[Oct. 21, 1961] Cause célèbre (Three years, and the November 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Three years ago, my wife pried my nose out of my sci-fi magazines.  “You’ve been reading all of these stories,” she said.  “Why not recommend some of the best ones so I can join in the fun without having to read the bad ones.”

I started a list, but after the first few titles, I had a thought.  What if, instead of making a personal list for my wife, I made a public list?  Better yet, how about I publish little reviews of the magazines as they come out?

Thus, Galactic Journey was born.

It’s been an interesting ride.  I was certain that I’d have perhaps a dozen subscribers.  Then a large ‘zine made mention of the column, and since then, we’ve been off to the races.  Our regular readers now number in the hundreds, and the full-time staff of The Journey is eight, going on nine.  We’ve been guests at several conventions around the West Coast, and we’ve been honored with one of fandom’s most prestigious awards.

All thanks to you.  So please join us in a birthday toast to the Galactic Journey family. 

Speaking of significant dates, this month marks the end of an era.  Astounding Science Fiction, founded in 1930, quickly became one of the genre’s strongest books under the stewardship of Editor John W. Campbell.  Last year, Campbell decided it was time to strike out in a new direction, starting with a new name of the magazine.  The process has been a gradual one.  First, the word, Analog, was slowly substituted month after month over Astounding.  The spine name changed halfway through this transition.  As of this month, the cover reads Analog Science Fiction.  I am given to understand that next month, it will simply say Analog

I think it’s a dopey name, but it’s the contents that matter, right?  So let’s see what Campbell gave us this month:

Well, not a whole lot, numerically.  There are just five pieces, but most of them are quite lengthy. 

First up is a novella by Analog perennial, Chris Anvil: No Small Enemy.  It combines two common Analog tropes, Terran supremacy and psionics.  In this case, an alien invasion is defeated by doughty humans using psychic talents.  It should be terrible, and the coincidence of the extaterrestrial onslaught and humanity’s discovery of ESP strains credulity.  Nevertheless, it’s actually not a bad read, and it suggests Anvil will do well when he’s not writing for Campbell’s unique fetishes.  In fact, we know that to be the case based on last year’s Mind Partner, published in Galaxy.  Three stars.

Jim Wannamaker’s Attrition features a fairly conventional set-up.  Interstellar scout is dispatched to determine why a previous scout mission failed to return from an alien world.  Where it fails in originality, it succeeds in execution.  It’s a decent mystery, and the characterization and deft writing make it worth reading.  Four stars.

Things go downhill in the science fact section of the magazine, as they often do.  A Problem in Communication, by George O. Smith, is a weird piece about how the two brains of a Brontosaurus might talk to each other.  It is followed up by Hal Clement’s Gravity Insufficient, an attempt to describe how magnetic fields modulate the Sun’s tempestuous flares.  It starts out like gangbusters but then fizzles into incomprehensibility.  Both pieces get two stars.

That leaves (Part 3 of 3) of Sense of Obligation, by Harry Harrison, which I’ll review next time.  All told, this issue garners 3 stars.  Given some of the real clunkers Campbell churned out this year, this may represent a good augury for this newly renamed digest.  I’d hate for them to go the way of the dinosaurs…

9 thoughts on “[Oct. 21, 1961] Cause célèbre (Three years, and the November 1961 Analog)”

  1. To the Galactic Journey, and all who sail in her! Happy Birthday.

    I thought Attrition worth reading, but I would have had less before the mission got to the planet; and at least a sentence or two about what happened to the planet afterward.

    I thought the Smith fun. A bit ponderous, perhaps: but that’s most fitting.

  2. Congratulations on you anniversary! I think you’re providing a tremendous service and also love the way you’ve expanded your brief to include television, the movies, science, and even politics.

    I’ve fallen tremendously behind on my reading this month, though I have no idea why. I’ve managed to at least skim most of this month’s Analog, with the exception of “Attrition”. I wasn’t really thrilled with “No Small Enemy”. So much of it happened just because the plot needed it to. It was otherwise well written, but it was nothing spectacular.

    The two science articles were disappointing. Smith is addressing what will actually be a real problem once we get out among the planets. Communication will be a real problem.  Even the moon is almost a second and a half light-seconds away. Imagine talking to someone on the telephone and having to wait almost three seconds to hear their reply. It may not sound like much, but try it out with a friend. It’s frustrating.

    I generally enjoy Hal Clement, but this article was just too much. Mr. Clement teaches high school chemistry. I hope for his students’ sake that he’s a more engaging lecturer than he is here.

    And with those two articles, Campbell has devoted nearly a third of the magazine to non-fiction. While I enjoy a good science article, that’s rather more than I want in a science fiction magazine. At least it was actual science and not more Dean drive nonsense.

  3. Many happy returns.  May Galactic Journey voyage onward, well into the 21st century.

    The Smith article seemed more like a joke than anything else, and Clement needed a lot of editing.  (What he really needs to do is provide more fiction.)

    “Attrition” was an OK puzzle story, firmly in the tradition of the magazine.  Some good futuristic details, particularly medical.

    1. That’s 39 years away… I hope we make it.  The city just built a new civic bomb shelter under the public library, and a couple of local contractors are selling residential shelters with revolving charge plans.

      We talk about rockets and space travel here, but those are basically spinoffs from ICBM programs.  Khruschev keeps poking to see how our new President reacts.  Fortunately, he still seems as hawkish as he did while campaigning.

  4. Three years! Happy anniversary, and here’s to many more!

    And speaking of your reviews mission, I wanted to thank you for your review last month of Daniel F. Galouye’s Dark Universe. I went right out to buy a copy, and I have to say I’m certainly glad I didn’t miss that one! While I do think the ending was, well, a bit much a lump of exposition, the rest of the novel was such a fun bit of puzzle and adventure I don’t mind a bit.

    I believe this is Mr. Galouye’s first novel. I hope we’ll be seeing more!

  5. Happy Anniversary! I know I’ve enjoyed reading your commentary since I discovered it, and have done a bit to increase its popularity.

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