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[Jan. 25, 1961] Oscillating circuit (the February 1961 Analog)

John Campbell’s science fiction magazine continues to defy my efforts to chart a trend.  Following on the heels of last month’s rather dismal issue, the February 1961 Analog is an enjoyable read.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

It took me a little while to get into Everett Cole’s lead novella, The Weakling, but once I understood what he was doing, I was enthralled.  Cole paints a world in which people with psi powers dominate those without.  It is a planet of slave-owning aristocrats who can force people to do their bidding through mental will alone.  The viewpoint character is Barra, scion of a noble family.  His ascension to lordhood was accidental, caused by the premature deaths of his father and brother.  Without the aid of an array of potent psychic enhancers, he would be barely more powerful than the “pseudo-men” he controls. 

Weakling is the account of this bitter, cruel man, contemptuous of the slaves he resembles, jealous of his psychically more powerful peers, who entices rich merchants to his estate, murdering them for plunder.  The story can be hard to read at times, but it is an excellent insight into the mindset of the 19th Century slave-owner (and thus an indictment of the sentiment that still prevails over much of the modern South).  Four stars. 

Teddy Keller’s short, The Plague, is more typical Analog fare.  When a sickness sweeps the nation, with no apparent rhyme or reason to its epidemiology, one doctor must race against time to find a cure.  The solution is contrived and rather silly.  Two stars.

Freedom, the latest in Mack Reynolds’ slew of stories set in the Soviet Union of the 1980s, is a horse of a different color.  Once again, Reynolds expertly conveys the character of life behind an Iron Curtain where Communism has achieved its economic goals, but not its social ones.  In this tale, we see how difficult it is to extirpate a desire for intellectual freedom once it has taken root.  I appreciate the evenhandedness with which Reynolds evaluates both the East and West.  I also liked the romantic element, portrayed as between two equals unencumbered with conservative moral values.  Four stars.

Campbell trumpeted his expanded coverage of science fact in his magazine, and it seemed a worthy experiment at the start.  I’m always happy to see more Asimov articles, after all.  But recently, the “non-fiction” portion of the magazine has been devoted to self-penned articles on the editor’s hobbies or favorite crackpot inventions.  We get a blessed break from these with a short photo-feature showing rockets of the past and present.  Too short to garner a rating.

I don’t think I quite got H.B. Fyfe’s The Outbreak of Peace, a short short that takes place at an interstellar peace conference.  I even read it twice.  Would someone explain it to me, please?  Two stars (for now).

At last, we have Chris Anvil’s latest, The Ghost Fleet.  A space fleet commander is forced to ignominious flight when the enemy strikes with an unbeatable weapon.  Can he recover his honor (and save the day) with an audacious gambit?  It’s good, if something of a one-trick pony.  Three stars.

The issue finishes off with the conclusion to Occasion for Disaster, which I previously covered.  All told, the book clocks in at a slice over three stars, which is perfectly acceptable for 50 cents of entertainment. 

Now let’s see if this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction can top that.

[August 4, 1960] Phoning it in (September 1960 Analog)

If you hail from California, particularly the southern end of the state, you might find foreign the concept of seasons.  I know I expect mild, sunny days every time I step outside.  We have a joke around here that the weather report is updated once a week, and that’s just to give it a fresh coat of paint.

Japan, on the other hand, is a country rooted in seasonality.  Every month brings a new package of delights to the denizens of this Far Eastern land.  Now, usually I’m a smart fellow, and I only travel here in the Spring for the cherry blossoms, or the Fall to see the fiery colors of the wizened leaves.  Only a madman would visit in the Summer, when the heat and humidity are ferocious, and when neither is mitigated by the constant rain that characterizes the immediately prior Typhoon season.

This year, I joined the crazy persons’ club.

Thankfully, the new set of trains seems to be consistently equipped with air conditioning, and in any event, one can often get a nice breeze from the frantic hand-fannings of one’s neighbors.  And this country is lovely enough, and its people such good company, that one can tolerate a little physical discomfort.  For a while, anyway.

Osaka has always been a particular favorite of mine with its regional delicacies and colorful local dialect (virtually unintelligible if all you know is schoolbook Japanese).  This city has an independent streak, refereshing after the aggressive servility that characterizes Tokyo, and, perhaps not coincidentally, we have a great number of friends in this area.

Of course, social obligations keep my leisure time to a minimum, but I’ve managed to steal a few hours between shopping, taking tea, and visiting landmarks to finish the September 1960 Analog.  Here is my report:

I’ve already told you about the fantastic The High Crusade, penned by Poul Anderson.  This is not his only contribution to this issue.  In addition to the conclusion of his serial novel, there is also (under the pen-name, Winston Sanders), Anderson’s short story, Barnacle Bull, in which a Norwegian four-man spaceship sails on an eccentric orbit through the asteroid belt on a mission of reconnaissance.  Their aim is to lay the foundation for a nationalized asteroid mining concern.  There are two snags–one is the density of micrometeoroids between Mars and Jupiter.  The other is the existence of a space-borne life form that grows magnificently on the hulls of spaceships, fouling radars and antennas, not to mention spoiling the clean lines of a vessel.  It turns out that the two problems nicely cancel each other out.

It’s well-written, and no one portrays Scandinavians like Viking Poul, but the story is a slight one.  I give it bonus points for its realistic portrayal of near-future spaceflight, however.

Easily the worst story in this issue is Randall Garret’s By Proxy, in which a young, brash scientist announces his intention to launch a ship powered by some sort of intertia-less drive, but is oppressed, by turns, by the government, the military, and a cynical press.  Of course, the thing works.  I’m not sure if Campbell specifically asked young Randy for a bespoke story on this, one of Campbell’s favorite subjects, or if Randy chose this topic because it ensured him a sale.  Either way, it is not only a bad story, but the quality of writing is at the low end of the author’s range.  About the only good thing about the story is it features no women.  Given Randy’s reputation, that’s a blessing.

H.B. Fyfe, a grizzled veteran of the pulp era, comes out of retirement to offer up A Transmutation of Muddles, a sort of sub-par Sheckley story about the four-cornered negotiations between a marooned space merchant, his insurance adjustor, the aliens on whose sacred land he crashed, and the government.  It’s inoffensive, unremarkable.

The last fiction entry is Everett Cole’s Alarm Clock, about the pressure cooker of a situation a canny military drop-out is thrust into in order to awaken his peculiar talents so that he can join the legendary Special Corps.  It’s the sort of thing I like seeing from Harry Harrison.  Cole isn’t as good as Harrison.

Last up is Asimov’s fine article on the extent of the solar atmosphere, and how it interacts with the tenuous outer regions of the various planetary atmospheres, producing brilliant auroras and the deadly Van Allen Belts.  It’s amazing how much we have learned about the subject in the last two years, a revolutionary period for interplanetary physics. 

All told, we’ve got a just-under 3-star issue.  Once again, the great serial and non-fiction pieces balance out the mediocre short entries.  And the less we speak of Campbell’s editorials, the better…

See you in a few, likely from sleepy Fukuoka!