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[April 12, 1962] Don’t Bug Me (May 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

April is the cruelest month — T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Maybe it’s because it’s almost time to mail in those tax forms to Uncle Sam, or maybe it’s because of the tension between President Kennedy and the steel companies, or maybe it’s because Jack Parr left his television series (which will now be known by the boring, generic title The Tonight Show), or maybe it’s because the constant radio play of the smash hit Johnny Angel by actress Shelley Fabares of The Donna Reed Show is driving me out of my mind, or maybe it’s because of George Schelling’s B movie cover art for the May 1962 issue of Fantastic; but for whatever reason your faithful correspondent approached the contents of the magazine with a leery eye.

I must admit that Murray Leinster’s lead novelette Planet of Dread did little to improve my mood.  The melodramatic title fits this old-fashioned adventure story.  Our hero has killed a man – for good reason, you will not be surprised to find out – and becomes a stowaway on a spaceship with a group of political revolutionaries.  Once discovered, his only choices are to be killed or stranded alone on a distant planet.  Unsurprisingly, he chooses the latter.  The ship arrives on a world where a badly botched effort at terraforming has resulted in – you guessed it – giant spiders and other creepy crawly critters. 

Thus we have the literary equivalent of Them!, Tarantula, The Black Scorpion, Beginning of the End, The Deadly Mantis, Earth vs the Spider, Monster from Green Hell, Cosmic Monsters, and all those other Big Bug movies of the past decade.  Under attack, the revolutionaries prove to be either Good Guys or Bad Guys.  There’s also one female aboard the ship, whose role is to be the Girl.  Leinster is an old pro at this sort of thing, but the corny nature of the plot forces me to dismiss the story with two stars.

Wildly different in style and content is The Survey Trip by controversial writer David R. Bunch.  It’s a bizarre, surreal tale in which the narrator, rolling along in a beach ball, encounters a man in a heart-shaped metal suit.  Together they visit places like Knockjonesbrainsout and meet people like Miss 9-to-5-No-Time-Off-For-Lunch.  It’s all very strange and probably symbolic.  Some people will hate it.  The story is short enough not to wear out its welcome, and the sheer weirdness of it held my interest, so I’ll give it three stars.

A few months ago Jesse Roarke appeared in the pages of Fantastic with an intriguing, if overwritten, allegory entitled Atonement.  The new story from this fledging author is similar.  Ripeness is All takes place in a future which at first seems idyllic.  All needs are taken care of by technology.  Androids act as one’s servants and lovers.  Yet the protagonist feels that something is missing.  He begins by seeking out a library to learn as much as he can from books.  Soon he leaves the utopian city and heads out into the wilderness, where he meets with farmers, warriors (who fight but never kill), artists, and philosophers.  After rejecting all of these, he discovers his own purpose in life.  Although some of the writing is a bit flowery, the story is an interesting fable, worthy of three stars.

“The Piebald Hippogriff” by Karen Anderson (married to Poul Anderson) is a light confection.  It’s a brief, charming account of a boy, the hippogriff he tames, and the land of flying islands in which they dwell.  Three stars for this tasty trifle.

English-born author A. Bertram Chandler (now living Down Under as an Australian citizen) appears under his pseudonym George Whitley with Change of Heart, reprinted from the British magazine New Worlds.  A castaway tells his rescuers of his encounters with dolphins and whales which led him to believe there is more to these animals than meets the eye.  The author’s experience as a merchant marine officer ensures that this tale of the mysteries of the sea is realistic and convincing.  Three stars.

Last and probably least is Double or Nothing by Jack Sharkey, resident comedian for editor Cele Goldsmith.  His latest farce involves two inventors whose gizmos always do something other than intended.  In this case a device intended to provide a way to escape the Earth’s gravity turns out to duplicate whatever it comes in contact with.  Shooting off into the sky, it soon manufactures copies of everything (including cornflakes) and the story becomes a variation on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  The biggest problem is that the author does not provide any kind of conclusion at all.  He simply presents the situation and leaves it unresolved.  Two weak stars.

***

Although the meaty middle of this literary sandwich provided me with some satisfaction, the bland slices of bread surrounding its interior left me still hungry.  How does it sate your appetite?

[February 7, 1962] Funny Business (March 1962 Fantastic)


by Victoria Silverwolf

Dying is easy; comedy is hard.

These famous last words, ascribed to many a noted actor on his deathbed, are probably apocryphal.  Even if nobody ever really uttered them before taking his last breath, they do suggest the difficulty of provoking amusement in one’s audience.  This is at least as true of speculative fiction as of the stage.

A quick glance at the Hugo winners, for example, reveals that only one humorous piece has won the prize.  Eric Frank Russell’s 1955 Astounding short story Allamagoosa, a comic tale of bureaucratic foul-ups, stands alone among more serious works. 

This is not to say that there are not many talented writers as dedicated to Thalia as to Melpomene.  From the wit of Fritz Leiber to the satire of Robert Sheckley, from the whimsical musings of R. A. Lafferty to the tomfoolery of Ron Goulart, readers in search of smiles and belly laughs have many choices.  In less adept hands, unfortunately, humorous science fiction can degrade into childish slapstick and sophomoric puns.

The March issue of Fantastic is dominated by comedy, so let’s take a look at it with a light heart.

Lloyd Birmingham’s silly cover art seems to have been the inspiration for the lead novelette.  The introductory blurb for Robotum Delenda Est! by Jack Sharkey proudly announces that we are about to enjoy a farce, so I was expecting something closer to the Three Stooges than Oscar Wilde.

Written with tongue firmly in cheek, the opening sections of the story take the form of a report on an unusual incident.  A robot suddenly appears on Earth, seemingly from nowhere.  As it makes its way eastward across the United States, from Arizona to Washington, D.C., stopping now and then to steal electricity from power lines and guzzle gasoline from service stations, all attempts to communicate with it or stop it end in failure.  Its motivation remains a mystery until the end of the story, after much chaos ensues.

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this story.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author maintains a mock serious tone throughout, which highlights the absurd aspects of the plot.  The revelation of the robot’s intention was clever and surprising.  Three stars.

These robotic hijinks are followed by another humorous tale.  I was unsure whether to review the first half of Joyleg, a short novel by Ward Moore and Avram Davidson which is scheduled to conclude next issue.  After some thought, I decided to go ahead.  I’m glad I did, because the pleasure of reading it doesn’t come from its fairly simple plot, which would have left me in suspense for a month, but from its wry tone and spritely style.

During a routine meeting of the Congressional Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, a pair of representatives of opposite political parties, both from the state of Tennessee, discover that a man with the unlikely name of Isachar Z. Joyleg has been receiving a monthly pension of eleven dollars for some time.  The Democratic representative, a man, is outraged that he is being paid such a paltry sum.  The Republican representative, a woman, demands proof that he has served during wartime or was disabled in the line of duty, lest the government’s money be wasted. 

(In case any of my readers who do not happen to reside in the Volunteer State, as I do, think it unlikely that a member of Congress from Tennessee would be either a Republican or female, allow me to point out a couple of facts.  The First and Second Congressional Districts, located in the northeastern part of the state, have been firmly Republican since the 1880’s, unlike the rest of the state, which can be thought of as part of the Solid South.  As far as the possibility of a woman holding that position goes, the current representative from the First District is Louise G. Reece, who took that position upon the death of her husband, the previous officeholder.  The fictional Congresswoman in the story is said to be a widow, and the reader is apparently supposed to assume that her background is similar.)

Further research reveals that Joyleg has been receiving these payments at least as far back as the Civil War, beyond which there are no records.  The Republican sees this as a clear case of fraud, while the Democrat imagines the possibility of a veteran of the War Between the States more than a century old, barely surviving on a tiny pension.  Since the microscopic community in which he resides is on the border between their two districts, each one claiming that it belongs to the other, they both decide to pay a visit to investigate the situation.

The rest of this half of the novel is taken up with the difficult journey to Joyleg’s extraordinarily remote home, via train, automobile, mule, and foot.  Much of the story’s comedy comes from the culture shock between the politicians from Washington and the country folks in the deepest part of the backwoods.  Fortunately, the local inhabitants never become stereotypical hillbillies, and the authors seem to have a certain amount of respect for their traditional, no-nonsense ways.

Much of the pleasure of the novel comes from the collaborators’ evident delight in words for their own sake.  In addition to the unusual name of the title character, we have such things as railroad cars with designations like Monomotapa and Gondwanaland.  When we finally meet Joyleg, he speaks in archaic language.  Unlike much dialect in fiction, which is often tedious to read, Joyleg’s speeches are always lively and colorful.

I look forward to the second half, and I’d be willing to bet a reasonable amount of money – eleven dollars, perhaps? – that the two bickering representatives will wind up in each other’s arms.  Four stars.

Editor Cele Goldsmith offers us another first story in this issue, with Decision by Robert H. Rohrer, Jr.  This brief story begins with a politician making a speech which is interrupted by a shout from the crowd.  We quickly shift point of view to a group of characters in charge of departments like Audio and Visual who seem to be controlling the politician’s actions, and who face a crisis.  You’ll probably figure out who what’s going on, but the story’s idea is an interesting one.  Three stars.

This issue’s Fantasy Classic is The Darkness on Fifth Avenue by Murray Leinster, reprinted from the November 30, 1929 issue of Argosy.  It’s a crime story with a mad scientist who has invented a gizmo which creates total darkness, allowing criminals to terrorize New York City without being seen.  There’s plenty of action, but I found it tedious.  The story is also full of stereotypes.  We have the heroic cop, the wisecracking girl reporter, the heavily accented German scientist, and, most embarrassingly, the cowardly Negro elevator operator.  It may be of historical interest as a part of the early career of a major figure in science fiction, but it’s not enjoyable to read.  One star.

I was greatly enjoying this issue until I got to the last story, and I’m not trying to be funny.

[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!

[January 12, 1961] A matter of taste (February 1961 Galaxy, Part 2)

How should I rate a story which is objectively well done, but which I just don’t like? 

We taught our daughter manners at a very early age.  When she encountered a food she didn’t enjoy, she was to say, “This is not to my taste,” rather than something more forceful and potentially bruising of feelings.  I recognize that my readers are turned on by different things than I am; one person’s trash is another’s treasure, etc.  But at the end of every review, I have to come up with a numerical score, and that score necessarily reflects my views on a piece. 

This conundrum is particularly acute with the current issue of Galaxy, dated February 1961.  None of the stories are bad.  Many are well crafted, but I found the subject matter in some of them unpleasant.  But they may be the bees knees for you.  Take my reviews with that disclaimer in mind, and you should be all right.

I covered the first half the issue time-before-last.  I’d rated all of the stories a solid three stars–reader feedback indicated that they liked the stories more than I (which is what led to the musings with which I started this column).  Part two begins with C.C.MacApp’s The Drug.  Is the ability to transcend one’s consciousness beyond one’s skull the key to eternal health and happiness?  An exploration of a fun idea as well as a pleasant slice-of-life depiction.  Three stars.

Gordy Dickson is back with An Honorable Death, contrasting a decadent but advanced Terran society with a primitive, vibrant aboriginal culture.  It’s got a wicked sting in its tail.  This is one of those stories that made me uneasy, but whose quality is undeniable.  Three stars… but you may give it more.

One of my readers once said that he “bounces” off Daniel Galouye, a writer with real talent, but whose writing is not to everyone’s taste.  I happen to like his stuff quite a lot, though his latest, The Chaser, about two spacewrecked fellows on a planet whose population is engaged solely in romantic games of tag, doesn’t seem to have much of a point.  Three stars.

Damon Knight offers the cutting and unpleasant Auto-da-fe, about the last man on Earth and the 59 sentient canines over whom he reigns.  As he reaches his last years of life, will he allow the dogs to breed and thus become master of the Earth?  Another off-putting story of high quality.  Three stars.

Rounding things out is a delightful novelette from the master of interstellar adventure, Murray Leinster.  Doctor shows us a galactic polity of humans imperiled by a plague that appears unstoppable, but is, for the moment, limited in scope.  Just one planet has succumbed, but its sole survivor, a precocious 10-year old girl who has lived her life in an aseptic bubble, has been shipped off-world in defiance of quarantine.  Is she infected?  If so, has she doomed the inhabited universe to destruction?  Or is she the key to the plague’s eradication?  Leinster’s viewpoint character, the spaceship’s doctor who must deal with the enormity of the situation, is a compelling one, and I greatly liked the relationship forged between him and the girl.  Four stars.

Add it all up, and you’ve got an issue that barely tops three stars–enjoyable, but not superlative.  I don’t think that tells the whole tale, however.  Galaxy (and its sister, IF) are taking chances, and for that, they are to be commended.  I’m very interested to know how you feel about these stories.  Drop me a line, would you?

My editor says I’ll get more response if I include a picture of a pretty girl and a cat…  Is she right?

[Dec. 8, 1960] Signs of Aging (Murray Leinster’s The Wailing Asteroid)

If anyone can claim the title of “Dean of Modern Science Fiction,” it is Murray Leinster.  For decades, the gentle old man of the genre has turned out exciting interstellar adventures leavened with humor and hard science. 

But old men are prone to losing their faculties, and I fear we’re seeing the first signs of it.

I was sent an advance copy of Leinster’s latest novel, The Wailing Asteroid, last month.  The premise is excellent: a few years from now, an object within the solar system suddenly begins broadcasting a repeating plaintive musical message.  The transmission is indecipherable, but clearly of artificial origin and of automatic nature.  A wunderkind engineer by name of Joe Burke realizes he’s heard this music before, in a dream he’s had since he was 11, when his father brought home a strange little black cube from a 20,000 year old archaeological site in France. 

The music isn’t all Burke got from the dream; included in its details were the clues to build a hand-weapon of almost limitless power, one which he adapts for use as a space drive.  Burke, with the help of a yachting buddy and an introverted savant, as well as his fiancee and her sister, decides to build a craft that will take them to this mysterious wailing asteroid. 

Once there, the team finds an abandoned fortress filled with unfathomable weaponry.  There isn’t a shred of written material, but it is clear that humans crewed this structure.  Who built this outpost, and against what was it built to defend?

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  Except it is written in what I can only term “The New Leinster.” He writes in short sentences.  There are no long ones.  Why should he write that way?  I do not know.  I only know that they are repetitive.  They repeat.  Why should Leinster write short sentences that repeat?  I can’t know.  It is annoying.  It is difficult to read.  There are no long sentences.

Pared down properly, the whole thing would be a novella, and it would be a nice addition to two issues of Analog.  But it’s not, which makes it a slog, though you will want to find out what happens.

I applaud the active inclusion of two women among the book’s stars.  It would have been nice if Leinster had given them more to do than stenotype, cooking, and pining after their fiancees (Burke’s fiancee’s sister falls for the yachting chap).  On the other hand, I suppose we still live in a world where men aren’t allowed to take shorthand and home economics classes, and the story is set in the near future.  How progressive can Leinster be?  In any event, it’s hard to get too upset about characters as thin as the ones Leinster has written.  Their dialogue is interchangeable and written in the same choppy format as the non-dialogue prose.  The science is flawed, too, particularly orbital mechanics, and the rest is zap-gun stuff as you might find in pulps from the 30s.

However, the few-page vignette devoted to the doomed cosmonaut who is dispatched before Burke begins his journey, is almost worth the price of the book.  And the story is interesting despite Leinster’s efforts to the contrary.

2.5 stars.

[November 3, 1960] With a little help from a friend (Murray Leinster’s Men into Space)

Keeping up with all the science fiction releases is virtually impossible for one person.  Luckily, I’m not making this Journey alone.  When it turned out I could only review one of October’s books, long-time fan TRX offered his services as a guest contributor.  He chose to cover Murray Leinster’s Men into Space, a collection based on the recently completed television show which had garnered a strong fan base (alas, I was not one of them).  Let’s see what he’s got for us…

Our Gracious Host asked if I might do a guest post about the new Leinster book.  I naturally leapt at the chance.

While it’s officially an October release, the book hasn’t completely propagated through the publishing supply chains yet.  After a fruitless search through the local stores, I had an idea and called the lady at Big River Books (my favorite store) and gave her the title and author and asked if she could special order it for me.  Sure, not only that, she’d have it drop-shipped to my house to save me a trip to pick it up.  And she’d let me pay for it next time I was in.  I was delighted, but I’m not sure of the wisdom of being able to buy books over the phone with credit…

A plain brown envelope (well, buff is close enough to brown) showed up in due course, containing one (1) newly-printed book.

From the description on the back cover, “Men Into Space” sounds like it might be a “media tie-in”, like the novel released after Forbidden Planet hit the theaters a few years ago.  If so, neither of my local stations has picked up the show.  I can only tell you about the book.

“Men Into Space” consists of short stories following the career of Space Force officer Ed McCauley:

As a lieutenant, McCauley makes the first manned rocket flight.

As a captain, McCauley deals with an injured crewman while piloting the first space-plane.

As a major, McCauley deals with a potentially-fatal construction accident while in charge the building of the first space station.

As a colonel, McCauley deals with a murderous personnel problem while overseeing the establishment of a series of radio relays to the moon’s far side, then deals with a technical problem aboard a rocket to Venus, and another personnel problem on a Mars mission.

Lots of nuts and bolts details about ballistics, rocket fuels, radiation, the van Allen belts, and so forth.  And with each story, McCauley deals with progressively more complex human problems as he moves up in rank.

If you’re starting to smell something odd… yes, this is a juvenile.

It’s a *good* juvenile, however.  I was a rocket-head from the time I learned about the Army’s missile program after the war, and if I was thirteen years old again I’d be all over this book.  I would have been entertained and instructed at the same time.

The problem is, judging from the cover, it appears to be marketed as a normal science fiction novel, not as a collection of stories appropriate for “Boy’s Life.”  I think most of the readers here at Galactic Journeys would be quite disappointed… and then they’d find their kids under the blanket reading it by flashlight after bed time.

Men into Space author Murray Leinster made his first sale in 1916.  In the last 44 years he has written a huge number of novels, short stories, and both radio and television scripts.  He has written westerns, mysteries, romance… and lots of science fiction.  He’s an old hand who knows his craft back to front, and I expect he wrote exactly what he intended to.  Or what he was contracted for.

I don’t know how the book will be marketed to schools and libraries, but the mass-market paperback edition is almost certainly going to be shelved with the rest of the science fiction instead of with the juveniles, and I expect that most purchasers will be in for a shock.  And that’s doubly sad, since many of the the youth Leinster wrote for may never come across the book.

In short, Men into Space probably aims too low for the average Galactic Journeyer…but Christmas is coming, and if there are any ten-to-fifteen-year-old readers on your shopping list, they might find the book very enjoyable.

The nicely typewritten review was accompanied by the following note scrawled on a half-sheet of legal pad.

“Reading a book for review” is a very odd thing.  Book reports in school were mostly done to prove I’d actually read the book.  Here, I’ve tried to describe what the book *is*, not just what happened in it, and to make a guess as to what others here might think of it.  And I only made it a few pages in before I thought “what is this trash and how did it get printed?”, and I started composing a scathing review in the back of my mind as I was reading.  I would have put the book down before finishing the first story had I not committed to writing a review.  About halfway through I realized what kind of book I was reading, and then had to stop and reconsider everything I’d read up to that point.  And when I finished and wrote the review, I looked at it again the next day and realized it was ridiculously long and crossed out most of it before retyping it and going to the Post Office.  Murray Leinster might be an old hand, but this sort of thing is new to me!

Experts make the challenging look easy, I guess.  But practice makes perfect, and I’m happy to say that we will likely see TRX again someday!

[March 21, 1960] Conservation of Quality (April 1960 Astounding)

I believe I may have discovered a new physical law: The Conservation of Quality.

Last year, Galaxy editor Horace Gold decided to slash writer pay in half.  The effect was not immediately apparent, which makes sense since there was likely a backlog of quality stuff in the larder.  But the last issue of Galaxy was decidedly sub-par, and I fear Gold’s policy may be bearing bitter fruit.

On the other hand, Astounding (soon to be Analog) editor John Campbell has been trying to reinvent his magazine, and this latest issue, dated April 1960, is better than I’ve seen in a long time.  To be sure, none of the stories are classics for the ages, but they are all readable and enjoyable.


by Kelly Freas

Randall Garrett still pens a good quarter of the magazine, and you know how I feel about him, but he’s not bad this month.  For the lead serial, Out Like a Light, Garrett teams up again with Laurence Janifer under the pseuonym “Mark Phillips” in a sequel to That Sweet Little Old Lady.  FBI Agent Malone and Garrett look-a-like Agent Boyd investigate a series of Cadillac heists only to discover a ring of teleporting juvenile delinquents.  I had expected the story to drag, and it is occasionally too cute for its own good, but I found myself enjoying it.  We’ll see if they can keep up the interest through two more installments.

Next up is the enjoyable short story, The Ambulance Made Two Trips by ultra-veteran Murray Leinster.  Mob shake-down artist meets his match when he tangles with a psionically gifted laundromat owner who can alter probability to make violence impossible—with highly destructive results!  It’s a fun bit of wish fulfillment even if it (again) stars the Heironymous device, that silly psychic contraption made out of construction paper and elementary electronics.  I’m not sure whether Campbell inserts references to them after editing or if authors incorporate them to ensure publication.

Harry Harrison is back with another “Stainless Steel Rat” story featuring Slippery Jim diGriz (the first having appeared in the August 1957 Astounding).  My nephew, David, had rave reviews for The Misplaced Battleship, in which con man turned secret agent tracks down the construction and theft of the galaxy’s biggest capital ship.  I liked it, too: stories with lots of interstellar travel get extra points from me, and Harrison is a good writer.  Not as compelling as Deathworld, but then, that was a tour de force.


by John SchoenHerr

Wedged in the middle of Harrison’s tale, on the slick-paged portion of the magazine, rocketteer G. Harry Stine has an entertaining plug for model rocketry.  It is a hobby that has grown from a dangerous homebrew affair to a full-fledged pastime.  Safe miniature engines are now commonplace, and launches can be conducted in perfect safety—provided one observes all the rules.  Stine prophetically notes that the first person to walk the sands of Mars is already alive and in high school, and he (of course, he) probably cut his engineering teeth on model rockets.  Maybe so.

The story published under Randall Garrett’s name is The Measure of a Man, and it’s surprisingly decent.  The lone survivor in a wrecked Terran battleship must find a way to get the hulk back to Earth in time to warn humanity of an alien superweapon before it is used.  Again, I like stories with lots of planets and spaceships.  I also liked the direct reference to Leinster’s The Aliens, a really great story.

Finally, we have Rick Raphael’s sophomore effort, Make Mine Homogenized, a surprisingly good story about a tough old rancher, a cow that starts producing high octane milk, and hens that lay bomb-fuse eggs.  The first half is the superior one, in which the rancher discovers that her (yes her!) “milk” is highly combustible and that, when mixed with the fuse eggs, creates an explosion that puts Oppenheimer’s work to shame.  The second half, when the AEC gets involved, is still good, but it digresses and becomes more detached.  I really enjoyed the intimacy of the beginning.  I’m a sucker for accurately detailed farm stories, having grown up on a farm. 


by Kelly Freas

So, there you have it.  A perfectly solid Astounding from cover to cover.  Who’da thunkit?

Happy Spring everyone!




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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[Dec. 17, 1959] Same ol’ Same ol’? (January 1960 Astounding)

There are times that I feel I could trot out the same Astounding review every month.  It would go something like this:

“Editor John Campbell continues to showcase Human-First, psionic stories with young male protagonists and virtually no female characters.  The table of contents features Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, and Murray Leinster.  Yet again, the magazine is a disappointment.”

For the most part, the above summary would serve this month, but there is a kicker at the end of this review.

Skipping the first part of a serial by a fellow of whom I’ve never heard (a Harry Harrison), the issue opens up with one of Murray Leinster’s weaker outings, Attention Saint Patrick.  Leinster is often excellent, but in this one, he’s just boringly droll, telling the story of an Irish space colony that relies on giant serpents to control its vermin problem—in this case, little dinosaurs with diamond teeth. 


by Bernklau

Then we have the truly ridiculous A Rose by Other Name, a Chris Anvil story about how the removal of military and jingoistic jargon from our vocabulary makes it impossible to go to war.  Not good.

Campbell has tried to make his magazine more respectable by including a slick paper non-fiction segment starting this month.  Frank Foote and Arthur Shuck penned Solid Plutonium Headache about the technical and physical difficulties associated with working this dangerous radioactive material.  A more boring article I have never read, which is a shame because there’s nothing wrong with the subject matter.  Until Campbell finds himself an Asimov or a Ley, I think his non-fiction section won’t be worth much—particularly as the slick paper is not at all absorbent.

Poul Anderson’s The Burning Bridge, about a fleet of interstellar colony ships on a 40-year trip to settle a new world, is decent.  Recalled by Earth nearly a few years into their flight, the fleet’s Admiral must determine whether or not they will return or press on.  The cast is nicely international, and women play an important (though oddly segregated) part.


by Bernklau

Then we have The Garrett, in this case Viewpoint.  A fellow dreams himself into the future and discovers a strange new world before snapping back to his original time.  The now-typical Randallian gimmick is that the person is a famous figure from the past, and the destination is now-ish.  It’s not as bad as it could have been, but Garrett loses a star just for being Garrett.

Finally, we have The Silverberg: Stress Pattern.  This story is hard to rate because there are really two things going on here.  On one hand, we have the story of a sociologist and his assistant wife (no doubt inspired by Bob Silverberg’s wife and partner, Barbara) and the slow unraveling and subsequent recovery of their lives.  The characterization and writing are quite good, and I was carried along for the entirety of the tale’s 30 pages.

On the other hand, in the end, the story is a rather ham-fisted argument against the leveling qualities of increased socialism (small “s”) and social welfare.  The message of the story is that while we might keep the lower classes fat and happy, the secure smart people are just going to get bored and restless.  While such an argument could be made against a uniform public school curriculum, and while in true Socialism, the only way to get ahead is to cheat, I don’t think things can progress in America as Silverberg contests.  Moreover, that part just feels tacked on to tickle Campbell’s fancy.  It has that “secret society knows all the answers and can manipulate humanity like a machine” conceit I generally find tiresome.

Still, Bob is coming along.  I think if he tried writing for another magazine, he could put his talent for prolific writing and good portrayals toward making something truly good.  He’s not Randy Garrett, even though he works with him regularly.

All told, it’s a 2.5 star issue.  But I promised a kicker: the serial, Deathworld, is excellent so far, and I’m keenly anticipating next month’s installment.  You’ll have to wait until next February to get the review, but I think it will be a good one!

Stay tuned!

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

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



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The Worst (September 1959 Astounding; 8-20-1959)

People seem to enjoy extremes.  The first to do this.  The best at doing that.  The most exciting.  The brightest.  The darkest.

If you’re wondering why I failed to write on schedule, day-before-yesterday, it’s because I was wrestling with the worst.  Specifically, the worst magazine I’ve had to trudge through since I began this project in 1954.  Let me tell you: there was nothing to enjoy about it.

I speak of the September 1959 issue of Astounding.  Not only are the stories (at least those I’ve thus far read) thoroughly dull, but they have that sharp stamp of Campbellian editing, or pandering, which causes them to have the same tedious, nonsensical elements.

Take That Sweet Little Old Lady, by “Mark Phillips,” a pseudonym so phoney, I knew Randall Garrett had to be involved.  Sure enough, Mark Phillips is Randy and a fellow named Laurence F. Janifer.  It’s a drab, unamusingly droll stream-of-consciousness story about a detective and his quest to find a psionic spy.  In the course of his investigations, he meets a dotty esper convinced that she is an immortal Queen Elizabeth.  Joy of joys, this is only the first of a two-part serial.

As for the Campbellian twist, much reference is made to psionic devices that are part electronic and part symbolic.  This is a nod to Campbell’s obsession with “Heironymous Machines,” devices that measure “non-electromagnetic radiation,” using electric circuits that appear to have no function and could, it is boasted, be replaced by pen-and-ink diagrams of those same circuits without affecting the ability of the machine.

Well, I can’t disagree with that.

Chris Anvil continues to make solid 2-star stories that fill blank spots in the pages of AstoundingCaptive Leaven is about the effect an interstellar traveler had on a primitive civilization, uplifting it to a very specialized sophistication so that it could produce parts to repair the traveler’s spaceship.  Not a bad idea, I suppose, but executed in so dull a fashion that I fairly had to reread the whole tale to remember the plot.

Finally, even Murray Leinster disappoints with his A Matter of Importance, in which Leinster’s characteristic employment of short sentences annoys to distraction.  Ostensibly a story about an interstellar police rescue mission, it’s really an opportunity to point out that the human form is the most natural of forms for intelligent creatures, that the Solar System is the most typical of planetary systems, and the predictions of a canny protagonist always come out to be correct. 

Fatuous determinism.  You can have it.

I’m dreading the rest of this issue, and the next one, to be honest.  I’ll read them, because I feel I’ve a contract with you, my good readers, but I can’t promise not to skim.

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