Over the Mountain, Across the Sea (The City in the Sea;5-07-1959)

Every so often, I find a piece of fiction so compelling that I hate to give away too much about it for fear of spoiling the experience.  Going through my stack of Galaxy novels, the ones I picked up cheaply not too long ago, I came upon The City in the Sea, by Wilson Tucker, published eight years ago in 1951.  I had not heard of him before, but a quick polling of my friends determined that not only is he a BNF (“Big Name Fan”), but he is also quite an accomplished science fiction author.  Interestingly, he coined the term “space opera.”

Sometimes one can judge a book by its cover.  In fact, the scene depicted is right from the novel.  In short, several thousands of years from now, after an atomic holocaust destroys civilization, and global warming floods the continents, a resurgent matriarchy in England (having reached a Roman level of technology) establishes a colony on the American eastern seaboard.  Finding only lackluster specimens of native humanity there, they are surprised when a clearly superior fellow (male, no less) strides purposefully into the colony from beyond the Appalachians.  He is mute but compelling, and the colony’s Captain accompanies him back across the mountains, along with a company of woman soldiers, in search of the man’s settlement.

The ensuing story is told entirely from a female viewpoint (one of three: the efficient Captain Zee, her wry and charming doctor, Barra, and, briefly, the Captain’s adjutant, Donnie).  It is suffused with a sense of wonder, the kind you get in a good Pellucidar story, and it is satisfying from beginning to end.  City also has that good, timeless quality that will keep it a classic in decades to come.

So read it already!  I’m sure you can find a copy somewhere.  If you like it, drop me a line.  Fair readers, be advised that vital plot elements may be discussed in the correspondence below.

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The Funny Papers (Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense; 5-05-1959)

What?!  The Traveler is reduced to buying comic books?  The same fellow who reads Fantasy & Science Fiction, like so many prominent intellectuals do?  Surely you jest!

Well, I couldn’t resist.  I pass these lurid covers at the grocery every week, and I decided it was time to plunk down two bits and see what all the fuss was about.  Actually, I bought them at a second-hand store, since I wanted to start at Issue #1 of the titles I’d selected. 

What did I pick?  Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense by publishing newcomer, Marvel Comics (which, I understand, is a sort of descendant of Atlas Comics).  I chose these two titles because they are billed as science fiction/fantasy anthologies, and if I’m happy to read science fiction “juveniles” and watch drive-in dreck, surely comic books aren’t beneath me. 

Astonish was a fun 15 minutes of entertainment, about at the level of the B-movie flicks.  The headliner story, We Found the Ninth Wonder of the World, features a scientist whose hobby is making overlarge sea creatures (with exactly the same proportion as their unaltered originals–the square-cube law need not apply!) And… that’s about it.  I’m not quite sure why a biggish sea turtle counts as the “Ninth Wonder of the World,” but it does make for a fine title.

The next vignette (I know the Secret of the Poltergeist!) is a silly tale about a poltergeist debunker who turns out to be a poltergeist–his scientific explanations are designed to allay the suspicions of the owners of afflicted homes.  I guess ghosts just like to add insult to injury.  The clever bit is that the sadistic spook has to rack his brain to come up with plausible answers.  Did you know ghosts can sweat?

I didn’t really understand the next story, I was the First to Set Foot on… the Mystery Planet! I think that a rogue planet ends up flying close to Earth, spraying our planet with radioactive oil.  I’m not certain why this is the greatest of the effects this interloper has on the Earth (one would think massive tides would be a far bigger concern), and the punchline, that the inhabitants of the other planet are robots who use the oil as lubricant, doesn’t make a lot of sense.  On the other hand, the subplot is that the protagonist, who has a deep-seated prejudice against robots, learns to confront and conquer his bigotry.  A rather high-minded and laudable tale for any medium these days.

In the last tale, I Foiled an Alien Invasion!, an alien race plans to invade the Earth by hiding out two-dimensionally on a series of billboards.  The plot is foiled because it is possibly the dumbest plot in the history of alien invasions since Wells’ Martians forgot to wear face-masks.  Dig that crazy future car from 2008, though!


Suspense’s cover was more overtly science-fiction themed, so I saved it for second, expecting a better treat.  I was not disappointed.

The first story (The Strangers from Space!) features an alien ship silently, menacingly approaching the technologically advanced Earth of 2000 A.D.

Of course that’s where the world’s capital will be!

Our first instinct, naturally, is to destroy the vessel, but one clear-thinking fellow manages to stop us from shooting as the spaceship lands.  It turns out that the ship’s crew look perfectly human, and the Earthers feel sheepish about judging a race before seeing it.  But the sting in the tale’s tail is that, after the aliens leave, we learn they really do look shockingly different, and they only adopted the disguise to avoid being slaughtered.  Humanity just can’t handle anything that looks too different, they surmised.

I’m sensing a strong anti-prejudice theme from Marvel. 

I rather liked the next story, I Dared Explore the Unknown Emptiness!, too.  500 years from now, the Earth is over-populated to the gills (a concept that is very popular these days), and humanity has invented its first faster-than-light drive to find a second Earth to export people to.  Instead, the crew of the new starship find nothing but hostile or over-crowded planets.  They take the discovery philosophically, however, resolving to solve Earth’s problems back at home rather than exporting them elsewhere.  Horace Gold would have rolled in his grave at this panel, though (and he’s not even dead!):

The Day I Left My Body wasn’t much.  A prisoner being held for murder gets shot in a jailbreak.  In a near-death experience, he briefly possesses a defense attorney and leaves the lawyer with a geas to get the prisoner off.  Unfortunately for the prisoner (who is shown to be an unrepentant jerk), the attorney works too hard to exonerate his client, turning in an exhausted, lackluster performance in court that results in the prisoner’s conviction.

He Fled in the Night follows the story of an 18th century clerk who leaves it all for adventure on the South Seas.  The punchline?  His name is Robinson Crusoe.  A slight story, but the art and style was nice.  I’d like to see more in this vein.

I feel something of a kinship with this fellow, sometimes…

Last, but not least, was the enjoyable vignette, Prisoner of the Satellites!  Aliens zap the Earth with a ray that enfolds its victims, living and inanimate, in a field that shrinks them into infinite smallness.  This is the first stage in an attempt to unhinge humanity, making us ripe for conquest.  It turns out, however, that cosmic rays reverse the effect (why not?), and the aliens leave, beaten.

So ends my first toe-dipping into the world of comics since I stopped collecting Detective Comics as a kid.  I appreciate Marvel’s subversively progressive message, and while the science isn’t exactly top-notch, it wasn’t bad for 48 pages of art and word-balloons.  I think Suspense is the better magazine, but that’s partly personal preference.  I’ll have to buy a copy for my friend, Carl McIlwain, a student of Dr. Van Allen who helped design the cosmic ray detectors on some of our recent satellites; I’m sure he’ll get a kick out of it.

Back to the printed word next week!  I hope you’ll all stay tuned in to this frequency. 

P.S. I’d like to give a special, public hello to some friends I made at the book store while perusing the stacks: Jake, Matt and Chris!  And, of course, Carl.

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What is IT?! (IT! The Terror from Beyond Space; 5-02-1959)

Last week afforded my daughter and I another sci-fi movie night, and you, dear readers, get to hear all about it.

The mini-traveler was keen on trying out the new Drive-In, so I took the Chevy to the outskirts of town and pulled in between the screens.  To my surprise, it seemed most of the attendees were families–apparently, our new outdoor cinema hasn’t had time to turn into a Lover’s Lane.  To be fair, it also was a school night for most people.

Our first feature was a short–a cartoon about automotive safety in the guise of a portrayal of the future.  We got to see cars of the year 2000 A.D.  They will apparently have bubble canopies, automated guidance systems, fins, and be able to fly (in a limited fashion).  I’m looking forward to those!

The main attraction was a film that came out late last year, the imaginately titled IT!.  In a nutshell, because there honestly isn’t much to this film, the first Martian mission (landed in 1972) has ended largely in failure.  The six-person crew of the Challenger 141 has been reduced to just one: Captain Carruthers, and the Challenger 142 has been dispatched to pick him up–and try him for murder.

I guess the implication is that the Captain, realizing that his ship had been marooned and that there might not be enough food to feed all of the crew until rescue, decided to kill his crew to have the food to himself.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s an excuse for a little tension between Carruthers and the new ship’s captain, Van. 

But first, a little about the ship.  As you can see, it’s a typical rocket job, looking something like a V-2, but with rooms inside.  Sensibly, the decks are arranged perpendicularly to the engine.  Yet there is a throwaway line about “artificial gravity” that suggests anti-gravity has already been invented!  I’m not sure why it matters how they lay out the ship then since the thrust of the engine is clearly far under the force exerted by the artificial gravity.  Moreover, I’d think their artificial gravity would be a good propulsive element.  Maybe it is… but it sure looked like standard fireworks under the ship’s nozzle.

Anyway, back to the film.  I was happy to see two women on the crew (one of whom gets involved in a love triangle between the Captains), though I noted they tended to be stuck with galley duty.  At first I was concerned that they were the ship’s maids, but it turned out they were actually the medical staff.  And, of course, everybody smoked, even in the cramped space and clearly limited air supply.  Welcome to the future!

Oh, you want to know the rest of the plot?  In short, the eponymous “It” gets aboard the ship and starts killing the crew one by one, by dessication.  The movie takes little time revealing the monster (thus exonerating Carruthers).  My daughter noted sagely, “it would have been a lot cooler if they hadn’t shown the monster.”  It’s a pretty dopey looking humanoid monster suit.  It’s also well-nigh indestructible.  Bullets and bazookas don’t hurt it (and, of course, those are exactly the kinds of weapons I would use inside a small spaceship!), fire and gas only annoy it.  It takes until the end of the movie for the bright lads to try venting the air to space and letting hard vacuum kill the Martian.

At this point, my observant daughter cried out, “Where are all these papers coming from?!”  And that is one of the joys of the Drive-In: you can be as obnoxious as you wish, and no one is bothered.  Living as we do in Southern California, you can’t beat the outdoor air-conditioning, either.

And, of course, the movie ends with a triumphant, happy, romantic ending. 

Thus ends a very fluffy slightly-more-than-an-hour.  My daughter enjoyed the special effects, and the cinematography is reasonably good.  I would have expected a bit more meat from writer Jerome Bixby, however.  Certainly not up to the standards of his famous story from six years ago, It’s a Good Life.  Maybe next time.

That wraps up this article, but I’ve got plenty more to say in upcoming installments.  Tell me–what subjects hold the most interest for you?  Reviews of digests?  Book reviews?  Movie critiques?  Columns on the Space Race?  Observations on life in general?  Travelogues?  I always like to keep my audience riveted.

And, by the by, I wish to give a public hello to my new friend, Bruce, with whom I conversed most intelligently at the local diner.  A hep cat if I ever saw one.  Dig those far out threads.

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Last of the old-time Satellites (May 1959 Satellite; 4-28-1959)

It’s another one of those bittersweet months, much like when I discovered IF only to see it die. 
This month’s Satellite (the best in science fiction) is a fair bit better than last month’s issue, which makes the magazine’s fate all the more tragic.  But we’ll talk about that at the end.

The lead tale, Sister Planet, by Poul Anderson, is excellent–except for the last two pages.  I strongly recommend simply stopping before reading the end.  It takes place on Venus, specifically an ocean-planet version.  There is too little oxygen to breathe, and the air is eternally muggy and over-warm.  Yet men (not women, at least not yet) populate a floating base to conduct science and to trade with the natives.  As one would expect, the Venusians are not at all humanoid; their closest terrestrial analog is the bottlenose dolphin, cute, playful creatures.  They have worked out a trade deal with the humans–art and tools for Venusian fire gems.

The characters are well-realized, the descriptions lush and poetic, and the scene in which a Venusian takes the protagonist for a ride down to the underwater city of the cetoids is absolutely spellbinding.  Following which, there is a fine discussion of the pros and cons, moral and economic, of opening Venus up for colonization at the expense of its sentient denizens.  There is also a lot of interesting geophysics, the kind I’ve come to associate with Anderson, who is a trained scientist.

But then the end…  it’s a complete pill, and it makes no sense.  Such a shame.  Thankfully, one can skip the last portion with little ill effect.

E Gubling Dow, by Gordon Dickson, is something of a second-rater.  An egg-like being crashes to Earth in a spaceship, is rescued by a couple of rural types, and dies slowly, agonizingly, from its wounds.  Sad and unpleasant.

On the other hand, the non-fiction column continues to be excellent.  This month’s feature (by Sam Moscowitz) spotlights the short but prolific life of Stanley G. Weinbaum.  It’s nearly unbelievable that this fellow wrote so much in just one year’s time before his untimely death.  A short-short of Weinbaum’s is included at the back of issue–it’s called Graph.

The other non-fiction piece, on French fantasist Albert Robida (by Don Glassman), is a bit florid but educational.  I never would have known about this 19th century poor-man’s Verne otherwise.

Oh, and there’s a silly short non-fiction piece by Ellery Lanier speculating that the reason “real” scientists haven’t ventured a design for a hyperspace drive is because they are too terrified of the great unknown.  Right.

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with an over-needy person (what my friends and I knowingly call a “black hole of need”) then the plot of Robert Silverberg’s Appropriation will ring true.  Clingy aliens come within an ace of consumating a psychologically unhealthy relationship with a set of human colonists, but the terrestrials are saved by a bit of bureaucratic chicanery.  The best part of the story is the empathic aliens. 

Last, but definitely not least, is a beautifully atmospheric story about a Great War veteran and the French wood he falls in love with.  The Woman of the Wood, by A. Merritt, naturally has a twist: the trees are really dryads engaged in a centuries-long slow war with the French peasants who occupy the same land.  Really good stuff. 

With an issue that started and ended so well, not to mention the advertisements for a new Frank Herbert story and a biography of Hugo Gernsback, I was really looking forward to picking up the June edition.  But shortly after picking up this issue and last month’s, I learned that publisher Leo Margulies has tossed up the sponge.  Satellite joins the long list of science fiction publications that has recently disappeared.  I’m even told that the June issue was printed, but that it’s not going to be distributed.  What a treasure that would be to find. 

As sad as that is, at least I still have that stack of Galaxy novels to get through.  And next up, provided there are no new space spectaculars, I’ll be previewing the movie I saw last week with my little girl.  I know, I know.  I’m an irresponsible dad, not for taking her to see sci-fi horror films, but for taking her to see bad ones.

So stay tuned.  I’m sorry about the widely varying spaces between articles–between work and my hands, it can be tough to stick to a regular schedule.  Rest assured, I will keep up the fight.

P.S. And if that pair of teens I met at the record store is reading, thanks for joining the (small) club!

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Bewitched, bothered and bewildered (May 1959 Astounding, second part; 4-24-1959)

Sorry about the wait, friends, but I promise to make it up to you.  I had a lovely night at the drive-in that precluded my fingers hitting the typewriter keys, but I’ll have movies to discuss in short order as a result.

In the meantime, let’s wrap up this month’s Astounding. shall we?  After all, new issues come out in just a couple of days, and I have to have the boards clear before pressing on.

(illustrated by Martinez)

George O. Smith, science fiction’s A-lister of latin descent, turns out a fine story for animal lovers with History Repeats.  In the far future, canis familiar has been given enhanced intelligence to rival that of humanity’s, but their loyalty to their bipedal companions remains undiminished.  In this tale, Terran agent, Peter, and his furry companion, Buregarde, are sent to Xanabar, a sort of latter-day Byzantium, to rescue a kidnapped damsel in distress.  It’s worth reading just for Buregarde–Smith always writes a fun, poetic story.

(illustrated by van Dongen)

Operation Haystack, by Frank Herbert, is an interesting political thriller set about a thousand years from now.  It involves a centuries-old plot by the descendants of nomadic Arabs to seize political control of the galaxy.  What makes the story special is that the orchestrators of the plot are women–and they pretty much win in the end.  That said, it’s a little disappointing that these powerful women generally rule through their husbands, who hold the political offices (though the women pull the strings).  I’d like to think that the future lies in the equality of the sexes rather than the eternal struggle, with one side or the other side enjoying supremacy for a while.  Still, I suppose Herbert’s is as plausible a future as any, and at least the women are getting their say in it.

(NASA photo)

Philip Latham’s Disturbing Sun is written in the form of an interview, the kind of transcription you often find in NASA press releases.  It’s one of those non-non-fiction pieces, and it is not un-clever.  Psychologist Dr. Niemand describes the untoward effects increased sunspot activity has on the psyches of people during the sunlit hours.  Given that we still don’t know what sunspots really are (well, we know they are cool spots, but we don’t know why they exist or how they’re made), I suppose Latham’s fancies are to disprove.  Interestingly, Latham (who appears in the story as the interviewer) is actually the alter-ego of real-life astronomer Robert Richardson; Richardson was even the technical advisor on Destination: Moon, so I imagine he knows whereof he speaks.  Even if you don’t buy the sunspot/neurosis connection (I doubt Richardson does either), the style is captured with verisimilitude and is a fun read.

(illustrated by Summers)

Last up is Hex by Larry M. Harris.  This is a story I would have expected to find in Fantasy & Science Fiction (that’s a compliment) dealing as it does with witchcraft, a do-gooder welfare worker with fine intentions but creepy, eldritch methods, a scheming Russian ex-patriate who wants to bilk the system rather than be magically compelled to find work, and a gypsy witch in over her head.  Interesting, whimsical, disturbing.  Good stuff.

Gosh, where does that leave us?  I guess this really wasn’t a bad book, all told.  3.5 stars?  Worth getting, particularly if you want to catch Dorsai in serial form.

Next up: The last issue of Satellite!  Stay tuned!

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With a grain of salt… (May 1959 Astounding, first half; 4-21-1959)

The penultimate magazine offering this month, at least that has made it into my house for review, is Astounding.  As always, my bar is pretty low with that mag, though last month’s issue made me dare to hope.

In fact, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the May issue.  This may come out rather stream of consciousness, so bear with me!

Gordy Dickson, who has written much I like, starts a new serial this month uninspiringly called Dorsai! I am both enjoying it and somewhat off-put by it.  It’s the story of a young mercenary from a planet whose primary export is mercenaries.  It is written in this sober, manly style, and there is lots of posturing and fighting.  At the center of it all is the sole female character, who is bound by contract to a rather odious fellow, and whom it appears the protagonist is trying to save, somehow.

Story-wise, it’s not really my cup of tea.  Yet it is well written, and I’ve seen enough of Dickson’s work to know that he is facile in a number of styles (i.e. he must be writing this way for a reason) so I’m going to go with it and see where it takes me.  I will send you postcards along the way.

We didn’t do anything wrong, hardly, by Roger Kuykendall (of whom I know nothing) might well be called I didn’t write anything, hardly.  Children build a space ship out of spare parts and snag a Russian satellite.  I guess Campbell is reduced to buying Danny Dunn rejects these days.

(Please note that Mr. Kuykendall has given me permission to distribute his story, but Mr. Campbell has not.  If he expresses his displeasure, I shall let you know.)


Cum Grano Salis isn’t bad.  Of course, I had to get past the distaste that just comes naturally from seeing “Randall Garrett” on the byline (or, in this case, his nom de plume, David Brown).  In this tale, a colonizing team (all men, natch) are stuck on a planet with too few provisions to survive until relief.  All of the food on the planet tests poisonous.  Yet one crewmember, a hypochondriac with a supply of nostrums, manages to eat the local fruit and thrive.  The solution is interesting.

(Again, I have distribution permission from the author, not the editor.)

So that takes me exactly half-way through the magazine, so I will leave the other half (including a rather good tale by George O. Smith) for day-after-tomorrow.  Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!

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Gone fishin’!

Hello, everyone.  I’d intended to stretch my review of this month’s Galaxy to cover two articles.  Instead, I only had an article’s worth of material.  As a result, the weekend has come, and I have little to say!  So I’ll be back on April 21st with my thoughts on the new Astounding, which I’m zipping through.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the lovely spring.

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Earth: 0, Space: 3 (Atlas, Discoverer, and Vanguard; 4-16-1959)

It’s been an exciting though disappointing week in the world of space exploits.  Here is a summary of what you’ve missed if you haven’t been following the papers:


The Air Force launched another Discoverer on April 13.  After 17 orbits, the satellite ejected a capsule for recovery.  The landing spot was supposed to be around Hawai’i, but a task force of ships and aircraft were unable to find the capsule.  Now, there wasn’t anything on board this one, but later shots are supposed to carry biological specimens.  And maybe film for developing.  Oops!  Did I say that out loud?

In any event, no one knows where it landed.  Since Discoverer is in a polar orbit (and still otherwise functioning, to all reports), I suppose the capsule could have fallen anywhere along its trajectory.  If the capsule was ejected too early, it would have hit Antarctica or the South Pacific.  If late, the track crosses Alaska, the Arctic ocean, and down through Scandinavia, the Eastern Bloc nations, and all along central Africa. 

Assuming the latter, its destination could be somewhere in the ice, perhaps a communist station, or next to some frightened zebra.  We may never know.


The Navy boys tried to launch a sequel to the orbiting but unsuccessful Vanguard 2.  This shot was a two-fer–atop the slim rocket was not only a 10kg ball with a new magnetometer on board (for mapping magnetic fields) but a balloon for tracking air density.

Sadly, the rocket only got up a hundred miles before falling back to Earth.  It’s a shame–Von Braun’s team is having success after success, but the Vanguard program is stuck in first gear.  Let’s hope they can get Vanguard 3 up before the year’s end!


The Atlas is America’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).  It is being manufactured just a dozen miles from my house at Convair’s Kearny Mesa plant.  The first incarnation of the Atlas was test-launched in 1957 with a dummy warhead.  Since then, Atlases have been launched with some regularity from Cape Canaveral, including the December launch of SCORE, which went on the improved Atlas B.  The Atlas C was the last of the prototypes, and it may be used this year for an upcoming Venusian mission.

But the Atlas launched on April 14 was an Atlas D, a more-powerful version designed to be the first operational ICBM, the one they’ll bury underground in protective silos to be turned loose on the Soviet Union on a moment’s notice. 

Eventually.  The one launched last Tuesday malfunctioned right out of the gate, one of its three engines blasting at reduced capacity.  It limped along for 20 seconds, burst into flames, and was destroyed 17 seconds later by ground control.  And this is the booster that the Mercury astronauts will ride into orbit.  Brave men they!

So, as they say, “All the news that fits, we print!”  See you in two days!

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Double-size equals Double-good (June 1959 Galaxy, second part; 4-14-1959)

There’s been big news in the space world over the weekend, but I want to talk about it next time so I can see how things shake out.  Thus, without further ado, I move onto the rest of the extra-thick Galaxy June 1959.

Avram Davidson is a bit of a writing fiend–it seems I find one of his stories in every magazine I pick up, and they all tend toward the quite good.  Take Wooden Indians is one of the good’ns.  It’s a delightfully confusing (at first) tale of time travel, artistic expression, and nostalgia for Americana, that straightens out nicely at the end.  Of course, I imagine there are many out there who would use time travel to save the real Indians rather than their wooden likenesses, but that’s another story (one I’d be interested in reading–smallpox inoculations handed out five hundred years ago might do the trick…)

Willy Ley’s article is, as usual, worthy reading.  I particularly like his answer to the question, “What is the best size for a payload?”  Answer: depends on what you’re trying to do.  If you want to map the Earth’s magnetic fields, lots of small satellites are better than one big one.  The Soviets like to brag on the size of their probes, but they are of limited utility if they only put up a few.

The next story is from prolific pulp writer, Richard Wilson, who spends most of his time writing for Future these days (I haven’t picked up any copies).  Traveling Companion Wanted has been described by one of my very favorite readers as a Victorian fantasy, wherein a space traveler falls into the ocean in his space suit and ends up swept by current into a globe-spanning underwater river.  On his way, he ends up the unexpected guest of a subterranean race of advanced, Eskimo-ish natives.  Unfortunately, they can’t figure out how to unsuit the traveler, and he nearly starves (I found this bit rather horrific).  But all’s well that ends well–he makes it back to the surface with the resolution to revisit the fantastic realm he discovered.  It looks like he’ll be successful, too!

I’m afraid the “non-fact” article by Larry M. Harris, Extracts from the Galactick Almanack, really isn’t worth the space it takes in the magazine.  It’s one of those “droll” pieces, this one about musical accomplishments of various aliens.  Skip it.

Soft Touch, by Daniel F. Galouye, is another matter, entirely, though like his last story, it is frustratingly underdeveloped.  In the future, there is a mutant strain of humanity that is utterly moral and good, incapable of lying or hurting a fellow person.  They are treated poorly by their non-mutant neighbors because everyone hates a do-gooder.  Very impactful and well-written stuff… but the ending is way too rushed.  Another 5-10 pages would have been nice.

The final tale of the issue is No Place for Crime, by J.T. McIntosh.  It’s rare that a locked door mystery is told from the point of view of the criminals, and McIntosh keeps you guessing as to its outcome until the very end.  One of the better pieces in the issue, and typical of the writer.

Given Pohl’s masterpiece, Davidson and McIntosh’s excellent work, the decent Wilson and Galouye stories, the fine Ley article, and the unimpressive Harris, I’d say this issue is a solid “4.”  I’d like Mr. Wood to stop drawing such lurid cheesecake illustrations, however…

See you on Wednesday with news… from SPAAAACCCCE!

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Whatever Counts (June 1959 Galaxy;,First Part; 4-11-1959)

I mentioned last week that Satellite no longer prints full-length novels between its covers anymore.  It looks like that role is now going to Galaxy, which, in its new, 196-page format, can accommodate longer works more comfortably.  In short order, it looks like Galaxy will specialize in two-part serials, responding to reader requests for same. 

I’m a fan of longer stories in my magazines.  F&SF scratches my short story itch quite nicely, and there are lots of good science fiction novels coming out, so that intermediate length can only be found in the digests.  I find that the novella/short novel length is quite good for adequately developing a concept without overly padding the matter.

Cover by EMSH

That length was certainly used to excellent effect in Fred Pohl’s new space exploration/first-contact thriller, Whatever Counts.  What a fine story.  With the exception of some over-traditional gender roles (in the far future, I’d expect women to be more than secretaries and babysitters), Pohl paints a quite mature and sophisticated vision of tomorrow.  Moreover, while the female characters have traditional roles, they also get to be intelligent and vital protagonists.  Just skip over the rather exploitative art…

So what’s the story actually about?  The Explorer II, essentially a generation colony ship, though the journey “only” takes about seven years, is part of humanity’s first gasp of interstellar expansion.  Unfortunately, during the vessel’s journey, our race (as a whole) makes contact with its first alien species, the technologically and biologically more-sophisticated “Gormen.”  Wherever we encounter the Gormen, we are able to offer but feeble resistance.

The same is true for several of the crew of the Explorer II, who are quickly captured by the Gormen upon touchdown.  Their trials at the hands of the Gormen, and the nifty way in which they make escape, are all interesting and well-written.  But what really sold me was the attention to detail.  The colony ship is plausible, the Gormen truly alien, the characters well-realized, and the style both gritty and artistic.  And I really like any story that takes the time to explain where characters are going to take care of their toilet needs…

illustration by WOOD

I’d hate to spoil any more than I already have.  Just go read it!  (Please note that the author has not given me permission to freely distribute this story.  If you can, I’d buy a copy.)

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

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