Tag Archives: ray bradbury

[Sep. 10, 1962] Leading by Example (the terrific October 1962 Galaxy)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Thirteen years ago this month, amidst the post-war boom of science fiction digests, Galaxy Science Fiction was born.  Its editor, H.L. Gold, intended his brainchild to stand above and apart from the dozens of lesser mags (remember those days of abundance?) with progressive and smart strictly SF stories.  He succeeded — Galaxy has showcased some of the best the genre has to offer, as well as a fine science fact column penned by Willy Ley.  The consistency of quality has been remarkable.

Two years ago, Fred Pohl, a bright authorial light already, took the helm from the ailing Gold.  If anything, he has improved on excellence, continuing to coax fine works from established authors and interesting pieces from new ones.  It helps that he, himself, can fill the pages with good material and often does….though I have to wonder if he gets paid when he does that.

If you were to pick any single issue to turn someone on to Galaxy (or to science fiction in general), you could hardly do better than to give them the latest issue (October 1962) of Galaxy.  Not only isn’t there a clunker in the mix, not only does it feature a new Instrumentality story by the great Cordwainer Smith, but it includes part one of an incredible new novel by the editor.

Wow.  I think I threw in more superlatives in the last three paragraphs than I have in the last three months.  I guess it’s time to show you what all the hubbub’s about:

The Ballad of Lost C’mell, by Cordwainer Smith

Many authors write in a consistent world.  Some are developed following an individual through her/his life in a series of stories.  Others might take place in a common setting but feature different protagonists.  Smith has introduced his Instrumentality universe through oblique flashes.  Each piece involves wildly different places and characters, each with a limited view of things.  Only after reading several of them does one get an idea of the nature of Smith’s creation.

Thousands of years from now, Earth has seen global empires rise and fall.  The current ruling entity is the Instrumentality, a council of pure-humans ruling over the people-citizens and genetically altered animal-subcitizens.  Technology caters to virtually every need; the world enjoys a purely service-based economy with the Underhumans providing the services.  For humans, Earth is a beautiful, magical place filled with strange wonders.  For the animal-people, enslaved to the pure humans, life is a struggle and punishments harsh.  We are beyond the familiar subtext of racism/chauvinism that suffuses Western stories – the relationship between the races hearkens to the rigid castes of Asia.  The animal-men may be cast in human mold, but their treatment is peremptory, inhumane.  And the humans are blithely unaware that their creations have the capacity to rebel…

C’mell is the most straight-forward of Smith’s Instrumentality stories, and it gives the sharpest insight, to date, of the world he’s created (though it by no means reveals all of its secrets).  As always, it displays Smith’s mastery of the craft, mixing showing and telling, romance and austerity, far-future and relatability.  Smith is an author who doesn’t put pen to paper unless it’s for a four or five-star story, and C’mell is no exception.  Five stars.

Come Into My Cellar, by Ray Bradbury

We’ve seen the plot where intelligent fungus take over humanity through forced symbiosis in Aldiss’ Hothouse stories.  Bradbury gives us a much more conventional setup, where the evil mushrooms send spores of themselves via mail-order catalog to be grown and ingested.  A nicely written but dumb story, and it has the same ending as All Summer in a Day, which is to say, Ray doesn’t bother to end it.  Three stars – about as good as Bradbury (not really an SF author) ever gets.

The Earthman’s Burden, by Donald E. Westlake

A competent if somewhat forgettable story of an arrogant, resurgent Terran star empire and the lost colony that promises to be more trouble than it’s worth to conquer.  There’s pleasant satire here, particularly of the buffoonish Imperials, but nothing we haven’t seen before.  In fact, I rather expected to find this piece in Analog (you’ll see why).  Three stars.

For Your Information: End of the Jet Age, by Willy Ley

A generation ago, propeller planes were the way to travel.  Now that they’ve been eclipsed by the jets, one has to wonder just how long our 707s and DC-8s will last before they are, in turn, replaced by the next mode of transportation.  Ley gives us an excellent preview of rocketplane travel in the 1980s as well as a spotlight on a living fossil and answers to readers’ questions.  Four stars.

A City Near Centaurus, by Bill Doede

Speaking of series, Doede has a third story in his tale of teleporting humans , who have exiled themselves from Earth using subcutaneous matter transmitters that work at the speed of thought.  This latest piece involves a dilettante archaeologist who’ll brave offending the Gods and even risk death to dig an ancient, abandoned site on Alpha Centauri II.  Another piece that shouldn’t work (why does the native speak perfect English?), but Doede always pulls it off.  Four stars.

How to Make Friends, by Jim Harmon

Resigned to an 18-year hitch, the solo operator of a Martian atmosphere seeder resorts to building his own companions to preserve his sanity.  It’s a little bit McIntosh’s Hallucination Orbit (one wonders if the events of the story are really happening) tinged with Sheckley-esque satire and robotics.  But Harmon is not quite as skilled as either of these authors, and so the story ends up like most of Harmon’s work, never quite hitting the mark.  Three stars.

Plague of Pythons (Part 1 of 2), by Frederik Pohl

How fragile our interconnected, technological world is.  How easy it would be for a few malicious demons, selectively possessing our bodies at propitious times, to utterly disintegrate our society.  Fast forward two years, after the world has reverted to feudal savagery.  Communities larger than the village are impossible.  Religion has revived in a last-ditch attempt to protect humanity from bodily appropriation.  One ex-engineer, name of Chandler, is on trial for a heinous assault he most assuredly committed, but which wasn’t his doing.  What justice can he find in a world where the dispensers of justice can, at any time, cease being themselves?

Pythons is a brutal, uncomfortable story, crushingly bleak.  It’s not the sort of thing I would normally go for, and I definitely caution against it if mind control pushes unpleasant buttons.  Yet Pohl executes the thing deftly, and he holds out the barest sliver of hope to keep you going.  I have no idea how Pythons will conclude, but if the latter half is as good as the first, we’ll have a minor masterpiece on our hands.  Four stars (for now…)

Roberta, by Margaret St. Clair

Roberta explores the lengths one might go to erase the wrongness they feel exists in themselves – and the possibility that it is impossible to escape that wrongness.  It is the first story I’ve read that explores the concept of transsexualism, and while it is not a positive story, it is an interesting one.  Three stars.

Bimmie Says, by Sydney J. Van Scyoc

While we’re on the subject of changing physical form, is it possible to be transCarnivorous?  In other words, what if cats and dogs can be made mutually intermalleable?  And if pets can be transformed, why not people?  Van Scyoc’s story is clearly inspired by Keyes’ hit, Flowers for Algernon, whose excellence it does not quite reach.  Still, it’s not bad, and I’m glad to see Sydney’s continuing her promising career.  Three stars.

Who Dares a Bulbur Eat?, by Gordon R. Dickson

Last up is the second in the adventures of the interstellar ambassadorial couple, Tom and Lucy Reasoner — a sort of Hammett’s Nick and Nora meets Laumer’s Retief.  In this installment, the Reasoners are tasked with attending a diplomatic banquet to find the weakness in the newly discovered Jacktal empire, a rapacious regime more powerful than the Terran Federation. 

It’s a bit of a muddle, and the title fairly spoils the piece, but the conclusion is great fun and worth the price of admission.  Three stars.

All told, this comes out to a 3.5 star issue, none of it tiresome, much of it amazing.  I am also happy to see that F&SF will not have the monopoly on woman writers this month.  It’s issues like this that buoy me through the lousy patches (like last month’s Analog).  I mean, suffering for art is all well and good, but sometimes it’s nice to have nice things to say!

Next up, let’s see how the October 1962 Amazing stacks up.  See you then!




[June 16, 1962] Picking Up Charles Finney (The Circus of Dr. Lao)


by Victoria Lucas

I am so honored to be taking up space here!  The Traveler thought enough of my letters to the editor that he asked me to become a regular contributor.  In my letters I mentioned how I’ve just graduated from Stanford and am going back to my old job in the Drama Department at the University of Arizona, and my mother’s home, where I’m typing on an old portable Smith-Corona that has seen far too many papers, dissertations, theses, and so on as I’ve struggled to work my way through college. 

Last fall I tacked up on my bulletin board (unfortunately in the sun) a short column of news about somebody with whom I sometimes work in Tucson little theatre–Bob Hammond, a French professor at the University of Arizona who once won a Fulbright to Paris and never recovered.  He writes his plays in French and English and translates from each language into the other.  The blurb introduced Hammond as one of four playwrights who formed a producing group for their work.  One of the other playwrights was a fellow by the name of Charles Finney who was supposed to produce a play of his this year. 

The article reminded me that I may have met Finney as I house-managed and assistant-directed Bob’s plays.  Or I might have seen him in his workplace, the newspaper building downtown, where he has been editor of the Arizona Daily Star for 32 years (I spent my Saturdays at the Tucson Daily Citizen my senior year in high school helping to put out the “Teen Citizen,” a section of the paper.) So when I ran across The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories I picked it up.  It’s edited by Ray Bradbury and published by Bantam Books, first out 1956.

In the very first sentence of his introduction to this book of short and long stories, Bradbury asserts that the works in this book “are fantasies, not science-fiction.” He goes on to list some adjectives and statements that contrast science fiction and fantasy as genres (or at least his idea of the genres).  Then, in two short, strident paragraphs, like trochees in a poem, he argues:

“Science-fiction balances you on the cliff.

Fantasy shoves you off.”

This book of short stories (and one long one) conforms to that opinion.  At least the shoving-off-cliffs part.

Charles Finney’s novella The Circus of Dr. Lao is on the cover and first in the book.  Finney uses figures of mythical people and animals to produce what seems like an almost metaphorical story of Abalone, Arizona, which apparently is what Charles Finney calls Tucson.  He began the story while he was in the US Army in China in 1929, and it has seen numerous editions since it was first in print in 1935. 

Lao Tzu (or Laozi, or Lao Tse or …) is a mythical/historical figure who is said to be the author of the Tao Te Ching, a book of philosophy, and the founder of Taoism (Daoism), variously a religion and a philosophy.  The presence of this part man part myth as the owner of a circus is better understood when you see who and what the circus animals and people are: a medusa, a sea serpent, Apollonius of Tyana (15 to 100 AD, a Christ-like figure who incongruously wears and uses a cross), a satyr, a Roc chick, Sphinx, Chimera, and so on.  The real venerable philosopher (Dr.) Lao did not preach withdrawal from the world but discernment and enjoyment of what is in it, apparently here containing the inventions of the human imagination that might include himself (does that tangle your nervous system?)

These animals and humanlike entities do not mix well, and they look strange marching through the town of Abalone as circuses used to do.  They are so bizarre that the people of Abalone do not know what to make of them, and they argue incessantly about whether one of the circus figures is a bear, a “Russian,” or a man.  Finney doesn’t even settle the matter in his ending “Catalogue” of characters, questions, and other matters at the end.

I cannot recommend this story enough.  Although Bradbury calls it fantasy, it fits in no genre, has no particular moral, steps in no one else’s shoes.  I am only familiar with one other book of Finney’s, The Unholy City, which seems to me again to be without identifiable genre, one that calls out human foibles but does not condemn them.  Both books are funny but not laugh-out-loud funny.  Their humor emanates quietly from human (and mythic) limitations and self-aggrandizement.

What I find most amusing is the way the good (or not-so-good) doctor can change in an instant back and forth from a stereotype of an ignorant and hysterical “heathen Chinee,” misplaced letters “L” and all, to a calm, philosophical global traveller speaking perfect English. 

In one scene, he “came dashing up, ‘Whatsah mattah Glod damn college punks come this place?’ …’You no savvee nothing here.  Glet to hell out!  This my show, by Glod!'” Eventually he “glets” them out by shouting, “Hey, Lube!  (instead of the circus/carnival rallying cry, “Hey, Rube!”).

A little later he expounds on his Hound of the Hedges (supposedly a living dog made out of vegetable matter).  He begins with “Epitomizing the fragrance of grassplots, lawns, and hedgy, thickset places, this behemoth of hounds stands unique in the mysterious lexicon of life.”  Elsewhere he maintains his innocence of fraud by saying “You see: I no fool you.  This place no catchum fake.” 

(In my experience, some clever people conceived in foreign lands or looking still foreign in this one use this ability to believably imitate their stereotypes in order to maintain their privacy and ward off unwelcome demands.)

As the show goes on, there are casualties, mainly from the Medusa’s ability to turn people to stone, but Dr. Lao is almost killed himself.  He survives, though, and just as he came to town by no visible means (not by truck or train), he leaves with his menagerie the same way.

“I am a calm, intelligent girl.” Miss Agnes Birdsong reassures herself.  “I am a calm, intelligent girl, and I have not seen Pan on Main Street.” Circus of Dr. Lao

“When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu

The rest of the book consists of short stories of varying length.  The first, Nigel Kneale’s story The Pond, seems to me to have congealed around a particular idea the way the white of a boiled egg encircles the yolk.  Anything I say about it will probably spoil the ending of this extremely short story, so I will just state that it is of frogs and men.

The Hour of Letdown by E. B. White pits men against an artificial brain.  One that likes to get drunk after a hard job well done.

So far humans aren’t doing very well.  Let’s see how things go with Roald Dahl’s The Wish.  Hmmm.  Imagination 3, human beings 0. 

And “The Summer People”?  Well, I know Shirley Jackson’s work, and her imagination tends to the … let’s just say she’s well known for The Haunting of Hill House, a ghost story.  A couple lucky enough to have a summer home decide to stay there after Labor Day, something they’ve never done before.  Be prepared for unending suspense.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of the next story, is taught in school as one of America’s first, most celebrated authors.  He is probably best known for his book The Scarlet Letter (1850), about fictional events 200 years earlier in Puritan Boston, where an adulteress is forced to wear a red letter “A” on her dress.  This story, Earth’s Holocaust, dates from 1844 and is strongly reminiscent of Jonathan Swift, whose work Hawthorne probably would have read.  Its moral: beware of reforms, because evil will spring forth anew.

Loren Eiseley is an anthropologist, not a writer of fiction, but this story (essay?) was published in 1948 in Harper’s Magazine, when he was head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Pennsylvania.  “Bone hunters,” he writes, “are listeners.  They have to be.”  He hears about Buzby’s Petrified Woman (the story title) while hunting for fossils, and he has to find out if it’s “a bone.”  Because it’s in this collection I would think it’s fantasy.  Because it’s Eiseley I’m inclined to believe it’s a memory.  You judge.

Oliver La Farge is also an anthropologist, but he wrote recognized fiction.  This story, The Resting Place, also became part of his collection A Pause in the Desert (1957) (Oh, I wish they hadn’t misspelled “Chinle”–with an extra “e.”  It’s one of my favorite spots.) So I do understand “the old man’s” obsession with Navajo country.  Its beauty is formidable, its mystery eternal.  This story does not challenge that view.

Threshold is by Henry Kuttner – an author with more pseudonyms than anyone else I know.  His most frequent one was Lewis Padgett, a name he used when he wrote with his wife C. L. Moore, but apparently Kuttner attributed this story to himself.  Kuttner is notable for his correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft, the inventor of the world of Cthulu.  If you have read or read about Lovecraft’s work, you can guess the atmosphere and maybe one of the few characters in this story, which has been described elsewhere as “horror.”  Apparently the husband-and-wife team of Kuttner and Moore did not have two egotists on it, because Kuttner writes here, “egotists cannot live together.”  Beware: this is the second time a devil has appeared in this book.  Third time’s a charm.

In James H. Schmitz’s Greenface a barking dog begins to “churn up the night” as the owner of a fishing camp tries to decide how to deal with a green horror that has driven away his campers–and his girlfriend. 

The Limits of Walter Horton features this quote by author John Seymour Sharnik: “Even if one accepted Horton’s rare talent as the purest sort of inspiration, that didn’t explain what was happening.” 

What if, while you are woolgathering, you are really not all there?  What if part of you is truly in the place and time you are thinking about, and the you in the present has somehow diminished?  Maybe this story, The Man Who Vanished by Robert M. Coates, would be the result.

For me, the stories in this book are uneven in quality and interest, but however you can get it, I absolutely recommend The Circus of Dr. Lao.  If you like Galactic Journey, you’ll like Finney.

[June 5, 1962] Into the Sunset (the End of The Twilight Zone, Season 3)


by Lorelei Marcus

You hear that? That’s the last school bell ringing, signifying the end of the school year. That means the beginning of summer break, and with it the end of another season of The Twilight Zone. However, unlike the previous seasons of The Twilight Zone, I hear this may be the last. I am both sad, and a bit relieved. I have very much enjoyed reviewing this series with my father, and I am very sad to see it go. However, I believe its also time for it to go. It had a very good first season, and progressively got worse over time as Serling strained for more ideas. It was obvious that by the end, Serling was out of inspiration. Still, rather than focus on all the many mediocre episodes, I’d like to go back and appreciate the really stand-out episodes of The Twilight Zone.

The first ones I would like to honor, of course, were the two recent five star rated episodes, Little Girl Lost and The Fugitive. Truly spectacular works that were the perfect balance of peculiar, creepy, and heartwarming. Next I would like to honor The Mirror in its complete awfulness. It was really terrible, in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. Finally, I would like to say something about Time Enough at Last and It’s a Good Life, because I know people are going to be asking about them. Time Enough had an interesting setup and conflict, however I didn’t like the ending at all. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for happy endings, but just having his glasses break seemed like a cheap cop-out rather than an actual twist. It’s a Good Life also had an interesting setup, however from there it just went downhill for me. There wasn’t really a message I got out of it other than “don’t spoil your kids,” which I assume was not the intended theme. At least I don’t have to babysit the kid. If you’d like to see full reviews of all the episodes I just mentioned, and more, just peruse past articles of Galactic Journey with The Twilight Zone in the title.

Alright, enough talk about episodes I’ve already reviewed; let’s talk about the last four episodes. Which just so happen to be the literal last four episodes of The Twilight Zone:

Young Man’s Fancy, by Richard Matheson

We start off with a more Season One style episode. A newlywed couple goes to the husband’s dead mother’s house to pack and get ready to sell it. It becomes clear fairly quickly that the husband is still clinging to the house and the memory of his mother. The wife, on the other hand, is the polar opposite, relieved she can finally have her husband all to herself. Throughout the episode, certain strange things keep happening around the wife, such as a broken clock starting to work again, and a modern vacuum magically changing into a much older one. It seems as if the ghost of the husband’s mother is malicious and trying to scare the wife off. The episode ends with a twist that neither me nor my father predicted for once, so that was a nice surprise. However I am still a little confused by the ending as well, and haven’t really been able to decide what it means. I’d love to hear some feedback of what you think. I give this 3 stars.

I sing the Body Electric, by Ray Bradbury

This second episode was a bit of a contrast to the first one. It was very touching and I found it very enjoyable to watch. It’s about a single father struggling to raise three unhappy children. Everyone misses the mother of the family very much. Luckily, they’re just so happens to be a company that makes robotic caretakers that are perfect for a lonely household! Of course the family heads over to check them out. From this point until near the end of the episode, I was convinced the twist would be that something terrible was going to happen. This idea was only reinforced by the infinitely creepy salesman and his “create your own person” type product. Still, the episode proved me wrong and ended very sweetly. I would highly recommend that you would watch this episode on a bad day, it has a very happy ending and theme, that I think will cheer you up. I give this episode a whopping 4.5 stars!

[Gwyn, our fashion columnist felt similarly (ED)]

Cavender is Coming, by Rod Serling

The third episode was about a clumsy but charming woman who couldn’t keep a job if her life depended on it, and her 24-hour guardian angel, who isn’t so great himself. The Angel tries to make the woman happy by giving her lots of money, but in the end, of course she wants to go back to her old, silly life. Hmmm, this plot sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? That’s probably because it’s the exact same plot as Mr. Bevis except done worse. I won’t bother to go into detail about my opinions on this episode, since it would be the same as my father’s review of Mr. Bevis. I give it 2.5 stars.

Changing of the Guard, by Rod Serling

Unfortunately, this final episode is not the big awesome finale I think some of us were hoping for. In fact, I was actually having trouble remembering the episode when sitting down to write this review! The entire plot can be summarized to about two sentences. Teacher gets fired and is depressed. Gets told he’s done a lot for the world, and becomes no longer depressed. Now imagine that, but drawn out into 22, very slow minutes. However, I did realize while writing this article, that this final episode had a deeper meaning. The teacher realizes at the end that, it is his time to retire and let a new teacher in. He has left a great mark on the world and will not be forgotten, however he is also done and it is his time to step out of the light. In a way, this is a metaphor for The Twilight Zone. It has had a long, good run, and I imagine it will not be forgotten anytime soon. However, it is time for it to end, as all things must do, and give room for new amazing shows to come. I will still only give this episode 2 stars, because it was incredibly boring, but it did give this for me to think about.

I have the final average of 3 stars. A nice middle to end on. Not particularly good, but at least not too bad either. I will miss you Twilight Zone, but I’m also glad it’s over. Besides, I need to make room for all the fantastic summer blockbusters yet to come. Until then,

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.


by Gideon Marcus

And here’s the Old Traveler..er..the Just Plain Traveler signing in.  My two-and-a-half cents:

Young Man’s Fancy was tedious, though the final twist was somewhat interesting.  Two stars.

I liked I sing the Body Electric less that my youthful counterpart.  It’s a fantasy, not science fiction, and perhaps would been better framed in that context.  But David White (the father) is quite an excellent actor, and young Veronica Cartwright (the eldest sibling) did a fine job.  Josephine Hutchinson, in the Mary Poppins role, somehow left me cold.  Three stars.

Cavender is Coming fell incredibly flat, some of the blame I must lay at Jesse White’s (Cavender) feet.  Two stars.

Changing of the Guard features an excellent performance by British actor, Donald Pleasence, but the soliloquies are all 20% too long, and the “twist” broadly telegraphed.  2.5 stars.

Thus, for me, The Twilight Zone ends with a whimper, and I suspect there is truth to the rumor that the show has failed to get a sponsor for next season.  Nevertheless, however spotty this final run has been, we must still give Serling his due for creating a revolutionary anthology show, one which will rightly be remembered (and hopefully imitated) for years to come.

[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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Second chances (March 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction; 3-6-1959)

I promised a book review today, but then I misplaced my book.  Life is like that.  So, for your reading pleasure, I instead offer my meanderings through the March 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction (you know, the one I was supposed to have done last month instead of the prematurely secured April issue).

As with the last (next) ish of F&SF, it starts with a bang.  Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies—“ is an unique tale of time travel.  Everyone has heard of the Grandfather’s Paradox, but what if you end up being your own granpaw?  I have to give extra credit to Heinlein for having a transsexual protagonist (i.e. someone who has been both male and female).  I hope I’m using that word correctly–it’s brand new.

I like Asimov’s science article, Nothing, in which he points out that the mass of all the “empty” spaces between the galaxies actually exceeds the mass contained in the galaxies by a significant margin.  I suppose that makes sense, but it is odd to conceptualize.  I guess the Great Watchmaker needs to stir up the universe just a little more to get the lumps out…

Ray Bradbury has a tale involving mermaids in this issue called The Shoreline at Sunset.  Any mermaid story in F&SF naturally invites comparison to Sturgeon’s mermaid story A Touch of Strange (published in the Jan. 1958 issue).  Unfortunately, unlike Sturgeon’s quite brilliant piece, Bradbury’s is well-written but somewhat pointless.  But then, I might say that any time I compare Bradbury to Sturgeon.

Have you been following Zenna Henderson’s stories of “The People”?  Human in form but possessed of tremendous psychic powers, these interstellar refugees have been trapped on Earth in hiding for many years.  They dwell in their sequestered valleys, occasionally venturing forth to rescue isolated members of their kind raised by native Earthers.  Henderson’s stories are always beautiful, often with a touch of sadness.

Well, with Jordan, the castaways finally have the opportunity to be rescued.  More “civilized” members of their race arrive in a spaceship with an invitation to settle on a new planet, one on which they won’t have to hide their powers or use rough technology to do what their powers could do more elegantly.  Yet the exiled People have grown to love the Earth and even the crude methods they’ve had to employ to survive.  Can they leave it all behind? 

According to the editorial blurb preceding the story, it looks like Ms. Henderson finally has enough stories of The People to fill an anthology.  I definitely recommend picking it up when it hits the shelves.

See you on the 8th!



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