[Nov. 22, 1959] …with a whimper (December 1959 Astounding wrap-up)

Good morning, dear readers.  Based on the incidence of fan mail, it appears you now number nearly half a dozen (unless, of course, it’s just you, Laurose, writing in under a number of pseudonyms; if that be the case, I’m still grateful).

And now comes the moment you have all been waiting for: my review of the December Astounding.  Did this issue top the last in terms of sheer awfulness?  I’m afraid not.  The magazine is, in fact, back to its old low but passable standards.

I mentioned last time that Randall Garrett has the lead novella in this issue.  The Destroyers starts off well enough.  Slowly, even compellingly, Garrett describes a group of farmers in a barony on one of the more backward planets in the galaxy.  The placid cycle of years is disturbed by the news of impending interstellar war.  When it does break out, the conflict seems far away and does not immediately disturb the peaceful farmers.  But over time, the fight comes closer and closer to home until the barony is taken by the conquerors, and the planet surrenders.

So what’s wrong with this story?  Garrett, as you know, is fond of the historical parable.  In Despoiler of the Golden Empire, he writes rather praisingly of Pizarro’s murderous conquest of Peru with the “twist” being that the readers were meant to think the story was one of science fiction rather than historical fiction. 

About half-way through The Destroyers, I started to worry that he was doing it again.  When he spoke of the invaders’ blockade and the plucky captains who dared run it, I began to look for other Civil War parallels.  Sure enough, the conquerors come from the north, they represent an industrialized society preaching equality and freedom, they are superior technologically.  The “South” wins at first but inexorably starts to lose.  Their country is split in two.  The war ends with the taking of the capital.

Even this would be fine except for the story’s punchline.  The Union colonel who comes to accept the baroness’ surrender (yes—by this time, Randy has named the invaders “The Union”) announces to the farmers that they are all free, and that now they can earn money and get an education.  And what is the reaction of the farmers (read: Negro slaves)?

Horror!  All of their needs had been tended to under the old regime.  They had been happy, had had purpose and direction.  What, oh what, would they do with money and education and freedom?

That smell assailing your nostrils is last night’s dinner.  My apologies.  I don’t think I need comment further other than to observe that it may be impossible for Randy to write without offending.  But I guess he keeps Astounding‘s target demographic happy…

On to happier, or at least less saddening, entries.  Chris Anvil’s Mating Problems, about how a colony deals with the aftermath of two crises by combining their ill effects, is not bad.  I note that Anvil likes stories about pioneering colonials, and I do too.  At some point, he’ll write an outstanding one, perhaps.

Les Collins has a non-fiction article entitled How to write Science faction, a rather glibly written description of the technical writing field.  Perhaps the best part of the column is a list of ten technical paragraphs in need of editing.  Collins invites those who are able to properly fix a majority of them to contact him for a possible job opening.  I’m tempted.

George O. Smith’s The Big Fix is kind of fun.  In a world where everyone is psionic, how does one keep the gambling “honest?”  And once that puzzle is solved, how does one rig the game?  The story even features, though doesn’t star, a cigar-chomping tough gal, though she ends up a romantic interest, sadly.  The dialogue consciously imitates the over-verbose New York gangster dialect featured in the recent hit, Guys and Dolls.  The conceit is either cute or annoying.  I suppose it depends on your mood.

I skipped Part Two of Everett Cole’s The Best Made Plans since I could not finish Part One.  I think it’s a futuristic ignominy to imperial throne story, but I can’t be certain.

Last, and fairly least, is Tell the Truth, by E.C. Tubb.  In this story, humans are confronted with a stronger, aggressive alien foe (that looks just like us).  As a prelude to conflict, both races agree to exchange a single representative who will serve as the exemplar of the species.  Based on the examination of said ambassador, the choice between peace and war will be made.

Of course, the humans are able to select the exact right person to hoodwink the aliens.  It turns out that the aliens are wholly logical and, thus, deduce from the ambassador, who sells military toys to children, that Earth is a highly armed camp whose youth are trained from birth to be soldiers.

It’s a typical Campbellian piece, and it makes no sense.  For one thing, the aliens are trained from birth to be soldiers.  Moreover, much is made of the fact that the ambassador cannot lie (for the aliens are experts in preventing deception); therefore, the conclusion that the aliens make is inescapable.  One would think that these aliens, who clearly have a profound knowledge of deceit, would recognize the cheap ploy for what it was.  After all, the ambassador may be telling the truth, but that doesn’t mean his masters are obligated to.

At least I’ve saved dessert for last—the December F&SF is next up, and with its reading, I will have an entire year’s worth of magazines from which to choose this annum’s Galactic Stars.

See you soon!

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

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