Tag Archives: gordon dickson

[January 10, 1963] (February 1963 Galaxy)

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


by Gideon Marcus

The Traveler family has now been on the island of Kaua’i (in the newest state of the Union, Hawai’i) for five days, and I can feel the shackles of the mainland loosening.  We are staying in a vacant worker cottage on the Waimea Sugar Plantation, guests of one of the manager’s, and it’s just lovely.  Timeless beauty surrounds us.  There’s no question but that this state is destined to be a tremendous tourist attraction some day – but I hope this island never loses its virgin charm.

It’s hard to describe the relaxation that comes with visiting this sub-tropical paradise.  In the main room of our three-room cottage, the Young Traveler plucks away at her ukelele, singing Elvis’ recent Hawai’ian hit, I can’t help falling in love with you, and then the apt Jamaican Farewell popularized by Belafonte not long ago.  Last night, we were guests of the Gaylord family at their Kilohana estate.  After a sumptuous meal of meticulously prepared fish and delectable desserts (including a half-coconut), we dallied in the Sitting Room as one of the family played Scott Joplin tunes on the piano. 

Of course, even in this Westernmost bastion of America, modern civilization is encroaching.  We flew into the new small but international airport at Lihue (and commerce is already relocating from its traditional center here at Waimea to that burgeoning mini-city).  The grocery chain, Safeway, is building a supermarket on the island. 

And then there are the relics of the Mainland we’ve brought with us in the form of the books packed in our suitcases.  The Young Traveler has been devouring Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People (Watch out World!), while I have just finished this month’s Galaxy.

Its editor, Fred Pohl, has spilled much ink over the role of the science fiction writer.  He insists that our job is not to predict the future, and indeed, we’re pretty bad at such things, statistically speaking.  Rather than saying, “This is what will happen,” we really say, “This is what will happen if.”

The timing is no coincidence.  The February 1963 Galaxy is filled with “what will happen ifs,” — have a look:

Home from the Shore, by Gordon R. Dickson

Dickson’s story asks, “What will happen if the nascent trend of undersea living is carried to its logical conclusion?”  The result is, as we’ve seen previously explored in The Underwater City, a nation of humans living underwater.  Living in Castle-Homes and Small-Homes on the ocean floor, some six million people, enhanced by genetics and technology, thrive alongside their dolphin companions.

It is an uneasy existence, the Landers resenting the independence of their former brethren (who they’d hoped to use primarily as stock for space exploration).  As Home from the Shore begins, one of the sea people’s leaders, Johnny Joya is defecting from the astronaut corps to rejoin his people.  It turns out that the precipitous action is the spark that provokes war between the Landers and the mermen.  Willy-nilly, this fight will catapult the sea people to the next phase of their existence.

Dickson pens a vivid piece, but it feels more prologue than complete tale, and the details are a bit too oblique to follow in places.  In particular, I’m never quite sure just how life underwater works or how it’s sustainable.  I found myself stalling at the beginning a number of times.  I think Shore earns three stars, but just barely.

Think Blue, Count Two, by Cordwainer Smith

This latest tale of the “Instrumentality,” Smith’s unique far future, explores the ramifications of centuries-long space flight given an unchanging temperament for humans.  How will we keep our sanity, our morality, when faced with the yawning vastness of space, divorced from the society that keeps us civilized.

Think Blue, Count Two is a sequel, of sorts, to The Lady who Sailed the Soul, which introduced us to the concept of interstellar sailing ships and deep frozen passengers.  This latest edition stars an ingenue colonist, chosen solely for her beauty, and details how she manages the increasingly neurotic attentions of her two male co-passengers.

It’s another beautiful Smith tale, but Think Blue is less about what the protagonist does but what happens around and to her.  Riveting but somehow unsatisfying stuff.  Four stars.

For Your Information: First Flight by Rocket Power, by Willy Ley

To project where we’re going, one has to know where we’ve come from.  This month’s science department traces down the very first rocket powered human flight and then describes the important ones since.  Three stars.

(Anyone want to lay odds on whether the Russians will beat Gordo Cooper to be the first person in space in 1963?)

Comic Inferno, by Brian W. Aldiss

Aldiss makes a bold prediction in this story of robots and people: As life gets easy, our breeding instinct will wane, and a hundred years from now, the world will be a fraction as populated.  Mechanical people will fill in the gaps, being our servants and our underclass.  But what if the romen tire of their inferior position?

There are great concepts in here, but Comic Inferno is rather rough sledding, what with its Extremely British satirical style.  Much like the Dickson, it takes time to get into, but in retrospect, the trip was rewarding.  Three stars.

Pollony Undiverted, by Sydney J. Van Scyoc

Here is another journey into an indolent future, in which all needs are met save for the ones that matter most – those that give us emotional satisfaction.  Van Scyoc gives us a tale from a feminine perspective that captures the frivolity of existence and the fleeting nature of happiness in a world made infinitely small by teleportation.  Three stars.

Day of Truce, by Clifford D. Simak

Did you just put up a fence to keep tykes from riding their bicycles and scooters on your property?  Maybe a menacing “No Trespassing” sign?  What if these are the first unplanned shots in an escalating war between the Homeowners and the Punks?

Simak writes a fun, barbed story about a battle deep in the course of the conflict at a time when a man’s home is truly a castle, and the teenage delinquents are armed with time bombs and Molotov cocktails.  Four stars.

The Bad Life, by Jerome Bixby

You may remember Bixby from his The Twilight Zone story, It’s a Good Life.  His latest story shares no similarities but for the titles and the overwhelming sense of feeling trapped in a hellish situation.

John Thorens is a do-gooder, a Hand of the Helping Hands dispatched to the Jovian artificial moon/penal colony called Limbo to bring solace to the criminals living there.  The extrapolation in this piece is, “How would a first generation Australia in space treat a well-meaning vistor?” 

Not well.  An intellectual among boors, a civilized man among animals, Thorens is hounded and beaten to the point of insanity. 

This is a brutal story, difficult to read, made compelling by Bixby’s sheer “writerliness” (as one of my readers might put it).  Not recommended for the easily disturbed, and perhaps Bixby overdoes the writing by 10%.  But it’ll sure stay with you.  Three stars. 

And that’s that.  A dense read, a hard read at times, but in many ways a rewarding one.  None of the futures depicted are pleasant ones, but they offer valuable signposts of potholes to avoid on the path of progress.

Next up – John Boston and this month’s Amazing!

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Check your mail for instructions…]




[Dec. 31, 1962] So it goes… (January 1963 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

It is said that “No news is good news,” but I imagine every publisher would disagree.  After the big-ticket headlines of October of November involving the Cuban and Chinese/Indian episodes things have quieted down on the domestic and world fronts.  The Cold War has thawed such that the only current evidence is a holey wall in Berlin and a small brushfire in Indochina.  The Katanga crisis in The Congo approaches resolution.  Even the latest manned space shot was a bore – six perfect orbits.  The biggest news is about something that hasn’t happened yet: Kennedy wants to lower taxes significantly to spur the economy.  Of course, Conservatives oppose the move as they don’t want to blow a hole in the deficit (a position I’m sure they will hold eternally).

This month’s Analog, the last sf digest of the month, complements the news situation.  It’s filled with pages and pages of pages, none of which will likely stick with you long after you set it down.  The stories in this month’s issue don’t even have the virtue of being terrible.  Just redolent in that smug mediocrity that so frequently characterizes this mag, once the flagship of science fiction.

“The Hard Way”, by Gordon R. Dickson

An alien interstellar scoutship stumbles across a human derelict ship, spurring its captain, Kator, member of a rapacious felinoid race, to dream of conquest of the Earth.  Kator is dispatched to the solar system to surveil our defenses, find a weakness, and return to his homeworld to take charge of the invasion fleet. 

Kator finds Earth to be a curiously undefended planet, weapons seemingly nonexistent.  The cat-man finds this state improbable given our warlike history and quickly deduces that we store our weapons underground.  Thus ensues his mission of subterranean espionage, fraught with an increasingly difficult set of physical and mental challenges.  Is it just a run of bad luck?  Or a complicated trap set-up by the humans to evaluate would-be competitors?

Well, I won’t leave you in suspense.  Campbell’s the editor of Analog, and all of his stories feature Terran supremacy if he can help it.  As well-drawn as the first half this story is (Dickson really is an excellent author when he’s not writing for Campbell), I just knew that it would end with a human waggling his superior finger at Kator, lecturing the felinoid that trying to subjugate Earth is a fool’s errand. 

Setting aside the utter implausibility of the story, which requires an omniscience even Campbell’s humans shouldn’t be capable of, this kind of fatuous tale sticks in my craw.  Two stars.

Philosopher’s Stone, by Christopher Anvil

Who will win the economic Cold War between the US and USSR?  It turns out it’s the UK, which brings nobility and social stratification back as rewards for effecting (but not inventing) technological advance.  Because, apparently, money just isn’t enough incentive. 

This paean to aristocracy, particularly the self-satisfied ending, isn’t worth your time.  Two stars.

The Common Man, by Guy McCord

Three biochemists in concert discover a serum of invisibility.  One wants to give the formula to the the government, another feels the secret too dangerous to communicate.  The third proposes an experiment: under controlled conditions, provide the serum to an average American and see what he does with it.

Well, as one might expect, the power of complete stealth proves too heady a temptation for mortals.  The ambitious guinea pig uses his abilities to amass great wealth, build a criminal network, and capture the scientist trio.  His plan is nothing less than global domination.  Only the ingenuity of the scientists and the carelessness of the test subject put an end to the frightening turn of events.

I feel that this story could have said so much more than it did.  What could have been a horrifying illustration of the corruption of absolute power, or an illustration of how science (so often perceived as the unalloyed agent of positive progress) is often the handmaiden to misery, is reduced to a pat “eggheads really are the smart ones” piece.  It’s a pity.  I’ve seen better from this author.  Well, not quite this author – “Guy McCord” is a new name to me, but given that “Mack” Reynolds’ full name is Dallas McCord Reynolds, I’m pretty sure The Common Man is by the Analog regular who gave us the (much better) Mercenary.  Three stars.

The Search for Our Ancestors, by Prof. G. M. McKinley

We have learned so much about the evolution of humans recently, thanks to the work of Leakey’s archaeology in Africa (and to some extent, Goodall’s work with chimpanzees, too).  McKinley’s article is a fascinating but sloppy summary of the current state of understanding in the field.  Three stars.

Space Viking (Part 3 of 4), by H. Beam Piper

Last up is the next segment in Piper’s answer to Asimov’s Foundation, in which the wreckage of the Old Federation is slowly knit back together by Prince Trask, Space Viking of planet Tanith.  This installment retains the same positives and negatives of the prior two: an interesting universe and plot marred by sketchy execution (almost an outline of a story) and a jarring paucity of female characters.  I’m still rankling at Piper’s killing of Trask’s bride, Elaine, in the first act of the novel to provide Trask with character motivation.  I will say concede, however, that the introduction of the young Crown Princess of Marduk in this episode is promising.  Three stars.

This being the last magazine for the month, we now can review the numbers for January 1963.  IF comes up the winner at 3.3 stars, while Amazing (3 stars) had the two best stories one of them being the only woman-penned story.  F&SF was the worst, at 2.3 stars.  Average for the entire month was a dreary 2.77 stars, but there are enough high-quality works to fill a good single digest.  Read those, and you’ll be satisfied!

Next up – a look at the fantasy and horror films of 1962!

[P.S. If you want the chance to nominate Galactic Journey for Best Fanzine next year, you need to register for WorldCon before the end of the year! (or have registered last year… but then you can only nominate, not vote.) The Journey will be at next year’s WorldCon, so don’t miss your chance to meet us and please help put us on the ballot for Best Fanzine!]




[November 19, 1962] Reverse Course (December 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

I’ve complained bitterly in this column on the meanderings of my favorite science fiction magazines.  Galaxy has gotten too tame.  Analog has gotten too staid.  F&SF has gotten too literary.  In fact, just last month, I was lamenting the streak of purple fluffiness that had corrupted that last mag.  Story after story of unreadable droll nothings, or at best, fantastic horrors without any hard sf.

The December 1962 issue did not promise to be any better.  It has the same line-up of authors, the same subject matter of stories.  There are even 11000…er.. 24 pages devoted to the concept of binary numbers.  Has F&SF lost its mind?!

So imagine my surprise to find that I actually enjoyed this month’s issue, entirely due to the well-written nature of its material.  These are not the kind of stories I prefer, but this experience just goes to show that high quality trumps subject matter.  See if you agree:

The Depths, by Jim Harmon

The fastest route between two points is a straight line, so what better way to navigate the globe than through it?  One hardly even needs a locomotive force since one can simply fall to a destination.  Of course, there is the minor issue of building the shaft, but such trivialities are hand-waved in this pleasant, deliberately archaic tale of a trans-Terranian vessel that gets stuck half-way down.  Three stars.

Behind the Stumps, by Russell Kirk

I didn’t much care for Kirk’s ghost story in the last issue, and this one is in the same vein.  It is so nicely drawn and tautly composed, however, that I found myself engrossed.  In brief: fussy, meticulous census worker heads to the backwoodsiest of Appalachian towns determined to count every farmer, even those whose tie to the Earth is limited at best.  Suitably horrific, vividly realized.  Four stars.

Senhor Zumbeira’s Leg, by Felix Marti-Ibanez

In a time when the depiction of sex in our genre ranges from prudish nonexistence to Garrett-esque chauvinism, it’s nice to get a happy-go-lucky romp filled with equally game and enabled men and women.  This spicy Latin adventure features the Zumbeira family, father and son, who are motivated by comfort and cross-gender relationships.  When the ne’er-do-well son embarks on a journey to find a new prosthesis for his one-legged father, aided by a sorceress’ magic charm guaranteed to bring luck, amusing hijinx ensue.  All’s well that ends well, and the journey is good, too.  Four stars.

One, Ten, Buckle My Shoe, by Isaac Asimov

Only Asimov can wax pedantic on a dull subject and make the experience enjoyable.  I mean, it’s a piece about a counting system in which there are only two digits!  But if we’re going to get along with computers, I suppose we’d best learn the drill now.  Four stars.

On Binary Digits and Human Habits, by Frederik Pohl

Galaxy, IF, and (soon) Worlds of Tomorrow editor makes an unusual appearance in a competitor magazine with this piece on how to easily convey binary numbers verbally.  What at first seems a pointless exercise turns out actually to be kind of interesting – the first time through, I had a strong desire to throw the magazine against the wall; and then I got it and re-read with some fascination.  Three stars this time, but don’t do it again, please.

Ad Infinitum, by Sasha Gilien

Freud put much stock in the symbolism of dreams.  Gilien takes things a few steps further, positing that there is an entire studio devoted to the production and innovation of said symbols.  A fantastic idea somewhat neutered by its gimmick ending.  Three stars.

Roofs of Silver, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can cultures devolve?  And if they can, what is the measuring stick?  Dickson sets up a universe where Terra’s colonies have a habit of reverting to savagery, replacing conscience with taboo, morality with hidebound custom.  Roofs spotlights one world on the verge of such a fall, and the lengths one of its inhabitants goes to thwart it.

There’s nothing wrong with the writing in this piece; when Dickson’s on his game (and he certainly is here), he is one of the genre’s more sensitive and interesting authors.  No, the only real failing of this piece is its utter predictability.  Four stars.

The Notary and the Conspiracy, by Henri Damonti (translation by Damon Knight)

Some people really live a double life – the problem comes when one chooses to live out that second span in a high-profile and highly dangerous historical position!  A fun piece, but it’s one of Knight’s more opaque translations.  Three stars.

In sum, this month’s issue scored a respectable 3.5 stars.  I am left with a sense of bemused puzzlement.  Did editor Davidson finally turn his ship around?  Did all of the insufferable frivolity get used up by Galaxy?  Or is this simply the bounce of a dead cat, and I can expect a return to form in the new year?

As my wife is wont to say, “Don’t borrow trouble.”  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!




[Sep. 10, 1962] Leading by Example (the terrific October 1962 Galaxy)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Thirteen years ago this month, amidst the post-war boom of science fiction digests, Galaxy Science Fiction was born.  Its editor, H.L. Gold, intended his brainchild to stand above and apart from the dozens of lesser mags (remember those days of abundance?) with progressive and smart strictly SF stories.  He succeeded — Galaxy has showcased some of the best the genre has to offer, as well as a fine science fact column penned by Willy Ley.  The consistency of quality has been remarkable.

Two years ago, Fred Pohl, a bright authorial light already, took the helm from the ailing Gold.  If anything, he has improved on excellence, continuing to coax fine works from established authors and interesting pieces from new ones.  It helps that he, himself, can fill the pages with good material and often does….though I have to wonder if he gets paid when he does that.

If you were to pick any single issue to turn someone on to Galaxy (or to science fiction in general), you could hardly do better than to give them the latest issue (October 1962) of Galaxy.  Not only isn’t there a clunker in the mix, not only does it feature a new Instrumentality story by the great Cordwainer Smith, but it includes part one of an incredible new novel by the editor.

Wow.  I think I threw in more superlatives in the last three paragraphs than I have in the last three months.  I guess it’s time to show you what all the hubbub’s about:

The Ballad of Lost C’mell, by Cordwainer Smith

Many authors write in a consistent world.  Some are developed following an individual through her/his life in a series of stories.  Others might take place in a common setting but feature different protagonists.  Smith has introduced his Instrumentality universe through oblique flashes.  Each piece involves wildly different places and characters, each with a limited view of things.  Only after reading several of them does one get an idea of the nature of Smith’s creation.

Thousands of years from now, Earth has seen global empires rise and fall.  The current ruling entity is the Instrumentality, a council of pure-humans ruling over the people-citizens and genetically altered animal-subcitizens.  Technology caters to virtually every need; the world enjoys a purely service-based economy with the Underhumans providing the services.  For humans, Earth is a beautiful, magical place filled with strange wonders.  For the animal-people, enslaved to the pure humans, life is a struggle and punishments harsh.  We are beyond the familiar subtext of racism/chauvinism that suffuses Western stories – the relationship between the races hearkens to the rigid castes of Asia.  The animal-men may be cast in human mold, but their treatment is peremptory, inhumane.  And the humans are blithely unaware that their creations have the capacity to rebel…

C’mell is the most straight-forward of Smith’s Instrumentality stories, and it gives the sharpest insight, to date, of the world he’s created (though it by no means reveals all of its secrets).  As always, it displays Smith’s mastery of the craft, mixing showing and telling, romance and austerity, far-future and relatability.  Smith is an author who doesn’t put pen to paper unless it’s for a four or five-star story, and C’mell is no exception.  Five stars.

Come Into My Cellar, by Ray Bradbury

We’ve seen the plot where intelligent fungus take over humanity through forced symbiosis in Aldiss’ Hothouse stories.  Bradbury gives us a much more conventional setup, where the evil mushrooms send spores of themselves via mail-order catalog to be grown and ingested.  A nicely written but dumb story, and it has the same ending as All Summer in a Day, which is to say, Ray doesn’t bother to end it.  Three stars – about as good as Bradbury (not really an SF author) ever gets.

The Earthman’s Burden, by Donald E. Westlake

A competent if somewhat forgettable story of an arrogant, resurgent Terran star empire and the lost colony that promises to be more trouble than it’s worth to conquer.  There’s pleasant satire here, particularly of the buffoonish Imperials, but nothing we haven’t seen before.  In fact, I rather expected to find this piece in Analog (you’ll see why).  Three stars.

For Your Information: End of the Jet Age, by Willy Ley

A generation ago, propeller planes were the way to travel.  Now that they’ve been eclipsed by the jets, one has to wonder just how long our 707s and DC-8s will last before they are, in turn, replaced by the next mode of transportation.  Ley gives us an excellent preview of rocketplane travel in the 1980s as well as a spotlight on a living fossil and answers to readers’ questions.  Four stars.

A City Near Centaurus, by Bill Doede

Speaking of series, Doede has a third story in his tale of teleporting humans , who have exiled themselves from Earth using subcutaneous matter transmitters that work at the speed of thought.  This latest piece involves a dilettante archaeologist who’ll brave offending the Gods and even risk death to dig an ancient, abandoned site on Alpha Centauri II.  Another piece that shouldn’t work (why does the native speak perfect English?), but Doede always pulls it off.  Four stars.

How to Make Friends, by Jim Harmon

Resigned to an 18-year hitch, the solo operator of a Martian atmosphere seeder resorts to building his own companions to preserve his sanity.  It’s a little bit McIntosh’s Hallucination Orbit (one wonders if the events of the story are really happening) tinged with Sheckley-esque satire and robotics.  But Harmon is not quite as skilled as either of these authors, and so the story ends up like most of Harmon’s work, never quite hitting the mark.  Three stars.

Plague of Pythons (Part 1 of 2), by Frederik Pohl

How fragile our interconnected, technological world is.  How easy it would be for a few malicious demons, selectively possessing our bodies at propitious times, to utterly disintegrate our society.  Fast forward two years, after the world has reverted to feudal savagery.  Communities larger than the village are impossible.  Religion has revived in a last-ditch attempt to protect humanity from bodily appropriation.  One ex-engineer, name of Chandler, is on trial for a heinous assault he most assuredly committed, but which wasn’t his doing.  What justice can he find in a world where the dispensers of justice can, at any time, cease being themselves?

Pythons is a brutal, uncomfortable story, crushingly bleak.  It’s not the sort of thing I would normally go for, and I definitely caution against it if mind control pushes unpleasant buttons.  Yet Pohl executes the thing deftly, and he holds out the barest sliver of hope to keep you going.  I have no idea how Pythons will conclude, but if the latter half is as good as the first, we’ll have a minor masterpiece on our hands.  Four stars (for now…)

Roberta, by Margaret St. Clair

Roberta explores the lengths one might go to erase the wrongness they feel exists in themselves – and the possibility that it is impossible to escape that wrongness.  It is the first story I’ve read that explores the concept of transsexualism, and while it is not a positive story, it is an interesting one.  Three stars.

Bimmie Says, by Sydney J. Van Scyoc

While we’re on the subject of changing physical form, is it possible to be transCarnivorous?  In other words, what if cats and dogs can be made mutually intermalleable?  And if pets can be transformed, why not people?  Van Scyoc’s story is clearly inspired by Keyes’ hit, Flowers for Algernon, whose excellence it does not quite reach.  Still, it’s not bad, and I’m glad to see Sydney’s continuing her promising career.  Three stars.

Who Dares a Bulbur Eat?, by Gordon R. Dickson

Last up is the second in the adventures of the interstellar ambassadorial couple, Tom and Lucy Reasoner — a sort of Hammett’s Nick and Nora meets Laumer’s Retief.  In this installment, the Reasoners are tasked with attending a diplomatic banquet to find the weakness in the newly discovered Jacktal empire, a rapacious regime more powerful than the Terran Federation. 

It’s a bit of a muddle, and the title fairly spoils the piece, but the conclusion is great fun and worth the price of admission.  Three stars.

All told, this comes out to a 3.5 star issue, none of it tiresome, much of it amazing.  I am also happy to see that F&SF will not have the monopoly on woman writers this month.  It’s issues like this that buoy me through the lousy patches (like last month’s Analog).  I mean, suffering for art is all well and good, but sometimes it’s nice to have nice things to say!

Next up, let’s see how the October 1962 Amazing stacks up.  See you then!




[August 6, 1962] Bookkends (September 1962 IF Worlds of Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

It’s a hot, doldrumy summer.  My wife and I are hard at work.  Our daughter has headed to the North for a vacation.  There’s hardly anything in the news but sordid details of the Sol Estes case (if you’ve been living under a rock this whole year, he’s the Texas financier fraudster with dubious dealings with the US Department of Agriculture, not to mention Vice President Johnson). 

About the only item of interest is that the island of Jamaica is finally achieving independence.  I visited the place before the War.  I don’t remember much but lush beauty and friendly people.  The music coming out of the Caribbean is pretty interesting to my ear, too – some post-Calypso stuff including innovative steel drum work and a fledgling new genre that as yet has no name (q.v. Lord Creator and Robert Marley).

So in this languorous time, about the only consistent pasttime I can enjoy, aside from my records, is the ever-growing pile of stf (scientifiction, natch) magazines.  One of the ones I look forward to is IF, which, if it is not always stellar, usually has a few items of interest.  This month, the September 1962 issue has a lot of lousy stories, and editor Pohl cunningly placed the best one in front so as to dull the impact of the sub-par stuff that follows.  But the last tale is a fine reprise of the first, quality-wise.  See if you agree:

The Snowbank Orbit, by Fritz Leiber

A famous author and actor, Leiber’s works often approach sublimity.  This is one of them, combining both beautiful prose and cutting edge science fiction.  Plot in brief: a Mercurian mining vessel, one of Earth’s last remaining spaceworthy ships, is fleeing from an alien armada.  Its only hope for survival is to thrust at maximum acceleration toward the seventh planet, Uranus, and then use the giant planet’s gravity and atmosphere to slow it down and send it back in the direction of Earth.

There are so many interesting components in this tale: a demographically diverse and well-characterized crew, some truly bizarre aliens, a gripping set-up.  The scientific concepts, from the “International Meteor Guard” to the communication via visual light lasers, are both plausible and fresh.  Leiber’s use of color and texture makes for a literary experience yet does not get too self-indulgent.

Orbit is an almost great story.  I’m not sure what keeps it from hitting five stars save for its reminding me a little too much of Heinlein’s Sky Lift.  Nevertheless, it is vivid, it packs a lot into a small space, and the hero is a refreshing departure from the ordinary.  Four stars, and you may rate it higher.

One Million Four Hundred Ninety Two Thousand Six Hundred Thirty Three Marlon Brandos, by Vance Aandahl

Aandahl has accomplished the fannish dream, to be published in one’s teen years.  His work runs to the literary side.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his first published piece, not of his stories break the three-star mark – including this one, about a bored teen girl whose desire to be wooed by the great mumbler momentarily subverts the will of a town’s menfolk.  It’s one of those “cute but doesn’t go anywhere” pieces.  Two stories.

The Winning of the Moon, by Kris Neville

Neville was a brief shining star at the turn of the last decade, right as stf was undergoing its post-War boom.  But the field proved too limiting for the young author’s vision, and now Kris mostly makes a living doing technical writing.  He still dabbles, though.  Moon is a Murphy’s Law tinged tale of lunar colonization, a satire that is grounded just enough in reality to be effective.  Three stars.

And Then There Was Peace, by Gordon R. Dickson

No matter how mechanized war gets, the burden of fighting will always rest on the shoulders of the beleaguered infantryman.  Peace explores the sad fate of a futuristic soldier after the conclusion of hostilities.  Dickson’s explored pacifistic themes before, particularly in his latest novel, Naked to the StarsPeace is mostly a gimmick story though, and if you can’t guess the wallop, then you’re very new to this business.  Two stars.

The Big Headache, by Jim Harmon

I never know what to expect from Jim; he wobbles in quality like a Cepheid Variable…but without the regularity.  In Headache, a pair of scientists develop an anti-migraine drug only to have it turn out to have lobotomizing side effects.  It’s played for laughs, but I only opened my mouth to grimace.  What might have been an effective horror story or cautionary tale Headache is, instead, neither fish nor fowl, and only succeeds in delivering what’s on the tin.  Two stars.

Transient, by William Harris

This is a ghost story, except the haunter is an alien, and the place of haunting is a computer.  It’s a frivolous piece one might expect as one of the lesser entries in any given issue of F&SF, but you may like it more than me.  Two stars.

Once Around Arcturus, by Joseph Green

A futuristic retelling of the Greek myth of Atalanta, the woman who would only be wooed by the suitor who could beat her in competition.  Green, a brand-new writer and employee at NASA, pens a pretty clunky tale.  He almost manages to make it work in the end, though…but then he flubs it.  I suppose if you took out the last paragraph and gave the piece a downer ending, it might be a whole lot better.  Instead, Green cops out with a literary Picardy Third.  Two stars.

World in a Mirror, by Albert Teichner

The universe is full of dangerous symmetry: anti-matter will violently destroy matter with which it comes in contact; a southpaw fencer or pitcher often makes mincemeat of her/his opponent.  And what will our stomachs make of left-handed DNA?  Teichner expects the worst. 

It’s a worthy topic to explore (and, in fact, I’ve speculated on the subject in one of my recent works), but the set-up in World is heavy-handed and doesn’t serve Teichner’s intent.  Two stars.

Just Westing, by Theodore Sturgeon

Writing science articles for the general public, even for an intelligent subsection thereof, is hard.  You have to distill complicated subjects in a way that folks can I understand, and then you have to explain to the readers why they should be interested in what you’re telling them.  Asimov does it effortlessly; Ley did and often still does.  I like to think I’ve gotten consistently good at it.

Sturgeon, brilliant author that he might be, has not.  His summary of the recent Westinghouse catalog of advancements is neither interesting nor particularly comprehensible.  Two stars.

Cultural Exchange, by Keith Laumer

Retief, the much aggrieved Jack of All Trades diplomat/secret agent must thwart a war between Imperial worlds covered up in a cloak of harmless-seeming personnel and equipment transfers.  Retief stories run from the overly broad to the gritty.  This one strikes a nice balance and delightfully plays up the interplay of bureaucracies, something with which Laumer has more than a passing acquaintance.  Four stars, and thank goodness after the string of mediocrity that precedes it.

Taken as a whole, this is a pretty lousy issue – just 2.4 stars.  Plus it’s yet another “stag” mag: no woman authors, virtually no woman characters.  But, if you take just the 35 pages comprising the first and last stories, you’ve got some excellent reading.  Whether that’s worth a penny a page…well, it’s your wallet.

Next up: The Travelers hit the drive-in for The Underwater City!




[July 18, 1962] It Gets Better? (August 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

There’s a war going on in our nation, a war for our souls.

No, I’m not referring to the battle of Democracy versus Communism or Protestants against Catholics.  Not even the struggle between squares and beatniks.  This is a deeper strife than even these.


(from Fanac)

I refer, of course, to the schism that divides science fiction fans.  In particular, I mean the mainstream fans and the literary crowd.  The former far outnumber the latter, at least if the circulation numbers for Analog compared to that of Fantasy and Science Fiction are any indication. 

Devotees of editor Campbell’s Analog, though they occasionally chide the editor’s obsession with things psychic, appreciate the “hard” sf, the focus on adventure, and the magazine’s orthodox style it has maintained since the 1940s.  They have nothing but sneering disdain for the more literary F&SF, and they hate it when its fluffy “feminine” verbosity creeps into “their” magazines.

F&SF, on the other hand, has pretentions of respectability.  You can tell because the back page has a bunch of portraits of arty types singing the magazine’s praises.  Unfortunately for the golden mag (my nickname – cover art seems to favor the color yellow), many of the writers who’ve distinguished themselves have made the jump to the more profitable “slicks” (maintstream magazines) and novels market.  This means that editor Davidson’s mag tends to be both unbearably literate and not very good.

This is a shame because right up to last year, I’d sided with the eggheads.  F&SF was my favorite digest.  On the other hand, I’m not really at home with the hoi polloi Campbell crowd.  Luckily, there is the middle ground of Pohl’s magazines, Galaxy and IF

Nevertheless, there is still usually something to recommend F&SF, particularly Dr. Asimov’s non-fiction articles, and the frequency with which F&SF publishes women (“feminine” isn’t a derogatory epithet for me.)

And in fact, if you can get past the awful awful beginning, there’s good stuff in the August 1962 F&SF:

The Secret Songs, by Fritz Leiber

Leiber is an established figure in the genre, having written some truly great stuff going back to the old Unknown days of the 30s.  He even won the Hugo for The Big Time.  However, Secret Songs, a tale of a drug addled Jack Sprat and wife with countering addictions, won’t win any awards.  It’s not sf, nor is it very interesting.  I give it two stars for creative execution and nothing else.

The Golden Flask, by Kendell Foster Crossen

Boy, is this one a stinker.  Not only does Davidson ruin it with his prefatory comments (I’ve stopped reading them – they are too long by half, inevitably spoil the story, and are never fun to read), but the gotcha of this bloody tale is puerile.  One star.

Salmanazar, by Gordon R. Dickson

Some obtuse tale of the macabre involving magic, Orientalism, and a sinister cat.  Gordy Dickson is one of the better writers…when he wants to be.  He didn’t this time.  One star.

The Voyage Which Is Ended, by Dean McLaughlin

When the century-long trip of a colony ship is over, crew and passengers must struggle with the dramatic change in role and responsibilities.  This somber piece reads like the first chapter of a promising novel that we’ll never get to read.  I did appreciate the theme: a ship’s captain isn’t necessarily best suited to lead a polity beyond a vessel’s metal walls.  Three stars.

Mumbwe Jones, by Fred Benton

A vignette of undying friendship between a White trader and an African witch-doctor…and the vibrant world of sentient creatures, animate and otherwise, with which they interact.  An interesting piece of magic realism a little too insubstantial to garner more than three stars.

The Top, by George Sumner Albee (a reprint from 1953)

Career ad-man receives the promotion he’s always desired, allowing him at last to meet the President of the sprawling industrial combine of which the copywriter is just a valuable cog.  But does the Big Boss run the machine, or are they one and the same?  Another piece that isn’t science fiction, nor really worth your time.  Two stars.

The Light Fantastic, by Isaac Asimov

The good Doctor’s piece on electromagnetic radiation is worth your time.  He devotes a few inches to the brand new “LASERS,” artificially pure light beams that stick to a single wavelength and don’t degrade with distance.  I’ve already seen several articles on this wonder invention, and I suspect they will make them into a clutch of sf stories in the near future.

By the way, the cantankerous has-been Alfred Bester has finally turned in his shingle, resigning from the helm of the book review department.  In an ironic departing screed, he lamented the lack of quality of new sf (not that he’s contributed to that body of work in years), and states that people shouldn’t have been so sensitive to his criticisms.  To illustrate, he closes with the kind of chauvinism we’ve come to expect from Bester:

“A guy complained to a girl that the problem with women was the fact that they took everything that was said personally.  She answered, ‘Well, I sure don’t.'”

Good riddance, Alfred.  Don’t let the turnstile bruise your posterior.

Fruiting Body, by Rosel George Brown

I always look forward to Ms. Brown’s whimsical works, and this outing does not disappoint.  When mycology and the pursuit of women intersect, the result is at once ridiculous, a little chilling, and highly entertaining.  That’s all I’ll give you, save for a four-star rating.

The Roper, by Theodore R. Cogswell and John Jacob Niles

Some pointless doggerel whose meaning and significance escapes this boor of a reader.  One star.

Spatial Relationship, by Randall Garrett

Ugh.  How to keep two space pilots cramped in a little spaceship for years from killing each other?  Give them phantom lovers, of course.  I liked the story much better when it was called Hallucination Orbit (by J.T.McIntosh), and could well have done without the offensive, anti-queer ending.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Two stars.

The Stupid General, by J. T. McIntosh

Speaking of J.T.McIntosh…  The literature is filled with if-only stories where peace-loving aliens are provoked to violence by the hasty actions of a narrow-minded general.  But what if the fellow’s instincts are right?  A good, if not brilliant, story.  Three stars.

What Price Wings?, by H. L. Gold

This is the first I’ve heard from Galaxy’s former editor in a couple of years – I have to wonder if this is something that was pulled from an old drawer.  Anyway, a classic tale of virtue being its own punishment.  It ends predictably, but it gets there pleasantly.  Three stars.

Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman, by Harlan Ellison

Many years ago, on a lark, I translated the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice from an Old English rendition.  Now, in his first appearance in F&SF, Mr. Ellison presents a translation of the tale into hepcat jive.  It’s an effective piece, though heavier on atmosphere than consequence.  Three stars.

The Gumdrop King, by Will Stanton

The issue ends with a fizzle: a youth meets an alien, and incomprehensibility ensues.  I’m not sure that was the result Stanton was aiming for.  Two stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: LIII, by Grendal Briarton

Oh, and the Feghoot pun this time is just dreadful.  Not in a good way.

Good grief.  Doing the calculations, we find this issue only got 2.4 stars.  It’s definitely a favorite for worst mag of the month, and indicative of momentum toward worst mag of the year.  Those philistines who subscribe to Analog are going to win after all…

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  You’ll have a chance to win a copy of F&SF – not this issue, I promise!)




[May 17, 1962] Not as bad as it looks (June 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

A wise fellow once opined that the problem with a one-dimensional rating system (in my case, 1-5 Galactic Stars) is that there is little differentiating the flawed jewel from the moderately amusing.  That had not really been an issue for me until this month’s issue of Analog.  With the exception of the opening story, which though it provides excellent subject matter for the cover’s striking picture, is a pretty unimpressive piece, the rest of the tales have much to recommend them.  They just aren’t quite brilliant for one reason or another. 

So you’re about to encounter a bunch of titles that got three-star ratings, but don’t let that deter you if the summaries pique your interest:

The Weather Man, by Theodore L. Thomas

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” so the old saw goes.  But in Thomas’ future, the Earth’s weather is completely under the control of the all-powerful Weather Bureau; and it follows that the associated Weather Council is ruler of the world.  One councilor decides to stake his political future on the odd request of a resident of Holtville, California whose dying wish is to see snow before he dies…in July.

A couple of notable points: We seem increasingly confident that weather will be a trivial problem to solve.  That’s reassuring given the threat of global warming.  Another is the featuring of Holtville, a tiny farm town in the middle of the country’s richest farmland: the Imperial Valley.  I know the place fairly well – it’s the next town over from my hometown of El Centro, the county seat.  Aside from its healthy Future Farmers of America chapter, its surprisingly able High School Speech Team, and that it was the residence of a brief ex-girlfriend, it has no outstanding qualities.  Just another stinky, buggy, windy settlement in an irrigated hot desert.

Anyway, Weatherman is a dull, plodding piece, and in contrast to the later stories in this issue, has very few trappings of a far, or even near, future.  Aside from the boats that sail over the sun, that is.  I’m not sure how pinpoint weather modification is somehow easier by tampering with a star rather than its planet.  I couldn’t swallow it.  Two stars.

Three-Part Puzzle, by Gordon R. Dickson

In galaxy where the races divide neatly into Conquerers, Submissives, and Invulnerables (the last uninterested in conquering and incapable of beating into submission), what do you do when you discover humanity fits into none of these categories?  A cute tale no longer than it needs to be.  Three stars.

Anything You Can Do! (Part 2 of 2), by Randall Garrett

This latter installment depicting the battle of superhuman Stanton brothers vs. the frighteningly alien Nipe (begun last month) ends satisfactorily.  In fact, Garrett weaves together a number of plot threads with some fair skill, explaining the weird psychology of the shipwrecked ET; resolving the mysterious situation of the twin Stantons, one of whom had been crippled from birth and yet no longer has any physical ailments; and concluding the Nipe menace without resorting to bloodshed.  I am shocked, myself, to admit that I liked a Garrett story from start to finish, without qualifications.  Could the Randy fellow have turned a corner?  Three stars for this part, three-and-a-half in aggregate.

Interstellar Passenger Capsule, by Ralph A. Hall, M.D.

Dr. Hall takes on the currently popular topic of panspermia, the idea that life is spread around the cosmos by interstellar meteors.  It’s overlong, a bit meandery, and I don’t believe for a second that meteorites have been found with spores in them (at least, spores that were there before their carrier hit the Earth).  It reads like something submitted for a high school paper.  In that context, it might get a ‘B.’  Here, it barely rates two stars.

The Sound of Silence, by Barbara Constant

An interesting, almost F&SFish piece about a young mind-reader who struggles to come to grips with her powers.  Lonely is the existence of a telepath with no one to send thoughts to.  I’ve never heard of Ms. Constant, but this was a solid piece, and a somewhat unique take on a hoary topic.  Three stars.

Novice, by James H. Schmitz

Young Telzey Amberdon has got quite a task ahead of her!  Can this second-year law student prove the sentience of an extraterrestrial race of giant cats while thwarting the nefarious schemes, upon Telzey and the kitties, of her evil aunt?  Here’s an interesting story that combines telepathy, a female protagonist, and felines.  We also see progressive details like a Galactic Federation Councilwoman and a wallet-sized law library.  Its demerits are a slightly disjointed narrative style and a coda that is a bit creepy in its implications.  Nevertheless, I’d love more in this vein, please.  Three stars. 

***

That tallies up to an average of 2.7 – not very promising on the surface, but if you take out the leading novelette and the lackluster science fact article, you’re left with some very readable, if not astonishing, stuff.  I’m not sorry I read this ish, which is more than I can say for some of the prior ones.

[Apr. 28, 1962] Changing of the Guard (May 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I never thought the time would come that reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would be the most dreaded portion of my duties…and yet, here we are.  Two issues into new Editor Avram Davidson’s tenure, it appears that the mag’s transformation from a great bastion of literary (if slightly stuffy) scientifiction is nearly complete.  The title of the digest might well be The Magazine of Droll Trifles (with wry parenthetical asides).

One or two of these in an issue, if well done, can be fine.  But when 70% of the content is story after story with no science and, at best, stream-of-consciousness whimsy, it’s a slog.  And while one could argue that last issue’s line-up comprised works picked by the prior editor, it’s clear that this month’s selections were mostly Davidson’s. 

Moreover, Robert Mills (the outgone “Kindly Editor”) used to write excellent prefaces to his works, the only ones I would regularly read amongst all the digests.  Davidson’s are rambling and purple, though I do appreciate the biographical details on Burger and Aandahl this ish. 

I dunno.  Perhaps you’ll consider my judgment premature and unfair.  I certainly hope things get better…

Who Sups With the Devil, by Terry Carr

This is Carr’s first work, and one for which Davidson takes all the credit (blame) for publishing.  It sells itself as a “Deal with Diablo” story with a twist, but the let-down is that, in the end, there is no twist.  Two stars.

Who’s in Charge Here?, by James Blish

A vivid, if turgid, depiction of the wretched refuse that hawk wares on the hot streets of New York.  I’m not sure what the point is, and I expect better of Blish (and F&SF).  Two stars.

Hawk in the Dusk, by William Bankier

This tale, about a vicious old prune who has a change of heart in his last days, would not be out of place in an episode of Thriller or perhaps in the pages of the long-defunct Unknown.  In other words, nothing novel in concept.  Yet, and perhaps this is simply due to its juxtaposition to the surrounding dreck, I felt that it was extremely well done.  Five stars.

One of Those Days, by William F. Nolan

From zeniths to nadirs, this piece is just nonsense piled upon nonsense.  It’s the sort of thing I’d expect from a 13-year old…and mine (the Young Traveler) has consistently delivered better.  One star.

Napoleon’s Skullcap, by Gordon R. Dickson

Can a psionic kippah really tune you in to the minds of great figures of the past?  Dickson rarely turns in a bad piece, and this one isn’t horrible, but it takes obvious pains to be oblique so as to draw out the “gotcha” ending as far as possible.  Three stars, barely.

Noselrubb, the Tree, by Eric Frazee

Noselrubb, about an interstellar reconnaissance of Earth, is one of those kookie pieces with aliens standing in for people.  Neophyte Frazee might as well throw in the quill.  One star.

By Jove!, by Isaac Asimov

Again, I am feeling overcharitable.  It just so happens that I plan to write an essay on Uranus as part of my movie that took place on the seventh planet.  Asimov’s piece, about the internal make-up of the giant planets, is thus incredibly timely.  It’s also good.  Five stars (even though the Good Doctor may have snitched his title from me…).

The Einstein Brain, by Josef Nesvadba

F&SF‘s Czech contributor is back with another interesting peek behind the Iron Curtain.  Brain involves the creation of an artificial intelligence to solve the physical problems beyond the reach of the greatest human minds.  The moral – that it’s okay to stop and smell the flowers – is a reaction, perhaps, to the Soviet overwhelming emphasis on science in their culture.  We laud it, but perhaps they find it stifling.  Three stars.

Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: L, by Reginald Bretnor

Possibly the worst Feghoot…and there’s no small competition.

Miss Buttermouth, by Avram Davidson

The unkindly Editor lards out his issue with a vignette featuring a protagonist from the Five Roses, complete with authentic idiom, and his run-in with a soothsayer who might have a line on the ponies.  It’s as good as anything Davidson has come up with recently.  Two stars.

The Mermaid in the Swimming Pool, by Walter H. Kerr

Mr. Kerr is still learning how to write poetry.  Perhaps he’ll get there someday.  Two stars.

Love Child, by Otis Kidwell Burger

Through many commas and words of purplish hue, one can dimly discern a story of an offspring of some magical union.  Mrs. Burger reportedly transcribes her dreams and submits them as stories.  The wonder is that they get accepted and published.  Two stars.

Princess #22, by Ron Goulart

If Bob Sheckley had written this story, about an abducted princess and the android entertainer for whom she is a dead ringer, it probably would have been pretty decent.  Goulart makes a hash of it.  Two stars.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, by Vance Aandahl

Young Vance Aandahl made a big splash a couple of years ago and has turned in little of note since.  His latest, a post-apocalyptic tale of love, savagery, and religion, draws on many other sources.  They are less than expertly translated, but the result is not without some interest.  Three stars.

***

Generously evaluated, this issue garners 2.7 stars.  However, much of that is due to the standout pieces (which I suspect you will not feel as strongly about) and to a bit of scale-weighting for the three stars stories…that are only just. 

(by the way, is it just me, or does the cover girl bear a striking resemblance to the artist’s spouse, Ms. Carol Emshwiller?)

[December 21, 1961] Reviewer’s Burden (January 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

I read a lot of stuff every month.  I consider it my duty, as your curator, to cover as broad a range of fiction as possible so that you can pick the stories most likely to appeal to you.  What that means is I wade through a lot of stones to find the gems.

Analog is the magazine with the highest stone/gem ratio, I’m afraid.  Nevertheless, it’s rare that an issue goes by without something to recommend it, and the January 1962 edition has at least one genuine amethyst amongst the quartz.

It is the first story, Naudsonce, by one of my favorite authors, H. Beam Piper.  Like his earlier classic, Omnilingual, it is an extra-terrestrial linguistic puzzle story.  Unlike the prior story, Naudsonce involves a living alien race, one with no discernible language, and which displays nonsensical reactions to human speech.  Is telepathy involved?  Is the Terran contact team missing a fundamental clue?

It’s an interesting riddle, to be sure, but what really sells this story is the social commentary.  From the beginning, we see that the human explorers, while not bad people, are interested in one thing: finding a colonizable planet.  The concerns of the aboriginals are casually treated, and the callous, jaded attitude of the scouts is evident, particularly at the end.  This kind of cynical self-awareness is quite rare for an Analog story, and it contrasts strongly with the utter lack of it in Mack Reynold’s serial (see below).  I also appreciated that the contact team was thoroughly integrated, ethnically and sexually; but then Piper has always been ahead of the curve on this issue.  This diversity of characters highlights that the casual rapine associated with imperialism is not an ethnic problem, but a human one.  Four stars.

Idiot Solvant, by Gordon Dickson, is a story that could have been much better.  The premise is exciting: You know how you often get flashes of inspiration when you are sleepy?  Or a solution comes to you in a dream?  Clearly, some magic happens when one’s left brain relinquishes control and lets the right go wild.  Something similar happens to the protagonist of Solvant, allowing him to accomplish some truly miraculous feats.  What kills this story, however, is the several pages of exposition that set up the gimmick.  Moreover, a story, especially a short story, only gets so much leeway before it exceeds its “hand-wave” allowance.  Dickson asserts too many premises in too short a space.  The result is a contrived mess.  Two stars.

E.C. Tubb’s Worm in the Woodwork is a competent interstellar thriller about an undertaking to save a Terran logician who has fallen into the hands of a hostile colonial star league.  The thoughtful bits involving the captive genius, Ludec, are particularly engaging.  Three stars.

The science fact pieces continue to be where Analog falls down.  Campbell went through the trouble of giving his magazine a “slick” section, using the kind of paper one normally finds in news periodicals like Time.  Nevertheless, the articles often aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.  Big Boom in Forming, by Willis Cain, has an interesting topic – explosive formed metals (where big booms press metal plate against molds to make parts) – but the piece is, by turns, overly kiddie and excessively obtuse.  Two stars.

Editor John Campbell’s When the Glaciers Go is much worse, though.  Some garbage about how rapid climate change (over the course of hours!) is evidenced by the frozen Mastodons in Siberia.  The climate is changing, and our species is a big contributing factor these days, but it don’t work like that.  Bleah.  One star.

That brings us to Black Man’s Burden (Part 2 of 2), by Mack Reynolds.  I had high hopes for this piece, about Afro-Americans spearheading efforts in Africa to promote democracy and progress.  After all, Reynolds is an accomplished writer of political thriller, and he’s spend a good deal of time in the Mahgreb.  Africa, a continent that has seen nearly twenty new nations spring up in the wake of decolonization, is a rich (and unusual) setting. 

In the end, however, Burden was a disappointment.  While no one knows where Africa is heading, I like to think that, after the normal teething pains, its states will join the community of nations as vibrant, mature members.  Reynolds’ premise is that they simply can’t, that without the aid of Westerners (Free or Communist), Africa will remain a tribal and/or despotic mess.  Or at least, that’s what the protagonists of the story all believe.  At one point, it is even asserted that Islam is a dead-end for nation-building; no Islamic country on Earth has an advanced social system.  I take particular umbrage with this idea given the flowering of the Muslim world in the “Middle Ages.” 

This idea that Africa must be boot-strapped into modernity by its abducted sons, the descendants of American slavery, is an insulting one.  It slights Africans, and it paints a veneer of redemption on “that peculiar institution.”  There is a throwaway reference to the destruction of African culture in the process of “improving” it, but it feels perfunctory.  Worst of all is this bland superiority that suffuses the whole thing.  Africans are pawns.  Americans are superior.  I appreciate that the characters of Burden are all Black, but that quality is only skin-deep.  It is, ultimately, a story of White Americans, who happen to be of dark hue.  And unlike Naudsonce, it’s played completely straight.  2 stars.

Sum it all together, and you’ve got a 2.3 star issue.  This is worse than, well, any of the magazines that came out this month.  If this is the digest that will win the Hugo, I’ve got a closet full of hats to eat…

…but Naudsonce is worth reading!

[November 19, 1961] See Change (December 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Every successful endeavor goes through the cycle of growth, stability, decline, and renewal (or death, in which case, there’s no cycle).  Science fiction magazines are no exception.  A particularly far-sighted editor can plan for decline by setting up a successor.  For instance Galaxy‘s H.L. Gold has turned over the reigns to Fred Pohl with no apparent drop in the digest’s quality.  Anthony Bourchier transitioned to Robert Mills at F&SF, and I understand that Renaissance Man Avram Davidson is waiting in the wings to take over.  That event can’t happen too soon, as F&SF has been lackluster of late.

Analog has had the same master since the early 30s: John W. Campbell.  And while Campbell has effected several changes in an attempt to revive his flagging mag (including a name change, from Astounding; the addition of a 20-page “slick” section in the middle of issues; and a genuinely effective cover design change (see below)), we’ve still had the same guy at the stick for three decades.  Analog has gotten decidedly stale, consistently the worst of The Big Three (in my estimation).

You can judge for yourself.  Just take a gander at the December 1961 issue.  It does not do much, if anything, to pull the once-great magazine from its shallow dive:

As has been the case for a couple of years now, the serialized novel (in this case, the first part of Black Man’s Burden, by Mack Reynolds) is the best part of the book.  Burden is the story of modernization in near-future North Africa.  Reynolds is currently living in the Mahgreb, so his tale is laced with authentic cultural insight.  Reynolds’ Tuareg tribesmen read like the best-developed sf alien cultures…except they’re for real!  I’m looking forward to see where this goes; rating reserved until I’ve read the whole thing.

Next up is a cute little time travel story involving an historian who attempts to change the course of events for a little nascent country called Texas.  I’ve never heard of R. R. Fehrenbach, so I assume Remember the Alamo! is his first story.  As such it’s not bad, though I tend to prefer my viewpoint not wander from character to character at the convenience of the author.  Three stars.

Tom Godwin is a fellow whose works get published in the magazines I don’t follow, so The Helpful Hand of God is the first story of his I’ve read.  Rapacious Terran Empire is thwarted by a bevy of scantily clad conscientious objectors.  Readable, but not very good.  Two stars.

This issue’s cake-taker is the ridiculous “science fact” article by Randall Garrett: Engineer’s Art.  It’s on dowsing, fer chrissakes.  You know, that mystical art of finding water by holding a couple of steel rods in front of you?  Truly a new low for this magazine.  One star.


How Campbell finds his stories and articles

It’s followed by a short, uncredited piece on a Neptune Orbit Observatory, whose main purpose would be to derive accurate distances to the stars through trigonometry (we’d know the angles and the length of the base of the triangle made up of points Earth, Neptune, and target star; the longer the base can be, the more precise our ability to measure the other sides of the triangle).  It’s a cute idea, though I suspect our telescopes will be good enough for the task long before our interplanetary engines are developed sufficiently for exploration of the eighth planet.  Three stars.

Randall Garrett (as David Gordon) offers up some fiction in the form of The Foreign Hand-Tie, a story of telepathic Cold War espionage.  As such things go, it’s not bad.  Reynolds probably could have done it better, but he can’t write the entire issue, can he?  Three stars.

Finally, the disappointing Sleight of Wit, by Gordon Dickson, portraying a battle of brains between a human planetary scout and his alien competitor.  It is disappointing because it requires the alien to be so featherbrained, the course of events the human relies on so convoluted.  Gordy does better when he ignores this mag.  Two stars.

Analog has only topped a three-star overall rating thrice this year, and this wasn’t one of those times.  That’s pretty lousy.  F&SF has done it seven times, and Galaxy never earned less than three.  I’ll be very surprised if Analog gets nominated for the Hugo for 1961. 

It’s time for a change, methinks.