF (also a bi-monthly, alternating with Galaxy), I am eagerly looking forward to next month!