Tag Archives: john berryman

[June 16, 1961] Analog astounds… (July 1961 Analog)


Thomas

I’m going to stun you all today. 

There are plenty of writers in this genre we call science fiction (or sometimes “scientificition” or “s-f”).  I’ve encountered over 130 of them in just the few years that this column has been extant.  Some are routinely excellent; many are excellently routine.  A few have gotten special attention for being lousy.

One such writer is Randall Garrett.

This is the fellow whose smug misogyny and his utter conformity to John Campbell’s peculiar editorial whims made his works some of the worst I had the displeasure to review.  Sure, the stuff he wrote with other authors (Bob Silverberg and Laurence Janifer, for instance) was readable, but when he went solo, it was a virtual guarantee of disaster.  It is thus with no undue trepidation that I dug into this month’s Analog which features Garrett’s pen in the first two tales.

Folks, I’m as amazed as you are.  They were actually pretty good.

For instance, A Spaceship named McGuire, about an investigator who travels to Ceres to find out why a brainy spaceship consistently goes insane, has a solid hook, a good female character, vivid settings, and a crunchy adherence to science.  My main beef with McGuire is that it’s a mystery, but rather than giving us clues, Garrett just tells the gimmick at the end.  It feels rushed and arbitrary.  It’d probably make a good novel, though.  Three stars.

Tinker’s Dam is by Joseph Tinker, a name so clearly pseudonymous that it must belong to a fellow with another piece in this issue.  Based on the style, I’ll eat my hat if it’s not also a Garrett story.  Anyway, it’s about telepaths in the near future and the national security risk they pose.  Not only is it a pretty interesting piece, but it stars a fellow of Romany extraction (unfortunately nicknamed “Gyp,” but he seems fine with it).  It’s an ethnicity one doesn’t often see in stories, and it lends color to Dam without being the point.  Three stars.


Van Dongen

Herbert D. Kastle wrote an admirable first piece in Galaxy last month; his submission for the July Analog, The First One , suggests that Breakdown wasn’t a fluke.  First tells of a man’s somber homecoming.  He is both famous and yet changed: strangely repellent, alone even in the presence of friends and family.  The reveal is fairly well telegraphed and not particularly momentous, but I assume there is a deliberate metaphor here for the experience of returning battle fatigued soldiers.  It’s about two pages too long though it is never bad.  Three stars.

On the other hand, Chris Anvil’s The Hunch, about a Galactic Scout sent out in a ship full of untested equipment, is just silly.  Some might find the hero’s tribulations as he thumbs through endless manuals to be comical.  I found it stupid.  Two stars.

The rest of the issue is take up with Harry B. Porter’s incredibly dull article on high-temperature rocket materials (Hell’s own problem; one star) and the exciting conclusion to Simak’s The Fisherman (four stars). 

Summed up, the book gets an uninspiring 2.7 stars.  On the other hand, there is a lot of readable stuff in here, and at this point, I should be used to Campbell’s inability to get a decent science writer.  Moreover, if Randy Garrett has finally learned to write, that bodes well for issues to come given his perennial relationship with Analog.

A cup half-full, I’d say!

ADDENDUM:

A fan in the know tells me my guess was wrong, and Tinker’s Dam was actually by John Berryman.  That makes sense — he is also an Analog regular, and he writes readable stories about things psychic.  Thanks to Tom Smith for pointing that out!

[December 21, 1960] Short and Long Term (the January 1961 Analog)

There’s a big difference between weather and climate.  Weather is immediate; climate is gradual.  50 years from now, when the Earth’s average temperature has climbed a half a degree or more, thanks to the warming effects of human-caused pollution, people will still point to a cold day in January as proof that nothing has changed.

That’s because, just as for the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot of water, gradual change is difficult to perceive.  Only by assiduous collection of data, and by the subsequent analysis of that data, can we detect long-term trends.

Thus, it is too early to tell whether or not Analog is ever going to pull itself out of its literary doldrums.  I had such high hopes after December’s issue; January’s has dashed them.

It doesn’t help that Randall Garrett is still one of Campbell’s favorite writers.  I’m not sure if Garrett’s stories are lousy because Campbell tells Garrett what he should write, or if they’re lousy because Garrett writes what he knows Campbell will take.  Or maybe Garrett and Campbell independently share awful taste.  In any event, the long long lead novella, The Highest Treason, is a one-star drek-fest if ever there was one. 

In brief: In the far future, humanity has been reduced to mediocrity after the triumph of bleeding-heart liberal, Commie-pinko sentiments.  Job seniority is determined solely by time in service.  Decisions are made by group-think.  Innovation is scorned as antisocial.  There being no classes, there is no motivation to excel. 

This strawman of a culture is threatened by a Sparta-esque race of bald humans with pointy ears..I mean, complete aliens.  Earth’s defeat is only a matter of time.  One brilliant man dares to reverse the trend by defecting to the enemy with a cunning plan.  He becomes the conquering race’s greatest general, winning battle after battle, becoming the most vile traitor to humanity.  Then he orders the utter decimation of a populous Terran colony. 

This goads the Terrans into activity.  It would not have stirred us to action to have our colonies reduced and their people enslaved.  No.  Only a canny traitor could motivate our rennaissance.  Humans quickly develop superweapons that tilt the advantage Earth’s way.  The war is over in no time, and the era of stifling complacency is over.  Hurrah.

The moral: No alien will ever threaten mankind unless we let them.  And if we let them, only a human can horrify us out of out lethargy—because humans are better than aliens in every way, even being worse. 

Dumb story, dumb premise.  It’s also poorly written and overpadded.  True to Garrett form, only passing mention is made of the existence of women.  Three times to be exact–they are offered as a prize to the traitor, hanged from lampposts by the traitor, and disparaged as fickle philanderers by the traitor.  All excused by the context of course.

Bleah.

The issue only improves from there; how could it not?  Tom Purdom has a weird blood and guts piece called The Green Beret, about a young Black American who joins the UN peacekeeping forces to enforce anti nuclear proliferation rules.  I’m not sure what the point is, but I give Purdom points for giving us an atypical protagonist.  I don’t understand why the UN forces wear green berets, though—they have been wearing blue ones since the Suez Crisis four years ago.  Two stars.

Onward and upward.  Walter Bupp (John Berryman) gives us Card Trick a sequel of sorts to Vigorish.  In the universe portrayed, psi powers exist, and gambling parlors take great pains to ensure they are not used to sway odds.  In this story, a fellow is accused of possessing and abusing psionic abilities to win at cards; then he is strong-armed into joining a union of psionic gamblers.  He’s certain he is a “Normal,” however.  Is it a frame-up?  Or does he have a new kind of power?  Three stars. 

G. Harry Stine provides the non-fiction article for the month, Time for Tom Swift.  It starts off well enough, contending that our current methods for getting into space will never result in a sustainable off-planet presence.  They fail the “grandma test,” he says.  No little old lady can withstand the rigors of rocket take-off..much less afford the ticket!  But then he goes on to describe some cockamaimee futuristic designs that are clearly in the same camp as the Dean Drive and electrostatic boosters.  Two stars.

That leaves “Leonard Lockhard’s” interesting legal study, The Lagging Profession, likely inspired by actual events: In the story, Arthur C. Clarke (the real guy) retains a law firm to investigate the possibility of patenting his idea for geosynchronous (24-hour orbit) communications satellites.  It turns out the idea can’t be patented because it was described in an article 15 years ago.  Moreover, it couldn’t even have been patented at the time because the rockets and miniaturized components required for the concept did not exist.  We are left with the conclusion that high concepts related to space travel are unpatentable under the laws in their current state.

This may well be true.  On the other hand, patents are not the only motivation for invention.  Space travel is such an expensive proposition that the sheer cost will provide the protection from competition normally provided by patents.  I suspect Clarke’s synchronous satellites will be with us well before the decade is out, if our current pace of space development is any indication—you can bet they’ll all have Ma Bell’s name on them, too.  Four stars.

Part Three of “Mark Phillips'” Occasion for Disaster makes up the rest of the issue.  I’ll hold comment until next month.  Giving the serial a three-star placeholder, the January 1961 issue of Analog garners a disappointing 2.5 star rating.

Weather or climate?  Only time will tell.

[May 20, 1960] Three for Four (June 1960 Astounding)

Astounding, the venerable science fiction digest, has often been my monthly whipping boy.  Today’s article is going to be a bit different because, apart from one noteworthy, execrable exception, the June 1960 Astounding was actually quite good.

Much of the magazine is taken up by Part 3 of the enjoyable “Mark Phillips” effort, Out Like a Light.  There are only three other fiction entries in this issue, all novelette/novella-sized.

Chris Anvil’s Star Tiger leads the pack.  A colony is wiped out completely by an invisible enemy.  Is it an alien invasion?  An incorporeal monster?  Or some new permutation of biology?  The mystery is the best part of this story. 

Anvil is an author who started out mired in mediocrity, and who seems to be improving with effort.  However, despite some good description and atmosphere throughout much of this tale, he still ends it with that sort of droll, wrapped-in-a-bow fashion that feels perfunctory.  A story should be more than just the “gimmick.”  Not bad, though.

Charley de Milo is a minor masterpiece by Laurence Janifer (who co-wrote Out Like a Light).  It features a man born without arms, who has learned to use his feet with tremendous dexterity: comb his hair, light cigarettes, etc.  He makes a comfortable and enjoyable living as bally performer for a carnival freak show.  But when a friend creates a cure for lost limbs, his audience drops off precipitously.  Charley is faced with the hard choice: continue as a low-rent freak or be “cured” and start off from scratch as a normal person–at age 41.

This story raises a lot of poignant questions.  If one is handicapped and comfortable with one’s disability, is a cure always desirable?  If one can be cured, will society have less tolerance for the voluntarily crippled, be less supporting of those who refuse to be cured?  I have a minor disability, myself: I am somewhat color-blind.  It has never been much of a hindrance; in fact, I often find it amusing.  But, imagine if, someday, a set of glasses were invented that would enable me to see as “normal” people do.  Would I take the opportunity?  I’m actually not all that sure.  I am physically different from most people, and it has shaped my world.  It is part of my identity.  I don’t know that I want to lose that. 

I’ve always maintained that the measure of a story is the extent to which it makes you think about the points raised afterwards.  By that standard, this is definitely a 4-star tale.

Last of the three is John Berryman’s Vigorish, though he wrote it as Walter Bupp, same name as the story’s protagonist.  Interestingly, the lead is also a handicapped person.  His right arm is essentially useless, and its lack of functionality contributes to his ability to wield telekinesis with a fine degree of control.  He is employed, practically enough, to watchdog casinos when it looks like someone is using psionics to bend the odds her/his way.

There are a lot of stories featuring psi powers in Astounding, but this one is done better than most.  Give it a try.

Now, for those wondering about my comment in the first paragraph, it’s time for that other shoe to drop.  I’ve observed before that Astounding’s science fact column is the lousiest among the Big Three digests.  Not surprising given that the competition is Isaac Asimov and Willy Ley (and when the Astounding column is any good, it’s usually written by a pinch-hitter named… Isaac Asimov).

This month, Campbell has put it upon himself to write his own column.  It’s a long, whiny screed in defense of the (deservedly) much maligned Norman Dean, inventor of the “Dean Drive” that, purportedly, converts rotational acceleration to linear acceleration thus creating a reactionless drive.

Well, no one’s seen it work.  Even Campbell hasn’t seen it work.  But Campbell blames the lack of government and private interest in Dean’s engine on bureaucratic myopia… or perhaps something more sinister and collusionary.

I recognize and respect Campbell’s contributions to the genre, but he’s the embarrassing half-senile old uncle of our community.

Happy 57th birthday (tomorrow) to pulp icon Manly Wade Wellman.  He has not written much as late, so the Journey has only covered one of his stories, but it was a good one.