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[March 22, 1962] Provoking Thought (April 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Ask the average citizen their opinion of science fiction and they’ll likely mention monsters, flying saucers, and ray guns.  SF has gotten a bad rap lately, largely due to the execrable movies nominally representing it, but there’s no question that the pulps of the 30s and 40s, and the lesser magazines of the 50s didn’t help much.  And yet, only Science fiction offers endless worlds in which to explore fundamental human issues.  Religion.  Philosophy.  Politics.  It is only in our fantastic genre that the concept “if this goes on” can be pushed to extremes, whether a story be set in the far future or on a remote planet.  SF isn’t just kiddie stuff – it can be the most adult of genres.

Case in point: Analog, formerly Astounding Science Fiction, set a standard in the pulp era as the grown-up magazine in the field.  And while I’ve had something of a love-hate relationship with the digest that Campbell built, this particular issue – the April 1962 edition – offers up some intriguing political predictions that, if not probable, are at least noteworthy.

Mercenary, by Mack Reynolds

Take four concepts and carry them to the nth degree: 1) unions and corporations increase in power such that they become virtual nations; 2) world disarmament is achieved – to the point that post-1900 weaponry is abolished; 3) the public’s demand for violence on television is insatiable; 4) economic class stratification gets stronger. 

The result is a United States where private entities no longer resolve disputes in court; they do literal battle with brigades, even divisions of professional soldiers.  Their conflicts are televised as circuses for the masses (whose bread needs have been met by automation).  Mercenary is the tale of a veteran-for-hire who is desperately trying to climb the social ranks with the one remaining avenue: a successful military career.

This novella is my favorite of the bunch.  Reynolds, who has traveled the world and seen both the Soviet Union and the Mahgreb first-hand, invests his work with a gritty realism that elevates it above its genre siblings.  It’s what Dickson’s Dorsai should have been in about half the space.  Four stars.

Toy Shop, by Harry Harrison

When no reputable government agency will look at your breakthrough scientific achievement, then it’s time to resort to unorthodox methods, right?  I’m disappointed with this one.  It’s clearly an opportunity for Harrison (normally quite good) to get a quick $100 from editor Campbell, who champions all sorts of quackery.  Two stars.

A Slave is a Slave, by H. Beam Piper

Take a colony of humans, reduce them to slavery at the hands of a rapacious space vikings, and let stew for seven centuries.  Then topple the viking-descended overlords and see what happens.  This story, set in Piper’s often presented Galactic Empire, is a clear analogy for decolonization.  It’s got some straw men, some broad strokes, some glib presentation, but I think it makes some good points.  The oppressed aren’t always the good guys.  The road to democracy is a long and fraught one.  Noble intentions do not guarantee positive outcomes.  Three stars.

Suppressed Invention, by John W. Campbell, Jr.

I rolled my eyes when I saw the title and the byline for this one, but I was surprised to find that this essay, about recent advancements in electric battery science, is both readable and informative.  Sure, it’s got a little bit of the Campbellian spin on things, but the basic facts are here and nicely presented.  Three stars.

The Circuit Riders, by R. C. FitzPatrick

We’ve seen the idea of “pre-crime” before, where police attempt to stop incidents before they occur.  The example that stands out most to me is Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report.  FitzPatrick, to all accounts, is a new author, but he’s arrived on the scene with a visceral sensitivity in his first story that suggests he’ll be offering up great stuff in the future.  A detractor from Riders is that, after a fantastic cold open first act, FitzPatrick then devotes an unnecessary scene to explaining the mechanics behind the “deAngelis” thought monitor.  Also, the resolution isn’t quite up to the build-up.  An invention that can monitor emotional patterns needs a book, is worth a book.  Three stars.

***

Thus, Analog finishes this month on the right side of decent 3-star quality.  Moreover, it presents a set of intriguing visions guaranteed to make you think.  And that’s exactly what science fiction should do.

[December 21, 1961] Reviewer’s Burden (January 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

I read a lot of stuff every month.  I consider it my duty, as your curator, to cover as broad a range of fiction as possible so that you can pick the stories most likely to appeal to you.  What that means is I wade through a lot of stones to find the gems.

Analog is the magazine with the highest stone/gem ratio, I’m afraid.  Nevertheless, it’s rare that an issue goes by without something to recommend it, and the January 1962 edition has at least one genuine amethyst amongst the quartz.

It is the first story, Naudsonce, by one of my favorite authors, H. Beam Piper.  Like his earlier classic, Omnilingual, it is an extra-terrestrial linguistic puzzle story.  Unlike the prior story, Naudsonce involves a living alien race, one with no discernible language, and which displays nonsensical reactions to human speech.  Is telepathy involved?  Is the Terran contact team missing a fundamental clue?

It’s an interesting riddle, to be sure, but what really sells this story is the social commentary.  From the beginning, we see that the human explorers, while not bad people, are interested in one thing: finding a colonizable planet.  The concerns of the aboriginals are casually treated, and the callous, jaded attitude of the scouts is evident, particularly at the end.  This kind of cynical self-awareness is quite rare for an Analog story, and it contrasts strongly with the utter lack of it in Mack Reynold’s serial (see below).  I also appreciated that the contact team was thoroughly integrated, ethnically and sexually; but then Piper has always been ahead of the curve on this issue.  This diversity of characters highlights that the casual rapine associated with imperialism is not an ethnic problem, but a human one.  Four stars.

Idiot Solvant, by Gordon Dickson, is a story that could have been much better.  The premise is exciting: You know how you often get flashes of inspiration when you are sleepy?  Or a solution comes to you in a dream?  Clearly, some magic happens when one’s left brain relinquishes control and lets the right go wild.  Something similar happens to the protagonist of Solvant, allowing him to accomplish some truly miraculous feats.  What kills this story, however, is the several pages of exposition that set up the gimmick.  Moreover, a story, especially a short story, only gets so much leeway before it exceeds its “hand-wave” allowance.  Dickson asserts too many premises in too short a space.  The result is a contrived mess.  Two stars.

E.C. Tubb’s Worm in the Woodwork is a competent interstellar thriller about an undertaking to save a Terran logician who has fallen into the hands of a hostile colonial star league.  The thoughtful bits involving the captive genius, Ludec, are particularly engaging.  Three stars.

The science fact pieces continue to be where Analog falls down.  Campbell went through the trouble of giving his magazine a “slick” section, using the kind of paper one normally finds in news periodicals like Time.  Nevertheless, the articles often aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.  Big Boom in Forming, by Willis Cain, has an interesting topic – explosive formed metals (where big booms press metal plate against molds to make parts) – but the piece is, by turns, overly kiddie and excessively obtuse.  Two stars.

Editor John Campbell’s When the Glaciers Go is much worse, though.  Some garbage about how rapid climate change (over the course of hours!) is evidenced by the frozen Mastodons in Siberia.  The climate is changing, and our species is a big contributing factor these days, but it don’t work like that.  Bleah.  One star.

That brings us to Black Man’s Burden (Part 2 of 2), by Mack Reynolds.  I had high hopes for this piece, about Afro-Americans spearheading efforts in Africa to promote democracy and progress.  After all, Reynolds is an accomplished writer of political thriller, and he’s spend a good deal of time in the Mahgreb.  Africa, a continent that has seen nearly twenty new nations spring up in the wake of decolonization, is a rich (and unusual) setting. 

In the end, however, Burden was a disappointment.  While no one knows where Africa is heading, I like to think that, after the normal teething pains, its states will join the community of nations as vibrant, mature members.  Reynolds’ premise is that they simply can’t, that without the aid of Westerners (Free or Communist), Africa will remain a tribal and/or despotic mess.  Or at least, that’s what the protagonists of the story all believe.  At one point, it is even asserted that Islam is a dead-end for nation-building; no Islamic country on Earth has an advanced social system.  I take particular umbrage with this idea given the flowering of the Muslim world in the “Middle Ages.” 

This idea that Africa must be boot-strapped into modernity by its abducted sons, the descendants of American slavery, is an insulting one.  It slights Africans, and it paints a veneer of redemption on “that peculiar institution.”  There is a throwaway reference to the destruction of African culture in the process of “improving” it, but it feels perfunctory.  Worst of all is this bland superiority that suffuses the whole thing.  Africans are pawns.  Americans are superior.  I appreciate that the characters of Burden are all Black, but that quality is only skin-deep.  It is, ultimately, a story of White Americans, who happen to be of dark hue.  And unlike Naudsonce, it’s played completely straight.  2 stars.

Sum it all together, and you’ve got a 2.3 star issue.  This is worse than, well, any of the magazines that came out this month.  If this is the digest that will win the Hugo, I’ve got a closet full of hats to eat…

…but Naudsonce is worth reading!

[November 19, 1961] See Change (December 1961 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

Every successful endeavor goes through the cycle of growth, stability, decline, and renewal (or death, in which case, there’s no cycle).  Science fiction magazines are no exception.  A particularly far-sighted editor can plan for decline by setting up a successor.  For instance Galaxy‘s H.L. Gold has turned over the reigns to Fred Pohl with no apparent drop in the digest’s quality.  Anthony Bourchier transitioned to Robert Mills at F&SF, and I understand that Renaissance Man Avram Davidson is waiting in the wings to take over.  That event can’t happen too soon, as F&SF has been lackluster of late.

Analog has had the same master since the early 30s: John W. Campbell.  And while Campbell has effected several changes in an attempt to revive his flagging mag (including a name change, from Astounding; the addition of a 20-page “slick” section in the middle of issues; and a genuinely effective cover design change (see below)), we’ve still had the same guy at the stick for three decades.  Analog has gotten decidedly stale, consistently the worst of The Big Three (in my estimation).

You can judge for yourself.  Just take a gander at the December 1961 issue.  It does not do much, if anything, to pull the once-great magazine from its shallow dive:

As has been the case for a couple of years now, the serialized novel (in this case, the first part of Black Man’s Burden, by Mack Reynolds) is the best part of the book.  Burden is the story of modernization in near-future North Africa.  Reynolds is currently living in the Mahgreb, so his tale is laced with authentic cultural insight.  Reynolds’ Tuareg tribesmen read like the best-developed sf alien cultures…except they’re for real!  I’m looking forward to see where this goes; rating reserved until I’ve read the whole thing.

Next up is a cute little time travel story involving an historian who attempts to change the course of events for a little nascent country called Texas.  I’ve never heard of R. R. Fehrenbach, so I assume Remember the Alamo! is his first story.  As such it’s not bad, though I tend to prefer my viewpoint not wander from character to character at the convenience of the author.  Three stars.

Tom Godwin is a fellow whose works get published in the magazines I don’t follow, so The Helpful Hand of God is the first story of his I’ve read.  Rapacious Terran Empire is thwarted by a bevy of scantily clad conscientious objectors.  Readable, but not very good.  Two stars.

This issue’s cake-taker is the ridiculous “science fact” article by Randall Garrett: Engineer’s Art.  It’s on dowsing, fer chrissakes.  You know, that mystical art of finding water by holding a couple of steel rods in front of you?  Truly a new low for this magazine.  One star.


How Campbell finds his stories and articles

It’s followed by a short, uncredited piece on a Neptune Orbit Observatory, whose main purpose would be to derive accurate distances to the stars through trigonometry (we’d know the angles and the length of the base of the triangle made up of points Earth, Neptune, and target star; the longer the base can be, the more precise our ability to measure the other sides of the triangle).  It’s a cute idea, though I suspect our telescopes will be good enough for the task long before our interplanetary engines are developed sufficiently for exploration of the eighth planet.  Three stars.

Randall Garrett (as David Gordon) offers up some fiction in the form of The Foreign Hand-Tie, a story of telepathic Cold War espionage.  As such things go, it’s not bad.  Reynolds probably could have done it better, but he can’t write the entire issue, can he?  Three stars.

Finally, the disappointing Sleight of Wit, by Gordon Dickson, portraying a battle of brains between a human planetary scout and his alien competitor.  It is disappointing because it requires the alien to be so featherbrained, the course of events the human relies on so convoluted.  Gordy does better when he ignores this mag.  Two stars.

Analog has only topped a three-star overall rating thrice this year, and this wasn’t one of those times.  That’s pretty lousy.  F&SF has done it seven times, and Galaxy never earned less than three.  I’ll be very surprised if Analog gets nominated for the Hugo for 1961. 

It’s time for a change, methinks.

[July 15, 1961] Saving Grace (The August 1961 Analog)

Recently, I told you about Campbell’s lousy editorial in the August 1961 Analog that masqueraded as a “science-fact” column.  That should have been the low point of the issue.  Sadly, with one stunning exception, the magazine didn’t get much better.

For instance, almost half the issue is taken up by Mack Reynold’s novella, Status Quo.  It’s another of his future cold-war pieces, most of which have been pretty good.  This one, about a revolutionary group of “weirds,” who plan to topple an increasingly conformist American government by destroying all of our computerized records, isn’t.  It’s too preachy to entertain; its protagonist, an FBI agent, is too unintelligent to enjoy (even if his dullness is intentional); the tale is too long for its pay-off.  Two stars.

That said, there are some interesting ideas in there.  The speculation that we will soon become over-reliant on social titles rather than individual merit, while Campbellian in its libertarian sentiment, is plausible.  There is already an “old boy’s club” and it matters what degrees you have and from which school you got them.  It doesn’t take much to imagine a future where the meritocracy is dead and nepotism rules.

And, while it’s hard to imagine a paperless society, should we ever get to the point where the majority of our records only exist within the core memories of a few computers, a few revolutionaries hacking away at our central repositories of knowledge could have quite an impact, indeed! 

Flamedown, by H.B. Fyfe is a forgettable short piece about a spaceman who crashes onto the surface of a Barsoomian Mars and is trailed by a lynch mob of angry Martians.  There is a twist at the end, but it’s a limp one.  Two stars.

I don’t know who Walter B. Gibson is, but his impassioned defense of psionics in our legal system, The Unwanted Evidence, is wretched.  It reads like a series of newspaper clippings from the back page of the newspaper, or maybe one of those sensational books on UFOs and mystic events that are in vogue.  One star.

Analog perennial Randall Garrett, an author I tend to dislike (yet one of Campbell’s favored sons) gives us Hanging by a Thread, about an interplanetary ship holed by a meteor.  It could have been engaging, but the smug, detached tone, and the overly technical and uninteresting solution make this a dreary read.  Perhaps even Garrett knew he could do better; maybe that’s why he penned this one under the name “David Gordon.”  Two stars.


by Douglas

Laurence Janifer also appears a lot in Analog, often paired with Garrett (either as a true duet, or just side by side).  He’s usually the better of the two, but Lost in Translation is a typical lousy “clever Terrans beat aliens” story, not worth your time.  Again, it’s pseudonymous (Larry M. Harris), perhaps on purpose.  Two stars.

This is a pretty damning litany, isn’t it?  A series of 2-star stories and a pair of 1-star “science fact” articles.  Is there any reason I don’t just toss this issue into the kindling box?

There is.

Cyril Kornbluth shuffled off this mortal coil far too soon, some three years ago.  He wrote a lot, both by himself and with partners.  Perhaps his most famous partnership was with Fred Pohl, who now runs Galaxy and IF magazines.  The Pohl/Kornbluth pair is best known for their novels, including the acclaimed The Space Merchants, but they also produced a plethora of short stories.  Interestingly, many have only reached print after Kornbluth’s death.  I can only imagine these were skeletal affairs that Pohl has recently completed.

The Quaker Cannon, their latest piece, is very good.  It’s the story of First Lieutenant Kramer, a veteran of a war fought in the 1970s, between East and West.  In this war, he had been captured by the Communists and subjected to complete sensory deprivation as a torture and interrogation technique.  Unlike most of his captured compatriots, he neither went incurably mad nor held out until death.  He simply resisted as long as he could, then he cracked and gave up what he knew.  He was later repatriated.

Now 38 and still a First Lieutenant despite years of service, blacklisted from any significant role, he is suddenly recruited into Project Ripsaw: a new attempt to invade Asia.  As the commanding general’s aide-de-camp, he oversees Ripsaw’s growth from a cadre of three to an organization of hundreds of thousands, privy to all of the unit’s secrets and plans. 

As the vast force prepares to invade, Kramer learns of “The Quaker Cannon,” a parallel invasion unit that exists only on paper.  Its purpose is to serve as a blind to confuse the enemy as to the real plan.  The Soviets call this kind of deception maskirova, and it’s worked time and time again.

Just prior to D-Day, Kramer is betrayed to the enemy.  In short order, the Lieutenant is back in the “Blank Tank,” all of his senses completely deadened.  Hours pass by in seconds, each a drag on his sanity.  Though Kramer’s defiance is admirable, his ultimate submission, as before, is only a matter of time.  He, of course, divulges the Ripsaw plan in its entirety.  When Kramer returns to coherence, he is back home.  Rather than being punished for his lapse, he is given a high honor.

Ripsaw was the ghost.  “The Quaker Cannon” was the real invasion.  Kramer’s confession was all part of the plan.  The story ends with that reveal.

In the hands of Randall Garrett, or even Mack Reynolds, the focus would have been on the gimmick, to the detriment of the story.  Pohl and Kornbluth let Kramer be the narrator, albeit in a third person fashion.  They paint a vivid portrait of a battle-fatigued soldier, almost numb to life (as though he never left the Blank Tank) until Ripsaw gives him purpose again.  We are made to feel his anxiety at the thought and ultimately the reality of returning to the Blank Tank.  We feel disgust at his being used as a tool, yet we also fundamentally understand why.  Cannon is not a triumphant story.  It is a beautifully told, weary story of a weary man, not only capturing the psyche of a battered soldier, but also the perversity of the military structure and mentality.

Hard stuff, but it deserves five stars. 

So, as a whole, the issue gets just 2.2 stars.  Nevertheless, thanks to that half-posthumous pair, the August 1961 Analog will be reserved a place on my shelf, not in the garbage. 

[April 30, 1961] Travel stories (June 1961 Galaxy, first half)

My nephew, David, has been on an Israeli Kibbutz for a month now.  We get letters from him every few days, mostly about the hard work, the monotony of the diet, and the isolation from the world.  The other day, he sent a letter to my brother, Lou, who read it to me over the phone.  Apparently, David went into the big port-town of Haifa and bought copies of Life, Time, and Newsweek.  He was not impressed with the literary quality of any of them, but he did find Time particularly useful.

You see, Israeli bathrooms generally don’t stock toilet paper…

Which segues nicely into the first fiction review of the month.  I’m happy to report I have absolutely nothing against the June 1961 Galaxy – including my backside.  In fact, this magazine is quite good, at least so far.  As usual, since this is a double-sized magazine, I’ll review it in two parts.

First up is Mack Reynolds’ unique novelette, Farmer.  Set thirty years from now in the replanted forests of the Western Sahara, it’s an interesting tale of intrigue and politics the likes of which I’ve not seen before.  Reynolds has got a good grasp of the international scene, as evidenced by his spate of recent stories of the future Cold War.  If this story has a failing, it is its somewhat smug and one-sided tone.  Geopolitics should be a bit more ambiguous.  It’s also too good a setting for such a short story.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s science column immediately follows.  There’s some good stuff in this one, particularly the opening piece on plans to melt the Arctic ice cap to improve the climate of the USSR (and, presumably, Scandinavia and Canada).  Of course, if global warming happens on schedule, we won’t need any outlandish engineering marvels to make this happen; we can just continue business as usual.  Hail progress!

I also appreciated Ley’s reply to one of his fans, who asked why he rarely covers space launches anymore.  His answer?  They come too quickly!  Any reporting would have a 4-5 month delay – an eternity these days.  It’s hard enough for me to keep up.  Four stars.

The Graybes of Raath is Neal Barret, Jr.’s third story in Galaxy.  It should be a throw-away, what with the punny title, the non-shocker ending, and the hideous Don Martin art.  But this tale of a well-meaning immigration agency attempting to find the home of a family of itinerant alien farmers is actually a lot of fun.  Barrett is nothing if not consistent.  Three stars.

Now here’s a weird one.  Fred Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth have a new duet out called A Gentle Dying.  Now, the two have worked together for many years; that’s not the surprising part.  Nor is the fact that the story, about an incredibly elderly and beloved children’s author’s last moments, is good.  No, it’s strange because Kornbluth has been dead for five years!  I can only imagine that Pohl (now de-facto editor of Galaxy, per last month’s F&SF) dusted this one off after having waited for the right venue/slot-size.  Three stars.

Last up is R.A. Lafferty’s absolutely lovely The Weirdest World.  Can a marooned alien blob find sanctuary, even happiness, among aliens so strange as those that live on Earth?  I’ve always kind of liked Lafferty, but this one is his best to date, with its gentle writing, and its spot-on portrayal of cross-species telepathy.  Five stars.

This column began with travel, and it ends with travel.  My wife and I are in Las Vegas for a weekend, enjoying the food and the sights.  Sinatra doesn’t seem to be at the Sands right now, but that’s all right.  We’ll catch Ol’ Blue Eyes another time.

While we were here, we ran into Emily Jablon, a famous columnist and Jet Setter who spends much of her time flitting across the world.  She gave us some tips on travel that were new even to us!  Of course, we introduced her to Galactic Journeying, and what better way than with this month’s Galaxy?

[February 10, 1961] Two for two!  (March 1961 Analog)

Analog (my errant fingers keep wanting to type “Astounding”) was even better than last time.  This particular copy is a seasoned traveler, having ridden with me to the lovely shores of Kaua’i and back.  At long last, I’ve finished reading, and I can tell you about it.  A sneak preview: there’s not a bad piece in the book!

In lieu of a serial, nearly half of the issue’s pages are taken up with Mack Reynold’s novella, Ultima Thule.  My nephew, David, was so enamored with this one that he specifically recommended it to me in a recent letter.  It’s the story of Ronny Bronston, an agent employed by the mysterious Section G, responsible for maintaining mutual non-interference between the 2000 member planets of the Galactic Federation.  Bronston is sent on the trail of “Tommy Paine,” an elusive agitator who travels from planet to planet, upending the various status quos.  Can you figure out who Paine really is?  I particularly liked Bronston’s ‘assistant,’ the highly capable, and delightfully reproachful Tog Lee Chang Chu.  Reynolds never has trouble writing good female characters.  Three stars.

Cliff Simak is back with another rustic-themed story, Horrible Example.  Can a robot programmed to be the town drunk rise to be more than the sum of his code?  A sensitive piece in that inimitable Simak style.  Four stars.

G. Harry Stine used to be a professional rocketeer—until his calls to action in response to Sputnik rubbed his superiors the wrong way.  Now, he is a technology evangelist.  In his latest piece, Sub-Mach Rockets, he explorers the much neglected field of rocketry at speeds below the speed of sound.  Makes me want to build a baby missile or two!  Three stars.

The next piece was written with tongue firmly in cheek, a bit of engineering fluff by Maurice Price descriptively entitled, An Introduction to the Calculus of Desk-Cleaning.  See Price illustrate the correlation between engineer output and desk-based chaos; it’s surprisingly informative!  Four stars.

Next, we’ve got one of those “non-fact” articles, though it’s just billed as fiction.  The Four-Faced Visitors of Ezekiel, by Arthur W. Orton, is a science fictional interpretation of the biblical book of Ezekiel.  It’s as good an explanation for that bizarre book as any!  Three stars

Now, I admit it.  I am biased toward stories of interstellar travel with ships and captains and interesting situations.  Poul Anderson’s Hiding Place is a wonderful puzzle cloaked in all the trappings I like: a refreshingly multi-racial starship crew finds itself trapped in deep space between a pirate fleet and a quickly diminishing provisions supply.  Only by making contact with a friendly alien ship do they have a hope of seeing the fires of home.  Unfortunately, said alien ship, a zoological vessel with a menagerie of beasts for its cargo, takes the humans for pirates and hides in the animal cages.  Can the terrestrials discern the sentient creatures from their beasts and plead their case in time?  Five stars.

That all adds up to a 3.5 star issue—well worth the half dollar you’ll fork over at the newsstand (less if you buy a subscription, which, if the quality continues to be this good, might be a fine investment).

Aloha!

[Jan. 25, 1961] Oscillating circuit (the February 1961 Analog)

John Campbell’s science fiction magazine continues to defy my efforts to chart a trend.  Following on the heels of last month’s rather dismal issue, the February 1961 Analog is an enjoyable read.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

It took me a little while to get into Everett Cole’s lead novella, The Weakling, but once I understood what he was doing, I was enthralled.  Cole paints a world in which people with psi powers dominate those without.  It is a planet of slave-owning aristocrats who can force people to do their bidding through mental will alone.  The viewpoint character is Barra, scion of a noble family.  His ascension to lordhood was accidental, caused by the premature deaths of his father and brother.  Without the aid of an array of potent psychic enhancers, he would be barely more powerful than the “pseudo-men” he controls. 

Weakling is the account of this bitter, cruel man, contemptuous of the slaves he resembles, jealous of his psychically more powerful peers, who entices rich merchants to his estate, murdering them for plunder.  The story can be hard to read at times, but it is an excellent insight into the mindset of the 19th Century slave-owner (and thus an indictment of the sentiment that still prevails over much of the modern South).  Four stars. 

Teddy Keller’s short, The Plague, is more typical Analog fare.  When a sickness sweeps the nation, with no apparent rhyme or reason to its epidemiology, one doctor must race against time to find a cure.  The solution is contrived and rather silly.  Two stars.

Freedom, the latest in Mack Reynolds’ slew of stories set in the Soviet Union of the 1980s, is a horse of a different color.  Once again, Reynolds expertly conveys the character of life behind an Iron Curtain where Communism has achieved its economic goals, but not its social ones.  In this tale, we see how difficult it is to extirpate a desire for intellectual freedom once it has taken root.  I appreciate the evenhandedness with which Reynolds evaluates both the East and West.  I also liked the romantic element, portrayed as between two equals unencumbered with conservative moral values.  Four stars.

Campbell trumpeted his expanded coverage of science fact in his magazine, and it seemed a worthy experiment at the start.  I’m always happy to see more Asimov articles, after all.  But recently, the “non-fiction” portion of the magazine has been devoted to self-penned articles on the editor’s hobbies or favorite crackpot inventions.  We get a blessed break from these with a short photo-feature showing rockets of the past and present.  Too short to garner a rating.

I don’t think I quite got H.B. Fyfe’s The Outbreak of Peace, a short short that takes place at an interstellar peace conference.  I even read it twice.  Would someone explain it to me, please?  Two stars (for now).

At last, we have Chris Anvil’s latest, The Ghost Fleet.  A space fleet commander is forced to ignominious flight when the enemy strikes with an unbeatable weapon.  Can he recover his honor (and save the day) with an audacious gambit?  It’s good, if something of a one-trick pony.  Three stars.

The issue finishes off with the conclusion to Occasion for Disaster, which I previously covered.  All told, the book clocks in at a slice over three stars, which is perfectly acceptable for 50 cents of entertainment. 

Now let’s see if this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction can top that.

[November 19, 1960] Saving the Best for Last (December 1960 Analog)

As the year draws to a close, all of the science fiction magazines (that is to say, the six remaining–down from a 1953 peak of 45) scramble to publish their best fiction.  Their aim is two-fold: firstly, to end the year with a bang, and secondly, to maximize the chances that one of their stories will earn a prestigious award.

By which, of course, I refer to my Galactic Stars, bestowed in December.  There’s also this thing called a Hugo, which some consider a Big Deal.

And that’s probably why the December 1960 Astounding was actually a pretty good ish (for a change).  I’ll gloss over Part 2 of Occasion for Disaster, co-written by Garrett and Janifer, and head straight into the stand-alone stuff.

First, you’ve got an editorial foreward with Campbell whinging about the Dean Drive again.  But this time, he promises never to talk about it again.  This ostensible reactionless drive has finally gotten a review from some government agency or another, which is all Campbell says he really wanted.  But even Campbell seems doubtful that Dean’s work will be vindicated, probably on account that the thing is a fraud.

The first piece of actual fiction is Poul Anderson’s novelette, The Longest Voyage.  It’s an atmospheric gem featuring the first circumnavigation of a globe.  I say a globe because it becomes clear early on that this sailing vessel, even though it be crewed by men, and men who speak an archaic dialect of English, is not plying the oceans of Earth, but rather some colony world where technology has regressed only to rise again.  The Captain’s destination, aside from his port of origin, is an island where (it is rumored) a spaceship crashed decades ago. 

There is a real richness to this tale, which borrows liberally from the argot Anderson showcased in his excellent The High Crusade.  And then there’s the deep theme–if given a chance to leapfrog one’s culture from the Renaissance to the Interstellar, skipping the centuries of investigation and discovery, would one, should one do it?  What’s more important when solving a problem: The answer or the process?

Four stars.  It’s what Garrett wishes he could have done with Despoiler of the Golden Empire.

Harry Harrison is back with The K-Factor.  Sociometry is perfected such that human cultures can be reduced to a set of variables, the most important being our K-Factor or propensity for war.  But what happens when someone deliberately stimulates a world’s violence factor?  An interesting premise marred by being told largely through exposition.  Three stars.

The Untouchable, by Stephen A. Kallis, a fellow I’ve never heard of before, is a tiny thing that was probably included to fill a space rather than on its merit.  Oh, it’s not bad, this story of an invention that makes objects intangible, but it feels like the beginning of something rather than a complete piece.  Three stars.

Campbell writes the science-fact article this issue: They do it with Mirrors.  Either Astounding’s editor is too cheap to pay for outside help, or he thinks too much of himself to let anyone else write the column.  Perhaps both.  In any event, this one is on Project Echo, and Campbell spends a dozen pages writing what I managed to convey in two (in my article on Courier).  I did appreciate him pointing out, however, the the world’s first communications satellite is as much a triumph of rocketry as it is ground-based computer signal processing.

Gun for Hire is another Mack Reynolds piece that features some element of violence in the title.  It’s actually a lot of fun, this story of a hit man transported to the future by pacifists who want him to rub out a would-be dictator.  I was particularly impressed with the assassin’s characterization.  Four stars.

Finally, we have Donald E. Westlake, another unknown author (though come to think of it, I might have seen his name in a table of contents of a lesser mag last year).  He gives us Man of Action, again a case where a 20th Century fellow is abducted by folks from the future.  In this instance, the man is not a thug but an effete interior decorator.  He is compelled by his robotic captors to play a sort of 20 Questions game to determine why the future has stagnated, and how to put some pep back into it.  The execution is very nice, though the solution is a bit pat.  Three stars.

Wowsville.  For the first time in memory, Analog has delivered an issue with no clunkers, and with some genuine sparklies to boot.  Well done, Mr. Campbell.  More of this, please.

[Oct. 28, 1960] Point of Inflexion (The Future of Plenty)

Science fiction is not prediction.  It is extrapolation.  No one can see the future, but a gifted writer can show you, dramatically, what will happen “if this goes on.” 

It’s no surprise that science fiction writing has enjoyed a boom since 1950.  Never has our world been on the brink of so many exciting and dangerous potentialities.  On the positive side: space travel, automation by computers and robots, atomic energy.  On the negative side: pollution, global warming, and atomic annihilation. 

As a species, we stand on the edge of superabundance created by fewer and fewer people.  It used to be that the vast majority of us made our living through subsistence farming.  By the end of World War 2, the percentage of Americans employed in farming of all kinds was down to 14%, and since then, it has declined to about 8%. Over the next few decades, thanks to mechanization, the profession of farmer as we know it may cease to exist.  We can expect the same trend to happen globally as the poorer parts of the world catch up. 

What have we been doing now that we don’t have to farm?  Building things.  By the end of the War, Blue-collar workers made up 40.7% of the labor force.  As of 1959, they were down to 37%.  This seems like a small dip, but the decline is consistent.  Automation is getting cheaper every day, and it is pretty certain that the industrial sector will experience the same downturn as the agricultural sector. 

Well, then, what is everyone else doing?  White-collar workers, the professionals, the managers, the clerks, and those in sales, have grown in percentage of the work force from 35% in 1947 to around 42% last year.  Moreover, service workers, both domestic and for-hire, have gone up from 10.4% to 12.2%.  In other words, fewer people are using their hands and their backs to produce things.  More are using their brains to produce…or entertain.

That’s a snapshot at this place and time.  What happens “if this goes on?”–when everyone has all the food and goods they need, what will people want?  At what profession will people work?  Will we all take turns serving each other at restaurants (until robo-waiters come into vogue)?  Will we all write sonnets and paint pictures for each other in a sort of round-robin gift economy (until machines write songs and craft art better than we can)?  Will we all become citizen-scientists, pioneering the limits of knowledge (before computers figure out ways to do it better and faster)?  Or will we all ultimately end up loose-mouthed in a torpor watching endless robot-created television programs?

I just reread George Orwell’s 1984, a tale of crushed free will in an ultra-totalitarian post-nuclear England.  In his world, the people in power reason that the obstacle to their retention of power is superabundance.  Once everyone has all they need, they reason, class distinctions disappear.  Thus, the Party takes control and diverts all surplus production (and much besides) to the waging of a futile, endless war.  Orwell essentially dodges the question–the road to plenty is nipped in the bud for the sake of a greedy few.

On the other side of the coin, we have Mack Reynolds’ Russkies Go Home!, which appeared in this month’s (November 1960) Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Mr. Reynolds reportedly just returned from a trip behind the Iron Curtain, which explains the multitude of Russia-related stories he’s recently turned out.  Clearly, the trip impressed the writer, as the stories all posit a Soviet Union that fulfills Senator Kennedy’s nightmare prophecies by surpassing the United States in prosperity by 1970.

Russkies takes place furthest along of all the stories, chronologically.  While it is never explicitly stated, we can assume it is somewhere around 1990.  The USA is suffering from chronic unemployment since no one will buy our products.  This is because the USSR, forced by USA-led trade embargoes in the 50s and 60s, has become self-sufficient superproducer.  Now they can dump exports on the world market at a fraction of the price of products made in the “Free World.”  And dump they do, not because they need imports from other countries, but to obtain foreign currency. 

Because the tourism bug has hit big in the Soviet Union.  No longer penned in by the secret police, and no longer eager to defect the abundance at home, the Communists now have a driving urge to see the world during their overlong work vacations (the Soviets, with their command economy, do not have unemployment, but they do have awfully short work weeks!)


from here

And so, Russian tourists swarm the world, spending freely, drinking heavily, and generally making raucous nuisances of themselves.  This is the new hedonism.  Meanwhile, the Americans want to regain customers for their trade products, but they can’t so long as the Soviets are undercutting.  The story’s protagonist hits upon the idea of promulgating a religion of moderation, hoping that such will keep the Communists at home and allow the Americans some breathing room to restore trade connections.  And perhaps address their juvenile delinquency problem; unemployed, unmoderated folks have lots of time on their hands to make trouble.

The funny thing is that it seems to work, this command economy religion (generated from scratch with an enormous outlay of government funds).  And the Soviets, far from being upset by this development, ask if they can help–it seems they want to do something about the tens of millions of Chinese tourists they’ve been dealing with lately…

It’s a silly story, and while the first half is rather excellent, the rest is barely an outline.  Moreover, I think Reynolds’ fundamental premise, that Communism will somehow surpass Capitalism, is flawed, though I did particularly like his observation that the “Free World” includes places like Spain, Formosa, and Saudi Arabia. 

But that doesn’t matter.  The root of the story is our impending superabundance and the potentially devastating consequences for society.  This is a subject I don’t see addressed very often, in part because it’s just so damned hard to guess what the world will look like after the labor sector transformation is complete.  It is coming, though, and it’s probably best we work out how we’re going to deal with it sooner rather than later. 

In short, what will we do when there’s nothing we need to do?

[September 10, 1960] Analog, Part 2 (The October 1960 Analog)

The October 1960 Analog is a surprisingly decent read.  While none of it is literature for the ages (some might argue that the Ashwell-written lead novella is an exception), neither is any of it rough hoeing.  Interestingly, it is an issue devoted almost entirely to sequels.  It works, I think.

The first story after the Ashwell is H.B.Fyfe’s Satellite System, and it’s the best of the three I’ve seen from him thus far.  An interstellar trader is ejected from his ship by hijackers.  But will orbital mechanics allow him to have the last laugh?  I liked the idea that trade between the stars is so expensive that only the exchange of ideas is profitable.

Mack Reynolds offers up the thoughtful and enjoyable Combat.  It’s another of his Cold War stories set in the mid 1970s, a la Revolution and (maybe) Pieces of the Game, where the Soviet Union is ascendant despite all of our current predictions.  It’s not a utopia, mind you, but it’s definitely something of a success story.  In Combat, advanced extraterrestrials appear, and to the West’s consternation, pick Moscow as their first stop. 

What makes this story compelling is the rather even-handed way with which Reynolds portrays Communism and the world behind the Iron Curtain.  There’s a lot of good political discussion, but it never gets too preachy or bogged down, as in some of Heinlein’s work.  Of course, I don’t buy Reynolds’ predictions, even with Jack Kennedy’s recent statement that Sputnik and Lunik were “twin alarm bells in the night.”  Some of Reynolds’ statements don’t even make sense.  For instance, in his story, both superpowers spend half of their GNP on the military.  Fundamentally impossible. 

But it’s worth seeing the tale through to the end, even if that end is a slight let-down.

Randall Garrett, under the name of “Darrel T. Langart,” wrote the next tale: Psichopath.  It’s a direct sequel to What the Left Hand was Doing and features the same psionic secret agency.  This time around, they are investigating what appear to be acts of sabotage at an antigravity research facility.  Given the two-page screed about scientists’ reluctance to acknowledge attacks on cherished scientific axioms (a thinly disguised paean to the much-abused Mr. Dean and his “drive”), I suspect Campbell had a strong hand in its editing.

Wrapping up the fiction is Isaac Asimov’s latest non-fact article on Thiotimoline, the a fictional substance that dissolves in water before its insertion!  Thiotimoline and the Space Age discusses some of the technological advances the substance allows.  For instance one can use it to send messages back in time to determine the success of a space mission or missile launch before it happens.  It’s a cute piece.

Finally, Campbell has yet another report on one of his home science projects.  In this case, it’s an overlong treatise on his attempts to grow crystals called The Self-Repairing Robot.  It would have been nice had he discussed at further length the concept behind the article’s title, that self-repairing crystals could be a pretty neat technological advancement.  Rather, we get to ooh and ahh at the descriptions of brightly colored inorganic growths–accompanied by drab black-and-white photos. 

All in all, its a solid three-star issue.  That’s pretty good for Analog.  Plus, it looks like “Mark Randall” will be back next month with another Malone and Boyd story.  Their last one was pretty good, so there’s something to look forward to. 

In other news, Hurricane Donna has made landfall in Florida.  This massive storm is a serious menace, and the folks at Cape Canaveral are taking no chances.  Both stages of the Atlas Able, which was deployed for a Pioneer Moon lshot ater this month, have been towed to protective hangars.  Antennas and cables have been disconnected from buildings and vehicles.  All of the large transport aircraft based at Patrick Air Force Base departed like a flock of frightened birds.  Their destination was San Salvador and other downrange islands.  The base personnel evacuated the base by noon after securing the hangars.  I understand that they had a harrowing ride back to their Cocoa Beach hotels as blinding rain lashed against their windshields and gusts of wind threatened to knock their cars off the road.

I suspect there will be another rough couple of days, not just for the engineers, but for all the residents of the Eastern seaboard.  Stay safe, my friends.