Tag Archives: 1960

[December 31, 1960] Dog Days of Winter (Sputnik 6 and Discoverer 19)

I miss one lousy newspaper…

December is a busy month.  There are holidays to shop for, the tax year is wrapping up, family to visit, etc.  This December has been so crammed with work and domestic concerns such that I missed a very important pair of newspaper articles from the beginning of the month.

I caught up on my ‘paper reading over Christmas and was astonished to find that, in my haste to read this month’s magazines, resolve a few corporate calamities, and clean the house for company, I had missed the latest Soviet space launch.

And it’s a big one.  On December 1, the Soviets launched Sputnik 6, apparently a duplicate of their Sputnik 5 mission.  It was a 5-ton spacecraft, almost assuredly a version of the capsule that will soon carry a man.  Like before, the ship carried two dogs and other biological cargo.  Significantly, our radars lost sight of the vehicle the next day suggesting it re-entered.

However, the Russians have not announced that they recovered the capsule.  Since our rivals in the Space Race never miss an opportunity to trumpet their accomplishments, I think there’s a good chance that the landing was not entirely successful.  It’s likely the capsule’s passengers did not survive the return trip. 

Let’s have a moment of silence for our fallen Muttniks. 

I find it interesting that the Soviets felt they needed to duplicate the (to all accounts) successful Sputnik 5 mission.  It had seemed logical that a manned mission would be the next step Perhaps, and the failure of Sputnik 6 certainly points in this direction, the Soviet manned space program has some serious issues to iron out before a human pilot can attempt the journey. 

Which means we might just beat the Communists to the punch.

Speaking of American flights, yet another Discoverer launched recently.  On December 20, #19 soared into a polar orbit.  As you know, the Discoverer is a capsule-return satellite designed to carry biological samples into orbit and then send them back to Earth..along with a few rolls of film with undeveloped photos of Soviet military bases.  I haven’t heard anything about a failure, but nor have I heard about a successful re-entry.  I don’t know if this mission was a dud or if it is testing the endurance of some longer-lived technologies.  Since it’s a military mission (USAF), we may never know.

Happy New Year!  Coming up shortly, I’ll have a review of 1961 F&SF as well as a wrap-up for December and a preview for January of the coming annum.

[Dec. 29, 1960] Out of this World (Ben Barzman’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)

I don’t know who Ben Barzman is, but he’s written an interesting little book. 

The synopsis makes the novel sound as if it is composed of more cheese than the Moon.  186 million miles away, on the opposite side of the Sun, is another Earth.  It is a virtual twin, to the point of having the same landmasses, the same biological history, even the same human history up through the end of The Great War.  Thanks to their not having a Second World War, they are far ahead of us in the social, medical, and energy sciences (though not, apparently, in the rocket and atomic sciences).  Scientists of our Earth manage to create a new ray, a ray so powerful that it becomes a living, intelligent entity, which facilitates contact with this other Earth.  The counter-Earth responds by sending a delegation to our planet to determine whether or not we are worthy of receiving their technological gifts.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  Like something that might have been written in the ’30s or earlier.  And, in fact, if you read the story just for the science fiction, you’ll be disappointed.  I suspect Barzman is not a scientificitioneer by trade.  Luckily, what he gives us goes far beyond the basic plot.

This tale really is an exploration of alternate timelines, of personal and global what-ifs.  Taken that way, it’s quite a beautiful story.  The first half of the book has virtually no s-f trappings at all.  Instead, we get a gentle, self-deprecatingly witty autobiography of a Canadian fellow who ventures off with a friend to see the world on the eve of World War 2.  He has a passionate affair with Marie-Ange, a young French girl in St. Lo (while his friend, Wilfred, maintains an above-board relationship with her).  War breaks out and he and Wilfred become a two-person bomber crew, savaging the very French countryside they had enjoyed so recently.  During a brief break in England, the Germans devastate a nearby block in their nightly Blitz, and the narrator rescues a shell-shocked young girl, who ends up being adopted by a Texan biophysicist.  Wilfred and the narrator are later shot down; the event is fatal to Wilfred and permanently (though not severely) disabling to the narrator.

After the War, the protagonist returns to St. Lo to find Marie-Ange.  She is dead, killed in the war during an Allied bombing raid, though not by one of his bombs.  The narrator then dispiritedly drifts through life, desultorily reporting from Paris for his tyrannical Uncle Derbet’s newspaper.  Until Jane, the girl he rescued during the War, comes to visit.

She is a brilliant biophysicist now, and lovely to boot.  She has come to Paris to work with the famed but reclusive scientist, Dr. Morescu, who lost his Jewish wife and child to the Nazis during the War.  Jane and the narrator fall in love, but their ardor is tempered by a mental block she developed as a result of losing her entire family in the Blitz incident.  This prevents them from any serious sort of physical consummation. 

In the end, the novel is an exploration of the lives of these somewhat damaged people in a world still reeling from the last War.  Their turning point, the moment of healing, comes in their interaction with the other Earth.  In the counter-Earth, Wilfred and Marie-Ange never died.  The narrator never went to war.  Jane’s family is alive and well, as is Dr. Morescu’s.  Moreover, the other world has benefited from the millions of souls who never perished during WW2: artists, scientists, doctors.  Yet, it is not without its share of drama.  When the two worlds interface, we see what might have been and get clarity on what has actually happened.  And without spoiling too much, there are happy endings all around.

Taken as a sideways-in-time story, it’s quite effective.  Barzman writes in a droll, contemporary style that engages.  Twinkle‘s characters are well-drawn, and the world they live in are refreshingly removed from the rather constrained, conservative landscapes we normally encounter in both our lives and our science fiction. 

Four stars.

[December 21, 1960] Short and Long Term (the January 1961 Analog)

There’s a big difference between weather and climate.  Weather is immediate; climate is gradual.  50 years from now, when the Earth’s average temperature has climbed a half a degree or more, thanks to the warming effects of human-caused pollution, people will still point to a cold day in January as proof that nothing has changed.

That’s because, just as for the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot of water, gradual change is difficult to perceive.  Only by assiduous collection of data, and by the subsequent analysis of that data, can we detect long-term trends.

Thus, it is too early to tell whether or not Analog is ever going to pull itself out of its literary doldrums.  I had such high hopes after December’s issue; January’s has dashed them.

It doesn’t help that Randall Garrett is still one of Campbell’s favorite writers.  I’m not sure if Garrett’s stories are lousy because Campbell tells Garrett what he should write, or if they’re lousy because Garrett writes what he knows Campbell will take.  Or maybe Garrett and Campbell independently share awful taste.  In any event, the long long lead novella, The Highest Treason, is a one-star drek-fest if ever there was one. 

In brief: In the far future, humanity has been reduced to mediocrity after the triumph of bleeding-heart liberal, Commie-pinko sentiments.  Job seniority is determined solely by time in service.  Decisions are made by group-think.  Innovation is scorned as antisocial.  There being no classes, there is no motivation to excel. 

This strawman of a culture is threatened by a Sparta-esque race of bald humans with pointy ears..I mean, complete aliens.  Earth’s defeat is only a matter of time.  One brilliant man dares to reverse the trend by defecting to the enemy with a cunning plan.  He becomes the conquering race’s greatest general, winning battle after battle, becoming the most vile traitor to humanity.  Then he orders the utter decimation of a populous Terran colony. 

This goads the Terrans into activity.  It would not have stirred us to action to have our colonies reduced and their people enslaved.  No.  Only a canny traitor could motivate our rennaissance.  Humans quickly develop superweapons that tilt the advantage Earth’s way.  The war is over in no time, and the era of stifling complacency is over.  Hurrah.

The moral: No alien will ever threaten mankind unless we let them.  And if we let them, only a human can horrify us out of out lethargy—because humans are better than aliens in every way, even being worse. 

Dumb story, dumb premise.  It’s also poorly written and overpadded.  True to Garrett form, only passing mention is made of the existence of women.  Three times to be exact–they are offered as a prize to the traitor, hanged from lampposts by the traitor, and disparaged as fickle philanderers by the traitor.  All excused by the context of course.

Bleah.

The issue only improves from there; how could it not?  Tom Purdom has a weird blood and guts piece called The Green Beret, about a young Black American who joins the UN peacekeeping forces to enforce anti nuclear proliferation rules.  I’m not sure what the point is, but I give Purdom points for giving us an atypical protagonist.  I don’t understand why the UN forces wear green berets, though—they have been wearing blue ones since the Suez Crisis four years ago.  Two stars.

Onward and upward.  Walter Bupp (John Berryman) gives us Card Trick a sequel of sorts to Vigorish.  In the universe portrayed, psi powers exist, and gambling parlors take great pains to ensure they are not used to sway odds.  In this story, a fellow is accused of possessing and abusing psionic abilities to win at cards; then he is strong-armed into joining a union of psionic gamblers.  He’s certain he is a “Normal,” however.  Is it a frame-up?  Or does he have a new kind of power?  Three stars. 

G. Harry Stine provides the non-fiction article for the month, Time for Tom Swift.  It starts off well enough, contending that our current methods for getting into space will never result in a sustainable off-planet presence.  They fail the “grandma test,” he says.  No little old lady can withstand the rigors of rocket take-off..much less afford the ticket!  But then he goes on to describe some cockamaimee futuristic designs that are clearly in the same camp as the Dean Drive and electrostatic boosters.  Two stars.

That leaves “Leonard Lockhard’s” interesting legal study, The Lagging Profession, likely inspired by actual events: In the story, Arthur C. Clarke (the real guy) retains a law firm to investigate the possibility of patenting his idea for geosynchronous (24-hour orbit) communications satellites.  It turns out the idea can’t be patented because it was described in an article 15 years ago.  Moreover, it couldn’t even have been patented at the time because the rockets and miniaturized components required for the concept did not exist.  We are left with the conclusion that high concepts related to space travel are unpatentable under the laws in their current state.

This may well be true.  On the other hand, patents are not the only motivation for invention.  Space travel is such an expensive proposition that the sheer cost will provide the protection from competition normally provided by patents.  I suspect Clarke’s synchronous satellites will be with us well before the decade is out, if our current pace of space development is any indication—you can bet they’ll all have Ma Bell’s name on them, too.  Four stars.

Part Three of “Mark Phillips'” Occasion for Disaster makes up the rest of the issue.  I’ll hold comment until next month.  Giving the serial a three-star placeholder, the January 1961 issue of Analog garners a disappointing 2.5 star rating.

Weather or climate?  Only time will tell.

[Dec. 19, 1960] A Very Good Day (Mercury Redstone 1A)

There are days when everything goes right.

Here we are at the end of a difficult year for space travel.  The Air Force had nearly a dozen failures in a row with its Discoverer proto spy satellite.  The Pioneer Atlas Ables moon shots were all a bust.  Even the successful probes rarely made it into space on the first try, viz. the communications satellites, Echo and Courier.  The American manned space program was dealt a number of setbacks, limping along at a pace that will likely get it to the orbital finish line quite a bit behind the Soviets. 

But Discoverer now has enjoyed a several-mission success streak.  The latest Explorer probe is sending back excellent data on the ionosphere, and its elder sibling is still plugging away in orbit, returning information on the heat budget of the atmosphere.  TIROS 2 provides up-to-date weather photos from overhead.

And this morning, just a few hours ago, Mercury Redstone 1A carried a production model Mercury spacecraft into outer space.  The suborbital mission took only 15 minutes, but it was an exact duplicate of the trip a human astronaut will take in the next few months.  The capsule was retrieved from the Atlantic in short order, and to all accounts, the flight was a complete success.  Just one more mission, crewed by a trained chimpanzee, and after that, America will have a man in space.

It is still unknown just who that person will be.  Any of the “Mercury Seven” are qualified, of course.  Moreover, the group includes representatives all three branches of service that fly jet planes (Air Force, Navy, and Marines) so I don’t think that will be a factor.  John Glenn is the most charismatic; Alan Shepard has the most test pilot hours; Scott Carpenter is the handsomest; Donald K. (Deke) Slayton has the most appealing nickname. 

It’s probably a good thing I’m not in charge of the selection process!

Speaking of good days, I am currently holed up in The Book Tree, a lovely little book store on Adams in San Diego.  The proprietor is kindly allowing me to bang on the keys of my portable typewriter so I can get this stop-press out.  He has an excellent science fiction selection, including an intriguing new book I picked up by Ben Barzmann: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, which I hadn’t seen on the shelves of my normal haunts.  I highly recommend this establishment!

And now, back up Highway 395, the fast way to Escondido from San Diego.  See you soon with a review of this month’s Analog

[Dec. 15, 1960] Booby Prize (Pioneer Atlas Able #4)

Today, NASA made a record–just not one it wanted to.

For the first time, a space program has been a complete failure.  Sure, we’ve had explosions and flopniks and rockets that veered too high or too low.  We’ve had capsules that popped their tops and capsules that got lost in the snow.  But never has there been a clean streak of bad missions.

Pioneer Atlas Able, Space Technology Laboratories’ sequel to its marginally successful Pioneer (Thor) Able moon probes and its rather triumphant Explorer 6 and Pioneer 5 missions, was supposed to be the capping achievement.  It was the biggest American probe yet, and it carried an unprecedented myriad of instruments.

The problem wasn’t the probe, which probably would have worked given the success of its well-tested predecessors.  No, it was the rocket.  We just didn’t have anything purpose-built that would throw in the Soviet weight class.  But there were a few Atlas ICBMs lying around, as well as the generally reliable second and third stages used in the Thor Able.  They were married in the ungainly form of the Atlas Able.

None of them worked.  The first one died in September ’59 in a static (non-launch) test.  #2 popped its top two months later when the air pressure in the nosecone was insufficiently vented.  #3 weathered Hurricane Donna only to tip fanny over kettle and plunge into the Atlantic.  And #4…

We’re still not sure why #4 burst into flames early this morning at a height of 40,000 feet.  What we do know is that’s another $40,000,000 down the drain, and it marks an end to the STL space program, at least for now. 

In fact, it marks a rather dramatic end of an entire chapter of spaceflight.  The next set of moon probes, called Ranger, are being developed by a completely different center (Jet Propulsion Laboratories) and along completely different lines.  It won’t be launched by an Able derivative but rather a rocket using one of the new second-stage boosters: the Air Force’s Agena, or maybe even the powerful Centaur.

Either way, it’s likely that the Soviets will score the next success in the lunar/interplanetary race as a result. 

On the other hand, it’s not all bad news.  The Air Force’s ill-starred Discoverer program, which suffered far more failures than Atlas Able, has had an unbroken streak of success.  #18 flew on Pearl Harbor Day, and its capsule, containing biological specimens (and probably several rolls of film with snapshots of the Russian countryside from orbit), was recovered in mid-air, as planned.  The government is no longer hiding the surveillance purpose of the program, which I suppose is reassuring, somehow.

The next Mercury test is set to go in four days.  Keep your fingers crossed!

[Dec. 13, 1960] Ringing In a bit Early (January 1961 IF)

1961 began on November 10, 1960.

I see some of you are scratching your heads in confusion; others are nodding sagely.  It’s a long-held tradition in the publishing industry that the date printed on magazines is the date through which they are expected to be on the bookstands, not the date they are first displayed.  IF Science Fiction, a bi-monthly, comes out a full two months before it’s “expiration date.”  Thus, I picked up a copy with a January 1961 stamp well before Thanksgiving 1960!

Since IF was acquired by the folks who bring us Galaxy Science Fiction, it has been something of a weak sister to that elder magazine.  This month’s issue may turn all that around.

First, though, we have to get through the lead novella, Absolute Power, by the wildly inconsistent J.T. McIntosh.  I imagine he got top billing because he is the most famous of the crop appearing in this issue, but what a stinker.  Power features a smug man dispatched by a wealthy magnate to a backward planet in order to improve the consistency of production of a luxury foodstuff.  The aboriginal inhabitants never time their deliveries with the arrivals of the freighters, you see, and the stuff perishes quickly.  That part of the set-up is fine.  But said smug person is also tasked with making docile the magnate’s intolerable daughter, who is sent to the planet, too.

When I was a kid, I enjoyed The Taming of the Shrew, but as I’ve matured, I’ve found it increasingly offensive and decreasingly humorous.  McIntosh’s version is no improvement on the formula, and by the end, you’ll want to give that supercilious “hero” a sock in the jaw just to wipe the smile off his puss.  One star.

Now, observe the smile on my puss.  Once you get past that kidney stone of a story, it’s all good-to-amazing. 

Take Assassin by Bascom Jones, Jr., for instance.  A man is sent to wipe out the entire population of Earth, relying on subtlety and spycraft.  While not a brilliant story, Jones (who has only written one other story, for Galaxy) does an excellent job of dropping hints of the story’s context rather than dumping it on the reader in a heap of exposition.  Three stars.

The off-beat R.A.Lafferty is back with The Polite People of Pudibundia.  Why is it that the humanoid Pudibundians are so incredibly polite, to the point of shielding their eyes with tinted goggles so as never to affront each other with direct gaze?  And why has every Terran who ever visited Pudibundia died shortly thereafter?  You’ll have to read it to find out!  Three stars.

Then we have Vassi, by Art Lewis.  I’ve never heard of this fellow before, but if this novelette is any indication of what we can expect, good God, man, keep writing!  It is really the intersection of two tales, one of personal grief and tragedy, the other of exploration with a tinge of desperation.  Uniquely crafted and very poignant, the last pages are something of a difficult read, but I promise it’s worth it.  Five stars.

Jack Sharkey is an author whose work has increasingly attracted my admiration.  His The Contact Point is an interesting tale of the first meeting between alien races.  Can you guess the kicker?  Three stars.

On to a pair of woman-penned short stories.  The first is Gingerbread Boy, by Phyllis Gotlieb (who has, hitherto, stayed in Cele Goldsmith’s magazines), an excellent tale about the troubles faced by a race of androids, created as offspring substitutes, when they are superseded by “real” children.  Four stars. 

Number two is the fun The House in Bel Aire by the expert Margaret St. Clair.  Be careful whose house you break into—you may offend the Mistress of the Palace.  Reminiscent of the third Oz book (for Baum-o-philes).  Four stars.

Finally, Joseph Wesley (whom you may know by his pen-name, L.J. Stecher) has an engaging story, A Matter of Taste, wherein an invulnerable interstellar insurance adjuster is called in to avert imminent conquest and enslavement by a powerful race of mentalist aliens.  Nicely done, though the ending is a bit pat.  Three stars.

That leaves us with a book that scores a touch over three stars (and if you skip the opening novelette, a solid 3.5).  Moreover, there were none of the editing errors that have come to plague even the best of the scentificition digests these days.  Fred Pohl is definitely shaping IF into something to look forward to six times a year!

[Dec. 11, 1960] Something Bright (the 1960 Galactic Stars!)

The chill of winter is finally here, heralding the end of a year.  It’s time for eggnog, nutmeg, presents, pies, and family.  But more importantly, it’s time for the second annual Galactic Stars awards.

Forget the Hugos–here’s what I liked best in 1960.

In a tradition I began last year, I look back at all fiction that debuted in magazines (at least, The Big Four) with a cover date of this year as well as all of the science fiction books published.  Then I break down the fiction by length, choose the best by magazine, and finally the best overall.  All using the most modern and sophisticated scientific techniques, of course.

Last year, my choices mirrored those chosen at the Labor Day Worldcon for the Hugo awards.  We’ll see if my tastes continue to flow in the mainstream.  I break my length categories a bit finer than the Hugos, so there are bound to be some differences from that aspect, alone. 

(stories within the category are ordered best to least)

Best Vignette (1-9 pages):

A Day in the Suburbs, by Evelyn Smith (F&SF)

Words and Music, Arthur Porges (IF)

The Barrier Moment, Poul Anderson (Analog)

Best Short Story (10-19 pages):

From Shadowed Places, Richard Matheson (Combat Unit, Keith Laumer, runner-up) (F&SF)

Something Bright, Zenna Henderson (Galaxy)

Gun for Hire, Mack Reynolds (Analog)

Best Novelette (20-45 pages)

Immortality for Some, J. T. McIntosh (Analog)

Meeting of the Minds, Robert Sheckley (Galaxy)

All the Traps of Earth, Clifford Simak (F&SF)

Best Novella (46+ pages)

To the Tombaugh Station, Wilson Tucker (F&SF)

The Lost Kafoozalum, Pauline Ashwell (Analog)

(none in Galaxy/IF)

Best Novel/Serial

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller (1st Place)

Deathworld, Harry Harrison (2nd Place)

The High Crusade, Poul Anderson (3rd Place)

Science Fact

Element of Perfection, Isaac Asimov (F&SF)

F&SF and Analog competed for the top of their categories, with Galaxy/IF not winning a single one.  This carried over into the novels, with Canticle originally appearing in F&SF, and Deathworld and Crusade both Analog stories. 

This is consistent with the overall magazine rankings…

Best Magazine

Fantasy and Science Fiction (3.17 stars)

Analog (2.92 stars)

Galaxy/IF (2.75 stars)

…particularly when you understand that Analog’s rating is encumbered by John Campbell’s wretched “science” articles. 

All in all, there were fewer stand-out (5-star) stories in 1960.  On the other hand, women wrote three of the fourteen fiction winners, a proportion larger than their representation by a factor of two. 

I think the answer is clear—if we want better fiction, we need more women writing it!

Finally, adding a new category to accommodate the large and small screen:

Best Dramatic Presentation

The Time Machine, George Pal

with a special nod to…

The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling (the 1st Season)

As always, tell me your favorites for 1960.  Here’s hoping for an excellent 1961 in science fiction/fantasy! 

[Dec. 8, 1960] Signs of Aging (Murray Leinster’s The Wailing Asteroid)

If anyone can claim the title of “Dean of Modern Science Fiction,” it is Murray Leinster.  For decades, the gentle old man of the genre has turned out exciting interstellar adventures leavened with humor and hard science. 

But old men are prone to losing their faculties, and I fear we’re seeing the first signs of it.

I was sent an advance copy of Leinster’s latest novel, The Wailing Asteroid, last month.  The premise is excellent: a few years from now, an object within the solar system suddenly begins broadcasting a repeating plaintive musical message.  The transmission is indecipherable, but clearly of artificial origin and of automatic nature.  A wunderkind engineer by name of Joe Burke realizes he’s heard this music before, in a dream he’s had since he was 11, when his father brought home a strange little black cube from a 20,000 year old archaeological site in France. 

The music isn’t all Burke got from the dream; included in its details were the clues to build a hand-weapon of almost limitless power, one which he adapts for use as a space drive.  Burke, with the help of a yachting buddy and an introverted savant, as well as his fiancee and her sister, decides to build a craft that will take them to this mysterious wailing asteroid. 

Once there, the team finds an abandoned fortress filled with unfathomable weaponry.  There isn’t a shred of written material, but it is clear that humans crewed this structure.  Who built this outpost, and against what was it built to defend?

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  Except it is written in what I can only term “The New Leinster.” He writes in short sentences.  There are no long ones.  Why should he write that way?  I do not know.  I only know that they are repetitive.  They repeat.  Why should Leinster write short sentences that repeat?  I can’t know.  It is annoying.  It is difficult to read.  There are no long sentences.

Pared down properly, the whole thing would be a novella, and it would be a nice addition to two issues of Analog.  But it’s not, which makes it a slog, though you will want to find out what happens.

I applaud the active inclusion of two women among the book’s stars.  It would have been nice if Leinster had given them more to do than stenotype, cooking, and pining after their fiancees (Burke’s fiancee’s sister falls for the yachting chap).  On the other hand, I suppose we still live in a world where men aren’t allowed to take shorthand and home economics classes, and the story is set in the near future.  How progressive can Leinster be?  In any event, it’s hard to get too upset about characters as thin as the ones Leinster has written.  Their dialogue is interchangeable and written in the same choppy format as the non-dialogue prose.  The science is flawed, too, particularly orbital mechanics, and the rest is zap-gun stuff as you might find in pulps from the 30s.

However, the few-page vignette devoted to the doomed cosmonaut who is dispatched before Burke begins his journey, is almost worth the price of the book.  And the story is interesting despite Leinster’s efforts to the contrary.

2.5 stars.

[Dec. 5, 1960] Improved Batch (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Eps: 5-8)

We are now deep into the second year of Rod Serling’s horror/fantasy anthology, The Twilight Zone.  I expressed my dissatisfaction with this sophomore season during my review of the first four episodes.  Has the show, justly nominated for a Hugo this year, gotten any better?

Well, you wouldn’t know it from the season’s fifth episode, The Howling Man.  My biggest beef with this show is the overused trope of a man’s slow descent into madness, usually punctuated by screaming in an episode’s padded second act.  This episode begins with a madman, an “American” with a strong foreign accent, who narrates the encounter he had decades before with a mysterious religious order.  It seems they had imprisoned the Devil.  Of course, the narrator was tricked into freeing him.  He then spent the next twenty years recapturing him…only to lose Beezelbub again when the narrator’s maid let him go.  It’s an overwrought, tilt-cameraed mess of an episode.  One star.

The next one, Eye of the Beholder, fares a little better.  A hospitalized woman, head completely bandaged, awaits the results of a treatment that will make her appearance “normal.” She is, reportedly, hideous.  The twist is given away within the first few minutes as the cinematographer takes ludicrous pains never to show the faces of any of the medical staff.  What saves this episode is the unsubtle yet still resonant commentary on modern prejudice and over-conformity.  Two stars.

Nick of Time is the first episode that approaches the standard set by the premiere season.  A honeymooning pair of newlyweds break down in a rural Ohio town and lunch in a cafe.  There, a Devil-headed fortune machine dispenses eerily accurate predictions.  William Shatner, a handsome young actor, really steals the show.  Moreover, there is flow and development to the story—you find yourself caring about this couple beyond the gimmick.  The ending is a nice kicker, too.  Four stars.

But then we’re back to form with episode four, The Lateness of the Hour, in which a young woman, shut in with her aging parents, rebels against the monotony of her life and the robotic, humanoid servants who enable it.  In the end, no surprise, it turns out she is a robot.  It stars Inger Stevens, who we saw last season in The Hitchhiker, and also in the great movie The World, The Flesh, and the Devil.  I like her, but this format was not kind to her.  The show has apparently switched to video-tape from film.  It may be cutting-edge and cheaper, but it looks tacky, and the whole thing runs like one-set dinner theater leaving no room for creative editing or cinematography.  Two stars.

This isn’t the first time a show has fallen short second year out.  Now that its leads are joining the Army, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is disappointing, too.  Well, what’s worse: a long-lived mediocre program, or a show that burns brightly for a short time before petering out?

[Dec. 3, 1960] Correcting an Oversight (The Crossroads of Time, by Andre Norton)

I didn’t start Galactic Journey with the intention of spotlighting female writers and characters in science fiction.  It just happened organically.  A good many of my readers are women, and their interests may have influenced me.  Or perhaps I simply became bored with the status quo.  Woman authors tend to be more experimental or, at least, stylistically unique.  And good female characters are a rare surprise (though increasing in frequency).

For a column that emphasizes the literary contributions of the species’ better half, there has been one curiously large omission.  Not once have I reviewed a work by Andre Norton.

Norton, despite the masculine pen name, is a woman, and she is one of the genre’s most prolific writers.  I think she has escaped my ken because she tends to write juveniles and fantasy novels, so she doesn’t appear in my magazine subscriptions.  I also attempted to start one of her books at a reader’s suggestion (Star Gate), and I found it impenetrable.

But last month, I was caught up with current publications and an Ace Double from a few years back attracted my interest: The Crossroads of Time by Norton paired up with Mankind on the Run by Gordon Dickson.  I finished Norton’s short novel over Thanksgiving weekend, and here’s what I found:

Blake Walker is a man twice orphaned.  He was abandoned in infancy, and his adoptive policeman father died in Blake’s teen years.  Now he is a 20-year old student, freshly arrived in New York.  His world is turned upside down when he crosses paths with the Time Wardens, agents from an alternate timeline where humans have figured out how to travel to parallel universes.  These agents are on the trail of the fugitive, Pranj, who plans to set up shop as a dictator in one of these worlds or “levels.”

Walker is, like most of Norton’s characters, a resourceful loner.  In addition, he is possessed of a sense of premonition and a strong psychic shield, the latter of particular importance as the denizens of the Pranj’s timeline all have strong psionic abilities.  It is Walker’s premonition that enables him to save an agent from one of the fugitive’s lackeys, which leads to Walker’s recruitment by the agency.  On his first mission, he ends up a prisoner of Pranj, but he is able to make his escape on a level-traveler. 

This is where the book really began for me (some halfway through).  We are treated to a tour of several New Yorks, each one a challenge for survival: Ixanilia, a repressive aristocratic place founded by European refugees from an ascendant Mongol Empire; a nameless island where stone towers occupy our Manhattan, and North America’s only inhabitants are far-ranging Pacific Islanders; a level where the Nazis took England and savaged America to collapse.

It is this last level that Pranj intends to rule.  Walker throws his lot in with a band of plucky survivors led by the capable leader and Buffalo Soldier called “The Sarge.” Walker manages to link up with a group of Wardens and assault Pranj’s local headquarters, whose barriers to psychic beings prove less effective against Walker as he is a latent.  He is aided in his endeavor by a cute little kitten, who proves to be a tigress both in courage and in effect.  I shan’t spoil the ending, but it is a happy one.

This new sideways-in-time genre is one of my favorites.  While, the first half of Crossroads is occasionally rough sledding, Norton gradually sheds the hoary pulpisms that suffuse the work, and things shift into higher gear once Walker begins his jaunt to the levels.  I was pleased by the appearance of both a Negro and a cat as pivotal, compelling characters.  In fact, even Blake is not White, (his ethnicity is a mystery, but it appears to be mixed) and his adoptive father was Black.  I found this degree of departure from the norm refreshing.  No female characters, though we do learn that women comprise a good number of Sarge’s able team of soldiers.

Norton has written Crossroads with sequels in mind (she suggests as much in the final lines of the book.) The Time Wardens are akin to Poul Anderson’s “Time Patrol” whose time-traveling agents ensure the sanctity of its history, and I could easily see a series developing. 

It’s a solid 3.5 stars of entertainment to fill a weekend with.  So find a copy if you can, and hope for a sequel!.