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[January 6, 1960] Watch your tongue?  (February 1961 Galaxy, Part 1)

The old saying goes, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  As you know, I am rarely reserved when I don’t like a piece of work.  Every once in a while, I get a gentle chiding.  One reader said he didn’t want to hear about stories I don’t like–just the ones I do.  Another opined that my fans might tire of my consistently negative reviews of a certain author. 

I don’t want to discount these criticisms as I think they are valid.  On the other hand, if I am unreserved in my scorn, I am similarly effusive about what I like.  My columns are rarely completely negative.  Moreover, I recognize that even the works I don’t like often appeal to others, and I love receiving letters from folks who disagree with my judgments. 

Besides, you good folk likely come here to see me as much as to get reading recommendations.  Alfred Bester said in F&SF last month that he prefers English non-fiction to American as English authors will intrude into the text.  There are only so many ways to package facts; the only distinguishing character is the personality of the packager.  Certainly, I read Asimov as much for the science lesson as for the fun anecdotes.

So, enjoy all of me, even the kvetching.  And if you don’t, feel free to tell me just how much you dislike me.  I may even agree with you…

On to the task at hand–reviewing the first half of the February 1961 Galaxy!

Evelyn Smith (formerly Gold, same name as the editor, natch) takes up most of it with Sentry in the Sky, a story about a malcontent in a futuristic caste system who is enlisted to become a long-term spy mole on a more primitive world.  It’s not bad, but it is awfully simplistic, and the point meanders.  Moreover, it relies on awfully human aliens.  Of course, it’s satire as much as anything else–the primitive world has a culture that is immediately familiar to 20th Century people.  Let me know what you think.  Three stars.

Doorstep is a cute short by Keith Laumer about an overachieving general and the UFO he tries to crack open.  Sort of a poor man’s Sheckley; something I’d expect from 1952.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s article is pretty interesting this month.  He covers the new science of “seeding” clouds to create rain in Let’s do Something about the Weather.  Three stars.

Finally, we have what may be the very first piece from a new writer, Volume Paa-Pyx by Fred Saberhagen.  It’s a fun twist on the future where those with specific aptitudes get placed in appropriate professions.  When is a police state not a police state?  Three stars.

It doesn’t take a slide rule to calculate this issue: Three stars across the board!  Nothing exceptional, nothing horrid.  Satisfying, but ummemorable.  Let me ask you–is it better to be delivered a dose of strong ups and downs or a steady, bland mean?

[Nov. 28, 1960] Odds and Ends (the December 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Here’s a math problem for you, kids!  If more than half of your magazine is taken up by a 2-star short novel, how likely is it that you’ll still end up with a good issue?

Answer: not very.

I’m used to Fantasy & Science Fiction having a long table of contents page.  This one (the December 1960 issue) comprises just ten entries, and all save the Asimov article are vignettes.  I wonder if we’ll be seeing a slew of larger stories now that Editor Mills has depleted his stock of tiny ones.

Anyway, it’s quality, not quantity that counts.  So how was the quality?

Winona McClintic is a sporadic contributor to the magazine, and she offers up The Way Out of Town, in which an infestation of snakes blocks all of the vehicular arteries in and out of every city in the (unidentified) state.  They cause havoc, widespread and personal, as one might expect. 

That’s about it; the story is over almost as it starts.  Mills says in the prologue, “Readers who like only those stories with beginnings and middles and ends, in which everything is clearly explained,may not be fully satisfied with the following.”  He’s right!  Two stars.

Up next is Rope’s End, by Miriam Allen deFord.  The premise is excellent: a Terran accidentally kills an alien on the extraterrestrial’s world.  His sentence is to wear a rope around his neck for twenty years–one that is constricted every year.  I like everything about it but the ending; and it’s not even the ending that bothers me so much as the protagonist’s inability to suspect how things would turn out given how much time he devoted to the problem.  Three stars.

Avram Davidson has a two-pager about sexually frustrated teens whose unfulfilled desires channel into a powerful psychokinetic talent.  Called Yo-ho, and Up, it is silly and rather difficult to read.  Two stars.

I don’t usually go for poetry, but Rosser Reeves (who is, apparently, a businessman by day) has a nice piece on alternate worlds called Infinity.  I dug it.  Four stars.

Speaking of digging, The Beatnik Werewolf is (I believe) the first effort by Dan Lindsay.  What’s a shaggy vegetarian hepcat…er…dog to do when he falls in love after two hundred years as a lone wolf?  Cute, if inconsequential.  Three stars.

Dr. Asimov’s article is on dolphins and echo-location this month.  A could-be fascinating topic, particularly the bits about the ability to produce sound being used for navigation long before its purposing for communication.  But the good doctor seems rather scattered this time around.  Three stars.

The last piece is a reprint from a literary mag New World Writing #16 called The Listener by John Berry.  It’s not really science fiction or fantasy, but I enjoyed it a lot, this tale of the meeting between an itinerant fiddler and an old, old lighthouser.  Four stars.

Using my trusty slide rule, this all adds up to about 2.5 stars.  A less than auspicious end of the year for what is normally my favorite science fiction magazine.  It’s a good thing the competition was in excellent form this month.

See you at the end of the month for a review of November, a preview of December, and a space-based peeping tom whose presence we can all be thankful for.

[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.

[November 13, 1960] Evening out (December 1960 Galaxy, second half)

It’s hard to keep the quality up in a long-format magazine like Galaxy, especially when your lower tier stuff gets absorbed by a sister magazine (IF).  Thus, it is rare to find a full issue of Galaxy without some duds that bring the average down.  Editor Gold has saved this month’s weak entries for the second half.

Not that you could tell at first, given the fascinating Subject to Change, by Ron Goulart.  A creepy story about a woman, her gift for transformation, her struggle with kleptomania, and her increasing estrangement from her fiancee.  Four stars.

H.B. Fyfe’s Round-and-Round Trip is a hoot.  If you’re an inveterate traveler like me, you’ll especially appreciate this tale of a fellow who seems to be trapped on the interstellar version of the M.T.A., endlessly shuttling from planet to planet, never reaching his destination.  But does he actually have one?  Or is the journey the thing?  I’m torn between three and four stars.

But then we have Blueblood, by Jim Harmon.  Human explorers find a planet of blue humanoids racially divided based on the depth of the skin’s hue.  The darker ones are seemingly dumber than the lighter ones.  I held my breath for some kind of satire or allegory regarding our present prejudicial woes in this country, but the story took a left turn somewhere and just left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  If it’s allegory, the message to be gleaned is disturbing, and if it is not, then it’s just a weak tale.  It’s too bad–Harmon is fairly consistently good.  Two stars this time.

Patrick Fahy is another complete novice, and Bad Memory, illustrated by Mad Magazine’s Don Martin, is unimpressive.  A space horticulturalist sacrifices all to turn his planet into a Jovian swamp.  On the upside, he falls in love.  On the downside…well, I didn’t like the downside.  Two stars (you might like it more than me).

The issue is wrapped up by Daniel Galouye’s Fighting Spirit, about a space force clerk who shennanigans his way into real combat only to find that war isn’t quite the rifle and stiff upper lip type.  More the garlic, cross, and mirror type…  Three stars.

All told, we end up with an issue that just barely crests the three-star line on the Journey-meter.  Still, that’s pretty good for an issue in “decline,” and there are some definite gems, albeit more amethyst than emerald.

By the way, speaking of Don Martin, the newest Mad Magazine has hit the stands.  As you can see, they successfully predicted the outcome of the race:

But they also hedged their bet–this was the outside cover:

[Nov. 11, 1960] A Celebrated Veteran (December 1960 Galaxy)

Ten years ago, a World War Two vet named H. L. Gold decided to try his luck as editor of a science fiction digest.  His Galaxy was among the first of the new crop of magazines in the post-war science fiction boom, and it quickly set an industry standard. 

A decade later, Galaxy is down to a bimonthly schedule and has cut author rates in half.  This has, predictably, led to a dip in quality, though it is not as pronounced as I’d feared.  Moreover, the magazine is half-again as large as it used to be, and its sister publication, IF, might as well be a second Galaxy.  All told, the magazine is still a bargain at 50 cents the issue.

Particularly the December 1960 issue.  There’s a lot of good stuff herein (once you get past yet another senilic Gold editorial):

The reliable J.T. McIntosh leads off with The Wrong World, in which the Earth is conquered…accidentally.  There was some misunderstanding by our invaders as to the technological level of our world; for the more advanced planets, we’re supposed to get an invitation to interstellar society, not a savaging.  It’s kind of an oddball piece, but it kept my attention despite the late hour at which I began it.  Three stars.

Next up is brand-newcomer, Bill Doede with Jamieson, an interesting tale of teleporting humans whose talents are viewed as akin to witchcraft.  Not a perfect tale, but definitely a promising beginning to a writing career, and with a female protagonist.  Three stars.

For Your Information is interesting, if not riveting, stuff about a Polynesian feast involving thousands of mating sea worms.  I understand they’re a delicacy.  I’ll take their word for it…  Three stars.

Charles V. de Vet is back with Metamorphosis, a story about a symbiotic life form that makes one superpowered… but which also turns the host into a ticking time bomb.  You spend much of the story pretty certain that you know how to defuse the bomb, such that it strains the credulity that there should be anything to worry about.  The ending, however, addresses the issue nicely.  Three stars.

Finally (for today) we have Snuffles by the rather odd but compelling R.A. Lafferty.  He writes stories in a style that shouldn’t work but somehow does.  That’s either some innate talent or blind luck.  Given his track record, I’m betting on the former.  In any event, the novelette details the misadventures of a six-person planetary exploration crew (two women, life scientists–women are always cast as biologists for some reason) who are at first charmed and then menaced by a sexless Teddy Bear monster with delusions of Godhood.  A fascinating story.  Four stars.

Next time, we’ll have works by Ron Goulart, H.B. Fyfe, Jim Harmon, Patrick Fahy, and Daniel Galouye.  That’s a pretty good lineup!

[Oct. 30, 1960] Halloween Candy (the November 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

With Halloween around the corner, one might have thought that there would have been an extra spooky issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction this month.  Nothing doing.  The current issue is nothing extraordinary, if not completely forgettable.  Having covered the end novellette in my last article, it’s time to cover the rest of the magazine.

I’ve never heard of Vance Aandahl before, but his tiny It’s a Great Big Wonderful Universe, about a sad Terran who has everything but the planet he hails from, is a good aperitif.  Four stars.

Robert F. Young is up next with his Romance in a Twenty-First Century Used-Car Lot.  It’s a weird extrapolation and intersection of two trends: an increased sanction of promiscuity coupled with a perverse need to be armored against the world.  In this story, everybody, but everybody, is expected to wear their own personal automobile at all times.  To go without is to be shunned as a “nudist.”  It’s all very strange and allegorical, but too silly to be effective.  Once again, it’s not up to the standard set by his excellent To Fell a Tree, though I did appreciate that the protagonist was female, and the story’s focus on the very real difficulties they face vis. a vis. men and society.  Three stars.

Who dreams of Ivy? is another macabre piece by Will Worthington set in a world marred by institutionalized violence and fear.  I’m afraid I didn’t quite get it, or maybe there isn’t much to get.  Is there a message to this dark look at election season, where mayors live in constant fear for their lives, and thus take this fear out on their citizens?  I feel as if Sheckley’s Ticket to Tranai did it better and more humorously.  Three stars.

Next up is an old old reprint, Funk, by John W. Vandercook.  It’s a well-written if somewhat pedestrian tale of dark magic on the steamy coast of West Africa.  What happens when you build a bank vault right square on the spot where the Crocodile God slithers to devour its periodic sacrifices?  Nothing good, I assure you.  The closest we get to a seasonal ghost story.  Three stars.

I did quite enjoy Combat Unit, from newcomer Keith Laumer, in which a damaged but still-sentient robot tank finds itself behind enemy lines.  This is a fine portrayal of metallic, sexless intelligence.  Four stars.

Yes, we have no Ritchard, by Bruce J. Friedman (normally a writer for the slicks), is a cute tale about an usual afterlife situation.  There is a Heaven and a Hell, but no one goes to Heaven, and Hell isn’t so bad.  So how does one distinguish the good from the bad?  And what happens to the ego of a good man in such a demoralizing predicament?  Three stars.

Finally, we have Isaac Asimov’s latest non-fiction piece, The Element of Perfection.  As one might gather from the title, it’s on the discovery of Helium (and, incidentally, the other noble gases).  It’s one of my favorite articles from the good doctor–educational and entertaining.  Five stars.

No surprises this month: an F&SF that finishes slightly on the positive side of three stars.  You won’t regret the expenditure of 40 cents (quite reasonably, really), but I suspect you won’t find yourself returning to this issue very often, either.

Tomorrow, a sneak preview at the month of November!

[Nov. 20, 1959] Despoiler of Astounding Magazine (The Destroyers, by Randall Garrett)

Here’s a short update before I fully review this month’s Astounding.  Remember my piece on Despoiler of the Golden Empire?  Well, good old Randy Garrett is at it again with his historical parables.  I kept waiting for the shoe to drop in his lead novella of this ish, The Destroyers, and it did in a big way.

It’s disappointing since the writing was actually good and compelling for the first two thirds of the story–and then I saw where good old Randy was going.  Boy did he get there.

Try it, but don’t spoil the ending for the other readers until my article on the issue as a whole, which should come tomorrow or the next day.

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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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