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[August 30, 1962] Flawed set (September 1962 Analog)

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


by Gideon Marcus

In the Soviet Union, they have an interesting grocery practice.  Food production is, of course, nationalized.  Thus, there are quotas that manufacturers are supposed to reach.  Provided you have enough klass (social clout in the “classless society”), you can order a great many desirable foods for your office, your restaurant, your institute.  Sausage, chocolates, and so on.  However, you generally can’t order these items individually.  Rather, you request a set of items. 

For instance, one might want coffee, but the set also includes chocolate, sugar, and cookies — whether you need them or not.  The cookies might be several years old, the chocolate might be stale, or there might not even be any coffee.  Or you could get lucky. 

Maybe you want a kilo of fresh beef, but you can only get it with two cans of pressed meat, a kilo of hamburger meat, and a kilo of frozen vegetables.  Well, why not?  But when it arrives, the vegetables are freezer burned and the hamburger is green on the inside.  At least you got the beef and the SPAM, right?

The science fiction digest, Analog, is much the same.  For the past few years, the general pattern has been for the magazine to include a serial of high quality, and the rest of the space larded out with substandard shorts and ridiculous “science” articles on crackpot topics. 

So enjoy your September 1962 Analog — it’s what you ordered…and a lot more that you didn’t:

A Life for the Stars (Part 1 of 2), by James Blish

This is the jewel of the issue, a fantastic piece about the twilight of the Earth.  After centuries of resource depletion and oppressive rule, humanity is spreading itself amongst the stars.  Whole cities are departing the Earth, powered by “spindizzy” anti-gravity drives.  Each is a small principality unto itself, trading with other settlements, space-borne and planet-bound. 

Our viewpoint is Crispin DeFord, a scrap-metal scrounger on the outskirts of Scranton just before the tired town plans to fly off to the heavens.  The tale is a little bit Heinlein (Citizen of the Galaxy in particular) and a bit more bucolic Simak.  The first half will grip you tight, and the second part will hold your interest, if not as strongly.  I am very keen to see where this goes.  Four stars.

The Winds of Time, by James H. Schmitz

This relic of the dawn of the Digest Era continues to write stuff in an aged vein.  This particular tale involves a little cargo ship, crew of one, hijacked by one of the two passengers.  He is a Villainous Time Traveler from the Future.  The Pilot must use his strength and cunning to rescue himself and the other passenger, a Girl, before the Villain’s alien sidekick secures the ship permanently in the higher levels of hyperspace.

Actually, Winds wouldn’t be such a bad story except that it reads more like an outline than a finished piece.  The sort of summary blurb that might accompany the latter portions of a serial rather than a stand-alone short.  Thus, it is tedious and disappointing.  Two stars.

The First Science, by Joseph F. Goodavage

Now this is vintage Analog, a full thirty pages devoted to a defense of astrology, of all things.  The argument goes something like this: many of our brightest lights in natural philosophy — Galileo, Kepler, Brahe, Newton — were all astrologers, and some of their predictions came true!  If those smart people believed in the stuff, aren’t we fools not to?  I’m certain there was no cherrypicking of evidence on the part of Mr. Goodavage; after all, when I’ve looked for confirmation bias, I’ve always found it.

Why does this laughable thing get two stars instead of one?  There is some good biographical data in here, despite the ludicrous conclusion.  And there is a grim fascination as one reads, wondering if the shoe is really going to drop on the side of the most pseudo of pseudo-sciences.

Good Indian, by Mack Reynolds

A hundred years from now, the United States has so integrated that there is no such thing as a minority anymore — until three full-blooded Seminoles march into the Bureau for Indian Affairs and demand reparations for the Trail of Tears.  Played for laughs, and with a truly offensive ending, this is the sort of story I expect from Analog, but not from Reynolds.  One star.

The Professional Approach, by Leonard Lockhard

The legally adept Lockhard (really Theodore L. Thomas) provides another insight into the world of technical patents, this one involving a miracle invention and the attorney who falls a little too much in love with it.  As the Japanese say, “With love, even pockmarks become dimples,” and so Approach’s protagonist fails to find the fatal flaw in his client’s creation…before too late.

Competent and fun, as always.  Three stars.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Christopher Anvil

Communism in Cuba is upended by little radio transmitters placed in the teeth by activist dentists.  These transmissions create an intense desire to work, independent of ideology or compensation.  Of course, one must never confuse motion for action, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue in this piece.  I think it’s supposed to be a satire on the undesirability of the moocherism of Communism and the cold ,ercantile nature of Capitalism… but I found it talky, implausible, and just plain dumb.  Par for the course for the material Anvil produces for Analog‘s editor, Campbell.  One star. 

Beyond Pandora, by Robert S. Martin

Finally, a short short gotcha piece where we find that the origin of the longevity serum is none other than… well, you can read it and find out, but you won’t be surprised.  Two stars.

At 2.3 stars, Analog is not quite the worst magazine of the month (that award goes to Amazing with 2.2 stars), but it’s awfully close.  And yet, the Blish is so good that you might find it worth 50 cents for that story alone.  Or you might wait for it to end and then buy the novel.

Thank goodness we live in the West and you have that option!




[May 17, 1962] Not as bad as it looks (June 1962 Analog)


by Gideon Marcus

A wise fellow once opined that the problem with a one-dimensional rating system (in my case, 1-5 Galactic Stars) is that there is little differentiating the flawed jewel from the moderately amusing.  That had not really been an issue for me until this month’s issue of Analog.  With the exception of the opening story, which though it provides excellent subject matter for the cover’s striking picture, is a pretty unimpressive piece, the rest of the tales have much to recommend them.  They just aren’t quite brilliant for one reason or another. 

So you’re about to encounter a bunch of titles that got three-star ratings, but don’t let that deter you if the summaries pique your interest:

The Weather Man, by Theodore L. Thomas

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” so the old saw goes.  But in Thomas’ future, the Earth’s weather is completely under the control of the all-powerful Weather Bureau; and it follows that the associated Weather Council is ruler of the world.  One councilor decides to stake his political future on the odd request of a resident of Holtville, California whose dying wish is to see snow before he dies…in July.

A couple of notable points: We seem increasingly confident that weather will be a trivial problem to solve.  That’s reassuring given the threat of global warming.  Another is the featuring of Holtville, a tiny farm town in the middle of the country’s richest farmland: the Imperial Valley.  I know the place fairly well – it’s the next town over from my hometown of El Centro, the county seat.  Aside from its healthy Future Farmers of America chapter, its surprisingly able High School Speech Team, and that it was the residence of a brief ex-girlfriend, it has no outstanding qualities.  Just another stinky, buggy, windy settlement in an irrigated hot desert.

Anyway, Weatherman is a dull, plodding piece, and in contrast to the later stories in this issue, has very few trappings of a far, or even near, future.  Aside from the boats that sail over the sun, that is.  I’m not sure how pinpoint weather modification is somehow easier by tampering with a star rather than its planet.  I couldn’t swallow it.  Two stars.

Three-Part Puzzle, by Gordon R. Dickson

In galaxy where the races divide neatly into Conquerers, Submissives, and Invulnerables (the last uninterested in conquering and incapable of beating into submission), what do you do when you discover humanity fits into none of these categories?  A cute tale no longer than it needs to be.  Three stars.

Anything You Can Do! (Part 2 of 2), by Randall Garrett

This latter installment depicting the battle of superhuman Stanton brothers vs. the frighteningly alien Nipe (begun last month) ends satisfactorily.  In fact, Garrett weaves together a number of plot threads with some fair skill, explaining the weird psychology of the shipwrecked ET; resolving the mysterious situation of the twin Stantons, one of whom had been crippled from birth and yet no longer has any physical ailments; and concluding the Nipe menace without resorting to bloodshed.  I am shocked, myself, to admit that I liked a Garrett story from start to finish, without qualifications.  Could the Randy fellow have turned a corner?  Three stars for this part, three-and-a-half in aggregate.

Interstellar Passenger Capsule, by Ralph A. Hall, M.D.

Dr. Hall takes on the currently popular topic of panspermia, the idea that life is spread around the cosmos by interstellar meteors.  It’s overlong, a bit meandery, and I don’t believe for a second that meteorites have been found with spores in them (at least, spores that were there before their carrier hit the Earth).  It reads like something submitted for a high school paper.  In that context, it might get a ‘B.’  Here, it barely rates two stars.

The Sound of Silence, by Barbara Constant

An interesting, almost F&SFish piece about a young mind-reader who struggles to come to grips with her powers.  Lonely is the existence of a telepath with no one to send thoughts to.  I’ve never heard of Ms. Constant, but this was a solid piece, and a somewhat unique take on a hoary topic.  Three stars.

Novice, by James H. Schmitz

Young Telzey Amberdon has got quite a task ahead of her!  Can this second-year law student prove the sentience of an extraterrestrial race of giant cats while thwarting the nefarious schemes, upon Telzey and the kitties, of her evil aunt?  Here’s an interesting story that combines telepathy, a female protagonist, and felines.  We also see progressive details like a Galactic Federation Councilwoman and a wallet-sized law library.  Its demerits are a slightly disjointed narrative style and a coda that is a bit creepy in its implications.  Nevertheless, I’d love more in this vein, please.  Three stars. 

***

That tallies up to an average of 2.7 – not very promising on the surface, but if you take out the leading novelette and the lackluster science fact article, you’re left with some very readable, if not astonishing, stuff.  I’m not sorry I read this ish, which is more than I can say for some of the prior ones.

[April 10, 1962] All the Difference (May 1962 IF Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

The measure of a story’s quality, good or bad, is how well it sticks in your memory.  The sublime and the stinkers are told and retold, the mediocre just fades away.  If you ever wonder how I rate the science fiction I read, memorability is a big component. 

This month’s IF has some real winners, and even the three-star stories have something to recommend them.  For the first time, I see a glimpse of the greatness that almost was under Damon Knight’s tenure back in 1959.  Read on, and perhaps you’ll agree.

Retief of the Red-Tape Mountain, by Keith Laumer

Laumer continues to improve in his tales of the omni-capable diplomat hamstrung by the flounderings of a sub-capable bureaucracy.  In this story, Retief is dispatched to make peace between the settlers of a new colony, and a band of aliens that has recently popped onto the scene.  Comedy is hard to write, and it’s harder (but more rewarding) to anchor humor to a serious backbone.  There are some genuinely funny moments in Mountain, and it’s also a good story.  Four stars.

The Spy, by Theodore L. Thomas

An extraterrestrial (but human) reincarnation of Nathan Hale is captured by musket-bearing folk and tried for espionage.  I enjoyed it well-enough at the time, but the ending sat poorly.  There’s just not enough to this piece.  Two stars.

Death and Taxes, by H. A. Hartzell

I really enjoyed this fanciful tale of a beneficent sea-captain’s ghost, the impoverished artist he comes to haunt (or perhaps, “with whom he cohabitates” is more appropriate, and the lady who is the object of the artist’s affections.  It’s Lafferty-esque, a little bit disjointed but a lot of fun.  I’ve never heard of Hartzell before, so s/he is either a promising novice or a slumming veteran.  Four stars.


by DYAS

Misrule, by Robert Scott

Politics is a chaotic game.  Strikes, protests, riots – these can really throw a wrench into the workings of government.  What if you could do away with all that?  Subvert all the anti-government feelings into one quadrennial orgy of rapine and destruction, a blowing off a steam that keeps things quiet for another four years?  Scott’s tale isn’t particularly plausible, but it is vivid.  Three stars.

Deadly Game, by Edward Wellen

This is a weird Isle of Dr. Moreau-type tale about a park ranger who engineers his charges to be vicious guerrillas, making the animals sentient masters of their own fate.  Another well-told story that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Three stars.

The Hoplite, by Richard Sheridan

In the far future, flesh is not enough to withstand the rigors of war.  One solution is to surround the warriors in an exo-skeleton of metal, the other…well, you’ll have to read to find out what can resist a steel humanoid goliath.  Evocative but somehow hollow.  Three stars.

The 64-Square Madhouse, by Fritz Leiber

Some science fiction stories are so imaginative yet so plausible that you can be convinced that you are seeing the future.  Leiber’s tale depicts a chess tournament that takes place on the eve of the time when computers become good enough at the game to beat the best Grandmasters.  This is not some staid Robot vs. Man tale, but a cunning extrapolation of the current state of the art in cybernetic chess to a few decades into the future.  Add to it a cast of well-drawn characters and a multi-peak story arc, and you’ve got a story that will likely be referenced by name the day fiction becomes reality.  Five stars, and bravo.


by BURNS

Gramp, by Charles. V. DeVet

The gift of telepathy is a double-edged sword, as one boy soon discovers.  DeVet does a good job of capturing a youth’s voice, and he’s no stranger to sensitive stories.  Would make a decent The Twilight Zone episode, perhaps.  Three stars.

The Other IF, by Theodore Sturgeon

Ted Sturgeon’s non-fiction piece is about an IF magazine that never was.  Apparently, Sturgeon has wanted to have his own magazine since the War Years.  The digest he conceived, which he planned to call IF, would have exclusively published “If this goes on” stories: short-term predictions turned into plausible stories.  He concludes his non-fiction account of the IF that never was with a few guesses of his own – since he wrote the article in December, their accuracy is already a matter of record.  He then invites you, the reader, to make your own and send them in. 

Do you have any hunches on what’s in store for this Summer?

(Three stars)

The Expendables, by Jim Harmon

Harmon can always be counted on to provide readable fiction.  In this case, we have a droll story about the man who invents the perfect garbage disposal…but can the Laws of Thermodynamics be so easily beaten?  Or the Mafia?  The FBI?  My favorite line, “My opinion as to the type of person who followed the pages of science-fiction magazines with fluttering lips and tracing finger were upheld.”  Three stars.

***

Added up, that puts us at 3.4 for the month, a respectable score for what used to be one of the lesser mags, and it was worth it just for the Leiber.  A host of interesting, implausible stories, and one humdinger of a plausible one.  I guess I’ll just have to renew my subscription to this promising digest.  Good on you, Editor Fred Pohl!

[January 29, 1961] Take a little off the bottom (February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Greetings from sunny Kaua’i!  It seems like only yesterday I was reporting from this island’s idyllic shores.  Much has changed, of course–Hawai’i is now a state!  50 is a nice round number, so perhaps we won’t see any new entries into the Union for a while.

Accompanying me on this trip is the last science fiction digest of the month, the February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction.  On a lark, I decided to read from the end, first.  In retrospect, I’m glad I did, but it certainly made the magazine a challenge.  You see, the stories at the end are just wretched.  But if you skip them (or survive them, as I did), the rest of the magazine is quite excellent.

Let’s get the drek over with straight-away, shall we?

Some unknown named C. Brian Kelly offers up the disgusting and sadistic The Tunnel, three pages about a vengeful cockroach that you need never read. 1 star.

Meanwhile, the normally excellent Robert F. Young offers the strangely prudish Storm over Sodom, which somehow rubbed me the wrong way all the way through.  2 stars.

Whew.  Now let’s go to the beginning and pretend the last 20 pages never happened. 

Brian Aldiss, who wrote the variable fix-up Galaxies like grains of sand is back with what I hope is the first in a series of tales about life on Earth in the very distant future.  Hothouse portrays a hot, steamy world dominated by vegetable life.  Indeed, a single banyan tree has become a global forest, and within it reside a myriad of mobile plant creatures that comprise almost all of the planet’s species.  Humanity is a savage race, clearly on the decline.  Their only hope, perhaps, will come from the outer space they once called their own domain. 

It’s a beautifully crafted world, the characters are vivid, and if the science stretches credulity, it does not entirely break it.  Five stars

Time was is a pleasant piece by Ron Goulart involving a homesick young woman, the trap that tries to lure her back to the 1939 of her childhood, and the dilettante detective of occult matters who tries to save her.  Four stars.

I’ve said before that Rosel George Brown is a rising star, and Of all possible worlds is my favorite story of hers yet.  A beautiful tale of an interstellar explorer and the almost-humans he meets on a placid, emerald-sand beach.  They seem to be primitives, but sometimes the end result of scientific progress is a pleasant, contemplative rest.  Anthropology, biology, love, and loss.  Five stars.

Marcel Ayme is back with his The Ubiquitous Wife, about a young woman who can multiply herself infinitely and thus live a thousand lives at once.  Like his other stories, it is droll and engaging.  The translator did a good job of conveying Ayme’s clever turns of phrase.  Three stars.

Theodore L. Thomas provides The Intruder, a subtle time travel story featuring a backpacker fishing trilobites at the dawn of the Devonian era.  In a nice touch, it turns out he is not the intruder; rather it is the little blot of algae that threatens to inevitably populate the fisher’s pristine, lifeless world.  Four stars.

Finally, we have Isaac Asimov’s non-fiction article, Order, Order!, on the subject of entropy (the amount of energy unavailable for work; or the amount of disorder in the universe). It’s a topic that everyone knows something about, but few have a real handle on.  The Good Doctor does an excellent job of explaining this esoteric matter.  Four stars.

What a pity–if not for the two lodestones at the end of the issue, this would be a rate 4-star magazine.  Still, even with them, the score is a comfortable 3.5 stars, which makes F&SF the best digest of the month.  It also has the best story of the month: Hothouse.  Finally, it features fully 50% of the month’s woman authors; sadly, there are just two. 

See you on February Oneth–if NASA’s hopes are fulfilled, I will have an exciting Mercury Redstone mission to talk about!

Flawed jewel(s) (August 1959 Astounding, last part; 7-21-1959)

Before I finish my review of the August 1959 Astounding, let’s look at the issue’s “Analytical Laboratory” and what the readers thought of the May 1959 ish (and compare it to my findings).

Interestingly enough, no story got higher than a 3.00, which means the readers had trouble picking a favorite.  That indicates a good issue or a bad one.  Garrett’s mediocre Cum Grano Salis got top ratings followed by the first installment of Dorsai!, then the charming Hex and Project Haystack.  I suppose that’s as good an order as any.  One might as well throw a dart at the wall.

The August issue, on the other hand, has clear strong and weak points.  Newcomer Anne Walker’s A Matter of Proportion is one of the strong points.  Her tale about a super-competent commando, who was once a paraplegic is gripping.  Anyone who can write about the ascent of a flight of stairs with the same tension and excitement of a daring assault on an enemy base has done an excellent job.  An interesting, sensitive story.

The following tale, Familiar Pattern, is so obviously a Chandler piece under a pseudonym (George Whitely), that one wonders why the ruse was even attempted.  To wit, it involves an Australian coast guard ship (Chandler is a former Australian naval officer), and one of the characters shares a name with a character in The Outsiders, which came out in the same issue!

Now, I like Chandler, but this story is only decent.  Aliens come to Earth to set up a trading mission, manufacture a diplomatic incident, and use said event as a pretext to invade.  It’s a metaphor for what the Europeans did to the Polynesians; I appreciate the sentiment, and I am amazed it could appear in the xenophobic pages of Astounding, but the allegory is a bit too precise and heavy-handed to be effective. 

Lastly, there is Theodore L. Thomas, whose Day of Succession is, as Orwell might say, rather un-good.  Aliens land on Earth, and their ships are dispatched with cold-blooded efficiency by an American general.  The officer is recalled to Washington and chastised for his bloodthirstiness, but is soon proven right when more aliens appear and wreak havoc (I wonder why they would be hostile after such a warm welcome!) The general advises a nuclear strike on the entire Eastern seaboard to defeat the incursion.  When the President and Vice President disagree, the general shoots them and requests that the Speaker of the House adopt the officer’s plan.
I didn’t really understand it either. 

The book finishes off with P. Schuyler Miller (a self-professed Conservative from North-Eastern United States) lamenting the death of science fiction, again.  We’ll see.  This seems to happen every five years.

So where does this issue end up in the ratings?  Well, I’d had high hopes.  Aliens was a five-star story, and Outsiders and Proportion were both quite good.  But Pattern was average fare, Succession was sub-par, and the Garrett was soporific.  The non-fiction “article” was also pretty bad.

All told, the issue clocks in at a “3,” which is actually admirable for Astounding.  Read it for the good stories, eschew the rest, and you won’t be disappointed!

In two days, the Explorer that wasn’t.

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Less than astounding…  (July 1959 Astounding; 6-23-1959)

I suppose it was too much to hope for two good issues of Astounding in a row.  The magazine that Campbell built is back to its standard level of quality, which is to say the bar is not very high.  Still, I read the stories so you don’t have to (if you don’t want), so here’s all the news that fits to print.

Randal Garrett’s But I don’t think isn’t horrible.  It’s actually genuine satire, about a ordnance evasion officer (a “Guesser”) who ends up inadvertently jumping ship during shoreleave.  He is the denizen of a lawfully evil and hierarchical society, and the story is all about the miserable things he does and that are done to him in large part due to this evil culture.  It’ll leave a dirty taste in your mouth, like old cigarette butts, but I think it was actually intentional this time. 

It’s not exactly downhill from here, but there aren’t exactly heights, either.  The next story, Broken Tool, by Theodore L. Thomas, is a short piece about a candidate for the Space Corps, who ends up washing out because he, ironically, doesn’t have enough attachment to his home planet of Earth.  A “gotcha” story, the kind I might expect to find in one of the lesser magazines… not that they exist anymore.

I generally like Algis Budrys, and his Straw, about an entrepreneur who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and became the Big Man of the underwater community of Atlantis, isn’t bad.  It’s just not terribly great. 

Isaac Asimov has an interesting article entitled, Unartificial elements, explaining how all of the elements humans have managed to synthesize actually do exist in nature, albeit in rather small amounts.  This was the best part of the magazine.

There are two stories after the last installment of Dorsai, which I reviewed last time.  Chris Anvil’s Leverage is a mildly entertaining story about colonists dealing with a planet’s ecosphere that has a single-minded, but fatally flawed, vendetta against the settlers.  Another low-grade story I’d expect in Imagination or somewhere similar.

Finally, we have Vanishing Point, by C.C. Beck, the illustrator for D.C.’s Captain Marvel.  It’s all about what happens when an artist learns the true nature of perspective.  Cute, but, again, not much to it.

Campbell published the user reviews for March and April 1959.  I won’t go into great detail, but suffice it to say, Leinster’s Pirates of Ersatz topped both months.  But in March, Despoiler of the Golden Empire got #2, whereas my favorite, The Man Who Did Not Fit was bottommost.  The April results were less disappointing–Now Inhale got #2, and Wherever You Are got #3.  I probably would have swapped the places, but I suppose a female protagonist is too much for Analog readers to swallow comfortably.

Lots of space launches coming up–a Vanguard and a Discoverer, so expect some launch reports this week!

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IF only… The Good News (1-29-1959)

Wrapping up my tour of Kaua’i, here are some pictures I took on the south shore estate of Robert Allerton, whose hospitality is as tremendous as his philanthropy (science fiction-related stuff to follow).

For this installment, I’ve got something a little different.  It’s also the good news half of a good/bad news combination. 

If is a science fiction magazine that has been around since 1952.  Amongst the several dozen that have existed throughout the decade, it is perhaps (outside of The Big Three) the best.  I haven’t followed it very closely, and that’s why I missed the big news.

Two issues ago, Damon Knight (acerbic critic and often brilliant writer) was tapped for the job of editor.  I didn’t find out until a couple of weeks ago, by which time, I’d missed the opportunity to buy the October and December 1958 issues.  February 1959 was still on the stands, however, and I took it with me to Kaua’i. 

Perhaps it’s just the rosy glow imparted from having read mostly on the lovely Kalapaki beach, but it’s really good.  I’ve gotten through the first five stories, and they shall be the topic of today’s discussion.

It is, of course, with trepidation that I read the opening piece, Pipe Dream by Fritz Leiber.  As I’ve explained before, I used to like Fritz a lot (who can forget the brilliant A Pail of Air, which appeared in Galaxy many years ago).  His stuff of late, however, has been pretty lousy.  To be fair, it all appeared in F&SF, so that may have something to do with it.  Anyway, Pipe Dream, about the creation of artificial life, is slickly written and atmospheric, but it’s also disturbing and unpleasant, and perhaps not in the way Fritz intended.  I didn’t like it, though I imagine many would.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Wind People is almost a winner.  It is a haunting tale of a ship’s medical officer who elects to remain on a presumably uninhabited planet rather than expose her newborn child to the risks of hyperdrive travel.  Bradley writes powerfully, and the mystery presented as the protagonist and her son make tentative and increasing contact with the furtive natives of the planet is exciting and engaging.  The ending, however, is a let-down.  One had to wonder if Bradley intended for the story to go in a different direction, one in which the editor was afraid to go.  You’ll have to read it and see.  At least it’s by a woman, stars a woman, and takes place in a universe where women make up half of a starship crew.  Progress!

I’ll skip story #3 until the end, as I’ve got a lot to say about that one.  Number four is The Man who tasted Ashes by Algis Budrys.  This is only the third story of his that I’ve read, and the second really good one; I’m going to look forward to more from him (and perhaps pick up earlier ones I’ve missed).  If ever there was an anti-hero, it is the viewpoint character for this story: a petty political intriguer-for-hire who is contracted by an extraterrestrial concern to facilitate World War III.  Good stuff.

Next up: Love and Moondogs by Richard McKenna (a career Navy man who got a writing degree on the G.I.Bill—now there’s the American Way!) This is a silly story about the lengths some might go in the pursuit of their cause, however frivolous, and the hypocrisy often inherent therein.  In this case, the object of outrage is a Soviet moon-muttnik.  Gentle, pleasant satire.

Now back to story #3: The Good Work by relative newcomer Theodore L. Thomas.  Remember when I talked about overpopulation in stories and the laughably small numbers most authors bandy about as too much for our planet?  Well, Thomas doesn’t play around—there are 350 billion souls inhabiting his Earth, and their life is accordingly regimented and drab.  It’s a satirical anti-utopia (a dystopia?).  The core of the story is the search for meaningful work in an age when everyone has just enough, and everything is automated.  The story has one hell of a barbed punchline.

I think this story is particularly relevant given that we are, I believe, on the cusp of a dramatic change in our economy.  Before the industrial revolution, virtually everyone in the United States was employed in the agricultural sector.  By the early 1800s, the industrial and service sectors began to rise as machines created jobs and allowed for the distribution of wealth; this was balanced by a drop of employment on the farm.  Around 1900, employment in the agricultural sector had dropped to 35%, tied with the service sector and only slightly above the industrial sector.  Industrial sector employment rose to a peak of 37% around 1950, and it has begun a gradual but steady decline since.  Agricultural employment was at just over 10% in 1950, and it is plummeting fast.  Service sector employment makes up the rest.

Projecting out another 50 years, agricultural employment will decline logarithmically, with a limit of zero as time goes to infinity.  Industrial employment may take longer, but with mechanization and (ultimately) roboticization, that sector will also see declining employment.  That leaves the service sector, which means that in the end, our economy will consist of nobody making anything, and everyone doing something for each other.  Except, in the future, I imagine machines will also be my servants.  So what will anyone purchase in 50 years to drive the economy?  How will anyone work?  Perhaps we’ll all be scientists and artists in 2009.  More likely, we’ll develop artificial needs for useless products.  Radio advertising has already been honed to a fine art, and the ad execs are figuring out the television advertising game pretty quickly. 

Maybe we’ll all be employed making advertisements.  That sounds fulfilling.

Anyway, I promised good news, so in summation, If with Damon Knight at the helm promises to be a fine magazine. 

The other shoe will drop on the last day of this month…



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