Tag Archives: fred pohl

[January 12, 1962] Odd one out (February 1962 Galaxy)


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.


by Cowles

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!

[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!

[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. 

[April 30, 1961] Travel stories (June 1961 Galaxy, first half)

My nephew, David, has been on an Israeli Kibbutz for a month now.  We get letters from him every few days, mostly about the hard work, the monotony of the diet, and the isolation from the world.  The other day, he sent a letter to my brother, Lou, who read it to me over the phone.  Apparently, David went into the big port-town of Haifa and bought copies of Life, Time, and Newsweek.  He was not impressed with the literary quality of any of them, but he did find Time particularly useful.

You see, Israeli bathrooms generally don’t stock toilet paper…

Which segues nicely into the first fiction review of the month.  I’m happy to report I have absolutely nothing against the June 1961 Galaxy – including my backside.  In fact, this magazine is quite good, at least so far.  As usual, since this is a double-sized magazine, I’ll review it in two parts.

First up is Mack Reynolds’ unique novelette, Farmer.  Set thirty years from now in the replanted forests of the Western Sahara, it’s an interesting tale of intrigue and politics the likes of which I’ve not seen before.  Reynolds has got a good grasp of the international scene, as evidenced by his spate of recent stories of the future Cold War.  If this story has a failing, it is its somewhat smug and one-sided tone.  Geopolitics should be a bit more ambiguous.  It’s also too good a setting for such a short story.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s science column immediately follows.  There’s some good stuff in this one, particularly the opening piece on plans to melt the Arctic ice cap to improve the climate of the USSR (and, presumably, Scandinavia and Canada).  Of course, if global warming happens on schedule, we won’t need any outlandish engineering marvels to make this happen; we can just continue business as usual.  Hail progress!

I also appreciated Ley’s reply to one of his fans, who asked why he rarely covers space launches anymore.  His answer?  They come too quickly!  Any reporting would have a 4-5 month delay – an eternity these days.  It’s hard enough for me to keep up.  Four stars.

The Graybes of Raath is Neal Barret, Jr.’s third story in Galaxy.  It should be a throw-away, what with the punny title, the non-shocker ending, and the hideous Don Martin art.  But this tale of a well-meaning immigration agency attempting to find the home of a family of itinerant alien farmers is actually a lot of fun.  Barrett is nothing if not consistent.  Three stars.

Now here’s a weird one.  Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth have a new duet out called A Gentle Dying.  Now, the two have worked together for many years; that’s not the surprising part.  Nor is the fact that the story, about an incredibly elderly and beloved children’s author’s last moments, is good.  No, it’s strange because Kornbluth has been dead for five years!  I can only imagine that Pohl (now de-facto editor of Galaxy, per last month’s F&SF) dusted this one off after having waited for the right venue/slot-size.  Three stars.

Last up is R.A. Lafferty’s absolutely lovely The Weirdest World.  Can a marooned alien blob find sanctuary, even happiness, among aliens so strange as those that live on Earth?  I’ve always kind of liked Lafferty, but this one is his best to date, with its gentle writing, and its spot-on portrayal of cross-species telepathy.  Five stars.

This column began with travel, and it ends with travel.  My wife and I are in Las Vegas for a weekend, enjoying the food and the sights.  Sinatra doesn’t seem to be at the Sands right now, but that’s all right.  We’ll catch Ol’ Blue Eyes another time.

While we were here, we ran into Emily Jablon, a famous columnist and Jet Setter who spends much of her time flitting across the world.  She gave us some tips on travel that were new even to us!  Of course, we introduced her to Galactic Journeying, and what better way than with this month’s Galaxy?

[July 21, 1960] Intoxication in Two Parts (Drunkard’s Walk)

Thanks to Galaxy‘s new oversized format, we can read serials over just two issues rather than seeing them spread across three or four.  Of course, there’s a longer gap between installments now that Galaxy has gone bi-monthly.

As a result, I’d completely forgotten that Fred Pohl had left Drunkard’s Walk half-finished as of the end of the June 1960 issue.  It’s a good thing magazines provide synopses!

Actually, it all came back to me reasonably quickly.  Drunkard’s Walk is a good read, like much of what issues from Pohl’s pen.  Here’s the skinny:

About a century from now, Earth has become comfortably overcrowded.  College-level education courses are universally available, via television programming, but only a very few may actually attend universities and subsequently apply their knowledge in any meaningful way.  Outside the rarefied campus setting, the average person lives in relative squalor, though free from significant wants.  Disease and hunger have been eradicated.  Space is at a premium, on the other hand, with significant populations inhabiting artificial off-shore platforms called “texases.”

That’s the backdrop.  The story is a fairly straightforward thriller.  A brilliant professor, by name of Cornut, finds his life in great peril as, whenever he is on the verge of waking, he is compelled to attempt suicide.  Since there is nothing wrong with Cornut’s life (quite the opposite), he comes to the conclusion that someone or some group wants him dead.  It turns out that Cornut is just one of many under insidious attack. 

Who would want Cornut dead?  How is the compulsion conveyed?  And why are there reported outliers to the normally flawless “Wolgren Equation,” which determines the maximum possible age of the members of any given group of people? 

Well, I certainly won’t spoil it for you…

I will say that Pohl spotlights a lot of interesting questions, but he doesn’t quite explore them fully, preferring to focus on the page-turning aspects of his story.  Also, there seems to be a gap of some 20-30 pages about two thirds through the story, perhaps edited for space.  Maybe we’ll see them again if the story is novelized.  Still, Drunkard’s Walk kept me interested, through both of its parts

Four stars (of five).

[June 19, 1960] Half Measures (July 1960 IF Science Fiction)

I’m glad science fiction digests haven’t gone the way of the dodo.  There’s something pleasant about getting a myriad of possible futures in a little package every month.  You can read as much or as little as you like at a time.  The short story format allows the presentation of an idea without too much belaboring.

Every month, I get several magazines in the mail: Astounding and Fantasy and Science Fiction are monthlies; Galaxy and IF are bi-monthlies, but since they’re owned and edited by the same folks, they essentially comprise a single monthly.  I don’t have subscriptions to the other two digests of note, Amazing and Fantastic (again, both run by the same people); they just aren’t worth it, even if they occasionally publish worthy stuff.

This month, IF showed up last; hence, it is the last to be reviewed.  As usual, it consists mostly of moderately entertaining stories that weren’t quite good enough to make it into Galaxy.  Let’s take a look:

In a Body is the lead novella by J.T. McIntosh, and it’s frustrating as all get out.  I often like McIntosh, though others find him competently forgettable.  This particular story has all the makings of a great one: shape-changing alien is shipwrecked on Earth and must find a soulmate to survive.  She adopts human form and chooses a man afflicted with leukemia to be her husband–but he’s already betrothed to another.  In the hands of Theodore Sturgeon, this could have been a classic.  Even had McIntosh just given it a good rewrite, showing more and telling less, it would have easily garnered four of five stars.  As is, it is readable, even compelling, but it could have been much more.

Psycho writer Robert Bloch’s Talent, on the other hand, is perfect as is.  Featuring a boy with an extraordinary talent for mimicry, Talent is one of those stories that starts intriguingly and descends slowly into greater horror.  The style is nicely innovative, too.  This piece is easily the highlight of the issue.

It is followed by one of the lesser lights: Time Payment by Sylvia Jacobs, a rather incoherent tale about a device that allows one to time travel to the future.. sort of.  Really, one just lives one’s life normally, but with no lasting memory of living, until the destination time is reached.  Then, the recollections all flood in.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The prolific and not-untalented Jim Harmon offers us The Last Trespasser, a 3-star tale about the humanity’s encounter with a race of beneficial symbiotes and the one fellow who finds himself unable to take on an alien “Rider.”  It’s a little uneven, and the reveal doesn’t quite make sense, but I liked his creative prediction of future slang.

Usually reliable Fred Pohl has an uninspired entry called The Martian in the Attic, about a rather nebbishy would-be blackmailer who discovers that the inventor behind many of the wonders of the Modern Age actually had help from a pet alien.  It feels archaic. 

The Non-Electronic Bug, by newcomer E. Mittleman, is a bog-standard psi-endowed card sharking tale better suited to the pages of mid-1950’s Astounding than a modern magazine.  It is in English, however, and perhaps Mr. Mittleman will improve with time.

Capping off this issue is Hayden Howard’s Murder beneath the Polar Ice, a talky, technical thriller involving an American Navy frogman and the Soviet listening post he investigates in the Bering Strait.  Howard has been in hibernation as a writer for seven years after a short stint penning tales for the defunct Planet Stories, and Murder doesn’t herald an auspicious re-awakening. 

And that brings us to the end of our journey through July 1960’s magazines.  F&SF is the clear winner, at 3.5 stars to IF‘s and Astounding‘s 2.5s.  It’s hard to award a “best story”–it may well be Bloch’s Talent, but it might also be It is not My Fault from F&SF.  I think I’ll give the nod to the former.

Finally, out of the 20 stories that appeared in the Big Three, just three were penned by women.  Unless it turns out “Mr.” Mittleman is a woman.  That’s actually a number we haven’t seen since February.  Here’s hoping we break 15% in the months to come!

[April 27, 1960] Galactic on Galaxy (June 1960 Galaxy)

It’s that happy time of year when the sun is up late and the weather is perfect.  Of course, the weather is usually perfect here in the nicest unincorporated part of northern San Diego County (though there are rumors that our little farming community is going to vote on incorporation soon).

One of my favorite Spring-time activities is to lounge on the veranda (well, my daughter’s tree house) with a portable radio, a cup of coffee, and good book.  Today’s entree is the newest issue of Galaxy.  It’s a double-sized issue, so I’ll be breaking it out over two articles.  A body needs time to digest, after all. 

Fred Pohl has written a new serial evocatively titled Drunkard’s Walk I won’t go into too much detail as it’s only half published, but thus far, I’m enjoying it.  In an overpopulated Earth (12 billions, 6 of them in “The Chinas”), university education is the province of the elite.  One young mathematics professor appears to be the target for assassination.  He’s attempted to kill himself numerous times, always in that twilight between sleep and waking, as if in a trance. 

There are some neat technologies featured.  In particular, I liked Pohl’s depiction of education by television, broadcast via satellite and graded by computer.  As someone who has generally found the classroom stifling, I marvel at how nice it would be to get a college degree in the comfort of my own home.

Next on tap is L.J. Stecher’s Upstarts.  How can Earthers hope to parlay on a level playing field with a race that dominates the entire Galaxy?  By developing its own secret, starhopping technologies, of course.  The fascinating idea here is that though there are some 17 starfaring alien species, only two of them (one being humanity) clawed their way to sentience by natural evolutionary processes.  All of the rest were raised to sapience (“Uplifted,” to coin a phrase) by the slavering Vegans, who now find themselves a minority group in the new galactic order and want to enlist the assistance of the Terrans to get back on top.


by Dillon

Good stuff, and with a haunting ending.

The Good Neighbors is a fun, short Edgar Pangborn piece about the sudden appearance of an enormous winged beast that terrorizes the American skies for many days before the pitiful creature is harangued to death by a swarm of jet fighters.  Pangborn writes with a pleasant sense of whimsy that I appreciate.


by Wallace Wood

Rounding out the first half, Willy Ley has an interesting piece on rocket fuels and the comparative advantages of liquid vs. solid propellants.  He also answers some of his readers’ questions.  They must have been a better crop than usual as VeeLee seems pleasantly less peeved than he has been of late.

See you in two days with the other half.  Get yourself a copy and send me your thoughts!

[Jan. 14, 1960] Twin Stars (February 1960 Galaxy)

Galaxy editor Horace Gold is hard up for writers these days now that he’s cut payment rates.  In this month’s (February 1960) editorial, he notes that he’s getting all kinds of low-quality stuff, and would these would-be authors please try reading a scientific journal or two to get better ideas!

Be that as it may, thus far, this double-sized issue of Galaxy is quite enjoyable.  I’m splitting the book into two columns so as not to overwhelm you and give you a chance to follow along at home.

Bob Sheckley has a new story out: Meeting of the Minds.  I think I’ve mentioned in an earlier column how one of my best friends has a profound aversion to stories involving a take-over of the body a la Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters.  He’d have to give Meeting a miss, because that’s its central theme: the bug-like Quedak, psychic coordinator for the extinct hive-mind species of Mars, hitches a ride back to Earth where he intends to conduct a similar conquest. 


Dick Francis

While Bob tends to write in a flip sort of way, he also is capable of some downright creepy prose.  I particularly like how the Quedak is portrayed in glances through other characters’ eyes.  The use of limited viewpoints is quite effective.  Moreover, it would be interesting to viscerally feel what a bird or pig or other human feels, were the cost not losing one’s individuality to a hive-mind.

Unsettling, but good.

Margaret St. Clair has been a busy bee, with stories appearing both here and in IF this monthThe Nuse Man is a shaggy dog story about a brick salesman from the future, and how he ran afoul of political intrigue in ancient Mesopotamia. You won’t remember it long after you read it, but you will enjoy it.


Wallace Wood

Newcomer James Stamers is another author who is filling the pages of two Golden magazines in one month. Dumbwaiter is cute, but eminently forgettable (clearly, as I had to rack my brain for several minutes to remember what it was about!) It opens, excitingly enough, with a master smuggler attempting to secret an extraterrestrial animal through customs.  That half of the story is a pleasant cat and mouser.  The remainder, wherein the animal turns out to be a sort of eager-to-please teleport, who charms the smuggler’s fiancée by bringing her numerous treasures, is not as engaging.


Dillion

Finally, in The Day the Icicle Works Closed, we have a solid extraterrestrial whodunit by Fred Pohl featuring body-swapping, kidnapping, politics, and a reasonably compelling detective.  It starts out rather prosaic, but the pace accelerates as the pieces fit together, and the end is worth waiting for.  I shan’t spoil any more in the event you want to take a crack at some armchair sleuthing.


Dillon

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll discuss Willy Ley, Zenna Henderson (two women in one Galaxy!) and more.

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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[Nov. 17, 1959] Dead Center (December 1959 Galaxy and wargames)

Hello, fellow travelers!  As promised, here’s a round-up of this month’s Galaxy magazine.

Or should I say Galaxy Science Fiction?  According to editor Horace Gold (and I somehow missed this), Galaxy was misprinted last month with the old logo and the old price!  They really lost their shirt on that issue, sadly.  On the other hand, Gold is going to try not being ashamed of what he peddles and see if it affects sales positively or adversely.  I’m hoping for the former.

Diving into the stories, George O. Smith continues to write in a workmanlike fashion.  His The Undetected is part thriller, part who-dunnit, part romance, and features a psionic detective looking for a psionic criminal.  And you thought it could only happen in Astounding.


Virgil Finlay

The often-excellent Phillip K. Dick has a lackluster story in this ish: War Game.  In the future, the tricky Ganymedians are constantly trying to sneak subversive toys past our customs censors.  In this case, they succeed by occupying the attention of a pair of said censors with a sort of automated toy soldier kit.  It’s the sort of throwaway tale I’d have expected ten years ago.


Wallace Wood

On the other hand, it provides an excellent segue to an exciting new arena of gaming.  A hundred years ago, the Germans invented sandbox “wargaming,” wherein they simulated war with a set of rules and military units in miniature.  A half-century later, H.G. Wells proposed miniature wargaming as a way of scratching the human itch for violence without bloodshed.  Fletcher Pratt, popularized the naval miniature combat game in World War 2, playing on the floor of a big lobby.

A fellow named Charles Roberts has taken the concept of miniature wargaming and married it to the tradition of board-gaming (a la Scrabble and Monopoly or Chess, perhaps a prototype wargame).  Thanks to his revolutionary Tactics, and its sequel Tactics II, two players can simulate war on a divisional scale between the fictional entities of “Red” and “Blue” using a gameboard map, cardboard pieces, and dice.  While perhaps not as visually impressive as facing off thousands of tin soldiers against each other, it is far more accessible and inexpensive. 

War leaves me cold; I am a confirmed pacifist.  But there is fun in the strategy and contest that a wargame provides.  I look forward to seeing what new wargames Roberts’ Avalon Hill company comes up with.  Perhaps we’ll see games with a science fictional theme in the near future—imagine gaming the battles depicted in Dorsai! or Starship Soldier

To the next story: Jim Harmon is a fine writer, and his Charity Case, about a fellow hounded by demons who cause his luck to be absolutely the worst, starts out so promisingly that the rushed ending is an acute disappointment.  Maybe next time.


Dick Francis

Fred Pohl’s The Snowmen is a glib, shallow cautionary tale covering subject matter better handled in Joanna Russ’ Nor Custom Stale.  In short, humanity’s need to consume compels it to generate power from heat pumps that accelerate the process of entropy leaving Earth in a deep freeze. 

I did like Robert Bloch’s Sabbatical, about a time traveler from 1925 who quickly determines that the grass is always greener in other time zones, and one might as well stay home.  I enjoyed the off-hand predictions about the future—that Communism will no longer be the big scare, to be replaced with Conservativism; the patriarchy will be replaced with a matriarchy; the average weight of folks will be dramatically higher.  I guess we’ll see which ones come true.

Finally, we have Andy Offut’s Blacksword.  I had hoped for an epic fantasy adventure.  Instead, I got one of those satirical political romps wherein one man plays chess with thousands of inferior minds, and things work out just as he planned.  And then it turns out he’s just a pawn (or perhaps a castle) in a bigger political chess game.  Inferior stuff.


Wallace Wood

All told, this issue tallied at three stars.  The problem is that this issue wasn’t a mix of good and bad but rather a pile of unremarkable stories.  With the exception of the Sheckley and the Ley article, and perhaps Bloch’s short story, it was rather a disappointment.

Of course, this month’s Astounding prominently features Randall Garrett, again.  Out of the frying pan, into inferno.

See you in two!  Try not to get involved with any rigged quiz shows…


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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[Sep. 3, 1959] Out the other side (September 1959 IF Worlds of Science Fiction, Part 2)

We left off on a cliff-hanger of sorts, half-way through my review of the second issue of IF under Gold and Pohl’s management.  In brief, it ends as it began: with a strong start and a fairly middlin’ finish.

Gordy Dickson is back to form with Homecoming, a quite nice novelette about a fellow running afoul of Earth customs agents when he tries to declare his pet.  If you had a beloved companion, would you sacrifice your chances at immigration by refusing to part with it?  The deck is extra stacked in this case—said “animal,” an enhanced kangaroo, is near-sentient.  It’s a page-turner, and over too fast.

I’ve never heard of Kirby Kerr, but his An Honest Credit, about a down-on-his-luck fellow with nothing to his name but a priceless, ancient coin (with which he refuses to part) is pretty good.  A bit maudlin and short on much that would identify it as science fiction, but I enjoyed it.

I normally don’t include book-review columns in these reviews, but Fred Pohl takes his column a step further, making it a sort of essay.  Worlds of If discusses the appearance and non-appearance of gadgetry in science fiction stories, and whether or not it adversely affects the story (or makes it less “science-fictiony.” What do you think?  Do you require whiz-bang inventions, or do you prefer a more subtle kind of s-f?

The penultimate tale is Escape into Silence by Australian Wynne N. Whiteford.  I enjoyed most of it, this tale of a colony world that has slowly but inexorably ended up under the strict and paternalistic dominion of another colony, one that has risen to supremacy.  The protagonist tries to escape, is given the opportunity to emigrate lawfully, but ultimately embraces the confined, noisy enclosures of his home town.  I suppose people are loathe to give up what they know, even if they have a chance at something better.  Something about the end rang false, however. 

Finally, we have Hornets’ Nest by a Mr. Lloyd Biggle Jr. (which suggests there is a Lloyd Biggle Sr. roaming about; that makes me smile).  Nest could have been written in the 1930s.  A human starship returns to the solar system and finds all of humanity dead for having DARED TO PROBE THE HEART OF JUPITER, THE PLANET WITH THE BALEFUL EYE OF DEATH!  It’s not quite so hackneyed; it’s actually a decent read, but I take my amusements where I can.

IF continues to be a solid, if uninspiring, magazine.  Lacking the utter dreck of Astounding, it is, nevertheless, not as consistently good as its sister, Galaxy.  It feels like what it is—a repository for the second-rate Galaxy stories (though, to be fair, they are not bad so much as often mediocre, and some are quite good).  Three stars, and that makes it one of the better mags this month, sad to say.

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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