Tag Archives: 1961

[January 4, 1962] Over the top…Barely (February 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Life is full of happy surprises!  At long last Amazing has crossed a line: nothing in the the February 1962 issue is worse than three stars, and the average is a little higher.  Read on; I think you’ll agree that there is much to enjoy in this, the first magazine of the month:

Mark Clifton’s serial Pawn of the Black Fleet concludes in this issue.  It continues Clifton’s series about Ralph Kennedy, a corporate personnel director (as was Clifton) who appeared in four stories from 1953 to 1957 dealing with various psi manifestations.  Back then, Clifton appeared so often in Astounding that some called it the Clifton House Organ, though most of his recent work has appeared elsewhere.

Here, Kennedy is mistakenly dragooned into a job as Extraterrestrial Psychologist for the Space Navy, where he quickly learns the game of bureaucratic aggrandizement.  There are no extraterrestrials to psychologize at first, but soon enough a flight of black disks (the titular “Black Fleet”) appears, striking terror and sowing confusion until radiant globes show up and spectacularly dispatch them in what only Kennedy realizes is a complete put-on.  The aliens from the globes then manifest as five regular guys with heavy Texas accents, communicating frankly only with Kennedy.  After a brief interlude at Blair House, they go sightseeing around the Earth, irrigating deserts, making paths through jungles, and making Siberia and similar places livable as they go.  Then they depart, letting everything revert to its prior condition, telling the world that now you know what needs to be done and how to do it, and we’ll catch you later when you develop star travel and come visit us.  A subplot involves the machinations of Harvey Strickland, a media mogul resembling a cartoon of William Randolph Hearst on stilts, a comically evil figure, and obese to boot (confirming his awfulness, apparently).

This novella’s worth of plot is larded with extensive and heavy-handed satirical screeds about federal bureaucracy and its status obsessions, the military, the gullibility and prejudices of humanity at large, and similar subjects, some voiced or enacted by the characters (especially Strickland), but most in the authorial voice.  One rant about the military mind consumes more than a page of text.  (Now we know why this did not appear in Analog: nobody but the editor gets to rant at that length.) Clifton has apparently given up on “Show, don’t tell.” Some of these bloated lampoons are quite well written and therefore amusing, but collectively they become tedious, though their effect cannot be conveyed without quoting more than is manageable in the cramped quarters of this long-haul vessel.  Satire of bureaucracy is nothing new in Clifton’s work (see the previous Ralph Kennedy stories), but this one is less like being pricked with a needle and more like being beaten over the head with a sandbag.  Satire has yielded to self-indulgent and over-the-top misanthropy.  See for yourself when, as the magazine promises, a version appears next month from Doubleday as When They Come from Space.  Three stars.

The lead story is Poul Anderson’s Third Stage, a near-space and near-time opera featuring two astronauts who get stuck in orbit in the Van Allen belt.  Someone has to go outside the vehicle and clear the blocked valve, taking a fatal radiation dose.  Which one?  How to decide?  (The General bucks it to the President.) Also featured is an obnoxious TV guy who is harassing the astronauts’ families for human interest shots.  Capably and tensely done, but mechanical.  Three stars.

Third Stage is illustrated by another hardware-intensive hyper-literal cover, this one with a fillip: the space capsule is presented in cutaway, like something in Popular Mechanics.  Conceivably, artist Alex Schomburg is being subtler than he seems: the TV guy at one point displays a cutaway of the capsule on the air, described similarly to the cover.  So maybe it is meant to present an image of an image—appropriate to the media-centric aspect of the story.

Amazing’s “Classic Reprint” series is selected from the magazine’s early days and introduced by Sam Moskowitz, the leading (virtually the only) historian of the genre.  This issue’s Classic is Missionaries from the Sky by Stanton A. Coblentz, prolific in the 1920s and ‘30s, and known as a satirist.  And, based on my reading of several novels, a right old bore.  At short length, however, Coblentz’s verbose and antiquated style is more tolerable. 

Rand the electronic scientist has a new invention, which he shows to his assistant Denison:

“ ‘You behold here a Micro-Crystalline Televisor,’ explained Rand, surveying his invention proudly.  ‘The first of its kind ever created.’ ”

“ ‘Micro-Crystalline what?’ I gasped.”

Rand has managed to contact Mars, learning and teaching the respective languages, and the Martians are horrified to learn that Earth still has nations and wars, not to mention inequality and starvation.  They have offered to pop over and set us right, if Rand will just give them the go-ahead and direct them to a flat place to land.  He agonizes about the boons of peace and equality versus the loss of freedom until he finally flips, melodramatically smashing his equipment and burning his notes, a now-mad scientist in a better cause than usual.  Three stars for this reasonably pleasant and charming relic.

The remaining fiction items read as if they had wandered over from Amazing’s companion Fantastic.  A. Earley, apparently a new writer, contributes And It Was Good, a religious allegory in which somebody who seems to be Jesus returns to a post-apocalyptic war-ridden world and lightens the burdens of a few hopeless deserters from different countries’ armies until he gets blown up by a grenade.  Usually I have no patience with this kind of thing, but it is so well written and visualized, and light-handed despite its overtness (parse that if you dare), and so different in flavor from the rest of the magazine, I’m giving it four stars. 

John Jakes, by contrast, is a veteran of Amazing since 1950, with 50+ low-impact stories in the SF magazines and several dozen more elsewhere.  He perpetrates the cheerfully grotesque Recidivism Preferred, in which dashing thief Mellors (no relation, I’m sure) has been reduced after apprehension to a dull and withdrawn clerk in Lumpkin’s Emporium.  But he is visited by three surreally cartoonish characters who prove determined to break the conditioning that has rendered him both law-abiding and vacuous.  This is comedy so black as to be Stygian, and would rate higher were it not for the silly and deflating revelation of the rescuers’ motives.  Too bad.  Maybe someday a more ambitious writer can make something of the tradeoff between therapeutic rehabilitation and mental and moral freedom.  Three stars.

Sam Moskowitz has another in his series of “SF Profiles,” this one titled Theodore Sturgeon: No More Than Human.  Remarkably, the latest Sturgeon work mentioned is More Than Human, published in 1953; there is no reference to any of his numerous subsequent short stories and novelettes, or to his recent novels The Cosmic Rape (1958) or Some of Your Blood (1961), except for a general acknowledgment of his “steady literary production…with a continuous striving for higher achievement.” Nonetheless, it’s an interesting account of Sturgeon’s life and earlier career, with speculation about why he’s been doing so well recently, and there’s nothing else like these articles.  Four stars, as much for ground-breaking as anything else.

So ends an above-water issue, and just in time to return to my less exciting (for once) school-related reading.  Until next month!

[Dec. 30, 1961] Finishing Strong (January 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

At the end of a sub-par month, I can generally count on The Magazine and Science Fiction to end things on a positive note.  F&SF has been of slightly declining quality over the past few years, but rarely is an issue truly bad, and this one, for January 1962, has got some fine works inside.

Christmas Treason, by Ulsterian peacenik James White, starts things off with a literal bang as a gang of toddler espers attempt to save Christmas with the help of the world’s nuclear arsenal.  It’s nothing I haven’t seen Sturgeon do before, but it is charming and effective.  Four stars.

Kate Wilhelm has made a name for herself in the past several years, being a regular contributor to many science fiction magazines, Sadly, A Time to Keep, about a fellow with a pathological aversion to doorways, does not make much sense.  Not one of her better tales.  Two stars.

Every so often, some wag will write a “clever” piece on the need to send girls to service man astronauts on the long journeys to Mars.  Jay Williams’ Interplanetary Sex is the latest, and it’s as awful as the rest.  Casual reference to rape?  Check.  Stereotypical portrayal of married couples (henpecked husband and nagging shrew wife)?  Check.  It’s the sort of thing that will provide ample archaeological data on this era 55 years from now, but offers little else in value. 

HOWEVER, there are a few paragraphs near the end depicting a sentient cell’s mitosis written in florid romance novel style, and it’s genuinely funny.  You can skip to it…and skip the rest.  Two stars.

Maria Russell’s The Deer Park appears to be her first story, and it’s a fine freshman effort.  It effectively (albeit in an often difficult-to-parse manner) depicts a decadent future humanity entrapped in fantasy worlds of individual creation.  It’s hard to break out of a gilded cage, and the outside world is sometimes no improvement.  Three stars.

Ron Goulart’s occult detective, Max Kearney, is back in Please Stand By.  This time,the private dick has been enlisted by a hapless were-Elephant, the victim (or beneficiary?) of a magic spell.  It’s a charming story, and Goulart has an excellent talent for writing without exposition.  Four stars.

I didn’t much care for Asimov’s science column this month, The Modern Demonology.  The subject of Maxwell’s Demon, that metaphorical creature who can trade energetic for lazy atoms across two buckets such that one gets cold and one gets hot, is a good one.  However, the Good Doctor than meanders into philosophical territory, positing the existence of an evolutionary equivalent, a “Darwin’s Demon,” and it’s just sort of a muddy mess.  Three Stars.

Newcomer Nils T. Peterson is back with Prelude to a Long Walk, a somber short story about a static man in a growing world.  Not really science fiction, but memorable all the same.  Four stars.

Progress, by Poul Anderson, is a long-awaited sequel to The Sky People, both set in a post-apocalyptic future in which several nations of the world struggle toward modern civilization.  They are hampered both by a critical lack of resources, fossil fuels and metals, but also a fear of duplicating the catastrophe that threw them into a new Stone Age. 

Our heroes are once again representatives of the Polynesian Federation, if not the most technically advanced, probably the most progressive socially.  Ranu Makintairu and Alisabeta Kanukauai make charming protagonists, but Progress reads like a watered down vignette of Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.  It also has that smugly superior tone I associate with Analog.  Three stars.

The issue wraps up with a inconsequential poem, To the Stars by heretofore unknown James Spencer.  To discuss it further would take more words than Mr. Spencer wrote.  Two stars.

That wraps up magazines for this month, and boy is there a lot to compare!  F&SF was the clear winner, clocking in at 3.1 stars.  IF was number #2 at 2.9.  Cele Goldsmith’s mags, Fantastic and Amazing tied at 2.5 stars, and Analog finished at a dismal 2.3 stars.

Each of the mags, save for Amazing, had at least one 4-star story in it.  I give the nod for best piece to Piper’s Naudsonce, though Christmas Treason is close.  Out of 28 pieces of fiction, a scant two were written by women (and if we’re just including the Big Three, as I have in the past, then the ratio is still bad: two out of eighteen).  On the other hand, two of the five magazines were edited by a Ms. Goldsmith, so there’s something.

Next up, Ms. Benton reviews the latest Blish novel!

[December 27, 1961] Double and Nothing (The Phantom Planet and Assignment: Outer Space)


by Gideon Marcus

Our effort at the Journey to curate every scrap of science fiction as it is released, in print and on film, leaves us little time for rest.  Even in the normally sleepy month of December (unless you’re battling Christmas shopping crowds, of course), this column’s staff is hard at work, either consuming or writing about said consumption.

I try to write my annual Galactic Stars article as close to the end of the year as possible.  Otherwise, I might miss a great story or movie that had the misfortune to come out in December. 

Fortunately for that report, but unfortunately for us, neither of the films in the double feature we watched last weekend had any chance of winning a Galactic Star.

Both of them were low budget American International Pictures films.  This is the studio best known for making B-movie schlock for the smaller Drive-Ins.  However, they also brought us the surprisingly good Master of the World as well as the atmospheric Corman/Poe movies.  So I’m not inclined to just write them off.  This time, however, we should have. 

The Phantom Planet is a typical first-slot filler movie.  Spaceships launched from the moon keep getting intercepted by a rogue asteroid.  Only one crewmember of the third flight survives, a beefcake of a man who shrinks to just six inches tall when exposed to the asteroid’s atmosphere.  What’s stunning is not the lack of science in this movie, but the assiduous determination to avoid any scientific accuracy in this movie.  However, I the sets are surprisingly nice…and familiar.  They look an awful lot like the sets from the short TV series Men in Space


“Remember when we flew these last year?”

The people of the asteroid (humans, natch) are a paradox of ultra-advanced technology and primitiveness.  They have powerful gravitational devices, operated similarly to the theremin, but they grow food out of rock and spin their own clothes.  There is some typical jive about the softness of civilization and the conscious choice to live the harder, but more pure life.


“Decisions…decisions…”

Beefcake pilot must choose between the two women who asteroid chief throws at him.  The younger, dramatic-looking one is mute, and therefore more readily impressed with a projected personality.  The older one is coveted by the chief’s top adviser, and some drama results from that.  All squabbles are put aside when enemy aliens appear to blast the asteroid with fire.  Beefcake and Jilted Lover work together to defeat them with theremins.  One of the lumpy aliens, a prisoner at the movie’s start, takes the mute girl captive.  She is rescued, and happily for her, the ordeal gives her back her voice.  Sometimes it’s that easy folks.


“You asked to be woken up at 6…”

Jilted Lover wins the love of Older Beauty.  Beefcake takes a gulp of oxygen and returns to normal size.  He returns to the moon with nothing but a pebble to remember the formerly mute girl with whom he shared the love of a lifetime in the course of 25 silent minutes.

Not quite one star, I suppose, but not much above it.  Call it 1.5.

Assignment: Outer Space, the “A” feature, is even worse.  An Italian production, it promised to be the superior of the productions, featuring full color, a wider aspect ratio, and a diverse cast.  Sadly, Assignment, filmed in Italy and dubbed with signal ineptitude, is a hot mess.  The set-up is fine, with an Earth reporter assigned to a space naval vessel to record a routine scientific investigation.  There’s some refreshing nods to weightlessness and some not terrible in-space shots.  The laughable model work is somewhat offset by the serviceable sets.  Yet, between the arbitrary plot (an Earth ship’s “photonic drive” has gone haywire and will destroy the Earth!!!) the fuzzy grasp of distance (Let’s go to Mars!  Now let’s go to Venus!) and the indescribably poor acting, this film is a dud.  And, of course, there is the perfunctory and accelerated romance between our reporter, Ray, and the navy ship’s navigator, Lucy.  It is as engaging as it is nuanced.


“These plants convert hydrogen into oxygen.”  “I love you.”

Another 1.5 star film (the half-star given for the mildly interesting engineer character, who is both Afro-American and the most competent of the ship’s crew).

Of course, as usual, the Junior Traveler came along for the ride.  As might be expected of someone with such maturity, culture, and discernment for her age, her views mirror mine…


by Lorelei Marcus

Today me and my dad decided to hit the theater and see what magical experience it would give us this time. We got a double showing, featuring The Phantom Planet and Assignment Outer Space. I will start with the former movie, to keep things in order. So without further ado, the review:

I think Phantom had to be one of the most low budget, poorly written, B movies we’ve seen so far. However that does not mean it wasn’t enjoyable. In fact it was quite humorous, after we decided to add our own little ongoing commentary. It’s more a movie to be made fun of rather than watched as a respectable feature. I don’t think it’s possible to watch it seriously all the way through.

What really intrigued me, is that it was made by the same studio who made Master of the Sky and the infamous Konga! This baffles me, because as you might know, these movies have a drastic difference in quality. In a way that’s really an understatement considering Konga was literally the worst movie we’ve ever seen. I suppose it isn’t that surprising for the studio to make The Phantom Planet though. It’s about the quality you would expect from a B movie studio.


“I thought cotton shrunk in the dryer…”

In terms of the story, there wasn’t one. Things happened, of course, but there was no ongoing plot, just a bunch of random events being thrown in your face, at random! The effects were cool at times, though mostly they just made me laugh. For example, the rubber alien suits on flaming ships, in space. The science of the movie could not be less accurate. I found myself constantly muttering to myself, “That’s not how it works!” throughout the movie. Still, that did also give more fuel to make fun of the movie and get any scraps of humor we could out of the mess.


“Theremins…in…space!

I’m going to give this movie 2 stars. Despite being absolutely terrible in every way, the experience around it that I had with my dad was quite enjoyable. I imagine someone going alone would give this movie a lower score than mine, but my experience is going to affect my score – I imagine if I’d gone alone it would probably be a 1 out of 5 stars instead. At least I had fun!

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Assignment Outer Space. We came back from the concession stand with high hopes, after the not-very-good experience we’d just had. Sadly, our hopes were soon crushed into a billion, tiny, disappointed pieces. The worst part is this thing tried to disguise itself as a movie, making the realization that it wasn’t even harsher.

We start off on a space ship where the main characters are waking up from hyperspace. We know this, thanks to the constant expositional narration that describes everything that’s currently going on in every scene. Despite that, we still managed to be confused about what was actually happening nearly the entire movie, which tells you something.


“I dreamed I was in a lousy movie!” “It’s no dream, my son.”

Anyway, we are soon introduced to the main character of the film, Ray, who is actually a reporter, and the narration is the article he writes after the movie. This was a terrible, and I repeat, terrible choice on the script-writer’s part. Not just because it’s completely boring and unnecessary, but it ruins the entire climax of the movie!

For you to understand, I will need to tell you the movie’s plot. Unfortunately this movie does not have one, just a series of events with no context or build up whatsoever. The main conflict of the film, which literally appeared out of nowhere, was an indestructible man-made weapon, intent on destroying Earth. The main crew’s job is to find a way to stop it, and that’s the entire second half of the movie! However we know how it ends from the beginning, we know they save Earth and the main character survives because we know he writes an article that he will share with the world! Plus, its not like the narration was even needed in the first place!


Ray saves the day.  Surprise, surprise.

As you can probably tell, that frustrated me a lot, probably because it felt like the entire movie was a pointless waste of time and I wasn’t going to get anything new out of watching it. I almost walked out of the theater at one point, especially when they killed the one character I was at all fond of (the engineer sacrifices himself to find the photonic barrier’s weakness). But no, I stayed.


“Mustn’t… show… emotion…”

I could go on and on about all the flaws in the pacing and acting and dubbing sync etc., but I already pretty much did that for the other movie. In comparison to Assignment Outer Space, The Phantom Planet actually looks like a decent movie (despite being in black and white). So of course, Assignment Outer Space is going to get a lower score of 0.5 stars. I think this is the lowest score I’ve given a movie so far, and this one deserves it. Konga was incredibly bad, but it had more redeeming qualities than this pile of garbage. I think the only two things I liked about this movie was the style of one of the character’s hair, and a shot where the main character turns towards the camera ridiculously slowly for no reason. That’s it!


Get used to this shot.  You’ll see it a lot.

With a steep ratio of bad to good Science Fiction movies this year, I’m really hoping we’ll get some better quality stuff in 1962. I wish I were a Time Traveler so I could just go and see, but that would spoil the fun. I hope you all have Happy Holidays, and do me a favor: never watch Assignment Outer Space. Thank you.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off. 

[December 24, 1961] The Best and the Brightest (1961’s Galactic Stars)


by Gideon Marcus

Everyone knows that the great American pastime is Baseball.  Most fans enjoy watching the drama on the diamond, the crowds, the cheers, the hot dogs.  But there is a dedicated minority for whom the sublimest pleasure is compiling Baseball stats.  How well did each team do this year?  Each player?  Year over year, what are the trends?  What are the chances of the Cubs ever winning the World Series again (hah!)

So here’s my confession: I love statistics.  A lot of the reason I read so much science fiction and maintain this column is so that, every year, I can keep track of every story, every magazine, every novel.  In December, I compile these numbers and determine the annual recipients of the Galactic Stars.  It tickles my mathematical brain, and it lets me see, graphically, how things are going not just in the careers of my favorite writers, but in the genre as a whole.

Plus, you get a slew of recommendations in the bargain.  I mean, why wait for the Hugos?  They’re just going to echo what I say, anyway, right?

1961 was a better year than 1960, which saw an absolute nadir of 5-star stories.  As a result, there was some stiff competition in nearly every category.  I’ve listed the winners in bold, followed by the runners up and the honorable mentions (where applicable).  Read on – I’m sure you’ll agree that I had tough choices to make:

Best Poetry

Extraterrestrial Trilogue, Sheri Eberhart (Galaxy)

Best Vignette (1-9 pages):

Ms Fnd in a Lbry, Hal Draper (F&SF)

Adapted, by Carol Emshwiller (F&SF)

The Intruder, Theodore L. Thomas (F&SF)

Honorable Mention:

The House in Bel Aire, Margaret St. Clair (IF)

Juliette, Claude-François Cheiniss (F&SF)

The Day they got Boston, Herbert Gold (F&SF)

Best Short Story (10-19 pages):

Vassi, Art Lewis (IF)

Of All Possible Worlds, Rosel George Brown (F&SF)

The Little Man who wasn’t Quite, William Stuart (Galaxy)

Honorable mention:

The Weirdest World, R.A. Lafferty (Galaxy)

Best Novelette (20-45 pages)

Return, Zenna Henderson (F&SF)

A Planet Named Shayol, Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy)

Time Lag, Poul Anderson (Analog)

Honorable Mention:

Hothouse, Brian Aldiss (F&SF)

Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, Cordwainer Smith (F&SF)

The Moon Moth, Jack Vance (Galaxy)

Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons, Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy)

Hiding Place, Poul Anderson (Analog)

The Quaker Cannon, Cyril Kornbluth and Fred Pohl (Analog)

Best Novella (46+ pages)

Sentry of the Sky, Evelyn Smith (Galaxy)

Undergrowth, Brian Aldiss (F&SF)

Ultima Thule, Mack Reynolds (Analog)

(These were all three-star stories; were no outstanding Novellas this year.  This is not too shocking – it is a rare story length)

Best Novel/Serial

Naked to the Stars, Gordon Dickson: (F&SF)

Dark Universe, Daniel Galouye

A Fall of Moondust, Arthur C. Clarke

Honorable Mention:

The Fisherman, Cliff Simak (Analog)

Three Hearts and Three Lions, Poul Anderson

The Mind Thing, Frederic Brown

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Ben Barzman

Science Fact

Not as we know it, Isaac Asimov (F&SF) (and most of Asimov’s other articles in his F&SF column this year)

Honorable Mention:

An Introduction to the Calculus of Desk Cleaning, Maurice Price (Analog)

Dragons and Hot Air Ballons, Willy Ley (Galaxy)

Best Magazine

Galaxy (3.43 stars)

Fantasy and Science Fiction (3.11 stars)

Analog (2.79 stars)

IF (2.73 stars)

The Big Three magazines all had strong representation in every category.  The one surprise was IF‘s in the Novelette list.  However, in overall quality, it wasn’t a close competition this year.  Not only did Galaxy have the highest score, but it also was the best magazine five out of the six months it was published. 

Best author(s):

Cordwainer Smith

Poul Anderson

This is a new category, one that likely won’t be reflected in the Hugos.  I feel that these two authors put out so much good work this year, with Smith penning three 5-star stories, and Anderson being both prolific and consistently excellent, that they deserved some kind of special recognition.

Best Dramatic Presentation

Master of the World

Mysterious Island

Atlantis

One might argue that Jules Verne was the real winner given that his works inspired two of these three winners.  Note that The Twilight Zone did not make the cut this year. 

Thus ends 1961, a thoroughly enjoyable year for science fiction and fantasy.  Next year, perhaps we’ll add Fantastic and Amazing to the consideration.  I rub my hands greedily at the thought of collecting even more statistics…

[December 21, 1961] Reviewer’s Burden (January 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

I read a lot of stuff every month.  I consider it my duty, as your curator, to cover as broad a range of fiction as possible so that you can pick the stories most likely to appeal to you.  What that means is I wade through a lot of stones to find the gems.

Analog is the magazine with the highest stone/gem ratio, I’m afraid.  Nevertheless, it’s rare that an issue goes by without something to recommend it, and the January 1962 edition has at least one genuine amethyst amongst the quartz.

It is the first story, Naudsonce, by one of my favorite authors, H. Beam Piper.  Like his earlier classic, Omnilingual, it is an extra-terrestrial linguistic puzzle story.  Unlike the prior story, Naudsonce involves a living alien race, one with no discernible language, and which displays nonsensical reactions to human speech.  Is telepathy involved?  Is the Terran contact team missing a fundamental clue?

It’s an interesting riddle, to be sure, but what really sells this story is the social commentary.  From the beginning, we see that the human explorers, while not bad people, are interested in one thing: finding a colonizable planet.  The concerns of the aboriginals are casually treated, and the callous, jaded attitude of the scouts is evident, particularly at the end.  This kind of cynical self-awareness is quite rare for an Analog story, and it contrasts strongly with the utter lack of it in Mack Reynold’s serial (see below).  I also appreciated that the contact team was thoroughly integrated, ethnically and sexually; but then Piper has always been ahead of the curve on this issue.  This diversity of characters highlights that the casual rapine associated with imperialism is not an ethnic problem, but a human one.  Four stars.

Idiot Solvant, by Gordon Dickson, is a story that could have been much better.  The premise is exciting: You know how you often get flashes of inspiration when you are sleepy?  Or a solution comes to you in a dream?  Clearly, some magic happens when one’s left brain relinquishes control and lets the right go wild.  Something similar happens to the protagonist of Solvant, allowing him to accomplish some truly miraculous feats.  What kills this story, however, is the several pages of exposition that set up the gimmick.  Moreover, a story, especially a short story, only gets so much leeway before it exceeds its “hand-wave” allowance.  Dickson asserts too many premises in too short a space.  The result is a contrived mess.  Two stars.

E.C. Tubb’s Worm in the Woodwork is a competent interstellar thriller about an undertaking to save a Terran logician who has fallen into the hands of a hostile colonial star league.  The thoughtful bits involving the captive genius, Ludec, are particularly engaging.  Three stars.

The science fact pieces continue to be where Analog falls down.  Campbell went through the trouble of giving his magazine a “slick” section, using the kind of paper one normally finds in news periodicals like Time.  Nevertheless, the articles often aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.  Big Boom in Forming, by Willis Cain, has an interesting topic – explosive formed metals (where big booms press metal plate against molds to make parts) – but the piece is, by turns, overly kiddie and excessively obtuse.  Two stars.

Editor John Campbell’s When the Glaciers Go is much worse, though.  Some garbage about how rapid climate change (over the course of hours!) is evidenced by the frozen Mastodons in Siberia.  The climate is changing, and our species is a big contributing factor these days, but it don’t work like that.  Bleah.  One star.

That brings us to Black Man’s Burden (Part 2 of 2), by Mack Reynolds.  I had high hopes for this piece, about Afro-Americans spearheading efforts in Africa to promote democracy and progress.  After all, Reynolds is an accomplished writer of political thriller, and he’s spend a good deal of time in the Mahgreb.  Africa, a continent that has seen nearly twenty new nations spring up in the wake of decolonization, is a rich (and unusual) setting. 

In the end, however, Burden was a disappointment.  While no one knows where Africa is heading, I like to think that, after the normal teething pains, its states will join the community of nations as vibrant, mature members.  Reynolds’ premise is that they simply can’t, that without the aid of Westerners (Free or Communist), Africa will remain a tribal and/or despotic mess.  Or at least, that’s what the protagonists of the story all believe.  At one point, it is even asserted that Islam is a dead-end for nation-building; no Islamic country on Earth has an advanced social system.  I take particular umbrage with this idea given the flowering of the Muslim world in the “Middle Ages.” 

This idea that Africa must be boot-strapped into modernity by its abducted sons, the descendants of American slavery, is an insulting one.  It slights Africans, and it paints a veneer of redemption on “that peculiar institution.”  There is a throwaway reference to the destruction of African culture in the process of “improving” it, but it feels perfunctory.  Worst of all is this bland superiority that suffuses the whole thing.  Africans are pawns.  Americans are superior.  I appreciate that the characters of Burden are all Black, but that quality is only skin-deep.  It is, ultimately, a story of White Americans, who happen to be of dark hue.  And unlike Naudsonce, it’s played completely straight.  2 stars.

Sum it all together, and you’ve got a 2.3 star issue.  This is worse than, well, any of the magazines that came out this month.  If this is the digest that will win the Hugo, I’ve got a closet full of hats to eat…

…but Naudsonce is worth reading!

[December 19, 1961] AMAZING . . . NOT YET (the January 1962 Amazing)

[Several months ago, I put out the call for someone to help me review the two science fiction digests I didn’t have time to read: Fantastic and Amazing, both edited by young Cele Goldsmith.  I’ve generally considered them the least of the sff magazines, but given how few of them are left these days, I reasoned that they could not be entirely worthless.  Moreover, I want Galactic Journey to provide as complete a picture of the genre as I can, covering virtually every story produced in this country (and many in the UK as well!) Hence, my delight when super-fan Victoria Silverwolf took up the pen and started reviewing Fantastic

Now, a second long-time Journeyer, precocious John Boston, has also responded.  As 1962 begins, we now have all of the big periodicals presented.  Read on and see what’s you’ve missed…]


by John Boston

As a a maladjusted high school freshman in a reactionary and pious small town, I’m always glad of the opportunity to get away, if only for a little while.  Mostly, that means a flight of fancy facilitated by a trip to the library stacks or, if I’ve got a couple of bits, the newsstands.  And now, the Journey affords me a chance to reach all of you, the fellow travelers who follow this column. 

What I have for you today is the January 1962 Amazing Stories, subtitled Fact and Science Fiction.  For some years, this magazine has been slowly digging itself out of a hole of purposeful mediocrity, with much improvement — but it’s not quite at ground level yet.

The headliner in this issue is Mark Clifton’s serial Pawn of the Black Fleet, to be discussed when it concludes next month.  The issue actually leads off with a novelette, The Towers of Titan by relatively new author Ben Bova.  On Titan, humans have found a number of towers full of extraterrestrial machinery, still running after a million years, operation and purpose incomprehensible.  There’s a scientific puzzle, solved scientifically (at least enough to fool me).  Of course, there is a bit of serendipity, and there’s no question the solving process is beneficial to protagonist Dr. Lee’s romance with Elaine the resident archaeologist.  This is a clever and well constructed piece of hard-science SF, written in a determinedly plain style with considerable facility, which is both good news and bad.  It’s good when Bova is describing scientists discussing their findings and research methods, which otherwise could get pretty boring, but bad when he wallows in handy cliches. 

Visiting the towers:

“He could feel it again—the alienness, the lurking presence of an intelligence that scorned the intruders from Earth.”

After telling Elaine that his wife has left him:

“Do you still love her?”  Elaine asked. 

“I don’t know.  I don’t think I know what love is, anymore.  All I know is, on that long trip out to Vega, when I had nothing to do but sit and think, it wasn’t Ruth I was thinking about.  It was you.”

“Oh . . .”

And of course in the next paragraph, “she was his, at least for a while.”

Actually, it all fits.  This is only Bova’s second SF magazine appearance, but he has published the Winston juvenile The Star Conquerors, the flap copy of which reveals that he’s been a technical editor for Project Vanguard.  He is also now a screenwriter for a scientific educational outfit.  So he’s experienced at word-slinging with a premium on clarity as well as appealing to the least common denominator.  He may have a bright future in hard-science SF if he can lose some of the schmaltz.  Weighing cleverness and obvious enthusiasm against cliches, three stars.

These Towers are depicted on the cover, by Ed Emshwiller, which typifies the current look of Amazing: colorful, sharp-edged, cartoony, and emphasizing hardware — in this case the characters’ space suits and helmets (Elaine’s spacesuit being rather tight-fitting).  The previous year’s covers almost all prominently feature spaceship, space station, or launch facility.  They are all a trifle crude, garish, and frankly unimaginative compared to most of their current competition.  Compare, especially, this Emsh cover to his subtler, better-rendered and generally more interesting work for F&SF (say, his last three covers for 1961). 

The most interesting fiction here is J.G. Ballard’s The Insane Ones.  Ballard has been prolific and well received in the British SF magazines, but this is his first appearance in an American magazine; he is known here only via the Judith Merril annual anthologies and the short-lived US reprint of New Worlds.  His work displays a preoccupation with psychological themes, and this is no exception: an ultraconservative world government has outlawed mental health treatment.  Everybody has the right to be insane, but remains criminally responsible for conduct.  The result: “psychotics loitering like stray dogs in the up-town parks, wise enough not to shop-lift or cause trouble, but a petty nuisance on the cafe terraces, knocking on hotel-rooms at all hours of the night.”

Dr. Gregory, just released from prison for continuing to practice psychiatry, encounters a troubled young woman who kills herself when she can’t get any help from him.  Then he finds a disturbed young man, Christian, rifling his suitcase for barbiturates to keep himself from trying to kill the leader of the government.  Gregory yields and renders covert and cursory treatment—and Christian then sets off to kill the world leader, saying he is completely rational and someone has to do it.  He drives off, with Gregory chasing after him, yelling “Christian, you’re insane!”  This is not one of Ballard’s best: the idea is interesting but underdeveloped at this short length.  But even in this minor and facile (that word again) story Ballard’s style is vivid and incisive and one hopes that he will now appear regularly in the US.  Three and a half stars.

Miriam Allen de Ford’s SF career comprises some three dozen stories over the past decade or so, and yet is almost an afterthought.  Her 50-year-plus career has emphasized mystery fiction and true crime, with a detour through Big Little Books, authoring such titles as Astronomy for Beginners and What Great Frenchwomen Learned About Love.  In her spare time, she was an early disseminator of birth control information (when you could go to jail for it), and did some field work for Charles Fort.

If only de Ford’s writing were as fascinating as her life must have been.  The Akkra Case is blurbed as “a criminologist’s lecture-report” and it reads like one.  A young woman is found murdered in the rarely-entered Central Park in “Newyork I” in a diluted Brave New World-ish future: murder is nearly unknown, no one works until age 25 and then they can retire at 45, and a “healthy system of sexual experimentation” has replaced all the old hang-ups.  But the murder victim was a virgin, and that’s the clue: she and family were involved with the Naturists, a subversive cult opposed to all modern practices including sexual freedom. 

Yeah, but who killed her?  Her younger sister cracks the case, and the solution turns out to be as uninteresting as the lead-up.  En passant, the Naturists were rounded up, locked up, and then lobotomized, and it’s a measure of how detached the presentation is that one can’t really tell what de Ford thinks about that, or anything else in the story.  Two stars, being generous.

We are not done with de Ford.  The Editorial consists mostly of the text of a speech by de Ford on SF criminology, in which she describes three of her other stories, which sound no more interesting than this one. 

[ED: I have not read these stories, but I’ve generally found DeFord’s work more engaging than Mr. Boston does.  Perhaps these are bad examples…or perhaps I’ve encountered the good ones]

The Mars Snooper by Frank Tinsley, is a rather basic description of the engineering problems involved in getting a spaceship to Mars and back.  It’s a piece of straight exposition and nothing more.  Three stars.

Interestingly, this Tinsley, who has contributed several such pieces to Amazing, started out as an artist, providing cover and interior illustrations for pulp magazines, then art and text for a comic strip, then text and illustrations for articles in Mechanix Illustrated, and now in Amazing with text and a single illustration.

The remaining story is Inconstancy by Roger Dee (Roger D. Aycock), whose 50 stories in the SF mags since 1949 have had little discernible impact.  This one certainly has none.  Mars and Earth, their populations having common ancestry, exchange ambassadors, who are going to have to remain away from home for a couple of years.  The Martian ambassador, selected to look Earth-ish, is introduced to a nice young woman, and the Earth ambassador, selected to look Martian, hits it off with the Mars ambassador’s wife.  Problems solved!  One star to this piece of filler.

So: the fiction here, exclusive of the serial, yields an overall rating of a little under two and a half stars.  The best one can say of this issue is that it shows promise: promise of more Ballard and better Bova. 

[I’ll take promise.  It’s more than Analog delivers much of the time!]

[December 17, 1961] XMAS COOL (UK report and Drake’s Equation)


By Ashley R. Pollard

I find December, in fact all the winter months, a tad difficult because it’s dark in the morning when I get up to go to work, and dark when it’s time to come home.  To add to the misery it’s cold too.  However, a piece on the misery of Christmas is, I feel, not congruent with the general feeling of excitement and good cheer that emanates from seeing people shopping, and of course the switching on of the Oxford Street lights.  A tradition that started in 1954 and seven years later is still going strong.

In other good cheer, our Health Minister the right honourable Enoch Powell (not my favourite member of parliament because he’s too clever for his own good) gave British women an early Christmas gift by making birth control pills available from the National Health Service.  It may not sound like much, but it’s all part and parcel of women’s emancipation, which in my opinion is a good thing.  Having the means to give women some control of their bodies about when they want to get pregnant is certainly a sign that the future is here.

Thinking back to when I was a child, a tablet like this would’ve been something right out of a science fiction story.  Not that I can readily think of any science fiction stories where the woman are in control of when they become pregnant.

A part of me thinks that birth control may have some unintended second order consequences.  The positive part is freedom to choose, and it will certainly address the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus 1798 work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, where he postulates that unchecked population growth is exponential while the growth of the food supply was expected to be arithmetical, with catastrophic consequences for humanity.  His solutions having had provided authors with a raft of apocalyptic story lines over the years.

Speaking of the Age of Enlightenment, I have access to the 1753 Cyclopædia: or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences by Ephraim Chambers.  This was one of the first ever encyclopaedias published.

Imagine my delight and surprise when reading through it to find a definition of the word interstellar,

“is a word used by some authors to express those parts of the universe that are without and beyond our Solar system; in which are supposed to several other systems of planets moving around the fixed stars as the renters of their respective motions: and if it be true, as it is not improbable, that each fixed star is thus a sun to some habitable orbs, that move round it, the interstellar world will be infinitely the greater part of the universe.”

This is the stuff of science fiction before science fiction existed as a genre.

But it invites a question, if there are habitable planets out there, do they have life?  Are there aliens in the universe?  Countless stories have been written by science fiction authors about aliens — some lurid, some frightening, some optimistic — but now Dr. Frank Drake has come up with an equation to allow mankind to estimate the probability of the existence of aliens in the universe.

His equation arose out of an article published in 1959 by Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison in the journal Nature called Searching for Interstellar Communications.  Cocconi and Morrison thought radio telescopes were now sensitive enough to pick up any transmissions being broadcast by civilizations orbiting other stars, and they went on to posit that these transmissions would be sent using the frequency of neutral hydrogen, a logical landmark in the radio spectrum.

A couple of months later Professor Harlow Shapley from Harvard University opined that the universe had ten million, million, million suns, and if one in a million has a planet around it, and if only one in a million of those has a planet that supports life as we know it, then there would be 100 million worlds where life could evolve.

This article spurred Dr. Drake to start the first systematic search for signals from extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations, which has not been successful in finding in finding said signals.  However, undeterred Dr. Drake hosted a meeting to discuss the search for extraterrestrial intelligence using radio signals at the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.  Out of that meeting has come his equation defining the parameters needed to make an estimate of the number of alien civilizations that might exist.

What it doesn’t do is give an answer per se; it only defines what we must know for us to arrive at an answer.  But now that mankind is venturing into space we may be able to start collecting the data necessary to plug figures into the equations: for example things like the number of stars with planets around them, which given we haven’t got proof that there are other planets around other stars, is a big step.  After that, determining how many planets might be habitable will be another hurdle scientists will have to overcome.  But, the hope that we may one day know the answer to the question, which was first propounded in the 1753 edition of Chambers Cylopaedia, is what makes mankind’s future bright.

So one day, in another time and galaxy, we may well be celebrating the changing of the seasons with beings from other worlds.  On that note, allow me to wish all the readers of Galactic Journey a very merry time, and my best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.  I’m sure 1962 is going to be even more exciting than 1961. 

Thank you all for reading.

[December 15, 1961] Double Trouble (Ace Double F-113)


by Gideon Marcus

God help me, I’ve found a new medium for my science fiction addiction.

Before 1950, I was strictly a toe-dipper in the scientifiction sea.  I’d read a few books, perused a pulp now and then.  Then Galaxy came out, and I quickly secured a regular subscription to the monthly magazine.  After I got turned onto the genre, I began picking up books at the stores, occasionally grabbing copies of F&SF, Imagination, Astounding, and Satellite, too.  By 1957, my dance card was pretty full.  I was reading up to seven magazines a month, and I’d already filled a small bookcase with novels.

Then I started this column.

Well, I couldn’t very well leave magazines or books unbought.  How then could I give an honest appraisal of the genre as a whole?  By 1960, I was up to two large bookcases – one for magazines, and one for books.  For me, the magazine bust of the late 50’s was something of a blessing: fewer digests to collect!

I might have been all right with this load, juggling work, family, books and magazines.  But then I discovered Ace Doubles.

Occupying that niche between single novels and story collections, Ace Doubles are two short novels bound back to back.  It’s a format that’s been around since 1952, but I generally ignored them.  I figured the material was either rehashes of magazine serials, or stuff too mediocre to warrant its own release. 

I wasn’t far off the mark, but at the same time, after plowing through a few of them, I determined that there was often solid entertainment to be had amongst the pages of these two-headed beasts.  And so I start on my third set of bookshelves…and my first review of an Ace Double: serial number F-113.

Let’s call Charles Fontenay’s Rebels of the Red Planet the headliner.  It is, after all, the longer of the two books.  The set-up is interesting: the spaceline Marscorp has a stranglehold on the Martian colonies, controlling all imports of food and other needed supplies.  The Terran government, in complicity with Marscorp, has forbidden any attempts to develop alternatives to Earth-supplied goods.  Nevertheless, two movements have continued in a clandestine fashion.  One seeks to cultivate humanity’s latent psychic powers to teleport supplies from Earth.  Another conducts ghastly genetic experiments on unwilling subjects, attempting to create a race of humans that can survive in Mars’ frigid, scarcely atmosphered environment.

Enter Maya Cara Nome, an Earth agent dispatched to infiltrate the Martian rebellion and spike their works.  She’s a most engaging heroine, clever and strong, and I am always thrilled to read a female protagonist – they are so rare, you see.  Rebels is the story of Nome’s attempts to assess the progress of the rebellion’s efforts.  Is her fiancee, the ambitious and intolerant Nuwell Eli, help or peril?  And just who is this mysterious Dark Kensington, a rebel scientist with startling powers and a 25-year hole in his memory?  Are the ugly Martian natives truly degenerate?  Or have they shunned their ancestors’ civilization for a reason?

You’ll have to read it to find out.  It’s quite competently done, a curious mix of pulp and modern styles, though the “science” rather strains the credulity.  I tend to be bored by Mars as a setting, but Fontenay brings the red planet vividly to life.

Three stars.

Now flip the book, and what do we have?  Definitely not a novel, clocking in at just 80 pages.  However, J.T. McIntosh’s 200 Years to Christmas is not a bad novella.  In fact, I’d even consider it as a contender for the 1961 Galactic Star (the competition is thin), but it was actually first published in a British magazine (Science Fantasy) back in 1959.  Perhaps Journey writer, Ashley Pollard can set me straight on this.

In any event, McIntosh is a pretty reliable writer of pretty decent stuff.  Christmas involves one of my favorite set-ups: it takes place on a slower-than-light colony ship whose trip time is several centuries.  I would expect that society on such a closed community would become stagnant and stultified in short order. 

McIntosh has a different take.  On the colony ship, culture cycles in wild shifts from repressive to liberal in intervals of considerably less than a generation.  Christmas opens up as a libertine era is just beginning to wane.  Orgies and hedonism slowly give way to religious puritanism.  At the peak of that conservative era, shipboard life resembles Salem Massachusetts in its severity.  It is only after things go too far that the pendulum shifts back toward personal freedom.  But will the events of that repressive period be remembered in ten years?

Christmas is a timely piece.  America has just gone though eight years of relative stability, an era of prosperous conservatism.  Now, the tides have shifted.  We have a hawkish, ambitious new President as well as a restive populace straining at the shackles imposed by precedent.  Will the 1960s be as tumultuous as the 1950s were calm?  Will they show that McIntosh’s fast tempo for societal change isn’t implausible? 

As for the actually quality of the novella, it is not a classic for the ages; but it is well-crafted and characterized.  It certainly garners three stars.

Thus, in sum, Ace Double F-133 provides 240+ pages of good entertainment.  These are stories at least as good as what I’m finding in my monthly magazine subscriptions, and in an attractive package to boot. 

And that means the amount of time before my house comprises nothing but floor-to-ceiling bookshelves has just been reduced yet again…

[December 13, 1961] FAMILIAR FACES AND NEW NAMES (JANUARY 1962 FANTASTIC)


by Victoria Silverwolf

To be successful, a fiction magazine often needs to strike a balance between established authors and new blood.  Experienced writers can generally be counted on to provide work of professional quality, while fledging storytellers may keep the magazine from seeming stale and predictable. 

Such a strategy can be seen in the latest issue of Fantastic.  Two famous names, one well known to readers of science fiction and the other familiar to almost anybody with a television set, appear on the cover.  No doubt this will increase the sales of the magazine on the newsstand.  Once the purchase is made, the reader might find the offerings from unknown authors more interesting.

Leading off the issue is Randall Garrett, whose fiction can be found in a large number of publications under a variety of names.  Hardly an issue of Astounding — excuse me, I mean Analog — goes by, it seems, without at least one of his stories within its pages.  As with many prolific writers, the quality of his work is variable.

Most likely inspired by Lloyd Birmingham’s silly cover illustration, Hepcats of Venus brings us Garrett in his comic mode.  The title is misleading, as the scene of aliens in a hip coffeehouse playing instruments made up of parts of their bodies is only a small portion of the story.

It seems that Earth has been monitored for thousands of years by a Galactic Observer and his assistant.  When we first meet these characters, they take the form of a stereotypical British Lord and Lady.  Later they transform themselves into equally clichéd beatniks.  Without going into detail, the plot involves shapeshifting aliens sneaking to Earth in order to expose the world’s leaders to a substance which will render them hypnotized slaves.  It’s inoffensive, but not particularly intriguing or amusing.  Two stars.

The success of Perry Mason on the small screen, as well as novels, motion pictures, and radio, makes Erle Stanley Gardner one of the most popular writers of crime fiction of all time.  This issue’s “Fantasy Classic” brings us another side of this bestselling author.  First published in Argosy in 1931, The Human Zero is an action-adventure yarn with a hardboiled detective, a spunky girl reporter, and a mad scientist.  Even for an old-fashioned pulp story, it’s poorly written and unoriginal.  The science fiction content – a substance which cools human beings to absolute zero, causing them to vanish, leaving only empty clothes behind – is unconvincing, to say the least.  I had to struggle through it, so only one star.

The rest of the issue features one author who has published a handful of stories, and three who are making their debuts.  Paul Dellinger’s first publication is Rat Race, a tale narrated by a physician confined to a wheelchair who confronts an alien intelligence which has possessed the body of a rat.  It’s a fairly typical science fiction horror story, with a minor twist at the end.  Two stars.

Much more substantial is This is Your Death by Albert Teichner, who published the interesting story Sweet Their Blood and Sticky a couple of months ago in the pages of If, as regular followers of this column will recall.  If that story reminded me of a moodier Lafferty, this one seems like a darker version of Sheckley.  It’s a grim satire of the entertainment industry.  The title, of course, alludes to a popular, if controversial, television program, which has sometimes been accused of invading the privacy of those it profiles.  Teichner raises the ante by imagining a program which films the deaths of patients suffering from terminal diseases.  The cutthroat maneuvers of executives behind the scenes remind me of Rod Serling’s television drama and feature film Patterns.  It’s a disturbing story, one which many readers will find unpleasant, but in my opinion it deserves four stars.

Atonement is the first story from Jesse Roarke, and it’s an unusual one.  Written in an affected, archaic style, the setting would at first seem to be the mythical ancient world of sword and sorcery.  We soon find out, however, that we are in the future, after a devastating war has left a planet with few survivors.  The protagonist undergoes a ritual which is meant to atone for humanity’s destruction of itself.  The final scene of this brief tale is surprising, and may be confusing.  I found the story haunting, even if I didn’t fully understand it.  Three stars.

Our final new author is Gordon Browne, whose initial creation is The Empathic Man. The title character is a gentle, kindhearted fellow whose compassion for the suffering of others is so extreme that he takes on the physical characteristics of those he pities.  Despite an ending which is predictable, it’s a powerful story which leads one to consider the pain endured by our fellow creatures.  Three stars.

I’m pleased that editor Cele Goldsmith has continued to publish new authors, despite the controversy raging in the letter column about David R. Bunch and his tales of Moderan.  I am also happy to see that she has not turned her back on more experienced writers, particularly the way in which she has revitalized the career of the great Fritz Leiber.  As we approach the new year, it’s appropriate to remember that January was named for the Roman god Janus, who was wise enough to look at both the past and the future.

[Dec. 10, 1961] By Jove! (Jupiter, the fifth planet)


by Gideon Marcus

An alien cataloging our solar system for an Encyclopedia Galactica might summarize our home in this brief sentence:

“Solitary yellow dwarf, unremarkable, with a single planet of note; also, a few objects of orbiting debris.”

That may strike you as an affront given the attachment you have to one of those pieces of debris (the Earth), but from a big-picture perspective, it’s quite accurate.  Of all the masses whirling around the sun, the planet Jupiter is by far the biggest.  It is, quite simply, the King of Planets.

As we stand on the precipice of planetary exploration, it is a good time to summarize what we know about this giant world, especially in light of recent discoveries made by ground telescopes.  Thus, here is the fourth in my series on the planets: Jupiter.

Let’s start with the name.  Why did the ancient Romans choose to identify Jupiter with the King of Gods?  Certainly not based on its mass – how could they know that?  Jupiter is, however, one of the brightest objects in the sky.  It also is visible more often than the slightly brighter Venus.  Because it so dominates the night, it is not surprising that it got an imposing name.

For thousands of years, very little was known about Jupiter beyond its brightness and its motion among the stars – the latter being what flagged it as something that wasn’t a star.  Then, around 1600, a fellow named Galileo built himself a telescope and aimed it at the planet. 

What a surprise that was!  Suddenly, this bright point of light was a disc.  More than that, it was blemished: alternating bands of light and dark defaced its face.  The biggest surprise?  An indisputable quartet of smaller bodies orbited the planet.  This was solid evidence that Earth was not the center of the universe.  So shocking was this discovery that it shook the very foundations of the Catholic Church, and Galileo’s findings were suppressed.

Luckily for us, Rome was not the center of the universe, either.  The last three and a half centuries have seen hundreds of astronomers turning their ‘scopes eagerly at the King of Planets, scribbling down their discoveries.  Here are a few:

Based on the motion of Jupiter’s moons, we know its mass to be about 320 times that of the Earth.

Jupiter seems to be made mostly of hydrogen, like the sun, but without the size needed to fuse the stuff, like a star. 

There is a giant red spot on Jupiter that has been in existence at least since we started looking at the planet.  It appears to rotate, and not in a uniform manner.  It is probably some kind of atmospheric phenomenon.

The planet seems to have a day of about 10 days (based on the movement of what appear to be its clouds).

Jupiter has an axial tilt of just 3 degrees.  It essentially has no seasons in its twelve year trek around the sun.

Measuring the timing of the eclipses caused by the four “Galileian Moons” led to the first determinations of the speed of light.

Eight moons beyond those found by Galileo orbit the planet, though none of them are as big.  The latest was found just a decade ago, in 1951. 

There are stable points one sixth of the way ahead and behind Jupiter in its orbit (actually, such points of stability exist with all planets as part of their gravitational dance with the sun, but Jupiter’s are the most pronounced as it is the biggest planet).  Inhabiting these points are swarms of asteroids that drifted in there over time and were trapped.  These bodies are named after heroes of the Trojan War, one point bearing Greeks and the other, Trojans.  As a result, these areas of gravitational stability are called the “Trojan Points.” 

We still do not know if Jupiter has a solid surface.  Are there oceans of methane or ammonia floating around inside that huge volume, enough to swallow 1300 Earths?  Or does the hydrogen simply get denser and denser until it becomes liquid?  Is there a dense core in the middle?

Until we are able to send probes to Jupiter (and scientists are just starting to dream up missions involving the new, giant Saturn rocket), many of the planet’s mysteries will remain unsolved.  But not all of them…

In the last ten years or so, a brand new way of looking at Jupiter has been developed.  Light comes in a wide range of wavelengths, only a very small spectrum of which can be detected by the human eye.  Radio waves are actually a form of light, just with wavelengths much longer than we can see.  Not only can radio be used to communicate over long distances, but sensitive receivers can tell a lot about the universe.  It turns out all sorts of celestial objects emit radio waves. 

Jupiter is one of those sources.  After this discovery, in 1955, astronomers began tracking the planet’s sporadic clicks and hisses.  It is a hard target because of all of the local interference, from the sun, our ionosphere, and man-made radio sources.  Still, scientists have managed to learn that Jupiter has an ionosphere, too, as well as a strong magnetic field with broad “Van Allen Belts.”  It also appears to be the only planet that broadcasts on the radio band.

Using radio, we will be able to learn much about King Jove long before the first spacecraft probes it (perhaps by 1970 or so).  It’s always good to remember that Space Age research can be done from home as well as in the black beyond.  While I am as guilty as the next fellow of focusing on satellite spectaculars, the bulk of astronomy is done with sounding rockets and ground-based telescopes – not to mention the inglorious drudgery of calculations and report-writing, universal to every science. 

So just you wait, Jupiter. By hook or by crook, we’ll soon figure out what makes you tick.  And click.  And hiss.