Tag Archives: donald westlake

[April 20, 1962] Boot Camp (May 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Science fiction magazines are not created equal.

Every editor brings her/his own slant to their magazine’s theme.  For instance, Cele Goldsmith strikes an old-fashioned chord, reviving classics from the Pulp Era in Amazing and Fantastic.  Fred Pohl keeps things reliable (if not exceptional) in Galaxy, but showcases new and innovative works in IF.  Before it went under, Fantastic Universe devoted much ink to flying saucer stories and articles.

And as you will soon see, Analog is preoccupied with psychic powers and pseudo-scientific quackery (a redundant phrase?).  Viz, the May 1962 issue:

Anything You Can Do! (Part 1 of 2), by Darrell T. Langart

As you might have guessed, Mr. “Langart”‘s name is really an anagram for Analog perennial, Randall Garrett (this is another way magazines are differentiated – they each have a stable of regular authors).  Generally, when Garrett uses a pseudonym, it means he’s got another piece in the magazine; more on that later.

Anything is a surprisingly (for Garrett) capable story about a single alien invader, and the man who is recruited and intensively trained to stop the extraterrestrial’s acts of violence and theft.  It’s the second time one of his stories has featured gifted identical twins, one of whom has a disability which turns out to be an asset (see The Foreign Hand-Tie.  It is also a story that very well could take place in the same universe as the recent “Ship Named MacGuire” series.  So far, it’s shaping up to be a good short novel.  Four stars.

The Next Logical Step, by Ben Bova

Recent author Ben Bova (who prefers to describe a genius as “a regular Galileo” rather than “a regular Einstein”) hasn’t turned in anything particularly impressive to date.  Step is about a military wargaming computer that delivers a full-sensory experience, one that almost inevitably depicts even small brushfire wars ending in global conflagration.  Simulated Mutually Assured Destruction.  Nice concept, but heavy handed and perfunctorily executed.  Two stars.

Nor Iron Bars a Cage…, by Johnathan Blake MacKenzie

I’m not sure that this piece of crime fiction, in which an American and British team of detectives track down a child molester, really belongs here.  It starts promisingly enough, but then just sort of degenerates into mediocrity, particularly the eight pages of psychological exposition at the end.  I also did not appreciate the lumping of child rapists and gay people – according to the recent eye-opening television special on homosexuals, The Rejected, perhaps as much as 40% of the population is queer to some degree, and all of them are human beings with a normal distribution of traits (negative and positive).  Two stars.

By the way, I’m pretty sure Mr. “MacKenzie” is Randall Garrett in disguise.  The story has his fingerprints on it, and he’s already appeared pseudonymously earlier in the issue.

The Fourth Law of Motion, by Dr. William O. Davis

Editor Campbell is always trying to prove that the “Dean Drive,” a purportedly reactionless engine that would overturn the laws of physics as we know them, is a legitimate invention.  To that end, he’s enlisted the aid of a Dr. Davis, the head of a Connecticut paper company.  At first, I dismissed the article as hot air, but I think it does make some interesting points (even if they probably don’t support the efficacy of Dean’s Drive).

Davis suggests that Newton’s famous equation, F=ma, needs to be modified to reflect that, when an object is accelerated, it doesn’t do so all at once.  The force pushes on the object’s nearest components first, and the impact then ripples along the object in a wave until the whole thing is in motion.  Basically, physical bodies can respond to forces “out of phase” with each other.  This is not a revolutionary concept – there’s even a name for it: “starting transient.” 

That this jerk or change in acceleration could have other effects is interesting, and I’d like to know more about them.  But my college training was in physics.  For the rest of you, I suspect this dry explication on the third derivative of position will be must-skip material.  Two stars.

Sight Gag, by Larry M. Harris

Mr. Harris is really Laurence M. Janifer, who is not only a regular at Analog, but frequently writes in collaboration with Mr. Garrett.  I’ve liked some of his stuff very much, but this gimmick story about a vengeful fellow who goes after a psionic G-Man reads like something out of the early 50s.  Three stars, since it’s decently told.  No more, because of the hoary format.

Look Before You Leap, by Donald E. Westlake

This one opens so well, with a terrified Air Force boot teleporting from a particularly harrowing episode of Basic Training and then, in equal fright, zapping right back.  He is the latest result (victim) of a controlled stress test conducted by a certain Colonel.  The officer’s goal is to sieve out the psionically gifted by monitoring the most difficult situation a human can face this side of the battlefield.

Sadly, by about halfway through, the story ends up twice as padded as it needs to be, and the compounding of indignity and torture upon the recruit in an attempt to make him duplicate his initial feat is both unpleasant and unrealistically shrugged off at the story’s end.  Two stars.

***

2.6 stars and a grinding slog.  I feel like I’ve just spent a week in Basic.  Well, there’s always next month…

[September 8, 1961] What makes a Happy?  (October 1961 Galaxy)


by Gideon Marcus

It doesn’t take much to make me happy: a balmy sunset on the beach, a walk along Highway 101 with my family, Kathy Young on the radio, the latest issue of Galaxy.  Why Galaxy?  Because it was my first science fiction digest; because it is the most consistent in quality; because it’s 50% bigger than other leading brands!

And the latest issue (October 1961) has been an absolute delight with a couple of the best stories I’ve seen in a long while.  Come take a look with me – I promise it’ll be worth your while.

First up is A Planet Named Shayol, by Cordwainer Smith.  Smith’s is a rare talent.  There are few writers who not only excel at their craft, but they somehow transcend it, creating something otherworldly in its beauty.  Ted Sturgeon can do it.  I’m having trouble thinking of others in this class.  Almost every Smith story has this slightly lilting, 10% off-plane sense to it. 

Shayol is set in the far future universe of the “Instrumentality,” a weird interstellar human domain with people on top, beast creatures as servants, and robots at the bottom of the social totem pole.  This particular novelette introduces us to the most peculiar and forbidding of Devil’s Islands, the planet Shayol.  Just maintaining one’s humanity in such a place of horrors is a triumph.  The story promises to be a hard read, yet Smith manages to skirt the line of discomfort to create a tale of hope with an upbeat ending.  Plus, Smith doesn’t shy from noble woman characters.  Five stars.

Robert Bloch comes and goes with little stories that are either cute, horrific, or both.  Crime Machine, about a 21st Century boy who takes a trip back to the exciting days of gangster Chicago, is one of the former variety.  Three stars.

Another short one is Amateur in Chancery by George O. Smith.  A sentimental vignette about a scientist’s frantic efforts to retrieve an explorer trapped on Venus by a freak teleportation mishap.  Slight but sweet.  Three stars.

I’m not quite sure I understood The Abominable Earthman, by Galaxy’s editor, Fred Pohl.  In it, Earth is conquered by seemingly invincible aliens, but one incorrigible human is the key to their defeat.  The setup is good, but the end seemed a bit rushed.  Maybe you’ll like it better than me.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s science article is about the reclaimed lowlands of Holland.  It’s a fascinating topic, almost science fiction, but somehow Ley’s treatment is unusually dull.  I feel as if he’s phoning in his articles these days.  Two stars.


Art by Dick Francis

Mating Call, by Frank Herbert, is another swing and miss.  An interesting premise, involving a race that reproduces parthenogenetically via musical stimulation, is ruined by a silly ending.  Two stars.

Jack Sharkey usually fails to impress, but his psychic first contact story, Arcturus times Three, is a decent read.  You’ll definitely thrill as the Contact Agent possesses the bodies of several alien animals in a kind of psionic planetary survey.  What keeps Arcturus out of exceptional territory is the somehow unimaginative way the exotic environs and species are portrayed.  Three stars.

If you are a devotee of the coffee house scene, or if you just dig Maynard G. Krebs on Dobie Gillis, then you’re well acquainted with the Beat scene.  Those crazy kooks with their instruments and their poetry, living a life decidedly rounder than square.  It’s definitely a groove I fall in, and I look forward to throwing away my suit and tie when I can afford to live the artistic life.  Fritz Leiber’s new story, The Beat Cluster is about a little slice of Beatnik heaven in orbit, a bunch of self-sufficient bubbles with a gaggle of space-bound misfits — if you can get past the smell, it sure sounds inviting.  I love the premise; the story doesn’t do much, though.  Three stars.

Last up is Donald Westlake, a fellow I normally associate with action thrillers.  His The Spy in the Elevator is kind of a minor masterpiece.  Not so much in concept (set in an overcrowded Earth where everyone lives in self-contained city buildings) but in execution.  It takes skill to weave exposition with brevity yet comprehensiveness into a story’s hook – and it does hook.  Westlake also keeps a consistent, believable viewpoint throughout the story, completely in keeping with the setting.  I find myself giving it five stars, for execution, if nothing else.

Add it all up and what do you get?  3.3 stars out of 5, and at least one story that could end up a contender for the 1961 Hugos (I really enjoyed the Westlake, but I feel it may not be avante garde enough for the gold rocket).  Now that’s something to smile about!

[August 13, 1961] Predicting the Future (September 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Everyone who writes has got an agenda, but Science fiction writers may be the most opinionated of authors.  That’s because their pigeon involves prediction, which in turn, is a personal interpretation of current trends.  They can’t help but express their own biases in their work.  And so we have Robert Heinlein and his penchant for plugging love of cats, libertarianism, and nudism (not necessarily in that order!).  Dr. Asimov denounces anti-scientific themes in his works.  It is no secret that I advocate for the equal representation of women and minorities.

John W. Campbell, editor of the monthly science fiction digest, Analog, is a big fan of psi – the ability of the human mind to alter matter.

Psi is one of those “pseudo-sciences.”  To date, I don’t think there has been a scrap of compelling research as to the existence of ESP or telepathy or precognition, save in the parlors of the less reputable carnivals.  Yet it can make for interesting storytelling, a sort of modern magic.  I don’t mind it so much in my stories, any more than I mind Faster than Light space travel, which is just as baseless.

That said, Campbell, who has more power projection than a single writer, is a psi fanatic.  It’s rare that an issue of Analog appears without at least one psi-related story, and most have several.

Like this month’s, the September 1961 issue:

I’ll skip over part 1 of Harry Harrison’s serial, Sense of Obligation, saving its review for after its completion.  That brings us to Donald Westlake’s short They Also Serve.  If you read Asimov’s The Gentle Vultures, about a bunch of pacifist aliens patiently waiting for humanity to blow itself up so that they could take up residence on our planet, then you’ve essentially read Westlake’s story.  It’s exactly the same plot.  Convergent evolution or recycling?  One star.

Up next is a novella by an unlikely duo: The Blaze of Noon by Randall Garrett and Avram Davidson.  My disdain for the former is well documented, but I have also noted that, when he writes with a buddy, the results are often pretty good.  Set in the far future, after an intragalactic civil war has left Earth’s outer colonies unvisited for three centuries, Blaze chronicles the attempts of a fellow named Tad to build a teleportation grid on the backward world of Hogarth.  Said planet was a metal-poor pleasure planet 300 years ago, and it has since regressed to rough feudalism.  The reasoning behind making Hogarth the first world to bring back into the fold is that, if reconnection can be accomplished under the least favorable of conditions, it can be done anywhere.

Teleportation grids require metal.  As all of Hogarth’s warlords jealously guard their own meager hoards, Tad must resort to refining magnesium and sodium from seawater, a tedious process that takes the better part of a year.  During the grid’s construction, pressure builds up between the area’s political factions, each wanting control of the build site and its increasing trove of precious metal.  On the eve of the grid’s completion, a struggle breaks out, and lusty warriors cleave into the grid’s magnesium-clad sodium beams with stone implements, attempting to steal pieces.  During a rainstorm.  The result is a chemical inferno that devours the grid and its assailants.

A decidedly downbeat ending is averted when the head of the local Barons, who foresaw the grid’s greed-fueled destruction, celebrates the fiery death of the most avaricious nobles.  Now, he believes, the stage is set for the more level-headed nobles to give up their stores of iron for the building a proper grid, one that can help everyone.

It’s a good story.  I particularly liked that Tad is unable to maintain his smug disdain for the provincial Hogarthians (which might have been the case in other stories appearing in Analog; Campbell likes his smug).  One aspect of Blaze I found puzzling, however.  Throughout the story, there is absolutely no mention of any women.  Not a single one.  To write forty pages of prose, involving a cast of thousands, and not portray a single female requires serious dedication.  Perhaps this is not misogyny but an actual prediction – in the future, humans will reproduce via a masculine form of parthenogenesis?  Four stars.

(Sadly, this is the one story in this issue on which I have been unable to secure reprinting rights.  I am in contact with the author, and I will notify you if and when this change.  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for its anthologizing, though there is no guarantee you will live to see it…

Captain H.C. Dudley is back with a science fact article, Scientific Break-throughs.  Unlike Dudley’s last one, which was rather crack-pot, his latest is a genuinely interesting piece on the myriad sub-atomic particles that have been discovered in the last decade.  Beyond electronics, neutrons, and protons, there are even smaller neutrinos and mesons and who knows what else.  There may well be no end to the layers of atomic structure, at least until we get to the turtles.  Three stars.

I promised psi, and the last third of the magazine delivers.  Walter Bupp returns with Modus Vivendi, a continuation of his previous stories set in a future where a neutron bomb blast has caused the birth of hundreds of “Stigmatized” or psi-endowed people.  I like Bupp’s take on the societal factors that stem from having a sub-race of different, superior humans; I appreciate the parallels he draws with our current inequality issues; I’ve enjoyed Bupp’s stories in the past.  However, something about the writing on this one, a bit too consciously colloquial, made Modus tough sledding.  Two stars.

Finally, there is Darell T. Langart (Randy Garrett, again) and his Fifty Per Cent Prophet.  This is also a sequel, featuring The Society for Mystical and Metaphysical Research: an agency of psi enthusiast kooks with a secret, truly psionic society within.  Prophet is about a parlor prognosticator who turns out to have a true touch of second sight.  The story’s first few pages, told from the point of view of the not-quite-sham, suggest we might be treated to a nuanced character study.  Sadly, Garrett abandons the clairvoyant for his more typical omniscient and (Campbell’s favorite) smug style. 

I wonder if Davidson wrote Prophet’s beginning.  Two stars.

I’m not a psychic, but I’m willing to make a prediction about the October 1961 Analog: It’ll be another middlin’ quality issue, and it will feature at least one story about psionics.  Anyone want to take that bet?

[August 5, 1961] In the good old Summertime! (September 1961 IF science fiction)


Gideon Marcus


by Ron Church

Summer is here!  It’s that lazy, hot stretch of time when the wisest thing to do is lie in the shade with a glass of lemonade and a good book.  Perhaps if Khruschev did the same thing, he wouldn’t be making things so miserable for the folks of West Berlin.  Well, there’s still time for Nikita to take a restful trip to the Black Sea shore.

As for me, I may not have a dacha, but I do have a beach.  Moreover, this month’s IF science fiction proved a reasonably pleasant companion during my relax time.  If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, I recommend it.  Here’s what’s inside:

Keith Laumer has made a big splash in just the last few years.  He wrote a fine three-part alternate Earth novel that came out in Fantastic earlier this year.  I look forward to covering it when it’s novelized in a few months.  Meanwhile, this month he offers us a prequel to Diplomat-at-Arms, starring his interstellar man of mystery, Retief.  It’s called The Frozen Planet, and while the setting is interesting (a quartet of frozen human worlds on the edge of the evil Soetti empire), I found it a bit too smug.  When the secret agent is too powerful, where’s the drama?  Two stars.

Mirror Image is a Daniel Galouye’s story, about a raving (but not necessarily mad) man who claims to have built a bridge to the parallel universe behind every looking glass.  It’s a B-grade plot, something you might find in the lesser annals of The Twilight Zone, but I found it engaging, nonetheless.  Three stars.

It looks like Lester del Rey has returned from vacation.  His story in August’s Galaxy, was his first in a few years.  Now, hot on its heels, is Spawning Ground, about a startling discovery made by a colonial group upon planetfall.  The set-up is good, and I greatly appreciated the inclusion of a mixed-gender crew, but the ending was too mawkish and abrupt.  Three stars.

H.B. Fyfe, whose byline can be found all over the magazines of the pulp era, has been a consistent Analog and IF contributor for the past couple of years.  None of his stories have been strong stand-outs, and this month’s Tolliver’s Orbit is no exception.  It’s a thriller set on the wastes of Ganymede featuring a pair of an interesting characters: an honest space pilot who wants no part of the graft rife in the local commercial concern, and a woman vice president of said business, sent to investigate wrong-doing.  In the hands of an expert, it could have easily garnered four or five stars.  Sadly, Fyfe phoned this one in, telling rather than showing at too many critical junctures.  Two stars.


by Ritter

On the other hand, the succeeding novella, by newcomer Charles Minor Blackford, is solid entertainment.  The Valley of the Masters depicts a space colony generations after establishment.  Its people have forgotten their technological past, and the automatic machines are beginning to fail.  Without them, the community will be swallowed by a hostile environment.  Is an enterprising young couple the only hope?  If Valley has any faults, it is that it is too short.  Four stars.

Robert Young’s The Girls from Fieu Dayol presents us with a cautionary tale: be careful when eavesdropping on a note-passing conversation — You just might end up embroiled in an interstellar husband hunt!  Cute.  Three stars.

Full disclosure: Any story with my daughter’s namesake is subject to extraordinary scrutiny.  Thankfully, Charles de Vet’s Lorelei, featuring a seductive shape-changer who haunts the stranded crew of the first Jovian expedition, is good stuff.  Three stars.

Wrapping up the issue is Donald Westlake’s novella, Call him Nemesis.  If you’re a fan of child superheroes, you’ll like it; it’s a simple story, but the execution is charming.  Three stars.

All told, the September 1961 IF clocks in at 2.9 stars out of 5.  That’s pretty respectable for this magazine, and certainly good enough for a couple of hours of summer lolling.