Tag Archives: mack reynolds

[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. 

[March 31, 1960] What goes up… (May 1960 Astounding)

Every science fiction digest has a flavor.  Part of it is due to the whimsy of the editor, part of it is the niche the magazine is trying to fill, and part of it is luck of the draw.

Astounding can be summed up in just a few words: psionic, smug, workmanlike, crackpot, inbred.

Not necessarily in that order.

You see, every editor has an agenda.  For F&SF’s Tony Boucher, and his successor, Paul Mills, it’s to have as literary a magazine as possible.  For Galaxy and IF‘s H. L. Gold, it’s to present solid science fiction without resorting to hackneyed tropes of the pulp era.

For Astounding’s John Campbell, the motivation might once have been to mentor young writers so that they could create the best science fiction of the day.  Certainly, Campbell’s magazine pioneered the field in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s.  But these days, Campbell seems determined to be the strongest champion of psychic phenomena and other silliness. 

For instance: perpetual motion.  Campbell promises to fully educate us on the “Dean Drive” next month, a flop of a device (so I understand) that supposedly turns rotational energy into linear energy for propulsion purposes. 

For instance: psychic paper.  The “Heironymous Machine,” a meaningless circuit that is just as effective (so its creator and defenders claim) whether it be made out of electronic components or simply drawn on a sheet.

For instance: virtually every story that appears in Astounding must feature psychic powers and/or some reference to one of Campbell’s pet projects.

It reminds me of how Fantastic Universe catered to the UFO crowd during its sunset years, much good it did them. 

The result of this editorial policy, and the over-reliance on just a few of the field’s less exceptional authors, is a magazine that usually ranks lowest of the Big Three (combining Galaxy and IF).  Last month was a striking exception to this rule.  This month, we may not be so lucky.

The May 1960 Astounding only has five pieces apart from the second part of the “Mark Phillips” serial, Out like a Light.  I won’t review the serial until its completion next month.

Astounding perennial Randall Garrett contributes the lead novella, the promising but ultimately flawed Damned if you Don’t.  In 1981, an enterprising scientist develops a perfect, tiny energy source that threatens to throw the entire planet’s economy into chaos.  Everyone is out to stop him, from the power company to the government.  The first half is pleasant reading, with some reasonably good characterization and suspense as to who’s actually after the powerful “Converter” machines.  There’s another nod to Murray Leinster by name.  At one point, there is a description of a computer small enough to have been knocked over by a single person, which is an interesting extrapolation of miniaturization trends.

But then the story gets talky.  There is a meaningless aside describing a lukewarm Middle Eastern and European war in the late ’60s that leads to a clamp down on private scientific investigations.  It is meaningless not only for its implausibility but also for the fact that it doesn’t really have any bearing on the story.  Then there are pages of discussion on how release of the device will destroy the world as we know it.  These are capped off with the realization that the device has been stolen, and it’s all a moot point.  So much for that story.

Then we have John Cory’s three-pager Egocentric Orbit.  Twice before, astronauts have been launched into space and refused to come down.  In this story, following the third orbital astronaut, we find out why. 

Laurence Janifer, one half of the pair that is Mark Phillips (the other being Randall Garrett) has a decent story under the pseudonym “Larry M. Harris.”  It’s a period piece set in 1605 called Wizard, and it involves a brotherhood of telepaths attempting to thwart the inquisition, which threatens to wipe their breed from the Earth.

The final fiction entry is Mack Reynold’s pedestrian Revolution, which entertains a number of ridiculous propositions.  Item: the Soviet Union will surpass the United States in production in just seven years.  Item: a revolution is easy to incite so long as you throw lots of money at the problem.  Item: if you think the USSR is productive now, wait until bright-eyed Syndicalist Technocrats take over!

Much like Garrett’s opening story, the latter half is composed mostly of speeches justifying the plot line, and the ending features the revolution’s catalyst, a western agent, suggesting that the revolution be aborted lest the USSR someday truly trounce the West.  Pretty bad stuff.

On the other hand, Dr. Asimov is back with a nice long piece (The March of the Phyla) on the various animal groups and the successive adaptations that allowed them to increasingly become masters of their environment rather passive creatures vulnerable to the caprice of Mother Nature.  It’s a bit teleological in its presentation, but quite informative. 

I just have to wonder when Asimov will supplant Ley at Galaxy and monopolize all of the digests.  Nice racket if you can get it…

So, there you have it.  A magazine largely written by just two authors (Garrett and Janifer), suffused with smugness, even the non-fiction, featuring psionics and super-inventions, none of it terribly well-written.  Campbell’s got to find some new blood, or Astounding is going to founder, I fear.  Perhaps Harry Harrison offers some hope—his Deathworld was the overwhelming favorite of the fans, per the Analytical Laboratory (the magazine’s reader survey) for January and February.  More like that would help.

There’s an exciting launch coming tomorrow.  If it’s successful, I’ll see you on the 2nd with an update on… TIROS.




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[Jan. 28, 1960] But how do you really feel? (February 1960 Astounding)

I’ve devoted much ink to lambasting Astounding/Analog editor John Campbell for his attempts to revitalize his magazine, but I’ve not yet actually talked about the latest (February 1960) issue.  Does it continue the digest’s trend towards general lousiness?

For the most part, yes.  Harry Harrison’s serial, Deathworld, continues to be excellent (and it will be the subject of its own article next month).  But the rest is uninspired stuff.  Take the lead story, What the Left Hand was Doing by “Darrell T. Langart” (an anagram of the author’s real name—three guess as to who it really is, and the first two don’t count).  It’s an inoffensive but completely forgettable story about psionic secret agent, who is sent to China to rescue an American physicist from the clutches of the Communists.

Then there’s Mack Reynold’s Summit, in which it is revealed that the two Superpowers cynically wage a Cold War primarily to maintain their domestic economies.  A decent-enough message, but there is not enough development to leave much of an impact, and the “kicker” ending isn’t much of one.

Algis Budrys has a sequel to his last post-Apocalyptic Atlantis-set story called Due Process.  I like Budrys, but this series, which was not great to begin with, has gone downhill.  It is another “one savvy man can pull political strings to make the world dance to his bidding” stories, and it’s as smug as one might imagine.

The Calibrated Alligator, by Calvin Knox (Robert Silverberg) is another sequel featuring the zany antics of the scientist crew of Lunar Base #3.  In the first installment in this series, they built an artificial cow to make milk and liver.  Now, they are force-growing a pet alligator to prodigious size.  The ostensible purpose is to feed a hungry world with quickly maturing iguanas, but the actual motivation is to allow one of the young scientists to keep a beloved, smuggled pet.  The first story was fun, and and this one is similarly fluffy and pleasant. 

I’ll skip over Campbell’s treatise on color photography since it is dull as dirt.  The editor would have been better served publishing any of his homemade nudes that I’ve heard so much about.  That brings us to Murray Leinster’s The Leader<.  It is difficult for me to malign the fellow with perhaps the strongest claim to the title “Dean of American Science Fiction,” particularly when he has so many inarguable classics to his name, but this story does not approach the bar that Leinster himself has set.  It’s another story with psionic underpinnings (in Astounding!  Shock!) about a dictator who uses his powers to entrance his populace.  It is told in a series of written correspondence, and only force of will enabled me to complete the tale.  There was a nice set of paragraphs, however, on the notion that telepathy and precognition are really a form of psychokinesis. 

I tend to skip P. Schuyler Miller’s book column, but I found his analysis of the likely choices for this (last) year’s Hugo awards to be rewarding.  They’ve apparently expanded the scope of the film Hugo from including just movies to also encompassing television shows and stage productions, 1958’s crop being so unimpressive as to yield no winners. 

My money’s on The World, The Flesh, and The Devil.

Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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[Jan. 08, 1960] Between Peaks (January 1960 If)

I’ve finally finished the January 1960 IF and can report fully on its contents.  January has been a decidedly uninspiring month for digests.  They’re all in the 3-star range (though for Astounding, that’s actually a good month!) with no knockouts in the bunch.  Perhaps this is the calm before the storm.

The reliable if stolid Mack Reynolds (writing as Mark Mallory) kicks off this issue with The Good Seed.  Can a man trapped on a tiny island by a swelling tide escape before he is drowned?  Perhaps with the help of a sentient, telepathic plant.  It’s actually quite a touching story.

James Stamers seems to be a newcomer, and it shows in his unpolished writing.  Despite this, his The Divers, about psionic neutrals (essentially anti-telepaths) with the ability to astrally project, has some fascinating ideas and some genuinely evocative scenes.  Had Stamers given the tale to Sturgeon to work over for a final edit, I think it could have been an epic.  As it is, the story suggests that its author is a diamond in the rough waiting to be polished.

Two Ulsterians, Bob Shaw and Walt Willis, wrote the short Dissolute Diplomat, about an unsavory space traveler who crashes on an alien world, bullies the jelly-ish inhabitants into fixing his ship, and then gets what he deserves in a groan-worthy fashion that is truly pun-ishing.

The Little Red Bag, by Jerry Sohl, is a good piece of thrilling writing, at least until the somewhat callous and abrupt end.  A fellow on a plane has the power of tactile clairvoyance—and he discovers a ticking time bomb in the luggage compartment.  Can he save the passengers before it goes off?  Having flown the route that the plane takes many times (Southerly down California into Los Angeles), the setting is quite familiar, which is always fun.

Daniel Galouye (how do you pronounce his name?) is up next with the interesting teleportation yarn, The Last Leap.  Three military subjects have gone AWOL after artificially gaining the ability to materialize anywhere.  Surely they were not killed–after all, even the vacuum of space poses no danger, for the ‘porters reflexively snap back to a safe spot; moreover, they instinctively avoid teleporting into solid objects.  What could have happened?  You find out in the end…

To Each His Own, by Jack Sharkey, stars a team of Venusians who explore the Earth after a recent holocaust.  The nature of said disaster is never made explicit until the very end, though it is alluded to subtly.  I confess that I should have figured out the gimmick ending, but I didn’t.  I suppose that constitutes a point in the author’s favor.

Margaret St. Clair has a fun story (The Autumn after Next) about a magical missionary whose job is to convert magic-less cultures into adepts at the Arts.  He meets his match, and his end, attempting to introduce the most reluctant of tribes to the supernatural.  Better than The Scarlet Hexapod, not as good as Discipline, both IF stories.

Finally, we have Cultural Exchange by J.F. Bone wherein a crew of space explorers meets a sophisticated alien race with both superior and inferior technologies.  It is a first contact story of Cat and Mouse with both sides attempting to be the predator.  Not stellar, but satisfying.

That’s that!  It’s an unremarkable issue, slightly under the standards of its older sibling, Galaxy, I’d say.  Worth a read, but you won’t remember it next month (unless, of course, you review my column).

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most.  I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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Something new (June 1959 Astounding; 5-28-1959)

One of the main reasons I read science fiction is to see something truly new.  I don’t just want to see a view of the future–I want to see a brand new culture, or a completely alien creature, or an innovative take on psionics.  Only science fiction (and fantasy) really can do this, and even then, writers are often locked into tropes informed by the current world they live in.

The June 1959 issue of Astounding is pretty good.  More significantly, it has got a lot of neat ideas that I had not seen before.  Let’s take a look, shall we?


by Van Dongen

The opening story is Cat and Mouse, by Ralph Williams.  Williams has been writing since the late 30s, and his craft is finely honed with this excellent tale of an grizzled Alaskan outdoorsman, his cat, and the alien pest he is (unwittingly) recruited to eradicate.

Many factors make this story so good: Ed Brown, aged 60, is well developed.  Williams captures the stiffened limbs but heightened wisdom of an older protagonist.  The portrayal of both the Alaskan and off-planet wildernesses is vivid, as one might expect, Williams being a resident of Homer, Alaska.  But it’s the alien race, the Harn, that is the stand-out element.  The not-quite-sentient creature is actually a symbiotic tribe of species, or perhaps the same species with differing pre-natal modifications to produce a variety of offspring classes: to wit, there is a central, immobile “brain,” stinging units designed to bring down prey, carrier units that are mostly leg and sack designed to bring food to the brain mass, and fighting units whose role is to defeat larger adversaries.

Brown is just barely up to the task of vanquishing the alien menace, and it is a nail-biting battle of cunning to the end.  Sadly, this story may turn out to be Williams’ swan song.  It is my understanding that the fellow passed away very recently on a fishing trip in the 49th state.  I will have to seek out more offspring of his pen; if they are all of this quality, the world has lost a treasure.


by Van Dongen

I enjoyed All Day September by Roger Kuykendall.  It’s an almost slice-of-life (and I love slice-of-life) account of several weeks on the Moon after a meteor shower savages a moon base and leaves a prospector stranded out in the airless lunar desert.  The prospector’s salvation, and indeed that of the lunar population as a whole, is his discovery of frozen water in caves hidden from the sun.  This is an exciting concept that I’ve never seen in science fiction or science.  The general assumption is that the moon is bone-dry, but it is certainly plausible that there could be stores of water, either primordial or from ice comet impact.  The only strain to my credulity came when it was learned that the prospector carried no radio because local transmitters had too short a range (acceptable–there is no ionosphere on the moon to bounce AM waves), but transmitters that used Earth relays were too bulky.  It would seem to me that, if we establish a population on the moon, we’d precede it with satellites in orbit that could be used for communication.

Transfusion, by Chad Oliver, is a strange story.  The premise is that a galaxy-spanning race of humans found itself bested by a savage, implacable foe, and its only hope was to seed a small colony of brain-wiped people on an out-of-the-way planet (Earth) and hope that this new society might come up with a completely innovative way to fight humanity’s enemy.  As a test, the starfaring humans salt the planet with fossils of Homo Sapiens, Neanderthals, Australopithecines, etc.–basically every member of our evolutionary tree, along with colonies of great apes.  The idea is that once we discover that we’ve been hoaxed, we are ready to do battle with the aliens.

It’s a silly idea, but reasonably well executed.  Humanity invents time travel in the early 1980s, goes back in time to do some physical anthropology, and catches the starfaring aliens in the act.  Traveling back to the present, the story’s protagonist determines that his old anthropology professor is, in fact, an emissary of the old humans (the last).  The professor tells his student the whole story and gives him the keys to his spaceship with its advanced technology.  I would guess that between the ability to time travel and fly faster than light, humans will be well-nigh unstoppable. 

Perhaps we’ll become the implacable scourge.


by Freas

Finally, we have the silly Unborn Tomorrow, by Mack Reynolds.  A private eye is sent to Oktoberfest to find time traveling tourists.  Not only does he find them, but they keep slipping the detective mickeys and sending him back in a time loop to ensure that their cover is never blown.  All the dick has to show for his efforts is a massive hangover and memories of three trips to Bavaria.  He wisely refuses a fourth time around.  The slightest of the bunch, but still decent.

Of course, there are virtually no female characters to be seen.  On the other hand, as I’ve said before, if you can’t do it right, it’s best not to try.  Despite the absence of the half of the human race from this issue, it’s still a good book–let’s call it 3.5 stars.

My bi-monthly Galaxy came in.  Expect that to be the topic day-after-tomorrow.  Thanks for reading!

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