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[September 10, 1960] Analog, Part 2 (The October 1960 Analog)

The October 1960 Analog is a surprisingly decent read.  While none of it is literature for the ages (some might argue that the Ashwell-written lead novella is an exception), neither is any of it rough hoeing.  Interestingly, it is an issue devoted almost entirely to sequels.  It works, I think.

The first story after the Ashwell is H.B.Fyfe’s Satellite System, and it’s the best of the three I’ve seen from him thus far.  An interstellar trader is ejected from his ship by hijackers.  But will orbital mechanics allow him to have the last laugh?  I liked the idea that trade between the stars is so expensive that only the exchange of ideas is profitable.

Mack Reynolds offers up the thoughtful and enjoyable Combat.  It’s another of his Cold War stories set in the mid 1970s, a la Revolution and (maybe) Pieces of the Game, where the Soviet Union is ascendant despite all of our current predictions.  It’s not a utopia, mind you, but it’s definitely something of a success story.  In Combat, advanced extraterrestrials appear, and to the West’s consternation, pick Moscow as their first stop. 

What makes this story compelling is the rather even-handed way with which Reynolds portrays Communism and the world behind the Iron Curtain.  There’s a lot of good political discussion, but it never gets too preachy or bogged down, as in some of Heinlein’s work.  Of course, I don’t buy Reynolds’ predictions, even with Jack Kennedy’s recent statement that Sputnik and Lunik were “twin alarm bells in the night.”  Some of Reynolds’ statements don’t even make sense.  For instance, in his story, both superpowers spend half of their GNP on the military.  Fundamentally impossible. 

But it’s worth seeing the tale through to the end, even if that end is a slight let-down.

Randall Garrett, under the name of “Darrel T. Langart,” wrote the next tale: Psichopath.  It’s a direct sequel to What the Left Hand was Doing and features the same psionic secret agency.  This time around, they are investigating what appear to be acts of sabotage at an antigravity research facility.  Given the two-page screed about scientists’ reluctance to acknowledge attacks on cherished scientific axioms (a thinly disguised paean to the much-abused Mr. Dean and his “drive”), I suspect Campbell had a strong hand in its editing.

Wrapping up the fiction is Isaac Asimov’s latest non-fact article on Thiotimoline, the a fictional substance that dissolves in water before its insertion!  Thiotimoline and the Space Age discusses some of the technological advances the substance allows.  For instance one can use it to send messages back in time to determine the success of a space mission or missile launch before it happens.  It’s a cute piece.

Finally, Campbell has yet another report on one of his home science projects.  In this case, it’s an overlong treatise on his attempts to grow crystals called The Self-Repairing Robot.  It would have been nice had he discussed at further length the concept behind the article’s title, that self-repairing crystals could be a pretty neat technological advancement.  Rather, we get to ooh and ahh at the descriptions of brightly colored inorganic growths–accompanied by drab black-and-white photos. 

All in all, its a solid three-star issue.  That’s pretty good for Analog.  Plus, it looks like “Mark Randall” will be back next month with another Malone and Boyd story.  Their last one was pretty good, so there’s something to look forward to. 

In other news, Hurricane Donna has made landfall in Florida.  This massive storm is a serious menace, and the folks at Cape Canaveral are taking no chances.  Both stages of the Atlas Able, which was deployed for a Pioneer Moon lshot ater this month, have been towed to protective hangars.  Antennas and cables have been disconnected from buildings and vehicles.  All of the large transport aircraft based at Patrick Air Force Base departed like a flock of frightened birds.  Their destination was San Salvador and other downrange islands.  The base personnel evacuated the base by noon after securing the hangars.  I understand that they had a harrowing ride back to their Cocoa Beach hotels as blinding rain lashed against their windshields and gusts of wind threatened to knock their cars off the road.

I suspect there will be another rough couple of days, not just for the engineers, but for all the residents of the Eastern seaboard.  Stay safe, my friends. 

[September 9, 1960] Willingly to Sequel (October 1960 Analog, lead novella)

Analog, formerly Astounding, has a reputation for fielding the fewest female authors.  Perhaps its because Campbell’s magazine is the most conservative of the science fiction digests, or maybe its because of the conception that women’s STF is somehow softer than the “real” deal.  You know, with characterization and such.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw Pauline Ashwell once again has the lead novella in this month’s Astounding, the second in her tales starring the spunky Lysistrata Lee.  You may have caught the fun Unwillingly to School a couple of years ago in which Lee wins a scholarship to study on old Earth (after a bit of adversity, of course).  The Lost Kafoozalum, which takes place after Lee graduates, and covers her first field mission, has that same unusual first person storytelling style as the earlier story. 

I like the plot, and Lee is hard not to love, but I found there was a little too much set-up for the payoff.  I would have liked more showing than telling during the expository first half.  The end is a bit pat, too.  I don’t mind romance (actually, I like it a great deal), so I’d have enjoyed more development leading to the reveal.

Read it, and tell me what you think!

I’ll be covering the rest of the October 1960 Astounding tomorrow.  In the meantime, here’s an update on Hurricane Donna.  It apparently began forming on August 29 off the coast of West Africa, and we’ve been tracking its swath of destruction via radar and TIROS 2 ever since.  It’s already pummeled the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, swamped the coast of Cuba, and it’s currently gathering strength just 150 miles southeast of Miami. 

It’s not certain yet whether the track of the storm will take it over Cape Canaveral, but Air Force and Space Technology Laboratory personnel are taking no chances.  They’ve already set up evacuation plans for personnel and vital equipment related to the upcoming Pioneer Moon mission.  Let’s hope the inclement weather doesn’t jinx things.  The last failure was heartbreaking enough.

[August 4, 1960] Phoning it in (September 1960 Analog)

If you hail from California, particularly the southern end of the state, you might find foreign the concept of seasons.  I know I expect mild, sunny days every time I step outside.  We have a joke around here that the weather report is updated once a week, and that’s just to give it a fresh coat of paint.

Japan, on the other hand, is a country rooted in seasonality.  Every month brings a new package of delights to the denizens of this Far Eastern land.  Now, usually I’m a smart fellow, and I only travel here in the Spring for the cherry blossoms, or the Fall to see the fiery colors of the wizened leaves.  Only a madman would visit in the Summer, when the heat and humidity are ferocious, and when neither is mitigated by the constant rain that characterizes the immediately prior Typhoon season.

This year, I joined the crazy persons’ club.

Thankfully, the new set of trains seems to be consistently equipped with air conditioning, and in any event, one can often get a nice breeze from the frantic hand-fannings of one’s neighbors.  And this country is lovely enough, and its people such good company, that one can tolerate a little physical discomfort.  For a while, anyway.

Osaka has always been a particular favorite of mine with its regional delicacies and colorful local dialect (virtually unintelligible if all you know is schoolbook Japanese).  This city has an independent streak, refereshing after the aggressive servility that characterizes Tokyo, and, perhaps not coincidentally, we have a great number of friends in this area.

Of course, social obligations keep my leisure time to a minimum, but I’ve managed to steal a few hours between shopping, taking tea, and visiting landmarks to finish the September 1960 Analog.  Here is my report:

I’ve already told you about the fantastic The High Crusade, penned by Poul Anderson.  This is not his only contribution to this issue.  In addition to the conclusion of his serial novel, there is also (under the pen-name, Winston Sanders), Anderson’s short story, Barnacle Bull, in which a Norwegian four-man spaceship sails on an eccentric orbit through the asteroid belt on a mission of reconnaissance.  Their aim is to lay the foundation for a nationalized asteroid mining concern.  There are two snags–one is the density of micrometeoroids between Mars and Jupiter.  The other is the existence of a space-borne life form that grows magnificently on the hulls of spaceships, fouling radars and antennas, not to mention spoiling the clean lines of a vessel.  It turns out that the two problems nicely cancel each other out.

It’s well-written, and no one portrays Scandinavians like Viking Poul, but the story is a slight one.  I give it bonus points for its realistic portrayal of near-future spaceflight, however.

Easily the worst story in this issue is Randall Garret’s By Proxy, in which a young, brash scientist announces his intention to launch a ship powered by some sort of intertia-less drive, but is oppressed, by turns, by the government, the military, and a cynical press.  Of course, the thing works.  I’m not sure if Campbell specifically asked young Randy for a bespoke story on this, one of Campbell’s favorite subjects, or if Randy chose this topic because it ensured him a sale.  Either way, it is not only a bad story, but the quality of writing is at the low end of the author’s range.  About the only good thing about the story is it features no women.  Given Randy’s reputation, that’s a blessing.

H.B. Fyfe, a grizzled veteran of the pulp era, comes out of retirement to offer up A Transmutation of Muddles, a sort of sub-par Sheckley story about the four-cornered negotiations between a marooned space merchant, his insurance adjustor, the aliens on whose sacred land he crashed, and the government.  It’s inoffensive, unremarkable.

The last fiction entry is Everett Cole’s Alarm Clock, about the pressure cooker of a situation a canny military drop-out is thrust into in order to awaken his peculiar talents so that he can join the legendary Special Corps.  It’s the sort of thing I like seeing from Harry Harrison.  Cole isn’t as good as Harrison.

Last up is Asimov’s fine article on the extent of the solar atmosphere, and how it interacts with the tenuous outer regions of the various planetary atmospheres, producing brilliant auroras and the deadly Van Allen Belts.  It’s amazing how much we have learned about the subject in the last two years, a revolutionary period for interplanetary physics. 

All told, we’ve got a just-under 3-star issue.  Once again, the great serial and non-fiction pieces balance out the mediocre short entries.  And the less we speak of Campbell’s editorials, the better…

See you in a few, likely from sleepy Fukuoka!

[August 1, 1960] Saving the Day (Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade)

Analog (formerly Astounding) has tended to be the weak sister of the Big Three science fiction digests.  This can be attributed largely to Editor John Campbell’s rather outdated and quirky preferences when it comes to story selection.  There seem to be about five or six authors in Analog‘s stable, and they are not the most inspiring lot.

On the other hand, at least since last year, Analog has reliably produced a number of good serial novels that have elevated the overall quality of the magazine.  This month’s issue, the September 1960 Analog, contains the conclusion to Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade, and it continues this winning streak.

Anderson is an author with whom I’ve had a rather stormy relationship… a one-sided one, of course.  I was captivated by his early novel, Brain Wave, and generally disappointed by most of his output since.  And then, about a year ago, he started writing good stuff again.  His latest novel is excellent, far better than it has any right to be.

The set-up is ridiculous, and smacks of Cambellian Earth-First-ism: a crew of alien invaders visit 14th Century England, bent on adding Earth to the sprawling galactic imperium of the Wersgorix, only to be defeated by the retainers of the canny Baron, Sir Roger de Tourneville.  Sir Roger, realizing that the repelled spacers represented only a scouting contingent, seizes their vessel and takes his entire barony on a trip to the nearby Wersgorix colony, Tharixan.  His goal is to take the fight to the enemy before more come to Earth.  Thus ends Part 1.

The fight for Tharixan comprises the whole of Part 2.  Using a combination of medieval and captured weaponry, and aided by the aliens being somewhat out of fighting trim, their empire having lacked serious conflicts with which to blood their soldiers (while the feudal warriors of Europe spend most of their time fighting or planning for war), Sir Roger’s forces are triumphant. 

Nevertheless, a single world would hardly stand a chance against the fleets and armies of the aliens.  Thus, Sir Roger unites the subjugated races of the empire together in a Crusade against the Wersgorix (Part 3).  The success of this venture, and the individual machinations of his strong-willed wife, Catherine, and his wily subordinate, Sir Owain, I shall leave for the reader to enjoy.

And enjoy you will!  Anderson clearly knows his medieval history and, more importantly, he adopts an authentic archaic writing tone which is, at once, evocative and yet perfectly readable.  Using the clever artifice of telling the story through a chronicler, Brother Parvis, Anderson captures nicely the attitudes of medieval persons thrust into a futuristic universe.  One technique I particularly admired (and, again, which I think could easily have been botched), is the narrator’s recounting of scenes that he, personally, could not have witnessed, but rather reconstructed after the fact.  It is a clever way of transitioning from 1st to 3rd person without jarring the reader.

Anderson’s biggest coup, though, is that he can make such a silly story at once plausible and seriously executed.  Strongly recommended — 4.5 stars out of 5.

(and for those following along as the Journey zips across Japan, I am now on the train from Nagoya to Osaka, this country’s third and second cities, respectively.  Osaka is one of my favorite cities, and I look forward to relaxing pool-side and typing my next article on the rest of the September 1960 issue.  Stay tuned!

[July 10, 1960] Eye of the Storm (August 1960 Analog)

Once again, I find myself on vacation in my home town.  San Diego is hosting two science fiction conventions back to back this July, and this second one promises to be the larger of the two.  Of course, neither of these conventions holds a candle to the big one starting in Los Angeles tomorrow, the one that will determine our next Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

But that’s a topic for another article.  You came here to find out about this month’s fiction, right?

John Campbell is continuing his magazine’s slow transitioning of names from Astounding to Analog.  Both names are still on the cover, superimposed upon each other in a confusing mess, but the spine now unequivocally says Analog, so that’s how I’ll refer to it from now on.  R.I.P. Astounding.  Here’s to 24 years of an influential, if not entirely consistent, existence.

It’s not a bad issue.  Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade continues to be excellent, if wholly implausible.  This story of a 14th Century English village transformed into a nomadic band of universe-conquering marauders is played completely straight, with lovely characterization and an authentic ear for the language.  I find it hard to imagine that I won’t enjoy it through all three parts at this point.

The magazine fares less well in its shorter pieces.  The lead novella, Mack Reynold’s Adaptation, for instance, doesn’t quite work.  A galactic Terran federation is trying to bring old, backward human colonies into the fold, but first, these wayward settlements must be brought to modern status sociologically and technologically.  Two planets are the subject of a 50-year project, one of which has reverted to a European-style feudalism, the other emulating Aztec culture and advancement.  Of course, the inhabitants all speak English and are descended from American stock. 

The team dispatched to elevate the planets to galactic standard splits in twain.  They determine that a healthy competition is in order, one of them championing a controlled economy a la the Soviet Union.  The other employs capitalism.  While both divisions manage to raise the economic output of their charge planets, they are accompanied by serious growing pains, and it is not clear which course is better (or if either be optimum). 

The set-up is terribly forced, but I just pretended the contact team was really trying to improve the lot of a couple of real cultures from the past, perhaps in alternate timelines.  The characterization is largely incidental, and there are no female characters at all.  Still, Reynolds does get you from point A to B, and he does get you invested in the outcomes of the experiments.

Next up is Pushbutton War by brand-newcomer Joseph P. Martino, and it reads like someone’s freshman work.  It’s the story of an Air Force pilot, who zips around at Mach 25 in a rocket-powered anti-missile interceptor.  Not only is the concept silly, but the story alternates between walls of actionless dialogue and soulless action.  And yet, despite this, it’s not horrible.  I’d have suggested a rewrite or two, however.


by John Schoenherr

John Brunner has the exceedingly slight, Report on the Nature of the Lunar Surface, a few-pager that exists solely to set up the punchline.  In short (as there is no long), a technician’s sandwich ends up on the Moon, the result of carelessness around a lunar probe.  The bacteria in the dairy products thus introduced to Earth’s celestial companion result in a transformation of the Moon’s crust of a decidedly viridian and odorous nature…

Since the magazine is now Analog Science Fact and Fiction, it is apt that there are two science articles in this issue.  One is a comprehensive summary on Venus by R.S.Richardson, the fellow who recently wrote a similar piece on Mars in a recent issue.  The current scientific consensus seems to be that we still really don’t know much about “Earth’s Twin” save that it has an impenetrable veil of clouds.  As we get better at radar studies, and once we send a spacecraft out to the solar system’s second planet, perhaps the Goddess of Love will reveal her secrets.

The other article is an interesting, if dry, essay by Alastair Cameron on how elements heavier than helium were formed in the universe.  The popular theory these days is that everything north of atomic weight two on the Periodic Table formed amidst the unimaginable pressures existing in the center of stars.  The idea that our bodies are composed of the remains of long-dead suns is a romantic, mind-boggling one, I think.

Last up is Christopher Anvil’s A Taste of Poison, about a canny businessman who convinces a set of alien would-be invaders that the inhabitants of Earth are a far tougher conquest than our comparatively primitive technologies might indicate.  A typical Anvil story that might pass the typical editorial filters of Campbell.

All told, it’s a 3-star issue buouyed by the Anderson and the non-fiction articles and shackled by the pedestrian shorter fiction.  Still, that’s two thirds of a winning combination.  If Campbell manages to get a decent new set of writers, he could pull his magazine out of its recent nosedive.

See you very soon with a gallery of photos from “Comic Con.”  Don’t let the name fool you–it’s a general science fiction/fantasy convention.

Stay tuned!