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[November 8, 1961] Points East (Air Travel and the December 1961 Galaxy)


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!

[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…

[March 24, 1961] The Second Sex in SF

1961.  The year that an Irishman named Kennedy assumed the highest office in the land.  The year in which some 17 African nations celebrated their first birthday.  The air smells of cigarette smoke, heads are covered with hats, and men run politics, industry, and much of popular culture.

In a field (and world) dominated by men, it is easy to assume that science fiction is as closed to women as the local Elks Lodge.  Who are the stars of the genre?  Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley; these are household names.  But if there is anything I have discovered in my 11 years as an avid science fiction fan (following another 20 of casual interest), it is that there is a slew of excellent woman authors who have produced a body of high quality work.  In fact, per my notes, women write just one ninth of the science fiction stories published, but a full fourth of the best works. 

For this reason, I’ve compiled a list of female science fiction writers active in this, the second year of the 1960s.  These authors are just the tip of the vanguard.  They are blazing a trail for women to one day share equally in the limelight…and the Hugos!

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Pauline Ashwell: This young British author is unusual in that her works are confined exclusively (so far as I can tell) to the usually rather stag Analog, the most conservative and widely distributed of the digests.  Her Unwillingly to School, and its recent sequel, The Lost Kafoozalum, were both Hugo-nominees.  Deservedly so, as they are both unique and a lot of fun.  They also feature a creature about as rare as the female author: the female protagonist!  Ashwell also wrote the off-the-wall alien/human friendship story, Big Sword, under the transparent pseudonym, Paul Ash.  More, please!

Leigh Brackett: A Californian, Brackett was a staple of the pulp era, writing a myriad of short stories and novels all the way through the middle of the last decade.  For some reason, she seems to have fallen off the genre radar in the last few years, but I understand she’s making a living at Hollywood and television screenwriting.  I am chagrined to report that I’ve not read a single one of her stories, and I worry that I’d find them dated.  I’d be happy to be wrong.  Recommendations?

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Young Bradley has been writing for at least a decade, but her works have tended to appear in the magazines to which I don’t have subscriptions, with the notable exception of The Wind People, which appeared in IF at the end of Damon Knight’s short-lived tenure as its editor.  She’s just come out with her first book, The Door through Space, which is sitting on my “To Read” shelf.  She’s a bit of an odd duck, having recently founded her own occult religion, the Aquarian Order of the Restoration, filled with trances, discovery of past lives, and clairvoyance.  I guess if L. Ron Hubbard can do it…

Rosel George Brown: I’m on firmer ground with Ms. Brown, an author whom I have watched with avid interest since she first appeared in Galaxy in 1958.  Her stories hinted at a great talent, and her stories had something to recommend them, even if they were not perfect successes.  Her talent flowered with the excellent Step IV, which appeared in Amazing, and her recent Of all possible worlds was even better.  An unabashedly feminine, inarguably terrific writer; I can’t wait to read what she pens next.

Miriam Allen Deford: One of the eldest (ahem…most seasoned!) of the woman authors, Ms. Deford has been writing since the 1920s, though she did not enter our genre in a big way until Fantasy and Science Fiction inaugurated in 1949.  Since then, she has turned out a steady stream of stories.  Their common elements are her slightly quaint style, her versatility (writing horror, mystery, and “straight” sf with equal facility), and her consistency.  She is solid, if not brilliant, and generally a welcome addition to any magazine’s table of contents.

Carol Emshwiller: Say the name “Emshwiller” and you probably first think of the illustrator, Ed Emshwiller, whose drawings have appeared in hundreds (if not thousands) of magazines.  But Carol Emshwiller, who married into that improbable surname, has also appeared frequently in scientifiction magazines.  I am once again embarrassed to confess that I’ve only read one of her stories thus far (this is what comes of only having time to read three digests a month; curse my need for a day job!) Perhaps one of my readers can tell me if A Day at the Beach was representative of her work; I recall enjoying it.  In fact, while I called it forgettable, I still remember it two years later, so I must have been wrong!

I’m going to pause at this point because the list is actually quite lengthy, and I think it merits presentation in multiple parts.  I apologize for the scantiness of my knowledge in places; until one invents a comprehensive Encyclopedia for science fiction works, whereby one can retrieve information about, and stories by, any given author, any one person’s viewpoint will be limited.  I do hope I’ve whetted your appetite, however, and that you will seek out these authors’ work.

See you in a couple of days!

[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.

[June 9, 1960] To Pluto and the Future (July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

I was recently told that my reviews are too negative, and that I should focus on telling the world about the good stuff; for that hopeful fan, I present my assessment of the July 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction.  There’s not a clunker in the bunch, and if none of the stories is a perfect gem, several are fine stones nevertheless.

My receipt of this month’s issue was accompanied by no small measure of eagerness.  The cover promised me two stories by female authors (Zenna Henderson and Miriam Allen deFord) as well as a novella by Wilson Tucker, who wrote the excellent The City in the Sea.  Here’s what I found inside:

Stephen Barr is no stranger to Fantasy and Science Fiction, having appeared in the book twice before.  His lead short story, Oh I’ll take the High Road is softer stuff than his usual science fictiony fare, but I enjoyed it.  It features a poet scientist, who invents a thought-propelled space drive, and the eternal love he shares with a professor’s daughter.  Where he ends up, and how that love endures, makes for a pleasant (if not particularly remarkable) story.

I’d never head of Hollis Alpert before.  His newness may explain the unusual nature of his premiere science fiction piece, a mock academic presentation called The Simian Problem, in which a professor discusses the relatively recent (fictional) phenomenon that involves women giving birth to degenerate ape children.  The occurrence of such “monsters” is on the exponential increase, it seems, and an effective treatment remains elusive.  The format meanders jarringly from first person expository to dialogue, but the sting in the story’s tail is worth waiting for.

Moving on, we have the delightful Theodore Cogswell with The Burning, a portrayal of a dystopic future from the point of view of a most unusual teen gangster.  Those involved in a certain ubiquitous youth organization may get more out of it than I did.

Zenna Henderson is always good, of course.  Her Things is the story of a first encounter between an alien aboriginal race, told from the point of view of its female spiritual leader, and humanity.  The Terrans bring all manner of technological gifts, but are they worth the physical and philosophical price?  Should one sacrifice one’s very cultural identity for the chance to “progress” scientifically?  Tough questions, and Henderson pulls no punches.

I wasn’t quite sure how to react to A.H.Z.Carr’s It is not my fault, though upon reflection (and the measure of a good story is how much it makes you reflect), I think it’s quite good.  In brief: when a down-on-his-luck fellow collapses and dies in broad daylight near a busy thoroughfare, a momentarily attentive God dispatches an angel to determine who was at fault for the miserable death and dispense punishment.  Sometimes justice isn’t so easy as all that.

Then we have Miriam Allen deFord’s All in Good Time, another first person exposition story.  In this case, the setting is a first year law classroom a century from now, but this is largely incidental to the plot, which involves a cross-time bigamist.  It’s cute, and the presentation is more expertly handled than in the above-described Alpert story.  I particularly appreciated that, in the future, female lawyers seem to be as common as male ones.

Ever wonder what to give the fellow who’s had everything?  What is Heaven to someone who enjoyed life to its fullest?  Gordy Dickson asks those questions in his excellent The Last Dream.  Of course, for many, just being close to the Almighty is reward enough, but most like to think of Heaven (if it exist) providing physical benefits, too.  I bet the doughnuts are fantastic, for instance.  And non-fattening.

Dr. Asimov has a good, timely article on Pluto and what lies beyond this month.  It was one of my motivations for writing my own piece on the subject.  He spends a good bit of space on the interesting Titius-Bode Law that seems to govern orbital spacing in our system, at least out to Uranus.  I’m still not convinced that the “Law” isn’t a statistical fluke–I look forward to being able to resolve systems outside ours so we can have a data set larger than one.

Fair Trade, by Avram Davidson, reads like a Clifford Simak piece.  A pair of aliens make a forced landing in a backwoods town and party the natives before being rescued by another alien-crewed ship.  Before departing, they swap their super-knives for a local manufactured good.  Its identity is not disclosed until the end.  One of the few non-somber pieces from the author.

Finally, we have Wilson Tucker’s To the Tombaugh Station, a very good, novella-sized mystery involving a man, an asteroid miner by trade, suspected of murder, a tough woman bounty hunter sent to investigate him, and the long long trip across the solar system they spend together.  Wilson Tucker has a penchant for writing strong female characters, and he does an excellent job here.  The whodunnit aspect is nicely done, too. 

I note that there is a Planet X beyond Pluto in this story, Tombaugh Station having been established solely for the purpose of investigating it.  Tucker, at least in the instant tale, subscribes to the popular theory that Pluto was once a moon of Neptune. 

Tallying up the numbers, we have a strong 3.5-star issue, well worth your time and 40 cents.  See you soon with something Amazing!

[Feb. 23, 1960] Cepheid Oscillations (March 1960 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

From the depths of mediocrity to the peaks of quality, it looks like our long literary winter may finally be over.  Perhaps the groundhog didn’t see a shadow this year.

First, we had an uncharacteristically solid Astounding.  This month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction is similarly exceptional without a clunker in the bunch, and some standouts besides.

I used to see Poul Anderson’s name and cringe.  The author who had impressed me so much with 1953’s Brainwave turned out consistent dreck for the next several years, though to be fair, he generally did so within the pages of Campbell’s magazine, not Boucher’s.  A couple of years ago he got back into his groove, and his stuff has been generally quite good again. 

He has the lead novella in the March F&SF, The Martyr, set in a far future in which humanity has met a race of clearly superior psionicists.  We are so jealous of these powers, and the possessors so unwilling to give up their secrets, that a small human contingent takes several aliens prisoner to coerce the secrets of psi out of them.  But what if it’s a secret better left unrevealed?

It’s a beautiful story, but there is nastiness here, and it can be a rough read in places.  It is no less recommended for that, however.  Just giving fair warning.

Ray Bradbury is an author I’ve never held in much regard, but his Death and the Maiden, about a withered rural crone who shuts herself in an ancient house in defense against mortality, isn’t bad. 

It doesn’t even suffer too badly when compared to Ted Sturgeon’s subsequent Like Young, perhaps because the subject matter is so different (Ray was less successful when both he and Ted wrote mermaid stories in quick succession, Ted’s being, by far, the superior.) In Sturgeon’s tale, the last surviving 504 humans, rendered sterile by radiation, decide to give their race a kind of immortality by planting cultural and scientific relics so as to bootstrap humanity’s evolutionary successor.  The joke is on us in the end, however.

John Collier’s Man Overboard is an atmospheric piece about a dilettante sea captain pursuing an elusive sea-going Loch Ness Monster.  It feels old, like something written decades ago.  I suspect that is a deliberate stylistic choice, and it’s effective.

Then we have a cute little Sheckley: The Girls and Nugent Miller, another story set in a post-atomic, irradiated world.  Is a pacifist professor any match against a straw man’s Feminist and her charge of beautiful co-eds?  The story should offend me, but I recognize a tongue permanently affixed to the inside of the cheek when I see one.

Miriam Allen DeFord has a quite creepy monster story aptly called, The Monster, with an almost Lovecraftian subject (the horror in the cemetery that feeds on children) but done with a more subdued style and with quite the kicker of an ending.

The Good Doctor (Isaac Asimov) is back to form with his non-fiction article on the measuring of interstellar distances, The Flickering Yardstick.  I must confess with some chagrin that, despite my astronomical education, I was always a bit vague on how we learned to use Cepheid variable stars to compute galactic distances (their pulsation frequency is linked to their brightness, which allows us to determine how far away they are).  Asimov explains it all quite succinctly, and I was gratified to see a woman astronomer was at the center of the story (a Henrietta Leavitt).


“Pickering’s harem,” the computers of astronomer Edward Pickering (Leavitt is standing)

Avram Davidson has a fun one-pager called Apres Nous wherein a dove is sent to the future only to return wet and exhausted with an olive leaf in its mouth.  I didn’t get the punchline until I looked up the quote in a book of quotations.

The remainder of the issue is filled with a most excellent Clifford Simak novella, All the Traps of Earth, in which a centuries-old robot, no longer having a human family to serve, escapes inevitable memory-wiping and repurposing by fleeing to the stars.  We’ve seen the “robot as slave” allegory before in Galaxy’s Installment Plan.  In fact, it was Cliff, himself, who wrote it, and I remember being uncomfortable with his handling of the metaphor in that story. 

I had no such problems this time—it’s really a beautiful story of emancipation and self-realization, by the end of which, the indentured servant has become a benevolent elder.  A fine way to end a great issue.

So pick up a copy if you can.  At 40 cents (the second-cheapest of the Big Four), it’s a bargain.


“Spacecraft landing on the Moon” – cover artwork without overprinting – Mel Hunter

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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[Oct. 30, 1959] Tricks and Treats (November 1959 if Science Fiction

The new IF Science Fiction magazine, now under the Galaxy aegis, is an odd duck.  Not quite a literary book, like F&SF, not an antediluvian throwback like Astounding, and not as polished as its older brother, Galaxy, IF is nevertheless generally a worthy read.

I don’t think it’s just a repository for substandard Galaxy submissions—the stories in IF are different in style and tone.  I think, if anything, it’s more of a showcase for experimental stuff and new authors.

As such, we get to see a lot of fresh faces, but not necessarily the best tales.  Here are my impressions from the November issue, the third under Gold/Pohl’s editorial helm:

First up is If You Wish, by John Rackham, in which a confirmed bachelor botanist secluded in a space-based greenhouse, is burdened with a female-form robot assistant, with whom he (grudgingly) falls in love.  Traditionally, IF has stuck its best submissions right up front, but not this time.  It’s not bad, exactly, and there is some quite good writing in here, as well as a lot of interesting and detailed stuff on Venusian botany, but it reads a bit like a wish-fulfillment daydream.  It also strikes me as overly fannish that the robot’s name is “Susan Calvin,” and direct reference is made to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. 

On the other hand, the two characters are pretty well-drawn, the protagonist is unfailingly a gentleman, albeit a somewhat neurotic one, and in the end, it’s Susan who’s in control of the situation the whole time.  By the way, if you don’t spot the “twist” in the first few pages, you’re not trying.

Miriam Allen deFord has been around for a while.  Her Nor Snow Nor Rain starts out so well, but it ends with a whimper.  A retiring postal worker comes upon a mystery on his last day—the office to which he must deliver his last parcels doesn’t exist!  Being a science fiction fan (the first I’ve read about in a science fiction story, and a nice piece of portraying someone with multiple interests), he comes up with a number of explanations, which serve as effective red herrings.

Sadly, the actual explanation is the least interesting and the most hackneyed.  Again, good writing but flawed execution.

I did not like Good-by, Gloria by “Ted Bain” (really the prolific Britisher, E.C.Tubb).  Spacers working for an insufferably perfect captain decide to leave stranded an insufferably perfect female castaway, who has bootstrapped herself a la Tarzan, for fear that she and the captain will have insufferably perfect children.  It’s supposed to be funny; it comes off as heartless.  And dumb. 

The talented J.T.McIntosh’ Return of a Prodigal is an altogether different matter.  It is more bitter than sweet, but it’s also defiant and triumphant, and it stars a very compelling female lead.  In brief: about six generations from now, the Moon is colonized.  It turns out that a decent proportion of humanity suffers from incurable and potentially fatal spacesickness.  As a result, the Moon colony (the beautifully conceived and described Luna City) becomes a haven for hereditary “viaphobes,” those who cannot go anywhere else to live.  They are a proud bunch, and they refuse to admit that they have a disorder; they can leave whenever they want, they maintain.

At the tender age of 18, a girl named Clare, overshadowed by her pretty older sister, Emma, decides to go to New York on Earth and expose viaphobia publicly.  The ensuing article shames the lunar residents, and Clare is essentially banished.  Some ten years later, after a failed marriage on a colony world, Clare returns to Luna City, and that is where the story begins.

I don’t want to spoil any more, even though I do not have permission from Mr. McIntosh to distribute the tale.  All I can say is that it’s worth finding and reading.  I’m not sure if it’s a 4 or 5 star story, but I suspect I will go for 5 since there’s nothing wrong with it—it’s just a little hard to take at times.

Wynne Whiteford has the next entry: The Gelzek Business.  Alien female engineer and temptress convinces two men to back production of her gizmos despite her secretiveness regarding their actual function.  It’s an unsatisfying story, one of the weaker entries.  I’m still waiting for an unflawed Whiteford piece. 

Jerry Sohl’s Counterweight, about the extreme measures taken to keep several thousand colonists sane on a year-long trip to an interstellar colony, is diverting, well-written, but unremarkable.  The solution, having one of the crew commit a slew of crimes to invoke the wrath of the passengers, seems awfully silly. 

I did enjoy E.C. Tubb’s other story in this book, the thriller, Orange.  On a world with the universe’s most valuable substance, guarded by a race of psionic aliens, money is king.  And the only way to make money is to own a trading concession.  One can duel a concession-holder for such a prize, which makes life interesting indeed.  This story details one such duel and the unorthodox way in which it turns out.  It’s the most Galaxy-style of all of the stories in this ish, I think.

All told, the November issue comes up a 3-star mag.  This is misleading, however, given the wide inconsistency of its contents.  IF may end up being one of the greats someday.  It’s certainly a damnsight better than Astounding.

Sorry about the late edition.  I didn’t have much to report on before, and now my typewriter is busted.  Expect the next update in a few days.  At least the next lovely crop of magazines has arrived in my mail.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

(Note: It is not clear who drew the internal artwork–credit goes to “Harrison, Morrow, and Emsh.”  I’m guessing the art for Prodigal is Emsh’s.


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Decmber 1958 F&SF, 1st half (11-03-1958)

I’m afraid this month’s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) thus far has been a bit of a let-down.  I recognize that this sister magazine to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine has a reputation to uphold as the most “literary” of the Big Three science fiction digests (a lofty standing it shares with Galaxy and Astounding), but I think it has gone a bit too far.

Perhaps it’s the doing of the new editor, Robert P. Mills, who took the reins when Anthony Boucher stepped down to pursue a more active writing career.  Maybe this is what the audience wants.  Maybe it’s a phase.  In any event, the stories are all long on imagery and short on plot and/or comprehensibility.  I know I’m prone to writing purplish prose, and I’ve certainly got a strong snobbish streak, but this month’s stories go too far even for me.

“The Eye and the Lightning” is an Algis Budrys-penned tale about a future in which (I think) scanning devices have given people almost unlimited ability to surveil, to destroy, and to teleport.  People live in constant fear of being murdered at any moment by an unknown assailant who tired of his peepshow subject.  They go to town swaddled in concealing clothes as some version of the Law of Contagion makes it easier to be a target of surveillance and attack if some of your clothes, skin or blood falls into someone else’s possession.  This tale chronicles what happens when one of the inhabitants of this dystopia invents a detector that allows a scanned person to identify and retaliate against his or her scanner.

Very atmospheric, but it didn’t make much sense to me.

Asimov’s science article goes too far in the other direction, perhaps.  It is a primer on escape velocity, the minimum speed necessary to escape a body’s gravity.  There is not much to it.  We would have been just as well served had he just submitted the charts showing escape velocity by planet without bothering with the explanation.

“Pink Caterpillar” is Tony Boucher’s recent foray into writing: a mildly cute, but somewhat fluffy story about the paradox caused by the impossibility of being in two places (or times) at once.

At least I understood it.  The same cannot be said for Fritz Leiber’s “Poor Little Miss MacBeth,” which (I think?) is about an old witch in a post-apocalyptic setting.  It’s a short mood piece, and it doesn’t make any sense.  Perhaps one of my three fans can read it and tell me what a dunce I am.

The final tale of the first half of the magazine is “Timequake,” by Miriam Allen Deford.  Per the editorial forward, she’s written a lot, but I’ve never heard of her.  This story is about the consequences of the clock resetting 12 hours into the past, eliminating all actions done in that period, but leaving the memories of everyone intact.  An interesting, if silly, premise.  It’s turned into a trivial, short tale.

Oh well.  Here’s hoping Part 2 comprises more substantial stuff.

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