Tag Archives: willy ley

The pen is mighty painful (August 1959 Galaxy, Part 1; 6-02-1959

Just what is this world coming to?

Reading this month’s edition of Galaxy, it was hammered home just how far our linguistic standards have fallen.  Have you ever read a letter from the last century?  Even the prose from the most humble of fellows is lyric and articulate.  And while the published fiction might sometimes be a bit purple, there’s no denying the facility the authors had with our language.

And now?  I’m only half-way through the August 1959 Galaxy, and I’ve spotted “there” for “their” as well as “effect” for “affect.”  I thought this magazine was supposed to be edited.

I’m overreacting, you say.  I know what the writer meant–what’s the big deal?  Here’s my deal: we pay a contractor to build a house properly, we pay a doctor to do an operation correctly, and we pay a wordsmith to write competently.  If our literary experts can’t be bothered to communicate clearly, that will inevitably lead to a trickle-down of linguistic sloppiness.  Half a century from now, who knows how far standards will decline?

That’s about my gripe quota for the month.  I’m happy to say that the actual content of the magazine is pretty good, malaprops aside.  I assume you’ve all picked up an issue so we can compare notes.

Cliff Simak hasn’t written anything I’ve loved since Junkyard, but his latest, No Life of Their Own is pretty solid.  Four kids, at least two of them quite alien, share a rural summer together several centuries in the future.  Their pastimes are pretty timeless, though with some notable exceptions, largely derived from the alien nature of the children and their families.  It’s not an entirely idyllic setting–all of the farmers in the area are suffering from a run of unmitigated bad luck, whereas the meanest cuss of them all seems to be blessed.  There’s a reason, and the kids find it out. 

Warning: There is a little bit of cruelty to a cat.  Rest assured, however, that the cat is not unduly damaged, and the malefactor gets a comeuppance.

Newcomer Michael Shaara contributes Citizen Jell.  If you were a fugitive with the ability to do tremendous good, but only at the cost of your freedom, what would be your tipping point?  That’s the subject of Shaara’s ultimately heartwarming story.

Willy Ley has another excellent article, this time on the solar orbit of Mechta, the Soviet lunar probe.  I must say, I have to admire a fellow who can remain the first item on my monthly science fiction read list for a decade.

Finally (for today), there is The Spicy Sound of Success, by the prolific Jim Harmon.  For some reason, interstellar explorers become afflicted with transphasia (the swapping of sensory inputs–taste for sound, etc.) when scouting a new world.  This story involves a daring rescue and an interesting first contact. 

Join me next time for a round-up of this double-sized, bi-monthly edition… unless the Air Force’s impending space shot stops the presses!

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Double-size equals Double-good (June 1959 Galaxy, second part; 4-14-1959)

There’s been big news in the space world over the weekend, but I want to talk about it next time so I can see how things shake out.  Thus, without further ado, I move onto the rest of the extra-thick Galaxy June 1959.

Avram Davidson is a bit of a writing fiend–it seems I find one of his stories in every magazine I pick up, and they all tend toward the quite good.  Take Wooden Indians is one of the good’ns.  It’s a delightfully confusing (at first) tale of time travel, artistic expression, and nostalgia for Americana, that straightens out nicely at the end.  Of course, I imagine there are many out there who would use time travel to save the real Indians rather than their wooden likenesses, but that’s another story (one I’d be interested in reading–smallpox inoculations handed out five hundred years ago might do the trick…)

Willy Ley’s article is, as usual, worthy reading.  I particularly like his answer to the question, “What is the best size for a payload?”  Answer: depends on what you’re trying to do.  If you want to map the Earth’s magnetic fields, lots of small satellites are better than one big one.  The Soviets like to brag on the size of their probes, but they are of limited utility if they only put up a few.

The next story is from prolific pulp writer, Richard Wilson, who spends most of his time writing for Future these days (I haven’t picked up any copies).  Traveling Companion Wanted has been described by one of my very favorite readers as a Victorian fantasy, wherein a space traveler falls into the ocean in his space suit and ends up swept by current into a globe-spanning underwater river.  On his way, he ends up the unexpected guest of a subterranean race of advanced, Eskimo-ish natives.  Unfortunately, they can’t figure out how to unsuit the traveler, and he nearly starves (I found this bit rather horrific).  But all’s well that ends well–he makes it back to the surface with the resolution to revisit the fantastic realm he discovered.  It looks like he’ll be successful, too!

I’m afraid the “non-fact” article by Larry M. Harris, Extracts from the Galactick Almanack, really isn’t worth the space it takes in the magazine.  It’s one of those “droll” pieces, this one about musical accomplishments of various aliens.  Skip it.

Soft Touch, by Daniel F. Galouye, is another matter, entirely, though like his last story, it is frustratingly underdeveloped.  In the future, there is a mutant strain of humanity that is utterly moral and good, incapable of lying or hurting a fellow person.  They are treated poorly by their non-mutant neighbors because everyone hates a do-gooder.  Very impactful and well-written stuff… but the ending is way too rushed.  Another 5-10 pages would have been nice.

The final tale of the issue is No Place for Crime, by J.T. McIntosh.  It’s rare that a locked door mystery is told from the point of view of the criminals, and McIntosh keeps you guessing as to its outcome until the very end.  One of the better pieces in the issue, and typical of the writer.

Given Pohl’s masterpiece, Davidson and McIntosh’s excellent work, the decent Wilson and Galouye stories, the fine Ley article, and the unimpressive Harris, I’d say this issue is a solid “4.”  I’d like Mr. Wood to stop drawing such lurid cheesecake illustrations, however…

See you on Wednesday with news… from SPAAAACCCCE!



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Ol’ Reliable (April 1959 Galaxy, First Part; 2-02-1959)

Reading Galaxy is like coming home.

Galaxy is the only science fiction magazine that I have bought consistently since its inception.  For nine years, I have read every story, enjoyed every Willy Ley article, perused every Bookshelf column, reviewed every Gold editorial.

There are some who say that Galaxy’s heyday was the first half of this decade, and that the story quality has deteriorated some (or perhaps the content simply isn’t as revolutionary as once it was).  Editor Gold is famously exacting and difficult to work with, and now he’s paying less for content.  The magazine is down to a bimonthly schedule, and Gold is still suggesting there might be a letters column (padding at best, a slog at worst).

And yet…

Galaxy is consistent.  I rarely feel as if I’ve suffered when I close its pages.  I haven’t read any offensive Garrett or Silverberg stories in Gold’s magazine, and the Leiber stories Gold publishes are the good ones.  When Bob Sheckley appears in print, it’s usually in Galaxy.  Of course, this consistency results in a kind of conservatism.  The tone of the magazine has not changed in a decade even though the world around it has changed significantly.  It is not a liability yet, but as new authors and new ideas arise, I hope Galaxy can adapt to fit our new science fiction culture.

Enough blather.  My April 1959 Galaxy has arrived, and it’s time to tell you about it!

As usual, I’ve done a lot of skipping around.  My practice is to eat dessert first (i.e. the authors I know and love) and then proceed to the main course. 

First up was Ley’s excellent, if dry, article on the Atlantic Missile Range.  These days, you can’t go a week without hearing about some new missile launch, and the twin but not identical facilities of Cape Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base are usually the launch point.  Ley gives a detailed account of his experiences witnessing a recent Atlas test.  It is a good behind-the-scenes.  Ley also describes “failures” philosophically explaining that they are always learning experiences even when they don’t achieve their mission objective.  Easy for engineers to understand, not so easy for those who hold the purse-strings.

I then, of course, jumped to “Finn O’Donnevan’s” (Robert Sheckley’s) The Sweeper of Loray.  Unscrupulous Earther wants to steal the secret of immortality from a race of “primitives” and gets more than he bargained for.  It’s a dark tale, especially the betrayal at the hands of his partner for the sake of preserving a thesis (similar in concept if not execution to Discipline by Katherine St. Clair). 

J.T. McIntosh can always be relied on to turn out a good yarn, and his Kingslayer does not disappoint.  Terran spacer has an accident while ferrying royal tourists and ends up in an alien pokey.  Can he get out?  Does he even want to?  The story does rely on a bit of silliness to keep the reader in the dark about the spacer’s fate until the very end, but it’s worth reading naytheless.

Finally for this installment, there is Cordwainer Smith’s When the People Fell.  The title says it all, but you’ll have to read the story to understand what it means.  The Chinese figure prominently in this tale of Venusian colonization, which should come as no surprise when you know that Smith is one of the world’s premier sinologists and godson of none other than Sun Yat-Sen!  A haunting story, it is also a commentary on the Chinese people and government… as well as a cautionary tale.  I don’t know if Chairman Mao would approve.

That’s that for now.  More in two days, like clockwork!



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