Tag Archives: fred saberhagen

[December 9, 1962] (January 1963, IF Science Fiction)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Ah, Winter.  That sleepy time of the year when the air gets chillier (such as it ever gets chilly in Southern California), work slows down a bit, and shopping for the holidays picks up.  The first night of Hannukah is the 21st, and then, of course, there’s the big mid-Hannukah holiday (named after Chris, the patron saint of presents). 

And it’s when I renew my subscriptions for science fiction magazines since they generally offer Christmas discounts!

December marks the new year, at least as far as periodicals go.  January-dated issues show up the month before, so I’ve already gotten a sneak preview into the next year.  First up is is the January 1963 IF, and if this be a harbinger, then next year will probably be a decent one:

The Five Hells of Orion, by Frederik Pohl

I have to wonder if Pohl gets paid the same rate as everyone else for stories he writes, given that he is the editor.  Of course, he should.  Pohl has been a writer for decades, and he produces good stuff.  Orion follows the tale of an young astrogator shanghaied across a thousand light years by aliens bent on forging an alliance with humanity.  The first half is very good.  The spaceman must navigate a set of intelligence tests and we gradually come to understand the intentions of the extraterrestrials.  The payoff is rushed, however; perhaps this would have made a better novel.  Three stars.

The Shipshape Miracle, by Clifford D. Simak

An atypical piece by Simak in which an incorrigible criminal crosses paths with the brother to The Ship Who Sang, to his ultimate dismay.  Well-written, like everything Simak does, but unexceptional.  Three stars for the story, but five stars for the excellent art!

This Way to the Egress, by Andrew Fetler

Fetler returns to IF with his second vignette, a subtle piece about the last hours of a social deviant.  I suspect Fetler has a day job given the paucity of work he’s published in our field.  Three stars.

Essay in Coherence, by Theodore Sturgeon

This piece on LASERs (single-wavelength light beams of incredible intensity) shows that Sturgeon may soon give Asimov a run for his money with science articles.  It’s witty and informative, and probably will be the genesis of countless short stories involving this brand-new technology.  Five stars.

Podkayne of Mars (Part 2 of 3), by Robert A. Heinlein

Part II of Heinlein’s new juvenile(?) about Miss Poddy Fries and her space jaunt from Mars is a bit more readable than the last one, but it’s still overwritten and gets bogged in detail.  This is the spiritual successor to The Menace from Earth I’d hoped to share with my daughter, but I don’t think it’s quite good enough.  Three stars for this installment.

Road Stop, by David Mason

A ghost story involving a haunted car…in a future when all cars are haunted by design.  The tale isn’t plausible, in and of itself, but the world it paints feels like a possible tomorrow.  Three stars.

Fortress Ship, by Fred Saberhagen

Now here’s an interesting one, by a newish author who’s already turned out some good stuff.  Fortress introduces the concept of the “Beserker,” giant automated robot ships created as doomsday weapons. They roam the galaxy, relics of a forgotten war, reducing populated planets into ashes.  It takes extraordinary courage and, more importantly, wit to defeat them.  But it is possible…  Four stars.

Captain of the Kali , by Gary Wright

The “IFirststory” competition netted a piece from freshly minted author Gary Wright.  A futuristic C.S. Forester is recruited to serve as guest admiral on an alien fleet of sail-driven warships.  A good first effort, though greater length and a few more sf trappings would have been nice.  Three stars.

When Whirlybirds Call, by Frank Banta

Last up is a satirical piece about a laconic big-game hunter and the coocoo-downdraft-peoplehawk-whirlybirds he is contracted to exterminate.  Cute while it lasts.  Three stars.

It’s rare that I go from beginning to end of a mag and find no lousy stories.  This month’s IF is solid (if not exceptional) entertainment, and as the cheapest of the digests (at 35 cents), it is definitely a bargain.




[May 3, 1961] Passing the Torch (June 1961, Galaxy, 2nd Half)

Something is changing over at Galaxy magazine.

Horace Gold, Galaxy‘s editor, started the magazine in 1950, near the beginning of the post-pulp digest boom.  He immediately set a high bar for quality, with some of the best authors and stories, and including a top-notch science columnist (this was before Asimov transitioned from fiction).  Galaxy only once won the Best Magazine Hugo (in 1953, and that one it shared), but it paid well, eschewed hoary cliches, and all-in-all was a pillar of the field.  It was the magazine that got me into reading science fiction on a regular basis.

Warning bells started to clang in 1959.  The magazine went to a bi-monthly schedule (though at a somewhat increased size).  Author rates were slashed in half.  Gold, himself, suffering from battle fatigue-induced agoraphobia, became more erratic.  This new Galaxy was not a bad mag, but it slipped a few rungs. 

Fred Pohl came on last year.  He was not officially billed as the editor, but it was common knowledge that he’d taken over the reigns.  Pohl is an agent and author, a fan from the way-back.  I understand his plan has been to raise author rates again and bring back quality.  While he waits for the great stories to come back, he leavens the magazines with old stories from the “slush pile” that happen not to be awful.  In this way, Galaxy showcases promising new authors while keeping the quality of the magazine consistent.

The June 1961 Galaxy is the first success story of this new strategy.

Last issue, I talked about how Galaxy was becoming a milquetoast mag, afraid to take risks or deviate far from mediocrity.  This month’s issue, the first that lists Pohl as the “Managing Editor,” is almost the second coming of old Galaxy — daring, innovative, and with one exception, excellent. 

Take Cordwainer Smith’s Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons, in which an interplanetary ring of thieves tries to steal from the richest, and best defended planet, in the galaxy.  Smith has always been a master, slightly off-center in his style; his rich, literary writing is of the type more usually seen in Fantasy and Science FictionKittons is ultimately a mystery, the nature of the unique (in name and nature) “kittons” remaining unknown until the last.  A brutal, fascinating story, and an unique take on the future.  Five stars.

Breakdown is by Herbert D. Kastle, one of the aforementioned novices.  Despite his green status, he turned in an admirable piece involving a farmer who finds the world increasingly differing from his memories.  Is he sliding across alternate universe?  It is a cosmic prank?  A gripping story, suitable for adaptation to The Twilight Zone.  Four stars.

The one dud of the issue is Frank Herbert’s A-W-F Unlimited: thirty pages of pseudo-clever dialogue and inner monologue set in a mid-21st Century ad agency as its star executive attempts to fulfill a recruiting drive contract for the space corps.  I got through it, but only by dint of effort.  1 star.

Poul Anderson has another entry in his Time Patrol series, though My Object all Sublime does not betray this fact until the end.  It’s a slow, moody piece; the reflections of a man from the far future, flung into the worst areas of the past as punishment for a nameless crime.  In one thought-provoking passage, the condemned man notes that being from the future in no way guarantees superiority in the past, for most people are not engineers or scientists with sufficient knowledge to change the world.  Moreover, they arrive penniless, and who can make a difference without money?

This is actually a problem I’ve considered (i.e. what I’d do if ended up stuck far back in time).  While I probably wouldn’t recognize salt-peter if I smelled it, I suspect just introducing germ theory and Arabic numerals would be enough to carve a niche.  Zero must be the most influential nothing in the history of humanity…  I rate the story at four stars.

Rounding out the issue is Fred Saberhagen’s The Long Way Home.  Two thousand years from now, a (surprisingly conventional) man and wife-run mining ship discovers an enormous spacecraft out among the planetoids near Pluto.  How it got there and where it’s going pose enigmas that should keep you engaged until the end of this competently written tale.  Three stars.

In sum, the June 1961 Galaxy weighs in at a solid 3.5 stars.  If you skip the Herbert, you end up with a most impressive regular-length magazine.  Given that Pohl also edits Galaxy’s sister mag, IF (also a bi-monthly, alternating with Galaxy), I am eagerly looking forward to next month!

[April 8, 1961] Variety pack (May 1961 IF)

The nice thing about a science fiction magazine (or anthology) as opposed to a novel is if you don’t like one story, you might like the next.  Once you start a bad novel, your only options are to drag yourself through it or give it up unfinished.  And you can’t very well review an unfinished novel, can you?

Galaxy’s sister magazine, IF, is not as good, on the average, as the other members of the Big Four (including F&SF and Analog).  But because it is a digest, occasional stories surprise and delight.  There’s one gem in this month’s issue of IF, and a few other diverting tales.

Not the first one, though.  J.T. McIntosh tends to save his dreck for the lesser mags, and his That’s the Way it Goes is a thinly redressed pioneer story grafted onto a Malthusian future.  Science fiction has to be at least a little visionary if not progressive.  Way fails at both, though to its credit, it’s not unreadable; just unimpressive.  Two stars.

William Stuart’s Out of Mind has an interesting concept: a planet of telepaths who present to you the experience you most want to have.  As one might expect, it is a dangerous world, indeed, for those who ever want to return home.  It’s done in a droll satirical fashion that I didn’t care for, but you might.  Two stars.

I think Frank Banta must be new, as I haven’t encountered his name before.  The Connoisseur is a sad, humorous story about an off-course colony ship.  It doesn’t tread new ground, but it is pleasant and short.  Three stars.

Seven Doors to Education is the jewel of this issue.  It is the third story by newcomer Fred Saberhagen, and I think it’s my favorite thus far.  A young postal worker with no particular talents or prospects is abducted by unknown forces and presented with a series of increasingly difficult puzzles.  Why him?  And to what end?  A genuinely engaging story with a satisfying conclusion.  Four stars.

The Useless Bugbreeders may be James Stamers’ best story to date.  That’s not necessarily high praise given his track record of two and three star submissions, but this particular story, about an attorney attempting to spare a planet in the way of interstellar freeway construction, is silly fun.  Three stories.

Cinderella Story, the second story I’ve read by Allen Kim Lang, retains his breezy style.  It works in this tale, of a young woman federal agent who is sent to investigate a most peculiar bank.  It scores points for featuring a strong female lead, and for spotlighting the sexism women have to endure in the workplace (though I can’t be certain if Lang did so deliberately or unconsciously).  Three stars.

Ending with a whimper, the last story is Jack Sharkey’s The Flying Tuskies of K’niik K’naak — basically, about the comeuppance of an upper class big-game hunter by his mistreated servant.  Again, it’s a science fiction story with no science fiction.  I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s just not that good.  Two stars.

That puts us at 2.75 for the whole book, but if you start on page 50 and quit around page 124, you’re actually in for a fine read.  And that’s 75 more pages of good fiction than I’ve published this month!

[March 8, 1961] Bland for Adventure (April 1961 Galaxy, 1st half)

As we speak, my nephew, David, is on the S.S. Israel bound for Haifa, Israel.  It’s the last leg of a long trip that began with a plane ride from Los Angeles to New York, continued with a six-day sea cruise across the Atlantic to Gibraltar, and which currently sees the youth making a brief landing in the Greek port of Piraeus.  He’s about to begin a year (or two) in Israel on a kibbutz.  An exciting adventure, to be sure, though I will miss our discussions on current science fiction, even if his tastes were, understandably, a little less refined than mine. 

So I hope, dear readers, that you will make up for his absence by sending me even more of your lovely comments!

Of course, you can hardly prepare your posts until I’ve reviewed this month’s set of magazines.  First on the pile, as usual, is the double-large issue of Galaxy, the biggest of the science fiction magazines with 196 pages packed with some of the biggest names in the field. 

But is bigger always better?  Not necessarily.  In fact, Galaxy seems to be where editor H.L. Gold stuffs his “safe” stories, the ones by famous folks that tend not to offend, but also won’t knock your socks off.

So it is with the April 1961 Galaxy, starting with the novella, Planeteer, the latest from newcomer Fred Saberhagen.  It starts brilliantly, featuring an interstellar contact team from Earth attempting to establish relations with an aboriginal alien race.  Two points impressed me within the first few pages: the belt-pouch sized computer (how handy would that be?) and the breakfast described as, “synthetic ham, and a scrambled substance not preceded or followed by chickens.”

The race, however, is disappointingly human; the tale is a fairly typical conundrum/solution story.  On the other hand, the alien king does show some refreshing intelligence—no easy White God tactics for the Planeteers!  Three stars.

Fritz Leiber offers up Kreativity for Kats, an adorable tale of a feline with the blood of an artiste.  Now, any story that features cats is sure to be a cute one (with the notable, creepy exception of The Mind Thing…) It’s not science fiction at all, not even fantasy, but I read it with a grin on my face.  Four stars.

Galaxy’s science fact column, For Your Information, by German rocket scientist Willy Ley, continues to be entertaining.  This bi-month’s article is on the Gegenschein, that mysterious counterpoint to the Zodiacal Light.  There’s also a fun aside about the annexation of Patagonia by a bewildered German professor as well as silly bit on Seven League Boots.  Three stars.

Last up for the first half of the book is James Stamer’s Scent Makes a Difference, which answers the question on everyone’s mind: What if you could meet all the alternate yous—the ones who took different paths in life?  Would you learn from all of your possible mistakes?  Or would you merely commit the biggest blunder of all?  I didn’t quite understand the ending (or perhaps I overthought it).  Three stars.

That’s that for now.  Read up, drop me a line, and I’ll have the second half in a few days!

[January 6, 1960] Watch your tongue?  (February 1961 Galaxy, Part 1)

The old saying goes, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  As you know, I am rarely reserved when I don’t like a piece of work.  Every once in a while, I get a gentle chiding.  One reader said he didn’t want to hear about stories I don’t like–just the ones I do.  Another opined that my fans might tire of my consistently negative reviews of a certain author. 

I don’t want to discount these criticisms as I think they are valid.  On the other hand, if I am unreserved in my scorn, I am similarly effusive about what I like.  My columns are rarely completely negative.  Moreover, I recognize that even the works I don’t like often appeal to others, and I love receiving letters from folks who disagree with my judgments. 

Besides, you good folk likely come here to see me as much as to get reading recommendations.  Alfred Bester said in F&SF last month that he prefers English non-fiction to American as English authors will intrude into the text.  There are only so many ways to package facts; the only distinguishing character is the personality of the packager.  Certainly, I read Asimov as much for the science lesson as for the fun anecdotes.

So, enjoy all of me, even the kvetching.  And if you don’t, feel free to tell me just how much you dislike me.  I may even agree with you…

On to the task at hand–reviewing the first half of the February 1961 Galaxy!

Evelyn Smith (formerly Gold, same name as the editor, natch) takes up most of it with Sentry in the Sky, a story about a malcontent in a futuristic caste system who is enlisted to become a long-term spy mole on a more primitive world.  It’s not bad, but it is awfully simplistic, and the point meanders.  Moreover, it relies on awfully human aliens.  Of course, it’s satire as much as anything else–the primitive world has a culture that is immediately familiar to 20th Century people.  Let me know what you think.  Three stars.

Doorstep is a cute short by Keith Laumer about an overachieving general and the UFO he tries to crack open.  Sort of a poor man’s Sheckley; something I’d expect from 1952.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s article is pretty interesting this month.  He covers the new science of “seeding” clouds to create rain in Let’s do Something about the Weather.  Three stars.

Finally, we have what may be the very first piece from a new writer, Volume Paa-Pyx by Fred Saberhagen.  It’s a fun twist on the future where those with specific aptitudes get placed in appropriate professions.  When is a police state not a police state?  Three stars.

It doesn’t take a slide rule to calculate this issue: Three stars across the board!  Nothing exceptional, nothing horrid.  Satisfying, but ummemorable.  Let me ask you–is it better to be delivered a dose of strong ups and downs or a steady, bland mean?