Tag Archives: jack sharkey

[July 19, 1960] A New Breed (August 1960 Galaxy)

Last year, Galaxy editor Horace Gold bowed to economic necessity, trimming the length of his magazine and slashing the per word rate for his writers.  As a result (and perhaps due to the natural attrition of authors over time), Galaxy‘s Table of Contents now features a slew of new authors.  In this month’s editorial, Gold trumpets this fact as a positive, predicting that names like Stuart, Lang, Barrett, Harmon, and Lafferty will be household names in times to come.

In a way, it is good news.  This most progressive of genres must necessarily accept new talent lest it become stale.  The question is whether or not these rookies will stay long enough to hone their craft if the money isn’t there.  I suppose there is something to be said for doing something just for the love of it.

As it turns out, the August 1960 issue of Galaxy is pretty good.  I’m particularly pleased with Chris Anvil’s lead novelette, Mind Partner.  It’s a fascinating story involving a man paid to investigate a most unusual addictive substance, the habit of which its victims are generally unable to kick.  Those that manage to break free retreat into paranoid near-catatonia or explode into random streaks of violence.

Chris is a fellow who has churned out reliably mediocre tales for Astounding (now Analog) for years, yet I’ve always felt that he was capable of more.  Just as a good director can coax a fine performance out of an actor, perhaps Anvil just needs a better editor than Campbell.

William Stuart is up next with, A Husband for My Wife, a rather conventional, but not unworthy, time travel story involving the heated competition for affection and success between two friends/nemeses, one exemplifying brains, the other brawn.  The brainy one jumps off into the future with the brawny one’s girlfriend leaving the latter stuck with the brainy one’s domineering wife.  But the meathead and the shrew will be waiting when the brain returns… 

Stuart was the new author who penned the pleasant (though ultimately dark) Inside John Barth in the last issue.  His sophomore effort is not quite as good, but I can definitely see why Gold keeps him around, and he clearly has time to write!

Non-fiction writer Willy Ley is back to his old standard, I think, with his article on the origin of legends: How to Slay Dragons.  I was particularly interested to learn that the mythical dragon, at least in the West, only goes back to the Renaissance.  Apparently the notion of winged lizards cavorting with medieval princesses is anachronistic.

Back to fiction, The Business, as Usual is Jack Sharkey’s second story in Galaxy, and it’s about as bad as his first.  Set in 1962, it portrays, satirically, the top brass of our nation figuring out what to do with a new stealth aircraft.  It’s all a set-up for a groan-worthy last line.

Sordman the Protector is an interesting, ambitious novella by serviceman Tom Purdom about a class of psychically gifted “Talents” who are both prized and reviled for their abilities.  The story is praiseworthy both for its innovative portrayal of future culture and the taut whodunit it presents.  It is clear that the author put a lot into developing the tale’s background universe.  I wonder if he intends to expand it into a novel.

Neal Barrett’s first tale, To Tell the Truth, has a cute title and an interesting set-up.  In an interstellar war where security is of paramount importance, combatants are given pain blocks against torture and suicide triggers that trip if their owners are on the verge of divulging sensitive information.  This provides strong protection for secrets when soldiers get captured.  But what if the secrets were never true to begin with?

Finally, we’ve got L.J. Stecher’s An Elephant for the Prinkip, a rather delightful piece about the difficulties of transporting pachyderms across the stars.  It’s one of those stories that shouldn’t work, being all tell and no show (literally–its narrator is a salty old captain recounting the tale at a bar), but it does.  But then, I’ve always had a soft spot for stories involving interstellar freight.

That leaves the second and final part of Fred Pohl’s short novel, Drunkard’s Walk… but I’ll cover this one separately.

Stay tuned!

[Apr. 29, 1960] A Banks Shot (June 1960 Galaxy, Part 2)

Without preamble, let’s get to the second half of this month’s Galaxy, the June 1960 issue.  I hope you’ve all been reading along with me because there will be a quiz next period.


by Wood

Jack Sharkey is a prolific newcomer who started out in the lesser mags.  His The Dope on Mars, the first-hand account of a journalist sent to the Red Planet, is fair.  The title actually is a clever (if intentional) pun, as it suggests both the true story about Mars and the moron sent to cover it.  And that’s ultimately what I found frustrating—the reporter really comes off as a putz.  On the other hand, recalling my competition back in my reporting days, perhaps the depiction isn’t that far off the mark.

Transstar is a dense novelette, and is the first thing by Raymond Banks that I’ve really enjoyed.  In fact, were it not for the slightly disappointing ending, it would have earned the coveted 5-star award.  In the far future, humanity has spread across a thousand star systems.  Protecting it is the extra-governmental agency, Transstar, with millions of ships at its disposal.  This overwhelming force comes with a hefty price tag, however, and partial mobilization does not appear to be an option.  This sounds implausible on its face, but recall that the French mobilization of the last war had similar problems, which was one of the reasons there was no armed resistance to the German taking of the Rhineland in ’36. 

Despite the massive scope of the backdrop, Transstar is a very personal story, that of one agent stationed at a small colony that happens to be next in line for conquest by the sadistic Eaber, who also have a thousand systems under their control.  The story is by turns poignant and horrifying, written in an excellent, understated fashion.  My only issues are with the ending, which was both too glib and somewhat inconsistent.  But I’ll save the rest of my commentary for the letter column.


by Dillon

I remember Charles de Vet largely from his propping up the rather dismal January 1959 AstoundingMonkey on his Back, de Vet’s contribution to this month’s Galaxy is an interesting adventure story.  Imagine if Harrison’s Slippery Jim diGriz suddenly got amnesia and went to a shrink for help. 

Frederic Brown’s Beware Earthmen Bearing Gifts is over almost before it starts.  Taken at face value, it’s a silly premise, but there are two valid themes conveyed: the principle that nothing can be observed without affecting it, and, our methods of exploration may be more destructive than necessary. 


by Dillon

Idea Man, by British neophyte John Rackham (who wrote the lead story for the November 1959 issue of IF) has a fun piece on what it’s like to have a great concept but limited vision for its application. 


by Dillon

Finally, we have Inside John Barth, by the brand new William W. Stuart (I’m seeing a trend; ever since lowering his rates, editor Gold is having trouble getting old pros to work for him).  It’s a rather fascinating tale about a fellow who becomes a colony (in the 17th century sense of the word) for a clan of aliens.  Their relation is symbiotic, for the most part, though the “host” increasingly resents the salutary restrictions placed on his activities to ensure the benevolence of his internal environment.  A good first effort, for sure.

So there you have it: a solid 3-star issue (sadly, with nary a female writer nor much of a female character presence).  Let me know what you think, and I’ll see y’all in a few days!

[Jan. 08, 1960] Between Peaks (January 1960 If)

I’ve finally finished the January 1960 IF and can report fully on its contents.  January has been a decidedly uninspiring month for digests.  They’re all in the 3-star range (though for Astounding, that’s actually a good month!) with no knockouts in the bunch.  Perhaps this is the calm before the storm.

The reliable if stolid Mack Reynolds (writing as Mark Mallory) kicks off this issue with The Good Seed.  Can a man trapped on a tiny island by a swelling tide escape before he is drowned?  Perhaps with the help of a sentient, telepathic plant.  It’s actually quite a touching story.

James Stamers seems to be a newcomer, and it shows in his unpolished writing.  Despite this, his The Divers, about psionic neutrals (essentially anti-telepaths) with the ability to astrally project, has some fascinating ideas and some genuinely evocative scenes.  Had Stamers given the tale to Sturgeon to work over for a final edit, I think it could have been an epic.  As it is, the story suggests that its author is a diamond in the rough waiting to be polished.

Two Ulsterians, Bob Shaw and Walt Willis, wrote the short Dissolute Diplomat, about an unsavory space traveler who crashes on an alien world, bullies the jelly-ish inhabitants into fixing his ship, and then gets what he deserves in a groan-worthy fashion that is truly pun-ishing.

The Little Red Bag, by Jerry Sohl, is a good piece of thrilling writing, at least until the somewhat callous and abrupt end.  A fellow on a plane has the power of tactile clairvoyance—and he discovers a ticking time bomb in the luggage compartment.  Can he save the passengers before it goes off?  Having flown the route that the plane takes many times (Southerly down California into Los Angeles), the setting is quite familiar, which is always fun.

Daniel Galouye (how do you pronounce his name?) is up next with the interesting teleportation yarn, The Last Leap.  Three military subjects have gone AWOL after artificially gaining the ability to materialize anywhere.  Surely they were not killed–after all, even the vacuum of space poses no danger, for the ‘porters reflexively snap back to a safe spot; moreover, they instinctively avoid teleporting into solid objects.  What could have happened?  You find out in the end…

To Each His Own, by Jack Sharkey, stars a team of Venusians who explore the Earth after a recent holocaust.  The nature of said disaster is never made explicit until the very end, though it is alluded to subtly.  I confess that I should have figured out the gimmick ending, but I didn’t.  I suppose that constitutes a point in the author’s favor.

Margaret St. Clair has a fun story (The Autumn after Next) about a magical missionary whose job is to convert magic-less cultures into adepts at the Arts.  He meets his match, and his end, attempting to introduce the most reluctant of tribes to the supernatural.  Better than The Scarlet Hexapod, not as good as Discipline, both IF stories.

Finally, we have Cultural Exchange by J.F. Bone wherein a crew of space explorers meets a sophisticated alien race with both superior and inferior technologies.  It is a first contact story of Cat and Mouse with both sides attempting to be the predator.  Not stellar, but satisfying.

That’s that!  It’s an unremarkable issue, slightly under the standards of its older sibling, Galaxy, I’d say.  Worth a read, but you won’t remember it next month (unless, of course, you review my column).

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P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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