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[December 21, 1961] Reviewer’s Burden (January 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

I read a lot of stuff every month.  I consider it my duty, as your curator, to cover as broad a range of fiction as possible so that you can pick the stories most likely to appeal to you.  What that means is I wade through a lot of stones to find the gems.

Analog is the magazine with the highest stone/gem ratio, I’m afraid.  Nevertheless, it’s rare that an issue goes by without something to recommend it, and the January 1962 edition has at least one genuine amethyst amongst the quartz.

It is the first story, Naudsonce, by one of my favorite authors, H. Beam Piper.  Like his earlier classic, Omnilingual, it is an extra-terrestrial linguistic puzzle story.  Unlike the prior story, Naudsonce involves a living alien race, one with no discernible language, and which displays nonsensical reactions to human speech.  Is telepathy involved?  Is the Terran contact team missing a fundamental clue?

It’s an interesting riddle, to be sure, but what really sells this story is the social commentary.  From the beginning, we see that the human explorers, while not bad people, are interested in one thing: finding a colonizable planet.  The concerns of the aboriginals are casually treated, and the callous, jaded attitude of the scouts is evident, particularly at the end.  This kind of cynical self-awareness is quite rare for an Analog story, and it contrasts strongly with the utter lack of it in Mack Reynold’s serial (see below).  I also appreciated that the contact team was thoroughly integrated, ethnically and sexually; but then Piper has always been ahead of the curve on this issue.  This diversity of characters highlights that the casual rapine associated with imperialism is not an ethnic problem, but a human one.  Four stars.

Idiot Solvant, by Gordon Dickson, is a story that could have been much better.  The premise is exciting: You know how you often get flashes of inspiration when you are sleepy?  Or a solution comes to you in a dream?  Clearly, some magic happens when one’s left brain relinquishes control and lets the right go wild.  Something similar happens to the protagonist of Solvant, allowing him to accomplish some truly miraculous feats.  What kills this story, however, is the several pages of exposition that set up the gimmick.  Moreover, a story, especially a short story, only gets so much leeway before it exceeds its “hand-wave” allowance.  Dickson asserts too many premises in too short a space.  The result is a contrived mess.  Two stars.

E.C. Tubb’s Worm in the Woodwork is a competent interstellar thriller about an undertaking to save a Terran logician who has fallen into the hands of a hostile colonial star league.  The thoughtful bits involving the captive genius, Ludec, are particularly engaging.  Three stars.

The science fact pieces continue to be where Analog falls down.  Campbell went through the trouble of giving his magazine a “slick” section, using the kind of paper one normally finds in news periodicals like Time.  Nevertheless, the articles often aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.  Big Boom in Forming, by Willis Cain, has an interesting topic – explosive formed metals (where big booms press metal plate against molds to make parts) – but the piece is, by turns, overly kiddie and excessively obtuse.  Two stars.

Editor John Campbell’s When the Glaciers Go is much worse, though.  Some garbage about how rapid climate change (over the course of hours!) is evidenced by the frozen Mastodons in Siberia.  The climate is changing, and our species is a big contributing factor these days, but it don’t work like that.  Bleah.  One star.

That brings us to Black Man’s Burden (Part 2 of 2), by Mack Reynolds.  I had high hopes for this piece, about Afro-Americans spearheading efforts in Africa to promote democracy and progress.  After all, Reynolds is an accomplished writer of political thriller, and he’s spend a good deal of time in the Mahgreb.  Africa, a continent that has seen nearly twenty new nations spring up in the wake of decolonization, is a rich (and unusual) setting. 

In the end, however, Burden was a disappointment.  While no one knows where Africa is heading, I like to think that, after the normal teething pains, its states will join the community of nations as vibrant, mature members.  Reynolds’ premise is that they simply can’t, that without the aid of Westerners (Free or Communist), Africa will remain a tribal and/or despotic mess.  Or at least, that’s what the protagonists of the story all believe.  At one point, it is even asserted that Islam is a dead-end for nation-building; no Islamic country on Earth has an advanced social system.  I take particular umbrage with this idea given the flowering of the Muslim world in the “Middle Ages.” 

This idea that Africa must be boot-strapped into modernity by its abducted sons, the descendants of American slavery, is an insulting one.  It slights Africans, and it paints a veneer of redemption on “that peculiar institution.”  There is a throwaway reference to the destruction of African culture in the process of “improving” it, but it feels perfunctory.  Worst of all is this bland superiority that suffuses the whole thing.  Africans are pawns.  Americans are superior.  I appreciate that the characters of Burden are all Black, but that quality is only skin-deep.  It is, ultimately, a story of White Americans, who happen to be of dark hue.  And unlike Naudsonce, it’s played completely straight.  2 stars.

Sum it all together, and you’ve got a 2.3 star issue.  This is worse than, well, any of the magazines that came out this month.  If this is the digest that will win the Hugo, I’ve got a closet full of hats to eat…

…but Naudsonce is worth reading!

[Oct. 20, 1960] Fiction > Non-fiction… sometimes (the November 1960 Analog)

Each month, I lament what’s become of the magazine that John Campbell built.  Analog‘s slow decline has been marked by the editor’s increased erratic and pseudo-scientific boosting behavior.  Well, I just don’t have the heart to kick a dog today, and besides, the fiction is pretty good in this month’s (November 1960) issue.  So let’s get right to it, shall we?

“Mark Phillips” (Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer) have a new four-part serial in their Malone series.  Set in the 1970s, the series details the adventures of a couple of federal agents, who are helped in their cases by a telepath who believes herself (and may actually be) Queen Elizabeth I.  I won’t spoil the details of this one, Occasion for Disaster, but I’ve liked the previous novels, so I suspect Occasion will also be pleasant reading.

Heading off the magazine’s short stories is a fun piece by Theodore L. Thomas, half of the pseudonymous duo that previously brought us a fascinating study into the world of copyright, The Professional TouchCrackpot continues in that vein, featuring a brilliant old scientist (Prof. Singlestone… get it?!) who convinces the world that he’s gone senile.  His aim?  To make his work so disreputable that no government agency will want it, so that no university will employ him, so that he can for the first time in his life enjoy working as a truly free agent.  So that when his invention proves to be utterly unignorable, he will be the master of its fate.  Cute stuff.  Three stars.

Next up is E.C. Tubb’s The Piebald Horse.  It starts out well enough with a Terran spy trying to escape a repressive alien world with his brain full of sensitive knowledge.  The jig seems up for him when the aliens employ telepaths as mind-screen agents, but they are foiled when the protagonist pickles himself continuously until he can depart the planet.  I’m pretty sure I just saw this tactic in Fred Pohl’s Drunkard’s Walk.  2 stars.

These two stories are followed by a pair of execrable “non-fiction” articles.  Captain, MSC, US Navy H.C. Dudley, PhD (he must be authoritative–look at all the titles!) has the first: The Electric Field Rocket.  He maintains that the Earth’s electrostatic field can be used to assist rocket launches; he implies that the Soviet’s lead in the Space Race is attributable to their taking advantage of said phenomenon.  Not only is the article unreadable, but I suspect the science is bunk.  Time will tell.  1 star.

Speaking of which, Editor Campbell contributes the second article: Instrumentation for the Dean Drive.  I’m not even going to dignify with a review this next piece in an endless series on Dean’s magical inertialess engine.  He needs to knock it off already.  1 star.

Blessedly, the rest of the issue is quite good.  The reliable Hal Clement is back with Sunspot, an exciting, if highly technical, account of a group of spacemen who ride a comet around the Sun.  What better shielding exists for a close encounter with a star than billions of cubic tons of ice?  Four stars.

At last, we come to H. Beam Piper’s Oomphel in the Sky.  The set-up is great: a Terran colony world in a binary star system courts disaster when the planet makes a close approach to the usually far-away sun.  This triggers unrest amongst the natives, threatening Terran and native interests alike.  I’m an unabashed fan of Piper, and this is a good tale, although he does get a little patronizing toward the do-gooder but ineffective Terran government.  I like the strong anthropological bent, and I appreciate the respect with which he treats the natives and their interests.  Four stars.

In sum, the November 1960 Analog (I almost typed “Astounding“) is quite decent, fiction-wise.  Campbell needs to do what Galaxy’s Gold has done and hire a ghost editor, and a real non-fiction author.  I can’t believe there isn’t another budding Asimov or Ley out there champing at the bit to be published…

The fourth and last Kennedy/Nixon debate is tomorrow night!  I hope you’ll all watch it with me, but if you can’t bring yourself to sit through another hour of sparring, I’ll give you the full details the following day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon!

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

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Oct. 30, 1959] Tricks and Treats (November 1959 if Science Fiction

The new IF Science Fiction magazine, now under the Galaxy aegis, is an odd duck.  Not quite a literary book, like F&SF, not an antediluvian throwback like Astounding, and not as polished as its older brother, Galaxy, IF is nevertheless generally a worthy read.

I don’t think it’s just a repository for substandard Galaxy submissions—the stories in IF are different in style and tone.  I think, if anything, it’s more of a showcase for experimental stuff and new authors.

As such, we get to see a lot of fresh faces, but not necessarily the best tales.  Here are my impressions from the November issue, the third under Gold/Pohl’s editorial helm:

First up is If You Wish, by John Rackham, in which a confirmed bachelor botanist secluded in a space-based greenhouse, is burdened with a female-form robot assistant, with whom he (grudgingly) falls in love.  Traditionally, IF has stuck its best submissions right up front, but not this time.  It’s not bad, exactly, and there is some quite good writing in here, as well as a lot of interesting and detailed stuff on Venusian botany, but it reads a bit like a wish-fulfillment daydream.  It also strikes me as overly fannish that the robot’s name is “Susan Calvin,” and direct reference is made to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. 

On the other hand, the two characters are pretty well-drawn, the protagonist is unfailingly a gentleman, albeit a somewhat neurotic one, and in the end, it’s Susan who’s in control of the situation the whole time.  By the way, if you don’t spot the “twist” in the first few pages, you’re not trying.

Miriam Allen deFord has been around for a while.  Her Nor Snow Nor Rain starts out so well, but it ends with a whimper.  A retiring postal worker comes upon a mystery on his last day—the office to which he must deliver his last parcels doesn’t exist!  Being a science fiction fan (the first I’ve read about in a science fiction story, and a nice piece of portraying someone with multiple interests), he comes up with a number of explanations, which serve as effective red herrings.

Sadly, the actual explanation is the least interesting and the most hackneyed.  Again, good writing but flawed execution.

I did not like Good-by, Gloria by “Ted Bain” (really the prolific Britisher, E.C.Tubb).  Spacers working for an insufferably perfect captain decide to leave stranded an insufferably perfect female castaway, who has bootstrapped herself a la Tarzan, for fear that she and the captain will have insufferably perfect children.  It’s supposed to be funny; it comes off as heartless.  And dumb. 

The talented J.T.McIntosh’ Return of a Prodigal is an altogether different matter.  It is more bitter than sweet, but it’s also defiant and triumphant, and it stars a very compelling female lead.  In brief: about six generations from now, the Moon is colonized.  It turns out that a decent proportion of humanity suffers from incurable and potentially fatal spacesickness.  As a result, the Moon colony (the beautifully conceived and described Luna City) becomes a haven for hereditary “viaphobes,” those who cannot go anywhere else to live.  They are a proud bunch, and they refuse to admit that they have a disorder; they can leave whenever they want, they maintain.

At the tender age of 18, a girl named Clare, overshadowed by her pretty older sister, Emma, decides to go to New York on Earth and expose viaphobia publicly.  The ensuing article shames the lunar residents, and Clare is essentially banished.  Some ten years later, after a failed marriage on a colony world, Clare returns to Luna City, and that is where the story begins.

I don’t want to spoil any more, even though I do not have permission from Mr. McIntosh to distribute the tale.  All I can say is that it’s worth finding and reading.  I’m not sure if it’s a 4 or 5 star story, but I suspect I will go for 5 since there’s nothing wrong with it—it’s just a little hard to take at times.

Wynne Whiteford has the next entry: The Gelzek Business.  Alien female engineer and temptress convinces two men to back production of her gizmos despite her secretiveness regarding their actual function.  It’s an unsatisfying story, one of the weaker entries.  I’m still waiting for an unflawed Whiteford piece. 

Jerry Sohl’s Counterweight, about the extreme measures taken to keep several thousand colonists sane on a year-long trip to an interstellar colony, is diverting, well-written, but unremarkable.  The solution, having one of the crew commit a slew of crimes to invoke the wrath of the passengers, seems awfully silly. 

I did enjoy E.C. Tubb’s other story in this book, the thriller, Orange.  On a world with the universe’s most valuable substance, guarded by a race of psionic aliens, money is king.  And the only way to make money is to own a trading concession.  One can duel a concession-holder for such a prize, which makes life interesting indeed.  This story details one such duel and the unorthodox way in which it turns out.  It’s the most Galaxy-style of all of the stories in this ish, I think.

All told, the November issue comes up a 3-star mag.  This is misleading, however, given the wide inconsistency of its contents.  IF may end up being one of the greats someday.  It’s certainly a damnsight better than Astounding.

Sorry about the late edition.  I didn’t have much to report on before, and now my typewriter is busted.  Expect the next update in a few days.  At least the next lovely crop of magazines has arrived in my mail.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

(Note: It is not clear who drew the internal artwork–credit goes to “Harrison, Morrow, and Emsh.”  I’m guessing the art for Prodigal is Emsh’s.


Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.
P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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