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[May 4, 1962] Cleft in Twain (June 1962 Galaxy, Part 1)


by Gideon Marcus

A few years ago, Galaxy Science Fiction changed its format, becoming half again as thick but published half as often.  196 pages can be a lot to digest in one sitting, so I used to review the magazine in two articles.  Over time, I simply bit the bullet and crammed all those stories into one piece – it was cleaner for reference.

But not this time.

You see, the June 1962 issue of Galaxy has got one extra-jumbo novella in the back of it, the kind of thing they used to build issues of Satellite Science Fiction around.  So it just makes sense to split things up this time around.

I’ve said before that Galaxy is a stable magazine – rarely too outstanding, rarely terrible.  Its editor, Fred Pohl, tends to keep the more daring stuff in Galaxy’s sister mag, IF, which has gotten pretty interesting lately.  So I enjoyed this month’s issue, but not overmuch.  Have a look:

The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass, by Frederik Pohl

Instead of an editor’s essay, Pohl has written a cute vignette on overpopulation without remediation.  Old Man Malthus in a three-page nightmare.  Apparently, good old Phineas didn’t think to pack Enovid when he brought perfect health back in time to the Roman Empire.  Anyway, I liked it.  Four stars.

For Love, by Algis Budrys

Budrys strikes a nice balance between satirical and macabre in this post-alien-invasion epic.  The last remnants of Homo Sapiens, driven underground after a tremendous ET tetrahedron crashes into the base of the Rockies, launch a pair of daring attacks against the invaders.  But at what cost to their humanity?  Four stars.

The Lamps of the Angels, by Richard Sabia

I viciously panned Sabia’s first work, I was a Teen-Age Superweapon; his latest is an improvement.  A thousand years from now, the human race is on the verge of reaching out for the stars, and one Mexico City-born pilot is selected for the honor of scouting Alpha Centauri.  But if humanity was meant to explore beyond the sun, surely God would have given us hyperdrives at birth.  A bit clunky in that “translated foreign languages way” (and I can be guilty of the same charge), but also compelling.  Three stars.

For Your Information: Names in the Sky, by Willy Ley

Every now and then, Ley returns to his former greatness and gives us a really good article.  This one, on the origins of the names of planets and stars is filled with good information pleasantly dispensed.  Of course, I’m always more kindly disposed towards articles that deal with etymology and/or astronomy… Four stars.

On the Wall of the Lodge, by James Blish and Virginia Blish

The latter portion of the magazine takes a sad turn for the worse.  Lodge is an avante garde piece about (I believe) a fellow whose life takes place in a television show.  It tries too hard and doesn’t make a lot of sense.  More significantly, it lost my interest ten pages in.  Thus, I must give it the lowest of scores: one star.

Dawningsburgh, by Wallace West

A cute piece about a callow tourist on Mars, who resents the other callow tourists of Mars, and the attempts to revive departed Martian culture with robots, to make a few bucks for the callow tourist industry.  Three stars.

Origins of Galactic Philosophy, by Edward Wellen

Wellen’s Origins series has deteriorated badly.  This latest entry, involving a space entrepreneur and the robot society he finds, is utterly unreadable.  One star.

Dreamworld, by R. A. Lafferty

Last up is a whimsical piece on a literal nightmare world with an telegraphed ending made tolerable by Lafferty’s unique touch.  Worth two or three stars, depending on your mood (and on which side of the bed one woke).

***

I’ll save The Seed of Earth, by Robert Silverberg, for next time.  Here’s hoping it is in keeping with the first third rather than the second third of the magazine.  In the meantime, stay tuned…and try not to get drafted.

[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!

[November 8, 1961] Points East (Air Travel and the December 1961 Galaxy)


by Gideon Marcus

How small the world has gotten!

Less than a decade ago, trans-oceanic travel was limited to the speed of a propeller.  If you journeyed by boat, as many still do, it would take two weeks to cross the Pacific.  Airplanes were faster – with a couple of stops, one could get from California to the Orient in less than two days.  As a journalist and travel columnist, I spent a good amount of time in both hemispheres during the early 1950s.  I got to be quite seasoned at the travel game.

I have to tell you, things are so much faster these days.  The jet engine has cut flight times in half, taking much of the tedium out of travel.  Oh, sure, I always had plenty to do in the air, between writing and reading and planning my next adventures, but for my poor fellow travelers, there was little to do but drink, smoke, and write letters.  For hours and hours. 

These days, the Journey is my primary occupation.  I can do it from anywhere, and I often do, bringing my family along with me.  As we speak, I am writing out this article with the roar of the Japan Airlines DC-8’s jets massaging my ears, music from pneumatic headphone cords joining the mix.  It’s a smooth ride, too.  It would be idyllic, if not for the purple clouds of tobacco smoke filling the cabin.  But again, I suffer this annoyance for half the time as before.  I’ll abide. 

We’ve just lifted off from Honolulu, and in less than 8 hours, we will touch down at Haneda airport, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan’s capital.  We will be in the Land of the Rising Sun for two weeks, visiting friends and taking in the local culture.  I’ll be sure to tell you all about our adventures, but don’t worry.  I’ve also brought along a big stack of books and magazines so I can continue to keep you informed on the latest developments in science fiction.  Moreover, I’m sure we’ll see a movie or two, and we’ll report on those, too.

Speaking of reports, I’ve just finished up this month’s Galaxy Science Fiction.  I almost didn’t recognize this December issue as it lacks the usual fanciful depiction of St. Nick.  Instead, it features an illustration from Poul Anderson’s new novel, The Day After Doomsday, whose first part takes up a third of the double-sized magazine.  As usual, I won’t cover the serial until it’s done, but Anderson has been reliable of late, and I’ve high hopes.

The rest of the magazine maintains and perhaps even elevates Galaxy’s solid record.  The first short story is Oh, Rats!, by veteran Miriam Allen DeFord (the first of three woman authors in this book!) Rats reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone — I could practically hear Serling’s narrating voice as the story of SK540, a super-rat bent on world domination, unfolded.  Tense and tight, if not innovative.  Three stars.

Willy Ley has returned to original form with his latest non-fiction article, Dragons and Hot-Air Balloons.  Did the Montgolfier brothers get their lighter-than-aircraft ideas from the Chinese?  Have balloons been around since the Middle Ages?  Has the winged ancestor of the pterosaurs been discovered?  And, as an aside, did the Nazis really invent the biggest cannon ever?  Good stuff.  Four stars.

Satisfaction Guaranteed is a cute tale of interstellar commerce by Joy Leache.  Washed up salesman and his assistant try to figure out a profitable-enough endeavor for the elf-like denizens of Felix II such that they might join the Galactic Federation.  It’s a genuinely funny piece.  I’ve only one complaint: very early on, it is made clear that the woman assistant is the brains of the operation, yet she feels compelled to give credit the the fellow.  I prefer my futures looking a little less like the present!  Three stars.

Now, Algis Budrys, on the other hand, has no trouble breaking with the familiar entirely.  His Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night, involving a corporate executive whose plan to release television’s successor is thwarted by a seemingly immortal competitor, is a chilling mystery.  Just what gift did the Martians grant the businessman’s rival to make him so powerful?  And was it really a boon after all?  Four stars.

R.A. Lafferty tones his whimsical style down just a touch in his latest, Rainbird.  It’s a sort of biography of one Higgston Rainbird, an inventor who could have been, in fact was the greatest tinkerer in human history.  It just goes to show that a person’s greatest ally, and also one’s greatest impediment, is oneself.  Four stars.

An Old Fashioned Bird Christmas is Margaret St. Clair’s contribution, delivered in that off-beat, slightly macabre, but ever-poetic fashion that is her trademark.  A story of good vs. evil, of Luddism vs. progress, archaic religion vs. new, and with a strong lady protagonist to boot!  Four stars.

We’re treated to a second piece of science fact by Theodore L. Thomas, called The Watery Wonders of Captain Nemo.  Thomas praises the literary great, Jules Verne, for his writing skill, but then excoriates the French author’s use (or rather, lack of use) of science.  Every technical aspect of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is evaluated and picked apart.  To hear Thomas tell it, Verne knew about as much about science as his contemporary laymen…perhaps less.  An interesting blend of education and critique.  Three stars.

The issue is wraps up with a bang: The Little Man who wasn’t Quite, by William W. Stuart, is a hard-hitting piece about the horror that lies at the bottom of Skid Row.  A sensitive piece by a fellow who seems to know, it’s the kind of gripping thing Daniel Keyes might have turned in for F&SF.  Five stars.

And so Galaxy ends the year on a strong note.  Fred Pohl, now firmly in the editor’s seat, has done a fine job helming one of s-f’s finest digests into the 1960s.  This is the kind of magazine that could win the Hugo – it may well secure the Galactic Star this year.  It all depends on how F&SF is this month, the two are that close.

Next up… an article from our British correspondent, Ashley Pollard!

[Oct. 26, 1961] Fading Fancy (November 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Have you ever ordered your favorite dessert only to find it just doesn’t satisfy like it used to?  I’m a big fan of crème brûlée, and I used to get it every chance I could.  That crispy carmelized top and that warm custard bottom, paired with a steaming cup of coffee…mmm. 

These days, however, crème brûlée just hasn’t done it for me.  The portions are too small, or they serve the custard cold.  The flavor doesn’t seem as bold, the crust as crispy.  I’ve started giving dessert menus a serious peruse.  Maybe I want pie this time, or perhaps a slice of cake.

Among my subscription of monthly sf digests, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction used to be my dessert — saved for last and savored.  These days, its quality has declined some, and though tradition will keep it at the end of my review line-up, I don’t look forward to reading the mag as much as once I did.  This month’s, the November 1961 issue, is a typical example of the new normal for F&SF:

Keith Laumer is an exciting newish author whose work I often confuse with Harry Harrison’s — probably because Retief reminds me of “Slippery Jim” diGriz.  Laumer has a knack for creating interesting sentient non-humans.  He gave us intelligent robot tanks in Combat Unit, and this month, he gives us sentient, symbiotic trees in Hybrid.  It’s a story that teeters on the edge of greatness, but its brevity and rather unpleasant ending drag it from four to three stars.

The Other End of the Line is the first new story from Walter Tevis in three years.  Ever wonder what happens if you break a bootstrap paradox (i.e. one where your future self gives your present self a leg up)?  Well…it’s not a good idea.  Cute stuff.  Three stars.

Rick Rubin is back with his second story, the first being his excellent F&SF-published Final MusterThe Interplanetary Cat is a weird little fantasy involving an incorrigible feline with an insatiable appetite.  It’s almost Lafferty-esque, which means some will love it, and some will hate it.  I’m in the middle.  Three stars.

Faq’ is the latest by George P. Elliott, whose Among the Dangs was a minor masterpiece.  Elliott’s new story is in the same vein — a Westerner who finds a fictional yet plausible tribe of people, alien from any we currently know.  It’s got a nice, dreamy style to it, but it lacks the depth or the powerful conclusion of Dangs.  Three stars.

Doris Pitkin Buck is another F&SF new author.  Green Sunrise, like Buck’s last work (Birth of a Gardner), Sunrise features a lovers’ squabble between a scientist man and a non-scientist woman.  Once again, the language is evocative, but the plot is weak, the impression fleeting.  Two stars.

The Tunnel Ahead is an overpopulation dystopia-by-numbers tale by Alice Glaser.  Cramped living conditions?  Check.  Algae-based food products?  Check.  Drastic, random population reduction methods?  Check.  Two stars?  Check. 

Randy Garrett’s been skulking around F&SF lately, but I don’t know that it has been to the magazine’s benefit.  Mustang is essentially Kit Reed’s Piggy, but not as good.  Two stars.

Dethronement is Isaac Asimov’s latest article, a sort of screed written in response to a bad review of his Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science by biologist Barry Commoner.  The latter objected to the former’s obliteration of the line between non-living and living matter.  This, Commoner maintained, destroyed the field of biology entirely.  The Good Doctor explains that finding bridges between disciplines does not destroy the disciplines any more than bridging Manhattan with the other four burroughs of New York makes Manhattan no longer an island.  It’s a good piece.  Four stars.

Alfred Bester covers Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land in his books column.  He didn’t like it either. 

John Updike has a bit of doggerel about scandalous neutrinos called Cosmic Gall.  It is followed by Algis Budrys’ rather impenetrable article on science fiction, About Something Truly Wonderful.  Both rate two stars. 

Part 2 of Gordy Dickson’s Naked to the Stars rounds out the otherwise lackluster issue.  It deserves its own article, but you’re going to have to wait for it, since Rosemary Benton and Ashley Pollard will be covering some exciting scientific developments, first.  I’ll give you a hint — they involve the biggest rocket and the biggest boom.

[Nov. 26, 1960] Damaged Goods (Algis Budry’s Rogue Moon)

Sometimes, I just don’t get it.

The December 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction is almost completely devoted to one short novel, Rogue Moon, by Algis Budrys.  I like Budrys, and F&SF is generally my favorite magazine, so I’ve been looking forward to this book since it was advertised last month.

To all accounts, it is a masterpiece (and by “to all accounts”, I mean according to the buzz in the local science fiction circles).  The premise is certainly exciting: there is an alien structure on the moon, an amorphous multi-dimensional thing, that kills all who enter it.  To facilitate its exploration, the navy utilizes a matter transporter that disassembles one’s molecules in one place and reconstructs them elsewhere.  Volunteers are sent from Earth to their certain death to push a few more feet into the deadly extraterrestrial maze.

Of course, the transporter doesn’t actually send anyone anywhere; it destroys the original and creates a copy that thinks it is the original.  In fact, it’s possible to make multiple copies of a person, and that is what is done: one copy goes to the moon to die, while the other stays on Earth to live on.  It turns out that the two copies have a limited degree of telepathic contact for a short time, so the Earthbound copy can report on what his moonbound copy experiences.

The project’s main hurdle is that it takes a special kind of person to experience one’s own death and not go insane.  How, indeed, to find such a person to unlock the riddles of the maze?

Sounds pretty intriguing, doesn’t it?  Sadly, Budrys hardly wrote this story.  Instead, he gave us a florid, comically humorous soap opera with personalities as flat as the pages they are printed on.  Here’s the dramatis personae:

Edward Hawks: The project’s director.  A detached scientist, coldly resigned to his status as a murderer (both in terms of sending people to their death and the destruction of those who go through the transporter), desperate to understand how a person’s existence can survive one’s death.

Al Barton: A suicidal thrill-seeker. he’s already lost a leg to his obsession for death-defying escapades–racing, mountain-climbing, parachuting.  Setting records isn’t enough for him; he’s got to risk his life doing something no one else has done before.  He spends most of his time attempting to prove his manliness to Hawks (in vain, as Hawks is too coldly impersonal to be impressed).

Vincent Connington: The project’s director of personnel who introduces Hawks and Barton.  A fellow whose brash arrogance is really just a facade that hides his love for…

Claire Parks: Barton’s gorgeous girlfriend: She spends her entire “screen time” attempting to seduce Hawks and Connington and enrage Barton; she’s afraid of men, you see, so she is always trying to manipulate them so she can keep her interactions in a safe, nonthreatening place. 

Elizabeth Cummings: A wholesomely beautiful random stranger whom Hawks falls in love with.  Her primary story function is to listen to Hawks’ morose reflections on life and occasionally offer pithy observations.

Virtually no time is devoted to the actual exploration of the moon structure, and when the reader finally does get to see the jaunt through the maze, Budrys manages to make it the dullest part of the book. 

Budrys does largely succeed at exploring the fascinating ramifications of “soul” duplication.  What happens when there are two of you, when a moment ago, there was just one?  And are the copies really you?  Are you more than the sum of your memories?  If not, is the communication of your memories to others, no matter how imperfectly, a kind of immortality (this is implied in the last line of the book, an admittedly powerful one.)

Which would have been great had it been less mawkishly presented, and the characters at all plausible.  Budrys set out to make an insightful character study in the Sturgeon vein, depicting a disparate brood all struggling to find “The Meaning of Life.”  Instead, he ended up writing something more akin to Merril’s The Tomorrow People: full of stilted dialogue, expository speeches, and precious little story.  Fully 30 pages go by before we even get into the plot, which is a lot of time to waste in a 90 page novella.

I’m not sure how to rate Rogue Moon.  Despite all the eye-rolling moments (quite literally), I did finish the short book in one sitting, which suggests there must have been something compelling about it.  There were thought-provoking ideas.  It was the execution which was disappointing, particularly for being by the normally excellent Budrys.  I think, in the end, the book’s prime failure is the introduction of so many interesting elements which are completely subordinated to the inferior, implausible psychological drama that Budrys, for some reason, was so hot to present. 

Maybe the book, due to be released next month, will be better. 

Two stars.

Stay tuned for the rest of the magazine!

[Feb. 6, 1960] Finding my way (February 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Science fiction is my escape.  When the drudgery of the real world becomes oppressive, or when I just need a glimpse of a brighter future to make the present more interesting, I turn to my growing collection of magazines and novels to buouy my spirits.

I like stories of interstellar adventure filled with interesting settings and characters.  I do not like the psychological horrors that have become popular of late.  Sadly, the February 1960 F&SF contains several such pieces.  But it does end well.

I wrote last time about the flaws in Howard Fast’s lead novella that kept me from fully enjoying it. 

Richard McKenna’s Mine Own Ways is particularly chilling.  It involves a rite of passage designed by interstellar anthropologists to winnow the intellectually mature of a race from the primitive by essentially torturing them; one passes the test by realizing that the torture is transitory and enduring it.

Apprentice, by Robert Tilley, isn’t so bad.  It involves an alien who can take over a person’s mind (without ill effect).  The would-be invader possesses a junior flunky on a military base and is revealed when he is able to fulfil tasks that should have been impossible (along the lines of catching snipe, procuring a bottle of headlight fluid or a jar of elbow grease). 

I suppose Jane Rice’s The White Pony, about unrequited love in a future of post-apocalyptic scarcity is decent, too, and well-drawn.  It even has a happy ending, after a fashion even if the world has that feeling of best-days-past shabbiness.

Battle-torn France is the setting for The Replacement, in which a Platoon Sergeant is convinced by a certain Private “Smith” that the war is all in his head, and that the world is nothing but solipsistic figments of his imagination.  It is only after Smith unsuccessfully tries the same trick on the company’s First Sergeant that we see the trick for what it is.  A creepy piece.

Evelyn Smith’s Send Her Victorious is a pun piece whose ending I should have seen coming.  All about a communal colony of aliens who take on the general form of a middle-aged female before time traveling to 19th Century England. 

Algis Budrys has a vignette called The Price about a centuries-old Rasputin(?) surviving an atomic holocaust only to find himself a captive of the few humans who are left.  Are they willing to become gnarled, deranged hunchbacks like him in exchange for eternal life?

Dr. Asimov’s piece, The Sight of Home, is a nice astronomical article about the greatest distance at which the sun might still be visible to the naked eye (answer: 20 parsecs.  Not very far, indeed). 

Then we’re back to the horror.  We are the Ceiling, by Will Worthington, depicts a fellow who books himself into a sanitarium when it appears his wife has begun consorting with troglodytes.  Of course, she turns out to be one, as does his doctor. 

That leaves us the subject of the cover art, The Fellow Who Married the Maxill Girl, by Ward Moore.  This is the kind of story I read F&SF for—gentle, poignant, starring a woman.  It’s a girl meets boy story set in the depths of the Depression; the boy happens to be an alien.  I shan’t spoil more, and I hope you like it as much as I did.

I’ll have a quick non-fiction stop press tomorrow, and then on to March’s batch of magazines!

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



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[Jan. 28, 1960] But how do you really feel? (February 1960 Astounding)

I’ve devoted much ink to lambasting Astounding/Analog editor John Campbell for his attempts to revitalize his magazine, but I’ve not yet actually talked about the latest (February 1960) issue.  Does it continue the digest’s trend towards general lousiness?

For the most part, yes.  Harry Harrison’s serial, Deathworld, continues to be excellent (and it will be the subject of its own article next month).  But the rest is uninspired stuff.  Take the lead story, What the Left Hand was Doing by “Darrell T. Langart” (an anagram of the author’s real name—three guess as to who it really is, and the first two don’t count).  It’s an inoffensive but completely forgettable story about psionic secret agent, who is sent to China to rescue an American physicist from the clutches of the Communists.

Then there’s Mack Reynold’s Summit, in which it is revealed that the two Superpowers cynically wage a Cold War primarily to maintain their domestic economies.  A decent-enough message, but there is not enough development to leave much of an impact, and the “kicker” ending isn’t much of one.

Algis Budrys has a sequel to his last post-Apocalyptic Atlantis-set story called Due Process.  I like Budrys, but this series, which was not great to begin with, has gone downhill.  It is another “one savvy man can pull political strings to make the world dance to his bidding” stories, and it’s as smug as one might imagine.

The Calibrated Alligator, by Calvin Knox (Robert Silverberg) is another sequel featuring the zany antics of the scientist crew of Lunar Base #3.  In the first installment in this series, they built an artificial cow to make milk and liver.  Now, they are force-growing a pet alligator to prodigious size.  The ostensible purpose is to feed a hungry world with quickly maturing iguanas, but the actual motivation is to allow one of the young scientists to keep a beloved, smuggled pet.  The first story was fun, and and this one is similarly fluffy and pleasant. 

I’ll skip over Campbell’s treatise on color photography since it is dull as dirt.  The editor would have been better served publishing any of his homemade nudes that I’ve heard so much about.  That brings us to Murray Leinster’s The Leader<.  It is difficult for me to malign the fellow with perhaps the strongest claim to the title “Dean of American Science Fiction,” particularly when he has so many inarguable classics to his name, but this story does not approach the bar that Leinster himself has set.  It’s another story with psionic underpinnings (in Astounding!  Shock!) about a dictator who uses his powers to entrance his populace.  It is told in a series of written correspondence, and only force of will enabled me to complete the tale.  There was a nice set of paragraphs, however, on the notion that telepathy and precognition are really a form of psychokinesis. 

I tend to skip P. Schuyler Miller’s book column, but I found his analysis of the likely choices for this (last) year’s Hugo awards to be rewarding.  They’ve apparently expanded the scope of the film Hugo from including just movies to also encompassing television shows and stage productions, 1958’s crop being so unimpressive as to yield no winners. 

My money’s on The World, The Flesh, and The Devil.

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



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A real turkey (October 1959 Astounding; 8-27-1959)

When last we left off with the September 1959 Astounding, things were looking awfully bleak.  The star-o-meter stood at a limp 2 stars, and I had poor hopes of raising the needle.

I am happy to report that things got better.  Well, “happy” is too strong a word.  I can honestly say that the quality improved, but I wouldn’t have bought the magazine on the strength of its latter half.

Algis Budrys has the best story of the issue, no surprise there.  His The Sound of Breaking Glass is the post-apocalyptic tale of a woman who has been holed up in a well-defended service station for twenty years as the world has slid into anarchy due to the widespread use and abuse of the drug, Lobotimol.  Said medication makes the imbiber wholly vulnerable to suggestion–not the prescription for a healthy society.  Originally a therapeutic pharmaceutical, it became a weapon that was cheap and ubiquitous. 

Well-written and chilling, like most of Budrys’ work.

The short-short article by Lt. James W. Owen, Fiction? Reality! is about the realization of arctic exploration gear that was posited as science fiction in a previous Chris Anvil story (Sellers’ Market).  Brief, but decent.

Amazingly, Randall Garrett’s other story (under the pen-name of David Gordon), …or your money back! is not terrible.  It’s actually pretty good, even though it is yet another story with the Heironymous Machine as its gimmick.  In this tale, though, it is used to enhance psychokinetic powers to cheat at gambling.  The sheer implausibility of the device is used as a legal defense by the perpetrator.  A cute twist. 

Finally, On handling the data, by newcomer M.I. Mayfield, is a depiction of one side of a correspondence exchange in which a graduate student makes an exciting discovery and then subverts it to gain his doctorate.  I’m not quite sure I got the point, so I’m hoping my smarter readers can enlighten me.

All told, the latter half raised this issue into 2.5 star territory, which is as low as Astounding has gone this past year (it’s never broken the 3 star mark, sadly).  Read it at your peril.

In two days–the September 1959 IF!  And then on to the new stuff… October!

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Less than astounding…  (July 1959 Astounding; 6-23-1959)

I suppose it was too much to hope for two good issues of Astounding in a row.  The magazine that Campbell built is back to its standard level of quality, which is to say the bar is not very high.  Still, I read the stories so you don’t have to (if you don’t want), so here’s all the news that fits to print.

Randal Garrett’s But I don’t think isn’t horrible.  It’s actually genuine satire, about a ordnance evasion officer (a “Guesser”) who ends up inadvertently jumping ship during shoreleave.  He is the denizen of a lawfully evil and hierarchical society, and the story is all about the miserable things he does and that are done to him in large part due to this evil culture.  It’ll leave a dirty taste in your mouth, like old cigarette butts, but I think it was actually intentional this time. 

It’s not exactly downhill from here, but there aren’t exactly heights, either.  The next story, Broken Tool, by Theodore L. Thomas, is a short piece about a candidate for the Space Corps, who ends up washing out because he, ironically, doesn’t have enough attachment to his home planet of Earth.  A “gotcha” story, the kind I might expect to find in one of the lesser magazines… not that they exist anymore.

I generally like Algis Budrys, and his Straw, about an entrepreneur who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and became the Big Man of the underwater community of Atlantis, isn’t bad.  It’s just not terribly great. 

Isaac Asimov has an interesting article entitled, Unartificial elements, explaining how all of the elements humans have managed to synthesize actually do exist in nature, albeit in rather small amounts.  This was the best part of the magazine.

There are two stories after the last installment of Dorsai, which I reviewed last time.  Chris Anvil’s Leverage is a mildly entertaining story about colonists dealing with a planet’s ecosphere that has a single-minded, but fatally flawed, vendetta against the settlers.  Another low-grade story I’d expect in Imagination or somewhere similar.

Finally, we have Vanishing Point, by C.C. Beck, the illustrator for D.C.’s Captain Marvel.  It’s all about what happens when an artist learns the true nature of perspective.  Cute, but, again, not much to it.

Campbell published the user reviews for March and April 1959.  I won’t go into great detail, but suffice it to say, Leinster’s Pirates of Ersatz topped both months.  But in March, Despoiler of the Golden Empire got #2, whereas my favorite, The Man Who Did Not Fit was bottommost.  The April results were less disappointing–Now Inhale got #2, and Wherever You Are got #3.  I probably would have swapped the places, but I suppose a female protagonist is too much for Analog readers to swallow comfortably.

Lots of space launches coming up–a Vanguard and a Discoverer, so expect some launch reports this week!

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Earthbound Satellite (April 1959 Satellite; 3-29-1959)


by Ray Pioch

And now for something a bit different.

Back in ’56, famed pulp editor, Leo Margulies, launched Satellite, a bi-monthly science fiction digest with the gimmick that it contained a full-length short novel as well as a few short stories.  I always had a soft spot for that mag.  One of my favorite novels was Planet for Plunder by Hal Clement and Sam Merwin; it came out in the February ’57 ish, and I read it on the beach during one of trips to Kaua’i.  It’s an excellent tale of first contact mostly from a truly alien viewpoint.  Highly recommended.

Late last year, Satellite went out on hiatus.  Then, at the beginning of this year, Satellite returned with Cylvia Kleiman at the editorial helm.  The magazine sported a full-sized format, presumably to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the slicks.  No longer featuring novels, it dubbed itself “The Best in Science Fiction.”

Who could resist a pitch like that?  So the other day, I picked up this month’s (May) and last month’s (April) issues.  What did I find inside?

I suppose one could argue that some of the writers are among science fiction’s best, but these are definitely their second-rate stories.  This is not the Satellite I used to know and love.  Let’s have a look, shall we?

The lead story is by the reliable J.T. McIntosh; The Solomon Plan is easily the best fictional piece in the magazine.  In Plan, a terran spy tries to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed before: solving the mystery of the backward planet of Bynald.  Where the other planets of the 26th century terran federation enjoy a correspondingly advanced quality of life, the hyper-patriotic Bynald seems to be stuck in the 20th century.  Moreover, their population is unaccountably low given the length of time it has been settled. 


by Leo Morey

McIntosh creates a nice group of characters, including a couple of reasonably developed females.  The solution to the mystery is rather implausible, and the ending rather pat, but the story does not fail to entertain.  I would have been more impressed had Plan not been a reprint–originally appearing in the February 1956 New Worlds Science Fiction.

A regular feature of Satellite is a biographical piece on one of the antediluvian forefathers of science fiction.  In this case, it is a somewhat hagiographic piece by Sam Moskowitz on the justifiably famous A. Merritt.  I’m a sucker for history, so it was worth picking up this ish for the piece. 

The rest of the magazine is mediocre at best.  Fritz Leiber’s Psychosis from Space was, reportedly, an old story that he thought so little of that he forgot of its existence until Satellite asked him for a contribution.  An astronaut goes out on humanity’s first faster than light mission and returns able only to stumble about aimlessly and babble meaninglessly.  Turns out his brain is running backwards.  There is also some intrigue surrounding the astronaut’s doctor and his attempts to coerce information about the trip from his patient.  At least the (female) nurse character is competent and resourceful.


by Leo Morey

The duel of the insecure man, by newcomer Tom Purdom, is rather strange.  In the far future (1988), it has become popular to engage in duels of cutting questions, the goal being to lay bare the soul of one’s opponent and leave them a humiliated wreck.  I am given to understand that this story was heavily hacked in editorial, so I won’t dignify the resulting kluge with further verbiage.

I did enjoy Ellery Lanier’s rather star-eyed account of the American Rocket Society meeting.  In particular, I was excited to see his report on the Mouse in Able project.  For those who don’t know, prior to the Air Force’s Pioneer missions, the Thor-Able rocket was used in suborbital shots to test re-entry nose cones.  Since scientists abhor unused space as much as nature does, a mouse was included as part of the payload.

What makes this story particularly interesting is that the project was the brainchild of one of the very few woman scientists working in the space program: Laurel ‘Frankie’ Van der Wal, an amazon of a lady both in stature and fiery spirit.  At some point, I’ll give you all the inside story on that project; it is both enlightening and humorous.

Algis Budrys’ The Last Legend is fair but not up to his usual standard.  It’s a traditional gotcha story of an older generation of science fiction: an astronaut makes humanity’s first trip to another star, the journey having been previously unsurvivable by living things.  After returning as a hero, it turns out that he’s just a robot.

Robert Wicks’ Patient 926, in which all children are inoculated against imagination, and Henry Slesar’s Job Offer (“Dig this!  The post-nuclear mutant is a normal human!”) are both unremarkable in the extreme.

In sum, Satellite is definitely bargain-bin science fiction, though it is not without its charms.  I have trouble seeing it surviving much longer, especially out on the news stands next to Life and Time.

Next up, the other half of the double-feature that included The Blob!

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