[November 19, 1961] See Change (December 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Every successful endeavor goes through the cycle of growth, stability, decline, and renewal (or death, in which case, there’s no cycle).  Science fiction magazines are no exception.  A particularly far-sighted editor can plan for decline by setting up a successor.  For instance Galaxy‘s H.L. Gold has turned over the reigns to Fred Pohl with no apparent drop in the digest’s quality.  Anthony Bourchier transitioned to Robert Mills at F&SF, and I understand that Renaissance Man Avram Davidson is waiting in the wings to take over.  That event can’t happen too soon, as F&SF has been lackluster of late.

Analog has had the same master since the early 30s: John W. Campbell.  And while Campbell has effected several changes in an attempt to revive his flagging mag (including a name change, from Astounding; the addition of a 20-page “slick” section in the middle of issues; and a genuinely effective cover design change (see below)), we’ve still had the same guy at the stick for three decades.  Analog has gotten decidedly stale, consistently the worst of The Big Three (in my estimation).

You can judge for yourself.  Just take a gander at the December 1961 issue.  It does not do much, if anything, to pull the once-great magazine from its shallow dive:

As has been the case for a couple of years now, the serialized novel (in this case, the first part of Black Man’s Burden, by Mack Reynolds) is the best part of the book.  Burden is the story of modernization in near-future North Africa.  Reynolds is currently living in the Mahgreb, so his tale is laced with authentic cultural insight.  Reynolds’ Tuareg tribesmen read like the best-developed sf alien cultures…except they’re for real!  I’m looking forward to see where this goes; rating reserved until I’ve read the whole thing.

Next up is a cute little time travel story involving an historian who attempts to change the course of events for a little nascent country called Texas.  I’ve never heard of R. R. Fehrenbach, so I assume Remember the Alamo! is his first story.  As such it’s not bad, though I tend to prefer my viewpoint not wander from character to character at the convenience of the author.  Three stars.

Tom Godwin is a fellow whose works get published in the magazines I don’t follow, so The Helpful Hand of God is the first story of his I’ve read.  Rapacious Terran Empire is thwarted by a bevy of scantily clad conscientious objectors.  Readable, but not very good.  Two stars.

This issue’s cake-taker is the ridiculous “science fact” article by Randall Garrett: Engineer’s Art.  It’s on dowsing, fer chrissakes.  You know, that mystical art of finding water by holding a couple of steel rods in front of you?  Truly a new low for this magazine.  One star.


How Campbell finds his stories and articles

It’s followed by a short, uncredited piece on a Neptune Orbit Observatory, whose main purpose would be to derive accurate distances to the stars through trigonometry (we’d know the angles and the length of the base of the triangle made up of points Earth, Neptune, and target star; the longer the base can be, the more precise our ability to measure the other sides of the triangle).  It’s a cute idea, though I suspect our telescopes will be good enough for the task long before our interplanetary engines are developed sufficiently for exploration of the eighth planet.  Three stars.

Randall Garrett (as David Gordon) offers up some fiction in the form of The Foreign Hand-Tie, a story of telepathic Cold War espionage.  As such things go, it’s not bad.  Reynolds probably could have done it better, but he can’t write the entire issue, can he?  Three stars.

Finally, the disappointing Sleight of Wit, by Gordon Dickson, portraying a battle of brains between a human planetary scout and his alien competitor.  It is disappointing because it requires the alien to be so featherbrained, the course of events the human relies on so convoluted.  Gordy does better when he ignores this mag.  Two stars.

Analog has only topped a three-star overall rating thrice this year, and this wasn’t one of those times.  That’s pretty lousy.  F&SF has done it seven times, and Galaxy never earned less than three.  I’ll be very surprised if Analog gets nominated for the Hugo for 1961. 

It’s time for a change, methinks.

16 thoughts on “[November 19, 1961] See Change (December 1961 Analog)”

  1. I’ll take that bet.  Analog will win from its historical momentum of being the magazine perceived to represent the best in SF.  I don’t agree, and have a preference for Galaxy, but a bet’s a bet right?

  2. Thank you for sharing. I did enjoy The Foreign Hand-Tie. all through, and love the end twist. I must quote There was, as there should have been, a fifty-fifty division in all things—a proper state of affairs in a People’s Republic. Alexis Andreyevich did half the physical work, got all the blame when things went wrong, and none of the credit when things went right. Sonya Borisovna got the remaining fifty percent. Not only in Russia, I’d say.

    Of the Godwin, I strongly recommend the reader not to try this at home.

    Fehrenbach’s story strikes me more as a lead in – I can’t believe Ord could be so slow in realisation. Also, though I’m by no means a Napoleon fan, he wouldn’t come up with stuff like camps.

    The Reynolds is most promising!

  3. Well, I’m still trying to catch up on my reading as life continues to pound on me like Sonny Liston on a flyweight, but I did make time for Mack Reynolds and managed to skim a little more of the rest of the issue.

    Obviously, we’ll save Reynolds for when the story’s done, but I like what I’ve read so far. I’ve got a couple of nagging problems, but I’ll save them for later.

    I haven’t read the Godwin yet, but I’m surprised you’ve never read “The Cold Equations”. It was published in Astounding, though certainly before you started your newsletter. But it’s been reprinted a ton of times and is something of a classic.

    As for dowsing, well it’s better than the Dean drive, I guess.

    Garrett and Dickson can both be good or bad, depending, and both suffer a bit under Campbell, so I’m not going to hold out much hope.

    All told, I agree that Campbell has probably reached a point where he should retire or at least take a sabbatical. He did a lot for science fiction and the genre will always owe him a large debt, but I fear the science has moved beyond him and it’s affecting the fiction badly.

    1. I’ve read “The Cold Equations”, and it has one HUGE plot hole that bounced me right out of the story. You see, I’ve also been on airplanes, and I know how hard it would be for someone without a ticket to sneak onto an airplane without getting caught. A man who could cold-cock an employee a steal his uniform might be able to stow away in the baggage compartment. A teenage girl? Never going to happen.

      And that story is asking me to believe that the operational security for a space flight is worse than that for an airline? Sorry, I can’t buy that, and it invalidates everything else.

  4. This seemed to be a very middle-of-the-road issue, as far as the short stories go.  I’ll hold off on the serial until it’s all available.

    I only glanced at the “science” article on dowsing.  As soon as I saw the author dismiss Martin Gardner and his brilliant book “Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science” I knew it would be worthless.

    The other article was definitely pie-in-the-sky stuff, but at least it wasn’t superstitious nonsense.

    All the fiction was readable, if not memorable.

    “Remember the Alamo!” was an interesting bit of alternate history.  I understand that the author is an historian specializing in Texas, so he knows his subject.

    “The Helpful Hand of God” is one of those plots which doesn’t work unless every single person in a large group falls for it.  With that in mind, I still enjoyed the way that peace and love triumphed over war and hate.  At least the author made his sexy young women smart and capable as well.  (And this seems to one of those planets in SF with plenty of adults, but no children.)

    “The Foreign Hand Tie” (is the title some kind of pun?) was OK, although rather trivial.  I got the feeling the author was having more fun with his silly poem about the Egyptian king than with the story.  (I’m assuming he’s not just quoting something.) I got a bit of amusement finding all the Groucho Marx references associated with Colonel Spaulding.

    1. It is a pun, though rather belabored, since there’s a necessary, but only implied “painted”. A four-in-hand tie is the old name for what we just call a tie. That distinguished it from the other sorts of neckwear that were popular in the 19th century. But much as the wristwatch is slowly becoming just a watch as pocket watches die out, the dominance of that form of necktie has eliminated the need for the distinguishing term.

      It was a fun little story and I enjoyed all the Marx Brothers references. I didn’t even mind the psychic stuff. I’m pretty sure the poem is Randy’s, and it gave him a reason to call his brothers Poe, I suppose.

    2. I’ve had the Gardner book since it came out.  I’ve probably read it half a dozen times.

      I thought he did an excellent job of presenting the material, and it’s quite readable, unlike some of the faux-academic books that have been coming out recently.

    3. Gardner does a good job kicking Campbell himself around, by name.  I’m sadly not surprised that Analog decided to retaliate.

  5. I’m generally a fan of Mack Reynolds, but the first installmant of Black Man’s Burden seems to be headed off into a new direction for him.  I’m going to reserve comment until the whole thing comes out.

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