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[November 19, 1961] See Change (December 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Every successful endeavor goes through the cycle of growth, stability, decline, and renewal (or death, in which case, there’s no cycle).  Science fiction magazines are no exception.  A particularly far-sighted editor can plan for decline by setting up a successor.  For instance Galaxy‘s H.L. Gold has turned over the reigns to Fred Pohl with no apparent drop in the digest’s quality.  Anthony Bourchier transitioned to Robert Mills at F&SF, and I understand that Renaissance Man Avram Davidson is waiting in the wings to take over.  That event can’t happen too soon, as F&SF has been lackluster of late.

Analog has had the same master since the early 30s: John W. Campbell.  And while Campbell has effected several changes in an attempt to revive his flagging mag (including a name change, from Astounding; the addition of a 20-page “slick” section in the middle of issues; and a genuinely effective cover design change (see below)), we’ve still had the same guy at the stick for three decades.  Analog has gotten decidedly stale, consistently the worst of The Big Three (in my estimation).

You can judge for yourself.  Just take a gander at the December 1961 issue.  It does not do much, if anything, to pull the once-great magazine from its shallow dive:

As has been the case for a couple of years now, the serialized novel (in this case, the first part of Black Man’s Burden, by Mack Reynolds) is the best part of the book.  Burden is the story of modernization in near-future North Africa.  Reynolds is currently living in the Mahgreb, so his tale is laced with authentic cultural insight.  Reynolds’ Tuareg tribesmen read like the best-developed sf alien cultures…except they’re for real!  I’m looking forward to see where this goes; rating reserved until I’ve read the whole thing.

Next up is a cute little time travel story involving an historian who attempts to change the course of events for a little nascent country called Texas.  I’ve never heard of R. R. Fehrenbach, so I assume Remember the Alamo! is his first story.  As such it’s not bad, though I tend to prefer my viewpoint not wander from character to character at the convenience of the author.  Three stars.

Tom Godwin is a fellow whose works get published in the magazines I don’t follow, so The Helpful Hand of God is the first story of his I’ve read.  Rapacious Terran Empire is thwarted by a bevy of scantily clad conscientious objectors.  Readable, but not very good.  Two stars.

This issue’s cake-taker is the ridiculous “science fact” article by Randall Garrett: Engineer’s Art.  It’s on dowsing, fer chrissakes.  You know, that mystical art of finding water by holding a couple of steel rods in front of you?  Truly a new low for this magazine.  One star.


How Campbell finds his stories and articles

It’s followed by a short, uncredited piece on a Neptune Orbit Observatory, whose main purpose would be to derive accurate distances to the stars through trigonometry (we’d know the angles and the length of the base of the triangle made up of points Earth, Neptune, and target star; the longer the base can be, the more precise our ability to measure the other sides of the triangle).  It’s a cute idea, though I suspect our telescopes will be good enough for the task long before our interplanetary engines are developed sufficiently for exploration of the eighth planet.  Three stars.

Randall Garrett (as David Gordon) offers up some fiction in the form of The Foreign Hand-Tie, a story of telepathic Cold War espionage.  As such things go, it’s not bad.  Reynolds probably could have done it better, but he can’t write the entire issue, can he?  Three stars.

Finally, the disappointing Sleight of Wit, by Gordon Dickson, portraying a battle of brains between a human planetary scout and his alien competitor.  It is disappointing because it requires the alien to be so featherbrained, the course of events the human relies on so convoluted.  Gordy does better when he ignores this mag.  Two stars.

Analog has only topped a three-star overall rating thrice this year, and this wasn’t one of those times.  That’s pretty lousy.  F&SF has done it seven times, and Galaxy never earned less than three.  I’ll be very surprised if Analog gets nominated for the Hugo for 1961. 

It’s time for a change, methinks.

[September 18, 1961] Balancing Act (October 1961 Analog)

Science fiction digests are a balancing act.  An editor has to fill a set number of pages every month relying solely on the stories s/he’s got at her/his disposal.  Not to mention the restrictions imposed if one wants to publish an “all-star” or otherwise themed issue. 

Analog has got the problem worst of all of the Big Three mags.  Galaxy is a larger digest, so it has more room to play with.  F&SF tends to publish shorter stories, which are more modular.  But Analog usually includes a serialized novel and several standard columns leaving only 100 pages or so in which to fit a few bigger stories.  If the motto of The New York Times is “All the news that’s fit to print,” then Analog’s could well be, “All the stories that fit, we print.”

How else to explain the unevenness of the October 1961 Analog?  The lead novella, Lion Loose, by James Schmitz, is 60 pages of unreadability.  It’s a shame since Schmitz has written some fine work before, but I simply unable to finish this tale of space piracy and teleporting animals.  Your mileage may vary.  One star.

Gordie Dickson’s Love Me True fares better, though it is a bit Twilight Zone-esque.  Space explorer risks all to bring a cute fuzzy-wuzzy back from Alpha Centauri as a pet.  In the end, it turns out the bonds of domestication run the other way.  Nicely written, but the idea is two decades behind the times.  Three stars.

The Asses of Balaam is Randall Garrett’s contribution, under the pseudonym “David Gordon” used by many Analog writers.  It’s the best piece in the book (didn’t expect that from Garrett!), a first contact story told from the point of view of some all-too human aliens.  I particularly appreciated the imaginative setting, the priority placed on ecological conservation, and the cute (if not unpredictable) twist at the end.  I must say – Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics have become axiomatic to all science fiction.  Four stars. 


by Schoenherr

Now, the science fact column of Analog is the worst of those included in the Big Three mags, usually filled with the crankiest of crank hypotheses.  I have to give credit to editor Campbell’s printing of Report on the Electric Field Rocket, by model rocketeer, G. Harry Stine.  This report is, in fact, an experimental refutation of H.C. Dudley’s dubious proposal to use the Earth’s electric field to help launch rockets.  Actual science!  Three stars.

Harry Harrison’s Sense of Obligation continues, to be completed next issue.  It’s reminiscent of Harrison’s excellent Deathworld in that it features a man made superhero by virtue of having grown up on a hostile planet.  Sense is not as good as Deathworld, though.  Full rating when it finishes.

That leaves The Man Who Played to Lose, another disappointing outing from a normally good author, in this case, Laurence Janifer (writing as “Larry M. Harris).  Interstellar Super Spy is sent to a planet in the throes of civil war.  His job is to stop the insurrection – by making it too successful!  A smug, implausible story, with far too much preaching at its tail.  Two stars.

This all adds up to a sub-par score of 2.6 stars out of 5.  This is not the worst Analog has gotten, but it’s not all that unusual, either.  This is why it usually takes me the longest to get through an issue of Campbell’s magazine.

Next up… a special article from a surprising source!

[July 15, 1961] Saving Grace (The August 1961 Analog)

Recently, I told you about Campbell’s lousy editorial in the August 1961 Analog that masqueraded as a “science-fact” column.  That should have been the low point of the issue.  Sadly, with one stunning exception, the magazine didn’t get much better.

For instance, almost half the issue is taken up by Mack Reynold’s novella, Status Quo.  It’s another of his future cold-war pieces, most of which have been pretty good.  This one, about a revolutionary group of “weirds,” who plan to topple an increasingly conformist American government by destroying all of our computerized records, isn’t.  It’s too preachy to entertain; its protagonist, an FBI agent, is too unintelligent to enjoy (even if his dullness is intentional); the tale is too long for its pay-off.  Two stars.

That said, there are some interesting ideas in there.  The speculation that we will soon become over-reliant on social titles rather than individual merit, while Campbellian in its libertarian sentiment, is plausible.  There is already an “old boy’s club” and it matters what degrees you have and from which school you got them.  It doesn’t take much to imagine a future where the meritocracy is dead and nepotism rules.

And, while it’s hard to imagine a paperless society, should we ever get to the point where the majority of our records only exist within the core memories of a few computers, a few revolutionaries hacking away at our central repositories of knowledge could have quite an impact, indeed! 

Flamedown, by H.B. Fyfe is a forgettable short piece about a spaceman who crashes onto the surface of a Barsoomian Mars and is trailed by a lynch mob of angry Martians.  There is a twist at the end, but it’s a limp one.  Two stars.

I don’t know who Walter B. Gibson is, but his impassioned defense of psionics in our legal system, The Unwanted Evidence, is wretched.  It reads like a series of newspaper clippings from the back page of the newspaper, or maybe one of those sensational books on UFOs and mystic events that are in vogue.  One star.

Analog perennial Randall Garrett, an author I tend to dislike (yet one of Campbell’s favored sons) gives us Hanging by a Thread, about an interplanetary ship holed by a meteor.  It could have been engaging, but the smug, detached tone, and the overly technical and uninteresting solution make this a dreary read.  Perhaps even Garrett knew he could do better; maybe that’s why he penned this one under the name “David Gordon.”  Two stars.


by Douglas

Laurence Janifer also appears a lot in Analog, often paired with Garrett (either as a true duet, or just side by side).  He’s usually the better of the two, but Lost in Translation is a typical lousy “clever Terrans beat aliens” story, not worth your time.  Again, it’s pseudonymous (Larry M. Harris), perhaps on purpose.  Two stars.

This is a pretty damning litany, isn’t it?  A series of 2-star stories and a pair of 1-star “science fact” articles.  Is there any reason I don’t just toss this issue into the kindling box?

There is.

Cyril Kornbluth shuffled off this mortal coil far too soon, some three years ago.  He wrote a lot, both by himself and with partners.  Perhaps his most famous partnership was with Fred Pohl, who now runs Galaxy and IF magazines.  The Pohl/Kornbluth pair is best known for their novels, including the acclaimed The Space Merchants, but they also produced a plethora of short stories.  Interestingly, many have only reached print after Kornbluth’s death.  I can only imagine these were skeletal affairs that Pohl has recently completed.

The Quaker Cannon, their latest piece, is very good.  It’s the story of First Lieutenant Kramer, a veteran of a war fought in the 1970s, between East and West.  In this war, he had been captured by the Communists and subjected to complete sensory deprivation as a torture and interrogation technique.  Unlike most of his captured compatriots, he neither went incurably mad nor held out until death.  He simply resisted as long as he could, then he cracked and gave up what he knew.  He was later repatriated.

Now 38 and still a First Lieutenant despite years of service, blacklisted from any significant role, he is suddenly recruited into Project Ripsaw: a new attempt to invade Asia.  As the commanding general’s aide-de-camp, he oversees Ripsaw’s growth from a cadre of three to an organization of hundreds of thousands, privy to all of the unit’s secrets and plans. 

As the vast force prepares to invade, Kramer learns of “The Quaker Cannon,” a parallel invasion unit that exists only on paper.  Its purpose is to serve as a blind to confuse the enemy as to the real plan.  The Soviets call this kind of deception maskirova, and it’s worked time and time again.

Just prior to D-Day, Kramer is betrayed to the enemy.  In short order, the Lieutenant is back in the “Blank Tank,” all of his senses completely deadened.  Hours pass by in seconds, each a drag on his sanity.  Though Kramer’s defiance is admirable, his ultimate submission, as before, is only a matter of time.  He, of course, divulges the Ripsaw plan in its entirety.  When Kramer returns to coherence, he is back home.  Rather than being punished for his lapse, he is given a high honor.

Ripsaw was the ghost.  “The Quaker Cannon” was the real invasion.  Kramer’s confession was all part of the plan.  The story ends with that reveal.

In the hands of Randall Garrett, or even Mack Reynolds, the focus would have been on the gimmick, to the detriment of the story.  Pohl and Kornbluth let Kramer be the narrator, albeit in a third person fashion.  They paint a vivid portrait of a battle-fatigued soldier, almost numb to life (as though he never left the Blank Tank) until Ripsaw gives him purpose again.  We are made to feel his anxiety at the thought and ultimately the reality of returning to the Blank Tank.  We feel disgust at his being used as a tool, yet we also fundamentally understand why.  Cannon is not a triumphant story.  It is a beautifully told, weary story of a weary man, not only capturing the psyche of a battered soldier, but also the perversity of the military structure and mentality.

Hard stuff, but it deserves five stars. 

So, as a whole, the issue gets just 2.2 stars.  Nevertheless, thanks to that half-posthumous pair, the August 1961 Analog will be reserved a place on my shelf, not in the garbage. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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With a grain of salt… (May 1959 Astounding, first half; 4-21-1959)

The penultimate magazine offering this month, at least that has made it into my house for review, is Astounding.  As always, my bar is pretty low with that mag, though last month’s issue made me dare to hope.

In fact, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the May issue.  This may come out rather stream of consciousness, so bear with me!

Gordy Dickson, who has written much I like, starts a new serial this month uninspiringly called Dorsai! I am both enjoying it and somewhat off-put by it.  It’s the story of a young mercenary from a planet whose primary export is mercenaries.  It is written in this sober, manly style, and there is lots of posturing and fighting.  At the center of it all is the sole female character, who is bound by contract to a rather odious fellow, and whom it appears the protagonist is trying to save, somehow.

Story-wise, it’s not really my cup of tea.  Yet it is well written, and I’ve seen enough of Dickson’s work to know that he is facile in a number of styles (i.e. he must be writing this way for a reason) so I’m going to go with it and see where it takes me.  I will send you postcards along the way.

We didn’t do anything wrong, hardly, by Roger Kuykendall (of whom I know nothing) might well be called I didn’t write anything, hardly.  Children build a space ship out of spare parts and snag a Russian satellite.  I guess Campbell is reduced to buying Danny Dunn rejects these days.

(Please note that Mr. Kuykendall has given me permission to distribute his story, but Mr. Campbell has not.  If he expresses his displeasure, I shall let you know.)


by EMSH

Cum Grano Salis isn’t bad.  Of course, I had to get past the distaste that just comes naturally from seeing “Randall Garrett” on the byline (or, in this case, his nom de plume, David Brown).  In this tale, a colonizing team (all men, natch) are stuck on a planet with too few provisions to survive until relief.  All of the food on the planet tests poisonous.  Yet one crewmember, a hypochondriac with a supply of nostrums, manages to eat the local fruit and thrive.  The solution is interesting.

(Again, I have distribution permission from the author, not the editor.)

So that takes me exactly half-way through the magazine, so I will leave the other half (including a rather good tale by George O. Smith) for day-after-tomorrow.  Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!

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A challenge to you (Despoiler of the Golden Empire; 2-12-1959)

Today’s article is going to be quite brief, not because I don’t have much to say, but because I want your input, and saying anything about the topic at hand will spoil it.

Suffice it to say, I have schlepped the March 1959 Astounding with me to Hawai’i in back (and the paper, as I left, mentioned that the territory is already planning a big party for its impending, but yet unscheduled, statehood).  Yet I only got around to start reading it yesterday. 


Illustration by Kelly Freas

The lead novella is Despoiler of the Golden Empire, by David Gordon (really the beloved Randall Garrett in disguise).  Now, I want you to read this story, not because it is amazing, but because Randall is trying to do something here, and I want to know if you think he succeeded.  I’ll give my thoughts in the next article so you have time gather and communicate your thoughts.

“But I don’t have the March 1959 Astounding!” I hear you wail.  Fear not.  I have graciously been granted permission by the author to freely distribute this piece.  It thus follows this column entirely uncut and unexpurgated.

Despoiler of the Golden Empire by Randall Garrett.

Don’t worry–there is no brutalization of women in this one.  There are, in fact, no women.  It’s probably better that way.



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