Tag Archives: galactic stars

[Sep. 8, 1962] Navigating the Wasteland (1961-62 in (good) television)

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


by Gideon Marcus

The Fall season of television is nearly upon us, so it is appropriate that we pause to reflect on what the Idiot Box has brought us recently.  May of last year, Newton Minow, our (relatively) new FCC chief, described television as “The Vast Wasteland.”  While it may have its moments of education, quality, and even sublimity, he argued, the majority of the stuff you see, network or syndicated, will turn your brain to mush.

I imagine anyone exposing themselves 24 hours a day to every game show, every variety act, every soap opera would make a similar assessment.  But what about the selective viewer?  The one who rewards only quality with her/his eyeballs?  And has there been improvement since Minow made his judgment?

Now, I normally restrict my reviews to things SFnal (science fictional for the non-fan), but over the last year, I’ve found myself in front of the small screen more hours than I’d normally care to admit.  And since a subsection of my followers are, perversely, as interested in my humdrum 1962 life as they are in my analysis, I thought I’d give you insight as to what shows keep the Traveller’s tube aglow.

So here are the Galactic Stars, 1961-62 TV edition, covering the television season that ended back in June and has since been in summer reruns.  Many of these programs will continue into the Fall season, so consider this a Galactic TV Guide:

Route 66 1960-

Ever since Eisenhower paved the nation with the Interstate Highway system, Route 66, “America’s Main Street” has declined in importance.  Nevertheless, this national artery will likely always hold a nostalgic hold on our consciousness.  It represents a path to anywheresville, an open road with no limits.  Where the destination isn’t the state of Arizona or Iowa, but rather a state of mind, arrived at only after a long, contemplative journey.

On that road is a Corvette; in that Corvette are Todd Stiles, an erudite Yale ex-pat, and Buzz Murdock, a hard-knocked but soulful kid from New York.  Handsome wanderers (especially the latter!) trying to find themselves, in a myriad towns, a plethora of menial jobs.  They are Kerouac’s Beat Generation set to celluloid, their dialogue filled with poetry and meaning.

There is a formula to the show, albeit one that has lent itself to infinite variation.  Each episode features a new town, a new occupation.  Usually, a local is in some kind of trouble.  Maybe it’s physical danger.  Sometimes they just need to find where their head is at.  There are romances, comedies, hard-hitting dramas…the show runs the gamut.  But ever constant is the chemistry of the two leads, their individual charisma (again, particularly Murdock), the lyricism of the scripts, and the backdrop of our vast country. 

It can be maudlin, it can even sometimes be dull, but it’s usually beautiful.  Always worth a watch.

The Twilight Zone 1960-62

Speaking of literary, Rod Serling pinned the quality bar to the ceiling with this sci-fi/fantasy/horror anthology, blowing the doors off inferior (but still appreciated) precursors like Karloff’s Thriller and Dahl’s Way Out.  Of course, this is a show we’ve covered extensively here at the Journey, but it’s still worth noting what an impact Serling’s creation had on television.  It represents an intersection of innovation, a showcase for writing, acting, cinematography, and scoring.  Even at its worst, it was still decent; at its best, there was no equal.

And now it’s gone.  At the end of the third seaon, Rod decided he was “storied out,” and left to take a professorship at Antioch College; producer Buck Houghton went off to work with television production company, Four Stars.  There’s no sponsor in sight for Season Four. 

However, with nearly a hundred episodes in the can, there’s no doubt that The Twilight Zone will find its way into syndication, where it can continue to inspire.  Perhaps there will be a revival someday.  If not, we can at least hope that future shows will strive to top Serling’s bar, and television will be the better for it. 

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends 1959-

The Traveler watches cartoons?  Don’t scoff.  Ever since the days of Warner Brothers, there has been animation aimed simultaneously at the young as well as the old.  Stuff that combines the rapid slapstick that kids like with witty repartee and sly entendres designed to entertain their parents.

Rocky is a variety show, filled with wacky characters, surprisingly funny puns, and a breakneck pace that will leave you winded.  Indifferently animated, it’s superbly voice-acted.  Whether you’re watching the serial antics of the title’s flying squirrel and moronic moose, or the Silent Era-inspired tales of Mountie Dudley DooRight, or the often painfully punful Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop and Son, you will definitely laugh out loud at least once per segment — probably more.  It may well be the cleverest thing currently on television.

The Andy Griffith Show 1960-

Now here’s one I honestly didn’t expect to have on my favorites list.  It sounds pretty awful on the face of it: a comedy set in a backwoods town that never quite got out of the 1930s, featuring a drawly sheriff and his bumpkin deputy. 

And yet…

There’s something gentle and honest about this show.  It doesn’t rush, it doesn’t try too hard to make you laugh, and under Sheriff Andy Taylor’s rustic aw-shucks exterior is surprising wisdom and intelligence.  Moreover, the interpersonal relationships are mature, healthy ones — even a bit subversively so.

Take, for instance, this (paraphrased) interchange between Andy and his precocious little boy, Opie:

Opie: Pa, I have something to tell you.  You promise not to be mad?
Andy: I can’t promise that.  What is it?
Opie: Well, I put a ball through our neighbor’s window the other day.  Are you mad?
Andy: No, I’m not mad.  Now I have something to tell you, and you promise not to be mad?
Opie: No, pa.
Andy: Well there won’t be an allowance until the window’s all paid up, do you understand?
Opie: Yes, pa.

No moralizing.  No mawkish father-knows-best.  Certainly no spankings.  Just a discussion between reasonable people.  And if you saw my review of the episode where Andy’s girlfriend, the town pharmacist, runs for mayor, you know the show can be decidedly pro-feminist, too.  Now if they’d only tell where they keep the non-White people…

Other stand-outs include:

Mr. Ed 1960-: despite being overly rooted in conventional gender roles, one can’t ignore Alan Young’s charm, the fun of the barbed banter between Young’s married neighbors, or the impressive way they make a horse appear to talk.

Supercar 1961-62: this British import is definitely kiddie fare, but it’s still fun to watch Mike Mercury and his two scientist associates defeat criminals and triumph over natural disaster.  Of course, the acting’s a bit wooden…

Then there’s the rest…some watchable like Perry Mason (a lawyer/mystery show), The Real McCoys (Okies in Los Angeles), Ozzie and Harriet (dig that Ricky Nelson’s singing), and Leave it to Beaver.  Others wretched like My Three Sons and the endless cavalcade of Westerns (Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, etc.) Not to mention the Game Shows like Password, To Tell the Truth, and What’s My Line.

Hmmm.  Maybe Minow’s got something there.  Still, there’s at least ten hours a week of good TV (including the news and occasional Public Television specials like Jazz Casual and last year’s documentary on homosexuality, The Rejected).

And if you’re watching more than ten hours a week instead of reading that stack of sf books and magazines I’ve recommended, well…

…you deserve what you get!

[December 24, 1961] The Best and the Brightest (1961’s Galactic Stars)


by Gideon Marcus

Everyone knows that the great American pastime is Baseball.  Most fans enjoy watching the drama on the diamond, the crowds, the cheers, the hot dogs.  But there is a dedicated minority for whom the sublimest pleasure is compiling Baseball stats.  How well did each team do this year?  Each player?  Year over year, what are the trends?  What are the chances of the Cubs ever winning the World Series again (hah!)

So here’s my confession: I love statistics.  A lot of the reason I read so much science fiction and maintain this column is so that, every year, I can keep track of every story, every magazine, every novel.  In December, I compile these numbers and determine the annual recipients of the Galactic Stars.  It tickles my mathematical brain, and it lets me see, graphically, how things are going not just in the careers of my favorite writers, but in the genre as a whole.

Plus, you get a slew of recommendations in the bargain.  I mean, why wait for the Hugos?  They’re just going to echo what I say, anyway, right?

1961 was a better year than 1960, which saw an absolute nadir of 5-star stories.  As a result, there was some stiff competition in nearly every category.  I’ve listed the winners in bold, followed by the runners up and the honorable mentions (where applicable).  Read on – I’m sure you’ll agree that I had tough choices to make:

Best Poetry

Extraterrestrial Trilogue, Sheri Eberhart (Galaxy)

Best Vignette (1-9 pages):

Ms Fnd in a Lbry, Hal Draper (F&SF)

Adapted, by Carol Emshwiller (F&SF)

The Intruder, Theodore L. Thomas (F&SF)

Honorable Mention:

The House in Bel Aire, Margaret St. Clair (IF)

Juliette, Claude-François Cheiniss (F&SF)

The Day they got Boston, Herbert Gold (F&SF)

Best Short Story (10-19 pages):

Vassi, Art Lewis (IF)

Of All Possible Worlds, Rosel George Brown (F&SF)

The Little Man who wasn’t Quite, William Stuart (Galaxy)

Honorable mention:

The Weirdest World, R.A. Lafferty (Galaxy)

Best Novelette (20-45 pages)

Return, Zenna Henderson (F&SF)

A Planet Named Shayol, Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy)

Time Lag, Poul Anderson (Analog)

Honorable Mention:

Hothouse, Brian Aldiss (F&SF)

Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, Cordwainer Smith (F&SF)

The Moon Moth, Jack Vance (Galaxy)

Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons, Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy)

Hiding Place, Poul Anderson (Analog)

The Quaker Cannon, Cyril Kornbluth and Fred Pohl (Analog)

Best Novella (46+ pages)

Sentry of the Sky, Evelyn Smith (Galaxy)

Undergrowth, Brian Aldiss (F&SF)

Ultima Thule, Mack Reynolds (Analog)

(These were all three-star stories; were no outstanding Novellas this year.  This is not too shocking – it is a rare story length)

Best Novel/Serial

Naked to the Stars, Gordon Dickson: (F&SF)

Dark Universe, Daniel Galouye

A Fall of Moondust, Arthur C. Clarke

Honorable Mention:

The Fisherman, Cliff Simak (Analog)

Three Hearts and Three Lions, Poul Anderson

The Mind Thing, Frederic Brown

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Ben Barzman

Science Fact

Not as we know it, Isaac Asimov (F&SF) (and most of Asimov’s other articles in his F&SF column this year)

Honorable Mention:

An Introduction to the Calculus of Desk Cleaning, Maurice Price (Analog)

Dragons and Hot Air Ballons, Willy Ley (Galaxy)

Best Magazine

Galaxy (3.43 stars)

Fantasy and Science Fiction (3.11 stars)

Analog (2.79 stars)

IF (2.73 stars)

The Big Three magazines all had strong representation in every category.  The one surprise was IF‘s in the Novelette list.  However, in overall quality, it wasn’t a close competition this year.  Not only did Galaxy have the highest score, but it also was the best magazine five out of the six months it was published. 

Best author(s):

Cordwainer Smith

Poul Anderson

This is a new category, one that likely won’t be reflected in the Hugos.  I feel that these two authors put out so much good work this year, with Smith penning three 5-star stories, and Anderson being both prolific and consistently excellent, that they deserved some kind of special recognition.

Best Dramatic Presentation

Master of the World

Mysterious Island

Atlantis

One might argue that Jules Verne was the real winner given that his works inspired two of these three winners.  Note that The Twilight Zone did not make the cut this year. 

Thus ends 1961, a thoroughly enjoyable year for science fiction and fantasy.  Next year, perhaps we’ll add Fantastic and Amazing to the consideration.  I rub my hands greedily at the thought of collecting even more statistics…

[Dec. 11, 1960] Something Bright (the 1960 Galactic Stars!)

The chill of winter is finally here, heralding the end of a year.  It’s time for eggnog, nutmeg, presents, pies, and family.  But more importantly, it’s time for the second annual Galactic Stars awards.

Forget the Hugos–here’s what I liked best in 1960.

In a tradition I began last year, I look back at all fiction that debuted in magazines (at least, The Big Four) with a cover date of this year as well as all of the science fiction books published.  Then I break down the fiction by length, choose the best by magazine, and finally the best overall.  All using the most modern and sophisticated scientific techniques, of course.

Last year, my choices mirrored those chosen at the Labor Day Worldcon for the Hugo awards.  We’ll see if my tastes continue to flow in the mainstream.  I break my length categories a bit finer than the Hugos, so there are bound to be some differences from that aspect, alone. 

(stories within the category are ordered best to least)

Best Vignette (1-9 pages):

A Day in the Suburbs, by Evelyn Smith (F&SF)

Words and Music, Arthur Porges (IF)

The Barrier Moment, Poul Anderson (Analog)

Best Short Story (10-19 pages):

From Shadowed Places, Richard Matheson (Combat Unit, Keith Laumer, runner-up) (F&SF)

Something Bright, Zenna Henderson (Galaxy)

Gun for Hire, Mack Reynolds (Analog)

Best Novelette (20-45 pages)

Immortality for Some, J. T. McIntosh (Analog)

Meeting of the Minds, Robert Sheckley (Galaxy)

All the Traps of Earth, Clifford Simak (F&SF)

Best Novella (46+ pages)

To the Tombaugh Station, Wilson Tucker (F&SF)

The Lost Kafoozalum, Pauline Ashwell (Analog)

(none in Galaxy/IF)

Best Novel/Serial

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller (1st Place)

Deathworld, Harry Harrison (2nd Place)

The High Crusade, Poul Anderson (3rd Place)

Science Fact

Element of Perfection, Isaac Asimov (F&SF)

F&SF and Analog competed for the top of their categories, with Galaxy/IF not winning a single one.  This carried over into the novels, with Canticle originally appearing in F&SF, and Deathworld and Crusade both Analog stories. 

This is consistent with the overall magazine rankings…

Best Magazine

Fantasy and Science Fiction (3.17 stars)

Analog (2.92 stars)

Galaxy/IF (2.75 stars)

…particularly when you understand that Analog’s rating is encumbered by John Campbell’s wretched “science” articles. 

All in all, there were fewer stand-out (5-star) stories in 1960.  On the other hand, women wrote three of the fourteen fiction winners, a proportion larger than their representation by a factor of two. 

I think the answer is clear—if we want better fiction, we need more women writing it!

Finally, adding a new category to accommodate the large and small screen:

Best Dramatic Presentation

The Time Machine, George Pal

with a special nod to…

The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling (the 1st Season)

As always, tell me your favorites for 1960.  Here’s hoping for an excellent 1961 in science fiction/fantasy! 

[Dec. 8, 1959] Best of the Best! (The Galactic Stars Awards, 1959)

Science fiction is dead.  Long live science fiction.

Naysayers have been predicting the end of the genre since 1953 when the first post-war boom started to lose momentum.  Since then, I’ve read a lot of science fiction (and fantasy).  It’s true that a lot of the lesser magazines have folded in the past 6 years, but I still find plenty to read every month, and much of it is quite good.

Now that I’ve been at this article-writing business for more than a year, I have enough comparative data to not only convey my favorite stories of 1959, but the best stories (in my opinion) for each magazine, and for each length. 

In other words, I can conduct my own mini-Hugos specifically for the Big 3 (or 4, depending on how you count Galaxy/IF.  Let this serve as both a buying guide and a request for agreement/rebuttal.

THE GALACTIC STARS, 1959 EDITION!

The Categories:

Best Astounding Stories by Length

Serial: Pirates of Ersatz by Murray Leinster—3 stars.
Novella: Despoiler of the Golden Empire by Randall Garrett—2 stars.
Novelette: Cat and Mouse by Ralph Williams—5 stars.
Short story: Seeling by Katherine MacLean—4 stars.
Vignette: Vanishing Point by C.C. Beck—3 stars.
Non-fiction: Blood from Turnips by William Boyd—4 stars.

Pretty pathetic that the best novella is one of the worst I’ve ever read.  There were just two 5-star stories the entire year (Murray Leinster’s novelette Aliens being the other).  In fact, if you took all of Astounding‘s four and five star stories and articles, they would fit in a single large-ish issue.  It’d be a very good issue, but the other eleven would be just dreadful.

Best Galaxy/IF Stories by Length

Serial: None (Bob Sheckley’s Time Killer started last year).
Novella: Whatever Counts by Fred Pohl—5 stars.
Novelette: Return of a Prodigal by J.T.McIntosh—5 stars.
Short Story: Death in the House by Clifford Simak—5 stars.
Vignette: Jag-Whiffing Service by David R. Bunch—4 stars.
Non-fiction: Solar Orbit of Mechta by Willy Ley—5 stars.

There were a total of seven 5-star entries in Galaxy/IF in 1959 and plenty of 4-star pieces.  IF is slightly more uneven in quality than its big sister, Galaxy, but it consistently has stand-out tales.  Call it an experiment that’s working.

Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories by Length

Serial: Starship Soldier by Robert Heinlein—4 stars.
Novelella: None.
Novelette: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes—5 stars.
Short Story: The Man who lost the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon—5 stars.
Vignette: Game with a Goddess by Leslie Bonnet—4 stars.
Non-fiction: No more Ice Ages by Isaac Asimov—5 stars.

F&SF had 11 5-star pieces this year!  There were some hard choices here.  Knight’s What Rough Beast, Boucher’s Quest for St. Aquin, This Earth of Hours, To Fell a Tree–F&SF has no shortage of excellent novelettes.  Asimov’s articles are consistently better than Ley’s, too (not to slight Willy, whose pieces are never bad and often cover more esoteric territory).

I’m very curious to see what gets anthologized.

Best Overall by Story Length

Serial: Starship Soldier.
Novella: Whatever Counts.
Novelette: Flowers for Algernon.
Short Story: The Man who lost the Sea.
Vignette: Game with a Goddess.
Non-fiction: No more Ice Ages.

F&SF comes out on top, though there was stiff competition.  I find it interesting that there were no 5-star vignettes; it may simply be that it is harder to make a strong impression in such a short space, or perhaps I am simply biased against the format.

Best Magazine

Fantasy and Science Fiction: 3.33
Galaxy/IF: 3.21
Astounding: 2.58

I don’t think these rankings come as a surprise.

There you have it: 1959’s Galactic Stars.  I had considered making this a double-length article by judging the worst science fiction and fantasy stories of the year (perhaps the Galactic Turkeys?), but it’s the holiday season, and I’m feeling charitable.  Let’s just make one award, engrave it with Randall Garrett’s name, and burn it in effigy.

Now—tell me your top picks for 1959!

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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