Tag Archives: Johnathan Blake MacKenzie

[October 27, 1962] Calm in the Storm (the November 1962 Analog)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

What the papers are now calling the Cuban Missile Crisis is a blister ready to burst.  An American pilot has been shot down.  There are rumors of confrontations between American and Soviet warships.  Bomber take-offs have rattled windows in towns near Air Force bases around the nation.  Kennedy, Khruschev, and U Thant are all offering proposals to turn this thing off, but so far, there are no takers.

I find almost jarring the contrast between the lurid and constant news reports and the rather bland offerings found in the last American science fiction magazine I’m reviewing this month, namely the November 1962 Analog.  Perhaps you’ll find its relative drabness a comfort. 

Space Viking (Part 1 of 4), by H. Beam Piper

Piper has written many stories set in what appears to be a coherent future history.  There are consistent references to planets such as Tanith and the Sword Worlds.  A Terran Imperium spans much of the galaxy.  Space Viking is both familiar and a departure, set as it is centuries after that Empire has collapsed.  Society and technology are on the regress, and the now-independent Sword Worlds have reverted to a kind of planetary feudalism.  These worlds grow rich on plundering the decaying carcass of the Empire; space piracy and raiding on a planetary scale are now respected endeavors.

This latest of Piper’s works follows a noble of one of the Sword Worlds who contracts a famed but currently shipless captain to skipper a newly commissioned ship.  The mission of the cruiser Nemesis is not piracy, but revenge against a most egregious of pirates.

It’s an interesting read, and planethopping tales are among my favorites.  I lament the lack of any real female characters though, particularly from the author who gave this column its avatar (Dr. Martha Dane of Omnilingual).  Three stars thus far.

Untechnological Employment, by E. M. Clinton, Jr.

An exceedingly short, juvenile piece.  I did note, however, the unorthodox use of the new term “Native American” for those typically called “Indians.”  Two stars.

Solomon’s Orbit, by William Carroll

Old coot shows up all those highfalutin eggheads by inventing an orbital drive out of space junk while all those rocket scientists can barely make a missile go.  A word of wisdom to the new author desperate to be published: this is the kind of tale Campbell loves.  Not me, though.  Two stars.

The Servant Problem, by Robert F. Young

At first, one is led to believe that this will be another story about an eccentric non-scientist coming up with the invention of the ages.  Instead, as the canny reader will pick up on, it’s far more.  That said, it’s not a great story, and the end is as expositional as they come.  Nevertheless, Young is always readable, even when he’s not brilliant.  Three stars.

The Educated Flatworms, by John Eric Holmes

Well, here’s a welcome surprise.  Normally, the slick pages devoted to non-fiction end up ruined by the monthly pseudo-science Campbell favors (psionics, reactionless drives, etc.) This time around, we have an absolutely fascinating piece on the training of flatworms, the common ancestor to most animals.  Not only can you teach these squishy creatures, but they pass on their knowledge to others in most surprising ways.

Normally, I’d expect stuff like this to be typical Analog bunk, but I’ve looked up the researchers in question, and their results appear to be legitimate.  The article’s only fault is a less than rigorous conveying of test scores; it’s not exactly clear what the significance of some of the numbers is.  Four stars.

Anchorite, by Johnathan Blake MacKenzie

The harsh living of the mining Belter, securing asteroids for precious metals and oxygen, makes for a hardy, reliable breed.  But is the resulting culture of rugged individualism a designed-for result or a happy side effect?  MacKenzie gives us both sides of the story, from the points of view of the rock-dwellers and a pair of Earthers.  Not an entirely unbiased view — there is more than a little condescension in the space-dwellers’ take, but there is also naivete, which I appreciated.

This should be a good story, but it’s not.  For one thing, MacKenzie, with his lurid descriptions of asteroids (he has been doing the Ship Named MacGuire series), flat attempts at puns, utter lack of women, and his begging the question like a highway mendicant, can be none other than Randall Garrett.  This is not a selling point.  For another, the scenes of asteroid mining are tedious, and what passes for dialogue even more so.  This could have been a fascinating tale if told by, I don’t know… Piper or Leinster or Reynolds.  In Garrett’s hands, it’s limp stuff.  Two stars.

Crucial Experiment #2, by Joseph F. Goodavage

Good gravy — Campbell had to include a three-page astrological weather forecast.  I guess we’ll have to see if there be any accuracy to it next month.  My money’s on “No.”

And so ends another readable but not outstanding issue of Analog.  I’m sure its intended audience would give it more stars than I do, and I wasn’t bored for much of it, but it’s only fair to middlin’ stuff right now.  Stay tuned for the last magazine of the month, this one from the other side of the Pond!




[April 20, 1962] Boot Camp (May 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Science fiction magazines are not created equal.

Every editor brings her/his own slant to their magazine’s theme.  For instance, Cele Goldsmith strikes an old-fashioned chord, reviving classics from the Pulp Era in Amazing and Fantastic.  Fred Pohl keeps things reliable (if not exceptional) in Galaxy, but showcases new and innovative works in IF.  Before it went under, Fantastic Universe devoted much ink to flying saucer stories and articles.

And as you will soon see, Analog is preoccupied with psychic powers and pseudo-scientific quackery (a redundant phrase?).  Viz, the May 1962 issue:

Anything You Can Do! (Part 1 of 2), by Darrell T. Langart

As you might have guessed, Mr. “Langart”‘s name is really an anagram for Analog perennial, Randall Garrett (this is another way magazines are differentiated – they each have a stable of regular authors).  Generally, when Garrett uses a pseudonym, it means he’s got another piece in the magazine; more on that later.

Anything is a surprisingly (for Garrett) capable story about a single alien invader, and the man who is recruited and intensively trained to stop the extraterrestrial’s acts of violence and theft.  It’s the second time one of his stories has featured gifted identical twins, one of whom has a disability which turns out to be an asset (see The Foreign Hand-Tie.  It is also a story that very well could take place in the same universe as the recent “Ship Named MacGuire” series.  So far, it’s shaping up to be a good short novel.  Four stars.

The Next Logical Step, by Ben Bova

Recent author Ben Bova (who prefers to describe a genius as “a regular Galileo” rather than “a regular Einstein”) hasn’t turned in anything particularly impressive to date.  Step is about a military wargaming computer that delivers a full-sensory experience, one that almost inevitably depicts even small brushfire wars ending in global conflagration.  Simulated Mutually Assured Destruction.  Nice concept, but heavy handed and perfunctorily executed.  Two stars.

Nor Iron Bars a Cage…, by Johnathan Blake MacKenzie

I’m not sure that this piece of crime fiction, in which an American and British team of detectives track down a child molester, really belongs here.  It starts promisingly enough, but then just sort of degenerates into mediocrity, particularly the eight pages of psychological exposition at the end.  I also did not appreciate the lumping of child rapists and gay people – according to the recent eye-opening television special on homosexuals, The Rejected, perhaps as much as 40% of the population is queer to some degree, and all of them are human beings with a normal distribution of traits (negative and positive).  Two stars.

By the way, I’m pretty sure Mr. “MacKenzie” is Randall Garrett in disguise.  The story has his fingerprints on it, and he’s already appeared pseudonymously earlier in the issue.

The Fourth Law of Motion, by Dr. William O. Davis

Editor Campbell is always trying to prove that the “Dean Drive,” a purportedly reactionless engine that would overturn the laws of physics as we know them, is a legitimate invention.  To that end, he’s enlisted the aid of a Dr. Davis, the head of a Connecticut paper company.  At first, I dismissed the article as hot air, but I think it does make some interesting points (even if they probably don’t support the efficacy of Dean’s Drive).

Davis suggests that Newton’s famous equation, F=ma, needs to be modified to reflect that, when an object is accelerated, it doesn’t do so all at once.  The force pushes on the object’s nearest components first, and the impact then ripples along the object in a wave until the whole thing is in motion.  Basically, physical bodies can respond to forces “out of phase” with each other.  This is not a revolutionary concept – there’s even a name for it: “starting transient.” 

That this jerk or change in acceleration could have other effects is interesting, and I’d like to know more about them.  But my college training was in physics.  For the rest of you, I suspect this dry explication on the third derivative of position will be must-skip material.  Two stars.

Sight Gag, by Larry M. Harris

Mr. Harris is really Laurence M. Janifer, who is not only a regular at Analog, but frequently writes in collaboration with Mr. Garrett.  I’ve liked some of his stuff very much, but this gimmick story about a vengeful fellow who goes after a psionic G-Man reads like something out of the early 50s.  Three stars, since it’s decently told.  No more, because of the hoary format.

Look Before You Leap, by Donald E. Westlake

This one opens so well, with a terrified Air Force boot teleporting from a particularly harrowing episode of Basic Training and then, in equal fright, zapping right back.  He is the latest result (victim) of a controlled stress test conducted by a certain Colonel.  The officer’s goal is to sieve out the psionically gifted by monitoring the most difficult situation a human can face this side of the battlefield.

Sadly, by about halfway through, the story ends up twice as padded as it needs to be, and the compounding of indignity and torture upon the recruit in an attempt to make him duplicate his initial feat is both unpleasant and unrealistically shrugged off at the story’s end.  Two stars.

***

2.6 stars and a grinding slog.  I feel like I’ve just spent a week in Basic.  Well, there’s always next month…