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[February 26, 1962] Record Beating (March 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

You’ve almost assuredly heard of Radio Corporation of America (RCA).  They make radios (naturally), but also record players, televisions, computers.  They have produced the foundations of modern consumer electronics, including the color television standard and the 45 rpm record.  And now, they’ve really outdone themselves: they’ve created cassettes for tape recording.

Until now, if you wanted to listen to music or a radio show, you had to either buy it as a pre-recorded album or record it yourself.  The only good medium for this was the Reel to Reel tape recorder – great quality, but rather a bother.  I’ve never gotten good at threading those reels, and storing them can be a hassle (tape gets crinkled, the reels unspool easily, etc.).  With these new cassettes, recording becomes a snap.  If the price goes down, I’ll have to get me one.

What brought up this technological tidbit?  Read on about the March 1962 Analog, and the motivation for this introduction will be immediately apparent.

His Master’s Voice, by Randall Garrett

The RCA-themed title for Garrett’s latest is most appropriate.  Voice is the next in the exploits of the ship called McGuire.  As we learned in the first story, McGuire is a sentient spacecraft that has imprinted on a specific person – an interplanetary double-agent working for the United Nations.  Like the last story, Voice is a whodunnit, and a bit better handled one than before, as well.  Garrett’s slowly improving, it seems.  Three stars.

Uncalculated Risk, by Christopher Anvil

Every silver lining has a cloud, and every scientific advance is a double-edged sword.  Anvil likes his scientific misadventure satires.  This one, about a soil additive that proves potentially subtractive to the world’s arable land, is preachy but fun.  Three stars.

Rough Beast, by Roger Dee

The most fearsome carnivore in the known universe breaks free from an interstellar zoo and runs amok on one of the Floria Keys.  Can a group of scientists, a host of pacifist aliens, one cranky moonshiner, and a nervous tomcat stop the creature in time?  A shaky, over-adjectived beginning, but the rest is a lot of fun (and I guessed the ending moments before it was revealed).  Four stars.

The Iron Jackass, by John Brunner

Brunner is a prolific author whose work I’ve rarely encountered, perhaps because he’s based across the pond; Rosemary Benton plans to review his newest book next month.  Jackass is a fun tale involving an off-world steel mill, the Central European miners who work it and shun automation, and the robots that threaten to put the miners out of business.  I saw shades, in Jackass, of the recent Route 66 episode, First-Class Mouliak, which took place in a Polish steel community in Pennsylvania.  Three stars. 

Power Supplies for Space Vehicles (Part 2 of 2), by J. B. Friedenberg

Mr. Friedenberg has returned to tell us more about motors of the space age.  This time, it’s all about solar-heated turbines, and it’s just about as exciting as last time.  I give credit to Friedenberg for his comprehensiveness, if not his ability to entertain.  Two stars.

Epilogue, by Poul Anderson

Anderson is going through a phase, digging on somber, after-the-end stories (witness After Doomsday).  His latest novella takes place fully three billion years in the future, after humanity has destroyed itself and self-repairing and replicating machines have taken over.  Sparks fly between silicon and carbon-based life when a crew of time-lost humans returns to its mother planet for one last farewell. 

An excellent idea, and Anderson’s typically deft characterizations, are somewhat mitigated by robots that are a bit too conventional in their culture (no matter how radical their physiology), and by the fact that, in the end, Epilogue becomes a straight technical puzzle story.  Four stars.

The Numbers

This all adds up to a 3.2-star issue, respectable for any magazine and downright shocking for Analog.  This makes it the #2 digest for March 1962 (behind F&SF at 3.8, and ahead of IF (3.2), Amazing (2.8), and Fantastic (2.5).  Women once again wrote just two of this month’s pieces, one of which was a tiny poem.  The best stories came out in F&SF, the best of which is hard to determine – the Pangborn, the Young, or the Wellman?

Stay tuned for Fantastic to start the exciting month of March!

[Oct. 21, 1961] Cause célèbre (Three years, and the November 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Three years ago, my wife pried my nose out of my sci-fi magazines.  “You’ve been reading all of these stories,” she said.  “Why not recommend some of the best ones so I can join in the fun without having to read the bad ones.”

I started a list, but after the first few titles, I had a thought.  What if, instead of making a personal list for my wife, I made a public list?  Better yet, how about I publish little reviews of the magazines as they come out?

Thus, Galactic Journey was born.

It’s been an interesting ride.  I was certain that I’d have perhaps a dozen subscribers.  Then a large ‘zine made mention of the column, and since then, we’ve been off to the races.  Our regular readers now number in the hundreds, and the full-time staff of The Journey is eight, going on nine.  We’ve been guests at several conventions around the West Coast, and we’ve been honored with one of fandom’s most prestigious awards.

All thanks to you.  So please join us in a birthday toast to the Galactic Journey family. 

Speaking of significant dates, this month marks the end of an era.  Astounding Science Fiction, founded in 1930, quickly became one of the genre’s strongest books under the stewardship of Editor John W. Campbell.  Last year, Campbell decided it was time to strike out in a new direction, starting with a new name of the magazine.  The process has been a gradual one.  First, the word, Analog, was slowly substituted month after month over Astounding.  The spine name changed halfway through this transition.  As of this month, the cover reads Analog Science Fiction.  I am given to understand that next month, it will simply say Analog

I think it’s a dopey name, but it’s the contents that matter, right?  So let’s see what Campbell gave us this month:

Well, not a whole lot, numerically.  There are just five pieces, but most of them are quite lengthy. 

First up is a novella by Analog perennial, Chris Anvil: No Small Enemy.  It combines two common Analog tropes, Terran supremacy and psionics.  In this case, an alien invasion is defeated by doughty humans using psychic talents.  It should be terrible, and the coincidence of the extaterrestrial onslaught and humanity’s discovery of ESP strains credulity.  Nevertheless, it’s actually not a bad read, and it suggests Anvil will do well when he’s not writing for Campbell’s unique fetishes.  In fact, we know that to be the case based on last year’s Mind Partner, published in Galaxy.  Three stars.

Jim Wannamaker’s Attrition features a fairly conventional set-up.  Interstellar scout is dispatched to determine why a previous scout mission failed to return from an alien world.  Where it fails in originality, it succeeds in execution.  It’s a decent mystery, and the characterization and deft writing make it worth reading.  Four stars.

Things go downhill in the science fact section of the magazine, as they often do.  A Problem in Communication, by George O. Smith, is a weird piece about how the two brains of a Brontosaurus might talk to each other.  It is followed up by Hal Clement’s Gravity Insufficient, an attempt to describe how magnetic fields modulate the Sun’s tempestuous flares.  It starts out like gangbusters but then fizzles into incomprehensibility.  Both pieces get two stars.

That leaves (Part 3 of 3) of Sense of Obligation, by Harry Harrison, which I’ll review next time.  All told, this issue garners 3 stars.  Given some of the real clunkers Campbell churned out this year, this may represent a good augury for this newly renamed digest.  I’d hate for them to go the way of the dinosaurs…

[June 16, 1961] Analog astounds… (July 1961 Analog)


Thomas

I’m going to stun you all today. 

There are plenty of writers in this genre we call science fiction (or sometimes “scientificition” or “s-f”).  I’ve encountered over 130 of them in just the few years that this column has been extant.  Some are routinely excellent; many are excellently routine.  A few have gotten special attention for being lousy.

One such writer is Randall Garrett.

This is the fellow whose smug misogyny and his utter conformity to John Campbell’s peculiar editorial whims made his works some of the worst I had the displeasure to review.  Sure, the stuff he wrote with other authors (Bob Silverberg and Laurence Janifer, for instance) was readable, but when he went solo, it was a virtual guarantee of disaster.  It is thus with no undue trepidation that I dug into this month’s Analog which features Garrett’s pen in the first two tales.

Folks, I’m as amazed as you are.  They were actually pretty good.

For instance, A Spaceship named McGuire, about an investigator who travels to Ceres to find out why a brainy spaceship consistently goes insane, has a solid hook, a good female character, vivid settings, and a crunchy adherence to science.  My main beef with McGuire is that it’s a mystery, but rather than giving us clues, Garrett just tells the gimmick at the end.  It feels rushed and arbitrary.  It’d probably make a good novel, though.  Three stars.

Tinker’s Dam is by Joseph Tinker, a name so clearly pseudonymous that it must belong to a fellow with another piece in this issue.  Based on the style, I’ll eat my hat if it’s not also a Garrett story.  Anyway, it’s about telepaths in the near future and the national security risk they pose.  Not only is it a pretty interesting piece, but it stars a fellow of Romany extraction (unfortunately nicknamed “Gyp,” but he seems fine with it).  It’s an ethnicity one doesn’t often see in stories, and it lends color to Dam without being the point.  Three stars.


Van Dongen

Herbert D. Kastle wrote an admirable first piece in Galaxy last month; his submission for the July Analog, The First One , suggests that Breakdown wasn’t a fluke.  First tells of a man’s somber homecoming.  He is both famous and yet changed: strangely repellent, alone even in the presence of friends and family.  The reveal is fairly well telegraphed and not particularly momentous, but I assume there is a deliberate metaphor here for the experience of returning battle fatigued soldiers.  It’s about two pages too long though it is never bad.  Three stars.

On the other hand, Chris Anvil’s The Hunch, about a Galactic Scout sent out in a ship full of untested equipment, is just silly.  Some might find the hero’s tribulations as he thumbs through endless manuals to be comical.  I found it stupid.  Two stars.

The rest of the issue is take up with Harry B. Porter’s incredibly dull article on high-temperature rocket materials (Hell’s own problem; one star) and the exciting conclusion to Simak’s The Fisherman (four stars). 

Summed up, the book gets an uninspiring 2.7 stars.  On the other hand, there is a lot of readable stuff in here, and at this point, I should be used to Campbell’s inability to get a decent science writer.  Moreover, if Randy Garrett has finally learned to write, that bodes well for issues to come given his perennial relationship with Analog.

A cup half-full, I’d say!

ADDENDUM:

A fan in the know tells me my guess was wrong, and Tinker’s Dam was actually by John Berryman.  That makes sense — he is also an Analog regular, and he writes readable stories about things psychic.  Thanks to Tom Smith for pointing that out!

[April 18, 1961] Starting on the wrong foot (May 1961 Analog)

Gideon Marcus, age 42, lord of Galactic Journey, surveyed the proud column that was his creation.  Three years in the making, it represented the very best that old Terra had to offer.  He knew, with complete unironic sincerity, that the sublimity of his articles did much to keep the lesser writers in check, lest they develop sufficient confidence to challenge Gideon’s primacy.  This man, this noble-visaged, pale-skinned man, possibly Earth’s finest writer, knew without a doubt that this was the way to begin all of his stories…

…if he wants to be published in Analog, anyway.  One might suggest to John Campbell that he solicit stories with more subtle openings.  To be fair, the May 1961 isn’t actually that bad, but every time a piece begins in the fashion described above, I feel like I’ve discovered a portal to 1949’s slush pile.

Case in point is Chris Anvil’s Identification.  I know Chris has got a good story in him somewhere, but not when he submits to Campbell.  This tale is about the use of actual bugs, psychically linked to a human operator, to eavesdrop on and prevent potential instances of crime.  It’s not a bad premise, but the story is too padded at the beginning and end, and too clunky in the middle.  Two stars.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Death and the Senator, on the other hand, is very good.  What evil irony for an anti-space politician when it turns out that space offers the cure to a fatal heart condition.  An intense, personal story, with some plausible speculation on the world circa 1976.  Four stars.

I can perhaps forgive Join our gang? for being Sterling Lanier’s first piece.  It is the distillation of all that is wrong with Analog — not only is the Terran Empire the strongest force in the universe, but the animals of Earth are the toughest in the universe.  And preventative genocide is acceptable diplomacy.  I can’t make this up, folks!  Two stars.

The teeter-totter goes up again with James Schmitz’s Gone Fishin’, as one might expect given his quite good Summer Guests from a couple of years back.  It starts out with the same hoary formula, but where it goes is quite surprising.  It’s basically the The Door through Space concept done right.  Three stars; there’s gold in there, but it gets docked for the slow beginning and the somewhat know-it-all air at the end.

There’s a G. Harry Stine “non-fiction” article.  It’s not worth reprinting, this piece about how science fiction writers are too conservative in their predictions given how fast everything is moving these days.  He includes a bunch of asymptotic curves that indicate, among other things, that we will have hyperdrive by 1980 and crushing overpopulation by the end of the century.  I believe that one should not interpret the trends of the last two decades as representative of a sustainable pace; rather, they represent a quantum jump to a new plateau.  In support of this observation is Enovid, the new “birth control” pill that will, mark my words, blow a hole in Malthusian population growth predictions.  Two stars.

The rest of the magazine comprises Part II of Cliff Simak’s promising The Fisherman, which I won’t spoil at this time.  All told, it’s a 3-star mag — imagine how much higher it could be if Analog’s authors could figure out a better way to start their stories!

[March 18, 1961] Bad Luck of the Non-Irish (April 1961 Analog)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  It’s a banner year for Irishmen, particularly with one having reached the top spot in the country, if not the world.  And did you know that the phrase, “Luck of the Irish,” actually referred to the knack of Irish immigrants and Americans of Irish descent for becoming wealthy in the Silver and Gold Rushes of the last century?  Though the term was often used derisively by folks who thought the fortune was ill-earned.

My luck with Analog, deserved or not, ran out this month.  With the exception of the opening serial installment, The Fisherman, by Cliff Simak (which I have not yet read but look forward to), the April 1961 Analog has been singularly unimpressive.

One wonders if John Campbell deliberately alternates good issues with bad ones—I’d think he’d be better served by ensuring each magazine had at least one worthy tale!  Perhaps he plum ran out.

Take J.F. Bone’s brief A Prize for Edie, for example.  A trio of teeth-gnashing members of the Nobel Prize committee agonize over giving the honor to a computer.  Disappointingly silly, and, as seems to be a theme this issue, it misses the opportunity to make a deeper point.  Two stars.

Lloyd Biggle, Jr’s Still, Small Voice had some promise: A Cultural Service agent is sent to an alien world to succeed where the Interplanetary Relations Bureau had failed, namely, to convert a centuries-old absolute monarchy into a democracy.  In particular, I appreciated how the aliens were depicted as an artistic race, and that music was the key to progress.  But the thing is sloppily written with a number of duplicated phrases, the alien race is utterly human, and the story a bit too condescending in tone.  The first betrays too light an editorial touch, and the others spotlight a lack of editorial discrimination.  Two stars.

Interestingly enough, John Campbell’s nonfiction piece is the most engaging part of the issue.  Normally, the stuff he writes himself is dreadful; he often shills for one kind of junk science or another.  This time, he’s back to his hobby of photography, but on an interesting tangent.  He showcases a new kind of light source, an electroluminescent panel that looks for all the world like a thick sheet of paper.  Pretty neat stuff—I could see it becoming a feature of future science fiction stories.  Three stars.

Back to the dreary stories, Pandora’s Planet, by Chris Anvil (whose best work always appears outside of Analog), is another “Earthmen are just plain better at everything than everyone else” story.  In this case, some fuzzy humanoids can’t seem to win a war to subjugate a planet’s native race without the help of some plucky, original Terrans.  The point of the piece seems to be that unorthodox war is just as valid as “real” war, and stuffy rigidity will only lead to failure.  That’s fine so far as it goes, but the canny Terran tactics aren’t that innovative, and the stodginess of the fuzzies is insufficiently explored.  Two stars.

That leaves us with Next Door, Next World by lesser magazine perennial, Robert Donald Locke (often writing under the pseudonym, Roger Arcot).  The premise is great: A hyperdrive makes travel to the stars a matter of weeks rather than millennia, but with the side effect that one never returns to quite the same time track one left.  The execution is lousy, however, with plenty of insipid dialogue, stupid characters, and lots of padding.  Again, the impression I got was that Campbell was in a hurry and took what he could get without requesting revision.  And it’s yet another piece with a beginning along the lines of, “Clint Hugearms stood near his trusty spaceship, tanned and sturdy features marking him as the protagonist of the story.”  I’m starting to think Campbell inserts these openings into all of his submissions.  Two stars.

I apologize to my readers who want only to hear about the good stuff; however, by jingo, if I have to read the drek, you have to read about it!  Perhaps the Simak will yet knock my socks off.  It is not uncommon that a given Astounding’s stories are bad, but its serial is good (e.g. The High Crusade and Deathworld, for instance).

I’ve a surprise for my readers—guest columnist Rosemary Benton will be writing the next article, and she’s graciously agreed to contribute one piece per month!  Like you, I will eagerly look forward to what she has to offer.

[July 19, 1960] A New Breed (August 1960 Galaxy)

Last year, Galaxy editor Horace Gold bowed to economic necessity, trimming the length of his magazine and slashing the per word rate for his writers.  As a result (and perhaps due to the natural attrition of authors over time), Galaxy‘s Table of Contents now features a slew of new authors.  In this month’s editorial, Gold trumpets this fact as a positive, predicting that names like Stuart, Lang, Barrett, Harmon, and Lafferty will be household names in times to come.

In a way, it is good news.  This most progressive of genres must necessarily accept new talent lest it become stale.  The question is whether or not these rookies will stay long enough to hone their craft if the money isn’t there.  I suppose there is something to be said for doing something just for the love of it.

As it turns out, the August 1960 issue of Galaxy is pretty good.  I’m particularly pleased with Chris Anvil’s lead novelette, Mind Partner.  It’s a fascinating story involving a man paid to investigate a most unusual addictive substance, the habit of which its victims are generally unable to kick.  Those that manage to break free retreat into paranoid near-catatonia or explode into random streaks of violence.

Chris is a fellow who has churned out reliably mediocre tales for Astounding (now Analog) for years, yet I’ve always felt that he was capable of more.  Just as a good director can coax a fine performance out of an actor, perhaps Anvil just needs a better editor than Campbell.

William Stuart is up next with, A Husband for My Wife, a rather conventional, but not unworthy, time travel story involving the heated competition for affection and success between two friends/nemeses, one exemplifying brains, the other brawn.  The brainy one jumps off into the future with the brawny one’s girlfriend leaving the latter stuck with the brainy one’s domineering wife.  But the meathead and the shrew will be waiting when the brain returns… 

Stuart was the new author who penned the pleasant (though ultimately dark) Inside John Barth in the last issue.  His sophomore effort is not quite as good, but I can definitely see why Gold keeps him around, and he clearly has time to write!

Non-fiction writer Willy Ley is back to his old standard, I think, with his article on the origin of legends: How to Slay Dragons.  I was particularly interested to learn that the mythical dragon, at least in the West, only goes back to the Renaissance.  Apparently the notion of winged lizards cavorting with medieval princesses is anachronistic.

Back to fiction, The Business, as Usual is Jack Sharkey’s second story in Galaxy, and it’s about as bad as his first.  Set in 1962, it portrays, satirically, the top brass of our nation figuring out what to do with a new stealth aircraft.  It’s all a set-up for a groan-worthy last line.

Sordman the Protector is an interesting, ambitious novella by serviceman Tom Purdom about a class of psychically gifted “Talents” who are both prized and reviled for their abilities.  The story is praiseworthy both for its innovative portrayal of future culture and the taut whodunit it presents.  It is clear that the author put a lot into developing the tale’s background universe.  I wonder if he intends to expand it into a novel.

Neal Barrett’s first tale, To Tell the Truth, has a cute title and an interesting set-up.  In an interstellar war where security is of paramount importance, combatants are given pain blocks against torture and suicide triggers that trip if their owners are on the verge of divulging sensitive information.  This provides strong protection for secrets when soldiers get captured.  But what if the secrets were never true to begin with?

Finally, we’ve got L.J. Stecher’s An Elephant for the Prinkip, a rather delightful piece about the difficulties of transporting pachyderms across the stars.  It’s one of those stories that shouldn’t work, being all tell and no show (literally–its narrator is a salty old captain recounting the tale at a bar), but it does.  But then, I’ve always had a soft spot for stories involving interstellar freight.

That leaves the second and final part of Fred Pohl’s short novel, Drunkard’s Walk… but I’ll cover this one separately.

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!