[Sep. 10, 1962] Leading by Example (the terrific October 1962 Galaxy)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Thirteen years ago this month, amidst the post-war boom of science fiction digests, Galaxy Science Fiction was born.  Its editor, H.L. Gold, intended his brainchild to stand above and apart from the dozens of lesser mags (remember those days of abundance?) with progressive and smart strictly SF stories.  He succeeded — Galaxy has showcased some of the best the genre has to offer, as well as a fine science fact column penned by Willy Ley.  The consistency of quality has been remarkable.

Two years ago, Fred Pohl, a bright authorial light already, took the helm from the ailing Gold.  If anything, he has improved on excellence, continuing to coax fine works from established authors and interesting pieces from new ones.  It helps that he, himself, can fill the pages with good material and often does….though I have to wonder if he gets paid when he does that.

If you were to pick any single issue to turn someone on to Galaxy (or to science fiction in general), you could hardly do better than to give them the latest issue (October 1962) of Galaxy.  Not only isn’t there a clunker in the mix, not only does it feature a new Instrumentality story by the great Cordwainer Smith, but it includes part one of an incredible new novel by the editor.

Wow.  I think I threw in more superlatives in the last three paragraphs than I have in the last three months.  I guess it’s time to show you what all the hubbub’s about:

The Ballad of Lost C’mell, by Cordwainer Smith

Many authors write in a consistent world.  Some are developed following an individual through her/his life in a series of stories.  Others might take place in a common setting but feature different protagonists.  Smith has introduced his Instrumentality universe through oblique flashes.  Each piece involves wildly different places and characters, each with a limited view of things.  Only after reading several of them does one get an idea of the nature of Smith’s creation.

Thousands of years from now, Earth has seen global empires rise and fall.  The current ruling entity is the Instrumentality, a council of pure-humans ruling over the people-citizens and genetically altered animal-subcitizens.  Technology caters to virtually every need; the world enjoys a purely service-based economy with the Underhumans providing the services.  For humans, Earth is a beautiful, magical place filled with strange wonders.  For the animal-people, enslaved to the pure humans, life is a struggle and punishments harsh.  We are beyond the familiar subtext of racism/chauvinism that suffuses Western stories – the relationship between the races hearkens to the rigid castes of Asia.  The animal-men may be cast in human mold, but their treatment is peremptory, inhumane.  And the humans are blithely unaware that their creations have the capacity to rebel…

C’mell is the most straight-forward of Smith’s Instrumentality stories, and it gives the sharpest insight, to date, of the world he’s created (though it by no means reveals all of its secrets).  As always, it displays Smith’s mastery of the craft, mixing showing and telling, romance and austerity, far-future and relatability.  Smith is an author who doesn’t put pen to paper unless it’s for a four or five-star story, and C’mell is no exception.  Five stars.

Come Into My Cellar, by Ray Bradbury

We’ve seen the plot where intelligent fungus take over humanity through forced symbiosis in Aldiss’ Hothouse stories.  Bradbury gives us a much more conventional setup, where the evil mushrooms send spores of themselves via mail-order catalog to be grown and ingested.  A nicely written but dumb story, and it has the same ending as All Summer in a Day, which is to say, Ray doesn’t bother to end it.  Three stars – about as good as Bradbury (not really an SF author) ever gets.

The Earthman’s Burden, by Donald E. Westlake

A competent if somewhat forgettable story of an arrogant, resurgent Terran star empire and the lost colony that promises to be more trouble than it’s worth to conquer.  There’s pleasant satire here, particularly of the buffoonish Imperials, but nothing we haven’t seen before.  In fact, I rather expected to find this piece in Analog (you’ll see why).  Three stars.

For Your Information: End of the Jet Age, by Willy Ley

A generation ago, propeller planes were the way to travel.  Now that they’ve been eclipsed by the jets, one has to wonder just how long our 707s and DC-8s will last before they are, in turn, replaced by the next mode of transportation.  Ley gives us an excellent preview of rocketplane travel in the 1980s as well as a spotlight on a living fossil and answers to readers’ questions.  Four stars.

A City Near Centaurus, by Bill Doede

Speaking of series, Doede has a third story in his tale of teleporting humans , who have exiled themselves from Earth using subcutaneous matter transmitters that work at the speed of thought.  This latest piece involves a dilettante archaeologist who’ll brave offending the Gods and even risk death to dig an ancient, abandoned site on Alpha Centauri II.  Another piece that shouldn’t work (why does the native speak perfect English?), but Doede always pulls it off.  Four stars.

How to Make Friends, by Jim Harmon

Resigned to an 18-year hitch, the solo operator of a Martian atmosphere seeder resorts to building his own companions to preserve his sanity.  It’s a little bit McIntosh’s Hallucination Orbit (one wonders if the events of the story are really happening) tinged with Sheckley-esque satire and robotics.  But Harmon is not quite as skilled as either of these authors, and so the story ends up like most of Harmon’s work, never quite hitting the mark.  Three stars.

Plague of Pythons (Part 1 of 2), by Frederik Pohl

How fragile our interconnected, technological world is.  How easy it would be for a few malicious demons, selectively possessing our bodies at propitious times, to utterly disintegrate our society.  Fast forward two years, after the world has reverted to feudal savagery.  Communities larger than the village are impossible.  Religion has revived in a last-ditch attempt to protect humanity from bodily appropriation.  One ex-engineer, name of Chandler, is on trial for a heinous assault he most assuredly committed, but which wasn’t his doing.  What justice can he find in a world where the dispensers of justice can, at any time, cease being themselves?

Pythons is a brutal, uncomfortable story, crushingly bleak.  It’s not the sort of thing I would normally go for, and I definitely caution against it if mind control pushes unpleasant buttons.  Yet Pohl executes the thing deftly, and he holds out the barest sliver of hope to keep you going.  I have no idea how Pythons will conclude, but if the latter half is as good as the first, we’ll have a minor masterpiece on our hands.  Four stars (for now…)

Roberta, by Margaret St. Clair

Roberta explores the lengths one might go to erase the wrongness they feel exists in themselves – and the possibility that it is impossible to escape that wrongness.  It is the first story I’ve read that explores the concept of transsexualism, and while it is not a positive story, it is an interesting one.  Three stars.

Bimmie Says, by Sydney J. Van Scyoc

While we’re on the subject of changing physical form, is it possible to be transCarnivorous?  In other words, what if cats and dogs can be made mutually intermalleable?  And if pets can be transformed, why not people?  Van Scyoc’s story is clearly inspired by Keyes’ hit, Flowers for Algernon, whose excellence it does not quite reach.  Still, it’s not bad, and I’m glad to see Sydney’s continuing her promising career.  Three stars.

Who Dares a Bulbur Eat?, by Gordon R. Dickson

Last up is the second in the adventures of the interstellar ambassadorial couple, Tom and Lucy Reasoner — a sort of Hammett’s Nick and Nora meets Laumer’s Retief.  In this installment, the Reasoners are tasked with attending a diplomatic banquet to find the weakness in the newly discovered Jacktal empire, a rapacious regime more powerful than the Terran Federation. 

It’s a bit of a muddle, and the title fairly spoils the piece, but the conclusion is great fun and worth the price of admission.  Three stars.

All told, this comes out to a 3.5 star issue, none of it tiresome, much of it amazing.  I am also happy to see that F&SF will not have the monopoly on woman writers this month.  It’s issues like this that buoy me through the lousy patches (like last month’s Analog).  I mean, suffering for art is all well and good, but sometimes it’s nice to have nice things to say!

Next up, let’s see how the October 1962 Amazing stacks up.  See you then!




12 thoughts on “[Sep. 10, 1962] Leading by Example (the terrific October 1962 Galaxy)”

  1. The first Cordwainer Smith I ever read was The Game of Rat and Dragon, Galaxy. October 1955 the month I turned 15. Robert Heinlein had won me over to reading science fiction but H.L. Gold destroyed any old fondness I had had for John Carter of Mars. Maybe that should have been John Campbell , Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke but I was really Fred Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth , Alfred Bester, Phil Dick, Robert Sheckley and Theodore Sturgeon (some others). Yeah I love ‘hard science fiction’ but it was Galaxy that was winner my ‘entertainment soul’.  Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science fiction imprinted me with a love for SF I will never lose. Add to that Gold was publishing Asimov (Caves of Steel) and Heinlein (The Puppet Masters) , SF, that Campbell didn’t seem, I guess, to want.
    I did not know what to make of Rat and Dragon, but it messed with brain! Took a while to soak in but later The Burning of the Brain (IF, 1958) , No, No, Not Rogov! (IF, 1959) ,When the People Fell (Galaxy , 1959) and especially Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons (Galaxy, 1961) (Those story names, lord!) I was dead smooth sold on Cordwainer Smith. Strange and poetic SF , never read anything like it and figured no one would ever write anything like it again.
    Ah The Ballad of Lost C’Mell:
    She got the which of the what-she-did,
    Hid the bell with a blot, she did,
    But she fell in love with a hominid.
    Where is the which of the what-she-did?
    Anymore need be said?!

      1. Considering his background and what he wrote for a living it is almost as if Smith lived in two universes at once! Smith’s universe of science fiction almost comes out of … well… god-knows-where! 
        Go-Captains and Stop-Captains , pin-lighters , “planoforming,” , more, where did all that come from!?
        The use of the word Instrumentality , never seen it used that way before.
        Smith is not even out in the tail of the distribution he off the chart!

  2. I haven’t had time to really get into this issue yet, but did read the Smith. Oh my. Absolutely stunning. If this doesn’t win a Hugo, I’ll eat my hat. He’s a bit of a cipher, from what I hear. Maybe he’s an alien or a time traveler.

    1. Well, I found time to read everything else except the start of the Pohl novel. I figured I’ve got two months until it wraps up, I can take my time.

      While I can understand not liking Bradbury, I’m not sure I fully understand your reasons for it. You don’t seem to take against Robert Bloch or Fritz Leiber, say, just because they mostly write fantasy or horror. Bradbury occasionally writes about science. He doesn’t seem to like it much, but he writes about. A bit like the way he firmly believes that childhood is wonderful, but children are all evil. This particular story was all right, though nothing special. I will say that the ending would have fit right in with Weird Tales or some other pulp 30 years ago, and that’s where Bradbury got his start.

      “Earthman’s Burden” was enjoyable enough, though the twist in the middle with the plant felt like padding, more than an integral part of the story. I expect better of Westlake.

      The Doede was much like the Westlake, enjoyable and forgettable. The native probably speaks perfect English (or whatever the Earthman’s language is) because that’s what natives do when confronted with colonizers. It’s better than the author coming up with some execrable dialect or pidgin. And am I the only one who sees Mr. Doede’s name and is reminded of the infamous “Dord” entry in Webster’s back before the war?

      Harmon’s story falls right in line with everything else thus far except Smith. There is something intriguing about a lonely man building robot companions for himself, but I’m not entirely convinced this is that story. Deep down, I think this should have been written by R.A. Lafferty.

      I’m in general agreement on “Roberta” and “Bimmie” too. The latter is clearly influenced by “Flowers for Algernon”. I think it may be rather darker than that, too.

      I’d bet my bottom dollar the Gordon Dickson happened to catch Casablanca not long before he wrote this story. But at least we get to see how much better a writer he is when somebody other than Campbell is his editor.

      All in all, there are a lot of enjoyable but forgettable stories here, but when the worst story in the magazine is three stars and it’s all crowned by something like “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell”, you’ve got one heck of an issue.

      1. Bradbury is sophomoric and pretentious.  I just never like him even when he’s not horrible.  Not to mince words…

        Somehow, I find Doede memorable.  I like his series.

        Does anyone else read the science articles?

        1. Sometimes I read the science articles and sometimes I don’t. I almost always read Dr. Asimov’s. I’ll read Willy Ley if the subject looks interesting and may skim otherwise, but I’m not a fan of his style. I gave up on Ben Bova almost immediately, because I found him almost unreadable.

          The “science” articles in Analog are the most problematic. If it’s blatant nonsense like the Dean drive or astrology, I’ll skip right over it, otherwise it depends on how interesting the subject sounds and how well the author writes. Oddly enough, when Campbell manages to avoid bringing in crackpot stuff to serious subjects he can be quite good, maybe even better than Ley.

        2. In Galaxy Ley is always good , and Asimov , as of now, writes very good science articles. I read those.
          Over at ASF Campbell does have legit science articles but , man!, the Dean Drive ,Hieronymus machine and his continued misguided interested in Parapsychology … gad!
          He really killed any interest in science articles with Dianetics , that was not even fringe science that was unmitigated Bilge.

        3. “–And the Moon Be Still as Bright”?  “The Veldt”?  “The Pedestrian”?  “Pillar of Fire”?  “There Will Come Soft Rains”?

            1. Ah, and the cosmic joke’s on me.  The March Fantasy and Science Fiction is going to be a Ray Bradbury issue.  Of course.

              It makes sense.  That mag once published a mermaid story by Sturgeon followed by one by Bradbury — the Sturgeon was excellent, the Bradbury unremarkable.  And F&SF just did a Sturgeon issue…

  3. I’m definitely in both the Smith and Bradbury camps.  Looking forward to the special issue of F&SF myself.

    “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell” is the jewel in this issue, to be sure, as it would be in any issue of any SF magazine.

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