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[Apr. 25, 1962] And Justice for All… (J.F. Bone’s The Lani People)


by Gideon Marcus

There’s a change a comin’.  I’m sure you’ve seen heralds of its passage.  Last summer, hundreds of Whites and Blacks took to the buses and rode into the South, flouting the segregated busing laws.  Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are rallying their brethren to fight centuries of oppression.  For the first time, the Democrats look to be out-Civil Rightsing the Republicans (who would have predicted that in 1948?) Yes, the country is heading toward a long overdue shift, a final resolution of the crisis born in the original Constitution and only half-fought in the bloodiest war of American history. 

It’s no surprise, then, that we’re seeing this war play out in science fiction as well as reality.  Speculative literature constitutes our thought experiments, letting us see worlds like ours, but with allegorical players or, perhaps, a great time shift.  Some authors approach the topic tangentially, for instance depicting Blacks as fully integrated in a future setting.  Others, approach the subject head-on.

SF author J.F. Bone is a bit of a cipher.  I have almost no biographical information about him.  I do know that he started writing a few years ago, and his works have a certain thoughtfulness that elevates it above the run of the mill.  His recent Founding Father was a fascinating look into the mindset of a slavemaster, made particularly chilling by its light tone.

Bone’s latest work is a novel called The Lani People.  It is a more straightforward investigation of prejudice and discrimination, set 5000 years in the future.  It is the tale of Kennon, a veterinarian contracted to provide medical services for the herds of planet Kardon.  To the animal doctor’s surprise, one of the herded species is the Lani, a breed of biped virtually indistinguishable from human beings save for their tails.  Yet, despite their obvious intelligence and clear resemblance to people, they are legally animals thanks to a centuries-old judgment on their status.

The result is as horrible as you would expect, with the Lani subjugated, regulated, and degraded creatures, the cruelty of their plight accentuated by the indifference with which it is perpetrated.  It is obvious to the reader that no sapient should be treated this way, and certainly no human.  And yet, the blinkered Galactic society cannot tolerate as equals even the slightly different.

The situation is made even more complicated for the conflicted Kennon – he falls in love with the brilliant Lani named Copper (and she with him).  Yet he cannot even think to express his feelings.  It is only when he begins to substantiate his hunch that the Lani really are human that he can open his heart to her.  But then, of course, that just opens the bigger can of worms: how do you right such a horrible injustice?

What I find interesting about Kennon is that he can’t initially make the jump to appreciate all sentient life as equals.  He can’t love Copper for who she is, regardless of race.  Rather, he must instead prove that Copper is a human being before he allows himself to love her.  Nevertheless, by the end of the book, he recognizes the small-mindedness of that specist view:

“Our minds are still the minds of barbarians—blood brothers against the enemy, and everything not of us is enemy. Savages—hiding under a thin veneer of superficial culture. Savages with spaceships and the atom.”

One can’t help draw parallels with our current race relations environment.  This nation still has a long way to go toward realizing “the proposition that all men are created equal.”  There is still a sizable portion of our population that maintains that dark skin is somehow a mark of inferiority, even though it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that human blood is human blood regardless of the color of its package.  That deeply ingrained bias won’t disappear immediately just because it isn’t supported by evidence.  In this regard, The Lani People is ultimately over-optimistic, even naive, in its resolution. 

Laudable subject matter aside, you probably want to know how the book reads.  Well, it’s good.  Bone’s never turned out anything poorly done, to my knowledge.  I think I would have enjoyed more of the veterinary aspects of the story in the first half (Bone is a Dr. of Veterinary science up in Oregon); it’s a kind of science one doesn’t often see portrayed.  There are some bits of the romance when both Copper and Kennon wrestle with their inability to express affection that feel almost Burroughsian (read the end of any Edgar Rice Burroughs novel and you’ll understand).  The characterization is somewhat expository.  The theme of the story is subtly conveyed in the first half, more heavy-handedly delivered in the latter.

Nevertheless, it’s a solid work, and it may make people think.  Kennon’s journey is one we all should and must take if we ever want there to be harmony on Earth.  And harmony on Earth surely must be a prerequisite for harmony with whomever we find amongst the stars.

3.5 stars.

[March 25, 1962] A Double Hit (A. Bertram Chandler’s The Rim of Space and John Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra)


by Rosemary Benton

I love the bookstore in my town. Not only do they have a newsstand in front that provides me with the latest world events and developments in the US space program, but they have a very comprehensive science fiction section, front and center, as you walk in. I’ll occasionally look at the stand’s selection of comic books when I hear that there is a new series from Marvel Comics, but every trip to the bookstore must come with at least thirty minutes spent in the science fiction section.

This month part of my book budget went to Ace Double Novel F-133 containing the third publication of A. Bertram Chandler’s The Rim of Space as well as the first edition of John Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra. Reading these stories back to back was a real treat, and one that I desperately needed this month. After the national tension created by the USSR pledging millions of dollars in military aid to Cuba on February 8th, coupled with the rapidly deteriorating health of one of my family members, my mind had been adrift on dark thoughts. I needed distractions of the science fiction variety, my favorite form of escapism. These stories supplied it in spades.

The first book I read was Chandler’s The Rim of Space. This novella centers around a rag tag team of wash-ups turned merchants aboard the dilapidated, but reliable, ship Lorn Lady. Stationed on the fringe of the Galactic Rim, this is a territory so remote from Earth that the central Terran government, the Federated Worlds, has little influence. Rebellion is building in order to mount a push for the Rim Worlds to become their own government. Caught in this wave of frontier space nationalism is Derek Calver, a man who used to work for a respectable company but has since left to pursue a drifting life in deep space. Through episodic adventures loosely tied to the exchange of merchandise, the crew of Lorn Lady meet intelligent alien lifeforms and experience strange space anomalies.

After finishing The Rim of Space I turned to Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra. I couldn’t help but feel as if I was reading a novella that pitted the characters of H. Beam Piper’s Paratime series against the American agents of The Time Traders. In almost exact contrast to the universe of Chandler’s piece, Brunner’s protagonists are agents of the Corps Galactica – a economic and security force powerhouse for Earth’s galaxy-wide territories. When a remote and technologically backward world called Planet 14 is penetrated by off-worlders looking to take advantage of the natural resources of the isolated human society, it is up to agents of the Corps to infiltrate the population without notice and take down the exploitative evil doers.

Of the two novellas I found Brunner’s tale of espionage and infiltration to be the more complete of the stories. Like H. Beam Piper, Brunner goes to great lengths to build up an unEarthly society complete with religion, social casts, lore and legend. When I first began reading Secret Agent I had no idea what an unexpected turn the plot would take. The society of Carrig, the central city on the planet, is first introduced in such minutia through the eyes of a merchant trader that one would think he would be the main character. In no way would one guess he was from another planet. In no way would the reader assume he was, in the grand design of the plot, such a minor character. Brunner has a way of making each citizen who appears in his book an indispensable part of the story, even if they play a minor roll. Within the entirety of the book I don’t believe I read about a single character that was superfluous to the overarching story. Every player had a part to play, and it was clear that Brunner knew where he was going with his story from start to finish.

The Rim of Space, on the other hand, focused nearly entirely on building up only three characters out of the entire cast – Derek Calver, the purser Jane Arlen, and strangely enough, the aged Captain Engels. To Chandler’s credit these are three very interesting characters. Calver and Jane are both deeply flawed people with questionable morals, rocky relationship histories, and physically rough around the edges. The relationship that develops between them is entirely fitting for their damaged pasts, and their snappish and jeering squabbles seem to come naturally even as they grow closer. Captain Engels, while nearly absent from the first half of the story, comes to be a constant reminder of the impending conflict that will arise between the Rim Worlds and the Federation. He’s grandfatherly and wise, but frail.

This was a great purchase, and one which I happily give four stars to as a whole. I would love to read the full novel of The Rim of Space at some point. Apparently chapters four and five had to be removed for printing purposes in the Ace Double Novel edition. My hope is that these missing chapters will more closely tie in the impending revolt of the Rim Worlds with the rest of the episodic adventures. As it stands though, individually I think that The Rim of Space is a solid three and a half stars for choosing to develop only three characters and not tying up the adventures of the Lorn Lady’s crew more closely to the hints of a larger overarching plot. Secret Agent of Terra deserves a full five stars. Great twists, incredible setting, fully rounded characters and impeccable world-building put it on the very top.

[February 17, 1962] Time and Culture at Odds (Andre Norton’s The Defiant Agents)


by Rosemary Benton

It’s an interesting premise: what would a meeting between Apaches and Tartars be like in a “wild west-esque” science fiction setting? And what if the Apaches were American explorers while the Tartars were from the Soviet Union? Andre Norton sets out to explore this idea in The Defiant Agents, her third installment in the Time Traders series.

This time it’s not agents of the future who are being sent physically into the past, but rather the minds of a select group of volunteer Apache explorers who are on a rushed mission to reclaim the alien planet Topaz from the Communists. In a deep sleep they remember the past lives of their ancestral people to prepare them for the frontier world, while their bodies traverse space to the planet. After a crash landing the crew wake up with little memory of their former lives in the present and even less recollection of their mission. Battling the dual lives crammed into their heads as their memories slowly return, archeologist and animal-talker Travis Fox tries to help his group survive against the Tartar peoples under mind-control by the Reds.

Since reading Catseye I have become a firm fan of Andre Norton’s characters and storytelling. So much is my appreciation of her skill as a writer that I took the liberty of familiarizing myself with the rest of the Time Traders series before diving into The Defiant Agents. In 1958 Andre Norton hit the science fiction community with the first book of what would become her enduring series, simply titled The Time Traders

It was a critical and commercial success with an enthralling plot about the search for ancient long-lost knowledge. To uncover this treasure trove of information, social misfit and petty criminal Ross Murdock is selected to travel back to the time of the Beaker culture of Bronze-Age Europe. Without significantly changing the timeline, he and his partner, archeologist Dr. Gordon Ashe, must blend seamlessly into the people of that time to find the knowledge source before their competition does.

Though still largely unfamiliar with Andre Norton at the time, I recall reading Galaxy in 1959 and noticing that The Time Traders appeared on Floyd C. Gale’s “Galaxy’s 5 Star Star Shelf”. Looking back through my own collection of Galaxy I was able to pull up his exact words. His review of the book stated that on page 140 that, “Traders gets Miss Norton back solidly and admirably on her track of excellence.”

With a quick trip to the campus library I was able to find another reviewer in Kirkus Reviews that declared The Time Traders, “An interesting idea, well handled by Andre Norton, science fiction expert, who projects his [sic] reader deftly both backwards and forwards in time and injects his [sic] narrative with considerable and interesting historical information”.

The next book in the series is Galactic Derelict. It came in quick succession, being published in October 1959. I have unfortunately not been able to lay my hands on a copy yet, but reviews gave enough background information for me to be able to read The Defiant Agents without interruption. Again, reviews seem to be overall positive. The October 1959 Kirkus Reviews description of the book even goes so far as to say that, “Andre Norton has no peer in his [sic…again] chosen field of science fiction for teen agers.”

Which brings us to The Defiant Agents. After reading The Time Traders and reading up on Galactic Derelict, I was very excited to begin the third installment of the Time Traders series. Norton had left off Galactic Derelict with a daring trip through hyperspace and to several worlds, all covered in the ruins and decaying machinery of a long gone civilization. Our three protagonists, the Apache archeologist Travis Fox, and the project agents Ross Murdock and Dr. Gordon Ashe all return in The Defiant Agents. The story mainly focuses on Travis Fox however, with only brief appearances of Ross and Dr. Ashe in the beginning chapters to provide exposition.

I was initially (though not lastingly) underwhelmed by the pace of the plot in The Defiant Agents. With such a steady stream of action and changing scenery in The Time Traders, reading The Defiant Agents felt more like a drama than the action story preceding it. This mainly stems from the time Norton dedicates to show the dueling emotions of Travis and his fellow explorers.

In short order Travis and his group of other Apache volunteers find themselves marooned on the contested planet Topaz, groggy from their trip made under the influence of the “Redax” machine, and with no memory of what their original mission was. Their very identities are contestable. The Redax machine allowed them to relive the lives of their ancestors to better prepare them for the frontier of Topaz, but with such a rushed voyage to reclaim the territory from the Reds there was little time to work out all of the flaws in the experimental technology. The resulting story is an interesting one, to be certain, but a much more slower paced one than Norton’s previous novels.

The most important and noteworthy aspect of The Defiant Agents is how Norton respectfully writes her Native American characters and encapsulates their experience with strong tinges of their cultural memory. Norton writers her Apache characters in a humanizing and personable way, far from any stereotypes of savage and animalistic barbarians (as are common on television, for instance). She repeatedly uses the analogy of the Native Americans on a road between present and past, and relates that condition to their present plight on Topaz, stranded as they are without many supplies and no way of contacting Earth – modern-day Native Americans trapped in a simulacrum of the past.

An evolving theme throughout the Time Traders series is the growing appreciation that our three main characters have for the power of the ancient aliens whose technology and information the US and the USSR so covet. Travis is the culmination of this appreciation. Travis and his people are resourceful and brave, but not so daring as to try to possess the destructive alien power they find on Topaz.  Although he finds a gun that can vaporize immense objects, and he uses it to free the Tartars from their Red held mind-control slavery, it’s Travis who argues that such a thing is the equivalent to the atom bomb and is best left taboo. They take what will benefit them – star tapes, supplies, etc. – and leave behind what could overwhelm them. It’s almost as if Norton is saying that to best survive in our present, looking back on history and culture can provide the best path forward.

Despite the slow pace I wouldn’t say that the book is boring or uninteresting; it was simply not what I was expecting. That being said, I feel confident in giving The Defiant Agents four out of five stars. It contains a resonating message about the dangers of power, a cross cultural exchange between modern people and their ancestral heritage, and a message of peace between like-minded but geographically distant cultures. Inspiring and refreshing, although slow at times, The Defiant Agents is a must read.

[And by the way, Happy 50th birthday, Andre Norton!]

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


by Rosemary Benton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Ashley R. Pollard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four stars.

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


by Gideon Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three stars.

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

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

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

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

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


by Rosemary Benton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Nov. 3, 1961] Study War no More (Naked to the Stars, by Gordon Dickson)

War is still a ripe subject for fiction.  It has been a constant part of the human existence since there were nations.  For six thousand years, we’ve glorified it, hated it, resolved ourselves to it.  There’s no reason to expect it will go away any time soon, and it’s no wonder that war is a common theme in science fiction. 

A couple of years back, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers made a big splash with its interesting take on interstellar combat and the character of patriotism.  It was a jingoistic piece that I’m sure resulted in a small spike in enlistments.  Gordy Dickson’s war novel Dorsai also came out in in 1959.  Dorsai was a fairly straightforward war story of a genius mercenary with the temperament and training to become a renowned general.  Like Troopers, it was a runner up for the 1960 Hugo (Troopers won). 

Both are what I’d call “typical” of the genre.  I find it interesting how often war is positively portrayed: exciting, filled with tales of cunning, guts, and derring-do.  I suppose it’s because World War Two was a “good” war.  Democracy vs. Tyranny with clear villains to fight.  Sure, we lost some of our boys, but we made the world safe again.  And so we have a stream of war movies which are by turns dramatic, gripping, even comedic, but rarely overtly anti-war.  A Walk in the Sun, a candid film that even included a portrayal of battle fatigue in the midst of action, is one of the few exceptions.

Pacifist sci-fi novels have been similarly rare.  Given the nature of Dickson’s Dorsai, I was thus surprised (and delighted) to see that his recent Naked to the Stars, serialized over the last to months in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a thoughtful and engaging anti-war book.

A few hundred years in the future, humanity is rapidly expanding throughout the local part of the galaxy.  At Stars‘ beginning, we’ve already conquered one sentient race in our quest for stellar real estate, and a war is in progress against a second, the Lehaunans of Arcturus.  We meet Lieutenant Cal Truant, whose traumatic (but, at first, unexplained) experience on the Lehaunan home planet causes him to wound himself out of the army. 

He is then enlisted into the Contact Service, a subsidiary, non-combatant branch of the military whose role is to liaise with alien races.  Dickson only hints at the nature of this service for much of the book.  In fact, the author’s style is provocatively oblique rather than expository, a refreshing experience.  We get to see Truant’s second run through Basic Training, as interesting an episode in Stars as it was in Troopers.  Then we follow Truant as he is dispatched to the site of humanity’s third wave of expansion: the planet Bellatrix, inhabited by the humanoid Paumons. 

It is there that Truant’s disillusionment with warfare peaks.  Unwilling to watch the Paumons be brutally subjugated, Truant takes matters into his own hands, ultimately maneuvering the situation into a resolution in keeping with his morality.  It’s an honest book; Truant’s actions are not completely laudable, and he knows it.  But, given the situation and his beliefs, it’s what he has to do.

War is Hell.  We can sugar-coat it all we want, but at its core, it is mass murder.  It is suffering.  Stars delivers this message without being overly histrionic or mawkish.  In fact, if there is anything wrong with Stars, it is that it is too short.  Like Troopers when it first appeared in F&SF, and like the more recent Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys, Stars was hacked down a bit to fit in two issues of a small digest.  I understand that an expanded version will be out next year.  I hope that, when this fine novel is nominated for a Hugo (which it inevitably will be), it will the full version that is evaluated. 

I give this serialized edition 4.5 stars, and I can imagine that the longer book will garner 5.

[Oct. 23, 1961] Making Progress (Harry Harrison’s Sense of Obligation)


by Gideon Marcus

Author Harry Harrison has been around for a long time, starting his science fiction writing career at the beginning of the last decade (1951).  Yet, it was not until this decade that I (and probably many others) discovered him.  He came into my view with the stellar Deathworld, a novel that was a strong contender for last year’s Hugo.  Then I found his popular Stainless Steel Rat stories, which were recently anthologized.  The fellow is definitely making a name for himself.

Harrison actually occupies a liberal spot in generally conservative Analog magazine’s stable of authors.  While Harry tends to stick with typical Analog tropes (psionics, humano-centric stories, interstellar hijinx), there are themes in his work which are quite progressive – even subversive, at least for the medium in which they appear.

For instance, there is a strong pro-ecological message in Deathworld.  I also detect threads of pacifism in Harrison’s works, not to mention rather unorthodox portrayal of women and sexual mores.  Harry isn’t Ted Sturgeon or anything, but he is definitely an outlier for Analog, and refreshing for the genre as a whole.

Harrison’s latest novel, Sense of Obligation (serialized over the last three issues of Analog) continues all of the trends described above.  On the surface, it has a plot that’s not unusual: Brion Brandd is the most recent winner of “The Twenties,” a combined Olympics-type event held on the inhospitable planet, Anvhar.  The residents of this difficult world already have to be tougher than the average Terran; Brion is the toughest of them.  He is recruited by a former Twenties winner to join the interstellar secret service. 

His first mission is to help stop the destruction of planet Dis by it’s neighbor Nyjord.  It turns out that the Disans, a xenophobic branch of humanity, have assembled an arsenal of bombs and plan to attack its technologically superior neighbor.  The Nyjordians are a normally peaceful people, but they can see no way to combat the implacable Disans other than to utterly wipe them out from orbit.  Brion, and his partner, brilliant Terran xenobiologist LeaMorees, have but a few days before the Nyjordian ultimatum expires, and destruction ensues.

Sense is a solid read, though it is not the classic that Deathworld was.  Call it three stars.  But what I really appreciated was that, once again, Harrison has given us a female character who is not only interesting and talented, but also has romantic agency.  As with the superhumanly strong Meta, from Deathworld, Lea makes the first move with the book’s protagonist.  Moreover, the Anvharrian take on romance is contrasted favorably with the one that prevails on Earth.  Terran males relentlessly pursue their women, who must frequently employ the “spike heel” defense – sound familiar?  On Anvhar, men are respectful and respond only once a woman has expressed interest.  Platonic friendship between members of opposite sexes is valuable in and of itself, and if the female partner desires something further, she is in the driver’s seat.  It’s different, and I dig it.

This portrayal of alternate societies is surprisingly rare in science fiction, particularly in Analog.  The focus is usually on futuristic technologies.  Harrison’s willingness to incorporate both sociological and technological speculation in his works makes him part of science fiction’s vanguard, broadening the scope of our genre for the better.  It’s what makes his name a pleasant addition to any magazine’s table of contents.  May he continue to be a luminary throughout the ’60s… and beyond!

[Oct. 18, 1961] Call me Old-fashioned (The Planet Strappers, by Raymond Z. Gallun)


by Gideon Marcus

The nice thing about writing reviews for an immediately published medium, like a newspaper or a daily column, is the currency of the information you convey.  Most reviewers get their books just before release from the publishers, and by the time their reviews are in print, their subjects are several months old.  At Galactic Journey, you can be guaranteed a presentation of the very newest material.

Ironically, my offering for you this time around is Raymond Z. Gallun’s The Planet Strappers, which while a brand new novel, reads like something written several decades ago.  I’d gotten used to the out there stuff by Sturgeon and Farmer and Henderson, so it was a little jarring to find something so old-fashioned.  But it makes sense: like the legendary “Doc” Smith, Gallun is a grizzled veteran of the 20s and 30s pulps.  In fact, he hardly turned out a thing in the last decade.

Strappers is the story of The Bunch, a gang of young space enthusiasts from Jarviston, Minnesota who live some time in the mid-distance future.  Their dream is to save enough dough to put together the kit needed to become space colonists: inflatable plastic habitats, “bubbs,” that can be spun for gravity; ionic engines with weak but constant thrust, nuclear batteries; food, water, and air. 

The Bunch are a diverse group.  There’s the Mexican, Miguel Ramos.  The sole girl, Eileen Sands.  The colored kid, Mitch Storey.  The disabled fellow, “Gimp” Hines.  The mathematically challenged “Two-and-two” Baines.  To Gallun’s credit, he does a good job of giving each of them character beyond their signature features.  In fact, if there is any message of Strappers, it is that space is a level playing field, and that cultural distinctions are meaningless there. 

Our viewpoint is Frank Nelsen, perhaps the smartest of The Bunch (and probably, though never specifically, a White man).  We follow him through the creation of his colony kit and into space where he travels to most corners of the inner Solar System, encountering adventure, tragedy, and ultimately, happiness.  It’s a strange outline of a saga with a few fleshed out bits but with most being told in shorthand.  Nelson’s journey could easily have filled a book series (a la Danny Dunn or Lucky Starr).  Instead, Gallun pares the tale down to its bare minimum.

As a result, rather than any of the sparsely portrayed players, the setting ends up being the real star of Strappers.  We get a lot of technical exposition regarding the space-based economy as well as some solar-political background.  The main polities seem to be The Free World and the statist Toves.  The asteroids are a wild, woolly place constantly under threat by space-suited brigands.  We are treated to loving descriptions of the “Archies,” the ubiquitous space-suits that are practically single-person spaceships.

Gallun shows us a decidedly archaic view of the solar system with planets that don’t conform with our latest scientific knowledge.  For instance: Venus is uninhabitable, but not boiling.  Mars’ air is about a tenth as thick as Earth’s (this may be true, but this assumes the existence of nitrogen in the Red Planet’s atmosphere, which can’t be directly detected).  The Moon has a thin atmosphere, about 1/20,000th that of the Earth, as well as a few hardy plants clinging to volcanic vents.  This is highly unlikely — virtually all sources I’ve consulted say that the Moon’s atmosphere, such as there is, isn’t much different from the hard vacuum of space.

Strappers features remainders of the Burroughsian belief that the outer planets were created earlier, cooled sooner, developed sentient life before ours.  In fact, the asteroid belt, Gallun presents, was once the solar system’s fifth planet before it was destroyed 60 million years ago in a war with the Martians.  (The hoary idea that the Belt used to be a planet is probably impossible – all of the asteroids together barely make up a mass 1/20th of our Moon).

Despite the fanciful astronomy and the skeletal nature of the storytelling, I nevertheless got through Strappers, even enjoying it at times.  There are genuinely interesting episodes that each could have made excellent novellas, particularly Nelsen’s experience as a indentured archaeologist on the Moon’s FarSide, his encounters with the sentient vegetables of Syrtis Major.  I’d call the book a juvenile, but the subject matter isn’t quite naive enough.  I give the overall effort 2.5 stars. 

Now if only someone would tell Gallun that “enormity” is not a synonym for “vastness”…