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[Oct. 21, 1961] Cause célèbre (Three years, and the November 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Three years ago, my wife pried my nose out of my sci-fi magazines.  “You’ve been reading all of these stories,” she said.  “Why not recommend some of the best ones so I can join in the fun without having to read the bad ones.”

I started a list, but after the first few titles, I had a thought.  What if, instead of making a personal list for my wife, I made a public list?  Better yet, how about I publish little reviews of the magazines as they come out?

Thus, Galactic Journey was born.

It’s been an interesting ride.  I was certain that I’d have perhaps a dozen subscribers.  Then a large ‘zine made mention of the column, and since then, we’ve been off to the races.  Our regular readers now number in the hundreds, and the full-time staff of The Journey is eight, going on nine.  We’ve been guests at several conventions around the West Coast, and we’ve been honored with one of fandom’s most prestigious awards.

All thanks to you.  So please join us in a birthday toast to the Galactic Journey family. 

Speaking of significant dates, this month marks the end of an era.  Astounding Science Fiction, founded in 1930, quickly became one of the genre’s strongest books under the stewardship of Editor John W. Campbell.  Last year, Campbell decided it was time to strike out in a new direction, starting with a new name of the magazine.  The process has been a gradual one.  First, the word, Analog, was slowly substituted month after month over Astounding.  The spine name changed halfway through this transition.  As of this month, the cover reads Analog Science Fiction.  I am given to understand that next month, it will simply say Analog

I think it’s a dopey name, but it’s the contents that matter, right?  So let’s see what Campbell gave us this month:

Well, not a whole lot, numerically.  There are just five pieces, but most of them are quite lengthy. 

First up is a novella by Analog perennial, Chris Anvil: No Small Enemy.  It combines two common Analog tropes, Terran supremacy and psionics.  In this case, an alien invasion is defeated by doughty humans using psychic talents.  It should be terrible, and the coincidence of the extaterrestrial onslaught and humanity’s discovery of ESP strains credulity.  Nevertheless, it’s actually not a bad read, and it suggests Anvil will do well when he’s not writing for Campbell’s unique fetishes.  In fact, we know that to be the case based on last year’s Mind Partner, published in Galaxy.  Three stars.

Jim Wannamaker’s Attrition features a fairly conventional set-up.  Interstellar scout is dispatched to determine why a previous scout mission failed to return from an alien world.  Where it fails in originality, it succeeds in execution.  It’s a decent mystery, and the characterization and deft writing make it worth reading.  Four stars.

Things go downhill in the science fact section of the magazine, as they often do.  A Problem in Communication, by George O. Smith, is a weird piece about how the two brains of a Brontosaurus might talk to each other.  It is followed up by Hal Clement’s Gravity Insufficient, an attempt to describe how magnetic fields modulate the Sun’s tempestuous flares.  It starts out like gangbusters but then fizzles into incomprehensibility.  Both pieces get two stars.

That leaves (Part 3 of 3) of Sense of Obligation, by Harry Harrison, which I’ll review next time.  All told, this issue garners 3 stars.  Given some of the real clunkers Campbell churned out this year, this may represent a good augury for this newly renamed digest.  I’d hate for them to go the way of the dinosaurs…

[Oct. 20, 1960] Fiction > Non-fiction… sometimes (the November 1960 Analog)

Each month, I lament what’s become of the magazine that John Campbell built.  Analog‘s slow decline has been marked by the editor’s increased erratic and pseudo-scientific boosting behavior.  Well, I just don’t have the heart to kick a dog today, and besides, the fiction is pretty good in this month’s (November 1960) issue.  So let’s get right to it, shall we?

“Mark Phillips” (Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer) have a new four-part serial in their Malone series.  Set in the 1970s, the series details the adventures of a couple of federal agents, who are helped in their cases by a telepath who believes herself (and may actually be) Queen Elizabeth I.  I won’t spoil the details of this one, Occasion for Disaster, but I’ve liked the previous novels, so I suspect Occasion will also be pleasant reading.

Heading off the magazine’s short stories is a fun piece by Theodore L. Thomas, half of the pseudonymous duo that previously brought us a fascinating study into the world of copyright, The Professional TouchCrackpot continues in that vein, featuring a brilliant old scientist (Prof. Singlestone… get it?!) who convinces the world that he’s gone senile.  His aim?  To make his work so disreputable that no government agency will want it, so that no university will employ him, so that he can for the first time in his life enjoy working as a truly free agent.  So that when his invention proves to be utterly unignorable, he will be the master of its fate.  Cute stuff.  Three stars.

Next up is E.C. Tubb’s The Piebald Horse.  It starts out well enough with a Terran spy trying to escape a repressive alien world with his brain full of sensitive knowledge.  The jig seems up for him when the aliens employ telepaths as mind-screen agents, but they are foiled when the protagonist pickles himself continuously until he can depart the planet.  I’m pretty sure I just saw this tactic in Fred Pohl’s Drunkard’s Walk.  2 stars.

These two stories are followed by a pair of execrable “non-fiction” articles.  Captain, MSC, US Navy H.C. Dudley, PhD (he must be authoritative–look at all the titles!) has the first: The Electric Field Rocket.  He maintains that the Earth’s electrostatic field can be used to assist rocket launches; he implies that the Soviet’s lead in the Space Race is attributable to their taking advantage of said phenomenon.  Not only is the article unreadable, but I suspect the science is bunk.  Time will tell.  1 star.

Speaking of which, Editor Campbell contributes the second article: Instrumentation for the Dean Drive.  I’m not even going to dignify with a review this next piece in an endless series on Dean’s magical inertialess engine.  He needs to knock it off already.  1 star.

Blessedly, the rest of the issue is quite good.  The reliable Hal Clement is back with Sunspot, an exciting, if highly technical, account of a group of spacemen who ride a comet around the Sun.  What better shielding exists for a close encounter with a star than billions of cubic tons of ice?  Four stars.

At last, we come to H. Beam Piper’s Oomphel in the Sky.  The set-up is great: a Terran colony world in a binary star system courts disaster when the planet makes a close approach to the usually far-away sun.  This triggers unrest amongst the natives, threatening Terran and native interests alike.  I’m an unabashed fan of Piper, and this is a good tale, although he does get a little patronizing toward the do-gooder but ineffective Terran government.  I like the strong anthropological bent, and I appreciate the respect with which he treats the natives and their interests.  Four stars.

In sum, the November 1960 Analog (I almost typed “Astounding“) is quite decent, fiction-wise.  Campbell needs to do what Galaxy’s Gold has done and hire a ghost editor, and a real non-fiction author.  I can’t believe there isn’t another budding Asimov or Ley out there champing at the bit to be published…

The fourth and last Kennedy/Nixon debate is tomorrow night!  I hope you’ll all watch it with me, but if you can’t bring yourself to sit through another hour of sparring, I’ll give you the full details the following day.