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[July 27, 1961] Breaking a Winning Streak (August 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

by Gideon Marcus

Take a look at the back cover of this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.  There’s the usual array of highbrows with smug faces letting you know that they wouldn’t settle for a lesser sci-fi mag.  And next to them is the Hugo award that the magazine won last year at Pittsburgh’s WorldCon.  That’s the third Hugo in a row. 

It may well be their last.

I used to love this little yellow magazine.  Sure, it’s the shortest of the Big Three (including Analog and Galaxy), but in the past, it boasted the highest quality stories.  I voted it best magazine for 1959 and 1960

F&SF has seen a steady decline over the past year, however, and the last three issues have been particularly bad.  Take a look at what the August 1961 issue offers us:

Avaram Davidson and Morton Klass’s The Kappa Nu Nexus, about a milquetoast Freshman who joins a fraternity that hosts a kooky set of time travelers.  Davidson’s writing, formerly some of the most sublime, has gotten unreadably self-indulgent, and William Tenn’s brother (Klass) doesn’t make it any better.  One star.

Survival Planet, by Harry Harrison, features the remnant colony of the vanquished Great Slavocracy.  It’s not a bad story, but it’s mostly told rather than shown, the book-ends being highly expositional.  Three stars.

Vance Aandahl, as one of my readers once observed, desperately wants to be Ray Bradbury.  His Cogi Drove His Car Through Hell has the virtue of starring a non-traditional protagonist; that’s the only virtue of this mess.  One star.

Juliette, translated from the French by Damon Knight (it is originally by Claude-François Cheiniss), is a bright spot.  It’s a sort of cross between McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang and Young’s Romance in a Twenty-First Century Used Car Lot.  I found it effective, written in that Gallic light fashion.  Four stars.

For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you the point of E. William Blau’s first printed story, The Dispatch Executive.  Something about a bureaucratic dystopia, or perhaps it’s a special kind of hell for office clerks.  Hell is right, and here’s hoping we don’t see Blau in print again.  One star.

Then we have another comparatively bright spot: Kit Reed’s Piggy.  Per the author, it is “the story of Pegasus, although I don’t remember that his passengers spouted verse, and a mashup of first lines from Emily Dickinson, whom I admired, but never liked.”  There’s no question that it’s beautifully written, but there is not much movement as regards to plot.  Three stars.

A Meeting on a Northern Moor, Leah Bodine Drake’s poem on the decline of Norse mythology is evocative, though brief.  Murray Leinster’s The Case of the Homicidal Robots is a turgid mystery-adventure involving the spacenapping of dozens io interstellar vessels.  Three and two stars, respectively.

Winona McClintic is back with Four Days in the Corner, some kind of ghost story.  It’s worse than her last piece, and that’s nothing to be proud of.  Two stars.

Then we have Asimov’s science fact column, The Evens Have It, on the frequency of nuclear isotopes among the elements.  The Good Doctor’s articles are usually the high point of F&SF for me, but this one is the first I’d ever characterize as “dull.”  Three stars, but you’ll probably give it a two.

Rounding things up is Gordon Dickson’s The Haunted Village, about a traveler who vacations in a village whose inhabitants are hostile to outsiders.  The twist?  There is no outside world – only the delusion that such a thing exists.  Dickson is capable of a lot better.  Two stars.

I often say that I read bad fiction so you don’t have to.  This was especially true this month.  While Galaxy was quite good (3.4 stars), both Analog and F&SF clocked in at 2.2. 
For those of you new to the genre and wondering why they should bother (why I should bother), I promise – it’s not all like this.  Please don’t let it all be like this…

Coming up next: The sci-fi epic, Mysterious Island!

[July 6, 1961] Trends (August 1961 Galaxy, second half)

Human beings look for patterns.  We espy the moon, and we see a face.  We study history and see it repeat (or at least rhyme, said Mark Twain).  We look at the glory of the universe and infer a Creator. 

We look at the science fiction genre and we (some of us) conclude that it is dying.

Just look at the number of science fiction magazines in print in the early 1950s.  At one point, there were some forty such publications, just in the United States.  These days, there are six.  Surely this is an unmistakable trend.

Or is it?  There is something to be said for quality over quantity, and patterns can be found there, too.  The last decade has seen the genre flower into maturity.  Science fiction has mostly broken from its pulpy tradition, and many of the genre’s luminaries (for instance, Ted Sturgeon and Zenna Henderson) have blazed stunning new terrain.

I’ve been keeping statistics on the Big Three science fiction digests, Galaxy, Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction since 1959.  Although my scores are purely subjective, if my readers’ comments be any indication, I am not too far out of step in my assessments.  Applying some math, I find that F&SF has stayed roughly the same, and both Analog and Galaxy have improved somewhat.

Supporting this trend is the latest issue of Galaxy (August 1961), which was quite good for its first half and does not decline in its second.

For instance, Keith Laumer’s King of the City is an exciting tale of a cabbie who cruises the streets of an anarchic future.  The cities are run by mobs, and the roads are owned by automobile gangs.  It’s a setting I haven’t really seen before (outside, perhaps, of Kit Reed’s Judas Bomb), and I dug it.  In many ways, it’s just another crime potboiler, but the setting sells it.  Three stars.

Amid all of the ugly headlines, the blaring rock n’ roll, the urban sprawl, do you ever feel that the romance has gone out of the race?  That indefinable spark that raises us to the sublime?  Lester del Rey’s does, and in Return Engagement, his protagonist discovers what we’ve been missing all these years.  A somber piece, perhaps a bit overwrought, but effective.  Three stars.

Willy Ley’s science column, For your Information, is amusing and educational, as usual, though its heyday has long past.  This time, the subject is the preeminent biologist, Dr. Theodore Zell, whom Dr. Ley never got to meet, though he tried.  Three stars.

Deep Down Dragon, by Judith Merril, depicts a lovers’ jaunt on Mars that ends in a brush with danger.  Told in Merril’s deft, artistic style, the rather typical boy-rescues-girl story isn’t all it appears to be.  Three stars.

I can’t lay enough praise upon the final novella, Jack Vance’s The Moon Moth.  Science fiction offers a large number of tropes and techniques that provide building blocks for stories.  Every once in a while, a writer creates something truly new.  Vance gives us Sirenis, a planet whose denizens communicate with musical accompaniment that conveys mood beyond that inherent in words.  Moth is a murder mystery, and that story is interesting in and of itself, but what really makes this piece is the struggle of the Terran investigator to master the native modes of communication and to overcome the pitifully low status that being a foreigner affords.  Really a beautiful piece.  Five stars.

That puts the total for this issue at a respectable 3.4 stars.  So far as I can tell, science fiction has got some life left in it…

[July 3, 1961] Bigger is Better (August 1961 Galaxy)

Even months are my favorite. 

Most science fiction digests are monthlies, but the twins run by Fred Pohl, IF and Galaxy, come out in alternating months.  The latter is noteworthy for being the longest regularly published sf magazine, comprising a whopping 196 pages, so big that I need two articles to cover it.  Galaxy also happens to be a personal favorite; I’ve read every issue since the magazine debuted in October 1950 (when it was a smaller monthly).

How does the August 1961 issue fare?  Pretty good, so far!

The lead novella, The Gatekeepers, by J.T. McIntosh, portrays an interplanetary war between two worlds linked by a matter-transmission gateway.  The setting is interesting and the feel of the story almost Leinsterian.  There is an unpolished quality to the piece, though, which I’ve seen in McIntosh before, as if he dashes off pieces without a final edit when he’s writing for the poorer-paying mags (Galaxy dropped its rates in ’59; they may have recently gone back up).  Three stars.

The whimsical Margaret St. Clair brings us Lochinvar, featuring an adorable Martian pet with the ability to neutralize anger.  It’s a story that had me completely sold until the abrupt, expositional ending.  Did the editor (now Fred Pohl) lose the last few pages and have to reconstruct them?  Was the original piece too long?  Three stars.

You may remember Bill Doede from his promising first work, Jamieson, about a group of star-exiled teleports who derive their power from a surgically implanted device.  The God Next Door is a sequel of sorts, its protagonist one of the prior story’s teleports who flits to Alpha Centauri.  There, he finds a tribe of regressed primitives, their humanity underscored by the juxtaposition of another alien, the omnipotent, incorporeal whirlwind who claims the world for his own.  The plot is simple, and by all rights, it should be a mediocre story.  But Doede’s got a style I like, and I found myself marking four stars on my data sheet.

R.A. Lafferty’s Aloys, on the other hand, about a poverty-stricken but brilliant theoretician, is not as clever as it needs to be.  Lafferty’s stock-in-trade is his off-beat, whimsical style.  It often works, but this time, it grates rather than syncopates.  Two stars.

Now for a piece on a subject near and dear to my heart.  As any of my friends will tell you, I spend a lot of time lost in daydream.  I think that’s a trait common to many writers.  My particular habit is to project myself backward in time.  It’s an easy game to play since so many artifacts of the past endure in the present to serve as linchpins for such fantasies. 

But what if these harmless fugues aren’t just flights of fancy?  What if these overly real memories prove the existence of a past life…or constitute evidence of something more sinister?  James Harmon’s The Air of Castor Oil, is an exciting story on this topic with a good (if somewhat opaque) ending.  Four stars.

It seems that sci-fi poetry is becoming a fad, these days.  Galaxy has now joined the trend, offering Sheri S. Eberhart’s amusing Extraterrestrial Trilogue.  A satiric, almost Carrollian piece.  Four stars.

Henry Slesar is a busy young s-f writer who has been published (under one name or another) in most of the sf digests.  His latest piece, The Stuff, features a man dying too young and the drug that just might salvage him a life.  The twist won’t surprise you, but the story is nicely executed, and the title makes sense once you’ve finished reading.  Three stars. 

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans.  I’ll see you with Part II in just a few days.

[June 25, 1961] The Twilight Years (July 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Some 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs vanished from the Earth.  There are many hypotheses as to why these great reptiles no longer walk among us.  One current of thinking goes thusly: dinosaurs were masters of the Earth for so long that they became complacent.  Because their reign was indisputed, they evolved in ways that were not optimized for survival.  Thus, the strange crests of the Hadrosaurs.  The weird dome head of the Pachycephalosaurs.  The giant frills of the Ceratopsians.  Like Victorian ladies’ hats, the dinosaurs became increasingly baroque until they were too ungainly to survive.

I worry that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is heading in that direction.  I’m all for literary quality in my sf mags, but F&SF has been tilting so far in the purple direction that it is often all but unreadable.  I present Exhibit A: the July 1961 “All-Star” issue.

Kingsley Amis is perhaps better known as a fan than a writer, his recent New Maps of Hell being a lauded survey of the current sci-fi field.  Something Strange isn’t a bad story, but the fluffy writing can’t relieve or distract from the threadbare plot (a retread of The Twilight Zone’s first episode): Two married couples are stuck on what they believe is a remote interstellar outpost.  A series of increasingly strange things materialize, first outside and, later, inside the station.  Ultimately, the scouts are given a final message from Earth – they have been abandoned for want of funding to retrieve them!  Of course, the keen reader has already figured out that the base is really just a long-term isolation chamber on Earth, the whole thing being an experiment.  Despite the hackneyed plot, it’s still readable.  Three stars, barely.

Package Deal is the latest by Will Worthington, an author given to writing dark pieces.  This one, about a n’er-do-well spoiled rich kid who discovers his latent powers of telepathy, is overly cute and underly memorable.  Two stars.

The new writer, Nicholas Breckenridge, advises ailurophiles to skip the feline ghost story, Cat Lover.  It’s a good suggestion; Lover is a tired retread of familiar ground.  Two stars.

Grendel Briarton has a new Ferdinand Feghoot pun story.  I include it in the interests of completeness; do not mistake presentation for endorsement.

The Zookeeper is the first published story by Otis Kidwell Burger, and also the one piece by a woman (despite the unlikely name) to appear in any of the Big Three magazines this month.  It’s a tale of the far future, a sort of meet cute featuring a woman secured from present day as a sort of pet, and the all-too-human alien, also a pet, who comes to love her.  Another overly oblique piece, but kind of charming nonetheless.  Three stars.

Kris Neville’s Closing Time is more Socratic dialogue than story, a rather insipid piece about disproving the existence of intelligent aliens.  Two stars.

Night Piece, by the usually (these days) excellent Poul Anderson, is even more disappointing.  Something about a scientist becoming aware of dimensions beyond his own, grappling to retain his sanity amid an onslaught to his senses.  It’s all very ponderous and overwrought.  One star.

I enjoyed Isaac Asimov’s non-fiction article, Recipe for a Planet, all about the elements that make up the Earth and their proportion to each other.  I especially enjoyed the article’s wrap-up, describing our planet’s composition in cook-book style.

Comprising a good third of the book is its final piece, Brian Aldiss’ novella, Undergrowth.  It is a direct sequel to his previous stories, Hothouse and Nomansland, all set on Earth a billion years from now.  The sun has grown hot, and the planet is a jungle.  Humans have long-since stopped being Earth’s master and are now diminutive, barely sentient creatures.  In this story, we learn of the event that caused our race to topple from power, thanks to the racial-memory tapping talents of the fungoid symbiotes, the morel. 

As usual, Aldiss paints a vivid picture, and a unique one, but somehow the further adventures of Gren and Poyly and their bonded morel have gotten a bit tedious.  It feels more and more like one of Burroughs’ Pellucidar novels – enjoyable, but shallow.  I’m looking forward to learning what happened to the lunar explorers from the first novella, and I expect Aldiss has already got that story plotted out.  Three stars.

Measured on the Star-o-Meter(tm), this “All-Star” issue only earns 2.5 stars.  In fact, not a single magazine broke the 3-star barrier this month!  Moreover, just one woman made it to print.  The two facts may not be unrelated…

In any event, if F&SF wants to win the Hugo this year, it’ll have to do better than this.  Otherwise, Analog or Galaxy are likely to take the prize just by failing to decline as steeply.

[June 16, 1961] Analog astounds… (July 1961 Analog)


Thomas

I’m going to stun you all today. 

There are plenty of writers in this genre we call science fiction (or sometimes “scientificition” or “s-f”).  I’ve encountered over 130 of them in just the few years that this column has been extant.  Some are routinely excellent; many are excellently routine.  A few have gotten special attention for being lousy.

One such writer is Randall Garrett.

This is the fellow whose smug misogyny and his utter conformity to John Campbell’s peculiar editorial whims made his works some of the worst I had the displeasure to review.  Sure, the stuff he wrote with other authors (Bob Silverberg and Laurence Janifer, for instance) was readable, but when he went solo, it was a virtual guarantee of disaster.  It is thus with no undue trepidation that I dug into this month’s Analog which features Garrett’s pen in the first two tales.

Folks, I’m as amazed as you are.  They were actually pretty good.

For instance, A Spaceship named McGuire, about an investigator who travels to Ceres to find out why a brainy spaceship consistently goes insane, has a solid hook, a good female character, vivid settings, and a crunchy adherence to science.  My main beef with McGuire is that it’s a mystery, but rather than giving us clues, Garrett just tells the gimmick at the end.  It feels rushed and arbitrary.  It’d probably make a good novel, though.  Three stars.

Tinker’s Dam is by Joseph Tinker, a name so clearly pseudonymous that it must belong to a fellow with another piece in this issue.  Based on the style, I’ll eat my hat if it’s not also a Garrett story.  Anyway, it’s about telepaths in the near future and the national security risk they pose.  Not only is it a pretty interesting piece, but it stars a fellow of Romany extraction (unfortunately nicknamed “Gyp,” but he seems fine with it).  It’s an ethnicity one doesn’t often see in stories, and it lends color to Dam without being the point.  Three stars.


Van Dongen

Herbert D. Kastle wrote an admirable first piece in Galaxy last month; his submission for the July Analog, The First One , suggests that Breakdown wasn’t a fluke.  First tells of a man’s somber homecoming.  He is both famous and yet changed: strangely repellent, alone even in the presence of friends and family.  The reveal is fairly well telegraphed and not particularly momentous, but I assume there is a deliberate metaphor here for the experience of returning battle fatigued soldiers.  It’s about two pages too long though it is never bad.  Three stars.

On the other hand, Chris Anvil’s The Hunch, about a Galactic Scout sent out in a ship full of untested equipment, is just silly.  Some might find the hero’s tribulations as he thumbs through endless manuals to be comical.  I found it stupid.  Two stars.

The rest of the issue is take up with Harry B. Porter’s incredibly dull article on high-temperature rocket materials (Hell’s own problem; one star) and the exciting conclusion to Simak’s The Fisherman (four stars). 

Summed up, the book gets an uninspiring 2.7 stars.  On the other hand, there is a lot of readable stuff in here, and at this point, I should be used to Campbell’s inability to get a decent science writer.  Moreover, if Randy Garrett has finally learned to write, that bodes well for issues to come given his perennial relationship with Analog.

A cup half-full, I’d say!

ADDENDUM:

A fan in the know tells me my guess was wrong, and Tinker’s Dam was actually by John Berryman.  That makes sense — he is also an Analog regular, and he writes readable stories about things psychic.  Thanks to Tom Smith for pointing that out!

[June 14, 1961] Time is the simplest thing… (The Fisherman, by Clifford Simak)

Girdling the Earth are bands of deadly radiation, the Van Allen Belts.  They form a prison, an eggshell that humanity can never pierce.  Embittered, the human race turns inward.  Psychic powers come to the fore.  At first, the psychically endowed paranormals (“parries”) use their gifts for a lark or for profit.  Over time, the world comes to hate these deviants, forcing them into ghettos and isolated towns.

All except for the rare few employed by Fishhook, an agency that has opened up the stars through other means.  Fusing technology and innate power, the “Fishermen” project their minds across the light years and explore other worlds.  They bring back wondrous gifts of technology, which are sold in Fishhook-owned centers called “Trading Posts.”  The Fishermen encounter a riot of experiences: things of incomprehensible beauty, things of unspeakable evil.  The most rigidly enforced rule is that the Fishermen must retain their humanity; any taint of alien, any hint of going native, and they are cloistered in a community that is, for all intents and purposes, a gilded cage.

All of which are just abstract concerns to Shepherd Blaine, a veteran Fisherman, tourist of a hundred worlds, until the day he encounters the pinkness: a sprawling, shabby, impossibly old creature who tells him, “Hi Pal.  I trade with you my mind…”

Clifford Simak’s four-part serial, The Fisherman, just wrapped up in this month’s Analog.  It is the chronicle of Blaine’s escape from Fishhook and his journey on the lam through the Dakotas as he attempts to reconcile his human self with the near-omniscient alien that has take up residence in his mind.  Blaine gains an encyclopedic knowledge of the universe as well as some mastery of time, “the simplest thing” the pinkness assures him.  All the while, he is pursued by antagonist forces.  One side wants to integrate the parries into society; the other would see them destroyed. 

If you’re a fan of Cliff’s, you know that he excels at writing these intensely personal stories, particularly when they have (as this one does) a rural tinge.  The former Fisherman’s transformation into something more than human is fascinating.  Blaine’s voyage of self-discovery and self-preservation is an intimate one, a slow journey with a growing and satisfying pay-off.  The parallels with and satires of our current issues with racial inequality (with “parries” being the stand-in for Blacks, Latins, Communists, Beatniks, etc.) are poignant without being heavy-handed.  The pace drags a little at times, and Simak adopts this strange habit of beginning a good many of his sentences with the auxiliary words “for” and “and,” which lends an inexorable, detached tone to the proceedings. 

Still, it’s an unique book, one that I suspect will contend for a Hugo this year.  It single-handedly kept Analog in three-star territory despite the relative poor quality of its short stories and science articles. 

Four-and-a-quarter stars.  Don’t miss it when it comes out in book form.

[June 9, 1961] Common denominator (July 1961 IF)

Science fiction digests, those monthly magazines filled with s-f short stories, are often like little anthologies.  Editors will let their “slush pile” stack up, and when they have enough of a kind of piece, they publish them in a themed issue.

I don’t know whether the theme of the July 1961 IF science fiction was intentional or not, but it definitely focuses on the issues of over-population and over-mechanization.  That is, in the future, there will be too many of us, and we won’t have a whole lot to do. 

I’m not particularly concerned about the former.  We live on a big planet, and although our presence on it definitely has an impact, I don’t think living space is going to be an issue for a long time, if ever.  On the other hand, the latter topic holds a strong fascination for me. 

We’ve already seen a precipitous drop in the percentage of people employed in agriculture.  Industry looks like it will shed workers soon, too, as the use of robots increases.  That leaves the nebulous “service” sector, whose added value to our lives seems rather arbitrary.  Eventually, I foresee a world where no one has to grow or build anything…and then what will work mean to us?

It’s a worthy topic for discussion.  Sadly, the writing in the July 1961 IF fails to impress and often downright disappoints.  Here’s what we’ve got:

Jim Harmon is an often lackluster IF perennial.  His novelette The Planet with no Nightmare, involves an insomniac space explorer and the strange planetoid he and his two crewmates discover.  On said world, the animals play dead when startled, but when no one’s watching, they disappear.  It has a promising opening, but the end is no great shakes.  Three stars.

Then there’s William Stuart, who started with a bang and hasn’t quite recreated his initial spark.  The Real Hard Sell tells of a salesman in a world where selling is the only human profession remaining.  Like many of the stories in this issue, it is frightfully conventional except for its premise.  Still, as a satire of our current commercial practices, it’s not bad.  Three stars.

Now brace yourself – those were the good stories of the issue.

The Stainless Steel Knight is John Rackham’s attempt at humor featuring a hapless Terran agent, a faithful alien companion, and colonies that adhere to storybook milieus.  In this case, the planet the agent visits is modeled on England of the Middle Ages.  As to following the issue’s theme, the story is all about the agent’s mission to slay a “dragon”, a leftover automated tractor/combine that threatens to put the colonists’ serfs out of work.  Well, the Arthurian hijinx was better in Edward Eager’s Half Magic, the Middle English better in Anderson’s The High Crusade, and the medieval satire better in Pratt and De Camp’s The Incomplete Enchanter.  Two stars.

Once again, James T. McIntosh saves his dreck for IF.  He often can write so well, but Doormat World, about a returned colonist taking advantage of Earth’s spate of super-pacifism, is a poor, disgusting little piece.  One star.

A Taste of Tenure is a surprisingly clumsy piece by Gordon Dickson in which a businessman, promoted to the executive level, finds himself unable to discharge his predecessor’s secretary, protected as she is by the government’s strict “right to work” laws.  Again – interesting premise, but utterly conventional despite taking place two centuries from now, and the ending is a confused muddle.  Two stars.

Finally, we have The Junkmakers, by IF newcomer Albert Teichner.  It has a great concept: planned obsolescence taken to an absurd extreme: enormous communal potlaches are held at five year intervals and given an almost religious significance.  If there were any characters in this story, or much of a plot, it’d be a real winner.  As it is, it’s the outline of a piece for someone more skilled (Cordwainer Smith?) to develop into a masterpiece.  Two stars.

So there you have it.  A collection of stories by IF‘s reliable stable on an interesting theme that barely breaks the two-star barrier.  This is easily the worst issue of IF I’ve read.  Editor Fred Pohl better start enforcing some higher standards, or I predict this magazine will end up following the path trod smooth by Infinity, Venture, Imagination, and thirty other digests born in the 50s.

[May 21, 1961] Pineapple Upside-down Month (June 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Have you ever heard/seen Karl Orrf’s Carmina Burana?  It’s an opera of sorts, the performance of a set of medieval poems to music.  It is likely that you’re at least familiar with its opening number, the catchy Oh Fortuna!.  Well, having seen Carmina, I can tell you that even Orff knew there wasn’t much to the rest of the piece – as evidenced by the fact that Oh Fortuna! gets performed twice, once at the beginning and once at the end.  You can snooze through the rest.

This month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction is like Carmina: a tremendous beginning followed by a largely snoozeworthy remainder.  I suppose that, if you want to complete the analogy, you can simply read the opening piece again after finishing the book.  You probably will.

For Cordwainer Smith’s Alpha Ralpha Boulevard is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time.  Most tales of the future are either frustratingly conventional or completely opaque.  Not so in Boulevard, which features a world dominated by “Instrumentality”, an omniscient computer dedicated to the happiness of humanity.  16,000 years from now, after a placid, highly regulated existence, people are, at last, offered the luxury of uncertainty (or at least the illusion thereof). 

With just a few subtle strokes of his pen, Smith presents the trappings of an alien yet utterly believable world: the trio of reborn humans, programmed to think themselves French; the compelling homunculi, servant animals bred into a mockery of the human shape; the servile androids; the contrived movie-set surroundings; the ancient, decayed ruins of the old technology.  Moreover, Boulevard has a great story, the quest for meaning in a predestined world.  It’s a masterpiece – evocative and brilliant.  Five stars.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Crime on Mars is an adequate (but not exceptional) little art heist mystery.  I find it interesting that he publishes these very straight sf stories here rather than other, perhaps more suited, mags.  Perhaps there wasn’t room in the other digests (or perhaps F&SF pays the best rates!) Three stars.

George, on the other hand, by John Anthony West, is a dreadful slog: a henpecked husband slowly succumbs to a creeping paralysis over the course of an evening; the story is told mostly in shrill exchanges between the afflicted and his spouse.  One Star. 

Doris Pitkin Buck’s Birth of a Gardener is another domestic dispute piece with some vague nonsense about anti-matter.  Although Gardener makes good use of Buck’s personal expertise in horticulture, her knowledge of science is less complete.  Two stories.

Mark Twain’s reprinted A Curious Pleasure Excursion, an advertisement for a comet ride in the style of the great ocean cruises of the last century, is clever and funny — an all-too-brief island of quality in an sea of dreck (to continue the sailing metaphor).  Four stars.

Go for Baroque is the second woman-penned piece in the magazine, by mystery writer Jody Scott.  I think it’s about a crazy time traveler who cures the sane of our world with his chaotic, exuberant madness.  Maybe.  It’s hard to tell.  It is written in this “modern” style that I see more and more in more literary places, half stream-of-consciousness, half nonsense.  I really don’t like it.  Two stars.

By popular demand, I include this month’s pun-ishment, the latest tale of Ferdinand Feghoot.  Read at your personal peril.

Older writers are interesting.  They tend to stick to old techniques and tropes even as they adapt them to current themes.  Miriam Allen Deford’s, The Cage, reads like a Lovecraft tale, complete with a mad scientist regaling a young reporter of his horrifying plan.  In this case, it is the breeding of a race of super-insects to supplant humanity in the event of a nuclear war.  But the author somehow elevates the story to something more than the sum of its parts, steering it subtly to a thoughtful conclusion.  Three stars.

What do you get when you combine the carefree misogyny of Randall Garrett with the increasingly impenetrable prose of (the once masterful) Avram Davidson?  Why, Something Rich and Strange, about a connoisseur of seafood and women who sails off to find a mermaid to love, a task at which he is ultimately successful.  With many pages devoted to lurid descriptions of pescatory cuisine, I had a strong suspicion that the tale would end with the protagonist eating his fishy sweetheart.  Rather, it turns out that the siren is an old hag with, nevertheless, admirable culinary talents.  The punchline is thus, “She’s not much to look at, but she sure can cook!”  One star.

So perhaps I may end up owing my friend, Mike, a beer or two after all, since he may be right that 1961 will not be F&SF’s year to win the Best Magazine Hugo.  Normally my favorite of the Big Three SFF digests, F&SF came in at the bottom of the heap this month at just 2.75 stars.  Compare this to Analog’s 3 stars, and Galaxy’s stellar 3.5 stars. 

On the plus side, this month saw the most stories by women: four out of twenty-two.  I won’t call it a trend until I see this proportion again, of course.  Interestingly, the top contenders for Best Story were both written by Cordwainer Smith.  Maybe the fellow should start his own magazine…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[May 3, 1961] Passing the Torch (June 1961, Galaxy, 2nd Half)

Something is changing over at Galaxy magazine.

Horace Gold, Galaxy‘s editor, started the magazine in 1950, near the beginning of the post-pulp digest boom.  He immediately set a high bar for quality, with some of the best authors and stories, and including a top-notch science columnist (this was before Asimov transitioned from fiction).  Galaxy only once won the Best Magazine Hugo (in 1953, and that one it shared), but it paid well, eschewed hoary cliches, and all-in-all was a pillar of the field.  It was the magazine that got me into reading science fiction on a regular basis.

Warning bells started to clang in 1959.  The magazine went to a bi-monthly schedule (though at a somewhat increased size).  Author rates were slashed in half.  Gold, himself, suffering from battle fatigue-induced agoraphobia, became more erratic.  This new Galaxy was not a bad mag, but it slipped a few rungs. 

Fred Pohl came on last year.  He was not officially billed as the editor, but it was common knowledge that he’d taken over the reigns.  Pohl is an agent and author, a fan from the way-back.  I understand his plan has been to raise author rates again and bring back quality.  While he waits for the great stories to come back, he leavens the magazines with old stories from the “slush pile” that happen not to be awful.  In this way, Galaxy showcases promising new authors while keeping the quality of the magazine consistent.

The June 1961 Galaxy is the first success story of this new strategy.

Last issue, I talked about how Galaxy was becoming a milquetoast mag, afraid to take risks or deviate far from mediocrity.  This month’s issue, the first that lists Pohl as the “Managing Editor,” is almost the second coming of old Galaxy — daring, innovative, and with one exception, excellent. 

Take Cordwainer Smith’s Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons, in which an interplanetary ring of thieves tries to steal from the richest, and best defended planet, in the galaxy.  Smith has always been a master, slightly off-center in his style; his rich, literary writing is of the type more usually seen in Fantasy and Science FictionKittons is ultimately a mystery, the nature of the unique (in name and nature) “kittons” remaining unknown until the last.  A brutal, fascinating story, and an unique take on the future.  Five stars.

Breakdown is by Herbert D. Kastle, one of the aforementioned novices.  Despite his green status, he turned in an admirable piece involving a farmer who finds the world increasingly differing from his memories.  Is he sliding across alternate universe?  It is a cosmic prank?  A gripping story, suitable for adaptation to The Twilight Zone.  Four stars.

The one dud of the issue is Frank Herbert’s A-W-F Unlimited: thirty pages of pseudo-clever dialogue and inner monologue set in a mid-21st Century ad agency as its star executive attempts to fulfill a recruiting drive contract for the space corps.  I got through it, but only by dint of effort.  1 star.

Poul Anderson has another entry in his Time Patrol series, though My Object all Sublime does not betray this fact until the end.  It’s a slow, moody piece; the reflections of a man from the far future, flung into the worst areas of the past as punishment for a nameless crime.  In one thought-provoking passage, the condemned man notes that being from the future in no way guarantees superiority in the past, for most people are not engineers or scientists with sufficient knowledge to change the world.  Moreover, they arrive penniless, and who can make a difference without money?

This is actually a problem I’ve considered (i.e. what I’d do if ended up stuck far back in time).  While I probably wouldn’t recognize salt-peter if I smelled it, I suspect just introducing germ theory and Arabic numerals would be enough to carve a niche.  Zero must be the most influential nothing in the history of humanity…  I rate the story at four stars.

Rounding out the issue is Fred Saberhagen’s The Long Way Home.  Two thousand years from now, a (surprisingly conventional) man and wife-run mining ship discovers an enormous spacecraft out among the planetoids near Pluto.  How it got there and where it’s going pose enigmas that should keep you engaged until the end of this competently written tale.  Three stars.

In sum, the June 1961 Galaxy weighs in at a solid 3.5 stars.  If you skip the Herbert, you end up with a most impressive regular-length magazine.  Given that Pohl also edits Galaxy’s sister mag, IF (also a bi-monthly, alternating with Galaxy), I am eagerly looking forward to next month!