Tag Archives: poul anderson

[February 26, 1962] Record Beating (March 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

You’ve almost assuredly heard of Radio Corporation of America (RCA).  They make radios (naturally), but also record players, televisions, computers.  They have produced the foundations of modern consumer electronics, including the color television standard and the 45 rpm record.  And now, they’ve really outdone themselves: they’ve created cassettes for tape recording.

Until now, if you wanted to listen to music or a radio show, you had to either buy it as a pre-recorded album or record it yourself.  The only good medium for this was the Reel to Reel tape recorder – great quality, but rather a bother.  I’ve never gotten good at threading those reels, and storing them can be a hassle (tape gets crinkled, the reels unspool easily, etc.).  With these new cassettes, recording becomes a snap.  If the price goes down, I’ll have to get me one.

What brought up this technological tidbit?  Read on about the March 1962 Analog, and the motivation for this introduction will be immediately apparent.

His Master’s Voice, by Randall Garrett

The RCA-themed title for Garrett’s latest is most appropriate.  Voice is the next in the exploits of the ship called McGuire.  As we learned in the first story, McGuire is a sentient spacecraft that has imprinted on a specific person – an interplanetary double-agent working for the United Nations.  Like the last story, Voice is a whodunnit, and a bit better handled one than before, as well.  Garrett’s slowly improving, it seems.  Three stars.

Uncalculated Risk, by Christopher Anvil

Every silver lining has a cloud, and every scientific advance is a double-edged sword.  Anvil likes his scientific misadventure satires.  This one, about a soil additive that proves potentially subtractive to the world’s arable land, is preachy but fun.  Three stars.

Rough Beast, by Roger Dee

The most fearsome carnivore in the known universe breaks free from an interstellar zoo and runs amok on one of the Floria Keys.  Can a group of scientists, a host of pacifist aliens, one cranky moonshiner, and a nervous tomcat stop the creature in time?  A shaky, over-adjectived beginning, but the rest is a lot of fun (and I guessed the ending moments before it was revealed).  Four stars.

The Iron Jackass, by John Brunner

Brunner is a prolific author whose work I’ve rarely encountered, perhaps because he’s based across the pond; Rosemary Benton plans to review his newest book next month.  Jackass is a fun tale involving an off-world steel mill, the Central European miners who work it and shun automation, and the robots that threaten to put the miners out of business.  I saw shades, in Jackass, of the recent Route 66 episode, First-Class Mouliak, which took place in a Polish steel community in Pennsylvania.  Three stars. 

Power Supplies for Space Vehicles (Part 2 of 2), by J. B. Friedenberg

Mr. Friedenberg has returned to tell us more about motors of the space age.  This time, it’s all about solar-heated turbines, and it’s just about as exciting as last time.  I give credit to Friedenberg for his comprehensiveness, if not his ability to entertain.  Two stars.

Epilogue, by Poul Anderson

Anderson is going through a phase, digging on somber, after-the-end stories (witness After Doomsday).  His latest novella takes place fully three billion years in the future, after humanity has destroyed itself and self-repairing and replicating machines have taken over.  Sparks fly between silicon and carbon-based life when a crew of time-lost humans returns to its mother planet for one last farewell. 

An excellent idea, and Anderson’s typically deft characterizations, are somewhat mitigated by robots that are a bit too conventional in their culture (no matter how radical their physiology), and by the fact that, in the end, Epilogue becomes a straight technical puzzle story.  Four stars.

The Numbers

This all adds up to a 3.2-star issue, respectable for any magazine and downright shocking for Analog.  This makes it the #2 digest for March 1962 (behind F&SF at 3.8, and ahead of IF (3.2), Amazing (2.8), and Fantastic (2.5).  Women once again wrote just two of this month’s pieces, one of which was a tiny poem.  The best stories came out in F&SF, the best of which is hard to determine – the Pangborn, the Young, or the Wellman?

Stay tuned for Fantastic to start the exciting month of March!

[Feb. 10, 1962] Here is the News (March 1962 IF)


by Gideon Marcus

If “no news is good news,” then this has been a very good week, indeed!  The Studebaker UAW strike ended on the 7th.  The Congo is no more restive than usual.  Laos seems to be holding a tenuous peace in its three-cornered civil war.  The coup is over in the Dominican Republic, the former government back in power.  John Glenn hasn’t gone up yet, but then, neither have any Russians. 

And while this month’s IF science fiction magazine contains nothing of earth-shattering quality, there’s not a clunker in the mix – and quite a bit to enjoy!  Get a load of these headlines:

SURE THING

Poul Anderson’s Kings who Die leads the issue.  Anderson has been writing a blue streak over the past decade, and I don’t think I’ve disliked any of his work since this decade started.  One of my readers has noted Anderson’s tendency toward the somber (A Bicycle Built for Brew and The High Crusade not withstanding), but I like a bit of gravitas in my stories. 

Kings who Die tells the moving tale of a shipwrecked astro-soldier picked up by The Enemy in the depths of space.  The captive is induced to join his foes, who have developed a super-weapon.  But in the end, it turns out that the prisoner has a weapon of his own, one hidden deep inside of him.

Told by most others, this would be a throwaway gimmick piece.  Anderson puts flesh on the bones of this story, despite it being rather short.  Four stars.

NO SUPRISES

I don’t think Jim Harmon has missed an issue of IF in good long time.  This is generally to the reader’s favor as Harmon oscillates between fair and superior (if never great or awful).  Dangerous Quarry has a cute title, but this tale of a town and its bad-luck mine of luxury granite feeles dashed off, metering in at around sin of π (or three stars).

AUTHOR KICKS SELF

I usually don’t review Ted Sturgeon’s nonfiction pieces, but this month’s was long enough, and about an interesting-enough topic (Murray Leinster’s myriad of nifty scientific inventions – real, not literary), that I felt it worth a rating: Three stars.

LOST CAT

I normally associate Stephen Barr’s surreal stylings with Fantasy and Science Fiction, in whose pages I usually find him.  His latest story, Tybalt, thus, is an odd (but not unwelcome) addition to this month’s IFTybalt has the distinction of being the first story I’ve read to feature time travel by aid of chemicals (as opposed to using a machine), and its feline-tinged middle section is excellent.  Too bad about the rather rough ending, though.  Three stars, though I am reasonably certain this will be a favorite of some of my readers.


by Burns

TAKE MY WIFE, PLEASE

Frank Banta is back again with The Happy Homicide, a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on circumstantial evidence, particularly when the jury is sympathetic to the circumstances.  Never rely on a computer, at least so long as Perry Mason is around!  Three stars.

IT DOESN’T MATTER

James Stamers continues his upward trend with E Being.  The premise is fantastic: a pilot on the first Faster Than Light flight is converted into energy, fundamentally changing his nature but not his soul.  Upon this transformation, he finds himself in a community of radiation-eating, incorporeal creatures with a rather unique perspective on life (or perhaps it is we, the comparatively rare beings made up of…stuff…that are the oddballs).

I would have liked a serious exploration of these concepts, something philosophical and profound (e.g. The Star Dwellers, by James Blish).  Instead, Stamers plays the story for horror and laughs (an odd combination, but it works) and E Being ends up a fun tale, if a lost opportunity.  Three stars.

RETIEF STRIKES AGAIN!

The best-known interstellar diplomat is back, this time attempting to solve the mystery of the misplaced heavy cruiser.  Laumer’s The Madman from Earth plays Retief a bit straighter than I’m used to, which I think is to the story’s ultimate benefit.  However, Laumer commits the whodunnit writer’s cardinal sin: he never explains just how Retief gains the critical piece of information on which his success hinges.  Three stars.

NOW YOU SEE IT…

Wrapping things up is a charming piece of whimsy by R.A. Lafferty (who else?) called Seven-Day Terror, which involves a thieving brat, who absconds with necessary items, and the precocious little girl who sets things to rights.  Four stars, making this issue a worthy palindrome. 

Read all about it!


by Emsh

[January 9, 1962] Unfortunate Tale (Anderson’s Day After Doomsday)


by Gideon Marcus

The Earth is dead, its verdant continents and azure oceans replaced with a roiling hell.  The crew of the Benjamin Franklin, humanity’s first interstellar ship, gaze on the holocaust in horror.  Are they only humans left?  Do any of Terra’s other ships (particularly the all woman-crewed Europa) still survive?  And most of all, who is responsible for this, the greatest of crimes?

This is the setup for Poul Anderson’s newest book, Day after Doomsday, serialized in the last two issues of Galaxy.  Like his previous The High Crusade, Doomsday features a tiny splinter of humanity thrust on the galactic stage in a fight for its very existence.  Unlike that earlier book, however, Doomsday‘s tone is somber.  It’s a mood Anderson does expertly, his lugubrious Scandinavian nature suffusing much of his work.

There is much to enjoy about the first three fifths of this book.  The setting is excellent.  Our galaxy is divided into innumerable clusters of societies, true unification precluded by the relative slowness of interstellar travel.  Several of our neighboring races discover the Earth somewhere around the 1970s, and a productive trade ensues.  But shortly after Earthers begin leaving their homeworld, an alien faction destroys Sol’s best planet.  Suspects are legion – could it be the artistic avian Monwaingi?  The individualistic noble Vorlakka?  The nomadic and ruthless Kandimirians?  Or was it a kind of grisly racial suicide?  You don’t find out until the end.

I appreciated the near-equal time Anderson devoted to the all-female crew, who are as resourceful and strong as one would hope (Anderson does not have trouble writing strong woman characters).  In fact, all of the players are well-drawn.  From catatonia to mania, the response to the destruction of Earth, both immediate and long after, is plausible and far-ranging. 

But somewhere around page 80, the book starts to fall apart.  What had been a string of exciting vignettes articulating two parallel story arcs deftly mixing despair and hope suddenly becomes a fragmented chunk of exposition that tries to tie together the free-hanging threads.  It feels as if a good 60 pages were cut out of the story leaving an unsatisfactory skeleton. 

Was this an artifact of the medium?  Will the novelized version (as I imagine will inevitably appear) be more rewarding?  I guess we’ll have to wait.  As is, it’s a mediocre effort – readable but disappointing.

Three stars.

[January 4, 1962] Over the top…Barely (February 1962 Amazing)


by John Boston

Life is full of happy surprises!  At long last Amazing has crossed a line: nothing in the the February 1962 issue is worse than three stars, and the average is a little higher.  Read on; I think you’ll agree that there is much to enjoy in this, the first magazine of the month:

Mark Clifton’s serial Pawn of the Black Fleet concludes in this issue.  It continues Clifton’s series about Ralph Kennedy, a corporate personnel director (as was Clifton) who appeared in four stories from 1953 to 1957 dealing with various psi manifestations.  Back then, Clifton appeared so often in Astounding that some called it the Clifton House Organ, though most of his recent work has appeared elsewhere.

Here, Kennedy is mistakenly dragooned into a job as Extraterrestrial Psychologist for the Space Navy, where he quickly learns the game of bureaucratic aggrandizement.  There are no extraterrestrials to psychologize at first, but soon enough a flight of black disks (the titular “Black Fleet”) appears, striking terror and sowing confusion until radiant globes show up and spectacularly dispatch them in what only Kennedy realizes is a complete put-on.  The aliens from the globes then manifest as five regular guys with heavy Texas accents, communicating frankly only with Kennedy.  After a brief interlude at Blair House, they go sightseeing around the Earth, irrigating deserts, making paths through jungles, and making Siberia and similar places livable as they go.  Then they depart, letting everything revert to its prior condition, telling the world that now you know what needs to be done and how to do it, and we’ll catch you later when you develop star travel and come visit us.  A subplot involves the machinations of Harvey Strickland, a media mogul resembling a cartoon of William Randolph Hearst on stilts, a comically evil figure, and obese to boot (confirming his awfulness, apparently).

This novella’s worth of plot is larded with extensive and heavy-handed satirical screeds about federal bureaucracy and its status obsessions, the military, the gullibility and prejudices of humanity at large, and similar subjects, some voiced or enacted by the characters (especially Strickland), but most in the authorial voice.  One rant about the military mind consumes more than a page of text.  (Now we know why this did not appear in Analog: nobody but the editor gets to rant at that length.) Clifton has apparently given up on “Show, don’t tell.” Some of these bloated lampoons are quite well written and therefore amusing, but collectively they become tedious, though their effect cannot be conveyed without quoting more than is manageable in the cramped quarters of this long-haul vessel.  Satire of bureaucracy is nothing new in Clifton’s work (see the previous Ralph Kennedy stories), but this one is less like being pricked with a needle and more like being beaten over the head with a sandbag.  Satire has yielded to self-indulgent and over-the-top misanthropy.  See for yourself when, as the magazine promises, a version appears next month from Doubleday as When They Come from Space.  Three stars.

The lead story is Poul Anderson’s Third Stage, a near-space and near-time opera featuring two astronauts who get stuck in orbit in the Van Allen belt.  Someone has to go outside the vehicle and clear the blocked valve, taking a fatal radiation dose.  Which one?  How to decide?  (The General bucks it to the President.) Also featured is an obnoxious TV guy who is harassing the astronauts’ families for human interest shots.  Capably and tensely done, but mechanical.  Three stars.

Third Stage is illustrated by another hardware-intensive hyper-literal cover, this one with a fillip: the space capsule is presented in cutaway, like something in Popular Mechanics.  Conceivably, artist Alex Schomburg is being subtler than he seems: the TV guy at one point displays a cutaway of the capsule on the air, described similarly to the cover.  So maybe it is meant to present an image of an image—appropriate to the media-centric aspect of the story.

Amazing’s “Classic Reprint” series is selected from the magazine’s early days and introduced by Sam Moskowitz, the leading (virtually the only) historian of the genre.  This issue’s Classic is Missionaries from the Sky by Stanton A. Coblentz, prolific in the 1920s and ‘30s, and known as a satirist.  And, based on my reading of several novels, a right old bore.  At short length, however, Coblentz’s verbose and antiquated style is more tolerable. 

Rand the electronic scientist has a new invention, which he shows to his assistant Denison:

“ ‘You behold here a Micro-Crystalline Televisor,’ explained Rand, surveying his invention proudly.  ‘The first of its kind ever created.’ ”

“ ‘Micro-Crystalline what?’ I gasped.”

Rand has managed to contact Mars, learning and teaching the respective languages, and the Martians are horrified to learn that Earth still has nations and wars, not to mention inequality and starvation.  They have offered to pop over and set us right, if Rand will just give them the go-ahead and direct them to a flat place to land.  He agonizes about the boons of peace and equality versus the loss of freedom until he finally flips, melodramatically smashing his equipment and burning his notes, a now-mad scientist in a better cause than usual.  Three stars for this reasonably pleasant and charming relic.

The remaining fiction items read as if they had wandered over from Amazing’s companion Fantastic.  A. Earley, apparently a new writer, contributes And It Was Good, a religious allegory in which somebody who seems to be Jesus returns to a post-apocalyptic war-ridden world and lightens the burdens of a few hopeless deserters from different countries’ armies until he gets blown up by a grenade.  Usually I have no patience with this kind of thing, but it is so well written and visualized, and light-handed despite its overtness (parse that if you dare), and so different in flavor from the rest of the magazine, I’m giving it four stars. 

John Jakes, by contrast, is a veteran of Amazing since 1950, with 50+ low-impact stories in the SF magazines and several dozen more elsewhere.  He perpetrates the cheerfully grotesque Recidivism Preferred, in which dashing thief Mellors (no relation, I’m sure) has been reduced after apprehension to a dull and withdrawn clerk in Lumpkin’s Emporium.  But he is visited by three surreally cartoonish characters who prove determined to break the conditioning that has rendered him both law-abiding and vacuous.  This is comedy so black as to be Stygian, and would rate higher were it not for the silly and deflating revelation of the rescuers’ motives.  Too bad.  Maybe someday a more ambitious writer can make something of the tradeoff between therapeutic rehabilitation and mental and moral freedom.  Three stars.

Sam Moskowitz has another in his series of “SF Profiles,” this one titled Theodore Sturgeon: No More Than Human.  Remarkably, the latest Sturgeon work mentioned is More Than Human, published in 1953; there is no reference to any of his numerous subsequent short stories and novelettes, or to his recent novels The Cosmic Rape (1958) or Some of Your Blood (1961), except for a general acknowledgment of his “steady literary production…with a continuous striving for higher achievement.” Nonetheless, it’s an interesting account of Sturgeon’s life and earlier career, with speculation about why he’s been doing so well recently, and there’s nothing else like these articles.  Four stars, as much for ground-breaking as anything else.

So ends an above-water issue, and just in time to return to my less exciting (for once) school-related reading.  Until next month!

[Dec. 30, 1961] Finishing Strong (January 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

At the end of a sub-par month, I can generally count on The Magazine and Science Fiction to end things on a positive note.  F&SF has been of slightly declining quality over the past few years, but rarely is an issue truly bad, and this one, for January 1962, has got some fine works inside.

Christmas Treason, by Ulsterian peacenik James White, starts things off with a literal bang as a gang of toddler espers attempt to save Christmas with the help of the world’s nuclear arsenal.  It’s nothing I haven’t seen Sturgeon do before, but it is charming and effective.  Four stars.

Kate Wilhelm has made a name for herself in the past several years, being a regular contributor to many science fiction magazines, Sadly, A Time to Keep, about a fellow with a pathological aversion to doorways, does not make much sense.  Not one of her better tales.  Two stars.

Every so often, some wag will write a “clever” piece on the need to send girls to service man astronauts on the long journeys to Mars.  Jay Williams’ Interplanetary Sex is the latest, and it’s as awful as the rest.  Casual reference to rape?  Check.  Stereotypical portrayal of married couples (henpecked husband and nagging shrew wife)?  Check.  It’s the sort of thing that will provide ample archaeological data on this era 55 years from now, but offers little else in value. 

HOWEVER, there are a few paragraphs near the end depicting a sentient cell’s mitosis written in florid romance novel style, and it’s genuinely funny.  You can skip to it…and skip the rest.  Two stars.

Maria Russell’s The Deer Park appears to be her first story, and it’s a fine freshman effort.  It effectively (albeit in an often difficult-to-parse manner) depicts a decadent future humanity entrapped in fantasy worlds of individual creation.  It’s hard to break out of a gilded cage, and the outside world is sometimes no improvement.  Three stars.

Ron Goulart’s occult detective, Max Kearney, is back in Please Stand By.  This time,the private dick has been enlisted by a hapless were-Elephant, the victim (or beneficiary?) of a magic spell.  It’s a charming story, and Goulart has an excellent talent for writing without exposition.  Four stars.

I didn’t much care for Asimov’s science column this month, The Modern Demonology.  The subject of Maxwell’s Demon, that metaphorical creature who can trade energetic for lazy atoms across two buckets such that one gets cold and one gets hot, is a good one.  However, the Good Doctor than meanders into philosophical territory, positing the existence of an evolutionary equivalent, a “Darwin’s Demon,” and it’s just sort of a muddy mess.  Three Stars.

Newcomer Nils T. Peterson is back with Prelude to a Long Walk, a somber short story about a static man in a growing world.  Not really science fiction, but memorable all the same.  Four stars.

Progress, by Poul Anderson, is a long-awaited sequel to The Sky People, both set in a post-apocalyptic future in which several nations of the world struggle toward modern civilization.  They are hampered both by a critical lack of resources, fossil fuels and metals, but also a fear of duplicating the catastrophe that threw them into a new Stone Age. 

Our heroes are once again representatives of the Polynesian Federation, if not the most technically advanced, probably the most progressive socially.  Ranu Makintairu and Alisabeta Kanukauai make charming protagonists, but Progress reads like a watered down vignette of Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz.  It also has that smugly superior tone I associate with Analog.  Three stars.

The issue wraps up with a inconsequential poem, To the Stars by heretofore unknown James Spencer.  To discuss it further would take more words than Mr. Spencer wrote.  Two stars.

That wraps up magazines for this month, and boy is there a lot to compare!  F&SF was the clear winner, clocking in at 3.1 stars.  IF was number #2 at 2.9.  Cele Goldsmith’s mags, Fantastic and Amazing tied at 2.5 stars, and Analog finished at a dismal 2.3 stars.

Each of the mags, save for Amazing, had at least one 4-star story in it.  I give the nod for best piece to Piper’s Naudsonce, though Christmas Treason is close.  Out of 28 pieces of fiction, a scant two were written by women (and if we’re just including the Big Three, as I have in the past, then the ratio is still bad: two out of eighteen).  On the other hand, two of the five magazines were edited by a Ms. Goldsmith, so there’s something.

Next up, Ms. Benton reviews the latest Blish novel!

[August 2, 1961] Between Two Worlds (Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions)


Gideon Marcus

Have you ever wanted to throw yourself into a fantasy world?  Tour through Middle Earth?  Plan a trip in Narnia?  Who hasn’t imagined themselves rubbing elbows with Robin Hood or Jason’s Argonauts?

Some folks have gone so far as to write their own cross-world adventures, much to the delight of their readers.  L. Frank Baum made it a common practice to feature immigrants from the “real world” to Oz.  L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, in their Incomplete Enchanter, detailed the travels of Earth-dweller Harold Shea through Norse Mythology and The Faerie Queen.

And now, the esteemed Poul Anderson has taken a stab at the genre with Three Hearts and Three Lions.  Our protagonist is Holger Carlsen, a broad-shouldered but bashful engineer from Denmark who joins the resistance when his country is invaded in World War 2 by Germany.  At the peak of a pitched battle with Nazis, Holger is explosively propelled into another world. 

At first blush, it is a world remarkably like our own, though in an earlier time.  How else to explain the identical constellations, the existence of France, Spain, Saracens, and the Holy Roman Empire?  But then, what business do real witches have in medieval Europe?  Or, for that matter, trolls, dwarves, Morgan le Fay, and a swan-may named Alianora? 

Holger, it seems, has taken on the role (if not the memories) of The Defender, this world’s greatest hero.  As on Earth, a war is brewing between the forces of Law and Chaos, and Holger is somehow the key to both conflicts.  Through a series of adventures, the inadvertent (but capable!) Sir Holger must wend his way through the lands of Faerie and humanity on a quest to save the day.

Anderson demonstrated his knack for archaic language in his recent The High Crusade.  He uses it to good effect in Hearts, though the thick Scottish accents, rendered faithfully, can be a bit confusing at first.  The setting he paints and the characters we meet are portrayed as vividly as ere we saw them in The Song of Roland or The Death of Arthur.  Many of the chapters are almost stand-alone stories, by turns hilarious and gripping.  I usually find scenes of battle to be tiresome, but Anderson knows how to make them exciting.

A fun thread that runs through Hearts is its scientific consistency.  While fantastic, magical things indisputably exist in Holger’s new world, most rules of science still hold, which the engineer-protagonist uses to good advantage.  For instance, who knew that faeries’ aversion to sunlight was a simple UV-allergy?

I won’t spoil another inch of Hearts.  Suffice it to say that it only gets better as it goes along, and Anderson has done a splendid job of translating traditional medieval fantasy for a modern audience. 

Four stars.

[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 3, 1961] Hope Springs (Poul Anderson’s Orbit Unlimited)

Today’s article is about second chances.

The newspapers are full of scary news these days.  OverpopulationTension between the East and WestThe threat of global disaster.  Some feel that we are headed toward a doomed future, one of increased authoritarian governments, of scarcity, of rationing.  That we lost something when the last frontiers closed, forcing us to turn inward, toward oblivion.

Poul Anderson’s just come out with a new book along those lines: Orbit Unlimited.  It’s a fix-up of sorts, composed of four stories, two of which I’ve reviewed before.  There are many scenes and as many viewpoint characters, but they all revolve around a central premise: a hundred years from now, freedom is ended, humanity is stagnant, and just one sliver of hope remains – a harsh world around the star e Eridani called Rustum.

I was not particularly charitable to Anderson when I first reviewed Robin Hood’s Barn and The Burning Bridge, the two stories that comprise the first half of Orbit.  He’d recently written the abysmal Bicycle built for Brew, and in general, he was at the tail end of a multi-year slump (and I had no way of knowing its end was near).  Moreover, the stories did not do well on their own; giving them a common premise gave them a combined value greater than their sum.

So Anderson’s stories are getting a second chance, just as the Earth gets a second chance, if only in the pages of Orbit Unlimited.

The first tale struck me much more favorably this time around.  Robin Hood’s Barn is the story of the choked, nearly hopeless Earth, and the old, canny politician, Svoboda, who tries to force one last gasp of colonizing desire by increasing the government’s tyranny.  The first time around, I took the story at face value, and it felt like yet another of those smug tales where one fellow has a preternatural ability to manipulate others such that the pieces always move as desired.  Plus, there were no women in the story, and that always gets a strike from me unless there’s a plausible reason.  More on that later.  On reexamination, it seemed Svoboda’s gamble was far less certain, really an act of desperation that just barely paid off.  That made it all much more palatable.

Now that I knew that Orbit‘s next story, The Burning Bridge, was set in the same universe, I was able to see it in a new light.  I’d been lukewarm toward this story the first time.  In Bridge, the colonial fleet in mid-flight when a message from Earth is received.  Things are better, they are told, and they should come home.  It’s a tempting offer, one that Fleet Captain Joshua Coffin is sure the majority of the colonists will take.  But he knows what they’ve fled, and he suspects that the respite will be a temporary one, perhaps already vanished after the decades it will take the fleet to return.  So he forges a second message, one with more forceful language, one which could tip the vote in the direction he wants. 

Again, this story is oddly chauvinistic.  The women colonists are kept segregated from the all-male astronauts even to the point of dressing in all-concealing clothing as the women do in some Moslem countries.  That degree of conservatism seems counter to our current prevailing trends.  Nevertheless, I found Bridge compelling.

Part three, And yet so Far, came out in one of the last issues of Fantastic Universe back in October 1959.  I didn’t read it so I missed this story.  In Far, the fleet has arrived at Rustum, but one of the vessels has suffered a catastrophe and now is adrift in the midst of planet’s deadly Van Allen Belts.  Sleeted with radiation, the ship is inaccessible and yet it must be accessed for it carries cargo vital to the colony’s success.  Admiral Nils Kivi refuses to consider a risky salvage mission for many reasons, not the least of which is his innate hostility for colonist Jan Svoboda, politician Svoboda’s son.  But Kivi has a soft spot for Svoboda’s wife, Judith, and Jan is not above using her to manipulate Kivi into coming around.  This is an impactful, bittersweet vignette.  I can’t imagine it being terribly successful without the context of the preceding tales, however.  Moreover, it was published before Bridge, which must have confused hell out of anyone who read both stories.

The final and longest piece, The Mills of the Gods, has not, to my knowledge, appeared in any magazine.  It is set ten years after planetfall.  The three thousand colonists have vastly supplemented their numbers with children born in both the normal fashion and “exogenetically” – from frozen sperm and ova brought along to augment the colony’s limited genetic range.  There is an overt prejudice against the exogenes and a general oppressive conservatism to the colony in general.  In cultural outlook, it feels like something out of the 19th Century (or perhaps the depths of the last decade).  Men run business.  Women tend house.  It is as if the people of Rustum, in their escape from oppression, could think of no alternative to it.  Rather like the Pilgrims seeking freedom from religious intolerance so that they could practice their own peculiar version in the New World. 

At the start of Mills, one of the exogenes, Coffin’s foster son, Danny, runs away from home.  When he is not found on the relatively small mesa that forms the colony’s borders, it is presumed that the youth descended toward sea level, into the thick atmosphere and alien ecology of Rustum’s flatlands.  Only Jan Svoboda is capable of helping Coffin make the trek to rescue Danny, and he must be bribed into it by the colony’s wily mayor, Theron Wolfe.

This was my favorite of the book’s episodes.  Few writers can convey an alien world with both vividity and mundanity like Anderson.  Their journey below the cloud deck into the noxiously dense atmosphere of Rustum was as exciting a travelogue as any Burroughsian tale of Pellucidar or Barsoom, but with the bonus of being scientifically rigorous.  Of course, the emotional interplay between the religious Coffin and the cynical Svoboda formed the heart of the story, without which the scenery would have been pretty but pointless. 

I’m not sure if Anderson had the entire novel in mind when he wrote the first words of Barn or if the concept evolved over time.  There is such a consistency to the themes that I have to believe the skeleton was pre-plotted.  Throughout, there are the recurring instances of what I’d term “selfless manipulation.”  The manipulator never relishes his actions, and it is only hoped that the results will be favorable.  There is never an omniscient viewpoint from which we get the satisfaction that things will go as hoped (though the events of each succeeding story suggest that they did and will). 

Orbit also repeatedly portrays humanity with an inclination toward the reactionary.  Time and again, people must consciously choose to break free of the chains of conservatism, which is never depicted positively.  In this context, the atavistic roles for women make more sense.  Given that, both prior and subsequent to Anderson’s bad period, the author portrayed women quite progressively, I have to think that the theme of sharp gender dichotomy was intentional – i.e. another facet of undesirable conservatism.

I could be entirely wrong, reading into Orbit what Anderson never intended.  It could just be a happy accident that the four stories hang together so well.  I doubt it, however; Anderson has proven to be a highly nuanced writer when he wants to be.  Orbit has something to say, and it speaks with a clear voice throughout. 

It’s worth hearing it out.  3.75 stars.

[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!

[February 10, 1961] Two for two!  (March 1961 Analog)

Analog (my errant fingers keep wanting to type “Astounding”) was even better than last time.  This particular copy is a seasoned traveler, having ridden with me to the lovely shores of Kaua’i and back.  At long last, I’ve finished reading, and I can tell you about it.  A sneak preview: there’s not a bad piece in the book!

In lieu of a serial, nearly half of the issue’s pages are taken up with Mack Reynold’s novella, Ultima Thule.  My nephew, David, was so enamored with this one that he specifically recommended it to me in a recent letter.  It’s the story of Ronny Bronston, an agent employed by the mysterious Section G, responsible for maintaining mutual non-interference between the 2000 member planets of the Galactic Federation.  Bronston is sent on the trail of “Tommy Paine,” an elusive agitator who travels from planet to planet, upending the various status quos.  Can you figure out who Paine really is?  I particularly liked Bronston’s ‘assistant,’ the highly capable, and delightfully reproachful Tog Lee Chang Chu.  Reynolds never has trouble writing good female characters.  Three stars.

Cliff Simak is back with another rustic-themed story, Horrible Example.  Can a robot programmed to be the town drunk rise to be more than the sum of his code?  A sensitive piece in that inimitable Simak style.  Four stars.

G. Harry Stine used to be a professional rocketeer—until his calls to action in response to Sputnik rubbed his superiors the wrong way.  Now, he is a technology evangelist.  In his latest piece, Sub-Mach Rockets, he explorers the much neglected field of rocketry at speeds below the speed of sound.  Makes me want to build a baby missile or two!  Three stars.

The next piece was written with tongue firmly in cheek, a bit of engineering fluff by Maurice Price descriptively entitled, An Introduction to the Calculus of Desk-Cleaning.  See Price illustrate the correlation between engineer output and desk-based chaos; it’s surprisingly informative!  Four stars.

Next, we’ve got one of those “non-fact” articles, though it’s just billed as fiction.  The Four-Faced Visitors of Ezekiel, by Arthur W. Orton, is a science fictional interpretation of the biblical book of Ezekiel.  It’s as good an explanation for that bizarre book as any!  Three stars

Now, I admit it.  I am biased toward stories of interstellar travel with ships and captains and interesting situations.  Poul Anderson’s Hiding Place is a wonderful puzzle cloaked in all the trappings I like: a refreshingly multi-racial starship crew finds itself trapped in deep space between a pirate fleet and a quickly diminishing provisions supply.  Only by making contact with a friendly alien ship do they have a hope of seeing the fires of home.  Unfortunately, said alien ship, a zoological vessel with a menagerie of beasts for its cargo, takes the humans for pirates and hides in the animal cages.  Can the terrestrials discern the sentient creatures from their beasts and plead their case in time?  Five stars.

That all adds up to a 3.5 star issue—well worth the half dollar you’ll fork over at the newsstand (less if you buy a subscription, which, if the quality continues to be this good, might be a fine investment).

Aloha!