[September 18, 1961] Balancing Act (October 1961 Analog)

Science fiction digests are a balancing act.  An editor has to fill a set number of pages every month relying solely on the stories s/he’s got at her/his disposal.  Not to mention the restrictions imposed if one wants to publish an “all-star” or otherwise themed issue. 

Analog has got the problem worst of all of the Big Three mags.  Galaxy is a larger digest, so it has more room to play with.  F&SF tends to publish shorter stories, which are more modular.  But Analog usually includes a serialized novel and several standard columns leaving only 100 pages or so in which to fit a few bigger stories.  If the motto of The New York Times is “All the news that’s fit to print,” then Analog’s could well be, “All the stories that fit, we print.”

How else to explain the unevenness of the October 1961 Analog?  The lead novella, Lion Loose, by James Schmitz, is 60 pages of unreadability.  It’s a shame since Schmitz has written some fine work before, but I simply unable to finish this tale of space piracy and teleporting animals.  Your mileage may vary.  One star.

Gordie Dickson’s Love Me True fares better, though it is a bit Twilight Zone-esque.  Space explorer risks all to bring a cute fuzzy-wuzzy back from Alpha Centauri as a pet.  In the end, it turns out the bonds of domestication run the other way.  Nicely written, but the idea is two decades behind the times.  Three stars.

The Asses of Balaam is Randall Garrett’s contribution, under the pseudonym “David Gordon” used by many Analog writers.  It’s the best piece in the book (didn’t expect that from Garrett!), a first contact story told from the point of view of some all-too human aliens.  I particularly appreciated the imaginative setting, the priority placed on ecological conservation, and the cute (if not unpredictable) twist at the end.  I must say – Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics have become axiomatic to all science fiction.  Four stars. 

by Schoenherr

Now, the science fact column of Analog is the worst of those included in the Big Three mags, usually filled with the crankiest of crank hypotheses.  I have to give credit to editor Campbell’s printing of Report on the Electric Field Rocket, by model rocketeer, G. Harry Stine.  This report is, in fact, an experimental refutation of H.C. Dudley’s dubious proposal to use the Earth’s electric field to help launch rockets.  Actual science!  Three stars.

Harry Harrison’s Sense of Obligation continues, to be completed next issue.  It’s reminiscent of Harrison’s excellent Deathworld in that it features a man made superhero by virtue of having grown up on a hostile planet.  Sense is not as good as Deathworld, though.  Full rating when it finishes.

That leaves The Man Who Played to Lose, another disappointing outing from a normally good author, in this case, Laurence Janifer (writing as “Larry M. Harris).  Interstellar Super Spy is sent to a planet in the throes of civil war.  His job is to stop the insurrection – by making it too successful!  A smug, implausible story, with far too much preaching at its tail.  Two stars.

This all adds up to a sub-par score of 2.6 stars out of 5.  This is not the worst Analog has gotten, but it’s not all that unusual, either.  This is why it usually takes me the longest to get through an issue of Campbell’s magazine.

Next up… a special article from a surprising source!

9 thoughts on “[September 18, 1961] Balancing Act (October 1961 Analog)”

  1. I liked the Schmitz rather better than you did. It was a touch long in places, but on the whole I enjoyed it. I have an odd relationship with Schmitz. I generally enjoy his work, and yet I never think to seek him out nor do I have an immediately positive expectation on seeing his name.

    The Garrett was quite good. I wondered at first why he chose to use alien characters, but quickly realized that it was so that we as readers would immediately see that the strange animals were in fact humans. And speaking of “human”, I liked that he used that word to mean “any sentient being”. Now, I suddenly wonder how he got Campbell to print the thing.

    And the Janifer was terrible. It made absolutely no sense. I think I see what he was aiming for, but he missed his target by a mile.

      1. Another vote for the Garrett, of all things! Nice story, nicely paced, if anything I actually wanted a little more – of a _Garrett_ story! Well, credit where credit is due, as they say.

        When I read about the electromagnetic-assist proposal for rocket lift assist, it did seem more than a bit unlikely. Still, it’s too bad it doesn’t work. Successful Mercury Atlas or not, anything to make it easier!

  2. The Garrett was a nice surprise. I’m afraid I couldn’t even give the Janifer a fair try, I cringed out immediately. I wonder if Dickson was recently acquired by a cat?

    Well, next issue might be better.

  3. While I wouldn’t call the Schmitz unreadable, it’s definitely not his best work. Quillan is the kind of “hero” who makes me wonder exactly what the term is supposed to mean, if it can be stretched far enough to cover him. And the fact that many women seem to find him attractive despite his… shall we say sleazy… mode of presentation is enough to cast doubts on their judgment! If that was intended to be part of the point, it got rather lost along the way.

    1. I’ve been following Schmitz for going on ten years now.  He comes up with some really interesting ideas, decent plots, good characters, and he can write very well… in pieces.

      Almost every Schmitz story I read, I feel I *ought* to like it, but they usually just don’t jell for me.  They usually come across like a first draft, or maybe some pages fell out on the way to the printer, or an overzealous typesetter went at them with scissors.

      I have a nasty suspicion that Schmitz’s stories would be much better with a little judicious editing, but the shortage of decent stories means Schmitz is “good enough” and the editors spend their time with writers who need guidance more.

  4. “Lion Loose” wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t grab me.  It’s really just a violent crime story with some SF elements tossed in.  In fact, it reminded me of the Dashiell Hammett novel “Red Harvest” or the new Japanese film “Yojimbo” — lone wolf anti-hero gets two groups of bad guys to wipe each other out.  It also had a huge chunk of talky exposition at the start, and many of the most exciting scenes took place off-stage.

    “The Asses of Balaam” was enjoyable, and the alien viewpoint nicely done.  (I did have to wonder why they used “minutes” and “hours,” given their odd astronomical situation.) Besides the obvious reference to Asimov, I notice that the author threw in a few other references — the hurkles and the gnurrs both being critters invented by other authors, etc.

    “The Man Who Played to Lose” gave away its only idea in the title, and the SF trappings weren’t needed at all.  Pretty bland stuff.

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