Tag Archives: 1959

[Dec. 22. 1959] Put a finer point on it (Starship Troopers)

It is common practice for serials published in science fiction digests to get turned into stand-alone novels. Not only does this constitute a nice double-dip for publishers and authors, but it offers the writer a chance to polish her/his work further.  Sometimes, the resulting product ends up something of a bloated mess.  In the case of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the novelization of Starship Soldier (which appeared in F&SF a couple of months ago), the opposite is the case.  Heinlein’s expanded story has turned a flawed gem into a masterpiece.

Left virtually intact are the first two acts as presented in F&SF.  Johnny Rico is a bright but rather callow youth who joins the “Mobile Infantry” without much forethought.  After an intense and vividly portrayed Basic Training, Rico becomes versed in the art of combat from within a suit of powered armor with enough power to destroy a 20th Century tank company.  He then goes off to fight an interstellar war against the “Bugs,” a hive-mind race of Arachnoids, and their co-belligerents, the humanoid “Skinnies.”  There is precious little depiction of combat, however, with the exception of a well-executed first chapter (Basic Training is described in flashback).

It was all well done, but the serial just sort of ends without much resolution or pay-off.  The novel includes a full third act wherein Rico is involved in a mission to capture one of the Bug “brains” for interrogation/experimentation purposes.  This is what the novel needed, and I have to wonder if Heinlein intended it to be there all the time, but was limited by space constraints.  It makes the book a must-have, and it is possibly the best thing Heinlein has written to date.

Of course, there is a bit more of the jingoistic, even Fascist pro-militarism speeches issuing from the mouths of various officers and professors.  I imagine a number of impressionable young folk will be motivated to enlist after reading the book.  I can only hope that we don’t fight any major wars over the next decade or two, though so long as the minute hand on the F.A.S. Doomsday Clock remains at two minutes to Midnight, that seems wishful thinking.

Then again, so long as there are just 120 seconds to Armageddon, the next major war is likely to be very short.

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most.  I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Dec. 19, 1959] Like Water for Rockets (The testing of the XLR115)

In other news, the XLR-115 rocket was successfully tested on December 7, 1959.


State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/31535

I see you scratch your head.  “Is that important?” you wonder.  “Aren’t rockets tested all the time?”

Yes and yes.

You all have heard of Newton’s Third law, “For Every Action, there is an Equal and Opposite Reaction.”  This principle powers our rockets: through the controlled rapid combination of fuel and oxygen (also known as burning), exploding gasses are produced, which are given a hole at the base of the rocket through which they can escape.  This action propels the rocket in the opposite direction—up, hopefully.

The heavier the rocket, the more fuel it takes to send it into space.  Fuel is by far the largest component of any rocket through most of the rocket’s flight (until it is all used), so it stands to reason that one would want the lightest, most efficient fuel possible.

Up to now, rockets have used familiar fuels, from petroleum derivatives to alcohol, because they are relatively cheap and easy to manipulate.  To break the weight barrier, one needs a truly light material, preferably the smallest stuff that could possibly oxidize.  Hydrogen happens to be the lightest element possible, Atomic Number One.  It burns: most of you know the chemical nomenclature for water is H2O, which simply means that any molecule of water comprises two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.  Water is, essentially, burnt hydrogen. 

If one could bottle hydrogen safely in a rocket, then it would be the most efficient rocket fuel possible.

It’s a tough project.  It won’t do for the hydrogen to be kept in gas form, as in a World War I zeppelin.  That would result in an overlarge rocket and very elaborate mixing and ignition mechanisms.  No, you need to store the stuff in liquid form, and that takes a very cold and very good Thermos, indeed.  Just a few years ago, the idea of using liquid hydrogen as rocket fuel was as much science fiction as hyperspace and flying cars.

Until now.  The XLR-115 is a liquid hydrogen rocket.

Thus, the next generation of rocketry has begun.  At first, the XLR-115 will be used in the Centaur second stage, allowing boosters like the Atlas to send large payloads to high orbit, the moon, and the planets.  Ultimately, the liquid hydrogen rocket will likely be a vital component is the first manned lunar rocket. 

And that’s why this news is important.  Now you know.

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most.  I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Dec. 17, 1959] Same ol’ Same ol’? (January 1960 Astounding)

There are times that I feel I could trot out the same Astounding review every month.  It would go something like this:

“Editor John Campbell continues to showcase Human-First, psionic stories with young male protagonists and virtually no female characters.  The table of contents features Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, and Murray Leinster.  Yet again, the magazine is a disappointment.”

For the most part, the above summary would serve this month, but there is a kicker at the end of this review.

Skipping the first part of a serial by a fellow of whom I’ve never heard (a Harry Harrison), the issue opens up with one of Murray Leinster’s weaker outings, Attention Saint Patrick.  Leinster is often excellent, but in this one, he’s just boringly droll, telling the story of an Irish space colony that relies on giant serpents to control its vermin problem—in this case, little dinosaurs with diamond teeth. 


by Bernklau

Then we have the truly ridiculous A Rose by Other Name, a Chris Anvil story about how the removal of military and jingoistic jargon from our vocabulary makes it impossible to go to war.  Not good.

Campbell has tried to make his magazine more respectable by including a slick paper non-fiction segment starting this month.  Frank Foote and Arthur Shuck penned Solid Plutonium Headache about the technical and physical difficulties associated with working this dangerous radioactive material.  A more boring article I have never read, which is a shame because there’s nothing wrong with the subject matter.  Until Campbell finds himself an Asimov or a Ley, I think his non-fiction section won’t be worth much—particularly as the slick paper is not at all absorbent.

Poul Anderson’s The Burning Bridge, about a fleet of interstellar colony ships on a 40-year trip to settle a new world, is decent.  Recalled by Earth nearly a few years into their flight, the fleet’s Admiral must determine whether or not they will return or press on.  The cast is nicely international, and women play an important (though oddly segregated) part.


by Bernklau

Then we have The Garrett, in this case Viewpoint.  A fellow dreams himself into the future and discovers a strange new world before snapping back to his original time.  The now-typical Randallian gimmick is that the person is a famous figure from the past, and the destination is now-ish.  It’s not as bad as it could have been, but Garrett loses a star just for being Garrett.

Finally, we have The Silverberg: Stress Pattern.  This story is hard to rate because there are really two things going on here.  On one hand, we have the story of a sociologist and his assistant wife (no doubt inspired by Bob Silverberg’s wife and partner, Barbara) and the slow unraveling and subsequent recovery of their lives.  The characterization and writing are quite good, and I was carried along for the entirety of the tale’s 30 pages.

On the other hand, in the end, the story is a rather ham-fisted argument against the leveling qualities of increased socialism (small “s”) and social welfare.  The message of the story is that while we might keep the lower classes fat and happy, the secure smart people are just going to get bored and restless.  While such an argument could be made against a uniform public school curriculum, and while in true Socialism, the only way to get ahead is to cheat, I don’t think things can progress in America as Silverberg contests.  Moreover, that part just feels tacked on to tickle Campbell’s fancy.  It has that “secret society knows all the answers and can manipulate humanity like a machine” conceit I generally find tiresome.

Still, Bob is coming along.  I think if he tried writing for another magazine, he could put his talent for prolific writing and good portrayals toward making something truly good.  He’s not Randy Garrett, even though he works with him regularly.

All told, it’s a 2.5 star issue.  But I promised a kicker: the serial, Deathworld, is excellent so far, and I’m keenly anticipating next month’s installment.  You’ll have to wait until next February to get the review, but I think it will be a good one!

Stay tuned!

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most.  I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Dec. 15, 1959] Between Superstition and Knowledge (Twilight Zone 4-week wrap-up)

This Friday night was a bit of a repeat performance of last week’s: another trip to the German delicatessen in Escondido, another beer, another coffee and dessert.  This time, I was in the most enjoyable company of my wife, and we had an avid discussion of what it is to be a “fan.” 

A mutual friend of ours once observed that fandom has three things in common—the following utterances:

“Where did you get that?”

“How can we get more people into it?”

“It’s not as good as it used to be…”

It’s true that fandoms come and go.  The “Golden Age” of science fiction, when Astounding ruled the roost with its Campbellian stories, is departed.  The boom of science fiction magazines came to an end a couple of years ago.  The cozy British country-house mystery is becoming a thing of the past. 

Things change.  It’s an inevitable part of life.  But it’s a mistake to get so stuck in nostalgia that one cannot see the old fandoms that continue to thrive (Conan Doyle, for instance) or the new evolutions in current fandoms (the small but rising tide of female authors, the general increase in quality of science fiction and fantasy even as the number of digests diminishes). 

There are also brand new fandoms.  I am very excited to have gotten in on the ground floor of one on which the paint is still wet: Rod Serling’s anthology science fiction show, The Twilight Zone.

Three months ago, the program was an exciting idea.  Now, eleven episodes in, it is a bonafide phenomenon with staying power.  Though the quality of each episode varies, of course, Twilight Zone is still head and shoulders above what came before on television.  I’ve high hopes it will only rise in excellence.

Here’s what my daughter and I have enjoyed for the last four Fridays:

Time Enough at Last came out on November 20.  The buzz I hear is that it went over well, and there’s no question that Burgess Meredith turned in a fine performance as a frustrated bibliophile bank teller, who finds himself alone after surviving a nuclear holocaust.  But the ending, where he finds a lifetime of books to read and then immediately breaks his glasses, is not clever.  It’s just cruel, and it soured me on the whole piece.

Charles Beaumont is the first writer whose name isn’t Rod Serling to pen an episode, and his outing, Perchance to Dream was interesting.  A fellow with a heart condition is afraid to sleep for he knows that a temptress in his dream will lead him into a carnival of horrors, which will aggravate him into cardiac arrest.  The afflicted man tells his story to a sympathetic doctor, and we get to see the narrative progress in flashback.  It’s creepy and fascinating.  I guessed the ending early on, but the tale was so compelling, I forgot all about my premonition until it actually happened.

I enjoyed the subject and setting of Judgment Night, in which a German man finds himself aboard a British liner cruising the Atlantic during World War II.  He is deathly afraid of U-Boats and seems to be certain that an attack from under the sea is impending.  It’s a suitably atmospheric piece though somehow a bit plodding.  It was during this episode that my daughter noted that virtually none of the protagonists on the show are female.  I can only recall one, from The 16 millimeter Shrine.

This week’s episode was a winner.  Written by the master of science-fiction horror teleplays and fiction, Richard Matheson, it stars the excellent Rod Taylor as one of three survivors of a spaceplane crash.  It seems each of the astronauts is disappearing one-by-one, not just from the Earth, but from history and memories.  Creepy creepy stuff, though my daughter complained that she was getting tired of episodes featuring “people acting crazy.”  (A neat tidbit: the spaceplane featured is the X-20, a real-life Air Force project that has either just gotten or is in the process of getting the green light for construction.  This vehicle will be the next step beyond the X-15, actually capable of orbital flight!)

As much as I enjoyed the episode, it shared the same overwrought middle that I’ve seen consistently in the last eleven episodes.  This, I think, is the main weakness of this young show.  While the writing is often brilliant, the acting usually excellent, and the cinematography remarkable, the middle third of each episode tends to take a bit too long padding out the set-up before the payoff. 

Perhaps I’m just a little too clever, guessing the ends before well before they happen.  It may well be that Twilight Zone is starting easy to draw in the uninitiated, those who haven’t read a thousand science fiction stories already.  With all the talent going into this program, I have faith that the show will continue to mature and, as with science fiction, move beyond “gotcha” storytelling.

What say you?

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most.  I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Dec. 12, 1959] Beeping its last (The end of Vanguard 3)

Two days ago, there were three active satellites—two Vanguards and one Explorer.

Yesterday, there were two: Vanguard 3 has gasped its last beep.

For 84 days, the last of the Vanguards circled the Earth, returning data from its solar X-Ray detectors, its magnetometer, and its micrometeoroid sensors from an orbit higher than that of its dumber, smaller older brother, Vanguard 1.

Did you know that the Sun emits X-Rays?  That’s what happens when you heat gasses to millions of degrees Kelvin; such temperatures are common in the solar corona, the bright fringe of gas surrounding the sun’s disk that one can see during a solar eclipse.  The atmosphere absorbs most extraterrestrial X-Rays, so a satellite is needed to gather comprehensive data.  Sadly, all of the energetic particles trapped in the Earth’s Van Allen Belts swamped Vanguard 3’s detectors, and no useful data were obtained. 

On the other hand, Vanguard 3’s magnetometer did a heck of a job, returning more than 4000 signals, nearly 3000 of which were of high quality.  We have never had such a comprehensive map of our planet’s magnetic fields, and it is likely that scientists will be studying these results for years to come, learning how these fields interact with the solar wind to cause phenomena from radio storms to aurorae.

Speaking of radio, if you’ve ever listened to your shortwave, you might have heard “Whistlers”–those enigmatic sound that calls to mind a skyrocket flying overhead or birds chirping or even a flying saucer.  Such signals have been heard since radios were invented, and it is now known that they are emitted by lightning and propagated in the ionosphere.  Vanguard 3 was able to “tune in” to Whistler emissions with its magnetometer, which allowed scientists to make some estimates of the density of electrons in the ionosphere.  Two for one is a good deal!

No micrometeoroids pierced Vanguard 3’s hull for the duration of its mission, but that doesn’t mean the satellite didn’t run into its share of space junk.  The first preliminary estimates from returned data suggest that 10,000 tons of space dust crash into the Earth’s atmosphere every day.  That sounds like a lot, but considering that it is spread out over the entire surface area of the planet, it’s a negligible concern to a small satellite.

With the silence of Vanguard 3, the Vanguard program has come to a virtual end (though Vanguard 1 still keeps beeping away).  Three successful launches out of eleven seems like a pretty lousy record.  Consider this legacy, however: the bonanza of returned data, the comparative inexpensiveness of the program, the first stage being turned into the Vega second stage booster for other rockets, the second and third stages being used on the Atlas Able and the Thor Able rockets, the Vanguard worldwide signal receiving station pioneering space communications.  Vanguard surely must count as a raging success.  Moreover, Vanguard set an important precedent by showing that rockets can be used for purely civilian purposes as well as for sending weapons of mass destruction across the globe.

If my epitaph is half as laudatory, I shall be a very happy corpse.

Up next—The Twilight Zone and then… Astounding!

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Dec. 8, 1959] Best of the Best! (The Galactic Stars Awards, 1959)

Science fiction is dead.  Long live science fiction.

Naysayers have been predicting the end of the genre since 1953 when the first post-war boom started to lose momentum.  Since then, I’ve read a lot of science fiction (and fantasy).  It’s true that a lot of the lesser magazines have folded in the past 6 years, but I still find plenty to read every month, and much of it is quite good.

Now that I’ve been at this article-writing business for more than a year, I have enough comparative data to not only convey my favorite stories of 1959, but the best stories (in my opinion) for each magazine, and for each length. 

In other words, I can conduct my own mini-Hugos specifically for the Big 3 (or 4, depending on how you count Galaxy/IF.  Let this serve as both a buying guide and a request for agreement/rebuttal.

THE GALACTIC STARS, 1959 EDITION!

The Categories:

Best Astounding Stories by Length

Serial: Pirates of Ersatz by Murray Leinster—3 stars.
Novella: Despoiler of the Golden Empire by Randall Garrett—2 stars.
Novelette: Cat and Mouse by Ralph Williams—5 stars.
Short story: Seeling by Katherine MacLean—4 stars.
Vignette: Vanishing Point by C.C. Beck—3 stars.
Non-fiction: Blood from Turnips by William Boyd—4 stars.

Pretty pathetic that the best novella is one of the worst I’ve ever read.  There were just two 5-star stories the entire year (Murray Leinster’s novelette Aliens being the other).  In fact, if you took all of Astounding‘s four and five star stories and articles, they would fit in a single large-ish issue.  It’d be a very good issue, but the other eleven would be just dreadful.

Best Galaxy/IF Stories by Length

Serial: None (Bob Sheckley’s Time Killer started last year).
Novella: Whatever Counts by Fred Pohl—5 stars.
Novelette: Return of a Prodigal by J.T.McIntosh—5 stars.
Short Story: Death in the House by Clifford Simak—5 stars.
Vignette: Jag-Whiffing Service by David R. Bunch—4 stars.
Non-fiction: Solar Orbit of Mechta by Willy Ley—5 stars.

There were a total of seven 5-star entries in Galaxy/IF in 1959 and plenty of 4-star pieces.  IF is slightly more uneven in quality than its big sister, Galaxy, but it consistently has stand-out tales.  Call it an experiment that’s working.

Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories by Length

Serial: Starship Soldier by Robert Heinlein—4 stars.
Novelella: None.
Novelette: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes—5 stars.
Short Story: The Man who lost the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon—5 stars.
Vignette: Game with a Goddess by Leslie Bonnet—4 stars.
Non-fiction: No more Ice Ages by Isaac Asimov—5 stars.

F&SF had 11 5-star pieces this year!  There were some hard choices here.  Knight’s What Rough Beast, Boucher’s Quest for St. Aquin, This Earth of Hours, To Fell a Tree–F&SF has no shortage of excellent novelettes.  Asimov’s articles are consistently better than Ley’s, too (not to slight Willy, whose pieces are never bad and often cover more esoteric territory).

I’m very curious to see what gets anthologized.

Best Overall by Story Length

Serial: Starship Soldier.
Novella: Whatever Counts.
Novelette: Flowers for Algernon.
Short Story: The Man who lost the Sea.
Vignette: Game with a Goddess.
Non-fiction: No more Ice Ages.

F&SF comes out on top, though there was stiff competition.  I find it interesting that there were no 5-star vignettes; it may simply be that it is harder to make a strong impression in such a short space, or perhaps I am simply biased against the format.

Best Magazine

Fantasy and Science Fiction: 3.33
Galaxy/IF: 3.21
Astounding: 2.58

I don’t think these rankings come as a surprise.

There you have it: 1959’s Galactic Stars.  I had considered making this a double-length article by judging the worst science fiction and fantasy stories of the year (perhaps the Galactic Turkeys?), but it’s the holiday season, and I’m feeling charitable.  Let’s just make one award, engrave it with Randall Garrett’s name, and burn it in effigy.

Now—tell me your top picks for 1959!

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Dec. 5, 1959] Sam and Joe (The successful launch of Little Joe 2-A)

I admit it.  I splurged last night.

I’m not the poorest of people, but I am thrifty.  Last night, however, I took a detour on the way home.  I ended up at my favorite cafe off Grand Avenue in downtown Escondido.  They sell pizza, which I’ve noticed is becoming as commonplace as burgers these days.  I ordered a slice pepperoni, a salad, and I washed it down with a beer.  Then I sauntered down to a local coffee shop and enjoyed a day-old brownie and a cuppa joe.  For dessert, I had a new 35 cent Ace Double (novel, that is). 

The night set me back 16 bits, but all of the week’s stress washed away.  It beats a head shrinker, right?

Now, you might expect that this is a lead-in to a review of the Double, but I haven’t finished it yet, so you’ll just have to wait.  In the meantime, here’s an exciting Double Dose of Space News.

Remember Little Joe?  It’s that cluster of rockets with a Mercury capsule on top designed to test out the abort systems on the spaceship.  That little tower on top has rockets that will propel a Mercury and its pilot to safety if something goes wrong during booster launch.  The first flight was a total bust.

Since then, there have been two missions, the first of which was not entirely successful.  Little Joe 1-A, launched November 4, seemed to go off okay, but the escape rocket went off too late, and the pressure on the capsule was far too low to make a good test of the system. 

December 4 saw the next flight, Little Joe 2.  NASA decided to go for broke with this one and fully equip the capsule with a host of biological specimens.  One minute into the flight, the escape rocket blasted the Mercury and its contents, including seeds, bugs, cell samples, and a rhesus monkey named “Sam,” at Mach 6 to an altitude of 53 miles.  Sam experienced a good three minutes of weightlessness during the flight.  All occupants were recovered several hours later, safe and sound.

The flight was a complete success, but it was not as strenuous a test as it might have been.  The next mission will feature an abort rescue at “max q,” or the craft’s strongest acceleration.  If the escape system works then, it will be probably be rated safe for actual use.  Exciting stuff!

Next up: 1959’s Galactic Stars awards!

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Dec. 02, 1959] The Menace from Earth!

With only four science fiction digests coming out per month (really three if you count Galaxy and IF as one monthly magazine instead of two bi-monthlies), I often fill my reading time with anthologies and novels.  Robert Heinlein has a new anthology of his works out, The Menace from Earth, which largely features stories I hadn’t previously read.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Year of the Jackpot came out in Galaxy nearly eight years ago!  It was rightly anthologized in the 1952 Galaxy Reader as the lead story.  Statistician Potiphar Breen plots a trend to the increased silliness in the world and concludes that the Apocalypse is nigh.  Along with Meade Barstow, whom Potiphar meets while she is stripping bare at a bus stop (one datum of silliness), the unlikely hero manages to escape catastrophe when nuclear war breaks out.  But out of the frying pan…

I found By his Bootstraps, detailing the adventures of a time-looping fellow who crosses his own path several times, to be rather tedious.  There is an art to telling such stories so that one does not repeat the same scene over and over, just from different viewpoints.  This story was written before Mr. Heinlein developed that art. 

I’m sure I’ve read Sky Lift before, I think in Imagination.  A hotshot pilot is tasked with bringing fresh blood to a plague-ridden Pluto base.  He only has about a week, which means he’ll have to pull nearly four gees of acceleration the entire way.  Will he make it?

Goldfish Bowl is a sad tale in which giant pillars of unknown origin appear in the Pacific Ocean, their tops lost in the stratosphere.  Two men explore the pillars only to be abducted and placed in the extraterrestrial (or perhaps hyperterrestrial) equivalent of a fishbowl—with only one way out.  Who are these aliens?  What do they want with us?  And can humanity be warned if and when the prisoners answer these questions?

The worst of the bunch is unquestionably Project Nightmare, a ridiculous tale in which the Soviets plant several dozen bombs in our biggest cities and hold the country hostage.  Only a team of psychics, working ’round-the-clock can save the day.  And then, just for kicks, blow up the Russkies.  Terrible.

Water is for Washing, about an earthquake causing the Imperial Valley to flood, is near and dear to my heart seeing how I grew up in its setting.  The Valley a miserable, desolate place—120 degrees in the summer and 25 degrees in the winter.  Yet it is an agricultural marvel, and there are good people who reside there.  If you’ve ever read The Winning of Barbara Worth, you’ll get a good sense for what it’s like, and you’ll know why the place at which the protagonist stops for a drink early in the story is called the Barbara Worth Hotel!

I’ve saved the best for last.  The eponymous The Menace from Earth is simply a tour de force.  Told convincingly from the viewpoint of a 15-year old girl living on the moon, it is a story of teen love, angst, jealous, and low-gravity aerodynamics.  I gave the book to my 10-year old daughter so she could read this story, and she “loved it.” She asked if Heinlein wrote more stories like it, to which I had to reply in the negative.

I hate to leave things on a down note, however.  Do you know any stories written in a similar style?  Juveniles from the female point of view?  Please share!

All told, Menace is a book worth getting even though many of the stories have melancholy endings.  If you’re still in the mood for Heinlein after this large portion, you can try picking up the other recently released anthology: The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.  But that’s a review for another day…

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Nov. 28, 1959] Broken nose (Atlas Able and Discoverer 8)

It’s enough to make a fellow cry.

There she stood, a proud and lovely Atlas Able booster, with the largest American lunar probe ever built at its tip.  Well, perhaps it wasn’t so lovely.  The Atlas ICBM is impressive enough, with three mighty engines at its base and a hot temper that has resulted in an unimpressive operational record to date.  On top were the second and third stages of the Vanguard rocket, the same “Able” that has served the Air Force so well when mated to the Thor IRBM.  That’s how NASA got its first Pioneers into space, if not to their desired target: The Moon.

The Able looked a bit like a silly Q-tip perched above the Atlas.  Nevertheless, it’s the best combo we’ve got at the moment to compete with the Russians at their game.

Just 30 seconds after the launch, early morning on Thanksgiving (November 26), a piece fell off the nose.  Four-and-a-half minutes later, the second stage failed to ignite, and the rocket plunged into the ocean along with its precious cargo, the a 300 pound Pioneer posthumously dubbed “P3.”

This setback may push the program back a full year.  There is a back-up payload but no rocket to launch it, the Atlas being in high demand for both the military and the Mercury program. 

What went wrong?  I gave my friend, John Vehrencamp, a call last night to commiserate and get the inside dope.  John designed the payload shroud, you see, which appears to be the likeliest culprit for the failure.  Sure enough, his long face was clearly expressed in the morose tones of his voice.  He took the full blame for the incident.  You see, he hadn’t taken into sufficient consideration the drop of air pressure outside the nosecone as the rocket ascended.  The thing wasn’t properly vented and exploded like a balloon in vacuum.  It’s going to be a many-beers kind of weekend for John, I’m afraid.

I don’t think this mishap will have any impact on the Thor-Able deep space mission planned for early next year, thankfully.

In related news, the Air Force had another bad Discoverer mission on November 20.  The eight in the series of “biomedical capsule recovery flights” (which ironically have not carried a biomedical payload in many missions) launched all right, though I understand the orbit was eccentric and not optimal.  The recovery capsule ejected, but no parachute was spotted.  Much like Thomas Edison, the flyboys are finding many ways to get the process wrong.  Their losing streak can’t continue forever, right?

See you soon—December looks to be a great month (he said hopefully).

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Nov. 26, 1959] Happy Thanksgiving! (December 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Happy Thanksgiving!

This season, we have much to be thankful for, but I am particularly thankful that I ended this publishing year on a high note—the December Fantasy and Science Fiction.

If anything could get out the taste left by this month’s Astounding, particularly the Garrett story, it’s F&SF.  In this case, the lead novelette, What now, little man? by Mark Clifton, was the indicated antidote.

Clifton addresses the issue of racial abuse head on with this excellent tale.  On a distant mining colony, humans have only one native source of food—the bipedal, humanoid “Goonie.”  When the colony was first inhabited, the Goonies were deemed unintelligent by human standards.  They seemed to have no culture, and they let themselves be slaughtered without so much as a peep of protest.

Then they proved to be trainable.  At first, they performed simple beast-of-burden chores, but over time, they learned more sophisticated skills.  By the time of the story, many can read and write, and one exceptional example can perform as an accountant.

This tale is that of a man wracked with conscience.  This farmer, who was the first to train a Goonie to perform advanced mathematical services, is convinced that the slaughter of Goonies is wrong.  To champion this cause, he is willing to put his life on the line, though it turns out that a female sociologist from Earth employs better, non-lethal methods to effect change, or at least to set the world on the course of change.

The protagonist, and the reader, are left with the fundamental questions: What defines intelligence?  Who defines intelligence?  Can one justify making the definition so rigid as to exclude members of one’s own race?  And what do the Goonies represent?  True pacifists?  The ultimate survivors?

Good stuff.  Four stars.

Dr. Asimov has another fine article, this one on the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.  It’s well timed, perhaps on purpose, as I’d just read a scholarly article on a new revised atmospheric model.  We’ve learned a lot in just three years of satellite launches. 

I’ve never heard of Gerard E. Neyroud.  His Terran-Venusian War of 1979, in which Venus conquers the Earth with love, but subsequently devolves into civil war, is glib and fun, if rather insubstantial.

Marcel Aymé has another cute short translated from the French.  The State of Grace is about an (un)fortunate fellow whose saintliness is blessed with a halo only a few decades into his life.  This quickly becomes a terrible annoyance to his wife, who begs him to do something about it.  His solution: to sin like there’s no tomorrow.  Yet, no matter how far he indulges himself in the seven deadly sins, he cannot rid himself of the damned thing.  The moral is, apparently, piety will out, even when covered in degradation.

Stephen Barr’s The Homing Instinct of Joe Vargo is chilling stuff, indeed.  An expedition to a mining planet finds a truly unbeatable creature.  Ubiquitous, cunning, and virtually indestructible, “It” is a translucent blob that kills by extruding threads of incredible strength, constricting its prey, and slicing it alive.

Only one fellow, the eponymous Joe Vargo, is able to survive thanks to equal parts wisdom and luck.  The ending of the story is unnecessarily downbeat, and also implausible.  As with Poul Anderson’s Sister Planet, one can excise the coda and come away with a perfectly satisfying story.

Jane Rice has another good F&SF entry with The Rainbow Gold.  Told in folksy slang, it is the story of a somewhat magical (literally) yokel family and their quest to secure that legendary pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  It’s a lot of fun, and it has a happy ending. 

damonknight has, perhaps, the best line of the issue in his monthly book column.  Writing of Brian Aldiss, he says, “If the writer ever does a novel with his right hand, it will be something worth waiting for.”

The Seeing I is Charles Beaumont’s new column on science fiction in the visual media.  In this installment, he details at length his involvement with the new show, The Twilight Zone.  It’s an absolutely fascinating read, and it just goes to show that things of quality can still be made, on purpose, so long as people are willing to invest the time and energy into the endeavor.

Finally, we have Robert Nathan’s A Pride of Carrots, written as a radio play.  That’s because it actually was a radio play a couple of years ago on CBS.  The prose has been substantially embellished, but it’s largely the same story.  At least, I think it is.  I’m afraid fell asleep during the last act of the radio show.

I won’t spoil the plot, save that it involves the planet Venus, two warring states peopled by vegetables, two visitors from Earth, and an interracial love triangle. 

But is it good, you ask?  Well, it’s silly.  It’s not science fiction, but it is occasionally droll.  Try it, and see what you think. 

That wraps up the year.  I’ll be compiling my notes to determine which stories will win Galactic Stars for 1959.  I’ll make an announcement sometime next month.

In the meantime, enjoy your turkey.  I’ll have more for you soon.

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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