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[June 2, 1960] Fewer is Less (July 1960 Astounding)

What makes a story worth reading? 

As a writer, and as a reader who has plowed through thousands of stories over the past decade, I’ve developed a fair idea of what works and what doesn’t.  Some writers cast a spell on you from the first words and maintain that trance until the very end.  Others have good ideas but break momentum with clunky prose.  Some turn a phrase skillfully, but their plots don’t hold interest.

I find that science fiction authors are more likely to hang their tales on plot to the exclusion of other factors.  This is part of the reason our genre is much maligned by the literary crowd.  On the other hand, the literary crowd tends to commit the opposite sin: glazing our eyes over with experimental, turgid passages.

A few authors have managed to bridge the gap: Theodore Sturgeon, Avram Davidson, Daniel Keyes.  And, in general, I think the roster of science fiction authors, as they mature, are turning out better and better stuff.

Sadly, Astounding is rarely the place you’ll find them.

After last month’s decent issue, I had looked forward eagerly to this one, the July 1960 edition.  It’s not unmitigatedly horrible, but it does sink back into the level of quality I’ve come to expect from Campbell’s magazine.  Let’s take a look:

Poul Anderson, with whom I’ve had a rocky relationship over the last decade, begins a new serial called The High Crusade.  It’s about a 14th century English town that gets attacked by an alien scout ship.  Surprisingly, the “primitive” residents manage to overpower the alien crew and commandeer their ship, which they then sail across the suns to another alien outpost, where they defeat a contingent of the more technologically advanced aliens.

Now, this is the kind of story editor Campbell loves: plucky humans defeating inferior space aliens.  I suspect that the humans in Crusade will face increasingly ridiculous odds, always coming out on top.

This should bother me.  On the other hand, the story is really quite well written, with an excellent use of archaic language, a fair depiction of the age, and compelling characters.  Moreover, I have the faintest suspicion that Anderson is satirizing Campbell’s fetish, hence my prediction that the story will be ever more over-the-top.

Sadly, this incomplete tale is the high point of the book.  Chris Anvil is up next with The Troublemaker.  It starts out promisingly, involving an interstellar cargo ship and the seditious new cargo inspector who joins the crew.  The fellow has a knack for dividing and conquering, causing friendships to disintegrate and morale to plummet.  But the Captain’s solution for the problem comes out of nowhere and is thus unsatisfying.  Which brings me back to my preface.  Writer tip #1: Foreshadowing is important.  No one likes a mystery novel where the murderer is not presented before the detective explains whodunnit.  A good writer introduces concepts earlier in the story if they are to be used later. 

Onto the next story.  Its author, Dean McLaughlin, has been writing for various digests over the past decade.  I know I’ve read a few of his stories, but they do not stand out in my memory.  In any event, his The Brotherhood of Keepers leaves much to be desired.  In this case, characterization is utterly subverted to an involved, somewhat odious plot.  There is a race of near-sapient upright seals on a harsh alien world.  They are on the brink of becoming sentient, and a human outpost has been established on their planet, despite the uncomfortable conditions, to watch the transition.  There are three main characters, all made of the same grade of carboard. 

You have the fatuous, bleeding heart animal rights activist who wants to bring an end to the suffering of the “floppers,” both at the hands of their environment and the scientists (who employ them as slaves and vivisect them every so often).  You have the xenophobic scientist who pushes all of the activist’s buttons in the hopes that this will bring about a relief mission, allowing the floppers to be “saved” before they become truly sentient.  Finally, you’ve got the outpost chief.  He grieves for the cruel plight of the floppers, but he feels it would be more cruel to deny them their destiny of intelligence.

On the face of it, this could have been a very interesting story.  Aside from the truly hackneyed portrayal of the characters, I took umbrage with the way the floppers were treated by the humans.  Granted, the most egregious comments made by the scientist character (“they’re only animals,” he says of creatures smarter than chimpanzees) were probably designed specifically to goad the activist, but they must reflect, at least in part, the deeply held sentiments of his fellow researchers.  As any sociologist would tell you, the best way to study a society probably does not involve murdering its members.

Asimov has a fair sequel to his article on animal phyla, published month before last.  This one is called, appropriately enough, Beyond the Phyla.  The good doctor makes some interesting speculation on the next evolutionary steps humanity might take.  They will not involve physical adaptations, he opines, but rather a level of social cohesion that will transform our race into a larger, integrated whole.

It’s a pity that Isaac doesn’t write fiction anymore; I imagine folks will be lifting his non-fiction ideas and turning them into stories soon.

Finally, we have Subspace Survivors, by the renowned Doc Smith, himself.  All due respect to an admitted titan of the field, this is not a very good story.  It’s something of a relic from the pulp era, this tale of nine survivors on a wrecked interstellar vessel, four of whom are psionically gifted (of course).  Writer tip #2: Description should be incorporated seamlessly into a narrative, not obtrusively inserted in-between bits of action. 

There are two women in this story.  They acquit themselves rather well against two of the castaways, who turn out to be bad men, but for the most part, they are content to be submissive child incubators, comforted in times of distress by their lantern-jawed officer husbands.  Feh.

I recently exchanged letters with a fan who expressed his dislike for magazines with only a few, longer stories.  I told him that I didn’t mind them so long as the stories were good.  But, I am starting to take his point.

See you shortly with more fiction reviews!

[May 13, 1960] Second Lightning Strike (Out Like a Light)

by Freas

I poke a lot of fun at John Campbell’s magazine, Astounding for its overfeaturing of psionics and Randall Garrett, two things of which I’ve gotten very tired–so imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying a serial that intimately involves both!

For the last three months, Astounding‘s serial has been Out Like a Light, the sequel to the actually-not-bad That Sweet Little Old Lady.  Both stories were co-written by the team of Randall Garrett (who seems to be getting better these days, at least prose-wise) and Laurence Janifer (who may be the real talent behind the operation).  Together, they go by the monicker of “Mark Phillips.” 

Lady introduced two investigating agents of the FBI in the nearish future, Malone and Boyd, who are stand-ins for the authors.  I think.  Boyd certainly shares Garrett’s physical similarity to Henry VIII as well as his penchant for girl-chasing.  And Janifer, if he cut his hair into a Mohican, would look a bit like Malone.  Their first misadventure involves tracking down a gaggle of psychics and enlisting their aid to fix a security leak in the government.  The sanest of the bunch or telepaths, despite believing herself to be the not-so-late ex-Monarch, Elizabeth I, ends up being the lynchpin to the agents’ success.  As the title suggests, she really is a sweet little old lady.  Who can read minds.

Out Like a Light is essentially a solo adventure, with Malone sleuthing around after a spate of carjackings.  All of the cars are red Cadillacs, and the investigating officers tend to get nasty bumps on the side of the head.  Yet, no trace of the perpetrators is ever seen.  Of course, psionics are involved, and Her Majesty serves an important supporting role in solving the mystery. 

It’s about 10% too long in the droll recounting of things, but it moves swiftly and entertainingly, features a couple of strong female characters (shock!) and is a reasonably executed “how-dunnit.”  I say “how” since the “who” is determined fairly early on. 

by Freas

I found myself actively looking forward, each month, to reading more of the story.  It’s not literature for the ages, but it is genuinely amusing.  If my meter allowed for half increments for individual stories, I would give it three and a half stars.  Since it doesn’t, I suppose I’ll be generous and give it four. 

Astounding can use the charity, especially after the non-fiction “article” featured in this month’s issue… but more on that later.

Pick up a copy, and enjoy!

[March 21, 1960] Conservation of Quality (April 1960 Astounding)

I believe I may have discovered a new physical law: The Conservation of Quality.

Last year, Galaxy editor Horace Gold decided to slash writer pay in half.  The effect was not immediately apparent, which makes sense since there was likely a backlog of quality stuff in the larder.  But the last issue of Galaxy was decidedly sub-par, and I fear Gold’s policy may be bearing bitter fruit.

On the other hand, Astounding (soon to be Analog) editor John Campbell has been trying to reinvent his magazine, and this latest issue, dated April 1960, is better than I’ve seen in a long time.  To be sure, none of the stories are classics for the ages, but they are all readable and enjoyable.

by Kelly Freas

Randall Garrett still pens a good quarter of the magazine, and you know how I feel about him, but he’s not bad this month.  For the lead serial, Out Like a Light, Garrett teams up again with Laurence Janifer under the pseuonym “Mark Phillips” in a sequel to That Sweet Little Old Lady.  FBI Agent Malone and Garrett look-a-like Agent Boyd investigate a series of Cadillac heists only to discover a ring of teleporting juvenile delinquents.  I had expected the story to drag, and it is occasionally too cute for its own good, but I found myself enjoying it.  We’ll see if they can keep up the interest through two more installments.

Next up is the enjoyable short story, The Ambulance Made Two Trips by ultra-veteran Murray Leinster.  Mob shake-down artist meets his match when he tangles with a psionically gifted laundromat owner who can alter probability to make violence impossible—with highly destructive results!  It’s a fun bit of wish fulfillment even if it (again) stars the Heironymous device, that silly psychic contraption made out of construction paper and elementary electronics.  I’m not sure whether Campbell inserts references to them after editing or if authors incorporate them to ensure publication.

Harry Harrison is back with another “Stainless Steel Rat” story featuring Slippery Jim diGriz (the first having appeared in the August 1957 Astounding).  My nephew, David, had rave reviews for The Misplaced Battleship, in which con man turned secret agent tracks down the construction and theft of the galaxy’s biggest capital ship.  I liked it, too: stories with lots of interstellar travel get extra points from me, and Harrison is a good writer.  Not as compelling as Deathworld, but then, that was a tour de force.

by John SchoenHerr

Wedged in the middle of Harrison’s tale, on the slick-paged portion of the magazine, rocketteer G. Harry Stine has an entertaining plug for model rocketry.  It is a hobby that has grown from a dangerous homebrew affair to a full-fledged pastime.  Safe miniature engines are now commonplace, and launches can be conducted in perfect safety—provided one observes all the rules.  Stine prophetically notes that the first person to walk the sands of Mars is already alive and in high school, and he (of course, he) probably cut his engineering teeth on model rockets.  Maybe so.

The story published under Randall Garrett’s name is The Measure of a Man, and it’s surprisingly decent.  The lone survivor in a wrecked Terran battleship must find a way to get the hulk back to Earth in time to warn humanity of an alien superweapon before it is used.  Again, I like stories with lots of planets and spaceships.  I also liked the direct reference to Leinster’s The Aliens, a really great story.

Finally, we have Rick Raphael’s sophomore effort, Make Mine Homogenized, a surprisingly good story about a tough old rancher, a cow that starts producing high octane milk, and hens that lay bomb-fuse eggs.  The first half is the superior one, in which the rancher discovers that her (yes her!) “milk” is highly combustible and that, when mixed with the fuse eggs, creates an explosion that puts Oppenheimer’s work to shame.  The second half, when the AEC gets involved, is still good, but it digresses and becomes more detached.  I really enjoyed the intimacy of the beginning.  I’m a sucker for accurately detailed farm stories, having grown up on a farm. 

by Kelly Freas

So, there you have it.  A perfectly solid Astounding from cover to cover.  Who’da thunkit?

Happy Spring everyone!

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[Feb. 12, 1960] Pulling up (Mar. 1960 Astounding)

It had to happen some day–Astounding has pulled itself out of a nose dive, for now.

Last time, I discussed the most excellent serial, Deathworld.  Still, a single good serial does not a good issue make.  Thankfully, Campbell has at long last, and after a merciless rough patch, delivered a quite readable book.

J.T. McIntosh can always be relied upon to provide entertainment; his lead novella, Immortality for Some is no exception.  In the future, society’s most worthy, the 10% with sufficient talents and/or accomplishments to make the cut, are allowed to undergo “Rebirth.”  This process erases all memories and restores the body to an adolescent stage of physical development.  The special person gets to live again in a sort of cloned reincarnation. 

But what happens when one of the world’s intellectual elite doesn’t want to cheat death?  This is a world that doesn’t want to lose a cultural treasure, and it takes an exceptional person, indeed, to evade Rebirth.

Strongly written, with the first half written from the point of view of an aged woman pianist of superlative talent giving her last concert before Rebirth; the second stars the aforementioned fellow—a seemingly unremarkable caretaker whom the musician befriends.  It’s worth your time.

And now, I shall surprise my audience by saying with a straight face that I actually enjoyed Randall Garrett’s contribution to this issue: In Case of Fire….  In this far future, the sprawling Terran Empire cannot afford to send its best and brightest as ambassadors to less-esteemed stations.  The story opens on a remote, unimportant world whose embassy is staffed with barely functional neurotics.  Yet in that insanity lies the key to ending an interstellar war.  Garrett manages to be somewhat clever and to not offend.  Quite an accomplishment for him.

Chris Anvil’s Shotgun Wedding is another of his unremarkable space-fillers about an alien race whose plan to disrupt humanity by flooding the market with clairvoyant television backfires.  One bit I liked, however, was the depiction of pen pals from different countries using their television screens to correspond across thousands of miles.  When the world is finally wired into OMNIVAC, decades from now, I imagine we’ll see such a phenomenon.

Editor Campbell has been trying to make a go of the slick non-fiction section of his magazine for several months.  This issue is the first with readable articles, the first of which is Mars: A Summing Up by R.S. Richardson (perhaps better known by his nom d’plume, Philip Latham).  Mr. Richardson does an admirable, if slightly dry, job of comprehensively summarizing the current state of knowledge regarding the mysterious Red Planet. 

We’ve enjoyed three relatively close approaches to Mars over the past six years, the likes of which will not recur until 1971, by which time we will probably have sent at least one probe to investigate close-up.  As a result, scientists have amassed a bonanza of information.  Yet it is still unknown whether or not Mars has life, though if it does, it must be of a very low order.  The most exciting work has been done by the astronomer A. Dolfuss, who has determined the nature of Martian soil to examination of its polarization (the non-randomness of the angle of vibration of light that reflects from it).  That we’ve learned so much about Mars is, of course, a marvel in and of itself.  To quote the author, “To tell anything about a body that never comes closer than thirty-five million miles taxes your ingenuity to the utmost.”

Dr. Asimov was also tapped to provide an article after a long hiatus from Astounding’s pages.  Microdesign for Living, about the biochemical synthesis of proteins, is not one of his better pieces, which is to say that is readable but not memorable.

Poul Anderson (as his Astounding alter-ego Winston P. Sanders) wraps things up with a short piece called The Barrier Moment.  Scientists may not know why one can’t go back in time more than three years, but a philospher believes he has the horrifying answer.  Perhaps there isn’t any time to go back to…

All told, the March 1960 Astounding clocks in at a respectable three-and-a-half stars.  That is the best this magazine has been since I started rating the issues in January 1959.  I sincerely hope Campbell can keep this up!

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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[Jan. 27, 1960] Hail Mary (Astounding’s mid-life crisis)

Maturity is both a blessing and a curse.  With age comes wisdom, knowledge, and respect.  But advanced years also bring narrowmindedness and physical decay.

Astounding, the eldest of the Big Three (or Four, depending on how you count them) science fiction digests, is having a bit of a mid-life crisis.  It is no longer on the cutting edge of the field, and editor John Campbell knows this.  At the same time, his conservative editorial policies makes turning the literary ship around a slow and possibly fruitless task.

His recent innovations include changing the name to Astounding Science Fact and Fiction and including a several-page slick non-fiction section.  It’s terrible.  He needs an Asimov or at least a Boyd to write these articles.

With this issue, Campbell has begun the process of changing the name of the magazine to Analog, a singularly uninspiring appellation. 

What Campbell has not done is broaden his stable of writers.  They are not universally terrible, but they are almost always write conservatively (at least, when they write for Astounding/Analog) and there are very few woman writers or characters.  The stories are usually of that dry, gimmicky variety, often suffused with a smugness I can’t stand.  Moreover, there is the general portrayal of aliens in a negative light, which strikes me as a sort of coded racism with which I am not comfortable.

Why do I keep reading?  Well, the serial Deathworld is actually very good, and if I cancel my subscription, I won’t have much else to read.  I also, like many, take pleasure in watching trainwrecks.  Either this caterpillar will turn into a beautiful butterfly, or it will end up a dead pupae.

Only time will tell.

I’ll have a full review of this month’s issue tomorrow.  Stay tuned!

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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[Dec. 17, 1959] Same ol’ Same ol’? (January 1960 Astounding)

There are times that I feel I could trot out the same Astounding review every month.  It would go something like this:

“Editor John Campbell continues to showcase Human-First, psionic stories with young male protagonists and virtually no female characters.  The table of contents features Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, and Murray Leinster.  Yet again, the magazine is a disappointment.”

For the most part, the above summary would serve this month, but there is a kicker at the end of this review.

Skipping the first part of a serial by a fellow of whom I’ve never heard (a Harry Harrison), the issue opens up with one of Murray Leinster’s weaker outings, Attention Saint Patrick.  Leinster is often excellent, but in this one, he’s just boringly droll, telling the story of an Irish space colony that relies on giant serpents to control its vermin problem—in this case, little dinosaurs with diamond teeth. 

by Bernklau

Then we have the truly ridiculous A Rose by Other Name, a Chris Anvil story about how the removal of military and jingoistic jargon from our vocabulary makes it impossible to go to war.  Not good.

Campbell has tried to make his magazine more respectable by including a slick paper non-fiction segment starting this month.  Frank Foote and Arthur Shuck penned Solid Plutonium Headache about the technical and physical difficulties associated with working this dangerous radioactive material.  A more boring article I have never read, which is a shame because there’s nothing wrong with the subject matter.  Until Campbell finds himself an Asimov or a Ley, I think his non-fiction section won’t be worth much—particularly as the slick paper is not at all absorbent.

Poul Anderson’s The Burning Bridge, about a fleet of interstellar colony ships on a 40-year trip to settle a new world, is decent.  Recalled by Earth nearly a few years into their flight, the fleet’s Admiral must determine whether or not they will return or press on.  The cast is nicely international, and women play an important (though oddly segregated) part.

by Bernklau

Then we have The Garrett, in this case Viewpoint.  A fellow dreams himself into the future and discovers a strange new world before snapping back to his original time.  The now-typical Randallian gimmick is that the person is a famous figure from the past, and the destination is now-ish.  It’s not as bad as it could have been, but Garrett loses a star just for being Garrett.

Finally, we have The Silverberg: Stress Pattern.  This story is hard to rate because there are really two things going on here.  On one hand, we have the story of a sociologist and his assistant wife (no doubt inspired by Bob Silverberg’s wife and partner, Barbara) and the slow unraveling and subsequent recovery of their lives.  The characterization and writing are quite good, and I was carried along for the entirety of the tale’s 30 pages.

On the other hand, in the end, the story is a rather ham-fisted argument against the leveling qualities of increased socialism (small “s”) and social welfare.  The message of the story is that while we might keep the lower classes fat and happy, the secure smart people are just going to get bored and restless.  While such an argument could be made against a uniform public school curriculum, and while in true Socialism, the only way to get ahead is to cheat, I don’t think things can progress in America as Silverberg contests.  Moreover, that part just feels tacked on to tickle Campbell’s fancy.  It has that “secret society knows all the answers and can manipulate humanity like a machine” conceit I generally find tiresome.

Still, Bob is coming along.  I think if he tried writing for another magazine, he could put his talent for prolific writing and good portrayals toward making something truly good.  He’s not Randy Garrett, even though he works with him regularly.

All told, it’s a 2.5 star issue.  But I promised a kicker: the serial, Deathworld, is excellent so far, and I’m keenly anticipating next month’s installment.  You’ll have to wait until next February to get the review, but I think it will be a good one!

Stay tuned!

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most.  I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. 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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[Nov. 22, 1959] …with a whimper (December 1959 Astounding wrap-up)

Good morning, dear readers.  Based on the incidence of fan mail, it appears you now number nearly half a dozen (unless, of course, it’s just you, Laurose, writing in under a number of pseudonyms; if that be the case, I’m still grateful).

And now comes the moment you have all been waiting for: my review of the December Astounding.  Did this issue top the last in terms of sheer awfulness?  I’m afraid not.  The magazine is, in fact, back to its old low but passable standards.

I mentioned last time that Randall Garrett has the lead novella in this issue.  The Destroyers starts off well enough.  Slowly, even compellingly, Garrett describes a group of farmers in a barony on one of the more backward planets in the galaxy.  The placid cycle of years is disturbed by the news of impending interstellar war.  When it does break out, the conflict seems far away and does not immediately disturb the peaceful farmers.  But over time, the fight comes closer and closer to home until the barony is taken by the conquerors, and the planet surrenders.

So what’s wrong with this story?  Garrett, as you know, is fond of the historical parable.  In Despoiler of the Golden Empire, he writes rather praisingly of Pizarro’s murderous conquest of Peru with the “twist” being that the readers were meant to think the story was one of science fiction rather than historical fiction. 

About half-way through The Destroyers, I started to worry that he was doing it again.  When he spoke of the invaders’ blockade and the plucky captains who dared run it, I began to look for other Civil War parallels.  Sure enough, the conquerors come from the north, they represent an industrialized society preaching equality and freedom, they are superior technologically.  The “South” wins at first but inexorably starts to lose.  Their country is split in two.  The war ends with the taking of the capital.

Even this would be fine except for the story’s punchline.  The Union colonel who comes to accept the baroness’ surrender (yes—by this time, Randy has named the invaders “The Union”) announces to the farmers that they are all free, and that now they can earn money and get an education.  And what is the reaction of the farmers (read: Negro slaves)?

Horror!  All of their needs had been tended to under the old regime.  They had been happy, had had purpose and direction.  What, oh what, would they do with money and education and freedom?

That smell assailing your nostrils is last night’s dinner.  My apologies.  I don’t think I need comment further other than to observe that it may be impossible for Randy to write without offending.  But I guess he keeps Astounding‘s target demographic happy…

On to happier, or at least less saddening, entries.  Chris Anvil’s Mating Problems, about how a colony deals with the aftermath of two crises by combining their ill effects, is not bad.  I note that Anvil likes stories about pioneering colonials, and I do too.  At some point, he’ll write an outstanding one, perhaps.

Les Collins has a non-fiction article entitled How to write Science faction, a rather glibly written description of the technical writing field.  Perhaps the best part of the column is a list of ten technical paragraphs in need of editing.  Collins invites those who are able to properly fix a majority of them to contact him for a possible job opening.  I’m tempted.

George O. Smith’s The Big Fix is kind of fun.  In a world where everyone is psionic, how does one keep the gambling “honest?”  And once that puzzle is solved, how does one rig the game?  The story even features, though doesn’t star, a cigar-chomping tough gal, though she ends up a romantic interest, sadly.  The dialogue consciously imitates the over-verbose New York gangster dialect featured in the recent hit, Guys and Dolls.  The conceit is either cute or annoying.  I suppose it depends on your mood.

I skipped Part Two of Everett Cole’s The Best Made Plans since I could not finish Part One.  I think it’s a futuristic ignominy to imperial throne story, but I can’t be certain.

Last, and fairly least, is Tell the Truth, by E.C. Tubb.  In this story, humans are confronted with a stronger, aggressive alien foe (that looks just like us).  As a prelude to conflict, both races agree to exchange a single representative who will serve as the exemplar of the species.  Based on the examination of said ambassador, the choice between peace and war will be made.

Of course, the humans are able to select the exact right person to hoodwink the aliens.  It turns out that the aliens are wholly logical and, thus, deduce from the ambassador, who sells military toys to children, that Earth is a highly armed camp whose youth are trained from birth to be soldiers.

It’s a typical Campbellian piece, and it makes no sense.  For one thing, the aliens are trained from birth to be soldiers.  Moreover, much is made of the fact that the ambassador cannot lie (for the aliens are experts in preventing deception); therefore, the conclusion that the aliens make is inescapable.  One would think that these aliens, who clearly have a profound knowledge of deceit, would recognize the cheap ploy for what it was.  After all, the ambassador may be telling the truth, but that doesn’t mean his masters are obligated to.

At least I’ve saved dessert for last—the December F&SF is next up, and with its reading, I will have an entire year’s worth of magazines from which to choose this annum’s Galactic Stars.

See you soon!

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P.S. 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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[Nov. 20, 1959] Despoiler of Astounding Magazine (The Destroyers, by Randall Garrett)

Here’s a short update before I fully review this month’s Astounding.  Remember my piece on Despoiler of the Golden Empire?  Well, good old Randy Garrett is at it again with his historical parables.  I kept waiting for the shoe to drop in his lead novella of this ish, The Destroyers, and it did in a big way.

It’s disappointing since the writing was actually good and compelling for the first two thirds of the story–and then I saw where good old Randy was going.  Boy did he get there.

Try it, but don’t spoil the ending for the other readers until my article on the issue as a whole, which should come tomorrow or the next day.

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. 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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[Oct. 24, 1959] Bleah! (November 1959 Astounding–the worst yet!)

I’ve found the bottom, and it isn’t the Mariana Trench.

They say fifty cents won’t buy you what it used to, and that’s certainly true of Astounding, a science fiction digest.  The November issue, which has a hastily pasted price of four bits on its cover (replacing the original 35 cents) is, without a doubt, the worst pile of garbage I’ve read in a very long time.

I’ll spare you the gory details and give you a quick thumbnail sketch of its contents.  Opening the ish is the first part of a two-part story, The Best Made Plans.  I didn’t even make it through the first half of this first part.  So dull was the tale, so linearly and prosaicly was it told, that I can’t even remember what it’s about.  I’ll read the summary next month and, perhaps, try again.

Eric Frank Russell’s Panic Button features two exploring aliens who happen across a lone Terran on an otherwise uninhabited planet.  Upon finding him, the human pushes a blue button, which frightens off the aliens.  This is all part of a brilliant human scheme to seed the planets of the universe with convicts equipped with panic buttons.  The assumption (proven correct, of course; aliens are so dumb, says editor Campbell) is that the button must do something and the lone humans must be there for a reason, and the overactive imaginations of the would-be conquering aliens do the rest. 

And this is one of the book’s better stories!

Then you’ve got A Filbert is a Nut, by newcomer Rick Raphael.  In this one, a crazy person makes atom bombs out of clay that work.  Or does he?  Passable–for 1953 Imagination, perhaps.

Randall Garrett’s The Unnecessary Man should have been titled “The Unnecessary Story.”  Young man learns that democracy is a sham and the galaxy is run by a dictatorship.  But it’s a benevolent one, so that’s okay.  Bleah.

I’ve never heard of Richard Sabia before, and if his I was a Teen-age Secret Weapon is any indication, I hope I don’t see him again.  Yokel causes harm to anyone around him.  He is eventually inducted into the army, dropped off to be captured by the enemy, and Communism’s collapse ensues.  Lousy.

Finally, we have Robert Silverberg’s Certainty, which is almost decent.  Alien ship lands on a human outpost planet, and the crew of the garrison ship is helpless against the intruders’ mind-control powers.  Again, it’s the sort of thing I’d expect from a decade-old lesser mag.

As for the Analytical Laboratory for the far-superior August issue, the readers’ results are well in line with mine, with Leinster’s The Alien’s a clear winner.

I’m sorry I don’t have anything cheery to report.  It took me most of the month to get through this awful, 1.5 star book.  I’m about ready to cancel my subscription…

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.
P.S. 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!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.