As the year draws to a close, all of the science fiction magazines (that is to say, the six remaining–down from a 1953 peak of 45) scramble to publish their best fiction. Their aim is two-fold: firstly, to end the year with a bang, and secondly, to maximize the chances that one of their stories will earn a prestigious award.
By which, of course, I refer to my Galactic Stars, bestowed in December. There’s also this thing called a Hugo, which some consider a Big Deal.
And that’s probably why the December 1960 Astounding was actually a pretty good ish (for a change). I’ll gloss over Part 2 of Occasion for Disaster, co-written by Garrett and Janifer, and head straight into the stand-alone stuff.
First, you’ve got an editorial foreward with Campbell whinging about the Dean Drive again. But this time, he promises never to talk about it again. This ostensible reactionless drive has finally gotten a review from some government agency or another, which is all Campbell says he really wanted. But even Campbell seems doubtful that Dean’s work will be vindicated, probably on account that the thing is a fraud.
The first piece of actual fiction is Poul Anderson’s novelette, The Longest Voyage. It’s an atmospheric gem featuring the first circumnavigation of a globe. I say a globe because it becomes clear early on that this sailing vessel, even though it be crewed by men, and men who speak an archaic dialect of English, is not plying the oceans of Earth, but rather some colony world where technology has regressed only to rise again. The Captain’s destination, aside from his port of origin, is an island where (it is rumored) a spaceship crashed decades ago.
There is a real richness to this tale, which borrows liberally from the argot Anderson showcased in his excellent The High Crusade. And then there’s the deep theme–if given a chance to leapfrog one’s culture from the Renaissance to the Interstellar, skipping the centuries of investigation and discovery, would one, should one do it? What’s more important when solving a problem: The answer or the process?
Four stars. It’s what Garrett wishes he could have done with Despoiler of the Golden Empire.
Harry Harrison is back with The K-Factor. Sociometry is perfected such that human cultures can be reduced to a set of variables, the most important being our K-Factor or propensity for war. But what happens when someone deliberately stimulates a world’s violence factor? An interesting premise marred by being told largely through exposition. Three stars.
The Untouchable, by Stephen A. Kallis, a fellow I’ve never heard of before, is a tiny thing that was probably included to fill a space rather than on its merit. Oh, it’s not bad, this story of an invention that makes objects intangible, but it feels like the beginning of something rather than a complete piece. Three stars.
Campbell writes the science-fact article this issue: They do it with Mirrors. Either Astounding’s editor is too cheap to pay for outside help, or he thinks too much of himself to let anyone else write the column. Perhaps both. In any event, this one is on Project Echo, and Campbell spends a dozen pages writing what I managed to convey in two (in my article on Courier). I did appreciate him pointing out, however, the the world’s first communications satellite is as much a triumph of rocketry as it is ground-based computer signal processing.
Gun for Hire is another Mack Reynolds piece that features some element of violence in the title. It’s actually a lot of fun, this story of a hit man transported to the future by pacifists who want him to rub out a would-be dictator. I was particularly impressed with the assassin’s characterization. Four stars.
Finally, we have Donald E. Westlake, another unknown author (though come to think of it, I might have seen his name in a table of contents of a lesser mag last year). He gives us Man of Action, again a case where a 20th Century fellow is abducted by folks from the future. In this instance, the man is not a thug but an effete interior decorator. He is compelled by his robotic captors to play a sort of 20 Questions game to determine why the future has stagnated, and how to put some pep back into it. The execution is very nice, though the solution is a bit pat. Three stars.
Wowsville. For the first time in memory, Analog has delivered an issue with no clunkers, and with some genuine sparklies to boot. Well done, Mr. Campbell. More of this, please.