by Gideon Marcus
Science fiction is a broad genre. It includes hard scientific, nuts-and-bolts projections that read like modern tales with just a touch of the future in them; this is the kind of stuff the magazine Analog is made up of. Then you’ve got far out stuff, not just fantasy but surrealism. The kind of work Cordwainer Smith pulls off with such facility that it approaches its own kind of realism. In this realm lie the lampoons, the parables, the just plain kooky. They get labeled as “science fiction,” but they don’t predict futures that could actually happen, nor do they incorporate much real science. Rather, they end up in the sf mags because where else would they go? The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction showcases this type as a good portion of their monthly offerings (appropriately enough — “Fantasy” is in the name).
Galaxy magazine has always trod a middle road, delivering pure scientific tales, fantastic stories, and pieces of psychological or “soft” science fiction that fall somewhere in between. It’s that balance that is part of what makes Galaxy my favorite magazine (that and stubborn loyalty – it was my first subscription).
The first Galaxy of 1962, on the other hand, veers heavily into the fantastic. Virtually every story presented has a distinct lack of grounding in reality. Does it work? Well…see for yourself.
Fred Pohl and his lately deceased frequent partner Cyril Kornbluth wrote a whole lot together. In fact, I think they’ve published more since Kornbluth’s death than while he was alive! I have to think Pohl is doing most of the work on Kornbluth’s outlines, but perhaps there’s something mystical going on. Anyway, Critical Mass is the latest from this duo, a satirical “if this goes on” piece combining the mania for construction of bomb shelters and the public passion for baseball. An entertaining piece though lacking in nuance. Three stars.
LaGrange points, those places of gravitational stability involving two celestial bodies, were the topic of a recent Asimov piece. Willy Ley now discusses them in his latest science column, For Your Information: Earth’s Extra Satellites. There’s interesting stuff here though I’m afraid the Good German no longer has the gift for presentation that the Good Doctor possesses. Three stars.
Shatter the Wall is an odd piece by newcomer, Sydney Van Scyoc. Television, now taking up entire walls of houses, has become the object of the world’s attention. In particular, a prosaic domestic drama featuring four stars whom everyone tries to emulate. Wall reads like a dream, and if taken in that way, is a neat story. I found it a little too off-kilter to really connect, however. You might feel differently. Three stars.
There’s a new hobby I’ve discovered called “board wargaming.” Players do battle using cardboard chits representing military units and a set of rules considerably more involved that those of, say, Chess or Checkers. Avalon Hill, a publishing company, started the fad with Tactics II, a simulation of modern strategic warfare, and recently followed it up with a D-Day game and a couple on Civil War battles.
Now, imagine if the world stopped settling their differences with armed conflicts and instead resorted to simulated fighting.
That’s the premise of James Harmon’s The Place Where Chicago Was. All war is simulated, presumably facilitated by computer. Big cities are not actually destroyed in enemy pseudo-attacks. Rather, they are simply quarantined for twenty years and left to fend for themselves. Residents are forbidden to leave; outsiders are restricted from entering. To enforce the peace, giant psycho-transmitters are set up that broadcast pacifistic thoughts to the populace.
It’s such an implausible idea that I have to think Harmon is attempting some kind of satire. On the other hand, it doesn’t read like satire. It’s well written, but I don’t quite know what to make of it. Three stars.
The Martian Star-Gazers is a “non-faction” piece by Ernst Mason, whom I’ve never heard of. It tells the sad story of the erstwhile inhabitants of the Red Planet, done in by their fear of the heavens. I appreciated Mason’s take on Martian constellations, particularly their contrast with terrestrial counterparts. Three stars.
Algis Budrys writes deep, thoughtful stuff with a somber edge. The Rag and Bone Men features a stranded alien intelligence that has taken over the Earth but only wishes to be able to go back home. Terran science simply isn’t up to the task, and neither are the mind-slaved humans who labor at it. A weird, perhaps overly poetic story. Three stars.
Ed Wellen is back with another non-faction “Origins” piece, Origins of Galactic Fruit Salad. A catalog of intergalactic service decorations, it’s in the same vein as his last piece: Origins of the Galactic Short-Snorter. Sadly, unlike that work, Galactic Fruit Salad commits the cardinal sin of any comedic piece – it’s not funny. One star.
The Big Engine, by Fritz Leiber, is solipsism done backwards. The world is a giant machine, all of its pieces playing preordained parts save for the few components that become self-aware. There’s not much to this story, but I must confess that I found it all the more memorable for having read it on a busy street corner, where the thrum of Leiber’s mechanical world was most immediate. Three stars.
The balance of the issue comprises Part 2 of Poul Anderson’s Day after Doomsday, which as I said in my last article, was disappointing in comparison to the promising first half.
While I applaud the effort toward experimentation in this issue, the result is an oddly monotonous clutch of stories, no “real” sf here. Each of the tales might have been decent sandwiched between traditional stories, but they become an abstract, off-putting blob in unrelieved combination. Galaxy would do well to return to its heterogeneous mix of sf types; I think trying to beat Analog or F&SF at their own games would be a bit of a forlorn hope.
See you in two with a “Fantastic” update!