[Nov. 11, 1960] A Celebrated Veteran (December 1960 Galaxy)

Ten years ago, a World War Two vet named H. L. Gold decided to try his luck as editor of a science fiction digest.  His Galaxy was among the first of the new crop of magazines in the post-war science fiction boom, and it quickly set an industry standard. 

A decade later, Galaxy is down to a bimonthly schedule and has cut author rates in half.  This has, predictably, led to a dip in quality, though it is not as pronounced as I’d feared.  Moreover, the magazine is half-again as large as it used to be, and its sister publication, IF, might as well be a second Galaxy.  All told, the magazine is still a bargain at 50 cents the issue.

Particularly the December 1960 issue.  There’s a lot of good stuff herein (once you get past yet another senilic Gold editorial):

The reliable J.T. McIntosh leads off with The Wrong World, in which the Earth is conquered…accidentally.  There was some misunderstanding by our invaders as to the technological level of our world; for the more advanced planets, we’re supposed to get an invitation to interstellar society, not a savaging.  It’s kind of an oddball piece, but it kept my attention despite the late hour at which I began it.  Three stars.

Next up is brand-newcomer, Bill Doede with Jamieson, an interesting tale of teleporting humans whose talents are viewed as akin to witchcraft.  Not a perfect tale, but definitely a promising beginning to a writing career, and with a female protagonist.  Three stars.

For Your Information is interesting, if not riveting, stuff about a Polynesian feast involving thousands of mating sea worms.  I understand they’re a delicacy.  I’ll take their word for it…  Three stars.

Charles V. de Vet is back with Metamorphosis, a story about a symbiotic life form that makes one superpowered… but which also turns the host into a ticking time bomb.  You spend much of the story pretty certain that you know how to defuse the bomb, such that it strains the credulity that there should be anything to worry about.  The ending, however, addresses the issue nicely.  Three stars.

Finally (for today) we have Snuffles by the rather odd but compelling R.A. Lafferty.  He writes stories in a style that shouldn’t work but somehow does.  That’s either some innate talent or blind luck.  Given his track record, I’m betting on the former.  In any event, the novelette details the misadventures of a six-person planetary exploration crew (two women, life scientists–women are always cast as biologists for some reason) who are at first charmed and then menaced by a sexless Teddy Bear monster with delusions of Godhood.  A fascinating story.  Four stars.

Next time, we’ll have works by Ron Goulart, H.B. Fyfe, Jim Harmon, Patrick Fahy, and Daniel Galouye.  That’s a pretty good lineup!

12 thoughts on “[Nov. 11, 1960] A Celebrated Veteran (December 1960 Galaxy)”

  1. Of my incomplete copy, I think I’ll skip ‘For your Information’. Thanks for the warning.

    Both read stories have a moral which makes them the more convincing. I like ‘Metamorphosis” end. I was expecting to find Zealley had worked out a cure, but it was really more in character he wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

    Doede’s debut is well written for a beginner. Original, too, and the pov done well. Hope he becomes a regular.

    1. They are getting weirder.  I understand Fred Pohl is the shadow editor these days (which may explain the uptick in quality, or rather the not-so downtick) and Gold is just losing it.

      Time for Gold and Campbell to step down.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a copy of Galaxy, but I’ve bought several of Gold’s compilation volumes over the years.  The stories there were all excellent.

    It seems that television is to blame for many recent social ills, but it seems like the entire SF magazine field is sliding swiftly into oblivion as magazines fold, cut their pay scales, downsize, or go bimonthly.  Are fewer magazines being sold?  As buyer choices go down, almost certainly… a nasty feedback loop?  Without marketing and sales information it’s hard to make an informed guess.

    1. I think we’ve just reached a new equilibrium.  There are five steady magazines, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere soon. 

      Yes, it’s less than the 30 or so magazines out almost ten years ago, but how good were those other magazines?

  3. Not a bad start to the magazine. “The Wrong World” was fun, though I had to turn off my brain to really enjoy it. I normally just can’t accept a story where aliens are just humans who grew up somewhere else. For all his crackpottery, Campbell at least deserves credit for moving the genre away from that silly notion.

    “Jamieson” was interesting, and I didn’t really mind the deVet. I haven’t gotten to the Lafferty yet; life has been very busy of late.

    I have come to the conclusion that Willy Ley just isn’t a very engaging writer. Some of what he writes about really ought to interest me, but I always find myself wandering off and just skimming. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by Dr. Asimov, who can make anything sound interesting.

      1. Actually, I do usually like deVet. I don’t develop a sense of anticipation when I see he’s got a story, but neither do I roll my eyes or fear the worst. You seemed to not care for this particular tale, though, while I rather enjoyed it.

  4. I’ve only read Ley’s books and some of his articles in mainstream magazines.  I thought they were well-done, if a bit Germanic.

    I’d sure like to see some more of George Gamow’s stuff somewhere, though.  He’s not the jack-of-all-trades Asimov is, but he sure has a knack for explaining physics, astronomy, and whatever else catches his attention.

  5. I’m behind in my reading.

    Gold’s editorial is just rambling, although it did lead me to speculate that beards, now mostly worn by Beats and other non-conformist, arty, intellectual types, may someday again be common in American culture; or maybe the fact that technological advances have made shaving less of a pain in the neck (and face) mean that it will never again be as prevalent as during much of the 19th century.

    I never believed in the actions of the characters in “The Wrong World” at all.  Even if we replace the very human aliens with invaders from some other nation on Earth, it still seems very implausible that the women of the conquered nation would be able to fall in love with their oppressors and yet still part of a vast conspiracy to overthrow them.  Of the two twists in the story — why Earth isn’t Level Eighteen and why all old magazines and films have been destroyed — the first seemed arbitrary and the second was silly.

    “Jamieson” was nicely characterized and emotionally effective, if maybe a bit too much tell and too little show.  It has all the signs of a gifted but inexperienced writer who will only get better.

    I thought the discussion of ball lightning was the best part of Ley’s article, even if I am not fully convinced such a thing exists.  Maybe someday there will be photographic evidence for it.

    I also liked “Metamorphosis,” which had an interesting idea and a great deal of tension.  Maybe the conclusion was a bit sudden.

    Like everything else by Lafferty, “Snuffles” isn’t like the work of anybody else.  You just have to be willing to go along for the ride.  If you squint your eyes and look at it sideways, you can sort of see a philosophical allegory peeking out, I think.

    So, for my money, we start with a weak long story, continue with two pretty decent shorter stories, and end with a strong long story.  We’ll see what happens next time.

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