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There are times that I feel I could trot out the same Astounding review every month. It would go something like this:

"Editor John Campbell continues to showcase Human-First, psionic stories with young male protagonists and virtually no female characters. The table of contents features Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, and Murray Leinster. Yet again, the magazine is a disappointment."

For the most part, the above summary would serve this month, but there is a kicker at the end of this review.

Skipping the first part of a serial by a fellow of whom I've never heard (a Harry Harrison), the issue opens up with one of Murray Leinster's weaker outings, Attention Saint Patrick. Leinster is often excellent, but in this one, he's just boringly droll, telling the story of an Irish space colony that relies on giant serpents to control its vermin problem—in this case, little dinosaurs with diamond teeth.


by Bernklau

Then we have the truly ridiculous A Rose by Other Name, a Chris Anvil story about how the removal of military and jingoistic jargon from our vocabulary makes it impossible to go to war. Not good.

Campbell has tried to make his magazine more respectable by including a slick paper non-fiction segment starting this month. Frank Foote and Arthur Shuck penned Solid Plutonium Headache about the technical and physical difficulties associated with working this dangerous radioactive material. A more boring article I have never read, which is a shame because there's nothing wrong with the subject matter. Until Campbell finds himself an Asimov or a Ley, I think his non-fiction section won't be worth much—particularly as the slick paper is not at all absorbent.

Poul Anderson's The Burning Bridge, about a fleet of interstellar colony ships on a 40-year trip to settle a new world, is decent. Recalled by Earth nearly a few years into their flight, the fleet's Admiral must determine whether or not they will return or press on. The cast is nicely international, and women play an important (though oddly segregated) part.


by Bernklau

Then we have The Garrett, in this case Viewpoint. A fellow dreams himself into the future and discovers a strange new world before snapping back to his original time. The now-typical Randallian gimmick is that the person is a famous figure from the past, and the destination is now-ish. It's not as bad as it could have been, but Garrett loses a star just for being Garrett.

Finally, we have The Silverberg: Stress Pattern. This story is hard to rate because there are really two things going on here. On one hand, we have the story of a sociologist and his assistant wife (no doubt inspired by Bob Silverberg's wife and partner, Barbara) and the slow unraveling and subsequent recovery of their lives. The characterization and writing are quite good, and I was carried along for the entirety of the tale's 30 pages.

On the other hand, in the end, the story is a rather ham-fisted argument against the leveling qualities of increased socialism (small "s") and social welfare. The message of the story is that while we might keep the lower classes fat and happy, the secure smart people are just going to get bored and restless. While such an argument could be made against a uniform public school curriculum, and while in true Socialism, the only way to get ahead is to cheat, I don't think things can progress in America as Silverberg contests. Moreover, that part just feels tacked on to tickle Campbell's fancy. It has that "secret society knows all the answers and can manipulate humanity like a machine" conceit I generally find tiresome.

Still, Bob is coming along. I think if he tried writing for another magazine, he could put his talent for prolific writing and good portrayals toward making something truly good. He's not Randy Garrett, even though he works with him regularly.

All told, it's a 2.5 star issue. But I promised a kicker: the serial, Deathworld, is excellent so far, and I'm keenly anticipating next month's installment. You'll have to wait until next February to get the review, but I think it will be a good one!

Stay tuned!

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Good morning, dear readers. Based on the incidence of fan mail, it appears you now number nearly half a dozen (unless, of course, it's just you, Laurose, writing in under a number of pseudonyms; if that be the case, I'm still grateful).

And now comes the moment you have all been waiting for: my review of the December Astounding. Did this issue top the last in terms of sheer awfulness? I'm afraid not. The magazine is, in fact, back to its old low but passable standards.



I mentioned
last time that Randall Garrett has the lead novella in this issue. The Destroyers starts off well enough. Slowly, even compellingly, Garrett describes a group of farmers in a barony on one of the more backward planets in the galaxy. The placid cycle of years is disturbed by the news of impending interstellar war. When it does break out, the conflict seems far away and does not immediately disturb the peaceful farmers. But over time, the fight comes closer and closer to home until the barony is taken by the conquerors, and the planet surrenders.

So what's wrong with this story? Garrett, as you know, is fond of the historical parable. In Despoiler of the Golden Empire, he writes rather praisingly of Pizarro's murderous conquest of Peru with the "twist" being that the readers were meant to think the story was one of science fiction rather than historical fiction.

About half-way through The Destroyers, I started to worry that he was doing it again. When he spoke of the invaders' blockade and the plucky captains who dared run it, I began to look for other Civil War parallels. Sure enough, the conquerors come from the north, they represent an industrialized society preaching equality and freedom, they are superior technologically. The "South" wins at first but inexorably starts to lose. Their country is split in two. The war ends with the taking of the capital.

Even this would be fine except for the story's punchline. The Union colonel who comes to accept the baroness' surrender (yes—by this time, Randy has named the invaders "The Union") announces to the farmers that they are all free, and that now they can earn money and get an education. And what is the reaction of the farmers (read: Negro slaves)?

Horror! All of their needs had been tended to under the old regime. They had been happy, had had purpose and direction. What, oh what, would they do with money and education and freedom?

That smell assailing your nostrils is last night's dinner. My apologies. I don't think I need comment further other than to observe that it may be impossible for Randy to write without offending. But I guess he keeps Astounding's target demographic happy...

On to happier, or at least less saddening, entries. Chris Anvil's Mating Problems, about how a colony deals with the aftermath of two crises by combining their ill effects, is not bad. I note that Anvil likes stories about pioneering colonials, and I do too. At some point, he'll write an outstanding one, perhaps.

Les Collins has a non-fiction article entitled How to write Science faction, a rather glibly written description of the technical writing field. Perhaps the best part of the column is a list of ten technical paragraphs in need of editing. Collins invites those who are able to properly fix a majority of them to contact him for a possible job opening. I'm tempted.

George O. Smith's The Big Fix is kind of fun. In a world where everyone is psionic, how does one keep the gambling "honest?" And once that puzzle is solved, how does one rig the game? The story even features, though doesn't star, a cigar-chomping tough gal, though she ends up a romantic interest, sadly. The dialogue consciously imitates the over-verbose New York gangster dialect featured in the recent hit, Guys and Dolls. The conceit is either cute or annoying. I suppose it depends on your mood.



I skipped Part Two of Everett Cole's The Best Made Plans since I could not finish Part One. I think it's a futuristic ignominy to imperial throne story, but I can't be certain.

Last, and fairly least, is Tell the Truth, by E.C. Tubb. In this story, humans are confronted with a stronger, aggressive alien foe (that looks just like us). As a prelude to conflict, both races agree to exchange a single representative who will serve as the exemplar of the species. Based on the examination of said ambassador, the choice between peace and war will be made.

Of course, the humans are able to select the exact right person to hoodwink the aliens. It turns out that the aliens are wholly logical and, thus, deduce from the ambassador, who sells military toys to children, that Earth is a highly armed camp whose youth are trained from birth to be soldiers.

It's a typical Campbellian piece, and it makes no sense. For one thing, the aliens are trained from birth to be soldiers. Moreover, much is made of the fact that the ambassador cannot lie (for the aliens are experts in preventing deception); therefore, the conclusion that the aliens make is inescapable. One would think that these aliens, who clearly have a profound knowledge of deceit, would recognize the cheap ploy for what it was. After all, the ambassador may be telling the truth, but that doesn't mean his masters are obligated to.

At least I've saved dessert for last—the December F&SF is next up, and with its reading, I will have an entire year's worth of magazines from which to choose this annum's Galactic Stars.

See you soon!

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!







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Here's a short update before I fully review this month's Astounding. Remember my piece on Despoiler of the Golden Empire? Well, good old Randy Garrett is at it again with his historical parables. I kept waiting for the shoe to drop in his lead novella of this ish, The Destroyers, and it did in a big way.

It's disappointing since the writing was actually good and compelling for the first two thirds of the story--and then I saw where good old Randy was going. Boy did he get there.

Try it, but don't spoil the ending for the other readers until my article on the issue as a whole, which should come tomorrow or the next day.

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I've found the bottom, and it isn't the Mariana Trench.

They say fifty cents won't buy you what it used to, and that's certainly true of Astounding, a science fiction digest. The November issue, which has a hastily pasted price of four bits on its cover (replacing the original 35 cents) is, without a doubt, the worst pile of garbage I've read in a very long time.

I'll spare you the gory details and give you a quick thumbnail sketch of its contents. Opening the ish is the first part of a two-part story, The Best Made Plans. I didn't even make it through the first half of this first part. So dull was the tale, so linearly and prosaicly was it told, that I can't even remember what it's about. I'll read the summary next month and, perhaps, try again.

Eric Frank Russell's Panic Button features two exploring aliens who happen across a lone Terran on an otherwise uninhabited planet. Upon finding him, the human pushes a blue button, which frightens off the aliens. This is all part of a brilliant human scheme to seed the planets of the universe with convicts equipped with panic buttons. The assumption (proven correct, of course; aliens are so dumb, says editor Campbell) is that the button must do something and the lone humans must be there for a reason, and the overactive imaginations of the would-be conquering aliens do the rest.

And this is one of the book's better stories!

Then you've got A Filbert is a Nut, by newcomer Rick Raphael. In this one, a crazy person makes atom bombs out of clay that work. Or does he? Passable--for 1953 Imagination, perhaps.

Randall Garrett's The Unnecessary Man should have been titled "The Unnecessary Story." Young man learns that democracy is a sham and the galaxy is run by a dictatorship. But it's a benevolent one, so that's okay. Bleah.

I've never heard of Richard Sabia before, and if his I was a Teen-age Secret Weapon is any indication, I hope I don't see him again. Yokel causes harm to anyone around him. He is eventually inducted into the army, dropped off to be captured by the enemy, and Communism's collapse ensues. Lousy.

Finally, we have Robert Silverberg's Certainty, which is almost decent. Alien ship lands on a human outpost planet, and the crew of the garrison ship is helpless against the intruders' mind-control powers. Again, it's the sort of thing I'd expect from a decade-old lesser mag.

As for the Analytical Laboratory for the far-superior August issue, the readers' results are well in line with mine, with Leinster's The Alien's a clear winner.

I'm sorry I don't have anything cheery to report. It took me most of the month to get through this awful, 1.5 star book. I'm about ready to cancel my subscription...

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I had planned on breaking up the rest of this month’s (October 1959) Astounding into two parts, but seeing how there are only four pieces of fiction, albeit long ones, I’ve decided to give it all to you in one blow.

Chris Anvil continues to put out the most mediocre stuff imaginable. These are the stories I’d expect to see in Imagination, if “Madge” were still around. The Law-Breakers is the cover story for this issue, and it really is barely worth the space it takes. Two invaders from a race of extremely humanoid aliens attempt to infiltrate the Earth using sophisticated invisibility technology. All of their predecessors have failed on these missions, so the stakes are high. As it turns out, the Terrans are ready for the invaders, trailing them wearing cloaking fields of their own.

Once captured, the invaders are offered a deal—become citizens and their sentence will be reduced from felony sabotage to a host of petty misdemeanors. Along the way, we get some fatuous smugness about how Earth is better than the aliens because it is a planet of multiple competing civilizations rather than a single, united race. It took me three sittings to finish the story, which is saying something for a 30-page story.

Story #2 is even worse: The Unspecialist, by unknown Murray F. Yaco, features a pilot and co-pilot of a small scout ship accompanied on their mission of reconnaissance by a “Bean Brain,” a seemingly useless fellow who, nevertheless, contributes valuable expertise in a particular pinch. The gotcha of the story (a disappointing trope of science fiction that I thought had died out) is learning the former profession of the unspecialist. Dull, dull, dull.

I was thus rather pleasantly surprised by the third story, Dodkin’s Job, by the old hand, Jack Vance. Somehow, I have a soft spot for dystopian stories with highly regimented societies. Not so much the predestined occupation stories, like Asimov’s Profession, but more the totalitarian tales where people are pigeonholed into horizontal layers of privilege and are constantly trying to climb out.

In this one, Luke is a 40-year old born with ample opportunities, but due to his nonconformist nature, he finds his career a sordid succession of demotions until he finds himself a Level D Flunky assigned to clean sewers. When a new labor directive is passed down to return his shovel to the central office every day, thus wasting three hours of his own time, Luke decides to petition the authorities. Up the ladder he goes, to the very top, and then back down to the prestige-less clerk levels whence the impetus for the decision came. There, he finds the true secret of bureaucracy—that data is power, and it is the presenter of data who really has the power, not the decision-makers who can only make decisions based on the data presented.

It’s a story that kept me up past my bed-time, and, as a person who presents data for a living, a very instructive piece, to be sure!

That leaves us with Part 2 of That Sweet Little Old Lady, by Mark Phillips aka Randall Garrett. As you know, I’m rather predisposed against Mr. Garrett, but I did stick it out through both installments, this tale of telepaths, espionage, FBI agents, and renaissance costumery.

In short, there is an information leak somewhere in America, and it’s up to Agent Malone to find it. Along the way, he teams up with a host of insane telepaths, all of whom are non-functioning with the exception of one who believes herself to be an immortal Queen Elizabeth I. She insists that her entourage dress appropriately, and I now understand why Randy dressed up as Henry VIII for Wondercon—he was really dressing up as Agent Malone (or Malone was designed to look like Randy playing Henry VIII).



Anyway, it’s a flippantly written who-dunnit. It’s not offensive, and I was able to finish it in a reasonable amount of time, but it was the literary equivalent of Saltines—bland and not particularly satisfying. Also, I’m getting rather tired of Kelly Freas—how many wrinkles does an illustrated person need, anyway?

Thus ends another 2.5 star Astounding. This makes the biggest spread between magazines I've seen in a month--compare to 3.5 for Galaxy, 4.5 for F&SF.

That’s that for magazines this month, though I'll do an Astounding Analytical Laboratory stop press in a couple of days. Next month, we’ve got another Astounding, F&SF, and IF. Also, a host of anticipated space shots, probably a movie or two, and a new science fiction/fantasy/horror anthology debuting in about a week: The Twilight Zone.
See you soon!

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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!



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When last we left off with the September 1959 Astounding, things were looking awfully bleak. The star-o-meter stood at a limp 2 stars, and I had poor hopes of raising the needle.

I am happy to report that things got better. Well, "happy" is too strong a word. I can honestly say that the quality improved, but I wouldn't have bought the magazine on the strength of its latter half.

Algis Budrys has the best story of the issue, no surprise there. His The Sound of Breaking Glass is the post-apocalyptic tale of a woman who has been holed up in a well-defended service station for twenty years as the world has slid into anarchy due to the widespread use and abuse of the drug, Lobotimol. Said medication makes the imbiber wholly vulnerable to suggestion--not the prescription for a healthy society. Originally a therapeutic pharmaceutical, it became a weapon that was cheap and ubiquitous.

Well-written and chilling, like most of Budrys' work.

The short-short article by Lt. James W. Owen, Fiction? Reality! is about the realization of arctic exploration gear that was posited as science fiction in a previous Chris Anvil story (Sellers' Market). Brief, but decent.

Amazingly, Randall Garrett's other story (under the pen-name of David Gordon), ...or your money back! is not terrible. It's actually pretty good, even though it is yet another story with the Heironymous Machine as its gimmick. In this tale, though, it is used to enhance psychokinetic powers to cheat at gambling. The sheer implausibility of the device is used as a legal defense by the perpetrator. A cute twist.



Finally, On handling the data, by newcomer M.I. Mayfield, is a depiction of one side of a correspondence exchange in which a graduate student makes an exciting discovery and then subverts it to gain his doctorate. I'm not quite sure I got the point, so I'm hoping my smarter readers can enlighten me.

All told, the latter half raised this issue into 2.5 star territory, which is as low as Astounding has gone this past year (it's never broken the 3 star mark, sadly). Read it at your peril.

In two days--the September 1959 IF! And then on to the new stuff... October!

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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 Astounding. Captive 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.

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All right, all right. There is no putting off at least an initial review of this month’s Astounding. Actually, I’m more than half done, but I covered The Aliens earlier, so there was much reading to do to have anything of substance to report.

Randall Garrett’s Dead Giveaway literally put me to sleep several times before I was able to finish it. The premise isn’t so bad, though it is quite hoary: humanity finds a long lost alien civilization whose technologies seem to dovetail perfectly with our own. A bunch of eggheads (male, white, of course) determine that the abandoned city is actually a gift designed to give us a leg up. It is also a test—do we have the ability, as a species, to accept the help?

This is discussed in one of the more ludicrous paragraphs ever written by Randy (and there is much competition):

Scholar Duckworth said: "It takes a great deal of humility—a real feeling of honest humility—to admit that one is actually inferior to someone—or something—else. Most people don't have it—they rebel because they can't admit their inferiority."

"Like the examples of the North American Amerindian tribes." Turnbull said. "They hadn't reached the state of civilization that the Aztecs or Incas had. They were incapable of allowing themselves to be beaten and enslaved—they refused to allow themselves to learn. They fought the white man to the last ditch—and look where they ended up."

"Precisely," said Duckworth. "While the Mexicans and Peruvians today are a functioning part of civilization—because they could and did learn."

"I'd just as soon the human race didn't go the way of the Amerindians," Turnbull said.


I’m reasonably certain that this is not how history went in the Americas. If I’m not mistaken, the native Mexicans and Peruvians were devastated and supplanted by an imported European aristocracy. Sure, they didn’t end up on reservations, but it is also disingenuous to suggest that they gratefully accepted European wisdom and, as a result, are better off than their impoverished North American counterparts (who had the temerity to, you know, fight for their lives).



I was going to give this story two stars, but upon reflection, I think it belongs at the bottom of the ash heap. Which is too bad, because it is sandwiched between two quite good tales.

Which brings us to The Outsiders, the second of the Rim stories by A. Bertram Chandler. It is a direct sequel to To Run The Rim, about the adventures of a pack of oddball space traders on the edge of the galaxy. And it’s well worth reading. In the last tale, Calvert and his band of misfits saved an interstellar liner and secured a tidy reward. In The Outsiders, the crew buys its own ship and attempts operation as an independent concern. I was happy to see that the ship’s complement is half-female by the end, all of them competent, hardened spacers.

Of course, for Calvert the dreamer, a hardscrabble life of tramp spacing isn’t enough. Instead, he wants to chase legends of alien ghost ships floating Outside in the vast emptiness of intergalactic space. Following a hot lead, he and his crew ultimately find what they’re looking for…

But we won’t know the resolution of this tale until the next story. Or perhaps the one after that. I strongly suspect there will be a book compilation of these stories when all is said and done, and it will be worth buying. A strong, four-star story. It only misses five stars for being so clearly a bridging piece.

Next time: the rest of the magazine and a review of the Analytical Laboratory!





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The penultimate magazine offering this month, at least that has made it into my house for review, is Astounding. As always, my bar is pretty low with that mag, though last month's issue made me dare to hope.

In fact, I'm not quite sure how I feel about the May issue. This may come out rather stream of consciousness, so bear with me!

Gordy Dickson, who has written much I like, starts a new serial this month uninspiringly called Dorsai! I am both enjoying it and somewhat off-put by it. It's the story of a young mercenary from a planet whose primary export is mercenaries. It is written in this sober, manly style, and there is lots of posturing and fighting. At the center of it all is the sole female character, who is bound by contract to a rather odious fellow, and whom it appears the protagonist is trying to save, somehow.

Story-wise, it's not really my cup of tea. Yet it is well written, and I've seen enough of Dickson's work to know that he is facile in a number of styles (i.e. he must be writing this way for a reason) so I'm going to go with it and see where it takes me. I will send you postcards along the way.

We didn't do anything wrong, hardly, by Roger Kuykendall (of whom I know nothing) might well be called I didn't write anything, hardly. Children build a space ship out of spare parts and snag a Russian satellite. I guess Campbell is reduced to buying Danny Dunn rejects these days.

(Please note that Mr. Kuykendall has given me permission to distribute his story, but Mr. Campbell has not. If he expresses his displeasure, I shall let you know.)


by EMSH

Cum Grano Salis isn't bad. Of course, I had to get past the distaste that just comes naturally from seeing "Randall Garrett" on the byline (or, in this case, his nom de plume, David Brown). In this tale, a colonizing team (all men, natch) are stuck on a planet with too few provisions to survive until relief. All of the food on the planet tests poisonous. Yet one crewmember, a hypochondriac with a supply of nostrums, manages to eat the local fruit and thrive. The solution is interesting.

(Again, I have distribution permission from the author, not the editor.)

So that takes me exactly half-way through the magazine, so I will leave the other half (including a rather good tale by George O. Smith) for day-after-tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!

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Now that you've all read Despoilers of the Golden Empirer, I imagine you'll want to know my thoughts.

I feel as if I waited an inordinate amount of time for the shoe to drop only to be hit in the ear with a wet sock.

As I read Garrett's piece, I kept thinking to myself, "All right. This is clearly modeled on Pizarro's trek. What's he going to do with it?" Was he going to reveal his feelings about intolerant imperialism, either favorably or unfavorably? Was his protagonist going to bring about the ironic ruin of the father Empire through hyper-inflation? I mean, what's the point of an analogy without a point?

And then I got to the end, and there was no analogy at all. It was the literal story, and the only reason one might think it was supposed to be science fiction was the fact that appeared in a magazine called Astounding Science Fiction.

Perhaps Garrett's work was supposed to be a dig against inferior science fiction. After all, H.L. Gold opened up Galaxy by denigrating the "space western." Maybe this piece was made to show how easy it is to dress up non-science fiction as science fiction with the minimum of trappings.

Somehow, I don't think so. I think this was an early April Fool's prank, and not a very clever one. Here Garrett was leading us to think there was going to be a trick ending to the story... and there actually wasn't (though he might argue that was the trick all along).

Oh well.



The rest of the book is pretty unimpressive, too. George O. Smith's Instinct, is about the abduction of an Earther by aliens who have tried seven times to smash humanity back into the stone age only to have us come back as world-beaters every time. The aliens want to know what makes us tick so they can stop us once and for all or peacefully integrate us into their galactic federation. Their plan backfires in the biggest of ways. Not badly written, but not much of a story.

Silverbob's Translation Error is really bad. It's not the concept--meddling alien returns to Earth 50 years after having ended the Great War early hoping to find a backward but peaceful world. Instead, he finds that none of his historical changes took, and the resultant world (our world) is on the brink of nuclear war and the threshold of space. I like alternate histories. The problem with this one is there are about three pages of story and ten more pages of repetition. It is poorly written, repetitive stuff with a conclusion so obvious, one wonders why it was written at all. This is the worst story, technically, that I've read in Astounding. Interestingly enough, my 17 year-old nephew, David, loved this story. There's no accounting for taste.

The only bright spot (aside from part 2 of Murray Leinster's serial, which I have not yet read, and which I shan't review until next month along with part 3) is Algis Budrys' The Man who did not Fit. It's another in the genre where an advanced civilization has figured out how to determine the ideal employment for each of its citizens. Of course, the few who do not fit in to the system are destined to rule. Seen it. Read it. Many times. But this one is nicely done with a rich setting: a conquered Earth at the crossroads of interesting interstellar politics. The protagonist is the son of the Terran government-in-exile (a bit of self-insertion by the author, whose father was the consul general of the Lithuanian government-in-exile after the Soviet take-over). Not a brilliant story, but a good one, and it shines in comparison.

Thus, excluding the Leinster, the issue barely manages to cross the 2 star mark. I suppose that if you enjoyed Part 1 of The Pirates of Ersatz, you should pick up this issue for Part 2, but there's precious little else for you in the March 1959 Astounding.

Happy Valentine's Day, by the way. If you want to recommend any appropriately romantic science fiction, I'm all ears!





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Today's article is going to be quite brief, not because I don't have much to say, but because I want your input, and saying anything about the topic at hand will spoil it.

Suffice it to say, I have schlepped the March 1959 Astounding with me to Hawai'i in back (and the paper, as I left, mentioned that the territory is already planning a big party for its impending, but yet unscheduled, statehood). Yet I only got around to start reading it yesterday.


Illustration by Kelly Freas

The lead novella is Despoiler of the Golden Empire, by David Gordon (really the beloved Randall Garrett in disguise). Now, I want you to read this story, not because it is amazing, but because Randall is trying to do something here, and I want to know if you think he succeeded. I'll give my thoughts in the next article so you have time gather and communicate your thoughts.

"But I don't have the March 1959 Astounding!" I hear you wail. Fear not. I have graciously been granted permission by the author to freely distribute this piece. It thus follows this column entirely uncut and unexpurgated.

Despoiler of the Golden Empire by Randall Garrett.

Don't worry--there is no brutalization of women in this one. There are, in fact, no women. It's probably better that way.





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galacticjourney: (Default)
Writing good science fiction is hard. Writing good anything is hard, but science fiction multiplies the complexity. Science fiction requires a writer to project the effect that a scientific development will have on society. Moreover, the writer must portray this future society plausibly, which means distinguishing it from our current culture by extrapolating/inventing new mores and activities. I think this is why so many authors, even quite good ones, come up with brilliant technical ideas, but their visions of the future look uncannily like our world of the late 1950s.



Take smoking, for example. Smoking is practically ubiquitous in our current society, but there is now a small but vocal movement by doctors and scientists to alert us to the potential dangers of tobacco. They include a variety of respiratory ailments and even cancer. Yet, smoking is just as commonplace in the future worlds of science fiction. You would think someone would portray a smokeless future.




Another example is the portrayal of women. For centuries, women have struggled for and obtained the rights and privileges of men. The trend has historically been in their favor. They fought for and got the vote—quite recently, in fact. In the last war, they “manned” our factories and flew our planes. There seems to be a backlash against this these days; between soap operas and nuclear families, women are expected to stay at home and be seen and not heard. Still, on a long time-scale, this seems to be an anomalous blip. You would think a future in which women are portrayed as leaders and scientists and businessmen would be more common. Yet you can go through an entire issue of Astounding and find just one female character in ten, and odds are that woman will be a wife with little agency of her own. It is a man's future, if you read science fiction—a smoking man's future.

It could be argued that this is not all the fault of the writer. Even the greatest virtuoso must play to his or her audience, which in this case includes both the readers and editors. This audience is usually forgiving of one or two deviations from the norm. We call them “hand-waves.” For instance, so far as we currently know, it is impossible to go faster than light. Yet, science fiction is full of stories featuring vessels that do just that. That's a hand-wave. Psionic powers are another hand-wave. People only have two hands; too many extrapolations results in an alien world that may be too unfamiliar to its audience.

Maybe. I'd like to think we science fiction fans are a more sophisticated lot than the average person on the street. Also, Heinlein certainly doesn't have a problem dreaming up new ideas by the baker's dozen and incorporating them into his worlds. The few standout female characters (e.g. Asimov's Susan Calvin, Piper's Martha Dane, the protagonists of Zenna Henderson's The People series) have not driven fans away in droves.

But in the end, science fiction writers start out wearing the same cultural blinders as everyone else. And so the Randall Garretts, Poul Andersons and Bob Silverbergs write their stories filled with chain-smoking men because they can't imagine a different world. Someday, perhaps, they will read the few great, truly visionary stories of their peers, and light will shine through their blinders.

If you're wondering what triggered this screed, stay tuned for my next piece. I promise I'll get back to reviewing the latest magazines.

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I'm willing to concede that we (currently) live in a “man's world.” Men make up most of the protagonists and characters in science fiction, and the vast majority of science fiction authors are men. This month's Astounding does not buck this trend--virtually every story has no, or at best a token, female presence. I suppose I should be grateful for this, however, as I would rather have no women in my stories than see them horribly mistreated and poorly portrayed, as I saw happen rather gratuitously in the second half of the magazine.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Poul Anderson's “Bicycle Built for Brew” ended as it started with a fine premise, an interesting if whimsical storyline, and horrible execution. The resourceful engineer of the Mercury Girl managed to escape from the occupied planet by fashioning a ship from a sealed crate and several barrels of beer (providing the reaction mass for propulsion). The national and gender stereotypes were tired by page 2 of the last installment, and they don't get better here. All's well that ends, and I was happy to see this story finish.

Miller's pre-book-review column focused on UFOs, which are still popular. I remember reading in an Asimov or Ley article that the number of UFO sightings climbed sharply in the late '40s coincident with the testing of new jets and sounding rockets. At the same time, the number of reported demonic encounters dropped dramatically. You may draw your own conclusions from this.

“Seller's Market,” by Chris Anvil, is another inconsequential but readable story of the type that has characterized his writing since he started. It depicts a small military force on a harsh planet as it struggles against a nominally superior but fatally flawed foe.

And now, I can put it off no longer. The story that ruined my morning and my impression of Randall Garrett, and by extension, Astounding magazine: “Queen Bee.”

I don't think misogyny can adequately convey the sentiment in this story. “Hatred of women,” may get closer to the mark. The setting of the story was interesting-enough: Four men and three women marooned on a wild planet for life. However, the story begins with the viewpoint character hitting a woman (she was hysterical, of course), and it goes downhill from there.

It is decided, pursuant to codified law (!) that the males and females must breed constantly and switch partners each time such that a colony with a maximum of genetic diversity can be produced. One of the women, the only married one, seems fine with this, much to the consternation of her old-fashioned husband. The other two women resist the idea for some reason. One of them is diagnosed by the resident doctor as a “man-hater,” and the other is a Taming of the Shrew Kate-type character. That's all right--the male characters beat sense into them, quite literally. The man-hater, after being walloped a good one realizes the error of her ways and becomes pregnant shortly thereafter.



But the other hold-out won't budge despite several clouts and a full course of spanking (!!) Eventually, she kills the other two women so that she, as the only woman, can enjoy an indispensable (and perhaps beating-free) status. Given the circumstances, I'm not sure that I find her actions unreasonable. Of course, the men are horrified, and they exact a horrible revenge... er... mete out appropriate justice. They hold a trial and find her not guilty by reason of insanity.

And then they lobotomize her, turning her into a mindless child-bearing factory.

What is so maddening about this story is its contrast with Judith Merril's story in this month's F&SF. The set-up is quite similar, except the women don't have to resort to constant brutality to keep the men-folk in line. One could argue that the arrangement in Merril's story was consensual and thus a whole different matter. This only emphasizes the horror of Garrett's scenario: the women in his story didn't sign up to be mothers of a colony. They certainly never agreed to be dominated and brutalized by their fellow castaways.

Perhaps, if the story had been meant as satire, I could have taken it. But I think Randy Garrett's premises, that men should automatically be in charge, that a woman's duty is to bear children, and violence against women is the best method to keep them in line, must ring natural and true to Mr. Garrett, to Mr. Campbell, and if the readers of Astounding do not subscribe to them, I imagine they do not generally find them egregious.

Well, I did. This is worse than the story that turned me off of Venture ("Eve and the Twenty-Three Adams" by Robert Silverberg; the set-up was similar--in that one, all starships came equipped with a ship's whore, and when the story's ship's whore wouldn't perform, the Captain drugged her up so that she could fulfill her role while unconscious). Garrett's lost me as a fan, and I am sending a copy of this article straight to Mr. Campbell.

Sorry to end this piece on a down note. I will hopefully have cheerier things to discuss next time around. The final score: 4 stars for the first half, 1.5 stars for the second, 2.25 for the whole magazine.

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