I am Cyrus, King of the World (August 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1st half; 6-30-1959)

For most people, the beginning of the month coincides with the 1st (or, as my late father might say, the “oneth”—i.e., May the “oneth” followed by May the “tooth”).  For me, and doubtless for most of my science fiction loving sistren and brethren, the month starts around the 26th, which is when the science fiction magazines hit the newsstands.

Of course, those who get their issues via mail-order get them at varying times, but in general, the last week of the month preceding the month preceding the cover date  (I did not stutter; the duplication is intentional) is when the goodies arrive.  For me, that’s The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (generally good), Astounding Science Fiction (often bad, but sometimes good), and on a bi-monthly and alternating basis, Galaxy (generally decent), and IF (quality as yet undetermined).  When these run out, I pray for interesting space news and/or interesting new novels.  Exhausting these, I turn to my collection of older books, preferably ones I have been given the right to distribute freely.

I am currently at the giddy start of a new month, and I’ve decided to eat my dessert first, tearing through the August 1959 F&SF.  Take my hand, and away we go!

Jay Williams generally sticks to juveniles, co-writing the Danny Dunn series, which are pretty fun if you’re the right age to enjoy them (pre-teen).  His Operation LadyBird opens up this month’s issue, and it’s a lighthearted romp on a Venus that a United Nations force has recently cleaned of a loathsome alien menace.  Turns out that we were actually called in (unwittingly) by Venusians (who look just like Hopi Indians) to act as exterminators.  I liked the story better when it was called Cat and Mouse, but the story is not without its charms, and it does feature a strong female character, a resourceful Soviet major.

Asimov’s column is good this month.  The Ultimate Split of the Second begins as a primer on measuring really big and small things.  The Doctor recommends using the time it takes light to travel certain small distances as really small units of time (i.e. a light meter, a light kilometer, etc.).  This the flip side to using light years, minutes, hours, for distance measuring.

Then he gives us a survey of the latest discoveries of subatomic particles, exciting new things that are the very bleeding edge of modern physics.  Their halflives are exceedingly small, so the nomenclature described above comes in handy to describe them. 

The prolific Carol Emshwiller (whose husband’s art graces the pages of many digests under the byline “EMSH”) has an interesting post-apocalyptic mood piece called Day at the Beach.  There’s not much to it; it is largely the depiction of a family in a ruined, but not extinguished, United States.  Gasoline is exorbitantly expensive, most citizens have lost all of their hair, mutations are legion, and there is not much law and order.  Diverting, forgettable.

Fantasist Marcel Aymé’s The Walker-Through-Walls is cute, though it is a reprint from 1943.  Our straight-laced protagonist discovers that, in mid-life, he has the ability to traverse walls as if they did not exist.  He resists exploiting this power, but little by little, he succumbs to temptation.  First, he terrifies his tyrannical boss, then he becomes a dashing, popular thief.  Ultimately, he becomes involved in a torrid affair that proves to be his undoing.  Well-written, somewhat fluffy.

Finally, for today, we have Poul Anderson’s latest Time Patrol story.  As you know, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the good Swede, but this one is pretty good.  For those who don’t know, the Time Patrol is an organization based in the far future that recruits constables from across time to police for alterations in the timeline.  It’s a tough task, but it is made easier by the laws of the universe which have the time stream move along in a way not unlike a river—it takes a lot to get a substantial altering of course.
 Patrolman Manse Everard, nominally stationed in the late ‘50s, is approached by Cynthia, wife of his best friend, and object of Manse’s unrequited affections, to find her husband, who has disappeared without a trace some 2500 years in the past.  Unable to say no, Manse takes an unauthorized trip to the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great to find his friend, who turns out to be none other than the King of Kings himself!  It’s an exciting but somewhat ironic and bittersweet story, and it gets extra stars for being about a rather unsung but personal favorite era of mine.

All told, the first half (and a little extra) of this issue has had no clunkers, but also no home runs, to mix my metaphors.  Call it 3.5?
See you in two days!

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Two for two (Vanguard and Discoverer failures; 6-26-1959)

It’s another Space Race update from The Traveler!

A Vanguard went up on the 22nd, but I decided to hold off on writing a column as I knew a Discoverer was set to launch on the 25th.  I’m afraid I’ve got a double-whammy of disappointment for my good readers.

This new Vanguard had two thermistors (heat-activated electrodes) adorning the magneisum-alloy skin of the 20″ diameter sphere, one facing the sun, one facing inward.  The point of this experiment was to measure the heat balance of the sun’s radiation on the Earth.  Why is this important?  The primary engine for the Earth’s weather is the sun’s heating of the atmosphere.  Hot air rises, cold air sinks, and the spinning Earth mixes all of this thoroughly and chaotically.  If we knew how strong the sun’s rays were at various latitudes, we could correlate these findings to heat flow in the lower atmosphere and learn a great deal.

NASA photo–I don’t know who those folk are.

The rocket soared out of sight of observers, seemingly on a flawless trajectory.  However, it appears that one of the second-stage pressure valves was faulty; no signal from the satellite was ever caught on the ground by any of the many Minitrack receiving stations around the globe.

The sad news is that there is only one booster left to the Vanguard program.  After the next shot, it’s all over.  I hope these experiments don’t get abandoned!

From a postcard I picked up this week–wishful thinking, as it turned out.

Discoverer 4 took off yesterday, and it seemed to be a good launch, but then the second stage (the “Hustler”) failed, and the payload never reached orbit.  From the press releases, the Air Force was testing a new capsule designed to carry monkeys.  Given that there were no actual passengers on the mission, I can think of two possibilities:

1) The Air Force doesn’t want to actually send up any more animals lest the critter-lovers of the world let out a cry and hue (bigger than they already have), at least until the flyboys have perfected their rockets, or

2) There was a payload on Discoverer 4 equipped with eyes, but it wasn’t an animate one.

Which one do you think is more plausible?

In other news, my F&SF and Astounding magazines have come in for this month, and I picked up last month’s IF as well.  I’m also reading Sam Merwin’s Well of Many Worlds, one of the first “sideways in time” stories.  So expect a lot of fiction reviews in the near future!

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Less than astounding…  (July 1959 Astounding; 6-23-1959)

I suppose it was too much to hope for two good issues of Astounding in a row.  The magazine that Campbell built is back to its standard level of quality, which is to say the bar is not very high.  Still, I read the stories so you don’t have to (if you don’t want), so here’s all the news that fits to print.

Randal Garrett’s But I don’t think isn’t horrible.  It’s actually genuine satire, about a ordnance evasion officer (a “Guesser”) who ends up inadvertently jumping ship during shoreleave.  He is the denizen of a lawfully evil and hierarchical society, and the story is all about the miserable things he does and that are done to him in large part due to this evil culture.  It’ll leave a dirty taste in your mouth, like old cigarette butts, but I think it was actually intentional this time. 

It’s not exactly downhill from here, but there aren’t exactly heights, either.  The next story, Broken Tool, by Theodore L. Thomas, is a short piece about a candidate for the Space Corps, who ends up washing out because he, ironically, doesn’t have enough attachment to his home planet of Earth.  A “gotcha” story, the kind I might expect to find in one of the lesser magazines… not that they exist anymore.

I generally like Algis Budrys, and his Straw, about an entrepreneur who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and became the Big Man of the underwater community of Atlantis, isn’t bad.  It’s just not terribly great. 

Isaac Asimov has an interesting article entitled, Unartificial elements, explaining how all of the elements humans have managed to synthesize actually do exist in nature, albeit in rather small amounts.  This was the best part of the magazine.

There are two stories after the last installment of Dorsai, which I reviewed last time.  Chris Anvil’s Leverage is a mildly entertaining story about colonists dealing with a planet’s ecosphere that has a single-minded, but fatally flawed, vendetta against the settlers.  Another low-grade story I’d expect in Imagination or somewhere similar.

Finally, we have Vanishing Point, by C.C. Beck, the illustrator for D.C.’s Captain Marvel.  It’s all about what happens when an artist learns the true nature of perspective.  Cute, but, again, not much to it.

Campbell published the user reviews for March and April 1959.  I won’t go into great detail, but suffice it to say, Leinster’s Pirates of Ersatz topped both months.  But in March, Despoiler of the Golden Empire got #2, whereas my favorite, The Man Who Did Not Fit was bottommost.  The April results were less disappointing–Now Inhale got #2, and Wherever You Are got #3.  I probably would have swapped the places, but I suppose a female protagonist is too much for Analog readers to swallow comfortably.

Lots of space launches coming up–a Vanguard and a Discoverer, so expect some launch reports this week!

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Cardboard hero for hire (Dorsai!;6-18-1959)

by Von Dongen

Gordy Dickson’s newest novel, serialized in the last three Astoundings, has already created a stir in the community.  Dorsai! is the tale of Donal Graeme, youngest member of a mercenary family from a planet of mercenaries, who starts at the bottom and works his way into the most senior military post in the Earth sphere.  It’s definitely designed to appeal to those who like combat, military structures, and politicial intrigue. 

Sadly, while I actually enjoy all of those things (after all, I’ve read the magnificant Caine Mutiny at least four times), I was unable to really get into this book at all.  Definitely disappointing Dickson for me. 

The universe is promising enough.  I like stories set in a small set of worlds clustered around Earth, and Dorsai! does a good job of depicting the sixteen colony worlds within about 25 light years of Earth.  There are three main camps, each reflecting the sentiment of their parent worlds: liberal Earth, restrictive Venus, middle-ground Mars.  Largely autonomous, the primary export of the colony worlds is specialized humans.  Some planets export technicians, others sociologists.  The world of the Dorsai breeds the galaxy’s best soldiers.

These worlds are in constant warfare, and they rent out the Dorsai to lead their troops.  The situation is unstable–political forces are gathering to push a truly free market of people peddling, essentially contract slavery.  The ambitious Prince William of Ceta plans to be the informal head of all the human worlds, pulling the strings.

The real problem with Dorsai! is its utter lack of characterization.  In this big universe Dickson has painted, there are but a handful of recurring characters.  It reminds me of The Count of Monte Cristo, where there are about nine people in all of Paris.  None of the characters have any depth, and the story is narrated in a distant, aloof manner.  We never really get inside anyone’s head, and Graeme is the only viewpoint.  Moreover, Graeme’s military genius is never really explained.  He just goes from victory to victory, continuously rising in rank.  The plot is a bare skeleton; the story would probably benefit from being a series of books, if each one could hold a reader’s interest, of course. 

It’s also a very male-heavy universe, which I find implausible for a story set four centuries in the future.  All in all, if feels very shallow and brawny.  I’m sure it will go down in history as a defining tale in the genre, but it’s a bandwagon I’m afraid I can’t be bothered to buy a ticket for.

Stay tuned next time for the rest of this month’s Astounding!  I hope it will be better than the Dorsai!, but I shan’t hold my breath.

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The World, The Flesh and the Devil (6-16-1959)

I wasn’t sure what to expect going in to see The World, The Flesh and the Devil.  All I knew was that it was a doomsday flick, and that it starred the incomparable Calypso crooner, Harry Belafonte.  Let me tell you, it is one excellent movie.

It’s really a three-act piece.  In Act 1, Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte), an engineer and all-around great guy, gets caught in a coal mine cave-in while inspecting its telephone connections.  After rescue attempts peter out, Ralph excavates himself to safety only to find every person in the world gone.  He drives to New York, its streets eerily empty, and there he discovers the truth–some nation had released clouds of radiation with a half life of five days.  Virtually everyone and everything was killed; but the world Ralph emerged into is once again inhabitable.

Ralph quickly becomes the King of New York, restoring power to a city block, cavorting with and singing to mannequins, saving works of art and literature.  Act 2 quickly follows, with the lovely and spunky Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens) finally introducing herself to Ralph after several days (weeks?) of silent stalking.  There is immediate romantic chemistry, culminating in a scene wherein Ralph clumsily tries to cut Sarah’s hair.  It’s clear that Sarah has fallen for Ralph, and Ralph does not deny that he feels the same.  But, then Ralph says, “If you’re squeamish about facts, I’m colored.  And if you face facts I’m a Negro.  And if you’re a polite Southerner, I’m a ‘negrah,’ and I’m a ‘nigger’ if you’re not.” 

Thus, the impasse.  Sarah couldn’t care less about Ralph’s color and says so, but Ralph, conditioned by decades of societal pressure, can’t see it working.  Oh, over time, Ralph might have overcome his issues in this rebuilt world in which all the old rules had been wiped away, but then…

Act 3–Benson Thacker (Mel Ferrer) arrives in a boat, apparently having steamed all the way from South America.  Ralph saves his life, but the appearance of even a single white man seems to restore the old order, at least in Ralph’s mind.  He practically throws Sarah at Benson, all the while being rather passive-aggressive about it.  The problem is that Benson, while a likeable fellow, isn’t who Sarah loves.  Moreover, Sarah is peeved that the last two men on Earth are playing tug-of-war with her and not asking her opinion on the matter.

“I’m sick of you both,” she explains to Benson.  “He doesn’t know what he wants, and you don’t think of anything else but what you want.”

(At this point, my daughter leaned over to me and told me she didn’t like the “triangle” part of the movie as much as the first two acts.  I had to agree, but wait.  There’s a surprise.)

Enraged with the situation, Benson grabs a rifle and begins shooting at Ralph, who arms himself in defense.  So begins a quick cat and mouse through the streets.  Ralph ends up in front of the United Nations building in front of the quote about beating swords into plowshares.  Horrified with himself, Ralph tosses away the gun and confronts Benson, who is also unable to shoot.

Sarah arrives, quite happy to see Ralph alive, and she takes his hand, her expression adoring.  Cue the credits?  No!  She calls Benson over, too, and she takes his hand as well.  And they all walk down the street as the final card reads, “The Beginning.”

Let me tell you what is so great about this movie.  Firstly, it is quite well made, easily the highest in production quality amongst the films I have yet reviewed in this column (though not in color, like The Blob).  The bleak cinematography, the sweeping score, the fine acting, the poignant script, these are all points to recommend it.

But it’s the sheer progressiveness of the messages in this movie that really impresses me (and perhaps I should not be surprised that my daughter and I were the only attendees of that showing, and the film is on its way to being a financial bust).  This is 1959.  Jim Crow still rules the roost in much of the country.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott is just three years old.  A Black leading man, much less a romantic interest for a White woman?  Inconceivable!  Yet Ralph and Sarah are a couple in everything but name, and by the end, while there’s no kissing (give it a few years), their bond is cemented.

The brilliant thing about the movie is that there are no (pardon the phrase) black or white characters.  Benton could easily have been played evil.  He even starts the movie with a moustache to twirl (along with a beard).  Yet Benton is smart and sensitive.  At no time does he force himself upon Sarah.  In fact, in an amazing scene, he even notes that it would be easy for him to do so, “all the boyscouts having left town,” and then he asks if that’s what she wants.  She makes it clear that it’s not, and he backs off.  Benton doesn’t hurt Ralph, even recognizes him as the better man.

Which is what makes the ending so standout: Sarah loves Ralph and vice versa.  The two are an item, that’s clear.  Yet they make room for Benton, too, because when there are only three people left in the world, you don’t shun one of them just because, before the disaster, he’d be the odd man out.  Not only are the rules that kept Black and White apart as dead as the old world, but so are the rules that say a relationship involves just one man and one woman.  Benton is a good guy.  He deserves to be happy, just like Sarah and Ralph.

What I find so incredible is that all of the people I’ve talked who’ve seen this film (about four or five, to be fair), no one drew the same conclusion from the last scene.  They thought it a cop-out that Ralph didn’t get the girl.  My friends are progressive, but not quite progressive enough, I suppose.

So watch it while it’s still in the cinema, because it won’t be there for long.  I’d really like to know what you think.

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Starting strong (July 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction;6-13-1959)

It’s those haunting, evocatively written F&SF stories that keep me a regular subscriber.  July’s issue opens with Robert F. Young’s To Fell a Tree, about the murder (mercy killing?) of the tallest tree imaginable, and the dryad that lived within.  It’ll stay with you long after you turn the last page, this sad, but not entirely desolate, tale.  So far, it’s the best I’ve seen by Young.

Asimov’s column, this month, is a screed against the snobbery of the champions of liberal arts and humanities to the practitioners of science.  I’m told that the rivalry is largely good-natured, but Dr. Asimov seems to have been personally slighted, and his article is full of invective. 

Avram Davidson’s Author, Author is next: venerable British mystery writer is ensnared by the very butlers and baronets who were the subjects of his novels.  I found most interesting the interchange between the author and his publisher, in which the latter fairly disowns the former for sticking to a stodgy old format, the country-house murder, rather than filling pages with sex and scandal.  I found this particularly ironic as my wife is a mysteries fan who appreciates whodunnits of an older vintage, from Conan Doyle to Sayers.  She has, of late, become disenchanted with the latest, more cynical crop of mysteries.  I suspect she would have words for the publisher in Davidson’s story.

For Sale, Reasonable is a short space-filler by Elizabeth Mann Borgese about a fellow soliciting work in a world where automation has made human labor obsolete.  Damon Knight’s following book review column is devoted to The Science Fiction Novel, Imagination and Social Criticism, a book of essays written by some of the field’s foremost authors.  It sounds like a worthy read.

Jane Roberts’ Impasse hits close to home–a young lady loses her last living relative, her grandfather.  So great is her grief that, by an act of will, she returns him to life, though the old man is not too happy about it.  The story struck a chord with me as I lost my family when I was quite young, and I can certainly identify with the poor girl’s plight.

The Harley Helix is another fill-in-the-space short short by Lou Tabakow, the moral of which is There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (i.e. the First Law of Thermodynamics).  Success Story, which I reviewed last time, is next.

Raymond E. Banks has the penultimate tale, with Rabbits to the Moon, a thoroughly nonsensical tale about the teleportation of creatures (including humans). Its only flaw, that the transported arrive without a skeleton, is made into a selling point.

Last up is The Cold, Cold Box by Howard Fast.  The richest man in the world becomes afflicted with terminal cancer and has himself frozen in 1959 so that the future can cure him.  But the members of his company’s board of directors have a different agenda, particularly after they become the world’s de facto controlling oligarchy. 

It’s good reading all the way through, but it’s the lead novella that really sells it.  3.5 stars, I’d say.

I’m off to the movies tonight, so expect a film review soon!

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Big Man ($100 contest; 5-11-1959)

Want to make a quick $100? 

Fantasy & Science Fiction is running a contest this month (July 1959) related to one of the stories in the latest issue.  Of course, I immediately turned to page 87 to read the story. 

Success Story is the tale in question, and it’s by a fellow whose work I’d never read before, a Ms. or Mr. H.M. Sycamore.  I’ll tell you the whole plot since I don’t have permission to reprint, and I suspect you’ll all want a chance to get in on this contest before it’s too late.

Stan Budzik has invented a time machine, or at least figured how to make one.  But he needs financial backing to get it off the ground to the tune of a whopping $7,000.  Enter Harry Bottomley, a diminutive young man with one suit and just over $7,000, the proceeds of a recent inheritance.

Through a series of mishaps, Mr. Bottomley ends up as the world’s first time traveller, albeit unwillingly.  Unfortunately the guy, who already has a complex about his height, not only ends up one day in the future, he also finds himself just two-and-a-half feet tall!

It turns out that the expansion of the universe affects everything universally, including its denizens.  Harry, having missed out on a day of expansion, is half his former size in relation to everything else.  Naturally, this causes a near meltdown for Harry.  But what goes forward can also go backward.  Harry makes a return trip from the future to regain his original size, but this time, he travels back a little more than a day, and ends up a strapping 6 foot 4 inch hunk of a man.

Stan and his team realize they’ve hit upon something and sell “height therapy” to folks with Short Man’s Syndrome.  The one complication, mentioned off-handedly in the story’s conclusion, is that while volume changes, mass does not.  A 120-pound bantam Harry became a 120-pound hulk.  I imagine Mr. Bottomley became a “floater” if he was previously a “sinker.”

Now for the contest: Stan figured out a profitable use for this time machine.  Can you?  Remember the parameters:

Anything can be sent through time, but it will shrink in size by a factor of two for each day it transits; conversely, it will double in size for each day it travels backward.  This makes it impractical for explorative time travel, I would think.  Mass stays constant.

Here’s my idea:

Since mass stays the same, regardless of size, the device is not particularly useful for miniaturization.  On the other hand, one could make some awfully light dirigibles using canisters of gas sent back in time.  With the cost of helium not inconsiderable, I could see some definite use of this application.

For your chance at a crisp C-note, send your ideas to:

Success Editor
Fantasy and Science Fiction
527 Madison Ave.
New York 22, New York

If you’ll send me a copy, I’ll print it in this column so all can bask in your cleverness.

Next time, I’ll review the rest of the magazine.  In the meantime, let’s see your ideas!

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The Dregs (August 1959 Galaxy; 6-09-1959)

Writing a column is 50% inspiration and 50% deadline.  Normally, I get pleny of ideas for articles from the fiction I read, the movies I watch, the news I hear.  But sometimes, nothing seems to spark that desire to put fingertips to typewriter, and I wrack my brain trying to thing of something interesting to convey to my readers (both of you) before the all-powerful deadline sweeps over me.

The problem, ya see, is that the rest of this month’s Galaxy just isnt very good.  Nevertheless, it’s all I have to write about. 

Robert Silverberg’s Mugwump Four is, like most of his work, strictly mediocre.  A poor fellow gets stuck in a temporal and interdimensional war between roly-poly mutants and baseline humans only to find himself in an endless time loop (though the protagonist jumps to that conclusion awfully quickly).  About the most noteworthy aspect of the story is the illustration provided by Mad Magazine’s Don Martin.  The style is very recognizable.

License to Steal, by Louis Newman, is this month’s “Non-fact” article, Galaxy’s attempt at humor.  I wish they’d stop bothering.  In summary: alien obtains a License to Steal, abducts an apartment building from Earth, sells its inhabitants off as willing slaves (read “guests”) to a very pleasant family, and then runs into legal troubles. 

I did rather enjoy W.T. Haggert’s Lex, about a fellow who invents an automated factory that ultimately develops intelligence and becomes his “wife.”  The science behind the invention seems pretty sound (a combination of organic and electronic computing), and I’m happy to see a robot story that doesn’t end in disaster, though this tale’s end is bittersweet.

William Tenn’s The Malted Milk Monster, about a fellow who gets trapped in a deranged girl’s dream world, is suitably horrifying but not terribly rewarding. 

Finally, rounding out the issue is Fred Pohl’s The Waging of the Peace, a “funny” story about the dangers of outlawing advertisement in conjunction with building automated factories.  I skimmed, truth to tell.

The best part of the latter half of this month’s book was Floyd Gale’s review of Mario Pei’s The Sparrows of Paris, a modern werewolf tale.  For those of us who are fans of Pei’s linguistic work, it’s a treat to learn that he also does fiction.

Not that interesting today?  My apologies.  I’ll be better next time…

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Four blind mice (Discoverer III;6-04-1959)

It’s a bad time to be an experimental animal, if there ever was (or will be) a good one.

The Air Force launched Discoverer III last night with a payload of four plump black mice.  As you know, if you read the papers or my column, Discoverer is a satellite program for shooting missions into polar orbit (i.e. over the poles, ultimately covering the entire Earth) ostensibly for the purpose of sending biological specimens into space and then recovering them in a detachable capsule. 

Of course, a polar orbit is particularly good for reconaissance, and a detachable capsule can carry film as well as mice.  I’m sure the Soviets aren’t buying the “space science” angle any more than I am.  Still, if we get any science out of the program, that’s an added bonus.

Unfortunately, the mice of Discoverer III can’t catch a break. Last week, the launch was scrubbed because telemetry from the mice had ceased.  The technicians thumped on the nose cone, thinking the mice were asleep.  They were, in fact, dead, having eaten the krylon coating of their cages.

A few days later, the launch was scrubbed when the nose cone sensors returned a 100% humidity level.  Turns out that the mice had urinated on the sensors (a similar incident looks to have happened on one of last year’s Thor-Able flights).

Yesterday, the rocket finally launched, but the second stage of the Thor-Hustler rocket flipped the payload and drove it straight into the Pacific ocean.  Nothing could have survived that. 

I understand that this incident has piqued the ire of several organizations promoting the ethical treatment of animals, particularly as this comes right on the heels of a suborbital Jupiter test flight on May 28, which had the monkeys, Able and Baker, as unwitting passengers.  Though the mission was a success, I have it on good authority that Able died the other day after an unsuccessful surgery to remove an electrode.  Six months before, a similar flight resulted in the death of its passenger, Sam the monkey.  I wonder if the Air Force will abandon the pretense of the bio-medical mission and just launch cameras from now on.

So that’s that.  I believe there’s another Discoverer launch scheduled in a few weeks along with another Vanguard shot.  I’ll report on them if and when they happen.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this month’s Galaxy, and I’ll finish up my report on the August issue in two days!

In the meantime, let’s hoist a glass to our intrepid, lost rodentnauts.  You deserved better.

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The pen is mighty painful (August 1959 Galaxy, Part 1; 6-02-1959

Just what is this world coming to?

Reading this month’s edition of Galaxy, it was hammered home just how far our linguistic standards have fallen.  Have you ever read a letter from the last century?  Even the prose from the most humble of fellows is lyric and articulate.  And while the published fiction might sometimes be a bit purple, there’s no denying the facility the authors had with our language.

And now?  I’m only half-way through the August 1959 Galaxy, and I’ve spotted “there” for “their” as well as “effect” for “affect.”  I thought this magazine was supposed to be edited.

I’m overreacting, you say.  I know what the writer meant–what’s the big deal?  Here’s my deal: we pay a contractor to build a house properly, we pay a doctor to do an operation correctly, and we pay a wordsmith to write competently.  If our literary experts can’t be bothered to communicate clearly, that will inevitably lead to a trickle-down of linguistic sloppiness.  Half a century from now, who knows how far standards will decline?

That’s about my gripe quota for the month.  I’m happy to say that the actual content of the magazine is pretty good, malaprops aside.  I assume you’ve all picked up an issue so we can compare notes.

Cliff Simak hasn’t written anything I’ve loved since Junkyard, but his latest, No Life of Their Own is pretty solid.  Four kids, at least two of them quite alien, share a rural summer together several centuries in the future.  Their pastimes are pretty timeless, though with some notable exceptions, largely derived from the alien nature of the children and their families.  It’s not an entirely idyllic setting–all of the farmers in the area are suffering from a run of unmitigated bad luck, whereas the meanest cuss of them all seems to be blessed.  There’s a reason, and the kids find it out. 

Warning: There is a little bit of cruelty to a cat.  Rest assured, however, that the cat is not unduly damaged, and the malefactor gets a comeuppance.

Newcomer Michael Shaara contributes Citizen Jell.  If you were a fugitive with the ability to do tremendous good, but only at the cost of your freedom, what would be your tipping point?  That’s the subject of Shaara’s ultimately heartwarming story.

Willy Ley has another excellent article, this time on the solar orbit of Mechta, the Soviet lunar probe.  I must say, I have to admire a fellow who can remain the first item on my monthly science fiction read list for a decade.

Finally (for today), there is The Spicy Sound of Success, by the prolific Jim Harmon.  For some reason, interstellar explorers become afflicted with transphasia (the swapping of sensory inputs–taste for sound, etc.) when scouting a new world.  This story involves a daring rescue and an interesting first contact. 

Join me next time for a round-up of this double-sized, bi-monthly edition… unless the Air Force’s impending space shot stops the presses!

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