It is still truly a man’s world, at least between the covers of Astounding magazine. I recognize that we live in a culture where men aren’t allowed to take cooking or shorthand classes (these are women’s topics, after all), but I’d like to think that science fiction writers are more progressive.
Perhaps I’m the one who’s wrong, however. Maybe women will remain “separate but equal” into the foreseeable future…
Ahem. Where was I? Ah, yes. The rest of February 1959’s Astounding. To be fair, the remaining four stories actually range from decent to good. They are typical in their construction: an interesting set-up, a presented conundrum, and then a “gotcha” ending, but the execution is generally competent. Each had an interesting tidbit that stood out to me, a place where the writer dared to dream–or failed to do so. I’ll point each one out as I go.
Hi Diddle Diddle is by Calvin M. Knox (Robert Silverberg–why he needed a pseudonym, I’m not sure; perhaps Campbell wants us to think more than one person writes for his magazine). I think Campbell would call it a “funny” story, but it’s pretty decent stuff about the crew of a small moonbase trying to come up with a way to synthesize food for provisions on the moon. There are no women in the small crew, of course, though there is a line to suggest that is not always the case. And, of course, everybody smokes. Even on the moon, where air is (presumably) at a premium.
What I found compelling was Silverberg’s conjecture that, by 1995, there would be eight moon bases: three American, three Soviet, one Chinese, and one Indian. Moreover, by then, the Cold War will have thawed considerably. I’m happy when any writer remembers there is more to the world than the Eagle and Bear, and I think the timeline is quite plausible. As for the story, well, as I said above, it’s pretty formulaic, but competently written. Like all of Silverberg’s stuff.
So far as I can tell, Peter Baily, author of the next story, Accidental Death, has not written anything else. That would set up alarm bells that he is someone’s pseudonym, but none of my reliable sources can tell me if that truly be the case. In any event, Baily’s tale is of Earth’s first interstellar ship, and the first contact it makes with a race of creatures that possesses the ability to adversely affect probability. A “Jinx” race, if you will. Not a bad story, but the part that stuck out to me is when the protagonist, dictating his last thoughts for posterity, suggests that his memoir would make big news if someone could get it to a radio station or a newspaper office. Baily’s story takes place in a future with starships, but media is stuck in 1940. It just goes to show that science fiction writers need be careful to avoid the intrusion of current (or even latter)-day items and technologies lest they kill the verisimilitude.
Frank Herbert is a newish writer. His Missing Link is nothing special. A Terran spacer is involved in first contact with an alien race with delusions of superiority. The Earther soon puts the alien in its place with go ol’ Terran ingenuity. Lest I forget what magazine I’m reading.
Finally, The Professional Touch by “Leonard Lockhard” (actually the duo, Charles L. Harness and Theodore L. Thomas) is a fascinating, satirical piece on patent law, and its many current deficiencies. It’s worth reading just as a treatise on the subject, particularly on the topics of “obviousness” and “flash of genius,” and just how arbitrary are those tests that determine the worthiness of a patent.
All told, 3 stars. Nothing terribly offensive. Nothing strikingly original. I’m looking forward to further installments of the Leinster series, though.
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