galacticjourney: (Default)
[personal profile] galacticjourney
Whenever I read the book review columns by Floyd Gold, Damon Knight, Groff Conklin, etc., or the science articles by Willy Ley and Isaac Asimov, I’m always as fascinated by the little personal details they disclose as the information and opinions they provide. It’s a glimpse into their lives that humanizes their viewpoint. Anecdotes make fun reading, too.

Since I assume all of my readers (bless the five of you!) feel similarly, otherwise why bother reading my column, I thought I’d share a little bit about how information gets into my brain prior to article composition.

My issues all come by mail subscription now as it is significantly cheaper than buying them on the newsstand and more consistent. It means I’m no longer hunting the newsstands for other magazines, but now that there are so few active digests, this seems the best way to go.

I have an evening ritual that I’ve preserved since my teen years, particularly in the Fall and Winter when the sun sets early. After coming home from work, the rays of sunlight slanted sharply against my driveway, I pull out my portable radio and a beverage, rest my back against a tree or lamppost, and read until the sun dips below the horizon. Here in Southern California, we get a nice mix of White, Negro, and Latin stations, so I can listen to all the latest Rock ‘n Roll and Rumba as well as the insipid croonings of Paul Anka and Pat Boone. It makes for a delightful half hour of escape from the real world better than M, reefer, or any other drug you’d care to mention.

What have I been reading, you ask? This bi-month’s issue of Galaxy, of course—December 1959 to be exact. Galaxy is the most consistent of the four magazines to which I have subscriptions, generally falling in the upper middle of the pack.


As always, I started with Willy Ley’s column. I’m impressed that after ten years of writing, he still finds interesting topics to teach about. In this one, he discusses the (probably) extinct Giant Sloth and the efforts naturalists have made over the centuries to learn more about the creature. I love paleontology, so it was right up my alley. By the way, for the overly curious, this piece I read while soaking in a nice hot bath over the weekend.

Leading the book is Robert Sheckley’s newest, Prospector’s Special. The setting is Venus , where a handful of hardscrabble miners brave the blazing heat and sandwolves of the Venusian deserts in the hopes of finding a vein of Goldenstone. It’s one of those stories where the protagonist runs into worse and worse luck and has to use wits to survive to the end, which has a suitably happy ending. Bob is invariably good, particularly at this kind of story, and I polished this one off in the same aforementioned bath.


Rosel George Brown continues to be almost good, which is frustrating, indeed. Her Flower Arrangement is the first-person narrated story of a rather dim housewife and how the bouquet she and her kindergartener made turned out to unlock the secrets of the universe. It comes from a refreshing female perspective, but it’s just a bit too silly and affected to work well.


Con Blomberg’s only written one other story, and that one appeared in Galaxy two years ago. His Sales Talk is interesting, about two salesmen who try to sell a recalcitrant unemployed fellow on the joys of living vicariously through the taped memories of others. The would-be mark makes a compelling argument against the dangers of becoming a worthless consumer. There is, of course, a twist, which I half-predicted before the end.

There's an interesting point to the story. In the first place, it predicts a “post-scarcity” economy. Let me explain: There are three sectors to the economy. They are Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Service. Until a few hundred years ago, Agricultural was far and away the dominant sector, with most people relying on subsistence farming. Then the Industrial Revolution hit, and the peasants moved to the city to work on the assembly line, while farming became more and more mechanized, requiring fewer people. As industry became more efficient, the Service sector grew—waiters, courtesans, attorneys, doctors, advertisers, artists, etc.

But what happens when industry and agriculture become fully mechanized? What if robots take over the Service sector? What is left for humans to produce? The world only has so much need for art, music, politics, and religion. In a post-scarcity economy, most of us will become consumers, so the more pessimistic predictions go. And all we'll do all day is lie around living other people's dreams, predicts Blomberg.


Is the idea that plugging oneself into a memory-tape machine, experiencing all five senses and the feelings of the original senser, all that different from watching a film or reading a good story? After all, both take you out of reality for a while, make you feel along with the protagonists. When full “Electronic Living” becomes possible, will it really be a revolution or just evolution? Food for thought.

That’s what I’ve got so far. Stay tuned soon for further reviews of this extra-thick magazine. You’ll next hear from me in sunny Orlando, Florida!


Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.
P.S. 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!

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

Date: 2014-11-07 02:36 am (UTC)
glymr: (Default)
From: [personal profile] glymr
Sounds like a pleasant ritual, indeed, but do you still enjoy it even when the quality of the issue is poor? That is, does it serve its purpose of unwinding your thoughts from work as well, even if you're just focusing on how bad it is?

I also read "Prospector's Special" - quite a good offering from Sheckley, I thought. The bath would be an interesting place to read that one!

I can't wait to read about your trip to Orlando!
Edited Date: 2014-11-07 02:40 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-11-07 04:34 pm (UTC)
laurose8: (Shiveria)
From: [personal profile] laurose8
I do feel the plug in is more likely to drown the person receiving the experience. How do they deal with the memories afterward? And it sounds as if it isn't fiction, which is slightly different from biography/travel.

Date: 2014-11-07 07:18 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
A really good book/immersive movie can be "drowning" too, though.

But you may be right that there is a dangerous line crossed here.

Giant River Otters

Date: 2014-11-08 03:54 am (UTC)
victoria_silverwolf: (Default)
From: [personal profile] victoria_silverwolf
I'll be slowly working my way through this issue a bit at a time, and I'll offer comments now and then.

So far all I've read is Ley's interesting article on the giant sloth. The thing that really made me raise my eyebrows (since the survival of the giant sloth in historical times still seems to be speculative) was the casual mention of the undeniable fact that giant river otters still exist. A little research reveals that these creatures can reach nearly six feet in length! I imagine such an animal (since otters are carnivorous) could be a danger to humans (although humans are surely much more of a danger to it.)

So much for my image of otters as cute little critters!

Venus or Arizona?

Date: 2014-11-08 06:28 pm (UTC)
victoria_silverwolf: (Default)
From: [personal profile] victoria_silverwolf
I have just read "Prospector's Special" and thought it was a pretty decent yarn, if not as great as Sheckley's classics like "Pilgrimage to Earth" or "Store of the Worlds" or "Watchbird." I might quibble that it's really a (well-written) Western in space, but the author's satiric touch saves it from being a forgetable adventure story. Maybe three out of five stars.

Hogarth Curve

Date: 2014-11-08 08:29 pm (UTC)
victoria_silverwolf: (Default)
From: [personal profile] victoria_silverwolf
"Flower Arrangement" was mildly amusing, although I must admit that I found all the stuff about flower arrangement (and the politics thereof) more interesting than the SF content. Although the narrator was depicted as a little too scatterbrained for my taste (clearly the author is a lot smarter than her character), it was a refreshing change of pace to get a look into the life of a typical American housewife in an SF magazine. Maybe two stars.


Date: 2014-11-08 10:52 pm (UTC)
victoria_silverwolf: (Default)
From: [personal profile] victoria_silverwolf
As a work of fiction, "Sales Talk" is only so-so. It's really a philosophical discussion disguised as a story. As such, I can only give it two stars.

But the ideas that are raised are worthy of discussion.

First of all, I'm not convinced that we're heading for a "post-scarcity" society any time soon. We currently live on a planet with about three billion people. That number is likely to double by the year 2000. Unless there is some enormous leap in technology, I don't see how that can lead to anything but continued scarcity. Earth does not have limitless resources, and it's going to take a lot of hard work to get any resources from other places. Consumers are going to have to pay for things they consume, or production will stop. (Pohl's "The Midas Plague" is a fine satire, but not very likely to happen.)

As to whether the Sim would be different from a book or a movie, well, that's hard to say. I'd have to be plugged into one to see if had a more addictive effect than, say, television. I suspect it would be much more intense, since it would involve all the senses and not just sight and sound. No matter how much we lose ourselves in a story of film, there's always the sense that we're not really experiencing it. With a Sim, we might not be able to tell the difference.

Crime and Punishment

Date: 2014-11-09 07:41 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"The Undetected" was a decent SF/crime story. I was expecting more of a traditional locked room whodunit from the opening, but turning it into a cat-and-mouse suspense story was OK. (We seem to have almost forgotten about the murder victim by the end of the story!) I'm not entirely convinced that the skeptical police chief would go ahead and arrest the bad guy based on the "evidence" supplied at the end. The psychology of a powerful psychic hiding his abilities was pretty well done. Overall, another three stars.

Fun and Games

Date: 2014-11-09 10:38 pm (UTC)
victoria_silverwolf: (Default)
From: [personal profile] victoria_silverwolf
That was me up there, of course. I forgot to put my name.

In any case, "War Games" was a good, solid story from a reliable author. It was obvious from the start, of course, that there was going to be something sinister about the "toys." However, the conclusion was very subtle.

I note also the subplot about the "cowboy suit." Like "Sales Talk," this seems to be a device which creates what we might call "artificial reality." This story made a strong case that such a thing could be very seductive.

I'll give this one four stars.


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