Tag Archives: galaxy

February 1959 Galaxy Wrap-up (12-16-1958)

At long last, the February 1959 Galaxy is done, and I can give my assessment of the new bi-monthly format.  It is likely that this issue was composed of material the editor, Mr. Gold, had accumulated before the decision to reduce the number of annual issues.  Therefore, the real proof of the pudding will happen when the next issue comes out in the first week of February next year. 

Two stories remained to be read when last you saw me.  One is by newcomer, Ned Lang, whose short story, Forever is about the peril one faces when one has developed the world’s first immortality serum.  Or, at least, when one thinks he/she is the first.  It’s not a bad story, and it has a cute ending, but the writing has a certain clunkiness to it.  I suppose allowances have to be made for neophytes, especially ones working for a penny-and-a-half a word.

The other story, a novella by J.F. Bone called Insidekick, is quite good.  This is, in part, because it turns a genre on its head.  Thanks to people like Bob Heinlein, the “Body Snatcher” trope is well-known: Evil, amorphous alien insinuates itself into its host human and turns it into a hollow shell.  In particularly gory instances, the parasite eats its host like the larvae of the Digger Wasp.  I have a friend who is relatively immune to the most nauseating of phenomena, but show him a movie about bodysnatching beasts, especially when they enter through cranial orifices, and he fairly faints.

In Insidekick, however, the symbiont is charitable rather than menacing.  The Zark, as it is known, only wishes to help its host survive as best it can, for in doing so, the chances of success for both host and symbiont is maximized.  The host, in this case, is a government agent by the name of Johnson, who is investigating a corrupt interstellar corporation under suspicion of growing tobacco illegally for profit on the planet Antar.  Johnson is quickly fingered, and he certainly would not have lasted long were it not for the happy accident of his meeting with the Zark, a native to Antar.  As the union of the two creatures occurs while Johnson is unconscious, he is unaware of the relationship.

The results, however, quickly become obvious.  In Bone’s story, all humans have a certain degree of psionic potential.  Practitioners of psi, on the other hand, are universally psychotic and, thus, only marginally useful.  The Zark unlocks Johnson’s psionic potential without precipitating any nasty psychological effects.  Johnson gradually realizes he has become a telepath and has the ability to teleport.  Telekinetic and precognitive ability follow soon after.  With his newfound skills, he is able to evade death and take down the criminal organization.

What makes the story so fun is how nice the Zark is.  Who wouldn’t want a benevolent guardian angel living inside him/her, and thus enjoy a panoply of superpowers?  Better yet, there is no sting in the story’s tail.  Johnson isn’t doomed to die prematurely; it doesn’t turn out the Zark is really planning on eating Johnson; the Zark isn’t part of an alien invasion.  The story simply is what it is—the happy tale of a man and his symbiont.  The only weakness is the two-page coda, which feels tacked on. 

If I did not know that Bone is a real flesh-and-blood person, I’d think he was a cover for Bob Sheckley (who also appeared in this issue, finishing up Timekiller).  Insidekick has that same light, pleasant touch.

To wrap things up, let’s give the new giant-sized Galaxy a final score.  Timekiller was decent, Installment Plan was flawed and disturbing in its politics, but the rest of the magazine ranged from good to quite good.  Let’s call it three out of five stars. 

And good news!  I managed to secure a copy of F&SF.  Stay tuned!

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Fact and Fiction (February 1959 Galaxy, Part 2; 12-14-1958)

For your reading pleasure today, a piece in two parts.  First a bit on fiction, and then a bit on the other stuff.

Plowing on through the new maxi-sized Galaxy, the first story after Installment Plan is a slight bit of atmospheric by Charles A. Stearns called Pastoral Affair.  If you’ve read the Wells classic, The Island of Dr. Moreau, then you’ve essentially read this story.  Stearns, I understand, largely wrote for the pulps and less prestigious magazines, and his work reads like something from the 30s.  Not bad, just not much.

But the succeeding Fred Pohl piece, I Plingot, Who you?, is quite good.  My father was a science fiction fan of “Golden Age” vintage before his untimely passing some twenty years ago.  He once said, rather presciently, that the only way one could ever really unite the world would be the invention of an external threat, perhaps a world-destroying asteroid or (even better) an extraterrestrial invasion. 

Pohl takes this concept and turns it on its head: What if someone convinced all of the world leaders separately that an alien race was approaching, and the first to encounter it would get an exclusive and most rewarding deal?  And what if the race landed their spacecraft not in America or the U.S.S.R., but in the neutral powder-keg of French Algeria.  Why, it might kick off a bloody competition resulting in an all-out atomic war!  Now, what if that instigating someone were actually a representative of an alien species whose job was to fabricate the alien arrival to cause the destruction of Earth and ensure that interstellar competition was kept to a minimum?  You’d get Plingot.

The pacing and the writing really make this story, as well as the unexpected ending (which is very Heinlein-esque).  The story is from the eponymous Plingot’s point of view, and his wording and mood are subtly and suitably alien.  Interestingly enough, it is decidedly fixed in a very specific period of time—perhaps the next few months.  For the flag of the United States has 49 stars, and it is pretty clear by now that Hawaii will be a state very soon, to balance Republican and Democratic votes in the Senate, if nothing else.  Moreover, given the recent turmoil in France that brought DeGaulle back to the fore and created yet another French Republic (Number 5!), I can’t imagine that France’s hold on Algeria is anything but tenuous.  This all works, however, since the story is not a prediction of the future but rather a prediction of how the present might deal with a futuristic threat.

Now the non-fiction.  Willy Ley’s article this bi-month wraps up his article on “The World Next Door:” the alien realm of the deep sea, and ties in nicely with the unusually large number of undersea accomplishments achieved by the United States this year.  Did you know that the nuclear-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Seawolf stayed underwater for 60 consecutive days?  The air its crew left port with was the air the crew breathed for two straight months.  That kind of self-contained endurance is relevant to travel in Outer Space, where fresh air is even less accessible.

The Seawolf is the younger sister of the U.S.S. Nautilus, which made history in August by being the first ship to travel to the North Pole under water.  I saw/heard in a recent newsreel that there is talk of opening up underwater polar trade routes between East and West.  I don’t know how feasible that would be, but it is exciting nonetheless. 

So stay tuned!  I predict that the undersea science fiction genre (heretofore severely underrepresented—Fred Pohl’s Slave Ship serialized two years ago in Galaxy, is one of the few examples) will become a big component of published sci-fi in the near future.

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The way it is (February 1959 Galaxy, Part 1; 12-10-1958)

December is here, and San Diego is feeling the uncommonly cold bite of near-winter weather.  Why, temperatures barely make it into the upper 60s around noon-time.  I’m not sure how we manage.

My subscription copy of F&SF never arrived.  I may have to pick it up at the newsstand, if there are any left.  Luckily, the February 1959 double-sized edition of Galaxy did arrive.  That’s how I was able to finish “Timekiller.”  Yesterday, while briskly walking along the beach dressed appropriately for our local sub-arctic temperatures, I finished the lead novella, “Installment Plan”, by Clifford Simak.  This will be the subject of today’s piece.

For those who don’t know Cliff, he has been a staple of science fiction for a couple of decades now.  I first encountered him in 1952 with his excellent story in Galaxy, “Junkyard.”  Since then, he’s written the serialized novel, “Ring Around the Sun,” and a number of shorter stories.  I like Cliff, but I find his work tends to be aimless, though completely readable.  “Installment Plan” is no exception.

It starts out promisingly-enough with a pack of biblically-named anthropomorphic robots and their human coordinator, Steve Sheridan.  They have been sent to clinch a trade deal with a race of backwards humanoids on Garson IV.  The Garsonians have a cash crop that, properly distilled, produces the galaxy’s most potent tranquilizer.  The deal had been set up fifteen years prior by previous expeditions to the planet and then left to languish.  By the time Sheridan gets to the planet, however, the natives universally refuse to deal.  Thus, there is a double-mystery to solve: how did this turn of events come about, and is there any way to make a deal?

The story is interesting throughout.  The problem is that it wraps up altogether too quickly and conventionally.  The thoughtful tone and the careful characterization are, in my opinion, wasted.  Moreover, it appears Simak is attempting to make some allegorical points, but he never quite gets there.

For instance: Sheridan’s robots are portrayed as a friendly, competent, and essentially human lot.  Yet, Sheridan muses, despite their abilities, and despite their being better than humans in terms of endurance and ability to learn (since their skills are banked in storage units called “transmogs”), they lack that spark necessary for independent operation.  They need a man around to lead them, tell them what to do. 

In other words, these beings may look like us, but their proper place is in servitude rather than self-mastery.  With a proper guiding touch, we can help them accomplish what they are simply unable to do themselves.  I don’t think the parallel to slavery and its attendant rationalizations is accidental.  Whether Simak meant his portrayal of robots to condone or condemn this mindset is not clear, however.  It is never made the point of the story.

Slightly more developed is the phenomenon of the bilked aboriginal.  The natives of Garson IV are portrayed as an honorable but stupid, primitive lot.  They seem ripe for the cheating, which is why their being uncheatable is so frustrating and incomprehensible to Sheridan.  Sheridan is further hamstrung by his government’s rules that strictly prohibit the wholesale appropriation of native land or slaughter of its owners. 

It ultimately turns out that the Garsonians have already been bilked–by another race.  Having committed themselves, under most unfavorable terms, to this other debtor, they have nothing left to trade to the humans.  Moreover, the provisions of the deal include the mass exodus of the natives from their planet, leaving it fallow for the taking.

It’s an uncomfortably familiar scenario, one that has been repeated on Earth on many occasions when “civilized” men have encountered “primitives.”  Again, I waited for some kind of commentary from the author.  Instead, Simak has Sheridan capitalize on the opportunity.  With no one on the planet, the government’s rules regarding non-interference are inapplicable; Sheridan plans to establish his own corporate farm and milk the planet for all its worth.

Put this way, the story sounds like satire.  It is written completely without irony, however.  I’ve said before that our cultural prejudices are the air we breathe.  It takes conscious effort to take a deep whiff and catch the stink.  Science fiction should be (and occasionally is) more progressive than your average literature, but too often, as happened in this story, it is simply a product of its time.  In the end, Simak put some interesting and challenging ideas into this novella, and they would have made interesting stories in their own right.  As is, they instead seem to tacitly condone a status quo I’m not comfortable with.

(on the other hand, at least the protagonist has a beard, and skintight clothes are available for all genders in this future!)

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Killing Time (Robert Sheckley’s Timekiller; 12-06-1958)

Regular readers of this column know that I am unreserved in my praise of Robert Sheckley.  Since bursting on the scene early this decade, he and his alter-ego, Finn O’Donnovan, have graced the pages of Astounding and Galaxy and probably more magazines.  If you haven’t read his three short-story anthologies, you need to plunk down the $1.05 and expand your library.

I’m not quite so enthusiastic about Sheckley’s first novel, serialized in Galaxy as Timekiller.  It’s not bad; it just doesn’t rise to the standard set by his shorter work.

Timekiller is the story of the bland Thomas Blaine, a junior yacht designer from 1958.  He lives a pleasant but uninteresting life as the dogsbody of an East Coast boatwright.  Blaine is charming-enough, but he’s never really scored with ladies, work or life.  On the way home one night, his car swerves out of control causing a fatal collision with an oncoming driver.

Yet Blaine awakens—in 2110!  It turns out that some time in-between Blaine’s death and rebirth, it is discovered that each person has a soul distinct from his/her body, and about one in ten thousand make it through the death trauma with the soul intact.  The soul hovers about in a transition between Here and the Hereafter, occasionally causing unrest on Earth.  Hence the stories of ghosts and poltergeists.

Not long after the discovery that one’s persona survives death, a company is founded to insure that everyone with enough cash on hand can safely navigate death and journey to the Hereafter.  The company is fittingly called “Immortality, Inc.” Unfortunately, the work of this company has played havoc with the world’s religions, who are staunchly against Immortality, Inc.  This is why they tried to save the soul of a 1958 religious leader, who could serve as a spokesman for the company after his resurrection.

Unfortunately for Immortality, Inc., they got Blaine instead.

I commented in an earlier piece that science fiction authors tend to incorporate only one or two truly revolutionary changes into their stories, either for fear of alienating their audiences or for inability to envision more (or both).  Sheckley’s future is not that different, technologically, except for the flying cars that we all expect to be driving.  Instead, Sheckley focuses on the social and medical implications of resurrection.  People sell their bodies in exchange for Hereafter insurance to rich people who want to stay on Earth for another lifetime.  Others transplant their souls to other bodies for kicks or more-nefarious purposes.  Imperfectly transplanted souls never synchronize properly with their host bodies, which become zombies and eventually decay to uselessness. 

In a story about independent souls, the consuming questions to my mind are (1) does a transplant body retain any vestiges of the old soul inhabitant? and (2) what is the Hereafter like?  The first is answered pretty well.  The second isn’t touched upon.  I suppose that makes sense, but it is hardly satisfying.

My issue isn’t with set-up but rather the execution, which is a bit lacking.  Much of this can be attributed to the format.  The novel began serialization way back in the October 1958 issue of Galaxy, and it was spread over an unprecedented four installments.  As a result, the story reads a lot like four connected novellas.  The first primarily deals with Blaine’s arrival, in which Blaine narrowly escapes death at the hands of a body peddler.  In part two, Blaine is a “hunter,” an assassin hired for an elaborate suicide game in which the quarry expects to die in a blaze of combat.  Part three, perhaps the most interesting, reveals a sinister plot against Blaine’s life and introduces us to the subterranean zombie community.  Part four wraps things up in an exciting escape from the country and finishes off with a good (though not unguessable) twist.

Because of the format, Timekiller feels a bit padded and uncoordinated.  I had a similar problem with Heinlein’s latest serial, Have Spacesuit Will Travel; Part 2 of that novel was largely filled with an exciting but rather pointless escape attempt that ended in frustration. 

The characters in Timekiller aren’t terribly exciting either.  Most prominent besides Blaine is Marie Thorne, the scientist in charge of Blaine’s recovery; she ends up largely a love interest.  The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, though I did like Ray Melhill, a fellow target of the aforementioned body peddler, who provides Blaine a lot of assistance despite being dead most of the story.  Smith, a zombie, probably has the most interesting story to tell, and his thread runs from beginning to end.

So what’s the final verdict?  I’m afraid this review makes me sound a bit harsh.  Timekiller is thoroughly readable, and the world it portrays does capture the imagination.  I could see the novel being improved in editing for book publication, which I understand is forthcoming.  As is, however, it is merely competent.

For Bob Sheckley, that’s damned faint praise indeed.

3 stars out of 5.

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Wrapping up the December 1958 Galaxy (10-30-58)

On a walk down the block on a warm autumn afternoon, I finished the rest of the December 1958 Galaxy.  I’d worked my way backward from the end, as I’d wanted to finish the next installment of “Time Killer.”  Thus, I got to the lead novella, “Join Now” by Finn O’Donovan, last. 

Both the name and the style were familiar.  18 pages into the tale, I recalled that O’Donovan is a pen name for Robert Sheckley.  It is obvious from the writing style that it’s a Sheckley story, and given that Time Killer is being serialized in the same issue, I am not surprised Galaxy used a pseudonym.

Of course, this means that of the 142 pages, a good half of them were penned by Sheckley.  Galaxy is becoming Satellite (a bi-montly magazine which features a full-length, though short, novel plus a short story or two)!

Being a Sheckley short, it’s great.  It’s not science fiction, per se, or perhaps you might call it soft science fiction.  This is the kind of stuff Galaxy pioneered and Sheckley excels at.  This particular tale is about a “Splitter,” one of class of people in the future who splits his/her personality into three parts: the aggressive “id,” the conscientious and dull “superego,” and the fun-loving “libido.”  The superego remains in its own body while the other two parts are put into super-realistic androids. 

Traditionally, the polite superego stays on overcrowded Earth while the libido heads to Mars, which is mostly a fleshpot and tourist resort.  The tough id heads out to Venus, a wide-open jungle frontier.  Sheckley’s tale follows superego-bearing Crompton, as he travels to Mars and Venus, desperate to re-unite with his other parts. 

I think my favorite parts of the story involve Crompton’s libido-bearer, Loomis, and his speeches justifying his hedonistic lifestyle by which he makes fine money as a gigolo and escort.  There’s compelling satire here:

“Today everything is biased toward the poor as though there were some special virtue in improvidence.  Yet the rich have their needs and necessities, too.  These needs are unlike the needs of the poor, but no less urgent.  The poor require food, shelter, medical attention.  The government provides these admirably. 

But what about the needs of the rich?  People laugh at the idea of a rich man having problems, but does the mere possession of credit exempt him from having problems?  It does not!  Quite the contrary, wealth increases need and sharpens necessity, often leaving a rich man in a more truly necessitous condition than his poor brother.” 

To the question, “Why doesn’t the rich man give up his wealth,” Loomis replies, “Why doesn’t a poor man give up his poverty?  No, it can’t be done.  We must accept the conditions that life has imposed on us.  The burden of the rich is heavy; still they must bear it and seek aid where they can.”

The poor, poor rich people.  Also amusing is Loomis’ justifications for engaging in adultery.  He’s quite convincing, too…

Finishing up this month’s Galaxy is a short tale by the team of Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth.  This was obviously written some time ago since Kornbluth died quite unseasonably of a heart attack in March of this year.  He was only 34 (places hand over heart).

The story is called, “Nightmare with Zeppelins,” and it is less science fiction than an exercise in writing anachronistically.  Specifically, it is a tale told by someone living during the Great War reminiscing about his travels in Africa in 1864.  It is fun, ironic stuff; the point of such an exercise, of course, is really to comment on the present.  I might try my hand at it some time.

Next up: December 1958’s F&SF!

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Make Room!  Make Room! (Musings on overpopulation; 10-29-58)

The December 1958 Galaxy came in the mail on the 26th, and I’ve read about half of it.  Willy Ley’s column, on the amazing alien world beneath the surface of the sea, is fascinating stuff.  The third part (of four) of Sheckley’s Time Killer is engaging, though not in the same class as most of his short stories.  The short murder mystery, “Number of the Beast,” by Fritz Leiber, might have made an interesting novella; as it is, it is too underdeveloped to be interesting.  Too bad.  Fritz is good.

But what inspired this blog was veteran Jack Vance’s latest: “Ullward’s Retreat.”  It is a tale about how a little bit of privacy and living space is a status symbol in an overcrowded world; but, in a society used to being crowded together, too much privacy and living space is undesirable.

Recent figures show that our population is about to hit the 3 billion mark.  Given that we reached 1 billion in 1800 and 2 billion in 1927, it is understandable that a good deal of science fiction depicts an overpopulated future. 

I find it laughable when an author describes shoulder-to-shoulder crowding with a population of (gasp) 7-10 billion!  I recognize that some of our cities are pretty crowded these days, but even tripling the population is not going to squish people together–it will just spread the cities out.  Most of the world is still uninhabited, and I can only guess that science will make more of the world inhabitable.

Vance’s Earth, however, has a whopping 50 billion souls on it, and that seems a reasonable strain on space limitations.  The story starts in the spacious apartment of the eponymous Ullward, a wealthy man.  His home comes with a real garden and an honest-to-goodness oak tree.  His guests are suitably impressed: their homes are tiny cubicles with doors that exit right onto the commuter slidewalks.  To overcome claustrophobia, walls are replaced with image panes that display scenery to convey a convincing illusion of greater space.

Interestingly enough, in Ullward’s Retreat, whole planets are available to colonize with relative ease.  Ullward leases a continent and invites his friends to visit.  They quickly tire of the vast vistas and the pervasive loneliness.  They pine to investigate the “good parts” of the world, which are rendered off-limits by the planet’s owner.  Ultimately, Ullward forgoes his enormous estate and returns to his comparatively (to his peers, not to us) extravagant abode, which has proven, despite its smaller scope, much more impressive to Ullward’s friends.

Vance’s story is a trivial one and not to be taken especially seriously.  I did like some points, however.  For one, it depicts an overcrowded future as not dystopian, simply different.  Anyone who has been to Japan (before or after the war) has seen a society far more used to crowding than ours.  They don’t seem to mind it.  They just make do with smaller gardens and narrower houses; they adapt with greater politeness and cultural rigidity.  The people in Ullward’s Retreat like their little privileges, but those privileges become meaningless without a social context.  I guess it’s the difference between having a 1 karat diamond ring and a 50 karat hunk of diamond in your closet. 

I also like that the ability to colonize does not reduce the population pressure on mother Earth.  Columbus and Cabot finding America did not make Europe any less populated.  It just led to the Americas being more populated (after the colonists did some depopulation of the natives, of course).  Moreover, in a world where people are happier in close quarters with their neighbors, it makes sense that the colonizing spirit would be correspondingly lower. 

Was it a good story?  Is it worth 35 cents?  Sort of, and, probably not.  Nevertheless, it did provoke thought, and can you put a price on that?

Stay tuned.  I’ll have more on this month’s Galaxy in a day or two!

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A Disturbing Sign (10-27-1958)

Uh oh.

I received my December 1958 Galaxy magazine in the mail yesterday.  I have a very set pattern when I read my Galaxies: I start with the editorial, move on to Willy Ley’s science column (“For Your Information”), finish any serial novels in process, and then enjoy the rest.

I was in for a shock right out of the gate, however.  Per Mr. Gold (the editor), Galaxy is going to a bi-monthly format.  Instead of 142 pages for 35 cents every month, Galaxy will be a 192-page magazine coming out every other month for 50 cents.

Now, Mr. Gold puts as positive a spin on it as he can.  He describes the change in schedule as being done to accommodate his desire to offer a bigger magazine rather than reflecting an inability to publish on a monthly schedule. 

“We can fill 196 pages every other month with really good science fiction.  We can’t do it on a monthly schedule.  Nobody can.

Transposed western and detective stories cosmetically disguised as science fiction, oversexed Playboy rejections, witless space wars, extraterrestrial spies, post-atomic societies, biblical greats who turn out to be aliens or visitors from the future, cave-dweller Ugh who discovers how to chip flint or make fire or meets the gods with six arms or ray-flannel buckskins, the road or valley that proves to be a time fault into the future or past, good guy and bad guy marooned on an asteroid, psionics that have long psickened us with their psenseless psamenesses — there are enough of these literary cinders to fill any number of slagpile magazines.  But Galaxy quality?  Enough for 196 packed pages every two months is all we dare hope for, all we can safely promise.”

I wish Mr. Gold would tell us how he really feels about his competitors.

In sum, to hear Mr. Gold tell it, he just can’t get enough good stories.  I have a nagging suspicion that the truth is he is getting hit by the same economic pinch as his competitors, perhaps the continuing fallout from the demise of the American News Company, last year’s event that disrupted magazine distribution nationwide and effectively killed the last of the pulps.  This is borne out by a rumor I have heard from a reliable source that Galaxy is cutting its pay in half: from three cents per word to just one-and-a-half cents per word.  No wonder Mr. Gold expects he will have trouble filling issues!

Interestingly enough, Mr. Gold has also solicited a new round of suggestions from his readers for changes in the magazine’s format.  He is interested in knowing whether we want to keep serial novels or go to a mostly short story contents page.  He also wants to know if we want a letters column (something we strongly rejected eight years ago, and which I would encourage us all to do again). 

Mr. Gold even wants to know how we feel about Mr. Ley’s monthly (now bi-monthly) science column.  I don’t know about you, but Willy Ley, that great German rocket-designing expatriate turned science popularizer is the reason I started subscribing to Galaxy in the first place.  His readable style and interesting topics are well worth picking up back issues for.  I think Galaxy would do well to anthologize his articles as they do their fiction (and as I understand Asimov is doing/plans to do with his articles in Astounding/F&SF). 

I hope going to bi-monthly, and the accompanying floundering for a new magazine design, doesn’t mark the beginning of the end for Galaxy, and by extension, science fiction magazines as a whole.  I understand that we live in a world where science fiction has become fact, and that the headlines of our daily newspapers are nearly as thrilling as the contents pages of our digests.

But dreams are important, too.  We need to keep dreaming one, two or ten steps ahead of reality so that we have an incentive to progress and make the headlines.  To support these dreams, we have to buy these magazines and keep them going, or all we’ll have left is newspaper headlines, and in time, maybe not even those.

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X Minus One!  (10-26-1958)

“X minus 5…4…3…2…X minus 1… Fire.

From the far horizons of the unknown come transcribed tales of new dimensions in time and space.  These are stories of the future adventures, in which you’ll live in a million could-be years on a thousand maybe-worlds.  The National Broadcasting Company, in cooperation with Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, presents:

X!  Minus!  One!”

Has it really been almost a year since X Minus One went off the air?

What?  You’ve never heard of X Minus One?

Sit down, Lucy.  I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do. 

As you know by now, I am a big fan of Galaxy Science Fiction (except they changed their name to simply “Galaxy” earlier this year; perhaps they are trying to diversify their audience, or perhaps spine lettering costs too much per letter).  Galaxy is one of the Big Three s-f digests.  Its content ranges from decent to excellent.  So you can imagine how excited I was when NBC partnered with Galaxy to adapt some of its best stories into half-hour radio shows.  And this from the network known for the Dinah Shore show and The Great Gildersleeve!

I was lucky enough to catch the show at the beginning thanks to the ads that appeared in Galaxy.  I’m sure I’ve listened to the better part of a hundred of them.  I never missed an episode by choice (even though I was familiar with all of the stories, all of them having appeared in Galaxy’s pages before).  But, family matters sometimes took precedence, and on a few occasions, NBC switched up its broadcast schedule, leaving me rather steamed for the evening.

It is my understanding that there was another show early on in the decade with similar content, and I found out after the fact that John Campbell (editor of Astounding) tried doing his own science fiction dramatization show for a year or so, but I never caught a listen before it went off the air.

I only wish they would make more, or at least there might be some place I might listen to them all again. In case any of you find that NBC recorded them all on 33s somewhere, here are some of my favorites:

  • “Skulking Permit” by Robert Sheckley
  • “Junkyard” by Cliff Simak
  • “A Pail of Air” by Fritz Leiber
  • “Star, Bright” by Mark Clifton
  • “Hallucination Orbit” by J.McIntosh (or was it J.M’Intosh?)
  • “Saucer of Loneliness” by Ted Sturgeon
  • “Something for Nothing” by Robert Sheckley

I think that’s the order in which I heard them.  In any event, even if you can’t get your ears on the X Minus One adaptations, I’m sure you can find the written stories.  They are all worth reading.  I’m pretty sure Katherine MacLean, who I talked about a few days ago had one, too, though I don’t remember its name. 

Being unable to listen to these shows again drives home just how ephemeral broadcast entertainment really is compared to the written word.  We lament the loss of the Library at Alexandria, but we still have hundreds of surviving Classical works.  X Minus Zero is just.. gone. 

If NBC ever revives this show, I’m going to buy an old wire recorder or (since they are becoming quite affordable these days) a reel-to-reel tape recorder just so I can listen to episodes over and over.  Maybe I’ll be the modern-day Alexandria of science fiction!

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Amazing? November 1958 (10-25-1958)

When Galaxy came out in 1950, the old pulp magazines were still doing reasonably well, though they were clearly on the decline.  Galaxy editor Horace L. Gold put out a one-page ad on the back of the first issue making fun of the Space Westerns that had typified the pulps since the 20’s and promising that no such trash would appear between the covers of his fine magazine. 

Gold kept his promise and seems to be having the last laugh.  The pulps were pretty well gone by the time I’d gotten hooked on science fiction digests (1954), and the digests that continue the tradition of the Space Western seem to be dying out.

Except for Amazing.  The first of the science fiction magazines has not changed its content in a long time, and reading an issue is like traveling back ten or twenty years.  Tales of strong-chinned heroes and tough-talking thugs and beautiful damsels gallivanting around the planets like folks taking the stage from Pecos to El Paso, with terrain to match.  This latest issue (November 1958) includes a story that takes place on the moon, which is adorned with volcanoes and vegetation.  In 1958!  Just to make sure I was with the times, I went into my daughter’s room and leafed through Roy A. Gallant’s fine hardcover, “exploring the planets,” (lower-case transcribed faithfully).  Sure enough, the moon is dead and airless.  Gallant’s book was published this year, and I don’t doubt its accuracy.  I guess someone needs to tell Paul Fairman (Amazing’s editor) what decade this is.

Now, I suppose I’m going to get a lot of negative comments such as the ones that I read in a similar magazine, “Imagination,” (“Madge” to its readers) before it, too, went out of print.  “Madge” was filled with angry letters and defiant editorials denigrating “egghead sci-fi.” After a long day at work (the editor said) a guy just wanted some adventure yarns.  He shouldn’t have to think so hard. 

(Of course, I only read “Madge” for Fandora’s Box, Mari Wolf’s excellent round-up of conventions and fanzines.  I miss her.  I believe her replacement on the column by Robert Bloch in ’56 was the proximate cause for the magazine’s recent demise.  And the lousy stories.  Oh, did I say that out loud?)

Anyway, back to Amazing.  I can’t imagine there is much of an audience anymore for the kind of backward stuff appearing in its pages.  Anyone into such fare would be better served by the sci-fi movies coming out these days.  I’ll go out on a limb right now and predict that Amazing will be off the shelves before the decade is through. 

Of course, I reserve the right to pretend I never made this prediction if Amazing does survive.  My fans (bless both of you!) will be kind enough to burn their copies of this article, I’m sure.

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