Tag Archives: 1962

[January 23, 1962] A Methodical Approach to Writing (H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy)


by Rosemary Benton

Science fiction is a wonderful genre in that it allows an author the opportunity to pick a discipline – religion, economics, etc. – and create scenarios that are free to play out completely beyond any current restrictions or known facts of nature. Consider James Blish’s The Star Dwellers with its sentient energy creatures or Andre Norton’s Catseye with its telepathic animals.

But then there are the science fiction authors who try to ground their scenarios as close as possible to the discipline they are examining. For H. Beam Piper, it seems as if he wrote his most recent novel with a mission to accurately play out the issues and triumphs of an anthropologist. The results is the well written (if slightly dry) young adult novel, Little Fuzzy, the story of one interstellar prospector’s journey to protect the small, furry family he has adopted, cared for, and believes to be as intelligent as any group of humans.

H. Beam Piper is a prolific author within the science fiction genre. He’s been a published writer since 1947 with his short story Time and Time Again, and since then has averaged two short stories a year with the occasional novel blooming out from these stories.

But if you were to ask me how to best describe the flavor of his writing, I would be hard pressed to place Piper into an exact style. He lacks the poetic flow of words that embody Zenna Henderson’s work, and his ability to balance world-building and exposition is not as smooth as James Blish’s recent work. The pace of his stories is not as intense as Andre Norton, preferring instead to take things minute-by-minute. And yet I enjoyed Little Fuzzy and would recommend it as an intelligent, well written story. But how would I describe the writings of Piper? The best word I can use to describe H. Beam Piper’s writing is methodical. 

Piper goes to great length to construct his fictional environments, but he does not achieve this by the use of colorful adjectives. Piper’s world-building is more bureaucratic in nature. In his 1951 short story Temple Trouble, Piper spends a great length of time describing the way that time and dimension traveling beings calling themselves the Paratime Police use a fabricated religion to allow privatized corporations to mine uranium and other commodities right under the noses of the low-tech societies they have converted. Exposition goes into the minute details of how temples are set up in new cities, even in depth on how low level priests are selected to serve the god without being made aware of the advanced technology that creates the god’s “miracles.”

Via conversation between the main characters we are also privy to the internal struggles of the mining company. Is this onslaught of information necessarily vital to the plot? No. Does it help set up the cast of characters? In a way, yes. Does it build a relatable and recognizable setting for the story? Absolutely. So why does H. Beam Piper go into such minutia in all of his stories, not least of which includes Little Fuzzy?

Where other authors employ a liberal use of descriptive adjectives to set a scene, or will go into the extensive details of a character’s emotional state, Piper builds his environments by describing at length how a world or society functions as a whole. Take Graveyard of Dreams for instance. When the main character, Conn Maxwell, returns to his home world after leaving to further his education he sees the people he has left all those years ago and can’t help but think about how their clothing is from salvaged fabric, how their town is in disrepair from the lack of Terran Federation interest in the region, and how that situation has come to be. By and large, Piper will spend relatively little wordage in detailing the facial expressions or internal feelings of his character. He instead reserves his vocabulary for historical accounts, political ramblings, and anthropological observations. 

Which brings us to Little Fuzzy. In true Piper fashion the story is set to the tone of a conversation between upper management and underling in which we begin to understand what concerns will drive the plot – a colonized planet’s climate change, its resources, and the rights people have to inhabit and collect its resources. We are also made aware of the divide between corporations and conservationists.

In Little Fuzzy the privatized corporations that own the land rights to territories under Terran Federation jurisdiction must first and foremost consider the natives and whether or not they warrant sapient categorization. If the inhabitants are sapient, the planet will be granted certain protections which severely limit any corporation’s profit margin. If a sentient species were discovered on Zarathustra, the planet on which Little Fuzzy centers, the company would need to renegotiate its charter, conservationists would have fodder for their fight against the industrialists, and corporate heads would roll.

Again, is this onslaught of information necessarily vital to the plot? To an extent, yes, as it sets the stage for people’s loyalties. Does it help set up the cast of characters? In a way, yes, although many more are introduced later. Does it build a relatable and recognizable setting for the story? All too much so.

Knowing how the universe of Little Fuzzy operates is crucial, the same way that a working knowledge of any society plays into all of Piper’s works. From there he weaves in common themes such as self reliance, humble beginnings, exploration, and the ever present military. As I have said before, Little Fuzzy is a little dry since the debates that center around the fuzzies and their levels of sapience unfold in a minute-to-minute fashion, but they are thoughtful and well crafted arguments that give each character a distinct voice. H. Beam Piper is a unique writer, but one worth following. His newest novel only proves this. Three stars.

[January 21, 1962] January Freeze (The Great Explosion, by Eric Frank Russell)


By Ashley R. Pollard

I mentioned last time I find December winter difficult.  In January it snowed, which reminds me of the song Let it Snow! by Vaughn Monroe, though the cover version sung by Dean Martin may be more familiar to younger readers of Galactic Journey.  So with the frightful weather outside I had a good reason to stay indoors and read, and thanks to the Traveller’s influence I have laid hands on preview copy of Eric Frank Russell’s, The Great Explosion, soon to be available at the end of May / beginning of June in hardback from all good bookstores.

When I first came across Russell’s work I initially thought he was an American because of his easy use of colloquial American English in his writing.  However, as we say over here, he’s as British as they come.  We not only mix in the same science fiction circle, but also share an interest in the works of paranormalist Charles Fort, which I may be assuming (incorrectly?) readers of the Galactic Journey know about.  Russel also writes under various pseudonyms including Webster Craig, Duncan H. Munro, Niall Wilde (also spelled Naille Wilde), and Maurice G. Hugi.

I can’t remember the first story I read by him, but my guess is probably his Hugo award-winning short story Allamagoosa, which appeared in the May 1955 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.  If you’ve not read it I suggest it is well worth your time to find a copy and do so, despite it being or perhaps I should say because it’s a shaggy dog story.  However, my favourite two books by Russell are his 1957 novel, Wasp, and Next of Kin from 1959.  I will mention that Next of Kin, because it has a bearing on his latest novel, first saw print in Astounding as a novella titled Plus X, and there was also a slightly expanded version of the novella published by ACE Books as The Space Wilies before the definitive Next of Kin was published.

Eric Frank Russell’s new novel is an expansion of his novella And Then There Were None that appeared in the June 1951 issue of Astounding.  However, despite the minor disappointment of this story being an expansion of a previous work, it manages to expand the original work in a way that adds considerably to the context of the setting.

The story starts with a prologue describing the happenchance discovery of the Blieder Drive, a space-drive that takes mankind to the stars.  This being Russell, there’s less manifest destiny and more an anarchic rush to either exploit or get rid of people.  Terra, as a result, sees a large number of people leave because of the Blieder Drive, and the story proper begins 400 years later with the first voyage to reunite the lost worlds to form the Terran Empire.

For any other author this might be a chance to give the ship a suitable grand name, but Russell just refers to it throughout the novel as “the ship.”  Russell’s focus is on the foibles of the bureaucratic mindset behind the mission.  The story is split between the relationship between the pompous diplomat, who is only ever referred to as “the Ambassador” or “his Excellency,” the phlegmatic Captain Grayder, who is in command of the ship, and the punctilious Colonel Shelton, commander of the military detachment sent to protect the diplomatic staff.

Russell compares their behaviours with those of the people of the worlds the ship visits and contrasts them to the ordinary man aboard: in this case Sergeant Gleed and Tenth Engineer Harrison, who get assigned to various tasks assigned by their betters.  This being an Eric Frank Russell story, the focus of each of the planetary visits is to satirize the beliefs of the great and good.

The first planetfall occurs on a planet where all Earth’s prisoners were shipped to when the Blieder Drive made interstellar travel possible.  Unlike, say, Australia, which is our real-world analog, our convicts have created a world where stealing is the norm, and where things we take for granted as decent and proper are laughed at for being foolish.  The natives manage to get one over on the crew in their exchanges, played for comic effect, as what is being described is pretty horrible, but no worse than the lives our ancestors lived in feudal times.  This part of the story is a set-up of the shape of things to come [This sounds a lot like Robert Sheckley’s The Status Civilization (Ed.)]

The ship then makes its way to Hygeia, which is dominated by nudists who are health and fitness fanatics and who sneer at the fat and flabby Ambassador; they make the fittest member of the ship’s crew look feeble by comparison.  Here Russell is able to poke fun at both sides: the Hygeians for their fastidious health habits and the Terran’s for their prudishness.  The outcome of the diplomatic negotiations can probably be considered a draw, as neither side will ultimately get what they want.

The third planet visited, called Kassim, is the shortest part of the novel because it’s uninhabited and the colonists are assumed to have died from a disease.  While this is all well and good, I thought Russell missed a chance to have a bit more science on show.  There again that has never really been his forte, which brings us to the final and longest section of the novel (the part published back in 1951).

I unfortunately have not been able to lay my hands on a copy of And Then There Were None, so I cannot compare and contrast the two for changes made by Russell.  For those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading the original, here is a chance to read and enjoy a fabulous story sending up the bureaucratic might of Terra by a bunch of the most philosophically inclined anarchic libertarians you could possibly imagine.  Some of the conversations are what I would call psychological nuggets of pure gold pedantry that will bring tears of laughter to anyone’s eyes.

This is Russell at his best, lampooning social conventions and assumptions to make us question why we do what we do.  My sole criticism would be that this only works here because the crew of the ship from Terra are nice people: as in decent human beings no matter how deluded their beliefs.  Had the ship come from an authoritarian regime prepared to enforce control by whatever means necessary then the story wouldn’t have ended so well.  There again the story would not be a humorous satire, but rather a dystopian tale of a man’s inhumanity to man.  Of the two, I know which I would rather read.

Four stars.

[January 19, 1962] Killing the Messenger (February 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

I said in a recent article that science fiction runs the gamut from the hard-nosed to the fantastic, and that the former can be found most consistently inside the pages of Analog magazine.

Well, the February 1962 issue has proved me a liar.

The problem is Analog’s editor, Mr. John W. Campbell.  Once a luminary in the field, really hatching an entire genre back in the late 30’s, Campbell has degenerated into the crankiest of cranks.  And since he offers 3 cents a word for folks to stroke his ego, he necessarily gets a steady stream of bespoke stories guaranteed to be published.

Want to know the secret to getting printed in Analog?  Just include psi powers and a healthy dose of anti-establishment pseudo-scientific contrarianism, and you’re in like Flynn.

Case in point: this issue’s lead story, The Great Gray Plague, by Raymond F. Jones.  Never have I seen such a cast of straw men this side of a cornfield.  The setup is that the snooty head of a government agency that oversees science grants refuses to consider the bucolic Clearwater College as a candidate because they rank so low on the “Index.”  Said “Index” comprises a set of qualifications, some reasonable like the ratio of doctorates to students and published papers per year, to the ridiculous like ratio of tuxedoes to sport coats owned by the faculty and the genetic pedigree of the staff.  Thus, the “Index” serves as a sort of Poll Tax for institutions, making sure only the right kind remain moneyed.  The Dean of Clearwater makes an impassioned argument to the government employee that such a narrow protocol means thousands of worthy scientists and their inventions get snubbed every year in favor of established science.

So far, so good, I guess.  But then, as if on cue, a pair of “crackpot” farmers submit a request for review of a telepathic crystal they’ve developed.  Of course, the government man dismisses the request out of hand.  Of course, the progressive Dean investigates.  Of course the thing works.  And, of course, one of the crackpots is really an alien testing humanity’s ability to assimilate science that doesn’t gibe with current theory (and if you didn’t figure that twist out immediately, you’re reading the wrong stuff).

Now, there is merit to the idea that science is not a gradual evolution towards perfection.  In fact, Historian of Science Dr. Thomas Kuhn recently advanced the notion that science works within “paradigms” that are only overthrown with some violence and replaced with other paradigms.  For instance, there was no gentle, step-by-step transition from Ptolemy to Copernicus – the Sun went around the Earth, and the data was squeezed into that model (however ill-fitting) until suddenly the Earth was determined to orbit the Sun and everything fit into place.  Another example is phlogiston theory, which almost did a good job of explaining why substances gained weight when they burned…said theory being turned on its ear when the true nature of oxidation was discovered.

However, Plague isn’t really making Kuhn’s point.  It’s making Campbell’s, which is, in short, “If all these highfalutin ‘scientists’ would actually give a chance to people pushing psi, reactionless drives, and perpetual motion machines, then they’d quickly see the merit to these ‘crackpot’ ideas.”

Sorry, John.  Whatever bad things one might say about inertia in the scientific establishment, the fact is that it exists for a reason.  Science must, necessarily, be incredulous.  It must seek out and process data according to the scientific method.  And let’s be honest, John – science has given the Dean Drive and the Heironymous Machine and Dr. Rhine a fair shot.  They’ve been found wanting.  Give it up and stop kneeling at the altar of charlatans like L. Ron Hubbard. 

Or turn over Analog’s reins to someone else.  There’s a paradigm shift I’d love to see.

Having used up so much space with the above rant, I shall endeavor to be brief with the rest.  Pandemic, by the consistent J. F. Bone, is a gripping, grim tale of planetary disaster…with a rather silly resolution.  If anything, however, the first three quarters of the story give ample evidence that Bone can write – does he have any novels in print I don’t know about?  Three stars.

This month’s science fact article, Power Supplies for Space Vehicles (Part 1 of 2) by J. B. Friedenberg is a refreshing departure from Analog’s usual offerings, featuring as it does actual science.  Friendeberg’s piece discusses photovoltaic, thermoelectric, and thermionic power supplies in a comprehensive (if unentertaining) fashion.  About as much fun as reading the encyclopedia, which I generally enjoy, but you may not.  Two stars.

Neil Goble is a brand new author from Okie whose cute Master of None hints at a fair talent to come.  The story’s moral: pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a worthy endeavor.  I heartily agree.  Three stars.

That leaves Hail to the Chief by “Sam and Janet Argo.”  It’s a meandering piece about the lengths to which a politician goes to get a non-politician elected President of the United States.  It’s not particularly plausible, nor is it remotely science fiction, seemingly more a platform for a series of puns on the candidate’s name (“Cannon”).  This is a story with Randy Garrett’s fingerprints all over it.  Two stars.

Thus ends the worst issue of Analog since the magazine took on the new moniker.  The proof is in the pudding, and Chef John’s fare is poor stuff indeed.  I hope we get a new cook soon.

(By the way, it certainly seems that this month’s cover was influenced by the new tower planned for Los Angeles airport – you decide…)

[January 14, 1962] Horrors! (February 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

Since the demise nearly a decade ago of the fondly remembered magazine Weird Tales, there has been a dearth of markets for horror stories.  Occasionally a tale of terror will appear in the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but otherwise there are few places where fiction dealing with the deepest, most irrational fears of humanity can be found.  Perhaps this is due to the burgeoning popularity of science fiction as an expression of modern anxieties in this age of space exploration and atomic energy. 

Even at the local movie theater one is more likely to find radioactive mutants and creatures from outer space than vampires, werewolves, and mummies, though the recent revival of these Gothic monsters by the British film production company Hammer hints that the tide may be changing, as does the popularity of classic horror movies on television programs such as Shock Theater.  The new publication Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by well-known science fiction fan Forrest J. Ackerman, also proves that there are many readers still interested in the dark side of fantasy.

A striking exception to above trend is Fantastic, which often features supernatural horror stories along with the kind of science fiction found in its sister publication Amazing.  In particular, the February issue of the magazine contains at least as much of the former as the latter.

The surrealistic cover art by Leo Summers aptly conveys the mood of Fritz Leiber’s lead novelette “A Bit of the Dark World.” The story is set in modern Southern California.  (Leiber has been a pioneer in bringing the supernatural into the Twentieth Century ever since his story The Automatic Pistol appeared in Weird Tales in 1940.) Four passengers are driving through steep hills near Los Angeles.  In the back seat are the narrator and his lover, who are in the movie business.  (In a sly nod to his roots, the author gives these characters the surnames Seabury and Quinn, Seabury Quinn having been a prolific writer of horror fiction, with hundreds of stories to his credit, many in Weird Tales.)

In the front passenger seat is their host, who is bringing them to his small but luxurious home for the night.  At the wheel is a neighbor.  On the way they share a strange vision at a peculiar rock formation.  The driver sees nothing, and this character soon vanishes from the story.  He seems intended to represent those who have no ability to sense anything beyond the physical world, and thus he is completely safe from it.

The other three are not so fortunate.  As the night progresses they experience unnerving sensations; a burning smell, a metallic flavor, the feeling of cobwebs, the sound of falling gravel.  Most of all they perceive vague shapes, shining black against an equally black night sky.  Leiber creates an effective sense of inexplicable menace which leads to a dramatic conclusion.  Four stars.

Before returning to tales of terror, Daniel F. Galouye (a likely Hugo contender for his recent novel Dark Universe) offers us a taste of his skill at creating imaginative science fiction in A Silence of Wings. Set in the far future, when humanity has made contact with many different alien species throughout the galaxy, the story takes place on a planet inhabited by flying telepaths.  Although friendly to the visiting humans, they have no interest in learning about Earth technology and are to content to remain gliding from place to place in their treetop homes.  The Terrans are not entirely altruistic in offering to bring advanced science to the flyers; a prime motivation is to enlist them in exploiting the planet’s resources.  In a foolish attempt to force the aliens to adopt machinery, one of the humans uses logic to “prove” that their wings are far too frail to allow them to fly.  Since this ability is the only thing which prevents them from being destroyed by ravenous ground-dwelling predators, a crisis ensues.

The story reads in some ways like a typical Analog story reflected in a funhouse mirror.  The self-confident humans smugly think themselves superior to the local natives.  The author is careful to avoid depicting them as one-dimensional villains, however, resulting in a believable set of characters.  Three stars.

Although also set in a future of space travel, this time confined to the limits of the Solar System, Joseph E. Kelleam’s story The Red Flowers of Tulp is really an old-fashioned horror story decked out with science fiction trappings.  It deals with three vicious space criminals who encounter the title plants at a carnival on Mars, just after reaping the benefits of their latest felony.  The flowers not only talk, but predict their futures (they really serve only as a plot gimmick, and could easily be replaced by a Gypsy fortuneteller.) They state that one of the men will die by cold, one by fire, and that one will never die.  The reader is not terribly surprised to discover that these predictions all come true.  It’s a moderately effective tale of just desserts, worthy of two stars (three if you’re more generous than I am).

Appropriately, this month’s reprint is credited, in part, to the late H. P. Lovecraft, another veteran of Weird Tales whose name is associated with stories of terror.  I suspect that “The Shadow Out of Space” is primarily the work of co-author August W. Derleth.  Derleth, along with Donald Wandrei, founded the Arkham House publishing company with the goal of preserving the work of Lovecraft in hardcover.  Derleth and other authors have expanded on Lovecraft’s concept of ancient, god-like beings far beyond human comprehension into the so-called “Cthulhu Mythos.”

Taking its title from Lovecraft’s 1936 story The Shadow Out of Time, this variation on the same theme was first published in The Survivor and Others, a 1957 Arkham House collection of Derleth’s elaborations on notes and outlines left by the deceased author.  The story is told from the point of view of a psychiatrist examining a patient who suffers from terrifying dreams.  These involve inhabiting the body of an inhuman creature in a vast library located on a distant planet.  It is eventually revealed that these aliens are able to send their minds into the bodies of others, including human beings, over vast distances of space and time.  Derleth weaves together many themes from Lovecraft in an apparent attempt to make a coherent whole.  Fans of H. P. Lovecraft will appreciate the effort, but the story itself is rather dry, and the author forgets the important rule to show and not tell.  Two stars.

We turn from cosmic terror to more mundane fears in our final story.  William W. Stuart’s What If? has something of the flavor of an introspective The Twilight Zone episode.  The protagonist is a fellow who has been so dominated by a willful mother and a bureaucratic job with the IRS that he is unable to make the simplest decisions on his own.  When he is asked to make a trivial selection between a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich, he foresees the tragic consequences of each choice.  Unwilling to hurt anyone because of his actions, he goes into a catatonic state.  Years later, in a psychiatric institute, he emerges from his trance and decides to act only in his own self-interest, disregarding how his decisions will harm others.  Although his strange ability to predict the exact consequences of all his actions allows him to become rich and powerful very quickly, the outcome is not entirely pleasant.  Three stars.

Overall, this issue provides solid entertainment, even if it may not be the best choice to read all alone in the dark…

[Then again, who reads in the dark?  Best to, at least, bring a flashlight!  Ed.]

[January 12, 1962] Odd one out (February 1962 Galaxy)


by Gideon Marcus

Science fiction is a broad genre.  It includes hard scientific, nuts-and-bolts projections that read like modern tales with just a touch of the future in them; this is the kind of stuff the magazine Analog is made up of.  Then you’ve got far out stuff, not just fantasy but surrealism.  The kind of work Cordwainer Smith pulls off with such facility that it approaches its own kind of realism.  In this realm lie the lampoons, the parables, the just plain kooky.  They get labeled as “science fiction,” but they don’t predict futures that could actually happen, nor do they incorporate much real science.  Rather, they end up in the sf mags because where else would they go?  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction showcases this type as a good portion of their monthly offerings (appropriately enough — “Fantasy” is in the name).

Galaxy magazine has always trod a middle road, delivering pure scientific tales, fantastic stories, and pieces of psychological or “soft” science fiction that fall somewhere in between.  It’s that balance that is part of what makes Galaxy my favorite magazine (that and stubborn loyalty – it was my first subscription). 

The first Galaxy of 1962, on the other hand, veers heavily into the fantastic.  Virtually every story presented has a distinct lack of grounding in reality.  Does it work?  Well…see for yourself.

Fred Pohl and his lately deceased frequent partner Cyril Kornbluth wrote a whole lot together.  In fact, I think they’ve published more since Kornbluth’s death than while he was alive!  I have to think Pohl is doing most of the work on Kornbluth’s outlines, but perhaps there’s something mystical going on.  Anyway, Critical Mass is the latest from this duo, a satirical “if this goes on” piece combining the mania for construction of bomb shelters and the public passion for baseball.  An entertaining piece though lacking in nuance.  Three stars.

LaGrange points, those places of gravitational stability involving two celestial bodies, were the topic of a recent Asimov piece.  Willy Ley now discusses them in his latest science column, For Your Information: Earth’s Extra Satellites.  There’s interesting stuff here though I’m afraid the Good German no longer has the gift for presentation that the Good Doctor possesses.  Three stars.

Shatter the Wall is an odd piece by newcomer, Sydney Van Scyoc.  Television, now taking up entire walls of houses, has become the object of the world’s attention.  In particular, a prosaic domestic drama featuring four stars whom everyone tries to emulate.  Wall reads like a dream, and if taken in that way, is a neat story.  I found it a little too off-kilter to really connect, however.  You might feel differently.  Three stars.

There’s a new hobby I’ve discovered called “board wargaming.”  Players do battle using cardboard chits representing military units and a set of rules considerably more involved that those of, say, Chess or Checkers.  Avalon Hill, a publishing company, started the fad with Tactics II, a simulation of modern strategic warfare, and recently followed it up with a D-Day game and a couple on Civil War battles.

Now, imagine if the world stopped settling their differences with armed conflicts and instead resorted to simulated fighting. 

That’s the premise of James Harmon’s The Place Where Chicago Was.  All war is simulated, presumably facilitated by computer.  Big cities are not actually destroyed in enemy pseudo-attacks.  Rather, they are simply quarantined for twenty years and left to fend for themselves.  Residents are forbidden to leave; outsiders are restricted from entering.  To enforce the peace, giant psycho-transmitters are set up that broadcast pacifistic thoughts to the populace. 

It’s such an implausible idea that I have to think Harmon is attempting some kind of satire.  On the other hand, it doesn’t read like satire.  It’s well written, but I don’t quite know what to make of it.  Three stars.


by Cowles

The Martian Star-Gazers is a “non-faction” piece by Ernst Mason, whom I’ve never heard of.  It tells the sad story of the erstwhile inhabitants of the Red Planet, done in by their fear of the heavens.  I appreciated Mason’s take on Martian constellations, particularly their contrast with terrestrial counterparts.  Three stars.

Algis Budrys writes deep, thoughtful stuff with a somber edge.  The Rag and Bone Men features a stranded alien intelligence that has taken over the Earth but only wishes to be able to go back home.  Terran science simply isn’t up to the task, and neither are the mind-slaved humans who labor at it.  A weird, perhaps overly poetic story.  Three stars.

Ed Wellen is back with another non-faction “Origins” piece, Origins of Galactic Fruit Salad.  A catalog of intergalactic service decorations, it’s in the same vein as his last piece: Origins of the Galactic Short-Snorter.  Sadly, unlike that work, Galactic Fruit Salad commits the cardinal sin of any comedic piece – it’s not funny.  One star.

The Big Engine, by Fritz Leiber, is solipsism done backwards.  The world is a giant machine, all of its pieces playing preordained parts save for the few components that become self-aware.  There’s not much to this story, but I must confess that I found it all the more memorable for having read it on a busy street corner, where the thrum of Leiber’s mechanical world was most immediate.  Three stars.

The balance of the issue comprises Part 2 of Poul Anderson’s Day after Doomsday, which as I said in my last article, was disappointing in comparison to the promising first half. 

While I applaud the effort toward experimentation in this issue, the result is an oddly monotonous clutch of stories, no “real” sf here.  Each of the tales might have been decent sandwiched between traditional stories, but they become an abstract, off-putting blob in unrelieved combination.  Galaxy would do well to return to its heterogeneous mix of sf types; I think trying to beat Analog or F&SF at their own games would be a bit of a forlorn hope.

See you in two with a “Fantastic” update!

[January 9, 1962] Unfortunate Tale (Anderson’s Day After Doomsday)


by Gideon Marcus

The Earth is dead, its verdant continents and azure oceans replaced with a roiling hell.  The crew of the Benjamin Franklin, humanity’s first interstellar ship, gaze on the holocaust in horror.  Are they only humans left?  Do any of Terra’s other ships (particularly the all woman-crewed Europa) still survive?  And most of all, who is responsible for this, the greatest of crimes?

This is the setup for Poul Anderson’s newest book, Day after Doomsday, serialized in the last two issues of Galaxy.  Like his previous The High Crusade, Doomsday features a tiny splinter of humanity thrust on the galactic stage in a fight for its very existence.  Unlike that earlier book, however, Doomsday‘s tone is somber.  It’s a mood Anderson does expertly, his lugubrious Scandinavian nature suffusing much of his work.

There is much to enjoy about the first three fifths of this book.  The setting is excellent.  Our galaxy is divided into innumerable clusters of societies, true unification precluded by the relative slowness of interstellar travel.  Several of our neighboring races discover the Earth somewhere around the 1970s, and a productive trade ensues.  But shortly after Earthers begin leaving their homeworld, an alien faction destroys Sol’s best planet.  Suspects are legion – could it be the artistic avian Monwaingi?  The individualistic noble Vorlakka?  The nomadic and ruthless Kandimirians?  Or was it a kind of grisly racial suicide?  You don’t find out until the end.

I appreciated the near-equal time Anderson devoted to the all-female crew, who are as resourceful and strong as one would hope (Anderson does not have trouble writing strong woman characters).  In fact, all of the players are well-drawn.  From catatonia to mania, the response to the destruction of Earth, both immediate and long after, is plausible and far-ranging. 

But somewhere around page 80, the book starts to fall apart.  What had been a string of exciting vignettes articulating two parallel story arcs deftly mixing despair and hope suddenly becomes a fragmented chunk of exposition that tries to tie together the free-hanging threads.  It feels as if a good 60 pages were cut out of the story leaving an unsatisfactory skeleton. 

Was this an artifact of the medium?  Will the novelized version (as I imagine will inevitably appear) be more rewarding?  I guess we’ll have to wait.  As is, it’s a mediocre effort – readable but disappointing.

Three stars.

[January 7, 1962] Mismatched pair (ACE Double D-485)


by Gideon Marcus

I recently discovered the goodness that is the ACE Double.  For just 35 cents (or 45 cents, depending on the series), you get two short books back to back in one volume.  I’ve been impressed with these little twinned novels though their novelty may pass as I read more magazine scientificition – after all, many of the ACE novels are adapted magazine serials.  Still, they’ve been a great way to catch up on good fiction I’ve missed.

For instance, ACE Double D-485 (released Spring 1961) pairs Lloyd Biggle Jr.’s The Angry Espers with Robert Lowndes’ The Puzzle Planet

Biggle’s name is what sold me on this Double as he’s turned in some solid work in the last few years.  In fact, you might have read Espers, Biggle’s first novel, when it appeared in Amazing back in 1959 as A Taste of Fire.  Now, normally I try to provide a modicum of commentary on the works I review.  After all, you all tune in for my exhaustive literary criticism, right?  My academic spotlight on the objective quality of a work in the context of our modern and historical socio-political structures? 

No?

Well, good.  Because I’d hate to spoil a word of Biggle’s excellent work.  Quite simply, the thing had me hooked from the first paragraphs, and it did not let me go until I had finished the novel two hours later.  Espers held me in rapt attention while the needle of my phonograph hissed up and down on the last groove of a record, completely unheeded.  Biggle has written a compelling, often unpredictable read, and had I discovered it two years ago, it would have been a strong contender for the 1959 Galactic Stars awards.  4.5 stars.  Read it.

Lowndes’ Puzzle Planet is a horse of a different color.  It is the author’s attempt at a straight sci-fi themed “whodunnit” murder mystery.  Set on an extraterrestrial world inhabited by seemingly primitive humanoids, it struggles to maintain interest.  The key problem is that Lowndes is a veteran of the Golden age of science fiction.  His heyday was in the 1940s, and he has written very little fiction in the last ten years, his time being taken up with magazine editing, particularly the digests, Future, Science Fiction, and Science Fiction QuarterlyPuzzle Planet, while it is not unentertaining, it is also not innovative.  The events of Lowndes’ novel could as easily have taken place in an exotic Earth locale, perhaps in the Orient or Africa. 

Moreover, it is often the case that a science fiction writer can only manage a few leaps at a time.  If a story features creative extrapolation of technology, then often the society portrayed is bog-standard modern American.  Or if the characterization is particularly keen, then the technical aspects may be conventional.  Lowndes, in focusing on the mystery aspects of his story, misses out on both, showing us both technology and culture that are utterly familiar, despite the story taking place on an alien world far in the future.

Nevertheless, Lowndes does know how to write, and the mysteries (plural) are competent, as one would hope given the priority he gives them.  Three stars.

Whatever my misgivings about Puzzle Planet, I can’t deny that 35 cents was a steal for the 245 pages of entertainment I got out of D-485.  If it’s still at your local bookstore, do pick it up.

[January 2, 1962] Hope, Free Thought, and Character Arcs (James Blish’s The Star Dwellers)

I’ve reserved a special prize for my first guest author, Rosemary Benton.  Today is January 2, and not only will her piece be the first of 1962, but it will be published concurrently with an important astronomical event.  Every year, the Earth passes closest to the sun on the second day of the year, its “perihelion.”  If you’re wondering why it’s still so cold in January, it’s because the seasons are controlled mostly by the planet’s tilt, and only secondarily by its distance from the sun.  On the other hand, this annual proximity does mean that, in general, Southern hemisphere summers are hotter, and Northern hemisphere winters are milder.

Anyway, today is also Isaac Asimov’s birthday.  He once wrote that perihelion occurs on the day that it does because it is the day the Good Doctor was born.  Well, my nephew, David, took umbrage upon reading this bit.  As it turns out, his birthday (and that of his mother) is also January 2.  David wrote a letter to Dr. Asimov to set him straight: “January 2 is perihelion because it is my birthday and my mother’s!

Asimov sent my nephew a postcard posthaste.  It said, “By God, you’re right!”

Now, without further ado, what you actually tuned in for:


by Rosemary Benton

Fate has been very kind to me throughout 1961. I was able to find a niche for myself as a university archivist, and I came across many people who shared my interest in all things science fiction. I have had the pleasure of publishing my thoughts on such amazing creators as Zenna Henderson and Andre Norton, and have even taken daring adventures to the shadier side of the science fiction entertainment industry. Finishing out the year with James Blish’s The Star Dwellers was the cherry on top of a very delicious ice cream sundae.

The Star Dwellers is an exceptional science fiction achievement that both suscribes to the futurist tendencies of the genre, yet breaks with them at critical moments to create both stirring characters and plot. In the year 2050, scientific innovation and philosophy has allowed humans not only to leave Earth, but to discover and categorize other intelligent life. Even more shocking than finding other protoplasmic lifeforms (cell based creatures) is the discovery of alien lifeforms that take the “negative entropy” theory of life (explained in concise wording in the book’s forward) to an entirely unexpected level.

Dubbed “Angels” by the popular imagination, these are beings of pure energy; some of which have existed since the first 20 minutes of the universe’s conception. Desiring to learn from and about them, a small three man team is assembled to covertly venture into their home at the center of the Coal Sack nebula. Bearing the weight of the future of the whole Earth, this team’s mission is simple: to determine what the agenda of this mysterious race is and, ideally, to reach an accord that is equally beneficial between the two races so unequal in power.

89 years from 1961, James Blish imagines a world that is solidly entrenched in classic Blish style, yet populated by a cast that showcases his maturity as a writer. Since writing The Thing in the Attic (1954), and even his story from earlier this year, Titan’s Daughter, Blish seems to have hit upon a winning combination of his three common writing themes – hope, challenges to conformity, and character growth.

Blish inserts hope into his writing through several means. First and foremost is the characters’ determination to survive. In The Thing in the Attic a deep belief in the strength of teamwork inspires a hope that is of paramount importance to the main characters as they struggle to survive for one thousand days on the ground of their savage jungle homeworld.

In The Star Dwellers hope is what drives the main character, a diplomat cadet named Jack Loftus, in nearly all aspects of his desire to return to Earth alive. Hope that his teammates, the brilliant scientist Dr. Langer and his understudy “Sandbag” Stevens, can be saved when their part of the mission goes awry. Hope that Jack’s diplomatic skills will not enrage the ancient Angels’ sensibilities. Hope that he has made a beneficial treaty with the Angels to ensure the Earth’s prosperity. And hope that the human race will be able to hold their end of the bargain or risk losing everything to the will of these higher-reality beings. 

Blish’s vision of the year 2050 is filled with his own hopes. In Blish’s world, the United Nations is a powerful organization which has successfully mitigated the rivalries and disputes of all nations since its creation. Meeting in a fair and equal arena, even the United States and the Soviet Union have ceased to be active adversaries thanks to the technological competition we are experiencing today. In Dr. Langer’s words it was, “very good for both sides.” (19)

In Blish’s imagination, war and nationalism have given way to a higher purpose of unity through privatized space exploration and free trade. Though his characters endure realistic hardships brought upon them by their environments and their fellows, Blish nonetheless seems to hold onto a hope that harsh times may yet still yield to the self driven evolution of humankind.

By far my favorite Blish theme is the challenge to conformity. As you may recall in my review of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, one of my chief complaints was that the characters all seem to fall in line to create a conflict-less world. There didn’t seem to be any natural character arcs since all who came into direct contact with Mike (Stranger’s protagonist) would eventually come to the same conclusion: that Mike knew best and had all the answers.

Blish, on the other hand, seems to have a better grasp of character arcs. Individual peculiarities mean that those who hold the light of modern culture unflaggingly will not be infallible. Rather, those who are most willing to challenge norms while learning their own paths will become the heroes.

Probably the best example of this in The Star Dwellers is the exchange between Dr. Langer and the two cadets, Sandbag and Jack.  As they travel to their last stop before diving into deep space in search of the Coal Sack nebula, Blish takes the time to world-build a bit through a lecture delivered by Dr. Langer. In this lecture Dr. Langer tells the two teenagers about life in the 19th century, and how far the Earth has come as a unified culture. The dangers of popular culture and music, the need to educate youngsters in advanced learning programs that are not coed, and other “props of chain infatuation” (37).

Rather then ooh and ahh over the wisdom of their teacher, both boys come to their own conclusions about the veracity of this cultural change. Indeed, Sandbag is said to have been, “not as impressed by Langer’s reasoning as the trouble shooter obviously had intended that he should be” (38). Jack later comes to his own appreciation of poetry. In the world of The Star Dwellers this is against the culture’s theory of avoiding “chain infatuation.” But then again, these are not one dimensional characters we are reading about.

It would have been so much easier for Blish to have written Dr. Langer preaching to a ready and absorbent audience. But he didn’t. Life doesn’t work that way, and I believe Blish understands that. People, and especially young people, can’t and won’t take everything at face value. Varying degrees of belief and conformity is found in all of Blish’s writing. For Blish, independent thought amongst his cast is essential to making his characters relatable. This is turn greatly increases the quality of his books.

All in all, The Star Dwellers is a fine book with which to close out 1961 and ring in 1962. It renewes my confidence in this genre I love so much — for every Beast of Yucca Flats there will be a Star Dwellers. The Star Dwellers was a very well written book, and I look forward to finding more of its ilk in the coming year.  Five stars.