Tag Archives: james h. schmitz

[April 18, 1961] Starting on the wrong foot (May 1961 Analog)

Gideon Marcus, age 42, lord of Galactic Journey, surveyed the proud column that was his creation.  Three years in the making, it represented the very best that old Terra had to offer.  He knew, with complete unironic sincerity, that the sublimity of his articles did much to keep the lesser writers in check, lest they develop sufficient confidence to challenge Gideon’s primacy.  This man, this noble-visaged, pale-skinned man, possibly Earth’s finest writer, knew without a doubt that this was the way to begin all of his stories…

…if he wants to be published in Analog, anyway.  One might suggest to John Campbell that he solicit stories with more subtle openings.  To be fair, the May 1961 isn’t actually that bad, but every time a piece begins in the fashion described above, I feel like I’ve discovered a portal to 1949’s slush pile.

Case in point is Chris Anvil’s Identification.  I know Chris has got a good story in him somewhere, but not when he submits to Campbell.  This tale is about the use of actual bugs, psychically linked to a human operator, to eavesdrop on and prevent potential instances of crime.  It’s not a bad premise, but the story is too padded at the beginning and end, and too clunky in the middle.  Two stars.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Death and the Senator, on the other hand, is very good.  What evil irony for an anti-space politician when it turns out that space offers the cure to a fatal heart condition.  An intense, personal story, with some plausible speculation on the world circa 1976.  Four stars.

I can perhaps forgive Join our gang? for being Sterling Lanier’s first piece.  It is the distillation of all that is wrong with Analog — not only is the Terran Empire the strongest force in the universe, but the animals of Earth are the toughest in the universe.  And preventative genocide is acceptable diplomacy.  I can’t make this up, folks!  Two stars.

The teeter-totter goes up again with James Schmitz’s Gone Fishin’, as one might expect given his quite good Summer Guests from a couple of years back.  It starts out with the same hoary formula, but where it goes is quite surprising.  It’s basically the The Door through Space concept done right.  Three stars; there’s gold in there, but it gets docked for the slow beginning and the somewhat know-it-all air at the end.

There’s a G. Harry Stine “non-fiction” article.  It’s not worth reprinting, this piece about how science fiction writers are too conservative in their predictions given how fast everything is moving these days.  He includes a bunch of asymptotic curves that indicate, among other things, that we will have hyperdrive by 1980 and crushing overpopulation by the end of the century.  I believe that one should not interpret the trends of the last two decades as representative of a sustainable pace; rather, they represent a quantum jump to a new plateau.  In support of this observation is Enovid, the new “birth control” pill that will, mark my words, blow a hole in Malthusian population growth predictions.  Two stars.

The rest of the magazine comprises Part II of Cliff Simak’s promising The Fisherman, which I won’t spoil at this time.  All told, it’s a 3-star mag — imagine how much higher it could be if Analog’s authors could figure out a better way to start their stories!

One IF by land… (September 1959 IF; 8-29-1959)

September is almost over, and it’s not even the end of August.

Confused?  It’s standard practice to date magazines with the month that they are to be taken off the shelves.  Thus, I got all of my September 1959 issues in late June.  I also got my October Galaxy around then, too, but that’s because it’s a bi-monthly.

The September 1959 IF, now essentially Galaxy Jr., is the last September issue to review before moving on to the next month, and so far so good!

As with the last ish, the magazine opens strongly with a novelette by James H. Schmitz called Summer Guests.  At first, it seems like a bit of wish-fulfilment: bored, lonely working stiff encounters a pair of lovely fairies while at his summer retreat.  Very quickly, our protagonist learns that his guests are far more than they seem, and he finds himself an unwitting pawn in a struggle between races and dimensions.  It’s got a wicked sting in the tail, too.  Solid, 4-star tale.

On to number two.  Philip K. Dick never turns in a bad effort, but Fair Game is one of his lesser works.  A professor is hounded by extra-dimensional creatures who appear to be after his fine intellect.  In tone, it sounds a bit like a much better Dick story I read in Beyond many years ago (I can’t remember the title), but the ending is rather pat. 3 stars.

Margaret St. Clair (often known as Idris Seabright) has an entry in this month’s issue: The Scarlet Hexapod.  In short, if you like dogs, you’ll love the six-footed Martian version.  It’s all about how Jeff, the extraterrestrial Fido, risks all to save its owner from a murderous plot.  I found the story insubstantial, but not trying.  3 stars.

Finally, for today, we have Charles L. Fontenay’s Bargain Basement in which a pair of modern-day fellows frequent a little general store that is, literally, a slice of the future.  No one minds getting whiz-bang merchandise for cheap, but the pleasant situation collapses in a bit of paradox when one of the protagonists uses a love drug to steal the fiancée of the other (in a bit I found disturbing).  The subsequent change in history causes the future store to disappear… yet nothing else changes, including the marital status of the woman and her scoundrel new husband.  3 stars reduced to 2 for the poor treatment of the female character.

That leaves us at exactly 3 stars for the first half of the issue.  We’re doing better than this month’s Astounding, but will the luck hold out into Part 2?

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


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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