Tag Archives: james schmitz

[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.

[Dec. 5, 1961] IF I didn’t care… (January 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

There is an interesting rhythm to my science fiction reading schedule.  Every other month, I get to look forward to a bumper crop of magazines: Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, and the King-Sized Galaxy.  Every other month, I get F&SF, Analog, and IF (owned by the same fellow who owns Galaxy). 

IF is definitely the lesser mag.  Not only is it shorter, but it clearly gets second choice of submissions to it and its sister, Galaxy.  The stories tend to be by newer authors, or the lesser works of established ones.  This makes sense — Galaxy offers the standard rate of three cents an article while IF‘s pay is a bare one cent per word.

That isn’t to say IF isn’t worth reading.  Pohl’s a good editor, and he manages to make decent (if not extraordinary) issues every month.  The latest one, the January 1962 IF, is a good example. 

For instance, the lead novelette is another cute installment in Keith Laumer’s “Retief” series, The Yillian Way.  I’ve tended not to enjoy the stories of Retief, a member of the Terran Interstellar Diplomatic Corps.  Laumer writes him a bit too omnipotent, and omnipotent heroes are boring, as they have no obstacles to overcome.  The challenges presented in Way, however, both by the baffling alien Yills and Retief’s own consular mission, are all too plausible…and charmingly met.  I am also pleased to find that Retief is Black (or, perhaps, Indian).  Four stars.

There’s not much to James Schmitz’s An Incident on Route Twelve.  In fact, if not for the engaging manner in which it’s written, this rather archaic story of alien abduction would be completely skippable.  As presented, it reads like a fair episode of The Twilight Zone.  Three stars.

If there is a signature author for IF, it’s Jim Harmon.  This prolific author seems to be in every other issue of the mag (and quite a few Galaxy issues, too).  Harmon is to Pohl what Randy Garrett is to John Campbell at Analog: a reliable workhorse.  Thankfully for Pohl, Harmon is better than Garrett (not a high bar).  The Last Place on Earth is not the best thing Harmon has ever written.  In fact, the ending seems rushed, and the plot doesn’t quite make sense.  That said, this tale of a fellow being hounded by a malevolent alien presence, is powerfully told.  Another three-star piece.

Usually, alien possession a la Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters is portrayed in a negative light.  But what if the society taken over is an intolerant dictatorship, and the foreign entity promotes love and brotherhood?  The Talkative Tree by H.B. Fyfe won’t knock your socks off, but it is a pleasant little read.  Three stars.

Last of the short stories is 2BR02B (the zero pronounced “naught”) by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.  Like his latest in F&SF, Harrison Bergeron, it is a cautionary tale written at a grade-school level.  This time, the subject is the ever-popular crisis of overpopulation. With Vonnegut, I vacillate between admiring his simplistic prose and rolling my eyes at it.  Three stars.

That’s the last of the short stories.  Not too bad, right?  A solid couple of hours of reading pleasure there.  But then you run headlong into the second half of the serial, Masters of Space, and that’s where the wheels come off of this issue.  E.E. Evans was a prolific writer for the lesser mags between the late ’40s and his death in 1958.  I know of him, but I haven’t read a single thing by him.  There is another, more famous “E.E.”  That’s E.E. Smith, the leading light of pulpish space opera from the 20s and 30s.  He had largely stayed hidden under the radar for the past couple of decades, but he resurfaced not to long ago.

Some time between his passing and this year, “Doc” Smith got a hold of a half-finished Evans work and decided to complete it.  The result is a almost skeletal, decidedly old-fashioned novel, something about humans who once straddled the stars but were coddled to senescence by the android servants they created.  Millennia later, the descendants of the old Masters pushed out into the galaxy again, only to face the indescribably sinister Stretts.  Masters isn’t bad, exactly.  It’s just not very good.  Smith’s writing holds no appeal for me.  I recognize Smith’s importance to the field of science fiction, but time has not been kind to his work, nor have Doc’s skills improved much over the years.  I made it about 60% through this short novel, but ultimately, I simply have better things to do with my time.  Two stars (and I revised my opinion of the previous installment, too).

In many ways, IF is the anti-Analog.  That magazine usually has great serials and mediocre short stories.  Oh well.  At least they both have something to offer. 

Next up: the next installment in an ongoing series.  Don’t miss this Galactic Journey exclusive!

[September 18, 1961] Balancing Act (October 1961 Analog)

Science fiction digests are a balancing act.  An editor has to fill a set number of pages every month relying solely on the stories s/he’s got at her/his disposal.  Not to mention the restrictions imposed if one wants to publish an “all-star” or otherwise themed issue. 

Analog has got the problem worst of all of the Big Three mags.  Galaxy is a larger digest, so it has more room to play with.  F&SF tends to publish shorter stories, which are more modular.  But Analog usually includes a serialized novel and several standard columns leaving only 100 pages or so in which to fit a few bigger stories.  If the motto of The New York Times is “All the news that’s fit to print,” then Analog’s could well be, “All the stories that fit, we print.”

How else to explain the unevenness of the October 1961 Analog?  The lead novella, Lion Loose, by James Schmitz, is 60 pages of unreadability.  It’s a shame since Schmitz has written some fine work before, but I simply unable to finish this tale of space piracy and teleporting animals.  Your mileage may vary.  One star.

Gordie Dickson’s Love Me True fares better, though it is a bit Twilight Zone-esque.  Space explorer risks all to bring a cute fuzzy-wuzzy back from Alpha Centauri as a pet.  In the end, it turns out the bonds of domestication run the other way.  Nicely written, but the idea is two decades behind the times.  Three stars.

The Asses of Balaam is Randall Garrett’s contribution, under the pseudonym “David Gordon” used by many Analog writers.  It’s the best piece in the book (didn’t expect that from Garrett!), a first contact story told from the point of view of some all-too human aliens.  I particularly appreciated the imaginative setting, the priority placed on ecological conservation, and the cute (if not unpredictable) twist at the end.  I must say – Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics have become axiomatic to all science fiction.  Four stars. 


by Schoenherr

Now, the science fact column of Analog is the worst of those included in the Big Three mags, usually filled with the crankiest of crank hypotheses.  I have to give credit to editor Campbell’s printing of Report on the Electric Field Rocket, by model rocketeer, G. Harry Stine.  This report is, in fact, an experimental refutation of H.C. Dudley’s dubious proposal to use the Earth’s electric field to help launch rockets.  Actual science!  Three stars.

Harry Harrison’s Sense of Obligation continues, to be completed next issue.  It’s reminiscent of Harrison’s excellent Deathworld in that it features a man made superhero by virtue of having grown up on a hostile planet.  Sense is not as good as Deathworld, though.  Full rating when it finishes.

That leaves The Man Who Played to Lose, another disappointing outing from a normally good author, in this case, Laurence Janifer (writing as “Larry M. Harris).  Interstellar Super Spy is sent to a planet in the throes of civil war.  His job is to stop the insurrection – by making it too successful!  A smug, implausible story, with far too much preaching at its tail.  Two stars.

This all adds up to a sub-par score of 2.6 stars out of 5.  This is not the worst Analog has gotten, but it’s not all that unusual, either.  This is why it usually takes me the longest to get through an issue of Campbell’s magazine.

Next up… a special article from a surprising source!

[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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