by Gideon Marcus
How small the world has gotten!
Less than a decade ago, trans-oceanic travel was limited to the speed of a propeller. If you journeyed by boat, as many still do, it would take two weeks to cross the Pacific. Airplanes were faster – with a couple of stops, one could get from California to the Orient in less than two days. As a journalist and travel columnist, I spent a good amount of time in both hemispheres during the early 1950s. I got to be quite seasoned at the travel game.
I have to tell you, things are so much faster these days. The jet engine has cut flight times in half, taking much of the tedium out of travel. Oh, sure, I always had plenty to do in the air, between writing and reading and planning my next adventures, but for my poor fellow travelers, there was little to do but drink, smoke, and write letters. For hours and hours.
These days, the Journey is my primary occupation. I can do it from anywhere, and I often do, bringing my family along with me. As we speak, I am writing out this article with the roar of the Japan Airlines DC-8’s jets massaging my ears, music from pneumatic headphone cords joining the mix. It’s a smooth ride, too. It would be idyllic, if not for the purple clouds of tobacco smoke filling the cabin. But again, I suffer this annoyance for half the time as before. I’ll abide.
We’ve just lifted off from Honolulu, and in less than 8 hours, we will touch down at Haneda airport, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan’s capital. We will be in the Land of the Rising Sun for two weeks, visiting friends and taking in the local culture. I’ll be sure to tell you all about our adventures, but don’t worry. I’ve also brought along a big stack of books and magazines so I can continue to keep you informed on the latest developments in science fiction. Moreover, I’m sure we’ll see a movie or two, and we’ll report on those, too.
Speaking of reports, I’ve just finished up this month’s Galaxy Science Fiction. I almost didn’t recognize this December issue as it lacks the usual fanciful depiction of St. Nick. Instead, it features an illustration from Poul Anderson’s new novel, The Day After Doomsday, whose first part takes up a third of the double-sized magazine. As usual, I won’t cover the serial until it’s done, but Anderson has been reliable of late, and I’ve high hopes.
The rest of the magazine maintains and perhaps even elevates Galaxy’s solid record. The first short story is Oh, Rats!, by veteran Miriam Allen DeFord (the first of three woman authors in this book!) Rats reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone — I could practically hear Serling’s narrating voice as the story of SK540, a super-rat bent on world domination, unfolded. Tense and tight, if not innovative. Three stars.
Willy Ley has returned to original form with his latest non-fiction article, Dragons and Hot-Air Balloons. Did the Montgolfier brothers get their lighter-than-aircraft ideas from the Chinese? Have balloons been around since the Middle Ages? Has the winged ancestor of the pterosaurs been discovered? And, as an aside, did the Nazis really invent the biggest cannon ever? Good stuff. Four stars.
Satisfaction Guaranteed is a cute tale of interstellar commerce by Joy Leache. Washed up salesman and his assistant try to figure out a profitable-enough endeavor for the elf-like denizens of Felix II such that they might join the Galactic Federation. It’s a genuinely funny piece. I’ve only one complaint: very early on, it is made clear that the woman assistant is the brains of the operation, yet she feels compelled to give credit the the fellow. I prefer my futures looking a little less like the present! Three stars.
Now, Algis Budrys, on the other hand, has no trouble breaking with the familiar entirely. His Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night, involving a corporate executive whose plan to release television’s successor is thwarted by a seemingly immortal competitor, is a chilling mystery. Just what gift did the Martians grant the businessman’s rival to make him so powerful? And was it really a boon after all? Four stars.
R.A. Lafferty tones his whimsical style down just a touch in his latest, Rainbird. It’s a sort of biography of one Higgston Rainbird, an inventor who could have been, in fact was the greatest tinkerer in human history. It just goes to show that a person’s greatest ally, and also one’s greatest impediment, is oneself. Four stars.
An Old Fashioned Bird Christmas is Margaret St. Clair’s contribution, delivered in that off-beat, slightly macabre, but ever-poetic fashion that is her trademark. A story of good vs. evil, of Luddism vs. progress, archaic religion vs. new, and with a strong lady protagonist to boot! Four stars.
We’re treated to a second piece of science fact by Theodore L. Thomas, called The Watery Wonders of Captain Nemo. Thomas praises the literary great, Jules Verne, for his writing skill, but then excoriates the French author’s use (or rather, lack of use) of science. Every technical aspect of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is evaluated and picked apart. To hear Thomas tell it, Verne knew about as much about science as his contemporary laymen…perhaps less. An interesting blend of education and critique. Three stars.
The issue is wraps up with a bang: The Little Man who wasn’t Quite, by William W. Stuart, is a hard-hitting piece about the horror that lies at the bottom of Skid Row. A sensitive piece by a fellow who seems to know, it’s the kind of gripping thing Daniel Keyes might have turned in for F&SF. Five stars.
And so Galaxy ends the year on a strong note. Fred Pohl, now firmly in the editor’s seat, has done a fine job helming one of s-f’s finest digests into the 1960s. This is the kind of magazine that could win the Hugo – it may well secure the Galactic Star this year. It all depends on how F&SF is this month, the two are that close.
Next up… an article from our British correspondent, Ashley Pollard!