[Nov. 30, 1960] Back and Forth (a p/review)

November is done, and the first chill of winter is upon us (for the rest of you, that happened about a month ago—we San Diegans are a happy lot).  As we head into the Christmas shopping season, it’s good to take a moment to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.  Then we can dive into 24 commercially hectic days.

November Review

After months of hard campaigning, we have a new president.  The mantle has been returned to the Democrats, who had it for so long before 1952 that Eisenhower seems like a small splice in the tape.  He was practically a compromise candidate anyway—perhaps the Republican party, as we know it, is dead.  Or maybe there’s a new movement on the horizon, one that will surprise us. 

There was just one new book out this month, Store of Infinity by Robert Sheckley, and it was his best yet.  You definitely want to get yourself a copy.

On the magazine front, Analog took the prize for the first time since the July issue.  It garnered a solid 3.5 rating, a score it last secured in March.  Galaxy was in the middle of the pack, earning a decent 3 stars.  F&SF, made up of the turgid Rogue Moon and a mixed bag of vignettes barely merited 2.5 stars, a depth to which the normally fine magazine has never sunk (since I started charting it, anyway).  Well, there has to be a first time for anything.  Hopefully there won’t be a second!

It was tough selecting a favorite story for this month; both R. A. Lafferty’s Snuffles and Poul Anderson’s The Long Voyage were quite good.  In the end, I gave the nod to the former, which came out in Galaxy because I felt it was more memorable and unusual.

Finally, out of 22 fiction pieces, only two were written by women.  9% is about par for the course.  Perhaps 1961 will be better.

December Preview

Coming soon, I’ll be reviewing the next four episodes of The Twilight Zone–it’s gotten better recently.  There are no new movies on the horizon but I did received an advance copy of a new book, Murray Leinster’s The Wailing Asteroid, from the publisher in the mail this week.  I’ve been enjoying it thus far. 

Of course, there will be the Big Three: the January 1961 issues of F&SF, Analog, and IF (Galaxy and IF alternate months).  I’m sure there will also be some noteworthy space shots, too—the Mercury Redstone unmanned mission will likely be tried again, and there’s one last Atlas Able moon shot planned.  Fingers and toes crossed!

Speaking of space shots, NASA got up another weather satellite, TIROS 2, on November 23.  I didn’t mention it at the time for two reasons: 1) I couldn’t figure out how to work it in, thematically, and 2) whether or not it had been a success wasn’t known until the next day.  When the probe went up, it was initially pointed in the wrong direction, so all the Weather Bureau got was a lens full of blackness.  TIROS is now properly oriented, but it turns out there is some fuzz on the wide-angle camera blurring its pictures.  The other equipment, including a narrow-angle camera and sensors to measure Earth’s heat budget (solar input vs. planetary heat radiation), seem to be working fine, however.  If this new satellite can last until TIROS 3 goes up next Summer, we’ll have continuous weather pictures from outer space for the foreseeable future.  That’ll be exciting!

13 thoughts on “[Nov. 30, 1960] Back and Forth (a p/review)”

  1. I remember winter in San Diego. I lived down near Camp Mitchell (where they’re talking about building a new University of California campus) for a few years, longer ago than I care to remember. After growing up near Pasadena, it was a little cooler than I was used to. But we thought it was time to put on a sweater when it got down to 65° or so. Now that I live where there’s actual weather, I find that I like that a lot better.

    I’m a little worried about that Leinster. I’ve seen the promotional stuff for it, and it really doesn’t sound like his usual stuff. Well, we’ll see.

    1. I dunno, it sounded like classic Leinster to me.  I have a copy on pre-order, so it will be interesting to see if my opinion of it is different from that of Our Gracious Host.

  2. Thanks for the tip about the Sheckley. Hope it reaches NZ.

    Fingers crossed for the future shot. Of TIROS, if only there was a vaccine for murphyitis.

    Of the Republican Party…at a wild guess, non-Democrats won’t want to walk away from the Lincoln roots. I gather your two main parties are in a dance where they swap left and right positions..?

    1. Perhaps so, Stephanie.  There is a staunchly segregationist wing of the Democrats itching for another star to hitch to.  As for the Republicans, with the trouncing of Nixon, perhaps we’ll get a Rockefeller presidency in ’64 or ’68.  I could get behind that.

      Regarding TIROS, I wouldn’t feel bad.  This is all experimental stuff, and that we’re getting pictures at all is something of a miracle.  It is a marvel, to be sure!

      1. Well, Nixon was hardly trounced… he got 34,108,157 votes to Kennedy’s 34,220,984, even if Kennedy did carry 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219.

  3. I suppose my choice for the very best story this month would be “The Listener,” even though it comes from an “outsider.”

  4. I’m not entirely sure that a “weather satellite” is all that useful.  Looking at clouds from above can’t take the place of the current system of ground stations.  Back when Ulysses Grant was President the stations telegraphed information to the Bureau in DC, which collated and telegraphed back to tell the stations what was on the way.  Besides local governments and the military, the railroads and river ports feed the weather web.  When radio came out the system was expanded again; besides fixed stations on islands, commercial and military ships send in regular weather reports.  For tornados and hurricanes the Weather Service or military will send airplanes in to do close-up monitoring.

    Most of you who are adults probably remember when the Weather Service was shut down during the War; weather data was considered a military secret, and both the farming and railroad industries suffered.

    I love space stuff, but looking at cloud formations from above isn’t going to give us much compared to the existing, ground-level reporting web.  I think it’s just a feelgood excuse to help justify the cost of the space program.  Now, if they could look at Soviet military bases and operations from above (like the U2!) that would be useful, but you can’t just take the film from a satellite home and develop it; you have to use a video tube and send a stream of dits and dots back.  Besides being a very low-resolution image to start with, it would take weeks to send a single image. 

    I have to give them credit; just getting a functioning camera up into space is an impressive achievement.  The electronic engineers who made that happen don’t even get a mention, but vacuum tubes really, *really* don’t like shock or vibration.  Among other things you have to make some of the wires thicker, which reduces their efficiency, which puts even higher demands on the limited power available to a satellite.  It’s not like you can just change the batteries when they get low, and solar panels aren’t very efficient and only work on the day side of the orbit.  If you want video transmission you have to have vacuum tubes; it’s not like a simple transistor receiver.  Many of you probably built simple crystal receivers from a hobby book or as a school project; that’s just picking up a signal.  *Making* the signal takes a lot more power, far more than transistor technology can handle.  Plus there’s no way to duplicate the scanning function of a vidicon tube.  Theoretically you could use hundreds of thousands of transistors to sort of do it, but you’re talking about more money than even NASA or the military can justify, and the array would be huge, plus the lens… solid state technology isn’t the answer to that problem.

    1. clarification: the radio and newspapers were forbidden to transmit or publish weather information, which angered farmers; the railroads had their own communication system and were not affected.  Ships and other mobile sites that were authorized to transmit or receive weather information used code books similar to the old telegraph codes.

        1. Hundreds.  Maybe thousands.  Military and commercial shipping pass on local weather daily, sometimes hourly.  Also aircraft, which I forgot to mention earlier.  Information reported back to ground control gets forwarded to DC.

          You don’t need street-block-level resolution to track a storm over the mid-Pacific, just generally where the bad weather is so other shipping can allow for it, and to let the people onshore know what’s coming and when.

          1. Yes, but these planes aren’t everywhere.  Certainly not in the middle of a hurricane.  And I strongly suspect that planes over the Soviet Union aren’t reporting their weather to DC.

            We are talking about real-time monitoring of the majority of the globe.  From a single source.  It’s not just useful for weather–we’re moving beyond that to better understanding climatic structure.  A revolution is in the works.

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