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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, I can’t disagree with that.

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

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

Fatuous determinism.  You can have it.

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

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


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