Tag Archives: 1962

[August 15, 1962] Four Feet Over (the dual flight of Vostok 3 and Vostok 4)

[if you’re new to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

America just can’t seem to catch a break in the Space Race.  Late last night, the latest Soviet spectacular came to a stunning conclusion: two Cosmonauts had circled the Earth for several days, at one point flying within just 75 miles of each other. 

Major Andrian Nikolaev, 33 and a Chuvash Russian, kicked off the mission the early morning (our time) of August 11.  His Vostok 3 (“Falcon”) was in space for a full day before his spaecebound comrade, 32-year old Ukrainian Lt. Col. Pavel Popovich blasted off in Vostok 4 (“Golden Eagle”), morning of August 12.  TV broadcasts of the two came frequently via Moscow; we saw the cosmonauts floating freely in their small cabins, chatting with each other over the radio, even singing songs.  Breathless news reporters informed that the two craft had “rendezvoused” early on in the flight.  The cosmonauts landed near midnight (our time) within just a few minutes of each other, both of them making the full journey in their ships (as opposed to Titov, who for some reason baled out of Vostok 2 before it reached the ground).

The flight of Vostoks 3 and 4 is a Big Deal.  For four days, there were Russians in space doing impressive things.  It made our prior three-orbit flights look pathetic in comparison.  But the big question is this: Did the two craft actually rendezvous and dock under their own power, a feat that would demonstrate not only a tremendous Communist lead on our program, but an ability to intercept and destroy our own satellites? 

Many government officials are being cagey in their responses, but the answer is “probably not.”  Falcon and Eagle flew closest together in their first few orbits, quickly drifting apart over subsequent ones.  There wasn’t time to link up.  And if the Russians had actually docked, “They would have announced it,” deputy NASA administrator Dr. Hugh L. Dryden said.

This makes sense.  Neither of the prior Vostoks displayed any ability to modify their orbits, and it would suggest a great advancement in Soviet technology if the new ones did.  Rather, the “rendezvous” was merely a demonstration of skilled orbital trajectory calculations and an admittedly impressive ability to launch multiple missions in rapid succession.

Those are the particulars.  Where does this leave us in the big picture? 

Five years ago, the Soviets beat us to the orbital punch, lofting the first two Sputniks.  Though we followed with our own Explorer just three months later, it was with a lighter, less capable rocket.  In 1958-60, we made nearly ten unsuccessful attempts to launch a moon probe.  In the same time frame, the Russians had at least two successes, including the dramatic Luna 3, which took the first pictures of the Far Side of the moon.

Last year, the USSR put the first man in orbit, and it was almost a year until we could match the feat (and not before the put a fellow up in space for a full day – we’ve barely managed less than five hours).  And now this dual Vostok flight.

Some outlets are going ape with dire predictions.  The Communists are several years ahead, they say, on track to land on the moon by 1965!  At a shallow glance, it certainly seems like the Reds are way ahead of us.

But let’s look at things soberly.  I suspect that the booster the Soviets used for Vostok is largely the same one they used for Sputnik.  It’s the equivalent of our Atlas.  It was just available to them several years earlier.  Thus, Vostok doesn’t reflect any major advancement in Russian launch capability – just a fuller utilization of it.  Now that we’ve got the Atlas working for us, we’re on a much more level playing field.  Also, the American Mercury space capsule will ultimately be capable of day-long flights, too.  We just like to take things a bit slower than our reckless Communist adversaries.

And let’s not forget that while the Soviets have launched about 20 flights since 1957 (that they’ve divulged), we’ve launched 100.  The Explorer series is already up to 12, Discoverer almost to 50.  Not to mention the parallel and impressive X-15 rocketplane program, whose successor, the X-20, will be a fully orbital and reusable spaceplane.  Finally, Mariner 2, our Venus probe, is set for launch next month.  We can assume the Soviets will have their counterpart, but it won’t beat us to the planet of love; it will merely escort it.

So don’t panic yet.  Until the Soviets display a true rendezvous in space, or present us with an entirely new spacecraft, they are not that far ahead of us in the Space Race and, I submit, are in some ways behind us.  Ask me again come December…




[August 12, 1962] FEH (the September 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

This September Amazing continues the magazine’s slide into mediocrity after the promise of the year’s earlier issues. 

Keith Laumer’s serial A Trace of Memory concludes, and it’s quite disappointing, in part because it compares so poorly to last year’s Worlds of the Imperium, in part because it seemed to start so well.  The protagonist, who is down and out after a sequence of ridiculously bad luck, is pulled out of the gutter (well, out of a police station) by a strange rich guy called Foster who seems to have lived for centuries, has an indestructible old journal to prove it, but doesn’t remember who he is or how he got here.  Also, it turns out, he is being stalked by even stranger, and dangerous, globular creatures, who catch up to him as the protagonist joins him, leading to a chase across country, and ultimately across the ocean, to escape them and track his origins. 

That first half was quite fast-paced and well-written if a bit over the top.  However, the second half takes the protagonist to Vallon, Foster’s home planet (not a spoiler; it’s telegraphed from the beginning), which has degenerated to a sort of cartoony gangster feudalism, against which backdrop the protagonist performs ever more preposterous feats of physical and mental prowess, dissipating the momentum of the earlier parts and quickly becoming tedious.  Also: upon seeing the July cover illustration of Stonehenge, I joked at the time that I feared winding up in Atlantis.  That doesn’t happen, but Laumer reveals another legendary motif which is just about as silly. 

Speaking of legends, early on, the protagonist introduces himself: “ ‘My name’s Legion,’ I said.” OK, stop right there.  As everybody in this Bible Belt town knows, even me, when Jesus was confronted by a man possessed by an “unclean spirit” and asked his name, the guy said, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” (Mark 5:1-5:9) So Laumer’s protagonist is in effect claiming to be a horde of demons.  I’m thinking of Chekhov’s dictum that if there’s a gun on the wall in Act One, it should be fired in the next act.  Those demons never do get fired.  Two stars (and if it had gone on longer it would have worked its way down to one).

The cover story is Edmond Hamilton’s short story Sunfire!, which continues Hamilton’s transition from Space Opera to Mope Opera.  Space explorer Kellard has slunk home to Earth and moved back, alone, into his ancestral house, refusing all contacts with his colleagues at Survey, because something happened on Mercury and two of his fellows died, and it’s so terrible he can never talk about it.  So Survey comes after him, having not accepted his resignation, and packs him off back to Mercury even though—or maybe because—he still won’t say a word about what happened there. 

It’s actually not much of a secret to anyone who has looked at the cover and seen the fiery aliens, looking like crude but imaginative Hallowe’en costumes.  They’re telepathic, too, and Kellard got a full dose of how free and playful they are, traversing the universe and frolicking among and in the stars.  “No, the ecstacy was one that men would never know except at secondhand through this brief contact!  The glorious rush together of the star-children through the vast abysses, drinking up the energy of the radiation about them.” Etc. It makes being human and tramping around on cold and too, too solid planets seem pointless, and Kellard is never going to burden anyone else with this awful knowledge. 

Sorry, I don’t buy it, and neither does the head of Survey, who gets Kellard’s point once he too meets the aliens, but doesn’t think just having the planets of the universe is such a bad deal.  Like any sensible person he’s ready to tell the world about this rather interesting discovery.  Despite the artificiality of its problem, the story is well turned and, with this and Requiem from the April issue, Hamilton is clearly working hard at making the transition to a less obsolete kind of SF than the space opera he is better known for.  Splitting the difference between good intentions and lack of plausibility, three stars.  If you can believe in Kellard’s reaction, you’ll like it better than I did.

Edward Wellen’s Apocryphal Fragment is a mildly clever vignette (so labelled on the contents page) in which Doubting Thomas encounters a jinni in the Negev.  Something this slight should be rated in asteroids rather than stars, but if I must . . . two stars.

The other short story is Whistler, by David Rome (reputedly a pseudonym for one David Boutland); it’s the first US appearance of an author who has published nine stories in little more than a year in New Worlds and its companions in the UK.  Unfortunately it is an insipid though well-meaning message story about the evils of bigotry in the space lanes, almost as short as Wellen’s.  One star.

That leaves the Classic Reprint, The Ice Man by William Withers Douglas, from the February 1930 Amazing.  The narrator is an ancient Roman citizen brought to the New York of 1928 through a classical version of suspended animation.  He expects this account to be transmitted to his countrymen back home, in hopes that someone will rescue him from the insane asylum where he has ended up.  It recounts his initial captivity by a rather annoying if not quite mad scientist, and his observations of modern times—fire engines, women’s fashion, etc. etc.—once he has made his escape.  It’s reasonably well written, and any two or three pages of it are quite amusing.  Unfortunately there are 34.  Two stars.

Ben Bova has another installment of his series on extraterrestrial life, The Inevitability of Life, which reviews what’s known (or believed to be known) about the origins of life in chemical evolution and physical processes.  There’s a good case that the chemical and physical components of life arise inevitably through natural processes, though Bova is a little hazy on how the deal is closed and organic chemicals become living matter.  Nonetheless, three stars for lucid exposition of interesting material, particularly welcome in an issue where there’s not much else of interest.

Benedict Breadfruit abideth.

[August 10, 1962] Eyes on Oedipus (Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex)

[I am pleased to present an unusual piece from our fan-turned-columnist, Vicki Lucas. It covers one of the oldest fantasies, as presented by one of the newest musical artists. As we all have had a Classical education (do you remember your Latin declensions?) this review of a modern interpretation of Oedipus should be right up your alley…]


by Victoria Lucas

“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Frederick Douglass 8/3/1857

Those of you who have read my previous columns may remember that I have strange tastes in music (hallucinating music as a tactile object when I heard a totally new form) and that I have a somewhat political slant on some things (my participation in a lie-in and my feminist musings last time).  The above remark of the former slave Frederick Douglass is relevant to some music I’ve been listening to—and its composer.

Last year I was surprised and delighted to hear relatively modern music on television and see Igor Stravinsky’s 1927 oratorio Oedipus Rex. So when I returned from Stanford, I checked out of the library the 1952 record of Stravinsky conducting, with Jean Cocteau as narrator. I’ve been listening to it over and over. Stravinsky is best known for Rite of Spring, a ballet with a throbbing beat that caused a riot at its premiere in 1913, but this music is very different.

And then I heard about Stravinsky’s return this year to Russia for the first time since 1914. On this same trip he conducted concerts in South Africa. I found out that Stravinsky appears also to have politics. He will not drink Russian vodka but asks for Polish, saying that Russia did terrible things to the Poles (a slant on Stalin, perhaps?). In South Africa in May he did not know that he had been scheduled to appear before whites only, and when asked if he would like to appear before a mixed audience he replied, “I would like to appear before human beings, that’s all.” He asked to give a free concert to those the South Africans call Bantu (blacks), and was allowed to do so.

So I started thinking about politics in Oedipus Rex. Not just by Stravinsky. The literary original was a play by Sophocles first performed about 430 BC. There was also a play by another ancient Greek playwright, Euripides (best known for Medea), but the script did not survive; there are fragments. Also, Stravinsky asked Jean Cocteau (best known for his film Beauty and the Beast) to write the libretto. That took three tries that may not survive, but which may have been reworked into Cocteau’s 1928 play. And there was the Catholic cardinal Jean Daniélou, a seminarian at the time, who translated Cocteau’s libretto (with Stravinsky’s corrections) into Latin, Stravinsky’s chosen language.

Everyone knows about Oedipus: Freud’s Oedipus Complex presented as Everyman’s desire to kill his father and marry his mother.  However, the real story is ancient. Sophocles’ original Greek title of his play was “Oedipus Tyrannos,” but it is commonly known by its Latin title. The word “tyrant” is more accurate when it comes to Oedipus — an unconstitutional monarch accepted by popular acclamation.

You also probably know the story, but briefly it is this: Oedipus was born to a king and his wife but under a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The royal couple gave the baby away to kill it, but it was given to and adopted by another couple. When Oedipus is old enough, he consults the oracle, who tells him the same prophecy, whereupon he leaves his adoptive home, unwittingly encounters his father and kills him. On his way he finds the Sphinx, whose riddle he solves, thereby saving a city from starvation. He is acclaimed king and by custom marries the old king’s widow. The dramatic works start at the point where a new crisis forces Oedipus to consider his past, revealing that the prophecy was true and making it necessary for him to leave his throne.

Stravinsky’s piece was written as a short opera.  The library recording is an oratorio–music with minimal staging and costumes.  As in the premiere in Paris, the narration on this recording is in French and the libretto in Latin.

The idea of using Latin was something that captured Stravinsky’s imagination because, in 1925, his native “Russian, the exiled language of my heart, had become musically impracticable, and French, German, and Italian were temperamentally alien.” Stravinsky felt uprooted (“déraciné”) from his native Russia because war and revolution had made his return impossible by destroying his family home and fortune. Thinking about Latin, he realized he could probably use its “monumental character” to create the “still life” he wanted. He also found it compatible in “scansion” (rhythm) with his music.

So he wrote to Jean Cocteau, whose remake of the Sophocles play Antigone he admired. But when Stravinsky finally felt he could use the third draft he also entrusted the Latin translation to Cocteau, who knew a 20-year-old seminarian. So someone my age translated Cocteau’s work into “Ciceronian Latin” (not medieval in pronunciation). And he apparently did it with the original Greek in hand or in mind, because the Latin approximates Sophocles rather well, at least where I could see the Greek compared with English.

What are the differences between Stravinsky’s oratorio, Cocteau’s play, Sophocles’ play, and fragments of a play by Euripides? Stravinsky’s and Cocteau’s work is based on Sophocles’ play, so there are more subtle differences among those three. Euripides is another matter entirely.

For one thing, in Euripides’ play there is no plague. In Sophocles’, Thebes is under siege by a plague. As it happens, there was a plague in Athens (Sophocles’ home theater) at the time Sophocles wrote. Was this the first time that a play was set somewhere else to avoid accusations of political criticism? If so, it certainly wasn’t the last. (Shakespeare used the device a number of times in the sensitive Elizabethan political climate in which one could easily find oneself beheaded.) Apart from the plague, Athens was under siege by Sparta in this second year of the Peloponnesian War.

The plague and the siege by the Sphinx (rather than Sparta) figure largely in both Sophocles and Stravinsky. The current (430 BC) head of Athens was also a tyrant, Cleon. He was described by contemporaries as a “demagogue,” and three years later (427 BC) his opinion of what should happen to a city in the Athenian empire whose people had revolted and were put down was to kill all the men and enslave all the women and children. Fortunately, at the last moment someone rescinded that order.

The fictional plague of Thebes figures large in Stravinsky’s work as motivation. Early on the chorus repeats “serva nos” (save us), three notes forming a tritone, which, along with descending and ascending thirds, create a repeating musical theme of threes in the oratorio. It was at a particular type of crossroads that Sophocles has Oedipus kill his father King Laius–a trivium (three roads coming together). Stravinsky was taken with the concept of the trivium and won’t let us forget it while those thirds and tritones are played.

Stravinsky’s Oedipus is less affected by the pleas of the chorus than Sophocles’ tyrant. Instead of telling the chorus he feels their pain (as in Sophocles), he says, “I, the brightest Oedipus, will save you.” He promises to search for the killer of Laius after his brother-in-law Creon brings news that an oracle has decreed that the plague will not leave the city until the death of Laius is “avenged.” He tells Creon that it is unlikely they will find the perpetrator of such an old crime and, once again calling himself “the brightest,” boasts of solving the riddle of the Sphinx and says he will solve this too. The Latin for what he promises to do is “eruam,” which has three syllables and is an uncommon word for “search,” but it matches the Greek word Sophocles used, which is more like “root out,” and Stravinsky repeats those three syllables.

Cocteau’s introduction to his own play states: “It is not a piece of theater that you are going to see. It is a torture, a famous cause, a trial.” This is particularly true of Cocteau’s version of the tale, in which Oedipus is on trial but doesn’t see it that way.

Oedipus’ behavior is consistent in the three scripts:

  • Oedipus won’t take advice and sabotages every effort to spare him the fate he pursues and finally faces. If he had followed Jocasta or Creon inside and had private conversations, perhaps that would have led to his leaving the city and never being exposed. Perhaps this would have placated the gods, given that leaving office and living as a pauper would have been punishment, maybe even punishment enough given his sense of entitlement. But it wouldn’t have satisfied his sense of drama.
  • He attacks Tiresias when that prophet is trying to save him. Oedipus threatens Tiresias instead of taking his advice, unnecessarily provoking him into a public disclosure.
  • He attacks his brother-in-law when that worthy tries to calm him down, accusing him of being in a plot with Tiresias.
  • He even dismisses Jocasta’s increasingly desperate efforts to get him to shut up and go inside. When he learns that he was picked up by a shepherd who delivered him to a childless couple who raised him, he chooses to believe that he might be the son of mythical creatures or gods. When Jocasta gives up and “flees” (Cocteau’s version), he opines that she is ashamed of the possibility that he was the son of a slave.
  • Finally he interviews the shepherd who took him to his adoptive father. He says (Cocteau) “I order you to tell me everything. If you are stubborn, I will have you tortured.” When the shepherd pleads with him, Oedipus calls out, “Bind him!”

At every turn, Oedipus refuses to see the truth. Then he blinds himself when he does see it, still not wanting to see what is plainly before him—that he has been the ruin of his wife and children as well as himself. (At least this is true in the three scripts we have; Euripides has Jocasta accompany him to exile, and in that version he does not blind himself. Sophocles and then Stravinsky are harder on him, and Cocteau hardest of all.)

Why did Oedipus attack his father and his father’s retinue in the first place? This is never settled in the Stravinsky script. In both Sophocles’ and Cocteau’s version it happens because: (Sophocles) “They ordered me out of the way”; (Sophocles and Cocteau, Cocteau’s words translated by me) “They jostled me, I hit … I killed!” What a temper this man has! He threatens everyone around him but his wife, and even her he accuses of being haughty and unmotherly.

The chorus’ reaction to Oedipus’ downfall is interesting: they see him off, no longer pleading with him to save them, but telling him they loved him (a Latin past tense that indicates the action went on for a time but is now over). They have no regrets for making him their tyrant, but of course now he has to go. This is all matter of fact, lacking Oedipus’ flair for drama.

So what did Sophocles mean to say about the politics of Athens in the time of plague and the tyrant Cleon? We may never know unless we unearth more documents from that time, but were there those who believed that a solution to Athens’ plague might lie in a change of leadership? Or were there those who thought that the government was as bad as the plague that had killed its last lawful leader? I look forward to more archeological findings, but in the meantime we can speculate about whether Stravinsky (and perhaps Cocteau) was saying something about Stalin and other dictators of their youth, and further about the similarities between Sophocles’ demagogue and living men today.

[August 8, 1962] Abysmal (The Underwater City)

[if you’re new to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

The Sea.  An endless, mysterious expanse.  A potential source for bountiful harvests of food.  An untapped mine of vast mineral wealth.  A battleground to be populated with underwater naval bases. 

An inspiration for far too many lousy movies.

Frontiers are always ripe arenas for adventure stories.  From Outer Space to the frigid poles to the watery depths, they lure us with the promise of riches and resources; they reward us with hardship and death.  Man vs. Nature is one of the classic conflicts, and expertly handled, can be a thrill.

The makers of the latest summer sci-fi film, The Underwater City, were not experts.


(stills are in color, but the film was released in black and white for no explainable reason)

The plot in brief: Contractor is tasked with creating the first ocean-bottom settlement.  He settles on a cluster of independent metal cels, and then joins the first small group of colonists.  Some of the builders die during construction, victims of various undersea perils — from seaquakes to manta rays (?!) One of the settlers rummages around an old wreck to find bottles of scotch.  A giant octopus and a giant moray eel fight at one point for some reason.  And, at the very end, the crust gives way and the colony is lost.


The only reason to build models of an undersea city is…


…to give it the Atlantis treatment.

Our cast:


“Hmmm….says here we’re the main characters so we have to fall in love.”


“Pleased to meet you!  Since we’re men and you’re the woman, you’ll be doing our cooking.”


We’re newlyweds!  Now stay in this room until the end of the movie, please.  You’re pregnant.


You might need some scotch to get through the movie, too.

Certainly, a movie about the first settlement at the bottom of the sea, particularly one with the decent production values of City, could be very interesting, indeed.  This one was flubbed at every turn.  More of an advertisement for undersea living, the kind that might be shown at the World Expo going on right now in Seattle, City is a conglomeration of scenes that serve no narrative. 

I watched this on opening night with The Young Traveler, and I think she encapsulates what was wrong (and inadvertently right) with the film better than I ever could:


by Lorelei Marcus

I read recently that you can tell exactly what a movie is about, just by its opening shot. Unfortunately, the only thing the opening shot of The Underwater City told us was that it was going to be a bad movie. That said, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a quite enjoyable experience. Taking advantage of the empty theater, my father and I commentated throughout the entire film, making it a bearable watch. This form of viewing can make anything entertaining, but this movie was something special.

The first interesting trait of this movie is…it wasn’t one. Walking out of the theater, my father and I kept repeating how what we just watched wasn’t a movie! There were scenes, and things that happened, sort of. Still, there was no coherent plot to speak of! Not to mention there was no conflict either. Any potential conflict was quickly resolved a few seconds later by either a character dying or being saved. There was no time to feel anything at all! (And yet the underwater scenes still seemed to drag on forever.) Even the final conflict was resolved within 10 minutes!


“Just wanted to let you know, I found the plot.”  “It’s about time!”


“Oh no!  We’re trapped because of the quake!  We’ll never… oh look.  A rescue submarine.”

There isn’t much to say about the sets and acting. The acting was mediocre and really didn’t add anything to the story. The two main sets of the ‘movie’ were the underwater city rooms and the underwater set. The underwater city was honestly very bland, and surprisingly roomy. After recently touring an aircraft carrier myself, the underwater modules looked absurdly spacious, especially for so few people living in them.


“The bowling alley is down the hall, gentlemen…”

The underwater scenes were actually fairly convincing.  The rocks and coral were nice, and the filter on the camera added that extra level. My dad was actually fooled for most of the ‘movie,’ until he realized the ‘air bubbles’ coming out of their breathing modules were actually soap bubbles.


Never sneeze in SCUBA gear

I’d say my favorite part of the ‘movie’ was all the stock footage of adorable sea creatures! The appearances such as the deadly shark, giant eel, giant manta ray, and giant octopus, really brought an extra layer of entertainment to the movie. The science of how the city became self sustaining underwater would’ve been interesting to me too. Unfortunately, the ‘movie’ didn’t show any of that — we just heard the characters telling us that the city was self sustaining.


“Why are we fighting again?”  “Shut up!  This is for Hollywood!”

In fact, the entire movie reversed the old adage, deciding that the best stories come from telling, not showing! They stuck so hard to this rule that they had a narrator describe everything that was happening on screen for the first half of the entire movie. I actually wondered if my father had gotten a version for the visually impaired! Apparently not, however, as said narrator disappeared halfway through the film, never to return.


Best not to show…just tell.

I would recommend you only watch this movie for fun and not for any cinematographic value. The dry and clunky story telling, the absurd science, and the nonexistent plot really make this movie, well, not a movie. I give it 1 star as a serious watch, but an honorary score of -3 for its unintended goodness. This movie is best enjoyed with friends, being made fun of.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.




[August 6, 1962] Bookkends (September 1962 IF Worlds of Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

It’s a hot, doldrumy summer.  My wife and I are hard at work.  Our daughter has headed to the North for a vacation.  There’s hardly anything in the news but sordid details of the Sol Estes case (if you’ve been living under a rock this whole year, he’s the Texas financier fraudster with dubious dealings with the US Department of Agriculture, not to mention Vice President Johnson). 

About the only item of interest is that the island of Jamaica is finally achieving independence.  I visited the place before the War.  I don’t remember much but lush beauty and friendly people.  The music coming out of the Caribbean is pretty interesting to my ear, too – some post-Calypso stuff including innovative steel drum work and a fledgling new genre that as yet has no name (q.v. Lord Creator and Robert Marley).

So in this languorous time, about the only consistent pasttime I can enjoy, aside from my records, is the ever-growing pile of stf (scientifiction, natch) magazines.  One of the ones I look forward to is IF, which, if it is not always stellar, usually has a few items of interest.  This month, the September 1962 issue has a lot of lousy stories, and editor Pohl cunningly placed the best one in front so as to dull the impact of the sub-par stuff that follows.  But the last tale is a fine reprise of the first, quality-wise.  See if you agree:

The Snowbank Orbit, by Fritz Leiber

A famous author and actor, Leiber’s works often approach sublimity.  This is one of them, combining both beautiful prose and cutting edge science fiction.  Plot in brief: a Mercurian mining vessel, one of Earth’s last remaining spaceworthy ships, is fleeing from an alien armada.  Its only hope for survival is to thrust at maximum acceleration toward the seventh planet, Uranus, and then use the giant planet’s gravity and atmosphere to slow it down and send it back in the direction of Earth.

There are so many interesting components in this tale: a demographically diverse and well-characterized crew, some truly bizarre aliens, a gripping set-up.  The scientific concepts, from the “International Meteor Guard” to the communication via visual light lasers, are both plausible and fresh.  Leiber’s use of color and texture makes for a literary experience yet does not get too self-indulgent.

Orbit is an almost great story.  I’m not sure what keeps it from hitting five stars save for its reminding me a little too much of Heinlein’s Sky Lift.  Nevertheless, it is vivid, it packs a lot into a small space, and the hero is a refreshing departure from the ordinary.  Four stars, and you may rate it higher.

One Million Four Hundred Ninety Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty Three Marlon Brandos, by Vance Aandahl

Aandahl has accomplished the fannish dream, to be published in one’s teen years.  His work runs to the literary side.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his first published piece, not of his stories break the three-star mark – including this one, about a bored teen girl whose desire to be wooed by the great mumbler momentarily subverts the will of a town’s menfolk.  It’s one of those “cute but doesn’t go anywhere” pieces.  Two stories.

The Winning of the Moon, by Kris Neville

Neville was a brief shining star at the turn of the last decade, right as stf was undergoing its post-War boom.  But the field proved too limiting for the young author’s vision, and now Kris mostly makes a living doing technical writing.  He still dabbles, though.  Moon is a Murphy’s Law tinged tale of lunar colonization, a satire that is grounded just enough in reality to be effective.  Three stars.

And Then There Was Peace, by Gordon R. Dickson

No matter how mechanized war gets, the burden of fighting will always rest on the shoulders of the beleaguered infantryman.  Peace explores the sad fate of a futuristic soldier after the conclusion of hostilities.  Dickson’s explored pacifistic themes before, particularly in his latest novel, Naked to the StarsPeace is mostly a gimmick story though, and if you can’t guess the wallop, then you’re very new to this business.  Two stars.

The Big Headache, by Jim Harmon

I never know what to expect from Jim; he wobbles in quality like a Cepheid Variable…but without the regularity.  In Headache, a pair of scientists develop an anti-migraine drug only to have it turn out to have lobotomizing side effects.  It’s played for laughs, but I only opened my mouth to grimace.  What might have been an effective horror story or cautionary tale Headache is, instead, neither fish nor fowl, and only succeeds in delivering what’s on the tin.  Two stars.

Transient, by William Harris

This is a ghost story, except the haunter is an alien, and the place of haunting is a computer.  It’s a frivolous piece one might expect as one of the lesser entries in any given issue of F&SF, but you may like it more than me.  Two stars.

Once Around Arcturus, by Joseph Green

A futuristic retelling of the Greek myth of Atalanta, the woman who would only be wooed by the suitor who could beat her in competition.  Green, a brand-new writer and employee at NASA, pens a pretty clunky tale.  He almost manages to make it work in the end, though…but then he flubs it.  I suppose if you took out the last paragraph and gave the piece a downer ending, it might be a whole lot better.  Instead, Green cops out with a literary Picardy Third.  Two stars.

World in a Mirror, by Albert Teichner

The universe is full of dangerous symmetry: anti-matter will violently destroy matter with which it comes in contact; a southpaw fencer or pitcher often makes mincemeat of her/his opponent.  And what will our stomachs make of left-handed DNA?  Teichner expects the worst. 

It’s a worthy topic to explore (and, in fact, I’ve speculated on the subject in one of my recent works), but the set-up in World is heavy-handed and doesn’t serve Teichner’s intent.  Two stars.

Just Westing, by Theodore Sturgeon

Writing science articles for the general public, even for an intelligent subsection thereof, is hard.  You have to distill complicated subjects in a way that folks can I understand, and then you have to explain to the readers why they should be interested in what you’re telling them.  Asimov does it effortlessly; Ley did and often still does.  I like to think I’ve gotten consistently good at it.

Sturgeon, brilliant author that he might be, has not.  His summary of the recent Westinghouse catalog of advancements is neither interesting nor particularly comprehensible.  Two stars.

Cultural Exchange, by Keith Laumer

Retief, the much aggrieved Jack of All Trades diplomat/secret agent must thwart a war between Imperial worlds covered up in a cloak of harmless-seeming personnel and equipment transfers.  Retief stories run from the overly broad to the gritty.  This one strikes a nice balance and delightfully plays up the interplay of bureaucracies, something with which Laumer has more than a passing acquaintance.  Four stars, and thank goodness after the string of mediocrity that precedes it.

Taken as a whole, this is a pretty lousy issue – just 2.4 stars.  Plus it’s yet another “stag” mag: no woman authors, virtually no woman characters.  But, if you take just the 35 pages comprising the first and last stories, you’ve got some excellent reading.  Whether that’s worth a penny a page…well, it’s your wallet.

Next up: The Travelers hit the drive-in for The Underwater City!




[August 3, 1962] New Worlds to Conquer (a view from Britain: September 1962 New Worlds)

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


by Mark Yon

Hello to all Travellers – greetings from Europe.

I’ve been asked by our Traveller to tell you of the British magazine situation as it appears here in England. There are some differences between the British & the American markets, as you may know. Generally US magazines are quite difficult to get here, due to the cost of transportation and the fact that there import restrictions to this fair isle. One of the consequences of this is that although we do get UK editions of your main magazines such as Analog, Fantasy & SF and Galaxy here, they are often different to the American editions you see. What this has meant in actuality is that the British editions often have less content than their American equivalents, with editorials, stories and serials removed altogether. To add to the confusion even more, different stories from different American editions are often mixed together in one British issue. This can mean that my view of what you are reading in America is slightly different, or at least a few months behind, yours.

Nevertheless, we do have some interest in new science fiction in England. Our co-traveller Ashley Pollard has mentioned much of this already in her articles here. Our most popular ‘home-grown’ SF magazine is New Worlds, which Ashley has already given a wonderful summary of already. The intention of New Worlds’s editor, Mr. John (Ted) Carnell seems to be to not only produce a magazine that shows British talent off but to also push the boundaries of science fiction (s-f).

It seems to be a time of change for s-f here in England. Generally the situation at the moment seems to be one of decline for British magazines. The actual number of publications available is much smaller than it was five years ago, though there are some that seem to survive. There are four by Nova Publications, of which, and currently in its 16th year of publication, New Worlds is the most popular British magazine at the moment. I do like Nova Publications’s Science Fiction Adventures and Science Fantasy as well, but I think that my purpose here is to discuss New Worlds with you.

I can see that, even with New Worlds, there have been some drastic changes in the last few months. The glorious colour covers of the last few years by artists such as Bob Clothier, Gerard Quinn, Sidney Jordan and Brian Lewis have since the June issue (that’s number 119) been replaced by covers with black & white photographs on a coloured background. Whatever reason editor John Carnell has had for the change – I’m assuming to reduce printing costs, but of course, it could be a number of things – to my mind it makes the magazine less attractive as a science fiction magazine (One rumour is that it is meant to be a radically different cover style to try and attract a wider, less specifically science-fiction readership). Colour pictures on the front cover would have made this new look so much more attractive. I do hope that this is nothing to worry about from our leading British magazine.

The magazine contents are as variable as ever, though. New Worlds has a reputation of being the publishing place of many of our British authors such as Mr’s Brian W. Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, James White, and John Brunner, names you may recognise. Some of the work of other lesser known authors can vary in terms of quality and consistency, though I must say that there’s something worth reading in each issue. As well as the fiction, the magazine occasionally covers book, film and television reviews, usually by Mr Leslie Flood.

With all of that out of the way, what about the latest issue, #122?

Well, the cover reflects the current startling colour scheme. Behind the bright pink cover we begin this issue with a Profile of the Guest Editor, 22-year-old Mr John Baxter from Australia. Australia does buy a lot of these magazines from Britain as well. There have been a number of Guest Editorials recently, but this is the first by a science-fiction fan, as Mr. Carnell says in his introduction “to represent a reader’s viewpoint”.

Mr. Baxter pulls no punches with his Editorial. This is clearly not an essay that panders to sycophancy. Instead, whilst welcoming the addition of Guest Editors, he decries their lack of criticism: “…. all of them have been, in my opinion, short-sighted, illogical and inconclusive…. As literary essays, the Guest Editorials were fine; as constructive criticism, a dead loss.”

I was impressed that Mr. Carnell has been brave enough to take on and publish such a forthright and provocative opinion. Mr. Baxter writes with enthusiasm and creates an effective call-to-arms for modern s-f readers and writers – that if science fiction is to be accepted by the masses then writers need to take up the challenge of writing stories that are intelligent and scientifically precise that also manage to stand up to professional criticism. This is a view also taken by many in the intermittent letters section, Postmortem, at the back of the magazine. Presumably to ally with the Guest Editor’s perspective, many of the letters there this month also examine the importance and usefulness of previous Guest Editorials, the need for scientific accuracy in stories and the need for s-f that is Literature, with a capital-L. I’ll be interested to see what response we get in future issues from other readers.

Of the actual fiction, first of all there is the start of a new two-part serial. This one is by Mr. Keith Woodcott, an author unknown to me, although I suspect that because there is no picture of the author on the lurid front cover, it may actually be written by someone better known as another name. The rather dramatic title, The Crack of Doom, is a psi-story that according to its introduction “introduces a slan-like atmosphere into what has become a highly controversial theme.” It’s a story that deals with racial segregation and cultural isolation as Van Vogt’s classic, Slan, did, with the psinull Starfolk, in a fit of evolutionary superiority, persecuting the psychic minority Psions. There are similarities between our world, at a time of a racial conflict, and Mr. Woodcott’s one, I feel. The plot basically hinges on the revelation that an anguished psionic scream is heard by all Psions coming from ancient Old Race ruins on the Starfolk-governed Regnier’s Planet. This may have consequences for our hero Philip Garcon, intrepid graduate in cosmoarchaeology, who, as a psinull rarity, is given the task of uncovering the source of the scream on Reignier’s at the end of this first part.

It’s a satisfactory tale. Rather old-fashioned in some ways – after all, Slan is over fifteen years old! – it also refreshes those ideas fairly well. I’m not a huge fan of these ESP type tales, personally, but I’ve always liked the idea of archaeology in space, (here called cosmoarchaeology) and ancient cultures. The Crack of Doom is a bit run-of-the-mill, but done well enough to keep me reading. I look forward to the next part, though I think I can see where this story is going. 3 out of 5.

There are five short stories in this issue. The first is by a well-known author who you may know in the US – Mr. Harry Harrison. In line with the editor’s current mission to push the envelope of British s-f, it may be a controversial one. The Streets of Ashkalon is one which tackles the idea of religion head-on. It is the story of John Gath, an atheist trader on the planet of Ashkalon, who greets the arrival of Father Mark, a Christian missionary, with extreme reluctance. Father Mark is determined to bring the word of God to the alien Wesker species living there on Ashkalon, though to Gath they are pure and innocent and cannot understand the difference between facts and beliefs. Whilst Gath is eventually impressed by the zealot’s single-mindedness, there are consequences to Father Mark’s actions. The story is shocking and memorable, and by far the best thing in this issue. I wonder what Mr. James Blish, whose 1958 novel A Case of Conscience also dealt with religion, would think of it? 5 out of 5.

The second story is Pandora’s Box by Mr. Steve Hall, a fairly new writer to me. It’s a typical space-frontier tale, set on the Moon, that I think Mr. Arthur C Clarke would appreciate. It was OK for me, not too surprising, but I liked it. The story does much to set up a scenario of a mysterious box being found on the Moon whilst a new Matter Transmitter is being built there, but then uses a rather obvious solution and has an ending that concludes the tale rather too abruptly for my tastes. I suspect that in the end it’ll not be that memorable, but Mr. Hall may be an author to watch for in the future. 2 out of 5.

Next is a short story by another new name to me, Mr. Morris Nagle, named Serpent in Paradise. It’s the story of an adventurous millionaire, Archibald Downes, a castaway who seems reluctant to be rescued. When an exploratory team find him they not only have to persuade him to leave but also deal with the local flora and fauna. This one is typical adventure story stuff, with an unsurprising twist at the end. It was OK but not really outstanding for me. 2 out of 5.

The next story, The Craving of Blackness by Mr. Robert Ray, was a tale of about a young man’s coming-of-age, and the consequential loss of innocence. Fourteen-year-old Joey wishes to be a Space-Medic but on taking his IQ test finds that things in the future may not be what he hopes for. It’s OK but is a little heavy-handed for my tastes personally. 3 out of 5.

Lastly we have Moonbeam, by an author not unknown to me or other regular New Worlds readers, Mr. David Rome. Since his first story in the May 1961 New Worlds, Mr. Rome has become an increasingly popular writer. Moonbeam is a story of the effects of the first faster-than-light transmission of a person far away to Alpha Centauri. Earth to Alpha Centauri in five hours is something we can only dream of today, and here it is suggested that there are problems in being one of the first people brave enough to try it. The ‘test pilot’, as it were, Bianchi, finds that there are unanticipated consequences of such travel. There’s issues of identity involved, as Bianchi appears to be a subject created in a factory and an increasing sense of dislocation as the story tells its plot. It is capped by a nice twist in the ending to this one, which stays in the mind just long enough to make you think before moving on. 3 out of 5.

So: was New Worlds worth my 2/6 (that’s two shillings and sixpence to you non-Brits) this month? On balance, yes. I would give it a score of 3 out of 5. It’s a solid issue overall, with some parts very memorable and others being OK, without any real rotters. I suspect that The Streets of Ashkalon will become one of Mr Harrison’s better-known works in the future, and not just for its determination to tackle sacred issues.

This time around, New Worlds seems to have made its mission explicit – to be different, to not be content with mundanity and clichés but push s-f into new and exciting ideas and themes. It is therefore perhaps as good a place as any to start my journey with you, fellow travellers. It’ll be interesting to see where this takes us.




[July 31, 1962] The Brass Mean (August 1962 Analog Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

“I don’t like science fiction.”

How often have you heard this?  Loved ones, co-workers, indignant acquaintances with noses reared up to the sky will happily give you their opinion of our degenerate genre.  And it’s a dumb opinion.

Why?  Because science fiction isn’t a magazine or a story or an author.  It’s a wide genre.  Saying “I don’t like science fiction” is like saying “I don’t like red books” or “I don’t like movies that have dogs in them.”  Sure, there’s plenty of bad science fiction, in print and (especially) in film, but there’s also, per Ted Sturgeon, about 10% gold – as in any genre.

Science fiction runs in quality from the humdrum, technical gotcha stories of the last two decades to the absolute peaks of sublimity (q.v. Cordwainer Smith, Zenna Henderson, etc.) Moreover, such ranges can generally be found even in individual sources; i.e. you can find both excellent and lousy stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, or any other digest.

Of course, if anyone is going to be turned off of sf as a genre, it probably will be the humdrum, workmanlike stories that do it.  Not bad enough to be noteworthy, not good enough to be recommended — just dull, mediocre stuff.

And that’s what we have a lot of in the August 1962 Analog, a magazine that will only contribute to the notion that science fiction just ain’t that good. 

The Toughest Opponent, by Christopher Anvil

The Terran “Special Effects” corps is back with their herd of psychically controlled animals: gorillas, lions, yellow-jackets, even a giant (artificial) snake.  Last time, they quelled a civil war.  This time around, they are helping a beleaguered base defeat a Malthusian nightmare of humanoid bezerkers on an uncivilized, overpopulated planet. 

There is some nice characterization in this one, or at least, the characters are recognizable through their characteristics.  But it drags somehow, and the payoff isn’t worth it.  The first of several stories in this book I’d give 2.5 stars to if I allowed half-stars in story reviews.  Instead, I’ll be uncharitable and say “two stars.”

The Bramble Bush, by Randall Garrett

A moonbase nuclear reactor goes critical, and it’s up to one plucky fellow to keep its twin from exploding until help can arrive.  Garrett goes through a lot of trouble to set up the chemistry of the reactor technology (which does not conform to current theory) such that the solution seems less clever than arbitrary.  I did appreciate the portrayal of the hero’s indecisive crewmate — not everyone is a man-of-action.  Less appreciated is Garrett’s need to pun at every opportunity.  Another 2.5 downgraded to two stars story. 

Watch the Sky, by James H. Schmitz

German cum Californian James Schmitz is an interesting writer, never quite hitting it out of the park, but rarely turning in junk, either.  Watch the Sky, about a backwoods colony that tries to manufacture an alien threat to secure funding for a bigger military base, starts promisingly but ends weak.  Forgettable, but not offensive.  Two stars.

The Big Job of Moving Little Things and The Color of Space, by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Amazingly, perhaps my favorite part of the issue includes Campbell’s “slick” nonfiction sections.  The first is a photo parade illustrating a new synchrotron that accelerates and smashes particles; scientists can then sift through the debris for exotic subatomic particles.  Not much substance to the piece, but the pictures are pretty.

The second, shorter piece references the cover and notes how we can get color photographs of deep space objects.  Mind you, these are not colors that any human observer would ever see — the light levels are too dim for us to discern anything but black and white.  Nevertheless, the colors do exist, and they can be extracted using clever techniques. 

Three stars in amalgam.

Border, Breed Nor Birth (Part 2 of 2) , by Mack Reynolds

Last up is Part 2 of Reynolds’ continuing saga of North Africa.  El Hassan (formerly Homer Crawford of the Unites States of the Americas) becomes increasingly aloof and dictatorial has his band of idealists attempts to unify the Mahgreb.  It’s readable, and the attention to cultural detail is excellent.  Also, a story that features naught but Black characters is refreshing.  However, the piece feels passionless, as if Reynolds was rushing through its production for the paycheck.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  Three stars.

Where does that leave us for the month?  F&SF is at the bottom of the pack with a dismal 2.4 stars.  Analog is just above at 2.5 (and a different kind of bad — where the former was wildly inconsistent, the latter was unremarkable).  Amazing does slightly better at 2.6, with similar issues as AnalogGalaxy had the highly entertaining The Dragonmasters, which means it has the best story, even though it only garnered 2.9 stars.  And Fantastic was the surprise winner with 3.1 stars — it was good enough that I took the time to read through the choicer bits.

Disappointingly, there was just one woman author this month, Rosel George Brown, making appearances in two magazines. 

Next month, we have a pleasant surprise: in addition to the five American digests, we have a guest correspondent covering the September 1962 issue of New Worlds!  Be sure to budget a good amount of time for reading…




[July 29, 1962] What a Diff’rence a Month Made (July 1962 in spaceflight)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Sometimes, the future comes so fast, it bewilders.

This rushing feeling I’ve had all month must be similar to what my grandparents felt when the Wright Brothers first took off.  For millennia, people have dreamed of flight, envying the birds.  Yet flying was always the province of make-believe, of fanciful stories.  Then, on one day in 1903, airplanes became a reality, and the world was transformed.

Ditto space travel.  That dream has been alive since the Ancient Greeks, yet it was entirely a theoretical concern until the Soviets pierced the heavens with their first beeping Sputnik.  It is easy to forget, now that there have been well over one hundred successful orbital missions, that just five years ago, there had been none.

The advances made just this month are tremendous, each one as significant as the breakthroughs I’ve just detailed.  Let’s review:

Ma Bell, Orbital Division

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few weeks, you can’t have missed virtually non-stop coverage of the first civilian communications satellite, AT&T’s Telstar.  Launched July 10, it circles the Earth every 90 minutes; for 20 minutes of every orbit, North America and Europe are linked via the dappled spheroid.

Now, it’s not as if the two continents had been completely cut off before.  However, the only way to communicate was via undersea phone line (expensive, not useful for television), or shortwave radio (no pictures).  If the UK wants to watch reruns of The Twilight Zone, or if we wanted to see airings of Danger Man or Supercar, we have to wait for videotapes to be shipped/airmailed across the Pond.  News from abroad is often days out of date.

That’s about to change.  Starting with a fairly humdrum broadcast of a flag in France, Telstar’s programming has now included a host of shows including a Presidential address and a sports match.  And everyone can receive them (so long as the local stations rebroadcast the feed).  Over the next few years, expect satellite coverage to become continuous.  Arthur C. Clarke’s dream of comsats fixed in the sky, 22,500 miles overhead, will soon become a reality, and the world shall be connected as never before.

Jousting Space Shutterbugs

Since April, the Soviets have been orbiting a series of disparate probes under the unified designation, “Kosmos,” the latest being Kosmos 7, which launched yesterday.  Details on these flights have been sketchy, and while they are all billed as scientific missions, it is beyond doubt that some or all of them have been spy satellites.  I infer this based on the fact that at least one of them was deorbited and recovered a few days after launch – the same modus operandi as our Discoverer film-return satellites.

Speaking of which, yesterday we launched the 47th in the Discoverer series.  As usual, the Air Force did not announce the flight, but it was in the papers anyway.  It’s really hard to hide a rocket launch in the middle of California.

It is unlikely that the two satellites took pictures of each other, but wouldn’t that be a snapshot to develop?

Getting to Space the Old-Fashioned Way

Until this month, the only way into the deep black was at the tip of a rocket, as Messrs. Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, Carpenter, Gagarin, and Titov can attest.  But on July 17, Major Robert White flew his X-15 rocket plane to an altitude of 59 miles.  For NASA, that’s close enough to outer space to count, and they’re giving the Major a pair of astronaut wings to wear on his flight suit. 

White experienced three minutes of weightlessness during his flight, and the stars were brilliant and unwinking at the journey’s apex.  While this is close to the highest the X-15 can ever fly, it strongly suggests that, in the not too distant future, the next generation of spaceplanes will zoom into orbit from a conventional runway.

Just try not to live right under the take-off point.  That could get loud.

Bits and Pieces

The Apollo moonship design is moving right along.  One lingering question, however, was how the thing would get to the moon.  After all, it is the heaviest manned spacecraft yet developed.  The original concept involved building a giant version of the already giant Saturn booster.  This eight-engine monster is dubbed Nova, and it would take Apollo directly to the moon.  Appropriately, this mode is called “Direct Ascent.”

A cheaper idea involves using two Saturn C-5s (a simpler, 5-engine variant), one carrying the Apollo, and the other carrying the fuel.  The two would meet in Earth orbit before jetting off to the moon.  This mode is called “Earth Orbit Rendezvous.”

But it was the plucky underdog idea that was ultimately chosen this month.  Called Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, it requires just one Saturn C-5.  At its tip will be an Apollo, some fuel, and a teeny Lunar Excursion Module (or LEM).  The Apollo, itself, won’t land on the moon.  Instead, two astronauts of the three will cram into the LEM for the landing. 

This mode was, at first, deemed too complicated to be practicable.  Computers are getting better these days, however, and the cost savings are significant.  Moreover, there’s less to go wrong with one rocket than two.

I’m wholly in favor of this move.  After all, anything with the acronym LEM must be incredible.

Conquered by (the Planet of) Love

The one bit of sad news accompanies the loss of Mariner 1, our first planned mission to Venus.  Launched on July 22, its Atlas Agena rocket, the biggest one we’ve got right now (save for the still-in-testing Saturn 1), glitched during take-off and had to be destroyed five minutes into the flight.

Unlike Pioneer 5, which two years ago flew to Venus’ orbit and demonstrated the possibility of long-range telecommunications, Mariner 1 would have flown by the planet, itself.  It would not have been able to take pictures; the Atlas Agena combination isn’t powerful enough to lift a spacecraft with a big enough radio to send scans of photos.  We’ll have to wait for the beefier Atlas Centaur for that.

Instead, Mariner 1 is really a retool of the first generation of Ranger moon probes, carrying a slew of particle and electromagnetic wave detectors.  If an “R-type” Mariner makes it to Venus, we won’t get a look under the planet’s shroud of clouds, but we will, at least, finally know hot the world is and get some information on its magnetic field.

The good news?  Mariner 2 is scheduled for launch next month.  Let’s hope that one works – otherwise, we’ll have to wait another year and a half for Earth and Venus to be in favorable position for a mission.

Live via Visi-Phone!

Courtesy of Telstar and the miracle of Visi-phone(tm) technology, the Journey had a smashing second Tele-Conference on July 29, covering a wide range of topics: from news of the day, to discussion of the upcoming Hugo Awards, to talking about this Summer’s blockbusters.

If you missed the live broadcast, catch the rerun.  Check your local listings for details.

Congratulations go out to Mark Yon and Nathan “Rocky” Anderson for asking the best questions!  You can expect your prizes to arrive over the next few weeks.  And to the rest of our audience, warm thanks from the Galactic Journey staff.  We look forward to seeing you again when we do our third Tele-Conference in 2-3 months.

In the meantime, enjoy this revolutionary new era.  The future is only going to come more quickly, I predict…




[July 26, 1962] The Long and Short of It (August 1962 Fantastic)

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


by Victoria Silverwolf

July isn’t quite over yet, and already I feel overwhelmed by all that’s been going on in the world:

Two new nations, Rwanda and Burundi, have been created from the Belgian territory of Ruanda-Urundi.  Similarly, France has recognized the independence of its former colony Algeria.

Despite protests, the United States continues to test atomic weapons.  The USA also detonated a hydrogen bomb in outer space, hundreds of miles above a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.  The explosion created a spectacular light show visible from Hawaii, more than seven hundred miles away.  It also disrupted electronics in the island state.  An underground nuclear explosion created a gigantic crater in the Nevada desert and may have exposed millions of people to radioactive fallout.

AT&T launched Telstar, the first commercial communications satellite (which we’ll be covering in the next article!)

The world of literature suffered a major loss with the death of Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner.

In Los Angeles, young artist Andy Warhol exhibited a work consisting of thirty-two paintings of cans of Campbell’s Soup.

The Washington Post published an article revealing how Doctor Frances Oldham Kelsey, a medical officer for the Food and Drug Administration, kept thalidomide, a drug now known to cause severe birth defects, off the market in the United States.

Even popular music seems to be going through radical changes lately.  Early in the month the charts were dominated by David Rose’s raucous jazz instrumental The Stripper.  It would be difficult to think of a less similar work than Bobby Vinton’s sentimental ballad Roses are Red (My Love), which has replaced it as Number One.

It seems appropriate that the latest issue of Fantastic offers no less than nine stories, one long and eight short, to go along with these busy days:

Sword of Flowers by Larry M. Harris

Vernon Kramer’s cover art for the lead story captures something of the mysterious mood of this mythical tale.  The setting is a strange world where the climate is so gentle that the inhabitants have no need for shelter.  They also have the ability to create whatever they imagine.  However, because their lives are so simple and happy, they rarely use this power.  An exception is a man, twisted in mind and body, who comes up with the concepts of royalty and servitude, so that another man in love with a beautiful woman can become her slave.  It all leads to tragedy, and an ending directed at the reader.  It’s a compelling legend written in poetic language.  Five stars.

The Titan by P. Schuyler Miller

This issue’s Fantasy Classic has a complex history.  Serialized in part in the 1930’s, although never published in full until revised for the author’s 1952 collection, this is its first complete magazine appearance.  The story takes place on a dying planet where the decadent upper class takes blood from the healthy lower class.  The plebeian hero follows the patrician heroine above ground and falls in love.  They become involved in a plot to violently overthrow the rulers and confront a huge, dangerous creature known as a Star Beast.  Most readers will be able to figure out what planet is involved and the true nature of the Star Beast.  Although said to be daring for the 1930’s, it’s pretty tame for the 1960’s.  Unfortunately, this is the longest story in the issue.  Two stars.

Behind the Door by Jack Sharkey

A woman who seeks out dangerous experiences encounters a mysterious man whom she believes will provide the ultimate thrill.  He turns out to be something other than expected.  A fairly effective horror story.  Three stars.

The Mynah Matter by Lawrence Eisenberg

A man determined to purchase a talking bird deals with a pet store owner who refuses to sell any of his animals.  It seems that they are all reincarnations of famous people.  This is a slight, whimsical comedy, but somehow likable.  Three stars.

And a Tooth by Rosel George Brown

A woman whose husband and children die in an accident goes into a coma from the shock.  Experimental brain surgery restores her to consciousness, but gives her two separate minds.  The author does a good job of narrating from both points of view, and the effect is chilling.  Four stars.

A Devil of a Day by Arthur Porges

This is yet another variation on the old deal with Satan theme.  A man sells his soul for the chance to have absolute power over the city of Rome at a certain time during the Sixteenth Century.  Readers familiar with a specific historical event will be able to predict why this is a very bad bargain.  Two stars.

Continuity by Albert Teichner

A precocious student raises a peculiar question that haunts a physics teacher.  If our universe consists of matter that we can sense and forces that we cannot sense, could the reverse be true in another universe?  The result is unexpected.  This is an odd, philosophical story, intriguing but not always clear.  Three stars.

Horseman! by Roger Zelazny

A new writer, who also appears in this month’s issue of Amazing, offers a brief prose poem.  A mysterious rider appears in a village asking after others of his kind.  What happens when he finds them is surprising.  The story is beautifully written, and one hopes that the author will go on to produce longer works.  Four stars.

Victim of the Year by Robert F. Young

A man down on his luck receives a note from a woman at the unemployment office.  She claims to be an apprentice witch with the assignment to cast spells to make his life miserable.  She repents of her actions, and together they must face the wrath of her coven.  The story reads something like a less elegant version of a Fritz Leiber fantasy.  Three stars.

The best stories in this issue are short ones, proving once again that good things come in small packages.  Speaking of which, stay tuned for an article on the series of small packages circling the Earth that are making an outsized impact on their mother planet…

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  A chance to discuss Soviet and American space shots…and maybe win a prize!)




[July 24, 1962] Comrade Future (More Soviet Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

We hear a lot about the Soviet Union these days, but usually in the form of an unflattering cartoon of Premier Khruschev or photos of people trying to defect from Communism.  Occasionally a hopeful reprinting last year’s meeting between Jack and Niki in Vienna or a scornful reprinting of Khruschev banging his shoe on the United Nations podium.

If we think about the Soviet people, head-scarfed Babushkas, gray-suited apparatchiks, uniformed goose-stepping soldiers, and accordion-playing dancers come to mind.  We just don’t get many glimpses from behind the Iron Curtain.  So when we do get a peek, it’s an exciting opportunity.  For instance, Time-Life just released a new picture-book on Russia, which sheds a little light on a hidden section of the world.

Another surprise is a new collection of Soviet science fiction called (appropriately enough) More Soviet Science Fiction

This book, along with the anthology’s predecessor and the occasional Josef Svebada reprint in Fantasy and Science Fiction, comprises all of the Eastern Bloc sf literature available in English.  As such, it’s difficult to determine if these stories are representative of Soviet sf as a whole, or rather cherry-picked for their intended audience.  There are some commonalities that are suggestive either of a Soviet style, or at least what the editor thinks would appeal to foreigners.  Certainly, there is a kind of mild clunkyness one comes to expect from a less than expert translation, though it never detracts seriously from the reading.  Rather, it just accentuates the foreign nature of the material.

Another universal aspect is the emphasis on explaining the science.  Fully a page or two of each story gets extremely technical; the Soviets eschew more integrated scientific exposition.  It’s almost as if laying out their case in full is a requirement of publication. 

Finally, all of the stories have an edifying component.  They are all parables – whatever entertainment value they may provide, you are supposed to learn from them.  The lessons they teach tell you a lot about the teacher culture.

There are five stories, the first comprising more than half of the book:

The Heart of the Serpent, by Ivan Yefremov

Seven hundred years in the future, humanity’s first faster-than-light ship embarks on a mission to explore Cor Serpentis, a giant orange star 74 light years from Earth.  The time dilation consequences of the ship’s hyperdrive mean that hundreds of years will pass back home before the crew returns.  Yet, the demographically balanced team of enlightened Communists are stoically resigned to doing their duty in service to their species’ destiny.

On the way to their destination, they chance upon an alien vessel.  As extraterrestrials had been theoretical until that point, this promises to be the most significant discovery in the history of space travel.  The crew discuss at length what they expect to find.  One camp believes that two different planets couldn’t possibly produce similar beings.  Another feels that the human form is the natural end-point of evolution, much as Communism is the inevitable destination for all societies.

I’ll let you guess which guess is right…

I do appreciate the overwhelming positivity of the encounter, in contrast to other stories (Yefremov specifically calls out Murray Leinster’s classic, First Contact).  And there is a stately beauty to the piece.  The spaceship and its mission are depicted with a spare elegance that feels futuristic.

Siema, by Anatoly Dnieprov

The most old-fashioned of the pieces is a bit of Pygmalion gone wrong.  An engineer constructs a brilliant robot whose computing power is such that she (it takes on the female gender) becomes a sentient being.  A rather obsessed creature with an unquenchable desire for knowledge untempered by any tinge of morality.  But if this electric Pinocchio can just get a conscience, all will be well.

It is a cute tale that will make you smile, but the lesson is heavy-handed and the plot is out of the 1940s.

The Trial of Tantalus, by Victor Saparin

By the 21st Century, a world led by Soviet science has eradicated every disease.  The few remaining pathogens are kept in a highly secured vault for study.  In Tantalus, one escapes back into the wild, causing a myriad of positive and negative effects that must be gauged to determine their net value.  The moral of this story is that all life has purpose, even the nasty bits.  And Communism will be the key to evaluating that purpose.

Despite the adventure-story trappings of Tantalus, I found this piece the least engaging.  Sort of a creaky Astounding tale from the early 1950s.

Stone from the Stars, by Valentina Zhuravleva

Here is the one woman-penned piece in the book.  I don’t know if Valya’s 20% contribution is representative of gender demographics in Soviet science fiction, but I’m glad the Reds didn’t neglect half of their “equal partners” in Communism.  It is worth noting, however, that even worlds dominated by egalitarian Communism, virtually none of the characters in these stories are women…

Stone is another first-contact tale.  This time, the envoy is a two-meter cylinder encased in a meteorite.  Once again, there is the debate over the potential form of the creature, but the revelation is not nearly as clear-cut as in The Heart of the Serpent.  An interesting, bittersweet piece.

Six Matches, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The last piece involves neutrino-induced psionics.  Yes, the premise is so much handwavium, but that’s not the point.  Rather, it is that its inventor put himself at great personal risk to advance science.  This foolhardy courage of Soviet science is lambasted with words, but praised in subtext.  Perhaps they’ll trot this story out when the first cosmonaut dies.

I did not rate the stories individually because they really hang together as a gestalt.  I can’t say that More Soviet Science Fiction is a great book, but it is an interesting one, and one I dispatched in short order.  And if you’re a fan of Isaac Asimov, also a product of the Soviet Union, you’ll appreciate his introduction.  Call it three stars – more if you’ve got a case (as I do) of xenophilia.

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  A chance to discuss Soviet and American science fiction…and maybe win a prize!)