Science fiction digests are a balancing act. An editor has to fill a set number of pages every month relying solely on the stories s/he’s got at her/his disposal. Not to mention the restrictions imposed if one wants to publish an “all-star” or otherwise themed issue.
Analog has got the problem worst of all of the Big Three mags. Galaxy is a larger digest, so it has more room to play with. F&SF tends to publish shorter stories, which are more modular. But Analog usually includes a serialized novel and several standard columns leaving only 100 pages or so in which to fit a few bigger stories. If the motto of The New York Times is “All the news that’s fit to print,” then Analog’s could well be, “All the stories that fit, we print.”
How else to explain the unevenness of the October 1961 Analog? The lead novella, Lion Loose, by James Schmitz, is 60 pages of unreadability. It’s a shame since Schmitz has written some fine work before, but I simply unable to finish this tale of space piracy and teleporting animals. Your mileage may vary. One star.
Gordie Dickson’s Love Me True fares better, though it is a bit Twilight Zone-esque. Space explorer risks all to bring a cute fuzzy-wuzzy back from Alpha Centauri as a pet. In the end, it turns out the bonds of domestication run the other way. Nicely written, but the idea is two decades behind the times. Three stars.
The Asses of Balaam is Randall Garrett’s contribution, under the pseudonym “David Gordon” used by many Analog writers. It’s the best piece in the book (didn’t expect that from Garrett!), a first contact story told from the point of view of some all-too human aliens. I particularly appreciated the imaginative setting, the priority placed on ecological conservation, and the cute (if not unpredictable) twist at the end. I must say – Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics have become axiomatic to all science fiction. Four stars.
Now, the science fact column of Analog is the worst of those included in the Big Three mags, usually filled with the crankiest of crank hypotheses. I have to give credit to editor Campbell’s printing of Report on the Electric Field Rocket, by model rocketeer, G. Harry Stine. This report is, in fact, an experimental refutation of H.C. Dudley’s dubious proposal to use the Earth’s electric field to help launch rockets. Actual science! Three stars.
Harry Harrison’s Sense of Obligation continues, to be completed next issue. It’s reminiscent of Harrison’s excellent Deathworld in that it features a man made superhero by virtue of having grown up on a hostile planet. Sense is not as good as Deathworld, though. Full rating when it finishes.
That leaves The Man Who Played to Lose, another disappointing outing from a normally good author, in this case, Laurence Janifer (writing as “Larry M. Harris). Interstellar Super Spy is sent to a planet in the throes of civil war. His job is to stop the insurrection – by making it too successful! A smug, implausible story, with far too much preaching at its tail. Two stars.
This all adds up to a sub-par score of 2.6 stars out of 5. This is not the worst Analog has gotten, but it’s not all that unusual, either. This is why it usually takes me the longest to get through an issue of Campbell’s magazine.
Next up… a special article from a surprising source!