Tag Archives: lloyd biggle jr.

[January 7, 1962] Mismatched pair (ACE Double D-485)


by Gideon Marcus

I recently discovered the goodness that is the ACE Double.  For just 35 cents (or 45 cents, depending on the series), you get two short books back to back in one volume.  I’ve been impressed with these little twinned novels though their novelty may pass as I read more magazine scientificition – after all, many of the ACE novels are adapted magazine serials.  Still, they’ve been a great way to catch up on good fiction I’ve missed.

For instance, ACE Double D-485 (released Spring 1961) pairs Lloyd Biggle Jr.’s The Angry Espers with Robert Lowndes’ The Puzzle Planet

Biggle’s name is what sold me on this Double as he’s turned in some solid work in the last few years.  In fact, you might have read Espers, Biggle’s first novel, when it appeared in Amazing back in 1959 as A Taste of Fire.  Now, normally I try to provide a modicum of commentary on the works I review.  After all, you all tune in for my exhaustive literary criticism, right?  My academic spotlight on the objective quality of a work in the context of our modern and historical socio-political structures? 

No?

Well, good.  Because I’d hate to spoil a word of Biggle’s excellent work.  Quite simply, the thing had me hooked from the first paragraphs, and it did not let me go until I had finished the novel two hours later.  Espers held me in rapt attention while the needle of my phonograph hissed up and down on the last groove of a record, completely unheeded.  Biggle has written a compelling, often unpredictable read, and had I discovered it two years ago, it would have been a strong contender for the 1959 Galactic Stars awards.  4.5 stars.  Read it.

Lowndes’ Puzzle Planet is a horse of a different color.  It is the author’s attempt at a straight sci-fi themed “whodunnit” murder mystery.  Set on an extraterrestrial world inhabited by seemingly primitive humanoids, it struggles to maintain interest.  The key problem is that Lowndes is a veteran of the Golden age of science fiction.  His heyday was in the 1940s, and he has written very little fiction in the last ten years, his time being taken up with magazine editing, particularly the digests, Future, Science Fiction, and Science Fiction QuarterlyPuzzle Planet, while it is not unentertaining, it is also not innovative.  The events of Lowndes’ novel could as easily have taken place in an exotic Earth locale, perhaps in the Orient or Africa. 

Moreover, it is often the case that a science fiction writer can only manage a few leaps at a time.  If a story features creative extrapolation of technology, then often the society portrayed is bog-standard modern American.  Or if the characterization is particularly keen, then the technical aspects may be conventional.  Lowndes, in focusing on the mystery aspects of his story, misses out on both, showing us both technology and culture that are utterly familiar, despite the story taking place on an alien world far in the future.

Nevertheless, Lowndes does know how to write, and the mysteries (plural) are competent, as one would hope given the priority he gives them.  Three stars.

Whatever my misgivings about Puzzle Planet, I can’t deny that 35 cents was a steal for the 245 pages of entertainment I got out of D-485.  If it’s still at your local bookstore, do pick it up.

[May 14, 1961] Friendly disputes (June 1961 Analog)

I’ve got a long-running feud going on with Mike Glyer, editor of the popular fanzine, File 770.  Well, feud is probably too strong a word given that we’re good friends and avid mutual readers.  In fact, we usually get along quite well.  All fans are united by love for the genre and our status as oddballs, after all.  But Mike and I just can’t seem to agree on Analog, a monthly science fiction magazine.

Here are the indisputable facts: Analog is the elder statesman of the digests; it pioneered real sf back when all the other outlets were pushing pulp adventure.  Analog has the biggest circulation of any of the current digests, somewhere around 200,000 per month. 

Now for the disputable ones.  Analog is the most conservative of the mags.  It’s generally Terran-centric, with Earthlings portrayed as the most cunning, successful beings in the galaxy (which is why, of course, most aliens look just like us).  While the serialized novels in Analog are often excellent, the accompanying short stories tend to be uninspiring.  The science fact columns are awful.  Editor John Campbell’s championing of psionics and reactionless engines (in real-life, not just fiction), crosses into the embarrassing.  All these factors make Analog the weakest of the Big Three magazines, consistently lagging in quality behind Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Of course, Mike disagrees.  He’s even wagered that Analog will take the Hugo award for Best Science Fiction Magazine this year.  I think he’s dreaming.  F&SF has won three years in a row, and barring some unexpected decline in quality, it will do so again. 

I’ll take that bet, Mike Glyer!  Two beers to your one.

As evidence for my case, I present this month’s Analog, dated June 1961.

I will give Campbell credit where it is due.  While women are rare in Analog (as they are everywhere in published sf lit), Campbell does make an effort to “discover” female authors.  That’s how we got the delightful Pauline Ashwell, and now we have the promising Leigh Richmond.  Her first story, Prologue to an Analogue, involves a coven of witches that solves world crisis after world crisis with their televised incantations.  Is it sorcery, technology, or something entirely different?  A story that manages to be both Campbellian yet also pretty neat.  Three stars.

I’m not sure why L. Sprague de Camp’s Apollonious Enlists was included.  Normally, Sprague writes fun, light fantasy.  This piece is non-fiction, an essay on the labyrinthine bureaucracy of Ptolemaic Egypt, with some pointed parallels drawn with our modern methods of government.  I guess there weren’t any fiction vignettes handy to fill the 8-page slot.  Two stars.

Fallen Angel shows us a far future in which the Terran dominion is but a small corner of a larger Galactic Federation.  We have something of an inferiority complex as, compared to the blond, perfect Grienan, leader race of the Federation, humanity seems barely out of childhood.  In fact, we have only made it as far as we have thanks to “Experiment,” an anarchistic enclave in which humans express their base impulses until they are thoroughly tired of them.  Only a small proportion of the population are truly incurable, and they become permanent residents.  It’s a program that seems barbaric to the rest of the civilized galaxy and is ridiculed accordingly.

In Angel, the aristocratic Grienan are taken down a peg when its ambassador volunteers to go through Experiment and loses all of his highfalutin culture and manners, almost losing his very humanity (Grienanity?) See?  Terrans really do know best!

High is a prolific writer who’s hitherto stayed on the British side of The Pond.  His latest work does little to recommend that he emigrate.  Two stars.

Lloyd Biggle Jr. is like a Cepheid star – highly variable.  His latest, Monument, may be the high point of his career to date.  I wasn’t optimistic.  The set-up involves a backward paradise planet, populated by (of course) completely human aliens, a marooned Terran who vows to protect the natives from a rapacious Earth Federation, and the inevitable coming of the representatives of said polity.  There’s no real science fiction in this tale of classic exploitation – you could transplant the “aliens” to an island in the Pacific Ocean and replace the Federation with the United Nations (and, perhaps, that’s the point; I prefer my analogies slightly less direct).

And yet.  It’s a well-told story, engaging throughout, and it’s fundamentally an honest one.  There are no gimmicks or silly twists.  Just a series of interesting scenes, compelling characters, and a problem to be solved.  Four stars.

The science fact this month, George Willard’s The Complex Problem of the Simple Weather Rocket starts well enough, describing the armada of radio balloons deployed daily by meteorological agencies, but it quickly degenerates into a fannish gush, recommending a switch to little sounding rockets based on the machines currently employed by model rocket enthusiasts.  Kind of a pointless article, especially given that weather balloons are cheap, and now they are augmented by the TIROS weather satellites with their hourly photos.  Two stars.

That leaves the third installment of Cliff Simak’s very good serial, The Fisherman, which I won’t review until it’s all done next month.  Running the numbers, Analog clocks in at a straight three of five stars: acceptable, but not astonishing.  Certainly not Hugo material.  At least not this year…

Sneak preview: Last night, the Young Traveler and I went to the drive-in to take in George Pal’s latest, Atlantis: the Lost Continent.  It was a hoot, and we’ll tell you all about it next time…on Galactic Journey!

[March 18, 1961] Bad Luck of the Non-Irish (April 1961 Analog)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  It’s a banner year for Irishmen, particularly with one having reached the top spot in the country, if not the world.  And did you know that the phrase, “Luck of the Irish,” actually referred to the knack of Irish immigrants and Americans of Irish descent for becoming wealthy in the Silver and Gold Rushes of the last century?  Though the term was often used derisively by folks who thought the fortune was ill-earned.

My luck with Analog, deserved or not, ran out this month.  With the exception of the opening serial installment, The Fisherman, by Cliff Simak (which I have not yet read but look forward to), the April 1961 Analog has been singularly unimpressive.

One wonders if John Campbell deliberately alternates good issues with bad ones—I’d think he’d be better served by ensuring each magazine had at least one worthy tale!  Perhaps he plum ran out.

Take J.F. Bone’s brief A Prize for Edie, for example.  A trio of teeth-gnashing members of the Nobel Prize committee agonize over giving the honor to a computer.  Disappointingly silly, and, as seems to be a theme this issue, it misses the opportunity to make a deeper point.  Two stars.

Lloyd Biggle, Jr’s Still, Small Voice had some promise: A Cultural Service agent is sent to an alien world to succeed where the Interplanetary Relations Bureau had failed, namely, to convert a centuries-old absolute monarchy into a democracy.  In particular, I appreciated how the aliens were depicted as an artistic race, and that music was the key to progress.  But the thing is sloppily written with a number of duplicated phrases, the alien race is utterly human, and the story a bit too condescending in tone.  The first betrays too light an editorial touch, and the others spotlight a lack of editorial discrimination.  Two stars.

Interestingly enough, John Campbell’s nonfiction piece is the most engaging part of the issue.  Normally, the stuff he writes himself is dreadful; he often shills for one kind of junk science or another.  This time, he’s back to his hobby of photography, but on an interesting tangent.  He showcases a new kind of light source, an electroluminescent panel that looks for all the world like a thick sheet of paper.  Pretty neat stuff—I could see it becoming a feature of future science fiction stories.  Three stars.

Back to the dreary stories, Pandora’s Planet, by Chris Anvil (whose best work always appears outside of Analog), is another “Earthmen are just plain better at everything than everyone else” story.  In this case, some fuzzy humanoids can’t seem to win a war to subjugate a planet’s native race without the help of some plucky, original Terrans.  The point of the piece seems to be that unorthodox war is just as valid as “real” war, and stuffy rigidity will only lead to failure.  That’s fine so far as it goes, but the canny Terran tactics aren’t that innovative, and the stodginess of the fuzzies is insufficiently explored.  Two stars.

That leaves us with Next Door, Next World by lesser magazine perennial, Robert Donald Locke (often writing under the pseudonym, Roger Arcot).  The premise is great: A hyperdrive makes travel to the stars a matter of weeks rather than millennia, but with the side effect that one never returns to quite the same time track one left.  The execution is lousy, however, with plenty of insipid dialogue, stupid characters, and lots of padding.  Again, the impression I got was that Campbell was in a hurry and took what he could get without requesting revision.  And it’s yet another piece with a beginning along the lines of, “Clint Hugearms stood near his trusty spaceship, tanned and sturdy features marking him as the protagonist of the story.”  I’m starting to think Campbell inserts these openings into all of his submissions.  Two stars.

I apologize to my readers who want only to hear about the good stuff; however, by jingo, if I have to read the drek, you have to read about it!  Perhaps the Simak will yet knock my socks off.  It is not uncommon that a given Astounding’s stories are bad, but its serial is good (e.g. The High Crusade and Deathworld, for instance).

I’ve a surprise for my readers—guest columnist Rosemary Benton will be writing the next article, and she’s graciously agreed to contribute one piece per month!  Like you, I will eagerly look forward to what she has to offer.

[March 2, 1961] Presenting… and Concluding (ConDor and March 1961 IF)


At ConDor, a local gathering of science fiction fans, my wife and I led a panel on the state of the genre, particularly how our s-f digests are doing.  Their boom began in 1949 and peaked in 1953, when there were nearly 40 in publication.  That number is down to less than 10, and many are (as usual) predicting the end of the fun. 

While it is true that the volume of production is down, I argued that the quality is up…or at least evolving.  I used Galaxy’s sister magazine IF as an example.  IF pays its writers less than Galaxy, and it is a sort of training ground for new blood.  Fred Pohl, the magazine’s shadow editor, also prints more unusual stories there.  As a result, the magazine’s quality is highly variable, but the peaks tend to be interesting.

Sadly, this month’s IF is chock full of valleys.  You win some, you lose some.  Still, for the sake of completeness, here’s my review; as always, your mileage may vary!

IF has a tradition of leading the magazine with its best stories, but IOU, by Edward Wellen, is an exception.  The premise is promising: it’s about a future in which people can buy custom experiences, to be lived out upon dying to simulate the appearance of going to Heaven.  It’s dull as dirt, however, and I ended up skimming the last 10 pages or so.  That automatically makes it a one-star story.  Perhaps you can tell me what I’m missing.

Then there’s Jim Harmon’s February Strawberries.  When a man brings his wife (most of the way) back to life, is it a technological horror or a paranoid delusion?  Macabre and second-rate, it reads like an inferior episode of The Twilight Zone.  Two stars.

Minotaur, by Gordy Dickson, is pretty effective.  A one-man scout ship happens upon a ghost cruiser in the vastness of space.  Its crew is missing, as is its cargo of zoological specimens.  I liked the spooky atmosphere, and I’m a sucker for spaceship stories, but the end is a little pat.  Three stars.

Sylvia Jacobs is back, but her second IF effort isn’t much better than her first.  Strike that.  Young Man from Elsewhen, about a crippled, bitter old man, and the deal he makes with a time traveling dandy, is very well written; it’s just that there are no twists or turns from Point A to Point B.  Two stars.

The first tale from Julian F. Grow, The Fastest Gun Dead, is a good one.  Westerns are still popular on the airwaves, and this story, featuring a sawbones, an unsavory shopkeeper, and an alien supergun, shows that the milieu has legs in our genre, too.  Gun is also marred by a too-cute ending, but I think Grow has a real shot at growing into a fine author.  Three stars.

Max Williams’ The Seeder, is almost too short, and certainly too hackneyed to describe.  R.A. Lafferty’s pleasantly whimsical In the Garden, about a starship crew that stumbles upon the second Garden of Eden, almost garnered four stars…until the last line.  Le sigh.

The issue closes with The Well of the Deep Wish by Lloyd Biggle Jr.  It is the best of the bunch, a thoughtful piece showing us the world of television production in a post-apocalyptic, subterranean future.  Three stars.

Thus, the March 1961 IF meters in at a disappointing 2.25 stars.  This explains why it took me so long to get through it!

Crunching the numbers on the Star-o-Meter 2000, we have a surprising winner for March 1961: Analog!  F&SF was just a sliver behind, however, and both were head and shoulders over IF.  All told, there were 21 stories, two of which were written by women, one of those being my favorite of the month: Zenna Henderson’s Return

Stay tuned for a new batch of magazines, a new Frederic Brown novel, and a whole lot more…and a hearty wave to a few new fan friends that I met over the weekend: David Gerrold, John and Bjo Trimble, and Dorothy Fontana.

[Oct. 2, 1960] Second-rate fun (November 1960 IF Science Fiction)

Galaxy’s little sister, IF Science Fiction has settled into a predictable format.  Filled with a number of “B” authors, mostly neophytes, it generally leads with a decent novelette, and the rest of the stories are two and three-star affairs.  I don’t think the blame can be put on IF‘s shadow editor, Fred Pohl (Horace Gold is all but retired these days, I understand).  Rather, this is about the best quality one can expect for a penny a word. 

That said, the stories in IF are rarely offensively bad, and perhaps some day, one of these novices learning the ropes of writing in the minor leagues will surprise us with a masterpiece.

Preamble out of the way, let’s take a look at the November 1960 issue:

Jim Harmon is actually quite the veteran, and he has a knack for interesting, off-beat writing.  His novelette, Mindsnake, depicts a future where interstellar teleportation is possible, but fraught with risk.  Only the Companions, colloquially known (and disparaged) as Witches, can keep a traveller’s mind intact over the long journey.  Good stuff, and original.  Four stars.

Then we have the short Superjoemulloy by unknown Scott F. Grenville.  How can the most powerful man challenge himself?  By creating a superior version of himself, of course.  Three stars.

Now, I was a bit dismayed to find Daniel Keyes in the Table of Contents.  Whenever I see a “big name” in IF (and there is no question that Keyes is a big name: he won the Hugo this year for Flowers for Algernon), the story is usually a second-rater.  Sure enough, The Quality of Mercy, which clunkily mixes sentient computers with organ transplants and mandated euthanasia, is a bit of a talky mess.  Two stars.

R.A. Lafferty is a fellow who may surprise us some day.  He seems to be enjoying an upward trajectory with his stories, not just in quality but in venue.  McGonigal’s Worm, in which every animal on Earth loses the ability to breed, is sort of a poor man’s Brain Wave.  Read it, and you’ll see what I mean.  Three stars.

Esidarap ot Pirt Dnuor is an engaging little tale of tourism in a rather backward place, brought to us by Lloyd Biggle, Jr, who spends much of his time appearing in Fantastic.  I liked it, but I’m afraid I didn’t get the final joke–an Un-Prize to anyone who can explain it to me.  Three stars.

I was gratified to find that, per his book review column, Fred Pohl liked much the same stories in Aldiss’ Galaxies like Grains of Sand as I did.  On the other hand, he liked Dickson’s Dorsai! far more than me.  Perhaps the novelization (titled The Genetic General) is better than the serial.

William Stuart is back with another well-written story that doesn’t quite hit the mark.  Don’t think about it is a low-grade F&SF-style tale that takes too long to get to its kicker, and whose kicker lacks kick.  Three stars.

That brings us to Frank Herbert’s Egg and Ashes, told from the point of view of a charming if horrifying little symbiote (parasite?) I felt like the beginning was better than the ending, but I do like the way Herbert turns a phrase.  Three stars.

The issue ends with The Impersonator, the third story ever published by Robert Wicks.  In the midling future, the Earth is threatened by an impending Ice Age thanks to humanity’s rapacious exploitation of the planet’s resources.  A host of outrageous plans are developed to fix the problem: from salting ice fields with carbon dust, to altering the axial tilt of the planet, to tapping the heat from the Earth’s core.  It’s not a great story, but I liked Wicks’ satirical presentation of “doubling down” in an attempt to thwart catastrophe.  Three stars.

As you can see, this isn’t the best crop of stories.  On the other hand, minor league games draw crowds, too.  And the tickets are cheaper….

[Sep. 3, 1959] Out the other side (September 1959 IF Worlds of Science Fiction, Part 2)

We left off on a cliff-hanger of sorts, half-way through my review of the second issue of IF under Gold and Pohl’s management.  In brief, it ends as it began: with a strong start and a fairly middlin’ finish.

Gordy Dickson is back to form with Homecoming, a quite nice novelette about a fellow running afoul of Earth customs agents when he tries to declare his pet.  If you had a beloved companion, would you sacrifice your chances at immigration by refusing to part with it?  The deck is extra stacked in this case—said “animal,” an enhanced kangaroo, is near-sentient.  It’s a page-turner, and over too fast.

I’ve never heard of Kirby Kerr, but his An Honest Credit, about a down-on-his-luck fellow with nothing to his name but a priceless, ancient coin (with which he refuses to part) is pretty good.  A bit maudlin and short on much that would identify it as science fiction, but I enjoyed it.

I normally don’t include book-review columns in these reviews, but Fred Pohl takes his column a step further, making it a sort of essay.  Worlds of If discusses the appearance and non-appearance of gadgetry in science fiction stories, and whether or not it adversely affects the story (or makes it less “science-fictiony.” What do you think?  Do you require whiz-bang inventions, or do you prefer a more subtle kind of s-f?

The penultimate tale is Escape into Silence by Australian Wynne N. Whiteford.  I enjoyed most of it, this tale of a colony world that has slowly but inexorably ended up under the strict and paternalistic dominion of another colony, one that has risen to supremacy.  The protagonist tries to escape, is given the opportunity to emigrate lawfully, but ultimately embraces the confined, noisy enclosures of his home town.  I suppose people are loathe to give up what they know, even if they have a chance at something better.  Something about the end rang false, however. 

Finally, we have Hornets’ Nest by a Mr. Lloyd Biggle Jr. (which suggests there is a Lloyd Biggle Sr. roaming about; that makes me smile).  Nest could have been written in the 1930s.  A human starship returns to the solar system and finds all of humanity dead for having DARED TO PROBE THE HEART OF JUPITER, THE PLANET WITH THE BALEFUL EYE OF DEATH!  It’s not quite so hackneyed; it’s actually a decent read, but I take my amusements where I can.

IF continues to be a solid, if uninspiring, magazine.  Lacking the utter dreck of Astounding, it is, nevertheless, not as consistently good as its sister, Galaxy.  It feels like what it is—a repository for the second-rate Galaxy stories (though, to be fair, they are not bad so much as often mediocre, and some are quite good).  Three stars, and that makes it one of the better mags this month, sad to say.

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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