[Sep. 24, 1959] Cruising at the bottom (October 1959 Astounding)

I had planned on breaking up the rest of this month’s (October 1959) Astounding into two parts, but seeing how there are only four pieces of fiction, albeit long ones, I’ve decided to give it all to you in one blow.

Chris Anvil continues to put out the most mediocre stuff imaginable.  These are the stories I’d expect to see in Imagination, if “Madge” were still around.  The Law-Breakers is the cover story for this issue, and it really is barely worth the space it takes.  Two invaders from a race of extremely humanoid aliens attempt to infiltrate the Earth using sophisticated invisibility technology.  All of their predecessors have failed on these missions, so the stakes are high.  As it turns out, the Terrans are ready for the invaders, trailing them wearing cloaking fields of their own.

Once captured, the invaders are offered a deal—become citizens and their sentence will be reduced from felony sabotage to a host of petty misdemeanors.  Along the way, we get some fatuous smugness about how Earth is better than the aliens because it is a planet of multiple competing civilizations rather than a single, united race.  It took me three sittings to finish the story, which is saying something for a 30-page story.

Story #2 is even worse: The Unspecialist, by unknown Murray F. Yaco, features a pilot and co-pilot of a small scout ship accompanied on their mission of reconnaissance by a “Bean Brain,” a seemingly useless fellow who, nevertheless, contributes valuable expertise in a particular pinch.  The gotcha of the story (a disappointing trope of science fiction that I thought had died out) is learning the former profession of the unspecialist.  Dull, dull, dull.

I was thus rather pleasantly surprised by the third story, Dodkin’s Job, by the old hand, Jack Vance.  Somehow, I have a soft spot for dystopian stories with highly regimented societies.  Not so much the predestined occupation stories, like Asimov’s Profession, but more the totalitarian tales where people are pigeonholed into horizontal layers of privilege and are constantly trying to climb out.

In this one, Luke is a 40-year old born with ample opportunities, but due to his nonconformist nature, he finds his career a sordid succession of demotions until he finds himself a Level D Flunky assigned to clean sewers.  When a new labor directive is passed down to return his shovel to the central office every day, thus wasting three hours of his own time, Luke decides to petition the authorities.  Up the ladder he goes, to the very top, and then back down to the prestige-less clerk levels whence the impetus for the decision came.  There, he finds the true secret of bureaucracy—that data is power, and it is the presenter of data who really has the power, not the decision-makers who can only make decisions based on the data presented. 

It’s a story that kept me up past my bed-time, and, as a person who presents data for a living, a very instructive piece, to be sure!

That leaves us with Part 2 of That Sweet Little Old Lady, by Mark Phillips aka Randall Garrett.  As you know, I’m rather predisposed against Mr. Garrett, but I did stick it out through both installments, this tale of telepaths, espionage, FBI agents, and renaissance costumery.

In short, there is an information leak somewhere in America, and it’s up to Agent Malone to find it.  Along the way, he teams up with a host of insane telepaths, all of whom are non-functioning with the exception of one who believes herself to be an immortal Queen Elizabeth I.  She insists that her entourage dress appropriately, and I now understand why Randy dressed up as Henry VIII for Wondercon—he was really dressing up as Agent Malone (or Malone was designed to look like Randy playing Henry VIII).

Anyway, it’s a flippantly written who-dunnit.  It’s not offensive, and I was able to finish it in a reasonable amount of time, but it was the literary equivalent of Saltines—bland and not particularly satisfying.  Also, I’m getting rather tired of Kelly Freas—how many wrinkles does an illustrated person need, anyway?

Thus ends another 2.5 star Astounding.  This makes the biggest spread between magazines I’ve seen in a month–compare to 3.5 for Galaxy, 4.5 for F&SF.

That’s that for magazines this month, though I’ll do an Astounding Analytical Laboratory stop press in a couple of days.  Next month, we’ve got another Astounding, F&SF, and IF.  Also, a host of anticipated space shots, probably a movie or two, and a new science fiction/fantasy/horror anthology debuting in about a week: The Twilight Zone.
See you soon!

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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[Sep. 19, 1959] Anchors Aweigh! (The Navy’s Transit and Vanguard launches)

A bit of a stop press on the Space Race as I wade through this months Astounding, which I unwisely saved for last.  You should never eat dessert first…

Have you ever noticed how a train’s whistle seems to rise in pitch as the locomotive approaches and then the pitch lowers as the train departs?  This is caused by the compression of sound waves as they whistle heads toward your ears followed by a decompression as it heads away.  It’s called the Doppler Effect (after the 19th century Austrian scientist, Christian Doppler).

This concept will be used by satellites to provide accurate navigation aids for American military craft and, someday, civilians as well.  The idea is that the satellites, called Transit, will broadcast at a fixed frequency.  A receiver on the ground can tell from the quality of the Doppler frequency shifts, knowing the satellite’s orbit, where it is to within a small degree of error.  Very simple in concept.

Sadly, Transit 1 failed to orbit the day-before-yesterday when its Thor Able booster malfunctioned after liftoff.  On the other hand, the Navy (the service that developed the satellite) did get some useful data from the sub-orbital flight, I’m told.

Speaking of the Navy, the final flight of the Navy/civilian Vanguard program ended in success yesterday with the orbiting of Vanguard 3.  It is another x-ray, magnetosphere, and micrometeoroid detecting probe along the lines of the Explorers.  Its long-lasting orbit and conical shape will also allow the satellite to be used to determine the density of the upper atmosphere for decades to come.

I’ll publish more on the scientific findings of this probe as I hear them.  We are beyond the days where just getting the things up is the whole story.

And with that, the Vanguard program comes to an end with three successful flights out of 11.  This may sound like a poor record, particularly given the rather vicious coverage given the program by both domestic and foreign media (remember “Flopnik”?)

But Vanguard has enabled the reaping of a tremendous harvest.  As a booster, it was remarkably efficient and cheap.  The reliable second and third stages have been adopted as supplemental stages on other rockets, and it looks like the first stage will be turned into NASA’s new Vega second-stage system.  Thanks to Vanguard, there will be American property in space for the next several hundred years. 

Most importantly, Vanguard paved the way for a truly civilian space program.  Though it was derived from a Navy proposal, and spin-off technology from the program is being used by the military, the idea of a purely scientific and non-military space endeavor is a powerful and important one.  Our new space agency, NASA, owes much to it.

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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[Sep. 17, 1959] A hike and a flight (Oct. 1959 Astounding and two Space Races)

The big news this week is Astounding is raising its price from 35 cents to four bits.  It’s a big jump, but I’m sure it’s a necessary move given that Galaxy and F&SF also cost 50 cents (though IF is still at 35 cents).

It is significant that I have nibbled around the edges of the October Astounding, so to speak, starting with the non-fiction articles.  I didn’t like the first half of That Sweet Old Woman, and I doubt I’ll care much for part two.  I’ll bite the bullet tonight.  Probably.

But the non-fiction is pretty nifty.  Campbell’s editorial, for once, does not stink of psionics.  He probably saw the writing on the wall when everyone, but everyone, at Worldcon ribbed him about his editorials and story-selection policy.  So now John is openly asking for science articles, and he’s hoping to introduce a slick page element to the magazine come the beginning of next year.  I’m a science writer, so I’ll be interested to see how it goes.  Perhaps I’ll submit an article or two.

I also liked Bill Boyd’s article on obtaining blood-typing reagents from vegetables, Blood from a Turnip.  It really sings the praises of basic research to see such a medical boon to humanity come from such a simple, off-the-wall experiment.  The price of such reagents has been dropped a thousand-fold, as a result.

Next time, I promise to talk about fiction.  Probably.

In Space Race news, the X-15 rocketplane made its maiden powered flight on September 17 with veteran pilot Scott Crossfield (the man who broke the Mach 2 barrier) at the controls.  It was just a 9-minute flight using two underpowered XLR-11 engines rather than XLR-99 engine designed for the plane.  The XLR-11 is actually the engine that sent Chuck Yeager past the sound barrier in 1948. 

Moreover, the plane developed mechanical problems, and a small fire broke out.  Crossfield was able to get the craft down safely, however. 

And now to the ballistic manned space program.  In a way, the Mercury project, that one-manned space capsule that will carry the first American into space, has already succeeded.  Last week, on September 9, a boilerplate spacecraft was launched atop an Atlas ICBM.  I’ve written about “Little Joe,” designed for low-level test firings of the Mercury.  Naturally, the Atlas missions are called “Big Joe.” The recent mission marks the first time the Atlas has been used in support of the manned space program.

For the capsule, the mission was a complete success.  It was lofted to a height of 90 miles, separated from the Atlas, and crashed into the ocean some 1424 miles away from its launching site at Cape Canaveral.  The craft was in good shape, proving the sturdiness of its heat shield.

The Atlas, on the other hand, suffered some teething troubles.  The Atlas missile has three engines, two of which are supposed to drop away when fuel is depleted.  They didn’t.  The Atlas also took its time separating from the spacecraft. 

The flight was good enough, though.  It is my understanding that NASA is considering the cancellation of “Big Joe 2,” scheduled to be launched sometime in the Fall.

So there you have it.  Not only are the Americans and the Soviets neck and neck, but it seems that the two American space programs are also competing closely.  It’s an exciting time for those who bet.

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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[Sep. 15, 1959] Bullseye!  Second Lunik hits the moon.

The Soviets have accomplished another space first, striking the moon with a probe yesterday, September 14, 1959, after a speedy day-and-a-half flight.

To all accounts, the mission payload was identical to Mechta, which sailed past the moon in January.  I’m still not sure whether we’re to call the thing Mecha, Lunik, or Luna, but no matter the name, there’s no question but that it was an impressive feat of astrogation; the moon is actually a surprisingly small and hard target to hit.  One German scientist likened it to hitting the eye of a fly with a rifle bullet at a range of six miles.  And the Soviets managed to do it on their second try (that we know of).

The 390kg package, much larger than anything America has tried sending to the moon so far, was packed with radiation detectors for measuring cosmic rays.  It also carried a magnetometer and a micrometeoroid detector.  Between the two Luniks and the three successful Pioneers, we should have a pretty good magnetic and radiation map of things this side of the moon.

Most significantly, from a political perspective, are the myriad of Soviet badges and medals that Lunik II spilled out on the lunar surface upon impact.  Not only is the U.S.S.R. now the first nation to litter another celestial body, but I imagine they may start rumbling about owning the moon.  After all, finders keepers!

Many have speculated that Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev timed his visit to the United States to take advantage of the lunar shot—or perhaps it’s the other way around.  Either way, it certainly gives him bragging rights as he tours our nation.

NASA has officially replied that they have a lunar probe in the works of comparable size that may go up as early as October.  You’ll certainly read about it here if it does!

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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[Sep. 12, 1959] Best of the Best (October 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction, second part)

Statistics are (is?) fun.  There is a simple joy to compiling data and finding patterns.  Since the beginning of the publishing year, i.e. issues with a January cover date, I have been rating stories and magazine issues in aggregate.  This is partly to help me remember the stories in times to come and also to trace patterns of quality.  In a couple of months, I plan to have my own mini-Hugo awards; perhaps one of you might help me think of a catchy name.

I use a 1 to 5 star rating system, and until this month, individual issues varied between aggregate ratings of 2.5 and 3.5.  But this month, the October 1959 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction broke the curve scoring an incredible, unprecedented 4.5 stars.  That’s about as close to perfection as I can imagine, and I strongly urge all of you to get your hands on a copy while they remain at newsstands.

I talked about the first third of the book last week.  I’ve since finished the rest, and the quality has not dipped an inch. 

To be sure, Charles G. Finney’s The Gilashrikes is only decent.  A biologist mates his gila monster to his shrike, and the resulting hybrid, in an attempt to make up for their ignoble provenance, become the town moralists, enforcing virtue to an increasingly annoying degree.  I know of Finney from the much raved-about Circus of Dr. Lao, and Gilashrikes has a similar, whimsical quality.

Operation Incubus, by Poul Anderson, on the other hand, is fantastic in both senses of the word.  A newlywed magician couple, one a lycanthrope, the other an adept (relearning her trade after losing the maidenhood that was the source of much her power) go on a honeymoon only to run afoul of demonic predators.  It’s lyric, tasteful, and impacting.  Also very exciting.  It also paints a universe much like ours, but with magic more intertwined with our lives.  Highly recommended.

Hassoldt Davis’ The Pleasant Woman, Eve is a Garden of Eden story starring God and the Wandering Jew discussing how to get the first humans to make more of themselves independently.  It’s very good, but it could have used an extra paragraph.  Perhaps space concerns dictated the abrupt ending.

The Pi Man is Alfred Bester’s latest tale of a haunted, pursued psychic.  In this case, the protagonist is sensitive to karmic patterns, and he must do good and hateful things, in turn, to maintain balance in the universe.  It’s very strangely written, and it took me a few pages to get into it, but I found the journey ultimately rewarding.

Finally, for the short stories at least (and they are all under 16 pages in length to accommodate Heinlein’s serial) is Avram Davidson’s Dagon.  I must confess that I did not quite understand this rather ominous tale of an American soldier’s rise to virtual Godhood in post-War China.  As the fellow becomes more powerful, he becomes more detached from reality, in the end becoming an intangible viewpoint on the world.–a literal goldfish in a bowl.  Perhaps that is the point—with power comes a loss of free will and agency.  Or perhaps it was just a comeuppance delivered by a mischievous old Chinaman.

As for the novel, Heinlein’s Starship Soldier, the first half is excellent, particularly in contrast to Dickson’s recent military serial, Dorsai!.  Oh, it’s got its share of Heinlein preaching through the mouths of characters, but he has to get it out somewhere.  I’ll devote a full article to the story next month.

As a teaser for the next article, I’ve just learned that the Soviets have launched their second lunar probe.  It only takes half a day to get there, so we’ll know if it was a success in short order!

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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[Sep. 9, 1959] WorldCon Report! [Detention, the 17th WorldCon]

Twenty years ago, something lovely happened.  Two hundred science fiction and fantasy fans got together in New York City and had what was (I believe) the first convention of their genre: Worldcon.  It has been an annual Labor Day tradition ever since, with the exception of the war years, from 1942-45.  It travels from city to city, adopting the name of its host city for that year. 

This year, the event was held in Detroit.  It was thus aptly named "Detention."

I did not get to go, but I stood anxiously by my phone last night to get a preliminary report.  I also paid a pretty penny to have some quickly developed pictures ‘faxed to my town.  I spare no expense for my readers.

Some 370 fans were in attendance, many resplendent in fantastic costumes.  Poul Anderson was the professional guest of honor (it’s a good thing he’s written some decent stuff this year!) and John Berry was the fan guest of honor.  I don’t know who that is either.

Here’s a great shot of the banquet:


from Jeff’s Flickr account

Someone captured this lovely shot of the Emshwillers, the artist and author pair.


from fanac.org

Isaac Asimov was the toastmaster at the Detention banquet.  The good doctor has a fine wit, so the quips came fast and furiously.  I think my favorite recounted anecdote concerned science writer Willy Ley (who was in attendance, and apparently the subject of an impromptu roast).

As you may know, Willy is an expatriate of Germany, who left before the Nazis ruined everything.  He still has a thick accent, which he reportedly practices in front of a mirror so as to preserve it.  Per Asimov, someone once asked Mr. Ley if he preferred being called "Willy" or "Veelee." His reply?  "Veelee oder Veelee.  Id makez no differenz."

I understand that the pint-sized super-fan, Harlan Ellison (who has aspirations of becoming an author) attempted to woo a statuesque attendee with the line, "What would you say to a little f***?"

To which, said attendee replied, "Hello, little f***!"

I suppose they can’t all be be Randall Garrett.

Speaking of whom, Randy was Henry VIII for the masquerade this year.  That’s a nice costume–if only his writing were of the same caliber.


from fanac.org

The highlight of the convention, aside from the Masquerade, the banquet, and the debauchery, was the announcing of the Hugo winners.  For those not in the know, the Hugo are the fandom-awarded prizes for best science-fiction/fantasy stories in a number of genres.  I am only passingly familiar with many of the candidates as they were taken from 1958 publications.  Nevertheless, for your edification, here they are:

Best Novel:

A Case of Conscience by James Blish (I keep hearing good things about this one)

Runners up:

We Have Fed Our Seas by Poul Anderson (I didn’t make it through this one)
Who? by Algis Budrys
Have Spacesuit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (a fine book, but not Hugo material)
Time Killer by Robert Sheckley (again, decent, but not Hugo-winning)

Best Novelette:

The Big Front Yard by Clifford D. Simak (I should remember this one–I read it, but it escapes me)

Runners up:

Unwillingly to School by Pauline Ashwell (I remember liking this one)
Captivity by Zenna Henderson (another one that left a good impression, though I don’t remember the details)
Reap the Dark Tide by C. M. Kornbluth
A Deskful of Girls by Fritz Leiber (completely forgotten, and probably a good thing)
Second Game by Katherine MacLean and Charles V. De Vet (vaguely familiar)
Rat in the Skull by Rog Phillips
The Miracle-Workers by Jack Vance (completely forgotten)

Best Short Story:

That Hell-Bound Train by Robert Bloch

Runners up:

The Men Who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester
They’ve Been Working On … by Anton Lee Baker
Triggerman by J. F. Bone (a decent story)
The Edge of the Sea by Algis Budrys
The Advent on Channel Twelve by C. M. Kornbluth
Theory of Rocketry by C. M. Kornbluth
Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee by Fritz Leiber (middling)
Space to Swing a Cat by Stanley Mullen
Nine Yards of Other Cloth by Manly Wade Wellman
(I’ve read all of these but the Kornbluth, but it was before the column, so they aren’t ringing bells–I’ll do better next year, promise.)

Best SF or Fantasy Movie:

None!

Runners up:

The Fly
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
Dracula
(Not The Blob?!?)

Best Professional Magazine:

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Runners up:

Astounding Science Fiction
New Worlds
Galaxy
IF

Best Professional Artist:

Kelly Freas

Runners up:

Ed Emshwiller
Virgil Finlay
H. R. Van Dongen
Wally Wood

Best Fanzine:

Fanac ed. by Terry Carr and Ron Ellik

Runners up:

Cry of the Nameless ed. by F. M. Busby, Elinor Busby, Burnett Toskey, and Wally Weber
Yandro ed. by Robert Coulson and Juanita Coulson
Hyphen ed. by Chuck Harris and Walt Willis
JD-Argassy ed. by Lynn A. Hickman
Science Fiction Times ed. by James V. Taurasi, Sr., Ray Van Houten, and Frank R. Prieto, Jr.

Finally–

Best New Author:

None!

Runners up:

Brian Aldiss
Paul Ash (actually Pauline Ashwell)
Rosel George Brown (my choice!)
Louis Charbonneau
Kit Reed (my #2, I think)


from Jeff’s Flickr account

Your thoughts?

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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[Sep. 5, 1959] The Best (October 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction; 1st part)

Not too long ago, I lambasted the September 1959 issue of Astounding as the worst science fiction magazine I’d read in a long while.  This is not to say that it’s the worst of the bunch—I’m sure there are plenty of issues of B and C-level mags that constitute the nadir of written science fiction, although I don’t imagine there are too many of those publications still around. 

I’m happy to report that this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction may well be the best single issue I’ve ever read.

I asked last time whether folks prefer whiz-bangery in their science fiction or not.  The overwhelming response was that gadgets aren’t important; characters, story, and writing are.  F&SF typically holds to a higher standard of writing, and this month, they’ve hit a zenith.

The incomparable Theodore Sturgeon has the first story, The Man who lost the Sea.  It’s told in a weird and effective 1st/2nd/3rd person style, about an explorer who has come to grief beside what appears to be a vast ocean.  As his thoughts become more lucid, it becomes clearer and clearer what has happened to him until we get the powerful reveal.  I understand Sturgeon has been making a concerted effort to get into the slicks (non-science fiction commercial magazines), and it’s a travesty that he hasn’t been more successful.  Oh well; the mainstream public’s loss is our gain.

Asimov has a great column this month entitled, The Height of Up, in which he discusses the coldest and hottest possible temperatures.  Ever wonder why our temperature scales (Fahrenheit, Celsius, Kelvin) have such weird and arbitrary end-points?  Dr. Asimov spells it out most entertainingly.The good doctor is definitely finding his feet with this column.  It was so good that I read a good half of it aloud to my wife as she put together a complicated piece of electronic equipment (a hobby of hers, bless her). 

I was delighted to find that Zenna Henderson has published another story, And a little child… It’s not exactly a story of the People, but it has the same sort of magical feel.  The viewpoint character is a grandmother on a two-week camping trip with family, particularly a young girl who can see things that others can’t.  Such things are monstrous, living creatures—the hills are alive, quite literally.  It’s really quite a lovely piece.

Finally, for today, we have Damon Knight’s compelling and cute To be Continued, about a sword-and-sandals fantasy writer (whose name’s first two thirds are “Robert E.”) who is compelled to write a tale of Kor the Barbarian after reading a work that the author had never written, but which only could have been authored by himself!

Peeking ahead, I see that Heinlein’s newest novel, Starship Soldier, is going to be among his best yet.  To accommodate the work, F&SF is a whopping 32 pages longer this month!

With the star-o-meter steadily quivering at 4-and-a-half stars, I’m eagerly anticipating the book’s second half.

However, the next time we chat, so to speak, it will not be about magazines, but about the 17th annual Worldcon going on right now in Detroit.  “Detention,” as it’s called this year, will last until the 7th, and I expect to have a full, breathless telephonic report in time for the 8th.

Last year, Worldcon was in my backyard (Los Angeles).  This year, Los Angeles is going to Detroit: an intrepid group of Angelinos, organized by the dynamo, Betty Jo Wells, embarked earlier this week on a road-trip across the country, Detroit-or-Bust.  I’ve reprinted “BJo’s” ad in its entirety for your entertainment. 

“TRAVELCON to the DETENTION — a different city every day. TravelCon plans are starting to shape up. Latest report from Bjo is that about 20 L.A. fans are already making plans to attend the Detention. Fans in the Berkeley area are organizing a group to join up with the Travel Con In L.A. For information and details, contact Betty Jo Wells, 2548 West 12th, Los Angeles 6, California.”

Sadly, I was unable to spare time off from work for this event; it looks like fun.

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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[Sep. 3, 1959] Out the other side (September 1959 IF Worlds of Science Fiction, Part 2)

We left off on a cliff-hanger of sorts, half-way through my review of the second issue of IF under Gold and Pohl’s management.  In brief, it ends as it began: with a strong start and a fairly middlin’ finish.

Gordy Dickson is back to form with Homecoming, a quite nice novelette about a fellow running afoul of Earth customs agents when he tries to declare his pet.  If you had a beloved companion, would you sacrifice your chances at immigration by refusing to part with it?  The deck is extra stacked in this case—said “animal,” an enhanced kangaroo, is near-sentient.  It’s a page-turner, and over too fast.

I’ve never heard of Kirby Kerr, but his An Honest Credit, about a down-on-his-luck fellow with nothing to his name but a priceless, ancient coin (with which he refuses to part) is pretty good.  A bit maudlin and short on much that would identify it as science fiction, but I enjoyed it.

I normally don’t include book-review columns in these reviews, but Fred Pohl takes his column a step further, making it a sort of essay.  Worlds of If discusses the appearance and non-appearance of gadgetry in science fiction stories, and whether or not it adversely affects the story (or makes it less “science-fictiony.” What do you think?  Do you require whiz-bang inventions, or do you prefer a more subtle kind of s-f?

The penultimate tale is Escape into Silence by Australian Wynne N. Whiteford.  I enjoyed most of it, this tale of a colony world that has slowly but inexorably ended up under the strict and paternalistic dominion of another colony, one that has risen to supremacy.  The protagonist tries to escape, is given the opportunity to emigrate lawfully, but ultimately embraces the confined, noisy enclosures of his home town.  I suppose people are loathe to give up what they know, even if they have a chance at something better.  Something about the end rang false, however. 

Finally, we have Hornets’ Nest by a Mr. Lloyd Biggle Jr. (which suggests there is a Lloyd Biggle Sr. roaming about; that makes me smile).  Nest could have been written in the 1930s.  A human starship returns to the solar system and finds all of humanity dead for having DARED TO PROBE THE HEART OF JUPITER, THE PLANET WITH THE BALEFUL EYE OF DEATH!  It’s not quite so hackneyed; it’s actually a decent read, but I take my amusements where I can.

IF continues to be a solid, if uninspiring, magazine.  Lacking the utter dreck of Astounding, it is, nevertheless, not as consistently good as its sister, Galaxy.  It feels like what it is—a repository for the second-rate Galaxy stories (though, to be fair, they are not bad so much as often mediocre, and some are quite good).  Three stars, and that makes it one of the better mags this month, sad to say.

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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

The third leg of the nuclear triad (The new Polaris sub-launched missile; 9-01-1959)

Let me tell you the story of a missile, one that should make us (ironically) a bit safer. 

Wehrner von Braun and his German team of scientists in Alabama developed a short-ranged nuclear missile called the Redstone back in 1953.  It was an evolution of the wartime V-2.  Then his team created the Jupiter intermediate-ranged nuclear missile, which has been used to launch a number of satellites into orbit, and which is in the process of being deployed in Italy and Turkey to threaten the Soviet Union.

There was originally an intent to mount the Jupiter missile on submarines.  This is the reason for its unusually squat shape–it was supposed to fit inside the tubes of a mammoth submersible ship.  The Navy quickly thought better of this idea and developed their own sub-launched missile–the Polaris.  Propelled by solid fuels, unlike the liquid-fueled Jupiter, the Polaris was recently test-flown for the first time.

This marks the beginning of a whole new era of nuclear warfare: Submarines are about to constitute the third leg of an atomic weapon triad. 

The first leg of the triad is the bomber, which has been a vehicle for nuclear weapon delivery since 1945.  Their weakness is that they can be shot down before dropping a bomb, and they take a comparatively long time to get to target.  On the other hand, they can be recalled or redirected as needed.

Missiles are the second leg, and have just come on station this year.  They include the Thor and Jupiter IRBMs and the new Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman ICBMs coming on-line shortly.  Missiles are incredibly fast and cannot be shot down.  They also cannot be recalled or redirected.

Both bombers and missiles can be destroyed on the ground by an enemy first-strike.  This is a dangerous situation for two nuclear superpowers to be in.  It ensures that both countries are always looking for an opportunity to deliver a knock-out punch, which could come at any time.  Bomber crews must be ready to scramble at a moment’s notice.  Missile crews must be trained to launch their “birds” in minutes to get their weapons off the ground before being hit.  That readiness to retalliate at the first sign of a radar blip will check the other side’s willingness to fire preemptively, but it also means a single mistake could bring about armageddon.  Hair-triggers are dangerous things.

This is why submarines are so important.  The enemy will never know where they are at any given time, thus they cannot be destroyed by a first-strike.  They can fire from almost anywhere, and they can be redirected and recalled like bombers.  They provide insurance that, even if the Soviets manage to destroy our missile and bomber forces in a first-strike, we will have a powerful retaliatory force.  They will help relieve pressure on the nuclear “button.”

Of course, the Polaris isn’t deployed yet.  For the next few years, we have a window of heightened tension wherein an Alas, Babylon scenario is possible, perhaps probable. 

Here’s hoping that the world makes it to 1965 without blowing itself up. 

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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.