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[November 27, 1962] Turkeys and Gravy (December 1962 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

Behold the picture of contentment.  I sit in my La-Z-Boy, feet crossed on an ottoman, a Julie London album on the phonograph, and my tummy stuffed to the utmost with stuffing, turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes… the whole megillah.  And at my side, the just-finished copy of the latest Analog, which just happens to be my last science fiction magazine of the year (yes, Mark Yon will follow me with the December ish of New Worlds, but that’s his problem!)

This last reading duty out of the way, I can finally start putting together my notes for this year’s Galactic Stars, and it certainly looks like there will be some bright ones.  Nevertheless, as fun as it is describing the sum of the parts, each component deserves full treatment – and the December 1962 Analog has much to recommend it.. as well as some prime examples of America’s bird:

Blind Man’s Lantern, by Allen Kim Lang

Beautifully depicted on the cover by Schoenherr, this one came recommended by fellow writer, John Boston.  Lantern features an Pennsylvania Dutch couple settling on an Earth-like world 80 light years from home.  The planet is already home to a thriving but technologically regressed colony of West Africans, and the hope of the Earth government is that the original inhabitants will adopt the advanced Amish farming techniques, to the benefit of all concerned. 

It’s a lovely story, more slice of life Laura Ingalls Wilder than nuts and bolts SF.  The relations between the Amish and the Africans are interesting and sensitively portrayed, the growing friendships and cultural clashes feeling natural.  Where the piece fails (a little bit) is the abrupt twist 4/5ths of the way through, and the fact that there is really no SF component to this tale at all.  The new planet is exactly like Earth in all details – Lang could easily have set his story in Senegal.  Four stars.

Subversive, by Mack Reynolds

At first, this story looks to be a “preach piece,” basically two people chatting to illustrate a philosophical point.  In this case, the topic of discussion is the economy, and how to cut the Gordian Knot of our overly complex, thoroughly middle-manned system.  But the author is Mack Reynolds, and he has something that is (dare I say) a bit more subversive in mind.  Lots of twists and you never know where it’s going to end.  Three stars. 

—And Devious the Line of Duty, by Tom Godwin

This one is basically, a low budget Retief story in which the key to determining on which side a powerful neutral planet aligns comes down to a well-orchestrated meet cute between its young Queen and a strapping Terran Space Navy lieutenant.  Much too long to justify its ending, which you’ll see a mile away.  Two stars.

Intelligent Noise, by Alfred Pfanstiehl

Here’s the real dog of the magazine.  Mr. Pfanstiehl attempts to educate us on the ingenious use of the electromagnetic spectrum to cram more information into an already crowded set of frequencies. The problem is that the article is completely unreadable.  Dig this, Dad – my first major was astrophysics and my favorite bits in these digests are the science articles; but I couldn’t make head nor tails of it.  I am no wiser now than I was going into the article, and I suspect you won’t be either.  One star.

Space Viking (Part 2 of 2), by H. Beam Piper

Finally, Piper continues his four part(!) tale of rapacious spacefarers picking on the bones of the fallen Terran Empire.  As a travelogue, it’s first rate.  Piper gives us great background on all of the visited planets, their societies and governments.  Names are dropped of worlds featured in other stories (for instance, Uller of Uller Uprising and Zarathustra of Little Fuzzy).  But as a story, Space Viking is rendered mostly in thumbnail.  The result is engaging, even memorable, but more carrier wave than message.  Three stars.

That wraps up this month’s American magazines.  F&SF is finally the best again, with Fantastic a close second (this latter having the best story, Laumer’s Cocoon).  Galaxy is tail-end Charlie, a bitter disappointment.  That puts Amazing and Analog in the middle.  Every magazine had some four-star content; only two (Galaxy and Amazing) had female authors, one apiece. 

Over to you, Mark!




[August 30, 1962] Flawed set (September 1962 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

In the Soviet Union, they have an interesting grocery practice.  Food production is, of course, nationalized.  Thus, there are quotas that manufacturers are supposed to reach.  Provided you have enough klass (social clout in the “classless society”), you can order a great many desirable foods for your office, your restaurant, your institute.  Sausage, chocolates, and so on.  However, you generally can’t order these items individually.  Rather, you request a set of items. 

For instance, one might want coffee, but the set also includes chocolate, sugar, and cookies — whether you need them or not.  The cookies might be several years old, the chocolate might be stale, or there might not even be any coffee.  Or you could get lucky. 

Maybe you want a kilo of fresh beef, but you can only get it with two cans of pressed meat, a kilo of hamburger meat, and a kilo of frozen vegetables.  Well, why not?  But when it arrives, the vegetables are freezer burned and the hamburger is green on the inside.  At least you got the beef and the SPAM, right?

The science fiction digest, Analog, is much the same.  For the past few years, the general pattern has been for the magazine to include a serial of high quality, and the rest of the space larded out with substandard shorts and ridiculous “science” articles on crackpot topics. 

So enjoy your September 1962 Analog — it’s what you ordered…and a lot more that you didn’t:

A Life for the Stars (Part 1 of 2), by James Blish

This is the jewel of the issue, a fantastic piece about the twilight of the Earth.  After centuries of resource depletion and oppressive rule, humanity is spreading itself amongst the stars.  Whole cities are departing the Earth, powered by “spindizzy” anti-gravity drives.  Each is a small principality unto itself, trading with other settlements, space-borne and planet-bound. 

Our viewpoint is Crispin DeFord, a scrap-metal scrounger on the outskirts of Scranton just before the tired town plans to fly off to the heavens.  The tale is a little bit Heinlein (Citizen of the Galaxy in particular) and a bit more bucolic Simak.  The first half will grip you tight, and the second part will hold your interest, if not as strongly.  I am very keen to see where this goes.  Four stars.

The Winds of Time, by James H. Schmitz

This relic of the dawn of the Digest Era continues to write stuff in an aged vein.  This particular tale involves a little cargo ship, crew of one, hijacked by one of the two passengers.  He is a Villainous Time Traveler from the Future.  The Pilot must use his strength and cunning to rescue himself and the other passenger, a Girl, before the Villain’s alien sidekick secures the ship permanently in the higher levels of hyperspace.

Actually, Winds wouldn’t be such a bad story except that it reads more like an outline than a finished piece.  The sort of summary blurb that might accompany the latter portions of a serial rather than a stand-alone short.  Thus, it is tedious and disappointing.  Two stars.

The First Science, by Joseph F. Goodavage

Now this is vintage Analog, a full thirty pages devoted to a defense of astrology, of all things.  The argument goes something like this: many of our brightest lights in natural philosophy — Galileo, Kepler, Brahe, Newton — were all astrologers, and some of their predictions came true!  If those smart people believed in the stuff, aren’t we fools not to?  I’m certain there was no cherrypicking of evidence on the part of Mr. Goodavage; after all, when I’ve looked for confirmation bias, I’ve always found it.

Why does this laughable thing get two stars instead of one?  There is some good biographical data in here, despite the ludicrous conclusion.  And there is a grim fascination as one reads, wondering if the shoe is really going to drop on the side of the most pseudo of pseudo-sciences.

Good Indian, by Mack Reynolds

A hundred years from now, the United States has so integrated that there is no such thing as a minority anymore — until three full-blooded Seminoles march into the Bureau for Indian Affairs and demand reparations for the Trail of Tears.  Played for laughs, and with a truly offensive ending, this is the sort of story I expect from Analog, but not from Reynolds.  One star.

The Professional Approach, by Leonard Lockhard

The legally adept Lockhard (really Theodore L. Thomas) provides another insight into the world of technical patents, this one involving a miracle invention and the attorney who falls a little too much in love with it.  As the Japanese say, “With love, even pockmarks become dimples,” and so Approach’s protagonist fails to find the fatal flaw in his client’s creation…before too late.

Competent and fun, as always.  Three stars.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Christopher Anvil

Communism in Cuba is upended by little radio transmitters placed in the teeth by activist dentists.  These transmissions create an intense desire to work, independent of ideology or compensation.  Of course, one must never confuse motion for action, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue in this piece.  I think it’s supposed to be a satire on the undesirability of the moocherism of Communism and the cold ,ercantile nature of Capitalism… but I found it talky, implausible, and just plain dumb.  Par for the course for the material Anvil produces for Analog‘s editor, Campbell.  One star. 

Beyond Pandora, by Robert S. Martin

Finally, a short short gotcha piece where we find that the origin of the longevity serum is none other than… well, you can read it and find out, but you won’t be surprised.  Two stars.

At 2.3 stars, Analog is not quite the worst magazine of the month (that award goes to Amazing with 2.2 stars), but it’s awfully close.  And yet, the Blish is so good that you might find it worth 50 cents for that story alone.  Or you might wait for it to end and then buy the novel.

Thank goodness we live in the West and you have that option!




[July 31, 1962] The Brass Mean (August 1962 Analog Science Fiction)

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


by Gideon Marcus

“I don’t like science fiction.”

How often have you heard this?  Loved ones, co-workers, indignant acquaintances with noses reared up to the sky will happily give you their opinion of our degenerate genre.  And it’s a dumb opinion.

Why?  Because science fiction isn’t a magazine or a story or an author.  It’s a wide genre.  Saying “I don’t like science fiction” is like saying “I don’t like red books” or “I don’t like movies that have dogs in them.”  Sure, there’s plenty of bad science fiction, in print and (especially) in film, but there’s also, per Ted Sturgeon, about 10% gold – as in any genre.

Science fiction runs in quality from the humdrum, technical gotcha stories of the last two decades to the absolute peaks of sublimity (q.v. Cordwainer Smith, Zenna Henderson, etc.) Moreover, such ranges can generally be found even in individual sources; i.e. you can find both excellent and lousy stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, or any other digest.

Of course, if anyone is going to be turned off of sf as a genre, it probably will be the humdrum, workmanlike stories that do it.  Not bad enough to be noteworthy, not good enough to be recommended — just dull, mediocre stuff.

And that’s what we have a lot of in the August 1962 Analog, a magazine that will only contribute to the notion that science fiction just ain’t that good. 

The Toughest Opponent, by Christopher Anvil

The Terran “Special Effects” corps is back with their herd of psychically controlled animals: gorillas, lions, yellow-jackets, even a giant (artificial) snake.  Last time, they quelled a civil war.  This time around, they are helping a beleaguered base defeat a Malthusian nightmare of humanoid bezerkers on an uncivilized, overpopulated planet. 

There is some nice characterization in this one, or at least, the characters are recognizable through their characteristics.  But it drags somehow, and the payoff isn’t worth it.  The first of several stories in this book I’d give 2.5 stars to if I allowed half-stars in story reviews.  Instead, I’ll be uncharitable and say “two stars.”

The Bramble Bush, by Randall Garrett

A moonbase nuclear reactor goes critical, and it’s up to one plucky fellow to keep its twin from exploding until help can arrive.  Garrett goes through a lot of trouble to set up the chemistry of the reactor technology (which does not conform to current theory) such that the solution seems less clever than arbitrary.  I did appreciate the portrayal of the hero’s indecisive crewmate — not everyone is a man-of-action.  Less appreciated is Garrett’s need to pun at every opportunity.  Another 2.5 downgraded to two stars story. 

Watch the Sky, by James H. Schmitz

German cum Californian James Schmitz is an interesting writer, never quite hitting it out of the park, but rarely turning in junk, either.  Watch the Sky, about a backwoods colony that tries to manufacture an alien threat to secure funding for a bigger military base, starts promisingly but ends weak.  Forgettable, but not offensive.  Two stars.

The Big Job of Moving Little Things and The Color of Space, by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Amazingly, perhaps my favorite part of the issue includes Campbell’s “slick” nonfiction sections.  The first is a photo parade illustrating a new synchrotron that accelerates and smashes particles; scientists can then sift through the debris for exotic subatomic particles.  Not much substance to the piece, but the pictures are pretty.

The second, shorter piece references the cover and notes how we can get color photographs of deep space objects.  Mind you, these are not colors that any human observer would ever see — the light levels are too dim for us to discern anything but black and white.  Nevertheless, the colors do exist, and they can be extracted using clever techniques. 

Three stars in amalgam.

Border, Breed Nor Birth (Part 2 of 2) , by Mack Reynolds

Last up is Part 2 of Reynolds’ continuing saga of North Africa.  El Hassan (formerly Homer Crawford of the Unites States of the Americas) becomes increasingly aloof and dictatorial has his band of idealists attempts to unify the Mahgreb.  It’s readable, and the attention to cultural detail is excellent.  Also, a story that features naught but Black characters is refreshing.  However, the piece feels passionless, as if Reynolds was rushing through its production for the paycheck.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  Three stars.

Where does that leave us for the month?  F&SF is at the bottom of the pack with a dismal 2.4 stars.  Analog is just above at 2.5 (and a different kind of bad — where the former was wildly inconsistent, the latter was unremarkable).  Amazing does slightly better at 2.6, with similar issues as AnalogGalaxy had the highly entertaining The Dragonmasters, which means it has the best story, even though it only garnered 2.9 stars.  And Fantastic was the surprise winner with 3.1 stars — it was good enough that I took the time to read through the choicer bits.

Disappointingly, there was just one woman author this month, Rosel George Brown, making appearances in two magazines. 

Next month, we have a pleasant surprise: in addition to the five American digests, we have a guest correspondent covering the September 1962 issue of New Worlds!  Be sure to budget a good amount of time for reading…




[July 2, 1962] Getting to the Point (July 1962 Analog Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

There are many ways to measure the strength of a story.  Is the plot innovative?  Does it resonate emotionally?  Are the featured characters unusual?  Does it employ clever literary devices?

As a writer, I am always particularly impressed by efficiency: the ability of an author to develop his tale with a minimum of exposition, unfolding a plot teasingly so as to keep the reader turning those pages with increased anticipation, and then delivering a solid conclusion at the end – where it belongs.

The July 1962 Analog Science Fiction delivers a series of object lessons in how (and how not) to write efficiently.  In some cases, the execution can be admired even if the story isn’t great shakes.  And vice versa.  Read on!:

Listen! The Stars!, by John Brunner

Brunner is a new British author whose prolific writings have already enchanted one of the Journey’s writers.  Now it’s my turn.

Listen! takes place a few decades from now, just after the discovery of an esoteric electronic principle that allows one to literally eavesdrop on the stars.  Using a sort of acoustic telescope, the “stardropper,” one can tune in to the mental vibrations of extraterrestrials.  This isn’t telepathy, and even if it were, who could understand the minds of total aliens? 

Yet, listening to these emanations is compelling in the extreme.  There is the feeling that, if you could just wrap your head around them, the secrets of the universe might be yours.  Stardropper addiction runs rampant…and then the disappearances begin.  Users simply vanish, though very few cases are actually witnessed.  Concerned at the ramifications, the American government dispatches a special agent to investigate the vanishings. 

Listen! is perfectly constructed, fitting its novella length just right.  The plot is also novel, though there are shades of Clarke’s Childhood’s End.  The characterizations serve the tale rather than being tacked on.  A five star story.

Junior Achievement, by William M. Lee

This tale of a gaggle of precocious kids and their science project is neither engaging nor novel.  I think the idea is that fall-out from an atomic exchange has caused the kids to surpass the adults by leaps and bounds, but otherwise, I couldn’t see the point.  Two stars.

The Other Likeness, by James H. Schmitz

Alien agents in human form are inserted into a Terran Federation with the goal to destroy it from within.  A textbook example of how not to write: three quarters of this story is action without explanation, followed by the most expository of endings.  The result is that one wonders why one is reading until the finale and then feels let down for the effort expended.  Two stars.

Brain Waves and Thought Patterns, by John Eric Holmes, M.D.

I normally cringe at the prospect of reading non-fiction in Analog given Editor Campbell’s preference for crackpots pushing psychic malarkey, but July’s piece genuinely intrigues.  We are finally learning a bit about the black box of the mind that lies between stimulus and response.  The key has been to implant electrodes into the brain and measure the electrical output.  Cats are the subject of choice being the perfect combination of ubiquitous and medium-sized.

The result?  We now know a lot about the brainwaves of cats.  What this means for the future of humanity, brain research, Dr. Rhine, etc. remains to be seen.  Three stars.

Border, Breed Nor Birth (Part 1 of 2), by Mack Reynolds

El Hassan, the mythical would-be uniter of North Africa is back in Reynolds’ second tale set in the Mahgreb of the 1980s.  As in the first, it follows Homer Crawford and his band of Westernized Negroes as they promulgate the virtues of democracy and technology under a collective assumed identity. 

I’m a little warmer to the idea that Africa can use the help of its displaced children across the sea, and I do appreciate the attention to detail in the setting and the politics (no surprise – Reynolds spent a good deal of time in Morocco and Algeria).  However, the presentation is still too flip, and I suspect the endeavor is going to prove all too easy.  But perhaps the naive ambitions of Crawford et. al. will be thwarted in Part II.  Three stars so far, but I’m waiting for the thump of shoe #2.

The Rescuer, by Arthur Porges

Last up is the chronicle of the destruction of a machine, perhaps the most powerful and important machine in human history.  The pay-off is as hoary as your grandmother, but the unveiling is rather masterful.  Three stars.

Summed up, this month’s Analog is the least good of the Big Five magazines, scoring a still respectable 3.1 stars – and it has the month’s best story, in my opinion.  Given that no digest scored under the three stars this month, it has been an unusually fruitful July for science fiction lovers.

***

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  If you can’t make it to Worldcon/Chicon III, this is YOUR chance to Vote for the 1962 Hugos!)

[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!